2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Report (No. 2) presented by Mr. Watkins, read by the Clerk, and agreed to.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Postmaster General, whether the Postmaster-General, before agreeing to the terms of the mail contract, took steps to obtain from Sir James Laing and Sons, Limited’, an authoritative extract minute from their official minute book, giving the precise wording of the authority delegated to Mr. Croker to sign the contract on behalf of the firm?
– That course was unnecessary. A contract was signed by Mr. Croker, whom we hold liable. He has given us an undertaking that it will be confirmed by his principals, and the principals have deposited a bank guarantee in London.
– Have we the assurance of the Prime Minister that the tonnage of the steamers set down in the contract is net registered tonnage, and not gross tonnage, or tonnage under deck ?
– It is registered tonnage. Those are the words used in the contract.
– Is the Prime Minister satisfied (hat those words mean net registered tonnage, that is, the tonnage inscribed on the hatchway of a vessel ? There is a gross registered tonnage as well as a not registered tonnage.
– The term used in the contract was used intentionally, and covers all intended. It has not been used by misadventure or by mistake.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will postpone the contemplated alteration in the use of khakifor military clothing until Parliament has an opportunity of considering the question oh the Estimates?
– The answer to the honorable and learned member’s question is as follows : -
The decision of the Military Board relative to uniform promulgated for the information and guidance of Commandants as far back as November, 1905, was that Commanding Officers who so desired could retain the full dress in use prior to Federation, but must adopt the khaki uniform for service, ordinary parades, camps, &c. The Board does not know what action has been taken by Commanding Officers of regiments and corps, who desire to revert to the old full dress uniform, but inquiries are being made with a view to obtaining full particulars. When these particulars have been received, the whole matter will receive the Minister’s consideration, and a definite reply to the honorable member’s question will be given.
– On Friday last, the honorable member for Wentworth asked the following questions: -
I am now in a position to supply the information asked for, the answers being as follow : -
Creswell, on the 29th of May, applied through the Colonial Office for permission to attend the manoeuvres. Permission was not granted by the Admiralty until the 8th June (the eve of the manoeuvres), when he was informed that he could join the cruiser Sutlej. This vessel was compelled to return to port two days after starting to undergo extensive repairs.
Motion by Mr. Kelly (for Mr. Lonsdale) proposed -
That there be laid upon the Table of the House a return showing -
The number of Royal Commissions appointed during this and the preceding Parliament?
What are the names and subjects of such Commissions ?
What are the names of movers and seconders ?
What are the names of members composing them ?
What is the total cost of each Commission, giving details as to fees, persona! expenses, printing, and other matters?
What is the total amount paid to each member ?
What is the aggregate cost of the whole!
– As the honorable and learned member for Corio has intimated that he opposes the motion, it must be set down for another day. Notice of the amendments which the honorable member proposes to move will, if handed in, appear on the business-paper.
– Must I give notice of them now, or will it be enough to hand them to the Clerk?
– The time for giving notices of motion in the ordinary way expired when I called on the business of the day.
Mr. DEAKIN laid upon the table the following paper : -
Correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Premier of South Australia relative to the transfer of the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth.
Debate resumed from 18th July (vide page 1457), on motion by Mr. Austin Chapman -
That this House approves the agreement made and entered into on the 7th day of July, 1906, between the Postmaster-General, in and for the Commonwealth, and Sir James Laing and Sons, Limited, for the carriage of mails between Adelaide and Brindisi.
Upon which Mr. Thomas had moved, by way of amendment -
That all the words after the word “House” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ is of opinion that, in the best interests of the Commonwealth, the Government should purchase and control a fleet of mail steamers capable of maintaining a fortnightly mail service between Australia and Great Britain.”
– I regret that, owing to the manipulation of the (business-paper, I must address myself to this motion after scarcely any preparation beyond a cursory glance through the conditions of the contract. I had expected to obtain a little time this afternoon for the putting of my thoughts into something like proper order while the motion for the partial suspension of standing order 241 was being discussed, and the second reading of the Bounties Bill was being moved by the Minister of Trade and Customs. With regard to the proposed mail contract, I have arrived at the conclusion that there is nothing for us to do but to criticise its terms, and point out its shortcomings, and leave the Government to bear the ultimate responsibility. In the absence of full information, we do not know whether or not to approve of the contract. In the light of what has been disclosed, however, I say at once that -if the Government can establish the new service under the conditions set out in the contract, they will make an excellent bargain for the Commonwealth. Anything that shortens the distance between London and Adelaide is of the very essence of reform, and if the Government can, for the sum mentioned in the contract, bring us forty-eight hours nearer to London they will accomplish a very good stroke of business. I do not anticipate that the service will be shortened by the further twenty -four hours provided for in the contract, because the agreement is so loosely drafted that apparently it will be entirely optional with the contractor to effect that improvement. The first thing that strikes me is the agencythrough which this business has been conducted in Australia. I find that the contract is signed by “W. H. Croker.” I have not the pleasure of that gentleman’s acquaintance, and I do not know whether he is identical with the barrister who represented the Victorian Government at the inquiry conducted bv the Butter Commission, and received fees of so respectable a character. If he be the same Mr. Croker. I presume that he is a very able man of business. At any rate, I take it that the Government have satisfied themselves upon that point. I notice that he has signed the contract as the agent of Sir James Laing and Sons, and that he has also attached his name as the representative of the contractors. At page n he has signed “ W. H. Croker, for the contractors,” whereas on page 4 he has signed “by their agent, W. H. Croker.” Although the contract requires that certain’ things shall be done by the contractors or their attorney, nothing is said as to thepossession by Mr. Croker of any power of attorney. In clause 41, for instance, it is provided that certain things, shall be’ done “ by the contractor or his attorney.” In that particular case reference is made to arbitration, but apart from that matter altogether, the contract clearly sets forth’ that the contractor “ or his attorney “ shall be one of the parties to the agreement ; whereas there is no mention of the attorney when the contract comes to be finally settled and signed. I do not know whether the Minister has satisfied himself as to the propriety of Mr. Croker signing in two different capacities, and in neither instance in the terms set out in the conditions of contract,
– Has not the contract been approved of by the Crown Solicitor?
