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Monday, 29 May 1989
Page: 2911


Senator BROWNHILL(4.16) —I rise to support the urgency motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Chaney), which states:

The need for the Government to ensure a flexible and efficient working environment on the Australian waterfront through lasting and genuine reforms, including the introduction of full enterprise employment, appropriate changes in union coverage and the elimination of restrictive work practices.

The fact that such an urgency motion has to be brought on for debate is evidenced by the recent media reports that the Federal Government and the waterfront unions are deadlocked in discussions over reforms. I make some points about another agreement that the parties have tried to put together just recently. On a one-off retirement and redundancy package, a position paper prepared by the parties states:

There is no agreement in respect of early retirement arrangements for new entrants and further discussions will be necessary.

On recruitment it states:

This aspect is not agreed at this time by the unions.

On enterprise employment it states:

However there are fundamental matters which are not agreed and which will require further detailed discussion and resolution in relation to enterprise employment.

On award and job restructuring it states:

Agreement has not been reached an all matters.

On stand-down provisions it states:

The Parties to date have been unable to reach agreement on this matter.

On contract maintenance it states:

The Parties to date have been unable to reach agreement on this matter.

On container depots it states:

The Parties to date have been unable to reach agreement on this matter.

On loading and discharging bulk vessels it states:

The Unions are not prepared to withdraw from membership coverage . . .

It goes on. As Senator Parer has already interjected in this debate, this is urgent; this has to be attended to. For the good of Australia this has to be confronted and something has to be done about it.

The trouble is that the Federal Government-and especially the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Kerin) and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-foolishly believes it is in control of Government policy. That is where this Labor Government is wrong. It has already been proved wrong many times in the last few years. The Government depends on the unions for its retention of government but forgets that the cost of this dependence is control by the unions over government policy. That is no secret. The unions have always made their power well and truly known to the Australian Labor Party.

The simple truth is that the Government is in a real mess over reforms on the waterfront. It made an undertaking to the Opposition during the wheat legislation debate that if the wheat growers made similar concessions it would move towards reform on the waterfront. If the Wheat Marketing Bill were to be passed, the Australian wheat growers would give up an orderly market system and be exposed to operations on a deregulated market. If that happens, it will be the Government's turn to honour its end of the bargain with its constituency. But here is the crunch: it cannot deliver because the unions will not deliver. The unions will not let the Government do it. I can give the assurance that this side of the chamber will be pursuing deregulation on the waterfront to the end, and right to the edge of the water.

All the talk about major policy announcements on reforms can be seen to be hot air. We read headlines that talks are bogged down and deadlocked over matters such as the size of the golden handshake needed to get rid of the deadwood on the wharves. Anybody who does not believe that there is deadwood needs only to read the rort report prepared by Senator Parer's office recently. It is so unbelievable that it could almost be a fairytale. For Australian farmers it is no fairytale. They know only too well the rorts and rip-offs on the wharves. Their whole year's work is often left sitting at risk of perishing or losing the market, because of the whims and fancies of the waterside workers.

An illustration of that was given last night on 60 Minutes. It was a program about a waterside worker spending some time on a farm and a farmer spending some time on the waterfront. The farmer's first comment when he was in front of the television cameras on the waterfront, when anyone could have staged it if he had wanted to, was, `How many old people are here on the waterfront'. He also said, `Look at all those people over there who are not doing anything'. He was asked some other questions and his words, which I think were interesting, were, `It was pretty boring because there wasn't much for me to do on the waterfront.'

The waterfront worker who went to the farm to do some work-a nice person and probably the youngest person, apart from the farmer, whom we saw on the television interview-made the point about how hard the work on the farm was. Another comment he made was that when something went wrong on the farm the farmer fixed it up and got on with the job whereas, on the waterfront, when two bolts were missing from a crane at one stage, everyone stopped work. The cost of that to the Australian export industry and to the Australian person is too high for this country to continue to pay in the future.

We must not under-estimate the importance of an efficient waterfront to Australian trade, particularly the agricultural trade. Again, that is the point of Senator Parer's earlier interjection when he said that we must get on and do the job. The vast majority of Australia's overseas trade goes through the waterfront. In fact, the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on coastal shipping, published last July, claimed that over 99 per cent passes through Australian ports. Each day, $50m-worth of exports and $76m-worth of imports need to pass across the Australian waterfront. Since many of the same ports are involved in both domestic and international trade, the cost of inefficiency affects nearly every other industry in the economy. Australia's trade is exceptionally vulnerable to many unnecessary costs and unreliability. It is this vulnerability that has given waterfront employees the ability to negotiate conditions of employment that are generally well in excess of community standards and has permitted the absolute proliferation of work practices that today are commonly referred to as rorts.

