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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2223

Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(4.57) —in reply-I thank the honourable members who have participated in the debate. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis) and the honourable member for the Northern Territory ( Mr Reeves) made positive and constructive contributions. They are both hard working members for their constituents. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) seemed a little ambivalent. I will refer to his comments later in a little more detail. At least I think he meant his comments in good faith. He made some study of the problems facing the Australian National Line as did, similarly, the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom). I will deal with those contributions in detail during my response.

I say at the outset that the condition of ANL and of other public transport enterprises on 5 March, was solely the creation of honourable members opposite. Today has been very much like listening to a confession as they traipsed in here one after the other and listed all the difficulties and problems faced by ANL and some of the other public transport enterprises, to which they were blind during their seven years in government. This Government in no way intends to accept responsibility for the disasters, mismanagement, bungling and incompetence of the previous Government which was in office for the last seven years and which comprised principally those who now sit opposite.

In listening to the debate it was quite obvious that the Opposition does not have any clear or definitive policy about the role of public transport enterprises. The National Party of Australia seems to want more free trade, with a blend of some sort of public sector involvement, as the honourable member for Wakefield recognised in his comments. But the Liberal Party section of the Opposition has a contrary view. The comments by the honourable member for Braddon were in direct conflict with the Opposition's policy as stated by the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher). As I said, in listening to the Opposition, it has been confession time for it this afternoon. It has suddenly discovered after seven years in government and after seven months in Opposition that there are difficulties facing the public transport enterprises, in particular ANL. It has confessed to the failure of its policies and its management and to its sheer incompetence. As members of parties which profess to represent the private sector and to know something about business, they are abysmal failures. I doubt that any of them would last long outside this building in the real world of private enterprise. We have seen their mismanagement in government and we now have the results of it.

The honourable member for Braddon, a former Minister who is from Tasmania, claimed in a somewhat enlightened fashion that ANL had not fulfilled its promise . It was supposed to be a commercial enterprise. Sure, if we go back and read the 1956 Act it was intended to be a commercial enterprise. We must remember that ANL has been around for 27 years under one description or an other, but for 24 of those 27 years it has been under the superintendence of Liberal-Country Party and Liberal-National Party governments. So whatever the failures, whatever the lack of policies from which ANL suffers, they are the result of policies imposed on it by the Liberal-National Party governments during those 24 years. There is no escaping that fact. It is no good after seven months the Opposition members getting up here and saying that it is the fault of the Labor Government and asking what is being done. This is the Opposition's creation. This is the Opposition's creature, and all its problems are a result of its development and its policies in operation.

The honourable member for Braddon said that the service on the Empress of Australia is second rate. He said that the food is not good enough, that the ship is operated for the crew. Effectively, he said: 'There are no girls on board, either; we ought to get some girl stewardesses'.

Mr Groom —Oh, come on.

Mr PETER MORRIS —They are the honourable member's words. He was a Minister, he was a member of the Ministry. He has represented the seat of Braddon for quite a number of years. Yet this afternoon, on 2 November, after seven months in Opposition he finds that there are some deficiencies with ANL. The obvious question Tasmanians ought to be asking is this: Where have you been all these years? Why did you not do something about the deficiencies? In regard to the replacement of the Empress of Australia, everyone knew when it came into service in 1965 that it had a 20-year survey life. For seven years the honourable member 's Government fiddled and fiddled with the proposition for replacement of the Empress of Australia.

Let us look further at the Liberal Party. I accept the genuineness of the plea put to me by the five Liberal members in this chamber from Tasmania that there should be a replacement for the Empress, or a replacement by the same kind of vessel configuration-a passenger-ferry-cargo-type combination. The fact is that the Tasmanian Government changes its policy and attitude usually month by month. Presently it is on a course in which it wants passenger car ferries, not cargo vessels. The Tasmanian Government is in conflict with the Federal representatives from Tasmania in this chamber. So the Opposition has problems in trying to work out what it wants. By interjection the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) gave the best answer. He said, 'Well, private enterprise will do the job', to which the honourable member for Braddon said: 'No, no, no'. The shadow Minister, the honourable member for Hume, who is at the table, said that he believed private enterprise will do the job.

Mr Lusher —Hear, hear!

Mr PETER MORRIS —'Hear, hear', the honourable member says. He has said that the policy of the Opposition parties, now that they have been in Opposition for seven months-although it was not so during the 24 years they were in government- is that ANL should be sold, the Darwin service abolished and the Tasmanian service abolished. I suggest that the Opposition and the Liberal Government in Tasmania ought to do something about consultation. They should sit down together and work out what their policy is.

Mr Cunningham —The conservative Liberals or the National Liberals?