– I should think so; because he has signed as one of the witnesses. J hope, however, that my honorable ‘friend does not think that 1 am doing anything out of the way in asking for a little information.
– 1 think that the honorable member is debating a purely legal question.
– I think so too, but I do not think that there is anything to prevent me from adopting that course.
– Nothing at all, except the uselessness of it.
– I have merely asked for information in a respectful way, and I hope that the honorable member will cease his impertinent interjections.
– If the honorable member thinks they are impertinent, I shall cease them.
– Notwithstanding the fact that the contract has been approved of by the Crown Solicitor, we may well ask why, in executing the contract, a departure has been’ made from the conditions set forth. The matter is not of such small concernas the remarks of the honorable member for Coolgardie would seem to indicate, because we know absolutely nothing about the people who are behind, or with, Sir James Laing and Sons in the carrying out of the contract.
– Sir James Laing and Sons are strong enough to standby themselves.
– So far as I can ascertain, they have never yet built any mail steamers - it is not their line of business. They have confined! their operations to the building of sailing ships and tramp steamers.
– They have built some vessels for the Royal Navy.
– They have not built a single mail-boat of the description indicated in the contract, and, therefore, I think that the Government should have completely satisfied themselves as to their ability to fulfil the agreement. I dare say they have done so, and if so, what harm could have been done by their telling us all about the arrangements entered into by the company for building the steamers.
– Did we ever know who was behind the Orient Steam Navigation Company, excepting Messrs. Anderson,. Anderson and Company ?
– The affairs of the Orient Steam Navigation Company as a public company have always been open to the fullest investigation, so far as we know.
– Yes, but in the first instance we knew of them only as a proprietary concern.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- I would point out that there is a great distinction between Sir James Laing and Sons and the Orient and Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation companies, which are very old concerns.
– There was a wide difference between the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Company.
– When we made contracts with those companies, we knew that they had fleets of steamers running.
– When we made the first contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company they had no fleet of steamers in operation - they had to hire vessels.
– Is the honorable member quite clear about that ?
– I am so informed.
– This firm has not constructed a single vessel which is suitable for a mail steamer. Therefore, we are entitled to ask the Government whether they have satisfied themselves of the capacity of Sir James Laing and Sons to build boats of this description, and, if so, what guarantee they have of their bona fides? I am informed that they have never constructed a vessel of this character - they have not gone into that kind of business at all. Of course this contract may furnish them with the necessary opening.Probably it will. They may have secured this contract at the value of the option mentioned with a view to taking it upon the market and thus obtaining the requisite capital with which to launch out into this new ship-building enterprise. If so, I would not doubt their capacity to carry out the undertaking, but I do think that the Government’ should1 have satisfied themselves as to whether the contractors intend to proceed upon those lines. I fail to see why they should not tell the
House all that they know of the bona fides of this, firm, and of their ability to carry out the contract.
– Assuming that the Government investigation were not satisfactory, what would the honorable member suggest ?
– I would suggest that we ‘should adhere to the present contract until we can get a better one. I should think that that would be obvious to the honorable member. If Sir James Laing and Sons can carry out this undertaking and provide us with a forty-eight hours quicker service to London, the Government will have made a very excellent bargain for the Commonwealth. I do not desire to place any obstacle in the way of achieving that result, but I do say that in return we are entitled toknow whether this contract is in the nature of a pure speculation or not, and what proof can be supplied of the bona fides of Sir James Laing and Sons as mail contractors. I find, from the papers which have been placed in the hands of honorable members, that at least eight boats of 11,000 tons register will require to be constructed to give effect to the undertaking. The Prime Minister has declared that this registered tonnage means exactly what it says. But I wish to again ask whether it means net tonnage or gross tonnage, because there is all the difference in the world between the two things.
– Registered tonnage is nearly always interpreted to mean gross tonnage.
– I am informed by the honorable member for North Sydney that both net and gross tonnage are registered tonnage.
– Whenever we hear a vessel of 11,000 or 12,000 tons spoken of, it nearly always means gross tonnage.
– I can now answer the first question put by the honorable member for Parramatta. Sir James Laing and Sons Limited have constructed vessels for such well-known companies as the Peninsular and Oriental, Royal Mail, West India and Pacific, Union Castle, British India, British and Colonial, Ley lands, Natal Direct Line, Compagnie Havraise Peninsulaire, Toyen, Kishen Kaisha, &c.
– From what is the Prime Minister quoting?
– From the West Australian newspaper of Tuesday, 10th July, which contains a long article giving dates and details of the manufactures of the firm.
– My information is from a very reliable authority, and I prefer to accept it to a newspaper report of that kind.
– The newspaper report gives details.
– I am assured by gentlemen in Australia who are thoroughly familiar with shipping matters that the firm of Sir James Laing and Sons has never constructed a mail steamer of any kind - that it has not engaged in that kind of business. Hitherto, it has confined its attention to sailing vessels and tramp steamers. Up to date, ithas not undertaken the building of swift passenger and mail boats.
– The quotation by the Prime Minister may apply to the cargo steamers belonging to mail companies.
– Possibly.’ The interjection of the honorable member for Dalley is one which the Prime Minister might perhaps take into consideration at once. Sir James Laing and Sons may have constructed cargo boats for these mail companies.
– They have built ships more than 700 feet long.
– That may be true, and yet those vessels may be cargo boats.
– Sir James Laing and Sons stand high amongst the ship-builders of Great Britain.
– I am aware of that. ‘ I am merely pointing out that up to date they have only specialized in a particular class of steam-ships, and that, consequently, we have no guarantee that they themselves will build the vessels with which to carry out this contract. Of course, there is the alternative that, upon the strength of having obtained this contract, they may be able to secure sufficient capital to enable them to embark upon this new shipbuilding enterprise. If so, the Government should have satisfied themselves as to the facts of the case in this particular regard.
– If they neglect to go on with the contract they will lose , £27,500.
– That would be a mere fleabite to them. By-the-bye, I should like to make some reference to that matter at once. We have been told that the amount which will be forfeited by the contractors in case of non-fulfilment of the contract is £25,000. But I would point out that the contract itself is so drawn that under no circumstances whatever can we recover more than that sum. No matter what may be the damages in which the firm- may land the Commonwealth by any failure on their part, the full extent of their liability is £25,000. That sum is to be regarded as a liquidation of damages, and not as a penalty.
