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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have read it word for word. I was disappointed in it, -and that 'is why I am making these comments. My view is that it is high time that the Public Accounts Committee had a look at the operations of this organization. I say that deliberately. When we speak of an increase of 16 per cent., we are not speaking of a small increase, but of an increase which, in terms of working hours, will run into .millions of pounds.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Does the honorable gentleman know what happens to the funds of the authority?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know what I am talking about, and I wish the Minister would listen to me.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Does the honorable member want the Public Accounts Committee to investigate attendance money payments, sick leave, and all the other matters?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would not mind What the committee investigated, so long as it investigated the reason for a 16 per cent, increase of transport charges.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - it will not be -an increase of transport charges.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister can have his say at some other time. As I have said, we should have more information on this matter before we are asked to approve of increased charges. It is his responsibility to supply such information, and if he does not do so, the Public Accounts Committee should investigate the matter. If I had an overdraft with a bank I should be glad to get assistance where I could, but if an organization such as this has an overdraft, there is an obligation on this Parliament to correct the position immediately.

I am not satisfied on four counts. The Minister has attempted, by means of interjections, to vindicate the proposed increase. If what he says is correct, and the increase will not result in additional transport charges, what does it mean? I suggest it means that, for some period, there has been a rake-off to the tune of 7d. an hour from the existing charge. That is what it amounts to.


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister should keep quiet until I have finished. He can have his say then. I want to put to the Minister four points that are not covered in his second-reading speech, because I think that we should have some information on them before we are called upon to increase charges in this way.

First, I want to know whether the Minister is certain that the waterfront industry is being run on proper business lines. The second point is: Have we too many men engaged on the waterfront?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Have we too many?


Minister should let me put my case; he may answer it later.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I was simply asking you whether you asked if we had too many men on the waterfront.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will pose the question in a different way later. Thirdly, the Minister should have supplied us with all the information it is possible to have on the subject with which the measure deals. He should not ask this House .to pass legislation that will have the effect of increasing charges in any way, unless we are told exactly what we are doing, ls it -not up to us to discover all ;the facts? The main question, in my humble view, is: "Have we tinkered too much with this waterfront organization since this Government came into office? Have things gone badly, and are we now being asked to cover up for the Government? As a matter of fact, that appears to be the position.

The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) dealt with a point which I now wish to develop one stage farther; that is, the decrease in interstate sea traffic, particularly in the carriage of merchandise. That is a very serious problem. That decrease in interstate sea traffic has added considerably to the cost of transport generally in Australia. I ask the Minister to have a look at that problem, too.

I return to my first point about this 1'6 per cent, increase of the stevedoring industry charge. Last October we increased it by too much when we raised it to ls. 7d. a man-hour. To-day, when we have reached the Stage when 33 ;per cent, of the cost content in the price of goods is the cost of transport, the position calls for something better .than we have before us. I believe this matter should be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee. Wherever money is being wasted in this country, that waste should be .prevented. If, in .point of fact, the shipowners and the Government have arrived at a plan whereby thousands of men are being kept on the waterfront on part-time, and it suits these men in the hope that some day they will get a flush, and for the time being it keeps them off the unemployed list, this Parliament should not be called upon to provide funds to pay for that sort of setup, when we are told by the Government that in many avenues there is a shortage of funds. Somebody outside the control of the Government and that of the Stevedoring Industry Authority should have a look at the accounts. I certainly would be happier if I knew all the facts.

When we compare the proposed increase of 16 per cent, of the stevedoring industry charge with the background of the whole thing, we get a startling picture. The Stevedoring Industry Authority, under another name of course, was established originally to do something about decasualization on the waterfront and to provide amenities that would help to promote peace in the industry. It was established in 1945-46 at a time when 5.8 per cent, of working time was being lost through industrial disputes and for similar reasons. In October, 1949, the stevedoring industry charge set in 1947 was reduced to lid. a man-hour; so, in effect, what this Parliament is being asked to do now is to increase the charge from the rate of 2id. as at 11th October, 1949, to 2s. a man-hour only eight years later. We should be on our feet demanding some explanation of an increase of a charge from Hd. to 2s. in only eight years. In point of fact, the appearance money rate has risen 100 per cent, in that period, compared with this increase in the stevedoring industry charge from 2id. to 2s.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Has the honorable member ever heard of sick leave? Does he want to deprive the waterside workers of that?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have heard of sick leave. I am asking the Minister for direct answers to my questions. In 1951, the Government increased the stevedoring industry charge to 4d.; in 1952, it increased it to lid.; and in 1954, it reduced it to 6d. Why? Because we were told that many difficulties on the waterfront were being settled. As a matter of fact, the Government had almost convinced me at that stage that it was at last going to find the answer to the problem, and achieve decasualization on the waterfront. That was the genuine wish of everybody who understood industrial relations. But what happened? On page 27 of the Stevedoring Industry Board's 1950 report we find what was said in 1949-50 about decasualization and every one of us hoped that this Government, though it is of a different political colour from the Labour party, was finding the answer to the decasualization problem. I said then, and 1 say now, that we cannot have a great body of workers in any industry who are not being properly utilized for more than 25 per cent, of their time. Anybody who advocates the continued existence of such a body of workers advocates a condition that was condemned in England 30 years before the first Stevedoring Industry Board was established in Australia. The first report of the board for the year 1950, at page 26, states -

Decasualization was originally advocated as the remedy for a great social evil. The Court of Inquiry, which investigated working conditions and rates of pay for British dockers 30 years ago, said of the casual nature of the work-

And this is my complaint against this charge of 2s.! It is an easy way of avoiding our responsibility to face up to the need for decasualization. It seems to me, from the glib way that the Minister introduced this measure, that we have forgotten about the principles that underlie a real approach to the difficulties on the waterfront. I resume the quotation. The passage reads -

The Court is of the opinion that labour frequently or constantly under-employed is injurious to the interest of the workers, the ports and the public, and that it is discreditable to society. It undermines all security and is apt to undermine all self-respect upon the workers' part. It is only among those who have sunk very far and whom the system itself may have demoralized that it can be accepted as a working substitute for steady and assured employment.

