Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 16 May 1957


Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - I intend to deal with the bill before the House, and- in doing so I do not want to discuss personalities. Recently, Mr. Speaker, when the Parliament had before it a measure dealing with roads, I said that one of the serious problems associated with road transport, apart from the damage, that motor vehicles were doing to our roads, was the fact that we were depending too much on motor transport, rather than on sea transport, between our capital cities. As I said then, that is one of the results of denying our- shipping industry its due share, of cargoes.

The: Minister for Labour and National Service: (Mr: Harold Holt) has said, in connexion with this, bill, that the loss of revenue which, had been experienced by shipping interests, in Australia has been due, not to a decline in the- total volume: of- cargoes carried,, but to the type of merchandise carried. I. can go back over the years and recall, the same thing, happening in connexion with our railways, when motor transport first came, on the scene in the various States. I found then - and I spoke about it in this strain- many years ago in the South Australian Parliament - that motor, transport was carrying cargo that the railways should have had. It was found that merchandise, in respect of which a fair freight, charge was made on the railways, and which could be sold at a good profit, was being carried by- motor transport in competition with the railways, but that when it came to the carriage of wheat, superphosphate, or other heavy commodities, intended for use in the country, the railways were, allowed to continue to carry them. An unfair proportion of the transportation of goods of that kind has- militated against, the profitable running of the railways and has made necessary increases of freights. So we find to-day that the decreased tonnage being carried by our coastal ships has been brought about, to a considerable degree, by the type of goods that are carried by road. Honorable members perhaps will say that the increasing carriage of goods by motor transport represents progress and that we shall have to put up- with it;, but we cannot get over the fact that that position has given rise- to this proposal to increase the stevedoring- industry charge, and that, no matter what the Minister may say about the increase improving efficiency on the wharfs, it ultimately will go on to the shoulders of those who ship goods from State to State. They, in turn, will pass on the increase to the people who purchase the goods.

As I said in this place some weeks ago, increases of this kind are brought about by unfair competition-. Honorable members may remember that I stated then that if motor transport organizations paid a fair share of the cost of upkeep of the roads, motor transport would not be able to compete as successfully as it does with sea transport. Unless the Government is pre? pared to face the whole matter of transport in Australia, particularly between the States, the shipping industry will have great difficulty in solving its problems. I do not believe in saying, " I. told you so ", but I remember that when I was speaking on similar legislation in this place last year - and it was even suggested then that force might be used by the shipping companies to get men onto the registration lists for port quotas - I warned the Minister that, if he was not very careful, quotas would' be increased to such a degree that there would be many more men on the wharfs than were needed. Again, in reply to aquestion that I asked recently, concerning port quotas and the need to have equitable quotas, the Minister stated that the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority had" taken action and was adjusting the quotas. More recently, in reply to other matters raised by honorable members on this side of the House, he said that surely we did not advocate that men should be put off, thereby bringing about hardship on the wharfs. We certainly do not advocate that, but we do say that the Government and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority have to face the problems that exist. It is apparent that the authority has not been sufficiently far-seeing. I admit that the introduction of sick leave for waterside workers has imposed an additional financial burden on the authority, and I appreciate that it is not possible to pay out money unless money is coming in.

The proposed increase means that for every man-hour that is worked on the waterfront, the shipping companies will have to pay to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority an additional 5d. That adds up to quite a big amount of money. But I cannot understand why the stevedoring industry cannot see far enough ahead to do the Tight thing. We have honorable members opposite telling us that the waterside workers are led by Communists. They are always talking about Mr. Healy. I should like to quote to-night, not the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, but its federal president, Mr. Beitz, who made a statement in the press recently about the number of men employed in the waterfront and the numbers required. He told of what was being done by the shipping companies to try to reduce the number of men employed. He said that the modern tendency is to concentrate on loading cargo through 'the -side of the ship to increase the speed of loading. I do not know the details in that respect; ;but -I do know Mr. Beitz, who was born within two miles of ray own ;home. His father was a waterside 'worker who worked -under the old conditions. As a boy, Mr. Beitz knew what -his father had to put up with under the horrible conditions that existed years ago. This is the man who is fighting to get the best he can for the employees in the waterfront industry.

I 'knew Mr. Beitz when .he worked in the flourmilling industry. I also knew him .as a member o'f the Labour party committees in my own electorate. He is not a Communist. His parents were bitter against Communists. 'He was himself brought up in the .'Labour party. That man is to-day the federal president of the Waterside Workers Federation. We are told that a lot of the trouble in the waterfront is caused by the go-slow tactics of the men. I .know .that there are men in .the waterfront :ind.ustry, just as there are in any other industry, who may not be prepared to .play their part; but I know that there is any number of men on the waterfront who believe in doing a good job day after day.

