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Wednesday, 23 March 1966

Mr BENSON (Batman) .- Mr. Speaker,I support the Bill and also in general the remarks made by previous speakers on both sides of the House. I congratulate the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) on taking action to make it possible lor the capital available to the Australian National Line to be increased so that it can progress further. I was deeply interested in the remarks of the various speakers who have taken part in this debate and I am sure that they believed in what they said. Having said in general terms that I support the remarks of previous speakers, I go on now to say that I do not believe in some of the things that they said. I have to be careful what I say about this, but 1 know that the matters to which I refer were only trivial and that what was said was uttered in good faith. I should just like to point out that it is not always convenient to load general cargo in a bulk cargo vessel. It costs a lot to put general cargo in a bulk carrier and to take it out at the end of the voyage. I shall not extend further the argument on that point.

The Minister, in his second reading speech, referring to the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, said -

Whilst the Commission now has access to basically the same methods of financing as are available to private ship owners, its borrowing powers are limited and, if it is to carry through its proposed capital- works programme, it must have access to additional funds.

That access to additional funds is now to be provided. I come next to the most important part of the Minister's speech. He went on -

This is necessary, particularly if the Commission is to maintain a competitive position in relation to private ship owners, including overseas interests which may wish to enter into Australian coastal trading.

It would appear that overseas shipping interests wish to enter the Australian coastal trade. I came across a little publication entitled '" Incentive " in which I read this reference to a contract for coastal trade -

The Australian National Line may eventually get something out of this contract (Millers were not asked to tender) as Ludwig may charter the 47,000 ton bulk carrier being built for the A.N.L. The reason such a charter may be necessary is that there will be not enough other work on the coast. . . .

The House knows, Mr. Speaker, that one 47,000 ton vessel is being built at Whyalla. I understand that another will follow. I do not know whether the Australian National Line will operate its own vessel itself or whether the ship will be chartered and used by the Ludwig interests. I am sure that if the Minister clarifies that point a lot of people will be much happier. I know that there are difficulties involved in the carriage of bauxite from Weipa to Gladstone. That will be intrastate trade and therefore will be a matter for the Queensland Government.

I dare say that the executive officers of the Australian National Line have made a thorough survey to determine how many ships will be needed to carry bulk cargoes round the Australian coast. It is important that the exact number be determined. It would appear at present that we have too many tankers on the coast, though I may be wrong abou *his. One tanker has either been laid up or has been despatched with a cargo of wheat. I do not press that issue because I want to keep within the scope of the Bill. It has been said that roll-on-roll-off ships should go into as many ports as possible, but it is not good business to send a ship to many ports if that can be avoided. A clear pattern is emerging in respect of container cargoes on the Australian coast. I believe that it is only a matter of time before two companies will be operating with containerised vessels on the Australian coast. One will be the Australian National Line, carrying cargo from Melbourne to

Queensland, and the other will be Associated Steamships Pty. Ltd., carrying container cargoes from Melbourne to Fremantle. The efforts of the National Line in going ahead with containerised vessels will have a big effect on Australia's economy. With the use of these specialised ships, vessels arriving in Australia from overseas will discharge the whole of their cargo at one port and there will be no need for them to steam all round Australia. The cargo will be picked \ip at that port and delivered by containerised vessels operating in the coastal trade. Such a system will do away with a lot of wharf labour. This is a point that was mentioned in the House some time ago. This will inevitably happen. It is progress, and nothing much can be done about it.

The Minister said that the Commission has ordered two roll-on-roll-off cargo vessels for the Melbourne-Brisbane and the Melbourne-Brisbane-north Queensland trade and has announced that it is considering a proposal to construct a second Bass Strait passenger vessel. I am very pleased to hear that. Here, I make a plea that the Minister ensure that the roll-on-roll-off vessels will be capable of sufficient speed to meet the requirements of, say, the next 25 years. I believe it is generally accepted at present that the useful life of a ship is 25 years. Therefore, when one is ordering vessels one must look 25 years ahead and try to imagine what the position will be in 25 years' time. I believe that roll-on-roll-off ferries like those described by the Minister, if used in the trade to North Queensland, will play a big part in relieving congestion on our main roads. The more vehicles one can put on such vessels the fewer transports we shall have travelling on the main highways. I earnestly suggest that much thought be given to this matter. I believe that ships providing such services should sail at, say, midnight so that loading can take place between 7 p.m. and shortly before midnight during the hours when the roads leading to the docks are not congested. The speed of the ships should be regulated so that they arrive at the next port - say, Brisbane - in 24 hours to enable unloading to be completed between midnight and the time when traffic conditions become congested next morning. If planning like that were carried out something would be achieved. I know that thoughts such as these must be in the minds of the principal officers of the

Australian National Line. I have had the pleasure of knowing the chairman of the Australian National Line, Captain J. P. Williams, for many years, and I think the Government and the country are very fortunate to have the services of a man of his knowledge. I believe he has the widest knowledge of any seaman - and I know he likes to be called a seaman - in Australia. He has given us the benefit of his advice, and given it freely and to the best of his ability.

