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Wednesday, 23 March 1966

Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) . - The Bill, by its title, amends section 30 of the principal Act. Section 30 gives the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission certain borrowing powers, with Treasury approval, subject to the certification of the Minister of the necessity to borrow such moneys for the Commission to meet its obligations and discharge its functions under the Act. The functions of the Commission are defined in section 15 and specifically provide for the Commission to establish and maintain shipping services for the carriage of passengers, goods and mail, inter alia, between a place in the Commonwealth and a place in another territory. I propose to confine my remarks as specifically as I can to the Bill as it stands and matters reasonably relevant to it. However, in passing, I shall deal with the position of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), because no public activity is of more importance to the Australian economy than that of transport.

At a symposium some years ago figures were given to show that about 35 per cent, of the gross national product is absorbed in transport costs in various forms - land, sea and air. That being so, it rather astonishes me to see the tremendous and chaotic division that exists in the approach of this Government to the discharge of the transport functions. In particular, we see that the Minister for Shipping and Transport - I make no reflection on him personally - is not even a member of the inner Cabinet. His powers are particularly limited. By name, he is the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In fact, control of overseas shipping policy, with typical Parkinsonian dexterity, has been appropriated by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen). Another field that might appropriately come under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Shipping and Transport is control of the stevedoring industry which, if it is anything at all, is part of the shipping. We can take it still further. The Government is not prepared to give even the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Swartz) the status of a full portfolio within the inner Cabinet.

There is muddle, duplication and inefficiency in every phase of the approach of the Commonwealth Government to shipping. The remarks of Mr. Ramsay of the Department of Trade and Industry at a recent symposium are particularly relevant. The " Financial Review " of 24th February last reported Mr. Ramsay as saying -

The whole trouble in the past is that shipping has been considered as a series of more or less disconnected operations - shipbuilding, shipowning, liner operation, stevedoring and so forth.

It is useless to build a ship and then worry about operating it efficiently, just as it is a waste of time to plan a liner service and then ask the stevedores to see about efficient stevedoring. . . The time to think about stevedoring difficulties is at the drawing-board stage of shipbuilding.

I direct particular attention to the following words -

Only when we begin to think of shipping as a single integrated operation from exporter to importer shall we make any progress and only then shall we be able to see an end to the everrising spiral of costs.

Mr. Ramsayis reported as saying also

It is equally pertinent to remark that the successful handling of transport problems at Government level is also tied up in the integration of the multiplicity of authorities which presently handle them piecemeal.

We need a Minister for Shipping and Transport who in fact is a Minister with full powers. Until we get a truly national approach to the problem, with full control over every phase of shipping activity vested in the one Minister, we will never be able effectively to solve our problems.

The background to the present legislation is laid by the Minister in his second reading speech. He said that the need to increase the capital structure of the Commission arose because it was faced with substantial capital expenditure in the construction of new vessels. He referred particularly to the fact that the Commission was concerned that it was disadvantageous^ placed in tendering for long term contracts, especially for the carriage of bulk cargoes, because of the restrictions of the existing Act. The report of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission is strikingly significant in providing the background to this legislation. I shall quote from the annual report for 1965. Over the reproduction of the signature of the Chairman, the following statement appears -

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 favorable development.

There has been a lot of agitation over quite a few years for the establishment of a national overseas shipping line. In fact, that power already exists in the terms of section 15 of the Act and the agitation for the establishment of an overseas line is not strictly correct. This should be directed rather to the extension or amplification of the activity of the Commission under its existing statutory power.. It is obvious to me and, I think, to anyone who has had shipping experience that the first method of entry will be by the establishment of bulk carriers. The bulk carrying trade is of major importance today. I was closely associated with the legislation for the establishment of an inner harbour at Port Kembla. We thought we were working miracles when we established at the entrance a channel 42 feet deep at low tide. That was ten years ago.

Today, bulk carriers of 50,000 tons are commonplace. Bulk carriers of 80,000 tons are commonplace and, in relation to the petroleum trade, one Japanese vessel is of 150,000 tons dead weight and another one, the " Idematsu Maru ", is on the stocks in Japan and is soon to be commissioned with a dead weight tonnage of 205,000 and with a draught, incidentally, of 56 feet. No major port in Australia could accommodate it at the present time. It is true that most of these tankers stand off shore, couple up to a pipeline and discharge their cargo by pump, but the point that I want to make is that today these super tankers, whose existence is, in the main, due to the closure of the Suez Canal during its takeover by Egypt and the need to get economies of scale by the building of super vessels, are capable of making remarkable - even fantastic - economies in transport. There is no earthly reason why we should not take advantage of bulk carriers for the transport of our iron ore outwards and, for such time as we continue to import it, petroleum inwards. The bulk carrier is the vessel of the future. To take a typical case, I mention that the Japanese super tanker, the " Tokyo Maru " of 150,000 tons dead weight, has a crew of 29. It is as fully automated as any vessel can be. There is no earthly reason why we should not be entering into that field in relation to overseas shipping.