I often meet men who have spent a lifetime in the waterfront industry, and when 1 ask them what they are doing and whether they are still on the wharfs they say that they are on the invalid pension. When J ask them why, they reply, " The old ticker could not stand up to it, and I have gone on the pension ". Why should that be so? That is brought about all over this country by the extremely hard work that waterside workers have to do. We hear people like the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) talking about the good old men and the good old days. These good old men were just building up their constitutions for an early collapse as a result of work on the waterfront.

Honorable members opposite claim that waterside workers are Communist-led. 1 know the workerside workers, and I know that they are entitled to decent conditions of work. The port installations at Port Adelaide do not include equipment necessary for the expeditious handling of ships. The stevedoring industry does not provide all the proper equipment needed for the speedy unloading of ships and the expeditious handling of cargo. The Government, at one stage, built a marvellous wharf down there; but when a ship berths, the unloading has to be carried out with the ship's .gear. It should, instead, be carried out with up-to-date gear on the wharf; but that gear is not there. We are looking forward to getting it some day.

Honorable members opposite talk about what waterfront delays are costing the primary producers. 'In Wallaroo, in South Australia, a big jetty was built to permit the .bulk handling of wheat. Previously 200 -or 300 waterside workers were employed at Wallaroo, whose work was dependent on the handling of bagged wheat. I know that we cannot stop progress, and I do not wish to stop it, but I remind honorable members opposite .that the jobs of these men depended upon the loading of bagged .cargo and -ended with the introduction of the bulk system. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell), in whose electorate Port Pirie lies, knows that the very same thing is happening there. Waterside workers have to leave the port because of the cessation of the handling of bagged cargoes. Their view is that if the man who grows wheat is to get the benefit of modern handling, then the waterside workers also should get some benefit instead of just losing their jobs. Surely, as time goes on, the Government and the Stevedoring Industry Authority will realize that these men must get the recognition and the conditions which other workers enjoy. It is many years now since workers in many industries in this country have bad the benefit of sick leave; but it is only comparatively recently that waterside workers have had that benefit. Yet, the waterside worker had to be ready to be called upon to work at any hour of the day or night. He had no holidays. If he took a holiday he received no pay. The result was that many of them could not afford to go on holiday. In recent years, although other workers have long enjoyed annual leave, the poor old wharfie has had to go without it, or take it at his own cost.


Mr Howson - It was a Liberal government that got the waterside worker annual leave.


Mr THOMPSON - It does not matter what government got it for him. I am not running down any government. I am just stating the facts and standing up for these men who are prepared to put up a fight for themselves. They would not have got what they now have if they had not fought for it. Honorable members opposite were condemning the New South Wales Labour Government and the Queensland Government for introducing legislation to give workers long service leave. They said that the New South Wales Government was the worst government in the world. A few weeks ago a deputation from the South Australian Trades and Labour Council saw the Premier of South Australia about long service leave. He told them that he would give them an answer in three weeks' time. Why should he wait three weeks? The Labour Government in New South Wales and the Cain Labour Government in Victoria have already given the workers long service leave, as has the Queensland Government. Anti-Labour governments give benefits to the workers only when they are forced to do so as a result of the progressive actions of Labour governments.


Mr Turnbull - The taxpayer pays for the lot.


Mr THOMPSON - The taxpayer pays for it. He also pays the honorable member's salary and my salary. If I am entitled to vote for an increase of my own salary and of the honorable member's salary, surely the workers are entitled to fight to have their salaries increased.

Over the years waterside workers have had to put up with many indignities, and still have to. They have to work in the rain; yet honorable members when on their way home at the end of a session want an umbrella to shelter them from the rain between the motor car and the airport waiting room. They would want to rush out and get some protection to get to the plane, and I would not blame them. But when they see the wharfies, who have to handle cargo on the wharf, going into the shed for shelter when it starts to rain, they should not complain about loss of time, or the fact that that has to be provided for.


Mr Turnbull - What about the farmers? They have to work in all weathers.


Mr THOMPSON - My friend remarks about the farmers. I was farming for years and I used to take a load of produce into the market town twice a week. There were two sale days a week and on those two days all the prosperous farmers in the district would be at the sale yards sitting on the rails of the fence while the auctioneer - a person such as the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) - was selling sheep. They were interested to see what prices the sheep brought. Others would go round to see how much pigs were sold for. I know what farmers do. I do not question that the farmer has to work, but when any one suggests that he cannot take time off from his work, I know that he can. He can take a day off and travel miles to be present at an auction sale. When I was on a farm horses were used for transport and farmers would travel 10 miles to a sale. Now that they have cars, it is no trouble to travel 40 miles.

