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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3336

Senator BESSELL (Tasmania) -The Opposition does not oppose the King Island Shipping Service Agreement Bill 1974, but I think there are one or two observations that could be made beneficially at this time. During the debate on this Bill in the other House mention was made of the fact that after the reintroduction of the 'Straitsman' to the King Island service a freight subsidy was not paid. I think it was fairly obvious to everyone that one of the reasons for the 'Straitsman' being introduced to the service was basically to overcome the problems associated with the small ship that had been doing this trade for so many years, namely, the 'King Islander'. It was decided by Captain Houfe, I believe quite wisely, that the throughput and the capacity of the service were terribly important. The same situation applies in the dairy industry. The 'Straitsman' was eventually put into service. Unfortunately, due to a problem of liquidity, it had to be withdrawn from the service after only 7 weeks.

There were probably a number of reasons for that. The basic reason, or one of the biggest reasons, was the cost of crewing the ship. I think we came across this very problem in a debate some weeks ago. Because of the award under which the seamen work, they work for a period of only 32 weeks in each year. This has the effect of making the cost of crewing a ship on a single man continuous complement basis about $ 1 5,000 a year. That is a pretty heavy burden for a small ship to carry, particularly when it is trading over only short distances. We know that the cost of shipping increases every time a ship is tied up and, on the triangular service upon which this ship was engaged, it was fairly obvious that a good deal of the time of the 'Straitsman' had to be spent tied up in one of the 3 ports that she visited.

Mention was also made in the debate of the fact that the subsidy was not granted because the previous Commonwealth Government had provided money on the basis of 50 per cent loan and 50 per cent grant for the establishment of a port at Grassy. I do not think that that has any real bearing on the matter. However, that in fact was the situation. The Bethune Liberal Government in Tasmania authorised the establishment of a roll-on roll-off terminal at Stanley, so no grant was involved in that. I think that a quote from the King Island 'News' is relevant at this time to show something of the problem that this island has had and is in fact unfortunately still experiencing. The King Island 'News' of Wednesday, 11 October 1972, carries the headline 'Labor

Party pledge ANL to King Island trade'. It goes on to say:

The Warden, Cr. O. A. Smith was told this morning that the Australian Labor Party had pledged the Australian National Line for the King Island run if it is elected to the Government in December.

Cr. Smith said Captain R. H. Houfe 's legal adviser, Mr R. F. M. Hollow, had rung him this morning and said he had a telegram from the A.L.P. saying this would be Federal Policy.

Cr Smith rang the manager of the Transport Commission's Shipping Services, Captain A. Maddock in Hobart this morning to confirm this and other information given to him by Mr Hollow that the Federal Government had said no further import licences would be issued for ships.

When we check on what the telegram said we find that referring to the House of Representatives Hansard at page 4550 of 4 December that the telegram as reported read as follows:

Federal Parliamentary Party today approved the following policy decision. A Federal Labor Government will require the Australian National Line to assume responsibility for the King Island Shipping Service and, for this purpose, to negotiate with the owners of the ship Straitsman which was specifically designed for this purpose.

The telegram dated 15 March 1973 was signed Ron Davies MHR'. Senator Cavanagh, representing the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) at that time, said:

The Australian National Line has been instructed to purchase the 'Straitsman '. I believe I said yesterday that the vessel would not be suitable and would not be engaged. It is to start the service to King Island when agreement has been reached on manning conditions, about which there was some trouble previously. The ANL has been asked to maintain separate accounts for the operation of this service because it is realised that it will not be a profitable one. When the ' King Islander' was in use the Government was subsidising the freight to the extent of $3.35 a ton and this cost approximately $150,000 a year. I can assure the honourable senator that the service will be operating in the future.

I think we all know what happened. Eventually the Tasmanian Government through its Transport Commission decided that it wanted to operate this service itself and sought assistance from the Federal Government by way of a loan for the purchase of this ship. In the meantime a Senate Committee was set up to investigate a shipping service to King Island and the use of the vessel the 'Straitsman'. That Committee came up with its report.

Senator Cavanagh - It was not really a Senate committee; it was a Liberal Party committee.

