18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. J. J. Clark) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., andread prayers.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a statement attributed to a Dr. S. Jones, an American evangelist who is at present touring Japan, which appeared in this morning’s press, to the - effect that the late President Roosevelt, on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, approved of a plan to purchase New Guinea and give it to Japan for its surplus population? Will the right honorable gentleman ask the American authorities te answer that allegation immediately? Sid he also notice the even more serious allegation that President Roosevelt, in addition, to making such an offer to the Japanese Government, discussed the matter with the Australian and Dutch Governments? Will the Prime Minister nail this lie, at least insofar as it involves the former Curtin Administration, and examine the departmental files in order to ascertain whether any previous administration’ took part in any such negotiations?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member has referred, although it was mentioned to me this morning that some such allegation had been made. I can assure the honorable member that neither the Curtin Administration nor the present Government has had any consultation with any one concerning the sale of New Guinea to Japan or to any other nation, and so far as I know there is nothing on record of any previous administration having conducted any such negotiations. Of course, I would have no knowledge of any negotiations that might have ‘ taken place with the Dutch authorities concerning Dutch New Guinea. So far as ‘ the allegation concerns Australia, ‘ I repeat that I have no knowledge of such a proposal ever having been discussed. If President Roosevelt had made any such proposal I am reasonably certain that it would have come to my notice during the years I have been a member of the Government. I assure the honorable member that there is no danger of the present Government entertaining any such proposal.
– by leave- I read the extraordinary statement referred to in this morning’s cable news. I never cease to marvel at the ingenuity df those who invent such nonsense. Neither the Government of which I was the leader, nor any Australian administration of any political colour whatever, would dream of considering such a proposal.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Immigration been drawn to the list of subscribers to the O’Keefe fund sponsored by the Sydney Daily Telegraph! Can the Minister say which of the following subscribers to that fund are natural-born or naturalized British subjects and which are aliens: - J. Cassidy, J. O. Cramer, Dr. Maguire, Ah Fat, Lee Jan Sing, William Liu, Soo Hoo -Lock, Lee Moon, Sun Hon, Lee Park and Darby Munro? Can the Minister say whether of the aliens who have subscribed to the fund any are wartime evacuees who are liable at -any moment to be repatriated to their native land?
– I cannot say which of the oriental gentlemen mentioned are liable to be repatriated at any moment, as the honorable member has suggested, because they were war-time evacuees. Some of them are natural-born Australians, but I suspect that a number of the people who subscribed to the fund did so’ for political reasons. I- cannot interfere with their rights in that regard. Dr. Maguire, Mr. Cassidy and Councillor Cramer are three such persons. They are members of the executive of the Liberal party, and have used their position for political propaganda. I do not know why Darby Munro, by associating himself with a fund of this .sort, wants ‘to get into more trouble than he has been in lately. I have also noticed in the list of subscribers the name of a gentleman who is an alien. I refer to Eugene Goossens, the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Although he has not been here for very long, he. has apparently been foolish enough to allow his name to be used in this matter. I would have quite an interesting story to tell, if the House’ would allow me and I had the time to do so. The subscription list does not contain the names of many people whom the Daily Telegraph would have liked to include. A number of leading members of the Liberal party were invited to subscribe, and, to their credit, they refused to do bo.
I am informed also that the Daily Telegraph made an attempt to use the Communist party and other parties in connexion with its activities in this particular case. However the affair was a political stunt from the beginning. It does not matter how many names were on the subscription list and whether the subscribers were natural-born British subjects, naturalized subjects or aliens, because this Government will do its duty in carrying out the immigration laws.
Australian National Airlines Commission Accounts -Subsidies
– I direct the attention of the Treasurer to a cabled news item to the effect that the British AuditorGeneral had indicated in his report that Britain’s nationalized airlines were apparently receiving hidden subsidies in addition to government grants to meet their heavy losses. Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House what bidden subsidies are being paid by the Commonwealth to meet the losses made by the government-controlled Trans- Australia Airlines? Will he direct the Auditor-General to give special attention to that phase of government activity when making his next report?
– The fact of the matter is that the operators of private airlines have received a large percentage of the subsidies. Honorable members would be well advised to study the total amount that is paid to private enterprise. I know of no hidden subsidies that are being paid to Trans-Australia Airlines.
– What about the loss that Trans- Australia Airlines has made?
– I do not intend to direct the Auditor-General to inquire into subsidies paid to TransAustralia Airlines. The duties of that official are specified, and he knows his job and does it thoroughly. I do not propose even to direct his attention to the matter that the honorable member for’ Wentworth has raised, because he is quite competent to examine the position. The British airlines have made some losses. On the general subject of subsidies I remind the honorable member that, prior to World War II., heavy subsidies were paid by the Government of the United States of America to privately controlled shipping lines. It is not unusual for a government to subsidize an enterprise which it believes is operating for the national benefit. Some American shipping lines were heavily subsidized before the war. It is true that the operations of British airlines have resulted in fairly heavy losses, but that is a matter for the British Government and not for the Australian Government.
– Trans-Australia Airlines has made heavy losses.
– I have no power to direct the Auditor-General to inquire into the matter that the honorable member has raised, and I do not even propose to request him to carry out work that he is quite capable of performing without being asked by me to do so. I repeat that I know of no hidden subsidies that have been or are being paid to TransAustralia Airlines.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services ask his colleague to consider the advisability of amending the social services legislation in order to increase the pensions paid to civilian widows, and permit them to earn on the same basis as that provided for war widows?
– I shall direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services to the question raised by the honorable member for Bourke, discuss it with him, and ask him to furnish a reply to the honorable member.
– The question that I shall direct to the Minister for Air refers to the deferred pay of permanent airmen who were granted temporary commissions while they were warrant officers in the Royal Australian Air Force, seconded to the Citizen Air Force during the war, and are now holding short-service commissions in the technical branch. Is it a fact that those officers contributed to the superannuation scheme as “employees whilst other officers, including permanent commissioned warrant officers, contributed as “ officers “ ? Is it also a fact that all officers were credited with deferred pay by authority of the same Air Force order? Is it a fact that the officers who contributed as “ officers “ to the superannuation scheme have the right to elect from three alternatives, as laid down in Air Board Order No. 58/1948, paragraph 46, and will receive their deferred pay either as a paid-up contribution to the defence forces retirement benefit scheme, or in a lump sum upon retirement? Is it also a fact that the deferred pay standing to the credit of these warrant officers who are holding temporary commissioned rank, in most instances ranging from £350 to £500, is to be denied them either as a paid-up contribution or in a lump sum ?
– This matter has been raised from other sources and is now the subject of examination by the Department of Air. I do not think that there is any intention whatever of denying any .person their rights provided that they can establish them. The honorable gentleman has submitted a number of questions, the answer to each being related to the answers of the others. I undertake to supply specific answers to the questions of the honorable member.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that a file containing all of the correspondence from the honorable member for Melbourne, Mr. A. A. Calwell, M.P., and Senator Cameron, to the late Mr. Maurice Blackburn, and other members of the Victorian Anticonscription League, during 1941-42, was stolen from the room occupied by the league in the Temperance Building, Russell-street, Melbourne? In view of the considerable historic importance of the correspondence, and as these letters dealt with high government policy at the time and involve the prestige of the then Leader of the Labour Government, the late Mr. John Curtin, will the right honorable gentleman request the Commonwealth Investigation Service to make investigations relating to their loss?
– I assure the honorable member that I have heard nothing about files of documents, some of which were of importance to the Government, being stolen. However, if there is any matter involved in the honorable member’s question which concerns the Government and should be the subject of inquirt such inquiry will be made.
– “Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether it is correct, as announced to-day from London, that a special meeting of British Commonwealth Ministers may soon be held to consider important developments, including the reported spread of communism in eastern countries? If such a meeting is held will the right honorable gentleman attend? If not, who will represent Australia? Is it correct that the British Minister for Colonial Affairs, Lord Listowel, is about to leave London on a special mission to Australia and New Zealand? Does this visit relate to the possible withdrawal of India from the British Commonwealth, and is the purpose of the suggested special meeting of Prime Ministers to consider, among other things, the situation which would face Australia and New Zealand in the event of such a withdrawal ?
– I have not heard of any suggestion that a meeting should be held to deal specifically with communism. I should have thought that all governments concerned were already fully informed on the subject. They have their own sources of information, and are also considerably helped by other parties who busy themselves in the matter - quite rightly, of course. At the last conference of Prime Ministers in London it was suggested that a conference should be held in Ceylon at a. reasonably early date, either of Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers or other senior Ministers, but for physical reasons that will, I understand, have to be abandoned. I am in close touch with those concerned in such matters, particularly in the United Kingdom. It is true that Lord Listowel will visit Australia - I think he is leaving the United
Kingdom to-day - with the object of discussing a number of matters with me and with the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I. do not know exactly what matters are listed for discussion, and if I did I probably would not inform the honorable member in any case. I hare merely been informed that he will visit Australia and New Zealand to discuss a number of matters which the Prime Minister of Great Britain thinks ought to be the subject of personal consultation.
– Can the Minister for Information say whether the royal commission on the press in Great Britain has yet furnished its report to the Government of the United Kingdom ? When the report is published, will the Minister consider the advisability of appointing in Australia a royal commission with similar wide terms of reference to inquire into the actions and unhealthy activities of the press, or at least of a certain section of the press, in this country?
– I understand that the royal commission in Great Britain has not yet furnished its report to the Government. From time to time, I have read reports of the evidence submitted to the commission. The terms of reference of that body are very wide, and it may be some time before it presents its final report. I am watching the position with great interest because a good deal of what has happened, and is happening, in England has happened, and is happening, in Australia. As soon as the report is published, I shall take the matter to Cabinet in order to see whether it would be wise for the Australian Government to follow the example of the Attlee Government in the United Kingdom, and institute a searching inquiry into the press in Australia.
– Some time ago, I asked the Treasurer when the report of the Auditor-General would be published, and I was informed that it was in the hands of the Government Printer. I again ask the Treasurer when the report will be tabled in this House? Will it be done before the Parliament goes into recess? If the report cannot be tabled before that date, will the Treasurer have a limited number of roneoed copies prepared and made available to the Leader of the Opposition and myself?
– Inquiries were made after the honorable member asked his previous question on this subject, and an attempt is being made to speed-up the publication of the report. I understand that it will be available before the recess - perhaps to-morrow or the day after. As many copies as possible will be obtained for the use of honorable members.
– It has been announced over the national broadcasting stations that members of the Royal Australian Air Force who are operating in the Berlin air lift are to be withdrawn. In view of the Prime Minister’s promise when he was in Berlin some time ago that Australia would do all it could to assist in the air lift, what is the reason for the proposed withdrawal of Australian airmen? Is it due to any easing of the blockade through the intervention of the Minister for External Affairs; or are the Australians engaged in the air lift merely to be relieved by reinforcements? If the announcement to which I have referred is correct,, is the proposed withdrawal due to a. shortage of personnel in the Royal Australian Air Force in Australia?
– No suggestion has been made that Australian airmen operating in the Berlin air lift should he withdrawn. It may be that the British authorities who are in charge of the air lift are making some local arrangement for the purpose of affording leave to those men, or for some other purpose of that kind. The honorable member can rest assured that there is no suggestion of a Government proposal to withdraw any of the Australians who are operating in the Berlin area.
– Can the Minister for Works and Housing give any indication of when settlers in the Blowering
Valley will have to vacate their holdings under the Snowy River scheme? Many settlers in that area have made inquiries to me about this matter.
– It is most difficult to say definitely when settlers in the Blowering Valley will be required to vacate that area. Such a decision will depend upon the recommendations which will be made from time to time by the advisory committee of representatives of the Australian, New South Wales and Victorian Governments which is to be set up in conjunction with the administering authority to co-ordinate work on the various phases of the scheme. Those bodies will plan the work in order to ensure that the scheme will be developed in stages which will best serve the national interest and enable the fullest use of the power and water that becomes available. I should say that it will be at least ten years before settlers in the Blowering Valley will be required to vacate their holdings.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that applications have been called in the Gazette of the 24th February for female clerks according to the following classifications :- -University graduates up to the age of 25 years, ex-servicewomen who are not over 30 years of age and females who have passed the leaving certificate examination but are not over twenty years of age? Does not the right honorable gentleman consider that such discrimination between university graduates and women who hold the leaving certificate but could not enlist in the defence forces is unjustifiable and that equal opportunity should be given to graduate and non-graduate applicants for such positions ?
– Following a recommendation from the Public Service Board the Government decided recently that provision should be made for admission to the Public Service of certain classes of females, particularly for professional work. Applications have been invited along the general lines approved by the Government, so as to ascertain the numbers offering and the qualifications of available applicants. It must not be thought that, because special scholastic and academic qualifications are asked for in certain instances, people without such qualifications have no opportunity to enter the Public Service; but it would not be of much use to talk about improving the standard of education in Australia if the people who receive improved education are not to receive some consideration as a result. I repeat that the stipulation of certain special qualifications does not mean that other divisions of the Public Service are closed to people without those qualifications. It does mean, however, that in respect of certain professional work applicants with the highest scholastic qualifications will receive preference, and thus a standard will be set. The same procedure is followed by banks and other businesses. To avoid taking up the time of the House any further I shall arrange to have a full statement prepared for the honorable member. I can assure him that no unjust discrimination is intended by the stipulation of qualifications of applicants in the particular instance referred to.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister which arises from a news bulletin recently broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to the effect that the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Dr. Evatt, was reported to have said that the United Nations had adopted a Declaration of Human Rights that included the right of every person to full employment, irrespective of colour, religion or politics. Will the Prime Minister state whether the Australian Government has adopted that declaration ? Does the declaration express or imply the right to full employment of every person, whatever his religious, political or industrial affiliations? Will the Government take action to prevent any person or organization from interfering with such a right?
– The honorable member knew very well before he asked his question that Australia was a party to the Declaration of Human Rights and took a prominent part in the framing of that particular instrument at each of the conferences concerning it that have taken place. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that full employment has been a slogan of this Government and, in fact, through this Government it has become a political slogan in Australia. The Australian Government also led the way in inducing other nations of the world into making full employment almost a plank in the general platform of the United Nations. The Australian Government’s activities in the international sphere in regard to full employment go back as far as the days of the last appearance of Mr. J. A. Beasley at the International Labour Conference, when he fought a very strong battle to have a policy of full employment included in the Charter of the United Nations. At other international conferences Australia has pressed for the adoption of a policy of full employment as a principle for all governments and all nations that have some regard for human welfare. It would appear as if the honorable gentleman desired to introduce propaganda into the latter part of his question. I think I have already stated the position very clearly in my answer to the earlier part of the question. The Government stands for full employment for all citizens in the community, irrespective of their associations. People whose associations are not such that they are entitled to employment should be in gaol.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral by stating that I have received representations from residents of Beauty Point and Sandy Beach in the west Tamar district of Tasmania who complain that radio station 7NT Launceston is drowning important broadcasts which emanate from 3LO, Melbourne, including that informative variety programme, the broadcasting of the proceedings of this Parliament. In view of the increased interest being taken in national affairs that are raised in this Parliament, will the Postmaster-General endeavour to improve the reception of parliamentary broadcasts for listeners in the two places that I have mentioned? If he is unable to do that, will he set up another national station in Tasmania, as has been contemplated?
– The Australian Broadcasting Control Board will hold its first meeting in Melbourne on the 15th March. By an act recently passed by this Parliament the board is empowered to re-allocate frequencies, to make investigations into the wattage of each broadcasting station and to alter the wattage where necessary so as to bring for the first time in the history of broadcasting in Australia some order out of the chaos that has resulted from the haphazard manner in which the whole system has developed since its inception. I point out parenthetically that the stations in Sydney and Melbourne which were first established have the best frequencies and are very powerful. They have a very great advantage over stations in country areas and stations which later were granted frequencies on the same medium wave band. It may be that listeners in the districts of Beauty Point and Sandy Beach and in other parts of northern Tasmania are suffering in consequence of this unfortunate haphazard growth of rad.. broadcasting. I am sure that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will report in due course on a more logical distribution of frequencies and will mak;. other changes designed to protect the interests of all Australian listeners. All that I have to say about any radio station that blocks out or attempts to block out any transmission from this Parliament is that its action is almost treasonable and ought to be dealt with under the Crimes Act.
– Many newspapers throughout Australia are publishing huge advertisements, which contain the line “Issued under the authority of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth “, which refer to current high prices and shortages. The advertisement which appears in to-day’s press states- -
If there are 20 articles and 30 people are scrambling to buy them, there’s a shortage . _ But if 10 of the 30 people aire content to wait a little while until 10 more articles are made, the shortage disappears. lt is as simple as that ! I ask the Prime Minister whether consideration has been given to other ways in which shortages are created, in particular the lack of production of goods due to strikes and the disruptive tactics of Communist organizations. In view of the fact that the Government intends to take no legal action against the Communists or the Communist party-
– Order ! The honorable member must ask his question.
– Will the Prime Minister request an audience with Mr. Sharkey and the leaders-
-Order! The honorable gentleman knows that he must ask a straight-out question. He is not entitled to discuss the subject.
– I am asking a straight-out question now. Will the Prime Minister request an audience with Mr. Sharkey and the leaders at Marx House in Sydney-
– Order ! The honorable member might sit down again and try to frame his question correctly. He is not entitled to give information or to introduce debate into a question.
– Very well, I shall ask my question in this form : In view of the shortages of essential goods in Australia largely caused by Communistfomented strikes, will the Prime Minister seek an audience with Mr. Sharkey and the leaders at Marx House in Sydney in order to try to persuade them to reduce their disruptive tactics in the community?
– I have tried on other occasions to make it clear to honorable members that if they seek information, I will always try to supply it as courteously as I can. The question asked by the honorable member for Richmond was, of course, intended to be insulting. It would, therefore, be beneath the dignity of the House for me to answer it. Until the honorable gentleman frames his questions in forms that are not insulting, I do not propose to answer any further questions asked by him.
– Apparently the honorable member for Indi is not in favour of higher education in Australia.
– I take exception to that remark. I would be in favour of higher education for the Minister.
– The honorable member does not seem to appreciate the great effort of the Government in endeavouring to establish a national university in the National Capital. The honorable gentleman first asked whether a contract had been let. Yes, a contract has been let. The biggest section of the work for which the contract has been let will provide accommodation. If we can accommodate students at the Australian National University in Canberra, the demand for accommodation for students in other parts of Australia will be eased. Then the honorable member asked whether thousands of men would be engaged on the job and in producing material for it. After all, the whole building programme for the Australian Capital Territory, which includes the university, hostels and houses, does not call for the employment of more than about 3,000 nien on the jobs and in the Government’s brickworks, cement works, tile works and in sand screening and the felling and milling of timber. For the honorable gentleman to surmise that the university job and the manufacture of materials therefor will call for the employment of thousands of men shows how limited is his knowledge. The honorable gentleman also asked whether the contract had been let on a cost-plus basis and why, if it had been let on that basis, the Government had accepted the principle of cost-plus. The fact is that it is not a cost-plus contract. It is a cost-plus fixed fee contract, which is entirely different from a cost-plus contract.
– Is it cost-minus?
– The Leader of the Australian Country party, who claims to be one of the outstanding accountants of Australia, should know the difference between cost-plus and cost-plus fixed fee.
– It is cost-plus, whether the “ plus “ part is limited or not.
– Order ! l.f honorable members do not allow the Minister for Works and Housing the courtesy of being heard in silence, I shall ask him not to continue his reply.
– What about free board and lodging?
Mr. Lemmon having resumed his seat, Mr. Howse having received the call, and Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! Honorable members should extend some courtesy to the House. I do not propose to compete with the shouts of honorable members when I call for order from the Chair. If honorable members do not obey the Chair I shall deal with them.
– I ask that further questions he placed on the notice-paper.
Debate resumed from the 8th March (vide page 1084), on motion by Mr. Dedman -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker-
Opposition members interjecting,
– Again I warn honorable members that I do not propose to call for order persistently. Any honorable member who interrupts will be dealt with immediately.
– Last night, as I listened to the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) pouring out hie fabrications and shedding his crocodile tears for the private shipping companies, I could not help wondering what would have . happened had the late Sir Granville Ryrie walked into this chamber. That honorable gentleman, I am sure, would have told a different story from that recounted by the right honorable member for Cowper about the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The right honorable member’s speech was unparalleled for unscrupulous audacity. He did not tell the facts, but indulged mainly in superfluous nonsense quite unrelated to the measure now under discussion. I shall deal with that matter later. I intend first to say something about the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in his second-reading speech on this measure, assumed the same role as he played when the Australian National Airlines Bill and the Commonwealth Bank Bill were before this House. It was the role of a well-briefed lawyer pleading a case for his client, in return for a fat fee which, on this occasion, of course, will be a fat contribution to party funds. The Government, he said, should pay bounties to shipping companies; but he does not want the Government to have any say in the control of shipping. He wants the Government to follow the example of past anti-Labour administrations which poured out bounties and subsidies to private industry. In those days, with generous government assistance, huge monopolistic undertakings were established in this country, and were able to pay rich dividends to shareholders whilst the governments which had made their success possible received nothing in return. That is what will happen, and must happen again if the policy of the Leader of the Opposition is followed. The payment of subsidies and bounties to shipping companies would lead to the establishment of shipping monopolies which would pay substantial dividends to shareholders at the expense of .the primary producers, exporters, and importers of this country. Earlier to-day, reference “was made in this chamber to the cost-plus contract system. Under that system, huge sums of public money were paid out to private individuals- Captains of industry in this country refused to accept contracts except on the cost-plus system. Under that system, of course, a contractor does not care whether his job takes a month or six .months, because he is drawing a profit on every £1 that is paid in wages to the workers. The payment of bounties or subsidies to shipping companies would be similarly abused. The companies would have no incentive to keep costs down. What would a shipbuilding organization care how much it cost to produce a ship in its yards so long as the work was being liberally subsidized by the Government? High production COSts would be a charge not to themselves, but to the Government. Much has been said about the great private shipping companies. I invite honorable members to past their minds back to the conditions that existed in the shipping industry immediately prior to the 1914-18 war. At that time no white seaman could get a job on a British ship. The British mercantile marine was almost solely manned by black labour. When British ships were torpedoed by the Germans during the early part of the .1914-18 war, the black crews trampled on white men, women and children in their haste to save their skins. Because pf the submarine menace the ships had to be manned largely by whites. That was the state of affairs that existed prior to and during World War I.
– That is a grossly incorrect statement.
– The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) knows nothing about the subject. I admit that prior to the outbreak of World War I. the captains, some of the chief officers and some members of the crews of British vessels were whites, but in the main British ships were manned by black crews. That was the great shipping industry established by the private shipping companies about whom honorable mem bers opposite are so much .concerned. If, during the 1914-18 war, the black crews of British .ships had not been replaced by whites, not a British ship would have -remained on (the high .seas within six months. No fewer than ,60,000 British seamen lost their lives during that war ; but the British shipping .companies made enormous profits. During World War I., when Great Britain was fighting for its very existence, and when the allied nations were engaged in a bloody struggle in the cause of democracy, the British shipping companies were bleeding their country and earning huge profits. In the House of Commons Mr. Bonar Law said that the shipping companies were making scandalous profits. He said that he held some shares in shipping companies and that in the previous year every £100 he had invested in shipping shares had returned him £64.
– For every British ship sunk as the result of enemy action the shipowners received far more than its original value.
– That is so. The vessels were of more value to the shipping companies at the bottom of the sea, than when they were sailing the oceans of the world. Last night the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) had something to say about the British seamen’s strike. Notwithstanding the profits made by the private shipping companies during the war and since, and notwithstanding the sacrifices made during the war by British seamen, the shipping companies, without prior notification and while the ships were on the high seas, reduced the wages of seamen by £4 a month. That was the sole reason why British seamen walked off their ships. The seamen however, were starved into submission and were forced to return to their ships and accept the lower wages which the shipping companies had decided to pay. The Leader of the Opposition claimed that the best thing the Bruce-Page Administration had done was to sell the former Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. In the course of the justification which he advanced for its action he accused the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. O’Connor) of having been mistaken in the assertion which that honorable gentleman had made that the Public Accounts Committee had praised the operation of the line. The right honorable gentleman said that the report from which the honorable member for West Sydney had quoted was only a minority report, but that is not so. I shall furnish further details presently to demonstrate the correctness of the assertion made by the honorable member for West Sydney. For the moment, however, I shall deal with the assertion of the Leader of the Opposition that the best thing done by the Bruce-Page Administration was to sell the Commonwealth shipping line. Of course, the record of that Administration is so marked by reprehensible deeds that I concede that the sale of the ships may have been the best of a number of bad deeds. The fact remains, however, that the Bruce-Page Administration sold for less than £2,000,000 an enterprise which was worth considerably more than £7,000,000. The disposal of the line was not in reality a sale at all; it was a gift - a gift to a criminal, as events proved. The right honorable gentleman endeavoured to show that the line was sold on the advice of the Public Accounts Committee. I was a member of this House at the time, and I recall very vividly the course of events between the time the Bruce-Page Administration was formed and the eventual disposal of the ships. Every Labour member of this House at that time opposed the proposal to sell the ships, and attacked the Government for sponsoring it. Members of the Australian Labour party in this chamber used every constitutional means, including a motion of censure, to try to prevent the Government from carrying out its iniquitous proposal. However, the members of that Administration had been ordered by their political bosses, the people who contribute substantially to party funds, to get rid of the line, and they were determined to do so. But Mr. Bruce, the then Prime Minister, was not prepared to accept the responsibility, on a mere decision of the Cabinet, for such an unjustifiable abnegation of duty. He wanted to “get out from under”, and he determined to refer the proposal to the Public Accounts Committee in the belief that that committee would furnish an excuse to justify the sale of the ship9. Sir Granville Eyrie, who was then chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, twice refused to vote in favour of the sale of the line. What I am saying now accords with the official public records, and any honorable member who was associated with the National Parliament at that time knows that what I am saying is true. Sir Granville Eyrie voted with the Labour members of the committee in opposition to the proposal to sell the line. The Prime Minister then sent for him and asked him to go to London as Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. It was well known at the time that the reason for General Eyrie’s appointment to that post was the Government’s determination to remove him from the Public Accounts Committee. In fact, at the valedictory function tendered to Sir Granville Ryrie before his departure for the United Kingdom, he almost said that that was so. Every one knows that had he not been a stumbling block to the aims of the BrucePage Administration, in his capacity of chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, he would never have had the ghost of a chance of being appointed High Commissioner. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) will recall the circumstances to which I now refer. Sir Granville Eyrie said quite frankly that hie appointment to London was the surprise of his life. He explained that when Mr. Bruce, as Prime Minister, asked him to accept the appointment, he replied “I have not the qualifications for a High Commissioner “. However, he took the view that the Prime Minister had virtually ordered him to go. and since it was a command he felt that he should go. I do not think that the Bruce-Page Government waited for Sir Granville to arrive in London before it resubmitted its proposal to sell the ships to the Public Accounts Committee, which had then, of course, acquired a new chairman. However, even under the new chairman, the majority of government supporters on the committee wavered in their recommendation to sell the ships, as the honorable member for West Sydney pointed out. Even they had to admit that the line had saved the Australian community substantial sums of money during its operation because it kept shipping freights down. Finally, the committee recommended that the line should be sold because of the hopeless muddle in which it had become involved by its managers. The board which had been appointed to control the operations of the line included many incompetents, and the Public Accounts Committee commented particularly on the hopelessly contradictory attitude on policy displayed by, and the antagonisms existing between, the members of that hoard. The shocking mismanagement of the line was one of the main reasons advanced by the majority on the Public Accounts Committee in justification of their recommendation that the line should be sold. That is briefly the story of the events that culminated in the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The right honorable member for Cowper practically admitted that if his Administration had not sold the ships to the shipping line, to which it was ultimately sold, it would have been almost compelled to purchase the vessels then owned by that line because that concern was about to discontinue operations. Talk about ominous threats ! Anti-Labour administrations have done everything required of them by vested interests. When the Inchcape shipping combine applied pressure to the Bruce-Page Government either to sell its ships to them or to purchase the vessels operated by Lord kylsant’s line, which was about to discontinue operations, members of the Bruce-Page Administration wilted at the knees. They decided to accept the first alternative, which was to sell the ships, but they endeavoured to camouflage the nature of the transaction and the real reason for it.
The right honorable gentleman also contended that the construction of shipping in this country would be carried out much more efficiently if left in the hands of private enterprise. To prove the falsity of that assertion I propose briefly to recall another incident from the past. Honorable members will remember the “ coffin “ ships built by the Kidman and Mayo organization for the Bruce-Page Government. When
Labour members of the Public Works Committee examined those vessels they discovered that the holds had not beer properly riveted. For every bolt used to fasten the plates in the hull, twenty dummies were used. It was possible to move a. thin batten between the steel plates of the hull without encountering the slightest obstruction. Shipping experts expressed the emphatic opinion that the impact of only one heavy roller on the vessels while they were at sea would have been sufficient to send them to the bottom. Notwithstanding those revelations the contractors were not placed in the dock to be tried for attempted murder, but instead they were given £80,000 by the Bruce-Page Government to compensate them for the financial loss which they were supposed to have incurred in the construction of the two vessels. We have only to remind ourselves of the protracted struggle that had to be waged by Samuel Plimsol] against the British shipping companies, to persuade the authorities to insist on the loading of vessels being restricted to a safe maximum, to realize the ghastly avarice of shipowners. I wonder whether members of the Opposition realize the story behind the introduction of the “ Plimsoll line I shall not relate it in detail here, but merely remind honorable members that Samuel Plimsoll encountered bitter opposition before he was able to prevail upon the House of Commons and the House of Lords to pass legislation that prevented avaricious shipowners from overloading their ships to such a degree as to endanger the lives of the crew. In all the ghastly history of unrestricted private enterprise, the most ghastly chapter is that relating to private enterprise in shipbuilding and shipping. Many tragedies at sea may be traced to the cupidity of shipowners, who constructed inferior vessels, and overloaded them. The Labour Government will not tolerate such conditions in Australia. The Government of New South Wales, and the governments of most of the other States no longer let contracts to private enterprise to build any kind of railway bridge. New South Wales has a ghastly history of railway tragedies, such as the Cootamundra disaster, because private enterprise had built bridges of inferior materials. If private enterprise is allowed, unrestrained, to build ships, it will repeat the ghastly experiences of the Kidman and Mayo coffin ships in order to make greater profits. As the result of this legislation, the Australian Labour Government will establish over a period a Commonwealth shipping line which will save the importers and exporters of this country many millions of pounds. Members of the Labour party support the bill enthusiastically. A vote against this bill, which will establish a new Australian mercantile marine, is a vote against an increase of our national wealth in the future.
.- We have just listened to an extraordinary tirade by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) who appears to entertain feelings of hate against the Australian industrialist and employer. Over the years, I have heard him deliver many speeches, but I have never heard him say a fair or generous word about any Australian employer or in- dustrialist. Any person who has been listening to the debate may be excused for wondering whether this nation, which represents a little more than 150 years’ effort, very largely on the part of private enterprise, has been built in some ramshackle, shoddy way, and lacks all the element of greatness which we know it really possesses. I find it remarkable that a man who claims to speak on behalf of and to support a Labour government can find nothing but abuse for those who have helped to develop this country’s great resources. I remember the kind of attack that he and his colleagues used to make when they sat in opposition during the early part of World War II. They railed against the profits made by the manufacturers of munitions, the iniquitous cost-plus system and the way in which, in their opinion, industrialists were bleeding the people of this country. Those honorable members then issued the threat that when the Labour party came into office, it would nationalize the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Towards the end of 1941 the Labour party came into office. At that time the Director-General of Munitions was Mr. Essington Lewis, a leading executive of the Broken Hill
Proprietary Company Limited. Did the Labour Government sack him? Did it nationalize the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited? Did it discover, when it had the responsibility of office, that the industrialists were doing terrible things inimical to the interests of the people? Of course, it did not carry out any of the earlier threats. When the Labour party had the job of administering this country and increasing the production of munitions, it confirmed Mr. Essington Lewis in his office and carried on the policies instituted by the Menzies Government. So far from nationalizing the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, it awarded to Mr. Essington Lewis one of the rarest and highest distinctions that the British Empire can confer upon one of its citizens. The honorable member for Werriwa does himself very much less than justice when he engages in such a tirade of abuse against men who, by the efforts that they have made and the risks that they have taken in the past have served Australia and the British Empire well. The honorable member repeated the allegation that the Bruce-Page Government had given away the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I do not know how he or any other honorable member opposite can have the effrontery to make such a statement. Only last night, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who was a member of that Government, produced figures that he had obtained from the Treasury during the last 48 hours, showing that 90 per cent of the purchase money had already been received, and that security was held in respect of the balance. Why, then, do honorable members opposite repeat that lie, unless they are trying to hoodwink the people into supporting this bill?
