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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3045

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! Interjections are out of order. I call the honourable member for Shortland.

Mr MORRIS -Thank you for your protection, Mr Deputy Speaker. We welcome the introduction of this legislation. Although it is belated and overdue, at least now we can set about the business of not only improving the efficiency of the ANL operations but also, and more importantly, giving to the people of north Queensland a better, more frequent and more economical freight service than they have had in the past. The attitude of the Queensland Government has been in line with that of the present Government, as evidenced by a letter a copy of which I have here. It was dated February 1976 and was addressed to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). A proposal was put that the Government should dispose of the four ANL bulk carriers. One determines from the letter that, when it was found that the loss that would be suffered would be greater than any capital investment that might be saved, the Government found that it had to proceed with the construction and purchase of the four bulk carriers from Sweden and Germany.

I cannot understand why those on the other side of the House, in this Parliament and outside it, make such consistent attacks upon the operations of the people's own transport enterprises. Frequently we see from those opposite and from their party organisations at State and Federal levels attacks on the operations of TransAustralia Airlines, the Australian National Railways, our shipping line or Qantas Airways Ltd. More recently the attacks have been on Qantas and TAA. I would have thought that, since these are publicly owned enterprises and are making profits for the Australian people, those who sit opposite- who, after all, are supposed to constitute the Government and who are responsible in the first place for the operations of the statutory authorities- would be welcoming the results and trying to induce from those statutory authorities a better quality of service and a better performance still. Instead of that, we see consistently the opposite. We hear that TAA ought to be disbanded and amalgamated with Qantas. There is a fair risk that there will be a substantial change to the two-airline agreement after the election is over, if this Government unfortunately is returned. Obviously changes are in mind. I will come back to that later in my comments, in relation to the McNeill Committee.

We are told that, under the guise of creating a regime of equal opportunity, several amendments have been made to the principal Act to place the ANL on a similar footing to private shipping companies. I do not understand what a regime of equal opportunity is. Maybe the Minister's speech writer one day will define it. I think it means all things to all men. I think it is true to say that the ANL has operated in the past in a generally competitive atmosphere in the market place. It has done its job well. It has a very good reputation both nationally and internationally. A minor amendment is being made to the principal Act to enable the General Manager of the Commission to also be a commissioner. I think that simply tidies up an arrangement for Mr Reg Robin who is presently in that position.

Clause 7 is a key clause which provides for intrastate operations. I think it is important that I mention a couple of the provisions in that clause. Proposed new section 16a provides: . . . powers relating to the provision of-

(a)   shipping services for the carriage of goods between places in that State; or

(b)   shipping services of the kind mentioned in paragraph (a) and services for the carriage of goods by land to the extent that such carriage is incident to the carriage of goods by sea in pursuance of shipping services of that kind.

(2)   The regulations may provide that sub-section (1) does not extend to all or any of the functions and powers expressed to be conferred on the Commission by a State Act

I mentioned at the outset that complementary legislation went through the Queensland Parliament. As I said, it was brought on by the pressure of the Queensland elections. This Parliament at least has had a few days to look at this Bill. The complementary legislation was introduced into the Queensland Parliament and passed through all stages in the one afternoon, on the second last day of the life of that Parliament. The relevant clause of the Queensland complementary legislation, the Australian Shipping Commission Authorization Bill, is clause 5. 1 think that clause also ought to be mentioned because of the relationship it has to clause 7 of the Bill we are now debating. The clause provides:

Authorization of Commission. (1) The Commission is hereby authorized, subject to this Act, to establish, maintain and operate or to provide for the establishment, maintenance and operation of-

(a)   shipping services for the carriage of goods between places in the State; and

(b)   services for the carriage of goods by land to the extent that such carriage is incident to the carriage of goods by sea pursuant to this section.

(2)   The authority conferred on the Commission by subsection (1) shall continue until a date fixed pursuant to section 6 as the date on which this Act shall cease to be in force.

