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Wednesday, 2 November 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) . - I move -

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 2.30 p.m. to-morrow.

Four honorable senators having risen in their places in support of the motion,

Senator FOSTER - It is possible that my formal motion conveys a somewhat vague impression to honorable senators. In common with others who, during, the past few months, have been considering the question of ocean freights as they affect our primary producers, I am wondering if -the Commonwealth Shipping Line, which is owned by the people of Australia, is being conducted in the best interests of the shareholders; but I should like to preface my remarks by stating that any criticism I may indulge in should not be regarded as criticism of the Government or those who are responsible for the running of our steamships. I understand that the latter have been - considering the question of motor ships and oil engines for some time. The file of correspondence between the High Commissioner's Office in London and one of the largest firms in England, eighteen months or so ago, indicate ithat certain suggestions were made to the company, and quotations were asked for in regard to the equipment of a certain class of ship. I believe there is amongst our experts a consensus of opinion, perhaps npt expressed openly for obvious reasons, that the time is more than ripe for the Government to reconsider their policy in regard to the equipment of their vessels. They say, I understand, some of them at least, that the motor ship is the only satisfactory and efficient vessel for present day freightage, but they are unable to say more because the Government have not yet decided what their policy is to be. I believe the Government made a statement about twelve months ago, though I am unable to fmd any trace of it, and indicated then that they were going to consider the whole question. I admit that the position is fraught with many difficulties due, in part, to the very great depression in the industry. At present, I believe that, despite the heavy losses sustained during the war, the world's shipping is about 11,000,000 tons in excess of the figures for 1914, and that about 8,000,000 tons of shipping is lying idle in the various ports of the world. Of this idle tonnage no less than 5,000,000 tons is idle at present within the British Empire.

Senator Crawford - And probably there is less sea-borne trade to-day.

Senator FOSTER - There is, as I have said, very great depression in the shipping industry altogether, and in view of this fact the question which is the best class of ship to run in order to show profits is an important one. Some of the largest shipping companies on the other side of the world, notably the Johnson Line, of Sweden, are displacing coal-fired steamships with motor ships, because the latter are able to show a profit which is not possible with steamdriven vessels. We have to consider, also, the great difference in freight to our primary producers to-day as compared with pre-war rates. The honorable senators who represent Tasmania are particularly interested in the carriage of fruit. Prior to the war the freight to England was from 2s. 5d. to 3s. per case, whereas to-day the companies are asking 8s. per case, and they say that it is not worth their while to go to Tasmania for the fruit unless they have certain other privileges. To a great extent, therefore, Tasmania will be dependent on three or four vessels of the Commonwealth Line for the carriage of fruit this season.

During the past few months I have had supplied to me copies of the Motor

Ship,a journal dealing with the shipping position throughout the world, and I have been particularly impressed at the interest displayed in Germany in the shipbuilding industry. We have to admit that prior to the war they built up a fine ocean service, and in common with others seem to be well seized of the benefits to be derived from motor ships. One firm had ordered eight vessels of a standard size of 6,000 horse-power, and another twenty-five ships of a total dead-weight capacity of 175,000 tons. The advantages to be derived had been brought before the controllers of the Johnson Line, of Sweden, who are going in wholly for motor ships, and other prominent shipping firms in other countries, including America, whilst we in Australia do not appear to have commenced to grapple with the question.

Senator Crawford - Are not our wooden vessels equipped with Diesel engines ?

Senator FOSTER - Only as auxiliary power. I have had handed to me a copy of some correspondence which passed between the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton) and a representative of one of the firms in Australia, and whilst I am indebted to the representative of this firm for the information with which I have been supplied, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I am not in any way associated with this gentleman or the firm he represents. Much of the information I have received has been obtained from journals published from time to time, and some of the figures which are in my possession have already been placed before the Department. These figures are, I think, unchallengeable, and cannot be disproved. In March last a representative of this firm communicated with the Minister for Home and Territories, when it was suggested by the Department that the possibilities of internal combustion engines were limited to about 5,000 horsepower, and that for the larger type of vessel - those of 12,500 tons which we are now constructing - it was doubtful whether engines of the necessary size and horse-power could be constructed. The representative who communicated with the Minister said -

The past few months have entirely altered the shipping position. The intensity of the depression has, however, demonstrate'd the phenomenal strides made in the ' application of

Diesel engines for marine propulsion, andhas, further, given convincing proof of their reliability and economy of operation -

(a)   Significant is the fact that of the, approximately, 5,000,000 of tons of ships now laid up there is no instance of a single Diesel ship having been withdrawn from service.

(b)   Of the thousands of tons of shipping orders which have been cancelled with the shipbuilders, none were to be equipped with Diesel engines.

(c)   The new shipping orders during the past few months have practically all been with Diesel propelling equipment.

(d)   Many owners have arranged for the steam propelling equipment of their ships being gutted out and replaced by Diesel equipment. Still more noteworthy is the fact that the bulk of these orders are for single-screw ships, and placed with Messrs. Sulzer Brothers and their licensees.

The above features are of world-wide and general import, but quite sufficient in themselves to warrant the reconsideration asked for.

