Michael Danby MHR
Tel: (03) 9534 8126
Fax: (03) 9534 1575
117 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda VIC 3182
PO Box 2086
St Kilda West 3182
MARITIME CONVENTIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2001: Second Reading
Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (12.42 p.m.) —In supporting
the amendment moved by the member for Batman, I want to focus on some
aspects of shipping, the government's undermining of the cost of Australian
shippers and their ability to operate successfully against some of
the people that the member for Bass quite rightly identified, and
particularly on this very short-sighted single voyage permit process,
which has increased, as the member for Bass said, by 507 per cent
of the things that has surprised me about this debate is the role
of the Deputy Prime Minister—the Minister for Transport and
Regional Services and the Leader of the National Party—who I
would have thought had the interests of agricultural exporters and
the strategic interests of this country at heart. When I talk about
the strategic interests, my mind goes back to one particular aspect
of this that has only recently been brought to my attention in reading
the history of Australian merchant shipping. I urge other members
of parliament to do this too—to look at the number of merchant
ships sunk by the Japanese, and indeed by German submarines, during
the Second World War on the Australian coast. The record of Australian
merchant shipping is a long and honourable one and, as the member
for Bass said, we have some of the most highly trained seamen in the
world. It is a tradition, a profession, a vocation and an industry
that we should be doing everything to preserve. In fact, this government
is doing the exact opposite.
increase in single voyage permits allows, as I have outlined previously
in other speeches, these foreign flag-of-convenience ships—many
of which are `ships of shame', as the member for Bass described them—to
come into Australia. It particularly arises from the failure of the
minister for transport and Deputy Prime Minister, and indeed this
government, to address the effect on Australian importers and exporters
of the costs of stevedoring. That is an issue that goes back—and
this is the principal focus of my remarks—to the very large
maritime dispute that this government orchestrated.
I turn to that issue, I do want to draw to your attention some overall
figures on the cost of shipping, particularly our reliance on overseas
owned shipping. Our reliance on overseas owned shipping lines to shift
almost all of our imports and exports produced a yearly net freight
bill of $A4.9 billion, overwhelmingly reflecting our shipping costs.
This is well in advance of wool exports for the year of $3.9 billion.
I think this country—and I am surprised members of the National
Party are not more agitated about it—deludes itself by thinking
it is simply a good thing that the country has a low value dollar
because this helps agricultural exports. It actually costs the country
an enormous amount of money for high value imports, capital goods
and foreign shipping services that we are increasingly relying on
with these single voyage permitted overseas shippers.
genesis of the maritime dispute a year and a half ago was the government's
view that the previous government had inadequately pursued micro-economic
reform, that the docks were a major economic problem, that Australia
had to force major changes in those areas and that the benefits would
then be passed on to importers, exporters and shippers. Any rational
analysis of what has happened since the waterfront dispute shows that
this is very far from the case. Unfortunately, the government's `amen
corner' in the media, the so-called `dry' economic analysts—the
Paddy McGuinnesses, the Quadrant magazines and the Alan Woodses of
this world—have failed to evaluate what has happened since.
But this is the basic picture.
the decision was made to cause the maritime dispute, Lang Corporation's
share price stood at $1.60. The benefit of waterfront reform was to
be passed on by Lang and P&O to Australian shippers to importers
and exporters. Indeed, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister, prior to
his visit to London where he was going to meet Lord Stirling of P&O,
that he pass on to Lord Stirling the government's concern that these
shipping costs had, in fact, not been lowered, and that stevedoring
charges remained as high as ever. It seems to me, and to any person
who has evaluated what has happened since, that the only people to
have benefited from so-called waterfront reform are the Lang Corporation,
whose share price has now increased to about $11. The last time I
looked I think it was about $10.85. It has been up as high as $13.50.
is concerned about the fact that an individual company is prospering,
but the Australian taxpayers, through this parliament, have paid for
a massive number of redundancies as a result of this dispute on the
Australian wharves. In Melbourne, I know, the number of people who
operate the docks in my electorate has been halved. There were probably
more than 1,200 full-time people; there are something over 600 now.
