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Tuesday, 3 April 1973
Page: 1010

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - Mr Speaker, the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) has tried to hide in a mild political barrage - mild for him - a complete recognition that what had occurred around the levy question was a Federal responsibility resting upon his shoulders. Many people would have been a good deal happier during the last month if there had been public recognition of that fact. If the Minister had practised, as his Government is meant to practise, a pattern of open government and had advised people - the Portland Harbour Trust commissioners and others - of the moves that have now been revealed in his statement, a good deal of the public concern and public agitation which has occurred would not have occurred. It is quite clear that the Minister for Labour has been responsive to the very real pressure that has come from the Portland Harbour Trust, the Port Development Authority, the State Government, and all the local members of Parliament concerned - members of the Liberal Party, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Country Party, including my friend the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) - and has acted in a way which certainly will assist the small ports around Austrafia. I only hope that the Minister has success in having his recommendation accepted by Cabinet. The House needs to note that what he has said tonight is a recommendation that he will put to Cabinet. At this stage it is not in fact a Cabinet decision. I hope that the Cabinet decision will be made promptly and that any necessary amending legislation will be introduced equally promptly. lt needs to be remembered that what happened regarding these levies occurred during the term not of the previous Government but of the present Minister for Labour and there fore the responsibility for this matter rested upon his shoulders. That has now been recognised. It was recognised in a resolution moved in the Upper House of the Victorian Parliament and supported by every member of that Parliament. It was recognised by every member of that Parliament from all parties representing Western Victoria. I think that it would have been better if the Minister for Labour could have shown acceptance of his responsibility initially and dealt with this matter in a manner that befits this Parliament instead of hiding it under a political smokescreen as he has sought to do.

I recognise that this might be in part a mild bait from the Minister for Labour, but I think it needs to be put on record again that in the initial battle to have wool sales established in Portland we broke a 70-year relationship with another wool broking firm, first to try to sell at Portland when wool buyers did not turn up to buy and then, as the only way in which Portland could be supported under those circumstances - as many other people from western Victoria did, by exporting through the port of Portland did - selling of necessity in London until wool sales were established at Portland. Since then many other people, including myself, have done nothing but sell wool in Portland, and that will continue. But what has occurred - what the Minister has announced - is in plain terms a victory for Portland and for decentralised ports. I thank the Minister for Labour for it, but I could have thanked him more warmly if he had left the politicking out of his speech.

I am glad that the Minister has come to the conclusion that he has come to because I believe it is the right conclusion. He has come to a conclusion which will enable Portland and many other decentralised ports in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia to continue on a competitive basis. His statement is full justification for the view that has been expressed by representatives of all political parties in Victoria, that the levy was a matter for the Minister for Labour and !he Minister for Labour alone. But he has responded to that by the statement he has made accepting that responsibility. If he could only have shown a greater degree of concern, given some indication of his thinking earlier than this, then much of the concern and the moves that have taken place in the last month would not have been necessary. The recognition was belated, but it is recognition as a result of pressure from all parties and from many different people. Pressure has come from all local members of Parliament, from the Portland Harbour Trust, from the Port Development Authority and from the State Government, and it is noted that members of all political parties have supported the resolutions that were sent and put to the Minister for Labour on this matter.

But the Ministers statement glosses over the importance of the levy. It says, really, that the levy is not important to Portland. In his speech the Minister said: . . the report notes that a change to the minimum wage levy will not save Portland. Its vitality depends on action by the Victorian State Government.

Later he said:

It is for that reason that the report says that it is 'unlikely that a reversion to the former funding arrangements will have any significant effect in developing trade through the port'.

Earlier in his statement he quoted the report as saying:

It follows then that reverting to the former basis of funding will do nothing to encourage the future balanced growth of the port.

That statement in the report is grossly inaccurate and it may be that its inaccuracy is due to the haste with which it was prepared. If the report had been checked with the Portland Harbour Trust and the Port Development Authority, they would have known of its inaccuracy.

Let me give one example. A significant trade has been developed through Portland in bagged wheat. Now, because of the changed levies that had occurred as a result of the decision of the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour, 5,000 tons of bagged wheat were going to attract an additional levy of more than $7,000 in Portland and, I think, under $200 in Geelong. There was trade of about 40,000 tons of bagged wheat, and additional levies therefore would have approached $60,000 through Portland. Clearly, the levy for this trade in bagged wheat, bagged grain, was going to be a complete killer. Also, an export trade in oats was developing which I think would have been affected in a somewhat similar manner. These facts, I think, do not find proper recognition in this report which I have not had time to examine in detail. Of course, I have seen the extracts contained in the Minister's speech, and they show that the report is deficient and deficient in serious respects, in trying to suggest that this levy was not really an important matter for outports and was not going to have a material effect. In terms of bagged wheat and labour intensive cargo of that kind, it was going to have a very material effect.

The Minister for Labour on 2 occasions in this Parliament has tried to suggest that there are substantial problems facing Portland as a developing port, a growing port. In order that that might be put at rest, I would ask leave to incorporate in Hansard the last report of the Portland Harbour Trust commissioners.

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