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Thursday, 20 April 1972
Page: 1952

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Newcastle has already spoken.

Mr JEFF BATE - You people have been 20 years trying to get into government. When we consider the years over which the Labor Party has attempted to get into government 5 years is quite a short time. It must be very frustrating to be on the Opposition side, saying that the Government will soon be out of office, and all that sort of thing. That has been said here since March 1950.

Mr Charles Jones - What happened to your endorsement?

Mr JEFF BATE - What happened in Shortland and those places? You have problems yourselves. You have problems with the Victorian Executive and that kind of thing. You have problems with immigration.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! I suggest that the honourable member relate his remarks to the Bill.

Mr JEFF BATE - I have had a barrage of questions from the Opposition and it would be impolite to ignore them. One gentleman over there has not a very good voice. I cannot hear him, and I am curious to hear what he is saying.

It is obvious that the amendment applies to matters which are not yet ready administratively or legislatively. Although one admires the enterprise and aggression of the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) in this, if he were sitting where the Minister is now he would have just the same problems. I am sure that the powerful public service of Australia, the Commonwealth Public Service, which has to do this work, would resent very much a Minister who asked for material to bring into the House half-baked. The Public Service Act says that the secretary of a Department is responsible for the control and administration of his Department. The

Minister attends to the political side for him, but if the secretary is not ready to bring the legislation up to date with amendments and improvements, he cannot be moved. I think, therefore, that the House should reject the amendment as being half-baked. We are not ready for it and nobody knows that better than the honourable member for Newcastle.

We have problems with freight. From a quick look at this, and without making a long study, I believe that this Bill will help in rationalising freight charges. I think that intent is in the legislation, and I read this into the Minister's speech. Of course, anything we sell overseas is affected by freight rates. It costs 5.45c a lb to deliver meat to the United States east coast market. That increases immediately the price by 5.5c a lb of export quality meat which we are selling for 28c a lb. We then have an increase of about 20 per cent in the price caused just by freight rates. One does not know whether that includes the shipping charges on getting the meat down to the wharves, but it must include of course the refrigerating charges, for meat must go into a refrigerator as it must be kept at a pretty low temperature. The freight works out at SUS134 or $A120 a ton from here to the American east coast.

There has been criticism recently about the Australian Wool Commission making a 5,000-bale contract with a line outside the Shipping Conference. The conference makes the point that its shipping is organised. The honourable member for Newcastle might agree with me when I say that as recently as 20 years ago shipping was not well organised. Back in our history we chartered a ship - a sailing ship - and she could be 6 months getting to the port for which she was destined. She might be lost or she might disappear for a long time, not having radio. She might be lost with all hands, which was the worst thing that could happen. Let us say that we on this side of the House believe in safety. We believe in these ships being surveyed. Colliers coming from Newcastle can founder on the short trip to Sydney. The honourable member for Newcastle might recall the name of the last one.

Mr Charles Jones - 'Birchgrove Park'.

Mr JEFF BATE - 'Birchgrove Park' was lost with all hands, I think.

Mr Charles Jones - No.

Mr JEFF BATE - Somebody got ashore? She just sank.

Mr Charles Jones - She did not just sink; there was negligence.

Mr JEFF BATE - There always is if there is no survey and if the ship is not up to standard, of course.

Mr Cope - The cargo shifted, did it not?

Mr Charles Jones - The cargo of coal shifted and she sank.

Mr JEFF BATE - She was carrying coal to Balmain, where she used to berth. She was lost only a short time ago with most of her crew. Whoever got ashore was extremely lucky and pretty tough. So the first thing we want in a ship is safety. If the ship is not from a Commonwealth country it might have to be measured here. The measurement of a ship would bring out weaknesses relative to the safety of the vessel. If she is under a Liberian or Panamanian flag, all kinds of standards could apply and the safety measurements might not be up to the standards in Commonwealth country ships. The survey which is to be carried out under this Act would bring to light any weaknesses in the ship whether they be in open, cargo or noncargo space. The authorities would look at the ship and this would be worth while.

