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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- 1 wish to continue from the point where I left off at question time, and the proposed vote for the Department of Shipping and Transport affords me the opportunity to do so. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) gave a very unsatisfactory reply to this Parliament at question time to-day. The reply was particularly unsatisfactory to my State. Recently, in Hobart, a very representative gathering of some 40 persons - public men - men engaged in the shipping industry and men from the Marine Board - met Tasmanian senators and members of the House of Representatives. We were also accompanied by Mr. White, the Chief Secretary in the Tasmanian Government. We had assembled in order to prepare a case to put to the Commonwealth for a direct passengercargo shipping service between Hobart and Sydney.

It was an excellent meeting. The representatives were unanimous on the urgent need for such a service. Facts and figures were presented to us by the Master Warden who gave us an outline of the history of this service. Before the war there was an excellent passenger-cargo service from Hobart to Sydney. That has not been in existence since about 1946. The " Zealandia " gave that great service, providing Sydney and Hobart with a direct passenger link and taking perishable cargoes in quick time between the two cities.

As a result of that meeting, we formed a deputation in Canberra to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) himself and put the case to him most courteously. We gave him all the information at our disposal. The Chief Secretary gave him all the facts that the State government had on this issue. The reasons why the service should be commenced were given in detail. I do not intend to discuss the whole of the reasons this afternoon, but anybody with the interests of Tasmania and New South Wales at heart will appreciate that such a service should be reinstituted in this modern age. We have greatly increased our production of secondary industries and of perishable foodstuffs in the south of Tasmania - in the Huon Valley and the Derwent Valley. A service such as we are fighting for would have a definite guarantee of cargo. Within a com paratively few hours of leaving Hobart, the cargo would be in Sydney and the housewives of Sydney would be enjoying Tasmanian products, one of which would be potatoes. These are so precious these days that they are called gold nuggets, and they would be enjoyed, particularly, by the poor housewives of Sydney who have had to pay so much for them.

The Minister for Shipping and Transport received us very courteously. I have no criticism to offer on that score. He seemed to appreciate the position very well and said that he would put it to Cabinet. I understand that Cabinet made a decision on the issue last Tuesday, but refused to announce it until after the State elections. I understand that it decided to refuse to have anything to do with the subsidized service that we were fighting for. The idea was that a private company, Huddart Parker Limited, would take " Westralia ", an excellent ship of 4,000 tons, which would be most ideal for this job, off the New Zealand service and operate it directly from Hobart to Sydney and return; the Government would meet a certain amount of the running costs, and the company would retain a certain amount of the profits.

The arrangement was to be worked out with justice to all parties and the total cost to this Government over twelve months would not be excessive when we consider how much it has poured into the " Taroona " service over many years. We have been grateful for that, but the Liberal Government need not take all the credit for it. The service was started before the Liberal Government was heard of, and has been of great value to Tasmania. But this service from Hobart to Sydney would have equal merit. The ship would have to travel a greater distance, but it would serve New South Wales, which is a great mainland State. The ship would provide a direct service for the transportation of cargo between New South Wales and Tasmania and between Tasmania and New South Wales - a two-way service.

Mr Bowden - lt would not pay for itself.

Mr DUTHIE - It would not pay for itself in the early stages. It has been out of action for so long that we would have to get people interested in it again, so there would be difficulty over the first twelve months. But we feel that, with the coming Olympics in Melbourne, and the carnival in Tasmania to follow the Olympic Games, we would have quite an influx of visitors to Tasmania who could make what we might call a leisurely boat trip to Sydney from Hobart after the festivities were over. Ii seems to us that this is an excellent time - a splendid period of our history - in which to re-institute the service, as I have mentioned.

The Prime Minister's reply to my question to-day about the re-institution of this service was to shrug his shoulders and talk about the impossibilities of providing the necessary subsidies. He wiped my question off in a few brief words. But we will not let the matter rest there. The right honorable member for Kooyong will not be Prime Minister of this country for ever and ever, even if he thinks he will be. There will come a day of reckoning for this Government, as was indicated by the result of the genera] election in Tasmania last Saturday. We who represent Tasmanian electorates will continue to fight for the re-institution of this shipping service.

An interesting feature of the Prime Minister's reply to my question this afternoon was that in it he insulted some of his own supporters as well as me. Honorable members on the other side of the chamber who represent Tasmanian electorates were all present at the deputation to which I have referred. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) was there. So also was the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Luck). The Tasmanian senators were there, too. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Townley) was not at the actual meeting, but he is in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister's perfunctory reply to me to-day was like his replies to so many questions asked in this chamber that he does not like. When an honorable member asks him a question that embarrasses him in any way he attempts to put him off with a sarcastic reply. He tries to make honorable members who ask awkward questions look as small as a threepenny bit. That is what he tried to do to me to-day, but he cannot put me down like that. I have been sitting in this chamber for too long to allow myself to be silenced in that manner. I have known the Prime Minister in office for almost seven years and in opposition for three years. 1 know the right honorable gentleman inside out, and I tell him that he will not succeed in bluffing me, or any other honorable member on this side of the chamber, by those tactics. None of us will agree to become what might be called a lickspittle for the Prime Minister. Tasmania will not accept the perfunctory reply he gave to the very important question 1 asked to-day. The right honorable gentleman's answer to that question will not satisfy even his own supporters, or quieten their protests in respect of this matter, because they have the interests of the people of Tasmania at heart, as we have. The honorable senator who made the announcement last night - two days after the Tasmanian election, be it noted, although the decision, I understand, was made by Cabinet last Tuesday - must have felt very upset and disappointed about it, because he was the key man in this matter, and did a great job. I refer to Senator Marriott, who is very sincere in his advocacy of the reinstitution of the service.

Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that this matter will die down. He is misleading himself if he does. We have several men in the State government who will continue to fight for this service. There are also very many people in Tasmania, especially in Hobart, who will not accept the Prime Minister's cavalier reply to my important question. These people will apply pressure if the Prime Minister is not prepared to act as he should. They will have something to say to the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley), who represents them in this Parliament and is a member of the Cabinet which only last week threw out the proposal to reinstitute the service. We do not like to have to keep knocking on the door of the Government about this matter. We have had some things from the Government that we are grateful for in Tasmania, but we have been fighting for a long time for a Bass Strait ferry service from Melbourne to Launceston. Now, it has been decided that the service will terminate at Devonport, much to the disgust of the people of Launceston. However, irrespective of the terminal point, we will now have, in this ferry terminal in Tasmania, the most modern installation of its kind on the Australian coast. The orders for the ferry terminal to be built were given in the last few days. Our job was to fight for the service for Tasmania, because it will boost that State's trade, including its tourist trade. lt was not our job - not mine anyhow - to decide where the terminal was to be located in Tasmania. Other people had the responsibility of making that decision. It has been decided that Devonport will be the terminal, so Devonport it must be; but I prophesy that the service will be so successful that another terminal will become necessary in the future. That additional terminal should be at Tamar Heads, at Beauty Point.

Mr Bowden - Then you will be able to claim you started it.

Mr DUTHIE - No, I shall not. I am quite prepared to fight along with the other people who believe that such a service must be provided, and the question of who started it is not important. What is important is to get the terminal finished, and finished on time. To-day, the Prime Minister hoped, with his clever reply to my question, to silence honorable members, including his own supporters, on this matter. But he will not succeed. We will see to it that the Government carries out its responsibilities. Ever since the Leader of the Opposition has occupied that position he has fought for an adequate shipping service between the mainland and Tasmania. For years, the Government has talked about the provision of such a service, and during election campaigns has made promises about it, but it has done nothing. It decided to provide a ferry terminal in Tasmania only as the result of sheer weight of pressure from members of the Opposition and some of its own supporters. Now we feel that, since the north of the island has been catered for, the south should also be catered for. That is what I am now fighting to achieve. Hobart, incidentally, is not in my electorate, though much of the cargo that would be carried from Hobart to the mainland would originate in my electorate. We feel that the southern part of the island deserves a passenger ship service. The lack of such a service from Hobart to the mainland would make one think that we were back in the 19th century. Here is the capital of a thriving State which is not linked by a shipping service to Sydney, which is the industrial capital of Australia. That is absolutely incredible in this modern age. So, even though the Prime Minister may go overseas and be replaced by some one else, this fight will be continued for a passengercargo ferry service between Hobart and Sydney.

I wish to refer now to another point about which 1 asked a series of questions of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) only recently. I refer to shipyards in Australia. I asked him the number of people employed in the shipbuilding industry in Australia, which was established by the Labour Government. I find from the Minister's reply that there are only two Government shipyards in Australia - the State Dockyard at Newcastle and H.M.A. Naval Establishment at Williamstown. There are six private shipyards in Australia. Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has one at Whyalla, and others are operated by the Cockatoo Dock and Engineering Company Proprietary Limited in Sydney, Evans Deakin and Company Limited, in Brisbane, Mort's Dock and Engineering Company, in Sydney, Poole and Steel Limited, in Sydney, and Walkers Limited in Maryborough, in Queensland. There are also a number of small yards capable of building vessels of uri to 200 tons. A marvellous little shipbuilding firm has begun operations at Devonport, in the Braddon electorate. I think it was started by Dutch people who are experts at the job, and who have just secured a big contract from France to build several ships of, I think, about 1,000 to 2,000 tons. That yard deserves every encouragement this Government can give it. In fact, Australia with its long coastline and its adjacent islands including Tasmania - from which Melbourne was established - needs every encouragement in respect of shipbuilding, because shipbuilding is vital to us, as it is to Great Britain and Japan. I believe it to be a tragedy that we have only two Government shipbuilding yards in Australia. There should be many more than that. I also asked the Minister the present number of employees in these shipyards compared with the number in 1949. He said that the number employed varied up and down, but remained around 5,250.

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