Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2220

Mr ANDREW(4.43) —I rise to support the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill 1983. I hope to lift the standard of debate above the gutter politics I have just been disappointed to witness from the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves). I start with a quotation. The quotation comes from the Country Life magazine of almost 50 years ago-6 May 1932 . The editor of Country Life wrote:

If our wool and wheat had wings, our graziers and farmers would not have to worry so much over shipping freights and port charges and harassing conditions along the waterfront.

Things have changed all too little since that time. I rise to support this Bill and, more directly, to support the amendment that has been moved by the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) which calls for even more parliamentary accountability in supervising the affairs of the Australian National Line. I remind the honourable member for the Northern Territory that it was, in fact, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), the former Minister for Transport, who set up the Crawford Committee on Revitalisation of Australian Shipping that resulted in the present review of ANL's activities. Whilst it has been all too easy for the honourable member for the Northern Territory to sit here passing judgment on what has happened in this House and what has happened to ANL, he would do well to remember that when in government the Opposition recognised the same difficulties and were the people who set up the Crawford Committee to produce a report.

The Crawford report pointed out that there were two major difficulties facing ANL. The first, of course, was that in some instances competitive shippers enjoyed preferential financial arrangements to those experienced by ANL. The second and most significant difficulty was that the manning-perhaps we are required to say 'personing'-levels of ANL vessels were far too excessive. I address my remarks first to the financial arrangements under which ANL works. Those financial arrangements are the hallmark of some of the dilemmas that public enterprise faces. A number of complications faced ANL. The first was that the world market in bulk cargoes was falling as a result of the world-wide recession. The second complication, closer to home, was the fact that Australia was in the grip of a drought, so there was less raw material available to be transported.

What has been recognised is that the financial problems facing ANL were a result of the high interest rates it had to meet as a result of its high borrowing. As has already been pointed out in the House, the decision was taken to convert $60m in loan to capital and to give ANL a $30m grant. This provided an effective $90m handout to the Australian National Line and gave it what ought to be a decided advantage over any other similar competing line. So let there be no mistake about it; the financial arrangements have been made. Furthermore the need for financial arrangements to be made had been recognised by the Opposition , when in government, as a result of its Crawford report.

In spite of that, ANL's inability to be competitive remains scandalous. Here we live in Australia with 19,000-plus kilometres of coastline, with a population largely centred on our seaboards, with 1,000 million tonnes of domestic freight in excess of being moved annually and with only 50 million tonnes of this freight being moved by coastal shipping because ANL ceased to be competitive. ANL has effectively failed to capture the coastal shipping trade in Australia in tonnage terms.

If the picture were simply as bleak as that, we in Opposition would not be supporting this Bill. We would be moving for the abolition of ANL. But in reality, there is some light on the horizon. There is the opportunity for ANL, properly managed, to be profitable. That opportunity exists when we look to the potential for the movement of bulk haulage. If we look at bulk haulage in Australian transport terms and compare our various transport modes, we have to face the fact that, in terms of a tonne-kilometre basis, coastal shipping carries over 50 per cent of our tonnage per kilometre. The average length of haulage by a coastal vessel is 2,104 kilometres, compared with 36 kilometres by road and 253 kilometres by rail. So there is opportunity for ANL to be profitable if properly managed. It has to throw off the historic shackles of inefficiency that are unfortunately so much a part of public enterprise, a part of public enterprise simply because public enterprises know that when the worst comes to the worst they can go cap in hand to the government and seek some relief.

Far from ANL having been milked dry by the Government, as was claimed by the honourable member for the Northern Territory, the reality is that ANL failed to let down the milk it ought to have let down to the taxpayers of Australia and instead chose to milk dry Australian taxpayers. It is because of this that the Opposition has proposed its amendment and has called for greater accountability by ANL at Federal government level.

The second difficulty faced by ANL which was highlighted by the Crawford report was the difficulty of crewing. I realise that comments about crewing involve a difficult and controversial arena. I do not want to allow political prejudices on either side of the House to hide the truth. The truth is that high-cost Japanese and European vessels, effectively have five to eight persons less per vessel than do ANL vessels. Let me illustrate this point. I mention three sister ships of the Japan-East Asia Line, the Hyogo Maru with a Japanese crew of 26, the Australian Searoader with a Japanese crew of 28, and the Australian Enterprise with an Australian crew of 35. These three are sister ships, but it is the Australian Enterprise that has the additional eight men to man it.

