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Wednesday, 31 May 1972
Page: 3351


Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for Shipping and Transport) - I am a little inclined to wonder why the Opposition has proposed this matter of public importance for discussion at this time. Let me relate to the House the wording of this matter of public importance. It states:

The Government's failure to plan the orderly development and expansion of the Australian shipping, dredging, shipbuilding and docking industries.

Each of those subjects is fairly wideranging. In all fairness to the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), whilst I recognise that he has a keen interest in shipping, I must say to him that he has made no attempt to make a fair presentation of the facts in relation to Government policy towards shipping. I believe that, contrary to what the honourable member has said, the Government has policies which have led to the orderly development and expansion of the very things that he mentioned.

I believe that I can easily prove my assertion by reading an account of each of the matters that I have before me. Regrettably, time will preclude me from establishing my case fully. Let me deal firstly with the report of the Tariff Board. The honourable member for Newcastle expressed a belief that he had flushed me out in regard to the Tariff Board report. The facts are that when I first heard that this matter of public importance was to be raised today, I rang the honourable member for Newcastle and said to him: 'I have been working on a statement relating to the Tariff Board report because the Government has come to decisions and I was hoping to have the statement finally prepared so that I could give it to you, in accordance with the normal courtesies of the House, 2 hours before I hoped to make the statement in the House. But if you proceed with this matter of public importance, I will be unable to complete the preparation of the statement on the Tariff Board report and to make the statement to the Parliament." That is exactly what has eventuated. I am now forced by the actions of the honourable member for Newcastle in raising this matter of public importance to make a statement on the Tariff Board report, on which Government decisions have been made, outside this Parliament, after the Parliament rises, because 1 have not had time to complete the statement. This is quite contrary to the Government's wishes in regard to the statement. We were working at full steam to present it to the House and make the statement properly.


Dr Patterson - You can make it tonight.


Mr NIXON - I regret that I will be unable to make it then because, as I have said, I have had to devote my time completely to this matter of public importance. I sat in the House for about 2 hours this afternoon while honourable members opposite wasted the time of the House with cheap political stunts.


Dr Patterson - How did you vote? Against the wool grower?


Mr NIXON - The wool grower knows full well the value of Labor Party policies on rural industries. Do not start me on that. The honourable member for Dawson appeared on television one night recently and I happened to see the programme. I thought it was a delightful programme. It was a great credit to the producers of This Day Tonight' that the programme should show him thundering forth in such fine fashion and denouncing the Labor Party's approach to rural industries, knowing full well that any chance he had of capturing a few votes in the rural areas had been destroyed by the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party. The rural electorates are fully aware of the cheap stunts that members of the Labor Party get up to in this House.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think that the Minister is getting a little wide of the subject matter that is before the House.


Mr NIXON - Yes, Mr Speaker, I am a little wide of the matter of public importance. I have been precluded from adopting what is the normal, customary procedure when making a statement on Government policy in this Parliament because the statement could not be prepared. The honourable member for Newcastle knows that; I told him that would be the case. I suppose he is prepared to take it as it comes.


Mr Charles Jones - Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. The Minister said he would use this information in his reply to me.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no substance in the point of order.


Mr NIXON - There is no substance in the point of order because what the honourable member for Newcastle said is not correct. You are quite right, Mr Speaker; I agree with you entirely. I am very grateful for your proper ruling on the matter. The statement on the Tariff Board report will be made as soon as I can get to it.

The honourable member for Newcastle referred to the number of imported ships that are in this country and made a case to suggest that they were displacing Australianbuilt ships in the coastal trade. The Government has been impeccable, when allowing a foreign-built ship into this country for a special task or for a short time or for any purpose, in studying carefully whether an Australian ship should be built to take its place. We have had complete co-operation from the shipping industry and there has been a complete understanding by the shipbuilding industry of our policy in this regard. Indeed, I have a list of ships that have been imported, showing the purposes for which they have been imported, whether they have been imported for a short term one-off job or, if imported for a longer period, whether they have to be rebuilt.

I would like to name just one or two of these ships. The reason I do so is to point out to the honourable member for Newcastle that I do not believe that he has an understanding of what is required in the fast changing technological shipping industry.

For instance, the discovery of oil off the coast of Gippsland has caused a complete new set of problems in the Australian tanker-building industry. We had to import tankers to cope with the short term problem, but they are being replaced by Australian ships or replacements are being built for them. I will just name a few of the ships to which I have referred. The Bayou Chico' came into Australia for a seismic survey. It was a specific short term survey task. In those circumstances it would have been quite irresponsible for me as Minister to ask that this task be fulfilled by an Australian-built ship. It was a short term, one job task and a proper survey was made of the Australian shipping industry to see whether there was available a ship comparable to the 'Bayou Chico' that could have done the job. However, none was available. So, it is quite ridiculous for the honourable member to suggest that an Australian-built ship should be used for this task.

