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Wednesday, 24 October 1973
Page: 1397

Senator RAE (Tasmania) -Mr Deputy President,we have just listened to the best that the Government can do by way of reply to a matter of urgency that has been raised by Senator Wright. Senator Wright moved the following motion:

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until tomorrow at 10.SS a.m.-

As everybody knows, that is the procedure which is used in this place to enable a matter of urgency to be raised for debate. The gravamen of the matter raised by Senator Wright is: for the purpose of debating a matter of urgency, namely, the monopoly power of the Seamen's Union being used to boycott and destroy Tasmania 's seaborne trade.

The best that Senator Cavanagh, on behalf of the Government and as the Minister in this chamber representing a Minister in the other place, could do was 2 things. Firstly, he made a scurrilous attack upon individual members of the Opposition who come from Tasmania and, secondly, he referred totally erroneously to an example which in fact was the very opposite of what he claimed. He referred to an example of the Australian Council of Trade Union resolution in operation, cutting down the adverse effect of strike action and union disputes on Tasmania and its shipping. He referred to the fact that the North Esk' was held up at a time when Tasmania was particularly short of feed grain as a result of the drought and of its normal requirements of flour for flour milling. Although Tasmania grows a considerable quantity of grain, it has to import that which is required for certain aspects of milling.

During the month, if my recollection is correct, that the dispute existed the situation in Tasmania reached alarming proportions. It was a matter on which I was consulted and on which I had numerous discussions with the representatives of the Australian National Line regarding their attempts to overcome the problem and get the

North Esk' back on the run. It is certainly my clear recollection that far from the ACTU resolution being in any way effective in reducing the length of the dispute, the dispute became an unduly long one. The 'North Esk' was tied up at Geelong for approximately a month as a result of a dispute which in no way concerned conditions in Tasmania or Tasmanian unions, but which certainly adversely affected a large number of Tasmanians. But apparently the Minister was not able to think of any other example which may be more appropriate. I suggest we could conclude that there are no examples which are more appropriate than one in which union disputes, despite the ACTU resolution, held up the 'North Esk' for approximately a month. So Tasmania suffered severely as a result of that union dispute.

Over the years we have had dispute after dispute. It is interesting to note the comments in the all party report of the Senate Standing Committee on Primary and Secondary Industry and Trade of freight rates on Australian National Line shipping services to and from Tasmania. Mr Deputy President, you will recall the report, as will other honourable senators on both sides of the chamber. The section which I am about to quote from page 47 was part of the unanimous report of senators from both the Government and the Opposition. It states:

Shipping clearly is an industry very sensitive to an adverse industrial climate. This has raised particular problems, especially in passenger services. These were mentioned a number of times in evidence . . . We were told that tieups due to industrial problems had had significant effects on the profitability of the passenger-vehicle ferries on several occasions and had been one of the factors leading to the declining profitability of the Line prior to the 12.3 per cent freight increase.

The marine stewards ' strike in April and May of this year -

That is, the year in which the report was written presented us with a graphic example of the consequences of industrial troubles for the Line and particularly Tor Tasmania, depending as it does so greatly on shipping, which is its economic lifeline. As mentioned earlier, we were told in evidence that the cost to the Line -

That is, the Australian National Line- was estimated at approximately $600,000 in net loss of revenue, a major contribution to the Line's profitability problems in the current financial year.

There was reference repeatedly in evidence to the huge increase in costs which resulted from industrial problems affecting shipping to and from Tasmania. It was for that reason that in the report I added a further recommendation to the recommendations made by the committee. This matter concerned me very greatly at the time, and it still concerns me. I believe that any Tasmanian would be concerned about the fact that our economic future is being sapped away repeatedly and continually as a result of the actions taken by various unions and perhaps even by some employers. But it is the industrial trouble, which very often does not concern Tasmania or Tasmanians but which affects them and destroys the viability of many industries in Tasmania, which concerns me. In the report I said:

The shipping industry and marine industry generally has, of recent years, been beset by industrial trouble. -

In particular, the operation of the Australian National Line has been severely disrupted by a series of industrial stoppages which have caused numerous delayed sailings or the complete loss of voyages.

The effect of these disruptions upon the movement of freight to and from Tasmania has been particularly severe.

The loss to one Tasmanian export industry alone, which resulted from the ANL stewards' strike in April and May 197 1 was in the order of $4m.

The total loss to Tasmania is incalculable.

It does not only affect exporters and importers but it has a serious carry-through effect upon all industry, building and progress generally as well as affecting the domestic consumer.

There is no practical alternative means of transporting goods held up by such industrial action.

I regard the question of ensuring freedom from the effects of industrial stoppages as being of vital importance to the State of Tasmania and its people.

No economies, subsidies or rationalisation of internal transport can offset the disruptive influence of these industrial stoppages.

