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Tuesday, 9 September 1958


Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) delivered a very interesting address on the subject of port facilities for ships that trade on the Australian coast, and for overseas ships as well. He pointed out, quite correctly, that there is a need for the co-ordination of port facilities and for the creation of better and larger ports. He explained that substantial savings could be made if that subject were attended to. I do not disagree with him. But what he avoided was the much more important subject of the need for the Commonwealth of Australia itself to own and operate ships.

I well recollect that, when the population of this country was from 3,500,000 to 5,000,000 people, the Commonwealth owned a splendid line of ships, the last of which did not go to the bottom of the ocean until it was engaged in a very gallant action during the last war. The line had a varied existence. It made profits and it suffered losses, but nobody has ever been able to deny, nor will anybody ever deny, that while the Commonwealth owned that line of ships there was a deterrent to the shipowners of the world exploiting the people of this country - the primary producers and whose who imported goods.

To-day we are a country of 10,000,000 people, and within another ten years probably we will have a population of 12,000,000, but we are completely at the mercy of the conference lines, which can charge what they like for the carriage of our products overseas, because we have no ships in which to send our goods to other countries. While that state of affairs remains, talk about improving ports, coordinating shipping facilities, and so on and so forth, is beside the point. We are confronted with the most important subject that we can possibly be required to deal with when we consider freight for overseas transport.

Only twelve or eighteen months ago, the primary producers of this country, in cooperation with the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), were in holts with the overseas shipping representatives, trying to determine by how much those people should increase the freight on the products which they take overseas from Australia and on the products which they bring to Australia from overseas. In the end, of course, the shipowners won. What other outcome could there be? After all, they own the ships and they call the tune.

It is true we have legislation with the pleasant sounding title of the Australian Industries Preservation Act, but it does not mean much. What it means is illustrated by the fact that only twelve or eighteen months ago the charter rate for shifting wheat from Australia to the overseas markets stood at the record figure of 7s. a bushel, but nobody here could do anything about it, because we had not available in this country one ship to take our wheat overseas at a reasonable freight charge. It was said in justification of this charge of 7s. a bushel for taking wheat overseas, that it was imposed because there was a great demand for ships for the Atlantic coal trade. It had no relation to the cost of transporting the wheat overseas. It was simply a matter of the operation of the law of supply and demand. There was a shortage of ships for charter work, so the shipowners were able to say that the charge for carrying our wheat was 7s. a bushel. If we did not agree to pay it, there would be no ships available.

The end result was that the wheat shifted at that period actually returned on the London market a sum less than the cost of production and carriage. I understand that in recent months, because there has not been the same demand on ships for chartering, wheat has been shipped overseas at a price in the vicinity of 2s. a bushel. So by virtue of the fact that we had no ships owned by the Government available to ship wheat from this country and to give a service to the primary producers and the nation, we had to pay the difference between 2s. and 7s. on wheat freight alone.

We know from the daily press that within the last few weeks a demand has come from the overseas shipowners, the conference lines controllers, for another 30 per cent, increase of the freight charges on meat shipped from this country. After a conference between the shipowners and the Minister for Trade, the Minister for Primary Industry and other Ministers, the matter will probably end in an increased charge of 25 per cent, being imposed. The gentlemen who own these great liners fitted with refrigeration machinery, fully equipped for taking produce overseas and bringing goods back, and also equipped for carrying passengers, hold Australia, a great nation of 10,000,000 people, in the palms of their hands. They can charge what they like when they like, and they can withdraw their ships from the trade whenever it suits them. I do not blame them, but it is disgraceful that a great nation of 10,000,000 people, which has proved itself in peace and in war, which will produce more in the future than it has ever produced before, and which will import more in the future than it has ever imported before, has neither a privately owned shipping line nor a governmentowned shipping line to take its produce overseas and to bring produce here. That is a terrible position for any nation to be in. Two or three years ago, we were told that Australia had three years in which to prepare for war. We all know that in the event of war Australia would lose the services of a substantial number of the ships that are now under the control of other governments, but are being used in trade with this country.