We are told that this legislation relates to shipping. If we desire to understand why it has been introduced, we must read the preamble, which informs us that -
Whereas the Parliament of the Commonwealth has power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to -
) trade and commerce with other countries and among the States; and
b ) the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth and of the several States :
The preamble lays great emphasis upon the matter of defence. It states -
Whereas it is desirable in the interests of the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth and of the several States’ to establish the shipping industry in the Commonwealth on an adequate scale and to maintain those industries in continuous operation :
I emphasize the word “ adequate “. In both the preamble and the secondreading speech which the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) has delivered, the Government has stressed the aspect of defence. It says, in effect, “ We want to maintain a Commonwealth shipping line, and a shipbuilding industry in Australia, because the defence of the Commonwealth requires that those industries be developed and maintained on an adequate scale “. Is that the true reason why the Government has presented this bill to the House? In the past, the Labour party has not been notable for its enthusiasm for defence measures. Prior to the outbreak of World War II., members of the Labour party resisted attempts by the government of the day to increase the defence capacity of this country. With an impudence and a brazen effrontery which is astonishing, honorable members opposite accuse us from time to time of having left this country unprepared at the outbreak of the war. Yet those who make that charge against us to-day are the very people who resisted our efforts at that time to improve our defences. They voted against the defence estimates, and opposed such measures as the construction of a graving dock in Sydney harbour, and proposals for the introduction of universal military training. Having defied and resisted the efforts of another government to improve the defences of the country in peace-time, honorable members opposite return in later years with a cowardly charge that we neglected the defences of the nation and left Australia virtually unprepared at the time of the outbreak of war. This is the Government and those are the people who to-day display so much enthusiasm, in terms of lip-service for the cause of defence. If honorable members will examine that section of the federal platform and objectives of the Australian Labour party which deals with defence, they will not find any reference to the maintenance of a shipping line for
Mr. Foi. defence purposes. None of the matters covered in this bill have hitherto been included in the policy of the Australian Labour party as part of its defence programme. We must look a little deeper if we are to ascertain the real reason why this measure has been brought before us at the present time. The Government’s emphasis on defence is to bring this measure - if it can be brought - within the constitutional power of the Commonwealth. The real reason for its introduction is to be found in the statement of Labour’s platform and objectives to which I have just referred. We must go hack a few years - back as far as the honorable member for Werriwa went - if we are to ascertain the real purpose behind this legislation because it is necessary to look back into the history of the Labour movement in order to find the true explanation. In November, 1920, the Communist party in Australia was formed by Mr. J. S. Garden, a gentleman who has achieved certain notoriety in other directions. That party immediately began to gain such influence in the unions that the federal executive of the Australian Labour party was compelled to make concessions to it. At the 1921 congress, which was presided over by the president of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, the present Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), who was also president of the Australian Labour party at that time, the socialization of industry became an objective of the Australian Labour party. The socialization of industry, production, distribution, and exchange is still set out as the first plank in the platform and objective of the Australian Labour party. I shall try to bring closer to our times the many developments that occurred in the intervening years. Ignoring those earlier developments, we come to the federal Australian Labour party conference of 1943. Although during most of the intervening period Labour had been in opposition, and had had no opportunity to implement this federal objective, it was always in the forefront of its platform, and at election time each of its candidates was required to pledge that he would support that objective, and would implement it when lie had the opportunity to do so. Following the general elections- of 1940^ when Labour’ was elected to office with the support of two independent members, there was an evenly divided Parliament and it- lacked the authority- necessary to go ahead with its programme at. that time-. But in 1943 there- was a landslide vote to Labour and the opportunity to carry this part of the programme into effect arrived^ At the- Australian Labour party conference of 1943, a resolution was carried that a nation-wide campaign for socialism be started immediately, and that the implementing of the campaign be left in the hands of the federal executive. Then events moved faster. The following- year further decisions were made and ort the 15th June, 11944, the *Standard’, the official paper of the Australian Labour party, reported that the annual Australian Labour party conference of New South Wales had decided to draw up a ten-year plan for the socialization of the means of production, distribution and’ exchange in logical stages’. In November, 1945, at another federal Australian Labour party conference in Canberra, it was agreed that the Australian Government, in co-operation with the State go.vernments, should give- consideration to the nationalization of industries’. Despite the specious protestations of the Government that this- measure has been introduced in the interests of Australian defence^ and to keep Australian industries going, it is to the fulfilment of the pledged objective of the Australian Labour party that we must look for the true explanation of the measure before the Parliament. Under the heading “ Methods as to how that objective is to be achieved, nationalization of shipping has been given a very high order of priority. It follows closely the statement about the nationalization of banking. Developments with regard to that important aspect of nationalization are fresh in the minds of honorable -members. That has a direct bearing on the legislation now before US Before the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), his Cabinet, and the Labour caucus adopted legislation to nationalize our banking system, they knew as clearly as could be known that the people of
Australia did not want, that legislation, and, in fact, that they were bitterly opposed to it. Despite the clear indication that the people did not want it, they pressed on with the- legislation in this Parliament.
– What clear indication:?
– First of al’ the Victorian State election which was- fought entirely upon the issue of the nationalization of banking, and as a result of which Labour was annihilated in- Victoria. There was also a clear indication at every public opinion poll conducted! in this country. I do not think that, even- the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman), who is notorious in this House for his own misrepresentation and misstatements of fact, would be so brazen as to allege that the people of Australia wanted the nationalization of banking.
– What has that to do with shipping ?
– I shall come- to that. The Government, knows’ full well that the people of Australia- do not want, nationalization, oi shipping, and Government members have- been at great pains; during, the course of this debate to assert, that this measure will, not result, im the nationalization’ of the; shipping industry.
– It will’ not.
– I shall have a look at that as I continue. As I have, already said, set out in the forefront of the. policy of the Australian Labour party,, and given a high order of priority,, is the statement that nationalization of shipping is one of the methods, whereby the pledged objective of the Australian Labour party shall be effected. Yet now it is brought under the heading of defence to counter Opposition arguments that this proposal is for the nationalization of the shipping industry. The word “ adequate “ has been used frequently. The Government refers to the maintenance of shipbuilding on an adequate scale, and the establishment of a shipping line on a scale adequate for defence purposes. However, when we analyse the legislation we find that the word “ adequate “ has no meaning unless it means, in effect, to have a monopoly, a single government instrumentality controlling, eventually, the shipping services and shipbuilding industry of this country.
– Where is that mentioned in the bill?
– I shall come to that if the Minister will give me sufficient time to do 30. I claim that the Government is making a dishonest presentation of legislation to the Parliament for purposes other than those that have been stated. We are faced with an attempted fraud on r.he people who are being misled as to the real purposes of the legislation. I have shown what was the public reaction to the nationalization to banking, and now, the Government, in order to avoid a similar reaction, is trying to hoodwink the people as to the purpose of the present legislation. Members of the Government claim that they are only the representatives of a democracy, but what a ‘ spurious breed of democracy the Labour movement has spawned in this Parliament is evident from the manner in which Labour representatives have dealt with legislation designed to give effect to Labour’s socialist programme. If we want to see something of the pattern of the socialist state of the future, we have some interesting illustrations before us. One is the very method of control developed by the Government regarding the shipbuilding industry and the conduct of shipping services. First, I draw a parallel with another industry in which the Government has applied the same technique. I refer to the coal-mining industry which, again, is a basic industry so far as the economic welfare of Australia is concerned. In that industry we have seen similar causes producing very similar results. The coal miners are under Communist leadership, which ‘brought pressure to bear on the Government to agree to the appointment of special tribunals. There followed a demand for the nationalization of the industry. As a direct result of Communist pressure, and of the flabby weak-kneed attitude of Labour governments, particularly of the Chifley Government, there has followed in the coal-mining industry disruption, complete lack of discipline, and soaring costs, whilst the product of the industry has become increasingly scarce. Pressure on the Government has also led to the granting of higher wages and improved amenities, out of proportion to those available in other industries. These things, in turn, have been reflected in soaring costs. In the shipbuilding industry, and the maritime industry generally, the same things have been occurring. For years past, special tribunals and authorities have existed to do the kind, of work for which the Government isostensibly making provision in this legislation. Last night, the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) said that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), speaking for theOpposition parties, was opposed to the Australian shipbuilding industry.. We give him the lie by pointing out that the first Australian Shipbuilding Board was appointed by the Menzies Governments as early as 1941. Of course, we favour a healthy shipbuilding industry. We gave practical evidence of our determination to establish and maintain the industry, but the present Government has gone a long way beyond the establishment of a shipbuilding industry. It set up special tribunals in an attempt to achieve the results which the right honorable gentleman said should be obtained in war-time, and which are necessary for prosperity in time of peace. Thus, there were established the Stevedoring Industry Commission, the Maritime Industry Commission, the Australian Shipbuilding Board, and, later, the Australian Shipping Board. Once more, pressure was exerted on the Government by Communist leadership of the unions concerned, the Waterside Workers Federation and the Seamen’s Union of Australasia. Elliott for the seamen’s union, and Healy for the Waterside Workers Federation, are two of the most active and prominent Communists in Australia. They have succeeded in obtaining amenities and wage increases which bear no relation to those obtained by workers in other industries. Those special advantages and benefits have been obtained by Communist-led unions from this jelly-like Government which at no time is prepared to stand up to them. What is the result? The turnround of shipping in Australia is slower than at any time in our history, and the cost of handling cargo is higher than ever before. Honorable members opposite have boasted of the effect of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers in keeping down freight rates. The honorable member for Werriwa and others claimed that it was only by promoting one of the members of the Public Accounts Committee that the government of the day was able to obtain from that committee a report recommending the sale of the line. I have the report before me, and I find that, during the period the matter was under consideration, there were on the Public Accounts Committee at various times thirteen members of the Senate and House of Representatives. There was a minority report, it is true, by three members, but the majority report recommended as follows: -
Whilst fully recognizing and appreciating the invaluable service rendered to Australia by the Commonwealth Line of Steamers during the war years and the immediate post-war period, and the influence which it has throughout exercised in reducing and restraining freight rates, the committee considers that the benefits now accruing to the country by its existence as a governmental concern are more than outweighted by the heavy losses already sustained, and which, it must be reluctantly admitted, are likely to continue. Moreover, if any shipping line is to remain in business, it must progress, and new and uptodate tonnage must be acquired. At present the seven ships comprising the Commonwealth fleet are being run little short of their utmost capacity - and yet, no provision has been, or can be, made for their replacement, or for additions to the fleet, unless by a special vote. Thu expectations of Parliament when it passed the Shipping Act in 1923 have been far from realized, and the results of the trading of the line serve to prove how unreliable forecasts and estimates are in the shipping business. Raving regard to all the circumstances, therefore, the committee is of opinion that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers should not be retained as a direct governmental activity.
The best thing that could be said about the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers is -that it had some influence in keeping down freight rates. The line was operated under a government drawn from parties which now sit on this side of the House. However, when we have shipping operations conducted by a Labour Government, that Government has to admit losses by the Commonwealth Shipping Board of £10,000,000 in the last three years. But have we had a corresponding benefit in lowered freight rates? On the contrary, freight rates have soared to phenomenal heights since the Australian Shipping Board commenced its operations. Whereas in 1939 the freight rate from Melbourne to Sydney was 22s. a ton, to-day it is 67s. a ton; and people living in Western Australia now have to pay for the transport of manufactured products from the more highly industrialized State of New South Wales, a freight charge of S8s. a ton. compared with 43s. a ton in 1939. Yet, the Government brings before us legislation for the continuance of shipping services which have shown those colossal losses and have found it necessary to continue to increase freight rates to the levels I have indicated. It is a tragic record; and one would have thought that rather than perpetuate it the Government would have taken the speediest action to wipe it out. The shipping shortage and the high freight rates which we are experiencing at present cannot be laid entirely at the door of the instrumentalities to which I have referred; and my criticism is not directed primarily to them. If we were obtaining the same rate of output and effort from those who are manning the ships and working on the wharfs as we got in 1939 - and I do not believe that anybody with knowledge of the conditions at the time would claim that that is a fanciful standard - we should have very little difficulty in conducting our shipping operations on u proper basis and reducing freight rates very considerably. It is in that respect that the Australian Government must accept its full measure of responsibility for the conditions which we are now experiencing.
I propose to deal briefly with several specific provisions in the measure which are illuminating, as they reveal the kind of thing we can expect in relation to not only this industry and the coalmining industry but also other industries as the Government’s policy of socialization sweeps wider and wider. Cla-use 15 sets out the powers, functions and duties of the Australian Shipping Board. The board is to establish and operate shipping services in general terms, but, particularly I invite the attention of honorable members to the many occasions on which the Minister is to be brought in to give a determination on some matter which is likely to arise. There are numerous sub-clauses of that clause and practically every one of them makes requisite the approval and authority of the Minister before the Australian Shipping Board can act. No doubt we have our own notions as to the capacity of individual members of the Parliament and of the Government to carry out their duties as parliamentarians and as members serving for lengthy periods in the Cabinet and, at the same time, attempting to do a day to day job of administration in connexion willi our maritime services. Without elaborating that aspect at great length, I shall place on record a comment made in relation to another industry, but with respect to a similar problem by a very experienced and distinguished public servant in this country. I quote from a statement made by Mr. A. B. Corbett, who was formerly Director-General of Civil Aviation, in a letter which he addressed to a number of public bodies after the Government had decided, in 1944, to nationalize the airlines of Australia -
Speaking as one with over 44 years’ experience as a civil servant who, for many years held executive positions in two great Commonwealth departments, I gay that political interference and control of the detail work of airline operations and management must inevitably lead to disaster arising from delays in decisions, lack of funds provided promptly at the right time, lack of knowledge, and permitting political expediency to override efficient management. Nothing can prevent political interference and disorganization in any industry owned by the Government in which untrained and inexperienced ministers assume the role of managing directors, and override the advice of trained executives.
That is a statement with which all of us who have had any experience in these matters will whole-heartedly agree, but the Government has completely ignored it in this instance. Far from giving to the Australian Shipping Board the authority it requires to carry out the great responsibilities which will devolve upon it, the Government in almost every instance gives to the Minister authority to decide what is, or what is not, to be done. Clause 15 contains another interesting provision which is without precedent in my experience of legislation. Although a similar provision may have been included in legislation of which I am not aware, it is sufficiently rare at any rate to be unfamiliar to me. The provision to which I refer empowers the Australian Shipping Board to recoup the losses which it will sustain from time to time. That provision is made in anticipation of the losses which the board will incur. It gives, in effect, a blanket cover to the board in respect of any failure which may arise as the result of its operations. One can readily appreciate that the Government has good cause to take action along those lines, particularly when it has before it the losses incurred in governmental trading activities during the last three years. But what a shameful confession of failure ! What an abject acknowledgment by the Government that it is beaten before it starts, that it will be virtually impossible to conduct shipping operations at a profit, when, instead of following the normal practice of asking the Parliament to make appropriations to meet losses incurred from year to year, it gives a blanket indemnity before the event for losses which it expects will be incurred hereafter !
I come now to an important provision which was mentioned by the Ministerin his second-reading speech but to which no reference is made in the bill itself,, that is, the provision dealing with thesubsidy to be paid by the Government to shipowners who purchaseships built under the Government’s programme but have to pay a priceconsiderably in excess of that for which they could buy similar vessels from shipyards elsewhere in the world, particularlyEnglish shipyards. The Minister said that a subsidy of up to 25 per cent, will be given in order to meet the differencebetween costs in such circumstances. I do not know why a limit of 25 per cent, was fixed, because it is quite clear that the difference between the cost of ships, to be constructed in this country and that of ships which will be obtainable elsewhere will be very much morethan 25 per cent. That statement is- borne out by a glance at current shipbuilding costs in Australia; but, in addition, we have had some experience in the past of governmental attempts at shipbuilding. I have in my hand the eighth progress report of the War Expenditure Committee, of which I was a member, dealing with the committee’s investigation of the cost incurred by the Government in constructing wooden ships in Tasmania. Paragraph 7 of that report, states -
When the project was approved by the Commonwealth Government in 1942, tentative estimates of £20,000 per vessel were given, but with the decision to construct the vessels to Army specifications this figure was increased to £37,500. Figures supplied by the Australian Shipbuilding Board, however, show that these estimates were far below the actual costs and this fact, coupled with severe criticism of the Tasmanian Wooden Shipbuilding Board by the Commonwealth Auditor-General and the Auditor-General for Tasmania, was primarily responsible for the Committee’s inquiry.
In paragraph 8 the committee sets out the actual cost of production of vessels and says that whereas the original estimate was £20,000 the revised estimate was £37,500, and that the average cost of each vessel when completed was £68,000 for standard ships and £78,000 for refrigerated vessels.
– That is £68,000 instead of £37,500?
– The original estimate was £20,000, the revised estimate was £37,500 and the actual cost was £68,000 and £78,000 for standard and refrigerated ships respectively. Last night I saw the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) throw out his chest as he spoke proudly of the great construction of another undertaking sponsored by his government - the Captain Cook graving dock at Sydney. The truth of the matter is that when the construction of the Sydney graving dock was proposed by the Menzies Government it was opposed by senior members of the Labour party who were then in opposition, including, if my memory serves me correctly, the late Mr. John Curtin, and Mr. Norman Makin, a gentleman who was later Minister for the Navy in a Labour government. Although members of the present Government, when in opposition, opposed the construction of the dock, they now proclaim it proudly as one of their achievements. But they can hardly claim it as an illustration of construction at a reasonable cost. The original estimate for the construction of the dock was a little more than £3,000,000, but the eventual cost was more than £9,000,000. The length of time taken to build the dock was much greater than was originally estimated. That delay was caused by reasons that it is not necessary to dwell on during this debate. Honorable members will therefore see how ineffective is the provision for a subsidy of 25 per cent, of the Australian cost of ships built under the provisions of this measure. How is the subsidy to be calculated? If anything was required to demolish the proposal for a subsidy it was the brilliant and effective attack made on that aspect of the bill by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). That right honorable gentleman asked how the Government would obtain a comparison of shipbuilding costs in Britain and Australia for specific vessels. The Government has said that it will obtain, from British shipyards, quotations of the cost of constructing vessels of similar types to those in respect of which the information will be required. How long will British shipyards give quotations for vessels that they know can never be constructed by them? Will those shipyards go to all the trouble of calculating, in precise terms, the cost of constructing a ship and quoting that cost to the Australian Government, when they know that because of the provisions of this bill they will never be asked to build it? The ships whose cost the Government will ascertain from British shipyards are the “ ghost ships “ to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred. My opinion is that those ships will be as elusive as the Loch Ness monster has proved to be in its own waters. As those ships will never be constructed in British shipyards, I suggest that quotations for their construction will not be supplied by British shipbuilders. But the very fact that the Government has seriously put this proposal forward, as a means of overcoming the increased cost that will be incurred through the building of ships in Australia, shows how unreal and impractical is its whole approach to this problem.
Then we have the requirement that licences must be obtained for the conduct of shipping business between the States. As this is a matter that has been dealt with extensively by previous speakers, I shall not go into it at length. I wish merely to confirm all that previous speakers on this side of the House have said. This particular provision is socialism by stealth, by backdoor methods, without even the common decency and honesty of giving reasonable compensation for what is to be acquired or ultimately destroyed. The Government is establishing another costly government department, and perpetuating its system of government control. It already has special tribunals for stevedores, special tribunals for sailors, a special board to control shipbuilding, and a special board to conduct the servicing of ships. I say that the people of Australia, including many good Labour party supporters, are alarmed at this trend of Government policy. They are alarmed to discover that one in every three male employees in Australia is now employed by one government or another. An honorable member opposite has interjected that the figure is one in four. I am referring to male employees only, and the figure is one in three.
– Does the honorable member desire a diminution of postal and other services?
– The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) tries to lead me off the trail by mentioning some government activities in which labour is absorbed. I do not challenge what has been done to provide government utilities, because the need for such provisions must be faced realistically, and because government utilities are here to stay. I do say, however, that the time has come to call a halt in the present expansion of government activity, and in the grabbing by Commonwealth departments of the labour and materials so urgently required by the community for other purposes. Not only are there so many men employed in the Public Service who might otherwise be engaged in productive and de velopmental work in the community, but also 30 per cent, of the total national income is now passing into the handsof the Australian Government and isbeing disposed of by governments. That fact stimulates the inflationary trends that we are now experiencing,, and forces up the prices of commodities in Australia. It denies the opportunity for money to be spent on developmental services. What return do we get, as a community, from the Government’s hugeexpenditures on various activities? We get a loss experience that has becomealmost universal - losses on our airways,, losses on the control of shipping operations, and even losses on our railways,, which have enjoyed a monopoly for so many years and which, having all the advantages attached to government ownership, instead of improving their financial position are moving further downhill. In the last year for which I have been able to obtain figures, the aggregate losses of Australian railways amounted to £7,700,000, a figure more than double the losses of the previous year of operation.
– Order! The honorable gentleman has exhausted his time.
.- Honorable members opposite, from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) down, have demonstrated by their opposition to this bill that if they were in office Australian shipyards would again decay and die as they were allowed to do by Liberal governments before the last war. Our primary producers would then be again left unprotected against exploitation by the shipping combine. Honorable members opposite have also shown that they are more concerned with protecting the privately owned shipping companies and bank monopolies than they are with the protection and security of the people in war-time, and their economic welfare in peace-time. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has said that any enterprise conducted by the Government is run at a loss and therefore that government ownership should be stamped out. Honorable members opposite have learned nothing in the past few years and, if they were in power, would again leave most services to the public to be run by vested interests. A government is responsible for the protection of the people, and the lessons that we have learned have been taken to heart by the present Government. That is why it has introduced the present measure. The Government intends that never again shall we experience the appalling conditions that existed in Australia at the outbreak of the last war, when this country faced a dangerous situation. I am astonished that honorable members opposite are again taking up the old attitude that it is not the Government’s business to interfere in anything at all. They say that everything should be left to irresponsible bodies and groups over whom there is to be no control. But in time of trouble - and the Leader of the Opposition often prophesies war at any moment - they make no preparations to meet such trouble. It is rather unfortunate that the honorable member for Fawkner has stressed his view that the present Government is not notable for having taken defence measures in the past. I shall remind him of a few instances in the past when defence measures were not taken at a time when his party was in power. I remember his party’s opposition to a project for the defence of this country - the establishment of an air force. An election was fought on that issue. I remember the stories that honorable members opposite told the people. They said that we were cutting the painter with Great Britain. “What was their motive in saying that? They bow accuse the Government of concealing the motives that have impelled it to introduce this bill. They say that the real motive is socialization, not the defence of Australia. What was the motive of the Opposition parties in opposing the establishment of aerial defences for this island continent, the only logical method of defence, which was proposed by the late Mr. John Curtin?
– We established the first air force in Australia.
– The Opposition parties did no such thing. I publicly supported the formation of an Australian air force, and the Opposition parties hurled at us the accusation that we wanted to cut the painter and drift away from Great Britain although the estab lishment of an air force was obviously within our financial capacity, whereas we could not have afforded to build a fleet to match the only fleet that menaced us. The Japanese fleet was very strong, and we could not have hoped to develop a comparable naval force. The Labour party’s policy was vindicated. The antiLabour parties wanted to buy aircraft overseas, just as they now want the Government to buy ships overseas.
– We built the first aircraft in Australia.
– I warn the people that if the Opposition parties ever return to power in Australia they will allow the nation to drift back into the state of unpreparedness which they tolerated before World War II. In spite of their past record of neglect, members of the Opposition parties now brazenly proclaim that they are the only ones who are prepared to defend Australia. What aerial defence did they provide for Australia before World War II.? They arranged for the purchase of about twelve seaplanes, which were never delivered because they were needed in Great Britain. When Australia was cut off by sea during the war, we were left unprotected. We had practically nothing with which to defend ourselves. In the light of the facts, it ill becomes the honorable member for Fawkner to describe as a specious plea the Government’s assertion that the establishment of a shipbuilding industry and a strong mercantile marine is contemplated as part of a defence measure. We want the proposed shipping authority to be established so that we shall have a good standard of vessels and an adequate fleet should the need to defend Australia arise again. Honorable members opposite are trying to confuse the issue by declaring that the Government’s plans are not related to defence. Its motive is a good and genuine one that will have the support of the people.
Have honorable members opposite no vision, apart from the prospect of profits for those people who provide their party funds and support them politically? Have they no concern for the future development of Australia?
– The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) prophesied that the aeroplane would never be of any use for the defence of Australia. The less that he says on this subject the better it will be for himself. Members of the Australian Country party are equally guilty with members of the Liberal party in opposing this measure. They should, be fighting on the side of the Government to secure the passage of the bill. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), for instance, who claims that he represents the interests of the primary producers, wants to hand shipping over to a private monopoly so that the primary producers can be exploited.
– By big business !
– Yes, it finances the Australian Country party. Many years ago, the organization to which the honorable member for Gippsland belongs opposed the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. No doubt the honorable member gave his support to that movement. Nevertheless he is now prepared to rise and say that the line was of no use to the farmers. He will have to account for that to his farmer friends.
Another unfortunate statement made by the honorable member for Fawkner, from the political point of view, was that the Government envisaged financial losses from the operation of the proposed Commonwealth shipping line. The honorable gentleman based his assertion on the fact that the bill provides that any losses sustained by the new shipping board will be made up by the Treasury. There is a very good reason for that provision. The test to be applied in the controversy regarding the respective merits of government enterprise and private enterprise is the question: Which system will give the best service to the people? The answer lies in the fact that private enterprise will give no service unless it can draw handsome profits. The honorable member for Barker knows that and will agree with me. Private enterprise will never willingly undertake any unprofitable business. We must plan for thi; development of Australia, hut private enterprise will not assist us to do so if it cannot make profits. That is one of the main reasons, apart from defence considerations, for eli introduction of this measure. We need great shipyards in the South Pacific. Honorable members opposite would be content if the nearest shipyard were somewhere in the vicinity of the North Pole. Of course the people will have to pay for any financial losses sustained by the new snipping line, but they will be moTe than repaid by the results that will accrue from the development of our continent. We must provide shipping services for people who live in isolated parts of this great land. Such services would not provide profits for private enterprise. Nobody would expect them to be profitable. Nevertheless, we cannot isolate such people from the rest of Australia if we are to develop the nation. There must be financial losses, and the Government must bear them. They will be a cheap price to pay for the development of Australia.
Honorable members opposite complain that all government enterprises operate at a loss. The fact is that private enterprise refuses to operate unless it can make profits. It will not provide essential services otherwise. It wants to have the cream of everything. The Minister for Defence stated -
The existence of the Commonwealth line will enable the Government to provide shipping services to areas that have not previously been adequately served or that may need additional services for developmental purposes. Vessels of the Commonwealth line may also be used, if necessary, where they can assist in the policy of decentralization which has been agreed upon between the Commonwealth and the States. The use of ships in trading of this nature is not financially attractive in the early stages, and private interests are often reluctant to provide ships for such purposes. The Government does not intend that financial considerations alone shall prevent shipping services from being provided where it can be shown that they are necessary, and provision is therefore made in the hill that the Minister may direct the hoard to establish a service _ where such a course is necessary to serve the requirements of a particular area and is desirable in the public interest.
Therefore special provision is made for the financing of such services. The honorable member for Fawkner objects to that and is already forecasting financial losses. He ignores the fact that we are’ preparing for the development of the nation and that we must reasonably expect to pay a price for that development. The Government wants Australia to advance; honorable members opposite would be content to see it go back.
When discussing the subject of losses and profits, the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale), with his abundance of knowledge, said that members of the Labour party should read a report made by the former Public Accounts Committee in relation to the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I read that report years ago. It is a most interesting document. But before that report was presented to the Parliament an interim report was published by the committee under the chairmanship of Sir Granville Ryrie. That report has already been mentioned by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini). It is interesting to note that the committee included six Nationalists and three members of the ‘Country party, but only four members of the Labour party. That committee -reported to the Parliament .on the TOth August, 1’956, without any equivocation -
Whilst it is difficult, in -fact, ‘almost impossible, .owing to the many -factors to be considered to indicate in figures the actual gain to Australia by such action, it .appears to .the committee, from the evidence ‘already -heard, What the shippers amd primary [producers .-of Australia have derived much benefit from the establishment io.f the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. ‘The committee, therefore, recommends that, 4n t&e interests of Australia, the line be continued.
– That was prior to the later report.
– Exactly. That makes it »all the worse. Sir -Granville .Ryrie, the chairman, was strong .and honest in -this matter and put Australia before profits. We .must pay (tribute to -him.
– Bie was .appointed High Commissioner in .the United Kingdom in order to, get him out of the -way.
– ‘That was explained thoroughly by the ‘honorable ‘member for Werriwa. I turn now to the report furnished -on the <6th May, ‘i’927, about twelve months later, by the Public Accounts Committee ‘under the chairmanship <of Senator Kingsmill. That report was made by men who were -evidently under certain ,’instruof ions,, .”because, .twelve months earlier,, .they had unanimously recommended to the Government that the line be retained. In spite of their earlier stand, they recommended that the line be not continued by the Government. Before I come to the actual recommendation made by that committee, I propose to refer to some of the reasons advanced by it for its recommendation. They make most interesting reading. It is abundantly evident that the members were sorry that they had to recommend the discontinuance of that great .servant of the people, the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The reasons for their recommendation .disprove the arguments advanced by .honorable gentlemen opposite, especially those of the honorable member for Parramatta and members of the Australian Country party. The honorable member for Parramatta said that, in two years, the line had lost £1,600,000 and £1,300,000 respectively. That is not correct, because the Kingsmill report stated -
For some years, due largely to the then prevailing conditions, the result of the operations of the Commonwealth Government line showed substantial profits., and the line wau instrumental in enabling shippers ‘in Australia to get their ‘goods to the overseas markets at (reasonable rates because, it -was , stated, .the (presence ,of the line not only exerted a considerable influence in restraining increases in freights, but in many ‘instances actual reductions -in -rates -made “by the line were almost simultaneously .adopted bV .the other ‘shipping companies. For example, it was claimed .that the ‘ reduction of 10s. per ton in freight rates forced by ‘Mr. larkin early in 1923 had resulted d-n a saving of over £2j000,000 a year in Australia’s .freight charges.
I ask members .-off the Australian Country party ‘-where -they ‘Stand in regard to that matter, ‘because freights paid on Australian primary products, which are our main (exports, come out of the return to *he *f aimers. It -is most important that fright ion our WOOl /and wheat should 5be kept at la (reasona’ble level. As that extract from the committee’s report shows, .the operations of the shipping line “resulted in a saving of more than SE2,’000/000 a .year. I fail to understand, therefore., why .members of the Australian ‘.Country party .do not -support the bill.
– -They have deserted the ^farmers.
– Exactly. .They would hand ito an .overseas monopoly control of freights levied on Australian exports ‘Of primary commodities. A rise of freights occurred when the ships were sold. If one believed everything that honorable gentlemen opposite said one would think that private enterprise always nourishes and government enterprise languishes. Let us examine how private enterprise fared in those days. The Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was not the only shipping line that incurred losses. The committee reported -
To show that the Commonwealth was not alone with regard to the position of its shipping activities, the Prime Minister pointed out that many shipping companies which had been formed in Great Britain when abnormal freights were being earned had not only lost their capital, but, when wound up, had owed to their banks two, three or even four times as much as the value of the asset upon which the banks had advanced the money. All the old-established shipping lines, notwithstanding their strong reserves, had had to refrain from paying dividends or had paid them by drawing on reserves accumulated over many years.
– Where is the profit?
