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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) .- The bill amends the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act 1947-1956. The present charge is ls. 7d. a man-hour and the intention of the Government is to increase it to 2s. a manhour. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), in his second-reading speech, was at least very moderate in referring to the Waterside Workers Federation. On occasions such as this in the past, the waterside workers have been the target for criticism for whatever conditions might or might not have been prevailing on the waterfront. It was quite obvious from the 'Minister's speech that, notwithstanding .the recession that has taken place in the .industry, .the waterside workers have more than played their part in .attempting to bring about an improvement not only in the turn-round of ships but also in the stability of the industry. The figures given by the Minister show that the number of hours worked had been reduced by 4,500,000. That means, on the anticipated fall-off in working hours, that the reduction will be about 13 per cent, or 14 per cent, in the coming year.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Not in the coming year. Those figures are for the year 1956-57. We .anticipate that from June the tonnage will be increased.

Mr O'CONNOR - There will be an increase in tonnage; that is so.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - 1 think we have estimated that the hours worked will be 36,500,000 for 1957-58.

Mr O'CONNOR - But the value of cargoes anticipated to be handled in the next twelve months, taking into consideration the Minister's figures, will still be £38,000,000 below the figure for 1955-56.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I am sorry; I have misled the honorable member. The estimate is 35.;000,000 hours. The estimate for this year was 3.6,500,000 and it will actually be 34,000,000.

Mr O'CONNOR - Forgetting the future for .the .moment, .1 .am .pointing out that, on the figures that were given, the working hours in the industry were reduced. The 'waterside workers bore 'the brunt of that reduction. The estimated value of cargoes to 'be handled during 1957-58 will still be £38,000,000 below the figure for 1955-56. Therefore, the industry will be in a .position more or less below that of 19.55-56. The Minister mentioned quite a number of factors. He pointed out that there would be a fall-off .of imports and gave various .reasons for that fall-off. He said, also, that interstate .cargo was down 20 per .cent, on the 1955 figures. Therefore, there has been a decline generally .in the .industry; and, even during the .six months from .the end of June, the waterside workers will not get back to the position in which they were in 1955-56. Plainly, they will be faced with the prospect of having less working time, and that is 'not a -very good prospect. The Minister admitted that as a result of the efforts of the waterside workers, the .turn-round of ships in Australia had considerably improved during the periods he mentioned.

The Minister pointed out that the increase 'would be from ls. 7d. to 2s. a manhour in the industry and this would be used to finance the operations of the Australian Stevedoring Industry authority. However, he did not say how much the authority expected to collect from this increase. The Minister expressed the hope that the increase would not be passed on generally but would be borne by the shipowners and 'the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission. He said that ;the commission had indicated that it was quite prepared to carry this increase, and he expressed the hope that the private shipping companies would do the same. Unfortunately, I am not as optimistic as he is. it has been shown that when these charges have been varied in the past, they have not been carried by the shipowners. In fact, the shipowners have passed them on; but when they have been reduced, no corresponding reduction has been made by the shipowners. This charge has been a fluctuating one and it has been found necessary to increase or decrease it according to circumstances. However, the shipowners have not shown themselves to be very much alive to their responsibilities when they have proceeded to pocket the advantages that have come their way through decreased charges. The Minister will recall that on previous occasions when this matter has been debated, I have raised this question and he has stated that the Government is helpless in attempting to try to get the shipowners to carry the increases.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - We are in a stronger position with interstate shipowners because the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission is a factor there.

Mr O'CONNOR - That is correct; the Government's position is far stronger when dealing with interstate shipowners thani it is. when dealing with overseas- shipowners. Unfortunately, the Government has not shown any determination in dealing with interstate shipowners. When these charges have gone up I do not recall the Minister or the Government attempting to prevent the shipowners from passing them on.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - A good deal has been done in various directions. Freight rates would have gone up a great deal more if the Government had not acted.

Mr O'CONNOR - On a previous occasion when I posed this question the Minister asked what could be done. I say that as a result of these additional charges transport costs will go still higher. The shipowners should, carry this charge. With the money collected from the man-hour charge the authority finances its undertakings and operations. Perhaps I should correct here something that is misunderstood by a lot of people. The waterside workers receive appearance money and the popular opinion is that they are well treated in that respect. But T point out to the House that when the waterside workers receive appearance money they do not receive certain other social services. For instance, they are not eligible for the unemployment benefit which is available to other workers who suffer loss of employment.

In my opinion, the industry is well equipped to carry this charge. The interstate shipowners- have demonstrated, if one can accept- their reports, that they are doing exceedingly well. So many of them are interlocked that I think there are only two private shipping companies operating in this country. The remainder belong to a combine and their charges and prices are regulated and predetermined. This country has been compelled to bow to the dictates of the overseas shipping combine simply because this Government will not face up to its responsibilities. As a- result of this, Australia is finding itself in an almost impossible position in competitive markets throughout the world. Ultimately this Government wilthave to face up- to this problem, because' no country can continue to allow itself to be' held' to ransom as Australia is being; held- to ransom- to-day through the demands" for ever-increasing overseas freights. The Government claims that it lacks the authority to deal with overseas combines, But I submit that it has other alternatives at hand if it is determined to provide competition. With the assets and authority now at its disposal, it could well step into the overseas shipping field and provide competition with the combine companies, but it is leaving- that field exclusively to overseas interests which do nothing to safeguard Australia's economy.

The Opposition does not oppose this bill. We agree that the increase of the man-hour charge is necessary to finance the operations of the Stevedoring Industry Authority. From- this money amenities are provided, and I- would like to see the authority doing more- in this field. 1 give it credit for what it has already achieved. However, there remains quire a lot to be done. I do not know of any other industry that shows such a barren record of accomplishment by private interests. It is a record that can afford nobody any pleasure. Nobody can take any pride in defending private interests in this field because of the disgraceful way they have neglected the conditions of their own employees. There has been a constant conflict of authority. Every one has' been saying that somebody else should be doing something about providing amenities, and until the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority started to do something there was a most disgraceful situation. However, the fact that the authority is attempting on a limited scale to provide amenities for waterside workers does not relieve other people of their responsibilities. It is not much use the Minister and Government supporters continually levelling attacks at the waterside workers when much of. theblame rests with the employers.

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