Union insistence on large crews and on each ANL vessel needing two full crews has priced ANL out of the market and made crewing so difficult. The lesson for Australian maritime unions is that they must overcome their insistence on large crews in few ships to save jobs. Instead, we need more ships manned by smaller crews, creating more work. I acknowledge that the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) has recognised this point. On page 4 of the original typescript of his second reading speech he said:

While there may be fewer jobs available in the short term, I stress that this process is essential to ANL's survival, to its growth and to its providing more jobs in the future.

In other words, what the Minister has acknowledged and what my Party in Opposition has been saying, is that what is good for the employer is good for the employee. In this debate the honourable member for Hume has already illustrated the dilemma that faced the vessel Australian Enterprise. No less scandalous is the situation that faced the vessel River Boyne when in October 1982, as the first coal fired freighter in 30 years, chock-a-block with brand new technology, was tied up for seven weeks in Gladstone over a demarcation dispute, costing the charterer of the day $3m.

It is not only crews on ships who have not been as responsible as they ought to have been in terms of Australian maritime services. We must recognise that ANL and private contractors have been made less efficient because of the action of shore crews. Shore unions in Australia load the Australian transport bill by 47 per cent, while shore unions in European countries load the bill by 15 per cent, making a total bill attributable to shore unions of 62 per cent for the transport of goods from Australia to European countries. Nor is it only the actions of crews at sea or in port that have been of concern to the Australian National Line. The ship repair area is something of an embarrassment. The report of the Australian Shippers Council for this year states:

The ACTU campaign to require foreign shipowners to carry out a significant proportion of their ship repairs and maintenance in Australian yards disrupted trade and has the potential to add significantly to the cost of shipping services into and out of Australia. The campaign has been conducted more recently on the basis of direct ACTU/shipowner negotiations, and as a result it is difficult to asses the overall extent of compliance with union demands.

The ASC expressed its concern publicly about the cost to exporters from forced use of Australian ship repair and maintenance facilities. The advice of ship owners has been that with few exceptions most lines are well placed to effect regular maintenance in yards at rates well below those applying in Australia. Where this is not the case, and other considerations being equal, ship owners are prepared to use Australian facilities. Repairs should be effected wherever circumstances dictated.

The result of the interruptions on shore and in ship repair facilities to the ANL program are estimated to have cost ANL $11.5m last year. ANL suffered more than any other ship-owner, because ANL, as the national line, made more use of Australian ports and its program as a result was interrupted more than that of any other ship-owner.

Why should I, as the member for Wakefield, be greatly excited about what happens to ANL? I am concerned about what happens to the taxpayers in my electorate. But even more directly, I am concerned about what happens to the exporters of wheat and wool in the seat of Wakefield. It is the farmers in my electorate who are directly affected by the policies that influence ANL, just as the mining companies are affected. The Government and the Opposition-this Parliament-agree that Australia needs trade and exports. All I can do is to repeat as briefly as I can the statement by the honourable member for Hume, the statement endorsed by the National Farmers Federation, which stressed the additional cost to farmers of the present shipping lines and the bind in which we as primary producers currently find ourselves.

Let us not see a repeat of the situation that existed when the Labor Government was in power in 1975 and then Minister Jones chose in effect to make Christmas Island a part of Australia's coastal islands and to ignore the 1,800 kilometres of ocean that exists between Christmas Island and Australia. As a result of the reservation for ANL of superphosphate cargo from Christmas Island to Australia, the cost went up by between $6 to $10 a tonne. The end result of that action is curiously Gilbertian. The Government and the taxpayers of Australia pay the farmers of Australia $12 a tonne as a superphosphate subsidy, and the farmers of Australia pay back that money directly to the shippers in order to subsidise ANL to the tune of $10 a tonne.

Mr Hawker —It is scandalous.

Mr ANDREW —Of course it is scandalous. I thank the honourable member for his comment. In addition, this subsidy is being paid to the farmers and the farmers make the money available to pay Australian seamen. It is a Gilbertian situation because the money is simply going around, doing a job which, according to a large firm of international bulk ship operators, could be carried as a back load for 48 per cent of the current freight rate. As the honourable member for Hume mentioned earlier, an amount of 640,000 tonnes of superphosphate is involved, which is, at $10 a tonne, $6.4m or $29,000 for every job that has been created for ANL in order to have access to the Christmas Island phosphate deposits.

The Opposition has no difficulty with encouraging open competition. We have no difficulty with encouraging ANL to run its affairs on an appropriate commercial basis. We think it is essential, as the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) said earlier in this debate, that the Parliament be required to put pressure on ANL. Because we think that that is essential, the honourable member for Hume has foreshdowed an amendment which would make ANL accountable to the Parliament. I support the foreshadowed amendment.