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Thursday, 4 April 1957

Mr JOSKE (Balaclava) .- It would be as well for honorable members participating in this debate to get back to a few solid facts. One matter that has not yet been referred to is the fact that inflation is world-wide, and that the increase of freights that we have been speaking of does not relate only to this country. Freights have been increased all over the world.

Mr Pollard - The increase has been greater here than in any other country. The shipowners have put the screws on.

Mr JOSKE - The interjector is, as usual, far from being correct. I should prefer, however, to get back to a few facts. With rising inflation it is essential for all persons in business to increase their charges in order to meet their outgoings and so to carry on business. The overseas shipping companies have had an agreement for a period of 27 years. The object of this agreement is to provide a regular shipping service for this country so that we may be able to send our primary products overseas. The ships are provided whether or not the goods are available for export. When ships arrive in Australia a strike may be in progress and goods cannot be ' loaded. Droughts and other disasters may cause a shortage of goods, and ships again may not be able to take on full loads and may have to return to overseas ports in ballast, or partly in ballast. Notwithstanding these contingencies, the overseas shipping companies have regularly and properly provided a magnificent service. Not all of the money paid to them goes out of this country. They have to pay for services that are provided for them, and for goods that they need. In fact, the Statistician has estimated that they bring into this country over £60,000,000 in a year. The payment of the freight charges to them is not, therefore, an entirely one-sided affair. One must look at the activities of overseas shipowners as business activities and decide whether or not they are charging too much in increased freights. The position has not been examined from that point of view by any speaker on the Opposition side.

Mr Pollard - Give us another quarter of an hour and we will tell the honorable member a few things

Mr JOSKE - It is true that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) referred to the fact that, on behalf of the exporters of this country, an accountant's examination had been conducted of the position of the overseas shipping companies. But the honorable member wishes to sweep aside the results of that examination. I should have thought, in my innocence, that when one wants to understand the figures relating to the business of a company one should employ an accountant to examine them. I do not know of any person more qualified to undertake this task than an accountant. But the honorable member for Lalor, in his delightful fashion, just sweeps this aside. He says, " Oh, they got an accountantha, ha, ha! " That is his method of replying to these arguments. I do not know of a better way of dealing with a case when one has no argument with which to answer it.

Mr Pollard - I quoted Professor Wadham.

Mr JOSKE - Yes, and Professor Wadham is a professor of agriculture. I should like to cross-examine him in the witness box on his statement. I think Professor Wadham would probably use the standard excuse of the politician, that his words had been somewhat misunderstood by the honorable member.

Let me return to this examination by the accountants. As a result of the examination, a formula was devised. Under that formula, to which the exporters agreed, an increase of 16.5 per cent, would have been warranted. The shipping companies were prepared to accept a 14 per cent, increase.

Opposition members interjecting,

Mr JOSKE - Honorable members opposite may laugh, but of course they do not know why it is that a 14 per cent, increase is necessary. I point out that that was regarded by the accountants who examined the matter as a proper and reasonable increase, having regard to the needs of the overseas shipping companies to be able to carry on their business in a legitimate way and to provide, by carrying on their business, the regular shipping service for our trade which, over the years, has been provided.

I go on now to deal with some of the matters that have been raised against the Government in this connexion, and I must be brief. First, with regard to the statement that the agreement is not good. It has been shown that the agreement has provided admirable service. It was originally introduced into the law by a Labour government. If, in fact, it was not working properly, one might have expected the two Labour governments that we have had since then - one under Mr. Curtin and the other under Mr. Chifley - to attempt to alter it, but no attempt was made.

Now let me deal with the matter of the establishment of a government line of ships, to which honorable members opposite have referred. The Opposition did not create a government line of ships during the time it was in 'office. I am referring again to the Curtin Government and the Chifley Government. The Opposition had in mind, or it should have had in mind, that in the 1920's the government shipping line was losing between £500,000 and £600,000 a year for eight years, and, in addition, its capital was written down by £8,000,000. Those figures relate to prewar money, not to present-day money. In other words, the government shipping line was a failure. The Minister for Trade has pointed out what it would cost to introduce a government shipping line to-day.

A suggestion, which seems to have come from a number of quarters of the House, has been made that as soon as this increase of freights was introduced, the Government should have said, " We will get rid of this agreement ". What would have been the effect of getting rid of the agreement overnight? There would have been chaos instantly, and the fears of unemployment, about which the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has spoken, would have been confirmed. We should have had unemployment straight away. It is indeed curious that the honorable member for Kennedy should be so solicitous for the wool-grower, whom last year the Opposition was attacking on the ground that he was making enormous profits. Now, apparently, the honorable member is a little sorry that the wool-grower will have to pay slightly more by way of freight charges.

The proposal before the House alleges that serious damage has been caused to the national economy. I should have expected that figures would have been produced to show in what way serious damage had been caused to the national economy, but all that the honorable member for Lalor did was to produce a screed of highly coloured material from newspapers and other sources. We know that articles of this kind have to be coloured in that way. But so far as concrete facts on this matter are concerned, we have had none from the honorable member for Lalor, nor have we had them from his successor, the honorable member for Kennedy.

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