Naturally, section 6 relates to the termination of the agreement between the national Government and the State Government. Clause 8 of the Bill before the House is an important clause also. It provides that where a service is to be provided in the public interest an urgent public inquiry is to be conducted into the nature of the alternative shipping services or other modes of transport, including those which could be provided by private transport operators. In effect this means that, where it is felt that a shipping service ought to be provided and the Government wants to take a decision under section 17 of the principal Act, the Minister will be required to urgently order an inquiry into whether that service ought to be provided. If such a service ought to be provided, inquiries will be made into whether some other mode of transport, such as air, or whether a company other than the ANL or any other supplier of transport services could provide the service. I think, from the Minister's second reading speech and from the explanatory notes, that an opportunity is given for the private sector to come into the market and to participate in providing a subsidised service where the Minister has deemed that a service ought to be provided. I think it is possible that in the long term that may operate to the advantage of the ANL, but an assessment of that would depend upon the return on the funds invested or the capital invested in providing that service and the kind of return that the Government would see fit to pay. It is simply a reimbursement of losses incurred by the Line in providing that service; there is no profit content for the Line and capital will be invested without any return. Even though it seems to me that in the short term that amendment is intended to open up access to those services to the private sector, I think it is possible that in the long term it will have the opposite result for ANL in that it will enable ANL to be more selective in those areas of operation that it decides are profitable.

Clause 9 of the Bill provides for the Minister to set the dividend target. This is in line with his power in respect of Trans-Australia Airlines. There is nothing untoward about that other than that one could possibly see that as a device by which the Minister in setting the dividend target could set it unreasonably high. That would require the Commission to set rates to try to achieve that dividend target. If there were only one or two other operators in that service that would enable those operators to bring their prices up to those levels. So indirectly it could be interpreted as a freight rate maintenance scheme. It remains to be seen whether that will work out. In the same clause provision has been made for the supply of estimates at least half yearly, and possibly more frequently. I think that is a good move. I understand that they used to be supplied in the past in normal accounting methods.

Clause 10 provides for separate accounts for coastal operations and overseas operations. This again is a reversion to past practice. Again the Opposition thinks this will be of use in determining the operations and success of the Commission and in helping the Parliament to fine down the areas of improvement that should be looked at by the Parliament or by the Minister. Clause 1 1 deals with the implementation of new freight rates. It provides the Minister with a power to disapprove proposed rates within 60 days of notice. It also provides that if he does not disapprove of them the rates apply automatically, as I understand that clause.

The purpose of that, it seems, will be to remove some of the political opprobrium from the Minister or the Government as being seen to be directly responsible for increasing freight rates. Because freight rates to Tasmania had not been increased in even and frequent steps prior to the election in 1972 there was a build up of pressure for a price increase to try to recover losses being incurred. As a result of that the Whitlam Government had to increase rates in the 1972-75 period by 40 per cent. I think clause 11 will prevent that happening in the future. Clause 12 is only a machinery clause covering superannuation. Clause 13 ensures that funds intended as capital will be so identified by Parliament. I think again that this is to the advantage of ANL. It will clarify its position. In moneys transmitted from the Parliament to the Commission where capital is properly identified the Commission will be in a position to relate its accounts more accurately in the performance of its operations and to remove some of the doubt that has been spread from time to time by opponents of publicly owned transport enterprises.

Clause 14 deals with the power of the Minister to determine the dividend to be paid to the Commonwealth. Clause 15 puts ANL borrowings on the same basis as those of the private sector and provides that approvals for loans to be raised be required only from the Treasurer and not from the Minister for Transport as at present. Clause 17 gives the Minister power to determine disposal of the balance of ANL profits for the financial year. Clause 1 8 deals with taxation liability. It puts the Commission in the same position as private shipping companies. I do not think there is much difference at all in actual practice in the tax rates that are paid by the Commission or other charges that are applicable. As I understand it, if statutory authorities are not required to pay a local rate or charge they usually make an ex gratia payment in respect of the cost anyway. But this provision puts the matter in a clear way. No doubt as a result of intrastate operations in Queensland following the passage of this legislation, State charges will become involved and that clause will clarify the position in that respect.

In the total multi-modal Australian transport system shipping has a major role to play in the future as in the past and the stronger emphasis on long distance bulk freight which has been developing recently is likely to continue. As sea transport is the most efficient of all forms of transport in energy terms, the rapid increase in energy costs means its importance will grow. The industry has seen rapid acceleration of technical change in the post-war years. New developments in ship designs have revolutionised the means of transporting cargoes by sea. Cargo trade has seen the arrival of bulk carriers and capital intensive unit cargo ships designed to carry general cargo in vehicular, container and barge loads. In addition, there have been roll-on roll-off ships, utilisation of cargo pallets, pre-slung loads, LASH ships and hybrid vessels.

