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Tuesday, 19 March 1968


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! I suggest that the honourable member withdraw the remark.


Mr CURTIN - I withdraw, Sir, in deference to you. The average man on the land is hoodwinked by the Minister's pretending to be their champion while he is actually just the opposite. As the records will show, all he is concerned about is the exploiters of the man on the land, the big city business interests and the overseas shipping combine which increases its freight charges at will, while he, a senior Minister, remains silent.

Of course, we have in the Government ranks the Minister for Air (Mr Freeth), who was previously Minister for Shipping and Transport. After a long period of silence on this question he reported to Cabinet the result of negotiations with the Japanese Government for the establishment of a Japanese Australian overseas shipping company, which led to the amazing decision that two cargo vessels be built, one. to be manned by an Australian crew and one to be manned by a Japanese crew. More remarkable still is the fact that that Minister agreed that both vessels be built in Japanese shipyards. Advance Australia fair! This caused consternation, of course, amongst the members of the various shipbuilding and engineering unions and it clearly shows a lack of interest by this Government in shipbuilding generally. An overseas shipping line is vital to all Australians who are interested in the future development of our country as a nation. We need our own overseas shipping line to reduce crushing freight burdens, to increase cheques to farmers and other exporters, to open vital new markets for Australian produce and to provide extensive employment in shipbuilding, metal industries marine industries and related occupations.

Need one ask why Australia needs an overseas shipping line? Australia is an island continent with 12,000 miles of coastline, many rivers and bays and beautiful harbours with deep anchorages. It is situated in the southern hemisphere, of which area 90% is ocean, and it depends mainly on markets in the northern hemisphere, 50% of the area of which is land and which has a resultant larger population. Australia ranks in the top eight exporting nations. It is not generally known that Australia has an annual export income of more than $l,000m, and that she pays approximately 25% of that to foreign shipping companies and insurance companies.

We have our own Australian National Line of over forty ships. But these are restricted, by this anti-Labor Government, to the least profitable cargoes and almost entirely to the coastal, shipping trade. Indonesia, a so called backward nation which is actually receiving monetary aid from Australia, is now developing its own overseas fleet. Switzerland, which has no coastline, has a large fleet of vessels. Norway, with a population of 3 million, has a vast fleet, as has Sweden. New Zealand, with a population of a little over 2 million, has more than twenty-five overseas ships manned by New Zealand seamen. Australian seamen walk the streets in search of work. This is the price that Australia pays for being the only country that has not a suitable ship trading overseas. I must remark here that India refused to submit to the demands of foreign interests; so she now has her own fleet. The situation makes one wonder what evil influence has control of the Australian Government and prevents it from establishing our own overseas shipping line.

I wonder whether it is generally known that after World War I we had a fleet of over sixty vessels sailing overseas. It kept freight charges down to a reasonable level and still showed a profit in its own right. Many of the ships were built here. The Fordsdale' and 'Ferndale', refrigerated ships of 12,000 tons, were fine examples of the Australian shipbuilders art. This fleet of ships of the Commonwealth Government Line of steamers was so successful in keeping freights down that extreme pressure was applied by foreign interests on a gentleman - and I hope you will pardon my pun, Mr Speaker - the Prime Minister of the day, then Mr Stanley Bruce, who belonged to a party that was a forerunner of the Liberal Party of Australia. He betrayed the people of Australia and sold the Commonwealth Line to its rivals, the members of the foreign shipping combine, at a small fraction of its value. At that time a prominent his- torian. referring to ibis sellout, stated that intelligent creatures such as the kangaroo and the emu should be replaced on our coat of arms by a shorn sheep. The reward that was received by the Nationalist Party Prime Minister for his betrayal of the Australian nation by the disposal of this valuable asset was his elevation to the House of Lords. From then on he was known by the doubtful title, Lord Bruce.

Shipbuilding in Australia then went into decline and did not revive again until World War II when, because of the loss of shipping due to enemy action, we found it necessary to build our own ships, starting from scratch, with a shortage of skilled labour and materials and, of course, saddled with cost-plus racketeering. We built 1 6 merchant ships, 3 destroyers, 1 1 frigates, 60 corvettes, 2 boom defence vessels and I floating dock. Sixteen other ships of various designs have been built since or are being built as replacements for the coastal fleet. During the war years 11,987 ships, totalling 51 million tons, were repaired or overhauled in Australia. All this has been achieved despite the comparatively small number of men engaged in our shipbuilding industry. We employ 15,700 men compared with 243,100 in the United States of America, 228,000 in Britain, 140,000 in Japan, 94,000 in Germany, 57,000 in Holland and 55,000 in France.

