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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr KEARNEY (Cunningham) .- In this measure the Government is legislating to increase the stevedoring industry charge from ls. 7d. to 2s. per man-hour, which represents an increase of 26.3 per cent. That is a figure of some consequence to the community at large, and it is one which the Government, as the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) said, cannot justify. The four reasons for the Government's proposals were not mentioned in the second-reading speech of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). The Opposition recognizes that it is from the funds raised by this charge that the operations of the authority are to be financed. We also recognize that it is from these funds that payments of attendance money, payments for sick leave, and payments for statutory holidays will flow. The charge is levied on man-hours worked. When we speak of the stevedoring industry, we speak of the Australian waterfront and all the kinds of work that are performed there. It is from that angle that I propose to deal with this question, following the broadening of the issue by the honorable member for Blaxland.

The ambit of the Minister's secondreading speech was very limited, restricted and narrow. It did not provide an ample explanation as to why this charge should be increased by such a stupendous amount, following increases that have occurred in recent times. When did those increases take place? In 1949, the new rate of 2id. applied as from 11th October. As from 4th December, 1951, it went up to 4d. As from 28th October, 1952, it went up to lid. It then dropped back to 6d. as from 4th October, 1954. It was increased to ls. 7d. a man-hour from October, 1956. Those increases occurred in a period of eight years, and now we have another stupendous increase in the charge. These increases will be reflected in the prices of commodities that are handled by the stevedoring industry. That is an important point and must be remembered. That is why the Opposition is so concerned about this issue, which has been presented as a small and simple one. Whilst it may be small and simple, it also has an impact on the cost structure, a subject dear to the hearts of those who support the Government.

In considering the situation on the waterfront, it is important to bear in mind that the figures for the last three months show that from 24 per cent, to 33i per cent, of the total registered force has been unemployed. That is a serious condition, because the attendance money paid is a charge against the authority and is one of the reasons given to justify the increase of the charge. It is well to look at the figures for the last three months because they tell a story of importance. We find that in December, 1956, the number registered was 25,168 and the average number employed each day was 16,675. That is equal to 66.3 per cent, of the total membership actually finding work. The remainder had to live on the miserable pittance of attendance money. In January, 1957, an average of 61 per cent, of the total work force was engaged and in February, 1957, the percentage was again about 61 per cent. This was due not only to insufficient work but also to a number of other factors. The basic, broad approach is that the stevedoring authorities, the shipping companies, the big manufacturing concerns, the agents and others who are responsible for the flow of goods to the waterfront have shown a degree of inefficiency in their management of waterfront activities.

Let us examine the reasons given by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) in justification of the increased charge. His first point was that the volume of imports has been lower than anticipated, due to the imposition of import restrictions. The Minister said, " The easing of import restrictions has not so far resulted in increased cargoes ". Does not that indicate that those responsible for the flow of goods into and out of Australia have no confidence in this Government because of its shilly-shallying and its " stop-go " economic policy? In turn, that is reflected in a substantial decrease in 'the volume of -goods entering or leaving this country, but is reflected particularly in imports. Business people have the jitters and they have no confidence in the Government's policy.

The second reason given by the Minister was a decline in the tonnage of general cargo handled by interstate shipping. That point has been dealt with by Opposition members who have already spoken on this bill. It is quite true that the volume of interstate cargoes has declined by 20 per cent. The main factor affecting employment on the waterfront is a drop in merchandised goods, not in bulk loading. This Government has failed to grapple with the situation. It is permitting the drift to continue. We have not heard any suggestions from the Government about what it proposes to do to take an active part in restoring shipping activities or, as the honorable member for Blaxland pointed out, in meeting the challenge of road hauliers who are pulverizing our roads to dust, picking the eyes out of cargoes and leaving the noxious types of goods that are unprofitable for them to be transported in other ways. That factor cannot be divorced from this issue; it is a factor in the increased cost. I would expect that the leaders of the Government would grapple with the problems, and not merely mention them. We know that they exist, but the Government should give some lead. It is the duty of the Government not only to point to factors causing a condition but also to find a solution of the problems. Instead of that, we have silence from the Government.