Let me give the Senate a few examples. A national amenities agreement exists whereby an amenities man is provided on the waterfront whenever 15 A-registered workers are employed. His job is to wipe down tables in the amenities rooms after breaks. He may also act in a security capacity to look after workers' personal belongings. I can understand the last requirement as theft and pilferage are rife on the wharves. The amenities job goes on day and night; so, if 15 A-registered workers are rostered on during a day, an amenities man must be provided for the day shift and another on the night shift regardless of the number of workers actually working. This man's job is not to clean up; other cleaners are provided to do that. He is there to act as a butler to waterside workers. In Brisbane alone the annual bill for the wages of the amenities men was some $365,000, on-cost not included.

There is a rort involving glutmen on Brisbane wharves. Currently, two glutmen must be employed when preglutted timber packs are being worked on the wharves. Their alleged purpose is to pick up any gluts which may fall off the timber packs. The incidence of gluts falling off, I am told, is rare and certainly does not necessitate the employment of two workers permanently allocated to this function just waiting for things to fall off. Then there are the nick-off days when members of a gang draw straws to see who can return home for the day on full pay.

At Newcastle port there are 54 foremen and supervisors for 186 waterside workers. There seems a fair bit of chiefdom and not many Indians. At Wyndham in Western Australia, the 30 waterside workers average eight hours of work per week. Overmanning is rife among the tug operators. As with coastal ships there is a second crew for each tug, even though tugs do not leave their port. Currently at Melbourne full separate receival and full separate delivery gangs must be employed per vessel regardless of the workload involved. If 10 boxes were to be unloaded and 10 boxes were to be delivered to a vessel, two separate gangs would have to be employed. The Inter-State Commission report lists the average Australian efficient overseas container handling rate for 1988, and I seek leave to table the chart.

Leave granted.


Senator BROWNHILL —The chart sets out quite clearly how inefficient Australian ports are. Crane efficiency is an indicator of how well working time is being used, and the chart shows that Australian crane operations are about half as efficient as the average overseas crane operations. The International Cargo Handling Coordination Association provided information to the Inter-State Commission which cited that Australia's major container ports are half as productive as their European counterparts and 40 per cent as productive as many Asian ports. Australian ports were the least efficient of all the ports surveyed.

I quote another recent study conducted by staff of the Industries Assistance Commission which found that 20 per cent improvement in labour productivity in the water transport industry combined with faster turnaround time of ships in ports would produce an initial cost saving of $860m in 1986-87 money terms. Senator Chaney has already mentioned that point. The report goes on to say:

This would lead in the long run to an increase of $1.1 billion in GDP.

That is a large amount of money. The effect of the rorts and torts and the efficiencies on the waterfront can be brought to the attention of the Senate by referring to a letter that a Tamworth company, Bettington Commodities, wrote to me about the problems associated with the waterfront:

My business is a small, totally Australian-based trading and packing business-my office is located in Tamworth (New South Wales) and the packing business, (established totally to develop export business), in Brisbane.

I commenced my current business three and a half years ago as a domestic grain trader and was able to quickly establish myself in the industry. Last year, 1987, I began to show interest in starting to develop some export markets. I was successful in securing a contract to supply 2,000 tonnes of cotton seed to a client in Saudi Arabia . . . The customer was so pleased with the product and the way it was packed, that I managed to sell (to the same customer), a further 5,000 tonnes of cotton seed for delivery from June to August 1988. I was also able to sell to another client in Saudi Arabia a further 1500 tonnes of cotton seed for shipment in May 1988. The gross value of this business was approximately $2.2Million . . .

That is good export income for Australia. The letter continued:

At the same time I also managed to secure other new overseas business, principally to Japan, for cotton seed. The business amounted to a further 11,000 tonnes or approximately $2.9Million of business. Therefore, I managed to secure over $5Million worth of new export business for Australia . . . However, all has not been so pleasing.

. . . .

We successfully packed our first 1500 tonnes of product to be shipped to Saudi Arabia in our one-tonne bags using unique equipment that I had specially manufactured for the purpose. We were booked to ship this consignment on a Yugoslavian ship belonging to J.S.P. Lines, called the `Heroj Paic'. The ship arrived in Brisbane Port on 25 May, 1988 and was to unload containers at Fisherman's Island Container Terminal. This was not commenced until 26 May, due to congestion at the terminal, but when the ship did in fact begin to unload, the rate of unloading was at less than five containers per hour. I am told that at any port in the world on that ship, fifteen containers per hour would be a normal slow rate and in good ports up to forty-five containers is possible.

. . . .

Eventually the ship was loaded by the following Monday . . . some fourteen days after arriving at port for what should have been three to four days work. Due to the delays mentioned, we have become liable to pay demurrage to the shipping line of USD$3,000.00 per day . . .

My budgeted cost was a maximum of $28.00 per tonne . . .

All I can say, without continuing to read this letter, is that this person, who was going to supply an export income for the people of Australia, was thwarted in that attempt by a waterfront that had callous disregard for his income or the income that Australia would receive. This gentleman has had to close that export facility and Australia is the poorer for it. I support the motion moved this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. The Government must take heed of it and get on with the job of reforming the waterfront. If other people have to pay their share they will do so, but our exports leave from the waterfront--


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Peter Baume) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.