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Tuesday, 9 September 1958


Mr BURY (Wentworth) .- It would indeed be a very serious thing for migrants if macaroni were as scarce as the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) makes out. One of the unfortunate features about the grouping of departments in this debate on the Estimates is that honorable members must hop from, say, the Northern Territory to Immigration, and then across to Transport. The honorable member for Lalor devoted the greater part of his speech to discussing the need for establishing an overseas shipping line owned in Australia. This is not the first time he has done that. Many honorable members opposite have, from time to time, advocated the same thing. We are at present experiencing relatively low freight rates, but from 1945 to 1949 freight rates were very high, and the same factors that operate to-day operated in those years when Labour was in power to an even greater extent. It is quite useless for honorable members opposite to argue that the possibility of establishing a shipping line was not considered by the Labour government of those days. Of course it was, and the Government came to the obvious and sensible conclusion that on the previous occasion when we did own an overseas shipping line, whatever the indirect periodic benefits might have been over the years, it was accompanied with tremendous financial losses. It now costs approximately £200 more a day to run an average sized cargo vessel on the Australian register than it costs. to run an overseas vessel. That factor also operated then, and the Labour government of the day had the good sense to keep out of the overseas shipping business. 1 hold no brief from, nor do I come here to argue the case for the overseas shipping lines, but I point out that we are not, in fact, tied hand and foot to the Conference lines. If any group of producers in Australia likes to get away on its own, and organize and charter its own ships, it is quite free to do so, and shipping, over the world as a whole, is one of the most competitive of all trades. If, on the other hand, producers' organizations see fit to make arrangements with the Conference lines for regular service, that is their own business. At least it cannot be said that we are forever tied hand and foot to the Conference lines. There are alternatives, and if honorable members opposite object to the present system of dealing with Conference lines - and these are dealt with not by governments as such but by those interested in shipping different commodities - I remind them that dealing with the Conference lines is much less unprofitable at present than it would be to set up an overseas shipping industry of our own and thereby repeat the frightful losses which occurred on the last occasion.


Mr Duthie - You have not got the facts right.


Mr BURY - I think the facts as I have put them are right. If the honorable member challenges my statement that a cargo vessel of 10,000 or 15,000 tons costs at least £200 a day more to run on the Australian register than it does on the British register, then I shall be interested to see his figures.

I have great sympathy with many of the aspirations of the honorable member for

Wilmot, particularly his desire to see a shipbuilding industry established in Australia, but the one thing we should do, in our thinking is separate shipping from shipbuilding. If we load the Australian shipping industry with the cost of shipbuilding, then we shall steadily put the Australian shipping industry out of business. As it is, Australian shipping is being increasingly confined to bulk handling and shipping goods between here and Tasmania. Stevedoring costs in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne take up about 56 per cent, of the total cost of shipping. If we are to have a ship-building industry in Australia, let us consider it as a separate subject, let us subsidize it adequately, and let us recognize that we shall have a big cost to pay. Do not let us load the shipping industry with it.

Several speakers have indicated that the Government is in fact allowing many ships to come from overseas to the Australian coast instead of building them in Australia. I do know of one particular case in the last few weeks in which the Government refused a company engaged in shipping coal from the Newcastle area to Sydney - a competitive trade - permission to import a ship about four years old at a cost of slightly under £100,000. The minimum cost of building a similar ship in Australia would be £280,000, yet permission to import that particular ship has been refused. And that is not the only case. When I came across this case, I rapidly learned of a number of other parallel cases. Honorable members will see, therefore, that it simply is not true to say that the local shipbuilding industry has been retarded unduly by the importation of ships from overseas.

The only way in which our own shipbuilding industry can compete is for us to face up to bearing the full cost instead of simply confining our interest to a limited subsidy. The Tariff Board is going into this matter now, but if, in the meantime, we load the shipping industry with the cost of our infant shipbuilding industry, then we shall steadily push goods off the sea onto road and rail transport, and that, in many cases, is not a truly economic proposition.

One of the things which we should do is look at the question of transport as a whole. The Transport Advisory Council was criticized by the honorable member for

Batman (Mr. Bird) who pointed out very significantly that this is a body on which the States have more to say about what will happen than does the Commonwealth as it is comprised mainly of State Ministers for Transport and the sole idea of the States on transport is railways - nothing else. Only one of its members is a Minister interested in road transport. 1 have every sympathy with the honorable member for Batman's criticism of the functioning of this body, hut, of course, his criticism is fundamentally criticism of the States, not of the Commonwealth at all. Reference has been made to a national roads plan, and this is a very good idea, but a national roads plan, in essence, consists of interstate highways, which represent only a tiny proportion of our total highway system, and other roads totally within the States. We of this Parliament may or may not like the fact that we are restricted in our dealings with roads to a very small mileage, but we have been elected to administer that portion of the road system which falls within Commonwealth jurisdiction, and the part the Commonwealth plays is not one of which we should be ashamed. The resources made available by this Government for roads have been increased year by year.

Returning to my main point, I repeat that we should view the question of transport as a whole. That we do not do so is clearly illustrated by the figures given a little earlier by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson). It is very difficult to obtain up-to-date figures on these matters, but although those I am about to quote are a little old, I doubt whether the position has changed substantially, and. if T may, I shall repeat them. Civil aviation is a Commonwealth responsibility and 17 per cent, of its cost is paid for by the Government whereas in the case of shipping, which is very largely a matter outside the responsibility of the Commonwealth, only 4.2 per cent, of the cost is paid for by governments. Again, only 7.1 per cent, of road transport costs is paid by governments whereas in the case of the railways, the darling of the States, and in connexion with which political considerations make them n drag on the modern transport system to some extent. 12.4 ner cent, of the costs is paid by governments.

One thing we should do fairly soon is even out the proportionate costs paid by governments, for only in this way can we hope to get a proper economic distribution of transport business. The honorable member for Fawkner advocated the establishment of a sea transport council. I think there is a great deal in that suggestion. Since the Transport Advisory Council is in fact nothing more nor less than a gathering of State Ministers for Railways, it would seem that if we are to make any progress we ought to have under that body both a road transport council and a sea transport council. Surely it would be much more satisfactory to have separate meetings of the State Ministers responsible for each of those branches than to confine ourselves to what is nominally a transport advisory council but is, in fact, a railways council. The present council is very much confined in the contributions it can make to a solution of our overall transport problem.

The honorable member for Fawkner suggested also that we needed a scheme for the improvement of our ports. He suggested that this was something for which international finance might well be made available. I endorse those remarks. Our overall capital requirements are such that we are desperately short of funds to do almost everything that requires capital in this country. Various honorable members, particular the honorable member for Batman, complained that not enough was being spent on roads and some one said that not enough was being spent on shipping. The fact is that capital funds are short in every direction. We should persevere in attempting to produce schemes which will command the confidence of overseas investors and induce them to bring additional funds to this country. A well-integrated scheme for the inprovement of ports throughout Australia is a specific scheme, the results and benefits of which could be readily demonstrated by the overall improvement of our economy resulting from lower costs of transport. Such a scheme might well embrace a number of overseas investors.







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