I am told that Australia has only one oil tanker. There are up to a dozen oil refineries in this country, but we have only one tanker. It is not a government tanker. What would happen to this country in the event of war if that tanker were withdrawn from service, and if it did not suit other nations and other owners to provide the tankers that are provided in peacetime to bring oil to Australia? Some people will say that the Government's previous experience of ship owning proved disastrous. The previous government-owned shipping line was profitable on occasions and at times showed losses, but it is impossible to calculate the indirect benefits that flowed to Australia from the ownership of that shipping line.

So I submit that there is a case, not for a future government to buy 30 or 40 liners, but for the Government to say that within two or three years, ships will be owned and controlled from this country, forming the nucleus of a line that will grow and give a measure of protection to the people who have been shamefully exploited in the past. Honorable members will remember that when private enterprise was allowed to compete with Trans-Australia Airlines, they were told that competition was a splendid thing. We were told that competition would prevent the government-owned airline from exploiting the people, and would give private enterprise an opportunity to prove its mettle. We were told that a modest amount of competition was very desirable, and that is why T.A.A. and Ansett-A.N.A. were allowed to operate in competition. This country could, perhaps, get along without air transport, but we could not survive without sea transport. In those circumstances, there is an excellent case for the ownership of a line by this Government, or at least by people resident in this country.

I turn now to immigration. Nobody will deny that the immigration system initiated in 1947 by the Labour government has been a success. At the time of its introduction it was doubtful whether the immigration policy would be accepted by the Australian people. That policy has been continued by successive governments. There have been some differences of opinion between the Government and the Opposition with regard to the numbers that are admitted under economic conditions that are at present less favorable than they were a few years ago, but those are only matters of detail. I appeal to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), if he is faced with a case similar to the one with which he was faced last week, to be more hesitant and more reluctant to exercise arbitrarily his powers under the Migration Act to deport a migrant for some offence allegedly or actually committed. In my opinion, it is too much power and too much responsibility for one man. If I were faced with the exercise of that power I would want my decision to be reinforced by consultation with two or three other people of judicial character. I am not saying that the Minister has not a judicial mind - I know that he has - but the fact remains that in this particular case, had it not been for some friends who got in touch with legal opinion, perhaps at great cost, this migrant would have been summarily put on a ship and deported when in all probability he is innocent of the charges laid against him.

I know that it is possible for completely false allegations to be made against people. In this particular case this migrant was alleged to have been a member of the Mafia. 1 do not know whether he was a member of that organization or not. but I think that honorable members are entitled to know who made the allegation. Was the allegation made by somebody who was prejudiced? Was it made by an unconsciously biassed person? In those circumstances, surely the Minister should be protected. He should be able to consult with somebody other than his departmental officers, to whom I attach no blame in this case. The Minister's hand should be strengthened before summary and arbitrary action is taken. It is all very well to say that this migrant exercised his right, and that his lawyers sought a writ of habeas corpus. That sort of thing costs money, and people should not be put to such expense. All T ask is that in future there will be more time and better opportunity for an individual to lodge an appeal or to consult with somebody who can see that justice is done. I do not say that justice has not been done in this case - I am not in a position to know. I do think that in the end the Minister did the right thing. 1 should like to say a word or two about migrant hostels. I know that when he gets an opportunity the Minister will visit as many hostels as he can. With regard to the hostels that have about 50 per cent. European migrants and about 50 per cent. British migrants, I urge that some endeavour be made to see that the European migrants have available to them food similar to the food eaten in their own countries. I know of one hostel where completely unsuitable food is offered to people who have just come from European countries. If a hostel held only 10 per cent, of migrants from European countries I could understand if they had to put up with food and cooking wholly British or Australian in type, but when there is in a hostel a large percentage of migrants from European countries other than Great Britain they feel that it is a hardship when they cannot get their bologna or other foods to which they have been accustomed. T know of many European migrants living in hostels who go to the European-owned delicatessens in order to buy food more palatable to them.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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