– It is not a limitation. On the contrary, it strengthens our position verv much.
– I do not think so.
– It does. Every legal member will recognise the force of that contention.
– It doss not enable the Government to recover more from the contractors.
– But it enables us to get the whole of the amount with very much less difficulty.
– That is so, but I am pointing out how unfair the contract is as between one side and the other. Let us suppose that the contract is not proceeded with. Let us assume that twelve months hence Sir James Laing and Sons say, “ We have not the requisite capital, and cannot fulfil the contract. We will forfeit the £25,000 which we have deposited.” What will be the result to the Commonwealth? If we decided to accept the next lowest tender it would involve us in the payment pf an additional £300,000 during the currency of the contract. That tender, I understand, is £30,000 a year more than the amount demanded by Sir James Laing and Sons, so that in the event of the successful contractors being guilty of a breach of the contract we should incur a penalty of £300,000 during the currency of the contract. Seeing that Sir James Laing and Sons would forfeit only £25,000 should thev fail to complete the undertaking, and that the Commonwealth would lose at least ^700.000, the position to me seems a verv one-sided and unequal one. I admit that such a risk might safely be incurred in the case of companies which are established, and which we know would carry out the contract - companies which have carried out such contracts in times past, and upon whose experience therefore we might confidently rely. But here is a firm which, so far as we know, has not yet entered upon the business of mail contractors at all. It has not yet constructed a vessel of the calibre of those required to carry out the contract. If twelve months hence it was unable to complete the contract - seeing that the existing contract would then have only six months to run - the probabilities are that the price for the conveyance of our mails would be increased very considerably. Consequently I say that the minimum possible penalty which the Commonwealth would incur in case of a forfeiture on the part of Sir Thomas Laing and Sons is £300,000, and that it might - and probably would - amount to £500,000. But the contractors would escape by forfeiting £25.000. and in the contract itself we expressly bar ourselves from suing for any further penalty, no matter what the damages may actually be to us. I believe that in connexion, with an undertaking of this kind, where, so far as we know, the contractors are treading upon virgin ground, and where all the risks incidental to the undertaking are to be met, there ought to be some approximation as to the liability on both sides. If we are to stand to lose to the extent I have indicated the contractors should also be liable to lose similarly in the case of failure or forfeiture. If the contracting firm is a big one, that ought to increase, rather than lessen, t’he liability to penalty- I, therefore, think that this part of the contract ought to be rectified in the direction I have suggested. It is said that no deposit is required in connexion with our present contract, but the difference is that the Orient Company is a going concern, having interests in Australia. It has been contracting with Australian Governments for the last twenty, thirty, or forty years, and, therefore, the same penalties are not requirable as are necessary in connexion with a totally new company in a totally unexplored field. I hope that the Minister will tell us as much as he can - I think he ought to tell us all he knows - about the operations of the contracting company, and what guarantee the Government have that the contract will be carried out in the way provided.
– Does the honorable member desire a larger deposit?
– I am speaking not of the deposit, but of the penalty for forfeiture. Clause 10 provides that the whole amount which is enforceable as liquidated damages is £25,000. The Commonwealth will be unable to recover a. half-penny by way of penalty; the amount of the deposit represents the whole penalty to which they can be held, no matter what the consequences may be to us.
– if the company do not proceed at once with the construction of thi steamers we can enforce the penal tv.
– No; we car. enforce no penalty; all that we can do is to liquidate the damages to the extent of the deposit of £25,000.
– I think that is verv fair. Mr. JOSEPH COOK.- lt is so ‘far as it goes, and I am not complaining of it. My only complaint is that by this contract we’ shall specifically exempt them from any other penalty.
– Will the honorable member read clause 10, and then turn to clause 38 of the General Conditions. t think that if he does so the position will be explained to him. The condition in claus* 38 relates to clause 10.
– And so with clause 39. Mr. JOSEPH COOK. - Yes, but we still have the same limit.
– Under clause 38 the contractors are required to” enter into a bond in a sum equal to one-fifth of the annual subsidy, and to find sureties for the due performance of the contract.
– But the limit to which I have referred applies even to that condition. All that clause 38 provides is that we may obtain the total amoum of £25,000 as we proceed.
– The General Conditions come in.
– No; the conditions and the contract itself are both limited bv the provision as to the £25,000. In connexion with an undertaking like this, which appears, on the face of it, to be of a largely speculative character, the question of penalties ought to be an open one. In other words, we should be able to recover whatever penalty the Court may decide that the contractors are liable to pay. just as we should have to foot the bill if any clause of a penal character applied to us in case of the forfeiture of the contract. The contractors might land us in a further expenditure of £500,000, and’ all we could do in the way of recovering penalties would be to secure the £25,000 already deposited. It occurs to me that this is a very unequal arrangement in connexion with a new mail contract of this kind. There seems to be an implication in clause 5 that the period of transit between Brindisi and Adelaide may be cut down from 636 hours to 612 hours; but, strange to say, the drafting is such that, whilst it is implied that such an acceleration of speed may be required, there does not appear to be any compulsion on the part Qf the contractors to comply with that requirement.
– The honorable member is quite right; the provision is very ambiguous.
– In clause 5 we have the words -
In the event of the Postmaster-General requirinjj the said “period of transit” on the voyage from Brindisi to Adelaide to be reduced to 6w hours - and so forth. But there is nothing requiring that the period of transit shall be so rediuced.
– If the demand be made it must be complied with.
– There is nothing in the clause which provides that the contractors shall be bound to comply with the requirement of the PostmasterGeneral.
– I’f it is not clear, it will be made quite clear.
– If the honorable and learned gentleman turns to clause 5 of the contract-
– It would not appear in clause 5; that clause is all right.
– I do not find in any other part of the contract a provision setting forth that tlhe contractors shall be bound to comply with the requirement of the Fostmaster- General in this regard. All that I find is the provision mat the Postmaster-General may require this reduction in the period of transit, and that if the requirement be complied with a further sum, not exceeding £25,000, shall be claimable by the contractors. But the contractors may sav, “ We cannot do it - we will not do it,” and, so far as I can see, there is nothing in the contract or the general conditions that would enable us to compel them to comply with the requirements.
