Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 29 October 1970


Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) - This is only a minor Bill. The Lighthouses Act probably has been amended on fewer occasions than any other piece of Commonwealth legislation. The Bill sets out to modernise the terminology of the Act by deleting the definition marine mark.' and substituting 'marine navigational aid'; to bring the Act up to date in accordance with the requirements of the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1960; and to extend the provisions of the Act to cover a lighthouse and 2 beacons established in the Coral Sea Islands territory. The Lighthouses Act is concerned with the provision, operation and maintenance of aids to marine navigation On and in waters around the coast of Australia and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Throughout Australia there are 56 manned light stations, 194 unattended lights. 25 light buoys, 3 unlighted buoys, 2 light vessels, 27 day beacons, 11 radio beacons, 1 high frequency direction finding station. 1 electronic ship guidance system recently installed in Western Australia and in Papua and New Guinea there are 67 night and 65 day beacons, all unattended. All these aids are. serviced by three 1.500-ton lightships- the 'Cape Pillar', the Cape Moreton' and the 'Cape Don'. These 3 ships were built at the State dockyard in Newcastle, if I may give the establishment a little commercial. They are 3 good ships which are well built. As well as these lightships there are 2 smaller ships, one on Thursday Island and one on Samarai, which are charged with the responsibility of maintaining all these lights.

Shipping on the Australian coast over recent years has had to rely for navigation on the standard compass radar directional finding equipment without the assitance of modern electronic equipment. There have been very few navigational aids introduced to the Australian coast for many years with the exception of the Decca system to cover the approaches to Port Hedland on the Western Australian coast. Over recent years there have been numerous statements by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) and his Department. As far back as 17th October 1967 there was an announcement that some $15m to $20m would be spent to modernise and re-equip Australia's marine navigation system and that the Government intended examining the world's most comprehensive and sophisticated marine navigational aid system. The Government then sponsored a symposium in Sydney by the Decca Navigating Company in London and its Australian partner, Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd from 25th to 29th March 1968. At that symposium over 370 representatives ot Government service department.1!, marine aviation and commercial interests attended, and it appeared at that time that at least something was going to happen and that the Government would get on with the job of providing modern navigational aids for the coast.

Then there was a deathly silence until 1st September 1968 when the Minister made another of his longwinded statements wherein he repeated what had been released by the Department back in February of the same year. At that time when he made this further statement the measures which he announced were to be taken were to speed up the installation of additional basic aids such as lights, beacons, buoys and radio aids. This was considered necessary both to meet the present everyday needs of shipping and to reduce travelling time between ports; to initiate a detailed study of the applicability to Australian conditions of advanced systems of electronic aids to shipping such as the

Decca and Lawrence systems; to modernise progressively existing aids and servicing facilities with appropriate use of new instruction techniques, automation and remote control and progressively to improve all transport involved in ensuring maximum effectiveness in the operation of these aids. One was entitled to feel at that time that something was at last under way. By that time the shipping industry felt that the Government was going to get on with the job. But it was not until 11th May this year that the Decca electronic navigational aid became operative for the narrow channels leading to Port Hedland, 2i years after the first announcement early in 1968 and in all probability somewhere around about 3 years from the time the first statement was made by the former Minister for Shipping and Transport, the Honourable Gordon Freeth. Today there is a strong feeling of urgency in shipping and naval circles for the Government to undertake a substantial development programme having in mind that over the years insufficient money has been spent in this field. I am advised by people in this industry that lights are very old. radio beacons are very limited, weak and not very effective.

The old days of small ships trading on the coast and overseas have gone. I personally recall that in pre-war and early post-war times iron ore was carried in ships of less than 10,000 tons. When the first 10,000-tonner was put on the coast run carrying ore from South Australia to Port Kembla and Newcastle we thought it was a really large ship. Today ore carriers larger than 100.000 tons are operating on the west coast, and ore carriers of from 50,000 tons to 70.000 tons are carrying ore from Western Australia to Port Kembla and Newcastle. Wheat carrying ships of up to 50,000 tons dead weight are lifting wheat from Australian ports. Bulk carriers of between 50.000 tons and 60.000 tons are shipping coal to Japan.

