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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2716


Senator HAMER(4.00) —I have often spoken in this chamber on the urgent need to reform Australian shipping and the waterfront. The world does not owe us a living, and unless we improve the productivity of our manufacturing sector and our transport sector we are doomed to a very difficult future. It is not that Australians cannot be productive. Per capita, our primary producers are the most efficient in the world. But in areas such as shipping and the waterfront, our record is absolutely deplorable. Our shipping will never be competitive, no matter what we do about reducing manning levels and bringing conditions into line with those of the rest of the community and other richer Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. That will not be effective unless our ports and our waterfront are cleaned up as well.

It is not for nothing that our ports have earned the reputation of being the worst in the developed world. We must tackle the problems of both our shipping and our waterfront. We cannot afford to have one waiting on the other like Admiral Sir Richard Strachan and General the Earl of Chatham waiting to launch an invasion during the Napoleonic wars. It was well summed up with the words:

Chatham, with his sabre drawn,

Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan.

Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,

Stood waiting too. For whom? Lord Chatham.

The way this Government operates, everything is waiting for something else and nothing ever comes out at the far end. We must tackle all these problems separately and urgently to attain a coherent end.

What do we need on the waterfront? It is a formidable list. Other countries can do it; why cannot we? We want company employment. We want involvement by the workers in the enterprise through profit sharing linked with company employment, so that employees have some interest in the enterprise. We want proper casual employment, which all other businesses in Australia have, but which is denied to our waterfront. Employees have to be taken from a pool controlled by the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF). We want a single union in each work place, not five or six, with demarcation disputes and one union causing trouble and bringing the whole lot to a shambling halt. We must have competition between stevedoring companies. Competition is without doubt the key to efficiency. We must end the problems of port control and tugs. Finally, and most important of all, we must achieve reliability. The thing that destroys our exports is our reputation as an unreliable supplier. People will not put up with it and will go somewhere else. We have no unique supplies. If we cannot supply reliably, we will not be chosen as the supplier.

We now have the Inter-State Commission report on the waterfront. It has made some useful recommendations, but it has gone nowhere near far enough. Before the ink on the report was dry, the waterside unions began to lobby the Government to reject or modify many of the recommendations for reform. The unions do not want company employment, though they are perhaps prepared to wear it. But they are not prepared to end the monopoly of the WWF in all ports. They want to fight that to the death. They certainly do not want any sensible system of casual employment. The other issues just are not tackled at all.

The Government has to make a decision very soon. But will it decide anything useful? This Government has failed totally to tackle the micro-economic reform. During the six years of this Government, our productivity overall has not risen at all. Not only are we not catching up with the rest of the world but also we are lagging further and further behind. Unless the Government is prepared to take on these issues, we will get into deeper and deeper trouble. The world does not owe us a living. We have to earn it through work, and efficient work at that.

I would like to see some sign that the Government is prepared to take on the unions to get industrial efficiency. It is perfectly prepared to take on people such as the wheat growers because the wheat growers do not vote for the Government. But, as soon as it comes to an important issue to be tackled, where the unions are involved, the Government always behaves like a bunch of wimps. This is much too serious. We have to tackle these issues, we have to tackle them soon, and we have to solve them.

Question resolved in the affirmative.