We on this side of the House support the proposal to bring the surveys and tonnage measurements up to date. The Australian shipping register is not yet ready - 1 think this is mentioned in the amendment - and therefore we cannot agree with the amendment. The honourable member for Newcastle has drawn attention to the lack of a shipping register. The presentation of this Bill afforded him the opportunity to do so. There is no doubt that in this place he is an experienced spokesman on the subject of shipping. During question time today a remark was made that while there is this situation of high freight costs no mention is ever made by the Australian Labor Party or by the honourable member for Newcastle about wage conditions. In my experience the Seamen's Union in Australia enjoys a tremendously advantageous position. Its members get long leave and special quarters. For example, on the 'Queen Mary' during the war there were 6 Australian troops in a cabin which was licensed to house one seaman.

Mr Cope - And beautiful girls in every port.

Mr JEFF BATE - That is right. The honourable member for Sydney knows about this because it is in his electorate that this kind of thing happens. The district of East Sydney is within his electorate, and very nice people live there too. One of our tremendous problems which is growing day by day is the cost of freight on our interstate and intenational runs. It costs 6cUS to freight 1 lb of meat to the east cost of America, so one must realise the imposts through freight costs, without considering import duties. On meat sent to Italy there is an import levy of 100 per cent, but this is 100 per cent freight on. The freight cost to Italy would be about the same as it is to the east coast of America because now ships cannot get through the Suez Canal and have to go around Africa. If one takes the cost of meat, adds the high cost of freight - it is 6c a lb on refrigerated meat - and then adds 100 per cent, one realises the problem facing the Australian producer. Under these conditions his position will rapidly get worse. We have to face up to this. We have to watch the phrase 'get big or get out' which I heard come from the other side of the House. This phrase is being used in the bush now. It is said that one has to get big and become more efficient. The small farmer has gone, and one of the things that has sent him is the cost of freighting products from this isolated continent to Europe, Japan and America.

We have seen changes in ships. A few years ago at Weipa we saw a Japanese ship coming in to load bauxite. Everything on the ship was automatic and was run by compressed air or electricity. Nobody touched a hatch cover and nobody touched the material being loaded. It came in a stream at high speed through huge pipes. In the crews quarters everything was in stainless steel. There has been a fantastic improvement in ships, their safety and that kind of thing. But somebody has to pay the cost. The person who pays it is the person whom the House has been discussing for hours tonight - the fellow who is going off the land, the fellow who has just about had it. I think the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) referred to costs, but he did not refer to freight rates.

If any honourable member examines the freight position he will see the enormous charges that are imposed on wool and meat. Wheat and sugar can be bulk loaded; thousands of tons are loaded each hour. At Townsville for 24 hours a day sugar is loaded on vessels including Chinese ships. I suppose the Chinese seamen are fascinated by the smell of the raw sugar. It has a kind of rum smell about it. The brown sugar, which is loaded onto the ships at high speed from the terminals, smells like molasses. The terminal probably holds 100,000 tons. The ship is loaded in one night, in the moonlight. All the new bulk loading devices cost money. Who pays for them? The exporters, the chaps in the bush, pay for them. Every time there is a new charge they have to pay it. Every time there is an increase in freight rates they have to pay the increase. Last March the rate charged by one shipping line rose by 12i per cent. This March it rose by 14 per cent. That is a total of 26i per cent or, if it were compounded, about 30 per cent. The Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Ltd, which Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd bought out, increased its freight rates. It was taken over on 1st January and up went the freight rates from here to New Zealand. This is what we are dealing with.

Members of the Australian Country Party are now coming into the chamber. They should realise that shipping freight rates are keeping prices in Australia high. Before they came in I had pointed out that it costs about SUS125 a ton or US6c per lb to ship meat to the east coast of America. This is the kind of thing that is keeping down the returns from our wheat, our wool and our other commodities. The exporter pays the freight and the import duty in the country of destination. This is the position in which the Australian farmer, the Australian exporter, is. He gives us our export income. He produces the material for export. We are hoping that the new tonnage arrangements will help to reduce the freight rates. If honourable members have read the Bill they will realise that it deals with a new method of measur ing the tonnage of ships. If it is done properly the freight rates might be kept within bounds or might be reduced ever so slightly. I support the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bennett) adjourned.

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