Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Maritime industry - Commission of Inquiry - Report - Future of Australian maritime industry, 30 June 1976

Download PDF Download PDF

Parliamentary Paper No. 314/1976

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia


Commission of Inquiry into the Maritime Industry


June 1976

Presented hy Command 2 November 1976

Ordered to be printed 18 November 1976

The Acting Commonwealth Government Printer

Canberra 1977 '•:,

©Commonwealth of Australia 1976

ISBN 0 642 02170 8

Printed by Authority by the Acting Commonwealth Government Printer


Office of the Commissioner

Your Excellency,

P 0 Box 547 Canberra City, A C T 2601

Telephone 47 4611

June 1976

I would like to present my seventh Report in accordance with the Letters Patent dated 25th September 1973. This Report deals with the Future of the Australian Maritime Industry.

This Report completes the task of this Commission, returned with it are the Letters Patent by which the Commission was established.

Without extending this letter I would like to just say a few words of appreciation to the staff that I have had

in helping with the work of this Commission. In particular I should like to thank Mr Thomas Williams, who has been Secretary of the Commission, and who has done a sterling job to help to get these Reports out on a sound basis. I am also

grateful to the consultants we have had, and particularly Mr Thomas Norris who has been of great value in preparing the Reports.

His Excellency, The Honourable Sir John Kerr, A.K., G.C.M.G., K.St.J., Q.C., Governor-General,

Government House, CANBERRA.

(M.M. Summers) Commissioner





General cargo

Bulk cargo


General cargo

Bulk trades




Overseas tankers


Coastal operations


Structure of A.N.L.




24399 / 76- 2
























matters related to the development

of the Australian maritime industry .....

to make recommendations for a comprehensive

framework for the long term development of

that industry ... "

This Commission's Terms of Reference require that the Commission should "make recommendations for a comprehensive framework for the long-term development of the (maritime) industry". The specific Terms of Reference (Items 1-6) of the Commission called for individual reports on particular matters, and reports have been written on each of these items.

2. This final report deals with the future of the

Australian maritime industry.

3. The basic question is whether there should be an

Australian maritime industry, and if so, how should the Government encourage its growth.

4. The Australian maritime industry is small in world

terms. There are few Australian shipping companies and ships, although Australia has a very long coastline and most Australians live in coastal cities. Australia is a large trading nation, but only a small amount of Australia's international

trade is carried in Australian ships.

5. The Commission has found it difficult to put down

acceptable reasons for the lack of development of shipping as an Australian industry.

6. Of course Australian shipping operates within

Australian cost levels. World shipping is very competitive. Obviously there are many countries in the world with lower living costs than Australians expect, which are strong competitors in overseas shipping.

- 1 -

7. The Commission does not accept this simple

explanation, although it is often quoted in discussions about Australian shipping. The Commission has noted that the Australian maritime industry must be one of the least subsidised in the world, compared with the maritime industries of other well established trading nations with high standards of living.

8. There is in fact no subsidy for Australian shipping,

although many people confuse the effect on shipping of the subsidy on shipbuilding. Indeed, the Commission came to the conclusion that Australian shipping receives less capital assistance than other forms of transport in Australia. The Commission believes that this is part of the explanation why shipping seems to have lost out to road or rail transport in

the movement of cargoes inside Australia.

9. The Commission believes that the future of the

Australian shipping industry should be approached with certain principles in mind. The first principle is that Australia should develop more activity in overseas shipping. The second principle is that more effort should be made to develop more

competitive coastal shipping between the Australian cities.

10. Australia should not accept without searching

examination that the cost effects of Australian industrial conditions, and Australian standards of living, create disabilities for shipping to a far greater extent than for road or rail, if all three were placed on a true financial


11. Looking to the future it seems to the Commission that

an island ndtion like Australia could not easily abandon sea transport, unless we are much more certain than this Commission has been able to become, that true cost comparisons within the Australian environment would show other forms of transport to

be economically superior.

12. The Commission has therefore examined the Australian

maritime industry in this report in terms of its present outlook for the future and what it needs in the way of

assistance to make the best of that future.

