2nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. REID (East Sydney- Minister of
External Affairs). - I ask the indulgence’ of the House to be permitted to move a motion with reference to what appears to be a grave crisis, affecting the ‘ whole British Empire. I have consulted with the leader of the Opposition, who is in full sympathy with me in the course which I am taking. With the concurrence bf honorable members, I move -
British Government and people in the demand that those who directed this outrage be punished.
I think that any lengthy address upon a motion of this kind’ would only weaken the effect of it. The object of the Government in moving it, as it will be moved in both. Houses of Parliament, is in no sense to add to the difficulties of either the British or the Russian Government. Our chief motive is a most earnest desire that the inestimable blessing of peace shall be preserved between the peoples of these: mighty Empires. statement to the House in reference to the new mail contract of the Orient Company? The matter is of so much importance that there should be no delay.
– I had hoped that the Cabinet would be able to consider the question at its meeting, on Thursday last, but the importance of the scheme of defence which was then before us made that impossible. However, we may have an opportunity to deal with the subject at the next Cabinet meeting. When it has been dealt with, I shall be only too glad to give what information is desired by honorable members in the public interest.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What was the revenue and expenditure of the Post and Telegraph Department in the State of Queensland for the several years, ending 30th June in each case, from 1897 to 1904 inclusive?
– I am causing inquiries to be made, and I hope to be able to lay a return upon the table of the House in a few days. There is some difficulty about getting the information for the years prior to 1900, but I am making an effort to procure it, because I realize the importance of it from the honorable member’s point of view.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
What/ remuneration was paid to the various Commonwealth Electoral Registrars for services rendered at and prior to the last general election ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The registers were written up at the rate of 1s 6d. per 100. An additional annual allowance of 2s. 6d. per 100 is paid to the registrars for the total number of names under their care and supervision.
Mr. McLEAN (Gippsland - Minister of
Trade and Customs). - I move-
That the House at its rising adjourn until Tuesday next, at 8 p.m.
The Government are very anxious to consider the convenience of honorable members, and, as it has been usual to adjourn over a portion of Cup Day, I trust that the motion will meet with the acceptance of the House.
– If honorable members prefer to meet a little earlier on Wednesday there will be noobjection to adjourning over the whole of Tuesday. I am perfectly willing to amend the motion to provide that we shall adjourn until half-past 10 on Wednesday morning.
Question amended accordingly.
– I object to the motion being submitted.
– I would point out to the honorable member that it is not necessary to ask the permission of the House to move a motion of this kind. Under the Standing Orders Ministers may at any time move such a motion, and, therefore, I did not ask honorable members to grant leave..
-I do not wish, to prevent other honorable members from attending the races if they so desire - in fact, I have no power to prevent them! On the other hand, I think that we should meet here and transact business in the usual way, on the understanding, of course, that we should not do anything that would place honorable members who are absent at a disadvantage. I object to our meeting on Tuesday evening, because I do not think that business would be facilitated by adopting that course. I move -
That the motion be amended by the omission of the words “half-past 10 a.m.,” with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ the usual hour.”
– I second the amendment. I am quite willing that the House should adjourn until half-past 2 on Wednesday, but I strongly object-
Several honorable members interjecting,
– Honorable members may laugh, but if some of them attended here as regularly as I do, the laugh would be on the other side.
– Will the honorable member take his seat. These interjections are quite disorderly, and it is equally disorderly for the honorable member who is addressing the Chair to reply to them in such a way as to interrupt the continuity of his speech. If honorable members will
– I think that every honorable member will agree that on occasions of this sort it would not be wise to take any step which would accentuate the troubles of the Empire, but, with the utmost desire to preserve peace between the nations, it seems to me to be necessary, in the face of an outrage such as that against which we are now protesting, to show that the British people resent such action, and are determined to continue a firm attitude in regard to it. I think that nothing more than that should be asked from us. I second the motion in the fullest sympathy with the course taken by the Prime Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I think that the House will be willing to authorize Mr. Speaker to have it recorded in the Votes and Proceedings that the motion was agreed to unanimously.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
– I presume that the Prime Minister will take steps to have the resolution presented to His Excellency the Governor-General, so that it may be transmitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies ?
– Arrangements are being made for its immediate transmission through His Excellency.
Motion (by Mr. Chapman) agreed to -
That the Select Committee on Old-age Pensions have leave to report the minutes of evidence from time to time.
– I de- sire to correct the report of my speech last night on the financial’ proposals of the Government which appears in this morning’s Argus. The Hansard report of what I said, which I have not revised, is this -
I would advise that, in taking over the responsibility of these debts, we should deal only with loans as they mature, and that we should adopt the system of interminable bonds, with power for the Commonwealth to repay at any time after a number of years has elapsed, on due notice being given.
The Argus report contains part of that passage, but it does not give all that I said. It prints in inverted commas the words -
With power to the Commonwealth to repay at any time,, but it omits the words -
After a certain number of years has elapsed, on due notice being given, adding the comment that “ my suggestion seemed to tickle the fancy of some honorable members,” a pure invention on the part of the reporter. I have probably had as much experience in the raising of public loans as has any other member of the House, and I know that it would be absurd to try to borrow money for an interminable period, with the provision that the borrower could pay it back at any time. Therefore, I do npt wish the statement attributed to me by the Argus to go forth uncorrected. I give those in control of that journal credit for the desire to furnish correct reports ; but I cannot allow their incorrect statement of what I said to pass without contradiction.
Report of Select Committee presented.
– I desire to ask the Post master-General a question without notice. I wish to know if he has any objection to placing upon the table of this House, or upon the table of the Library, so that honorable members may peruse them, all papers, including the reports of the departmental officers, in. connexion with the early clearances of mails in Melbourne and its suburbs ?
– The whole of the papers have been referred to a board which I appointed some days ago, whose report will, I hope, be in my hands early next week. When I receive it I shall be only too glad to lay it upon the table of the House accompanied by my own remarks upon it.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral lay upon the table of the House, for the information of honorable members, the . report of his officers in regard to the Woolloongabba Post-office?
– It is possible that the papers may be in Brisbane.
– No; thev are in Melbourne.
– If that is so, I have no objection to honorable members seeing them. We have nothing to conceal, and I shall be only too glad to give the utmost publicity to our actions.
– When will the
Postmaster-General be prepared to make a take less notice of interjections, the business of the House will be greatly facilitated.
– There is no objection to meeting at the usual time on Wednesday, if that Ibe the wish of honorable members. Mr. Mauger. - Hear, hear.
– It would have been preferable if the Government had adhered to the practice established on a previous occasion in connexion with Cup Day. I admit that it is almost impossible to secure a quorum for a meeting at the usual hour upon that day. We know that the greater number of members will be away, and it is as well to recognise that position frankly. I should have preferred to meet in the evening as we did on the last occasion, because no material inconvenience was inflicted upon honorable members, and we were able to proceed with the business to a certain extent. I recognise that the matter is one for the Government to consider, and I am quite prepared to follow their lead in the matter.
– Under the impression that no business would be done on Tuesday next, I arranged to take advantage of one of the very rare opportunities presented’ to me to return to my home for a few days. Apart from that, however, I have great sympathy with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. I do not think that it is right to’ expect honorable members, who would feel inclined to attend here on Cup Day, to go on with the business in a very thin House. I think, however, that the Government should consider the propriety of following the course adopted by the States Parliaments, towards the close of a session, by asking honorable members to meet in the mornings, in order to get on with business.
– What is the use of meeting before the trains arrive?
– That is all very well from the point of view of those honorable members who are able to return to their homes at the week end. But I think that some consideration is due to the representatives of the distant States, who are denied that privilege. It is not at all to our credit that we should have been sitting here for nearly nine months, and that we should now postpone until next session the consideration of such important questions as that of preferential trade, because we have not time to discuss them within the. limited” period between now and the end of the year. I hope that the Govern ment will consider the desirability of asking honorable members to meet in. the mornings of at least some of our sitting days.
– How are the Departments to be administered if that is done?
– It is regrettable that there should be any waste of time now that we are approaching the end of the session. Yesterday the Prime Minister indicated the measures with which he desired to deal during the present session, and he expressed a hope that we should conclude our labours by the beginning of December. The measures referred to are all of very great importance, and it would not be fair to this House and the country if they were rushed through without reasonable consideration. If they are to be properly dealt with, it seems to me that there is no possibility of our concluding our business within the time stated. So far as the proposed adjournment is concerned, I do not wish to obtrude my opinion upon other honorable members, but I am prepared to come here on Tuesday as usual. I trust that the Government will consider the advisability of asking honorable members to meet upon Wednesdays and Thursdays at an earlier hour. I think that earlier sittings would be preferable to our extending our deliberations until a very late hour. I have had considerable experience of late sittings in the New South Wales Parliament, and I do not wish to see a similar state of affairs prevail here. I think we should make a special effort to devote as much time as possible to the business of the country during the remainder of the session.
Amendment agreed to.
Question, as amended, put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: (Consideration resumed from 17th October, vide page 6255):
Department of External Affairs
Division 14 (Mail Service to Pacific Islands), ^12,000
Upon which Mr. Page had moved by way of amendment -
That the item, “ Improved New Hebrides, Solomon and Norfolk Islands Services, New Services to Solomon, Gilbert and Ellice and New Guinea, £6,000,” be left cut.
– Before the adjournment last evening some opposition was offered to the proposed increased mail subsidy to the Pacific Islands, upon the ground that insufficient information had been furnished to the House in regard to the trade and other matters connected with the New Hebrides. With a view to supplying some further information, I should like to address myself to this question. I have reason to believe that the company to which it is proposed to grant this increased subsidy is not interested in the subsidy itself so much as.it is in the removal of existing barriers to the natural development of trade with these islands. . As a matter of fact, I am informed that the company is willing tb “transfer the whole of its landed interests there to’ the Commonwealth if the latter is agreeable to take them over.
– The company has offered to do that.
– Free of cost ?
– I mention that fact to show that the company’s desire to gain an increased trade appears to be really prompted, not so much by commercial considerations, as by the patriotism of Colonel Burns.
– Patriotism ?
– Yes. Colonel Burns realizes - as everybody must who has studied the geographical position of these islands, in relation to the great trade routes of the Empire between Europe and Australia - that their possession by Great Britain is a matter of paramount importance to the future of Australia, and also of Britain, not merely for commercial reasons, but for much weightier considerations.
– Does not that argument also apply to New Caledonia?
– Honorable members do not appear to realize the difference which exists between New Caledonia and the New Hebrides in regard to their position from a naval stand-point. It is true that New Caledonia possesses a fine harbor at Noumea, which may toe used as a naval base. But the fact should not be overlooked that the New Hebrides are distinguished . from every other group of South Pacific Islands in that, whilst most of the latter are surrounded by dangerous coral reefs, the New Hebrides are almost entirely free from anysuch obstruction.
– The Commonwealth has not even a map showing these islands.
– I can supply the wants of the honorable member. I have drawn a chart setting out various details, connected with the islands, which has been submitted to most honorable members.
– Where is it?
– At present, I understand, it is in the Opposition room. In that chart I have shown the approaches to and the soundings and general conformation of the principal port, Havannah Harbor. I repeat that whereas most, if not all the other groups of islands are surrounded by dangerous coral reefs, the approach to the New Hebrides is quite free, from any such obstruction, and the harbors there are perfectly safe in all sorts of weather.