– Clause 5 must mean something. If it does not mean that we have this power, what does it mean ?
– That is what I desire -to know.
– There is no penalty enforceable if the contractor does not comply with this requirement.
– There will be.
– In clause 6 we have again a piece df drafting that I do not feel able to appreciate. I desire to know what it means. It sets forth that if, during the sixth year of the service, any competing line of mail-ships provides an accelerated service, we may require the contracting company to do the same. That is to say, if, in the meantime, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, as the result of arrangements with the Imperial Government, has accelerated its service, we may require our contractors to give a speedier service in the sixth year of the contract. But why the sixth year? Why not the fourth or the seventh year? Under the clause, as it stands, if such a demand were made in the fourth or the seventh year, the contracting company might very well plead that it was not bound to comply with it, since only the sixth year was specifically named in the agreement. It seems to me that other years &re specifically excluded. I admit that this is a matter for the lawyers to determine, but it occurs to me that the drafting in the first line of the sixth clause should be widened.
– The honorable member understands that it is a long contract, and-
– -I think I understand the purpose in view.
– The. intention of the clause is that the service shall be kept up-to-date.
– I take it that if, during the fourth or the seventh year of the contract, a quicker service were provided by another company, there would be no power to require the contractors to give us an accelerated service. I know, of course, that that is not intended, but it occurs to me that that is what the clause as drafted would mean. Then again, I direct attention to paragraph c of clause 6, in which the words -
The extended period for which such improved and accelerated service shall continue, appear. Is that extended! period to be a period within the ten years or beyond it? If it is to be a further period beyond the ten years, it means a general power to ex tend this contract. I take it that the Government could not do that without coming to Parliament and practically making a fresh contract. So that if the period referred to is a period within the ten years, it occurs to me that the clause might have been made very much clearer than it is. But-
The extended period for which such improved and accelerated service shall continue, might very well, if taken by itself, without reference to the whole contract, be taken as conferring upon the Minister a ‘general power to extend this contract beyond the ten years. That would seem to be the more reasonable supposition, because, to increase the speed of these boats might mean a revolution in the position of the company; might mean ai necessary increase in its capital ; might mean the substitution of larger boats ; might mean a complete change so far as the contractor was concerned. I do not know whether that is what the clause means, but I take it that as drawn, it is as. much in the interests of the contractor as of the Commonwealth Government. That is to say, if the contractor finds during the sixth year referred to in the clause that he cannot carry out his contract, the clause will give him the right to say to the Postmaster-General, “I cannot comply with your speed requirements; I cannot run my boats as quickly as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, with its new boats, can run theirs. I shall have to get out of the business. But I can charter some boats for a couple of years, so that you can make fresh arrangements for a new contract with this higher speed.” That seems to me to be the. underlying; motive for the clause. I can see no other adequate reason for its insertion. If that be the reason, I think that it should have been cast in a plainer mould, so that we could read it without very much difficulty. There are two points that arise in connexion with paragraph c of clause 6. Does it mean that’ the extended period is to be governed by the ten years’ period of the contract as a whole, or does it mean to confer power upon the Government to make a contract extending: beyond the ten years’ period without reference to Parliament? »
– Paragraph b makes that perfectly clear. The Government could not alter this contract without the permission of Parliament.
– Parliament would not find the money if it did.
– What does it mean, then?
– It means that, with the consent of Parliament, the contract may be extended for a further period.
– Of course, the Government would have to come to Parliament ; and, therefore, when you come to Parliament, this contract is at an end. To pass an Act of Parliament embodying a further proposal means setting up a new contract in place of this. The clause strikes me as being strangely worded. Does the fresh period contemplated commence in the sixth or tenth year?
– Suppose they said to us, “ The difference between six years and ten years is only four; if you will make this a six years’ contract from now we will undertake it for so much less.” Parliament would have to consider it, however, if it went beyond the ten years.
– I think that the provision might be put in a clearer form. We should be able to determine the contract, and make a fresh one, not providing for all these emergent circumstances. However, these are matters of drafting. Clause 15 of the contract is another one to which I wish to call attention. It requires that if by any legislation we diminish the earnings of the company, or increase its expenses up to a margin of £5.000, at any time during the currency of the agreement, there shall be power eitherto determine the contract, or to make provision for further payment. Those words, again, cover a very wide field.
– That provision is all right; it was in the last contract.
– Yes, it was in the last one.
– I do not know that that makes it all right. It seems to me to be very loose indeed. For instance, it speaks of “ legislation relating to shipping.” “ Relating to shipping “ is legislation that may in any way interfere with the company’s earnings, or with the conditions under which it runs its boats.
– I take it that it would have to be legislation specifically relating to shipping.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- It does not say so. That is what I complain of. The clause is not sufficiently definite in its wording. It would, for instance, I suppose, cover such legislation as the Navigation Bill, or any proposal of that character. It might’ apply to such a measure as the Anti-Trust Bill or the Commerce Act passed last session.
– They do not “ relate to shipping.”
– They may affect shipping.
– The words are “ relating to,” not “ which affect.”
– Relation must be taken in connexion with the general purport of the clause, which has to do with the diminution of the earnings of the company, or the increase of its expenses. I take it that any of the legislation which I have mentioned may possibly -pay more, probably will - diminish, the earnings of these boats. Take the report of the Tariff Commission.
– Both conditions have to be satisfied - the diminution of the earnings of the company and the legislation “relating to shipping.”
– I know. Take, for instance, the reports of the Tariff Commission which have already been laid on the table of the House. It strikes me that if Messrs. Joshua’s recommendations were carried out, there would be a great diminution of the earnings of ships with regard to the carriage of liquor to Australia.
-Liquor does not come by mail steamer usually.
– Take the AntiTrust Bill. Supposing that by our legislation we kept out the 1,300 harvesters, such as came in last year. The freight on those goods might tot up to a good round sum. It is also easy to conceive that the Tariff proposals might diminish the earnings of the boats by more than £5,000.
– That would not be legislation “ relating to shipping.” It is legislation “relating to shipping” that is referred to, not the effect of legislation.