The State Dockyard at Newcastle in New South Wales is an example of how modern ships can be built in Australia. It has produced ships like the 'Bass Trader' and the Princess of Tasmania', both of which were completed well ahead of schedule. It is well known that this Dockyard owes its continued existence to public agitation. Now, however, we see signs, under a Libera] Government, that the industry is dying. An existing shipyard at Maryborough in Queensland is capable of building ships of up to 2,000 tons. One at Brisbane can build ships of up to 12,000 tons. One at Newcastle can build ships of up to 6,000 tons. Another at Sydney can build ships of up to 30,000 tons. One at Williamstown in Victoria can build ships of up to 12,000 tons. Another at Whyalla in South Australia is capable of constructing ships of up to 20,000 tons. One at Adelaide can build ships of up to 1,000 tons. These shipyards should be brought into full production and should be made increasingly efficient.

Where necessary, modern and efficiently run yards should be built by the Commonwealth Government.

But what do we find? We find that even Poland, which has been long accustomed to the souds of guns and marching armies, is getting used to a newer and happier sound - the tinkle of champagne bottles crashing against the bows of new ships, usually follower by a lusty shout in praise of Polish shipbuilding. This seems unreal in a country that was landlocked for more than a century and whose meagre Nazi controlled shipbuilding industry was turned to rubble by Allied bombing during World War If. But since the post-war boundary settlements, when Poland's vengeful Communist leaders snatched a large chunk of German territory on the Baltic, the nation's shipbuilding has boomed. Now only Japan, Sweden and West Germany lead Poland in the export of ocean going vessels. Polish built ships fly the flags of Britain, France, Norway, Brazil and China.

Only recently it was reported that a sleek 23,000 ton bulk carrier was delivered to Poland's largest customer, the Soviet Union. Poland can look back on her biggest shipbuilding year ever. No fewer than sixtytwo ships, totalling 480,000 tons, were com.pleted at three major Polish yards. Order backlogs to 1970 total 1.3m. tons, which is more than the annual production of 945,000 tons from the United States and British yards combined. Since 1947, when the yard at Gdansk - formerly Danzig - launched its first post-war ship, Poland has turned out 851 vessels, including 220 merchant ships for itself. Poland has earned a solid reputation for innovation. It pioneered European production of welded steel vessels instead of rivetted vessels and it designed and built 13-000-ton factory fishing ships equipped with processing and refrigerating facilities, 100-seat movie theatres and hospitals. To speed production at the big Gdyina yard, fully automated Japanese style assembly techniques are used and fore and aft sections are constructed separately and then joined. An enthusiastic official of United Polish Shipyards, the State holding company that runs the industry, is reported as having said:

Because we have not been steeped in tradition, we have been ready to try anything new.

The building thrust has given rise to hundreds of support industries and fully 90% of ship parts are made in Poland. Polish shipbuilders are proud of their comeback from wartime destruction and they have no intention of letting up. There is also talk of building supply tankers and additional container ships, although Polish yards are not yet geared for such challenges. Mr Speaker, I ask again of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton): What does his Government propose to do towards the inauguration of a Commonwealth overseas shipping line?

On looking around the House one observes the number of Liberal-Country Party members, approximately eighty in all, who were given great publicity at a period prior to the last election as men of high academic and intellectual standard and one wonders why it was necessary, on the death of the late Prime Minister, for the Liberal Party to be forced to consider an aspirant from the other place who, on his selection, which could not have been due to his ability ant! administrative powers, and 1 quote Sir Robert Menzies: . . quickly divested himself of his Senate robes and sought election to the House of Representatives, an election in which he was successful.

The new Prime Minister voiced his support for the general development of the Australian nation. Could I suggest to him that the basis of such development relies on the quick, cheap transport of our products to all markets of the world? Could I also humbly suggest that it is obviously most essential that a Commonwealth shipping line be constructed without delay? This is most essential to our development. Otherwise the members on this side of the House who represent the great Australian Labor Party may see the pathetic figure of our Prime Minister - despite his utterances, which are given full weight in the daily Press in an effort to build up a very ordinary Prime Minister into a public figure - crushed under the weighty influence of the powerful overseas shipping conferences, which no doubt will put him in bis place.

My information indicates that the Federal Government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, and the New South Wales Government, under the leadership of the very negative Premier, Rob Askin, have already instructed the New South Wales Maritime Services Board to make a general survey of Botany Bay for the purpose of a secondary harbour in which shipping combines will be generously assisted at the expense of the Australian taxpayer and the inconvenience of residents of the La Perouse-Yarra Bay area in my electorate of Kingsford-Smith. The New South Wales Government suggested to the Commonwealth Government that it should seriously consider the building of a substantial breakwafer at La Perouse with the ultimate intention of using the foreshores of Botany Bay adjacent to the water frontage of the Australian Paper Mills, Bunnerong Power Station, Yarra Bay and Frenchman's Bay for wharves, factories and other industrial development purposes. A committee known as the Botany Bay Port Development Committee was set up. The Chairman of that Committee was the Honourable A. D. Bridges, MLC, who is not an elected member of Parliament but' an appointed member of the Upper House. The proposed development is causing great concern to the inhabitants of the area that I have mentioned as it is rumoured that the work proposed by this anti-Labor State Government will encroach along the foreshores and take full advantage of the protection offered by the breakwater.