- 2 -

13. With this purpose in mind the Commission has examined

the maritime industry in the following categories:


(a) General cargo

(b) Bulk cargo



14. Following these sections, this report then reviews

potential areas of assistance which might be given.


15. Coastal shipping in Australia is handled almost

entirely by Australian manned vessels flying the Australian fl a g. Special permission is nee ded and is occasionally granted to other ships to carry coastal cargoes when Australian ships are not available, usually for limited periods or special tasks.

16. The coastal section of the Australian shipping

industry faces serious problems at the pres ent time. Shipowners - whether in general cargo, bulk trades or in tankers - say that these problems are labour problems.

1 7 . Shipowners s a y also that there are too many unions

and that they act irres ponsibly. They say that there is an

excessive number of stoppages and that manning requirements on Australian ships are too large. They say also that they must pay high wages without getting high productivity from the crew.

18. The maritime unions do not agree with these statements.

The y argue that they are part of Australian industry and should receive a fair share of Australia's income, and that like all other workers they are fully entitled to protect their position industrially.

19. The Commission understands the feelings on both sides.

The Commission has some worries that while both sides have some grounds for their positions, it has been too easy to blame industrial matters f or lack of development in the shipping industry in the past.

20. Nevertheless, industrial attitudes between owners and

unions require a strong effort, which the Commission believes only the Commonwealth Government can make, to bring both sides to a better working relationship. Failing this, the Commission would expect that we shall continue to see the demise of major

parts of the coastal shipping industry, with troublesome

- 3 -

departures of companies and their ships from the industry, and with increasingly high costs passed on to users from what remains of a shrinking industry.

21. While on general aspects of coastal shipping, the

Commission notes that the Coastal Shipping Agreement of 1956, under which the Australian National Line operates, expires on September 30. Many of the issues existing at the time of making that agreement have now disappeared, because of changes in the

industry. The purposes of such matters as limitations on A.N.L. 's tonnage, and restrictions on its carriage of intrastate trade, no longer seem to apply. The Commission has no comment to make on other matters in the agreement. They are

outside the Terms of Reference of this Commission. The Commission sees no need to attempt to rewrite the Agreement so far as it relates to the shipping activities of A.N.L. and private shipping companies. The Agreement should merely be allowed to expire.

(a) General cargo

22. The coastal carriage of dry general cargo now borders

on being non-existent, except in such areas as the trade between the mainland and Tasmania, where air is the only other form of transport yet available. There are small amounts of cargo still moving by ship between Fremantle and the northern parts of Western Australia, some trade to certain Queensland ports from southern cities and also to Darwin.

23. The overall impression is one of continued decline.

Those operators that remain in the dry general cargo trades all complain about extremely high costs, substantial losses and labour problems. Indeed, during the time the Commission was considering this matter, the service previously operated between the East Coast and Western Australia by Associated Steamships, even though it used modern types of ships, was withdrawn because

the owners said they could no longer compete with other types of transport.

24. Most shipping operators claim that they suffer

disadvantages in the dry general cargo business compared with Government underwritten rail operations and Government financed road construction. They say that supported competition from rail or road places shipping in the position of being unable to compete at the freight rates offered.

25. This has been said very often, and the road and rail

industries deny it just as often. It seems to the Commission

that there is no body of fact available to substantiate either what the shipping people claim or what road and rail say.

- 4 -

26. studies of particular

the Commission does not

27. The Commission believes that we should not lightly

abandon coastal general cargo shipping. The sea is an unobstructed waterway. Australian ports and facilities are substantially adequate and our population is largely concentrated around the coastline.

28. The Commission draws attention to the fact that in

this matter it does not comment on the very important question of the future of trade with Tasmania. Mr J.F. Nimmo, C.B.E., has reported on that matter from his inquiry.

(b) Bulk cargo

29. A large number of ships in the present Australian

fleet are used for the carriage of bulk cargo around the coast. The Commission formed the impression that this section of the Australian maritime industry operates well and appears to have a good future.

30. Bulk cargoes are probably less affected by some of

the labour and cost problems which general cargo operators complain about. Modern methods of handling bulk cargoes mean that rapid loading and discharge methods, as advanced as those in many other countries, are frequently available.

