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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1057

Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) (Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation) - I am astounded; the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon), who was the former Minister for Shipping and Transport, has brought this matter before the House, but all he could talk about in his speech which ran for 12 minutes was all the ills that this Government has not cured. Honourable members will have noticed that I rose in my place and supported the request to debate this matter of public importance because I welcome the opportunity of replying to the frivolous statement that has been made by the former Minister. The honourable member for Gippsland) said that he knows the Department. He ought to; he was the Minister of it. But why did not the honourable member when he was the Minister do something positive about ensuring that there would be a continuity of orders after 2nd December? There is not one order in the pipeline to be allocated to any shipyard, and if ever there is a guilty man he is the honourable member for Gippsland. These are the facts. I challenge the honourable member, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) and the former Minister for Shipping and Transport, the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) who will speak last in this debate to give us the facts.

Mr Giles - The current facts.

Mr CHARLES JONES - These are the facts. Let me deal with King Island. I would like to quote from the statement made by Captain Houfe which was incorporated in Hansard by the honourable member for Gippsland. Captain Houfe said:

Budgets made out by three separate Companies show thatif the former freight subsidy of $4.35 per ton was made available the vessel can operate profitably on a freight rate of $12 per ton plus the freight subsidy.

So there, once again, is the guilty man. Captain Houfe took that ship off the run in June 1972 and the then Minister did not do one thing about making sure that that ship remained on the run. As far as the then Minister was concerned they could have tied this ship up for ever. He was not prepared to do one thing about keeping it on the run.

Captain Houfe had an arrangement with the former Minister. One of the agreements was that when Grassy was developed that the subsidy would cease. I stated on behalf of the Australian Labor Party Transport Committee that our Party would do certain things about the 'Straitsman' and the King Island trade. This was based on information which came to us from Captain Houfe. I say that Captain Houfe - and I make this statement in complete realisation of what I am saying - misled my Party into believing that the 'Straitsman' was a viable proposition. The former Minister knew at the time that it was not a viable proposition. According to what we have since discovered from a close investigation of this matter the facts are that if we were to put the Straitsman' on, the Australian National Line would lose something like $500,000 a year. Captain Houfe knew that because he lost $90,000 in the first 7 weeks during which this run was operated. The former Minister also knew about it. So he should not come in here and make hypocritical statements about what goes on and what does not go on. The position is that the 'Straitsman' is not a proposition. We were not given the facts. The situation is that we have made a deal with the Tasmanian Government. At a meeting the Premier of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Minister for Transport, the Federal Treasurer and I agreed that the 'Straitsman' was not and is not a suitable vessel for the King Island trade. For that reason we have come to an arrangement that another ship can be brought on to the run for 2 or 3 years. At the end of 2 years the Tasmanian Government has agreed that it will replace the imported vessel with a ship built in an Australian yard and on which the Commonwealth will pay a subsidy. These are the facts in regard to what has taken place.

Let us have a look at the real situation. When Adelaide Ship Construction completes the shipbuilding work it now has, there will be no further orders for it. The honourable member for Gippsland was the Minister who approved the order for the ship for Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia, for which Adelaide Ship Construction submitted the lowest tender, being allocated to Broken Hill Pty Ltd. The former Minister tolerated this. The same thing applied to the Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand's vessel when the hon ourable member was the Minister. In that case Adelaide Ship Construction was the lowest tenderer but the contract went to BHP. The honourable member was the Minister who was responsible for this decision. So I ask you not to talk to me about what I have not done. I will tell him in a moment what I have done, and it is plenty. That is more than can be said for the honourable member for Gippsland.

It is true that Evans Deakin Industries Ltd is almost out of work at the moment. I do not know what that company is up to. It would appear to me that it is getting up to some skulduggery in trying te put pressure on to the Government. But there is no need to put pressure on the Government because the Government has made sufficient statements on what it is doing to put shipbuilding in Australia on a sound basis so that yards will know where they are going and will be able to act accordingly. Evans Deakin has an order to build a drilling rig. It is not a $20m rig. You know that the cost will be less than $10m. They have an order to build this rig.

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