– I take it that the Question of relation is bound up in the further question whether legislation diminishes the earnings or increases the expenses of the company.
– That is the important point.
– That is the only point provided for in the clause.
– So long as there is no interference with the earnings, the contracting company will not care what sort of legislation there is.
– Any legislation which does interfere-
– Must still be shipping legislation.
– I’ do not know that; but the honorable and learned member reads these clauses with a great deal more experience than I can hope to bring to bear. At any rate, the point could be made much clearer. The term “relating to shipping” might be confined, for instance, to such measures as have been suggested, namely, the Navigation Bill, and legislation of that kind. Would the effect of the Arbitration Act, for example, be taken as “relating to shipping” ? The Arbitration Act might increase the expenses of these mail ships if, as suggested in the report of the Navigation Commission, we insisted on bringing them within the operation of that Act. In such a case, the strong probabilities are that there would be an increase in the expenses of the vessels by a great deal more than £5,000 a year. I should think that legislation of the kind, which bears directly on the conditions under which ships are run, would be construed as legislation “relating to shipping.” However, I hope the Minister will take care that the wording is made clear and definite; though there is no doubt, I think, as to the general meaning and intention.
– The Arbitration Act came into operation prior to the agreement, and, therefore, that question could not arise.
– But the effects of the Arbitration Act might not begin to operate until afterwards.
– This agreement is subsequent to the enactment of the Arbitration Act
– That, I suppose, would cover the position. I should like to call attention to a departure in some of the conditions of this agreement from those of previous or existing contracts. For the first time, we have a purely mail contract, whereas, hitherto, we have required that the mail ships should go to Sydney, and, on their way, of course, call at Melbourne. That condition does not appear in the present agreement. We are told that the contractor shall be at liberty, at his own option, to continue the inward voyage of any mail ship beyond Adelaide, after calling at that port, and to commence the outward voyage from any port, provided there be a call at Adelaide. There is no requirement beyond Adelaide on the one end and1 Brindisi at the other; and I should like to know from the Minister why that departure has been made. I have always sympathized with the claims of Queensland to have a port of that State made a port of call. I know, of course, that this would be a departure from the strict principle of a mail contract; but such departures are made in very many other directions, and are regarded as incidental to mail contracts, and, perhaps, as a collateral part of such contracts. How ever we may be disposed to regard this matter from a purely academic or purely legal point of view, I have always sympathized with the desire to encircle the whole continent as far as possible with these mail services. I remember that some years ago, I incurred a great deal of odium, temporarily, for consenting that the mail boats should call at Fremantle. I was subjected to much criticism for my action ; but it seemed to me only proper consideration for Western. Australia that the mail boats should call at Fremantle, where a harbour has been constructed at so huge an expense.. And so with Queensland. As I say, I have every sympathy with’ the desire of the people of that State that the mail boats shall call regularly at Brisbane; and if the matter could’ be managed at a small increased cost, I am not nuit sure that it should not be made a condition of the agreement for the vessels to call at .all the ports of all the States of Australia. I do not believe that such a condition would make much difference to the speed of the mails, or very much affect the business of the contracting company ; and the whole could be provided for in the one condition.
– The Government got very little assistance from the various States in the endeavour to meet them.
– I am afraid that only shows how unpopular this Government is with the States. I know of no reason why the States should fight so shy of us in this respect. I find the same complaint is made in the report of the Royal Commission, and, strangest of all ironies, the complaint is< as to the action of the Labour Government in Queensland.
– Do not speak of the Queensland Government as a “Labour Government,” please.
– Is” Mr. Kidston not a labour man?
– No, he is not.
– Mr. Kidston is like the honorable member for Parramatta - he has left the Labour Party.
– Mr. Kidston is an opportunist.
- Mr. Kidston is not like me, because, I believe, he signed the labour pledge.
– The honorable member for Parramatta signed the labour pledge once.
– No,” I did not.
– Yes, the honorable member did - in the Temperance Hall, Sydney
– Yes, the honorable member did so - a pledge to abide by the caucus decision.
– That has nothing to do with the question before the House.
– Did I sign the pledge about which the honorable member for Bland came to me?
– No; that was another time. But the honorable member should not deny the pledge he did sign.
– This is only an aside. Mr. Speaker. If the Minister could by any possibility carry out the suggestion. I should like to see’ Queensland grouped in this agreement with the rest of the States, provided that could be done at a slight increase on the present cost. I see that there is involved in the building of the new mail ships the necessity for the supervision of their construction by the Commonwealth Government. So far as I know, that is a new requirement, and not an unimportant one.
– Hear, hear.
– There are to be eight new mail steamers, and it occurs to me that the supervision will represent no small item, if that supervision) is to be at all effective.
– To refresh my memory, will the honorable member tell me in what paragraph that is provided?
– I cannot, find the paragraph just at the moment, but I know that there is a condition that the Government shall supervise the construction of the vessels from time to time, making suggestions, and insisting on such requirements as seem to be necessary.
– That is only with regard to the type of the ships and the class i<f accommodation - it is not the supervision of the building of the ships.
– There are one or two references to this matter in the agreement.
– It was never intended to supervise the building of the ships.
– I take it that that is exactly what the supervision is intended to cover, and nothing .else - to see that the type of the ships-
– Yes; but there is to be no supervision in the ordinary sense of supervision of men at work - it is not that class of supervision.
– The supervision is to see that sufficient progress is made.
– Yes; and in regard to the class of boats - what they will carry, and so on.
– This condition is set forth in paragraph 39, and is as follows : -
If any tender provides for mail ships to be built to carry out the contract, the PostmasterGeneral shall have the right from time to time, after the tender has been accepted by him, to cause inspections to be made in order to satisfy himself that sufficient progress is being made with the construction of the vessels to enable the contractor to. commence and continue the contract in accordance with his tender and the conditions, and may demand from the contractor such information as he may require from him thereon.