Senator BESSELL - Yes, but the Government was invited to nominate members.

Senator Rae - They were so disinterested they would not join it.

Senator BESSELL - Thank you for your assistance, senator; I was just about to say what you said.

Senator Wheeldon - Do you mean disinterested or uninterested?

Senator BESSELL - I do not know whether they were interested or uninterested, but they did not appear at the hearing although they were invited to appear and to assist.

Senator Wheeldon - Completely disinterested.

Senator BESSELL -They could have been there.

Senator Wheeldon - We were.

Senator BESSELL - It may well be that they are still disinterested.

Senator Wheeldon - We are; entirely disinterested.

Senator BESSELL - You are, good.

Senator Wheeldon - Yes, but not uninterested.

Senator BESSELL - Well, the people of King Island would be very interested to know and hear that. The accusations against the previous government about inaction can, I think, be readily disposed of by referring to Senate Hansard of 3 May 1973 at page 1335. 1 quote a letter from the previous Minister for Snipping and Transport, the honourable Peter Nixon. He said:

The Government remains extremely concerned about the deterioration of shipping services to King Island. However, it considers the provision of these services rests essentially with the Tasmanian State Government and its Transport Commission. I have discussed the problems facing the Island with both State and company representatives and, without presuming to interfere in an area of State responsibility -

I emphasise that- have offered to consider any proposals that the State may make to the Commonwealth.

I think that this is extremely important because that statement was made 5 months after the Straitsman' had been tied up. In all that time arguments had been going on as to who was going to conduct the service. People were urging the Australian Government to assume responsibility through the Australian National Line. The Tasmanian Government wished to assume responsibility. Unfortunately, through a tragic accident in March of this year, that vessel is no longer in service.

Whilst the Government has recognised that there is a need for it to assist Tasmania in providing a service to the Island, it also appears that action has been taken by the Government to allow the importation and the use of a new ship called the 'Rah '. I understand from a visit I made to the Island a week or two ago that this in itself will create a problem. It is just one of those unfortunate things that happen.

Senator Rae - Is it unfortunate or is it bad management?

Senator BESSELL - It could be one or the other. We find that this ship is completely different in design from the ship that was operating the service before. We now have a ship that is longer and broader than the 'Straitsman', the result being that the rear ramp will not match up with that of the ship. The ship will protrude beyond the wharf, and if there is any breeze she will swing away. That is fairly obvious to people who are expert in this field. Whilst it will possibly assist the people of the Island in removing cargo either to the north or to the south it will not be the complete answer. On the information available it looks as though it will be about July of next year before the 'Straitsman' will be refitted and back in service. These are problems that the Island has had for a long time. The Minister will remember that a few days ago I asked whether consideration would be given by the Minister for Transport to the use of the 'Argosy ' on a full load level for the transport to Melbourne of beef which tends to build up at this time of the year due to the drying out conditions on the Island. I have not yet had a reply to that request.

Whether the 'Rah' will do what is asked of it remains to be seen. For the sake of the people on the Island, it is to be hoped that it will. Last year we saw the nearly untenable situation that a lot of people on the Island had to suffer when beef and other meat was at its highest price for many years past and probably for many years to come and they were not able to shift the stock from the Island because the ships were unable to handle the tremendous backlog. This was due to the procrastination which took place when the 'Straitsman' was withdrawn and until it was reintroduced on the service. It was during a voyage when it was carrying stock from the Island that it tragically capsized. The people of the Island are used to adversities- they are long ranging- and we hope that this Bill will allow the Tasmanian Transport Commission to purchase this ship with all the bad fortune that has befallen it, and when it is refitted to put it back into service.

There is one question I would like the Minister to keep in mind and to answer. As I understand it, the price that was being asked for the 'Straitsman' from the receivers was $1,000,070. This Bill makes an appropriation of $1.4 15m. I am wondering why there is a discrepancy, whether there has been any alteration in the figures or whether the cost was, in fact, higher than the original amount mentioned. I do not wish to take any more time. I know that Senator Rae, through his involvement for many years with the King

Island shipping problems, has something more to add. I indicate again that we support the Bill.

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