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Monday, 19 October 1970

Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the statement which has been presented by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) is a very sketchy document of the happenings in the containerisation industry over the last 12 months. I did expect that the Minister would have introduced something more detailed, given us some more facts and would have dealt in considerable detail with matters such as that to which he refers on the third page of his printed statement. The Minister states:

So far as the advantage to Australia of having a window into container costs by virtue of Australian National Line participation, I am equally confident that this will justify itself.

On the facts contained in this statement certainly no information is being given to this House by the right honourable gentleman which would indicate that the Australian National Line has obtained any information, has any knowledge or that the Government proposes to make available to us any details of what has happened in the container consortium that is operating between Australia and Europe at the prosen! time.

When the Government decided - the Opposition supported the proposal - that we should acquire a container ship and that we should move into this consortium, we were hopeful and confident that the Government would use its position to bring forward some positive information to this Parliament. We were hopeful that, by this time, the Government would be talcing even stronger steps to enlarge its participation in the overseas container industry. Whilst T have my own feelings on this matter, I think that there are considerable reasons to believe that it can assist the Australian export and import industry, particularly our exports. So, I feel that the Government should be doing something about this matter.

I am very disappointed to read that all we can get out of the Minister is this sketchy reference to what has brought about the increased freight charges. The thing that the Minister has gone to bat on is the increase in wages, including the increase in seamen's wages, and the increase in stevedoring costs. I have a few figures here which indicate to me that there has not been this huge increase in operating costs as far as wages and the like are concerned. In the limited time that is available to me, I wish to make one reference to waterside workers. The general duty employee in a container terminal in December 1968 received $58.80 per week. That was his flat rate wage. In November 1969, it was increased to $60.60. On 5th May 1970, his wage increased to $63.60. These increases do not represent to me any major or substantial increase in wages for waterside workers. The increase over that period is $4.80 per week or approximately 8 per cent.

So, I would like the Minister to give as a little more information as to the real position concerning waterside workers. I say this particularly taking into consideration that in the Sydney terminal alone in the last 12 months approximately 1 million tons of cargo in containers were put through by 168 men. If this work had been handled by the conventional method of shipping, approximately 750 to 850 men would have been required. Whilst there may have been a very minute increase in their wages, there certainly has been a very substantial turnover in tonnage per employee on the waterfront when 168 men can handle 1 million tons by the containerisation method when, under the old method, 750 to 850 men were required to handle a similar amount. These are some of the facts that have to be taken into consideration.

The Minister referred to seamen's wages. All I can say is that on 5th March the salary of an Australian seaman was $5,450 per annum and that included practically everything. On 7th July 1969 a maritime industry allowance of $6 a week v. as granted. This was a flat rate increase and not subject to overtime. On 23rd December 1969 as a result of the national wage case salaries were increased to $5,620 plus the $6 a week maritime industry allowance. On 11th August 1970 salaries were increased to $6,660. When one takes into consideration the fact that a ship of the type of the 'Australian Endeavour' carries about 13 seamen, it will be apparent that wage increases are not having the effect on freight costs which the Minister would have us believe. Once again it is the old story of wages disputes, and the activities of seamen and wharfies bringing about these increases. But when we examine the rates of pay and their effects, I think the Minister has to look somewhere else for his explanation. When we compare the Australian Endeavour', a ship of some 25,000 gross tons and 13 men, with a small ship like the 'Kabbarli', a cargo ship of 2,983 gross tons and 13 to 14 seamen which operates on the west coast, it can be seen that there is quite a substantial difference in the matter of wages.

At one time the wages of seamen and wharfies did have an important bearing on the cost of handling cargo. But today with mechanisation and huge cranes handling the containers the Minister has to look somewhere else for his reason. I suggest there is somewhere else to look. In the Rockdale report tabled in England in May this year attention was drawn to the fact that shipping heads were to blame for massive losses and that management was holding back the shipping industry. The report alleged that there was bad management in the British shipping industry. The industry had to do something about improving its efficiency and the economies which were available for it to accept. At this point attention was drawn to the fact that the industry had not accepted these opportunities and that bad management was the real cause of loss of profitability in the industry in the United Kingdom. Bearing that in mind, 8 of the 9 ships in this consortium are owned by British interest. This is whe>e we have the overflow and it is acting against the Australian exporter. It is one reason why we find today that freight charges are being increased. The Minister referred to wages and the Tilbury dispute. My understanding of the Tilbury dispute is that a 10 per cent surcharge was added because of the dispute. So the cost of that dispute has been paid for and the dispute is not in existence at the moment. I assume that these increased freight charges are to cover expected increases in costs. The dispute is over; Tilbury is being used. 1 would ask the Minister to be a little consistent. We are aware that the Minister for Trade and Industry and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) are at variance on this subject; there is no unanimity.