31. For example, B.H.P. relies upon shipping for the

carriage of large volumes of iron ore, coal and other minerals for use in steel , manufacture. The requirements of BHP dominate the bulk cargo trade, some of which is carried in the company's ships, and some of which is carried by others on contract or charter arrangements.

32. There are of course other raw materials moving in

bulk by sea around the coast, such as sugar, cement, bauxite, alumina and other metals and minerals. All of these trades involve large tonnages of material and use modern and specialised loading systems.

33. The Commission said in its Report on the adequacy of

Australia's ports that on the whole, bulk ports in Australia work well, and that there did not seem to have been great

problems other than finance in getting bulk ports established.

- 5 -

34. The Commission is of the view that there should be

some speeding up of the administrative machinery in relation to finance for bulk berths. It may be that the Commonwealth Government will need from time to time to intervene financially with special assistance, to get a new bulk berth going or to

modernise a berth which has been outgrown by the trade.

35. There could be many forms of such assistance, such

as technical support, grants of money, or special loans, or extension of taxation concessions to the private builders of the berths. These needs will arise individually from time to time. They will need flexible and quick response so that the whole Australian economy might benefit.


(a) General cargo

36. Despite the very large volume of cargoes in Australian

international trades, Australian flag shipping operations are relatively small. The Government's shipping line, Australian National Line, has entered selected general cargo trades in recent years either on its own or in conjunction with overseas partners. Regrettably, Australian private enterprise ventures under the Australian flag have not developed at all. In fact, H.C. Sleigh for some years operated ships in the Japanese trade

in partnership with A.N.L. and the Japanese (and directly in partnership with the international company, Jardine Mathieson). H.C. Sleigh has recently withdrawn from this trade, and A.N.L. has taken over the ships. There have been some overseas general cargo operations conducted by Australian companies, but these have been fairly modest, and have usually employed foreign flag

ships. (At the time of writing the decision by Thomas

Nationwide Transport Ltd. to enter the North Atlantic trade through its U.S. affiliates had only just been reported).

37. The operations of A.N.L. overseas have been an

interesting experience. On the whole, profits expected in this area seemed for some time to be fairly good. While the U.K./

Europe trade has declined in recent years, the Japan trade seems likely to succeed in the longer term. Container trades to the

East and West of North America also seem to offer opportunity of profitable participation in the future, given sufficient cargo volumes. Beginnings have been made in parts of the South East Asian trade, and further development into the Singapore/ Malaysia area is expected. Trade with New Zealand has begun

also. These trades are of course faced with initial development costs, but appear eventually to be profitable developments.

- 6 -

38. The Commission feels that there are good reasons for

increasing Australian flag overseas operations by both A.N.L. and private enterprise, and believes that both should be given encouragement. However, it has to be recognised that costs of Australian flag shipping are not low by world standards. In

the highly competitive world of overseas shipping, special measures may be needed to help Australian operations to be competitive.

39. The disillusionment of private operators with

participation in overseas trades is particularly unfortunate. The Commission was told that the recent withdrawal from overseas general cargo trade by H.C. Sleigh's company Flinders Shipping resulted from a decline in traffic and from rapidly

increasing costs.

40. One useful aspect of A.N.L. 'sentry into overseas

general cargo trades has been the exploratory character of these ventures. More could be made of this, to test whether

Australian operators can take part viably in particular overseas general cargo trades. A.N.L. could lead the way, and if its experience continues to be successful, could assist to encourage private operators, otherwise deterred at the outset

by high Australian shipping costs, to look more closely at whether they could get into overseas trades successfully.

41. Another aspect of the value of A.N.L. 's experience so

far in overseas shipping has been the partnership concepts which have been used. A.N.L. has gone into various types of

partnership arrangements with foreign flag lines owned by commercial shipping companies overseas. The Commission sees these kinds of partnership between Australian and foreign expertise as sound bases for greater Australian involvement in overseas shipping. It would like to see A.N.L. do more of this.

42. The Commission would like also to see more involvement

of Australian private enterprise companies, not necessarily with a shipping background, in similar enterprises with foreign partners with international shipping expertise.

