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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 834


Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - I would like to raise a matter which has been raised in this House on a number of occasions by the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) and me. I do so against the apparent background of inaction by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) who I am glad to see is in the chamber tonight. The matter concerns the question of levies on a number of outports. These will make it extremely difficult for outports to maintain their general cargo, the labour and the business that has previously been operating through those ports. For a number of areas they are the main avenue of transportation. They are most important for decentralisation, which I thought the present Government pursued and which State governments certainly support. It is true that the Minister for Labour sent his troubleshooter, Mr Norman Foster, to Portland allegedly to learn at first hand the importance of the changed levies for the port of Portland. This is not only a Victorian matter; it is also a matter that affects a number of ports in Queensland and ports in other States as well.

I would have thought that it was unnecessary to send Mr Foster to Portland to see what the position was, although I appreciate that action, because the matter had been fully and accurately ventilated in this Parliament on a number of occasions and by approaches from Victoria to the Commonwealth. I understand that approaches were made to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and certainly to the Minister for Labour. I would like to remind the Minister for Labour of resolutions carried at a meeting convened by the Honourable Murray Byrne, the Minister for State Development and Decentralization in Victoria. The meeting was attended by most of the interested parties. A Mr Allan, a representative from the Minister's Department, was present and no doubt he reported on what happened at that meeting. The meeting carried the following resolution:

That this Meeting unanimously supports the Victorian Government's direct approach to the Federal Government on behalf of the Port of Portland and urges the Federal Government to take immediate action not only in the interests of Portland and other similar ports throughout Australia but also in the interests of Decentralisation.

That was moved by Mr Halliday and seconded by a Labor member of the Victor ian Parliament, Mr Lewis. The second resolution was moved by me and seconded by another Labor member of the Victorian Parliament who also was a Mr Lewis. The second resolution reads as follows:

This Meeting to ask the Honourable Clyde Cameron, Minister for Labour, to make direct approach to the AEWL and to use his influence to have the decision to increase the levy reversed.

The second part of the resolution reads:

And if satisfactory replies to both the first and second resolutions are noi received within one week of today's meeting- that was last Friday - then Mr Byrne is to arrange a deputation of responsible people and representatives (through Mr Fraser or the Premier) to meet Mr Cameron.

That was moved by me and seconded by the Labor member of Parliament for a Western Victorian electorate, Mr Lewis.

I have today received a telegram from the Honourable Murray Byrne which I would like to read to the House. This was a copy of a telegram sent to the Minister for Labour. It reads as follows:

I wish to inform you that the following motion which I moved in the Legislative Council on 21st March after extensive debate was unanimously supported by all members and all parties. The Legislative Council of Victoria condemn the recently announced discriminatory levy imposed on shipping using the port 0f Portland and strongly, urge the Federal Government to take urgent action to safeguard the employment of some hundreds of people presently employed at the Port of Portland by ensuring that such levies as are proposed are uniform in effect on all ports. I respectfully request you to bring this matter before your Government as soon as possible. The position regarding Portland is desperate. The employment not only of those associated with the port but the employment of all persons in Portland is dependent upon urgent action by, your Government. Assuring you of mine and my government's support-

That is, the Victorian Government's support. The telegram was signed by Murray Byrne.

The public knows that the action that has been taken so far has been to send Mr Foster to Portland to examine the position. The Minister for Labour might be able to give the House some indication tonight of additional action. It needs to be remembered that the Minister for Labour said in this House that the individual levies, as opposed to the previous uniform levy system, were against the spirit of the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act. He emphasised that it had been taken without consultation with him or his Department. He gave the view that that ought not to have happened. He did say that there were some good effects from the changed levy system and some bad effects. It was impossible to tell from his words whether he thought the good effects outweighed the bad effects. I have no doubt that the honourable member for Corio would regard the good effects as outweighing the bad effects, but his view, as the member for an extra suburb of Melbourne, is perhaps a prejudiced view in this instance.

What we are fighting for is the true decentralisation of ports right around the Australian coastline. I hope it is not true, but 1 would suggest that the Minister for Labour needs to answer the point made by Mr Craig, the Executive Director of the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour, in a telecommunication to the Honourable Murray Byrne, Minister for State Development and Decentralisation in Victoria, and reinforced bya letter to the Honourable Murray Byrne. In that original teleprinter message Mr Craig had this to say -


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What was the date?


Mr MALCOLM FRASER - The date of the letter was 19th March.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No, the date of the teleprinter message.


Mr MALCOLM FRASER - The teleprinter was sent a day or two earlier, I think. It reads:

This investigation covering all small ports would not be completed for some months but you should also know that at the preliminary meeting on Friday, 16th March-

After the action had been taken, but no doubt in explanation of and in attempting to gain support for the decision of the AEWL- the parties to these discussions, which included the

WWF and the ACTU, condemned the arrangements which had been applied by AEWL up until 5th March. Any arrangement which required some of the smaller ports to subsidise other smaller ports was rejected as being inequitable and entirely unacceptable.

The same view was repeated in a letter which I would like the permission of the House to have incorporated in Hansard. That letter was sent by the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour to the Honourable Murray Byrne. It was dated 19th March. I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.


Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

The Hon. Murray Byrne, M.P.,

Minister for State Development and Decentralisation, 232 Victoria Parade.

EAST MELBOURNE 3002.

Dear Mr Byrne.

PORTLAND

Whilst in Melbourne last week, a copy of your telegram was telephoned to me. The main purpose of my visit to Melbourne was to confer with Mr R. Dunstan, the Minister for Works, who had written to AEWL on 8th March on the subject of the guaranteed wage levy in Portland.

Although your telegram confirmed your discussions with me, in fact 1 have not spoken to you nor had I received any communication prior to your telegram of 15th March. Had I known in advance of your involvement in this matter, I would have sought an appointment with you whilst in Melbourne last Thursday.

However, in my interview with Mr Dunstan, the history and background of the levy for guarantee wage purposes was fully explained. I was able to demonstrate beyond question that the problems of the guaranteed wage levy in Portland arise from lack of cargo which occurred before any change in the levy arrangements commenced. The changed circumstances which necessitated the recent variation in the AEWL arrangements in all States, was appreciated by the Minister for Works. In addition I explained fully why it is not possible for AEWL to revert to a uniform Australian levy which has developed to the point where that system is now inequitable and discriminatory against the more active outports.

Mr Dunstanput certain requests to me on 15th March involving an average of guaranteed wage costs among Victorian outports. Whilst not being optimistic of the results.I undertook to investigate the possibility of this proposal and to advise him within a week or two as to whether agreement could be reached.

We then discussed the meeting you have called for next Friday. I pointed out that because of earlier commitments and pressure of other matters, it would not be possible for me to be in Melbourne on Friday 23rd March. However, we both agreed that the wide representation of interests mentioned in yourtelegram had been invited to the meeting to discuss the future of Portland. Accordingly, it is assumed you would wish the meeting to tackle the real problem of the lack of cargo available for shipment from Portland and the economic viability of continued operations in such circumstances.

Whilst regretting my inability to attend the meeting on Friday next, it does seem the AEWL participation is not essential as problems arising for the guaranteed wage levy will be substantially reduced or eliminated with reasonable volume of cargo movement.

Mr Dunstanoffered to discuss this with you and explain the position. However, although unable to be present on Friday, 23rd March, I would assure you that I would be pleased to discuss this with you at any convenient time including calling on you in Melbourne on some other day, if you so desire-

Finally, you would be aware that since my discussions with Mr Dunstan on 15th March, other developments have occurred. The question of continued operations of smaller ports and the matter of funding of such ports is now under consideration elsewhere. Such enquiries are not confined to Victoria and although no firm recommendation would be expected for some time, there is no doubt that question of funding of guaranteed wage could not be progressed further at the meeting on Friday next.

However, I must hasten to assure you that it would be wrong to conclude those discussions could result in AEWL reverting to a common Australian levy for guaranteed wage costs. In fact on Friday, 16th March, any, arrangements whereby some casual outports were subsidising others was rejected entirely by the parties to the discussions, including the WWF and the ACTU, on the grounds that it was improper for some smaller ports which may well have problems of their own, to be forced to carry additional costs to maintain another port or ports.

Yours faithfully

C.   L. CRAIG

Executive Director


Mr MALCOLM FRASER - The point that I think needs to be emphasised is that the arrangements for waterfront labour, guaranteeing minimum wages in a number of ports around the coast, had until this time been national arrangements with a national implication. Now, apparently with the agreement of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Waterside Workers Federation reached at a meeting held in Sydney, where the representatives of the proper port authorities most intimately concerned and the representatives of the State governments intimately concerned were not present, the old system has apparently been condemned and, implicitly, support has been given to the changed levy system which the AEWL has introduced.

It is strange enough to have the Minister for Labour being on the same side as a group of overseas shippers, significantly controlled by overseas container interests which are dedicated to the centralisation of port trade around Australia. But if the allegations or the suggestions in Mr Craig's letter are correct, that is, that the WWF and the Australian Council of Trade Unions also have supported the actions that have been taken by Mr Craig as the Executive Director of the AEWL and by that Association, it is a strange alliance indeed when we find the main sections of the trade union movement involved denying any responsibility for the smaller numbers of branch members in decentralised ports and when we find the Minister for Labour apparently unwilling or unable to act. If he is unwilling to act, it is clear that he is unwilling to act because the AEWL, controlled by overseas shippers, controlled by people dedicated to the centralisation of the port trade around Australia, has won the agreement of the ACTU and the WWF. If that is the position, it is quite clear that it has resulted from the actions of a city based party which is concerned with large numbers of people in the great centres of population in Australia but which is not concerned with ports like Cairns, Mackay, Coffs Harbour, Esperance, Portland, Hobart and others that have been intimately and adversely affected by these changed circumstances. There are matters that the Minister for Labour needs to explain. He cannot say this situation is the result of something which occurred when we were in Government; it has occurred during the time in which his Party has been in Government. Therefore it is his responsibility to do something about it. The Victorian Government is waiting for this response to the telegram from the Honourable Murray Byrne. There has been no response to this point of time.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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