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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- First of all I compliment the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) on the excellent contribution he made to this debate. Although- it may have annoyed- the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) and. other members on the Government side, I think that what the honorable member had to say was rather pertinent, to the very question that we are now discussing. Members of the Opposition are not opposed to the. Stevedoring Industry. Authority obtaining sufficient revenues in order that employment conditions on the waterfront may be improved, including the provision of. increased attendance money. We regard, the sum proposed as altogether too small and we think it ought to be increased. We agree that the provision of. sick leave and the awarding of statutory holidays is proper. These conditions are long overdue, to the waterside workers.

I should like to correct the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), who seems to. claim- some credit for the Government with which he happens to be associated at the moment for these improved conditions on the waterfront. As. a matter of fact, the Waterside Workers Federation and. associated unions, working in co-operation with the political Labour party,, have been responsible- for improving conditions- not. only on the waterfront, but throughout. Australian industry generally. The: truth of that must be quite evident to any. reasonable person who examines the facts. Though beneficial legislation may be introduced from time to- time by an anti-Labour- government, it is done: only reluctantly and after considerable agitation. It is not a willing concession, but, rather, something, that the workers, by their organized' strength, have, extracted from the Government.

Mr Howson Mr. Howsoninterjecting,

Mr WARD - The honorable member for Fawkner, who interjects, regards work as a disease, and something to be avoided at all costs. We regard the worker, as. engaging in an* honorable undertaking* and as one who should command the respect of the whole community. I remind the honorable member that it is the workers who make it possible for this Parliament to function, and for its members to- receive their- salaries.

The Minister, referring: to the proposal to increase the stevedoring charge, said, " It. is paid by the employers in the industry ". That is not true. The employers pass the increased charges on in the form of increased, freights. Will any Government supporter deny that the stevedoring companies are mere adjuncts of the privately owned shipping companies* which are to-day making: millions by exploiting the primary producers, the workers in secondary industry, and the community as a whole? We know very well that the increased charge will be used as an argument in favour of increased freights which, eventually, the consumer must pay. The higher freights operating along the Australian coast are very serious. The Minister admitted that,, in one year's operations, the quantity o£ general cargo carried had fallen, by 20 per cent. The Minister may express belief that the shippers should absorb the- increased cost, and not raise freights still higher, but. he does not tell them, " You are earning sufficient already and must absorb these increased charges ". On this subject, the Minister said, in his second-reading speech -

The improved waterfront performance should enable shipowners to absorb all or most of the increased charge.

Given reasonable prospects of a continued improvement in waterfront performance, I should hope to see not merely an absorption by shipowners of this, charge, but also, as the charge becomes reduced - as I most certainly hope it will be in the near future - corresponding steps taken by them in the direction of a reduction in their shipping freights.

That statement was made merely for public consumption. Here we have a Minister in a responsible Government telling the shipowners that he " hopes " the increased charge will be absorbed by them. It is not enough to say that this " should " happen. The Government should ensure that it does happen. Inevitably, the shippers will attempt to pass the increased charge on to the Australian public.

The honorable member for Cunningham made a. most important contribution to the debate. Despite the interjections which came from, the Minister and other honorable members,, no Government supporter has yet attempted to answer what the honorable member said. Evidently the Government does not want this matter examined. The honorable member did not make any wild or irresponsible statements. He merely said that information which had been passed on to him indicated that a number of members associated with the Government, including the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself, had a financial interest in stevedoring: operations - if not directly as shareholders in stevedoring companies, then through financial organizations with interlocking interests with stevedoring and shipping, companies. Every one knows that a member who has a- financial interest in any matter which comes before the Parliamentshould not participate in any discussion thereon,, or in any vote that may be taken. The Government, however,, does, not take such considerations seriously. It regards indirect participation in Parliamentary debate as one- of the rights of private enterprise.

A member of the Australian Country party attempted to ridicule the waterside, worker by suggesting that a lot of working time was lost during rainy weather. The waterside workers have never asked for more than protective clothing; in inclement weather, so that they can continue work, ing without danger to their health, and, of course, one of the main reasons why they cannot continue to work in heavy rain, is that it is the practice of the stevedoring company to cover the hatches in order to protect the cargo. A great deal of rubbish is talked about the waterside worker knocking off every time there is a few spots of rain. That simply does not happen. The Minister himself has admitted that the turnround of shipping has improved. We have also been told that slow turn-round is one of the things that keeps freights high; so why have not freights come down now that the turn-round has improved? Unfortunately, a quicker turn-round merely results in the shipping companies deciding that they have- too many men working on the waterfront.