The State Government also favours the Banksmeadow site which was proposed by the Committee, lt is proposed there to dredge the Bay as a deep harbour and construct 3 miles of wharves for a container port, lt is also proposed to construct a huge breakwater system at the heads of Botany Bay. The cost of such a scheme is conservatively estimated at $90m. It appears that Wallingford Laboratories, a top United Kingdom hydraulics firm, was preparing a report on this proposal. The provisional proposal was to reclaim 2,000 acres of Botany Bay for the port from the north-south airport runway extension to Bare Island at La Perouse. A wharf 3 miles long would be established on this frontage and a wool market would be established behind the wharves. This would cut down the handling of wool from 47 to 6 operations.

It is interesting to note that this site was selected for its proximity to railway transport and the inner city area of Sydney. It is also interesting to note that some time ago the Maritime Services Board commissioned a team of overseas experts, Sir Alexander Gibb and Associates, to report on the potential of Botany Bay for port development. That firm reported that it favoured the Banksmeadow site. In view of the proposed development of this second seaport close to Sydney, I think that it would be appropriate and good organisation for the Government, under this socalled dynamic leader, to begin the construction of ships for an overseas line which could be ready to operate by the time the Botany Bay facilities were established. Perhaps the Government proposes to continue supporting the unbreakable grip that the overseas shipping conferences have and so leave the Australian manufacturer and farmers at the mercy of this combine, which will be able in the foreseeable future to dictate economic policy in regard to world trade. I challenge the Prime Minister to carry out his proposals for the development of Australia generally by the construction of an overseas shipping line.

Mr TURNER(Bradfield) [9.481- At present we are engaged in what is known as the Address-in-Reply debate. It is a debate on a motion for the adoption of a reply to the Speech made by the GovernorGeneral last week - a Speech which is in fact the programme of the Government led by a new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). Tonight we have had an instructive example of what such a debate can be. A long speech was read by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlarn) in which he sought to extract every ounce of political capital that he could from every section of the Australian people. He did it very well. It is part of the principal function of this Parliament to provide a platform for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to conduct a continuous election campaign, having regard to the next election. Besides this, other members of this House leap onto their various hobby horses and gallop off in all directions.

The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Curtin) has had something to say about the building of ships in Australia for use in overseas trade. The building of such ships in Australia would be very expensive - much more expensive than to build them in other places. Also, the manning of these ships by Australian crews would mean not only more expense but more uncertainty because Australian sailors are not renowned for being on the job at all times. Nevertheless, we should save some exchange and we should break the monopoly of the overseas shipping lines. These things are worthy to be balanced. I do not think that the honourable member has sought to balance them at all. It may well be that the new Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) will look at these matters. When the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith talked about the old class war and all those things, it brought hack an echo of 30 years ago in the State Parliament of New South Wales. After all, the Labor Party docs live a long way back in the past. I pass this by.

Whether or not this House or the people outside know it or not, the fact is that Australia faces a totally new situation and a new era. This is the subject to which I propose to devote my attention tonight in order to put matters a little in perspective. Whether or not Australia knows it. I believe this is a year of challenge demanding decisions by the Government of greater importance than any that have been made for many vors. This is a climactic year in tl:e history of the Australian people if I am not mistaken. I could be quite wrong. It could be business as usual. Nothing in particular may be happening at this point of time. I do not. know. But this is my assessment of the situation.

Dramatic events at home and abroad have conspired to make it so. First, we had the tragic death of our former Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), a man who '~ad brought Australia into a relationship with South East Asia and the United States of America in a way that it had never been so brought before - a man whose death consummated the great achievement of his short life as Prime Minister. Secondly we have had the imminent total withdrawal of the British from east of Surz. Kipling, the poet laureate, you may say. of the Empire, foresaw this situation:

Far-called our navies melt away;

On dune, and headland sinks the fire:

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday ls one with Nineveh and Tyre!

We have witnessed nothing less than the fall of an empire in our part of the world - something that greatly concerns us. Generations of dedicated British men have brought peace and justice to peoples bordering on all the seven seas and the oceans of the world but that is gone and finished. We have to adapt ourselves to a new situation and we have not even time to weep.

