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Thursday, 20 April 1961

Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) .- It is extraordinary that every speaker on the Government side has devoted part of his time this morning to criticizing an advertisement that has appeared in a Melbourne newspaper. The attitude of those honorable members is not without humour. They have not attempted so much to answer the criticism contained in -the advertisement!} but seem to be incensed that somebody should have the effrontery to criticize the Government's policy publicly. It is also a remarkable fact that none of those speakers attempted to answer categorically the statements contained in the advertisements. All that is at issue is whether the advertisements and the figures contained in them are false. On that issue, supporters of the Government have been particularly careful to avoid expressing themselves. Instead, they have embarked on wholesale criticism of the press and a particular organization in Victoria.

This is rather odd in view of what has happened during the past ten years in the press reporting of the proceedings of this Parliament. Every time there has been criticism of the Treasurer or the Government, no matter how mild, particularly in recent days, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has displayed a degree of sensitivity that is somewhat humorous. The right honorable gentleman has nothing at all to say about newspapers that cravenly follow whatever policy the Government produces. The Treasurer has nothing to say about the partial reporting of the proceedings of this House. From time to time, the Treasurer himself has criticized the very mild criticism of the Government that the " Sydney Morning Herald " has indulged in through its editorials. On the other hand, he has nothing to say about the disgusting partiality of the Sydney " Daily Telegraph ", not only in its editorial columns but also in its reporting of proceedings of the Parliament.

Any opinions expressed in the editorial columns of a newspaper are the responsibility of that newspaper, and it is entitled to express them in editorial form; but the reporting of proceedings of the House is an entirely different matter. I refer in particular to the " Daily Telegraph's " report of the foreign affairs debate in this House last week. Any one who has been an impartial observer of the proceedings in this House would say that this was the first time in eleven years that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has been in such a spot. He was continually on the defensive and was disconcerted by the attack of the Opposition; but any one reading the newspapers would have no idea of what was happening. The other example of -partial reporting by the " Daily Telegraph " was its report of the debate on the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) through which he tried to get some action on the report presented some two years ago by the Constitutional Review Committee. The " Daily Telegraph " in reporting that debate gave about ten lines to the Leader of the Opposition and approximately 80 lines to the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) who presented the Government's case. In those circumstances, I think the Governments approach to the matter honorable members have been discussing will leave most people unmoved.

I wish to refer to the shipbuilding industry in Australia, which has reached a very parlous state. Shipbuilding is declining and in many cases has ceased. Only two shipbuilding yards engaged in building merchant ships have any continuity of work. They are the yards at Whyalla and the State dockyards at Newcastle in New South Wales. Yards which were flourishing a few years ago and contributed substantially to the development of our economy are idle. Mort's Dock which employed up to 2,000 men is closed down. The shipbuilding yards of Poole and Steel played a vital part in our war effort but now they are out of production and the only man on the premises is a watchman. The same thing has happened in Brisbane and Maryborough.

Many opportunities are open to the Government if it wishes to save the shipbuilding industry. It could do something for merchant shipbuilding and also by way of a naval programme. The Government could give an impetus to the industry by building merchant and passenger ships. There are opportunities on the Australian coast for passenger shipping. As to naval shipbuilding, I quote from the Melbourne "Age" of 18th April. When speaking at the launching of the anti-submarine frigate H.M.A.S. " Derwent ", the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) said that no more naval vessels would be built in the near future, and he regretted that there should be a hiatus in naval building at Williamstown naval dockyard and Cockatoo Island, but financial considerations had put an end to any immediate prospect for building new ships. I think the Minister might more appropriately have used the word " gap " instead of "hiatus". The fact is that the naval shipbuilding programme has come to an end, and this is grim news for every one.

At the launching of this frigate last Saturday, the Minister stated categorically that there would be no naval shipbuilding in this country in the future. I remind the House that at the launching of a similar vessel - H.M.A.S. "Stuart" - the week previously, at Cockatoo Dockyard, the managing director of the constructing firm said that, for the first time in 30 years, his company had no ship under construction. So we have the fact that neither Cockatoo nor Williamstown has any further shipbuilding orders for the Navy. That is a deplorable situation. The reason given for it by the Minister is that there is no money available for future shipbuilding. Although there are two ships to be fitted out, that work will not absorb the number of men who were employed on their construction and, of necessity, those who will not be required for the fitting out will be displaced. As time goes on, the number of men engaged on the fitting out work will dwindle, and unless further shipbuilding orders are forthcoming rapidly, the shipbuilding industry in this country will revert to the position in which it was in the thirties, when it was allowed to run completely to seed. This Government provides money for many other things, and I believe that it must now find money for the purpose of keeping these men employed. If it is not possible to undertake any further naval shipbuilding, then I submit that it is possible to undertake a programme of building merchant ships. In view of the importance of this industry not only to our economy, but also to our defence, I urge upon the Government the dire necessity for taking almost immediate action in this direction.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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