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Tuesday, 22 August 1972
Page: 291

Senator MARRIOTT (Tasmania) (Assistant Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) - In rising to speak briefly to this report I should like to deal with one reference made by Senator Wilkinson. I could not quite understand the burden of his complaint about possible absences of senators from committee meetings. I have been a member of a number of committees, and I have chaired about 7 public inquiries conducted by committees of the Senate. In my opinion it is impossible, because of the busy lives that senators lead, to arrange meetings of committees and so progress with an inquiry if one is to wait until every member can be present. As a result of this experience 1 say: Give me the senator who reads the submissions that are sent in, who reads the daily Hansard and who attends the meetings when the report is being drafted. He is the one from whom I get value. Of course, I should like to see every member of committees present at all meetings. Nevertheless it does not in my opinion detract from the work of a committee if a senator is absent from a meeting or 2 during the course of an inquiry. He has the advantage of transcripts of evidence, the submissions which are circulated, and the daily Hansard of proceedings.

This reference to the Standing Committee on Industry and Trade was made on 3rd September 1970. I think it will go down in history as the first reference ever made to a legislative and general purpose standing committee of the Senate. As with all innovations there were teething troubles. In my view the terms of reference were too broad. What was wanted was a fortnight's inquiry into specific facts and a finding submitted to the Parliament. But because of the terms of reference, and other factors of which I am not sure, the Committee was not able to present its report to the Parliament until June 1971.

Senator Rae - The Committee took upon itself much wider terms of reference than those given to it.

Senator MARRIOTT - That is an added factor for one of the weaknesses in this inquiry. Here we are in August 1972 continuing the debate. I think that there have been at least 2 increases in freight rates by the Australian National Line on the Tasmanian service since the Committee was set up'; I say that we have reached the situation where we have possibly a more unsatisfactory service, at very high cost to the people of Tasmania than we have ever had during my period in Parliament. A deputation of Tasmanians waited on 2 of our Ministers yesterday. According to the Tasmanian Press the deputation was well received. It comprised businessmen and State Government Ministers and officers. They put up a well-documented case which I hope is going to be well and truly considered by the Government. 1 hope that a lot of sympathy and understanding will be given to the problems which exist in Tasmania today because of its dependence on a shipping service which is really a ferry service. Unions and management do not seem to understand that it is a ferry service and, as far as possible should be exempt from industrial trouble.

The Minister for Works (Senator Wright) referred to the huge increase in wages since this Committee started to operate. By way of interjection Senator Rae got into the record the information on page 47 of the report. Under the heading 'Industrial Troubles', it is stated that up to that time industrial troubles had cost the line some $600,000 in net loss of revenue. I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost to the line since that time? I would like to see a return showing each stoppage on Australian National Line ships trading to Tasmania in the last 12 months, the actual loss of revenue, the damage done to the reputation of the Line as a shipper of goods and passengers and the very heavy cost in advertising and communicating to people that the ships will not run. They have to tei] people: 'The ship may run tomorrow', or 'it will not run tomorrow, it may run next week'. The amounts of money involved would be terrific. 1 do not think we can go on like this. Tasmania is obtaining a less effective service. Through the Federal Government it is costing the people much more money. At the same time it is costing the shippers and the passengers more money for a service which is becoming more unsatisfactory.

Recently I booked on the 'Empress of Australia' to leave Port Melbourne at 7.30 at night. My booking was accepted at 4.30 p.m. I boarded the ship at the given hour of 6 p.m. Blind Freddy could tell that the ship was not going to sail. But the information given to me was that it would be sailing and that dinner would be served at 7.30 - and you line up downstairs and take your turn. Some 400 passengers were on board including parties of children. The airline strike was on at the lime. At 7.20 they started to move the gangway to indicate that the ship was prepared to sail on time. At 7.30 there was no action. At 7.45 it was announced over the public address system that owing to an industrial dispute the 'Empress of Australia' would not sail that night but that passengers might stay on board. It was announced that there would be absolutely no service whatsoever and that the ship might or might not sail on the next scheduled date which was Friday. This was a Wednesday night.