– Honorable gentlemen opposite have argued that the Australian shipping line should have been -disbanded because it was incurring losses. All other shipping lines were losing money, too. So the argument that the Commonwealth line was incurring loss is not a legitimate excuse for its having been sold, especially as it was providing a great service to Australian primary producers. The honorable member for Parramatta advanced many reasons for the losses that were incurred by the line. One of them was sabotage by the stewards. He said that the stewards had thrown crockery out of the portholes. Some of the other reasons advanced by the honorable gentleman were as silly as that one was. The report -of the Public Accounts Committee set out very sound reasons for the losses. It stated -
Confidential details placed before the Committee indicated that the efforts of the Board had led to substantial reductions in freight, and that on other occasions its refusal ~to agree to increases proposed - in one instance by both British and foreign ship-owners - had been successful. Certain of the factors stated by the Deputy Chairman of the Board to have exercised an influence against the successful operation of the Commonwealth Line may he elaborated as under -
Industrial Trouble. - For som,e time, both before and after the inception of the Board, the operations of the Line were, it was stated in evidence, considerably hampered by industrial troubles, but in June, 1925, an arrangement was made by the Board with certain Unions in the transport group, other than the Seamen’s Union, and since that date it was claimed the Commonwealth Line had had no serious trouble.
Press Criticism. - Unfair press criticism and a tendency to give undue publicity to any matters, adversely affecting the Commonwealth Line and its operations, exercised, it was stated, an influence on its business. Instances were quoted in evidence of the prominence given in the press to happenings of a detrimental nature on Commonwealth steamers, whilst similar episodes on other vessels were not mentioned.
The Committee itself had specific example* during its investigation. In one case & paragraph appeared in a Melbourne paper that passengers on a “ Bay “ steamer had complained that the food was poor during the voyage. The editor was asked if he could indicate the source of the information, and whether the names of the passengers were u vh liable, but a reply was received regretting that, although he had inquiry made, no such particulars could be furnished. In another instance a Sydney newspaper published during the course of the Committee’s investigation, » paragraph headed “ Federal Ships - Do not pay - May all bc sold “, and then proceeded to quote, in heavy type, an opinion expressed by the Prime Minister, when a private Member nf Parliament, some three years previously.
Oan honorable members not observe the similarity between the attitude of th* press then to the shipping line and its attitude to Trans-Australia Airlines to-day? Yet the honorable member for Parramatta has tried to make out that the stewards were responsible for the losses. Those quotations show that there is little truth in the allegations of the Opposition about the operations of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The Public Accounts Committee did not recommend the sale of the ships. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) read portion of the committee’s finding, but not all of it. He read only as far as the sentence which stated that, having regard to all the circumstances, the committee was of the opinion that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers should not be retained as a direct governmental activity. Continuing from where the honorable member left off, the report states -
In submitting this recommendation, however, the committee recognizes that this line of steamers is an asset belonging to Australia, and the committee has carefully considered how the line should be disposed of in a manner which would preserve to Australia the good effects it has exercised in the preservation of reasonable freights and fares between Australia and the United Kingdom.
What the committee did recommend, in effect, was the establishment of a corporate body to operate the line. Members of the committee foresaw what would happen to Australian primary producers if the ships were sold. They obviously had the interests and the safety of their country far more at heart than do their successors now sitting in opposition in this Parliament. The next paragraph of the report is enlightening. It states -
The influence for good or evil of world shipping upon the prosperity and the commercial development of nations is too evident a fact r,o need lengthy discussion, more particularly in these latter days, when the agglomerative tendencies which have made themselves felt in this particular branch of commerce have resulted in the formation of huge shipping combines of world-wide activities whose underlying motive? are often far from being altruistic and occasionally fail to be even patriotic.
The honorable member for Fawkner did not mention that either. As the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) said, members of the Public Accounts Committee were most concerned about the fate of the vessels. They believed it to be their duty to make certain recommendations to the Parliament. The report continues -
Either to guard against victimization by these bodies or to supply, by establishing reasonable means of communication for their products and citizens with other countries, most of the commercially important nations of the world have found it necessary to interest themselves in the question of the sea-carriage nf goods and passengers. [ emphasize the words “ to guard against victimization “.
The anti-Labour parties in those days were conservative, but I think that their successors are worse. Honorable members opposite dance to the tune called by their masters who provide their party funds. In effect, the Public Accounts Committee in 1927 recommended action on the lines that this measure proposes shall be followed. It recommended the setting up of a corporate body - a form of socialism - to control the Commonwealth vessels. The committee did not suggest that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers should be given away. However, the ships were sold at their written-down value of £1,900,000, and even that sum was not paid in full. Virtually the vessels were given away to those evil influences mentioned in the Kingsmill report.
Sitting suspended from to 2.15 p.m.
– Although the Kingsmill report recommended that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers should not be retained as a governmental instrumentality, certain passages in it proved the value of the line, especially to Australian primary producers. In one year there was a saving of .2,000,000 in freight charges, from which primary industries would derive the main benefit. The report also referred to the fact that when the line began to operate Australian ships were mostly out of date. By using more modern vessels and methods, the line compelled private steamship owners to improve their ships and services and provide refrigerated cargo space. That was of great benefit to the Australian primary industries because it enabled citrus fruit and soft fruit to be sent overseas for the first time in the history of Australia. But for the competition that was provided by the. government steamship line we should probably not have refrigerated space available to us to-day. The effect of this bill will be to keep Australian ships and shipping services up to modern standards. That will, of course, be of direct benefit to the Australian economy.
One of the alternatives to the proposals in this bill which has been suggested by honorable members opposite is that we should buy our ships from overseas. I am astounded that at this stage of our experience such a policy should be advocated by any Australian political party. The Labour party certainly will not adopt it, and that is why this bill has been brought down. The industries that were established by the Labour party after 1914, in an attempt to make Australia self-sufficient, were allowed to fall into decay by anti-Labour governments. The result was that thousands of trained men were thrown out of work and when World War II. broke out our trained artisans had vanished and we were required to train others. That position arose because hitherto we had followed the policy of purchasing overseas ships and other equipment that were necessary for the defence of Australia. I believe that in future Australia must stand on its own feet. There is nothing in this bill that will act to the detriment of British shipbuilding yards. Australia is a part of the British Commonwealth, and arguments in favour of decentralization can be applied to the British Commonwealth just as logically as they can be applied to a single country. Great Britain is now in the midst of a vast shipbuilding programme that is designed to make good the losses of British ships that were incurred during the war: Our own shipbuilding programme will be ancillary to the British programme. Having regard to- our policy of increasing the population of Australia by a vast immigration scheme^ we must of. necessity stimulate the establishment of heavy industries in- this country, and particularly the shipbuilding industry. When- the* Japanese struck in the last war we were in’ a desperate position as: far as1 transport’ services’ were concerned. The’ problem, of feeding our troops and; the transport of coal’ to keep our’ industries’ in. production placed’ a tremendous hurden upon” the Prime Minister of the day. We must’ ensure that never again shall! we be in a similar position,, because if’ another emergency should. occur we should1 probably not have time in which, to train the artisans that’ we should, need’. By means of this measure, the Government is doing something which it’ is’ its1 duty’ to* do. It’ is’ charged’ with1 the” responsibility/ of protecting- the- Australian people1 and1 the1 Australian economy: If- is’ not true to say, as honorable1 members opposite have said, tHat’ this’ is merely an* attempt to’ socialize1- the1 shipping industry. If the” anti-Labour parties1 were’ iff power, would honorable- members opposite continue to1 allow the destiny of the” Australian peopleto” remain’ in- the hands, of private”1 shipbuilding companies overseas?” The- Government is’ determined1 that that position’ shall not continue to exist. The policy off the’ Labour- party is’ a1 far-seeing- one. Honorable members’ on this’ sid’e, of the1 House- desire to safeguard: the country against the position to which 1 have justrefer,red and to,ensure. that provision shall’ be’ made to’ facilitate the1 industrial and! agricultural progress that must occur in Australia. It would be a dereliction of duty on the part of any government if it delegated a part of its responsibility to the people to bodies that are not responsible to the people. Honorable members opposite have said that by means of this bill the Government is attempting to kill private enterprise, but that is not so. If the bill is passed, Australian private shipyards will be allowed to continue to build ships, but, as the ships will be required to be built in Australia, our economy will be strengthened.
,This morning the House had the pleasure and privilege of listening to, among other speakers’, two” honorable members opposite. More than ever I envy those gentlemen the facility with which they Gan emulate the domestic duck, which, if it wishes to sleep- while the sun is shining, puts its head under its wing and pretends that it is dark. Metaphorically, members of the- Labour party do the same’ thing in’ a debate of this1 kind’. They distort facts,, they set up Aunt Sallys, they site-mate- a righteous’ indignation while knocking’ them down, and generally they pretend that the debate” is concerned with a1 master’ with which it is’ not concerned at all’. The- title of this Bill describes itf as a bill for an act relating1 to1 shipping. The title is so1 simple- that at. first glance, one”, would say’ that’ there is nothing; in the bill- about, which to argue, but our experience; of late1 has been< such that all proposed” legislation must be’ adjudged guilty until ft ha’s been” proved to be innocent. We must consider, whether this” bill does, in; fact, rel’ate to shipping for its own sake or whether the Government is using shipping, as- a- means’ to- usher’ in’ something tha* is very much more sinister and’ less desirable’ from1 the- viewpoint’ of the public. We mast- dismiss the* simplicity of the1 title of the measure- and1 consider if- from’ the” point’ of view’ of what we can1 discover in the preamble. A1 reading of the’ preamble’ discloses* that the Bill is’ designed’ fry establish the shipbuilding industry. vw Australia1 on- am adequate scale.. If. is’ designed’ tlo establish on an adequate scale- something’ that: ha’s been established during’ the last 30’, 40 or’ 50) years and! to> which nobody objects. There is no honorable member of ‘this House “who would object to the continuance in existence of the Australian shipbuilding industry. The honorable member for “Wannon ‘(Mr. McLeod) said that ‘honor a’ble members on .this side of the House desire that it should bc abandoned and all orders for Australian -ships placed ‘overseas. That was a deliberate distortion o’f <the facts, which ‘is made considerably worse by the fact that the honorable gentleman realizes “that it is a distortion. Al that the ‘Opposition -desires is that shipbuilding yards in England and other countries shall not be denied the .right to tender for the (building of .ships for Australia. The ‘ non-contentious phrase in ‘the preamble to which I have -ref erred has been used very cunningly to camouflage the real object of the measure, .which is ito .establish a government -monopoly ;of -shipping ‘and ultimately to drive competition from the Australian coasts. All the hot .air of ‘Government supporters about irrelevant matters (has been designed merely to hide that fact ‘from the people who have been listening ito hh, broadcast of the -debate.
– Honorable members opposite ‘say that -of every hill “that the Government brings ‘down.
– W e (should not be far wrong df we ‘did. ‘This ‘bill is -.designed to establish .something that is compulsorily to use the production of free enterprise and ito entangle further a ‘free ‘people in ‘(he. chains of a “socialist :system, “which they do not want .and -for which .the,y most certainly would never vote. The differences on these issues lie between those who are regimented to support socialist enterprise, whether they like it or not, and those who have the temerity to advorate the right o’f the individual to use his own initiative and to establish his own industry for his personal betterment and for the ‘general advancement ‘of the country. The proof of “that is ito be (seen in the frenzied ‘defence of :an ^objective ^against which there .is no ‘opposition. -Honorable members apposite are ‘frenzied in their defence ‘of the “Government’s objective, because »any man who has a feeling of guilt and .has .’to ‘defend -what he is .saying can (do so only by “bluster ‘because logic
will never serve his case. Therefore, -we ‘had the spluttering -of the Minister for Information (Mr. ‘Calwell) last night. He was guilty -right through. ‘He could >not defend the Government’s proposals except by indulging in a howling tirade of abuse against everybody who disagrees with ‘him. That .attitude reminds me of my ‘army training! days when in the course of our exercises we captured -every prominent position :in a district and were flushed -with victory, but lacked the opposition -of ‘an enemy, a vital -factor that would have made -ail the -difference. That is Che position of ‘Government ‘speakers when they a’ttempt to defend t[his bill. They are fi’gh’ting most unskillfully n rear-guard -action in a ‘field in which there is no ‘enemy. It was made clear by Kbe right honorable member >for Cowper (Sir Earle -Page) last night that the shipbuilding industry .that has been “established in Australia over ‘the years has been supported by people of. every shade ‘O’f (politics. Labour members, however, try to pretend that ‘the ‘position is not as 1 have stated it ito -be. In or.der deliberately to bide ‘the real purpose ‘of the -measure they say that we a-re (opposing it. ‘This bill merely .highlights the. differences that lie between ‘socialism and freedom >of choice. Yesterday the honorable “member for Parkes *(Mir. Haylen;) made an extraordinarily ‘unfortunate contribution ito this debate. It was ‘characterized .by bitter invective .-against -members of the Opposition whose only offence was that they had refused ‘to ‘abuse their intelligence to .the :same degree -as “the (honorable member is prepared :to abuse -his. He indulged in :a welter of irrelevancies. Amongst other things, he -referred to ‘the former -Australian .Commonwealth Line of -Steamers. What connexion there ‘is between : that line and this “bill mo »one is able to discover, ‘notwithstanding which .it has provided :the (whole of -the material that :some .honorable members have m-sed in the debate. Their reference to the former line ‘reminds me >of the ‘Chinese proverb which says that “ the mills will not ‘grind with the waters that have passed-“. Honorable members opposite ‘are still attempting to grind with waters that passed “24 ‘.or .25 ‘years ‘ago. As the .subject of the earlier /line has been imported into the (debate it is necessary that we should answer some of the comments that have been made in regard to it. Last night the right honorable member for Cowper completely answered every false statement in regard to it that had been uttered by honorable members opposite. Those statements were not merely about something of which they had just thought. Indeed, I have listened to statements of that kind for the last twenty years. Last night they wore proved, as they have been proved repeatedly during the last twenty years, to be false. They are used again only to provide favorable election propaganda for the Labour party by which it is hoped that the people will be deceived. So long as such statements lead to the return of the Labour party to the Government benches, in the view of honorable members all will be right with the world. The right honorable member for Cowper, in a devastating expose, replied ‘ to every false statement made by honorable members opposite in this debate. In one glorious over the right honorable gentleman bowled, caught and ran out every man on the Government side. When the right honorable gentleman cited statistics that he had obtained from the Department of the Treasury only on the previous night honorable members opposite were silent. One could at least have expected them not to reiterate the false statements that had characterized their contributions to the earlier stages of the debate, yet this morning the same old stories were again “ dished “ up. Honorable members opposite take the view that only a few people will have heard the facts as recounted by the right honorable member for Cowper, and that the great masses of the people will believe what they themselves have said. I have no doubt that the Australian’ Commonwealth Line of Steamers performed a useful service and made substantial profits during the period of World War I. But it also made substantial and continuous losses in the post-war period. Those losses were incurred mainly because, at the end of World War I., so much tonnage was available that all the ships in commission could not be gainfully employed. That is the reason why many of the great private shipping companies “went broke”. No trade was offering in which the ships could be engaged. That point is made clear by a couple of extracts that I shall read from the report of the Public Accounts Committee relative to statements made by a former Prime Minister, now Lord Bruce. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) was honest enough to quote one extract from the report, but those who preceded him only quoted the statements of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the then Mr. Bruce, that they thought would favour their argument. The first extract reads -
In placing this measure before the Parliament the Prime Minister (the Eight Honorable S. M. Bruce) indicated that, although the Commonwealth line had rendered invaluable service during the war in the transport of men, munitions and foodstuffs, its post-war losses were steadily increasing. These losses could be ascribed to the return of troops to their own countries, to the release of tonnage, due to the cessation of hostilities, to trade depression generally, and to the disastrous conditions prevailing in the shipping world. It had also been found by experience that a great part of the tonnage of the line was quite unsuitable for Australian trade, and was expensive to run.
The second extract reads -
To show that the Commonwealth was not. alone with regard to the position of its shipping activities, the Prime Minister pointed out that many shipping companies which had been formed in Great Britain when abnormal freights were being earned had not only lost their capital, but, when wound up, had owed to their banks two, three, or even four times as much as the value of the asset upon which the banks had advanced the money. All the old-established shipping lines, notwithstanding their strong reserves, had had to refrain from paying dividends or had paid them by drawing on reserves accumulated over many years.
Yet in the face of that clear-cut statement, and of the facts recited by the right honorable member for Cowper last night, the honorable member for Parkes characterized the sale of those ships as treachery to the Australian people.
– It was a treacherous act.
– The Minister and his friends opposite will have to stand up to that statement, which is tantamount to saying that the government of the day was composed of traitors. I remind them that that Government had just completed a successful campaign against the enemy without, as well as against the enemy within, which was constituted in a large measure by members of the Labour party.
Yet honorable members opposite have the temerity to call the members of that Government traitors to their country. The honorable member for Parkes went on to paint a picture of tens of thousands cf Australian people holding up their hands in supplication, begging the Government to restore to them a shipping line of which they had been deprived so treacherously. That is sheer fantasy, because I am 9ure that at least one-half of the present Australian voters had not then been born or were too young to know anything about the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. Indeed, it would be hard to find one voter in ten to-day who cares “ a hang “ whether or not the Commonwealth ever possessed a shipping line. Supporters of the Government have been letting loose a lot of “ hot air “ in their attempts to revive the controversy that arose out of the sale of the former Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. Members of the Australian Labour party do not want the people to view the matter objectively, and many of those who now attack the BrucePage Government on the ground that the sale of the ships weakened Australia’s defensive potential were sheer pacifists during the war.
Then it is alleged by supporters of the Government that the old Commonwealth line benefited the nation by preventing increases of shipping freights in the coastal and overseas trade. I believe that contention to be perfectly sound, and it is more than probable that the benefits that had accrued to Australia during World War I. more than counterbalanced the loss of £3,500,000 that was incurred before December, 1923. I do not include the losses that occurred after that date. Although the value of the line to this country during World War I. more than compensated for the loss of £3,500,000 that was subsequently made on its operations, the fact remains that that money had to be provided by somebody. In the result the Australian taxpayers certainly contributed to the general saving on shipping freights and the particular benefit obtained by primary producers. Be that as it may, the continued operation of the line was not warranted after it had become redundant. The inquiries made by the Public Accounts Committee show that it made profits during World War I. and incurred losses thereafter. For twenty years I have been listening to the old catchcry that the ships were given away, or, as one supporter of the Government said this morning, were presented to a criminal, who had never paid even the nominal price placed upon them. Because the shipping firm that bought the vessels subsequently went into liquidation it does not follow that its debts will not be paid ; in fact, figures released by the Treasury thi9 year show that Australia has received from it £131,000 in dividends. Yet supporters of the Government have the temerity to utter the falsehood that the ships were given away.
Mr. McLeod interjecting,
– The best thing that the people can do for the honorable member for Wannon is to give him a long holiday so that he may acquire a little more realism in his mental processes. Supporters of the Government have contended that the payment of a subsidy to a Commonwealth shipping line would be perfectly justified in the interests of the community. We do not disagree with that point of view because we believe that in certain circumstances it is quite sound practice to pay subsidies. For instance, we believe that the Government was not justified in lifting the subsidy on coastal shipping recently. The Government, of course, did not really dispute that the payment of the subsidy was warranted, but it removed the subsidy deliberately so as to convince the people who had voted “No” at the recent referendum on the control of rents and prices that they had made a vital mistake.
– That is kindergarten talk.
– Most of the experience cf the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has been of the kindergarten variety. The contention of honorable members opposite that the establishment of a Commonwealth shipping line will reduce freights and fares, and so benefit the entire community, is contradicted by our recent experience of the establishment of another State enterprise. The chief justification advanced in the favour of the establishment of that particular enterprise was that it would reduce fares and freights for air travel. The event proved that Trans-Australia Airlines could not compete with the privately owned airlines, and the Government then endeavoured to compel those concerns to raise air freights and fares so as to justify an increase by TransAustralia Airlines. What a contrast our experience of the operations of Trans-Australia Airlines provides with the claims now made by the Government on behalf of the proposed Commonwealth shipping line ! If we are to have a repetition of our experience with a government-owned airline, what can we expect? The bill contains a provision which has obviously been included for the express purpose of eliminating any competition. After its plans for its own airline had been frustrated by Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited, the Government, which had taken the lesson to heart, determined that there should be no more “ Ansetts “ to interfere with the execution of its plans. Therefore, the provision was made in the measure now under consideration that all shipping companies must operate under licence, and any private shipping line which ventures to cause the Government any trouble will do so at the risk of losing its licence. As I have said, the Government is determined that no one will interfere with its cherished plans. Clauses 29 and 30 of the measure propose to confer such power on the Minister to control private competitors of the Government line that the Minister will have no difficulty in driving any of those competitors out of the coastal trade. I do npt think that any honorable member who has examined those clauses will deny that. The inclusion of those provisions in the measure probably explains why the shipping, companies have not been very vocal in. their opposition to, the. bill. They probably take the view, that he who makes the least noise will live the longest. They believe that if they do protest with any vehemence at all they will incur the penalty of victimization,.. The Government, will have; in its hands a weapon which, it. may use as ruthlessly as could be, expected from, any of the totalitarian countries in order to enforce complete submission to its will in matters connected with shipping. That weapon is the provision that all shipowners must operate under licence. Obviously, the shipowners will be intimidated into accepting something that they do not want. They realize, of course,, that if they are too vocal while the present Government is in office they may be put out of business at any time after the bill becomes law. And their fears are well grounded, because some competitors of other government enterprises have been put out of business. Therefore, the shipping companies are “ going quietly “. Apparently they hope to receive licences for the maximum period of four years, provided in the bill, and they obviously want time in which to consider their position.
Clause 28 may have repercussions which cannot be foreseen. Every one will agree that in the past Great Britain has been our biggest customer, and undoubtedly it will continue to be so in future - not because Great Britain particularly desires that it should remain our biggest customer, but because Australians believe that Great Britain has a right to be our best customer. Great Britain must pay for the goods that we export to that country, and if we deny it the right to pay by preventing it from earning sufficient from its exports to this country, we shall merely be worsening our own position. At the moment we have a favorable trade balance with Great Britain of £300,000,000. That means that the United Kingdom has an unfavorable trade balance with us of that amount. A trade balance of such proportions gives little satisfaction to. either of the two countries, and, under the provisions of this bill, the amount may easily increase to £1,000,000,060. lii the final analysis, it. means that Australia has not been paid for the- goods that it has exported to, the United Kingdom-. The debt if accumulating- in Great Britain, because that, country is- not allowed to repay it by means of exports to Australs a. The Australian) Government pretends that it is endeavouring- to keep down inflation,, but the goods represented by the amount- of £300,000,000, which we-hase sent to. the, United. Kingdom, have been paid for in this country by money that has been advanced by the Commonwealth Bank. That money is released into circulation within the Commonwealth, and we refuse to accept imports from the United Kingdom that would absorb it. Therefore, we have a greater volume of money in circulation to absorb the comparatively few goods that are for sale here. That situation definitely aids inflation, and the Government is making the position worse by introducing prohibitions against imports from the Mother Country, which is the principal market for the bulk of our exports. “We are denying to Great Britain the right to pay for Australian goods in the only way in which it can possibly pay for them, namely, by exporting goods to us.
What have we to fear from the establishment of a Commonwealth shipping fleet, even though it ultimately becomes a socialist monopoly? My reply to that question is that we can judge the possi- bilities of the future only by studying the mistakes that have been made in tho past. I recall our own -unhappy experience of State socialism which has incurred losses so heavy that the sponsors have been obliged to sell the undertakings in order to avoid mortgaging the State itself to meet the loss. I shall take the PostmasterGeneral’s Department as an example. The employees of that department are trying to do a fine job, but are labouring under many handicaps. The Post Office itself is trying to do its job well, but is handicapped by having to support other socialist concerns, such as the railways. I am able to cite instances of the Post Office being unable to deliver mails because it is obliged to use the railways, even though they may not be operating. Private enterprise, which is willing to deliver the mails, is not permitted to do so, being frustrated by another socialist concern, the Transport Department.
– In which State do those conditions obtain?
– If honorable members opposite desire to know how successful the Post Office is, I cannot use words better than those of Senator Katz, who has said -
The Post Office brings in the revenue, and so great a job has it done that to-day it is impossible to supply the demand for telephones.
In the opinion of Senator Katz, that position illustrates the success of the Post Office as a business undertaking. According to that reckoning, railways that are not operating are tremendously successful because they cannot deliver the goods or render the services for which they have been established. I am not condemning the Post Office, because it. is interlocked with other concerns that will not allow it-
– Order I Has the honorable member any opinions about the .Shipping Bill?
– I have said more about the Shipping Bill than have most honorable members opposite put together. To prove what we have to fear from the proposed socialist shipping experiment, I shall recite a few facts about certain socialist experiments in the United Kingdom. I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that you will not be able to get your second breath and stop me. First, I shall refer to the coal industry, which lost £20,000,000 in its first year of operation under socialist control. The British Government was obliged to use its precious dollars to import coal, instead of expending them on food. Secondly, the British Government took control of the airways, and lost £8,000,000 in the first year of operation. Thirdly, and this is the piece de resistance - and I should like honorable members opposite to jeer at this if they can - the railway system and services of Great Britain, which used to be noted for their efficiency and courtesy to patrons, are incurring substantial losses. Honorable members will be interested in the following extract from the London Daily Mail: -
The British railways, which were nationalized on June 1 last year, will make drastic staff reductions-
-Order! I ask the honorable member to relate his remarks to the hill.
– The extract is only a short one.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing the railways of Great Britain at this stage. I ask him to return to the hill.
– All that I want to do is to state the reasons why members of the Opposition are objecting to the establishment of a socialist shipping service.
-Order! The Standing Orders provide that the honorable member must relate his remarks to the bill under consideration.
– We shall see whether honorable members opposite, who will follow me in this debate, are required to relate their remarks to the bill.
– Order ! I am sure that the honorable member does not mean that remark to be a reflection on the Chair.
– I certainly do not. However, I shall refer briefly to the British railways without reading the extract. Under socialist control, the British railways have lost £30,000,000 in their first year of operation, and their method of meeting that loss has been to dismiss 25,000 employees. I remind honorable members that the United Kingdom now has a socialist government, which is conducting socialist experiments by nationalizing the railways, the airlines and the coal-mining industry. The dismissal of employees must lead to restricted services and less efficiency, much to the delight of the Commo-Socialists, who hope, out of chaos, to apply the hellish doctrines that they propound in Australia and in other countries. They are able to disseminate their propaganda in this country without let or hindrance.
I shall now give a few reasons why members of the Opposition consider that this bill should he rejected. The preamble of the hill states that the Government considers it necessary to establish a shipping fleet on an adequate scale. Our shipping difficulties at the present time are related to the activities, not of the shipping companies, but of various gentry on the waterfront who from time to time prevent ships from sailing. In other words, the turn-round of ships will not be improved by the establishment of a Commonwealth shipping line. Before the outbreak of World War II. the freight charge between Melbourne and Sydney was 20s. a ton, and the period between the time of loading and the time of discharging the cargo was approximately one week.
– Was that charge for bulk or general cargo?
– It was the charge for a ton of cargo. To-day, the period between the time of loading and the time of discharging the cargo is between two and three weeks, and the freight charge has risen to £3 7s. 6d. a ton. The cost of shifting cargo from the wharf door into the hold of the ship is £1 a ton.
– Does that occur under private enterprise?
– It occurs under a Labour government that allows the unions, dominated by Communists, to dictate its policy not only on the wharfs, but also in international affairs. One of the reasons for the increase of the freight charge i9 that the employees do not now perform one-third of the work that they did before the war, and even then they did not work hard enough to raise a sweat. The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Eraser) is well aware of that, but he knows that a few votes may be gained by blaming private enterprise for a situation that is due solely to government neglect. If honorable members opposite were to devote careful attention to these matters instead of authorizing the expenditure of tens of millions of pounds of public money to establish a plaything for the Healys, Elliotts and Sharkeys of this country, they would render to the public a much greater service than they will by voting for this bill. There is no doubt in my mind that the Government intends, by this bill, ultimately to eliminate all competition on the Australian coast. Should that occur, it will operate a totally inefficient service. I guarantee that the service will be inefficient from the start. The Australian people will have to take it or leave it ; there will be no alternative.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) pointed out in his speech that the Australian Shipping Board is running 26 ships which it owns, and fifteen others which are under charter, and that during the last three years it had lost £10,000,000 on its operations. Judging by that record, what hope is there that the Government will run a shipping service successfully when it enjoys a monopoly on the Australian coast? There is no hope at all, and that is the answer to the fantastic claims of honorable members opposite who direct their arguments to those who do not think for themselves. The right honorable member for Cowper continued -
Yesterday, I was furnished by the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury with particulars nf the present financial position in respect of the contract of sale. They show that the line was sold for £1,900,000, and that, despite the statements by honorable members opposite that the Government received nothing, the amount outstanding to-day is only £300,265 in respect of the principal and £104,480 representing interest. Those details also show that the Australian Government also holds 23,920 “ B “ shares of £1 each fully paid, in Ocean Steam Navigation Realization Company Limited. In August, 1947, a first distribution of £5 10s. a share was received on those shares, the amount of payment being £131,500 sterling, which has been set off against the actual debt.
That was not in 1923, about which honorable members opposite have been jabbering so much ; it was in 1947. If the Government is able to get away with this proposal - which is by no means certain, because I think it will be defeated at the next election - and the competition of private shipping companies is wholly eliminated, then Mr. Elliott, Mr. Bird, Mr. Sharkey, Mr. Blake and Mr. Brown will be the real directors of the new shipping enterprise, and not the members of any board which the Government may set up.
It is proposed that when a ship is 24 years old it shall be de-licensed, and a penalty of £1,000 may be incurred by any one who transfers such a ship. Thus, the owner of a 24-year-old ship is to be forbidden to run it or transfer it. I suppose that he will have to scuttle it. Jervis Bay was at least 24 years old when it made that heroic stand against a German cruiser, thus enabling practically every other ship in the convoy to escape. I urge honorable members opposite to give some thought to that incident before they attempt to enforce the arbitrary scrapping of ships that are 24 years old.
.- In the course of this debate we have had more than one example of Socialists denying socialism. This is one of a sequence of bills which the Government has brought forward, in the interests of the people, it claims, but actually in order to complete the pattern of socialism. Therefore, it was no surprise to us to hear the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman), who introduced the bill, declare that the setting up of a government shipping service would not be a socialistic enterprise. It would not, he said, eliminate private shipping companies, but was intended to stimulate competition. We have heard that sort of thing on many occasions. It is interesting to observe how fearful are members of the Government of the possible reaction of the public to any proposal which can be shown to be socialistic. As I have said, we have before us the spectacle of Socialists continually denying socialism.
The party to which I belong has no objection to government services as such. We certainly prefer private enterprise, and we maintain that when private enterprise is able and willing to render a service to the community, it should be allowed to do so. Only when private enterprise is unable or unwilling to render a necessary service should the Government enter the field, and it has been proved that, as a general rule, the best form that government intervention can take is that of assistance to private enterprise by the payment of subsidies. Only when that has been tried and has failed should we fall back on outright government conduct of business undertakings. Over the years, we have had much experience of government enterprise, in both the Federal and State spheres, and I think it is safe to say that all government undertakings that could have been conducted by private enterprise, have been a dismal failure, and very costly to the taxpayers.