The Minister for Shipping and Transport has stated that no justification exists for increases in freights. He made this statement at a Country Party conference in Griffith in June this year. In July he made another very strong and positive statement that the provisions of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act would be invoked against the ship owners. The legislation has been found to be useless as far as the shipping freights are concerned. It is time the Government did something positive about freights and about the managerial policies necessary to bring this industry up to the desired level. As far as Sydney is concerned, my information is that the White Bay terminal is a complete shermozzle as far as the 5-container stack theory is concerned. It is not working and is not doing what was expected of it. Containers are lying there for days on end waiting to be shifted. Even the people associated with it are complaining, as will be seen from today's 'Australian'. Most of the Minister's speech was written last Friday. It had to be rewritten this morning. That is why the statement was presented so late this after- noon. The report in today's 'Australian' said:

The managing director of Seatainer Terminals Ltd, Mr A. C. Boehme, made a strong attack at the weekend on 'ill-considered criticisms' of containerisation which he said were both inaccurate and incorrect.

He went on to say that shippers were leaving their containers at the terminals too long and container terminals were being used as depots. He said that containers would have to be cleared at a much faster rate. My attention has been drawn to the fact that documentation is not keeping pace with containers. Containers are arriving long before the documentation and the result is that containers are lying at the terminals waiting to go through customs. All this is costing money. I do not think Australian exporters should be required to carry this cost. If the shipping industry is inefficient it should be forced to carry the cost of these inefficiences. The Minister as the brain child of the Australian Government's participation in the overseas container consortium should accept some of the responsibility. The responsibility really lies at his door. 1 call on him to do something practical about the problem instead of trying, as is normally done on the Government side, to blame the seamen, the wharfies and high wages.

There are other things in this statement which need clarification by the Government. One matter that should be dealt with is the effect of containerisation on Australian ports. We have 3 terminal ports in Australia - Melbourne, Fremantle and Sydney. We have 3 feeder ports - Adelaide, Newcastle and Brisbane. Even in the feeder ports there is considerable trouble with regard to the maintaining of containers, and the removal of cargoes, both imports and exports. I know of the huge problem created in Newcastle because of the introduction of containers and the failure of this Government to do something practical and positive. I would like the Minister to give us the facts about what the Government is doing to overcome the problem in the feeder ports and outports of Australia. My colleague the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) will, I hope, have something to say about it as far as Queensland outports are concerned. Labor members from Tasmania have had plenty to say about the problems facing

Tasmania and its trade. Just because a container ship does not visit a particular port and the containers are transported by rail or feeder ship to the terminal port, that is not the end of the matter. It may be the beginning of the problems associated with that port. Previously conventional ships called at these outports to pick up, for example, wool, frozen meat and other goods, but they did not come only to pick up those cargoes. They came to pick up all the conventional cargo that went through that port. In the case of Newcastle they came to pick up wool as well as mineral sands and the general cargo that was necessary to be taken from Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and the north west areas, whether it be to Europe, Japan or the United States. At the moment the situation with regard to the United States is all right. That is something that has to be worked out by the Government between now and the introduction of containers on the Australian-United States run.

The same can be said of Tasmanian ports. As I said a moment ago, Tasmanian members have been most critical of the failure of the Government to do something positive about this. We have seen costs loaded on costs. Tasmania has to ship its commodities to Melbourne and pay freight on them, which is not the case with other ports such as the feeder ports I mentioned earlier. At least they pay the difference between what it costs now and what it cost previously to ship from the place of manufacture to the ports. This is placing a very substantia] burden on exporters of beef through Queensland ports. All we can get out of the Minister are a number of visits and statements about what will happen but no practical information as to the effect on freights as far as these ports are concerned. These are the things which are missing from his statement. They are the sorts of things which I had hoped would be included in the statement on containerisation. It is a statement which has obviously been dragged out of the Minister as a result of questions asked last Friday morning by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) and myself. The Minister thought that he could get out of it. I hope that this window in this conference will be of some benefit to Australia and not a means of covering up as the

Minister has used it. I wish to move an amendment to the motion that the House take note of the paper. I move:

That the following words be added to the motion: but deplores the failure of the Government to make available to it ali relevant information on the increases in overseas freights and the future of Australian ports.'

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