The matter goes further. It is not just a matter of building one or two bulk carriers of that size. I am informed, credibly, that there are proposals for tankers of even 300,000 tons capacity to be built. We live in a new age and it is time the Government took a new approach to this problem. It is not good enough for us to live in the past. At the present time there is no port in Australia which is capable of handling the conventional heavy cargo freighters which are being built for economies of scale. Let us consider only the steel industry. If we are going to have ore carriers of 100,000 tons capacity heaving to off the north western coast of Western Australia we will need to have sufficient capacity in our harbours at Newcastle and Port Kembla to deal with them. The whole approach at the present time with the division of authority and responsibility between the States and the Commonwealth Government can lead only to an intensification of existing chaos or, in the words of the poet, of confusion worse confounded.

Yesterday there was an announcement by the Maritime Services Board in Sydney of the proposal for New South Wales port reconstructions for a ten year period. This is highly relevant to the activities of the Australian National Line. The harbour of Sydney is one of the best in the world; the port and the port facilities are among the worst, lt is a revelation to look at that port, to examine it and, particularly, to remember the scathing words in the report of Mr. Commissioner Basten in 1952 in which he seriously queried the advisability of continuing to redevelop the port of Sydney and asked whether in point of fact it would be better to consider the establishment of an alternative port where there were not the disadvantages, and particular disadvantages, of an absence of rail links.

I should like to cite to the House that only 37 of the 120 shipping berths in Sydney have rail connections. Worse than that, we are back in the days of the First Fleet when Sydney Cove - Circular Quay - was naturally the main centre for shipping to tie up and to discharge its cargo. Today, on that peninsula between Darling Harbour and Woolloomooloo, we have all the traffic problems of the second largest white city in the British Commonwealth. Yet the Maritime Services Board proposes to redevelop certain of those wharves. In certain cases it hopes to provide as much as six acres of space for the motor trucks which will come there, but it can provide no solution to the traffic problems of the inner city or of Sydney itself, problems which have already attacked and substantially reduced its retail shopping trade and problems which will intensify.

Mr SPEAKER - I point out to the honorable member that the subject of wharves and the question of trading facilities in the suburbs are a little outside the measure under debate. The purpose of the Bill is to grant authority to raise money for the shipping line - not for wharves.

Mr CONNOR - I respect your ruling, Sir, and I bow to it. Reverting to the general activities of the Australian National Line, and particularly to the position with regard to shipping freight rates, because that is really the key to the whole situation, I point out that the Australian National Line has played a major part in stabilising freight rates around the Australian coast. The methods of its operation are well known and the methods of consultation on coastal freight rates also are well known. J give all credit to the Australian National Line and I should like to give my own personal congratulations to the Chairman and the various members of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission and all associated with it. It is an enterprise of which Australia can be justly proud. But 1 want to remind the House of the report of the Committee of Inquiry, known as the Tait Committee, of 1957, in which the comment was made that the Committee found it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the ultimate determining factor in the setting of freight rates in the Australia-United KingdomContinental trade had been what the traffic would bear, having regard to all the circumstances and to such alternatives as were available. Worse than that, in the conclusions at page 131 of the report, it was mentioned that instead of the Australian Overseas Transport Association being the nonstatutory organisation by which overseas shipping freights were determined and where there was a nice balance of power between the interests represented on it, the Committee came to the conclusion that the shipowners were in point of fact the dominant party. More than that, the shipowners were prepared to disclose alterations in their operating costs, but would give no disclosure whatever as to their profits. In other words, unless and until the activities of the Australian National Line are expended through the overseas shipping trade we will continue to be at the mercy of these people.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt), in a fine flush of enthusiasm last September, referred to the need for an overseas shipping line. He was addressing an economic forum in Melbourne which had been organised by the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures. He said that an overseas shipping line was long overdue and that he hoped to live long enough to see an Australian shipping line carrying Australian goods around the world. I hope he lives long enough because, at the rate of progress set by the present Government, he will need to have a longevity equal to that of Methuselah. A national snipping line is an absolute necessity for this country. Our overseas trading balances have been running down for about 19 successive months. Quite apart from the economics of the situation, which justify the operations of the Australian National Line, a substantial contribution to our overseas trading reserves would be made by the expansion of the activities of the Line. I do not want to delay the House further, Sir. I thank you for your tolerance. 1 believe that my comments on port facilities were strictly relevant to the subject before us.

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