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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 1000

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- I am interested to hear the figures which the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has given to the committee because they appear to me to be completely at variance with the figures which were given to me by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) in answer to a question I had placed on the notice-paper. The answer was given on 3rd December last, and it appears in " Hansard " at page 2806. I asked the Minister to inform me on how many occasions the Minister of State for Supply, and subsequently the Ministers of State for Shipping and Transport, had produced to the Collector of Customs their consent for the importation of a ship between the time when the prohibited imports regulations were made in February, 1951, and the date of my question. The Minister listed in his reply 75 permits which were granted for the importation of ships.

Mr Osborne - Since when?

Mr WHITLAM - From 1951 till the end of 1957. The earliest date was 24th April, 1951, and the last, 14th November, 1957. I have had a similar question for the same Minister on the notice-paper since 14th August last, and I have not yet received a reply. The Minister for Air, who has just addressed the committee, gave the last date upon which permission was given to import a ship as somewhere, 1 think, in the middle of 1956. I forget the exact date he gave.

Mr Osborne - The last date on which permission was given to build a ship for the Australian trade abroad was 31st January, 1956.

Mr WHITLAM -! think it was " Ian Crouch ". Between that date and the end of 1957, according to the information given to me by the Minister for Customs ar.d Excise last year, permission was given to import ships which are described as of the following types: three general cargo, one bulk sugar carrier, another general cargo, a tug, a whale catcher, a bulk carrier, a bulk sugar carrier, two tugs and yet another general cargo.

Mr Osborne - They would presumably be ships for which permission was given years ago.

Mr WHITLAM - No, they are all ships in respect of which the Minister listed the date of approval as subsequent to 31st January, 1956.

Mr Osborne - That would be approval to import as distinct from permission to build.

Mr WHITLAM - I am very grateful to hear that explanation, but I have given the Minister the date and the reference and 1 have mentioned at least a dozen ships for which permission to import was given subsequent to the date which the Minister mentioned. All those cases that I have mentioned are ships which are required in Australia and ships which could have been built in Australia.

Mr Osborne - A ship is not something that you buy new off a shelf. You have to get permission to build it and then you cannot be denied permission to import it.

Mr WHITLAM - 1 would have hoped the Minister would make a more helpful explanation than that. The fact is that all of the ships are to be imported, and all of the ships could have been built in Australia.

The last time we were given a report by the Tariff Board on the question of shipping - the Tariff Board made a report four years ago and the Government tabled it a year later - we were told that the shipbuilding industry in Australia was operating at onethird capacity, that 5,000 people were employed in the industry, that by the employment of another 3,000 people the output of our shipyards, without increasing their equipment, could be trebled, and that the bulk of our coastal shipping was well over its economic age of twenty years.

Now, Sir, this I believe is one of the greatest faults on the part of the Department of Shipping and Transport. There is no department of state which has greater opportunities and there is no department of state which has more signally failed to realize its opportunities. This Parliament, under the Constitution, has always had the power to deal with trade and commerce with other countries and among the States, and in no respect has the Parliament failed to deal with that category of power so markedly as in regard to shipping. We ought to have an international shipping line, we ought to have a coastal shipping line, and it ought to be possible for us to build all the ships for both those services. The Commonwealth shipping line could assist our trade as much as, and more cheaply than, any tariffs or bounties which are provided by our legislation. We are constantly told by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) himself that as a trading nation, Australia ranks among the leading ten countries in the world, but we are the only considerable trading country in the world which has no external merchant marine. All our imports and all our exports are carried in foreign ships. Our shipbuilders have shown again and again - particularly in the case of Whyalla - that we can build any ship which is required for trade round the Australian coast or between Australia and any other country in the world. This cannot be disparaged as a socialist notion. In other countries - other big trading countries - there are shipping lines, but Australia has not got a shipping line.

If private enterprise will not set up a shipping line, a responsible Australian government should establish one itself. Australian employment cannot be maintained, the raw materials for our industries cannot be provided, our standard of living cannot be sustained, without imports, nor can we pay for any of those things without exports. If any country of the world depends on trade it is Australia. We are completely in the hands of foreign shipowners, not foreign government lines but foreign private lines, for the acquisition of many raw materials and many consumer goods, and for the disposition of all our surplus products. We could be held completely to ransom. We could be completely boycotted just as surely as could any of the countries of the Middle East, about whose economic plight and political turmoil we have had to engage ourselves so much in recent months.