I am not complaining about that; my complaint is that when we try to obtain equitable conditions for men in industry who have to battle for a living, and members of the Australian Country party interject about what the farmer has to do and the hours he has to work, my reply is that the farmer, unlike the waterside worker, does not work to-day under conditions such as prevailed 30 or 40 years ago. He does not now trudge along behind a harrow or hang on to the handles of a plough. He sits in the seat of a tractor and away he goes, dragging the load behind him. That is progress, and I am happy to see it. We must not think, if we want to compete with other countries either in primary or secondary industries, that we must not be up to date. But if we want the men working in industries to give of their best and increase the production which we are always asking for, we must not always be lambing and slamming at them. We have to remember that while the worker is doing something to increase production and so earn more for his employer, it is right, not only that he should do so, but also that he should be able to look for some improvement in his own earnings and the conditions under which he works.

In connexion with this bill I said that I would not attack other people. I do not think that I have been personal. I have just been dealing with the personal aspect of the conditions of the workers in this industry. When the Minister introduced this bill he said that perhaps twelve months hence it will be possible to make a reduction in this amount; but I am very doubtful about that. I say again that the quotas have had a lot to do with this increase. Men cannot be put off now, because they have been taken on. The Government has agreed to give them attendance allowance at the rate of 24s. a day. That figure has been increased from the original payment of 12s. From the time it was first introduced it has been increased from 12s. to 16s. and then to 24s. a day. I remind the Government that the taxpayer is paying part of that amount. Let there be no mistake about that. As has been pointed out here to-day, if the waterside worker attends for employment on five days in a week - not six days - he receives 24s. a day, which is £6 for a five-day week. That is a sum big enough to relieve the Government of the obligation to pay him unemployment benefit. But I say again that this money has to come out of the pockets of the taxpayer because ultimately the taxpayer is the person who purchases the goods. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) said that he is very interested in the waterfront because the primary producer has to pay extra money for his goods. In the same way the taxpayer is interested. If this charge is to be increased to 2s. - and I am not opposing the payment of the extra charge - the person who ultimately has to provide it is the ordinary consumer. It does not matter whether he is a farmer buying galvanized iron or wire netting or fencing wire, or somebody in the city whose wife buys goods from a shop, such as tea or something else that has been brought to the country by ship, ultimately it all comes from the pocket of the man at the bottom. The man at the bottom is the taxpayer and he is the man in whom I am most interested. Honorable members might say that the amount that members of Parliament have to pay in tax is pretty tough. It is not what we pay in tax that matters; what we have left afterwards is of greater importance. We have a lot more left after paying tax than has the worker right down at the bottom.

Let us. try to keep costs down, including shipping freights and charges. The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) was talking just now about ships and mentioned a case in Queensland of a ship being held up for hours to await the arrival of four bales of wool at the wharf. That certainly meant a heavy cost to the owner of that ship. I know that in Port Adelaide when a ship has to be loaded with wool, the wool is unloaded on to the wharf so that lead can be loaded at the bottom of the holds. The wool is then reloaded on top of the lead. At that port means do not exist to save time in loading and costs, and consequently the price of goods is increased. The primary producer has to pay more to have his produce transported by ship and the importer has to pay more to bring goods into this country. When those goods are sold to the consumer, it is the consumer, ultimately, who has to pay.

I am not throwing stones at the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, and I am not prepared to quote one instance tonight in which I could say, "You have done so and so wrongly ". If I want to criticize, I should produce evidence in support of my criticism. However, I know that, generally, in shipping matters, there is lack of supervision. The Stevedoring Industry Authority has not the right to direct how cargoes shall be stowed That is the right of the officers of the ship or of the. stevedoring company doing the work. However, I think that the Stevedoring Industry Authority should see. that the work is carried out in. a. proper manner.. If work, can be properly supervised and carried out in other industries, I feel that the Stevedoring Industry Authority should have power to, enforce loading of cargoes, including stowage, in a proper manner.

I am sorry if I have taken up too much time. According to the Minister, the Opposition has been debating this matter for too long. He suggested that we were making a stunt of the debate. I remind him that when the Wheat Tax, Bill was being discussed, earlier this, week, all honorable members interested in wheat spoke on it. Members of the Opposition did not complain, about that. We laughed sometimes, perhaps, about their enthusiasm and their interest in that measure. I say to the Minister that when a matter like this is brought forward for discussion, I want to exercise my right' and make the most of the opportunity of speaking on behalf of the workers concerned. I am- only doing what Government supporters do when they speak on behalf of those they represent in primary or secondary industries. I am not objecting to this charge, but I ask that before the Stevedoring Industry Authority forces up the quotas again and increases the numbers to a degree which the organization considers is necessary, it should think very deeply and provide only quotas that are sufficient to carry out the work in a reasonable manner.







Suggest corrections