Can it be said that private enterprise has failed to provide an adequate shipping service for Australia? Government spokesmen contend that it has, but they have not proved their case. The Minister for Defence mentioned the difficulty experienced during the war in connexion with shipping services, but he did less than justice to the private shipping companies when he had such scant praise to offer for the magnificent effort which they and their staffs made at that time. If, when war broke out, there had not ‘been in Australian waters an efficient coastal fleet, our position would have been much worse than it was. It cannot be denied that, up to the outbreak of war, the shipping service provided to Australian ports was adequate and efficient. I suggest that, even at the present time, despite the shipping losses that were caused by enemy action in the war, there is adequate efficient shipping on the coast of Australia to carry all the necessary trade expeditiously from port to port. Figure. that I shall produce concerning the shipping position before the war compared with the position at the present time, will prove conclusively the correctness of that statement. For the year ended the 30th June, 1939, shipping on the Australian coast totalled 410,650 tons deadweight. The vessels that made up that tonnage carried 8,952,000 tons of freight during that year. At the present time, despite what honorable members on the Government side of the” House have said during this debate, shipping on the Australian coast, including overseas vessels under charter to the Government, totals 5S6,050 tons deadweight. The vessels that make up that tonnage carried, during the last twelve months, 8,304,000 tons of cargo. In other words, with an additional 42f per cent, of deadweight tonnage on the coast, ships making up that tonnage carried during the last twelve months, 1i per cent, less cargo than wa9 carried by the lower tonnage in the year prior to the war. That is the actual position, and I suggest, with due deference to the Government and the Government speakers who have debated this measure, that this bill will not solve the shipping problem, which is simply a problem of a slower put-through of shipping trade. The time spent by ships at sea between ports is not greater now than it was in 1938. 1 understand that it is, in fact, less because we now have newer vessels that travel faster. The shipping delay occurs at the wharfs. As honorable members on this side of the House, including the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) have said, the point is that, instead of a ship spending twothirds of its time at sea it now spends two-thirds of its time in port. If the Government is sincere in its expressed desire to assist the sea-going trade of this country it has a remedy for shipping delays very close at hand. After all, it is well to remember that, although the passage of this measure may lead to the establishment of a board with statutory powers to control shipping, there will be no substantial relief for a very long time through the entry of Australian-built ships into the coastal trade. I am informed that if all the shipyards in Australia at present were given contracts to produce 6,000-ton vessels the best that could be achieved - and it might easily be worse - would be twelve 6,000-ton ships in three years. In other words, at the very best we should get four new ships, or a total of 24,000 tons deadweight placed on the coast every twelve months, i In any event it would be a very slow process before the shippers of freight would get the expeditious transport that is so necessary to the proper conduct and development of this country. I suggest, therefore, that the Government, instead of rushing this bill through an establishing a board with the very wide powers proposed, should consider taking some action to encourage greater effort by the workers on the waterfront. I know that from time to time the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley, the Minister for Defence and other senior Ministers have told honorable members and the public generally, in answers to questions, what they are going to do about this or that waterfront dispute. They say, “We are using every effort to settle the dispute “. The cold fact is that disputes are increasing in number every year by leaps and bounds. That increase hae been going on since the war and it is causing an ever greater loss of time and efficiency on the waterfront.
– That is not true.
– I remind the honorable member who has just interjected of his abject admission that the seamen are supporting the Communists because of the failure of Labour representatives to meet the seamen’s needs. A more abject admission has never ‘been heard in this House.
– I shall deal with the honorable member later.
– There has been o very definite falling off in the loading rate of ships. I shall cite figures to prove that statement. The average discharging rate of all vessels during the threeyear period 1937 to 1939 inclusive was S04 tons a day. In the three-year period 1945 to 1947 inclusive the average was 355 tons a day, or less than one-half of the pre-war average. The average loading rate in the three-year period from 1937 to 1939 inclusive was 434 tons a day and in the three-year period from 1945 to 1947 inclusive it was 321 tons a day, a drop of 50 per cent., or slightly less than that which occurred in the discharging rate, although that is nothing to be proud of. That applies not only to the handling of general cargo but also the the newer methods of handling cargo by mechanical means, for instance, wheat loading a! Glebe Island, in Sydney, where there are elevators and no great effort by wharf lumpers is required. The loading rate by mechanical means was 37.6 tons an hour in 1939, and 21.3 tons an hour in 1946. The matter is not one of the shipping companies or stevedoring companies having installed mechanized equipment of less efficiency. The same equipment that was used in the pre-war period is still being used, yet the loading rate is continuously falling. Is is not astonishing that the loading and discharging rates have fallen and are still falling, since one of the curious features of every key authority that the Government has established for the purpose of speeding up loading on the wharfs and production generally is that its membership has included individuals who are avowed Communists, who have asserted in no uncertain terms that they are determined to destroy the production of this country. The Stevedoring Industry Commission is an example. The Government established that commis sion to speed up loading on the wharfs, and to improve the conditions and amenities of wharf labourers, so as to institute the use of mechanical appliances, to reduce the human effort required. It appointed, as one of the representatives on this commission a Mr. Jim Healy, whose one purpose in life is to destroy production in this country.
– Mr. Healy represents the Waterside Workers Federation on the commission.
– Then the Government established the Maritime Industry Commission and appointed to it another Communist in Mr. Elliott. Then, too, a Communist was appointed to the Joint Coal Board. What all this adds up to is that we do not achieve greater production and that, more importantly, should we, by some unfortunate circumstance, find ourselves engaged in war again, thoseCommunists will be in key positions, ableto gain vital information, the disclosure of which to our enemies might well! destroy our war effort. Those appointments have been made by a government that claims that it is not communistically inclined or even tolerant of Communists. It is not astonishing, therefore, that we have a slow turn-round of ships and increased fares and freights in the coastal trade. Indeed, it would be astonishing if fares and freights did not rise. Apparently honorable members opposite do not realize that a substantial part of the cost of transporting goods by sea lies in the cost of loading and unloading ships. Since 1939, freights between Sydney and Melbourne have risen from 22s. to 67s. a ton and between Sydney and Fremantle from 43s. to 88s. a ton. It is well to note that the freights are made up of costs that are beyond the control of the shipping companies. They would be completely beyond the control of any government shipping line. In 1939 the cost of loading interstate general cargo in Sydney was 3s. lOd. a ton and the rate of loading was 24^ tons an hour. Honorable members may be astonished to learn that the cost of loading general cargo in that port is now 17s. 4d. a ton. That increase accounts for 13s. 6d. of the SydneyMelbourne freight rise from 22s. to 67s. a ton. In 1939, the cost of loading general cargo in Melbourne was 3s. 3d. a ton and the rate of loading was 21.9 tons an hour. In Melbourne to-day, the cost, of loading general cargo is 13s. Id. a ton, which is less than in Sydney but is substantially more than it was before the war. In Adelaide, wharf labourers really work. They are a credit to their union. In 1939, the loading cost was in that port ls. lOd. a ton and the rate of loading was 27.4 tons an hour. Unfortunately, the Adelaide wharf labourers also have been bitten by the bug, with the result that the loading cost has risen to 8s. 7d. a ton and the loading rate has been reduced to 14 tons an hour. In Fremantle, the loading cost has risen from 3s. Id. a ton in 1939 to 9s. 7d. a ton. Honorable members ought to realize that cargoes have to be loaded and unloaded and that loading costs have risen from 3s. lOd. to 17s. 4d. in Sydney, and from 3s. 3d. to 13s. Id. in Melbourne. The difference of 30s. 5d. a ton is a substantial proportion of the freight charge of 67s. a ton that is now charged. Very nearly one-half of the additional cost is incurred on the wharfs, and the shipping companies have no control over it. Stevedoring is not now a matter for private enterprise. Let honorable gentlemen not deceive themselves into thinking that it is. The Stevedoring Industry Commission and its port officials decide everything that shall he done on the wharfs and how it shall be done. What kind of assistance can we hope for from the Government in the solution of this immediate problem ? It is one that ought to be tackled immediately. No need exists to wait three years or so until wcan get more ships. Plenty of wharf labourers are available. It is astonishing, therefore, to read in the Melbourne Age - which, I understand, is Labour’s paperthat the Minister for Defence, referring to the matter of the loading and unloading of vessels, said -
Much of the difficulty in the stevedoring industry was caused hy the fact that employers had not provided the necessary equipment for handling cargo and that port equipment was not up to date.
That statement is not only contrary to the facts; it also overlooks entirely the real factors that have been responsible for the slow turn-round of ships both during and since the war.
Since the war, more equipment has become available. Yet, when stevedoring companies have endeavoured to improve their equipment, in order to speed up the rate of loading, they have been confronted with demands by the Waterside Workers Federation for the employment of the same number of men as previously, notwithstanding that the installation of the equipment had reduced the effort required by from 50 or 60 per cent. The wharf labourers have gone even further than that. Truck lifts almost entirely remove the laboriousness from loading. One could expect that the men would be willing to let them handle the loading of cargoes to the fullest extent, but the equipment may be “used only in the shed to shift cargo from one side to the other. Its use on the wharfs is forbidden. The wharf labourers insist on man-handling cargoes from the wharf into the ships’ slings.
I speak with deep interest on the matter of shipbuilding because I was the responsible Minister when the shipbuilding programme was started during the war. During my term of office contracts were let for the construction of the “ River “ class of vessels and the keels of some of them had been laid when the Labour party took office. Subsequently that party merely carried out the programme that had been laid down by the Menzies Government. We realized that the most uptodate equipment possible should be installed in those ships in order to endow them with greater efficiency and to require less effort from the men employed on them. It was wisely decided to install mechanical stokers in the stokehold of one vessel. When the manning of that ship was under consideration, the firemen demanded the employment in the stokehold of the same number of men as was required in the stokehold of a handfired ship. The Labour Government put up a sham-fight, and said that the demand was outrageous, but it wilted, and the firemen had their way. That represents the kind of “ assistance “ that sea transport has been getting, is getting, and will get from the Labour Government. It is obvious that if the Government is desirous of better sea transport services being provided for the people of this country, it should tackle now the problem that confronts it. Instead of doing so, it has thrown out a smoke-screen in the attempt to delude the Australian people into believing that all is well on the ships and the waterfront and that all that is needed is more ships.
The Government has decided to establish a board that will have very wide powers, although it will be under the control and direction of the Minister. Does the Government suggest that it will be able to accelerate the building of ships? At the present time the Australian shipbuilding yards are working to the full capacity of which they are capable having regard to the men and materials that are available to them. There is no lack of orders. All the shipbuilding yards in Australia have orders for ships. Not one of them could deliver a ship within two years if an order for one were placed to-day. All that we shall have during the next two years, if that be the correct period, as I believe it to be, is the use of ships which are at present under construction. The only factor that would prevent those ships, when completed, from being used immediately for the transport of sea-borne freight would be the refusal of the shipping companies to take delivery of them, and T understand that so far the shipping companies have not done that, although they have encountered difficulties in coming to a firm agreement with the Government. When a ship has been completed and made available to them, they have been prepared to purchase it. It has already been stated in this chamber that two ships that were built recently, Barrigun and Balarr, have already been taken over. It is worth while to remember that if shipping companies take delivery of new ships and incorporate them into their fleets, the cost of the ships will not have such an effect upon freight charges as it would have if the vessels were concentrated in one organization. Two expenses in connexion with the running of ships are the provision for depreciation and the maintenance costs. All provident shipping companies have made proper provision for depreciation and have maintained their ships in the best possible state of efficiency, having regard to the exigencies of the war. The simple fact is, and it is just as well to realize it, that when a ship is purchased by an existing shipping company it becomes one of a number of ships. The provision for depreciation in respect of it is pooled with that in respect of each of the company’s other vessels. It is that pool which affects freight rates. Even if Australian-built ships are subsidized, the fact remains that, despite the assistance that may be given to shipping companies by the Government, the cost of construction will, by and large, be three times as much as it was before the war. I do not want to be unfair to Australian shipbuilders. I admit frankly that ships that are under construction now are different in some respects from those that were built before the war. Changes in regard to accommodation, amenities and construction have undoubtedly increased costs. But I suggest that the increased costs that are attributable to those changes do not amount to a sum approaching the difference between 1939 and 1948 costs. Whatever the reason may be for the higher cost of ships, the ships go into a fleet. Whether they are run by the Government, or by private enterprise, the shipper must pay according to what they have cost. If new ships are allocated to one line the cost of running that line will be substantially greater than would be the cost of running existing lines if the ships were distributed amongst them.
There are provisions in this measure which will have a deadening effect upon the willingness of shipping companies to add to their existing fleets. One clause of the bill provides that before a company can let a contract for the construction of a ship it must submit the plans of the vessel to the Australian Shipping Board, or in other words, to the Minister. If the plans are satisfactory the Minister may, if he be so inclined, issue a licence for the construction of the ship, but the company will have no guarantee that it will be granted a licence to operate it on the Australian coast when it has been built. That is an extraordinary position. Shipping companies are being asked to expand their fleets and to provide better shipping services for the community, yet it is proposed that a shipping company shall be required to obtain approval of the plans and specifications of a proposed vessel, then secure a licence to build it, and, having committed itself to an expenditure of £500,000, which is the approximate cost of a 6,000-ton vessel, will have no guarantee that it will be allowed to use the vessel on the coast. If, when a vessel has completed its trials, a company wishes to incorporate it in its fleet, it will have to go to the board and apply for a licence to operate it. The board, with the concurrence of the Minister, may issue such a licence, but it will be for a period of only four years. In spite of what may be said about what will happen in the future, experience proves that the most expensive period during which to build ships is that which immediately follows a war. I shall not attempt to forecast the reductions of costs that may occur in the future, but shipping companies are well aware of the high cost of ships at the present time. Does the Government imagine that private shipping companies will be prepared to order at a cost of £500,000 vessels which before the war coat £150,000 or £200,000, when licences will be issued to them to operate the vessels for only four years ?
There is another clause in the bill which provides that after 24 years vessels must be scrapped, which means that companies must base the provision for the depreciation of their ships on an expectancy of a useful life of 24 years.
– What is the normal useful life of a ship ?
– It varies according to the trade in which the vessel is engaged. There are many ships over 30 years old which are rendering such good service that the Government has refused to allow them to be sold to companies outside of Australia. The licences that are to be issued to the companies will allow them to operate their vessels for a period of only four years. Although they will probably be granted further licences, that is not the way in which to encourage private enterprise and the expansion of industry.
There is in the bill the extraordinary provision that a company shall not be allowed to dispose of a ship, except with the approval of the Minister, even though it may have decided that trade has declined or a different class of trade has come into being for which the ship is not suitable. There are a number of ships at present operating on the coast which are uneconomic to run because their useful life has passed. It is perhaps justifiable to operate them at the present time, but if that is to be encouraged in the future it will have a strangulating effect upon the enterprise of shipping companies. I want to know whether the present practice of refusing permits to sell ships at the appropriate time - the appropriate time being, I suggest, from the viewpoint of the company, and, I believe, from the viewpoint of the Australian people, the time when that ship is no longer in a fit condition economically to continue in the coastal trade - is to be continued. Because of the great shortage of tonnage outside interests are now prepared to pay very much more than the true value of a ship if they can obtain immediate delivery. When an offer is made for a vessel that is perhaps 30 or 35 years old, an application to sell will have to be submitted to the board. The board may refuse permission to the owners to sell and may direct them to continue to operate the vessel. Eventually, when permission is given to sell, the owners may lose from 40 to 80 per cent, of the present value of the ship. It is outrageous that such a policy should be pursued at a time when the shipping companies are called upon to pay three times the former cost of building a new vessel. How’ can the Government reconcile such a restriction with its expressed intention to assist sea transport and shippers generally? The bill contains a most extraordinary provision which empowers the Minister to determine the class and specifications of ships that may be built. In introducing the measure the Minister for Defence said that it is the Government’s objective to have standardized vessels operating in Australian waters. That objective is surely the very antithesis of progress. Very rarely do shipping companies build vessels of standard design. Improvements of design are made from time to time and the specifications of vessels are frequently substantially altered in order to embody equipment of new types and to provide for the most economical transport of particular cargoes. Therefore only on very rare occasions do shipping companies order ships to he built to the same specifications as those of their existing fleets. The power given to the Minister in this bill will enable him to stone-wall progress in the shipbuilding industry. I have no desire to misrepresent the position. In interpreting the purpose of the measure in his second-reading speech the Minister for Defence said that it will ensure that standardized ships shall be provided for the Australian coastal trade. This bill and its onerous provisions will not awaken any enthusiasm on the part of the Australian shipping companies. Willy nilly the people are to be shouldered with the expense of supporting another government department, the activities of which will not provide more efficient or more frequent shipping services. In the eyes of the Government, what is good to-day should be quite good enough for the next 20 years. That is the kind of thought that has gone into the planning of the Government’s shipbuilding policy. As I have said frequently this, measure can lead only to loss of efficiency in sea transport and the imposition of higher freight rates for the carriage of goods.
Much has been said by honorable members opposite about the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers and the benefits conferred on the people as the result of its operations. I do not want to become involved in an argument about what happened 24 or 25 years ago. Apparently the members of the Labour party live in the dim days of the past. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has referred to “ the light on the hill “. It is apparent that “ the light on the hill “ is seen hut dimly by the members of the Labour party.
– The people will have an opportunity to decide whether or not that is so before very long.
– And their decision will be couched in no uncertain terms. There are still some government activities operating in Australia which were established by non-Labour governments notwithstanding the suggestion by honorable members opposite that the nonsocialist parties in Australia are biased against government enterprise. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is a concern in which the Government has the controlling interest. Have the operations of that company provided a more efficient service for the motorists of this country or enabled them to buy cheaper petrol? Have honorable members, opposite been able to purchase a gallon of Commonwealth Oil Refineries motor spirit for Id. less than they pay for “Plume” or “Shell” brands of petrol? Yet the profits of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, which is completely under the control of the Government, have been stepped up by from 200 to 300 per cent. Are those profits passed on to the consumer? Of course not. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited represents a good example of the effect of government enterprise on the welfare of the community. Amalgamated Wireloss (Australasia) Limited is another example of government enterprise. Although that company performs very useful work, I have not heard it said that as the result of its operations the price of wireless sets has been kept down. Its profits are not passed on to the public. A dreadful example of government enterprise is TransAustralia Airlines which has not yet got into the profit-making class. Indeed, Trans-Australia Airlines has been a drain on the taxpayers and if I am any judge of what the future holds that instrumentality of the Government will become an increasing drain on the pockets of the people. I am not concerned about the manner in which the Australian National Airlines Commission manipulates the balance-sheets of TransAustralia Airlines or its failure to provide for depreciation. I know that it is almost certain that when the true story of the operations of Trans.- Australia Airlines is told, it will be found that that instrumentality, instead of conferring benefits on the people of this country, will compel the Government to maintain taxes at a very high rate in order to finance its losses. From every aspect, from the viewpoint of necessity as well as of the services that may be rendered to the people, tin’s proposal is a thoroughly bad one.
– I desire to reply to some of the statements that the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) has made. He said that in 1939, vessels of a total deadweight tonnage of 410,000 were engaged in the Australia coastal trade, but that in 1948, vessels of a total deadweight tonnage of 586,000 tons were so employed. I invite the honorable member to reconcile his figures with statistics that the Maritime Services Board, of Sydney, issued recently. They show that in 1939, no fewer than 7,500 ships, carrying 7,600,000 tons of cargo, went in and out of Sydney Harbour, but that in 1947, only 3,600 ships with 7,200,000 tons of cargo entered and sailed from that port. Therefore, I claim that the figures that the honorable member has given to the House are incorrect. The statistics that have been supplied by the Maritime Services Board indicate that the number of ships that entered and left Sydney Harbour in 1947 carried nearly as much cargo as twice as many ships had carried before the war.
The honorable member for Wakefield also complained of the slow turn-round of ships. If he were to discuss the subject with some of the men who handle cargoes on the wharfs, he would be given the answer to that complaint. The slower turn-round of ships to-day is not duc entirely to a change of attitude on the part of waterside workers, strikes or stoppages. A part of the explanation is that most of the ships that enter port to-day are fully loaded, whereas before the war, most of the ships entered port half empty. In the circumstances, it is no wonder that vessels are in port longer to-day than they were before the war;
– If the honorable member’s contention is correct, the ships should be discharging their cargoes more quickly.
– The ships to-day are. carrying full cargoes, but before the war they were only half-loaded. Obviously, unloading must take longer to-day than it did before the war.
– Not on the basis of tons an hour.
– The purpose of this bill is threefold. It proposes to establish a Commonwealth shipping line, which will be operated by a hoard of five members to develop our mercantile marine and to develop further a shipbuilding programme in this country. Members of the Opposition have read into the purposes of this bill all the bogies that they read into nearly every bill that the Government introduces. If they are unable to produce direct evidence, they pretend to discover indirect evidence that the Government is dominated by red influences, and that bills have been drafted in Moscow, The people of Australia have heard that story so often that they were becoming sick and tired of it. Members of the Opposition should raise a new bogy, because their red bogy is so old, and has so many whiskers on it, that it does not frighten any one.
For the purposes of the record, I desire to relate the history of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. In doing so, I may cover some of the ground that previous speakers have traversed, but when an honorable member speaks towards the conclusion of a debate, he must inevitably repeat some of the earlier remarks. Prior to World War I., overseas shipping combines that handled Australian primary produce perpetrated n form of brigandage. In 1910 the British shipping combines skimmed off £4,500,000 in freight on wool, wheat and meat exported from Australia. That stranglehold had to be broken in the interests of Australian primary producers, and, therefore, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) sponsored the establishment of a government shipping line. That new policy was announced by the Governor-General to the Parliament on the 8th October, 1914’, but one year and eight months elapsed before the necessary legislation was introduced to enable the ships to be purchased. In the meantime, following the outbreak of war, freights jumped from £2 7s. 6d. a ton to £5 5s. a ton. Late in 1916, an honorable member made the following statement to the House: -
Owing to the enormous increase in freights the returns from one short voyage have been sufficient to cover the cost of a vessel previous to the war and a vessel valued at £7,000 before the war now sold for £47,000.
He quoted an example of that form of piracy, as follows: -
One example of this piracy was quoted - “ While the value of the maize cargo was £18,226, the freight was £50,443, or 260 per cent higher than the value of the cargo.” Freight on wheat rose from 25s. to 30s. a ton to £15 per ton “.
In June, 1916, the right honorable member for North Sydney took action, through the Commonwealth Bank, to purchase ships. Fifteen cargo vessels of between 3,500 and 4,500 tons which had been built in England between 1906 and 1915, were bought, and were called the Austral Line. In 1917, they were augmented by 21 vessels, ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 tons, that had been seized or captured from the enemy powers. Thus the strength of the Commonwealth’s mercantile fleet rose to 36 ships, which operated at a profit until the end of the war. The details may be read in a report by the Public Accounts Committee, of which, at the time, Sir Walter Kingsmill was the chairman. Mr. Poynton, speaking on the budget in 1919, said that the fleet had carried to and from Australia more than 1,000,000 tons of cargo, and that the receipts of the Austral Line had exceeded the expenditure by £2,221,000. The net earnings of the ex-enemy vessels between 1914 and 1919 totalled £3,576,901. Two facts emerged from that venture. Wheat freights charged by the Commonwealth line were from £6 to £7 a ton, whereas the private shipping companies charged from £10 to £12 and even £15 a ton. The Commonwealth line saved the primary producers of Australia approximately £2,000,000 per annum in freights. At times, in the national interest, profits were sacrificed. For example, a consignment of 123,000 tons of phosphate was carried to Australia at a ridiculously low freight when the fertilizer was urgently required. When the Commonwealth-owned ships could have been carrying cargoes in other parts of the world for £15 a ton, they were engaged in carrying cornsacks to Australia for £5 a ton in order to assist the primary producers.
The government of the day also started shipbuilding at Williamstown in Victoria, Walsh Island and Cockatoo Island in New South Wales, Maryborough in Queensland and Port Adelaide in South
Australia. From 1919 onwards, about 20 “D” and “E” boats ranging from 3,300 to 3,350 tons were built. Five “Bay” liners of 13,800 tons, such as Esperance Bay, J ervis Bay and Moreton Bay were built in London in 1921. The two “ Dale “ liners, Fordsdale and Ferndale, each of 9,700 tons, were launched in Australia in 1924. That was a magnificent achievement for the new shipbuilding industry. In 1921, 3,000 men were directly engaged in constructing and repairing ships. By 1923, the seamen, mechanics, shipbuilders and their families dependent on the Commonwealth line numbered 15,000 persons. Then Lord Inchcape stepped on to the deck and helped to torpedo the Commonwealth line. His shipping conference controlled at that time 7,000,000 tons. After World War I., he set out to strangle the healthy Commonwealth line which, by then, had become a thorn in the side of his combine. He employed torpedoes of three types for the purpose. The first was the deferred rebate system - a vicious system that required shippers to sign a declaration that they would not send cargo by the Commonwealth line. If they did so, they would forfeit their rebates. The second torpedo was a campaign in the Australian press against the fleet. The Kingsmill report refers to that matter. The press did everything possible to smash the Commonwealth line. The third torpedo was the use of parliamentary influence to have the ships engaged on unprofitable work. By those three methods, the combine torpedoed the Commonwealth line. In 1921, the Parliament refused to sell the line to Lord Inchcape, who desired to purchase it. A farmers’ conference, which was meeting at that time, protested bitterly against Lord Inchcape’s proposal. Primary producers will protest with equal vehemence in future, should a shipping combine seek to purchase the Commonwealth shipping fleet that will be established under the provisions of this bill. Members of the Australian Country party are out of step with primary producers whom, they say, they serve in this Parliament.
At last Australia’s “D” day has arrived. I describe it as “ black February”. In February, 1923, the BrucePage Government came into office, and
Mr. S. M. Bruce made the following statement : -
I do not think- that what has been done by the Commonwealth line justifies its continuance as a government venture.
So, at the beginning of his administration, the writing was on the wall for the AustralianCommonwealth Line of Steamers. The fleet and the dockyards were transferred to a Commonwealth shipping board, which had power to dispose of any of its assets, subject only to the approval of the Commonwealth Treasurer. In return for the property received, the board was obliged to issue debentures to the Treasurer for £4,750,000, bearing interest at 5 per cent. That transaction meant, in effect, that the Commonwealth Treasurer virtually acquired over the shipping line a mortgage that could be foreclosed at any time, should the board default on its interest payments. The Bruce-Page Government also imposed vicious taxes on the line as another indirect way of making its work more difficult. The Public Accounts. Committee also was asked to inquire into the advisability of selling or retaining the line. Eleven ships of the Austral line were sold for £248,000, although they were valued at £550,000, 21 ex-enemy ships were sold for £197,000, although the British Government valued them at £337,000, the “ D “ boats, which had cost £271,000 to build, were sold for £84,000, and the “E” boats, which had cost £2,600,000 to build, were sold for £380,500. Only the five “ Bay “ liners and the two “ Dale “ ships remained. Even Mr. Bruce was not “ game “ at that time to sell them to Lord Inchcape’s combine. However, the assets that I have mentioned were sold for £909,000, although they had been valued at £3,758,000. In May, 1926, the Public Accounts Committee reported that the line had been responsible for the reduction of shiping freights, and should be continued in the interests of Australia. The next year, after the chairman had received his appointment in London, the committee held a meeting behind closed doors to consider what should be done with the line and, in November, 1927, it reversed its former decision, although a majority of its members were the same as those that had sat oil the committee in the previous year. The result was that the ships were sold to the shipping conference. That, briefly, is the story of the Australian CommonwealthLine of Steamers. Members of the Opposition still have the audacity, however, to defend! the action of the government of the day in selling the ships, but they will never be able to efface from the history of Australia the record of that tragic period from 1923 to 1928.
Since 1941, a considerable number of ships has been built in Australia for the Commonwealth, and it is interesting to note their tonnage, the gear they carry and the amenities provided for the crew as compared’ with ships in the possession of private companies. Eight “D “ class ships of 2,500 tons have been built, their names being Dolby, Daylesford, Dubbo, Dandenong, Dorrego, Dulverton, De Lungra and Delemere. They carry a crew of approximately 40. Thirteen “River” class ships, each of 9,000 tons, and carrying a. crew of 53 have been built. They are on charter to private companies. Their names are, River Clarence,River Glenelg,River Burdekin, River Fiszroy, River Murrumbidgee, River Murray. River Mitta, River Hunter, River Norman, River Derwent, River Burnett, River Loddon, and Rimer Murchison. They are doing great work along the Australian coast, and two of them are on the overseas service. Two “ E “ class ships, Ewgowra and Enfield, of 500 tons have been constructed. They are handy ships for small ports, such as Stanley in Tasmania. In addition, two “ B “ class ships of 6,500 tons have been built and sold to private shipping companies, and nine more have reached various stages of construction. Nine more ships of various kinds are under construction, including “ B “ class motor ships of 6,500 tons of the most modern design. All the government ships have a speed of at least 12 knots. On the other hand, the average size of the ships operated on the Australian coast by private companies is 3,000 tons. With few exceptions, they are over 20 years old, and their average speed is 8 knots. It is most important that comfortable quarters should be provided for the crews, and the quarters on Commonwealth ships are in every way superior to those on ships owned by private companies. It might be claimed that that is because the Commonwealth, ships are new, and that is true, none of them being more than about eight years old. whilst some are not more than two years old. However, the new motor ship Karamba was recently delivered to the Australian United Steam Navigation Company in Australia, and it was found necessary to alter the crew’s quarters, which were of a standard far below that of Commonwealth ships. Conditions on Commonwealth ships are superior to those on other ships trading on the coast. This is also true of the gear, which is an important factor in the handling of cargo. The Commonwealth “ D “ class ships, and the new “ B “ class ships will be ideal with two sets of gear to each hatch, for quick loading and unloading. The “ E ‘’ class motorships are also excellent for the interstate trade. The “ River “ class ships, because of the very large load amounting to 10,000 tons, which they can lift, are very suitable for the overseas trade. Indeed, River Mitta and River Norman are at present on the overseas run. Some of the “ River “ class ships have refrigerated holds, and all “D” class ships have refrigerated space for limited cargoes of from 80 to 90 tons.
Speed is an important factor if the ships are to compete successfully with air traffic. Because of the saving of time many people are disposed to send light freight by air, even though the coat is somewhat greater. As I have said, no Commonwealth ship has a speed of less than 12 knots, which is considerably faster than that of at least 80 per cent, of the shops owned by private companies. Here is an example of the effect of speed. A slow ship belonging to a private company leaves Hobart eight hours ahead of a “ River “ class ship, say River Murray, but it arrives at Hobart from twelve to fifteen hours after River Murray, the difference in their speed being 4 to 5 knots. This is an important factor in the cargo and passenger trade.
So far as I know, the provision of amenities for crews has not been discussed during this debate. I believe that it is essential to provide happy conditions for seamen. It is they who man our merchant navy, and they constitute the reserve upon which we have to draw in time of war. I have nothing but admiration for them. On Commonwealth ships, their living conditions are very good, and their spirit is high. On most of the “ River “ class ships a space about 40 feet square in which the naval gunners were quartered during the war, has been converted into a recreation room, and furnished with equipment for table tennis, darts, and other, games. Indeed, equipment is provided for many other kinds of sport, including cricket and boxing. This recreation room is also used for the holding of social evenings, when guests from ashore are invited on board to enjoy entertainments mapped out by a committee. Members of the crew pay 5s. to join the sports club, and they contribute 2s. 6d. out of each pay for the purchase of equipment and sporting gear. I am familiar with conditions on River Murray, because my brother-in-law is an able seaman on that ship. He has served in several Commonwealth ships, and also on ships that are privately owned. The chief officer of River Murray, Mr. Reid, holds navigation and seamanship classes on four nights a week for all who are interested, and he was responsible for eight members of the crew getting their lifeboatmen’s certificates, making a total of ten out of twelve deck department members to hold certificates - an unbeaten record for any ship. Among the crew, there is a keen tennis club of nine members, and also several keen golfers. It may be asked why all these amenities should be provided. Ships of the “ River “ class are of 10,000 tons, and may be in port from three to five weeks, loading and unloading. What are the men to do if no amenities are provided in order to keep them contented? Members of the crew consider that the amenities on River Murray provide them with as near the comforts of home life as it is humanly and physically possible to provide on any ship.
During the week-end, I received a letter written by Mr. Cliff Blake, on behalf of the crew of River Murray. After referring to the losses sustained by the Australian Shipping Board, as the Minister for Defence mentioned the other day, the letter says that such losses are to be expected, but could be reduced if there were a competent Australian shipping board office in every port. The letter states -
We state this not on the grounds of hearsay, but on actual facts and practical knowledge, as we are sailing these vessels. We see how the private companies act and sabotage the efforts of the Government to provide a competent and efficient service for the general well-being of Australia.
We also state that any aid we can give the Labour Government in forming the line we will give to the best of our ability.
