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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr NELSON (Northern Territory) . - I wish to address my remarks to the proposed vote for the Northern Territory. On a previous occasion, I referred to the effect that excessive transportation costs were having on the development of the

Territory, and I pointed out that the subsidy being allowed to the South Australian Government in respect of the Commonwealth railways was a charge against the revenue of the railways and not against Consolidated Revenue. I did not question the justice of the subsidy but merely criticized the method that the Commonwealth was adopting in regard to it. The excessive charges that the Commonwealth railways will have to bear as the result of this subsidy will, of course, be passed on to the producers and consumers of the Territory, and of central Australia.

One of the most formidable obstacles we have to overcome in the Territory at the present time is the cost of living. In this respect, 1 turn to another aspect of transportation which has a definite bearing, especially in the northern part of the Territory. 1 refer to the charges made by the shipping services that ply between Fremantle and Darwin, and between Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin. The Commonwealth has the requisite power and could do much to rectify some of the anomalies that exist in relation to the shipping position in that part of Australia. I point out that the Western Australian Government subsidizes the development of the northern part of the State, and no one can deny that northern Australia, particularly the Northern Territory, is worthy of development. In the course of such development, there will be certain inescapable financial burdens for the Commonwealth to bear. The Western Australian Government has tackled it in a manner which the Commonwealth could with advantage follow. Western Australia is not a prosperous State compared with the industrial States of Australia, yet its Government can subsidize the development of the north-west to a degree very much greater than the degree to which the Commonwealth is prepared to assist the development of the Northern Territory.

I should like to instance some of the freight charges of the State Shipping Service in Western Australia between ports in Western Australia and the port of Darwin. Nobody would suggest, in view of the charges that I am going to quote, that the Western Australian Government, in its shipping operations, is discriminating against the port of Darwin, lt is not doing so. It is not the responsibility of the Western Australian Government to sponsor and sub sidize the development of the port of Darwin and the northern part of the Northern Territory. Its responsibility is to subsidize the development of its own State, and it has made a mighty contribution to that cause. But what can be done by the Western Australian Government in its own sphere can easily be done by the Commonwealth in its sphere of activity, the Northern Territory. I say to the Minister for Territories that he should confer with the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) with a view to that Minister conferring with the Western Australian Government in order to strike a freight rate which would be comparable with the freight rate that the State is charging its own people in that part of the west. The Minister for Territories must also bear a large part ot the responsibility in this matter.

The Western Australian Government ii> shouldering a great responsibility in allowing its shipping service to extend beyond the borders of the State into the waters of the Northern Territory. I think that the Western Australian Government has earned a tribute for the work that it has done in that respect. I have the greatest admiration for the Western Australian State Shipping Service. Even under existing conditions, that service is contributing greatly to the development of the north. For instance, I think that its ships call at the port of Darwin on no fewer than 28 occasions each year. The ships of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, which is directly under the control of the Australian Government, call at Darwin from the eastern States about eight times a year. So one can well imagine the contribution made by the State of Western Australia to the development of northern Australia. I feel that the Western Australian service is entitled to charge the full rate for cargo consigned to ports beyond the boundaries ot Western Australia.

The charges that 1 shall cite come from the official list of the State Shipping Service of Western Australia and have been operative from 1st November, 1952. A schedule of freights was forwarded to me by the State Shipping Service. The freight for general cargo from the port of Fremantle to Wyndham, which I think is some 1,300 miles from Fremantle, is £5 12s. 6d. a ton: whereas for freight for a similar classification of goods consigned to the port ot

Darwin, the charge is £1 1 1 7s. a ton. That is an increase of more than 100 per cent., although Darwin is only 200 miles distant from the port of Wyndham. So an additional amount of £6 5s. a ton is charged to carry freight 200 miles beyond the port of Wyndham. It is obvious that the State Government is subsidizing its shipping in order to allow it to charge only £5 12s. a ton on freight to Western Australian ports as against £11 17s. a ton on freight to Darwin. The Commonwealth might well step in and do for the Northern Territory the same thing that the Western Australian Government does for its people.