Mr PETER MORRIS —Well, they have varying titles but, whatever their nomenclature , let them get together and work out something. We will know then what we are debating in this chamber and the people of Tasmania will know whether there is a prospect of improving the services. We want to see their services improved, but the policies of the Liberal Party here are in direct opposition to those put forward by the State Liberal Government in Tasmania. I pose the question: Just what is the Opposition's policy? Is it that put forward by the honourable member for Hume or is it that put forward in a mixed way-a bit of two bob each way-by the honourable member for Wakefield? Is it that put forward by the honourable member for Braddon, or is it that put forward by the honourable member for Franklin? I think it is to the continuing handicap of Tasmanians in particular that there is such confusion in the ranks of the Opposition about its policy.

It goes further, and I will deal now in detail with the remarks of the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume. He said that ANL should withdraw from the conferences. I say: His Government put the ANL into the conferences and had it there for 24 years. It could have been withdrawn at any time in that period. How is it now that after seven months in Opposition the honourable member suddenly thinks that that is the appropriate policy? It was a Liberal-Country Party Government which provided the initiative for ANL to go into the Australia-Europe Conference and allowed it to continue to expand into other conferences. It is not a simple matter for a government to instruct a commission or an authority to withdraw from a shipping conference. Strict conditions attach to membership of those conferences, and there is a very long procedure. It can be two or three years before a decision is taken. A government does not have flexibility.

If the honourable member is talking about withdrawing from the conferences and about the current state of the shipping industry, withdrawing from a conference will not affect the current situation. I repeat the point that the current situation is of the previous Government's making and this Government will in no way accept responsibility for the problems that have been created. If ANL, for instance, were suddenly able to pull out of the conference arrangements next week, say, ANL would not have sufficient capacity available to provide a frequency of independent service that would meet shipper requirements. I think that really what the honourable member means is that ANL should pull out of the conference. Later in his comments he referred to the costs involved in the operation of ANL, costs that his Government imposed. He really means when he suggests pulling ANL out of the conference that ANL be disbanded, that it be got rid of, because it cannot survive in the short term. It does not have sufficient capacity because the previous Government did not provide it.

As I said earlier, successive Liberal Party governments have supported the conference system for 24 years. I again pose another question: What does the Opposition want? Does it want the conference system? Listening to the honourable member for Wakefield, I would think the answer is yes. Listening to the honourable member for Braddon, I would think the answer is yes. Listening to the shadow Minister, who expounds policy, the answer is no. What does the rural sector want? I think what the rural sector needs more than anything else is stable, scheduled, competitive services. They are not always compatible, but they ought to be the objective. What is the answer? Does the Opposition believe that there should be a continuation of the single rate for Australia, the pan- Australia rate? It was not mentioned. The pan-Australia rate is a fundamental of the conference system, as are the scheduled services provided and scheduled capacity as required. What is the Opposition's view on these matters? I think it is time that the primary sector and the National Farmers Federation in discussions with the shadow Minister should explain what it is that it wants of the Opposition. The Opposition can then develop its ideas and decide whether it wants pan-Australia services, conference services, schedule services or just a straight open market-catch-as-catch-can.

The suggestion that conference rates are inflated because of ANL costs is completely wrong. The rates for shipping, as anybody who has been watching the financial columns over recent months would know, are determined by the market as a matter of commercial negotiation. Commercial negotiations have been conducted in all manners of ways for well over a century. In regard to rates, the case quoted by the shadow Minister demonstrated that the market determines the rates for wool and other commodities. So it is not the cost of a shipping line such as ANL that pushes up the rates.

I refer now to the mention made by the shadow Minister for Transport of the Australian Enterprise dispute.

Mr Lusher —Ah, yes.

Mr PETER MORRIS —The honourable member says: 'Ah, yes'. I will give him 'Ah, yes ', all right. He should just wait a bit.

Mr Lusher —Very interesting.

Mr PETER MORRIS —It is very interesting because the Australian Enterprise problem had been around for about 18 months. It did not happen on 5 March. It did not suddenly erupt a few days after we came to office. It was a problem of over-capacity of that conference service for well over a year-in fact, 18 months . But the shadow Minister for Transport, who is seated opposite, and those now in Opposition knew about it. They did not act upon it. It was too hard like all the other problems associated with public transport enterprises. This problem was too hard. Honourable members opposite put them away and had a Micawber-like policy: Just let us keep going and maybe something will turn up and all the problems will go away. That is the way they were managing national transport and international transport in this country. So the Australian Enterprise was a problem again of their creation, a problem which they ignored, with the result that, when we came to government, ANL had laid up the Australian Enterprise. That was followed by bans being imposed by the seagoing unions on outside operators.

Mr Lusher —Surprise, surprise.

Mr PETER MORRIS —To have to listen to the honourable member's infantile comments and those of some of his colleagues in the private sector who suggest that there was some kind of Machiavellian arrangement between the conference--

Mr Lusher —Why was it made out?