There is> further reference to this point in another part of the agreement; and it struck me that there was to be very close supervision exercised in regard to the construction of the vessels. If the provision is to be effective, it would be a very costly matter to supervise the building of eight large vessels such as these will be. We are tol’d that the cost of construction will be at least £3,000,000, and the supervision of the expenditure of such an amount would jno doubt be worth a considerable sum to a professional man. I take it that the Government will need to employ a professional man, if they propose to take any part, however slight, in the supervision of the construction of these vessels. I have pretty well exhausted what I had to say in criticism of the terms of this contract, but after all I have said bv way of criticism, I say that the Government must still be left to take the full responsibility of their action. I repeat that if thev can bring into effective operation a fleet of huge steamers such as these are to be, of 11,000 tons net register, with a minimum speed of 15 knots, and can insure their constant and regular running in the interests of the mails, and of the producers of Australia, they will have achieved a very good stroke of business indeed, and a much better stroke of business, in my opinion, than we could possibly hope to make by adopting the course recommended” in the report which is before us over the signature of the honorable member for Barrier. I am bound to say that I cannot subscribe to, the amendment which he has. moved, not because of any prepossession against it, and not merely for any theoretical reason, but for hard business reasons which appear on the surface of the report which the honorable member has seen fit to present to the House. The amendment was moved by the honorable member in an excellent speech which traversed ‘the report of the Shipping Service Commission in a very material degree. The honorable member’s speech wits taken largely from that report. I had not the advantage of reading it, because Hansard did not reach me before I left Sydney. I did not see the report of the honorable member’s speech, or that of the Postmaster-General.’ but I heard some of both, and sufficient of that bv the honorable member for Barrier to induce me to make one or two interjections in opposition to the honorable member’s proposals. On taking up the reno-t of the Commission, which forms the basis of the honorable member’s amendment, I find that the verv first paragraph covers a great deal of ground, and shows, I think, the amateurish way in which the report has been formulated ar.d written. For instance, those responsible for the report begin by saying that if we carried our mails on the poundage system, that is, by ‘paying according to weight, we should save a matter of £80,000 per annum as compared with the cost of a subsidized service under the contract system. I do not know that that brings us very much nearer to a solution of this matter. There are many other such anomalies in the postal service. There are anomalies of the kind in every department of business life. Indeed, such anomalies might be mentioned in connexion with the proceedings of the whole of the commercial community. The honorable member for Barrier, therefore, in this instance puts his finger upon a matter which is not at all peculiar to a mail contract, but is to be found in every department of our commercial life. If we take the work of the Post Office, for instance, honorable members will see at once that the revenue might be enormously increased if we charged the same rate for newspapers as for letters. We do not, although I know of no good reason why we should not. I could never get an intelligent reason from the heads of the Postal Department of New South Wales when I was PostmasterGeneral of that State as to why the rateswere differentiated as between ordinary letters and newspapers. We carry ten times the weight of newspaper matter that we carry of letters for the same money.
– We used to carry newspapers for nothing in New South Wales at one time.
– Yes ; but in every country in which they are not carried for nothing, this marked difference between the rates for newspapers and letters isi still to be found.
– It is due to the power of the press.
– I believe that we carry newspapers now at the rate determined by the International Postal Congress, but I dare say that if we were to interrogate every member of the Congress, not one would be able to tell us just why there should be this huge difference between the rates charged for the carriage of newspapers and those charged for the carriage of letters.
– Are not newspapers sent round by the ship, whilst letters are sent overland ?
– That is not so; but I am speaking of inland as wel,l as of oversea carriage. I admit, for instance, that it is the rule pf the Department to leave newspapers behind if they find they are overloaded. In that respect, letters arealways given the preference. That is about the only reason I know for the huge difference which is set up between the rates for the carriage of these different classes of postal matter. It is a differential rate. In the same way. we have differential rates on our railways. I doubt whether we could get any intelligent reasonwhy one class of goods is carried at a low rate over our railways, whilst another is charged an inordinately high rate ; why, for instance, two or three tons weight of stone is carried over the railways at a very low rate, and at about half the rate which is charged for the carriage of half the weight of stone, if it be cut and carved. I could multiply instances of this kind which raise the whole question of differential rates in every relation of our business life. So that really what appears “in this connexion in the report of the Commission contains no very material lesson of which we can take advantage. Coal, for instance, is carried over our railways to-day at perhaps one-fourth of the rate charged for the carriage of other classes of goods. A truck of coal carries about 6 tons, and it is taken over the railways for a certain distance at £1 or 30s., whilst a truck of the same capacity, and carrying the same weight, of other goods, may bear a rate of £4 or £5 for the same distance. I am aware of no reason which will adequately fit the facts, but the one reason that these differential railway rates are observed all over the world, and have grown up from time immemorial, until thev have become crystallized into rules and laws of railway management. In this respect we realize the truth of Disraeli’s statement that custom is stronger than law. So many of those customs which dominate our commercial existence are stronger than any law founded upon however legitimate a reason. Again the honorable member goes on to say -
The present subsidized mail service is chiefly maintained in the interests of the commercial class and of the producers and exporters of perishable commodities.
These honorable members might as well say that a reduction in the freight of coal would only benefit the Korrumburra Coal Company, and would not ‘benefit the population whose means df livelihood is dependent upon the mines there. Every resident in that coal township is interested, it may be more vitally interested in some circumstances than even the proprietors of the coal mines. Yet in this report the honorable member makes a distinction between those who actually use these boats and the great bulk of the people who are dependent upon the boats being so used by these individuals.
– Why does the honorable gentleman say “the honorable member,” when the report is signed bv six of us?
– I speak of the “honorable member for Barrier, as repre.senting the others, because he was Chairman of the Commission; that is the only sense in which I use the phrase. I repeat that the commercial class have to do with every class. How many persons, for instance, are dependent upon the importer for their means of livelihood? The whole ramifications of business are inter-related in a very close way, and the interest of one cannot be separated from that of another.
– Is not the importer also dependent upon the people whom he serves ?
– Exactly. In the report these classes are separated as though the one had nothing to do with the other, as though the commercial class and the producers and exporters of perishable commodities could be separated from the rest of the community. Every one knows that a large proportion of the people of Australia depend upon the export of perishable goods for their means of livelihood. It is upon the export of .grain and wool that Australia has to depend to-day.
– Do not forget the gold.
- It is upon these exports that Australia will have to depend for some generations to come.
