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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1876

Mr HANSEN (Wide Bay) - I wish to speak to that section of the estimates of the Department of Transport concerned with shipbuilding. This is an area in which I have had some experience, being a third generation shipwright. I have been most appreciative of the actions of the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) since he has taken over this portfolio. I think his actions in this regard can speak louder than my words. To illustrate this point I quote figures of ships that were on order at the time of the election on 2 December 1972, and of ships on order at present. Vessels on order and under construction on 2 December 1972 were 39 but at present - some 10 months later - 75 ships are on order. Vessels for which tenders had closed but for which no orders had been placed numbered 7 at election date but there are now 33. Vessels for which tenders had been called, totalled 2 last December. I well know this fact because I introduced deputations from the Queensland shipbuilding yards of Evans Deakin Industries Ltd and Walkers Ltd to the then Minister for Shipping and Transport and the then Minister for the Navy. Those deputations wanted to know what work might be pushed into the yards to enable them to maintain some sort of continuity. At 2 December 1972 there were 2 orders for which tenders had been called but at present there are 24. Vessels for which tenders might be called - prospective vessels - numbered 17 at that stage but now there are 6.

The position has changed from one of disillusionment and wonderment at what was to happen to the shipbuilding industry after the Tariff Board report was released in June 1972. The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), who was Minister for Shipping and Transport at one time, will recall that the Tariff Board, whose report was released early in June 1972, commenced its hearings some 3 years previously. He would know that the conditions that applied at the time of the hearings were entirely different from those applying at the time the Tariff Board report was released. The Government of that time put forward a policy which meant the complete failure of continuity of work for existing shipyards throughout Australia but which encouraged a number of firms to enter the shipbuilding industry. They were attracted by a very high subsidy. They were attracted to the industry to carry out construction jobs which did not require the technical equipment usually associated with shipbuilding. They were able to take advantage of the policy of the Government, which was in no way concerned with the retention of existing shipbuilding yards and a rationalisation of shipbuilding orders among those yards.

I know that the subject of rationalisation of orders is very close to the heart of the present Minister. I pay a tribute to him in this respect. I have mentioned that 75 vessels are now on order or under construction. I known that most of those orders arose from the Minister's decision. Under the Navigation Act he has power to allow vessels to operate on the Australian coast under permit for single voyages or, in some cases, any number of voyages. In many cases those vessels are manned by overseas crews. But he has that power to allow them to operate. He also has power to ask of the people who are operating these ships that they place an order for a vessel to carry out this work with an Australian shipyard within a certain time and place a bond with the Australian Shipbuilding Board. The Minister has interpreted the Act as it was meant to be interpreted.

In case anyone has any ideas that the previous Government or previous Ministers for Transport were interpreting the Act properly, I instance what happened with respect to a vessel by the name of 'Clara Clausen'. The Clausen Line was operating this vessel between Cairns and the Gulf country. It was carrying cattle to the meat works at Queerah. Before I entered this Parliament - in about 1960 - it was required to place an order for a replacement vessel. It made inquiries of Australian shipyards about a replacement vessel, but it did not go any further with the placement of an order. It continued to operate with the permission of the then Minister for Shipping and Transport. Eventually it brought in another vessel. But it was not a replacement vessel that was built in Australia; it was a vessel that was built in Yugoslavia. It operated that vessel on the Australian coast.

One of the first actions of the present Minister for Transport was to advise this Line and others like it that before he would grant a permit they would need to place a genuine order with an Australian shipyard. Many of them have done so. An examination of the number of prawn trawlers that have been placed on order or are under construction in Australian yards will give a fair indication of the number of vessels which were operating on the Australian coast under permit. But it did not stop just with small vessels; it extended to vessels of considerable size that were operating with the permission of the Minister for Transport. I hope that this practice will cease.

Shipbuilding is not an industry that a company can move into and out of at will. There may be some types of ship construction which permit this to happen, such as particular types of oil rigs, particular types of lighters and that type of construction, but for practical shipbuilding purposes a skilled work force has to be built up over a period of years. Apprentices are trained in the various aspects of the work. Australian shipyards generally over the last decade or so have moved with the advanced techniques in ship construction. They probaly have not moved as fast as they would have liked or as the people for whom they were building would have liked. A lot of this is tied up with the lack of continuity of orders and a need to know where the industry is going. I am sure that those people associated with the shipbuilding industry have appreciated the decisive action taken by the Minister, particularly in regard to the Evans Deakin shipyard in the placing of orders. He almost bent over backwards to ensure a continuity of work.

I have' been personally associated with the Minister for quite a number of years. Sometimes I have been amazed at this outspokenness in telling the unions where they are wrong. He has never been frightened to tell them where they have been wrong. As a private member or as a Minister if he believes someone is wrong he has never been frightened to state his attitude. The references which the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) made about the Minister in this regard, whether it be shipbuilding or any other aspect of his portfolio, definitely do not line up with the nature of the man as I and many other members who have worked with him know him.

I believe that the Minister has placed the shipbuilding industry in a position where it knows where it is going. He has given some comfort of continuity of employment to those people who have given a lifetime to the industry, particularly in decentralised areas such as Maryborough, which is in my electorate, where shipbuilding has been in continuous practice since the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. I am sure the industry will continue with the assistance of the policies which will be implemented by the Minister for Transport.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr Luchetti) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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