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Wednesday, 23 March 1966

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- The Opposition wholeheartedly supports this Bill, the sole substantial provision of which is to remove any statutory limit on the amount which the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission may borrow on overdraft. The Shipping Act of 1949 placed no limit on the amount which could be borrowed by the instrumentality proposed by that Act. In 1956 the principal Act, which is being amended by this Bill, imposed a limit of £1 million on the Commission's borrowing. I pointed out at the time the unnecessary limitation that this involved. In 1962 the limit was raised to £5 million.

In 1964, when another bill was presented, it was already apparent that the limit of £5 million was an undue restriction. In the Committee stages of the Bill of that year my colleague the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) moved to double the amount. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) stated that there was no reason to have a limit of more than £5 million. At that time he could not envisage any circumstances in which more than £5 million would have to be borrowed.

Mr Freeth - At that time.

Mr WHITLAM - Yes. I will quote the Minister's precise words. After I had spoken in support of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Newcastle the Minister said -

If a situation arose - I cannot foresee it arising - in which the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission suddenly needed to borrow more than £5 million, it would be quite possible for it to arrange to have an advance of capital from the Treasury. This action could subsequently be put right legislatively.

I interjected: " Does the Minister mean by a validating act? " and the Minister replied -

Yes, to repay the capital to the Treasury. We cannot foresee a situation such as that suggested by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition arising, but such a situation would not really affect the operations of the Commission. We could get around such a situation.

Accordingly, the Minister rejected the amendment. Now all limitations are being removed and the situation of 1949 is being restored. We are happy indeed. The Minister's Bill will give great encouragement to all primary producers and potential industrial exporters. It is now planned that the Commission should be permitted or encouraged to carry out the right, which it has always had under the principal Act, to trade overseas.

There is still a basic difference in the attitude of the Minister's party - the Liberal Party - and my party on this subject. The Minister's Party, in its official Federal platform, limits federal interest to coastal shipping. It advocates this policy -

Recognising that coastal shipping makes a contribution to transport, particularly with reference to heavy and long haulage, the taking of measures to assist coastal shipping to maintain and develop services of standards comparable to other forms of transport.

My Party takes a much broader view of the Commonwealth Parliament's obligations and the Commonwealth Government's obligations with respect to shipping. We state that the Commonwealth should progressively construct, charter and operate sufficient ships to carry an equitable share of Australia's exports and imports. We detail our policy in these terms -

Modern shipping services to be maintained by Australian built, owned and manned ships, and for this purpose the continuance of a Commonwealth owned shipping service.

The Commonwealth to constuct and maintain adequatedry docking facilities.

The Commonwealth to establish a Merchant Marine College.

A referendum to give the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws with respect to navigation and shipping.

The Country Party's platform is not readily available, but my recollection is that it makes no reference to overseas shipping, or even to coastal shipping.

The inhibition on overseas shipping hitherto has been political or administrative or financial, not statutory. The Act permits overseas shipping to be carried on by the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission. The proposed amendment gives the Commission, statutorily, unfettered power to borrow money to establish and maintain overseas shipping services, whether by purchase, by charter or by construction. In its last report the Commission stated its intentions in this respect - somewhat guardedly, as it must. I shall quote two passages. The first is -

The Commission has therefore called tenders for three large vehicle-deck vessels and in so doing will extend the " container " principle of transport over a far wider field.

I emphasise the words " far wider field " -

For this and other plans in hand or in view, additional finance, preferably by ways of borrowings, will be necessary.

Again, the Commission reports -

Throughout the twelve months, the demand for tonnage in the Australian ore and bulk cargo trades has been such that no overseas voyaging could be undertaken. Officers of the Australian National Line, however, continue to watch the freight market with a view to taking advantage of any favourable development.

It is clear from this cautious report that the Commission was already urging that container ships should be obtained for transport over a far wider field - that is, beyond the coastal trade - that borrowings were necessary for this purpose and that, while there was no spare tonnage for overseas voyaging at the moment, the Australian National Line was watching the freight market with a view to taking advantage of any favourable developments in overseas voyaging. In recent months, the " Australian Financial Review " in particular has published surmises, clearly emanating from the Commission, that the Australian National Line was preparing to introduce palletised and refrigerated ships for the overseas trade. In today's issue of the " Australian Financial Review " there is a report that the Australian National Line is seeking to enter the Australia-United Kingdom container trade. This report also mentions the shipments, which the Minister announced yesterday, of steel billets from Port Kembla to Hong Kong.

In earlier debates on bills to amend the principal Act and when debating the estimates for the Department of Shipping and Transport, I have quoted from reports by the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. to emphasise the very great restrictions and handicaps which even the biggest and most efficient Australian manufacturers face in securing overseas markets close at hand, solely because there is no Australian based or Australian centred overseas shipping line. Because manufacturers are not the subject of many relevant reports to this Parliament, we cannot quote from Government docu ments; we have to rely on company reports. With respect to primary industries, we are well served with prompt reports which fully set out the position in which we are placed by want of an overseas shipping service. I wish to quote from three such reports for the last financial year. They are the annual reports of the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board, the Australian Canned Fruits Board and the Australian Meat Board. The report of the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board states -

It is a matter of considerable concern to the Board, and no doubt other Marketing Authorities and Exporting Interests in Australia, that rates of freight to markets other than the United Kingdom and Continent have been very considerably increased over the recent years without even the courtesy by the Shipowners to permit the Marketing Industries concerned to submit any form of representation or reply before the effective date of the increases.

The report of the Australian Canned Fruits Board states -

Advices of impending increases in marine freight rates applicable to the sea carriage of canned fruits to important markets, e.g. the United Kingdom, western Europe, Canada and Far Eastern countries have been received with con,siderable concern by shippers of this commodity and the Board.

The report of the Australian Meat Board compares freight rates to the United Kingdom for canned meat. From Australia, as from 1st October last, they are 239s. 4d. per ton, measurement 40 cubic feet; from New Zealand, as from 1st October, 190s. for the same quantity; and from Argentina, as from 1st March last year, 212s. 6d. for the same quantity. It is clear that our primary industries are very seriously disadvantaged in supplying their customers, compared with competing primary industries in other countries in this hemisphere.

In his second reading speech the Minister stated, rather too cautiously I would have thought, that the increased borrowing powers are necessary, particularly if the Commission is to maintain a competitive position in relation to private shipowners, including overseas interests, which may wish to enter into Australian coastal trading. Surely he might have added that the increased borrowing powers are no less necessary in order that we may maintain a competitive position in relation to private shipowners who are overseas interests and who are monopolising our Australian overseas trade. Admittedly, the Australian National Line must be in a better position to compete with private shipowners from overseas who enter into our coastal trade, but it must also be put into a better competitive position to face private overseas shipping interests which service the whole of our export and import markets at the moment. The Minister may be uncomfortable on these matters because he would know the proceedings of the interdepartmental committee which, for some time now, has been considering the establishment of an overseas shipping line, or, should one say, the striking away of the administrative, political and financial fetters which have been imposed upon the Commission, which has always had the statutory right to establish and maintain an overseas shipping line! When the recommendations of the inter-departmental committee are made public - better still, if its recommendations for an overseas shipping line are debated-

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