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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2135

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - The Bill before the House at present, the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Bill, is really a repeat performance of what happened last year. In other words, it provides for the temporary provisions introduced then to be carried on for a further 12 months for the simple reason that the answers to the many problems that have been raised on the waterfront in Australia have not as yet been found. The honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) mentioned early in his speech that there had been no Government action in relation to these problems in recent times, and therefore this was the reason for introducing this Bill at this time. I think he would be the first to agree that there has been a considerable change, not only in Australia but also all over the world, in stevedoring activities in recent years. It was during the time of changeover that the temporary provisions we are discussing were introduced in an effort to find a solution to the problems arising from the new set of circumstances which were operating not only in Australia but also around the world.

Australia is not unique in this problem. The honourable member probably knows as well as I do that many ports in the world have had major problems in this regard. I would say from my experience that the ports that have been forward-looking enough to take the concept in total and not in bits and pieces are the ports around the world which have come closer to solving the problem than have those ports that have taken it piecemeal. This change is no doubt what the Government will be studying in the next 12 months because the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) has indicated that he hopes that a solution will be found to the many problems and that he will be able to bring down permanent legislation within the next 12 months, if not before. I wish him luck in that exercise.

Mention has also been made this evening of the activities of the waterfront, the industry's shortcomings and its problems. One of the great difficulties on the waterfront is, of course, supervision. Years ago, for many reasons adequate supervision was not available. If the Minister for Labour, who is at the table, is to handle the total situation he should look very closely at that point. He would be the first to agree that where a lot of men are working together supervision is very important. In the stevedoring industry supervision would be somewhat easier than in many other industries where personnel are scattered around Australia. At least in the port authorities they work in relatively concentrated areas and for that reason supervision should be easier than it is in other industries. Over the years the lack of adequate supervision has been a shortcoming in relation to waterside workers.

I will cite figures to illustrate the changes that have taken place. In 1965, 22,744 men were registered for employment on the Australian waterfront. At 30th June 1971 16,853 men were registered at all ports. At 30th June 1972 the figure had dropped to 14,592. Obviously the trend is continuing, mainly because of the changes around the world which I have mentioned. Tremendous expansion has taken place in shipbuilding and the capital investment in both general cargo vessels and bulk cargo vessels has greatly increased. The introduction of different types of shipping has meant that fewer men are required at ports, both in ships and on shore. This trend will continue. It is necessary to determine for how long the trend will continue and how the men to be replaced can be employed in other occupations. As more container ships and bulk handling equipment come into operation fewer men will be required on the waterfront.

The honourable member for Phillip mentioned the problems related to peaks and troughs of waterfront employment. Employment in ports differs from employment in other spheres. Shippers and shipping companies expect ports around the world to be open for 24 hours a day. They do not expect ports ever to close. When a ship is in port the master looks for labour to turn the ship around quickly. A decision must be reached on the amount of labour to be employed as a percentage of the cargo moving through the port.

Calculations must be made in respect of the peaks and troughs of employment. The honourable member for Phillip put forward an argument that we have heard on many occasions; that is, that it is better to have surplus 'abour than to have idle ships.

These are complex questions which must be examined very carefully by governments or personnel dealing with such situations. The co-operation of governments, shipowners and all people concerned in shipping operations is essential if solutions are to be found to these problems. The Government cannot do it alone. It must have the co-operation of all people involved. I have said before that the total scene needs to be looked at in respect of cargo handling. Again the co-operation of all concerned is necessary. On 25th May 1972, when we were debating the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Bill, the present Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) led for the Opposition. He said on that occasion:

The Government cannot allow the economy of the port of Newcastle or that district to decline.

He was referring to certain things that had happened in that area. He went on:

It has to come up with answers. This does not apply only to the port of Newcastle; it applies to every port throughout the Commonwealth, with the possible exception of Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle. All other ports are vitally affected by the substantial change that has taken place in the handling of cargoes throughout Australia.

That is quite true. Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle were the only ports which initially were adopted by the container handlers operating to this country. They were the major ports concerned in the change. Later in his speech the present Minister for Transport, referring to the Government of that time, said:

You just cannot make a change overnight and expect people to carry the result of decisions which are made by a minority of the people.

He was referring to the number of people employed in the industry. Earlier in my speech I cited figures which indicated a decline in waterfront employment because of changing circumstances. The present Government has this problem on its plate and it has to be resolved. In seeking to resolve the problem I hope that the Government looks at the total scene and not only at the ports. It is necessary to look beyond the ports to see what is happening on land as well as on sea. The frequency of ship arrivals must be considered, as well as shipping schedules, traffic density and congestion in port areas. A large proportion of the cost arises in those areas, and perhaps the smaller ports could be utilised to some extent to reduce congestion in the larger ports.

I referred earlier to decisions which have been taken in other parts of the world - Europe and the United States of America - wherever container cargoes are handled. The Matson Line was one of the early operators in the Pacific area. It moved from its quarters on the west coast of the United States to an area in which it could gain more freedom to move. This has been happening all round Australia. Recently a lot has been said about setting up new cities in Australia. Shipping and associated problems must not be neglected by the Commonwealth and State governments which have responsibility in these areas. The total scene must be taken into consideration if our problems are to be solved. I am not talking only from something I have read, although I have read a lot about this subject. I have had some experience. I took the trouble at an early stage of the development of container cargoes to have a look for myself at what was happening. There is no substitute for first hand experience. In areas where the total scene has been studied the economics of operations are far better than they are in the more congested areas where operators have stayed in the same place and have endeavoured to make a go of it, sometimes in quite impossible circumstances.

The total scene in relation to shipping has changed around the world. A few years ago who would have talked of tankers of 250,000 tons? Today there is talk of tankers of 500,000 tons, and on the drawing board there is possibly a tanker of 1,000,000 tons. That illustrates the tremendous changes that are taking place. Some European ports have planned for developments into the next century. There is great competition in that area and operations are not conducted on week to week planning or even year to year planning. They have laid plans right through into the next century. They know precisely where they are going. This is a very interesting exercise which can be done only on these terms. We cannot plan this sort of operation. It is far too big to plan in any small way. We must look well ahead at where we are going. Where we are going in relation to shipping around the world is clear to me at the moment. This evidence is available. But as far as Australia is concerned, which is equally as important as any other country in the world, unless the Government of the day looks at the total scene, we have no chance in life of breaking down the costs which are presently rising. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) has spelled out many of the costs involved this evening, and therefore I will not reiterate them now. It is clear from the figures he cited to the House that costs are increasing and this trend will continue until somebody is big enough to do what is needed in this country, namely, look at the total scene.

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