A species of quiet sabotage is being carried on in Australian ports against Commonwealth ships, even those that are under charter to private companies. It costs £200 a day to keep a “ River “ class ship alongside the wharf, and the longer it remains, the higher the cost becomes. Because of their greater speed, Commonwealth ships generally arrive in port before their competitors, but they do not always get gangs to work them as soon as they arrive. A ship belonging to a private company may get in some hours later, but the shipping agent will call for gangs to work the private ship before he tries to get labour for the Commonwealth ships. They will handle that ship and then the agent will ask for gangs for the government ship. By that time, of course, it is far more difficult to obtain the necessary labour. Such delays are occurring all the time. They may not mean much to some of us here, but they are regarded by the crews of these vessels as a form of sabotage against government ships that are competing with privately owned vessels, not on the part of the crews or the wharflabourers, but on the part of the agents of the privately owned ships. Delay in the handling of Government ships also occur when such ships have been forced to berth at privately owned wharfs, where goods that have been unloaded from privately owned ships or are waiting to be loaded on them, are still stacked up in the sheds. The government ship has to wait until those goods have been removed before its unloading can commence. The Government is then attacked because the ship has taken longer in the turn-round, although its longer period in port was due to the. fact that it had to wait until the shed w?c cleared of cargo that had been unloaded from other ships. That is another form of quiet sabotage of government vessels. There is still another important factorSome private shipping companies have their. own wharfs. Hubbart Parker Limited, Howard Smith Limited, and the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, I believe, have their own wharfs at Sydney and Brisbane. The crews of government vessels say that it is absolutely essential that the Government should have ito own wharfs.
– Hear, hear 1 Certainly !
– I am glad that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) agrees with me.
– Absolutely! Spare no expense !
– The Government will have to purchase or build wharfs, otherwise its line will be sabotaged by the directing of government ships to unsatisfactory berths or by their being forced to wait a day or two before berthing is permitted.
– What a suspicious mind the honorable member has.
– No more suspicious than that of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride), who sees the hand of Stalin in this bill. As a matter of fact, the instances that I have given are quite logical, because it is obvious that once the government shipping line is established, it will be 100 per cent, competitive with the private shipping companies, and if those companies can sabotage the government line, they will do so, even to the extent that I have indicated.
I shall now refer to the position regarding Tasmania, and, in particular, King Island. Tasmania’s life-blood is shipping. The State has been suffering under a shipping monopoly for many years. This i& noticeable particularly in the case of King Island, where one shipping firm has been operating for many years. That firm can do what it likes to the people of King Island. It can leave their products on the wharf, as, in fact, it did recently. It can be as slow as it likes in bringing to the island essential supplies that are urgently required. There are about 2,000 people on the island. I lived there for two years during the war, and I know the conditions there very well. Since I was there the company known as King Island Scheelite N.L. has greatly increased its activities, and more than 140 farms are being established on the island. The machinery for those farms has to be brought in by sea, and, later, much of the produce of the farms will have to be moved to the mainland. This farming scheme is one of the most advanced schemes of the kind in Australia. It is obvious that some action will have to be taken about shipping to King Island. I recently spoke to a farmer there who raises cattle and sheep. He said that he would welcome a Commonwealth shipping line if it could compete with the present monopoly that operates to the island and if it would endeavour to keep prices down and give the farmers the service that they thoroughly deserve ‘because of their isolation and the quality of their products. The honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons), who raised this matter in the House recently, quoted a letter from a responsible person representing many organizations, who said -
We do not care who runs the line to Tasmania, but we want better shipping services than we arc getting now.
We, on this side of the House, believe that if this bill is passed the Government will be able to supply small flat-bottomed vessels to improve the service to King Island. We could definitely do with a faster service and more ships for Tasmania as a whole. Fewer ships entered Launceston Harbour last year than during the previous year. That is very disturbing, since during the last few years, Tasmania has had a considerable industrial expansion, but it has not had any corresponding increase in shipping facilities, which are not now adequate to handle the island’s freight requirements. We believe that this bill will help to give Tasmania the services that it deserves. I shall give an illustration nf what the shipping companies are prepared to do at the present time so as to increase their profits. This illustration was given to me by a stud sheep raiser during my recent tour of my electorate in Tasmania. He said that, for carrying to Melbourne a sheep worth £2 2s. the shipping company charged 8s. 2d. freight. For a sheep worth £3 3s. the freight to Melbourne was 12s., and for a sheep worth £5 5s. it was £1 ls. 3d. 1 believe that that is a racket that has never before been perpetrated.
– Do those freight charges include insurance?
– I am not sure whether they do or not. The point is that the freight increases with the value of the sheep to be carried.
– Insurance could cause the increase.
– It is a tremendous increase. After all, a stud sheep is no different from an ordinary sheep. It has the same number of legs, eyes and ears. I have talked this matter over with sheep breeders, and they believe that the freight rate for sheep is a definite racket.
– It is a poor stud sheep that is worth only £5 5s.
– It may be. I am only quoting instances that were given to me.
– The man who gave the honorable gentleman those instances was pulling his leg.
– I turn now to the nationalization bogy. It is obvious to any one who studies the Australian Constitution that this Government cannot nationalize the shipping industry of Australia any more than it can nationalize the airways, Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, or farms or hospitals.
– Or banks.
– The banks are provided for in the Constitution. It is about time that the people of Australia were told the truth about nationalization. Every time the Opposition opens its mouth it alleges that the Government is nationalizing some industry or other.
– That is the Government’s policy.
– Trans-Australia Airlines is not a nationalized airline. If the Government desired to nationalize airlines, shipping companies, Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, coal mines, hospitals, medicine or farms it would first have to conduct a referendum on the subject. The Constitution provides for the nationalization of only two activities- - the insurance companies and the banks. The other services that I have mentioned do not come within the scope of the Constitution in relation to nationalization.
– Then why is nationalization a plank of the Labour party platform?
– Those who put it in the platform had no idea-
– The honorable member signed the Labour party pledge which refers to nationalization.
– It refers to socialization, which is not nationalization. Britain is able to nationalize its industries because it has no written constitution and there is nothing to prevent it from doing so. The Australian Constitution puts this country on the rails like a railway track, and the moment we get off the rails we are taken before the High Court of Australia. To say that we can nationalize the shipping companies is just stupid talk and propaganda. Clause 31 of the present measure has been criticized by honorable members opposite. It refers to the transference, sale or mortgaging of a ship to an outside body. It Ls obvious that that clause was included in the measure to prevent a recurrence of the sorry story of the years from 1923 to 1928. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) and the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) had a lot to say about the money paid for the government-owned vessels that were sold to the White Star Line.
– I did not mention that matter, but that is near enough for the honorable member.
– Tenders were invited for the purchase of the Commonwealth line in January, 1928. Five “Bay” steamers and. two freighters of a total tonnage of 55,420 were to be sold. They were sold in April, 1928, for £1,900,000. In 1932, when the White Star Line went into liquidation, the Commonwealth exercised its right as a debenture holder and the ships were taken over by the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line. The Government also held 23.920 “ B “ class shares in the Ocean Steam Navigation Realization Company Limited. As a result of appreciation in value of those shares a first distribution of £5 10s. a share was received in August, 1947. The net result is that the Commonwealth is still entitled to £282,190 on the transaction.
– The honorable member should bring the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) up to date on that matter.
– Not very much has been paid to the Commonwealth, and much is still owing. The establishment of a shipping line operated by a board of five members, the development of a mercantile marine and the expansion of the Australian shipbuilding programme are provided for in this measure. In spite of the bogies introduced into this debate and of the remarks of honorable members opposite about nationalization, this is a progressive measure. It will carry our cargo handling and our shipping services one step nearer to perfection, and it has the unqualified support of all the men who handle the cargo and operate the ships.
– Before I answer the arguments of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), if they can be described as arguments, I announce that any effort hy the Commonwealth to provide more shipping in Australian waters will always have my support. Any effort to assist the Australian shipbuilding industry will have my earnest support, too. The shipbuilding industry and the shipping industry are essential to the welfare of Australian producers and exporters. The bill, it is claimed, has that purpose. But it does not touch on the greatest trouble that deprives the people of the benefits of shipping, because it makes no provision for the curtailment of the endless, strife and strikes on the waterfront and in the maritime industry. I greatly regret that the Government has not attempted to do anything in that direction. Honorable members opposite have claimed that the bill does not propose to nationalize either the shipbuilding industry or the mercantile marine of Australia on our coast or overseas. As the honorable member for Wilmot rightlysaid, the Constitution wouldnot allow the Government to nationalize shipbuilding or shipping.
– Hear, hear !
– The Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) says “ Hear, hear ! “. He and his supporters realize the electoral value in their being able tosay that they are not seeking to nationalize shipbuilding or shipping. Yet, they know that they have all signed the Australian Labour party’s platform, a plank of which is the nationalization of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and shipping is certainly a means of distribution. They know that they are trying to delude the people into believing that they would not nationalize the Australian shipbuilding and shipping industries. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) said that fiscal policy entered into the consideration of this measure. He cast reflections on the sincerity of Opposition members. I tell him that I have always been known as an extreme protectionist and that, insofar as the bill is intended to protect the Australian shipbuilding and shipping industries, it is to its credit. I have always supported the manufacture in Australia under Australian conditions by Australian labour of everything that Australia needs, taking into consideration costs and benefits; but I have never supported embargoes against British shipbuilding, and I do not regard it as equitable to place an embargo on the importation of the ships that Australia needs. If the importation of ships is prohibited and ships are built here only at the rate contemplated which is three ships a year, we shall never make up our leeway, especially if 24-year-old ships are to be consigned, as the bill provides, to the scrapheap.
– The honorable member does not believe in embargoes?
– Under present conditions I do not believe in an embargo on the importation of ships to Australia, more decidedly when labour, iron and steel are so scarce. It is a dastardly claim that to-day we can build all theships needed for the Australian trade, because we have not sufficient iron and steel tosupplyall the industrialand personal needs of the Australian community. At one time, we could export iron and steel, but to-day we have to import steel. Why import steel on foreign ships so that we shall be ; able to build ships in Australia ? Until the Australian iron and steel industry is producing to the necessary degree, it is ridiculous for the Government to say that all our ships must be built in Australian shipyards. The demands on the Australian iron and steel industry are immense. The great Snowy River scheme, of which we have been informed, and also the standardization of our railway gauges, will require thousands of tons of steel. Yet, to-day, we are confronted with a bill, the effect of which is that we shall not have ships, unless we build them in Australian shipyards although we have insufficient iron and steel to meet all the other demands for those commodities which the Australian people already require. The Australian iron and steel industry is unable to cope with demands because it has been sabotaged by the Australian Communist party against which the Government has been afraid to lift a hand.
Government supporters have complained that the Bruce-Page Government sold the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. That shipping line was sabotaged by the waterside workers and a few merchant seamen. No one can gainsay that. The honorable member for Wilmot spoke most disdainfully about the action of the Bruce-Page Government in disposing of the line and claimed that Lord Inchcape and his combine would have bought it. He either knows or should know that nothing is further from the truth. Against his criticism of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers by the Bruce-Page Government, however, I place my criticism of the action of the Labour government of Tasmania which sold the Tasmanian shipping line that had been established by a non-Labour government in that State. The non-Labour government bought four ships, two to trade between Tasmania and the neighbouring islands and two to trade between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia. The ships were operated by the Tasmanian
Government for a year at a loss, naturally, because all State enterprises lose money. When the Labour party took office in Tas-‘ mania the two larger vessels, the ones that traded between Tasmanian and Australian mainland ports, were sold. One of them was Poolta, which was practically a new ship. It had cost £68,181. The other was Melbourne, an older vessel which had cost £59,468. The Tasmanian Labour Government sold them three years after taking office for £26,000, at a loss of £101,649. A total loss of about £201,000 was made. The loss sustained by the Commonwealth in the sale by the BrucePage Government of the Australian Commonwealth Lino of Steamers was proportionately less than that sustained by the Tasmanian Labour Government in the sale of its ships. I marvel, therefore, that honorable gentlemen opposite, especially a representative of a Tasmanian constituency, can have the temerity to criticize the Bruce-Page Government for its transaction, especially as the sale of the line was forced on that Government by the sabotage of the ships by the wharflabourers and the seamen. The other two vessels owned by Tasmania were kept in operation at a loss of about £40,000 a year. The charge has been laid by honorable gentlemen opposite that the Bruce-Page Government “gave the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers away “. The Tasmanian Labour Government gave its line away. It may be said with equal truth that the Labour Government in Queensland gave away its State enterprises. Every one with any knowledge of politics must know that the then Premier of Queensland, Mr. McCormack, and the then’ Treasurer of Queensland, Mr. Theodore, were determined to bring about socialism in their time in Queensland. They set out their objectives in their little Red Booh. Subsequently, Mr. McCormack, having been compelled to sell those State enterprises, tried to explain their failure. The State Government had its own trawlers, fish shops, produce markets, butcher shops, sawmills, metal works, brickyards, and a coal mine that produced nothing but water, which even cows would not drink. Apologizing to the conference of representatives of trade unions in Queensland, Mr. McCormack said, in effect, “ The people whom we sought to serve will not give the social service that is necessary to make a success of these ventures. Then, there is no policy left but for the Government to abandon these things until the people are willing to give the social services necessary to make them a success “. So great were the losses sustained by the State enterprises that, in a few years, we found that the experiment had cost the people of Queensland about £4,000,000. No wonder the people of Queensland are loath to see the re-establishment of State enterprises! Maryborough, in the “Wide Bay electorate, is a Queensland city that for years has been a centre of engineering and shipbuilding enterprises as well as other enterprises and I hope that, in the application of the policy laid down in this measure, fair treatment will be accorded to such shipbuilding firms as Walkers Limited to allow them to continue their operations, not under nationalization, but under existing private enterprise. Such shipbuilding firms have been established for years, and they have rendered great service to Australia. Their accomplishments have been praised on all sides in this debate. I remind the House that Walkers Limited built the only two steel vessels that were built in Australian shipyards during World War I. I trust that that company and other companies like it will be given a free hand to build the ships necessary for the Australian shipping trade and that they will not be hampered by sabotage. I hope, too, that the firms that operate those ships will not be held up by unnecessary strikes of ships’ cooks and the like.
The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) said that the Bruce-Page Government, in disposing of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, had given away a valuable asset. The original capital value of that fleet of ships was £14,750,000, but it was found necessary to write off £8,000,000. In the year ended the 31st March, 1927, the line lost £595,000 and in the next year it lost £559,000. What an asset Australia had in a line of ships that suffered such losses! The line cost approximately £14,750,000. Although £8,000,000 was written off, it incurred a loss of over £1,100,000 in the two years which ended on the 31st March, 192S. That is the great asset that is said to have been given away. I am sure that the company which was “ given “ the line wished that it had never had it. The losses incurred by the Commonwealth line were due chiefly to maritime disturbances. In 1924 the Melbourne Evening Sun, referring to the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, stated -
No shipping company had such trouble with organized labour. For long every Commonwealth liner, on its arrival back to Australia from a voyage overseas, was held up by some petty dispute in the face of warnings that there was a. limit to loss on the Line to which the country would submit.
The public was constantly told that the Government would not tolerate such a condition of affairs. On no occasion were the strikes against the men’s own shipping line caused by complaints regarding hours, wages or industrial conditions. The men enjoyed the highest wages and the best conditions that were then known in the shipping world. Nevertheless they struck, and they did so in order to sabotage a shipping line which was being controlled by an anti-Labour government. The Labour party has claimed that the sale of the vessels owned by the line deprived primary producers of convenient, safe and cheap transport. It has claimed further that the “Bay” liners carried 80 per cent, of the coastal passengers. The facts are that, of the 362,148 coastal passengers carried in 1926, the “Bay” liners carried 12,350. or 3.4 per cent, of the total. In 1927, over 6,796,159 tons of freight was carried on the Australian coast, of which 4,283 tons, or .06 per cent, of the total, was carried by the Commonwealth line. The coast was not, however, left unserved. In the last two years during which the Commonwealth line operated, 174 coastal licences were issued. Overseas ships are not allowed to engage in our coastal trade, which must be carried by ships on the Australian register. The vessels of the Government line were on the Australian register, and the crews worked under Australian awards and conditions. Compliance with those awards and conditions involved the line in an expenditure of £200,000 a year more than the expenditure of its competitors. The first invitation for tenders for the purchase of the line, which was issued in 1925, specified that the ships should remain on the Australian register, but no tenders were received. In 1928 the Bruce-Page Government, which had been reluctant to sell the vessels, advertised them throughout the world. The Minister for Information has said that the vessels were given away.
– Hear, hear!
– How can the Minister for Defence reconcile that remark with the fact that the ships were sold at so high a price that the company which bought them became insolvent? That fact provides a complete answer to the suggestion that the vessels were given away. The Minister will probably admit that he has lost that round. No tenders having been received in 1925, the vessels were advertised for sale again in 1928. This asset had cost the country £14,887,000 and its capital value had been written down by approximately £8,000,000. The financial position of the line on the 31st March, 1928, was that it had liabilities of £5,780,250 and assets and investments of £2,976,900. The shrinkage of assets was £2,803,350. That amount had gone in overhead costs and losses due to strikes. The Labour party has claimed that the primary producers were sacrificed. Any one who says that obviously does not know the real position, and certainly was not a primary producer at that time. The records prove that the primary producers made little use of the line and that they were not concerned with the safety or other advantages that it was said to offer. The only absolute condition that was imposed when the vessels were offered for sale in 1928 was that they should remain on the British register. No tender had been received when the Government insisted that they should remain on the Australian register. The Government indicated that it would require the maintenance of a service equal to that which was being provided by the “Bay” and “ Dale “ steamers and that preference would be given to any tenderer >who submitted proposals for .safeguarding shippers to and from Australia and/or .submitted proposals for .services to Australia over and above those that were being provided by the line. Three tenders were received. The first was from the White Star Line, which first offered £1,800,000, and later £1,900,000. Later still, the company offered to expend £50,000 to repatriate sailors from Britain. There was to be a payment of £250,000 in cash when each vessel was delivered and the balance was to be paid in ten equal yearly payments, the interest rate being 5$ per cent, a year. Runciman’s of London, and Sir James Connelly submitted tenders which were not accepted. The Government decided to accept the tender submitted by the White Star Line, which was required to take over the unexpired liabilities of the line, to purchase office furniture at valuation, to employ the personnel who were then employed, and to pay the costs of repatriating Australian seamen to Australia.
Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual for 1928 states that in June, 1919, the price per ton deadweight of a 7,500-ton steamer was £26; in March, 1920, it was £34 5s.; in January, 1921, it was £14; in June, 1921, it was £8 5s. : and in June, 1927, it was £8 4s. Having regard to the decrease of the cost of ships, the price at which the Commonwealth steamers were sold was reasonable, especially as at that time there was 4,000,000 tons of shipping lying idle and it was very difficult to sell old ships. It must be conceded that the vessels were not given, away. They were sold just before the depression occurred, and the White Star Line, which had bought them, lost the whole of its investment. Could the Government have obtained more for the ships ? Was anything done by Australians working in the ships and on the wharfs to get more for them? Was anything done by the supporters of the Labour party in Australia at that time to obtain more money from the White Star Line or from any other tenderer? On the contrary, the workers made it known that if tha White Star Line purchased the vessels and began to operate them it would be boycotted.
A threat such as that would mitigate against the possibility of obtaining a higher price than was in fact obtained for the vessels. It has been claimed bv theLabour party that during the life of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers primary producers received! the -benefit of a 50 per centdecrease of freight rates. That decrease occurred during the period when> freight rates were falling throughout th<> world. They fell by more than 50 percent, on routes where there was no competition between privately owned and State owned vessels. In 1920 the freight rate per ton from the port of Tyne to Port Said was 41s. 3d., to Barcelona 34s., to Oporto 46s. 6d., to Bordeau 38s. 10d., and to Rotterdam 17s. 3£d. In 1926 the comparable rates were 17s. 3d., 12s. 10d., Ils., 5s. 9d., and 5s. It is apparent, therefore, that the reduction of freight rate.was not due to the operations of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, because government-owned ships were not operating between the ports to- which I have referred. The reduction was general throughout theworld.
The Commonwealth line incurred great losses because of the direct action tactics of mon employed on the wharfs and,, in some instances, on the ships. In the 1924 conflict Ferndale and Moreton Bay were boycotted by the waterside workers. Valuable cargoes were lost owing to illegal strikes and the action of the maritime unions in holding vessels upby refusing to supply crews. A valuable meat shipment had to betransferred to the steamer Rarango, which sailed under the flag of the White Star Line. That was the line which the waterside workers had threatened to declare black if it assumed control of the Commonwealth line. Five hundred tons of meat was left behind to be lifted by foreign ships. Carina was delayed inMelbourne, and it thus lost the profit that it would otherwise have made on the cargo that it had brought from Europe. Let us consider the case of Fordsdale. Fordsdale was built in an Australian shipyard for an Australian government enterprise by Australian workmen working under Australian conditions and awards, which are the best in the world..
When- the vessel was launched arrangements were proudly made to man it with an Australian unionist crew on its maiden voyage. The vessel was all-Australian, and was built for a State-owned line’, a form of government activity which- has been so- loudly advocated’ by Australian socialists and which is so much emphasized in this bil3. “When the vessel, returned to Australia after its maiden- voyage, to London the Seamen’s Union declared this allAustralian vessel black. They claimed that they had the right to pick up the original crew which, took the vessel away. The management refused to agree to- thisdictation and ultimately secured ai unionist crew that was- chosen, by thecaptain. Great losses were incurred by this- proud, true and all-Australian vessel because of the refusal of the unionists to give. Lt and the line a fail” go. It has been, said that the government of the day refused to accept, cargoes. Let. us consider the facts. No cargoes were refused by the government of the day because it did. not accept or. reject cargoes. Cargoes were not refused by those in-, control of. the Australian Commonwealth. Line of Steamers. Goodscargo represented 80 per cent, of the. shipping business offering in Australia., Excellent offers) were made to return the vessels to Australia, fully laden from. Great Britain.. Delays,, due to; strikesin Australia, held, up the vessels on many occasions. The. ships were on, the Australian register and. were operated, under Australian conditions. The observance of Australian conditions, was perfectly proper for vessels- engaged in Australian waters- but the. high wages paid to officers and men prevented the shipsof the line from, competing against vesselsregistered in other countries;. It is nottrue: to say, as- honorable members opposite have done,, that Australian- primary, producers obtained great advantages from, the existence of the line. Taking Australian wages at the base- rate of £100 for crews employed, on vessels of 6,000 tons gross register, the comparative British wage- was £32.4, or less than onethird, the Swedish wage was £24.51, or approximately one-quarter, and the Danish wage w.as £15.44, or approximately one-seventh, of the Australian wage. Australian primary producers were expected to pay freights based on Australian rates; of wages and conditions and to sell their products in countries, the workers of which received only a fraction of the prevailing Australian wage rates. The’ iron and steel industry was the only Australian industry that was able to export under those conditions. To-day, no iron and steel is exported from this country. Australian wool-growers shipped approximately 2 per cent, of their wool in the Commonwealth-owned vessels, the beef industry shipped about 3 per cent, of their output on the vessels and the wheatgrowers about 1 per cent, of their crop. Accordingly, it cannot be said that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was of great value to our primary producers or that its- sale was a. loss to them. The line was disposed of to a wealthy British, shipping company. It was purchased by the. White Star Line which had. a capital, of £stg.9,000,000, of. which the original shareholders held preference shares to the value of £5,000,000, and the well-known British, shipping companies,, the. Union Castle Company,. Elder Dempster and the Royal Mail Company each. held. 1,000,000 shares,, and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and the Nelson Company each held approximately. 5.0.0,000 shares. It will therefore- be agreed,. I think,, that all the arguments, advanced by honorable members opposite in support of the retention of the Australian. Commonwealth Line of Steamers have- been completely refuted. It has been claimed that Australian, workers had to fight for the conditions, that, applied to- seamen employed on the ships of the line. They fought for those conditions- not so much because they wanted them for the benefit of. Australian, workers but because they wanted to. embarrass the government which owned the line. According to the report, of the Public Accounts Committee, the total complement of. the line numbered 1,034’ men, of whom. 514 resided in Australia and 520 in other parts of the world, chiefly in Great Britain. It will be seen, therefore, that if a fight were waged for the good conditions that obtained, hi the service: of the line it was waged more in the interests of other than Australian, workers. Qf diet masters employed by the line, five resided in Australia and two in the United Kingdom. Of the pursers, 57 lived in Australia and 19 in the United Kingdom. Of the engineers, 60 lived in Australia and 27 in other countries. All of the apprentices were resident in Australia. It will thus be seen that the Australian conditions of employment about which honorable members opposite have said so much were enjoyed in the main by people who were not residents of Australia. in considering proposals of the kind contained in this bill, we must profit by the experiences of the past. The proposals now before us should be considered in the light of the dismal failures which have marked State enterprises in tbv past. The ships owned by the Tasmanian Government had to be sold because they could not be operated except at a huge loss. The socialist experiments of the Queensland Government have met with similar failure. The State timber mills and brickyards which were established by the Queensland Government proved absolute failures. The operations of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers resulted in a total loss to the taxpayer of approximately £13,000,000. Many of the people in our coastal cities and in the hinterland served by our ports are suffering severely, not only because of the shortage of shipping, but also because the cargoes carried by the few coastal vessels that are now in service are frequently sabotaged. Let the Government forget its nationalization proposal and let it co-operate in every possible way with private enterprise in the building of ships so urgently needed for the maintenance of our coastal trade. But for the efforts of private enterprise in the past the shipping programme carried out by the Government during the war years would not have been possible. Such progress as has been made in the shipbuilding industry in Australia is entirely due to the efforts of private enterprise. I appeal to the Government not to do anything to kill Australian enterprise.
.- Whether these proposals turns out to be a good or a bad move will depend on the contents of the bill now before the Parliament.
The Government’s success or failure in this move will depend entirely upon the job given to the new organization and: how it does that job. The two decidingfactors will be, first, the calibre of the men appointed to do the job, and, secondly, the policy of the Government and itsability to plan for the future defence of Australia. This problem should not be approached on the basis of petty war between private interests and a government shipping line. That is only a side issue. The real consideration is that of defence.. This Parliament has to face the position as it exists to-day. In the event of another war this country would not have the merchant shipping necessary to maintain the flow of essential supplies to and from this country and,, shipping to bring troops to Australia if that became necessary. Both of theseare defence responsibilities. We must make up our minds regarding the future of sea transport in an air age. We shall have to decide whether emphasis should be given to the development of air or sea transport. Air transport is now skimming the cream off the passenger trade. Air transport is developingrapidly. The Government is already engaged in the overseas air transport business. Soon, the number of air passages will outnumber the total ship passagesto and from the Commonwealth. That means that passenger ships must becomeuneconomic. The problem then, is not merely restricted to possible competitionbetween a government shipping line and private enterprise. The Government willhave to decide whether it will subsidize private ships as a defence precaution, or whether it will assume responsibility for the entire burden of transport. What is the position to-day? Great Britain isalready back in the shipping business. It has remodelled and reconditioned many large passenger liners and is buildingnew vessels. It has an expanding shipbuilding programme that should take care of traffic between Australia and the United Kingdom. According to the preamble of this bill this is purely a defence measure, but I remind the House that any vessels that the Commonwealth may own will, in wartime, be placed under the control of the British Admiralty, and rightly so. They will not be available to Australia. We cannot expect to compete with British ships that are now engaged in the trade between the United Kingdom and Australia.
What is the position in the Pacific? The Pacific is our principal artery, and we must be prepared to defend it. United States shipping is now lagging. Costs have prevented the restoration of the Matson line service to this country. Apart from Aorangi, the ships plying between Australia and North America are, at the best, only cargo vessels. The United States Maritime Commission refuses to pay sufficiently large subsidies to induce the Matson line to restore its pre-war service; it will not compel it to do so. The huge flotilla of ships that the American Government built to transport troops and supplies in wartime is now rotting at anchor. According to recent reports, more than 700 ships are tied up in the Hudson River and will never he used again. The 10,000-ton class of vessel is not a satisfactory proposition, because it is too small for longdistance passenger traffic. As the result of higher costs, American vessels are not able to compete with those of other nations in the cargo trade. In particular, American seamen have had to compete with ships under the Panama register. Their owners are unscrupulous and cut not only freights but also the wages and conditions of the toilers who work the vessels. Australia has exactly the same problem.
I should like the Government to consider what use it will be to build and operate ships of 10,000 tons if vessels on the Panama register can undercut freights, because their owners do not pay reasonable wages or observe the International Shipping Code. We shall be left with useless vessels upon our hands, and they will be tied up at the wharfs or in the Lane Cove Baver. We must have the ships that are necessary for any war-time requirements. No Australian will dispute that point. The only sound policy is that which saved Great Britain in the hour of its greatest peril. We should base our policy on Great Britain’s experience. British foresight, not of a few months but of many years, saved the United Kingdom and democracy in World War II. Great Britain had built two ships for peacetime commerce in the knowledge that, in war-time, they would become an important arm of its defence system. Those ships, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, have more than justified that belief. Defeating the submarine menace, they transported troops, not by the handful, but by divisions to various theatres oi war. Wherever those ships appeared, they became symbols of victory. They brought back to Australia from the Middle East the troops that saved this country from the Japanese. Had Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth not been available, there would never have been a Kokoda trail victory. The Japanese would not have been halted before they had established themselves at Port Moresby. I say to my fellow-countrymen that nothing else could have saved Australia. Australia and Great Britain owe everything to the magnificent troop shuttle service provided by Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. We hear a good deal of humbug talked in this House, but no honorable member will deny that both those great ships are again dominating the passenger service in the North Atlantic. In the event of another war, they will immediately revert to their former role of troop transports. Is not that a lesson that should have impressed itself upon this Government? There is room for argument about the role that, battleships will play in any future war at sea. We know how long Prince of Wales and Repulse lasted against air attack, yet the cost of those capital ships was probably much greater than the cost of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. When the Government decides to expend £20,000,000 on the Royal Australian Navy, no honorable member raises any objection. During the war, the cost of the Navy rose to £40,000,000 per annum and now, in peace-time, it costs approximately £20,000,000 per annum. But we have no guarantee that it can provide a satisfactory screen for this country. But if we had two ships of the same carrying capacity and performance as the “ Queen “ ships would not our position be much more secure? If the new shipping board merely goes into the coastal trade with small vessels to compete with the existing companies, we shall be no better off from a defence viewpoint. If it builds 10,000-ton steamers for the Pacific trade, it will be merely competing with the ocean tramps; but, if it takes the bold course, and builds for the future defence of this country, it can perform a real service.
What is the use of making Manus Island a defence base, unless we can man it quickly? What would be the use of a defence pact with the United States, unless troops could be moved quickly in the event of another threatened invasion? In addition to their war-time use, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth have proved excellent peace-time investments, not only for their owners, but also for the nation. They are earning the dollars from the American tourist traffic that are helping Sir Stafford Cripps to check the dollar drift. They carry to Britain thousands of Americans who buy British goods, spend money on British tourist attractions, and help to create new markets for British exports. That is all sound business. Why should not we follow that example?
Let the new shipping board have a definite target - to build two counterparts of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, for the Pacific. Let the two vessels be built in Australia, by Australian workmen. That would be a project to fire the imagination and enthusiasm of the entire industry. Private enterprise could not afford to take the risk. As a strictly commercial proposition, it could not be jusified, but, as a defence measure, it would be more than justified. We are told that the Soviet is placing submarines in the Pacific. The war proved that high-speed ships are the best and most effective counter to submarines. Small, slow ships are “ sitting ducks “ for the modern submarine.
Australia could take the initiative in establishing a big tourist trade in the Pacific. Two ships of the “ Queen “ class could do much to solve our dollar problem. Why should we be dependent on other countries to provide the ships f ot that traffic? If we built two such ships as T have suggested, they could be used to bring the right kind of migrants from the Pacific West Coast. They would probably ‘cost more than £25,’000,000, but they would represent capital assets, as well as security. There is no reason why they should not be built in Australia. When Queen Mary was begun, the builders had no previous experience with ships of that dimension. The British Government would, no doubt, be only too happy to co-operate with Australia. Key marine engineers could be obtained for such a programme. When we built the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we had to call in outside engineers, as well as utilize the services of our own men, but the work was done by Australians. We had never built a bridge of that size before, either. There were those who said it could. not be built or that it would be too costly; but it is there to-day as an advertisement throughout the world for Australian workers. Why should not our workers be able to build the world’s biggest liners, designed for war, as well as for peace? The building would provide employment for the proper kind of migrants, for engineers from the Clydeside, for our own Australians. We have the steel. We have the skill. The Government has the money. All that we need is the courage and foresight to tackle the project. We could start using the Captain Cook Graving Dock, in Sydney, as it should be used. We could then keep ontraining men, and provide for our Navy with a first-class floating recruitment centre.
