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Thursday, 4 April 1957

Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) .- The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) happens to be the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party, and in this debate he has appeared in his real role. He comes into this chamber, as >the defender of primary industry and - those engaged in that industry. He is their representative in this place defending their rights. But he was. never, at a greater disadvantage than he was to-day. He spoke about replacing labour on Australian ships with Lascars. In other words, he advocated . the lowering of living standards.

Mr McEwen - 1 -. rise to order. The honorable member for Kennedy is deliberately, and with, knowledge, what I said. I uttered no word, as " Hansard " will- show, to indicate that I advocated the displacement of Australian labour. The honorable member knows that he is maliciously misrepresenting me.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The point of- order has been taken.

Mr RIORDAN - The Minister also said that he was not supporting the action taken at the conference he mentioned. He said that he did not suggest that a case for an increase could not be made out. In other, words, he was trying to have a dollar, each way. My time is brief, but I want to say that, when the overseas shipowners proposed in December last that the rates be increased, it was a dogmatic decision on their part. Earlier this year, the oil cartel took action to increase the price of petrol, and fixed the retail price of petrol in every State except two. Then, just before this meeting of Parliament, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) met the private bankers.


Order! The honorable member should return to shipping rates.

Mr RIORDAN - What I am trying to show is this: First, the shipping cartel, by a dogmatic decision, foisted an increase of freights upon the long-suffering Australian people. Then the oil cartel took similar action. Finally, the bankers came in for. their cut of the cake. Lack of action by this Government on those matters shows where its sympathies lie. Its sympathies lie. not with the general community or with the primary producers, but with the monopoly capitalists. It is more concerned with gold and mammon than with the Commonwealth of Australia.

The main excuse used when the freight, rates were increased was that the Government had imposed import restrictions and,, in consequence, there was a falling off in, cargoes. The shipowners decided to increase the freight rates to offset some of the . loss caused by a drop in cargoes. The im- . port restrictions were imposed by this Government because of the fall in overseas balances. Later, we were told that an increase in freight rates was necessary because of the Suez position, which meant that ships had to be diverted around the Cape of Good Hope. That was an excuse, but it was not pushed. It was not pushed' because once the Suez Canal was re-opened to traffic, the shipowners would be forced to reduce the impost of 14 per cent, that' they proposed. Another excuse was that the turn-round of ships was slow. The committee which inquired into stevedoring revealed a 10 per cent, improvement in the rate of turn-round of ships.

The higher freights on our exports, though paid by the buyers, are, in fact, borne by the producers in this country. In addition, our national earnings are decreased by the amount of the increase in freights. The shipowners abroad decided to increase the rates. The exporters must carry the increase because the products are sold on the world market at world prices; that is to say. they are sold at prices fixed abroad. In addition, dairy producers are forced to sell their products in competition with the products of Holland and Denmark and on a market that has slumped at the present time. What will they get out of it? As the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) indicated, the wool-growers are conscious of the fact that this increase in freight rates will affect their returns.

According to an article published in the Melbourne " Age " on 29th December, 1956, Mr. F. A. Brodie, president of the Australian Overseas Transport Association, estimated that the freight increases represent an increase of Id. sterling on 3 lb. of beef, of £A.l per head of cattle, of Id. sterling on 2i lb. of dumped wool - approximately 10s. a bale - and of Id. sterling on 3i lb. of butter. Nevertheless, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) comes into this House and poses as the defender and protector of the primary producers of this country. In 1954-55 an amount of £88,000,000 was paid to overseas shipowners. In 1955-56 the payment increased to £103,000,000, and it is now proposed to increase the amount again to £115.000,000. Those figures refer to freights that must be paid on exports and imports. The freights on exports are borne by the Australian producers, primary or secondary. The freights on imports reduce the overseas balances that this Government is supposed to be so concerned to conserve and build up. The extra amount that will have to be paid will come from the overseas balances. In addition, the increase of freight rates increases the cost of the imported article, and so price levels in this country rise a little more. We do not hear so much of late- about the fight against inflation because Government supporters know that they cannot justify any further mouthings about' fighting inflation when they permit overseas' interests to force up living costs in the community by an increase in overseas freight' charges.

A very serious aspect of this matter lies in the fact that the Australian exporters may be priced right out of the world markets as the result of increased freights imposed on our producers, and unemployment may be caused among Australians. The Minister for Trade talked about building or buying 100 ships. The Commonwealth has a line of steamships of its own. It has over 40 of these vessels, but not one of them was fitted with refrigeration space, despite the fact that the Labour government before 1949 originally planned to build, first, ships for the coastal trade, and then refrigerated cargo ships for use in competition with the Conference line. The Minister for Trade speaks of buying ships, but if he was as concerned as he should have been about exporting our primary products, his Government would, long since, have taken action to see that at least some of its steamships were fitted with refrigeration space, so that the Commonwealth line could have competed with other shipping lines. This Government is supposed to sponsor healthy competition and it could have encouraged healthy competition in this way, by using Australian vessels, manned not by Lascars but by Australians working under Australian conditions.

Because the overseas shipowners have imposed these burdens on the Australian community, one would think that they are in dire poverty, and that their incomes had fallen. The following report relating to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company appeared in the Melbourne "Herald" of 27th March, 1957:-

The company's financial statement showed an expansion of over £2,100,000 to £228,025,856 in the group's consolidated assets for the year ended last September. After charging taxation, the group's profit rose by £663.564 to £6.266.635.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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