– Do not forget the Broken Hill lead.
– No, I shall forget nothing. Therefore, every person in the community is directly and materially interested in all that Kas to do with the export of perishable commodities. Another strong statement is contained in the same paragraph. The Commissioners go on to say -
It does not appear that, outside the classes mentioned, the general community would to any material extent be inconvenienced by the adoption of the poundage system.
That is equal to saying that if a railway were constructed, it would not advantage the community very much by knocking off the coach. The same argument might be used against the construction of a railway. It might be said, “It does not appear that the people would be very much benefited by the construction of the railway, and it would not be very much to their detriment if it were not built.” The outstanding fact is that science and skill is being bent and concentrated in the direction of making the world smaller and quickening its processes, perhaps in the means of transportation more than in any other direction. But we are told for the first time that if we do not get quicker boats to Australia, it will not make very much difference. That, I venture to say, is an ‘antediluvian idea; though it is a very proper observation for
Socialists to make. I believe that if the Socialist ideal in regard to other things as well as shipping were realized, this world would be a very much slower place indeed than it is. I have often described the Socialists of to-day as wanting to take a “ header” back into a condition of things from which we have slowly and steadily emerged, and which emergence is represented in what we call progress and civilization. Now we have the Socialist saying, “ It does not appear that we should be very much inconvenienced if we had a slower service to Australia than we have.” I submit that of all countries in the world, Australia has most to gain from quick and speedy transit, whether by mail-boat or by any other means.
– In their report, the Commissioners are speaking of only the mail service, and not of the transport of perishable articles.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- The honorable member knows that the two questions cannot be separated. In my judgment, the mail services in Australia set the tune to a very great extent for the rest of the companies trading here. But for the requirement of speed on the part of our mail-boats, I doubt whether the other transport services to Australia would be anything like what they are.
– That is an argument in favour of this proposal.
– This requirement as to speed on the part of the mailboats, and the space which they have to furnish for the carriage of our produce to London, sets the tune, to a very large extent, for the “tramps,” and for transport steamers generally, and hence for the rest of the world. I doubt whether we should have the quick services from Australia to the markets of the world that we have today, but for that requirement as to speed.-
– That is what we say in our report, that under the Government we should have a line of steam-ships which would set the pace.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- That is one of the contradictory parts of the report. In one part the Commissioners say that it does not matter whether we have a quick service or not; that nobody would be hurt much if we had not.
– Will the honorable member read what is in the report?
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- That is what is in the report?
– Not word for word as it was put by the honorable member ?
– The report says -
It does not appear that outside the classes mentioned the general community would to any material extent be inconvenienced by the adoption of the poundage system.
– Hear- hear, that is a different thing.
– Looking at it from the point of view of my honorable friends when they separate these people from the rest of the community, I hold that it indicates an antediluvian condition of mind.
– The report states a very different thing from what the honorable member said it stated.
– Here is another choice statement. The Commissioners point out that the Postal Department follows the principle -
That each service shall pay its way.
The Department does nothing of the kind. In the determination of the status of a post-office its total income is taken into consideration. More and more is that consideration entering into the administration of the Postal Departments. I know that the officials would like to do this if they were permitted. It would check and stop so much new business being transacted, but the tendency of the administration of the post-office is to take into consideration the whole of the service, and unquestionably the Public Service Commissioner bases the status of a post-office upon its total revenue and the general improvement of the service as a whole. Therefore, that is another statement which does not square with the facts of the situation, and ought not to find a place in a report of this kind. Then my honorable friends go on to quote as their sole argument in favour of a Commonwealth line of steamers, a statement by a Committee of the House of Commons of 1902, and of all the strong conclusive arguments for Socialism commend me to this one -
While as between the two systems referred to we think that in the circumstances the subsidy system is to be preferred, the larger question remains of establishing a line of mail steamers under the direct control of the Commonwealth Government, which would provide a fortnightly mail service between Australia and London equal to that of any of the private companies engaged in such work, and would, at the same time, benefit the Australian States both directly and indirectly. On the general question of .the advisability of establishing such a service we may quote the following paragraph from the report of the Steamship Subsidies Committee as laid before the House of Commons in 1902.
Here is the paragraph upon which they base the advisability of establishing such a service -
The weak point of the post-office position is that the estimate of full value (for services rendered) is arrived at by the test of public tender, and that the competition for sending in tenders for large postal contracts is very restricted, and restricted, as a rule, to powerful steam-ship companies.
They are hard up for a socialistic argument when they make use of that. There is not a word of advice given there to the Imperial Government, or to the House of Commons, that they should jump into Socialism as a way out of this restricted competition.
– It says that they do not get full value from private enterprise.
– It says that they get full value from all the private enterprise available, but points out that the area of competition is a narrow one, owing to the hugeness of the service to be rendered.
– And that is narrowed by a ring.
– That is an annotation by the honorable member; but his statement is, probably borne out by the facts. I do not consider, however, that because the tendering is not as much as one would desire, that should decide the point whether this service should be nationalized. The Commission went into the engineering aspect of the case. Although among the names of the signatories to the report I do not see that of any honorable member who is conspicuous for engineering knowledge, they have not hesitated to make an estimate as to the probable cost of the vessels necessary for the service; but there is great difference of opinion as to the correctness of that estimate, and I believe that all the experts consider it too low.
– Do the Commissioners say that it is their estimate or that it is Mr. Coghlan’s estimate?
– The Commissioners say that it is Mr. Coghlan’s estimate, but accept it as a full one, although the experts point out that Mr. Coghlan omitted to take into account many things which should have been included. The Commissioners took responsibility for the estimate when they made it their own.
– We take the whole responsibility.
– I venture to say that if Mr. Coghlan had been reporting on the whole matter, he would have looked further into the question of cost of construction than he appears to have done. He furnished an estimate which, so far as it goes, we have no reason to suppose to be incorrect ; but experts point out that many things have been left out of consideration which would greatly increase the actual cost.
– One estimate put down the cost at £500,000 per vessel.
– According to the chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, the vessels would cost much less.
