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Wednesday, 24 October 1973
Page: 1400

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Primary Industry) - It is a pity that the time of the Senate should be taken up with a debate of this nature.

Senator Marriott - You would not dare to go to the Hobart Town Hall and say that.

Senator WRIEDT - When all of the jingoism has died down I will continue. I dare say it is quite obvious to anybody who has taken part or listened to this debate that the matter of urgency raised by Senator Wright is no more than an attempt to use an emotional argument about how Tasmania is being disadvantaged by industrial disputes. One would not need to be an Einstein to know that Tasmania or any other State is disadvantaged by industrial disputes. Does it have to take a Senator from Tasmania or from any other State of the Commonwealth to tell us that? The difference is that some of the disputes quite justifiably can be called puerile in the same way as the manner in which Senator Wright has initiated this urgency debate can be described as puerile. But other urgency debates in this Senate are debated because of a genuineness, as are many industrial disputes activated by a genuineness of complaint, and that is the difference. But the honourable senator is using this mechanism for no other purpose than the hope that his name will be splattered all over tomorrow morning's Hobart 'Mercury' as the great defender of Tasmania. That is the reason for this urgency debate this afternoon. Senator Wright is not really concerned about the situation in Tasmania. If he were, he would have been more positive in his approach. For example, he would have talked about the amendment which this Government is making to the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Act, with which I will deal later. He would have talked also about what the Australian Government has done to assist the Australian National Line in the financing of its passenger ship operations, something the Government of which he was a member did not do. This is not the negative, whinging line taken by the honourable senator and perhaps by his colleagues but the positive things that we have done since we have been in office.

It is quite true that many of the industrial disputes which are taking place around Australia are without justification. I would be the first to agree. At the same time one of the great things which the maritime unions of Australia have endeavoured to do over the years is to bring about a greater Australian participation in Australian shipping, especially overseas; and probably the unions initiated the moves that Australian ships and Australian seamen engage in overseas trade. It was those pressures on the previous Government that eventually forced it into the position where it was compelled to operate an overseas shipping line. And who today would deny the benefits that have followed from the Australian National Line ships engaging in the Japanese trade? I do not think anyone would deny that they have been a great asset. The maritime unions have urged the Government for many years to do these sorts of things and now we see the benefit of them. At the heart of the problem which existed in Hobart over the last couple of days was the same desire to see a proper fulfilment of Australian and New Zealand ships in trade between the 2 countries as part of our extension of trade between us- and I think there is justifiable cause there.

Is it not true, Senator Wright, that you as a Tasmanian senator like myself, or as a representative of any other State of the Commonwealth, would like to see the trade between Australia and New Zealand carried in Australian and New Zealand ships? I do not think you would disagree with that. The unions have attempted to point out to all the shipping concerns that this is what they would like to see, and I think there is every justification for it. Coming back to one of two of Senator Wright's comments, he described the greatest monopoly power as being the labour organisations. There is no question that labour organisations can be a very powerful influence and I say, as I have already indicated, that I am not by any means always on their side. If I think they are wrong they do not get my support; if they are right they will get my support. The greatest monopoly power in respect of the matter that we are debating today is not the labour unions but the Conference Lines.

As a Tasmanian Senator Wright ought to be fully aware of the shackles that have been around Tasmanian and our export trade for many years. Two years ago the Conference Lines refused to handle the export of apples from Tasmania and said: 'You are on your own. We do not want to be part of your trade '. Is this not a greater detriment than the delay of 13 ships in and out of the port of Hobart this year, with a total loss of 128 hours? Of all the ships movements in and out of the port of Hobart, is that the thing that is dragging back development in Tasmania? Can we not be more realistic? Naturally it would have been desirable not to have had those disputes and not to have lost those periods of time. But does Senator Wright or either of his colleagues seriously suggest that this is a major detriment to the development of the

State? I do not think it is an argument that could be sustained.

During the course of all these disputes that have happened over the years the Tasmanian Minister for Transport, to whom the honourable senator referred in terms which could only be described as derogatory, was involved. He did not claim that he was going to do something about these problems overnight. But what he did say was that unless we are prepared to cooperate as much as we can with the trade unions there will be confrontations. No one would suggest that Mr Batt's record on negotiations with the maritime unions in the time he has been the Minister could bring other than credit to him, because we have had periods comparatively free of industrial disputes in Tasmania since Mr Batt has been Minister.

I want to refer now to two of the positive things which have been done and to which Senator Wright might have referred to in this debate had he been fair. Under the previous administration section 1 8 of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Act, which is the Act under which the ANL operates, required that in a case where the Commonwealth directed the Australian National Line to engage in trade it would receive no reimbursement if it made a loss on that trade unless the Australian National Line made an overall loss on its total operations. For years we asked that that provision be amended. Only today the Government has decided that it will be amended and that henceforth when the Australian National Line is required to service a particular area on which it makes a loss it will be reimbursed by the Australian Government. That is a critically important change that has been made. It is a positive movement and one which the previous Government despite all its expressed concern for Tasmanian transport problems was never prepared to implement.

A similar benefit flowed from our decision to subsidise the passenger shipping service to Tasmania by Sim a year for 3 years because the Australian National Line has been carrying a burden in getting people to and from Tasmania in passenger ships. The Australian Government recognised the need to encourage tourism to and from Tasmania and to provide the best possible facilities not only for air travel but also on the ships. It has been prepared to give this money to the Australian National Line so that it can in fact provide the best possible services to and from Tasmania. We received the report of the Bureau of Transport Economics which was referred to earlier in the debate. That has been referred, as

Senator Wrightwould be aware, to the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and that is the appropriate body to make determinations as to what financial assistance should be afforded to Tasmania because of its transport disabilities.

The essential point about this urgency motion, as I said earlier, is that it is no more than an opportunity for certain persons to stand up here and say all sorts of things which on the surface sound good but which in fact are negative. They are not positive, they are negative. They are not designed to overcome the problems but simply to make political capital out of them. Our desire as a government- and the State Government in Tasmania has the same desire- is to ensure maximum co-operation with the trade union movement, not to confront it, because that does not help anyone. We want to co-operate to see what are the problems and to see whether they can be ironed out. That is the most effective way of ensuring the free flow of shipping to and from Tasmania.

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