The 'Coral Sea', which is a grab dredge, came in for a specific task at Cape Lambert. Exhaustive investigations were carried out to ascertain whether an Australianbuilt dredge was available for the task. The same remarks apply to the 'DB1', the DB2' and to many others. One of the bigger ships to arrive here was the 'Ida Clausen' which was brought to Australia as a transport for livestock. She was brought in on the assumption that there would be a building commitment when the viability of the operation was established. I say to the honourable member for Newcastle that it would be quite irresponsible of me, as Minister, to refuse to allow a company to bring in a ship and try it out to see whether or not the company could establish a long term operation. The company brought in this ship to see whether the operation is viable. If the operation is not viable, of course, the ship can be sent back overseas. It is on charter. The company can do this instead of investing a great deal of capital and losing it. We have used some imagination in our policy and we have given consideration both to the commercial interests involved and to the employment of the Australian fleet.

The facts are that all the ships used on the Australian coastline have to meet very vigorous Australian conditions, and this is one of our difficulties. The honourable member for Newcastle talked so blithely about the use of Australian seamen and even Australian docks for repair work. He totally ignores the commercial considerations and the added costs that have to be incurred because of the vigorous conditions which ships are obliged to meet, and which have a consequential effect on Australian exporting industries. In regard to overseas ships, the honourable member for Newcastle talked about our getting a window into the Conference system. The fact is that we have had a window into the Conference system and it has proved to be a great success. The Australian Government has received interesting and useful information from it. For commercial reasons this information is not made public. We cannot publish everything that we learn.

I shall mention one or two developments that have taken place as a result of our participation in the Conference system. The first is that the Australian National Line has joined with the Associated Container Transportation Ltd in setting up a pendulum service within the European Conference, and we believe that a much more viable, economic and efficient service will result from this venture. Our joining with ACTL has resulted from knowledge we have gained inside the Conference system. As I have said, we are using the Conference as a window. The second development is that a second ship, the 'Australian Explorer' is joining the run on which the Australian Endeavour' is engaged. We have the 'Australian Enterprise' on the Japan run. We are engaged also in the Pacific Australia Direct Line, or PAD, service. The Australian overseas shipping industry, through the Australian National Line, has become very important to the economy of Australian exporting industries.

We have completely protected the Australian coastal shipping industry. The industry is fully aware of the steps which have been taken to protect it, and I believe that the claims of the honourable member for Newcastle fall quite flat. The honourable member also referred to the use of overseas dry docks. Again, this is a commercial decision; it has to be taken by the people concerned. The facts are that, regrettably, some of the demarcation disputes and political disputes that occur in Australian docks increase costs so greatly that commercial interests are unable to meet the higher charges imposed by Australian docks. It is all very well to be nationalistic in approach, but there also has to be some realism. In his opening remarks the honourable member for Newcastle said that a reasonable amount of Australian ships or a reasonable amount of employment-


Mr Charles Jones - A reasonable amount of Australian trade.


Mr NIXON - The honourable member referred to a reasonable amount of Australian trade. That is open to any sort of interpretation. I suggest to the honourable member that in point of fact the Australian Government is meeting the needs and the wishes of the industries involved. Both in the Australian coastal trade and in overseas trade I believe that our policy has been successful. The honourable member for Newcastle also referred to dredges. I believe that we have taken every precaution to ensure that Austraiian dredges are used wherever practicable. He referred to a one-off situation. As I say, we have taken every precaution. Most of the Australian dredges that are not being used at the moment are too small and inefficient to be able to undertake big jobs.

The last question which the honourable member for Newcastle raised referred to dock development. There is an IDC report, as the honourable member well knows, and the Government will make a statement on that report at the appropriate time, after consideration has been given to the final details. I reject the charge of Government failure made by the honourable member for Newcastle. _ Mr HANSEN (Wide Bay) (5.55)- It gives me pleasure to support the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) who raised this matter of public importance which refers to the Government's failure to plan the orderly development and expansion of the Australian shipping, dredging, shipbuilding and docking industries. I understood from the honourable member for Newcastle that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) was going to table a report that has been eagerly awaited, by all sections of the shipping and shipbuilding industry, since it was first indicated, almost 3 years ago, that an investigation would be made into the shipbuilding industry. The report has been in the hands of a member of the

Cabinet for 12 months, but this evening, the Minister now says that he has not had time to prepare a statement on the report. He may have had some difficulties within the Government parties, and I would not expect him to mention those difficulties in the House. The Minister said - and I take it that he said it in good faith - that the report would be presented during this session of the Parliament. I can only conclude from that statement that there are some difficulties within the Government parties concerning the recommendations contained in the report. But this has further confused the position for the people in the industry who are expecting some assistance from the Government.


Mr Nixon - That is not right.







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