Continuing, the report says -

In one sense it is convenient to authorities-

I repeat that, because that is what we have to avoid in this type of legislation -

In one sense it is convenient to authorities and employers, whose requirements are at the mercy of storms and tides and unforeseen casualties, to have a reservoir of unemployment which can be readily tapped as the need emerges for a labour supply. If men were merely the spare parts of an industrial machine, this callous reckoning might be appropriate, but society will not tolerate much longer the continuance of the employment of human beings on those lines.

The report goes on -

The system of casualization must, if possible, be torn up by the roots.

That is why I am on my feet. Nothing that the Minister has said has given the House any hope of one step forward in this great question of decasualization of the waterfront. The report goes on -

It is wrong. And the one issue is as to what practical means can be adopted by readily providing labour, while avoiding cruel and unsocial conditions.

On page 29 of the same report, in the section entitled " The National Economy and the Efficiency of the Stevedoring Industry ", these paragraphs appear -

The degree of efficiency of the industry may be gauged by analyses of two prime considerations. Efficiency under present standards is a matter of maxima, viz.:

1.   Obtaining from the available labour force the maximum advantage of labour for employment; and

2.   Obtaining in output the maximum value from the labour when in employment.

Before elaborating on the two points, it should be noted that point (1) is affected, independently of itself, by disputes which interrupt continuity of attendance. The Board's purpose is to achieve the greatest possible continuity of activity by preventing, reducing or confining hold ups arising from industrial disputes. Since July 1st, 1947-

That was under a Federal Labour government - the proportion of work lost through disputes has been small, although this fact is not usually recognized. In 1947-48 the proportion was 2.2 per cent.; in 1948-49 it was 1.8 per cent, and - despite the " Rotation of Hatches " dispute in Brisbane and the " First Aid " dispute in Sydney during the troubled January-March quarter - for 1949-50 it was only 2.3 per cent. The significance of these figures is apparent when they are compared with the 1946-47 figure of 5.8 per cent.

The basis of the creation of this authority was, first of all, to eliminate casualization on the waterfront, and to establish better relations, and then, as a result of both of those conditions, to bring about a state of affairs under which attendance money and such payments would be gradually eliminated. Those payments had been required to provide amenities for the waterside workers which the shipowners had not provided. I know that the Minister will talk about public holiday pay and sick pay, but before he brings down a bill of this description we should be told how much is involved in those payments. It is not good enough for me, at any rate, to be asked to approve an increase of 26 per cent, without knowing the reason for it. If that 26 per cent, increase is tied to holiday pay and sick pay for the waterside workers, I will be the first to applaud the Minister for making such a provision. But I am not prepared to tolerate for much longer the continuance of casual labour on the waterfront. A real effort must be made to eliminate it.

I come to the third question. The Government took over a plan that had reduced time lost through strikes and other disputes from 5 per cent, to 2 per cent. The third question is: Has the Government been wrong in its approach to waterfront problems? I wish to refer to the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, at page 17, where some remarkable figures appear in a summary of strikes and stoppages. The number of man-hours lost through disputes is shown as a percentage of man-hours worked. In 1949-50 it was 2.3 per cent, and in 1950-51 it was 5.4 per cent. In 1951-52 it was 4.6 per cent, and in 1952-53 it was 3.1 per cent. Everybody hoped that as a result of that reduction in man-hours lost this Government would do something about decasualization of the waterfront and the establishment of better relations between employers and employees. However, in 1953-54 the number of hours lost increased to 4.5 per cent, in 1954-55 to 6.6 per cent., and in 1955-56 it rose to the all-time high of 8.6 per cent., under this Government's control.

Mr Howson - What has happened since then?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This is the first report that the Stevedoring Industry Authority has written.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The authority has not given a report yet.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When Labour was in office, the stevedoring industry charge was 2'id. per man-hour, but now it is proposed to increase it from ls. 7d., the present figure, to 2s. I want to know where that 2s. will go. Although this is only an increase of 5d., in this matter we are dealing, in total, not with pence, but with sums running into millions of pounds. For an eight-hour day, this payment of 2s. an hour amounts to 16s. I point out that the waterside workers are receiving only 25s.. a. day- for attendance money. So the Government, is demanding from, the- public; j attendance money, LOs. a day for every day a. man- on the waterfront is not em. ployed. If talks about this 2s. an hour, but we want to know- where the money is going which is being collected in such huge sums.. I know that under this Government's legislation this authority now has an overdraft, but I want to know more explicitly where the funds are going. I want a clearer, explanation than the Minister has given to-day.

The report of the authority includes figures, showing the hours worked as. a weekly, average per waterside worker of the real- labour force: The total average time throughout Australia worked by the thousands of waterside workers is 30.2 hours a week. Figures- relating, to some, individual ports- are as follows: - In the port of. Sydney, for the. year ended 30th- June, 1-95.6$ the average was-. 28.9 hours; in Newcastle, for. general cargo it was- 28.8-; and for coal 19.7. Nothing has been done about improving the coal-handling facilities, at Newcastle.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Is the honorable member attacking the New South Wales Government now?

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