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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr HOWSON (Fawkner) .- I have listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr.

O'Connor) and particularly to his statement that the Opposition does not intend to oppose this bill. The honorable member has put forward a number of interesting points, some of which I must agree with. I refer to his remarks about amenities. I think members on both sides of the House must be pleased to see that as a result of the act passed by the Parliament last year the new Stevedoring Industry Authority has started to spend money on amenities and facilities to help the waterside workers during their working hours. In particular honorable members must be pleased to see how the authority has developed the mobile medical centre in the port of Sydney. That centre is now functioning efficiently and has commenced to increase its services during the last year. Members on both sides of the House must hope that before long, such services and amenities will be increased at other ports in the same way as they are now being increased at Sydney.

Taking the argument of the honorable member for Dalley a little farther, it does indicate how at last, as a result of the Stevedoring Industry Act passed by the Government last year, there are signs of improved co-ordination of all the various authorities on the waterfront - the port authorities, the shipowners, and the Stevedoring Industry Authority itself. Gradually, everybody is showing greater recognition of his responsibility to provide amenities. Honorable members can only hope that each of the bodies concerned will in the future continue this movement and accelerate it as far as possible.

Turning now to the bill as a whole, I do not think members on either side of the House would like to see costs increased, particularly on the waterfront. As the Minister has pointed out so clearly in his second-reading speech, this increased charge is due to factors which were not referred to in any way by the honorable member for Dalley. There are, first, the short-term factors that have existed during the last twelve months. In particular, the decline of the volume of imports coming into Australia has resulted in less work being available for the waterside workers. The Suez Canal crisis also has affected the flow of imports, but, as a result of the settling of the crisis, that situation will be overcome in the near future. A third factor is the abnormally dry autumn that we are experiencing. As a result, the rain factor that was taken into consideration when the original charge was calculated has not had as great an effect as was expected.

There are also the long-term factors that have made it necessary to increase the charge. As the Minister pointed out, they include the increased efficiency apparent on the waterfront during the last twelve months. I think that all honorable members welcome the signs of greater efficiency. It is a pity that, paradoxically, at the same time as efficiency has increased, we have found it necessary to increase the charge levied to finance the operations of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. However, if we take the long-term view, we can, as the Minister has said, see that, by the very nature of the long-term factors, the present need for the increased charge will be removed, and that it should be possible, in a reasonably short time, to reduce it below the level of 2s. to which it is now to be increased.

I think that we should consider very briefly some of the factors that have led to increased efficiency on the wharfs. When 1 addressed the House during the consideration of the Stevedoring Industry Bill 1956 in June of last year, I referred at length to the importance of the press and radio pick-up system of obtaining labour for the wharfs. I think that, as the Minister has said, that system is one of the factors that has made it necessary to increase the charge. It has operated in twelve ports with very great success, and has called forth very favorable comment from all who are affected by it. As I said before, in Melbourne, where it has operated for a long time, the waterside workers welcomed it, and would be loath to see it abandoned. Last year, I expressed the hope that, when the system was extended to other ports, the waterside workers at those ports would welcome it, and I think that I can say, without fear of equivocation by Opposition members, that that hope has been justified by its operation in practice. The people whom it benefits welcome it in spite of the extra cost involved.

In addition, there are other general factors which arose from the act passed last year - the short gangs for beams and hatches; the transfer system, which operated originally in Adelaide, and has now been adopted in most other ports; and the general increase of efficiency resulting from the sling-load judgment and the greater use of pallets for the movement of general cargoes. All of these factors have improved the turn-round of ships, and I am sure that all honorable members welcome that as an indication of increased efficiency on the waterfront. The honorable member for Dalley said that the reduction of working hours has forced the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia to bear the whole brunt of the increased efficiency. The most important effect of the Stevedoring Industry Act of last year was to make work on the waterfront less of a casual occupation, and the waterside workers have benefited as a result of the measures that have been adopted. It cannot be said that they have in fact borne the brunt of the factors that were mentioned by the honorable member. On the other hand, the act of last year has brought about a measure of permanent employment, which every waterside worker surely desires, and we are at last able to have some measure of stability on the waterfront. That is most important.

There are many factors that have led to the present situation. I have referred already to the improved wharf amenities that have been provided by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. The cost of those facilities is reflected in the increased charge now proposed. I think that honorable members on both sides of the House will agree that such expenses should be incurred, and that, if it is necessary to incur greater expenditure in order to improve amenities, it should be incurred, because we all should like to see amenities on the waterfront improved. I think that every one recognizes the need for improvement. The authority has encouraged all concerned to adopt a better attitude, and to increase efficiency, and we must congratulate it on what it has achieved in the last nine months in that way.

The Minister, in his second-reading speech, referred particularly to the reduction of the volume of general cargo being shipped round the Australian coast. I think that we all should consider that factor, because if the present trend continues, the demand for waterfront labour in Australian ports will decline. We have already seen the effects of events that occurred in the New South Wales coal industry only eight years ago. There is a chance that a similar situation may be arising on the waterfront. It is important that both the waterside workers and the shipowners should examine this general problem of coastal shipping. I should like to refer in particular to the trend towards increased bulk-handling of cargoes. The bulk-handling of sugar, ironstone, and oil, as is already well known, has increased efficiency at certain ports. If ships are to carry general cargo in competition with rail or road transport, we shall have to reduce shipping costs.

I hope that, as a result of the new attitude that is becoming apparent on the waterfront, the shipowners will embark on a programme for the construction of specialized vessels for the handling of general cargo. In the United States of America, a great deal of thought is being given to the construction of ships specially designed for the transport of particular cargoes. In that country, a special method, which is known as the " roll on, roll off " technique, has been adopted. Cargo is shipped on pallets, which are loaded in a body on a trailer. The trailer is hauled by a prime mover onto the ship, and is removed by another prime mover at the port of destination. I am certain that if the quantity of general cargo carried round the coast is to be increased, shipowners will have to consider in great detail the building of ships specially designed for this trade. Before they do that they must have some assurance that there is going to be a period of stability in the industry. Since, as a result of the actions of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority during the last nine months, this period of stability can now be foreseen, I think it is up to the shipowners to think of ways in which they could improve efficiency, and to build ships for these special purposes.

I hope, with the Minister, that the extra charge that will be incurred as the result of this bill will be absorbed by the shipping interests without increasing freights. I have already directed attention to the greater efficiency that is now evident on the wharfs, and the consequent reduction of costs should more than offset the extra charge. I hope that both the short-term and long-term factors to which I have referred, and which have necessitated this charge, will soon be overcome, and that within as -short a time as possible, the Government will be able to reduce the proposed charge of 2s. to something very much less.

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