– Why should we pav for that ?
– This matter is one of importance to the future of Australia, in view of the prospective opening of the Panama Canal. Whatever nation is in possession of these islands will hold the key to the whole of the Southern Pacific trade routes. They are therefore of great strategical importance, not only to Australia, but also to the whole of British interests. The Imperial Government committed a very grave error when it allowed New Caledonia to pass out of its hands, because it cannot be denied that that island was originally surveyed and charted by the British. The British first established a. trading station there, and British missionaries first attempted their Christianization. They had spent many thousands of pounds there, and yet another nation was permitted to step in and take advantage of that expenditure. Sooner or later we shall have to realize the important bearing which the New Hebrides Islands will have upon the home and external trade relations of Australia. That fact may perhaps be emphasized in a way which will be very unpleasant from our point of view, unless we take reasonable precautions whilst there is yet time. Had those precautions been taken twenty years ago, the present difficulty would not have arisen. In regard to the question of land tenure, of which the honorable member for Coolgardie spoke last evening, I would point out that the basis of the settlement of all claims between the British and French nations must ultimately be effective occupation. There can be no effective British occupation of these islands, so long as we place obstacles in the way of British settlement - obstacles in the form of Tariff restrictions which have absolutely precluded any possibility of the trade of these islands coming to Australia, and which have played into the hands of the French, who are said to spend about £40,000 annually in subsidizing shipping and other interests for the purpose of assisting French settlers to colonize them.
– What is the honorable member’s authority for the statement that the French spend .£40,000 a year in subsidies?
– The fact has been stated on good authority elsewhere, and so far as I know has not been disputed. I dealt with that aspect of the question in a speech which I delivered ‘ in this House upon the 28th July last. The information in question is derived from statistics. If the honorable member chooses to consult the French newspapers he can easily verify my assertion. The statement has been published in the newspapers, and no attempt has been made to deny its accuracy.
M.t. Mahon. - Many statements are published in newspapers, the accuracy of which is not denied, but nevertheless they are untrue.
– As a matter of fact, I have in my possession a letter from M. Ballaude, oof Bordeaux, in which that gentleman,- whilst taking exception to the statement that his firm receives £2,000 of that subsidy, does not deny the general accuracy of the statements furnished as to subsidies and special trade facilities granted to French settlers.
– What firm is that?
– The French colonizing company.
– How many French settlers are there in the New Hebrides?
– There are 255.
– Is that the total French population ?
– Yes. This large sum, it must be self-evident, is being spent for the purpose of encouraging French colonization, not because the French Government wish to assist the few settlers upon these islands, but because they realize their immense strategic importance.
– How many British settler? are there?
– There are only 21 4 Britishers. I wish to be perfectly fair, t have absolutely no personal interest in this matter. I simply regard it from an Empire stand-point, and I .have long recognised the important strategic value of these islands.
– Why does not the Empire look after them
– I may tell honorable members that eighteen or twenty years ago. I addressed some public meetings in Svdney upon this question, and drew attention to its importance. I also attended deputations which waited upon the late Sir Henry Parkes, the late Sir George Dibbs, and the late Sir Patrick Jennings, who in turn were Premiers of New South Wales, for the purpose of making representations to them upon this subject. They realized the importance of the subject, and communicated with the Home Secretary, urging the annexation of these islands, upon the grounds which 1 have endeavoured to lay before honorable members. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary at that time did not appreciate their importance. He ridiculed the idea that the Panama Canal would ever become an accomplished fact, although that great undertaking is nowikely tq be completed within a few years. Ho also ridiculed the suggestion “ that “am European nation would ever attempt to establish itself in any of the Pacific Islands, and referred to it as an idle and unfounded fear on the part of Australia. I canna recall, for the moment, the exact words that he used, but the suggestion that 11
European power might establish itself in proximity to the Australian Continent on islands inhabited by naked savages - he regarded as utterly absurd and chimerical, at least for the next century. And Australian representations and warnings were then almost contemptuously disregarded. Within four years of this declaration that the islands would remain absolutely in the possession of savages for another hundred years, most of the great European nations had, to a very large extent, established themselves in the South Pacific. The French had occupied NewCaledonia, while the United States of America had taken possession of the Hawaiian group of islands, which afford the only possible base in the Northern Pacific for Russia, Japan, and other countries on that side of the seaboard. The Americans have also colonized further south, while the Germans have colonized the greater part of New Guinea and the adjacent islands. This colonization has been going on under our very eyes, and we have been absolutely inactive. We have done nothing to counteract what is really a menace to Australia. This shows us the necessity of not reiving too much on the foresight of British statesmen.
– It has taken twenty years to secure a population of 214 British settlers in the New Hebrides.
– The same remark applies to the French, but we must remember that the British remained in sole possession of the trade of the New Hebrides group for forty years before the French colonists put in an appearance. It is true that the population of the islands is, for the most part, a native one, but it is only of recent years, and largely through the instrumentality of a shipping firm, actuated, I honestly think, not so much by commercial as by patriotic motives, that British settlement has been encouraged there.
– They are very patriotic !
– Honorable members must admit that there exist some men who are not guided solely by commercial considerations. When such a question of grave national import as this is involved, a man is often ready to sacrifice commercial considerations to an inborn patriotism, and we have to allow for that sentiment in dealing with this matter. I, personally, cannot be accused of having even one farthing’s worth of interest in the islands. The active interest which I take in the question is due solely to patriotic motives.
– How would this subsidy bring about British possession or the islands ?
– I do not think that the subsidy is the best means for securing that result, although it will give settlers an increased service, and more frequent communication ; but the Tariff is the real stumbling, block in the road of settlement. Some honorable members seem to think that the subsidy is designed solely to enrich a certain firm.
– Nothing else.
– I am led to understand, and I believe, that the company in question has lost something like £16,000 a year in maintaining this trade.
– That is too thin ! Does the honorable member know of any company which carries on business solely for patriotic reasons ?
– I know that the actuary of the company is strongly opposed to its engaging in the trade of these islands. He thinks that it would be very much better without it.
– Does the honorable member assert that the company has lost , £16,000 a year as the result of engaging in thte trade ?
– I think that is said to approximate to the loss. ,
– The total trade of the islands last year amounted to only £18,000.
– I do not say that the company has lost £16,000 a year solely in connexion with the trade of the New Hebrides group. That loss is said to have been incurred by it in connexion with the whole of its trade in the South Pacific; and I believe that the larger proportion of it has been incurred in the New Hebrides service. I look at this matter apart altogether from fiscal considerations. The French not only subsidize shipping companies for the carriage of mails, with a view to promote their trade with the islands, but grant French settlers a rebate amounting in round figures to something like 50 per cent, upon French island-grown produce. The balance is actually devoted to the construction of roads, bridges, and means of communication, and to furnishing other necessary adjuncts of civilization.
– And yet they cannot colonize the islands.
– That is largely due to the fact that the French are not naturally a colonizing nation. French settlers are not only given grants of land to encourage them to settle, but receive financial assistance averaging about £200 per man.
– The honorable member must not discuss the motion standing in his own name upon the notice paper.
– I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to avoid trenching on the matter dealt with in that motion, but I have been led to give this information in reply to the honorable member for Coolgardie and others. A great deal of what I have said has been called for by the nature of the interjections, but I have reserved much, that may more properly be considered when the motion in question is before us. Another reason why we should be very careful in dealing with this matter is shown by a paragraph which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago, under the heading of “Viewing the Coveted Land.” The paragraph is as follows : - “ Viewing the Coveted Land.” - Advices received by the last mail from the Islands state that Mons. Picanon, the Governor of New Caledonia, has just returned to Noumea from another tour of inspection in the New Hebrides Group. This is the fourth visit paid to the Group by His Excellency within twelve months, and is another indication of the very great interest which is being taken by the French authorities in the progress of the New Hebrides. Hitherto, however, Mons. Picanon has confined his inspections to the central and northern islands of the Group, where the French populationis concentrated, but on the last occasion a cruise was made for the first time round the southern portion of the New Hebrides, which is entirely British. “Mons. Picanon has been viewing the coveted land,” writes a British settler in the Group to one of the Sydney shipping houses. The cruise was made in the French warship Meurthe, which was at the island of Aneityum on September 20. From there the Meurthe proceeded to Tanna, Erromanga, and Port Vila, and was due back at Noumea on September 29.
– I would remind the honorable member that the Estimates do not refer to the acquisition of land in the island. I would ask him, therefore, to deal only with the question of the mail service, and the ordinary trading that is likely to ensue.
– I referred to this action on the part of the Governor of New Caledonia only to show that the French are giving this question serious consideration.
– The honorable member has supplied the very information which the Minister should have given the Committee.
– I trust that the Chairman will allow me a little latitude.
– I am bound by the Standing Orders.
– I think I shall be in order in showing the desire evinced by, British settlers in the islands for Australian intervention by reading an extract from a petition for the remission of import duties on produce sent into the Commonwealth by Australian settlers, which they presented to the Prime Minister. I shall read only that portion of the petition which bears on the question immediatly before us. The petition reads -
To the Honorable
The Prime Minister,
Australian Commonwealth, Melbourne
Honored Sir, -
We, the undersigned, resident planters and settlers of the New Hebrides, hereby respectfully beg to call your attention to certain matters relating to the welfare of British and Australian interests in these islands.
At the present time a silent struggle is being carried on between two nations for local supremacy, and it must be obvious to all thinking men that a grave doubt exists as to which of the two will gain that supremacy. Present indications appear to point to ultimate French control.
We give the following reasons for so thinking : -
We could give many more reasons, but trust that the three above-mentioned will be sufficient.
Then it goes on to say -
If, as we believe, the Commonwealth be desirous of helping her subjects in the New Hebrides, of giving valuable assistance to the Empire, in the present critical stage of this struggle for the control of one of the finest archipelagoes in the Pacific, and incidentally, of helping herself (for there are possibilities of an immense future trade with these islands), we feel sure that she, through her Prime Minister, will consider our one suggestion, which we put forward with the utmost diffidence.
I propose now to place before the Committee some figures showing the extent of the trade between the islands and Australia.
– I propose now to bring under the notice of honorable members the “information furnished in a return laid on the table of the House in compliance with an order moved for by the honorable member for Bourke, in these terms : -
That a return be laid upon the table of the House, showing -
The information furnished on that order is as follows: -
The above table includes importations which have been transhipped to other States and to oversea countries, and, although it includes produce grown by foreign settlers, the figures could be taken as a fair approximation of the value of the surplus products grown by British residents for export, as French vessels also. carry produce of British subjects to New Caledonia, which would about equalize matters.
The value of exports from Sydney to New Hebrides during the year ended 30th June, 1904, was : -
The imports of bananas and other green fruit, cocoanuts, Beche-de-mer and peanuts, have, since the operation of the Federal Tariff been practically stopped, but would considerably revive should concessions be granted.
The imports from New Hebrides into New South Wales during the year 1900 of items, then free, but which, under the Federal Tariff, would be dutiable, were : -
– The honorable member for Lang has told us more than we could ascertain from the Prime Minister last night.
– Probably the right honorable gentleman has been too busy to go into all these details; we know how many calls are made upon the time of Ministers. The matter is one in which I have taken a considerable interest, and I have therefore borne in mind facts which may have escaped the attention of other honorable members. I hope that they will consider this matter, not merely as a commercial question, but as one of far greater importance. I shall not deal with it further now, because by doing’ so I might trench upon the debate which is to take place on a motion relating to the New Hebrides which I moved some time ago, and which is still before the House.