Another important factor is the increase in shipping freights. The real reason for the reduction in our imports and exports is that Australia has been costing itself out of world markets. That sort of thing will contribute, -just as did the shipping companies' grab in increased freight rates, to circumstances which will be further evidenced in the movement of cargoes to and from this country as time passes. The cost factor is resting on the profit angle adopted by stevedoring companies, shipping companies and manufacturing concerns.

The question of efficient management by stevedoring companies is almost a laughing matter. Any one who gives attention to the position on the waterfront cannot but be dismayed by the lack of mechanization. Mechanization is virtually non-existent on the Australian waterfront. We are still continuing to do the work on the waterfront in the way it has been done from the inception of this .country. Except at Fremantle and the heavy loading at Port Kembla and Newcastle, where , the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has built cranes for heavy loading, the general position of handling .cargoes has hardly altered. The companies can be charged with total failure to spend money -on improved methods. That is obvious. Even the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) was bold enough to make a suggestion for improved cargo handling based on an American .method. I trust that senior members of the Government will lend an ear to the principle he enunciated. There is a need for improvement. I do not necessarily agree with the details of his proposal, but the need for improvement must be -recognized.

Honorable .members conversant with the waterfront are aware of the true situation. It :is that our waterside workers are being asked to handle and are handling an increased tonnage of cargo with most antiquated equipment. The antiquated methods, of course, add to the cost, and that is of prime importance in our consideration of this bill. The methods are primitive and costly, but, periodically, Government supporters pass the sins of the waterfront on to the workers in the industry. In fact, the guilty men on the waterfront are those who are taking the profits but are not spending money on improved methods for the handling of cargoes. What is the position in Sydney? There, we have a lot of jetties. They are cramped bottlenecks which contribute nothing but inefficiency to the handling -of cargoes. No effort is being made to change that situation, which has existed for many years. No doubt the bottlenecks on the Sydney jetties will remain for many years to come, if this Government continues in office. It requires a greater impulse to bring about a change of front. In almost every industry one finds that improvements are being made by managements. All sorts of 'improvements in working conditions are being effected in other industries because there is widespread rethinking on this subject but little has been done on the waterfront. There is still a slow and sluggish procedure.

Take the case of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. There has been no fundamental alteration in its waterfront methods for many years. At Port Kembla, a very important centre of Austalian industry, the jetties are fed by one railway line. Conditions become choked there every day with the shunting and movement of goods back and forth. Transport on the wharfs is balked and frustrated. Railway trucks arrive at the waterfront loaded with steel of various dimensions. It has been loaded at the plant of Australian Iron and Steel Proprietary Limited. The company does not have to bear any of the expense incurred through a delay resulting from the manner in which the various sizes of steel plate are loaded. The company loads it on to the trucks in a higgledy piggledy fashion and so when it reaches the waterfront, the waterside worker is delayed in his work by the inefficiency of the business management of Australian Iron and Steel Proprietary Limited. At times the waterside worker has to load single sheets of steel into the hold of the ship because of the size variations.

There is an urgent need for precision and organization in stowage. The same thing applies -to the loading of steel rails. Boats have been booked to take rails and when they arrive at the jetty it is found that because of the dimensions of the rails there is a delay in transference time and in some cases a necessity .to reload the trucks.

Those factors are real but the Minister has not drawn the attention of this House to them. He should do so, because his advisers will know that what I say in this regard is the truth and can be observed any day of the week if the Minister cares to go to Port Kembla and see for himself what is going on. These delays are frustrating, apart from being costly. From them emerge -many industrial disputes that could have been avoided 'by efficient business management at the point where the trucks are loaded, where the cargoes are allocated, and where the consignment notes are made out. 1 know of shipments coming down to that district with the -wrong -consignment and there has been delay and frustration while somebody gets the correct consignment. These time losses add to waterfront costs. That has to 'be realized and the blame placed on the business executives of this country. Those people should give more efficient service. At present they are escaping their responsibilities.

