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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr RYAN (Flinders) .- Early in March I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) certain questions about the Dutch ships that are held up in Australian ports. Amongst other things, I asked the right honorable gentleman as to the terms that the wharf labourers bad laid down for allowing the ships to sail. He told me that a reply was being prepared, but that, as a conference was being held on the matter, it had been delayed, and that, he thought, it was better to wait until he could supply full information. I waited a little while before repeating my 7-equest for information. His reply then was that none would be forthcoming. About six weeks have passed since then and the right honorable gentleman has had ample opportunity to get the full information. If he has it, as he should, he refuses to give any. This is a matter of great public importance, affecting not, only this Parliament, but also the prestige of Australia. Honorable members should be supplied with full information regarding the occurrences, the prospects, if any, of an early settlement, and the. action which the Government proposes to take to ensure the departure of the ships. But the Government is unwilling to give the facts, and is hiding any information that mav be available. Earlier the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) pointed out. that lame quantities of stores were being withheld from the Netherlands East Indies, and large orders given to

Australian manufacturers and primary producers were being withdrawn by the Dutch authorities. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) referred to that danger during the motion of want of confidence a few weeks ago. He showed that very unfortunate results to Australia, would accrue if our" trade relations with the Netherlands East Indies were disturbed. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) in reply said, " This is a materialistic approach. I do not approach the problem in that way. I think it far more important to work with higher motives ". What are those higher motives? No indication has been given that the Government is actuated by any motives at all, since nothing has been done for four months to settle the problem. What higher motives are there than the motives to help suffering humanity? As the result of the Government's inaction, the health of thousands of refugees in Java has been affected. Because of the refusal of waterside workers to load the Dutch ships, urgently required relief has been withheld from those unfortunate refugees. Amongst the goods to be sent in those ships were watercarts and motor trucks. The water supplies of many towns in Java, including Batavia and Sourabaya, have been destroyed, and water carts are urgently needed. In addition, motor trucks are required to carry necessary stores and provisions. The mere fact that those ships. could not sail with the goods, and, therefore, those supplies could not be delivered, has caused the death of a. number of refugees and a great deterioration of the health of thousands of others. That is not the only consideration which should actuate the Government in this matter. Surely we still have some loyalty to our Dutch Allies, who did so much for us in the war. Hundreds of Australian servicemen, who were prisoners in the Far East, were helped materially by Dutch citizens at the risk of their own lives- Now, when we are called upon to repay some of $hat debt, we are not doing anything.

The withdrawal of these ships from the general, shipping pool available to the Allies at this time calls for comment. At one period, sixteen ships were laid up at ports in Australia. Most of theIr have now departed, but seven have been tied up in harbours for seven months. A few days ago, the Prime Minister stated that General MacArthur was allotting to Australia certain ships for the repatriation of Japanese at Rabaul. Those vessels will be drawn from the general shipping pool. Yet, seven ships are lying idle in Australian ports ! How does the Government explain that?

I come finally to the trade consideration. The honorable member for Wenthworth said that, large orders had been cancelled by the Dutch authorities because of the shipping hold-up. In addition, stores acquired by the Dutch authorities are now filled with their purchases, and the Dutch have been asked to vacate the premises. Those goods cannot be exported. About a month ago, Australian millers had orders from the Netherlands East Indies for £2,000,000 worth of flour. Those orders have been cancelled. Another important consideration is backloading. Ships which took Australian flour to the Netherlands East Indies would naturally return with ' pepper, which is unobtainable here, tea and other goods which we require in large quantities. In March, the Dutch cancelled orders for large quantities of agricultural machinery and tools. When I referred these matters to the Prime Minister he brushed them aside, as if they were of no importance. He stated that the Dutch in Australia had not sufficient credits to enable them to buy large quantities of goods, and that they had not been satisfied with the prices quoted. But the fact remains that the prices must have satisfied the Dutch, because they placed large orders with Australian exporters. Finally, the Prime Minister said that Australia was not in a position to sell large quantities of goods. I remind the right honorable gentleman that the quantity of goods which we sell is not of great importance. Even token sales are of great value. We in Australia need to build up goodwill in trade, and in the final analysis goodwill is the factor that counts. For seven months Dutch ships have been held up in Australian ports, and the Government does not seem to have taken any action. Numerous conferences which have been held have not solved the difficulty. Honorable members have not even been told what took place at those discussions. The Supreme Allied Commander in SouthEast Asia, Lord Louis Mountbatten, talked to the representatives of the waterside workers, no doubt at the request of the Government, to see what could be done. Again, nothing happened. For a time it seemed as if the ships would sail, and the Government made some hopeful statements. To-day the Prime Minister said that a conference was taking place, and he hoped that something would eventuate. I am becoming tired of hopeful statements, when no action is taken. What action should the Government take? The only thing that it can do is to direct numbers of servicemen who, for the most part, are not doing anything, to load the ships. These ships must sail so that the stain on our honour may be erased. But the matter goes even 9 deeper than that. A principle is involved. If the Government considers that these ships should be loaded and sail with their cargoes, let the Prime Minister, say so in a definite statement. Most of the statements by Ministers regarding this hold-up have been very lukewarm, in spite of the fact that the Government has a lot of support from industrial organizations, including the Sydney Trades and Labour Council and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. Although the Government has said from time to time that it disapproves of the hold-up, it has not shown any signs of its disapproval by action. Of course, action might entail risks. Speaking on the motion of want of confidence, the Prime Minister said that he would not risk a general strike on the Australian waterfront merely to settle thi3 dispute. Of course there is a risk to be run ! There is a risk to be taken in almost everything we do in life, particularly in industrial matters; but surely the risks which the Government is running to-day by not taking action in the waterside, coalmining and electricity disputes, and a hundred other disputes, are less dangerous than this continual submission to industrial blackmail. If we are to govern this country, the Prime Minister' and his Ministers must show authority. In this particular instance the Government should assert its authority and say, " We consider that these ships should be loaded, and they will be loaded". I ask ' the Government to act promply to settle this dispute, which is a disgrace to the name of Australia.

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