When Australian ports are enlarged much bigger ships will be introduced to this trade. Inquiries, investigations and negotiations are being carried out at present to decide whether deep sea loading ramps or jetties can be built out into the ocean so that ships much larger than those already on the trade may be introduced. This will mean that coal and other bulk cargoes can be carried much cheaper than at present. Ships of this size are carrying not only coal but also bauxite and alumina. In 1969 213 tankers of between 18,000 and 101,000 tons carried 5,226,000 gallons of our total imports of crude oil. To this must be added the volume of petroleum products and crude oil carried on the Australian coast.

It is obvious that there is a need for more modern and up to date navigational aids to be introduced on the Australian coast. In addition to the ships I have detailed faster and larger tankers are now operating between Australia and Europe. Additional ships will be brought into the trade, not only for the Australia to Europe trade but also for the shipping trade between Australia and Japan and Australia and the United States. I believe that these ships should have on the Australian coast the navigational aids that are available to them in other countries. Ships are not only larger today but also much faster. What is more, they will become larger and faster. In the main, the industry has to rely on antiquated navigational systems around our 12.000 miles of coastline. Ships are sailing in many cases in waters not previously frequented by shipping of the size of present day vessels. There is a great need for the Government to follow up what it commenced at Port Hedland.

I do not propose to say what system should be introduced. Several types of electronic aids are available. This decision is a matter for people well versed in the field, with the necessary training and qualifications to make these decision. I will not say at this stage what system should be selected. It appears that the Decca system is one of the most suitable systems, having been in operation in all areas of the United Kingdom for about 20 years. I understand that the system was perfected for the Allied landing at Normandy during World War II. Without being critical of the excellent service provided by the Torres Strait pilot service, I believe that there is a strong claim for the installation of an electronic navigational system in Torres Strait and Barrier Reef waters.

On 12th May the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) in a reply to a question I had asked advised me that the figures for 1966-67 - the latest available at that time - showed that 1,259 ships with a total dead weight tonnage of 23,251,931 tons, and an average per ship tonnage of 18,469 dead weight used those waters. Further, 212 vessels of over 30,000 tons dead weight, with a total tonnage of 9,274,643 tons dead weight and an average dead weight per ship of 43,748 tons were carrying bulk commodities in those waters. They carried 2.5 million tons of iron ore; 3 million tons of petroleum and crude oil; 530,000 tons of sugar and 280,000 tons of steel products. As I have mentioned, these figures were for the year 1966-67. The position is that here we have limited channels. Let us take the case of the 'Oceanic Grandeur' which went aground earlier this year and which could have caused a considerable amount of damage to marine life, to the Australian coast and to the Great Barrier Reef. It is the general opinion that if an electronic aid of the quality of the Decca system recently installed by the Government on the approaches to Port Hedland had been available in these waters this accident would not have occurred.

Large ships are using waters of limited depth From the figures made available by the Minister in his statement, it would appear that in many parts the 'Oceanic Grandeur' was almost literally skimming the bottom. Where it went aground it seemed that the ship was being taken through water which was too shallow. The other place which should be considered for the installation of this type of navigational aid is Bass Strait where we have oil and gas platforms from 15 to 50 miles from the shore. The sea lanes here arc subjected to bad weather. It is a well known fact that Bass Strait has some of our worst weather. We have some oil platforms out there in the sea lanes. It is probably good luck that up to date there have been no fatalities or accidents. Of course, we always adopt the attitude - up to date we have been fairly lucky - that this cannot happen here; it can only happen to the other fellow.

We do not want to see another 'Torrey Canyon' incident. We do not want to see ships colliding with the oil platforms. A collision with a gas platform would be bad enough, but I would hate to think what would happen to the Tasmanian and Victorian coastlines if a ship collided with an oil platform. It is time a system of naviga tional aids was introduced. There is a need for this thpe of system on the east coast of Australia also. People in shipping circles and in the maritime industry all assure me that, as far as they are concerned, they would be delighted to see the Government undertaking at an early stage, and treating as a matter of urgency, the installation of an electronic navigational system on the east coast of Australia. Furthermore, these aids are also required for Darwin, Gove and Weipa where radar is sometimes unserviceable and useless as a result of torrential downpours. Ships' captains have advised me that they have experienced the screen being subject to clutter as a result of torrential downpours of rain in the areas I have just mentioned, as well as at Thursday Island and the Barrier Reef areas. These are areas where up to the present time we have been lucky.