Then the Western Australian Government has a special developmental rate. I do not know what is actually included in this specification, but I should say that it would be goods of a capital nature, required for the developmental purposes of the area. For such goods there is a preferential rate of £4 lis. a ton, whereas the rate charged for the shipment of the same type of freight to Darwin is still £11 17s. a ton. No concession is made on the shipment of this type of freight to Darwin, nor do we expect that the Western Australian Government should make a concession. We feel that the Commonwealth should fall into line with the practice of the Western Australian Government.

Now I want to pass to another aspect of shipping in the north, and that is the congestion in the port of Darwin. There has been terrific congestion in that port over the years, particularly since the war. It is felt that the wharfage position in the port of Darwin has contributed greatly to that congestion. Time and time again, we have seen ships from the eastern ports lie in the stream for periods up to three weeks. They are the ships of the Australian Shipping Board, and that delay must place a terrific burden on the operating costs of that line. People in the north feel that some co-ordinating body should be established in order to arrange the arrival of these ships at a period when they can be handled in the port of Darwin.

The State Shipping Service of Western Australia adopts a different attitude. If its ships cannot be unloaded, they turn around and go back, and take their cargo with them. Of course, the movements of the Western Australian ships are condi tioned by the tides along the coast and they have to sail on those tides; but many a time have the ships of the Western Australian State Shipping Service left Darwin carrying in their holds cargo urgently needed in the Northern Territory. When ships from the eastern coast are laid up in the stream for periods up to three weeks while awaiting discharge, this adds to the cost of running them and it adds to the costs of the consignees. It all amounts to an additional impost which the people of the Northern Territory have to bear.

The position has become acute in the port of Darwin. On 20th September, "The Northern Territory News " reported that an all-out effort was being made to ease the port congestion and that " Dulverton ", a ship of the Western Australian State Shipping Service, would be unloaded by the waterside workers of Darwin who had volunteered to work around the clock. The newspaper said -

In an all-out effort to prevent the " Dulverton " sailing back to Perth without unloading muchneeded supplies, Darwin watersiders offered to work " around the clock " yesterday. To-day the offer was accepted and immediately the " Doris '' is unloaded, probably early to-morrow, the " Dulverton " will berth.

This gesture on the part of the waterside workers was very much appreciated and it shows what a fine body of men they are. The citizens' representative on the Town Management Board, Mr. E. D'Ambrosio. said that the watersiders' offers had been very fine indeed. I think that we should pay tribute to the waterside workers for the action that they have taken.

Mr Timson - What newspaper is the honorable member reading from?

Mr NELSON - I am reading from the " Northern Territory News " of 20th September. The article continued -

One building contractor said that if the " Dulverton " sailed away without unloading the timber and cement he would have to' shut down business.

On other occasions 1 have made representations to the Minister on this very same matter. I will give due credit to the department, lt has done everything that it could to reduce the delays that have taken place, but I think we should deal with causes and not effects. Something drastic will have to be done if the position is to be rectified.

The following week, on 25th September, the " Darwin News " published an article on its front page under the caption, " Darwin Builders take drastic action to meet serious shortages - Ban on week-end work ". The report began with the following paragraphs -

The drastic shortage of cement, galvanised iron and other essential building materials in Darwin forced master builders to take strong action this morning.

At a meeting held in the North Australian Workers' Union office, builders agreed to abolish entirely Sunday work and to cease work on Saturday for a trial period of two weeks.

Undoubtedly, the position will improve when the new wharf is brought into use, but it will still not be good enough, because it will provide berthage for only two small coastal ships. It should be extended to the limit recommended by the Public Works Committee last year, that is, by another 200 feet, so as to allow two large vessels to berth simultaneously. The new wharf will provide berths for two small ships, and the old wharf for one, but they will have to be vessels of 3,000 tons or less. If a ship of more than 4,000 tons comes to Darwin - which is not a large vessel by any standards - it will occupy all the space available at the new wharf. The Government, eventually, will have to extend the new wharf, as recommended by the Public Works Committee, to provide adequate accommodation for more ships.

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