Thirdly, our American allies are hard pressed in Vietnam. The mounting fury of the battle for Vietnam and for much else is coming to a climax and we are on the horns of a dilemma between devastation and defeat. Do we devastate the countryside; or do we accept defeat? Is there a third course in between? Fourthly, we are faced with a world currency crisis concerning gold, sterling and the dollar. This casts a chill shadow over international trade and the investment of funds from across the ocean. In general terms this could mean a reduction in international trade. This may not be but it could be. These four matters represent the situation in which we stand, whether or not we know it, whether or not we care at this moment. This is the situation that faces this Parliament and this people. Perhaps I am wrong in supposing this is a climactic year but this is my view. Where do we stand? We stand, I believe, on a watershed in our affairs.

We are like stout Cortez when he and all his men gazed on the Pacific 'with a wild surmise, silent on a peak in Darien' - the old familiar Atlantic that he knew behind him, standing on a watershed looking out at the Pacific Ocean - the unknown. What does all this portend? We stand on a watershed, as Cortez stood. Behind us is colonialism. Whether we like it or not, we have been a colony in everything but name. Whether or not we like it,, we now must be a nation in reality. The old ocean that we know is behind us and the new one that we do not know is in front - the colonial past and the national future.

What are the stigmata of colonialism in reality? Now we have to make our own alliances. Once we had an alliance with Britain that needed no making. We have to consider our own defences. Once we had the bastion of Singapore and we were protected by the British Navy. This is no more. Once our trade was all with the United Kingdom to all intent and purposes. It was ready made. It is no longer so. Our capital came from the United Kingdom. We did not have to go round the world looking for it; we did not even have to accumulate it ourselves. The skills that came with capital and the skills that were learned when people went abroad to be educated all came from the United Kingdom. This is finished. Colonialism has finished. The old familiar ocean is done; we face a new world. We face it with a new leader and a new future. I am glad the new leader is Australian to the fingertips, not British to the boot heels because we need a national leader in these times as we go into a national future. His responsibility is an awesome one. He deserves understanding, support and loyalty from us and from the nation. His responsibility is great and he is leading us as a nation into an unknown future. He faces a destiny for himself and the nation as well and he may succeed or fail. This may lead to triumph or disaster for him and for us.

The task is what? It is to promote the security and progress of this minuscule European community on the fringe of an Asia inhabited by two-thirds of the human race seething with the discontents of the past, poverty and disease and the rest, striving after the hopes of the future, seething with the revolution in rising expectations, distraught by contending political ideologies, frustrated by social and material obstacles, handicapped by creaking administrative customs and inefficiency - indeed, a witches brew if ever there was one. What are the requirements? Qualities, I suggest, both of character and intellect in our leaders, in ourselves and in the Australian people. The qualities of courage and steadfastness - just names maybe - but lack of these has broken empires and nations before now - courage and steadfastness. Skill and efficiency are qualities of the intellect that we need as well. All these of the highest order are what the nation needs now - not fiddling policies about sewers. Sewers are important but these other things are more important at this time than sewers. What is the end? What is the goal? What is the task? Nothing more, nothing less, than the survival of this new nation. We dare not fail. We have to confront our problems - problems which for so long have been swept under the carpet. I have not the time in the brief period allotted to me to give, nor would the House wish to know from me, in detail what these problems are and what solutions I suggest. Who am I to suggest solutions? But I will. We have a little time. First of all I take the frame of Parliament itself, and look at it very briefly. Let us compare it with two vital features of the American system of government. The President of the United States of America can choose whom he will to be his Ministers. In Australia the Prime Minister can choose only those who are members of Parliament. Here the Government can be no better than the members of Parliament. Let this sink in as it is vital. The second aspect of the American situation is that Congress has independent powers. There are checks and balances and a division of powers under the American system and, therefore, Congress is vigorous and dynamic.

For those who live under the Westminster system, so called, the party that supports the Government tends to be a rubber stamp. Whether it is a party whose political ideas are similar to ours or a party with opposing ideas does not matter; I am talking about systems. In our system the opposition party, as I said at the outset, simply continues an election campaign from one election to the next, extracting the last ounce of political capital from every issue but otherwise unconcerned with what may be a solution to the problems which face the nation. What are the disabilities in Australia? First of all there is the image of the member of Parliament and remember that the Government can be no better than members of Parliament because Ministers have to be drawn from the Parliament. I suggest that by reason of our history, by reason of our colonial past, the image of a member of Parliament - confused, incidentally, always with the image of the State member of Parliament, and, indeed of the contemporary State Parliament - is an image of roads and bridges, an image of persons concerned with internal domestic matters of development. Let me contrast the situation in the United Kingdom for the sake of making the point. Britain has gone through many crises from the days of Cromwell tq the days of Churchill.


Mr Peters - Boadicea.







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