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Thursday, 22 October 1970

Mr FOSTER (Sturt) - 1 preface my remarks in this debate by saying that on a previous occasion during the first sessional period of this Parliament, in a debate on the wool industry, I spent some time talking about what was occurring in the transport field, mainly in shipping. On that occasion I said - I see no reason why I should not repeat it - that shipowners commenced operations in this country some hundreds of years ago as virtually pirates and that they remained pirates against the woolgrowers and the people generally. I say that the Government of the day in 1963, in accepting recommendations from Sir Alan Westerman, has tied itself to a system which is costly and, in many respects, unnecessary.

Before proceeding further with that matter, in view of the fact that we have the report of the Australian National Line before us at the moment - it has been the subject of many of the contributions in the debate - .1 want to say that the ANL has more than its share of difficulties in the shipping industry because agency fees have gone up from practically nothing in the last financial year to in excess of 334-m. I merely mention that figure to indicate the effect upon the ANL because it do:s not have its own agencies and stevedoring companies in the various ports, and as a result is at the mercy of the pirates, the stevedoring companies and the establishments within the industry. Because of the statement that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) made in this place yesterday, I want to quote briefly from the annual report of the Australian National Line, lt states:

Before leaving the subject of the overseas Liner' trades, the Commission, the Management and I record our appreciation of the co-operation given to us by the Maritime Union.'}, in our efforts to establish an Australian, foreign-going merchant marine. As I have inferred, in the Japanese trade particularly, the maintenance of a fast lime-table service is our only real weapon in the struggle for survival, and if that weapon becomes blunted through the Australian flag ships being held up, the end will be in sight, and as far as I recollect, for largely the same reasons as brought the Commonwealth Line to the ground 40 years ago.

Yesterday the Minister for Labour and National Service said something about the 35-hour week, but that did not concern me so much. What the Minister conveyed to the House yesterday is that he had sabotaged an agreement that was about to be put into effect which would have greatly assisted the Australian National Line by intervening. In the dying stages of the last sessional period the Minister for Labour and National Service put before the Parliament a proposal to continue the stevedoring industry conferences. In his second reading speech on the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Bill he stated:

As I have said, there is a need now to plan for the permanent arrangements which will operate ultimately in the industry. Although the vast majority of waterside workers are not employed permanently, the fact remains that in a large number of small ports 20 per cent are still casually employed and there is a need for schemes for regular employment to be devised for them. The Governments policy in relation to the stevedoring industry is that there should be a continuing effort to make the employment relationships in the industry as near as possible to those in industry generally. This can be done only if there is co-operation from all parties in the industry. The obvious body to undertake the necessary investigations and to advise me on the future of the industry is the National Stevedoring Industry Conference. Furthermore, whatever the final structure of the industry, I believe it to be essential . . .

He bombed that second reading speech in this chamber yesterday. Let me deal with the concept of containerisation shipping. There is no need to containerise wool, as I have said in this place before. There has been a reference in this place in the last few days to a closed shop agreement with the unions. The managing director of Freeland of the United States, the biggest container ship operator in the world, with 46 vessels at the end of 1969, called for a world-wide conference of container ship operators and owners to be formed in order to prevent competition and to set freight rates. He obviously sees overtonnaging of trade routes by container shipping and, as is already true of the Atlantic, he sees a need for a closed shop for their protection. In the latter half of 1969 8 container ship operators announced plans to form a container operators trader conference for the North Atlantic trade. The line for American export is the Brandeis Line and there are many others. The fact is that the closed shipping agreement is operating today so far as containerised vessels are concerned to the extent that the country is being held to ransom. The Australian wool grower is the person who is suffering today. He ought to be receiving a greater return for his product. But this is not the case because of the puritanical way in which he is dealt with by the ship owners under the freight system. One would have thought that the Australian National Line by buying into the overseas trade would have been in a better position to bargain to have a greater voice in regard to the amount of money that was expended by the Government at that time. This has not been so and the situation is deplorable. Wool growers are now more than concerned about this matter.

I am very pleased to see this subject being debated and that some honourable members opposite now at last see the error of the ways of earlier governments. At least some wool growers have been prodded into some sort of action. The following report was printed in the 'Australian':

The Australian Wool Board will carry out major studies on contract shipping services for wool using chartered ships. The Chairman of the Australian Wool Board, Sir William Gunn, told a Press conference in Canberra yesterday that the wool industry was not able to continue to carry the burden of high overseas freight rates.

Sir WilliamGunn went on to say:

When containers were first introduced we were told that freight rates would not increase but this does not seem to be the case now. You will recall that the original concept of containerisation was in fact that there would be no charge for feeder services.

I want to come back to the Australian National Line. Australian National Line vessels will be going into ports around the Australian coast. They will possibly go into the port of Adelaide. A few weeks ago I checked on the situation at this port. The position is that ANL vessels will be ' prevented from feeding their own vessels which are on the overseas line and are out of the ports of Melbourne or Sydney. This is because of the consortia arrangement of road and rail transport. In other words, ANL ships will come from the eastern States ports into Adelaide with cargo and there is every possibility that they will go back to the eastern States empty and will not be permitted under the consortia agreement to backload from Adelaide into Melbourne and possibly Sydney containerised cargo which is destined for overseas trade on their own vessels. This is a shocking state of affairs. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on this.

The fact is that the British shipping interests have always enjoyed special advantages from the United Kingdom Government because shipping has always been a major earner from invisible exports. The money which comes into Britain for freights and maritime insurance in foreign currency is a real inducement to government assistance. Defence has also been a strong motive force in shipping. A recent British committee under the chairmanship of Lord Rothdale which inquired into shipping listed the effect on the balance of payments of the invisible export, shipping, as one of the main considerations. Therefore here is another aspect in which some breakthrough has to be made. The type of treatment that we have been subjected to almost since the colony started to produce agricultural products for export has led us to a situation which because of the passage of time, it is very difficult to break. However, surely the problem is not insurmountable. Much larger container ships will operate in the future. I believe that there is some hope provided the grower organisations - the Australian Wool Board is quite happy - show sufficient courage and initiative in an endeavour to break through those problems. They can use bulk ships, of course, as one manner of loading wool. There is no necessity to containerise wool. The cost of shifting containers from 1 point to another has risen considerably and at the moment it stands at about $29 a time. Why should the wool grower have to bear this cost when there is no necessity to package his article and put it in a container as the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) indicated a short time ago.

I regret that my speech is limited to 10 minutes - as I have regretted this on other occasions - because I would like further time in which to talk about this very important and most serious question. I should have liked to have elaborated it further.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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