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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2528

Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(6.10) —in reply-I thank all honourable members-particularly members of the Government caucus transport policy committee-who participated in the debate which started last Friday and continued today. The conclusion of this debate marks a very significant point in the attitude of the Parliament to Australian shipping. It has been a very significant debate because if one has listened to the contributions from both sides of the House-or later reads them-one realises that they have been constructive. Whilst there have been some minor differences here and there, they have been differences at the margin. The thrust from both sides of the House has been the same-that there is a place for efficient, competitive and reliable Australian shipping in our industrial scene. It is an area in which we should be concentrating much more. We should be seeking to expand the activities of such a shipping industry.

Historically, the Ships (Capital Grants) Bill is one of a small group of Bills that was dealt with by the coalition prior to its dissolution. This Bill was dealt with by the coalition last Monday and it resolved not to oppose it. That point is significant because I understand some amendments are likely to be moved in the Senate by a member of the former coalition. We will then have the task of dealing with those amendments-amendments moved by a member of the former coalition to a Bill which was not opposed by the coalition. That is an interesting part of history.

Mr Robert Brown —It might be said that this legislation destroyed the coalition.

Mr PETER MORRIS —No, far be it from that. When in opposition the Australian Labor Party supported a bipartisan approach to the development of efficient, competitive Australian shipping. In fairness to the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) and the former Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), the approach we followed in opposition on the Australian shipping industry is being pursued by the former coalition and Opposition members today.

A number of honourable members spoke about the package. The strength of the package is that it requires each party to contribute something to get above the commercial threshold. The Government is contributing a taxable cash grant of 7 per cent. The work force is contributing by increasing productivity and moving-probably the most dramatic movement in the history of Australian shipping-from the class system of crewing a ship and very clear lines of demarcation to team working a ship, to a general purpose crewing concept where there is interchangeability of persons and tasks apart from officers on the ship. That is the major step forward that was needed in this country. So the work force is contributing that element of the package. The industry is contributing a commitment to invest in efficient, new or good quality second-hand tonnage. The three elements of the package are greater productivity by the work force, Government financial incentives through the 7 per cent taxable cash grant, and industry investment in new or good quality second-hand tonnage.

I hope that we will complete the Committee stage of this Bill before we break for dinner, but I will deal quickly with some of the matters that were raised. In my last comments on the package I referred to the matter raised by the honourable member for Forde (Dr Watson). He said that it will be equivalent to three-year depreciation and in some cases it will be. It will vary slightly depending on the rate of return and the tax rate being paid by the shipowner concerned. As I said, the essential thing is that the legislation is a package; there is a contribution from each of the parties involved. The level of return or benefit to the individual ship operator will vary according to the circumstances I have described.

The honourable member for Murray and a number of speakers on the other side referred to the two-crew concept. There has not been any change in that concept for many years. The honourable member for Forde said that crew numbers are going down and leave conditions have changed. They have not changed. The two-crew concept has been around for many years. The equivalent crewing standards vary in maritime nations in Europe and in Japan. But whilst we have a two-crew system which is more generous than the leave provisions in other countries, when comparing it with that of other countries one should take into account that often other forms of remuneration, such as overtime payments, add to costs. Australian crews are not paid overtime. Whilst at sea they are required to carry out those tasks which are necessary to the safe operation of the vessel. So when their vessel is at sea they can be called upon at any time to attend to their duties. However, no overtime is involved. This goes back to the establishment some years ago of the maritime award when overtime costs were abolished into a single award payment.

The only true measure of crew cost competitiveness is the cost per berth. For instance, the difference in berth costs between West Germany and Australia is less than that reflected by the difference in leave levels referred to by the honourable member for Murray. At current exchange rates, the cost of an Australian berth is only marginally higher than that of northern European countries. On recent exchange rates the cost of a berth on an Australian-crewed ship is lower than that on a Japanese-crewed vessel. It is a matter of comparing like with like. It does not necessarily follow that all of the matters that have been referred to are of a like nature.

Essentially the Bill is about improving the efficiency of Australian shipping but it goes beyond that. Shipping is a service. In the past we have proved very successful at exporting goods but very unsuccessful at exporting services, and that is really what this legislation is addressing. In the present economic circumstances in an increasingly competitive world, we must change that attitude. Trade in services is as valuable as, if not more valuable than, trade in goods. That is why it is so encouraging to me, as the Minister responsible for this area, to have the kind of debate that has taken place today from both sides of the House-a debate that recognises that there is an increasing and expanding role for efficient, competitive and reliable Australian shipping.

I go one step further and refer to the matter raised by the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown)-the services related to the operation of shipping. We have talked in this debate-we are dealing specifically with the shipping industry-about complementary services which are inextricably linked to shipping, including marine insurance, brokerage and agency activities. That is an area in which we ought to be increasingly involved. There is scope for greater genuine Australian involvement in those areas. I call on the Australian industry to recognise this fact and to seek ways of expanding Australia's role. Australia's balance of payments can only benefit from the pursuit of that course. So it is the other services that are related to shipping that now need to be examined and developed.

Some mention was made of the waterfront during the debate. It is true that on most journeys from farm gates or factory gate to the destination of cargo the greatest share of costs is on land-shore-based shipping costs, costs related to moving and consolidating cargo and getting it on board ship at each end. The Government has recognised this fact in its establishment of a waterfront strategy. It has done that to improve the productivity and reliability of the waterfront and to address a buildup of major problems in a difficult, industrially complex industry not known for its competitive structure. While some may say that there is a monopoly of Australian coastal shipping, that is not the case but I will not go into it now. In getting boxes and containers across the wharf there is no alternative to that process. Whilst we are now addressing the questions of efficiency, productivity, reliability and competitiveness of Australian flag shipping, the very important problem the Government is now starting to address-it invites the same kind of positive approach from the Opposition on this issue-is that of the waterfront because it is critical to the improvement of our international competitiveness.

I thank all honourable members who have participated in the debate. As I have said, this debate has been a watershed in the role of Australian shipping. I thank honourable members for their constructive and positive contributions. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.