Mr PETER MORRIS —It was because the honourable member's Government did naught about it. The question I want to ask is: Why did the former Government not deal with it? It knew it was a difficult problem. It knew what the conditions were. It knew that there was an over-capacity. It knew what the outcomes might be but it did nothing about it. So the question I ask is: Why? I just want to state the facts. On 22 March I convened a meeting to seek solutions to that problem. We did not wait for 18 months and do nothing; I convened a meeting.

Mr Lusher —You sooled the unions on to them.

Mr PETER MORRIS —I think that is quite infantile really. I would have expected better from the honourable member.

Mr Lusher —I think it is; that is what happened.

Mr PETER MORRIS —I think the honourable member is infantile.

Mr Lusher —It might be infantile, but that is exactly what happened.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The Chair would appreciate no interjections.

Mr PETER MORRIS —On 22 March we convened a meeting to seek solutions. It is a matter of record that that meeting between the federal officials of the seagoing unions, myself, my Department, the Chairman and the General Manager of the Australian Shipping Commission provided some resolution to the situation in respect of ANL. It resulted in agreement to improve ANL's viability. Following that initial meeting this Government, because of the difficult situation which ANL had been left by the previous Government, resolved to inject $90m into ANL to increase its equity capital, to ease its interest burden and to improve its gearing ratio. As part of that agreement and as part of that decision there was an undertaking on the part of the unions to improve shipboard productivity, on the part of management to improve management efficiency and on the part of the Government to convene continued consultations in the overall interests of ANL. Those actions and decisions have resulted in an improvement in the competitiveness of ANL. It has enabled subsequently the Australian Enterprise to be re-employed. The fact is that, in respect of the Australian Enterprise, I understand that the unions and the ship-owners met quite separately to discuss gross over tonnaging and predatory pricing. That is not unusual. If honourable members go back and read their history books, Jack London and all the stories of the sea from the day of the first shipping service competition, they will find that there were discussions and there have been discussions in all manner of fashion between competitive ship-owners and ship operators.

Under the Trade Practices Act introduced by the previous Liberal Party Government it is not unusual for shipping owners and conference operators to have discussions. The protection provided under Part X of the Trade Practices Act is in respect of conferences. To suggest that I sanctioned the resultant arrangements I find quite offensive and I reject it utterly. I would have expected something better from those people advising the shadow Minister for Transport. If that is the way they think and if they pursue this theory of some Machiavellian plot I see little prospect for them in their handling of these very difficult matters involving the shipping industry. I have no power of approval in relation to agreements reached between ship-owners.

Mr Lusher —You knew what was going on and you encouraged it.

Mr PETER MORRIS —That is a lie. The honourable member knows it to be a lie. I do not propose to say any more about it.

Mr Lusher —You must have known.

Mr PETER MORRIS —It is a deliberate lie and it is meant that way, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —I think the Minister had best withdraw that remark.

Mr PETER MORRIS —Madam Deputy Speaker, I withdraw the remark. The statement made by the shadow Minister for Transport is a deliberate falsehood. The shadow Minister for Transport referred at length to the study of ANL by John Stubbs. I have read the summary of John Stubbs's report. It is a very negative critique of the operations of ANL. It was published during the time of the previous Government. I do not recall any member of the previous Government rising to respond to it, even the Minister at the time. But I should say in respect of John Stubbs's work that it offers nothing positive as an alternative. It does not offer any solutions. It runs through a list of complaints. But complaints are not enough. Having identified problems it is a matter then of offering the alternatives.

The next matter which was dealt with was accelerated depreciation allowances for vessels. Those allowances, when implemented, will put the shipping industry on a basis something similar to that available to shore-based industry. There is nothing special about them; there is no advantage about them. It will still leave Australian shipping, whether it is ANL or private sector shipping, in a less advantageous position than shipping abroad. I have to make the point that the report of the Crawford Committee on Revitalisation of Australian Shipping, which was introduced in this Parliament on 18 February last year, was supported by us in opposition. It was developed by the former Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), who is in the chamber. I am concerned to hear that report and those recommendations, for which the previous Minister for Transport worked and fought so hard, being denigrated by the present shadow Minister for Transport. As far as this Government is concerned we will persist with the introduction of that legislation later in this parliamentary session to provide for accelerated depreciation allowances.

I come now to the matter of ANL manning levels and management efficiency. Again that was mentioned by the shadow Minister for Transport and the honourable member for Wakefield. This is not a new problem. It has been around since the beginning of shipping. What is not new either is that the former Government did not do anything about it. We do not propose to carry responsibility for the shortcomings of the previous Government. We have adopted a policy with three objectives: To improve productivity, to improve efficiency and to improve the competitiveness of the Australian National Line.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.