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Thursday, 16 May 1957


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence) - Order! The honorable member for Wills will remain quiet or I will name him.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I am sure that in these matters the honorable member for Dalley would rather be right than left. When I turn to the other extreme of the Labour party - and in that I include the honorable members for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) - it is quite apparent from what they have said to-night that they would always rather be left than be right.


Mr Pollard - What is wrong with that?


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - They certainly were not right in the sense of putting the facts. I do not intend to spend very much time on their speeches. We had hoped that the honorable member for Cunningham, who is a recently arrived member on the Labour side, would have shown a rather higher sense of responsibility and a rather more realistic appreciation of the facts than was revealed in the extraordinary speech which came from him, not so much before dinner when he was making his own speech as after dinner when, obviously, during the suspension of the sitting he had been fed by the honorable member for East Sydney, or by somebody who thinks in a similar way. Before dinner we heard from him the speech of a Labour man; after dinner we had from him the speech of somebody fed from the pages of the " Tribune ".

The third group of Opposition speakers included the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison). Most of my remarks from now on will be directed to the substance of what the honorable member for Blaxland had to say and the queries which he raised.


Mr Bowden - There is never any substance in his speeches.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - My friend, the honorable member for Gippsland, says that there was no substance in it. I was just about to say this-


Mr Curtin - When are you going to give us some facts?


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Would you mind restraining yourself? You will get them and you will not like them when you get them.


Mr Ward - You are taking >long enough to get 'to them.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER -

Order! There are too many interjections. 1 will have to take action unless they cease.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I have always looked upon the honorable member for Blaxland as one of the more responsible members of the 'Labour party and one who tries to express the traditional trade unionist line on matters which come before this House. However, 'I say, more in sorrow than in anger, that he made on this subject the 'most stupid speech I have ever heard from him, and I will show why in a moment. Here are a few of the facts.

The remarkable 'thing is that we are dealing with a piece of legislation designed to raise the finance necessary for certain declared benefits available for the waterside workers of this country. This measure of all measures, if honorable gentlemen opposite were truly the spokesmen of the trade unionists as they claim to be, would have received their warm support. Instead of that, the warm support has come from a party which, on its record in respect of prosperity and employment in this country, has proved itself to be the friend of the worker -and the wage-earner in Australia. From this side of the House has come the support for the measure and the matters proposed to be financed through it.

I come to the queries which the honorable member for Blaxland put to me. I shall proceed to demonstrate the correctness of what I am saying. I remind honorable gentlemen opposite that they will not get away with this bluff because a lot of wage-earners and a lot of trade unionists have been watching the performances from both sides of politics for a great many years, and they are still supporting that side of politics which has given them these conditions and which has demonstrated that it is determined to deal fairly with every section of the Australian community.


Mr Ward - Come down to the next meeting of the wharfies with me!


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - All right. I have been to a few of them in my time.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER -

Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will cease interjecting.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I shall now deal with the first matter mentioned by the honorable member for Blaxland. He spoke of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, which conducts the operations financed by the charge now being levied in this legislation. He asked: ls it being run in a businesslike way? I shall come to the results in a moment; but, first, let us look at the composition of that authority. Is it being run in a businesslike way? The chairman of the authority is Mr. Hewitt, who was appointed, if my memory is correct, by the Labour government when it was in office. Does anybody on the Labour side challenge Mr. Hewitt's capacity to conduct this authority in a competent way? There are two other members of the authority- One is Mr. Jim Shortell, who was a former president of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales.


Mr Curtin - A grouper!


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member may not like him for that reason. He certainly was not a Communist and he has no time for Communists. I do not think he would have very much time for the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), but I shall not commit him to that. At least, he did enjoy the distinction of being one of the most respected members in the Labour movement of this country and a president of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales. He is one of the three members of the authority. The other member is Mr. Fred Gibson, who was the executive officer of the Australian Council of Employers Federations - again a very respected representative of management against whom I have never, as far as I can recall, heard a word of criticism from those of the trade union movement or even of Labour politics. Here are three able men, and, in my judgment, the performance that they have produced since they were given the responsibility of conducting this authority has more than justified the confidence which the Government placed in them and the very considerable powers in relation to the waterfront which have been entrusted to them. That is the first question: Is it being run in a businesslike way? I shall give the results in a moment, but they are the men who are in a position to conduct it in a businesslike way.

