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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - At the same time, tensions within the conferences had raised the probability of a breakaway by some European operators. Such developments could not have done other than bring about a sharp reduction in freight charges.

The Government's decision to ally itself with the conferences effectively aborted all this great promise. It strengthened conference solidarity and weakened the impetus to independent operations. I predicted on 23rd April 1969: 'in these circumstances there will be no breakaway, no increase in competition and no reduction in freights'. I predicted: 'the Government's actions will bring about a result directly opposed to its professed objectives'. Where is the Government spokesman who will now stand up and say that I was wrong? The Government's promises for containerisation have proved to be a deception. The shipping provisions of its Trade Practices Act are a delusion and its failure to protect the interests of Australian exporters is a disgrace. The Deputy Prime Minister admitted this to me in answer to a question on 24th September when he said that the Trade Practices Act gives no authority to intervene or stipulate. Now, as always, Labor's view is that Australian interests will be best served if Australian ships carry not the whole of her trade but half of it, her customers and suppliers carrying the other half. There have been times when the Minister for Trade and Industry in his own muddled manner appears to share this goal. On 22nd February 1967 he told the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) that negotiations on the matter with Japanese interests had been in hand certainly longer than 6 months and perhaps 12 months. He warned the honourable member, however, that these negotiations were not likely to be brought to a conclusion very quickly.

Will the Minister now say whether these matters have been brought to finality? Will he indicate how much more satisfactory the situation would now be if Senator Spooner bad not allowed contracts to be written on an f.o.b. basis instead of, as would have been more appropriate and advantageous for the Australian interest, on the basis of ci.f.? Can he point to one single redeeming feature in the whole sorry mess of Government shipping policy? A Labor government would not conduct its negotiations on behalf of Australian exporters from inside the pockets of the conference shipping lines. Labor will strengthen where necessary, and where necessary unhesitatingly invoke, the shipping provisions of the Trade Practices Act to stabilise freight rates. It will encourage exporters to look beyond the conference lines whenever conference enterprise is unable or unwilling to meet the legitimate needs of export economy. In shipping as in so many other matters, Australian primary producers turn increasingly to Labor and away from their self-styled spokesmen in the Country Party for arrangements which are equitable, economic and efficient.

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