Once the ships were in service, we could maintain our own lines of communication across the Pacific. We would be in a position to move sufficient troops wherever they were needed in the event of attack from the north. The cost, properly capitalized, would be much more economic than comparable expenditure onvessels for the Navy, which, to-day are obsolete before they are placed in commission. If the Government is prepared to tackle such a project, it will find the people right behind it. It is of no use tinkering at the building and operating of small ships. The proposal to subsidize the building of ships for private shipowners is also fraught with great danger. It leaves the door wide open for the payment of a premium on incompetence, and worse.. Until such time as theshipowners are unable to provide anadequate service and to maintain sufficient ships for defence purposes, no justification. exists for the granting of such indirect Government subsidies. The job of the Government is to see that ships operating in Australian waters observe the maritime codes governing safety and working conditions. It may be that a ship built in 1925 is still capable of excellent service. Had it not been for such vessels, the British Army would never have been evacuated from Dunkirk. The efficiency of a ship 24 years old would depend upon the quality of its original structure. Many ships built within the last ten years would not satisfy a rigid test. But the Government should see to it that ships using the facilities of Australian harbours comply in every respect with the approved standards. The Minister for Immigration has been most evasive in his replies to questions regarding the use of ships that are on the Panama register for bringing migrants to this country. We do not want nondescripts trading with this country and undermining the conditions of Australia, British and American seamen. That is a job that the Government should see to immediately. Much will depend upon the calibre of the men appointed to the proposed board. They should be, above all, practical men. It would be a good idea for the Government to disclose the names of the proposed appointees when submitting a measure of this nature to the Parliament. There is no danger that the measure will not be passed. Then the House could judge the proposal “with a complete knowledge of all the facts. In a recent instance, this House was misled regarding the qualifications, of a certain person for a particular appointment. In actual fact one of the appointees possessed the major disqualifications set out in the legislation. A frank disclosure of the Government’s intentions would enable this bill to be discussed realistically. If the Government is sincere, it will not just add another piece of legislation to the statute-book. It will get down to the real job. It has placed the defence clause in the preamble to the bill. It may regard that as an excellent legal alibi, but that is not what is wanted. Let us make this a real defence measure. Let “us provide this country with the finest ships in the world. The present position in the Pacific is a real challenge. If we believe that our future depends upon our maintaining sea communications with the North American continent, then it is up to us to tackle the real task ahead. Let us build and operate ships of our own, comparable with Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. There is no reason why they should not be equipped as emergency aircraft carriers for war.
There has been too much talk about the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers that expired after the first world war. That is ancient history.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- It was a very unusual experience to hear the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) putting the case for increased defence so forthrightly to the Government. Defence is a subject that honorable members on this side of the House frequently bring to the Government’s attention without the Government taking very much notice of them. Now that the same advocacy has come from one who has been so closely connected with members of the Government, who has been for many years a prominent Labour leader, and who trained and introduced into politics, many honorable members at present on the Government side -of the House, it is to be hoped that a change of heart will be evidenced in the Government’s general attitude towards the problem of defence. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) was saying “Hear, hear ! “ to his own old leader. The honorable member for Hume once .said that he would die for that gentleman, the present honorable member for Reid.
– The honorable member for Hume, I take it, does not desire to make any sacrifices at the moment.
– I turn now to the remarks made by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie). He told the House that the turn-round of ships in Australian ‘ports now took longer than before the war because nowadays ships are fully loaded whereas before the w.ar they were not. He .said that that was the .sole - reason for the slower ‘turnaround.
I say that that is a deliberate piece of dishonest nonsense, and that the honorable member knows full well it is not the truth. As the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) told the House in unmistakable terms, supporting his assertions by figures that any one can check, ships take longer to turn round to-day because the volume of cargo per man hour is less than ever before in the history of the country. In fact, I believe it stands at the lowest figure now for the whole world. That is the reason why the turn-round of ships is so slow. lt takes longer to turn round ships than it used to take because, not to put too fine a point on it, there are too many Communists in control of the shipping industry and too many loafers in the industry. It is because the Stevedoring Industry Commission has permitted the presence of these Communists and loafers to continue that we have the present state of affairs on the wharfs, which is well known to all honorable members. In the eyes of shipowners throughout the world, Australia is a place to be avoided because they know that they will not be able to get their ships loaded or unloaded expeditiously and that work on them will be held up on some pretext or other. That is one of the major reasons why we cannot get even the minimum amount of shipping in Australian waters to enable us to carry essential goods between the States. The honorable member for Wilmot made a great noise about the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. He said that that line was a remarkable asset in view of its work on behalf of the farmers and other primary producers. The honorable member for Wakefield answered those remarks. The truth of the matter is that those ships did not carry more than 2 per cent, of the wheat crop of Australia. The Government has criticized previous governments for the sale of that shipping line. Surely all honorable members realize that if a government undertakes a major enterprise which costs the taxpayers millions of pounds and produces no benefit of any consequence to the community it is the clear duty of succeeding governments to get rid of it. .Such action was followed by a Labour government in Tasmania, and the same course was taken with respect to the Commonwealth shipping line by the Bruce-Page Government. I was very glad to hear from the honorable member for Wilmot a reference to the very high standard of amenities on government .built and operated ships at the present time. It is pleasant to hear that that is the case, because all honorable members know that it has not always been so in the shipping industry. I should also have liked to .hear that the standard of efficiency on government ships is also high, because after all we can point to plenty of government undertakings in this country where the standard of amenities is high and the standard of work and service is relatively low. The first job” of ships is to carry passengers and cargoes at a freight rate that the people can afford to pay and that will not unnecessarily increase the cost of living. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the proposed government shipping line is not intended to be a floating rest home for seamen. Its primary job is to carry cargo between the States at reasonable freight rates. Then we heard a pathetic bleat from the honorable member for Wilmot to the effect that government ships could not get a “ fair go “ and could not get gangs on the wharfs. Whose fault is that? Everybody knows that the stevedoring industry, including the allotment of gangs, is in the hands of the Stevedoring Industry Commission that was established by this Government. So let not the honorable member try to get away with deliberate distortions of that nature. The same position applies to the wharfs themselves. The allocation of wharfage has practically nothing to do with the shipping companies at all, and to say that the government ships cannot get a “fair go” because everybody is against them is completely untrue and the honorable member was dishonest when he sought to mislead this House on that matter.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– The honorable member for Wilmot made great play on the situation on the wharfs and implied quite clearly that shipping delays were, in some roundabout way, the fault of the shipping companies and that private enterprise was to blame. It is time he realized and said quite honestly that the whole of the stevedoring industry is no longer in the hands of private enterprise, but is entirely under the direction of a government instrumentality, the Stevedoring Industry Commission, a member of which is a man called Jim Healy. I do not intend to deal with him at length, but I can say that he is a Communist and that all Communists desire that ships be not turned round more quickly in Australian ports. Every Communist must be glad to see the hold-up of shipping in Australian ports and the rotting of the wharfs of food that should be sent to England. Healy was appointed by this Government. So long as delay occurs at Australian ports the Government is responsible, because it was the authority that set up the Stevedoring Industry Commission. [n this debate, honorable members opposite have attempted to tell the House that the issues involved in the bill are purely local and sectional and that it is simply a bill to set up a Small government shipping instrumentality. That is another point on which we cannot agree. Although the attention of the honorable member for Reid was drawn to the point, he rather passed it off; but the point is that this legislation unhappily complies with the pledge that honorable gentlemen opposite have to sign that they will socialize the means of production, distribution and exchange in Australia. The honorable member knows that very well. Our objections to the bill are primarily on that basis. We are not opposing the measure because we have to any degree the interests of the shipping companies at heart. But we object to socialist agencies wherever they appear. Certain honorable gentlemen opposite deny tha!this is an attempt to nationalize the shipping industry, but they know that it is their intention to nationalize the industry. We have only to look back on recent history. We have seen them try to nationalize the airlines. I hope that no one denies that nationalization of the airlines was their original intention. They have tried to nationalize the banks. They have been prevented from doing both only by the Constitution and the f aci that we have a High Court to protect us. Honorable gentlemen opposite know that they cannot nationalize the shipping industry directly, because they .tried to nationalize the airlines and failed. They know that they would meet with no greater success in any attempt to nationalize shipping than they met with in their attempt to nationalize airlines. So they propose the indirect method of bringing the Australian shipping industry under direction and control. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) pointed out, there is in this bill every weapon calculated to put out of business every shipping agency in Australia except that of the Government. There are to be, for instance, licences. Every ship must have one before it may operate. There is the cost factor, over which no authority other than the Government has control. There are to be licences to build ships, and licences for new ships and, finally, there is to be a retiring age, as it were, at which ships must be put off the seas. So the Govern-, ment will have every power necessary in the operation of the legislation to nation,alize the great Australian shipping industry. I- have yet to hear any honorable gentleman opposite deny that nationalization of the shipping industry is the Government’s intention. There is an attempt also to try to tell the people that this is purely an issue between the Government and the shipping companies, just as, when the Banking Bill was being debated, we were told that it was a matter between the people and the great trading banks. We now have a similar plea in respect of the nationalization of medical services. The Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) have claimed that that is an issue between the people, that is the Government, and the British Medical Association. Nothing is further from the case. I make it very clear, speaking as a member of the Opposition, that we do not particularly care for the shipping companies, the banks, the airlines, the British Medical Association, or any other similar bodies. Our objection is to nationalization and socialization. As a scheme for the nationalization of the shipping industry, we oppose this bill. Every one in Australia should realize that that is the issue involved in the bill.
Yesterday, as it were, we dealt with a bill to nationalize the means of exchange, that is the banks; to-day, we have before us a bill to nationalize the means of distribution, that is the ships; and tomorrow, very clearly - and let honorable gentlemen opposite deny it if they can - we shall be asked to deal with a bill to nationalize the means of production. We have heard occasionally, in unguarded remarks of Labour supporters, that the coal mines should be nationalized. Indeed, some of them have said that the primary industries, or certain of them, should be nationalized. It is all a part of the platform that they have signed and a part of their policy. Of course, they have picked the easiest industries to nationalize first. They hope that the public will not strongly oppose them, and that they may attract a little public support. For example, honorable gentlemen opposite hoped that the banks would be so unpopular that there would not be a public outcry if the Government took them over. The Government hoped that its offer to pay a half of people’s bills for medical attention would blind them to the fact that a great section of their lives was to be brought under socialist control. It has similar hopes in connexion with, this bill ! Any person in this country who does not want to see a socialist state should, oppose every socialistic measure brought before the Parliament. That is where we stand on this legislation.
I propose to say a word or two about how this bill will affect the industry that it sets out allegedly to benefit. The first thing that impressed us is that it. will have the immediate effect of forcing up prices and adding to the rising prices’ that have been so marked a feature of the life of this Government. Indeed, this is the sort of legislation that can. do nothing but create further shortages. If the Government has plenty of money to spend, and desires to give some service, there are. plenty of outlets for its energies. If it wants to bring more, people here and employ them, in a. great government industry, let it put them to work’ on producing more steel, bricks and timber, and: all those other materials the provision of which would help to alleviate the housing’ shortage. But; far from doing anything of the kind, this legislation will only take more men out of various industries that can ill afford to lose them. The great majority will not be employed in productive work. They will be on the Government’s pay-roll and the taxpayers will have to foot the bill, but they will not add one jot to the wealth of Australia. This is the sort of measure favoured by the Government and a reason why there is a shortage of everything and why prices are continually rising. The honorable member for Reid offered, of all the strange reasons, as the reason for his support of the bill the fact that to have our own shipping industry would be most useful in the defence of Australia. We have come to a nice pass when honorable gentlemen opposite, particularly the honorable member for Reid, should have a good word to say on the subject of defence, because we on this side know that so far as defence is concerned Aust tralia, under the present administration, has nothing to- show hut a paper army, unfulfilled promises, unfulfilled quotas, schemes that are never brought to fruition, unrealized plans and all that sort of thing. If the Government really wants to do something to help to make us secure, there are obvious means that it could adopt to develop the armed forces rather than indulge in this kind of legislation. That is the feeblest and most insincere of all. the arguments that has been advanced in support of the measure.
As I said at the outset, I have no particular interest in defending, the shipping companies, but the Minister for Defence, in introducing the bill, made certain remarks that were not correct. He implied that, before the war, the Australian coastal shipping was obsolete and inefficient, but the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) made ifr clear that that is far from the considered opinion of. any one in. .posses^ sion of any of the facts. On the contrary, we had a most efficient shipping service before the war. If not, what did honorable gentlemen opposite do about it? I did not hear one honorable gentleman opposite, including the Minister’ for Defence, claim at that time that there was anything wrong, with the Australian shipping service1.
– I was not a member of the House then.
– Other honorable gentlemen who are sitting behind the Minister were in the House then. I have never heard one of them say that he considered that at that time the Aus: tralian coastal shipping was absolete or inefficient. The Minister for Defence complained that certain of the betterclass ships, such as Manoora, Duntroon, Manunda, Westralia, or Wanganella, were not back on the coastal run, where they would: serve the best purp.ose, but he did not tell us. that of all the ships that the Government took over during the war only two have, been returned to their owners and allowed to be operated on the coast.. I refer particularly to Manunda, because it. has recently been refitted, and it is operated in such a way as. to give us some idea of what the scheme contained in this, bill will be like when it is. brought to fruition. Manunda, which is twenty years old,, was recently refitted at the cost of £800,000, which is- more than the original’ purchase price of the ship. If, all the ships to he built’ in- Australia: are to be ‘built with such disregard of cost we shall have to- meet’ a- stiff bill:. The vessel is- twenty years old- and, under’ the provisions of the bill, four’ years hence,, if the- Minister for Shipping and Fuel” so- desires: it’ can- be put out* of business. No private company in the world, could’stand1 that. Only a government line- with, government backing could’ possibly stand that sort’ of expense in the- first place andallow the retirement, of its ships under such conditions; The Minister’ has said that, under- this- bill> the- Government’ will have power to standardize shipbuilding in Australia. I can understand why it is- essential for US’ in this* country; in which the- facilities for- Building ships- are limited; to restrict the number of types- of “ships that we build For’ example; our construction’ of fightingships’ is-‘ limited’ to- two or - three classes-. The same- thing mnst.be done- in regard tomerchant ships, because we have not’ the industries- which- are necessary to support a- very varied1- shipping programme. But we should be- able to import’ ships- of - a kind different’ from- those- that we- build: To say that we can build only certain types? of ships- in Australia and that no others may be purchased from, overseas would be to condemn this country to hopelessly rigid standardized and ultimately obsolete ships. It might just as well be. said that because motor cars- are now being built- here, no other- cars should be allowed to be imported.
In his speech, the Minister for Defence (Mr-. Dedman), made quite plain what the cost of Australian-built ships is likely to be.. He has said that (he long-term policy of the bill is to guarantee plenty of work to Australian shipbuilding yards over a period of years regardless of cost, efficiency, and. other factors so that there will be- no. possibility of’ them having no work to do. What? business undertaking could operate efficiently if those who were in- control of it were told’- tha, regardless of cost, and irrespective- of the efficiency of the undertaking, they would be:kept” plugging along and’ doing the same job.?- If any one has. any doubt about the level to,which the Australian shipbuilding industry-‘ would he1 reduced by such” *k policy, let him look at: other Government instrumentalities that have operated under similar- conditions: Let him- look first ate our- railways. There* is* not a: country in the’ world the wealth> of which is companable to– that of Australia? whichhas. such inefficient: and antiquated railway services, as- we have: If any honor* able, member.- doubts; the* truth of that* statement-, let. him’ go- to, the Canberrarailway station and ride- on the- Patagoniaespiesss to. Goulburn. There Gould not possibly’ be as worse: train going’’ to the capital1 city of any country in the world ‘ thani the train: which serves’ the. capital, of; Australia and which has been operated under– government auspices. since. the railway/ was. built;
– What’ about the “‘Spirit of “ Progress
– The.-. “Spirit of Progress “’’ was the last’ decent train to be built in Australia. It was built nearly fifteen years ago. If ‘we are to look back and say that the last, decent ship to. be built in Australia was built: fifteen years ago,, it: will be a.nice state of, affairs’. The honorable gentleman who has just, interjected’ should not” talk too. much, about the- ““Spirit of Progress “:. In. the State from* which he” comes I doubt whether- a new train has been built for 50 years, let alone fifteen years. Having regard to the great shipbuilding industries of other countries and the conditions under which they operate, it is very doubtful whether we shall be able to build any other than the most strictly standardized ships. Our industries are dispersed. There is no place in Australia where all the work on a ship from the laying of the keel to complete fitting out of it can be done. Parts have to be brought from all over the country, and at various stages of its construction a ship has to be moved around the coast. Apart from that, there is the question of cost. If we wish to know what the cost of Australian ships will ‘be, let us consider the motor car that is now being built in Australia. The Holden car is a triumph for everybody connected with it, but it cannot be denied that it is being produced at a price which the workers of this country cannot afford. I assume that the object of producing a cheap car is to produce one that everybody can afford, but it is obvious that the Holden car could not compete with imported American cars, upon which a high duty is imposed, if those cars were being imported in large numbers. It has been said frequently that a venture such as the production of the Holden car is well worth while to Australia, but the Government is now proposing to embark upon the establishment of a really great industry in this country which will absorb a tremendous amount of man-power. When the Australian Government entered this field of activity previously, the government instrumentality incurred huge losses year after yeal. That fact should be taken into account. There is not the faintest indication that this venture can possibly be a success in regard to the construction, operation and management of ships.
– It is common knowledge that during the war there was a considerable reduction of shipping tonnages throughout the world and that Australia has been forced to carry its share of the difficulties that have resulted from that reduction. Those difficulties are particularly apparent in the central and northern areas of Queens land as well as in Tasmania and Western
Australia, where importers, retailers and producers have encountered considerable difficulty in obtaining the supplies that they need and which must be carried to the nearest ports by ships. The Government has taken advantage of those difficulties and has used them in an attempt to justify the necessity for this bill. Before it can be claimed that any situation is being met by provisions made for that purpose, the reasons for that situation must he fully understood. As far as Australia is concerned there are two main reasons for the present shipping position, with which the bill is designed to deal. The first is that there is a shortage of ships and a dislocation of shipping services as a result of the war. The shortage of ships, however, is not so great as it is generally claimed to be. If there were no other factors contributing to our present difficulties, the position could have been met without the introduction of such an extensive measure as this bill. The second reason for the present shipping situation is, in my opinion, causing a great deal more trouble than the first one. It is the policy of the Communist-dominated Waterside Workers Federation pf Australia and other trade unions. For years those unions have pursued a deliberate policy of strikes and goslow tactics on the waterfront. Strike after strike, hardly one of which has had any justification, has held up the transport of essential material and prevented the quick turn-round of ships. The goslow tactics that have been adopted on the waterfront throughout Australia have also had their effect. The loading rates at Australian ports are at least 50 per cent, lower than the pre-war rates. It cannot be argued that the reason for that is lack of equipment and loading facilities, because the equipment that is now available is at least as good as that which was in use prior to the war and. in many instances it is better, particularly in Queensland, where new equipment was installed during the war. As a result of the slow turn-round of ships that has been caused by this go-slow policy, ships now expect to spend one week at sea and three weeks in port out of every four weeks, instead of three weeks at sea and one week in port, as they did previously. It is apparent that, if the position facing Australia with regard to shipping services is to be properly dealt with, the second factor to which I have referred must receive the attention of the Government. Any attempt to deal with the problem without taking positive action to remedy the position on the waterfront will be doomed to failure, no matter how many ships may be built. It is evident that the shortage of ships and dislocation of shipping services is being used by this Government in an attempt to justify the introduction of this extreme measure which is now before the House. I use the word “ extreme “ advisedlybecause if the powers that are contained in this bill are fully utilized they can only result in the ultimate squeezing out of all companies that are at present engaged in the provision of shipping services, or, in other words, nationalization. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, has disclaimed that that is the Government’s intention, but there is a short reply to his disclaimer. If the Government does not intend to squeeze out the private companies and nationalize the shipping industry, what is the necessity for the provisions which are designed to give the Minister complete control of the industry? The full use of the provision.’? of the bill must lead to the squeezing out of private shipping companies. If that is not the Government’s intention, there is no necessity for the provisions. The fact that they have been put into the bill gives a much greater, clearer and more reliable indication of the Government’s intention than does the Minister’s second-reading speech.
Let us examine these provisions. First, the Australian Shipping Board is to be appointed, presumably, to replace the present board. Clause 7 of the bill provides that the board shall consist of five members to be appointed by the GovernorGeneral, which means the Minister. It is apparent that a body appointed in that manner will carry out the dictates of the Minister. The board will not be composed, as it could well have been, of representatives of shipping companies, importers, exporters, primary producers and other people who are interested in shipping. It is to be composed of men appointed by the Minister. Having regard to our experience of government boards in other spheres of industry in Australia, we can form a good idea of its probable constitution. It will be a board that will immediately carry out the wishes of the Minister. The board is to be given very wide powers. Clause 15 provides that it shall have power to do the following things : -
To establish, maintain and operate, or to provide for the establishment, maintenance and operation of, shipping services for the carriage of passengers, goods and mails -
between a place in aState and a place in another State;
between a place in the Commonwealth and a place in a Territory of the Commonwealth;
between a place in a Territory of the Common wealth and a place in the same or another Territory of the Commonwealth;
between a place in the Commonwealth and a place in another country; and
between a place in a Territory of the Commonwealth and a place in another country.
It is to be given a world-wide scope. It will be able to operate wherever and whenever it wishes. Can it be contended that such wide powers are necessary for the adjustment of our present shipping difficulties ? I say that it cannot. Clause 15 also provides that the board shall have power to act as an agent for shipowners. Shipowners have been able to carry on their business up till now with a governmentcontrolled shipping board, acting as agent for them. Is this a subtle method of ensuring that shipowners shall be brought under control by virtue of the fact that the Australian Shipping Board will act as their agents? It is provided, further, that the board shall be empowered to lease, charter and sell ships, to train a mercantile marine - I shall have more to say about that later because it is not entirely a bad provision - to design ships and to determine the design of ships to be built in Australia. It is evident that if the powers vested in the board are fully utilized the private shipping companies will become completely subservient to the board, and therefore to the Minister, even in regard to the design of the ships that they may be permitted to build if they are “ good boys “. Finally, it is provided that the hoard shall advise the ‘Minister on any matter pertaining to shipping. It will be seen from this very cursory analysis of the bill that the board is to be given very extensive powers to control the activities of private shipowners. Otherwise, there would be no need for these provisions. They are meaningless unless they are designed to ensure -that the new Commonwealth line shall be given priority over all other shipping lines now operating in Australia. These are not the only powers conveyed by the bill. The Minister ‘for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) is also ‘to be given very wide powers. Clause 29 (1) reads -
The Minister may, in his discretion, grant licences for the construction of ships to which this Part applies.
Subject to certain Conditions relating to tonnage, design, fittings, gear and so on, the Minister is to be empowered to issue licences for the construction of ships. Without a licence no shipping company or shipowner may engage in the construction of a ship. The Minister is also to be empowered to determine the types of ships to be built. He will act on the advice of the board. It becomes apparent that if a shipping company desires to construct a ship of a type particularly suitable to the trade in which it is engaged, it may not do so unless the design of that vessel is approved by the Minister and the Australian Shipping Board. Clause ‘30 .provides that no shipowner or company , may engage in trade between places in the Commonwealth without a licence. That provision, which was referred to by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride), seems to be one df the most dangerous provisions in ‘the bill. Clause ‘30 further provides that any licence granted shall be for a period of only four years. In a “business such as shipping, which involves an enormous expenditure df money on the provision of initial equipment, how could any priva’te “company be expected ‘to develop new ‘services if its licence to ‘tra’de fis to ‘be restricted to four years? No businessman would think of commencing ‘a business the life “of ‘which was limited ‘to four years. It is true tha’t “provision (is m’a’d’e for extensions of such licences from ‘time to time, but ‘that is Very flimsy -security inde’e’d. Because -‘of the existence df ‘that limiting .provision it is ^unlikely that the Australian shipping companies will ;be tempted to extend their services to the outlying ports where they are so badly needed. In those places the Government line is to have an open go. The bill further provides that no licences will be granted for ships more than 24 years old and that ships used in the Australian coastal trade must be built in Australia. I -am sure that no -honorable member in this House has the slightest ‘desire to hamper in any way the development of the shipbuilding industry in Australia. The provision that states that from now onwards all ships engaged in the Australian coastal trade must be built in Australia will condemn this country to a continuation for a number of years of the circumstances that now exist in the shipping industry. Certainly it will condemn the taxpayers, who will have »to foot the bill for construction costs, to bear a very heavy load. I am reminded in this connexion that in Sydney some time ago I saw the vessel Aorangi, which had then been in the Sydney shipyards for some considerable time for refitting. Up to the time of my inspection the refitting of the vessel had cost £2,000,000. That gives an indication of what is in store for us if we pass this bill with ‘a clause in it which provides that ships used on the Australian coastal -trade shall be built in Australia. If that is what is in store -for us, all I can say is God help Australia! Clause 3-1 provides that no ships may be sold outside Australia without the consent of the ^Minister. -In the first place, the shipping companies will have to obtain a licence to purchase a ship; then they will have to obtain a licence, operative for only ‘four years, permitting the ship to trade in Australia; and, finally, after their ships are 24 years old they will be forced to dispose of them and the Minister will have discretionary power to decide whether or not they shall he sold outside Australia. The market “for the disposal of obsolete ships will ‘therefore he very seriously limited. The penalty foi- any infringement ‘of _ these extreme provisions is £1,000 or, “if the o’ffence is a continuing “one, ‘£1,000 for each day during which ‘the offence continues.
This recital of the powers contained in the bill definitely establishes the fact that the control of shipping will be taken from the hands of private enterprise and will be placed solely in the hands of the Government. The history of the new government enterprise will probably be as unhappy as that of earlier government enterprises. In considering legislation of this kind I am struck by the fact that there has been a noticeable similarity in much of the legislation that has been introduced by the Government during the short period in which I have been a member of this House. There is a significant similarity between this legislation and, for instance, the banking legislation. When the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) was dealing with the nationalization proposals embodied in this hill the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) interjected and said, “You say the same thing about all legislation “. That is perfectly true. In almost every piece of legislation that has been introduced by this Government an attempt has been made to give effect to Labour’s objective of nationalization. It was because of that fact that the honorable member for Gippsland pointedly referred to the nationalization aspect of the bill now before us. The banking legislation, which was introduced last year, was another notable example of this trend. The Banking Act 1945 was subjected r.o a successful challenge in the High Court. That challenge could have been met simply by the Government agreeing to amend the legislation, but it did not follow that course. The challenge of one or two provisions of the Banking Act’ 1.945 was seized upon by the Government as a justification for the introduction of a measure which provided for complete nationalization of banking throughout Australia. The Government merely looked for a convenient peg on which to hang a proposal for the extension of its socialistic programme. The same trend can he seen in the Government’s action in amending the Electoral Act to provide for the redistribution of seats. Every honorable member in this House admitted that there was some justification for an alteration of parliamentary representation in the Commonwealth sphere, particularly of country areas; but that admission did not justify the Government in introducing such farreaching proposals as were contained in the recent legislation. The Government seized upon the opportunity to introduce a bill which made provision for a very extensive increase of the number of seats in both Houses of this legislature, thereby involving the country in enormous additional expenditure. The reason for that move was obvious to every member of this Parliament. The action of the Government was prompted by a desire to make safe for its supporters certain seats which were doubtful. The same pattern is being followed in the bill now before us. There is, I admit, need for some governmental assistance in the establishment of additional shipping services throughout Australia, particularly to ports remote from the large centres of population. It is the function of the Australian Government to make provision for the establishment and maintenance of services which cannot be profitably provided by the shipping companies. The Government, however, is determined to go ahead with its policy of nationalization and has seized upon this opportunity to introduce a measure which will provide for the nationalization of the shipping industry throughout Australia. This measure follows the pattern of other socialistic measures which have been introduced by the Government. I have said that there is some justification for the provision of shipping services to outlying ports. The only reference I can find to that matter in the bill now before us - and I have studied it assiduously - is contained in sub-clause 2 of clause 15, which reads -
Where, in the opinion of the Minister, a shipping service is necessary to meet the requirements of a particular area and it is desirable in the public interest that a shipping service should be provided for that area, the Minister may direct the Board to establish, maintain and operate, or to continue to maintain and operate, a shipping service for the purpose of meeting those requirements.
If the bill provided only for the establish-, ment of such services and for the assistance of the shipbuilding industry I should not complain about it. Such provisions are justified, but unfortunately the remaining provisions of the bill will enable the Government completely to control the shipping industry. Another reason advanced for the introduction of this measure is the need for the establishment of a mercantile marine. In introducing the bill the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) said that one of its aims was to provide for an adequate and efficient mercantile marine which was essential for defence purposes. We all agree that we need an adequate and efficient mercantile marine, but very little reference to that matter is made in the bill. The sole reference to a mercantile marine is contained in a small sub-clause dealing with the powers of the board which empowers the board to establish and to train men in a mercantile marine. After listening to the Minister’s second-reading speech those who knew nothing of the position would assume that the development of an Australian mercantile marine was something new and that it was necessary for the Government to introduce a bill such as this in order to bring about its establishment. Is it not a fact that the Australian mercantile marine did a magnificent job during the war ? Did not the Australian mercantile marine have a magnificent record prior to the war? The Australian mercantile marine was established by private enterprise and not by the Government under conditions that prevailed long before this bill was ever thought of. Was a measure such as this needed for the establishment of the British mercantile marine, which is the admiration of the world? Certainly not. Therefore, the contention that a government shipping service is necessary for the purpose of establishing the mercantile marine in the interests of defence, is humbug.
Defence considerations have been dragged into this debate apparently at the last moment in an endeavour to justify the introduction of the bill. The matter is referred to principally in an amendment that the Minister for Defence has circulated since making his secondreading speech. I propose briefly to examine the provisions relating to the defence aspect. Proposed new sub-clause 2a of clause 29 reads -
The powers conferred on the Minister by the last two preceding sub-sections are conferred for the purpose of ensuring, in the interests of defence, that the shipbuilding industry is established in the Commonwealth on an ade quate scale and is maintained in continuous operation, and, in particular, for the purpose of ensuring -
the use of the labour of persons engaged in the building of ships, and of the facilities of shipbuilding yards, to the best advantage;
What is there in this bill that ensures that the labour engaged in the construction of ships will he used to the best advantage? Is it contended that, as the result of the establishment of a government shipping line, labour engaged in shipbuilding will be used to better advantage than it would be used under private enterprise? Those who attempt to justify that statement completely ignore the results of all government essays in controls of this kind in the past. Honorable members on this side of the House have pointed repeatedly in this debate to the unfortunate results thathave always followed the intrusion of a government into matters of this kind. Therefore, the contention that, by establishing the shipping industry under government control we shall use labour to better advantage than it can be used by private enterprise is ridiculous. Let us remember that the history of industrial trouble throughout Australia during the last few years has shown clearly that more industrial trouble has developed in governmentcontrolled undertakings than in those conducted by private enterprise. Therefore, it cannot be contended either from the defence or any other standpoint that under this legislation, labour can be used to better advantage. The proposed amendment also states that the powers conferred on the Minister are for the purpose of ensuring -
It is admissible that if ships are to he constructed with an eye to their use in wartime, that is to say, to their defence value, some special features in design are advisable. But who will ensure that such standard designs as the board’ determines willbe of the kind to have a defence value? Nowhere in the bill or in the proposed amendment is such provision made. No provision is made for obtaining expert opinion in the designing of ships in order to make them of defence value in war time. The proposed amendment also provides that the powers conferred on the Minister are for the purpose of ensuring -
That proposal may be interpreted by some honorable members as being of defence value, but to me it seems much more likely to operate as a power in the hands of the Minister over the private shipping companies. The provision definitely specifies that the Minister may exercise control over the tonnage or design of ships and may give priority to such ships over the construction of other ships. In other words, private companies will be forced to take second place to the requirements of the Minister in the building of ships for the Commonwealth line. The proposed amendment states finally that the powers conferred on the Minister are for the purpose of ensuring -
That is the unkindest cut of all. The Government tells us that, under the cloak of defence, we shall have the advantage of economy in the cost of constructing ships. The position at present is that the British shipbuilding industry, in spite of the terrific drubbing that it received during the war, is producing ships that can be landed in Australia at a cost which, expressed in Australian currency, is 40 per cent less than the cost of building similar ships in this country. Under this bill, the Government proposes to provide a subsidy up to 25 per cent of the cost of building a ship in Australia, so it is evident that the shipping companies that require ships will still be required to pay a considerable amount in excess of the sum that they would pay for a similar British ship. However, the Government assures us, in the proposed amendment, that the powers conferred on the Minister will be for the purpose of ensuring economy in the cost of the construction of ships. It appears to me that defence considerations are being regarded as of only secondary importance, as they have been in all other measures that this Government has introduced, and as a means of enabling the Government to withstand a challenge to the validity of the bill on constitutional grounds. That, I regret to say, seems to be the real reason for introducing the defence question into this measure. In passing, I must say that I consider that defence is an important element in the Government’s activities, and it is regrettable that the same enthusiasm for defence was not evident whenthe Government introduced the Papua and New Guinea Bill, which related to matters of far greater importance in the defence of this country than the establishment of a Government shipping line. The Papua and New Guinea Bill provided for the transfer of the former mandated Territory of New Guinea, which is of vital importance to our defence, to the control of the United Nations.