What do we know about a lot of .these things? Stowage is highly important. The late arrival of goods is important. That is continually occurring. Men are held up. Gangs of men are standing by. The overall cost structure is mounting and this is reflected in reports that find their way into this Parliament. Wool agents are often responsible for gross inefficiency. For instance, a ship was loading wool at Brisbane on 22nd January last. It was delayed from 8 a.m. till 12 mid-day, awaiting the arrival of four bales of wool. That is not efficient. The cost involved in that is charged against the Stevedoring Industry Authority, and in turn criticism is levelled at the waterside worker, who is blamed for ;the high cost.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 .p.m.

Mr KEARNEY - Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was criticizing the Gcvernment's proposal to increase the stevedoring industry charge from ls. 7d. to 2s. a man-hour, an increase of approximately 26 per .cent. It 'has been clearly shown by Opposition members that the Government is seriously at fault as .a result of its failure to provide a very detailed statement of the reasons for its decision to increase the -charge.

I repeat my earlier assertion that incompetent management by stevedoring companies has resulted in high costs and delay in the turn-round of shipping, because it has impeded the loading and unloading of cargoes throughout the Australian waterfront. Delays are costly, and if the delays that have occurred as a result of incompetent management were eliminated, it would not be necessary to increase the charge. The onus of eliminating delays caused by mismanagement rests upon management, not upon the waterside workers. In this regard, I cite the case of the vessel " Pioneer Star ", which was loading wool at Brisbane on 22nd January last. The delays that were experienced are typical. Such delays are clearly reflected in the cost of handling cargoes on the waterfront. Responsibility for them is wrongly laid, both within Australia and outside it, at the door of the Australian waterside workers. " Pioneer Star " was delayed from 8.10 a.m. until 12 noon, on 22nd January, waiting for four bales of wool. Similar delays are constantly occurring. Earlier, I enumerated a number of instances. A classic example is to be found in the transport of mineral ores and lamp black. Mineral ores are transported from Western and central Australia in hessian bags, and lamp black is transported in a similar way. Owing to the duration of the journey, exposure to weather, and the inadequate protection provided, the hessian bags burst, and the waterside workers have the difficult and onerous task of unloading these cargoes, which should be shipped in suitable containers such as steel drums. The costly delays, and the other costly difficulties involved, all are reflected in the proposed increased charge.

Wet weather is another factor that causes delay. The Minister for Labour and National Service mentioned it as one of the reasons justifying the proposed increase. The average time lost at Australian ports through wet weather is as much as 8.6 per cent, of the man-hours worked. At Port Kembla, it is 8.1 per cent.; at Newcastle, 8.9 per cent.; and at Sydney, 8.1 per cent. That represents a terrific loss of man-hours and enormous cost, but the stevedoring companies, which control the detailed management of operations on the waterfront, refuse to provide awnings over wharfs and jetties, which have been in use, it seems, almost from time immemorial. We constantly see evidence of the idiotic and reactionary attitude of management with respect to this detail of operations. It is impossible to imagine this sort of thing occurring in other industries where some progressive thought seems to dominate relations between employers and employees. Yet, on the waterfront, this sort of irritant is constantly present, with destructive effects as a result of its influence on the cost structure.

Delays cause a great deal of nonproductive paid working time, and this problem also is well worthy of consideration. The average loss of time from this cause is 35.6 per cent. That represents an enormous loss, due to all kinds of factors, most of which could be eliminated by sensible and thoughtful management. These factors, which could be eliminated to-morrow, and should be eliminated, are constantly affecting the cost structure. The increased costs are borne, not, as the Minister asserts, by the stevedoring companies, but by the consumers, who have to pay higher prices for goods. As a consequence, this measure is of deep concern to every consumer of goods shipped through Australian ports.

We have no modern equipment on our waterfront, as the House has already been told. Conditions are almost prehistoric, and mechanization is almost completely lacking. The Australian waterside workers have to perform their daily tasks with inferior equipment, whereas most workers in other industries are provided with modern equipment to help them do their work efficiently and well. In that connexion, I propose to read to the House the views of Professor J. Duhig, of Brisbane, who made a survey of waterfront conditions as recently as October, 1956. He said -

I cannot truthfully help saying that I thought the handling system in this highly scientific machine age is crude and primitive.