The next question was: Are there to┬╗ many men employed on the waterfront? This is asked by the honorable member for Blaxland, who claims to speak on behalf of the wage-earners and the unionists! If he wants a frank answer to his question as to whether or not at this moment there are too many men in the waterfront work force, my answer unhesitatingly is " Yes ". What the honorable member wants and has asked this Government to do is to sack all the surplus waterfront workers, throw them on the industrial scrap-heap and get down to a very much tighter industrial group. That is the inescapable implication to be drawn from what the honorable member for Blaxland put this afternoon. This Government is not quite so heartless as that towards the wage-earners. This Government has taken the view that there should be a regulated work force on the waterfront. It has left to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority the responsibility of deciding what the quota shall be in particular ports. The need for that quota varies according to the circumstances of the freight movements between this and other countries and around our coast. Those quotas have been progressively reduced over recent months. From a total work force of about 27,000, there has been, in eight ports of which 1 have knowledge, a total reduction of 1,750 in the quotas, in addition to the normal wastage which can be expected as men move out of the industry as they advance in years. Now, how rapidly does the honorable gentleman want us to proceed? Does he want us to throw suddenly on to the scrap heap a great body of men who have been regularly employed on the waterfront when we know there is going to be some easing of import restrictions and therefore a heavier demand in future for their labour? Does he want us to throw them out for some time and then try to re-engage them several months later? We believe that while we are passing through this phase there should be a fair spread between the regular waterfront work forces of the work available, while proceeding at the same time with some reduction of quotas in addition to the normal wastage which occurs.


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You did nothing about decasualization


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - We did a great deal about it. If the honorable member knew one-tenth of what he should know about the waterfront he would know that we submitted to the Waterside Workers Federation a scheme of guaranteed employment for every waterside worker and that scheme was refused by the federation.


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) Mr. E.James Harrison interjecting,


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! If the honorable member for Blaxland interrupts again, I will name him.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - What I said is true and the honorable gentleman cannot deny it. We offered a scheme of permanent engagement-


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - At what level?


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER -

Order! I have already warned the honorable member for Blaxland. I will give him an opportunity to apologize to the Chair and to refrain from interrupting again.


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I apologize, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, and with respect to yourself I say this-


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER

Order! The honorable member has apologized and will take his seat.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I am sorry to provoke the honorable member for Blaxland. He knows 1 have a respect for him, and I do not want to provoke him, but he made some very bitter criticisms this afternoon and I have a responsibility on behalf of the Government to answer them. The third question the honorable member raised was this: He asked whether this increased charge had become necessary because we were tinkering around too much with the waterfront - tinkering around in the sense of too much legislation and too much administration. Let me tell the House this: This Government has been tinkering around with the waterfront but at least it has produced some results to show that the tinkering has been to some purpose. I can give the House the figures of working time lost on the waterfront for i he first quarter of each of the last four years. That is one pointer. I am prepared to exclude the first quarter of last year, which included the general hold-up when we were going through those rather agonizing processes of trying to get a better deal on the waterfront both for management and the men. At that time the working days lost were colossal - 2,547,000 in round numbers. For that period the loss of working time amounted to just on 33 per cent.

For the first quarter of 1955 the number of days lost was 349,000, representing 3.3 per cent, of the possible working time. For the first quarter of 1954 the figure was 388,000 working days lost or 4.3 per cent. For the first quarter of 1957 162,000 working days were lost, which was 2 per cent of the working time. Compare that 2 per cent, with the other figures I have given and the normal Australian average in other years of about 6 per cent.! I do not say that with any great complacency. There is a lot more to be done. We have a lot more improvements to make, but at least it is a very substantial and, I suggest, significant improvement.

In the same period, in terms of efficiency, there have been some very notable developments. Opposition members were asking for , facts a moment ago. Well, here are some facts and I trust that the Opposition will mark them well. I will take a typical port. Resulting from the award of Mr. Justice Ashburner, certain concessions-were granted to waterside workers - concessions which are being financed by this charge that the Parliament is now asked to approve - such as sick leave and attendance money payment increases. In addition the judge said that the stevedoring companies and the shipowners should have the right to decide the gang strengths and the conditions of loading by way of pallets, and so enabled them to go ahead as they saw fit with mechanization of various processes on the waterfront.