43. Looking to the future, it would be sound practice for

Australia to seek to carry more of the goods coming to and from

Australia in Australian flag ships. There should be greater effort in this direction, both from A.N.L. as a Government backed line, and from various forms of private enterprise, to gain an equity participation in overseas shipping. Some measures which might assist moves in this direction and some ways in which it might be done are discussed later in this


- 7 -

(b) Bulk trades

44. The Commission also sees scope for further

participation in the carriage of bulk cargoes overseas in Australian flag ships.

45. Leaving aside petroleum, there is little which comes

to Australia as bulk imports, but there are of course very large volumes of bulk exports, of iron ore and other minerals, and of wheat, moving from Australia to its customers.

46. So far, Australian participation in these trades has

been very limited. B.H.P. and A.N.L. have made voyages overseas with bulk ships. Some Australian operators share in the wheat trade but they do so with foreign flag ships.

47. At the time of writing, A.N.L. was engaged in

protracted negotiations with Japanese interests about obtaining a share of the iron ore trade to Japan.

48. The Commission believes that it would be in Australia's

long run trading interest to take a greater part in the overseas carriage of Australian bulk exports. Later in this report the Commission will propose potential measures of financial assistance which might enable Australian bulk ship operators to so manage their fleets as to become efficient overseas operators of bulk cargo ships.


(a) Coastal

49. Coastal tanker operations are extensive and varied.

Australian crude is brought to the mainland by pipeline from Bass Strait and is carried from mainland storage to refineries located in major coastal ports. A proportion of Australia's crude r e quirements is still imported, but this is carried in foreign flag tankers. Petroleum products are distributed from

refineries to other ports around the coast in product tankers. The Australian flag crude carriers used around the coast and Australian flag product tankers are either locally built, or chartered from overseas for a limited time and are manned with Australian crew.

50. In respect of coastal operations, tanker operators

told the Commission that they suffer the same disabilities as other operators of Australian flag ships, such as high costs of operation, excessive manning and accommodation requirements, and unreliability of operations because of continuing industrial problems. In fact, it is becoming general thinking in the

tanker companies that on many routes around the coast pipelines will have more attraction than tankers in the future.

- 8 -

51. The future of coastal tanker operations is of course

complicated because the deployment of tankers is a consequence of the location of refineries, in relation to sources of crude and to product markets. These matters are outside the Commission's Terms of Reference.

52. The Commission does not advocate any special action in

respect of developments of Australian coastal tankers in the future. If a coastal tanker operation is able to be continued

in the overall conditions of the petroleum industry and at whatever levels of assistance are made available to Australian flag ships generally, then the Commission would think that tankers would be a useful addition to the mix of Australian flag


(b) Overseas tankers

53. The representatives of the oil companies, with whom

the Commission discussed the future of Australian tanker operations, pointed to the high world supply position of tankers at the present time. Superimposing this situation on the general disabilities of Australian flag operations, the

operators put it strongly to the Commission that it would be folly to contemplate Australian flag tankers entering overseas trades at this time.


54. The Commission deals with potential areas of

assistance to the future of the Australian maritime industry in three sections. The first concerns coastal operations, the second overseas operations and the third changes in the structure of A.N.L.

(a) Coastal operations

55. Licensed coastal operators are, by the coasting trade

policy, (discussed in the Commission's Report on Australian Maritime Legislation) insulated, for all practical purposes, from competition from foreign shipping. Some consider this to be protection and thus assistance. The Commission thinks that

such a view misses the point. The comparison to be made is

between the support available to road and rail inside Australia, and the support, or lack of it, given to coastal operators.

56. No forceful arguments were put to the Commission that

Australian coastal shipping operators should be given direct operating subsidies. It was however put forward that in certain coastal trades the customer, i.e. the owner of the cargo being shipped, should be subsidised.

- 9 -

57. The Commission makes no comments on this particular

method of assistance. It was put forward by Mr J.F. Nimmo, C.B.E., in his work in relation to Tasmanian transport and the Minister for Transport has announced (June 9) that the Government has accepted it. Implementing this form of subsidy will provide valuable experience on whether it can be made to work in Australian conditions.

