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Tuesday, 1 May 1973
Page: 1505

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - Although this Bill is set out on a single sheet of paper it represents a lot of money. There are only a few words in the Bill but many dollars are involved. The Stevedoring Industry Change Bill makes available certain money to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. This Bill proposes to increase from $1 to $1.50 - a 50 per cent increase - the rate of charge which can be imposed on the employment of class A waterside workers. A tremendous amount of money is involved. This legislation does not mean that the additional 50c will be charged immediately. This will be introduced by regulation. However, the legislation gives power to the Authority to make this charge. The waterside industry in Australia has been plagued with many problems over many years. It has not as yet been possible to solve those problems - at any rate not all of them. This industry is important to Australia because of our situation in the world. We need our ports in order to trade with other nations.

Australia is a nation which can trade only through the medium of our ports although we can to a limited extent trade by air. 1 feel that the facilities for trade by air will be upgraded in the future. I have no doubt that in the future many of our perishable goods and concentrates will be flown overseas in greater tonnages than is the case today. Some of the increase in air freight will be attributable to the fact that ports around Australia are somewhat unreliable when it comes to transporting certain goods. I may have something to say about that in the future. Perishable goods cannot be left lying on the wharfs around Australia. They must be sent at the time they are due to be sent; otherwise not only will we lose the trade but also the commodities concerned will go to waste because the cost of storage is too great.

Much has been said in the debate on this Bill about idle time ports. Idle time is paid for under the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act. Idle time refers to the time when men report for work or are available for work in the various ports around Australia but are not in fact required to work on any one day. Idle time at ports can be measured, but there are many other areas which are never mentioned and in which there is a tremendous amount of idle time not only in manpower but also in relation to the transporting of goods by truck. As far as I know this idle time has never been measured or set out in any document, but it does involve a tremendous amount of money. This is a quite important aspect of the Bill. It assists the outports of Australia. Portland has been mentioned, but it is only one. There are ports right around Australia which will be assisted by this measure; they will be maintained at least in their present state.

The total picture in Australia has not been looked at properly. It is about time that somebody did so. I have mentioned it. One of the things I spoke about when I entered this House 10 years ago was the tremendous cost of shifting cargo in Sydney from the waterside or vice versa. I think a little amount of work was done, particularly in relation to wool, when I inquired how many times a bale of wool was actually handled to get it from the shed door onto the ship. It was found that a bale was handled 80-odd times. If we build greater and still greater ports around cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, greater and still greater congestion and costs will be caused, not only on the wharf frontage itself but in moving the cargo to the wharf and onto the ship. These costs have never been measured and it is about time that they were. Of course there is very little congestion in the outports, and one of the objects of this Bill is to keep these ports open.

This is an important area of activity, because Australia is one of the leading export nations of the world. A lot of countries rely on Australia very heavily for various commodities of food and fibre. Quite recently we had an example of this when people were clamouring for our wool. A couple of years ago they indicated that they did not want it. That story has now been told in very clear and loud terms. If we want to continue to trade and to maintain our overseas markets not only for meat but particularly for the products of our secondary industries, which have been expanding rapidly over the last few years, we must keep outports open at all costs. When I say 'at all costs' I am speaking not in terms of money but in terms of organisation within Australia. I mean that we should have a full study of the total situation to see that our ports are open and not congested as some are at present.

Containerisation has attracted a lot of criticism from time to time. But if containerisation had not been introduced, transport charges in many areas today would have been quite intolerable. There may be some areas in which better utilisation could be made of this method or in which the type of container or ship could be improved, but the concept of containerisation is most important.

To return to the small ports, it is important that their situation be considered not in isolation but as part of an overall study of Australia. This is the point that I am trying to make and have tried to make for many years. A total study must be made. We cannot walk into one small port and claim that the costs are too high. The Commonwealth Government - as well as the State governments - has a responsibility in this field. The total scene must be taken into consideration to see what it is costing and to measure the total congestion in some of the major Australian ports. The authorities would be quite surprised, I believe, at the figures that would be revealed by any such time and motion survey, if I may so describe it.

There has always been a problem in relation to employer-employee relationships at ports. On occasions it has been said - I think it was said in the House again today - that not all the problems and not all the blame for disputes should be placed with the employee. In many cases no doubt the employer has to share the blame. But if the employer over the years had stood up to pressures which have been applied at Australian ports we would be a lot better off. But the employers, in the main, took the easy way out and consented to what was requested. In other words, they paid up and got their ships loaded. In their opinion the main consideration was to have their ships turned round. So on many occasions they gave in to pressures which were not always in the best interests of Australia.