The crane rate lift—about which the Deputy Prime Minister in
one of his performances just before the winter break was exultant,
saying that this increase in productivity was a wonderful government
achievement—is now about 25 container boxes per hour, which
is about the international benchmark that Australia wanted to get
to. We have half the work force, we have the box rate at the level
that it is and we have Patrick's and P&O's redundancies paid for
by the Australian taxpayer—hundreds of millions of dollars.
is the benefit for the Australian people? None. There have been no
decreases in stevedoring charges. This is something that should particularly
concern the National Party, particularly concern agricultural exporters
and particularly concern people in business. I get approached all
the time by people in business who are importers or exporters and
who complain about the fact that this government has been totally
inadequate in representing their interests and in seeing that the
so-called benefits of micro-economic reform trickle down to them.
government gets up and makes a great deal, as the Deputy Prime Minister
did, about productivity benefits to Australia. It is true that there
have been massive productivity gains on the Australian waterfront.
This is largely due to some of the very fine people who work there,
who are as skilled as some of our shippers in their industry. But,
unfortunately, the benefit has gone to Patrick's and P&O's bottom
line. Again, no-one is against the success of individual companies,
but when we paid for all of these redundancies, when this government
caused this massive industrial disruption, we expected that these
benefits would be passed to the Australian people. They simply have
Corporation, in its last six-monthly profit report, showed that its
operating profit after tax increased 25 per cent to $29 million, earnings
per share increased 19 per cent to 18.5c and the company had over
$300 million cash on hand. It is the responsibility of this government,
of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Deputy Prime
Minister, to say to Mr Corrigan and to P&O that the benefits of
waterfront reform should be passed on to the Australian people.
is a completely inadequate performance by the member for Gwydir to
say that productivity has increased on Australian waterfronts, and
that we have faster, more regular turnarounds. There are the bigger
ships that are turning around faster. The shipping lines tell us that
because the terminals turning around the ships faster have to pay
more to the stevedores they therefore pass these costs on to the exporters.
Mr Donges, the President of the National Farmers Federation, is one
of those in the federation who were foolish enough to be right behind
the massive dispute two years ago but who now are having second thoughts.
The federation engineered that dispute with the help of the government's
hatred of the union movement—under the then minister, the member
for Flinders, who is retiring—but Mr Donges now says of the
waterfront reform which the National Farmers Federation had totally
backed and had hoped would benefit farmers:
believe the level of productivity (on the waterfront) will enable
more farmers to compete on an even keel for lucrative international
these words are very significant—
have to ensure that the savings from increased productivity flow on
to farmers and other port users as soon as possible.
other words, they are not flowing on to farmers or exporters at all
at the moment. The government needs to send the Deputy Prime Minister
and transport minister back to do a remedial economics course. There
is no point in having a productivity benefit, paid for partially by
the Australian taxpayer through redundancies, if we do not have it
passed on to the Australian people via exporters, importers and shippers.
of this government can ring any exporter or importer, anyone from
the peak shippers association, from shipping lines, and they will
tell you that this minister's claims about commercial-in-confidence—that
they cannot reveal these dread secrets to the Deputy Prime Minister,
the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, about how much it
costs to ship a container from here to Seoul or Tokyo or any other
port and back—are absolute nonsense. We know that these costs
have not decreased but, in fact, have increased in some states and
in some cases.
the benefit of the Australian shipping industry, we need this government
to say, as I am sure the next Beazley government will say to the stevedoring
firms, `You've had the benefit of redundancies. You've had the benefit
of higher productivity. Now lower your rates and pass on the benefits
of micro-economic reform to the Australian people and let the Australian
shipping industry prosper.'
Committee adjourned at 12.55 p.m.