– The thanks of honorable members are due to the honorable member for Lang for the information which he has given us about the trade of these islands. Last night the Prime Minister jocularly made a few statements in regard to the proposal which were quite in- sufficient, but with which he seemed to think we should be content. I have ascertained that the value of the exports from these islands to Australia amounted in 1899 to £23,261 ; in 1900, to £21,785; in 1901, to £16,116; in 1902, to £20,094 ; and in 1903, to £1 8,066. To obtain this trade the Government asks us to pay a subsidy of £12,000. The Prime Minister said last night that means would be taken to settle the island bv immigration. That is a fine thing to propose, when we have millions of acres of unoccupied land in Australia, and are crying out for population. Notwithstanding all the facts furnished by the honorable member for Lang, I have ascertained that the French, after an occupation of twenty years, have settled only 255 persons there, and the English, after an occupation of forty years,, have settled only 214 persons, of whom thirty-four are missionaries.
– The English have not colonized the islands ; they have only traded with them.
– The honorable member for Lang has told us that a French colonization society is paying subsidies to olbtain the trade of the 255 French residents. On five of the islands there are more Frenchmen than Englishmen, and on five others more Englishmen than Frenchmen, so that the influence of the two powers there must be about the same. But, although the honorable member for Lang tells us that the French are taking away the trade of the islands, we have it on the authority of the Prime Minister that it is the Germans who are doing so.
– That statement had reference to the Marshall and Gilbert groups.
– All the emphasis has been laid on the importance of the New Hebrides trade.
– Yes; all we have heard about is the importance of the New Hebrides trade.
– The subsidy covers the mail service to the other islands as well.
– I know that; but apparently what is chiefly aimed at is the trade of the New Hebrides. The honorable member for Lang told us that Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Company were losing £16,000 per annum in connexion with this service. I do not know how to manage a steam-ship company, but, as a business man, I do know how to run a one-horse show, and I take it for granted that the same principle applies in both cases. If a company cannot be run at a profit it must shut up shop. I suppose that the representatives of Queensland know Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Company as well as do any honorable members in this House ; and it will be difficult to persuade them that that company are, in a spirit of pure patriotism, submitting to a loss of £16,000 per annum, in order to secure a trade worth only £18,000 per annum. Instead of paying £12,000, by way of subsidy, in order to secure a trade worth only £18,000 per annum, it would be better for us to make a present of £5,000 to the people of the New Hebrides, and have nothing further to do with them. When applications are made for the establishment of new mail services, such as are badly needed in many parts of the back blocks, it is as difficult to obtain any concession from the Government as to draw a tooth from a rhinoceros. When the honorable member for Darwin asked that a weekly mail service should be established between Tasmania and King Island, at a cost of between £400 and £500 per annum, his request was refused, on the ground that the cost would be too great. Yet there are more inhabitants on King Island than there are British settlers in the New Hebrides ; and, moreover, King Island forms part and parcel of the Commonwealth, whilst the New Hebrides are beyond our limits. It is ridiculous to talk of granting special facilities to the British settlers in the Pacific Islands, whilst we are denying ordinary postal conveniences to our own citizens. I intend to strongly oppose the Government proposal.
– I rise merely for the purpose of making my position perfectly clear to the Committee. Although I am strongly in favour of doing everything we can to secure British supremacy in the New Hebrides, I find myself in a very awkward position in regard to this particular matter. The company which it is proposed to subsidize is one in which I am a shareholder, and therefore I have made up my mind to refrain from voting, although I believe in encouraging our commercial intercourse with the islands to the very fullest extent. At the same time, I do not regard the granting of subsides as the best means of bringing about that result.
– Perhaps the honorable member can tell us whether the statement of the honorable member for Lang regarding the loss incurred by Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Company is correct?
– No, I am not in a position to do so. I have not closely examined the affairs of the company, because I am connected with it only through a trust, which I do not personally supervise. If honorable members would hereafter open the markets of Australia to the products of the New Hebrides, I should be the first to support a reduction of this additional subsidy ; that is, if the House now votes it.
– Unfortunately, I am not in the same position as the honorable member for Wentworth, in so far as his connexion with Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Company is concerned. I cannot agree with the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Maranoa. When everything is taken into account, the amount of the proposed subsidy is inconsiderable. I have been much impressed by the arguments of the honorable member for Lang, who has pointed out that when the Panama Canal is completed the New Hebrides will occupy a position of great strategic importance. I think that we sliould do everything we can within reason to strengthen our hold upon these islands. There are more important considerations even than those of fostering our trade relations with the islands - considerations of even transcendental importance, to which we should pay the very closest attention. Burns, Philp, and Company are no friends of mine. On the contrary, tRey have been my bitter political opponents throughout my public career; but as I view this matter in the broad light in which it has been presented to the Committee by the honorable member for Lang, I intend to vote in favour of the proposed subsidy.
– I am thoroughly in accord with the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Maranoa. We are being asked to take upon ourselves a responsibility that we have no right to assume. The honorable member for Lang, has certainly furnished us with a great deal, of interesting information. But if the islands are of such great importance as has been represented, from a strategic point of view, I think the British Government should take action, and not leave us to spend our money in conserving what are really their interests. We are being asked to grant, under the guise of a payment for a mail service, a subsidy with the object of increasing trade relations with the New Hebrides. If it is right for the Government to grant a subsidy with the object of promoting, the development of the New Hebrides, they should be prepared to assist in a still greater degree in the settlement of the northern parts of Queensland, where there are not ‘merely 245, but over 100.000 Britishers. The whole of the influence that has been brought to bear in connexion with the increase of the subsidy for a mail service to the New Hebrides has been based upon the ex parte statements of missionaries. Of the British residents in those islands, thirty-four are missionaries, and there is no doubt that they have been the principal sources of the information derived by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat and others who have spoken in favour of the subsidy. I think that, under the circumstances, we should have had more complete information placed before us. The honorable member for Lang told us that the British Government had been exercising control over the New Hebridies for forty years, and that the total re: sult of all their efforts had been the settlement of 245 Britishers in the group. The French have exercised a share in the joint protectorate over the islands for the last twenty years, and the total number of settlers of that nationality now residing in the islands is 255. In addition to copra, the New Hebrides settlers produce a considerable quantity of maize.
– The maize is raised whilst the cocoanut trees are growing.
– During the recent serious drought, most of the maize produced in the New Hebrides was imported into Australia, and brought into direct competition with that produced by our farmers in Victoria, Tasmania, and Northern Queensland. The maize produced by means of white labour within the Commonwealth was brought into competition with that produced by means of black labour in the New Hebridies. The settlers there employ the islanders at a rate of remuneration which is very little more than equal to providing them with food. I shall be no party to subsidizing a service which is intended to bring into competition with our products maize grown by means of ‘ black labour. When the honorable member for Darwin asked that a mail service should be established between King Island and Tasmania his request was refused, and many other instances might be quoted in which the most reasonable re- quests for mail facilities have been refused on the ground that they would prove too costly. In Northern Queensland, which has a population of, roughly speaking, 100,000, mail communication in many places is not what it should be. For instance, there should be a much improved service between Brisbane and Townsville. But when it comes to a question of assisting some persons who are altogether outside of our control-
– Not absolutely yet.
– At the present time there is a joint protectorate by France and Great Britain over these islands. A Commission has been appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the land tenure there, but we do not find that the Home Office is taking any special interest in the matter.
– The ownership of the islands will eventually be decided upon the basis of occupation.
– Some of the people at home are under the impression that Sydney is situated in Melbourne. That evidences their knowledge of this part of the world.
– I dare, say some people may think that, but I am satisfied that the Home Office does not. That Department is just as alive to the position of the New Hebrides as we are in Australia. It is quite true that a Queensland Premier some years ago practically annexed New Guinea.
– His action was promptly repudiated by the Imperial authorities.
– Exactly, and they have been sorry for it ever since. With a lesson like that staring them in the face, I think we may be satisfied that they will look after their own interests in these islands. To my mind the Government are going out of their way to assist certain people in connexion with the trade of the New Hebrides, whom we have no right to assist. We are all aware what an octopus Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Co. have proved in the north of Queensland for many years.
– But these are Australian settlers and British subjects.
– I admit that they are British subjects, but I cannot call them Australian settlers when they settle outside the Commonwealth.
– Upon that basis, we should never have had a British Empire, because all our people would have remained in the counties of England, Ireland, and Scotland.
– I presume that they all come to Australia to better themselves, and I take it that those who settle in the Commonwealth regard themselves as Australians. If they do not, I think very little of them. I intend to record my vote against the payment of this subsidy.
– I have a serious complaint against the Government upon the present occasion. Only a few weeks ago, I endeavoured to secure a mail service to King Island, which is a British settlement containing a population of 700 white men and women. In the New Hebrides, however, . there are only 214 British subjects and thirty-four missionaries. The latter are non.-producers. There is a total population of 494 white persons settled there. It is now proposed that we should increase the mail subsidy to these islands by £6,000, despite the fact that an island situated midway between Victoria and Tasmania, upon which are settled 700 whitehearted, white British subjects, cannot obtain adequate mail communication with the mainland. The trade of the New Hebrides is estimated at £18,000 per annum. Whv, one shipment of cattle from King Island would be worth more than that sum. When I appealed to the late Government to grant mail communication to the settlers of King Island, the honorable member for Coolgardie, who was then Postmaster-General, declared that because it would involve an expenditure of £500 about once a month, my request could not be acceded to. Yet the Commonwealth is now asked to spend 6,000 cold, hard, sovereigns for antiquated black roosters in other parts of the world. In Tasmania, there are places like Camp Creek and Rover Creek, where there are from 200 to 300 British subjects, and which are denied the benefit of a post-office because it would involve an expenditure of £15 a year. The honorable member for Denison, when PostmasterGeneral, absolutely destroyed daily mail communication to Stowport, because by so doing he could effect a saving of , £15 per annum. By acting thus, he deprived British subjects who had resided there for forty years of the benefits conferred by a daily mail. Without delaying the Committee, I wish to say that I shall vote against the item.
– I am not disposed to regard this matter from a commercial stand-point. I think there are other interests which are deserving of consideration - interests which are of far more importance to the Commonwealth than are any commercial considerations which are likely to arise for a considerable time. I regard these islands as the outposts of the Commonwealth, and therefore it is highly desirable that they should not pass to the control of a foreign power. Unfortunately, foreign nations far removed from these islands - nations whose interests are not nearly so directly centred in them as are those of the British - have already established themselves there. It is true that our relations with those powers have been of a friendly character, but I understand that there has been considerable friction locally between the British residents, who have borne the heat and burden of developing these islands, and their foreign neighbours. That friction is likely to increase and to extend until it is just possible that international jealousy may be engendered. I consider that the British people have a special claim to recognition in connexion with the occupancy and the development of the trade and commerce of these islands. They have pioneered them, and the other powers have planted settlers only after the conditions of life have been rendered very much easier. The influence of the latter is growing, and is practically menacing British occupation. All that we are asked to do by this vote is to follow in the footsteps of other Powers bygranting to our own people increased facilities in the matter of communication. I quite agree with the honorable member for Darwin that there are other places which deserve attention, and doubtless the instance which he quoted in connexion with King Island is one of them. But I think that I can instance a still more glaring case than that which was cited by the honorable member. I refer fo the absence of adequate postal facilities in connexion with the important town of Orange, in my own electorate, which possesses a population of between 8,000 and 10,000. The curtailment of its postal facilities by the Government has been severely felt, and certainly it is an evil which ought to be remedied. But simply because a portion of my own electorate does not possess all the advantages to which it is entitled, why should I decline to consider the desirableness of extending mail communication to these islands, particularly when we are asked to do so in the interests, not of a section of the community, but of the Commonwealth ? It is because I view the matter from that stand-point that I intend to support the proposed vote.