I went on to state:

I therefore RECOMMEND that:

(a)   for a trial period of at least two years the operation of the Australian National Line's interstate freight shipping services to and from Tasmania be declared an essential service with consequent restriction of the right to strike. Such restriction to be negotiated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and in the absence of agreement to be such legislative limitation imposed by the Government as is consistent with the preservation of the regularity of the ANL's freight shipping services to and from Tasmania and the preservation of the right to take some industrial action for the redress of grievances;

(b)   that a committee be established with representatives of the Federal Government, the State Government, the ANL and the ACTU to consider what permanent measures can be taken to ensure regularity of shipping services of the ANL to and from Tasmania.

Well, that was 2 years ago. I regret that not very much has been done in those 2 years. Certainly nothing has been done positively to implement the recommendations which I then made.

I was interested to note that last year during the election campaign the problem of Tasmania was recognised by the now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who as the then Leader of the Opposition said that a Labor government would work to make freight and passenger service rates across Bass Strait as cheap per mile as interstate railway freights. How can they be if we are continually to have this heavy imposition of extra costs which result from industrial strife? Very often this industrial strife does not specifically affect Tasmania but Tasmanian shipping services are affected because of some problem that exists somewhere else. I was interested to note that the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) said recently that he would arrange a conference in Launceston of various people to discuss the problem. Apparently people in Launceston had been making their complaints known to the Deputy Prime Minister and he has at last decided to take some action. He is quoted in 'The Examiner' of 13 October 1973 as saying:

The meeting will explore ways by which security and continuity of service across Bass Strait can be ensured.

He said that this meeting would concentrate on the problems caused by freight increases and strikes. So at least the Deputy Prime Minister, when speaking in Launceston in his own electorate, is prepared to recognise what Senator Cavanagh is not prepared to recognise- that is, the fundamental importance of the disruptive effect of strike action on the Tasmanian economy and Tasmanian shipping services.

Senator Cavanagh - We agree. We are trying to do something about it. You will not give us the armament to do it.

Senator RAE - This is a poor excuse. The Minister has given that explanation much in the way his Government bleats about inflation being something that it inherited. Inflation was running at 4.5 per cent when the Government came into office and it has now managed to make it just under 4 times as great. In the same way the number of hours lost as a result of industrial stoppages has doubled since Senator Cavanagh 's Government came to office and he cannot blame us for the fact that the Government has not done anything positive to implement a program to combat this, except by capitulating to the unions. We all know what sort of attitude was adopted in Europe during the 1 930s. Appeasement did not work then. It is hard to think that appeasement is going to work now.

I do not subscribe in any way at all to any suggestion that all union action is not justified and that unions should never be allowed to strike. I am not in any way suggesting that that should be the situation. But obviously the system has to be made to work. The State of Tasmania cannot be held to ransom continually and repeatedly unless the Commonwealth is prepared to say: 'Well, all right, if we are not prepared to stop industrial stoppages we will work out another way to have a special section of the VIP flight, not carrying Mr Barnard backwards and forwards so that he can attend the opening of the two-up school at the Casino, carry a bit of freight backwards and forwards. ' That might be a better way of utilising the VIP flight.

One of the points which I think is important is that we have to recognise the extent to which Tasmania is reliant upon air services to overcome the disabilities of freight services. Some people may not be aware that Launceston airport, for instance, is the sixth busiest cargo handling airport in Australia. This airport handles a very great amount of air cargo because so many industries in Tasmania find it necessary to transport their goods by air as the only means by which they can fulfil orders. Air transport is the only regular service which is available to them.

Tourism is also affected by Tasmanian shipping services. Tasmania is a beautiful island and an ideal tourist State. I am sure that Senator O 'Byrne will agree with me in that regard even if he disagrees with me on other matters. I am sure that he too would say that Tasmania is a delightful tourist State. It is a State which could be built up tremendously as an oasis for those who are suffering from the effects of the big city life of Melbourne and Sydney. Tourists are able to enjoy a little bit of the State's as yet unspoiled beauty. But what spoils it for people who wish to travel by car to and from Tasmania is the fact that when they visit this State they run the risk of not being able to take their cars home with them because of industrial stoppages. Every Tasmanian senator must have had a series of instances brought to his notice by people who have been adversely affected in this sort of way. Senator Wriedt indicates that he has not. All I can say is that I will send some of the people who complain to me about this matter to him so that we can share the experience. This has been a very common experience on my part. I have found that a large number of people have been adversely affected in this way.

Such a situation must tend to destroy the future employment of the very unionists who cause some of the trouble because if Tasmania is to expand one of the things that must expand with it is shipping; if shipping does not expand one of the things that will be cut down is the employment availability for the people about whom Senator Cavanagh expresses his concern and about whom we also express our concern.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown)- Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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