I just want to say something about how the Australian National Line started, because there seems to be a certain amount of misunderstanding about this. The Australian National Line as we know it today was started during the war when there was a shortage of ships. The first ship to be built was the " River Clarence ". lt was finished in, I think, 1942 and went straight to the Middle East with cargo, lt was followed by the " River Burdekin ", which I happened to see building at the yard of Evans Deakin & Co. Pty. Ltd. in Brisbane. At the time I was standing by during the building of a naval vessel in the same yard. It was purely by chance that 1 happened to meet the Hon. Jack Beasley, who was Minister for Shipping at that time. He came to Brisbane on many occasions to see how the vessel was coming along, and 1 had many talks with him.

That is how the Line started, lt commenced with the building of River class ships and then it progressed to the building of D class and E class vessels. After a time the Australian National Line became quite diversified. It is true, as somebody here has said, that the Line was at one time up for sale, but the people who wanted to buy it were not prepared to pay a proper price. The Government of the day realised this and so the Line was not sold - and I am very glad that it was not sold. I do not know what can be done to make the Line work more effectively. That is a question for the Government if it chooses to carry on with the policy it is following at present, but to my mind the fact is that the Line is somewhat handicapped.

The Australian National Line builds the ships and mans them, and then they are placed in the hands of an agency which runs them and an agency which finds cargo. That method has several good features, of course. The agents for the vessels find the cargoes and obtain commission for doing so. and I may say that it is harder than most people think for a Commonwealth Government line to break into the shipping trade. When a National Line vessel enters an Australian port its officers have to contend with State Government officials, lt does not matter whether the particular government is Labour or Liberal; the first requirement is to satisfy the State Government officials. Then arrangements must be made for wharf space, and naturally a State Government will say: " This is for us and you can have what is left." Sometimes the area that is left over is not suitable. 1 know the trouble the Australian National Line had in finding a suitable site for its ferry terminal in Sydney. It so happened that Morts Dock became available, but if it had not become available the Australian National Line would have faced a most difficult task in finding a suitable position at the right price to build a ferry terminal. All the wharves were owned or leased by various shipping companies, and one just cannot walk in and say: " I am going to take this over." However, Morts Dock came on the market and the Australian National Line was fortunate enough to obtain that position for its terminal. I was pleased to see that the Australian National Line has bought about 2i acres of land in Brisbane on which it will start to build another terminal. 1 hope it will not bc long before we have containerised ships running to Queensland.

The Minister did not mention in his speech anything about the carriage of cattle between Australian ports. I think consideration should be given to the building of a ship, to be controlled by the Australian National Line, for the carriage of cattle. At present cattle are carried around the Australian coast in foreign-owned vessels. If we could have our own specialised cattle ships it would, I am sure, be of great advantage to my friends in the Country Party.

I have often asked that something be done in Australia, through the Australian National Line, about the building of our own Antarctic vessels. The House well knows that every year we have to bring a vessel to Australia all the way from Denmark and then send it to the Antarctic so that our personnel there may receive stores and be looked after generally. If we are going to continue in the Antarctic it is imperative that we have suitable ships of our own provided by the Australian National Line.

Last night I noticed reports in the Press that the first shipload of Australian iron ore for Japan had left Geraldton in a Japanese vessel, the " Margaret Maru ". To me it seems rather disappointing that the first little bit of Australia to be sent overseas has had to go in a Japanese ship. We are told that we are to get some 47,000 tonners, which are being built now for the Australian National Line. Whether they will be used in the iron ore trade or not I do not know, but there is one matter I should like to mention in connection with these new vessels. When people talk of their harbour being the best in the world and their ports being the best in the world I am very glad to hear such patriotic utterances, but 1 must say that there are very few harbours in the world that can accommodate big ships. There are very few natural harbours with the required capacity. Large ships seldom come to Australia via the Barrier Reef because it is very difficult to navigate vessels of large draught through the Reef. I remember going up there during the war on a ship drawing 32 feet - that is not very much - and it caused a lot of concern going through the Barrier Reef with that draught. I know that the reef has now been buoyed and that the shoals have been marked, but the fact remains that it is not open water that one can navigate at will. Ships of 80,000 tons now come to South Australia but they have to be anchored off. They come to South Australia with a draught of 46 feet but if they want to get into Melbourne they have to be lightened until their draught is 36 feet. They must keep their draught at not much more than that figure if they want to go into Sydney.

Harbours can be deepened, of. course, but at times it goes beyond a simple matter of digging out mud, and sometimes rock has to be blasted out. Deepening a harbour is quite an expensive job. This has nothing to do with the Australian National Line, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I thought I should mention it because when we are building 47,000 ton vessels with deep draught these matters must be appreciated. Take dry docking for instance. Have we adequate dry docking facilities for vessels of more than 47,000 tons? We have only the Captain Cook Dock in Sydney and the Cairncross Dock. Apart from those two docks, we do not have dry docking facilities to take vessels of this size. The provision of such national projects should be a joint effort by the Australian National Line and the Navy. There should be closer liaison between the Navy and the Australian National Line so that in the building of ships careful consideration is given to possible future defence needs. I wish the Bill well. I hope that the Australian National Line prospers and that it will always have at the helm men of the character of those who are now there.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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