– The tone of this debate suggests that the Commonwealth ought to do something more than arrange for subsidies for mail communication. The trouble is that the Imperial Government apparently does not fully realize its responsibility to the outlying portions of the Empire, and I think that the Commonwealth Government should endeavour to bring about some propter understanding. I am not in favour of granting the increased subsidy, for it appears to me that the running of additional vessels in the trade will do no more than serve the interests of a few settlers in the islands. We experience great difficulty in securing a vote of £500 or £1,000 to improve mail services within .the Commonwealth, and yet the Government propose to grant a further sum of £6,000 to a private company to develop, as it is said, the trade of the islands. This company, according to the honorable member for Lang, is losing £16,000 a year by carrying on its island service. I am inclined to doubt that any company would! incur such a loss, unless it hoped by continuing the service to develop a profitable trade. As a matter of fact, settlement ir* the islands has not proceeded so rapidly as to suggest that the returns of the company from this source will be improved at an early date. Burns, Philp, and Co. are not likely to do anything at a loss, and I think it is time that we put a stop to this: “boosting” up of private companies. It would be better for us to devote this money to a service to be carried on b vessels owned by the Commonwealth. I am informed that the Merrie England is not being utilized as fully as we might reasonably expect, and it seems to me that shemight well be employed in this direction. The Government have not, so far, indicated that they are disposed to favorably view the granting of bounties, and I should liketo know the grounds on which they justify this proposal to give a bounty for the benefit of a mere handful of people– a few missionaries and others. The plea is that the service should be maintained by us in the interests of the Empire ; but when we look into the matter we find1 that the rest of the Empire is apparently unwilling to join with us in this direction. In these- circumstances, it seems to me that no good purpose would be served from the point of view of the Empire by granting this increased subsidy. It would tend only to assist French settlement in the .New Hebrides, and to help the French to secure possession of them. The Commonwealth has not yet had time to develop an external policy, but it seems to me that, so far, we have been guilty of that very policy of laissez faire for which we condemn the Imperial authorities. The whole of these islands ought to be secured to Great Britain. Many years ago public meetings were held in Melbourne in favour of the annexation of the New Hebrides, and a proposal was made that’ the Government of the day should send a representative ‘ to London to place before the Home Government the opinions of the people. These meetings, however, did not result in anything tangible, and so far the Commonwealth has been unable to take action. A mass of valuable information relating to the New Hebrides, and the position of the French in the islands of the Pacific, was collected bv the late Julian Thomas - “The Vagabond” - who took an enthusiastic interest in this question. No man was more intimately acquainted with the history of colonization in the South Pacific, and from his publications, as well as other sources, I have compiled a great deal of interesting information. Unfortunately, I have not got it with me to-day. I feel that it is time that some definite policy was adopted by the Commonwealth Government in relation to the islands of the Pacific Australia is now able to speak with a united voice, and I think that the Imperial authorities would be prepared to take more notice of representations made on behalf of the whole Commonwealth than they were disposed to take of the views of the individual Colonies. It would be well if some step were taken to make these islands a part of the British Empire, or at all events, to bring them more directly under British control ; but I do not think that the proposal to increase this mail subsidy is calculated to assist us in that direction. I shall vote for the amendment on the ground that the circumstances of the case do not justify the Government . proposal ; but I would strongly urge that some- steps should be taken .before it is too late to secure these islands to Great Britain. I believe that the .interests of the British people would be best served by our assuming control of them. If we succeed in establishing some reasonable system of governing British Papua we may feel disposed to accept some responsibility in regard to the New Hebrides. I should not be particularly opposed to our doing so if it were conceived to be in the interests of the nation, but I hold that it would be better for us to devote the money now proposed to be paid to this company to the maintenance of Commonwealth vessels employed in carrying on the service. I have only to repeat that, while I am sure it is our desire to be at peace with the nations of the world, I think that we ought to secure these islands for the British people.
– I intend to support the amendment on the ground that this is a matter which concerns the Imperial Parliament far more than the Government or Parliament of the Commonwealth. I have no desire to discount the strategical value of these islands to the Empire, but Australia has already contributed very largely to the naval subsidy, and should not be called upon further to provide naval stations in the Pacific for the British Fleet., However important these islands may be as outposts to the Commonwealth, they must be still more important to the Imperial policy of Having naval and coaling stations scattered broadcast along the trade routes. But when the Imperial authorities appear to take so little interest in this matter, one is necessarily led to the conclusion that the strategical value of these islands cannot be so great as has been represented by the honorable member for Lang and others. Apart from that consideration, however, I think that we have enough to do within our own Continent in working out our own destiny, without devoting public funds to the development of the resources of outside territories. Mention has been made of several directions in which money might well be spent in providing increased facilities for settlement within the Commonwealth, and there is scarcely an honorable member who could not multiply the complaints which have been made that those who are doing pioneering work for the Commonwealth are not receiving that assistance at the hands of the Government which they are entitled to expect. Nevertheless, we are asked to lavish an additional £6,000 on this company to develop islands thousand’s of miles away, and to assist the products of those islands to come into competition with those of our own producers. The honorable, member for KenTnedy has already referred to the position in regard to the maize, bananas, and other products of these islands. I am a protectionist right through the piece. We have imposed protective duties on these commodities to protect our own producers, and are also paying a considerable sun; by way of sugar bounties, to preserve Australia for the white races. In these circumstances, I, for one, am strongly opposed to subsidizing either mail steamers or cargo carriers to bring the products of the cheap labour of the Pacific Islands into competition with the whitegrown products of the farmers and fruitgrowers of Australia. By the aid of kanaka labour maize can be produced more cheaply in those islands than in Australia, the difference in the cost of labour being so great as, perhaps, would enable the settlers, notwithstanding the duty, to compete successfully with Australian growers. In addition to this subsidy, which we are asked to pay, in order to extend increased facilities to the 214 British subjects who have settled in the New Hebrides-
– The subsidy applies to the mail service, not merely of the New Hebrides, but of many other islands.
– I quite understand that,” but I think that we are already paying more than sufficient in this direction. In addition to the native-grown maize, which might be introduced from these islands by means of the subsidized steamship service, we should have bananas landed here to compete with the products of the fruit-growers of Australia, although complaints are already being made that the latter have to compete with fruit ‘ . grown by Chinese and other Asiatics on the northern coast of Queensland. The complaint is a serious one, and I do not think that we should be justified in ‘spending the money pf the white taxpayers of the Commonwealth in subsidizing any service whereby the produce of a cheaper class of labour than can be employed in Australia may be brought into competition with the produce of the white races in the Commonwealth. It is said that this company is a very patriotic ‘one, and is continuing a trade in which it incurs an annual loss of £16,000. Those who come from Queensland, and know something about the company, feel that that statement must be accepted with a very considerable quantity of salt. Our experience of Burns, Philp, and Co., is that they do not give much away, and that if they spend£1 it is with a view of reaping a profit of £2, £3,or £5 from that expenditure. The Committee has not yet been informed what area of land in the New Hebrides group is owned by the company.
– And how they acquired it.
– Information in regard to both points would certainly be of interest. Have they a large stake in those islands, and are they asking us to subsidize their steam-ship service in order to enhance the value of properties there which they have acquired? It might perhaps pay them to show a loss of £16,000, if they can thereby obtain a subsidy which will enormously increase the value of the estates which they have acquired in these islands. My knowledge of the firm’s transactions in various parts of . Northern Queensland, however, leads me to think that there is something behind this proposal which is not plain to the Committee. In any case, I am of opinion that the money could be better spent in providing facilities for communication for our scattered communities in the wilds, who are suffering the hardships incidental to pioneering life in the endeavour to develop the resources of the Commonwealth.
– I am opposed to this proposal. I see no justification for the expenditure of a large sum of money, ostensibly for the development of a trade with certain islands which the facts and figures before us show to be unworthy of consideration. ‘Although the English have been trading with the New Hebrides for upwards of twenty years, there are now only 245 British residents there, thirty-four of whom are missionaries. I suppose it is through the missionaries that the reports have filtered which have led the British Government to become indifferent about the islands. At any rate, we know that men who possess such a dominating influence as the missionaries have in these regions are not a reliable source of information for statesmen and others who have to deal with great national problems.
– The petition which I read was not signed by the missionaries.
– We know that in political matters what appears to be the hand of Esau is often the hand of Jacob, and the actor hides his identity to facilitate the achievement of his ends. I have nothing to say on the question whether Brisbane or Svdney is the legitimate port for the trade of the islands, though in my opinion there is only one port in Australia which will ultimately become the trading centre of the Pacific. I object, however, to the proposal to spend £12,000 to obtain a trade which is worth only £20,000.
– And which we shut out by our Customs duties.
– That is another matter. I am surprised that the Treasurer has not seen that we are really paying something for nothing.
– Under the administration of the States, this subsidy amounted to only £2,000.
– There appears to be a desire on the part of the Government, I will not say to grease the fat sow, but to grant a subsidy to a wealthy shipping company to enable it to profitably run vessels to these islands.
– Three Governments have approved of this subsidy.
– I should like to know why the item appears among the Estimates of the Department of External Affairs, instead of in the Estimates of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, where it properly belongs ?
– Because it was thought wise to put the whole of the expenditure in regard to these islands in one part of the Estimates. The mail subsidv is only a small part of it. The £3,600 is a liability incurred by New South Wales, and transferred to the Commonwealth. Honorable gentlemen opposite would have been the first to growl if we had put one part of the expenditure in one part of the Estimates, and another elsewhere. The Government gain nothing by their present action.
– Notice should not be taken of the complaints of honorable members when they are unreasonable; but the question I raise is as to the constitutionality of placing this sum on the PostmasterGeneral’s Estimates. New South Wales paid the money under a Constitution different from that of the Commonwealth.
– The whole of this, less £3,600, is new expenditure.
– It appears in the Estimates of the Department of External Affairs because it is not wholly for a mail service.
– In my opinion, it is an evasion of the Constitution, and we have no power to grant the money. We are at the present time paying £8,000 per annum for the up-keep of the Merrie England, and now it is proposed to spend £12,000 per annum in addition on a private line of steamers, to secure a trade worth only £20,000 a year, which is decreasing.
– £20,000 is the annual value of the trade with one group of islands, but the subsidy is to provide for a mail service to several groups.
– I accept that correction, but it makes very little difference to my argument. Why not put the Merrie England to some useful purpose?
– The Merrie England, if she were fit to do the work at all, could not make one-tenth of the number of trips contracted for.
– But possibly an additional £12,000 would assist us in establishing a line of steamers to these islands.
– The Merrie England is now fully occupied in connexion with the internal administration of New Guinea, which could not be carried out without a vessel of that kind.
