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Tuesday, 9 September 1958

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- The only advanced thinker on the Government side on this matter of roads seems to be the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). He stands with the Australian Labour party on this vital question. In our last policy speech in 1955 we included the matter of the allocation to roads of the entire proceeds from petrol tax, and I think that that will be included in the policy that is to be announced shortly. I wish to continue this subject for a few moments. I fully support my colleague, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who, with myself, first raised in this Parliament the matter of a national roads plan back in 1952. Since then, the suggestion has been taken up by outside bodies and has been given much publicity. We shall persist with that idea, whether the Government agrees with it or not. After all, the present Government will not always be the government of Australia. Despite all the confidence of the Government parties; despite the fact that they had introduced a Budget that is not really theirs, but that of a group that will give them support at the forthcoming general election; and despite their complacency, they will not always be in office. Some day, the Australian Labour party will have the opportunity to give justice to all the users of roads throughout Australia by introducing a national roads plan, in conjunction with the States.

We know that the States are crying out for more money for roads. So, too, are the municipalities, and rightly so. Our roads are numbered among the worst of the roads in advanced countries of the world. The roads that we call highways would be only back tracks in America. There is probably no roads system in any advanced country worse than that which we have in this country to-day. People who have dealt with the statistics of the matter have suggested that we should spend £1,000,000,000 on our roads to bring them up to date. That is not something suggested by the Labour party, but is the opinion of men who have given thought to this matter. America has seen the light in regard to roads. Its great federal roads plan is in operation. The Americans proposed to spend 10,000,000,000 dollars on the plan and to complete it by about 1975, linking all States and by-passing the main towns and cities.

We in this country should have something to get our teeth into, and I suggest that we should have a federal plan for an expenditure of £250,000,000 on interstate highways over five years. This would mean an expenditure of £50,000,000 a year over and above what is already being spent on roads by States and municipalities. Such a plan, of course, would depend on the States allowing the Commonwealth to take over interstate highways, which represent about 6,000 miles of our roads system. That would immediately relieve the States of the enormous expenditure that they are now meeting in trying to keep our highways in reasonable repair, and they would be able to put that money into feeder, secondary and rural roads. The Commonwealth would take over the entire responsibility for widening, reconstructing, and initially constructing completely modern interstate highways. That plan is reasonable and rational, provided that the States will agree to it, Mr. Chairman. We could raise the money by allocating to this purpose the entire proceeds of the petrol tax, which would provide another £14,000,000 or £15,000,000 a year. We have suggested - and we still suggest - that another means would be to allocate £20,000,000 from the Defence vote for a federal roads plan. In defence - even in modern defence in the atomic age - roads are absolutely vital.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member is getting off the beam.

Mr DUTHIE - We on this side of the chamber, Mr. Chairman, acknowledge, too, that good roads are vital to primary producers. I have suggested a practical way to solve a great problem in this country, but all that this Government does is to push the matter aside year after year. We get no further ahead, and we hear from the Government and its supporters not one constructive suggestion about roads, except from the honorable member for Mackellar. This is a tragic state of affairs in a country in which the roads need so much attention.

The other matter that I wish to discuss is shipping. I come from an island State which depends on shipping for the transport of 95 per cent, of the goods that it buys and sells. The remainder is transported by air. Shipping is highly important to Tasmania and to the rest of Australia. We have 12,000 miles of coast line, and we depend on our shipping for our economic livelihood and progress. We on this side of the chamber say quite deliberately thai the shipbuilding industry, which was established by the Labour Government in 1940, is gradually deteriorating. The yard's of Walkers Limited, at Maryborough, in Queensland, have closed down entirely, and about 600 skilled men have been put out of the industry. The Government has allowed this great industry to slip downhill instead of helping it at this critical time.

Harking back for a moment, I remind the committee that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand), in a very good speech in this chamber on 21st August last, urged the Government to revive the declining shipbuilding industry. During World War II., the Labour government established the former Commonwealth Shipping Line, and also shipbuilding yards which constructed about 45 ships of the River class, the D class and the E class. Those vessels did a magnificent job during the war, and are still doing it. This Government continued the shipbuilding programme up to a point, and increased the Commonwealth subsidy on ships of over 500 tons built in Australia to 33i per cent, in order to encourage Australian shipbuilders - a subsidy system begun by Labour. But that subsidy is not sufficient now. Competition in the shipbuilding industry has increased. Japan is turning out ships faster than is any other country, building 325 last year, and is now the first shipbuilding country in the world, even ahead of Britain. We must speed up our shipbuilding and try to build our ships more cheaply. Therefore, we must increase the subsidy.