I refer to that matter for this reason : I understand that ships we are building at present are being supplied with their engine equipment by Thompson Brothers, of Victoria, and I believe the Department said at the time that as they had spent approximately . £100,000 on engine equipment it was not considered wise to cancel the order and install Diesel engines. It seems to me, and I am to some extent governed by the figures supplied, that it would be good business, even at the present juncture, to remove the present coalfire reciprocating engines and install Diesel engines. If the figures supplied to me are unchallengeable, such a policy should be adopted. I have asked that the estimates be made on a conservative basis, and, if they are unchallengeable, it is the duty of the Government and the Parliament to see that the people of Australia obtain the very best for the Commonwealth steamers if the line is to continue in operation. I know there are persons, probably some honorable senators, who think that the operations of the line should be discontinued, and the whole of the Commonwealth shipping business handled by private enterprise; but I do not agree with that view, as I believe we are, to some extent, in the hands of a shipping combine. If the Government control the whole business there is a possibility of the primary producers of Australia deriving some advantage, either by means of rebates or reduced freights. I desire to place on record a table which has been compiled, showing a comparison between the vessels of 12,500 tons deadweight capacity operating between London, via Suez, Fremantle, Adelaide Melbourne, Brisbane, and vice versâ - the total distance is 24,420 nautical miles - with various types of propelling equipment. The time of the voyage at sea is 125 to 135 days, 79 of which are spent at sea and 46 to 56 in port.

Senator Crawford - That is for the round trip.

Senator FOSTER - Yes, it is necessary to take the round trip, because it may be an easy matter to obtain back cargo during certain months, but it is not always practicable to secure a full cargo when coming, out, and that is where a saving can be made with motor vessels. The table which has been compiled for the purpose of making- a comparison is as follows : -



It is claimed that an immense saving is effected in the cost of operating motor - ships in consequence of the space required for fuel - the fuel bill is also smaller - because the bunker space for coal can be dispensed -with. In a great many instances motor-driven vessels have double bottoms in which the oil is carried either as cargo or as fuel. The stokehold crew, which often causes a good deal of trouble, can also be dispensed with, and the accom. modation which they occupy can be utilized for cargo carrying. The average speed of a 6,000-ton tramp steamer is thirteen knots per hour, and it was suggested that it would be necessary to increase the speed of a vessel in a passenger service; but the ships which are being built will be used as cargo carriers, and so the question of speed does not enter into consideration. The above table shows that the total gain in revenue and savings by the motor-ship over other types is £38,251 per trip in the case of the geared steam turbine (oil fired), and £87,543 in the case of the steam reciprocating engine (coal fired).

Senator Earle - What is the difference in speed ?

Senator FOSTER - The same speed, and the same type of ship. If these figures are absolutely unchallengeable, as the compiler says they are, it is a very strong argument to put forward in favour of having motor-ships.

Senator Crawford - Have you any figures showing the probable cost of converting a steam-ship into a motor-ship?

SenatorFOSTER. - I cannot say that, but I believe the difference in the cost of equipping such ships as we are building here with the Sulzer engines, in place of the engines being built at Maryborough, is, roughly, £60,000. Let us say it would cost £80,000 more for the motorship than for the old-fashioned steamship. I have no comparison of the difference in cost of the motor-ship as against the oil-fired reciprocating steam turbine.

Senator Drake-Brockman - If we were cut off from oil supplies, what would be the use of oil ships?

Senator FOSTER - We might also ask what would happen if we were cut off from coal supplies? There are such things as coal strikes.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Coal is in Australia, but oil is not.

Senator Earle - Yes, it is.

Senator FOSTER - Only a small quantity. Other countries are in a position similar to Australia.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Great Britain, for instance, converted ships so that they could be oil driven, and now those ships are being converted back, because Great Britain has no oil supplies.

Senator FOSTER - I think the honorable senator is confounding the position. A number of ships were converted, not to motor-ships, but to oil-fired ships, which is quite a different proposition.

Senator Drake-Brockman - But you have to get the fuel.

Senator FOSTER - Quite so.

Senator Crawford - All our submarines are motor-ships.

Senator FOSTER - Yes. The majority of the ships in the Navy are oil fired. If we are to wait here in Australia . upon any developments along these lines, if we mark time until we get oil in this country, or if we do nothing until another war has developed and embroiled us, we will be left in the rear. I could cite, for example, the countries of South America. They are, to some extent, comparable with ourselves on account of their distance from the European market; but their shipping companies, trading from that continent to the East, are now all going in for motor propulsion.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - All are nearer to oil supplies.

Senator FOSTER - I grant that. I do not know whether I would be justified, however, in going into the matter of oil.

Senator Drake-Brockman - It really governs the whole issue.

Senator FOSTER - I can only repeat that if the position is such that development along the lines I advocate must wait upon the discovery of payable petroleum in Australia, we shall probably wait a very long while. I believe that in Tasmania, very shortly, we shall be drawing on plentiful supplies of oil from shale. I do not know whether we shall get very much motor spirit, but I understand that from the shale any amount of crude oil can be obtained ; and that is the sort used by the Diesel engine. I recently placed myself in touch with the manager of the Western Australian Government Shipping Service, which has a motor ship named the Kangaroo. The gentleman in question is evidently very favorable to the project of motor-driven vessels. He has given me figures with respect to the running of the Kangaroo, which leads me to hope, at any. rate, that Senator DrakeBrockman will not advise the Commonwealth authorities to be behind those of his own State in equipping their ships in the same way.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.

T.   Givens). - Order! The honorable senator's time has expired.

Senator Earle - May I move for an extension of time?

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