These developments have meant that ships are no longer designed for one particular carriage function and consequently are no longer tied to its relative trading success. To meet these changes in shipping and cargo handling changes have to be made to modernise on-shore cargo handling. The planning of port development and re-development must increasingly respond to these changes in technology in shipping taking into account the movement of goods to other transport functions for movement on land. Whilst there have been rapid improvements in sea transport technology and rapid increases in the tonnage carried, improvements still need to be made in relation to the amounts carried in Australian ships.

The next Labor Government will expand the operations of the Australian Shipping Commission to ensure that an equitable share of our trade is carried in Australian-owned and manned vessels. To achieve this objective the Commission will be enabled to build, purchase or charter sufficient vessels to carry out that task. It will also seek to ensure that all coastal trade will be carried in Australian-owned and manned vessels.

Much has been said in recent times, particularly in relation to Utah, about the carriage of our bulk ores from Australia to their markets. I mentioned earlier the problems in delay of tins legislation because of the Queensland Government. I shall come back to that. I want to point out the kind of figures that we are dealing with when we are talking about bulk trades from Australia. In 1975-76 we shipped 62 million tonnes of ore to Japan and 6.5 million tonnes elsewhere. We shipped 25.5 million tonnes of coal to Japan and 5.7 million tonnes elsewhere. In total 87.5 million tonnes of ore and coal went to Japan and 12.2 million tonnes went elsewhere. A total of 99.7 million tonnes of ore and coal went from Australia. That was a decrease of 20.7 million tonnes on the previous year, 1974-75, due no doubt to the downturn in world steel production.

Currently the ANL vessels Australian Pioneer and Australian Prospector are engaged in bulk ore trade to Japan. jointly they have a capacity to transport 5 per cent of the 1975-76 ore trade or 2.85 per cent of total bulk trade in 1975-76. We know that ANL has two other carriers on order and that they are due for delivery later during this financial year and that negotiations with the Japanese steel mills for the utilisation of those vessels will commence in early 1978. Australian flag vessels have 26 per cent of the northbound general cargo trade to Japan and 24 per cent of southbound cargoes. Under an agreement between members of the Australia- Japan Shipping Conference 30 per cent of cargo each way is expected to be carried in Australian flag vessels by 1979. Article X of the recent basic treaty of friendly relations between Japan and Australia which was signed in August of this year deals with shipping arrangements between Japan and Australia but unfortunately it seems that the Government to date has done little to fill out the guidelines and the detailed objectives of that article. I base that comment on an answer to a question on notice on this subject I received from the Minister recently. Australia is a significant trading nation and it is important to establish its own flag carriers so that it is not wholly dependent on foreign shipping companies.

I refer to what is happening in the United States of America at the moment. As I said earlier, a dispute has occurred in Queensland with Utah. Naturally seamen are looking to the contracting employment opportunities in Australia which have been projected from all arts of the economic spectrum and the possibility that employment will reduce rather than increase in the coming years. It is perfectly natural to expect people employed in an industry to look for job security and for an increasing opportunity for employment in the future. That is apart from any other aspects that are involved. As recently as a few days ago I received a letter which pointed out to me a statement which had been credited to Utah. The statement reads:

Utah will not employ Australian crews on their overseas vessels, but are prepared to charter the two Australian National Line bulk carriers in the trade. But unfortunately if Utah go ahead with this proposal, the Premier will increase the tax levy on the coal.

The Premier referred to is the Premier of Queensland. I do not think there is any doubt about the veracity of the statement. In May of this year the Premier of Queensland told Utahthis is on record in a number of national journalsthat if Utah negotiated with the Seamen's Union of Australia on the utilisation of Australian seamen in the bulk ore traffic out of Australia, royalties on the company's coal production will be increased. That is a direct political threat. It is another example of what I have referred to on many occasions, both inside and outside this House- of attacks, by the National Country Party more particularly than by the Liberal Party, on the trade union movement, and particularly the unions involved in the transport industry, as a substitute for a political argument. It is the old story of bashing the unions. There may be some substance in some of the problems to which attention is drawn but that is not the way in which to go about it Bashing the transport unions costs the consumers of this country money; it costs the workers their wages, it costs companies a loss of profits, and it damages our trading reputation.

