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Thursday, 8 June 1989
Page: 3637

Senator CALVERT(12.32) —This afternoon I wish to speak on the sixth Bill in the parcel of Bills that are being debated today, the Bounty (Ships) Bill 1989. As my colleague Senator Hamer said earlier, it is not the intention of the Opposition to oppose these Bills, but we do intend to move an amendment in the committee stage which will remove the requirement that 75 per cent of a shipbuilder's business be devoted to activities which are subject to a bounty. As Senator Hamer quite rightly said, this restrictive requirement tends to lessen the likelihood of shipbuilding companies keeping up to date with modern technology and using new techniques that are available overseas, because fewer shipyards will be devoted to repairing ships in our country.

It is a matter of some disappointment that as an island continent Australia does not have a more vibrant shipbuilding industry. Indeed, given the restrictive work practices which have flourished in this country for so long under the present Government, it is a great credit to those in the shipbuilding industry that they have survived at all under the restrictions that abound in the climate in this country at the moment, with massive wage increases, interest rates and all such things that work against business. Under the existing Bounty (Ships) Act 1980, a bounty is payable on the construction and/or modification in Australia of vessels which exceed 150 gross construction tonnes and commercial vessels exceeding 150 gross construction tonnes or 21 metres in length. The bounty is based upon the cost of construction or modification of a vessel. For tugs, bulk carriers, rig servicing and fishing vessels which fit the pre-requisites commenced after 1 January 1988, the bounty is 20 per cent of the cost of construction. For other vessels the bounty is 15 per cent. To be eligible for a bounty in relation to modifications, the cost of these modifications must exceed $400,000.

In July 1986 a limit of $144m was placed on the total funds available under the Bounty (Ships) Act 1980 in respect of vessels completed before 1 July 1989. However, at the end of March 1988 all of that $144m had either been distributed or reserved. The new scheme will begin on 1 July 1989 and will phase out the bounty over six years so that by July 1995 the industry will operate without any bounty assistance at all. It is estimated that over the six-year period the scheme will cost $145m with an initial outlay of some $24m in 1989-90, rising to $33m in 1990-91. To be eligible for the bounty, shipbuilders must meet what are known as orderly development provisions, along with registration criteria. It emerges that 45 shipbuilders have received registration during the period from 1984 to April 1989 while, disappointingly, only 13 firms have managed to maintain their registration during that period.

The decision to phase out the bounty over the next six years is something which the Opposition is prepared to live with, as Senator Hamer said earlier, but we certainly see it as an acceptable compromise between those people who wanted the bounty to remain at its present rate and those who wanted it scrapped altogether. However, it provides a clear path for the future for those in the community who wish to remain involved. As I said earlier, they are becoming fewer and fewer because of the restrictive provisions that have been forced upon them by this Federal Government with work practices, high interest rates and all the other things that make it so difficult for them to make their businesses profitable.

I spoke earlier of the success which has been achieved by a number of operators in the industry despite the difficult economic circumstances under which they must presently operate. I want to refer particularly to two highly successful operations in my own State of Tasmania. I believe that they deserve the commendation of the Senate.

Senator Hamer —They are building catamarans.

Senator CALVERT —Yes, that is right. As honourable senators would realise, because of Tasmania's dependence on the sea, it has always made quite a significant contribution to Australia's shipbuilding industry. During the early whaling years Tasmania was noted for its wonderful wooden construction of vessels that plied around the world in pursuit of whales. In fact, I learnt when I was in Japan some five years ago that one of the first contacts the people there made with Europeans involved a whaling ship that was wrecked on the shores on Mabiro Beach in Japan in 1826. That ship was built and registered in Hobart, so our shipbuilding industry goes back many years. Former Senator Ken Wriedt, now a member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly, tried to get dry dock facilities in Hobart for Russian vessels some 10 years ago. I know of efforts being made at present by Mr Gunther Shultz, of whom the Minister opposite would have heard. He was the Polar part of P & O Polar. He is currently trying to get the Government to support Hobart becoming a stopping off point for Russian research vessels as a repair providoring port for vessels that are plying to Antarctica. I believe that the port of Hobart is certainly well able to cater, as a supply depot at least, for Antarctic vessels from all over the world. It seems unusual that the Government can support the Chinese working out of Hobart whilst the Russian ships do not seem to be receiving the support they should. My own State Premier has had varying views on this matter.

As I said earlier, we have skilled craftsmen and the facilities in Hobart to produce world class vessels. Tasmanians have made many famous yachts and fishing vessels. At present, on the banks of Prince of Wales Bay at Glenorchy, International Catamarans is a company which is flourishing. It is run by a friend of mine, Bob Clifford, who came about this enterprise after one of the most unfortunate incidents that ever happened to my State. That was when the Tasman Bridge collapsed when the Lake Illawarra collided with it on a foggy night and caused a lot of disruption to the eastern shore of Hobart. He, along with quite a few others, used the unfortunate circumstances as an opportunity to ply ferries between Rosny Park and Hobart. In the early days he was responsible for the construction of a couple of well known vessels-the James McCabe and the Matthew Brady. They are all named after bushrangers; I can assure honourable senators that Bob Clifford is no bushranger. He adapted the technique of using catamarans as ferries. The first catamaran he used to cross the river was the Lawrence Cavanagh. That was the beginning of his success. He could see that eventually the ferry services would melt away with the relocation of the Tasman Bridge.

This company has gone from strength to strength. At present it is undertaking the construction of three wave-piercing 71-metre catamarans, the first two of which have been sold to British Sea-Link for service in Europe. The first sea trials of those vessels are expected in March. The third vessel, which is being promoted by Tasmanian Ferry Services, will be used to ply between George Town in Tasmania and Port Welshpool in Victoria. It will enable a fast daylight service to transport 350 passengers and some 80 cars across Bass Strait. I believe that this particular service will certainly have a great effect on Tasmania. Unfortunately, even though the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in the early days was averse to having this particular company exempted from the payment of diesel fuel excise, which would have saved the travelling public some $26 on the trip, that has not come to pass. Paying passengers going both ways will now have to pay an extra $26 because of this unwarranted diesel fuel excise. Given the fact that this new service will be paying all wharfage fees and other docking fees at both ends, I cannot see why it should be paying diesel fuel tax when it does not use any roads at all. It is very unlikely that any of the funds it pays in the form of this diesel fuel excise will find their way to our crumbling road network around Australia. The efforts of International Catamarans will generate 760 new jobs in Tasmania and inject an estimated $35m into the Tasmanian economy.

Debate interrupted.