So, on the one hand the waterside workers got some very substantial benefits including increases of pay, and the grant of annual sick leave and annual holidays, and on the other hand, the stevedoring companies got the right to decide what should be the gang sizes and the pallet loadings. At Townsville, a typical port in north Queensland where metal concentrates from Mount Isa are loaded, gang sizes have been reduced, using ships' gear, from fifteen to nine. Using cranes, two slings at a time, the gangs have been reduced from 25 to thirteen. When off-loading dross the gangs have been reduced from sixteen to eight. When loading, dross they have been reduced from nineteen to eight. With respect to sugar the position varies at various ports according to the way in which the sugar is loaded. For bags ex truck, the gangs have been reduced from 2'5 to 20. For bulk loading the reduction has been from 22 to 19'. For the loading of frozen meat the gang strengths were previously 2.1 or 23 but have now been reduced, generally speaking, to 19. For the loading of hides and tallow gang strengths have been reduced from 17 to 15.. The position with general cargo varies according to the manner m which it is discharged, but discharging into the shed has meant a reduction, of gang strength by four. Other figures which might usefully be quoted show that at Port Kembla, where steel is handled^, gang strengths have been reduced from 9 to 7, but while loading with ships' gear the reduction has been from 11 to 9. In the handling of fruit at Tasmanian ports, which, I know is of particular interest to some of my colleagues, on this side of. the House, in Hobart last year the gang strength was reduced from 27 to 21. That has been extended this year to Port Huon and Beauty Point. These are very significant facts. They show a substantial reduction in gang strengths. At the same time, with the reduced numbers, we have been getting approximately the same through-put of cargo*.

Not often can it be said that I pay a tribute te- the Waterside Workers Federation in this place, but I believe that after the first restless period following the introduction of the award the waterside workers accepted in a reasonable manner the introduction of mechanized processes and the determination' of the court in- relation- to gang strengths and pallet sizes. The result of all that is that the Australian waterfront is now operating more efficiently than at any time I can recall in my own period in this Parliament.

The honorable member for Blaxland kept coming back also to the- question of the increase of transport costs that would follow the increasing of the charge. He said that we proposed to increase transport costs by 16 per cent. That statement indicates that he completely misunderstands the purpose- of this bill, and its likely consequences.. I think that I covered that point by explaining that the improvement of efficiency had been so beneficial that the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission had intimated to the Minister for Shipping, and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who, in turn, had discussed, the matter with me. that all the indications are that the commission will be able to absorb not only the increase of 5d. a man-hour, but also the basic wage increase of 10s. a week recently awarded by the Commonwealth- Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, without finding it necessary to' increase its freight charges.


Mr Griffiths - But the private shipping companies have given no guarantee.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I am talking about the Commonwealth's own authority - the Australian- Coastal Shipping Commission. If the honorable member and his colleagues will see to it that no industrial1 disturbances of any consequence occur om the waterfront between now and the end of this financial year, I think I can underwrite the intimation given by the Government's own instrumentality that freight rates will not be increased, as a result of either the increased charge proposed in this measure, or the 10s. a week basic wage increase.


Mr Curtin - Why qualify it?

Mr- HAROLDHOLT.- Because we, on this side of the House, try to conduct government enterprises profitably and efficiently, and a departure from the conditions that I have mentioned, with a consequent deterioration, of the finances of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, might require some action to be taken. I am happy to say that the very heavy losses which the Commonwealth shipping line sustained while it was conducted by the Labour Government have been turned into profits since this Government has taken over its administration.

I hope that I need not labour this matter any longer, and that honorable members on both sides of the House will do what they can to encourage what has been, from- my stand-point, and I believe from- the- nation's stand-point, the most heartening improvement of conditions on the waterfront that we have seen for very many yeans. I pay tribute to the members of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority appointed by this Government for the spectacular results that it has achieved in a relatively short time. I think that we can hope for continued improvement. I believe that waterside workers and other trade unionists are gradually coming to recognize that this trouble between management and men on the waterfront does hot remain just a brawl between the worker and his boss, but adds to the costs of all the commodities that every Australian trade unionist buys for himself and his family, if it interrupts the regular flow of shipping and detracts from efficient performance on the waterfront. I know that that is coming to be realized by responsible trade union officials with whom I have discussions in the course of my official duties, and I think that it is gradually filtering through to the men on the waterfront. A further sharp lesson to them is the fact that the only section of industry, apart from the waterfront, that has my employment troubles worth mentioning is the coalmining industry.


Mr Pollard - In both cases, they have bad bosses.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - In both cases, they have shockingly bad industrial leadership. In both case, they have been led by militant Communists for years, and, in both cases, the industrial tactics employed have helped to destroy their own security of employment. Consumers of coal have turned to other kinds of fuel, such as brown coal and fuel oil. They have tried to make themselves independent of coal from New South Wales, the most turbulent State industrially, and, therefore, coal-miners have lost employment opportunities, solely because of their folly in taking the course that they have taken. Similarly, there is less employment on the waterfront to-day because people who ship goods from one part of Australia to another cannot rely on the regular movement of ships being ensured by speedy turn-round and expeditious handling of cargoes on the wharfs.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER

Order! The Minister's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.







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