There is no doubt in my mind, having had discussions earlier in the year, that when this matter was raised originally the Seamen's Union would have been quite happy to open negotiations. Negotiations could have proceeded on the ultimate involvement of Australian traffic. But, after all, is it not reasonable and natural that Australians would want a greater share in the wealth which is derived from Australian resources? Are we not Australians? Or are some of the people who sit opposite temporary dwellers from another country who are more interested in disposing of the wealth of this country as quickly and as cheaply as possible, and in taking thenpro fits and getting out as quickly as they possibly can?

I turn now to the American situation. I understand that President Carter has a Bill before the Congress or the Senate- I think it is before the Senate- at the moment requiring that 9.5 per cent of oil imported into America be transported in American tankers. There are two reasons for that and they are set out in an article which appeared in Newsweek of 17 October. One reason being advanced by the Assistant Sec- 'retary of the United States Commerce Department, Robert J. Blackwell, is this:

US-flag tankers manned by US citizens are likely to be more reliable (in national emergencies) than foreign-flag tankers.

America is not an island, as is Australia. This brings us back to the importance and relevance of the Australian shipbuilding industry, as was recognised in the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on that industry. We are an island continent. I think it would be completely irresponsible for any government, any political party, to plan the future transport policy for this country on the basis of placing the transportation of our export products and the transportation of our imports completely in the hands of foreign-owned vessels. That would mean that we would have no control over who makes shipping available and who will not make it available.

At the present time we are enjoying a luxury period. There is a surplus of world shipping. World shipping rates have dropped and spot shipping rates out of Australia are very cheap. That situation will not continue because ultimately the world economy will experience an upturn. When that occurs the whole shipping scene will change and once again Australia will be at the mercy of overseas shipping companies. The United States has recognised that fact. The second reason advanced by the Assistant Secretary, Robert J. Blackwell is this:

The fundamental justification for a limited level of cargo preference is to provide assured employment . . .

He then went on to mention US-flag tankers. Again that situation is relevant to the Australian context. We have record unemployment. If a way can be found in which to provide greater job opportunities for Australians on Australiancontrolled vessels, we ought to be following that line. Instead of that, the Premier of Queensland is using the Seamen's Union and the other five maritime unions to try to create a political issue out of this matter for the State election. The community is divided. Instead of reasonable and factual arguments being advanced, we have political union bashing and political bluster. The result is that we are disadvantaged. Australia ought to be ensuring that in the long term we have adequate transport capacity to ship our goods overseas and to bring in our imports.

What I am saying is that we should be looking at this time at those areas of shipping activity that can be identified as being a potential market. We should be identifying those areas, identifying the kinds of vessels that could be used, and men going on to determine the manner in which those vessels could be purchased and the method by which they could be manned. Manning scales is the argument that is put up over and over again by the Minister for Transport- he is not present at the table but he ought to be present- and his party. I am quite satisfied that the matter of manning scales is negotiable. I am satisfied also that there is a downward trend in that regard.

In speaking of crewing costs, I want to refer to the latest report of the Australian Shipping Commission which runs the Australian National Line. It is the 1977 report. First of all, I congratulate the Commission on achieving in most difficult times a profit of $3.9m after exchange movements have been taken into account. I will not go into the detail of the report, but I wish to mention that much of that profit was derived from overseas trading by Australian-owned and Australianmanned vessels. We hear much criticism about the use of Australian crews on bulk ore carriers, but the people who make that criticism do not say anything about the cartels, the conference lines, which operate. In those cartels in which the ANL operates- I mentioned earlier the Australia- Japan conference line- the rates charged are standard rates and the Australian ships do very well, thank you very much. I refer to page 19 of the Commission's report which points out that crewing costs of the Line are down to 16 per cent. Those costs have decreased from about 21 per cent in 1974-75, 18.5 per cent in 1975-76, and 16 per cent in 1976-77. That shows that the reduction in crewing costs has been a continuing trend. There is no nice, simple way in which we can compare vessels. I have here a report prepared by the Parliamentary Library on stevedoring costs and shipping costs. It states:

There is a remarkable lack of published information on ship operating costs.

It goes on to mention public inquiries which have had difficulty in obtaining information, including the Rochdale Committee of Inquiry into shipping conducted in England in 1970. It noted as follows:

In contrast to the extensive data on labour costs which is publicly available for many other industries, little is available for shipping.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2.15 p.m.

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