While it is compulsory for ships of less than 1,600 tons to be equipped with radio telephones, if they are over 1,600 tons they are required to have radio telegraphy installed. But there is no compulsion, even though nearly all the ships on the Australian coast are fitted with radar, for ships to have radar installed. There is no requirement in the Navigation Act, as there is for radio, that the ship owner must have radar installed on his ship. As I said, even though most of them are equipped, there is no reason why all ships should not be equipped with radar. All the major trading countries of the world have various types of electronic navigational aids. The Decca system which, as I said, has been installed on the approaches to Port Hedland, is operating on the west coast of Europe, the United Kingdom and the Atlantic coast of Canada and, in recent months, a new system has been completed at Los Angeles and on the Florida coast. At present a survey is under way along the coast of Alaska to see what protection should be given to ships carrying ore and other commodities in those waters.

The oil companies have been instrumental in having a system installed in the Persian Gulf, but there is no similar system operating on the Australian coast. There should be a system to guide large bulk ships and tankers through Torres Strait and down past the Barrier Reef or, as the case may be, through Bass Strait. If oil companies can get these things installed in the Persian Gulf why cannot they get them in Australian waters? 1 am concerned not about the oil companies as companies but about the possible loss of life and the damage that could be caused to the Australian coastline if there was a sinking or a collision between ships involving fatalities. There are 2 sections on the coast of India where these aids have been installed - one on the west coast and the other in the vicinity of Calcutta. They also are available on the lower western and southern sections of the coast of South Africa.

Japan probably has as good a system as exists anywhere. Japan recently completed the installation of more equipment. Now all the waters surrounding Japan are adequately covered by this type of electronic navigational aid. Australia has only one installation and large areas of our surrounding waters have not been re-chartered since Captain Cook and the early navigators carried out their work, lt may be claimed that they did a good job but the people in a position to advise me on the subject say that checks carried out with electronic aids have revealed many discrepancies in existing charts. There are plenty of reasons why something should be done about this matter. I believe there are about 14,000 ships today which are equipped with Decca navigation equipment but none of it can be used in Australian waters apart from that area near the system recently installed at the approaches to Port Hedland in Western Australia. We are well and truly lagging behind the rest of the world in this field of modern navigational aids. The old days of lighthouses and beacons have gone. It is time the Government did something positive about these things.

I am led to believe that at present there is considerable unrest among people working in the lighthouse service because their wages and conditions are far below those of their counterparts in trading ships. I understand that negotiations have been under way between the representatives of the men on lightships and lighthouses and the Public Service Board. People in merchant ships have had their increases for some time now whereas negotiations are still going on between the Public Service Board and the unions representing these men. As far as I know they have an excellent record of service. There are numerous instances of their carrying out rescue and salvage work in addition to their normal duties. The work that these men do requires special skills. They are required to possess the skills necessary for the servicing of lighthouses, lightships and the lighters and in addition they are subject to long periods away from their homes. They have no home life and often are away for 3 or 4 months at a time. In itself this is sufficient reason for them to be paid wages and have conditions more favourable than those normally paid in other positions.

When one looks into the wages paid to these people one can well and truly understand why there is discontent and unrest in the service today. For example, the master of a lightship receives an annual salary of $6,309 while his counterpart in a merchant ship receives $11,800. The salary of the chief officer on a lightship is $3,531, ranging up to $3,792, while his counterpart receives $9,891. A seaman on a lightship receives from $2,632 to $2,914 a year while his counterpart on a merchant ship receives $6,600 a year. So when one compares these figures it is easy to understand, as 1 said a moment ago, why there is so much discontent and dissatisfaction amongst these men. I hope that the Minister will at least pay heed to what these people have been saying to his Department and to what I have been saying here tonight and that is that serious consideration will be given to setting an early date for lifting the salaries of these men up to what they should be. The rates should be more comparable with those in outside industry so that they will receive better recognition for the work they do.

As I said earlier, this Bill is of limited importance. It is a minor Bill designed to bring the Act into the electronic age and so I indicate on behalf of the Opposition that we will not oppose the Bill. I ask the Minister to get on with the job. The Department of Shipping and Transport has been talking about introducing electronic navigational aids for 3 years now. It should get on with the job of providing these facilities where they should be provided and I have already stated where I think they should be installed. At the same time let us have an amendment to the Navigation Act so as to ensure that all ships operating on the Australian coast are forced to install radar because it is obvious that this is a most important and essential piece of equipment as far as navigation is concerned. We support the Bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.







Suggest corrections