Summing up, I admit that some need does exist for Government action to assist private enterprise in rehabilitating the shipbuilding industry, and, possibly, in establishing certain shipping lines to service outlying areas where, for the present at any rate, private enterprise cannot be expected to provide a service. After all, the ships owned by the private companies, and the men that they have trained in the mercantile marine, were freely used by the Government in war time. Therefore, a definite obligation devolves upon the Governmentto do everything in its power to assist the private shipping companies to recover their pre-war standards. However that necessity, I say definitely, does not justify the introduction of a bill that takes away from shipping companies the control of their own affairs and sets out to establish a national venture in shipbuilding which must place on the already over-burdened shoulders of the taxpayers an onerous load for which there is not the slightest justification.
Mr.FRANCIS (Moreton) [8.52].- I regret to say that I regardthisbill as one of the most dishonest measures that this Government or any of its predecessors has ever introduced into the Parliament. Although the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman), who moved the second reading of thebill, has professed that the object of the measure is primarily to establish the shipping industry in the Commonwealth, the obvious purpose of the legislation is to enable the Government to nationalize the shipping industry. According to the Minister, the bill has three main features. The honorable gentleman delivered a speech similar to that which the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) made in the Senate when he moved the second reading of the bill in that chamber last year. The Minister for Defence has explained that the first objective of the bill is to provide for the maintenance of an Australian mercantile marine. This bill is not required for that purpose. Great Britain and the United States of America have not passed similar legislation, and, in the past, the Australian Parliament has not found it necessary to do so, for that purpose. We in Australia have a firstrate mercantile marine, which did a splendid job in World War II. Every one has loudly praised the work of the men of the mercantile marine, who faced untold dangers and rendered extraordinarily good service in conveying our troops to various theatres of war, and in carrying our products to many parts of the world. We do not need this bill to provide for the maintenance of the mercantile marine in Australia.
According to the Minister for Defence, the second purpose of the bill is to maintain the shipbuilding industry in this country on an adequate scale. I again challenge the necessity for the legislation on that ground. We have had in Australia for a long time an excellent shipbuilding industry. Experience gained in World War II. has taught manage-, ments, engineers, shipbuilding architects and skilled artisans how to improve the construction of ships in many ways. I have no doubt in my mind that the reasons which the Minister has given for the introduction of the bill are not genuine. They are intended to camouflage the objective of the Government, which is to nationalize shipping in Australia. Obviously, the purpose of the bill is to enable the Government gradually to squeeze the private shipping companies out of business. As I have stated, shipbuilding in Australia has been carried on for a long time. It developed greatly
Ifr. Francis. during World War II. as the result of the efforts of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride), who was Minister for Supply and Shipping in the first two years of the war. Evans Deakin and Company Limited of Brisbane, came to the aid of the Government, and constructed many ships that have given valuable service. Those ships were, in the main, built at Rocklea and assembled on the banks of the Brisbane River near Bulimba. Walker Brothers, of Maryborough, have constructed ships for a long time. Because of the experience gained during the war, and the plans laid down by the Menzies Government and carried on, I am pleased to say, by the Labour Government, shipbuilding in Brisbane and Maryborough has developed by leaps and bounds. Shipyards in Sydney, Melbourne and, in particular, Whyalla in South Australia have also greatly expanded. When I was in Whyalla during the war, I was amazed at the development in the shipbuilding industry there. We do not need this bill to give us an incentive to build ships. Vessels were constructed in Australia long before this Government came into office. The socialist Government at Canberra has only continued the good work of antisocialist governments in previous years.
At this point, I desire to emphasize a particular matter. After the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) had condemned this bill in a devastating speech last Thursday, the Government foreshadowed a long amendment in an endeavour to withstand a challenge to the validity of the legislation on constitutional grounds. For the last few days, honorable members opposite have been stressing the importance of this bill in the interests of defence. When the Minister for Shipping and Fuel moved the second reading of the bill in the Senate last year, the defence aspect was almost completely ignored. Therefore, I say that the Government’s approach to this bill is dishonest in the extreme, and utterly unreal. Obviously, the sole object of the Government in introducing the bill is to nationalize the shipping industry. I remind honorable members opposite, in case they have forgotten, that the objective of the Australian Labour party. as amended on the 1st February, 1949, is -
The socialization of Industry, Production, Distribution and Exchange.
Every honorable member opposite has signedthe following pledge: -
I also pledge myself to actively support and advocate at all times the Party’s objective - the socialization of Industry, Production, Distribution and Exchange.
In addition to this general objective, paragraph 4 of the “ Method “ section of the federal objective and platform calls for the nationalization of -
Obviously, the Government, in introducing this bill, is endeavouring to give effect to paragraph c of the federal objective and platform of the Labour party. The Government has received (instructions to go ahead with the nationalization of the shipping industry. Knowing that it does not possess the power to nationalize the shipping industry directly, it is employing the backdoor method of squeezing the private companies out of the industry, although they have done so much to develop it. Another general objective of the Australian Labour party is the nationalization of public health. Honorable members are fully aware that the Government is endeavouring to give effect to that objective, and is meeting with obstacles in doing so. The people of Australia are opposed to the nationalization of industries. Therefore, the Government cannot proceed in an honest and straight-forward manner to nationalize the shipping industry and must resort to subterranean methods. Of course, it will fail. The Government proposes to nationalize banking, credit and insurance, monopolies, shipping and public health.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lazzarini). - Order! The bill does not contain any reference to public health, banking, credit and insurance. The honorable member is not entitled to wander all over the globe in debating the bill.
– I submit that I have every right to indicate that the nationalization of shipping is one of the objectives of the Australian Labour party, andthat indicates clearly-
– Order! The honorable member must obey the Chair.
– Shipping is only one of many industries which the Government is seeking to nationalize. It would like to nationalize radio broadcasting and sugar refining also. Of course, the Government is not game to do these things openly, and so it has resorted to subterranean methods. By claiming that its new shipping proposals are bound up with the defence of the country, the Government is attempting, in an indirect fashion, to achieve its purpose, but such bluffing; will not deceive any one. The Government has no mandate or authority to nationalize the shipping industry, anymore than it had for its attempt to nationalize banking. The statement of the Minister for Defence thatthe Government does not intend to nationalize shipping is unconvincing. If the Labour party believes that industry should be nationalized in accordance with the party’s platform, the decent thing would be to come out in the open, and say frankly that it is now intended to nationalize the shipping industry. Instead of doing that, however, the Government has resorted to dishonest methods. For instance, it has adopted the novel method of providing that ships 24 years of age must be deregistered. It is known that very few shipping companies have been able to build ships during the last ten or twelve years, so that most privately owned ships are getting old. It will not be long before most of them are 24 years old, and some of them have already reached that age. The bill provides that they cannot be sold or transferred, and so they must be written off. No ship can be built in Australia under this legislation unless a licence is obtained. The conditions attaching to the issue of a licence are designed to make it very difficult for private shipping companies to carry on. Those companies which wish to buy ships, even under the conditions laid down in the bill, will have to queue up behind the Government, which will take what it wants, leaving anything that is over for private enterprise. In a very short while, the private shipping companies will be squeezed out of business, and that is how the Government proposes to nationalize the industry. Clause 29 of the bill reads -
Thus, all ships built in Australia will have to conform to the prescribed pattern, and the skill and originality of designing engineers in the employ of private companies will count for little. The clause Further states - (3.) At the request of the licensee, the Minister may revoke a licence under this section or may revoke or vary any condition, or add to the conditions, to which such a licence is subject. (4.) A person shall not, except under a licence granted by the Minister under this section, and in accordance with any conditions to which the licence is subject, commence or continue the reconstruction of a ship to which this Part applies.
Penalty: One thousand pounds or, if the offence is a continuing offence, One thousand pounds for each day during which the offence continues.
That is not the way to encourage shipbuilding in Australia. The whole purpose of the legislation is to prevent the private shipping company from carrying on, thus giving the Government a monopoly. In the past, shipbuilding in Australia has been encouraged by means of a protective tariff. The Tariff Board examined costs and other relevant factors, and then recommended such protection as it thought necessary. The community was protected because the duty recommended by the Tariff Board was only high enough to ensure that the ships would be built at a reasonable cost. When the Government enjoys a monopoly, however, and when ships built overseas are prevented from trading on the Australian coast, the sky will be the limit so far as costs are concerned. Freights and fares will rise, and the increased transport costs will be reflected in higher retail prices. This is a country of great distances, and transport is tremendously important. When the Government has a monopoly of shipping, the development of Australia will be impeded, and industry will he crippled. The Government hopes, through this legislation, to bring about the nationalization of the shipping industry. The Constitution provides that property taken over by the Government must be acquired on just terms, but there will be no justice about the method which the Government will use, if it can, to obtain a monopoly of the shipping industry. Its methods will amount to confiscation. The nationalization of the industry will not encourage shipbuilding in Australia. That can be done most effectively by protective tariffs, or by subsidies. Of course, it is imperative that shipbuilding should be encouraged. Australia is becoming more and more an outpost of the Empire. ‘Due to the policy of the socialist Government of Britain we are losing contact with India, Ceylon and Bunna. Before long, Britain will have nowhere outside its own shores where ships can be repaired. Therefore, the establishment in Australia of an efficient shipbuilding industry with proper repair facilities is essential, 30 that we may repair and service the ships of Great Britain and the United States of America. Nothing in this legislation will help towards that end. Indeed, our shipping industry will decline, because costs will become prohibitive. Already, our transport services are being constantly interrupted by industrial disturbances inspired by Communists such as Healy, Elliott, Sharkey and Brown. They are the men who will take charge of the new shipping industry, too, when the Government puts its scheme into operation, and the position will go from had to worse.
In the past, the shipping industry contributed materially to the development of Australia. Such progress as has been made during the last eight years, while Labour governments have been in office, amounts to nothing more than carrying on the good work that was so well begun. Now, strikes and industrial disturbances, fomented by Communists, are hampering industry and causing grave shortages of raw materials. For instance the Queensland Government is trying to obtain iron ore from J apan. Every State government is faced with, a shortage of railway rolling stock and steel rails, and some are trying to obtain them from overseas. Supplies are being sought from overseas because of the shortage of supplies in this country. How on earth can we hope, in such an atmosphere, to develop a shipping industry? If the Government would focus its attention for a little time on trying to settle industrial disputes and on dealing with the Communists who are running this country, instead of forcing us to go overseas for our raw materials, it would be doing much more useful service than it is doing by introducing this measure. We have the example of the nationalization of the coal-mining industry of Britain. How has nationalization helped to develop the British coalmining industry?
-The honorable member must confine his remarks to the measure, which has uo connexion with the British coal-mining iudustry.
– I propose to show that, under nationalization, the coalmining industry in Britain has declined.
– The honorable gentleman is not entitled to pursue that line, which has no connexion with a measure that deals not with coal but with ships. He must not mention the British coal-mining industry.
– I desire to point out that I intend merely to quote an extract from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) who said that-
– The Chair has ruled that the honorable member must not proceed on that line-
– I desire to protest against your ruling, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker.
– I rise to order. I believe that in the course of debate it is permissible for an honorable member to quote remarks made by a previous speaker. As the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) desires only to quote remarks that were made by the leader of his party in the course of this debate, I consider that it is perfectly proper that he should do so.
– No point of order is involved. The Chair has ruled that the honorable member for Moreton may not canvass the coal-mining industry of Britain during a debate on a bill dealing with the Australian shipping industry. That ruling stands.
– I desire to quote the remarks made by my leader during the debate. That is all I propose to do. He said in his speech that coal was of vital importance to both Australia and Britain. In Australia, the coal industry is administered by the Joint Coal Board and in Britain the industry has been nationalized.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not discuss the British coal-mining industry. I am not concerned with whom he desires to quote. He must not proceed on that line.
– I merely wish to quote what has already been said in this debate.
– I cannot help that.
– I regret that there is one rule for one member of the House and another rule for another member of it. Socialization of industry has failed everywhere. The socialization of the coal-mining industry in Britain has failed. The socialization of the railways in Britain has also failed. The former government-owned shipping line in Australia also failed.
– If the honorable gentleman continues to defy the Chair 1 shall ask him to resume his seat.
– I repeat that the government-owned shipping line of Australia failed. The Canadian Government’s shipping line also failed, and I hope that I shall be permitted to show how. The Canadian line of ships failed to an extraordinary degree. It was established in parallel conditions to those surrounding the establishment of our own Commonwealth shipping line. The Canadian shipping line was established just after World War I. In 1921 it showed a deficit of 8,047,635 dollars; in 1922 it lost 9,368,670 dollars; in 1924 it lost 8,836,608 dollars; in 1925 it lost 7,667,512 dollars. After this long run of losses the Canadian Government did what the Bruce-Page Government did in Australia. It wound up its shipping line. Just as nationalization of shipping failed in Canada and has failed once before in Australia, so it will again fail in Australia. I could give the House a hundred and one examples of the effect of the nationalization of various industries. There are many such examples in New South Wales and other States. I shall quote examples in the State of Queens- Hand. In that State the Government set out to run State cattle stations and lost £1,647,817. It ran butcher shops and lost £46,936. It tried to run State fisheries :and lost £39,297. It tried to run canneries and lost £112,627. It tried to run a ^produce agency and lost nearly £20,000.
– The Queensland Government could not have tried very hard in the last instance.
– After those substantial losses the McCormack Government in Queensland found it impossible to run these enterprises, as the Australian Government will find it impossible to run its proposed shipping line. The Queensland Government liquidated those enterprises that had cost the State of Queensland £5,000,000, but the Queensland taxpayers are still paying interest on the amount of money that was lost. In New South Wales, losses on State enterprises were colossal. The Rozelle joinery works lost £28,000, the Botany brick works lost £31,000, the lime works lost £20,000, the timber yards lost £324,000, the power station lost £23,000, the saw mills lost £65,000, and the State trawlers lost £314,000. That was, in all, a total loss of £805,000. One could go into every State of the Commonwealth and find similar losses in State enterprises. Victoria lost £1.000,000 in State coalmining enterprises, and Western Australia and South Australia also suffered losses in State enterprises. Even the Tasmanian shipping line was operated at a loss. The Australian Government has spent £600,000 on an aluminium works and has got nowhere. It has laid out £4,370,000 through the Australian National Airlines Commission. In the first year of the operations of TransAustralia Airlines the loss was £505,927 and in the second year it was almost £300,000. We have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds already on overseas airlines. Let honorable members turn wherever they like, and they will find that on every occasion when the State has interfered with business its interference has cost the country hundreds of thousand of pounds. Whenever a government meddles in a commercial enterprise it is invariably a costly matter for the taxpayers whose money if squandered and who have to pay additional taxation to make up the losses incurred through the Government’s folly. When the Commonwealth shipping line was established by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) during his term as Prime Minister, it had every chance of success. Nevertheless many millions were lost on this venture. The Bruce-Page Government did everything possible to try to save the line. It reduced the cost of running the line and installed a new management. Despite all this re-organization the losses continued. The Government claims, that the present proposals are designed to keep down costs. But let us turn to the example of Trans-Australia Airlines. When it had been running for only a short time it, in concert with the Government, tried to force Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited to raise fares and freights. That was done in an effort to make the governmentowned airline pay.
The Government’s claims are grossly dishonest. The proposals in this bill are nothing but an effort by the Government to carry out the instructions that it has received from the Australian Labour party, to implement a policy of nationalization. The Government has not the courage to tell the people straight forwardly and honestly that’ its desire and intention in these proposals is to nationalize the shipbuilding industry. Instead, the Government is attempting to nationalize the shipbuilding industry by squeezing out of business, without compensation, the shipping companies of Australia, and I regret that so far the shipping companies have not protested as much as they should have done. I am opposed to the proposals because I believe that the nationalization of any industry means that that, industry will be a dismal failure from the start, as the whole history of State enterprises the world over, and particularly in Australia, shows. This Government appears to be unable to learn from experience. It stands condemned of being grossly dishonest in not telling the people the true design of this measure. T believe that nothing will more seriously prejudice the Government in the eyes of the public at the next general election than its dishonest and lying approach to legislation. The Government knows “ as well as I do that the design behind this legislation is not a simple proposal to build ships and to establish a mercantile marine. We already have a shipbuilding industry and a mercantile marine in Australia, and we have had them for a long time. I am quite satisfied that the Government, when it goes before the people at the next general election, will be called upon to defend this present proposal.
– On the face of it, this bill proposes to establish a national shipping line and also to maintain the shipbuilding industry of Australia. From the point of view of the primary producers the bill is very sinister indeed, for it definitely will establish .a complete monopoly in shipping around the Australian coast. The primary (producers .are very .greatly interested in the freight rates .operating on our coasts, not only because they have to send their produce to market by sea, but also because they must bring in by sea the agricultural machinery .and other requirements ‘that come from the capital cities of ‘.the ‘Commonwealth. -Shipping freight rates have .already had, in the past, a considerable effect on -railway Freight “rates in Australia and -anybody who desires ‘to see an example o’f the operations of a shipping company breaking 3own freight urates on the railways has only to study the freight rates that operated on the Newcastle -‘.Sydney ^railway -line, which .w.as ^operated in -competition with the .Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company Limited for many years. Primary producers believe that this bill will make shipping a government monopoly, but they fear a far greater danger, which is that, because other- shipping companies will not he able to come into competition with the government ships and force down freight rates, there will never be a reduction in rates. I would remind you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that I heard you this afternoon discoursing about lascars manning the whole of the shipping of the British Empire prior to the World War I. I heard you say that there were no British sailors employed on British cargo-carrying ships, and in fact, I think that you went so far as to say also on passenger lines. You said that when the war broke out lascars fled from the vessels on which they had been .employed, and later you conjured up thousands of British seamen, who, according to you, were non-existent, to take the place of the lascars who had failed in their duty. So, I believe that you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, have some knowledge of ships, either fictional or factual.
– The honorable member must not -reflect on the .Chair.
Mi-. ABBOTT- 1 am not reflecting on the Chair; I am paying tribute to “the ancient mariner “, who” gave us his discourse earlier. Some years ago, when an alleged combination of shipping companies, which was operating on the Australian coast, was keeping freights -up. a young and active competitor in James Patrick and Company Proprietary Limited appeared with the support of the merchants of Sydney and Melbourne. That company brought about a reduction of freights by competition, the only possible -method. I ask a -question that has -already been asked m-an-y times in this debate but has not been answered. ‘What have government instrumentalities ever done to reduce the .cost -.of .commodities or service .to the people .of Australia-? The Government owns 61 per cent, of the -shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) ^Limited sand in Commonwealth -Oil Refineries Limited, hut .neither of those -concerns has .shown the ‘slightest interest in reducing the prices .of jits products, -Despite what ‘the ‘Minister for Defence <(?M»r. Dedman) has .said -about ..the bill being designed to prevent undue rises of shipping freights, experience has shown that the Australian Shipping Board has not had that effect. The board’s operations have resulted in neither reduced freights nor economical shipping. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) presented figures which showed that the general cargo rate for freight between Sydney and Melbourne rose from 22s. a ton in the year ended the 30th June, 1939, to 67s. a ton in the year ended the 30th June, 1948. That completely refutes the claim of the Minister that governmental control of shipping tends to reduce freights. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) presented statistics of shipping operating on the Australian coast that are a sad commentary on the inefficiency that occurs, through a cause completely beyond the control of the shipowners, that is, the slow turn-round of ships in ports owing to the operations of the Stevedoring Industry Commission and of the Waterside Workers Federation under the direction of the chief controller of the union, the Communist, Healy. Healy, it will be remembered, went to Brisbane when the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Hanlon, had a fight of his life on his hands to settle the railway strike, and, contrary to the law and the wishes of the Stevedoring Industry Commission, of which he is a member, Healy called out the waterside workers in that city. When challenged at a meeting of the Stevedoring Industry Commission, Healy Save the same reply as we have become accustomed to from others like him, such as Mr. Sharkey, the general secretary of the Communist party of Australia, that his first loyalty was to the Communist party and not to the Australian nation. Healy’s loyalty in Queensland was to the Waterside Workers Federation and not to the Stevedoring Industry Commission. So long as the Government allows men of his type to sit on its boards and commissions, it will he impossible for a government shipping line or a private shipping company to maintain efficient shipping services. The Minister for Defence, who draws all sorts of deductions from figures, ought to draw the proper deduction from the figures given by the honor- able member for Wakefield, who pointed out that in 1948 there was 42 per cent, more dead weight tonnage in the Australian coastal trade than in June, 1939. The tonnage in June, 1939, was 410,650 compared with 586,050 tons in June, 1948, an increase of 175,400 tons. Yet, notwithstanding the 42 per cent, increase of the tonnage of the Australian coastal shipping, cargoes carried have fallen by 7.62 per cent, a year. In addition to the increase of shipping tonnage, facilities for handling cargoes in Australian ports were greater than in 1939, largely because of the impetus of the war and the introduction of American methods into the loading and unloading of ships. But the waterside workers, who are controlled by Healy, have imposed a darg on the loading, unloading and stacking of cargoes. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Wakefield, the Government, has allowed infiltration of notorious Communists into instrumentalities supposedly designed to facilitate the loading, unloading and transport of cargoes. We have Healy on the Stevedoring Industry Commission and Elliott from the Seamen’s Union, on the Maritime Industry Commission. Others like them are in key positions. Yet the Government always claims to be bitterly opposed to Communists. If it were genuinely opposed to them, if would cull them out of their positions of trust in which they are able without hindrance to prevent the smooth operation of the stevedoring industry and the shipping industry in Australia. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Davidson) has already shown that whereas before the war ships engaged in the Australian coastal trade spent three weeks at sea and one week in port every month, to-day they spend one week at sea and three weeks in port. If ships were turned round more quickly in the Australian ports, there would be not only a saving of freight to shippers but also a saving of £2,500,000 a year to the Australian Government. The Government was paying that much up to the end of June, 1948, for the fifteen ships that it chartered for the Australian coastal trade. The main reason for the inflated freights on the Australian coastal trade is the inadequate supply of labour in the ports of Sydney, Newcastle and Port Kembla.
If sufficient labour were provided by the Waterside Workers Federation in those three key ports through which most of the cargoes pass to their destinations, ships could be turned round much more quickly. If the Waterside Workers Federation would open its books, more labour would be available, the ships would be turned round much more speedily and operational costs would greatly be reduced with the result that the need to charter ships would disappear. Time and time again the Waterside Workers Federation has said that if certain concessions were given to its members, it would provide the labour needed to enable a quick turn-round of ships. At one time, Healy promised the Stevedoring Industry Commission that adequate labour would be provided if the waterside workers were granted appearance money. When it was granted, there was no improvement. His promise, like all promises by Communists, was mere humbug. Then it was said that if annual leave were granted to the waterside workers, the necessary labour would be provided. Annual leave was granted to them, but the promised additional labour was not forthcoming. The granting of those two amenities produced nothing but sadness amongst the people who were forced to foot a bill of £650,000 a year for them. That money was not paid by the Government. It was passed on by the shipowners to the public in increased freights. If that is typical of what we shall have to face in Australia as the result of the introduction of this legislation, we can have no hope of a reduction of freights. Ships operated by the Commonwealth Shipping Board in three years lost more than £10,000,000. Had additional ships not had to be chartered, £7,500,000 of that sum would have been saved. There would have been no reason for the chartering of those ships had the waterside workers worked as well in 1948 as they did in 1939. Clause 29 of the bill provides - (1.) The Minister may, in his discretion, grant licences for the construction of ships to which this Part applies. (2.) A licence under the last preceding subsection may be granted subject to such conditions relating to the tonnage, design, fittings, gear and time, place, standards and methods of construction of the ship as the Minister determines.
The honorable member for Wilmot described the various classes of steamers constructed for the Commonwealth Shipping Board during and since the war. He described the “ D “ class ships and mentioned one vessel, Dorrigo. Dorrigo was, I understand, one of the first class “ D class vessels turned out. On its maiden voyage from Newcastle to Wyndham, which should not have lasted more than a fortnight, this argosy was at sea for about three months. The reason was that the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, who must have known nothing at all about shipbuilding, and the gentleman who designed the vessel, were not content to install a boiler manufactured by Babcock and Wilcox Limited, or any other boiler that had stood the test of time and experience but insisted on a boiler made to the order of the designer of the vessel. The complacent Minister, who knew no more about boilers than he does about primus stoves, was content to allow the ‘boiler to be installed. Owing to continual breakdowns, the ship took three months to travel from Newcastle to Wyndham. I understand that ultimately the boiler had to be removed from the vessel and replaced by one of the tried modern boilers.
– Who told the honorable gentleman that fairy story?
– It is not a fairy story, and the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) knows that it is not. It is true, and not like the stories that the honorable gentleman has told us in the past about the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and some of its employees. He can make inquiries to ascertain who designed the boiler and who was responsible for its installation. I have referred to that case in order to illustrate what may happen when a ship is designed in government yards, where a person is allowed to experiment with boilers and to install in ships, with disastrous results, gear that is inefficient or that has not been tested.
Clause 31 provides - (1.) A person shall not, except with the consent of the Minister (proof whereof shall lie upon him) -
transfer a ship to which this Part applies and which is registered in Australia or is owned, managedor controlled by a person resident in Australia or by a body corporate whose principal .place -of business is in Australia, or any share in any such ship, to a person not resident in Australia or to a body corporate whose principal place o’f business is not in Australia;
make application for the transfer of the registration of any such ship from a port of registry in Australia to a port of registry outside Australia.
That is one of .the most vital clauses .of the bill. It will mean, if it is passed, that when a ship on the Australian register reaches the age of 24 years the Minister may refuse >to consent to its sale overseas or refuse to issue a licence in respect of it. If he did so refuse, the unfortunate shipowner would have no means of disposing of the vessel other than by selling it to a ship-breaker to be broken up for scrap iron. The clause is designed deliberately to smash existing Australian shipping companies and any other companies that may enter the industry later and to evade the requirement of the Australian Constitution that property shall not be acquired by the ‘Government other than on just terms. A clause such as this must inevitably drive private shipping companies from the Australian coastal shipping trade and prevent them from competing against the ‘Government monopoly. Clause 30 deals with the licensing of ships and the routes on which they may operate. ‘Under its provisions, the Minister could force the Australian Shipping Board to grant licences only to the ships to which he desired them to be granted. He could favour governmentowned vessels by granting licences for them to operate on the more lucrative shipping routes and by granting to private companies licences to operate only on uneconomic routes. It is another clause which, if passed, will sound the death-knell of the private shipping companies of Australia.
The intention of the Government is, by means of this measure, to create a government monopoly of interstate shipping and to drive the privately-owned shipping lines out of business. The members of the Australian Country party are violently opposed to the measure. If a government monopoly is established, there will be no likelihood of freight rates being reduced. The hidden forces which exert such pressure on the Government, to which the Government salaams and to whose wishes it always accedes, will prevent freight rates from being reduced. They will continue to delay transport services in Australia by all possible means in order to create chaos. Tn those circumstances, freight rates will not be reduced. The operation of the bill will be -detrimental to the Australian primary producers because it will eventually .eliminate the competition that now exists between the private shipping companies and the railways. I hope that the next Australian non-Labour government will act in the same way as the Bruce-Page Government acted.
– It will be a long time bef ore there is a non-Labour government.
– The Minister is, like the weather prophets, usually wrong. When such a government comes into power I hope that it will relieve the Australian people of this burden which is to be imposed upon them and allow once again free competition in the Australian coastal trade so that freight rates may be reduced to the lowest possible figure.
– This bill provides for the establishment of a government shipping board, a government shipping line and a .government shipbuilding industry. It is of tremendous importance to the people o’f Tasmania, whose life-blood is shipping. Ninety-five per cent, of the goods transported from the mainland to Tasmania is carried by ships. The bill is of vital interest to Tasmanian primary producers, because it is essential that their perishable or semi-perishable products which have to marketed on the mainland should arrive at their destinations as soon as possible. Almost all of the heavy freight which comes from the mainland to Tasmania comes by sea. Only a negligible quantity is transported by air. In the course of his speech, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) went to great pains, as did the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) in another place, to show that this bill will not mean nationalization. Every government supporter ‘-who .has ‘-spoken in .this debate has .reiterated that statement, but it is obvious that, by means of ‘this ‘measure, the G overnment is taking a real step to .implement one of the aims of -the Labour party, which is the nationalization of .the shipping industry. All members of the Federal Parliamentary Labour party have signed a -pledge to that effect. It will .be remembered that at a conference of the Labour party which was held in Canberra recently the main plank of .the party’s platform, which is the nationalization of the means of production, distribution and exchange, was strongly reaffirmed, and ako that shipping was specifically mentioned as being one of the immediate objectives of the party. It has often been .said by honorable members opposite that the Australian G overnment has -no constitutional power to nationalize a particular industry. That is true, but there are indirect means of doing so. One of them, which is now being adopted by the Government, is to apply a gradual squeezing process to the industry to which attention is being directed. The first step towards the nationalization of an industry is to establish a government board. The penalties, ministerial powers and licences which follow upon that step tend to give the Government undertaking a distinct advantage in that industry. We have seen examples of that process recently in regard to such industries as banking, wireless, and air transport. I contend that the Government, by means of this measure, is taking the first major step towards the complete nationalization of the snipping industry.