– I have been given to understand thaf she merely serves as a floating home for the Administrator, though I admit that from time to time he is called upon to pay visits to different parts of the island to look after its affairs. I think that the Treasurer will admit that he has no constitutional right to pay this money, and that any proposed grant for a mail subsidy should be in the Postmaster- General’s Estimates. Furthermore, there are scores of other ways in which it might be spent with more advantage to the Commonwealth in the development of our own resources. I object to the proposal because it is unconstitutional, because it appears as an item in the vote for the Department of External Affairs, because the expenditure is not warranted by the trade carried on between the Commonwealth and the Islands, and because I do not think that the granting of a subsidy to a private company affords the best means of developing commercial relations.
– I shall oppose the proposed increase of the subsidy. We are bound to pay the. amount agreed upon by New South Wales before the Post and Telegraph Department was taken over by the Commonwealth, but beyond that it is not desirable to go. It is farcical to talk about granting a subsidy with a view to encouraging trade with certain settlers whose produce we will not admit into the Commonwealth, except on the payment of heavy duties. It is very desirable that the commercial relations between the New Hebrides and the Commonwealth should be developed and strengthened, but we could accomplish that result far more effectively by giving to the settlers of the New Hebrides some preference in trade.
– Is not half a loaf better than no bread?
– No, not when the half-loaf is granted to a steam-ship company. That will not help the people of the New Hebrides, or encourage trade relations with Australia. I agree with the honorable member for Gwydir that there are many ways in which we can make more profitable use of our money. I am not in favour of granting subsidies to wealthy steam-ship companies, because I believe, that the system is calculated to land us in difficulties in the future. Therefore, I set my face against them from the beginning.
– I think that sufficient has been said to induce the Government to reconsider this proposal. If they are not prepared to strike out this item I would suggest that its consideration should be postponed.
– I would point out to the honorable member that it would be impossible to postpone the consideration of a question that has already been stated from the Chair.
– In that case, I presume it will be impossible to recommit the item. There must be some parliamentary method provided for extricating us from a tangle such as this is.
– It will’ be competent for honorable members to deal with the matter when the resolutions of the Committee of Supply are reported, or in connexion with the Appropriation Bill.
– I think that it is the business of the Government to find a way out of difficulties of their own creation. We have not sufficient information before us. Ministers sit absolutely dumb, and rely upon a private honorable member to endeavour to persuade us that we shall be justified in voting the sum they propose.
– In the same way that the Watson Government put up the honorable member for Darling to speak on their behalf.
– Even if the suggestion of the honorable member for Dalley be correct, we should scarcely expect a Ministry of all the talents to follow the example of a Government consisting of untried men.
– Was not this item agreed to by the Watson Ministry ?
– It has found its way into the Estimates as a result of the action of. several Ministries. The present Government are responsible for it as it now appears, and in justice to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth they ought to supply us with the fullest information. They should not expect us to be content with the inexact statements made by the honorable member for Lang, based apparently upon reports contained in some obscure newspaper, or upon the assertions of persons who possibly have selfish interests to serve. We ought to have placed before us facts and figures absolutely beyond challenge. I ask, what do the Government intend?
– We propose. to go on with an item which has been approved of by three Governments.
– Including the Government with which the honorable member was connected.
– That is a most extraordinary statement.
– The item will be approved of by a vast majority of honorable members when they vote - if they ever get a chance to vote.
– That may or may not be. I hope that those honorable members who vote in favour of it will be able to justify their action before the people of Australia. The Treasurer is a clever arithmetician, and I invite him to work out a little sum by dividing the sum of £8,400 by 214 - the latter number representing the British residents in the New Hebrides independent of the missionaries.
– Four hundred pounds of that amount is intended to provide for ths substitution of white labour for black upon the mail steamers.
– If the subsidy were abolished altogether there would be no necessity to provide that £400, and I am, therefore, perfectly justified in adopting the total of £8,400 for the purpose of the calculation in which I am asking the Treasurer to engage. The proposed service is intended solely ‘for the benefit of the 214 British residents in the New Hebrides, because it cannot be denied that the want’s of the French community there are amply catered for by the shipping companies of that nation. A thorough investigation ought to be made, so that we might obtain from official sources a clear statement of the position. We have certainly had a very eloquent and lucid exposition by the honorable member for Lang, but I am not aware that he has been briefed by the Government, or that they are justified in endeavouring to get the Estimates passed upon the strength of information supplied by irresponsible members. They should present official data which would justify us in voting £8,400 for the benefit of 214 individuals who are located beyond the limits of the Commonwealth. Honorable members have repeatedly brought under notice the necessity of providing better mail facilities for the convenience of settlers in the remoter country districts.. I do not suppose that there is one honorable member who could not point to cases in which the expenditure of a few hundred pounds would confer great advantages upon a considerable number of his constituents.
– Hear, hear.
– I am very glad to hear that cheer from the honorable member. ‘ I believe that, notwithstanding his extreme activity in days gone by, which has reduced the wants of his electors to what may be deemed to represent the irreducible minimum, they still have requirements which could be reasonably met. I am only sorry that the honorable member did not assist to keep me in office sufficiently long to enable me to make good some of those omissions.
– I shall hold the honorable member to his promise when he again takes office.
– I an.’ opposed to this subsidy for many reasons, which appear to me to be full of force, and which cannot be disregarded in the interests of the people of this country. From ancient times every nation which has attempted unduly to expand itself has either suffered reverses or come to grief. We need only dip into history to obtain an object-lesson which should stand us in good stead in this regard. Taking the policy which has been outlined in support of this subsidy, I say that it is simply folly for a small community like ours to endeavour to grab all the islands of the Pacific - and that is what is at the bottom of this proposal. That is the proposal which the honorable member for Lang has practically avowed. That is the object which, twenty years ago, stimulated the agitation wh’ich took place in this country upon the same subject. In my opinion, it is absurd for a small community, comprising 4,000,000 of people, to attempt to ab sorb islands which are situated at such a great distance from the coast line of Australia. For 125 years America has managed to progress under a republican form of Government without undertaking anything in the shape of annexation outside her own borders.
– She is doing it now.
– I am quite aware that she is doing it now. Does the honorable member imagine that I have been blind or deaf and dumb.
– It would be a blessing if the honorable member were dumb - if onlY for an hour.
– It would have been a blessing to Australia if the Prime Minister had been born that way.
– That is very bitter. I know that the honorable member is’ a believer in law and order.
– I have come under stronger administrators of law and order than the right honorable gentleman, and I am quite prepared to meet him. America, until recently, progressed very well without attempting to annex countries outside her own immediate sphere, and her recent adoption of a different policy has embroiled her in troubles, the end of which her ablest statesmen cannot foresee. Her interference in Cuban affairs, and in the assimilation of other islands, and especially her excursion to the Philippines, have not been to the advantage of the American people. Honorable members who lead American magazines and newspapers will agree with me that there is a large and powerful party gi owing up in the United States, which is bitterly opposed to the abandonment of the Monroe doctrine.
– I do not think that America started out with any idea of annexation.
– Whatever idea she may have started out with, the fact remains that she has annexed the Philippines, which are costing her an enormous sum of money for administration - money which is not likely to be repaid during the present generation. Her policy has produced a crop of troubles, which, if they do not disrupt the Republic will seriously affect its finances and the prosperity of the community- If it be folly for a country possessing 80,000,000 of inhabitants to indulge in a policy of expansion - of grabbing up all the waste places of the earth - it must be little short of supreme folly for Australia, situated as she is, to follow upon the same lines, seeing that it possesses only about one-twentieth of the population of tHe United States. I admit that a different view might be entertained if Australia were a small island, whose people had not spheres to which they could transfer their energies, close at hand - if there were no kingdoms of fruitful soil convenient to the masses. That, however, ds not the case. Our Northern Territory is practically unpeopled and undeveloped. That territory embraces an enormous area, which is equal to a principality. Separated from’ it by an imaginary boundary line, are other enormous tracts of country, which are known as the north-west portion of Western Australia. All that territory is practically undeveloped, and the same remark is applicable in a minor degree to the northern portions of Queensland. Moreover, we have a very large expanse of country in New Guinea. With all these opportunities for the expansion of our population, what folly it is for us to travel so far afield in order to acquire fresh territories? The honorable member for Lang, who seems to be the chief advocate of this item - because the Government have not a word to say in its favour-
– We cannot join in a “ stonewall.”
– I am not erecting a “stone wall.” The statements which I ann making contain sound, common sense from my stand-point. The honorable member for Lang seems to think that these islands are of great strategic value to the Empire. If that be so, it is rather extraordinary that the great men who have their fingers upon the pulses of the British people, who deeire to protect the Empire from aggression. who make a study of foreign policy, and who understand quite as well as does the honorable member the necessity for keeping the great ocean highways open to British commerce, have not awakened to the importance of retaining these islands.
– The same authorities, some years ago, said that foreign nations would’ not establish themselves in the Pacific.
– If the honorable member attempts to forecast what will happen within 100 years he will fall into innumerable errors/ It is a very clever individual who can see ten years, ahead. In submitting a motion relating to the New Hebrides on the 28th July last, the honorable member for Lang said -
So far as the North Pacific is concerned, these islands were perhaps of greater importance to America than they were to Great Britain. Still, they would have been of immense value to Great Britain at the present juncture, had she only exercised the foresight necessary to acquire control of them, which she could easily have done at that time.
I would remind the honorable member that all the wisdom of statesmanship does not reside in him. There are at the head of affairs in the British Empire minds quite as alert as is his own,’ quite as anxious to preserve British supremacy as he is, and they are not likely to neglect any opportunity to protect the interests of Great Britain. I regard this proposal as merely the thin end of the wedge to embroil the Commonwealth in a scheme for private aggrandizement. When we reflect that there are only 214 British residents, exclusive of missionaries, in these islands, after forty years of occupation, I think it will be recognised that their resources cannot be of a very attractive character. I am sorry that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat is not present, because he has made some statements in reference to these islands, and has given reasons to justify this vote, which I should like to test by some information in my possession. I- do not think that he was quite frank in some of his remarks last evening upon this subject, and I hope that before I have concluded my remarks, he will return to the Chamber, so that I may have an opportunity of referring- more fully to this aspect of the matter. I mentioned last evening that in my opinion it was necessary that the payment of this subsidy should be deferred until the question of land titles in the New Hebrides had been settled.
– They will not require any subsidy then.
– Seeing that the French population and interests in most of the islands are quite equal to, if not greater, than are those of the British community, it is evident that until the question of land titles is settled, there can be no large increase in the British population. The question of land titles, as the honorable member for Lang is aware-
– I am afraid that the honorable member is now trenching upon the motion which the honorable member for Lang has upon the business-paper.
– I have no wish to do that. I merely desire to make an incidental reference to it. I apprehend that I shall not be out of order in referring to the bearing of land titles upon the advisability of the Government paying the proposed subsidy ? I presume that I shall be in order in referring to it, in so far as the occupancy of land in the islands justifies the Commonwealth paying this subsidy. I find that in the New Hebrides and the Banks Islands, which embrace an area of nearly 6,000 square miles -
The French exceed the British on five islands, the British exceed the French on five, and on two the numbers are equal. In the Banks and Torres groups - which consist of a series of small islands connecting the New Hebrides with the Solomons, the British preponderate. . . . The New Hebrides is practically the only group not claimed by an European nation. Under the Anglo-French Convention of 16th November, 1877, and the agreement of the 26th June, . 1888, they were placed under a joint Commission of English and French Naval officers on the Pacific Station. The duties of this Commission are limited to maintaining order and redressing wrongs suffered by the whites at the hands of the natives. The British and French have each a Resident Commissioner stationed at Vila, on Efate, or Sandwich Islands, the principal port.
