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Wednesday, 1 December 1976

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) (Prime Minister) - If there is any correspondence from the city of Whyalla I shall certainly examine it, look at the records and provide an answer forthwith. As far as the South Australian Premier is concerned, basically we have been looking to see what came out of the negotiations with New South Wales and with the New South Wales Premier because there we were dealing with a government which had direct responsibility for its State dockyard. We have certainly made no deal or arrangement with Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd in relation to Whyalla, although I have been told that BHP believes that even under existing arrangements it will continue to employ its present employees, not. necessarily in shipbuilding but in some parts of the BHP activity.

As far as the Government's general proposition in relation to this matter is concerned, we believe that if the taxpayers were to be asked to provide substantial additional sums, which the Minister for Transport advises me would have equalled about $20,000 per man for each of the 2 Australian National Line ships, then in return there should be a proper industrial relations contract which would make sure that those ships were built as cheaply as possible. I think the honourable gentleman will agree that an additional subsidy of $20,000 a man for the building of those ships compared with the cost overseas is a pretty heavy additional burden on Australian taxpayers.

Because of our concern for the centre- in this case Newcastle- and because of our concern for the men and their families the Government was and is prepared to entertain that situation in certain circumstances. Those circumstances are that the industrial relations contract would stipulate that there would be no changes as to wages and conditions beyond those that applied through the normal wage tribunals, that there would be a guarantee that no strikes or demarcation disputes would occur during the period of construction of the vessels, and that there would be an indemnity if delays were caused by strikes and bans. We have pointed but that such a contract is not unusual overseas. We have also pointed out in response to those who have said that the indemnity was harsh that it is entirely in the hands of the trade unions concerned whether that indemnity clause would be invoked. There were dispute settling procedures which, as I understand it, were agreeable to the unions and to the Government. If there are reasonable dispute settling procedures by which both sides can abide, then there ought not to be the necessity for strikes or demarcation disputes and matters of that kind.

I want to put safety issues and health issues to one side because they are always in a special category requiring special treatment. I am talking about industrial disputes of different kinds, not of the safety kind. If the indemnity clause were invoked it would be invoked only in circumstances in which a commitment not to strike had in fact been broken. We believe that the Commonwealth could ask nothing less if there were to be a contract for these ships to be built at Newcastle. So far there has not been a response from Mr Wran. The Government is waiting for that response because the ball is in his court. One of the things that I regret very greatly is that Mr Wran- I am not sure whether it was out the front door or out the back door- and Mr

Hawke, through one of his hats-I am never quite sure which one- condemned the contract before the men at Newcastle had an opportunity to cast their judgment upon it. The understanding I had come to with Mr Wran in the discussions about these particular matters is that there would be no discussion or dispute in public about the contract until the men concerned had had an opportunity to discuss it and look at it in a calm atmosphere. The Government believed that if there were political dispute over the nature of the contract it would lead to an inevitable conclusion. It is to my very great regret, therefore, that once Mr Wran issued the contract to Mr Hawke and to the trade unions, it immediately became a matter for discussion and dispute. Really, the decision of the men at Newcastle was pre-empted before they had an opportunity to make a decision. I believe this is a classic example of trade union leaders pre-empting the decision of members of trade unions. If the contract had been put to their own people in a calm and quiet manner, they might well have accepted an arrangement that was fair.

Mr Wallis -What about Whyalla?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The question of Whyalla is very much contingent on what happens in New South Wales. We are waiting for Mr Wran. One of the proposals that was put also was, of course, that if the 2 ships were to be built at Newcastle under equivalent arrangements the floating dock ought to be built at Whyalla.

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