58. The Commission understands that the new investment

allowance, recently introduced by the Government, will be available for new ships engaged solely in coastal operations. The allowance will apply, in addition to normal depreciation for taxation purposes, as an initial amount of 40 per cent of

the capital expenditure for such ships ordered between January 1976 and June 1978, and brought into service by June 1979. For ships ordered between July 1978 and June 1983, and first used by June 1984, the allowance will be an amount of

20 per cent of the capital expenditure.

59. The Commission is very enthusiastic about the

introduction of this investment allowance for coastal shipping. However, the Commission believes that the present arrangements will not keep the investment allowance going for long enough for shipping. Irrespective of how long it is to be available

to other industries, the Commission feels that the investment allowance should be kept operating for a longer time for shipping than is proposed at present.

60. Shipping services using up to date ideas take time to

plan and bring into action. It takes time to plan the type of

service to be offered and design the features necessary in the layout of the ships and their gear to handle the cargo most

efficiently. Shore terminals and equipment to work with the ships as a system have to be planned. Then orders must be

placed and the ships and terminals built.

61. The capital costs of modern shipping systems are high.

The value of an investment allowance becomes very considerable, as ships get bigger and each ship involves large amounts of capital. If the allowance were kept on for a longer period of

time for shipping, it would at least be of some assistance to

the shipping industry, to meet the great costs of maintaining modernised fleets, with prospects of competitive efficiency.

62. A lot has been put forward by shipping companies over

the years in favour of better taxation depreciation allowances. A case has been made to Governments over the years that shipping should be allowed to depreciate in a much shorter time than at present. Five years for example, has been put forward.

63. The virtue of faster depreciation is that it allows

the shipowner, as long as he continues to invest in new

shipping, to gain financial assistance. This would help to keep the coastal fleet modern.

- 10 -

64. If the investment allowance could be extended for a

longer time for shipping the Commission would not advocate the introduction of a faster depreciation rate for coastal shipping at this time.

65. However, if the investment allowance does not

continue, then the Commission strongly recommends that the Government allow much better depreciation allowances than at present.

(b) Overseas

66. There are many ways in which the great maritime

nations give assistance to their shipping companies. More often than not, financial incentives are provided by way of investment grants or investment allowances, both used by Great Britain at various times, or accelerated or flexible depreciation rates,

as are available, in various forms, in Japan, Sweden, Germany or Norway, for example. In some administrations, such as U.S.A., Government cargoes or, as in some Latin American countries, percentages of national cargoes, may be reserved to

the ships of the flag of the country.

67. Some countries like Japan, France or Sweden, create

conditions which enable cheap credits to be extended by shipbuilders to shipowners. This can be by way of lower rates of interests, or, as in Sweden, by way of having the Government itself give credit guarantees to shipyards on second mortgage

loans. In some major maritime countries, such as Germany, there is deferment of capital gains tax on the reinvested proceeds from a ship sale. These examples only illustrate what is done, they are by no means a complete list.

68. The Australian investment allowance provisions,

discussed above, are not to apply to ships operating in overseas trades. If that decision is to be sustained, then the Commission would strongly press that some other special forms of assistance be extended to Australian overseas shipping operations. Others, with whom Australian flag ships must compete, receive assistance

from their Governments.

69. The Commission proposes that a considerable form of

assistance to overseas operations would be to permit flexible depreciation to be used to write off ships operating in overseas trades. The Commission is impressed with the British practice of free depreciation, whereby a shipowner may apply

any amount of depreciation in any year, until the ship is fully depreciated.

70. The Commission also proposes that the Government,

through a suitable financial institution, should be prepared to give its own guarantee to appropriate Australian shipping companies, in respect of loans which they might be seeking from shipbuilders.

- 11 -

71. The Commission makes these proposals because although

it understands the general reluctance to change the usual tax thinking on depreciation, it believes that the competitive world in which international shipping operates has its own pecularities.