I have no doubt this system was a vogue in Athenian triremes in the Aegean nearly 2,000 years ago and has been altered little since.

That is a truism, and it is a terrible reflection on management, which is content to take the cream in the form of extremely high profits, regardless of its responsibilities.

What is the situation in respect of labour relations? There is a very primitive approach towards this question. The minions of the companies are sack-happy. " Sackem " is a nickname very freely applied to agents of the companies throughout the waterfront. There was a classic case in Sydney not so long ago. A company employee, acting under pressure to dismiss waterside workers freely, " sacked " a man whom he saw standing about. The man was found to be a first-class passenger on an overseas ship. But should we sack any one? We have to realize that this is a casual industry, as the honorable member for Blaxland demonstrated so clearly this afternoon. It is fraught with uncertainty of employment for a fine body of Australian workers, who are citizens as good as is any one either inside or outside this Parliament.

I should like now to cite an article written by Edward Sykes, who is Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Queensland, and who has made a special study of waterfront problems. The article, which was published in a leading Sydney newspaper on 8th May last, stated, referring to views highly derogatory of the wharf labourers -

Such views are of course very exaggerated but, none the less, thoughtful observers who are closely in touch with the actual situation are appalled by the poor organization, wastage of time, lack of effort and discipline, and poor history of industrial relations that has for so long plagued the stevedoring industry.

That is a complete condemnation of management by a man whose impartial mind is completely removed from the turmoil of politics, and it takes a great deal of answering.

In industrial awards on the waterfront, industrial legalism is notoriously widespread. The Waterside Workers Federation of Australia has often asked the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to take action against shipowners for industrial reasons, but the authority has never taken action. The Stevedoring Industry Act is " loaded " against the waterside workers in this respect. In all such cases, it has to be proved that the company has failed to carry out operations " expeditiously, safely and efficiently ". Unless the union's case can be proved on all three counts, it fails completely. Consequently, industrial bias operates freely in the application of industrial law on the Australian waterfront. The victims of this bias are the men who provide the vital spark of the industry - the workers. This Government's stevedoring industry legislation, as is demonstrated by this bill, reeks with bias. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister, if he were present, but I see that he is not here.

Mr Mackinnon - He is here.

Mr KEARNEY - He is, after all, but I see that he is otherwise engaged. I should like to have his assurance that no senior Ministers, and no other influential Government supporters, have a direct financial interest in the profit-making activities of the shipping and stevedoring companies. It is important that this should be made clear. Information in my possession indicates that a number of the leading men on the Government side in this Parliament, have active interests in companies concerned with the stevedoring industry. No less a person than the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself is indirectly interested, because I understand that his wife has shares in the Capel Court group of companies and other investment companies which, in turn, are linked for financial gain with the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which has interests in the major interstate shipping companies, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, Huddart Parker Limited, the Melbourne Steamship Company Limited, the Pacific Trading Company Limited, and W. R. Carpenter and Company Limited.

Then we have the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who has interests in the Capel Court group of companies and Mount Isa Mines Limited which, in turn, owns one-sixth of the shares in the North Queensland Stevedoring Co-operative, of Townsville. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has probably the largest coastal shipping and stevedoring interests in this country. Included among those who hold shares in that company is Francis E. De Groot, of Sydney Harbour Bridge fame. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) is, I understand, mixed up, through shareholding, in Burns Philp and Company Limited. He, of course, was a senior member of the Bruce-Page Government which brought about the destruction of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I should like to know whether this legislation is intended to be a part of the pay-off. Then we have a notable family by the name of Downer, which is concerned with Elder Smith and Company Limited and the B.H.P. Would that family be related to the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer)? Would the honorable member himself be concerned in any way with investments in those companies?

Isuggest that the facts that. I have, stated should explain to the people of this country why this legislation has been introduced. They should' explain, too, why the Government continually runs away from its responsibilities in this direction and why it refuses to see that the only solution of the problem lies in intelligent effort,, rather than in increasing charges and asking the people, of Australia to pay them.

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