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Tuesday, 9 September 1958

Mr COUTTS (Griffith) .- I wish to refer to the shipbuilding industry, an activity that comes under the control of the Department of Shipping and Transport and which is of great importance to Australia, particularly to the electorate that I have the honour to represent. Strange as it may seem to honorable members, the second largest shipbuilding yard in Australia is situated in the City of Brisbane. It is located in the electorate of Griffith, at that old established suburb on the Brisbane River known as Kangaroo Point. Early in the last war, on the very sound advice of Mr. Curtin, then Leader of the Australian Labour party, a shipbuilding yard was established at that point by the Queensland Labour Government and was leased to Evans Deakin and Company

Limited. That yard has played a very important role in the- construction of ships both in time of peace and in time of war. However, I propose to deal only with the building of ships for peaceful purposes, because I appreciate that you, Mr. Chairman, would rule, and rightly so, that I should confine my remarks to that aspect of the matter.

The shipbuilding yard of Evans Deakin and Company Limited, has built many ships since it was established, but almost all those ships have been built for operation by the national shipping line. Reluctantly, I must admit that the Australian shipping lines have almost completely refused to have their vessels built in Australian yards, and to-day many of them are having ships built in overseas yards. Recently the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) issued a statement in which he suggested that there would be no further construction of ships for Australia in overseas yards until there had been an inquiry by the Tariff Board. The inquiry will not commence until after the federal election, which will be held on 22nd November. That is a rather significant observation. The Tariff Board, a capable governmental body, has already concluded one inquiry into this matter. It recommended that a subsidy of 33i per cent, should, be paid on ships built in Australia. The board suggested that we must maintain a very efficient shipbuilding industry in this country.

I am pleased to be able to say that during the last few years the Government has subscribed to that view and that a subsidy of 33$ per cent, is paid to Australian shipbuilders. But the Tariff Board further observed that, in order to maintain an efficient shipbuilding industry in Australia, there must be a demand by shipping companies for Australian-built ships for operation on the Australian coast. That is where we are falling down. Far too many Australian shipping lines are asking for their ships to be built in overseas yards.

Because of my interest in the maintenance of an efficient shipbuilding industry, I have informed myself of all phases of the industry in the City of Brisbane. One of the directors of Evans Deakin has informed me that it is not necessary for Australian shipbuilders to depend entirely on the sub sidy of 33i per cent. He told me that the output per man-hour in Australia compares more than favorably with that of workers employed in overseas shipbuilding yards and that the subsidy made available by this Government more than compensates for the inflation that this Government has permitted since 1950.

Mr Duthie - The subsidy was introduced by Labour.

Mr COUTTS - Yes, and it has been continued by this Government. I feel, as a result of what I have been told by men who are associated with the industry, that it is not necessary to depend entirely upon that subsidy. One of the real problems facing the ship-building industry is that the shipping companies which operate on the Australian coast are tied in some way to overseas shipping companies and shipbuilding companies and are not prepared to have their vessels built in Australian yards. A study of the programme for the building of ships overseas shows that in the main the ships that will be built within the next few years for operation on the Australian coast will be built in overseas yards.

Mr Duthie - That is a tragedy.

Mr COUTTS - It is a tragedy, as the honorable member says. What is this Government doing about it? The Government is in a very fortunate position, lt could help the ship-building industry. Before a ship can be imported into Australia, the personal authorization of the Minister for Shipping and Transport must be obtained. But, unfortunately, the present Minister, or his predecessor, has given a licence for the construction overseas and the importation into Australia of the ships that are being built for the Australian coastal trade. It is true that, because of the activities of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, the Whyalla shipbuilding yards are full and that, as a result of negotiations between this Government and the Ampol company, provision has been made for the construction of a 32,000-ton oil tanker which, I am sorry to say, will be manned by a non-Australian crew. At least the ship is being built in Australia by Australian workmen.

But what is happening at the shipbuilding yards in the rest of the Commonwealth? At Maryborough, Walkers Limited which after the war built two ships each of 6,000 tons, has almost completed the last vessel for which it had a contract. Boilermakers and skilled artisans are being discharged. I was told only recently thai skilled operatives are digging drains with picks and shovels for the Maryborough City Council. Having been discharged from the shipbuilding yards of Walkers Limited, they are being absorbed into municipal work of a labouring kind, which is being paid for by a special grant made by this Government to relieve unemployment. Walkers Limited has finished its contracts; it is now merely fitting out the last ship for which it had a contract.

In the electorate of Griffith, Evans Deakin is building " Lake Sorrell ", which is a bulk carrier. That company has another vessel of 6,000 tons to build for the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited and following that two minor tugs of 250 tons each.

Mr Forbes - I rise to a point of order. I point out that ship, construction comes under the proposed vote for Capital Works and Services.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! It comes under the proposed votes for both the Department of Shipping and Transport and Capital Works and Services. Therefore, I have allowed discussion of the matter.

Mr COUTTS - I have been reliably informed that when a shipbuilding company obtains a contract to build a ship it must undertake at least twelve months of work in its drawing office before it can lay down one part of the ship in the shipbuilding yard. That means that unless the company has a continuity of orders the work force of skilled artisans will be disbanded after the construction of each ship. Then, when a new contract is received, the draftsmen will start work and when they have finished there will suddenly be a move to muster the necessary force of skilled tradesmen to build the ship. I appeal to the Government - not on a political basis, but on a defence basis if there is no other basis on which a successful appeal to it can be made - to let us keep this important industry stable, to let us keep it going.

The world has been at war since before the Christian era, and I suppose we shall go on having wars unless reason prevails eventually. That being so, we must have shipping because the island continent of Australia has a longer sea coast than has any other single country in the world. We have a coastline of 12,000 miles, and we must have ships to maintain our communications. We have an inefficient railway system and a deteriorating road system. Our only stability in communication is in shipping, and the stability of shipping depends on shipbuilding. I appeal to the nation and to the Government to get the shipbuilding industry going properly, and to see that it has no lack of orders.

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