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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2904

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) - I must by way of preface open my remarks on this Bill by referring to the speech of the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) when he talked about the cynicism of the Opposition. If ever I have heard speeches which contained sheer hypocrisy in regard to a very important Bill I have heard them tonight. The speeches were not only by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro; he obviously does not know what he is talking about, so I will ignore the rest of his speech. However, for the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) to sit there cosily and to talk in the terms that he did about this Bill simply amazes me. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know, in your high position in the Chair, that I speak with some feeling on this matter. I am sure you will join with me in my sheer horror at this Bill and what it does not tell the Parliament. It is a very important Bill to those warm people on King Island. Unfortunately those warm people have met the cold hands of a Labor Government which has failed to honour its undertakings to them. That is the tragedy of this Bill.

I will come back to that point in a moment. The Bill, of course, honours the undertaking that we, when in government, gave prior to the last election. I am pleased to see its ratification and the fact that the financial obligations are being met. I will not recount exactly what the Bill does because that has been spelt out clearly here again tonight. I want to express my sheer disappointment that a Labor Government which before the election clearly said that it would honour an obligation and an undertakinfg to Captain Houfe, should dishonour that obligation. The honourable member for Braddon spoke of a telegram that he himself sent to Captain Houfe and that came out of, as I understand it, Sir, your Caucus. It was a clear decision of the Labor Caucus. I shall read this telegram to the House. It stated:

Federal parliamentary Labor Party today approved the following policy decision. A Federal Labor Government will require the Australian National Line to assume responsibility for the King Island shipping service and for this purpose to negotiate with the owners of the ship Straitsman which was specifically designed for this service.

Signed Ron Davis, MHR

Mr Martin - Davis?

Mr NIXON - Davies. I do not know whether he signed his name correctly or not. That is the name on the telegram. This telegram is an obligation to assist Captain Houfe in maintaining the King Island service. Captain Houfe built that ship specifically for the port of Grassy, recognising that the Commonwealth and the State had agreed to construct a new port. He invested a lot of money personally in having a new ship built in Cairns, Queensland, at a cost of $2m. He ran into a great number of difficulties right from the outset. Indeed, the ship was never given a real opportunity to prove itself. But that opportunity was to have been given to it by a Labor government. For our part, when we were in government, we said clearly that our obligation in respect of King Island would cease when we met the financial requirement to assist in the development of the port and that the State Government should then - and I agreed to this - deal with the problems, if any emerged, in the shipping service. But the Opposition of the day, the Labor Party, sent that telegram clearly stating that it would pick up with this problem and would assist Captain Houfe in overcoming his difficulties.

That is the real tragedy of this Bill. It has not gone unnoticed either. 1 notice that James V. Ramsden of the 'Financial Review' in an article on 27 March noticed it. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you with your kindly worldly ways would have noticed the change of face and the change of heart by the members of the Labor Party. You, sitting in that Chair, must be a sorry man to see such a policy breakdown, finch a destructive act and the capacity of the Labor Party to turn its back on a clear commitment. You must be a broken man tonight, Sir, having to sit in that Chair and listen to this debate. I know that if you were not sitting in the Chair you would be on your feet demanding that the Labor Party's obligation be fulfilled. I am sorry that the honourable member for Braddon has let you down, Mr Deputy Speaker, when he was on your batting team but he did not in fact do what clearly you would have done. It seems to me a tragedy that you happen to be sitting in the chair at this point of time. I come back to the article by James V. Ramsden. He said that there were a number of contradictory points about this whole affair. The first point he made is:

The present Labor Government promised unequivocally while in opposition that if it was elected to power the ANL would be directed to take over the King Island service and would negotiate with the owners of the Straitsman.

The next point he made was:

The ANL and the Federal Government are now most reluctant to honour this promise in view of the losses which the ANL says it would make on the King Island-Stanley- Melbourne service of between $400,000 and $500,000 a year.

Another point was:

The ANL and Holyman-Union-Bulkships all say that if they had to undertake the service they would use the Straitsman for that service.

I am sure you will agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there are a number of contradictory points and it must be breaking your heart that you cannot speak on this Bill. I wonder that somebody has not offered to relieve you in the chair in order that you might speak on it. Mr Ramsden went on to say that the Minister for Transport had agreed that:

The Straitsman was an uneconomic proposition for the King Island service.

It surprises me that the Minister would be so unkind as to say that. As I recall the position, the Minister for Transport had not, in fact, seen the report given by the Australian National Line. He said so publicly himself. He had not seen the report given by the ANL on 29 March but by that time he had taken the decision not to use the 'Straitsman'. On 4 April he said that he would ask for a copy of the budget for the use of the 'Straitsman' in the service. But the decision had already been taken. It really horrifies me that the Minister should act in this unkindly way to Captain Houfe who developed this service and ran the King Islander' for so many years and replaced it with a ship specifically built for the new port. I am sure that you will agree with me, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this is a matter of ratting on an undertaking - ratting on a promise. That the honourable member for Braddon should sit in this chamber and even mention Captain Houfe's name surprises me.

Mr Davies - I did.

Mr NIXON - The honourable member did. It surprised me that he should mention it in such a lighthearted way. I should have thought that he would have torn the Minister apart for breaking his promise but what did he say? He just said: 'The Minister has accepted it and we have to go along with that. Tut, tut! Bad luck Captain Houfe. You might go bankrupt over this but the Minister has accepted it and I don't care any longer about it and that's the end of it'.

Mr Davies - Why does the honourable member not try to be fair?

Mr NIXON - I am trying to be fair. The honourable member sent the telegram to Captain Houfe giving a specific undertaking yet he is not prepared to stand up and be counted on the issue. I am surprised both at him and the Minister turning their backs on Captain Houfe in this way.

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