Much difficulty has been experienced owing to the fact that the Commission had no power to deal with land titles. Many disputes between English and French, and also between Europeans and natives, have arisen, and have remained unsettled for this reason.
– From what is the honorable member quoting?
– From a summary of correspondence to which I shall refer later on. The summary continues -
The Admiralty reports make frequent reference to this inconvenience, and the Senior Naval Officer in November, 1903, said that it would tend greatly to the tranquility of the group if a Commission were appointed to settle these disputes. The recent agreement of April last provided for the establishment of such a Commission.
There are many questions arising out of the settlement of the difficulties in regard to these land titles. I have no desire to labour the question, but I think it necessary to point out that until these titles are placed upon a satisfactory basis, we shall have no large increase in settlement in the islands, and certainly no such increase as would justify the Commonwealth in expending over £8,000 per annum in maintaining communication with them. I therefore say that we have to guard ourselves against taking a first step that would lead us on to such untold expenditure and untold trouble, as the United States have experienced in Cuba and the Philippines, and, indeed, in every place with which, since their abandonment of the Monroe doctrine, they have sought to interfere.
– The circumstances are entirelv different.
Mr.MAHON.- They are so entirely different as to make it all the more unjustifiable for us to go beyond our own boundaries in order practically to invite trouble. When the honorable member for Lang speaks of the necessity of preserving these islands to Great Britain, he ignores the fact that New Caledonia - which is actually in the possession of a foreign power - is some 500 miles nearer the Australian coast than is the New Hebrides group.
– I do not ignore that fact - I deplore it.
– I did not even hear the honorable member mention it, not to speak of deploring it. When he urges that the possession of these islands by Great Britain is necessary for the protection of Australia and the preservation of the Empire, he must logically advocate the acquisition of New Caledonia.
– I think that the honorable member is now distinctly debating the motion on the notice-paper, to which I have referred.
– I must apologize for having overlooked the precise terms of that motion. After all, I did not intend to make anything more than an incidental reference to the futility of the- honorable member, or any one else, attempting to claim that the New Hebrides group should be secured to Great Britain unless they, go further and say that we must obtain possession of the larger and more important island of New Caledonia, which lies much nearer our coast. The honorable mem&er made the most extraordinary statement that the company which is to receive the subsidy is actually losing £16,000 per annum in carrying on this trade. If that be correct - and I have no doubt that the honorable member believes that it is - the company is deserving of an enduring memorial by a grateful Commonwealth for services rendered.
– It is the first case on record, I should think, of a service being carried on by a company purely for patriotic reasons.
– Quite so. Such a sacrifice in the interests of the community has never before been recorded. I certainly understood the honorable member to. say that the company was losing this large sum annually from patriotic motives, with a desire to maintain trade, so that, with the expansion which must come later on, it would be an easy matter for Australia to become possessed of the islands.
– I said that I believed that patriotism was the mainspring of the company’s action.
– I have never had a chance before of appreciating such selfsacrifice on the part of a limited or unlimited liability company. The honorable member also made the statement, and I think that the Prime Minister indorsed it, that the company was prepared to transfer the whole of its landed interests in the islands free of charge to the Commonwealth. That also is a generous proposition. If the company is losing £16,000 a year in carrying on this trade, the further proposition to hand over this land to us free of charge is a consistent act of benevolence on its part. I should like to know, however, what liability would attach “to the gift.
– I know of none.
– That is the difficulty. We have no precise information of this company’s intentions. That is what we ought to have before granting this subsidy. If an independent inquiry were held on the spot - by, say, a small Parliamentary Commission - I think that the House would cheerfully and with confidence vote any sum required to maintain the existing connexion between Australia and the islands, provided of course that the investigations of the Commission showed that it was in the interests of Australia.
– I am just as anxious as is the honorable member that the fullest information should be secured.
– I am sure that the honorable member is, and I therefore claim his vote against the Government proposal, unless the required details are furnished. I take it that a refusal on the part of the Committee to grant this subsidy would be a direct intimation to the Government that we should expect them in future to present a better case before asking us to vote so large a sum. If I appear to refer rather frequently to the remarks of the honorable member for Lang, it is due to the fact that he is about the only honorable member who has championed this item. The Government have not a word to say about it. Even the Treasurer, who usually investigates financial matters very closely, and sees that the community obtains good value for its outlay, does not seem to have mastered all the details of this proposal.
– The approval of the Ministry of which the honorable member was a member is enough for him.
– In matters of this kind the right honorable gentleman does not usually take any one’s word for granted. I believe that his thorough-going and searching examinations into the finances of the Commonwealth have always been personally conducted. I admit that owing to the position of parties in this House, the Government are rather powerless - that they have no effective capacity to adopt strong measures - but in asking us to vote this money they should at least place the fullest particulars before honorable members, and clearly establish their case. I believe thaI there is a large volume of correspondence, as well as a mass of State papers, in ihe possession of the Government, which, if brought forward, would throw much light upon this subject, and enable the Committee to form a more enlightened opinion on the subject than we are able to do from the meagre details submitted to us by the honorable member for Lang. The honorable member to-day repeated the statement made by him on a previous occasion that the trade between these islands and Australia is very considerable. I find, from a return laid on the table of the House on the motion of the honorable member for Bourke, that the value of the cargo carried by the shipping company in question from the islands to Australia last year was £31,456, but from that amount we have to deduct £24,312 in respect of copra, and maize, £4,112. Under ordinary circumstances, maize is not grown in the New Hebrides for export, though I admit that in 1900, when there were no Federal duties, about £4,000 worth of maize was exported from those islands’ to Australia. It has paid the people of the New Hebrides to grow maize of recent years for export to the Commonwealth, because of the drought which has prevailed1 here, but the value of the maize export must be deducted from the value of the total export to arrive at the normal trade of the islands.
– When the cocoanuts have come to maturity, that crop will take the place of the maize.
– That may or may not be so, but the honorable member surely does not wish me to take into consideration a crop which has not yet matured. I presume that they were growing cocoanuts when they were growing maize.
– It takes from eight to ten years for cocoanut palms to mature. It is not fair to deduct the copra export.
– I think it is quite fair to deduct both the copra and the maize export. I do not deny that the islands produce so much copra per annum, but if there were a failure of the copra crop, there would practically be no trade at all. I am pointing out that the islands do not appear to be suitable for much more than the production of copra and of maize, when a drought in Australia causes the price of the latter to rise.
– Their resources have not yet been properly tested.
Mr.MAHON. - The honorable member can scarcely say so correctly. My own experience of new countries is in direct conflict with his opinion. If wealth exists people will go after it. Take Western Australia as an example. The pioneers pushed out into the unknown interior, hundreds of miles from permanent water, in their desire to ascertain its resources. Wherever a country is capable of development, you will find people possessed of pluck, endurance, and money ready to engage in developing it. Deducting the copra and maize, the value of the exports from the New Hebrides last year was only £3,132, though £2.500 worth of produce was carried by other vessels. The islands are evidently very poor, having very few resources ; and, in my opinion, it is not worth our while to pay a heavy subsidy for the development of such an infinitesimal trade.
– The subsidy which we are asked to grant is for the encouragement of trade with several groups of islands besides the New Hebrides.
– My contention is that the trade of all these islands does not warrant the large expenditure which is proposed. There is some reason to believe that the agitation for British occupation in that part of the Pacific has been fanned by ex parte statements and information from biased sources.
– I have spent some time in the islands.
– I was not aware of that fact, but was not referring to the honorable member. I had in mind certain representations through the Colonies to the Imperial authorities, which are obviously biased. For instance, in February, 1901, a deputation claimed that the Anglo-French agreement of 1888 had been violated, as regards the disposition ‘of native lands, with the assistance of His Majesty’s representative on the Joint Commission. That was a very serious charge to make.
– What authority is the honorable member quoting ?
– The papers to which I have already referred. They contain a narrative of the proceedings of deputations which from time to time waited on the States Governments. It is also urged that tribunals should be empowered to re-open claims, even where supported by alleged deeds, or contracts, if the transaction is attacked on the ground of fraud, ignorance, or mistake. I believe that in every country titles could be attacked on those grounds.
– The French claim really more territory than is embraced in the islands.
– That may be so; but if what is asked for were conceded every title might be attacked. A claimant need only urge that a title was bad on the ground of fraud, ignorance, or mistake. This would permit of all titles in the New Hebrides being challenged.
– I intend to go fully into that matter when dealing with the main question on my motion.
– Then I shall not refer to it at greater length now. But there is little doubt that much misapprehension prevails concerning affairs in these islands, because we have had only one-sided information about them. Even the Imperial Government has been better informed’ than Australasian statesmen. It is a matter of notoriety that not many years ago the Imperial Government suggested to the authorities here that some missionaries - who are, I take it, at the bottom of all these statements - might be reprimanded, or, at least, advised to act in a more cautious and liberal spirit towards the other settlers.
– The honorable member is mistaken if he thinks that the missionaries have anything to do with this particular matter.
– I may be mistaken about that, but I am not mistaken about the suggestion made by the Imperial Government, that the missionaries might be advised to display more patience and forbearance. As the Government are in possession of a great deal of information which honorable members have not had an opportunity to peruse, I think that the item should be postponed until all the papers can be laid before us. Urgency cannot be ‘pleaded. Our interests will not suffer by a little delay. If we cannot secure inquiry by an independent Commission, the House should certainly, in the interests of the taxpayers, refuse to vote this money, pending the production of the fullest official details.
– When I made an interjection a short time ago, I did not mean to suggest that the honorable member for Coolgardie is either physically or mentally blind, but the illustration of which he made use later on showed that he was not prepared to tell the Committee all that he sees in connexion with this matter. He told us only what suits his own argument, but had he been arguing from another point of view, I think he might have used a different presentation of the same circumstances to support it. Not only have the United States been led into an expansion of territory through their unfortunate war with Spain-
– The honorable member will not be in order in debating the question of the expansion of Australia by the acquisition of the New Hebrides, and he cannot discuss the incidental reference of the honorable member for Coolgardie to the action of America.
– The honorable member for Coolgardie dealt with the positron into which America had got by reason of the part she took in the Spanish war. I do not wish to discuss that matter. My point is this, that America has annexed the Sandwich Islands, has strengthened her hold on Samoa, and is extending her influence across the Pacific in pursuance of an , acknowledged policy in that direction. The extension of mail facilities and the development of trade are weighty considerations; but it is still more important that we should continue to strengthen our influence in the Pacific. I believe that all the trade routes between Australia and Europe will, in the near future, cross the Pacific Ocean in the direction of the Panama Canal, and that it is perfectly legitimate that we should by means of this kind endeavour to safeguard our interests in that connexion. This is not a matter of either expansion or occupancy of new territory, but a means of increasing our influence through trade relations. Eventually we may enter into some friendly arrange ment with the powers having possessions in the Pacific, and possibly join hands with the United States. But there is no reason why we should give up, even to so friendly a power as the United States, the islands which lie much nearer to our shores than to theirs.
