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Friday, 12 September 1969


Mr SINCLAIR (New England) (Minister for Shipping and Transport) - All the members of this Parliament share in the sympathy expressed for those who were lost on the vessel 'Noongah'. However, the wild, irrational and emotional speech that was made by the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) earlier concerns all of us in that it shows the complete unsuitability of the Australian Labor Party to govern this country. The only conclusion I can draw from what the honourable member said is that he is seeking to reduce the range of the inquiry. I can only presume that he does not want a full inquiry. What I undertook to do when I spoke to the honourable member for Newcastle by way of interjection after I had made a statement on the sinking of the vessel was to make known to honourable members the terms of reference of the inquiry. This I have done. The inquiry is to be a full and complete inquiry into the foundering of the vessel and into the loss of the persons from it. I also undertook to facilitate an opportunity for debate. Today three speakers have referred to the 'Noongah'. There has been a debate in this Parliament. By making known the findings of the preliminary inquiry to this Parliament, I have afforded honourable members every opportunity to debate the matter.

Let me amplify this. I am quite prepared to make the report of the preliminary inquiry available confidentially to any member who would like to have a look at it. This of course includes the honourable member for Newcastle. The reason I have not tabled it in the Parliament and the reason why it has not been made public, as the honourable gentleman should surely know, is that there is to be a full and complete judicial inquiry by a court of marine inquiry. This court will look at all the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the vessel. But the honourable member for Newcastle apparently does not want this to be done; apparently he wants it to be confined in some way. We do not want to hide anything; we want to ensure that every circumstance is taken into account. If the report of the preliminary inquiry was published, people might prejudge the issue and they might think that the preliminary inquiry was a full inquiry. It was not intended that it should be a full inquiry. As I said, I am quite happy to make the report of this preliminary inquiry available confidentially to any member who would care to look at it. I do not want the report to be made public, because I feel that this would lead to a prejudging of the issues which are to be examined in toto.

A full inquiry will be made into circumstances of the ship, its seaworthiness, its stowage of cargo and into the circumstances of the repair to which the honourable member for Newcastle referred. I am assured that a Lloyd's surveyor issued a certificate on the completion of the repair work, indicating his satisfaction with both the work and the seaworthiness of the vessel before it was allowed to proceed to sea. A full inquiry will be made into the circumstances of these repairs, into the life equipment, the launching of the lifeboats, the buoyancy of the life jackets and all other aspects of the loss of life on board the vessel. These are the terms of reference of the inquiry which this Government has instituted. Presumably the honourable member for Newcastle has sought to take issue because he does not want to have anything so wide.


Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - I raise a point of order. If this information is the basis of the Minister's speech why did he not give it by way of a ministerial statement?


Mr SINCLAIR - There is no point of order.


Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - The Minister is not the Chairman. Since when has he been the Chairman? I am raising a point of order. I do not have to resume my seat. If the Minister wants to deliver this information to the Parliament why does he not make a ministerial statement so that honourable members may debate it?

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett) - Order! There is no substance in the point of order.


Mr SINCLAIR - As I have stated, a court of marine inquiry is to conduct a full and complete inquiry into the sinking of the 'Noongah'. There is no basis whatsoever for any allegation that the Government is trying to hide anything and it would be absolutely ludicrous to make such an allegation.

I would now like to refer briefly to some of the other matters that have been raised in the debate on the estimates for the Department of Shipping and Transport. The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Pearsall) and other members from Tasmania, and also the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen), have expressed concern at the freight rates that are charged for container cargoes from ports in north Queensland and ports in Tasmania, in particular from the port of Hobart. The significance of the container service is well recognised. lt is intended that a residual service with conventional vessels will continue to be provided to those outports which are not at this stage to be services by container vessels. This residual service will cover the refrigerated cargo that is so important to Tasmania. There is an obligation to provide and adequate and sufficient service for these ports, and at this stage an inquiry is being undertaken by the shippers association and the shipping conference into ways and means by which these outports can be brought within the service and can be brought in at the standardised rate. It is my hope that this will result in a satisfactory solution and that the ports of Tasmania, with which' I know the honourable member for Franklin and other members are concerned, will be given the same opportunity to ship their goods as they have enjoyed in the past and will be given an opportunity to ship their goods by this improved form of transport.

The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) expressed his concern at some impediment to traffic movement in the centre of Australia. I would like to point out to him that the estimates for the Department provide very substantial sums of money for both the Central Australian Railway and the North Australian Railway. A sum of $2,100,000 has been allocated for the upgrading and general maintenance of the Central Australian Railway and a sum of $3,300,000 has been allocated for the North Australian Railway. Both these allocations are expressly intended to provide for the maintenance of service in spite of weather conditions. The blocking of the road to Coober Pedy did create a substantial impediment to the movement of quite a number of tourist buses and private automobiles which were in the vicinity at the time. I appreciate the difficulty of moving passengers in the weather conditions which led to the road being blocked.

Within the allocation under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement an opportunity is provided for a substantial upgrading of such arterial roads. Indeed, the purpose of the Commonwealth aid roads allocation is that there should be a national road programme for the first time. For the first time the Commonwealth has allocated to three specific areas funds for the upgrading and reconstruction of the road system. I hope that the road to which the honourable member for the Northern Territory referred can benefit as a result of this very substantial increase of 67% in the allocation under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement.

The honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) expressed concern about the shipping service to King Island. I can appreciate that for those who live in island communities there is a very real importance in having an adequate and efficient transport service for the goods which they produce. I know that the members of the King Island community are interested to hear and see the results of the consultants' report on this service which is now under examination by the Tasmania and Commonwealth governments. It is of concern that the producers on King Island should have an adequate opportunity to export their goods. It is for that purpose that the Commonwealth has maintained its subsidy and intends to do so at least until 30th June 1970, subject only to any decisions might be taken as a result of the consultants' report. I would hope. that these might be known before too long.

The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) mentioned development at Portland, and other members mentioned development at other ports on the Australian coast. There is one thing I would like to say on this. It is increasingly important in the Australian community that we look critically at all forms of transport. It is essential that we look not only at port development but also at the viability of rail operation as against coastal shipping and the viability of coastal shipping as against road transport. Of course, these three methods of transport should be compared with a slightly different field, and that is the movement of goods by aircraft. The importance of the costing of the transport operation must be increasingly recognised. It is with the hope of achieving a greater integration of these services and of achieving improved efficiency that under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement we have provided for consultation by the Commonwealth with the respective States. The objective is to ascertain in greater detail the level, order and nature of transport costs. For all these reasons I commend the estimates of my Department to this Committee.







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