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Tuesday, 9 September 1958


Mr CURTIN (Kingsford) (Smith) . - I speak as a shipbuilder. The nonproductive gentleman opposite, who is now interjecting, is useless and hopeless.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith will withdraw the assertion he has made against the honorable member.


Mr CURTIN - What was that?


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member will withdraw his assertion.


Mr CURTIN - I withdraw the assertion. I want to present a case for the unemployed shipbuilders of Australia. For nine long years I have sat in this Parliament and watched our shipping industry being gradually and deliberately destroyed by the actions of a Government which toadies to private interests overseas, at the expense of high-grade tradesmen in its native land. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) talked about inviting American and other overseas interests to invest in Australia. What is wrong with Australian investors? What is wrong with the Commonwealth Bank? What is wrong with financing our industries in the same way as we financed the 1939-45 war? We all know how the great Labour leader, Ben Chifley, financed the last war.


Mr Turnbull - He was wonderful!


Mr CURTIN - There is no doubt that the Labour party won the war. The present leader of the Government walked out and left Australia to its fate when the Japanese arrived at the north of this country.

There is a plot to destroy our shipbuilding yards by withdrawing work from them. I defy honorable members opposite to deny that the Vickers engineering firm is now in control of Cockatoo Dock, is now in control of Mort's Dock and is now negotiating for the purchase of the Captain Cook Dock at Garden Island. I want a denial of that statement by the Minister, if he is able to give it. If that private firm gets control of the big dockyards in Australia, then perhaps it might condescend to build ships here. Australia manufactures the cheapest steel in the world, and the Japanese shipbuilders know that. American investors have made Japan the most active shipbuilding country in the world to-day. It is using Australian steel supplied by Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. As a matter of fact, 90,000 tons of shipbuilding plates were exported to Japan dur ing the last twelve months under an export licence granted by this Government.

What has happened to Mort's Dock? What has happened to the murdered town of Maryborough? As the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) said, Maryborough is dead. One of the best towns in Queensland is dead for the simple reason that this Government has withdrawn all orders and all support from the ship-building industry that was built up in that town during the war, and which did a wonderful job. It sickens me to hear talk of co-ordinating plans and committees in regard to this matter. Let us do something. Let us lay a keel and build a ship, not just talk about it. We have no need to go around the world looking for people with the know-how, as it is called. When General MacArthur was in Australia during the war he remarked that Australians were the greatest shipbuilders he had seen during his travels. So they are. Australian shipbuilders, with a background of Scotsmen who came here and taught them all the rudiments of shipbuilding, have not a peer in the world.


Mr Whitlam - They came from Belfast too.


Mr CURTIN - Yes, from Belfast, too. The honorable member for Wentworth spoke about the Australian shipping line, which was built up over the years by a Labour government at great sacrifice. He told1 us that it went broke, that colossal losses were incurred and that it had to be sold in the long run.


Mr Killen - Why?


Mr CURTIN - Because of smart accountancy practices by certain people who were ever ready - just as this Government is - to get rid of anything Australian. We all remember the story of the Bruce-Page Government, which sold the shipping line to Lord Inchcape. Lord Bruce sold it to Lord Inchcape. Did not the noble Lord Inchcape do eighteen months in gaol for fraud in connexion with the sale of the line? Has Australia been paid for it yet? Of course not. The noble lord did his eighteen months, or a part of it, for fraud. He got the money, but we got nothing.


Mr Killen - I think you have your lords mixed up a bit. It was not Lord Inchcape who was convicted. It was Lord Kylsant.


Mr CURTIN - 1 am sorry, lt was Lord Kylsant. He did time for fraud and the older lord - Lord Bruce - sits in the House of Lords to-day as his part of the bargain. He was initiated into the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the Australian Government has not been paid for that shipping line yet. The honorable member for Wentworth said that we had to sell it, but the sale was the greatest fraud in Australia's political history. 1 am talking on behalf of my organization, the boilermarkers' union. We are concerned because day by day mechanics are being put off in one place and another. As 1 mentioned previously, work in Maryborough has almost stopped. Morts Dock has been closed down. Cockatoo Dock is working part time and 350 men have been put off at Garden Island during the last three or four months. Those facts cannot be easily dismissed. At Williamstown in Victoria there is another big yard. That is going to the pack as well. This Government showed its insincerity in this matter when it pushed the Navigation Bill through the Parliament at the end of the last sessional period. That legislation provided that any ship, under any registration, could trade between Australian ports. That was part of the plot to destroy Australian shipping and Australian shipbuilding. Under the act it is possible to register a ship in Panama and sign on a crew there without offering proper trade union conditions or amenities. The crew can be given whatever pay the shipowners care to offer them. We will have the spectacle of ships trading around our coastline from Fremantle to Brisbane under coloured labour. Nothing in the law can prevent that from happening. Not only will the shipbuilding industry be destroyed, but also the Waterside Workers Federation and the Seamen's Union. That is part of the long-range plot of this Government. It is as plain as day and cannot be lightly dismissed by Government supporters. We will have here coffin ships in which no white man would sail. They will be manned bv coloured crews, and those crews will unload them. That will sound the death knell of the Waterside Workers Federation. Earlier, when I was referring to unemployment I omitted to mention the fact that the Woolwich dockyards, where a number of ships were built during the war, has also closed down.


Mr Osborne - We put a ship in there last week.


Mr CURTIN - I give the Minister full credit for being a Navy man, but he is misinformed. That ship went into Woolwich for what is called in waterfront parlance a " haircut and shave " - a scrape and a paint. So far as repairs to ships and the building of ships are concerned, Woolwich has been officially closed down. In this country we must not merely talk about ship-building; we must act. It is not enough merely to pass the buck from day to day while highly trained mechanics who could do splendid work - in our naval dockyards in particular - are walking the streets.

The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) is sending us back all sorts of dire reports about the dangers confronting Australia in the Near East and in the Far East, but at home we remain virtually undefended. We have not a ship! What is this Government doing about it? It is doing nothing at all except show its hypocrisy. We must build ships for the safety of this country, which has 12,000 miles of coastline and some of the finest harbours and rivers in the world. It is undefended, but the Government does nothing about it except at the behest of overseas interests.

Let us consider for a moment the shipbuilding activities of Ampol Petroleum Limited. Ampol is supposedly - and I say this advisedly - an Australian company. That is all so much nonsense. It is controlled by the big oil interests which control almost the whole world. By the simple trick of registering in Australia, Ampol became eligible for the Australian shipbuilding subsidy of 33i per cent. If the Government had been honest it would have told Ampol that it was an overseas company and was not, therefore, eligible for the subsidy. The ship in question is being built by the Broken Hill Company Proprietary Limited, which also, contrary to popular belief, is an English company. The Baillieus and the Darlings, who control it. are more interested in financial return than in the welfare of this country. In short. Ampol will get a vessel for 66J of the real price.

Why cannot the Australian Government undertake the building of cargo ships? If it wants advice on how to build them it ought not to go to the professors, the longhairs, the egg-heads; it should go to the practical men who will show it how to lay a keel, put the ribs in, put the plates on, and get a vessel ready for sea. If Government supporters want a little advice on this subject I am only too willing to supply it. T do not need a professor to tell me how to build a ship. The keel has been laid of a 30,000-ton tanker for Ampol and, as a result of the Government's action, that company will pay only 661 of the actual price.


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







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