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Tuesday, 7 May 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I can give the House a good deal of information on this subject at any time that it wishes to provide an opportunity for me to do so. I shall give the honorable member a few facts now which will assist him in his consideration of the matter. The House will have some idea of the decline in demand for waterfront services when I say that the number of man hours to be worked in 1956-57 - that is, the current year - are estimated to be 34,000,000, compared with 38,500,000 in 1955-56. Those figures reflect a quite substantial decline. Of course, import restrictions were operating throughout that period.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why blame the waterside workers for a situation brought about by import restrictions?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - 1 do not. I say that there were import restrictions in 1955-56, just as there have been in 1956-57, but it is significant that, in two years, there has been a decline of more than 22 per cent, in the general cargoes handled round the coast of Australia - our own coastal trade. That is directly due to the fact that the cost of handling goods by a means which normally should be the cheapest, has increased so greatly. Cost is not the only factor. Also involved is the irregularity of movements of ships, due to their failure to maintain a regular schedule, and that, in turn, is due partly to the irresponsible conduct which is evident on the waterfront of this country.

The honorable gentleman has asked what has been done through our legislation to after these circumstances. A great deal has been done. Some reduction in quotas, which will reduce the numbers on the waterfront? is taking place, but does the honorable member recommend that we should carry that through to a point where real hardship would be inflicted on the general body ot the work force? This, necessarily, must be a comparatively gradual process. There have been improvements in the award rates, annual leave has been granted, and a variety of other concessions have been given to waterside workers including, as my colleague, the Treasurer, reminds me, an increase of attendance money. Indeed, ] expect shortly to be bringing to this Parliament a measure to increase the stevedoring industry charge in order that we may maintain payments to waterside workers at current levels. So this Parliament has done a great deal to provide both continuity of employment and a considerable degree of security for this body of workmen, and we should be able to look to them for their contribution in terms of efficiency and regularity of performance.

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