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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr BENSON (Batman) .- I wish to draw the attention of the House to an article which appears in today's " Australian " under the heading " Miller frets over tanker cargoes ". It states -

Mr. R.W. Miller, chairman of R. W. Miller Holdings Ltd., the brewer, ship-owner and coal miner, last night called on the Federal Government to honor Sir Robert Menzies' undertaking to reduce the over-tonnage of Australian flag tankers in the coastal trade.

That part of the article is the main reason for my rising. The article continues - " We are confident that in accordance with the declared policy the Government will correct the matter in the near future", Mr. Miller said in his company's interim report.

I will not read the whole of the article, because it is lengthy, lt goes on to say that Mr. Miller is complaining that, in his opinion, there are too many Australian flag tankers on the coast and that his reasoning is that the tankers have been allowed to operate on the coast by arrangement with the Government. The House will be aware that the Miller organisation has three tankers trading on the Australian coast. By his initiative in breaking in on this trade by first bringing the " Miller's Canopus " to Australia, R. W. Miller forced the oil combines to bring their own tankers out to trade on the Australian coast, with Australian licences. The article implies that if the over-tonnage is allowed to continue Mr. Miller will have to take some of his tankers out of the trade.

I have not spoken to Mr. Miller. When I saw this article in the " Australian " I rang the Melbourne office of R. W. Miller Holdings Ltd., stated that I had seen the article in the paper and asked whether it was true. I was told that it was true. I then asked whether it was a fact that Miller's ships had been laid up for varying periods. I was told that they had been laid up. The article continues -

A typical example was the recent permit to the British Petroleum Company's tanker "British Corporal ", Mr. Miller said.

On March 17, applications were made for a permit for "British Corporal" to load 800 tons of automotive diesel oil at Portland, Victoria, for Devonport and Bell Bay and also a cargo of 12,500 tons of petroleum products from Melbourne to Port Lincoln and Port Pirie, he said.

A single voyage permit in respect of the automotive diesel oil was issued, but a decision on the full cargo of 12,500 tons was deferred, he said, pending further information on the likely date on which the Mobil Australian-flag tanker, "Australian Progress ", would be able to resume service after overhaul.

The position is that if ships normally operating on the coast are not available, a foreign owner may make application to the Government for a single voyage permit. I would not like to see the position get to the stage where Miller, who pioneered this trade, was forced off the coast. I know very well that the Government stated that Millers ship would be allowed on the coast on condition that a firm order was given for the building of a tanker to replace it.

There is only one Australian firm other than the Miller organisation carrying oil on the coast. That is the Ampol Petroleum Ltd. That organisation has one tanker operating on the coast and I understand that it is to bring in another - the " P. J. Adams". This could cause a little embarrassment because that tanker entering this trade could mean that at some period of the year there would be 13 tankers operating on the coast. The other companies such as Shell Company of Australia Ltd., B.P., Australia Ltd., ESSO Standard Oil (Aust.) Pty. Ltd. and Caltex Oil (Aust.) Pty. Ltd., are not Australian companies in the true sense, because their parent organisations are outside Australia.

If this state of affairs continues to the point where Miller is forced out of the trade, it will be a bad thing for Australian coastal shipping. I am not here to fight a case on behalf of Miller's business interests, but I do admire Mr. R. W. Miller for starting this operation. The maritime unions of Australia had been trying for many years to get Australian tankers on the coast. Australian tankers are now operating on the coast, and it would seem to me that an attempt is now being made to squeeze Miller out.

Some three or four weeks ago, the " R. W. Miller", one of the Miller tankers, could not get a cargo of oil. She was therefore forced to load a cargo of grain and go off the coast. That ship is now on its way back to Australia. Is the Minister able to tell us that there will be full employment for the 12 tankers that now operate on the coast? I think that all the oil companies should get together with the Government with a view to finding out what our actual requirements are. It is wrong to say that as soon as a Miller ship is off the coast, an urgent cargo could suddenly be required for Tasmania. What happens is this: Customs officers are employed where oil tanks are situated around Australia. On every day of every week these Customs officers take a dip of the tank. So, the amount of oil that is stored in Australia is known daily. These dips are taken so that the Government is able to find out how much duty will be due to it when the oil or petrol carried by these ships is sold. So. it is not hard to discover how much oil is in Devonport or Portland, or how much petrol is somewhere else because these dips are being taken continuously.

The argument could be put up that because a few more oil refineries are being built in Australia the trade is not as great now as it was when the original permits were issued. If this is the case, it is up to the Government to say so. If the Government does this, then it must say: " We do not need 12 tankers on the Australian coast. We need 9 tankers only." If this were the case, a company might wish to get rid of a tanker. If Miller has not jobs for his tankers he has no option but to dispose of them. Miller is then in the position of having brought these tankers to Australia and being unable to get rid of them until the Minister for Shipping and Transport says he can. I see that the Minister for Shipping and Transport is smiling but he knows that an operator cannot sell ships out of Australia even if he wants to. Is that not right?

Mr Freeth - Yes.

Mr BENSON - Permission has to be obtained. I am not growling about that. If it is good enough for permission to be obtained to bring in a second hand ship, then it is only fair that permission should be obtained to take it out. That is the way I see the position. The company to which I have referred has done much for the maritime unions in this country. When the Government allowed these tankers to come into Australia a breakthrough was achieved. I would not like to see this company forced out of this business so that the big oil companies can drift back to the position they were in when we had tankers on the Australian coast manned by foreign seamen, and ships flying flags of convenience from all over the world.

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