Let me deal in some detail with the position of our shipping industry, as given in answers to questions I have asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport. It appears that in the last year the Australian National Line, the government line, upon which the shipping industry of Australian has been practically entirely dependent in recent years, placed no orders at all. The only shipping order which was placed in the last financial year anywhere in Australia was that placed by Ampol Petroleum Limited. It does not matter in this connection where Ampol's shares are owned. The point is that Ampol is building the largest ship that has ever been laid down in Australia. It will be a fine ship. There is no obligation on the company to build it here, but it will provide valuable employment at Whyalla until 1962.

Let us look at the position of the other shipbuilding yards of Australia. Walkers Limited, of Maryborough, has only one order in hand. It will be completed in December this year. Evans Deakin and Company Limited has two orders, the second of which will be completed in October next year. The State Dockyard at Newcastle has only one order, which will be completed in November next year. The ordinary time required to build ships is such that a shipyard usually likes to have orders in hand for two or three years, but none of those yards will have any orders at all after the end of next year, while one of them will have none after the end of this year. At this rate, the only yard which will be going in fifteen months from now and which will have orders to fulfil is the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited yard at Whyalla.

What were the deliveries in the last financial year? The Minister told me that Evans Deakin and Company Limited, the Broken Hill Company and the State Dockyard each made one delivery, and in each case it was to the Australian National Line, the only line which has consistently supported the shipbuilding industry of Australia, and without whose support shipbuilding in Australia would long ago have gone by the board. What was the position in the last financial year regarding shipbuilding overseas for the Australian trade? Five lines - Mcllwraith McEacharn Limited, Howard Smith Limited, H. C. Sleigh Limited, the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited, and the Western Australian State Shipping Service - each had one delivery, in each case from overseas. There are six ships still to be delivered from overseas, according to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, in his reply to me. all to private owners.

In the few minutes at my disposal I wish to direct my attention to a couple of other responsibilities of the Department of Shipping and Transport, the least imaginative and the least effective of all the Commonwealth departments of State.

Let me refer to the position of our ports, which was ..mentioned by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson). He put in an entirely reasonable plea to coordinate and standardize all our ports. His Government two years ago deleted from the Stevedoring Act the provision which enabled the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to modernize wharfs. It is fantastic that ships trading around Australia, or to Australia, have to provide varying kinds of equipment so that they may enter different Australian ports, because there is no co-ordinating authority. Some ports provide all the equipment which may be required by any ship to load or unload, while other ports provide none of it. The consequence is that every ship has to provide all the equipment it may need at the worst equipped ports, and to provide that equipment superfluously in the well equipped ports. The Commonwealth can deal with trade and commerce with other countries and among the States, and none of our transport equipment is used more for that purpose than our ports. None of it is being used so increasingly for that purpose as our ports.

Shipping is becoming exclusively an international and an interstate traffic problem and therefore a Commonwealth responsibility. Very few ships now trade intrastate and thus fall within the jurisdiction of the States. I invite the attention of thecommittee to questions I have asked of the Minister for Shipping and Transport concerning the implementation of the 1954 International Convention for the Preventionof the Pollution of the Sea by Oil. That agreement was made in May, 1954. Australia is very fortunate under the agreement, because when we implement it we will be saved from pollution for 150 miles, from our eastern, southern and southwestern coasts, not just the ordinary 50> miles. The United Kingdom Parliament passed the convention in May, 1955. TheMinister has told me that the Commonwealth cannot adopt the convention without. State legislation, but the Commonwealth did not even start discussing it with the States until February, 1956, and we arestill in that position. The convention has now been adopted by all the great tradingcountries of the world, so the Minister informed me on 12th August last. Yet, we have not adopted it and he is unable to say when the model bill, which was discussed' by the Commonwealth and the States, will be introduced into the different parliaments.

Sir, Iknow of no department which has, fallen down on its job so conspicuously and in such a shameful fashion as has this Department of Shipping and Transport. Whether one considers the unco-ordinated' construction and deteriorating condition of our roads, or the impediments to interstate rail transport in gauges, equipment and freight rates, or the diverse and archaic equipment of our ports, or our dwindling merchant marine, or our idle ship yards, or the failure to implement the Navigation Act we passed last session, the estimates for this department show the Government's greatest failure. This department has the greatest opportunity of any department, but the opportunity is not realized. It has fallen short of realization more than in any other department whose estimates we have to discuss this week.

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