It has been mentioned also that the shipping companies and owners of ships prefer to load at major ports instead of moving into the smaller ports around Australia. It is not always understood that the shipping companies in certain categories of general cargo have a responsibility to go to a port where the cargo is situated, providing that the port is sufficiently large or well equipped to handle that cargo. Under our system of payment they have a responsibility to load certain cargoes in Australia during the year. In other words it is not charter cargo; it is general cargo on which a certain freight rate is struck. Therefore, the companies have a responsibility to call to the appropriate port. That is not always understood by people when discussing where a ship should or should not travel. So there is an area of responsibility on the Commonwealth, as has been suggested today, as well as the States in this regard. There is also an area of responsibility, of course, on the exporter, who in mo..t cases reaches agreement with the shipper in relation to cargo movements to and from Australia.

We have seen some unfortunate incidents in recent times in relation to political strikes, if we may call them that. In my book these cannot be tolerated at any cost. An example of this was given, I think, in Sydney quite recently. Waterside workers thought that if they were to stop the movement of meat to America, this would have some effect on the price of meat in Australia. This is very misguided thinking indeed. It is not the responsibility of the Australian waterside workers to take a decision as to whether a commodity should be shipped overseas. If it had not been for the great production in Australia of commodities such as meat the waterside workers certainly would not be in their present position. In other words their jobs would have been vacant long ago had not these goods been available for export. To stop the export of meat to America or anywhere else will not solve the problem of the domestic price of Australian meat.

Perhaps it would have been better for the waterside workers to examine the overall situation and see what has been happening over the years. In Australia as in many other countries, there has been a general drift to the congested areas in the major cities. This plus the weather conditions in Australia and the tremendous demand by overseas countries for our meat products has meant that there simply is not enough meat to go around. It is as simple as that. The only way in which the problem will be solved is to produce more meat. If the people of Australia can recognise this fact and if they try to cease the drift from the country areas to the city areas, then perhaps the situation relating to the necessary foodstuffs of the world will start to rectify itself.

Unfortunately very good manpower is needed to produce good beef and other meats. The production of good meat cannot be learnt overnight or in a short space of time; such knowledge fakes generations to acquire from the point of view of processing and genetics. The Australian people should realise that the only way in which we can overcome this meat problem in Australia and elsewhere in the world is to produce more meat. The Opposition is supporting the Bill on the ground that it is necessary to make these payments in relation to the outer ports, but that is only a part of the total scene. 1 think I should draw the attention of the House to the second reading speech of the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) in which he made particular reference to the purpose of the Bill. Because of statements which have been made today I believe that this reference is appropriate. The Minister said:

The purpose of the Stevedoring industry Charge Bill 1973 is to amend the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act 1947-1971 to permit the charge to be imposed at rates up to $1.50 per man-hour for class A waterside workers. The amendment is necessary because the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority has found itself unable 10 meet its financial commitments with regard to class A waterside workers from the charge revenue. An increase is now needed because of changes that have occurred in wage rates and conditions of employment and because of further increases which will affect the level of payments to be made by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority in respect of long service leave and idle time.

That obviously is the main purpose of the Bill. The Minister went on to say that permission had been obtained to use part of this levy to finance the guaranteed minimum wage in non-permanent ports, to which 1 referred earlier.

The main point is that there will be a major increase in this area and the only people who will pay this increase will be those who import to and export from this country. This increased cost will fall back on the major Australian exporting industries; it will go right back to the land where most of these exports come from. The additional charges eventually will find their way back to the people who produce the goods and export them from Australia.

That is why it is so important that the total scene should be examined when considering these costs so that we do not proceed - as 1 see it, at all events - to build bigger and bigger ports. This has been done in Sydney where there is tremendous congestion. It is an area - forgive me, Mr Speaker - that grew like Topsy as the first port in Australia, where the small ships came and the development followed on the shore. There now exists a barrier between the ships, the commercial area and the areas of productivity beyond that, either in the factories or the farms, and the produce must be taken through this barrier, lt is not real life in the 1970s to proceed in this manner. We must open out.

There are examples of this situation around the world. New York was one of the biggest areas of congestion in the world but the shipping has now completely left the island on which New York stands. Manhattan Island is a graveyard; the ships have gone over to New Jersey and the cycle has started all over again. This was the only solution for such a congested area as New York, and Sydney is building to a stage where such action must be taken. 1 believe some moves have been made. 1 only wish that they had been made some time ago. But in looking at this sort of Bill, where a tremendous amount of money is involved in picking up the extra charges incurred in the handling of cargoes around Australia, we must taken note of the total situation throughout Australia. We must not continue to build these congested areas which will necessitate future Bills of this nature coming before this House.

Sitting suspended from 6.14 to 8 p.m.

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