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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 662


Mr COOKE (Petrie) - I wish to raise once again the question of the implications of the change in the guaranteed minimum wage levied in non-permanent ports by the Association of Employees of Waterside Labour. This question was raised in the adjournment debate last Tuesday week. During that debate the Minister for Labour put some facts before the House which I feel should be clarified at this point. I advised the Minister's office this afternoon that I proposed to raise this question once again in the hope that he might be present this evening. Unfortunately it appears that he will not come. The problem as it relates to Queensland ports is particularly important, because under the previously existing arrangements a uniform levy of 40c per man hour on labour working in ports all round Australia was imposed for the purpose of paying the minimum guaranteed wage to waterside workers in every port in Australia.

The levy prior to the change was 40c per man hour. A change was made in this levy by the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour on5th March. That change was made to impose a higher levy on smaller ports and those ports which are generally what may be described as decentralised in country areas. The ones to which I draw attention tonight are the ports of Cairns and Mackay, both of which were mentioned by the Minister for Labour as being ports whose very existence would be jeopardised by the new rates. As I have said, the old rate was 40c per man hour, and it applied throughout the whole of Australia. Under the new scheme of things the port of Cairns is paying $1.50 per man hour, which is an increase of something like 200 per cent; the levy on the port of Mackay has been increased to $1 per man hour, which is an increase of something like 150 per cent. One does not have to be a mathematical genius to realise that this will impose considerable economic strains on the users of those ports, and the users of those ports are generally those engaged in primary exports in Cairns and Mackay.

In his speech on Tuesday evening of last week the Minister for Labour incorporated in Hansard some letters which passed between him and the relevant Association of Employers. The Minister's letter which appears in Hansard was dated 23rd February 1973. In that letter he invited the Association to say what changes if any it thought should be made in the basis on which the stevedoring industry charge is levied. He invited it to submit its comments no later than 31st July 1973. The reply which the Minister received was dated 2nd March, and in that reply the Association said that a considerable amount of work had been done on the fourth point raised by the Minister, which was the question of replacing the levy, and would be considered when a further report and recommendations on funding were presented at its meeting the following week. That letter, I repeat, was dated 2nd March 1973. The change was made by the Association on 5th March 1973, some few days after the letter was sent to the Minister.

In his speech on Tuesday evening of last week the Minister said that he had not been consulted about the change, that he did not have any prior knowledge of it at all. He expressed concern, particularly about the 2 ports in Queensland about which I am speaking tonight - the ports of Mackay and of Cairns. In his speech he said that the future of 5 ports, including the 2 I have mentioned, are clearly jeopardised. He went on to say that these ports provide a vital service to the hinterland in their region. He said also that he proposed to write the next day to the body concerned to see what could be done about it. I see that the Minister is now in the House, and I hope he will take the opportunity on the adjournment debate to inform the House of the steps he has taken and whether in fact he wrote the letter the day following the adjournment debate on Tuesday evening of last week and, if so, what progress he has made in returning the status quo of a uniform levy for ports throughout Australia. It would be too late, I suggest, to allow the matter to run on until 31st July this year. If changes are to be made the status quo should be restored until those changes have been properly investigated and discussed by the appropriate people concerned. This is a matter of vital importance if a system of decentralised ports is to be maintained. It is particularly important for Queensland, because with our long coastline we have many valuable ports, many ports on whose development many millions of dollars have been spent. To allow them to go by the board because of this change in the levy would, in my submission, be criminal.







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