72. The Commission has observed that, despite all the

complaints and deficiencies, Australian shipping manages tolerably well in coastal bulk trades and in overseas container ship and vehicle deck trades. In these areas the most up to

date ships and methods are used. Australia must be quick to innovate, and keep its ships right up to date, to get the most

efficiency possible, i f we are to deal with our unavoidable Australian cost disabilities.

(c) Structure of A.N.L.

73. The Commission has commented earlier in this report

on the way in which A.N.L. has successfully developed initial entry into a number of overseas trades, and the value of this as an exploration to help Australian private companies to see whether there are prospects for them in overseas trades.

74. There is however one considerable problem in that

A.N.L. as a Government line relies on Government money for finance, except for loans from shipbuilders when ships are being bought overseas.

75. The Commission believes that A.N.L. would be put on

a much bette r basis to operate in the future if three subsidiary companies were established under a holding company. One subsidiary would handle all the coastal general cargo. The second would handle all bulk cargoes, both coastal and overseas, and the third subsidiary would handle overseas general cargoes.

76. The Commission would then propose that the two

subsidiary companies for bulk trades and overseas general cargo should be set up as ordinary commercial trading companies and permitted to obtain a proportion of their capital needs by the issue of shares.

77. The shares may be purchased by Australians or by

acceptable foreign investors, such as overseas shipping companies with interest in the development of Au s tralia. It would, of course, be envisaged that the Government would always have a dominant position in the capital holdings of these

but by the issue of such shares, A.N.L. would have

access to additional and di f fering source s of fun ds.

- 12 -

78. On this basis A.N.L. could develop more relationships

of a like kind with financiers and would tend to lose

its dependence on Government finance. The basis on which A.N.L. would then operate would keep A.N.L. close to private commercial thinking. It could be a base from which much broader involvement in overseas shipping operations from the

Australian business community could be developed in the future.

- 13 -



The Commission finds that:

1. Australia should develop more activity in overseas shipping and make more effort to develop more competitive coastal shipping.

2. The Government should make strong efforts to bring Australian shipowners and unions into a better working relationship. If this is not done the

coastal shipping industry will continue to decline.

3. The Coastal Shipping Agreement of 1956 should be allowed to expire at the end of September 1976.

4. The Bureau of Transport Economics should make the widest study, across all forms of transport in Australia, to establish true comparisons to show what is the best form of transport in each

particular circumstance.

5. There should be some speeding up of the administrative ma chinery in relation to finance for bulk berths. The Commonwealth Government may need to intervene from time to time with special assistance in

respect of particular berths.

- 14 -


The Commission recommends three areas of assistance to Australian shipping:

(1) In respect of coastal shipping -

(a) The investment allowance for taxation purposes recently introduced by the Government, and due to be reduced from 19 78 and removed from 1983, should be kept operating for a longer time for ships.

(b) If the investment allowance does not continue, much better depreciation allowances for taxation than at present applied to ships should be provided.

(2) In respect of Australian overseas shipping -(a) A form of flexible depreciation allowance for taxation, preferably free depreciation, should be provided.

(b) Government guarantees should be available to appropriate Australian shipping companies in respect of loans sought from shipbuilders.

(3) In respect of A.N.L. -

(a) A.N.L. should be restructured as a holding company.

(b) Three subsidiary companies should be set up, the first to handle coastal general cargo, the second bulk cargoes, both coastal and overseas, and the third overseas general cargo.

(c) The bulk cargo company and the overseas general cargo company should be permitted to obtain a proportion of their capital needs by the issue of shares to Australian or acceptable foreign

investors (e . g. foreign shipping companies), with the Commonwealth Government retaining a dominant position in the capital holdings of the companies.


24399/ 76-L


in respect of the four reports presented in June 1976

In its three previous reports the Commission has listed parties who have assisted the Commission with written submissions or discussions in respect of the subject of the report.

Because of the wide of the subjects

of this last group of four reports, the Commission has drawn generally on all submissions and information which it has received throughout the inquiry. It would be repetitious to list particular parties in

respect of each of these reports.

The Commission gratefully acknowledges the help which has been provided to it by way of

submissions and discussions on many aspects of the facts and the views dealt with in these reports.

- 17 - R'75/148o