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Friday, 30 October 1964

Senator PALTRIDGE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - in reply - The Opposition does not oppose the measure before us, but proposes at the Committee stage of the debate to submit an amendment to increase the borrowing powers of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission. Senator O'Byrne referred in his speech to a proposed amendment. I do not propose to discuss it now, but to take the opportunity at the Committee stage to give what I believe are very sound reasons why the proposal submitted by the Opposition should be rejected. I wish to make one or two extremely brief comments upon points referred to by Senator O'Byrne, apart from the proposed amendment. I heard with considerable satisfaction the terms he employed to refer to the Commission. I remind him that it was the present Government which established the Australian Coastal . Shipping Commission in 1956. .

Senator Kennelly - Was that after the Government could not sell its ships?

Senator PALTRIDGE - This Government established the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission in 1956 arid authorised it to commence operations on 1st January 1957, after there had taken place in this chamber a debate which included, among other things, a point of criticism by the Opposition which today Senator O'Byrne finds to be a point of commendation. He referred to the valuation of ships. I have pointed to that reference in his speech, because when the proposal was before this House, the Opposition - and I think Senator O'Byrne was on this particular bandwaggon - took the opportunity to criticise . the Government for, as it said, making the Commission take on charge ships at excess cost. I notice that my friend, Senator Kennelly, has a volume of " Hansard " reports in front of him. He should be interested to study the passage to which I have referred. It took me some time to convince the Opposition that what the Government was doing was to make the ships available at fair average prices which, if operations were conducted economically, would allow the Commission a reasonable opportunity to make a profit. I have taken a snippet from Senator O'Byrne's speech to relate it to what he subsequently said - that here is a story of growth, of expansion, of service to the community, of great constructive characteristics. I remind the honorable senator that the Commission is the creation of this Government and that over the years since its establishment, operating under an Act which was freely criticised by the Opposition, it has gone from strength to strength in competition with other shipping lines. It has built an extremely modern fleet and has done all the things that one would expect a normal commercial enterprise to do, even paying taxation. It has done all those things and has prospered to the extent indicated by Senator O'Byrne.

Having said that, I would be remiss in my duty if I did not remind honorable senators that when the Government set up this shipping line it did so in circumstances which were unusual to say the least. It is not the policy of this Government to move aggressively into an area occupied by private enterprise. It was made completely clear in 1956 that the Government's purpose in establishing the Line was to make available to the people of Australia a service which, because of a variety of circumstances, private enterprise was unable to do. Having undertaken the establishment of this shipping line the Government then said that it was its first duty to see that the line was conducted efficiently and in accordance with competitive private enterprise principles. When Senator O'Byrne sees merit in the record of this organisation, I should say that the record is attributable to the fact that it has been run efficiently under efficient direction and under an act drawn up by this Government.

Senator O'Byrnespoke of some inhibitions and circumscriptions. Well, if his other remarks are right, this story about inhibitions does not live. There is no evidence in the accounts or the records that this organisation has suffered any inhibition. Its fleet has expanded and it has more than mct many requirements, especially in the provision of special ships for special jobs. No curtailment of its activities is revealed. Indeed, the Australian National Line has led the field in many ways. There has been no curtailment of its justifiable business requirements for capital or curtailment in respect of the availability of loans. I will refer to that matter specifically during the Committee stages.

There have been no limitations placed on the Line in respect of its requirements for the acquisition of assets. Senator O'Byrne referred to what he described as the need for more land at Mort Bay. The Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, with the full approval of the Government, has acquired all the land that it wants at Mort Bay. I do not know whether Senator O'Byrne puts himself in the position where he feels that he should go along to a meeting of the Commission and persuade it that it needs more land than it decided it needed. The Commission does not want to acquire more land at Mort Bay. It wanted more land in South Melbourne some little time ago. The Commission did not want the land immediately but as a commercial concern it saw the need for acquiring land next to its premises in the area over the river for subsequent expansion. The need was not immediate but the proposal came before the Minister for Shipping and Transport at that time and he recognised the proposal as a reasonable business requirement and did not object to the purchase of the land by the Commission. If the honorable senator speaks of inhibitions and circumscriptions it is up to him to show where they are. This government organisation has operated efficiently, I acknowledge, under a first class board of commissioners. Incidentally, with one exception, it is the same board as was appointed back in 1956. There has been only one alteration. Mr. David Bell, ®f Western Australia, has replaced the first West Australian member, Mr. Keith Edwards, who was the Vice-Chairman. As for the other members, they were all appointed by this Government.

In conclusion, all I want to do at this second reading stage is to say that I can agree with Senator. O'Byrne to this extent: The Government and I, and, I believe. Government supporters share the satisfaction that Senator O'Byrne feels at the success of this government organisation, a success which derives solely from the fact that the organisation is run, not as a Socialist organisation, but as a competitive business organisation on sound Liberal principles.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee.

Clauses 1 to 3 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 4.

Section thirty of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - "30. - (I.) The Commission may, with the approval of the Treasurer, borrow moneys from time to time in such amounts " (6.) The amounts borrowed by the Commission and not repaid shall not at any time exceed Five million pounds.

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