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Wednesday, 26 April 1972
Page: 2016

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - The Bill we are considering seeks to alter the Navigation Act. This is a tremendous Act in size and importance. It was consolidated in 1956 as 291 pages and there have been 7 amendments to it since then. I can sympathise with the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) and bis Department who have taken on the job of revision. 1 will not be critical in any way because this revision is not achieved quickly. 1 think it would be very foolish to rush in and quickly amend the Act. However, as I have said, this is a very important Act. One of the very important parts of it is the section which makes it obligatory for goods for interstate carriage to be transported in Australian ships.

T think it is worth having a look at the effects of this policy. I have some figures which were given in evidence before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works in Darwin. The Committee was told that the estimated cost to ship cement from Townsville to Darwin- in a foreign owned vessel was $2.30 a ton and the cost to ship cement from Townsville to Weipa, which is less than half the distance, is $25 a ton in an Australian owned vessel. Therefore we have to pay a tremendous price to ship goods under the Navigation Act as we know it at present. I notice that last week the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate) mentioned that it cost less to carry salt from Australia to Japan than it cost to bring it from an Australian port to Sydney. 1 was interested in that figure because my figures are similar.

A short while ago a statement was made, in regard to a Tariff Board report on chlorine, that one could ship Australian salt in an overseas vessel from the gulf in South Australia to Japan and back to Sydney for less money than it cost to ship it from an Australian port round to Sydney. So it is quite clear that a tremendous price has to be paid for the operation of the Navigation Act. I hope that the Minster, when lookng at this revision, will keep what I have to say in mind. One of the reasons for the inordinately high Australian cost is the nature of the manning scales. For instance, a chief steward on an Australian ship is paid $7,685 a year for 32 weeks work a year. He receives 20 weeks holiday on full pay. His salary works out at $240 for each week of work. 1 understand that in addition he receives his keep. An assistant steward receives $6,095 for a 32-week year and receives 20 weeks a year holiday. His salary works out at $190 for every week of work. Also, he receives all the fringe benefits. I understand that rates higher than this are paid on many other ships.

I believe that the Seamen's Union of Australia is asking for an award or an agreement whereby its members in this category will work 26 weeks a year and have 26 weeks holiday. This is the kind of price that we are paying under the present system. Our manning and accommodation standards are lavish in the extreme. The point 1 want to make is that someone is paying for this. None of us in any area of politics ought to pretend that there is such a thing as a free feed. Someone has to pay. The price that is being paid for the present feather bedding of Australian seamen is that development all over Australia is being limited and people living around the coast of Australia are paying an inordinate price. All of us in this House are keen to see development. Some honourable members make fine flowing speeches about the necessity for it. But a prime factor inhibiting development is the high level of freight. Under the Navigation Act as it stands at present the level of freight is a very limiting factor of development.

Having said that, I think it is proper that 1 should make a suggestion. It is obvious that the people of Australia feel that this country ought to have an Australian shipping line that would carry Australian goods in Australian vessels. If this is what is wanted, why not tackle this matter a different way? Why not have a freight subsidy paid by the taxpayer to bring the Australian cost into line with the overseas costs? Such a system would have 2 benefits. Firstly it would lighten the load in regard to the cost of development which is impossible to achieve under the present system. Secondly, we would have an additional advantage in that the Seamen's Union and those people who man the ships would not so easily be able to bold the whole system to ransom.

Consider what happened recently in Tasmania when the whole economy of that State was threatened by a foolish and irresponsible stewards strike. If there were a subsidy system the Australian carrier who received the subsidy would be able to compete on equal terms with overseas carriers. This subsidy would operate in the same way as do other subsidies paid to other sections of the community. If a subsidy were paid it would be much more difficult for irresponsible strikes, such as the one we saw last year, to be held. It would be much more difficult for the union concerned to hold the Australian economy, and particularly the Tasmanian economy, to ransom. If it were known that an overseas ship could pick up a cargo if there were such aa irresponsible strike this fact would inhibit the likelihood of such strikes. I am putting this suggestion forward to the Minister in the hope that when the Navigation Act is being revised in detail, as he said it would be, these very serious matters can be taken into account.

It is clear that a great price has to be paid for our present system and that this price is inhibiting and limiting development throughout Australia. It is limiting our ability to expand in the areas where we could expand if we had a lower freight structure. The present system also is placing us very much in the hands of irresponsible industrial action on the waterfront. Therefore I hope that the Minister will listen to what I am saying and regard it as a plea. The present system, I think, is fraught with danger and will become worse as industrial action becomes rather easier in the future. For Australia's sake and for the sake of development we must have a careful look at the Navigation Act in due course. The Bill before the House does not deal with the general subject. It introduces a different method of assessing tonnages. It is an amendment that is needed and I give it my full blessing. I support the Bill but I shall oppose the amendment.

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