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Thursday, 14 May 1970

Mr SINCLAIR (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Industry) - The honourable gentleman and other honourable members from Western Australia have been seeing me in the last few weeks regarding an approach made from the Government of Western Australia to the Commonwealth Government in relation to the operations of the Western Australian Coastal Shipping Commission. As the honourable member will know, the Coastal Shipping Commission over the last few years has been operating at a very considerable loss. While the State was operating within the protection of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, the loss has been largely borne by the Commonwealth. To the extent to which the Commission is phasing out, this Joan is still underwritten by the Commonwealth. Nonetheless, the State is concerned at the very high order of losses that have been incurred and is conscious of the needs to provide an adequate service for the people who live in the isolated communities of north west Western Australia. The Commonwealth Government has received an approach from the Government of Western Australia regarding the re-equipment of the Western Australian Coastal Shipping Commission with new types of vessels and in particular those called the LASH ships or lighter aboard ships. The difficulties in operating these ships are such that there is, as I understand it at the moment, only one trade in the world currently served by a similar vessel and the nature of the operation consequently in terms of its efficiency and economy cannot be firmly established.

The Commonwealth Government is still considering the approach made by the Western Australian Government but I have indicated to that Government that if it seeks to look overseas for charter vessels of some type which might be readily available - possibly Scandia ships - it might be possible for it to introduce a more modern type of vessel to provide a service which would be more economic than that which is at present provided by conventional ships. This would enable a more accurate assessment of the lighter aboard ship system than would the immediate purchase of these ships, thus introducing them without a full opportunity completely to assess their economics. The decision, of course, remains basically one for the Western Australian Government, but in terms of the approach to the Commonwealth the matter is still under active consideration as to what response should be given by the Commonwealth. When I am in a position to further advise the honourable member I will do so.

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