I should agree completely with the bill if it provided for cheaper freights, the quicker turn-round of ships and the provision of more ships, and if the Government instrumentality could be operated with reasonable economy. I have used the word “ reasonable “ advisedly. With regard to cheaper freights, the answer of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) to a question that was addressed to him by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) recently was very illuminating. According to the Minister, on the 2nd Octo’ber, 1939, the freight rate from Sydney to Melbourne was 26s. -4d. .a ton .and -on the 1st -May, 1941, :it’ was 2.6s. -lid. a -ton. .In two years there was “an .increase of only 7d. <a ton. On the oth .November, 1948, the rate was 67’s. a ton. It had increased by considerably more than 100 per cent. On the 2nd Octo’ber, 1939, the freight rate from Sydney to .Fremantle was 51s. 7d. a ton, on the 1st May, 1941, it was 50 s. 6d. a ton, and on the 5th November, .1948, it was 88s. a ton. .In the last annual .report of the Tariff Board, it was .stated that the cost of freight to and from Tasmania had increased by 100 per cent, since before the war. The point that I wish .to -emphasize strongly is that that increase occurred when shipping was under government control. Cheap sea transport is essential to the people of Tasmania and Western Australia. The present high cost of sea transport is one of the reasons why the cost of living in Tasmania is very high. The problem of the quicker turn-round of ships has not been tackled properly. Before the war Talune made 23 round trips a year, but now the average number of trips a year is six or eight, or roughly one-third of the pre-war number. Before the war gangs on the waterfront handled approximately 25 tons an hour, but now larger gangs handle only an average of 14 to 16 tons an hour. In 1939 the wage rate of waterside workers was 2s. lOd. an hour and the total cost of handling was 4s. to 4s. 6d. a ton. In 1948 the wage rate was -4s. 2£d. an hour and the cost of handling was approximately 12s. 6d. a ton. Although the wage rate increased by approximately 50 per cent., the cost of handling increased by 300 per cent. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has said that one of the reasons for the slower turnround of ships is that the majority of ships now carry twice the amount of cargo that they carried in 1939. The real reason for the slow turn-round is the position on the waterfront, the difficulties of which have been considerably accentuated by the actions of men such as Healy and Elliott, who are well known to all of us in this chamber. It is noteworthy that Mr. Healy, who is one of the members of the Stevedoring Industry Commission, a body that was established by the Australian Government, recently engineered a stop-work meeting in
Brisbane and then flew to Western Australia. That in itself was a most reprehensible action. He is a known Communist who was appointed to the commission by this Government and he has deliberately flaunted the commission of which he is a member. Most of the strikes that have caused havoc in our general industrial setup have occurred in the transport industries, notably in the railways and tramways. As the result of those strikes, primary producers in particular have been severely hit and housewives and business people generally have been subjected to great inconvenience. It is noteworthy that on many occasions private enterprise has been called in to help the State governments out of their dilemmas. Private bus-owners have been approached to assist in solving the transport chaos arising from the actions of government employees. Because in the past strikes have prevented government instrumentalities from continuing in operation no one can really believe that nationalization of industry is the cure of our industrial ills.
This bill contains two most restrictive clauses. Clauses 29 and 30 provide that no ship shall engage in interstate trade except under licence from the Minister, that no licence shall be granted for ships more than 24 years old, and that a licence may not be granted for a ship to engage in the Australian coastal trade unless it has been built in an Australian shipyard. Even if a cheaper and better vessel were available in Great Britain an Australian shipping company might not be permitted to buy it if this bill becomes law. It is difficult to understand why such a restrictive provision has been inserted in the bill when it is generally known that at present Great Britain is building 50 per cent, of the world’s shipping. We surely owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Great Britain for the tremendous help they gave to us during the war. If every dominion adopted the attitude taken by this Government in relation to the shipbuilding industry, a very substantial part of Great Britain’s overseas market for ships would be lost. Let us consider what has happened to other government enterprises in the past. State enterprises which were begun under the control of a Queensland government corporation during the period from 1915 to 1920 are now in the final stages of liquidation. The latest available figures show that the total net investment of Queensland Treasury funds in such enterprises at the 30th June 1944, including all amounts written off, and all investments from trust fund, and after deducting certain profits paid into revenue, was £2,087,236. The remaining assets of these enterprises are now valued at £301,079. The net indebtedness to the Treasury was £1,029,441. Here are some of the actual losses incurred by enterprises conducted by successive governments in Queensland. On governmentowned cattle stations the losses amounted to £1,647,871; on butcher shops they amounted to £39,538; on a government-owned cannery the loss amounted to £112,627; and on a government controlled produce agency the loss amounted to £19,529. The total losses on current enterprises to the 30th June, 1948. were as follows : -
The list of State enterprises which I have quoted covers a very wide field of industry. In every case the State enterprises established in Queensland have resulted in a most substantial loss to the taxpayers. Honorable members opposite have said a good deal about the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers which was established after World War I. Their extravagant claims were very ably rebutted by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). As that line has been so extensively dealt with during this debate it is, I think, only right that I should mention some facts about the Tasmanian Government’s experience in the shipping industry in the late ‘twenties. The history of that venture was recounted in the Senate some time ago. The honorable senator who told the story said that in the late ‘twenties a non-Labour Government of Tasmania had bought a fleet of four small steamers, two of the vessels being intended for use in the trade between Tasmania and Flinders and King Islands, and the remaining two for general use as freighters in the Australian trade. He indicated that the Government had operated the vessels for nearly three years at a loss, and that when a Labour government came into power two of the ships were immediately sold. In fact they were almost given away. He said that r.he two ships sold were Poolta, the largest of the four vessels, and Melbourne, an older ship, but still practically new. He said that Poolta had originally cost £68,000 and Melbourne £59,500 but that both vessels had been sold by the Labour government for £26,000, or one-sixth of their original value. In that transaction, on the basis of the original value of the ships, the Government lost £101,600. In addition it sustained a trading loss of £100,000 in the three years of their operation, making a total loss of £201,000. The remaining two ships continued to operate for from three to five years, the average loss incurred on their operation amounting to £40,000 annually. I say frankly that there are some aspects of this bill with which I agree but that on the overall view I regard it as a dangerous measure. The Government would have done better to have devoted its energies to solving the real problem of assisting the shipping industry by granting subsidies to the private shipping companies instead of kicking them out of business as it apparently intends to do. This bill conforms to the socialist pattern that has been a noteworthy feature of the legislation introduced by this Government in relation to banking, airways, broadcasting and other matters. At long last the people are being given a clear and convincing indication of the direction in which the Government is relentlessly heading. The Government is pledged to implement the socialization programme of the Labour party to the fullest degree and it will do so if it remains in office. If, at the next election, the people again return the Government to power it will be a sorry day for the people of Australia.
– Honorable members opposite have made a remarkable approach to this bill. They have skilfully avoided dealing with the real purposes of the measure. It has been said by them that if this bill is passed private enterprise will be ruined, the Shipping Board will be controlled by Communists and freights will rise to unprecedented levels. The history, of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, which operated after World War I., proves how erroneous those statements are. The fears expressed by honorable members opposite about what will happen if the bill is passed are completely answered by the history of the Commonwealth’s earlier venture in the shipping industry. The Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was not controlled by Communists. Its operations did not, as honorable members opposite have said, result in a general increase of freight rates. On the contrary, it conferred great benefits on the primary producers of Australia who represent the section of the community which should at all costs be protected against increased freight charges. In their efforts to attack this bill honorable members opposite have completely disregarded the facts. It has been said that if the Commonwealth enters the shipbuilding field the British shipbuilding industry and the British people generally will be adversely affected. On the contrary, a soundly established shipbuilding industry in Australia would constitute a great asset to Great Britain. Honorable members on this side of the House have stressed the present world-wide shortage of shipping, especially of British shipping. If, as the result of the efforts of this Government, Australia can build sufficient ships to meet the requirements of the Australian coastal trade, the strain on the British shipbuilding industry will be eased. The establishment of a shipbuilding industry in Australia on a sound economic basis will enable us to retain skilled shipwrights in Australia. It would be a shame if Australians associated with the shipbuilding industry left that field of employment to engage in other occupations or were attracted to other countries in which the shipbuilding industry is flourishing. The Australian shipbuilding industry will make a very notable contribution to the defence of this country. If the Australian shipbuilding industry to be established under this bill is able to relieve the shipbuilding industry in Great, Britain,*if it is able to assist us to maintain reasonable freight rates for primary producers and other exporters, and if it is
– in reply - I begin my reply to the second-reading debate on this bill by reading a statement which, I think, will have the support of every honorable member, regardless of the political party to which he belongs. I refer to the words that are used in a part of the preamble to the bill. They are as follows : -
And whereas it is desirable in the interests of the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth and of the several States to establish the shipping industry and the shipbuilding industry in the Commonwealth on an adequate scale and to maintain those industries in continuous operation:
– Why did not the Minister emphasize that fact when moving the second reading of the bill ?
– ‘The words are contained in the preamble, and I do not believe that any honorable member will disagree with them.
– That is so.
– The statement is couched in language appropriate to the bill, which will, in due course, take its place as an act on the statute-book of this country, and, in due course also, will be recognized as the foundation stone in the establishment of an industrial activity that has been sadly neglected in this country.
– The industry has already been established.
– The preamble is couched in legal language. I make a re-statement of it in other language, as follows : ‘” Any government which neglects to take action, in the interests of the naval and military defence of its country, to establish the shipping industry and the shipbuilding industry on an adequate scale and maintain those industries in continuous operation will be recreant to the trust imposed in it by the people who elected it “.
– Would that remark apply to Switzerland?
– I have no time to deal with the interjection by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), but I point out that Switzerland has a mercantile marine, even though the honorable member may not be aware of the fact. I have re-stated the preamble in those terms in order to proceed a little further. I propose to examine the action that three different countries, one of which is Australia, have taken in order to achieve the desirable end to which I have referred. First, I shall deal with the United States . of America. For a long time, the United States has taken steps to ensure that an adequate mercantile marine is established and a shipbuilding industry is maintained on an adequate scale in that country. The method which the United States has adopted is to pay subsidies to American shipping companies. In proof of that statement, I quote from Harper’s Magazine of last November, as follows: -
The shipping industry has been subsidized by the Government in one way or another for many years. Current subsidies to the merchant marine are running close to the the $100,000,000 a year on top of all the rich benefits provided these companies by the Government in the past.
I turn now to the United Kingdom. In this instance, it is true, bankers, industrial magnates and shipping magnates and fascist appeasers combined to almost kill the shipping industry in the United Kingdom, iti the early “DSD’s. If honorable members will read a book entitled The Town That Was Murdered, by Ellen Wilkinson, who was a prominent member of the British Labour party, they will obtain all the evidence of the decline of the British shipbuilding industry at that time. I propose to read two or three extracts from the book. The first is as follows : -
In Jarrow conditions were worsening. As no orders were received in 1030, 1931 was a bad year. Only one ship was launched, but a little additional work was ensured by the building of the centre section of the oil tanker Saranac. By June, 1931, there were 6,700 unemployed in Jarrow, just double the number of a year before. Nearly threequarters of the working population of the town were out of work. By the summer of 1932 over 7,000 were on the dole. Eighty per cent, of the insured population were without work.
A further passage reads as follows : -
Holders of the ordinary shares of the debentures ‘received nothing. The workmen, who in the better days of the company had invested their savings, were left with worthless script. Share certificates, Which had represented hard-earned money, were worthless. For many of them, forced on to the dole by the closing of the company, it was a terrible shock. Protests were made, but nothing effective could be done unless the Government was prepared to act. In reply to a question in the House, Mr. Runciman coldly said: “Nothing is to be gained, by giving. Jarrow the impression that its shipyard can be revived. The best thing is to make a clean sweep of the premises, and throw open to purchase one of the best sites in the world for the establishment of prosperous new industries.” That phrase “one of the best sites in the world” is to recur with tragic irony in the next chapter of Jarrow’s sorrow. Runciman’s words sealed Palmer’s fate as later he was to seal Prague’s. 1 pause here to make the point that Mr. “Runciman, to whom the reference is made, was an appeaser of fascism who sold out Czechoslovakia. The writer also states -
For forty years, shipbuilding is exiled from Jarrow. The irony waa that in a shortage of tramp shipping eighteen months later, British orders were undertaken by Belgian yards at cut prices, because they had bought first-class machinery at Palmer’s sale for the price of scrap.
– I rise to order. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the Minister is able to vouch for the accuracy -of the statements that he is making?
-Order! 1. think that the Minister is entitled, to :make any references that he desires.
– In accordance with the rules of the House of Commons, .1 am entitled to ask whether the Minister vouches for the accuracy of the statements that he is making.
- No point of order is involved.
– I ask for your ruling.
– I have given my ruling. The Minister is entitled to make any references that he desires. The Chair does not accept the responsibility on any occasion of saying whether any matter quoted by an honorable member is correct or otherwise. I do noi think that many honorable members would be able to stand up to such a test if it were applied to them. The Minister is entitled to make the statement.
– I rise to order.
– There is no point of order.
– I desire to take o further point of order. You said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Minister is entitled to make a statement on any question he desires. During this debate, you have confined honorable members fairly strictly to the terms of the bill under” consideration. I submit that the Minister is wandering all over the place, and that his remarks are not applicable to the Shipping Bill.
– ‘Sit down, and do not be insulting.
– Order ! I do not know whether the honorable member for Richmond thinks that he is being facetious.
– I take exception to that remark.
– Order ! I do not want to deal with the honorable member, but I will not allow the Minister to be interrupted again. He is entitled to the time that is allotted to him to reply to matters raised in the debate,, and 1 will see that he is heard in silence. Honorable members have stressed that the Government is not -acting wisely in proceeding to establish the shipping industry. The Minister is entitled to point out that, in his opinion, such submissions are not right. His speech is in order, and I ask honorable members not to interrupt him again.
-Will you state, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) was in order in speaking from a place other than the seat that he normally occupies in the chamber?
– Order ! An honorable member is entitled to speak from any seat in the House.
– While it is true that bankers, industrial magnates, shipping magnates and appeasers of fascism combined to cause the shipping industry in the United Kingdom to fall into decay in the early 1930’s, nevertheless the British Government did wake up to its responsibilities in 1935, when it placed on the statute-book the British Shipping (Assistance) Act. One of the conditions governing the granting of assistance to shipowners under that measure was as follows : -
If it is good enough for the United Kingdom Government to subsidize shipping on the condition that the vessels shall be constructed in British shipyards, surely it is good enough for the Australian Government, when giving assistance to the Australian shipping industry, to ensure that the ships will be built in Australian shipyards.
– I do not want to interrupt the Minister, but-
– And I do not want to be interrupted.
-Is it fair to remind the Minister that Mr. Walter Runciman was a prominent member of the government that introduced the legislation to which he has referred?
– That may be perfectly true, but it does not alter the fact that Mr. Runciman, later Lord Runciman, sealed the fate of Prague.
– The Minister’s history is grossly inaccurate.
– Order ! The Minister is entitled to be heard in silence.
– Later the government of the day in the United Kingdom formulated additional proposals to assist the British shipping industry. The president of the Board of Trade at that time was Mr. Oliver Stanley. On the 28th March, 1939, he outlined to the House of Commons the Government’s proposals for assisting shipping and the shipbuilding industry in Great Britain. I shall read some passages from his statement to the House. They are as follows : -
It is proposed to make available a sum of £2,750,000 a year for a period of five years by way of subsidy for tramp shipping including vessels in the deep sea and near trades but not the coasting trade. . . .
As a condition of establishing this Committee, the Government will expect the liner section of the industry so to organize itself as to be in a better position to defend itself without Government financial assistance. . . .
The Government proposes also to ask Parliament to make available a sum of £10,000,000 for loans to shipowners over a period of two years on favorable terms for the purpose of building in Great Britain tramps and cargo liners (other than refrigerated vessels and passenger vessels ) , including tramps and cargo liners intended for the coasting trade. . . .
While the Government have reached the conclusion that in present circumstances and as a temporary measure financial assistance under the schemes outlined above is necessary in order to ensure the provision of new ships for our merchant fleet and increased work for our shipyards, they will require the shipping and shipbuilding industries to consider together the possibility of devising means for securing in the future the more Tegular ordering of new tonnage.
I have been quoting from volume 345 of Hansard, of the House of Commons, at page 1855. I have quoted from the British act of 1935, and have told honorable members what is being done in the United States of America. I have quoted from a statement by the President of the Board of Trade in the United Kingdom made in 1939 on the eve of the war. My purpose has been to show that in the United States of America and in the United Kingdom action was being taken to ensure that what is set out in the preamble of this bill should be done in those countries to maintain an adequate mercantile marine, and foster the shipbuilding industry. I maintain that any government of a maritime country which failed to take such action would be recreant to its trust. Australian antiLabour governments, when in office, took no steps to do what has been done in the
United Kingdom and the United States of America. It has been left to a Labour government to encourage shipbuilding and maritime services in Australia as they have been encouraged in Great Britain and the United States of America. The Leader of the Opposition said that I wa3 making untrue statements, but I am able to quote documents to prove the truth of what I have said. The proposals embodied in the bill were initiated at a meeting of the War Cabinet in 1944. As Minister for War Organization of Industry I put forward a proposal as the result of which an inter-departmental committee was set up to make a complete survey of the shipping industry. The committee made certain recommendations which were adopted by Cabinet, and now form the basis of this bill. The report is a fairly long one. In the first chapter the committee discusses the value of a permanent shipbuilding industry, and I quote the following passage: -
The contribution which the shipbuilding Industry could make to employment is clearly indicated by the fact that, whereas before the war the employees engaged numbered a few hundred, the numbers directly employed at the present time total about 10,000. The number would be raised well above 20,000 for the programme in hand were it not for the man-power shortage and the fact that about 10,000 are at present employed on repairs to British, Allied, and Australian Naval and Merchant ships.
In the following chapter this passage occurs : -
The industry continued to be active until 1924 when all contracts were completed. Thereafter shipbuilding activity declined. The postwar shipping shortage eased and overseas construction costs fell. Australian shipowners naturally were not inclined to purchase Australianbuilt ships when they could obtain their requirements overseas, at much lower cost.
As a matter of fact, Australian shipowners never patronized the Australian shipbuilding industry until they were compelled to do so. The passage continues -
From 1024 until the outbreak of the present war there was an almost complete cessation of building activity. There was a small amount of intermittent naval building and construction on government account, but most of the yards established during the war-time burst of activity became idle and the equipment waa dismantled and put to other uses. In 1933 the Cockatoo Island shipyard was leased to a private company, in order that it might eke out an existence on work other than shipbuilding … At the outbreak of the present war, Australia had but one shipyard - that at Cockatoo Island - in active operation, the other establishments which entered into shipbuilding during the 1918-24 period had all. to greater or lees extent, dismantled their shipbuilding equipment, and reverted to other work. A shipyard which existed at Adelaide had entirely disappeared, and that at Walsh Island had fallen into such a state of decay as to be unusable. The men previously em played on shipbuilding had, to a great extent, settled in other occupations, and were not avail able to re-commence shipbuilding. But for the numbers of shipbuilding men employed at Cockatoo, which has existed on repair work rather than shipbuilding for years previously, the industry was practically defunct. As far as materials required for shipbuilding are concerned, the position changed considerably between 1924 and the outbreak of the present war.
Does the Leader of the Opposition question that report, which was compiled by reliable men? I shall give their names in a minute or two.
– Will the Minister give me the report?
– No, I will not. It is a confidential report.
– The Minister is up to his usual game.
– The Leader of the Opposition knows that it is not customary to make confidential reports available.
– It is a custom for Ministers to quote from them such little bits as suit themselves.
– I cannot remember the names of all the members of the committee, but I know that one was a naval man, Engineer Bear-Admiral McNeil. Others were Dr. Coombs, of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, and Mr. Sutcliffe, an officer of what was then the Department of Supply and Shipping. There were three other members on the committee, all the members of which were reliable public servants; and public servants do not make untrue statements. It is true that, before the war, anti-Labour governments failed to maintain an adequate mercantile marine or to foster the shipbuilding industry in Australia. It might be going too far to say that they murdered the shipbuilding industry as the shipbuilding industry of the town of Jarrow was murdered, but they certainly allowed it to starve to death. The preamble to the bill sets out the reasons for introducing the measure. All the speeches of Opposition members have been similar in character. So far as any new matter was concerned, the debate was actually finished when the Leader of the Opposition made his speech. All other members of the Opposition repeated his views in parrot fashion, with one exception. That was the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) who had his own reasons for disagreeing with the Leader of the Opposition when he said that he did not like embargoes. I interjected to ask whether it was not a fact that the suger industry was protected by an embargo, and the honorable member said that it was not. His statement was untrue, because the sugar industry in Queensland is supported by an embargo.
– There is an exception to every rule. I still disagree with embargoes.
– The Leader of the Opposition asked rhetorically, “ Is it felt that the shipbuilding industry can be carried on in small yards “ ? There is a shipbuilding yard at Maryborough, in the electorate of the honorable member for Wide Bay, and it is the smallest yard in Australia. If the Leader of the Opposition had answered his question it would have been in the negative and that would have been hard on. the shipbuilding yard at Maryborough.
Because the Leader of the Opposition said everything that was to be said by the Opposition about this bill, with the exception of the contribution by the honorable member for Wide Bay, it is easy for me to reply. It would be interesting to speculate on the reasons why such a deadly monotony pervaded the speeches of members of the Opposition. It would seem, almost, that they were speaking to a brief prepared, no doubt, by the shipping magnates, the big business interests, and the appeasers of fascism in this country. Also, it appears that honorable members opposite believe that their only hope of winning the next election is to instil in the minds of the public, by fair means or foul, the idea that this Government is bent on nationalizing as many industries as possible. The third inference that might be drawn from the monotony of the debate is that the Leader of the Opposition has formed the opinion, since he came back from abroad, that his party has lost prestige, and that drastic steps must be taken to recover the lost ground..
The right honorable gentleman had something to say about the nationalization or, as he called it, the socialization, of industry. His remarks on that topic had nothing to do with the bill. Honorable members opposite will readily concede that I, at least, if not other members of the Government, would have had a very good look at the matter in order to see whether it was in the best interest of the public to nationalize the shipping industry. I admit that I did examine the matter from that angle, and rejected such an approach. The Minister who introduced this bill in the Senate declared, as 1 have declared in this chamber, that the Government does not intend to nationalize either the shipbuilding industry or the shipping industry itself. The Leader of the Opposition, with his talk of socialization, would have the people believe that all members of the Labour party believe in nationalizing everything, while members of the Opposition do not believe in nationalizing anything. That is a false and fraudulent statement of the position. Honorable members on this side of the House believe that certain public utilities should be nationalized. Honorable members on the other side of the House also believe that certain public utilities should be nationalized. Is it not a fact that an anti-Labour government in South Australia recently nationalized the electricity industry in that State ? Is it not a fact that the Premier of South Australia, who is not a member of the Australian Labour party, is running a socialized industry which is producing coal at Leigh Creek? The truth it that honorable members on this side of the House are no different from honorable members opposite in their belief that certain public utilities should be nationalized. Honorable members on this side of the House believe that in the foreseeable future there is no alternative to private enterprise continuing to operate over a very wide sector of our economy. The right honorable gentleman cleverly attempted to mislead the people regarding my own attitude towards competition. He quoted some remarks that I made about a banking bill. Whether competition is necessary or not depends entirely on the industry with which one is dealing. Would the right honorable gentleman suggest, for instance, that there should be competition in the provision of telephonic communications?
– It would be. a very good thing. We might get the right number then.
– I do not think that the right honorable gentleman would make such a suggestion, because if there were competition there we should inevitably have an inefficient telephone system.
Mr. McBride interjecting,
– If the honorable member for Wakefield had to consult two or three different telephone books and use several different telephones to make his calls he would soon realize the truth of what I have said. The proposition that f have suggested is elementary to anybody with ordinary intelligence. Would the right honorable gentleman suggest that there should be competition in our telegraph system? Perhaps he would like a private monopoly such as that which exists in the United States of America, where it costs the equivalent of 35s. to send a telegram the distance of the width of the Australian continent. In Australia such a telegram <costs only ls. The right honorable gentleman went on to deal with a number of minor points. He said, first of all, that there was no way by which we could obtain information about shipbuilding costs in the United Kingdom, and he facetiously referred to the cost of what he termed “ghost ships”. He simply paraded his ignorance of the subject, as any one will realize who has read about the costs of shipbuilding in the United Kingdom, which are revealed in a number of British shipbuilding publications. An officer of the Australian Shipbuilding Board visited the United Kingdom some time ago and submitted a report. In that report he stated -
On 15th December, 1948, the question of costs was discussed with -
I shall refer to the individuals concerned as “ Mr. X “, as for obvious reasons I do not wish to mention the names of persons from whom information of a confidential nature was obtained.
This company is building motor ships of about 9,000 tons dead-weight to practically a standard design, with steam auxiliaries and deck machinery. I was informed that presentday basic prices ure of the order of £45 sterling to £50 sterling per dead-weight ton for this type of ship.
Quotations of cost per dead-weight or gross ton are just as common as quotations of cost per bushel of wheat. The report continues -
In the British publication Fairplay, of October, 1948, it was stated that 9,250 tons dead-weight motor ships which would be completed in December, 1948, would be available for £S.425,000. These ships were being designed for 12 knots with 3,300 B.H.P. engines. it is probable that the ship referred to is of the Doxford standard type with steam auxiliaries. In the Motor Ship, December, 1948, the value per gross ton of ships built for foreign owner* for the first ten months of the year was stated to average £S.87.
It is quite obvious that it is easy to ascertain the cost of shipbuilding in the United Kingdom. A number of newspapers and magazines which circulate in that country quote such costs from time to time. The right honorable gentleman then brought out the time-worn argument that the present Government had no mandate to introduce this measure. I dealt with that distortion on a former occasion, but in this instance the right honorable gentleman is hoist with his own petard. Did the Bruce-Page Government have any mandate to sell the Commonwealth line of ships? At the general election that occurred before that Government disposed of those ships not one word was said about its intention to sell the line. I have looked through all the newspapers of that time and have been unable to find any indication that the BrucePage Government intended to sell the line if it were returned to power. The BrucePage Government knew perfectly well’ that.had it told the country, and especially the primary producers, during that election campaign that it intended to sell the ‘Commonwealth line every member who stood for election to the Parliament on behalf of the Australian Country party would have been defeated. Instead, the BrucePage Government waited until it was safely back in office and then it proceeded to sell the ships. So in bringing forward the old argument that the Government has no mandate for this legislation, honorable gentlemen opposite, including the Leader of the Opposition, are indeed hoist with their own petard.
– Two wrongs do not make a right.
– The Leader of the Opposition disappeared from office two years after the sale of the line.
– The Leader of the Opposition endeavoured to make out in a subtle and sinister way that this Government was trying to nationalize the shipping and shipbuilding industries of Australia. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) even went so far as to say that we were trying to create a monopoly of shipbuilding. What is the position in the shipbuilding industry? There is only one shipbuilding yard in the whole of the Commonwealth over which the Australian Government has any control, and that is the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. There is a sufficiently large naval construction programme in hand to keep that dockyard busy for many years, so that the only shipyards from which ships will be ordered, when the provisions of the bill come into operation, will be privately owned shipyards. That proves clearly how exaggerated and untrue are the statements made by the honorable member for Fawkner-
– The shipyards will not be permitted to build ships without a licence from the Government to do so.
– That is true, but in any other measures would be necessary if the Government were even attempting to take over private shipbuilding yards. The honorable gentleman was only trying to make a debating point. It is perfectly clear from this bill that because the Government does not own any shipbuilding yards in which mercantile vessels can be built, apart from the Williamstown Naval Dockyard which will be occupied for a long time in coping with naval orders, the ships that will be ordered as a result of the provisions of the bill will be built in privately owned shipyards. That disproves the honorable gentleman’s argument in relation, to shipbuilding, and the same applies to the shipping industry. If this Government desired to nationalize the shipping industry, do honorable members opposite think that it would not have the courage to do so forthrightly by legislation? By its bill to nationalize banking this Government tackled the most powerful monopoly in the country. If it wanted to nationalize shipping it would take the same action as it took with banking, and the very fact that it has not done so in the present measure, but has done something entirely different, shows quite clearly that it did not have, and has not, any intention to nationalize the shipping industry. In my second-reading speech I said that this bill had three objectives, which were to set up a Commonwealth shipping line; to provide and maintain a shipbuilding industry; and to develop an adequate and efficient mercantile marine. I do not desire to say anything regarding the sale of the former Commonwealth shipping line. Honorable members on this side of the House have shown quite clearly how honorable members opposite, when they were in office, sold that line - in fact, gave it away. I believe that there are a great many people in the country who are not ordinarily supporters of the Labour party who were, and still are, very critical of the action of the Bruce-Page Government in selling that line of ships. I am surprised that the Australian Country party is opposing this measure, because I believe that many of its supporterswill very strongly commend this Government for its intention to develop again a Commonwealth shipping line. The other two objectives - the provision and maintenance of a shipbuilding industry and the development of an adequate and efficient mercantile marine - are linked with the defence preparedness of Australia. The Opposition had the opportunity to carry out the same objectives when it was in office during the- period between the two world wars. Instead of doing so, it allowed the shipbuilding industry to languish and permitted the mercantile marine to deteriorate. Honorable members opposite are continually talking about preparedness for defence, but all they can think of in that connexion is compulsory military training. This measure, by laying the foundations of an efficient mercantile marine and providing a shipbuilding industry on an adequatescale, is a much better means of achieving preparedness for defence than is compulsory military training. When honorable members opposite talk about compulsory military training and relate it to preparedness for defence, while they oppose a measure of this kind, they are talking with their tongues in their cheeks. I am sorry that my time has almost expired, or I could show that it was a combination of bankers, industrial magnates and appeasers of fascism who wrecked the shipbuilding industry in the United Kingdom in the early 1930’s. I could also show that a similar combination of appeasers of fascism, of shipping interests and bankers, that from the early 1930’s to the outbreak of the second world war, neglected the shipbuilding industry of this country. I am sorry that I have not time to do that. I say that the Government, by introducing the present measure, deserves the support of all honorable members, particularly of those representing the Australian Country party. I am also certain that it will obtain the support of the great majority of Australians who never desire to see again what happened in the 1930’s when the shipbuilding industry was allowed to languish and the mercantile marine to deteriorate.
Question put -
That the hill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Hoes . . . . 25
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
House adjourned at 11.5 p.m.
y asked the Treasurer. upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows: -
y. - On the 23rd February the honorable member for Bourke (Mrs. Blackburn) asked me a question on the subject of payment in lieu of furlough in respect of Commonwealth public servants who die before taking longservice leave. Further to my oral reply to the honorable member in the House on the 23rd February, I desire to advise that -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
y.’- The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows :-
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1. (a) 14,053 motor vehicles; (6) 14,311 motor vehicles; (c) At November, 1948- 13,436.
Am Mail Postage.
l. - On the 3rd March, the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General the following question : -
The Postmaster-General has supplied the following information: -
– On the 3rd March, the honorable members for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) and Martin (Mr. Daly) asked me questions on the subject of price rises in Australia. In my reply to honorable members I stated that there has been an increase in the cost of living since the States took over prices control and that I would have inquiries made of the Acting Commonwealth Statistician as to whether it would be possible, without undue research being involved, to make some statistics available to honorable members of this House regarding increases in prices that affect the cost of living. The Acting Commonwealth Statistician ha? advised me as follows : - 1. (a) The all items (“C” series) retail price index numbers are compiled at quarterly intervals. The index numbers for each of the four main groups of items and for the index as a whole are shown below for September quarter 1939, September quarter 1947, and for June, September and December quarters. 1948: (6) The percentage increases in prices from September quarter 1939 to December quarter 1948 are shown in the last column of the table separately for each group of item and for the index as a whole.
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
What were the number and the total carcass weight of lambs exported from Victoria to the United Kingdom in each month August, 1946, to February, 1947, inclusive, and for the same months of the export seasons 1947-48 and 1948-49?
– The Common-wealth Statistician has furnished the following statement : -
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister f or-Trade and’ Customs has supplied the following information : -
r asked the Minis* tei representing the Minister, for Trade and! Customs, upon, notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information: -
Private Correspondence : Allegation Against Department op’ Trade and Customs.
d: - On- the 4th March, the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermanns) asked the following question - 1.. Has the Department of Trade and. Customs, the night to, open private correspondence.; 2t. If so, what- is. its, purpose in doing- so>?
The Minister for Trade and Customs, now desires me to inform the honorable member- that the. answer to. his;, question is as follows: - !.. “Ees. 2: For- the> protection: of the; revenue and, to prevent the importation, of; prohibited imposts. 3-. It. is not. the; practice of, the; Department of; Trade- and Customs to. require: letters to- be opened except,, where it; is; obvious or- possible that: such.. letters) contain, dutiable’ goods; e.g;, nylon stp.cki.ngs- or- prohibited, imports.. Such’ action is only taken with the written: consent of or in the presence of the addressee and in conjunction; with the- postal authorities.. In the case mentioned by the honorable member the probability is that the letter was opened before despatch to Australia by the Customs Section of the United Kingdom- postal authorities for currency control purposes-. If the envelope- if’ produced- 1; shall be able-, to. say whether, such was the case:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 March 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1949/19490309_reps_18_201/>.