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Thursday, 22 October 1970

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - I intend to speak principally about overseas shipping, but I have to admit immediately that I know very little about the subject - certainly not enough to speak critically or eloquently, although I have noticed often that ignorance does not inhibit eloquence in this place. But I am anxious about the overseas shipping position, particularly as it affects wool. I should like to congratulate the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) who has made a typically thoughtful, constructive speech on this subject. He concentrated on wool. I intend to concentrate on the method of shipping wool and other cargoes, but particularly wool.

As wool growers we used to carry Australia on our backs. I should like everybody to know - and I am certain that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) would be acutely aware of this - that Australia has just about ridden us into the ground. As wool growers we have to take a much more critical view of our method of shipping. I will not be critical. I will just ask a series of simple questions, and I should hope that towards the end of this debate the Minister will be able to answer some of these questions. The first thing 1 want to know is: Why must we carry wool under the Conference system? The honourable member for Corangamite made a plea for consideration of the c.i.f. method of shipping. In the past the plea was for regularity and predictability of a shipping programme. That was important, and I guess it is still fairly important.

I know it has been stated - I am certain it is true, and the honourable member for Corangamite has brought it out again - that wool absorbed a lot of the excess costs incurred in shipping other Australian rural products, and it still does. But what I want to know now is: In our reduced circumstances, why do we have to continue the present Conference method of shipping our wool? Is it worth it? I do not know whether it is. 1 know that in the past it was thought to be worth it, but I am beginning to question whether it is worth it now. It is very difficult to get answers to these technical questions, and 1 would understand it if the Minister finds it difficult to provide figures in his answer. But one thing that is worrying the Australian wool grower to a great extent is: Why do we persist with the present Conference method of shipping?

The second question is: If we continue the Conference method, why can we not make the trade practices legislation effective against restrictive practices that are inherent in the Conference system? On page 9 of the report of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Sir John Williams has made this point crystal clear. I should like to pay a sincere, if passing, tribute to Sir John Williams, who is a remarkable person. 1 think that he is one of Australia's greatest sons, and I listen with a great deal of respect to what he has to say. I will not refer to what he said about Conferences because it has been quoted several times in this debate. There certainly do appear to be practices in the Conference system which appear to me to be against the public interest.

The second question then I should like the Minister to answer is: Why can we not put enough teeth into the trade practices legislation so that it can at least nip at the heels of the Conference system and get it into line? It is not good enough to say that you cannot work the Conference system without restriction. Indeed, the Americans have demonstrated this.

The third question is: In all the discussion about the container system in the last few days, why has not a comparison been made between the container method of shipping and the roll-on roll-off method or indeed the unit load method? No-one has raised that point. No-one has argued that in the long term container shipping is better than conventional shipping. But what is becoming to me at least a worrying question is why we are not comparing the rollon roll-off or unit load system with the container system. When Sir John Williams was comparing the roll-on roll-off method with the cellular or container system he said:

As ii has turned out, the 'roll-on roll-ofT system backed by efficient shore facilities has by common consent been able to give better service and faster delivery to its clients.

He was comparing it with the container system. None of us is arguing about whether containers are better in the long term than conventional shipping. A lot of us are very concerned, though, to know why there has not been any more discussion about a comparison between containers and the roll-on roll-off system.

The fourth question 1 ask is: Why have we gone into the United Kingdom trade with only a container vessel? The honourable member for Corangamite has brought out with crystal clarity the particular problem of containerising wool. Obviously wool is in its own container. It always seems to me to be wasteful to jam it into another container. Why did we go into the UK trade with only a cellular vessel? The argument for going in was that we would have a window on shipping costs. It seems a queer kind of window if one sees only one section of the trade. The problem is that the window gets fugged up a bit when one realises that the Australian National Line vessel is not responsible for marshalling its cargo, nor is it responsible for the operation of the terminal. This window, which is the justification for having this present ship, I can understand, but I would like to see through it a bit more clearly. I would like to be able to compare the costs of the other methods of shipping with those of the container system. It is impossible for me as a wool grower to believe that it pays to jam wool which is already in its own jute container into a steel container.

These are matters about which I am not being critical; I would like the Minister to realise this. It is just that there is a feeling of anxiety among wool growers in particular. I think it would help us all if the Minister could answer these questions if he can. I am not suggesting that he could answer all the questions in time. I know he could in time. But whether he can answer the questions raised in this debate off the cuff I do not know. I repeat that there is an overwhelming uneasiness in the wool growing sector of the community. Whether it is just wisdom that comes with hindsight I do not know. It is easy to be wise after the event and so I am not being critical. T just want reassurance from the Minister that he is certain that the present methods adopted by the Government to get this window into the shipping system is the right method to examine our costs and challenge the continuous rise in freight charges.

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