The. waterside worker has been quite correct in opposing some of the propositions put forward from- time to time by the shipowners and the stevedoring companies. No man who is dependent upon his weekly earnings- for the maintenance of his family, should be expected to deliberately put himself out of work. Even if he did, it would not serve the national interest. If this were a properly organized economy a man who was not required on the waterfront could be transferred to some other suitable and well-paid employment; but it is not a properly, organized economy. Improved turnround: merely means enhanced profits for those who have invested capital in shipping. That is why the worker is very critical of what is happening.

I agree with honorable, members who have pointed out the importance of keeping freights down to a reasonable level. One way to do that is to establish effective competition. Does the Government intend ever to allow our Commonwealth shipping line to compete with private shipping interests around the Australian coast? I think not. As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth ships, have been deliberately sabotaged by the very stevedoring companies that this Government is setting out to' protect, and has protected in the past:

Everybody knows that, by legislative enactment, this Government provided that the Commonwealth Shipping Line could not have its own shore organization - its own stevedoring company - in order to work its ships. The Government decided that those ships would have to be worked on a costplus system by the existing stevedoring companies. Those stevedoring companies, working on the cost-plus system, do not worry whether waterside workers are kept idle or not, so long as they are kept on the pay-roll, because the bigger the pay-roll the bigger the profit for the company.

Quite deliberately, Commonwealth ships have not been permitted to get sufficient labour to work them as they arrive in port. On the other hand, when there is a shortage of labour in a port, it is always diverted to work privately owned ships. It is amazing that Commonwealth ships have been able to operate so successfully from the financial viewpoint in view of the terrific handicaps imposed on them by the Government, I am satisfied that if the Commonwealth line of ships were allowed to work as it should, as a really competitive service around the coast, it would not have to increase freights in order to absorb the increased stevedoring charges. But it will be compelled to increase freights because the Commonwealth line of steamers has to follow the policy laid down by the private shipping companies. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who controls the Commonwealth line, will see that it observes the conditions established by private shipping companies. Therefore, it is obvious that this is a bigbusiness government. It always protects big business. It is always on the side of the big battalions.

I am not criticizing the stevedoring authority. I think that the stevedoring authority is doing a worthwhile job in improving conditions on the waterfront. But the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has been talking about his hopes of what the private shippers will do. Why does he not say that his Government intends to see that the private shipping companies, and the stevedoring interests with which they are allied, do not pass on the increased charges to the Australian community? Whilst the Opposition supports the raising of more revenue for the stevedoring industry authority, believing that it is essential if improved conditions are to be provided for the waterside workers, I hope the authority will see that all the money raised is really used to improve conditions on the waterfront.

The occupation of waterside worker is not as good as honorable members in the Australian Country party seem to imagine. They seem to think that it is an industry in which the pay is too high, the conditions too good and the hours too short. The amusing part about this position is their ignorance in regard to the exact conditions on the waterfront. The waterside workers constitute one of the hardest-working sections of the Australian community. They are not so highly paid, because to-day the waterside worker is not permitted to work his full 40 hours a week. Under the system of casual employment and the gang system, the waterside worker obtains on an average only about 34 hours' employment a week, according to the latest figures that I have seen. The Minister for Labour and National Service evidently does not realize that those men who work an average of 34 hours a week accept all the work that is available to them. Under the gang system and the rotary system, they are given only 34 hours' work a week, and that is all they are paid for. If honorable members examine the situation on that basis they will find that waterside workers are not a so well-paid section that some members believe them to be. There is a number of old men among them who, because of age and illness, cannot work constantly. They are placed on the disability list, and receive a very moderate income because they are able to work only when their health permits.

Whilst the Opposition welcomes the extension of benefits to waterfront employees - benefits obtained for them by the Australian Labour party and the industrial organization to which they belong - I hope that the money raised under this measure will be used to expand the services on the waterfront. I hope that the Minister, instead of merely expressing his wish that the charges will not be passed on, will give the House a definite assurance, on behalf of the Government, that he will stand by the words he has uttered and ensure that, because of the improved turn-round of shipping and the improved profit of shipping companies and stevedoring companies, he will see that the charges mentioned in this measure will be paid out of profits, and not added to the living costs of the Australian community.

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