– From a Victorian point of view, I desire to express my dissent from the Government proposal; I understand that there are only 214 British residents in the New Hebrides, and I have calculated that the proposed vote of £12,000 would represent a grant of £56 per unit of that population. I do not wish to appear factious in- my opposition, but if this vote be passed I hope that the Commonwealth will prove equally generous in its dealings with old-age ^pensioners.. The proposed grant is to be’ made to a certain shipping company to which the democrats of Australia owe no thanks. One of the directors of the company, whilst he held the reins of Government in Queensland, behaved’ in a most scandalous and disgraceful manner, and we should not become parties to any vote that would place money in his hands. Some time ago, fears were expressed that France would take the New Hebrides out of our hands, and a number of misstatements were made, which were intended to prejudice that noble nation in our eyes. Judging from the history of France, I do not think that there would . be much difficulty in our buying up the rights of that nation in the New Hebrides, or even in New Caledonia. Louisiana was sold by France to the United States, and in the case of Newfoundland a satisfactory arrangement was entered into with regard to the fishery rights of Great Britain and France. It would be preferable, instead of increasing the proposed subsidy, to enter into some arrangement with the residents in the Islands for a limited service.
Mr. WEBSTER (Gwydir).- Since the adjournment for lunch I have had an opportunity to look into this question a little more closely. After having consulted the Consti,tution, I am more convinced than ever that the Government have no justification for the course they now propose. I am sure that the honorable and learned member for Bendigo will pardon me for referring- to him as’ an authority on the Constitution for an interpretation of its provisions for the guidance of the Committee. The question is whether the Government can constitutionally expend a sum of money such as is here indicted for the purpose of encouraging trade between the Commonwealth and the New Hebrides. According to my reading of the Constitution, we have no power to grant bounties for any purpose beyond the limits of the Commonwealth, or other than for the development of production and export. My belief is that the Government have placed the vote under the Department of External Affairs, because the proposed arrangement cannot be regarded as a mail contract, pure and simple. If it came properly within that category, it should be provided for under the Estimates relating to the Post and Telegraph Department. I should prefer ,to see this large amount of money expended in other directions. I suggested at a former stage that it might be possible to convert the steamer Merrie England into a vessel suitable for the purposes of performing these mail services, but I have since ascertained that the craft is entirely unsuitable for such a purpose. She was merely a pleasure yacht, which formerly belonged to the Duke of Westminster. She was found to be too slow for his purposes, and was quietly palmed off, through Sir Peter Scratchley, upon the New Guinea Administration under a lease for ten years. The question now arises whether the vessed belongs to the Duke of Westminster, or to the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member is beginning to discuss the circumstances under which a certain vessel became the property of the Commonwealth, and that has nothing to do with the debate.
– I presume that I shall be perfectly in order in discussing whether it would be desirable to use the steamer Merrie England for the purpose of carrying on the mail services, instead of paying an additional subsidy to Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Co.
– No one steamer could perform the work ; a number of vessels are now engaged in it.
– If we are to believe the statement of the honorable member for Lang, Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Co. are incurring a loss of £16,000 annually, and we have no right to allow them to victimize themselves for the benefit of the Commonwealth. Then, again, what guarantee have we that if we spend this money year after year, we shall not find ourselves in a position somewhat similar to that occupied by New Zealand in regard to Samoa? For many years New Zealand made strong efforts to develop trade with Samoa, but immediately Great Britain got into trouble in the Transvaal, and. considered it desirable to placate Germany, she handed over Samoa to that power, and sacrificed all the interests which New Zealand had been at such great trouble to build up. If we expend money year after year in developing these islands, what gumantee have we, if England becomes embroiled in war, that in order to placate some other nation - possibly France - she will not hand over these islands to its control, just as she handed Samoa over to Germany ? We are asked to make this sacrifice to promote trade relations between these islands and the mainland. I claim that we should be very careful as to the manner in which we expend the taxpayers’ money upon territory which is not covered by our Constitution. Some honorable members appear to think that we are adopting a very patriotic course by undertaking the control of these islands. I would point out that there are two sides to that picture. To my mind it is questionable whether by agreeing to this vote we shall not be burdening ourselves with prospective responsibilities, the weight of which we cannot conceive. The expenditure of this money may within a few years involve the Commonwealth in a large outlay in providing these islands with the means of defence.
– Does the honorable member intend to continue until 4 o’clock?
– I repeat that if we expend this money in promoting trade with these islands, it is quite possible that sooner or later we may find ourselves in the position that New Zealand occupied after her vigorous efforts to develop trade relations with Samoa. By subsidizing this shipping company to the extent of £12.000, we shall be creating vested interests, and if there is one thing more than another which has distinguished the Prime Minister, it is his opposition to anything which would tend in that direction. There are only 2.14 British people upon these islands, exclusive of thirty-four missionaries.
– The honorable member is not going home this week, and he is blocking other honorable members from going.
– That consideration does not appeal to me. Mv home is always subordinate to my public duties. The veryindividuals who so strongly advocate the expenditure of this money are opposed to granting a bonus upon the production of iron to develop native industries, and to provide work for our unemployed. I think that the Government would have adopted a course more consistent with the policy they profess if, instead of proposing to grant this bounty to a shipping company - a bounty which I maintain is unconstitutional - they had come forward with a proposition to give a preference to the products of the islands. A system of preferential trade would do more to develop their resources than would all the bounties or subsidies that we might give to shipping companies engaged in the island trade. It is claimed that we should give a preference to the manufactures of Great Britain, as against those of other countries, and the Prime Minister might be asked to give a preference to the products of these islands - products which for the most part are not common to Australia. There would be more logic in a proposal of that- kind than there is in the proposition that we should grant this increased mail subsidy. I appeal to the Treasurer to agree to the postponement of the item. The more one examines it the more objectionable it appears to be. Reports bearing on the subject were laid on the table of the House only yesterday, and as I, in common with other honorable members, have not had an opportunity to study them, I think that the Treasurer might fairly agree to my request. We should then be able to consider it, together with Division 13, which has already been postponed. That division deals with the administration of British .New Guinea, and the item now before us has an indirect bearing upon it. If it be postponed we shall have more time to study the merits of the Government proposal, and our decision, whatever it may be, will be brought into conformity with that arrived at in regard to the administration of British New Guinea. We are asked to take a purely experimental step, and I think it would be better, instead of spending our money in this way, to appoint a Royal Commission to visit the islands, and thoroughly investigate the possibility of extending the trade between them and Australia. Such a Commission would be able to furnish us with much useful information, and place us in a far better position than we are at present to deal with a question of this kind. There is no matter under the control of the Commonwealth Government of which we know less, and it is unreasonable that we should be asked to make an entirely new departure before we have had an opportunity to carefully study the question. If we have a thorough inquiry we shall be sure to stand on safe ground. I do not know whether the Treasurer is prepared to postpone this item.
– There should be, at all events, some further explanation of it by the Government.
– I agree with the honorable member. The Treasurer should certainly deal with the various points which have been raised during the debate. If he were able to give a satisfactory explanation we should be in a better position to go to a division, but I certainly am not prepared to vote for the item on the information now before us. If time permitted I think I should be able to show that it is idle to expect to develop trade with these islands to such an extent as would warrant the expenditure of so large a sum on the mail service. I know that there are some patriotic honorable members who are always prepared to advocate expenditure of this kind on the ground that it is necessary to create outposts and to develop the Empire. They tell us, very naturally, that it is better that these islands should be controlled by Australia than by a foreign power, and I can quite understand their saying that we should be justified in agreeing to this expenditure. The Prime Minister, in reading a report bearing on this subject, laid great stress upon the wisdom of our adopting the course which was recommended, with a view to our ultimately securing full control over -these islands, that the interests of the Empire might be safeguarded. I do not wholly agree with that view. I do not think that we are called upon to consider everything purely from the point of view of Imperial patriotism. Australian patriotism is our first duty; it is our duty to every man and woman who sends us here to guard the Federal Treasury. There are hundreds of places within the Commonwealth in which this money might be spent to greater advantage than in the New Hebrides, where, excluding missionaries, there are only 214 British settlers.
– Why does not the honorable member mention the population of all the islands to be served by the steamers in respect of which the subsidy is to be granted ?
– Because I should not be in order in dealing with matters outside the item immediately before us. If I were to attempt to deal with the Government proposals in regard to New Guinea, for example, I should be at once called to order. I desire to keep closely to the question immediately before us, and to conserve- the time of the Committee. There are, excluding missionaries, 214 British settlers in the islands, and to serve them we are asked to expend a total of , £12,000. In other words, we are to expend about £56 per head of the British population there in order to keep up our connexion with the islands - in order that we may govern them.
– We do not govern them.
– Of course not. We are to pay this money in order that a more regular service may be maintained between Australia and the islands - in order that this shipping company may be able to send its vessels more regularly to the islands to pick up copra and deal in other exports. When we seek a reason for proposals of this kind we are sometimes led to peculiar conclusions. One might be pardoned for arriving at the opinion that possibly there was some special interest appealing to this Parliament for a concession to which no section of the community is really entitled. Items of this kind always appear to be open to some suspicion. Be that as it may, I trust that the Treasurer will agree to the postponement of this Division. I make this appeal to him in the interests of those who desire to return to their homes this afternoon, believing that if it be granted they will be in a better position when we meet next week to consider the question. I feel that I have every justification for appealing to the Prime Minister’s humanitarian feeling and sense of justice, in order to procure a thorough investigation of these proposals before any binding decision is come to which may affect the liberties and interests of the people of the New Hebrides. If, however, the Government will not consent to a postponement of the discussion, I hope that they will supply us with a little more light on the subject. I should like to know from the Treasurer whether it is constitutional to make this grant. I myself have serious doubts on the subject, and I should like the benefit of the opinion of one who had a hand in framing the Constitution. Furthermore, it might be held, as it was held some time ago, when a proposal was made for the purchase of the islands from the French, that the question is an Empire one, with which the Commonwealth is not justified in dealing. However, I do not wish to unduly trespass upon the time of honorable members, and therefore I shall say no more on the subject now, in the hope that we shall receive the fullest information from the Treasurer.
– The discussion on this item has been a very interesting one, and I do not intend even to hint that the time occupied last night and today has been at all wasted. Honorable members have been quite within their rights in fully expressing their views, and I have listened very intently to what has been said, in order to see if there were any grounds which could justify me in changing my attitude in regard to the matter. I have failed to grasp the constitutional objection of the honorable member for Gwydir. It has been suggested that the item should appear among the Estimates of the PostmasterGeneral. That question was raised when the first Estimates were framed. The sum of £3,600 is a liability incurred by the State of New South Wales for the performance of certain services, and it was regarded as unfair to charge the amount against postal expenditure.
– If it is not postal expenditure, what authority has the Government for making it ?