Last year, 31,000 tons of shipping were constructed in Australian yards for both private owners and the Government, but vessels totalling 35,000 tons were purchased overseas. The high proportion of new shipping bought overseas is very serious indeed' for this country, and we urge the Government to protect the local industry against this ur fair competition from outside. The only way to do it is to increase the subsidy on Australian-built ships and to give more orders.

We now have, or did have, the establishment of Walkers Limited, at. Maryborough, in Queensland, the yards of Mort's Dock and Engineering Company Limited, in Sydney, and of Evans Deakin and Company Limited, at Kangaroo Point, in Brisbane, and yards at Whyalla and Newcastle. These establishments have either been extended or opened in the last fifteen years. We have to try to compete with overseas shipbuilders, and, in our opinion, the Government has failed to appreciate what is happening to the Australian industry. The Maryborough yards are capable of constructing 6,000 tonners, the Whyalla yards 32,000 tonners, and the other Queensland and New South Wales establishments 14,000 tonners. The capacity of the Australian shipbuilding yards is a great tribute to the industry, and especially to the skilled artisans who have been brought into it since 1940, but it is tragic to think that we should now be putting off skilled shipbuilders who have learnt the trade over the years, and who are now relegated to the ranks of the unemployed. So I urge upon the Government the need to reconsider its approach to this problem of shipbuilding and to do something really constructive in order to prevent the industry from declining even further.

I think, also, that the Australian National Line should Be reconstituted in order to make it a real competitor with private enterprise on the Australian coast. About 53 vessels have been built by the Commonwealth, and the Australian National Line should have all those ships and be run as a separate entity in the form of a commission, as is Trans-Australia Airlines, under the Australian National Airlines Commission, in direct competition with private enterprise. In addition, some of the Commonwealthowned ships could be put into service on overseas routes in order to help reduce freight charges on overseas shipments.

I remind the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) that the farmers, some of whom he claims to represent, would like to see some competition between the overseas shipping lines. There is no competition at all to-day. The Conference lines, which comprise 21 shipping companies, have complete monopoly of overseas cargoes. We need to introduce competition with them in order to reduce freight charges on our farm produce.

If the Australian Labour party is elected to office, the Labour government will immediately investigate the Australian shipping industry, and particularly the use of Australian-built ships. The present Government formed the Australian National Line, but it might as well be run by private enterprise, because it does not compete with private shipping in the real sense and brazenly operates to Asia to take advantage of the high freights. It is not run as an independent commission and, by preventing it from operating in that way, the Government has limited the real effectiveness of the 53 Commonwealth-owned ships, which Labour would bring back into service in true competition with private enterprise.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, 1 point out that, in the matter of overseas shipping freights, this Government has supinely given in to the monopoly of the conference lines, which has been able to increase freights on overseas cargoes as and when it liked. That monopoly has recently again increased the freight charges on beef exported from Australia. Wool is hit again also. Thus, another great industry has been interfered with and hit hard by the monopolistic conference shipping lines.

It is amazing, these days, how the little companies are taken over by bigger ones, which, in turn, are taken over by even bigger concerns, until we have complete monopolization such as we have seen occurring under the administration of this Government. There is no real competition to-day between the bigger industries because they have combined to keep prices at a certain level. That applies to shipping above all things. Australia is dependent on shipping for its existence.

The Opposition condemns the Government for its complacent attitude towards rises in shipping freights. We condemn the Government for its surrender of the Commonwealth's ships to private enterprise. This Government sold out our shipping line. These matters are important and this is no time to pat the Government on the back; it does not deserve any praise. On the contrary, the Government deserves severe criticism for the way it has allowed shipbuilding to decline and for its attitude to the shipping monopoly which controls freight rates irrespective of the effect of those rates on the farmers. The Opposition condemns the Government for having allowed 53 Commonwealth ships to come under the control of the private shipping companies.

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