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Thursday, 4 April 1957

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) (Minister for Primary Industry) . - Mr. Speaker, I have listened with great attention to what has been said by members of the Opposition so that I could clarify and crystallize the issue before this House. I think that the issue that should have been debated here is whether there has been a failure on the part of the Government to take action to prevent recent increases in freights. That is the matter to which the Opposition should have been directing its mind. It should have been arguing, " What has the Government been doing; what has it failed to do? "

Now, I straight away make the point that it is fundamental to the primary industries and to the exporting industries of this country that exports should in fact leave Australia and reach overseas destinations. Therefore, we do whatever we can to see that goods do leave our shores and get to their international destinations at times when they are required. Secondly, there is the question of cost itself. This Government is of liberal conception and philosophy, and therefore it believes that as far as it is reasonable and practicable, the negotiations should be left to the interested parties - the shipowners, the shippers, and the producers. The Government does not intervene unless it is asked to do so by the Australian interests concerned. The Minister for Trade and the Department of Trade have always let it be known that the knowledge and experience of the department, and the energies and intelligence of the

Minister, are always at the disposal of the industry. These have been availed of with marked success on at least two occasions. When the help of the Minister had been asked for, he has given it, and on each occasion there has been a substantial reduction of the freight increase originally asked for by the shipowners.

It is best to make the facts known: On this occasion, at the invitation of the overseas shipowners, representatives of the Australian Overseas Transport Association visited the United Kingdom in order to work out a formula by which freight increases could be assessed in the future. That was done, with the knowledge of the Government it is true, but the help of the Department of Trade and of the Minister for Trade was not sought. When it was disclosed just what the increase would be, it was too late for anyone effectively to give proper help. Therefore, 1 say it becomes immediately obvious that the Opposition has initiated this debate not with the idea of making a contribution to the effort to keep costs low for the Australian primary producer, but for purely party political purposes. ] would like to mention one matter on behalf of the Australian primary industries. They have suggested to the Minister for Trade and to myself that perhaps the method of negotiation might be altered. They have said that the shipowners are well Organized to carry on negotiations, but that the primary producers and the exporters are not sufficiently well organized to do so. Primary producers have, therefore, suggested that the Australian Overseas Transport Association should be re-organized so that the producers and the exporters can come together and can negotiate as a body with the overseas shipowners. I hope that this will be done. If it is, I hope that at least it will lead to confidence in the minds of the producers that they are being effectively represented.

I can say on behalf of the Minister for Trade that if he can give any assistance, on a voluntary basis, to the Australian primary industries, that assistance will be willingly given. I remind the House - and the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) should acknowledge this fact - that the assistance given in the past has been successful and in my own humble opinion theprimaryproducerswouldhe well advised to seek that assistance in the future.

Motion (by Mr. McEwen) put -

That the business of the day be called on.

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