There were 2 or 3 members of the Tasmanian Government Tourist Bureau on the Port Melbourne ferry terminal, which does bear comparison with the terminals in Sydney, Devonport or Hobart. I must say that comparatively speaking it is out in the bush. It is miles away from the centre of the city. Most of the 400 passengers had unpacked their gear and, no doubt, some of the little ones would have gone to bed. There were 2 people and 2 public telephones to assist the passengers. If any member of Parliament, the bosses of the unions or of the ANL management had been at that ferry terminal their hearts would have bled for the discomfort of the people concerned. At the moment I am speaking about people only. However, I must say that the Tourist Bureau people were excellent. They got on a telephone because the other telephones were swamped with people making personal calls. The officers of the Tourist Bureau arranged for taxis to take the people into town. I would like to know the amount of economic waste caused by that one failure to depart. Over the years that can be multiplied by 10 or 20. No government and no private enterprise can run a shipping line when this sort of interruption is going to occur to its service.

Senator O'Byrne - What was the cause of the dispute?

Senator MARRIOTT - It was an industrial dispute caused by the stewards. I am not against the stewards on this matter because I do not set myself up as a judge. But after the 'Empress' was taken off the Sydney-Hobart run a number of sleeperette chairs were put in what were previously verandah lounges and the dining-room service was reduced to cafeteria style. Evidently the powers that be - possibly the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or some official body with some say in the matter - said that there would not be the dining-room service, that there would be more passengers with fewer stewards. It is my belief, and I implied this by way of question when people tried to sit me down the other day, that at half-past 4 from that afternoon the ANL knew that it would not give in lo the union demands to provide more stewards. I believe it knew - if not it has lost its sense of touch - that the stewards were not going to give in, that they wanted to go on strike and would go on strike. I believe that for the sake of humanity the people concerned - forgetting the economic side - should have announced that the ship would not sail. This is why I suggested by way of question, and I emphasise it here, that there should be some decency, courtesy and commonsense brought to bear on management and unions so that an announcement will be made that the ship next sailing after the one scheduled will be the one which will be stopped because of a strike. I believe that both union and management, for the sake of the people, should co-operate in this respect.

Getting back to other aspects of the Tasmanian ferry service, a lot of people say that to overcome the problems of stewards going on strike there should be a daylight service. I do not believe this to be feasible. We have one of the roughest stretches of water in the world. I do not believe that we can put 400 or 500 people on a ferry service during daylight hours in a ship which does not have cabin accommodation. If there is going to be cabin accommodation there is a need for stewards. Therefore, the ships should travel, as all ferries do, during the hours of night. It is only a 14-hour crossing at the most. I believe that something has to be done to operate a satisfactory passenger service. We have a good airline service but a passenger and cargo service is essential to keep Tasmania viable economically.

The Government has to decide whether it will run the Line completely or whether it will get out completely and provide a subsidy as it did in the old days. I do not believe that the Australian National Line, as at present constituted, will ever successfully own and operate the ships while private enterprise companies and travel agents arrange all the bookings, and the lack of bookings. I believe the Government should go the whole hog. If it is to be Government owned, it should be like TransAustralian Airlines and do its own bookings. Ever since the 'Empress of Australia' and the 'Princess of Tasmania' began operating I have said that the passenger side of it - the bookings - has been the killer. Anytime one tries to make a booking with the ANL, or with the Union Steam Ship Company or any of the travel agencies one is told that the ships are booked out for years ahead. I would not mind betting that they hardly make a trip with full bookings.

I want to take no further part in this debate other than to suggest that unions and management get together for the sake of the people. I believe that the Government has to give very serious consideration to taking complete charge of the service or getting out of it and letting private enterprise take over and to then pay a subsidy. I believe that in the old days of the Taroona' it cost £1,000 a day- $2,000 today - to operate the Bass Strait ferry services. Probably we are losing more money a year now because of the way it is being run which is half-hearted and unsatisfactory. The service is doing terriffic harm to Tasmania's economy in respect of freight and also to what could be a rapidly growing tourist industry. That will continue to happen if we are asked to survive with the poor services that we have now.

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