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Thursday, 25 September 1958


Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- The Parliament yesterday received the report of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, trading under the name of the Australian National Line. That report shows that the line made a profit in 1957-58 of about £1,250,000. That may sound commendable, but what worries me, and probably honorable members from other States that use shipping, is that the chairman of the line, Captain Williams, said in the report -

It is true that the charters of two overseas bulk carriers, which were extended to cope with the " wheat lift " some months ago, will terminate before the end of the calendar year, nevertheless, present forecasting suggests a surplus of some 80,000 tons of shipping to coastal requirements.

It is on that point that I wish to speak. The Opposition has from the outset objected to this national shipping line because it is not competitive with other shipping companies. It is doing a good job within the charter Laid down by this Government, but it is not sufficient to cope with the demand for lower freights on the Australian coast and for more intensive competition between the shipping companies.

There are 46 ships in the Australian National Line, totalling 288,044 tons. It is a very substantial line in numbers of ships. As an indication of the line's lack of interest in competition or in reducing freights, last year the chairman said that the line would enter the Ceylon, India, and Eastern trade. The reason he gave was that the line could cash in on the high freights operating. That proved, as I said at the time, that the line is not designed to compete with private enterprise. It is only designed to be an adjunct to private enterprise. Tasmania, as an island State that depends for 95 per cent, of its inward and outward trade on shipping, has been affected by this set-up within the Australian National Line so-called.

I want to point out - I have not time to go into the matter in great detail - that because we have had no regular shipping from Tasmania to the mainland, in our potato trade - and I apologize for again raising the subject of potatoes - a very critical matter has come to the fore" as a result of this report. We have practically lost our trade to Newcastle through lack of ships. The Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Limited promised to make shipping available regularly to transport goods from Tasmania to Newcastle, but it has not carried out its promise. We have had the experience of ships carrying our potatoes to Sydney where they have been transferred to another ship and then sent on to Newcastle. That is not direct shipping. I quote the case of " Wanaka " which went on to Newcastle after being worked in Sydney for about a week. Because the transport of potatoes by sea has been so slow in the past, produce merchants in Newcastle have telephoned their agents in Melbourne and have had potatoes delivered in Newcastle by rail on the following Wednesday. That is the kind of competition we have to face.

Another disadvantage in loading potatoes on ships calling at Sydney is that it restricts the already small space available to us for Sydney cargoes. Altogether, the system is most unsatisfactory. Exporters in Tasmania like the Edgell company, which exports canned vegetables of all kinds, and the cement interests which are exporting an increasing amount of cement to Melbourne on small ships, have been very well looked after, but the farmers are just being ignored. We are faced with the prospect of having the equivalent of 40,000 bags of potatoes left in the ground, not because the price is low, which it is, but because we cannot get adequate shipping at the right time.

It is ridiculous and ironical for the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission to state in its report for 1958 that 80,000 tons of shipping will be lying idle while the farmers in Tasmania cannot get ships at regular intervals to move their potatoes. If the Australian National Line lived up to its name, the Government would see that ships ran from Tasmania to the mainland whenever they were required. At the moment nothing of the kind is happening and Tasmania has been let down very badly indeed.

The merchants' association in Tasmania is in league with the traffic committee in Melbourne and has no difficulty in getting space for the cargoes of its members, but farmers who are not members of the association have to take what is left after the requirements of the others have been satisfied. There is no freedom in the handling of potatoes from Tasmania to the mainland at present. The local manager of the Australian National Line allots the space. The merchants get the bulk of it and others have to take what is left. The big exporters have been looked after very well by the shipping agents. I shall tell the House the reason for that. About two years ago, a group of men in Tasmania tried to establish an independent shipping line of three ships. They circularized people throughout the island in an attempt to raise capital of approximately £50,000 to enable them to establish the line, but they were unable to obtain the full amount. They intended to run ships from Tasmania to the mainland, catering mainly for the farmers. The private shipping companies were worried about competition from the new line and they approached the large exporters and said, " We will give you the space you require. We will look after you. We do not want you to have anything to do with this new shipping line." The big shippers accepted the advances that were made to them, and are now getting an excellent deal while the farmers and potato-growers are in a very sad plight indeed.

How ironical it is that when the commission which operates the national line admits that 80,000 tons of shipping will be looking for cargo, Tasmanian farmers are unable to get ships to transport their potatoes to the mainland. The institution of a regular shipping service from Tasmania to the mainland is the only solution to the problem of the growers, but that is not available. One week 8,000 bags of potatoes may be moved to Sydney; the next week there may be 50,000 bags moved; and the week after that only 10,000 bags. The availability of shipping is completely unpredictable. We need the small E-class ships, five of which we built in the 1940's. If those ships were available to us, we would have regular weekly transport to the Sydney market for our potatoes. But while we have a national line that is not operating in the interests of the people of Australia, we will never reach that happy position. The sole aim of the line seems to be to make profits. In the last financial year the Australian National Line earned a profit of £1,250,000. The five ships to which I referred, each of 584 tons, were "Edenhope", "Elmore", "Enfield", "Eugowra" and "Euroa".







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