– The matter was thoroughly thrashed out at the time, and the conclusion was come to that the expenditure was more fairly chargeable against the Department of External Affairs, since the subsidy was for more than postal services. Afterwards the Government determined to increase the subsidy, in order to provide a fuller service, and this increase came under the head of new expenditure. The Committee, however, has a perfect constitutional right to vote money for such purposes. The only matter with which honorable members are concerned is the justification for the expenditure in view of the benefits likely to be obtained. It has been determined now on two, if not on three, occasions, that it is wise to increase our communications with these islands, and sums of £2,000 and £400 have been spent in providing for the carrying on of the services by white labour. The proposal to increase the subsidy was first considered by the Barton Government, and afterwards by the Deakin Government. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat spent -many days in fully inquiring into the whole question with those interested in the company, and he assured the Cabinet that he had cut the subsidy down to the lowest amount which he thought right. He satisfied himself that the expenditure would be beneficial to the Commonwealth, as one from which we should get a good return. That Government left office, and the late Prime Minister also fully investigated the matter, and satisfied himself that the proposed expenditure was justifiable. It then came to the turn of the present Government to deal with the subject. When the Estimates came before me, I was naturally anxious to cut down every possible vote, and to leave out new votes wherever I could do so. When I noticed this proposal to spend £6,000, I sent it back for reconsideration, and the Prime Minister went very fully into the matter, and came to the conclusion that the amount ought to be provided for. I then went through the file of papers - no small one - and spent many hours in acquainting myself with the facts, many of which had been previously brought under my notice, but which I had in the meantime forgotten, and I came to the conelusion that no matter how anxious I might be to cut down expenditure, the proposed vote would be well spent.
– -What return are we to receive ?
– I do not look at the return we shall receive in the way of increased commerce. When I was Premier of Victoria, we passed through a very hard time, and I had to save every penny I could ; but when the Premier of New South Wales brought under my notice the position of the mail services to the islands, I took a broad view of the question. I knew that Victoria could not derive any possible direct benefit from the maintenance of the service ; but I agreed that Victoria should contribute, because I was impressed with the necessity of doing all we could within reason to prevent the islands from falling into the hands of foreign powers.
– Why cannot that matter be attended to by Great Britain ?
– Great Britain can answer for herself. All’ we have to do is to answer for the Commonwealth. The question is not whether Great Britain should do this, but whether we are justified in spending money for the purpose. Those honorable members who can carry their minds back for a few years, will recollect the strong feeling that was exhibited in all the States when there was a suggestion that some of the Pacific Islands might fall into the hands of other nations. I venture to say that if to-day our people felt that, in consequence of our refusing to spend a reasonable amount of money, any ‘ of the islands would fall into the hands of other nations, there would be an outcry from one end of Australia to the other. We look at this matter, without considering whether New South Wales or Queensland will derive the benefit of any trade that may be opened up. We view it in its higher aspects, and consider whether the expenditure will be justified as a means of preventing these islands from being placed beyond our control. As the years roll on, I have no doubt that it will become .absolutely necessary, in the interests of Australia, that we should take possession .of all the islands we can. We cannot secure New Caledonia, although we ought to have had it. I venture to say that the public regret that we have no control over that possession. If we cannot secure that, we ought to do everything we can to obtain control over the other islands.
– We do not even possess the whole of New Guinea.
– We have a portion of it, and we should have had the whole of it. I .am sure that no one regrets more than does the honorable member that we have not the sole control of that island. The time may come when bargains may be made between the different nations, and we may be able to retrieve some of the mistakes made in the past. The Federal Council, at all its meetings, passed the strongest resolutions urging Great Britain to do everything she possibly could to obtain control of certain of the islands. I will not go to the length of saying that the mail services will be stopped if we decline to grant the proposed subsidy.
– What additional advantage shall we derive from the expenditure of the extra money?
– The Prime Minister explained that very fully. We are to be granted a better and more frequent service, and the steamers will call at a large number of islands at which they do not touch at present. Therefore, we shall be able to keep ourselves in closer touch with the settlers in the islands, and make ourselves thoroughly acquainted with their circumstances. I do not for one moment say that there will be any great rush of people to the islands at the present time, but we must think of the future as well as of the pre- sent. I feel perfectly sure that the time will come when the people of Australia will be pleased to have possession off these islands, and that those who come after us would deeply regret any action of ours that might prejudice our position in the Pacific. I am as strongly inclined as is any man to keep down the expenditure of the Commonwealth, and I should have struck out this item if I could have seen my way to do so.
– We are backing up the Minister.
– I should have struck out the item, but for the fact that on going through thefile of papers I was forced to the conclusion that the money should be expended. I ask the Committee to accept my assurance that everything has been done to ascertain whether the expendir ture would be justified. I hope that the Committee will not be -divided, but that we shall unanimously decide to grant the increased subsidy, and that the public will realize that we are doing everything we reasonably can to maintain our influence in the Pacific.
– I listened to the Treasurer in the expectation that he would afford us information which would justify the proposed expenditure; but no facts have been presented to induce me to support the increase of the subsidy. I am entirely opposed to any additional expenditure by the Commonwealth at the present time. The finances of Queensland are in a very unsatisfactory condition, owing to the extent to which her share of the Customs revenue has been appropriated for Commonwealth purposes. The proposed increase of the subsidy is absolutely unnecessary, and I cannot see any reason why we should take upon ourselves the duty of maintaining strategical positions for the special benefit of the Empire. If any action be necessary in that direction, it should be undertaken by Great Britain. In view of the urgent necessity for studying the financial interests of the various States, I cannot understand the anxiety of the Treasurer to commit the Commonwealth to a further outlay. I do not see how we are to derive any advantage from any trade that may grow up between the Islands and the Commonwealth. One of the principal products of the New Hebrides is maize, upon which we impose a duty, and it seems ridiculous on our part to offer encouragement to the settlers on that island to grow produce which would compete with that which is raised by our own farmers. The chances are that the greater number of the settlers in the New Hebrides have little or nothing in common with the citizens of Australia,, and I certainly should not look with an approving eye upon any project that was intended to offer inducements for Australians to leave the Commonwealth and settle in the islands. We are endeavouring to attract people to our shores, and to induce them to settle upon our own lands. On 26th September, 1902, the Minister of Home Affairs, speaking upon the subject of the mail service to the islands, said -
I feel justified in saying that, although settlement and trade are increasing, no profit has resulted from their efforts, notwithstanding that they obtain a subsidy. I admit that as soon as the service can rest on its own bottom the subsidy should be withdrawn.
– Hear, hear.
– The question is, when will that time arrive. We are now being called upon to increase the subsidy by £6,000, and I want to know where this is to end?
– If we desire an increased service, we must increase the subsidy.
– Honorable members opposite are in favour of granting a subsidy of £12,000 to a company like Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Co., whereas they have expressed the strongest objection to offering a bonus for the encouragement of the iron industry, which would employ hundreds of persons, as compared with the very few individuals who would be benefited in connexion with the island mail service. The inhabitants of the islands would derive no advantage, except, perhaps, a slightly better mail service than they now enjoy. Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Co. would; probably continue to conduct the present service, whether a subsidy were granted or not, because they have interests in the islands, which they could not afford to neglect. I am entirely opposed to any increase of expenditure under present conditions.
– Even in connexion with sugar bonuses?
– I am not very much in favour . of bonuses of anv kind. I cannot forget that a portion of the increased expenditure will fall upon Queensland. I intend to record my vote against the proposal.
– Last night I asked the Prime Minister to lay before honorable members certain information which he has in his possession. That request was a reasonable one, but, nevertheless, it was not acceded, to.
– The Treasurer has made a full and most explicit statement this afternoon.
– Unfortunately, I was absent at the time. I have no desire to delay coming to a vote upon this question. I merely wish to say that I could not see my way clear to vote for the increased subsidy proposed last night, and I cannot do so now.
Mr. McDONALD (Kennedy). - The statement of the Treasurer has not enlightened us very much. Indeed, it has merely confirmed my opinion that we should refuse to vote for this increased expenditure of £6,000. Under the guise of a mail contract, we are asked to subsidize a company’s steamers to carry certain produce from Australia to the New Hebrides, or vice versa. That appears to me to be an attempt to deceive the people of the Commonwealth, and it is one to which I shall not be a party. If this condition of affairs is to be tolerated, where will it end? Subsidies will be granted for all manner of things, and we shall find them placed under the heading of the Defence Department or the Postal Department, irrespective of their purpose.
– What about sugar ?
– The sugar bonus was decided upon a straightforward issue by means of a Bill. If this proposal be agreed to, what is to prevent the Government from saying that it is necessary to grant a large bonus to encourage the production of iron, so that they may be enabled to manufacture their own arms and am-‘ munition, and achieving their object without subrnitting any. Bill to Parliament? Why was th’s mail service transferred from the Postal Department to the Department of External Affairs? Merely because the expenditure was not intended as a subsidy to a mail service at all. Do honorable members mean to suggest that the few letters which are despatched from Australia to the New Hebrides are worth an expenditure which represents £56 per head of the British population of those islands? We know very well that outside this House a big cry has been raised regarding the extravagance of the Commonwealth. In this connexion, I would point out that when Federation was established, New South Wales was paying only £3,600 for this mail service. We increased that amount to £6,,ooo, and now a further increase to £12,000 is proposed. That represents an add’tional expenditure of £8,400 within a period of four years. If that does not constitute wilful extravagance on the part of the Commonwealth, I do not know what does.’ If things are allowed to drift in this way, we shall justify all the criticism which has been directed against us. I need scarcely remind honorable members that one of the transferred mail services conveys mails from Brisbane to the Gulf of Carpentaria. That contract was entered into by the Government of Queensland not as a mail contract, because the mails, except in very wet seasons, are carried from Cairns to the Gulf. What I wish to point out is, that Queensland is saddled with an expenditure of £2,000 on account of that subsidy, in order to maintain a three-weekly service, whereas New South Wales is to be relieved of her subsidy to the New Hebrides service, which represents £3,600.
– No; that amount is charged as transferred expenditure.
– I accept the correction of the Treasurer, but I would point out that Queensland will have to bear her share of the increased subsidy, and that is an additional burden which she . can ill carry. We know that outside there is a growing feeling of antagonism to the Commonwealth, and I hold that this sort of thing will only add to itsvolume. If it be necessary to hold these islands, and to possess an important harbor in the New Hebrides, our proper course is to ask the Imperial authorities to take over the islands on our behalf. The fact that after forty years’ occupation of them only 214 British people, exclusive of missionaries, are settled there shows . that we are quite justified in fighting this item, and in dividing the Committee upon it. I shall record my vote against such an iniquitous proposal.
Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- At this stage of the proceedings, I trust that another respectful appeal to the Government to postpone the consideration, of this item will find some favour. Since I addressed myself to this question to-day, several fresh points have presented themselves to me which I desire . time to elaborate. My objections have not been removed by the Treasurer’s plausible words. On this occasion, he has practically told us nothing new. He has’ referred to a file of papers in his possession. I wish to know why he has not supplied the Committee with some of the facts which are contained in those papers.? If he has not had the leisure to extract the necessary information from them, why has he not placed them upon the librarytable? I regret that my remarks will extend over a considerable period.
– The honorable member’s own side agreed that they would come to a vote this afternoon.
– The honorable member is “stone-walling” a proposal of his own Government.
– I deny that I am “ stone-walling,” but if I were doing so, I could find very good precedents for that sort of conduct upon the other side of the Chamber.
– Not for “ stone-walling.”
– The honorable member is preventing a dozen honorable members from catching the Sydney express.
– If an assurance be given to me that I shall have another opportunity of discussing this matter I shall be content
– The honorable members can discuss it upon the Appropriation Bill.’
Proposed vote agreed to .
Division 14A(Miscellaneous), £400, agreed to.
Mr. McCAY laid upon the table, the following paper: -
Addition to regulations, Military Forces, Statutory Rules, 1904, No. 65.
House adjourned at 4.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 October 1904, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19041028_reps_2_23/>.