– I do not know how the matter is to be settled ; but it must be settled before we determine to run a mail service of our own. Persons do not generally enter upon a business transaction by taking at haphazard one of a number of conflicting estimates. A business man would obtain the best opinions available. But the opinion of those possessing experience and skill in connexion with the management of steam-ship companies is in opposition to the estimate of the Commission as to the cost of constructing the necessary ships.
– Mr. Paxton’s opinion is not worth much. He is one of the commercial experts.
– I am speaking of men like Mr. Kenneth Anderson and others who have to do with the management of mail services.
– They are a little interested.
– Yes ; but there are no men possessing the necessary knowledge who are not interested.
– The ship-builders are not interested.
– Men possessing the skill and knowledge necessary for the management of so huge a commercial concern as a shipping company do not stand idle ; their abilities are worth thousand’s a year on the market, and, consequently, find ready employment
– The company which Mr. Kenneth Anderson is managing has been, on its own showing, unsuccessful.
– There is another story about that.
– Honorable members will admit that Mr. Kenneth Anderson is an able man. .
– He has stated that eight boats could be built for £2,800,000.
– Although Mr. Kenneth Anderson, with the experience of a life-time, cannot make a mail service profitable, the members of the Commission affirm that it can be made to pay. I do not wish to criticise them unfairly. Their report is an able one, and, no doubt, they have taken a ‘great deal of time in dealing with the subjects referred to them ; but, unfortunately, the necessary facts were not available. Consequently, in their report, they say, “ We cannot get the facts necessary for a proper estimate,” and then airily proceed to give an estimate. That is one of the strongest objections to their recommendations. They complain that they have not been able to obtain the data for a proper estimate, and then proceed to give an estimate. Their estimate must be the result of mere guesswork, and, therefore, absolutely unreliable.
– It is not necessarily unreliable, even if a guess, because some guesses go very near the truth.
– Exactitude is most desirable in matters of this kind It would be most dangerous to commence an enterprise of this magnitude without the fullest and most reliable data. If one did so, the business would, in ninety-nine cases out df a hundred, tumble about his ears. The Commissioners have recommended1 the use of turbine engines, as being of. the latest type, and most efficient for the propulsion of steam-ships. They say that eight steamers would cost £3,000,000, and, in support of that statement, quote the evidence of Mr. Kenneth Anderson, who, I believe, has since qualified his evidence, and now says that eight steamers of the efficiency and capacity spoken of .in the report could not be constructed for £3,000,000. Then, the Commissioners say that, although thev have no’ definite and reliable figures upon which to base their estimate, it may be taken for granted that private companies do not undertake the trade unless with the idea of making a profit. I do not know why that statement was made. Public companies frequently undertake enterprises which fail. There is a very large proportion of failures to successes. Therefore, a statement such as that referred to does not carry much weight. Then the Commission go on to argue by analogy. They quote the case of our railways, and say that it must be admitted that some of the privately-owned railways in Australia are not so-well managed as are the Government railways. Surely, that is not all that is to be said on the subject. Some of our State railways are run at a loss. In New South Wales, for instance, we lose £300,000 per annum on some of our cockspur lines.
– But those lines are not credited with the traffic which they bring to the main lines.
– Nor is any private company running at a loss similarly credited when it has to pinch the convenience of passengers.
– There is only one such case that I know of.
– The fact that certain private railway lines do not pay constitutes no argument in favour .of the nationalization of our shipping services, nor is it an argument from which we can deduce that even railways are more successfully managed by the State. They are better managed, because the State can afford to make a loss on some lines by treating the railway service as a whole, and not making each section stand by itself.. However, I do not wish to pursue the subject any further. It seems to me that in all their estimates, the members of the Commission have assumed that the present rates of freight and passenger fares would be maintained. In clause 5 they say, “Reckoning our returns according to the schedule of fares fixed by the Orient line.” Do the members of the Commission suppose that if the State undertook to run a line of. steamers in the manner proposed, the shipping companies would tamely submit?
– Mr. Kenneth Anderson said that the Shipping Conference would not interfere.
– I do not think he said that. He stated that, personally, he would not raise any objection to the Commonwealth line joining the Shipping Conference - that is a different matter altogether.
– Exactly. If we did that, we should not be nationalizing the shipping service. We should be entering into a private venture in order to uphold what the Socialists regard as an enormity from which escape is sought by the process of nationallization.
The Commission say that things are not as they should be in the shipping line, and that the nationalization of the mail service would go a long way to set things right. The desired end would not be accomplished if the Commonwealth were to bolt into the combine, and become a member of it. If the Commonwealth mail service did not join the combine - and I take it that there is a combine- the shipping companies would not quietly stand by and see their trade taken away from them by a Government line of steamers. Precisely what has happend in connexion with the cable enterprise would occur in this instance. The moment a new competitor entered into the field, the freights and passenger rates would be reduced by the companies. That is what happened in connexion with the cable service. The moment that the Pacific Cable was constructed, the Eastern Extension Company cut down their rates. We could not induce them to abate id. before that.
– In that instance Government action was beneficial.
– Yes, it was beneficial to a certain extent, and no doubt a reduction of shipping rates would be beneficial in that it would help the commercial classes, and our producers, and exporters of perishable products. But honorable members are very fond of pointing out that any betterment of that kind is only a short-lived one - that the private companies only cut rates ian order to shut out competition, and afterwards recompense themselves for all their trouble and sacrifice by once more increasing their charges. Therefore the Commission have adopted an obviously fallacious method of estimating the returns that would be yielded by the proposed new line of steamers. They assume that they would be able to obtain the same rates that are now charged by the Orient and Penins’ular and Oriental Steam Navigation Companies*; but obviously, if another competitor came into the field, the freights would be reduced. Either the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company or the Orient Steam Navigation Company would withdraw entirely from the trade, or would endeavour to retain a fair share of public patronage by reducing fares and freights.
– The Orient Steam Navigation Company could not exist -in the trade.
– I find a further reference to the same matter. For instance, it is pointed out in clause 8 that the British Shipping Conference considers the Australian trade only as an auxiliary,, and as subsidiary to their Eastern interests. I understand that the Australian part of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s business does not pay them. This has been pointed out time and again, and collateral evidence in support of that statement is afforded by the fact mentioned bv the honorable member for Bland, that the Orient Steam Navigation Company was not paying its way in connexion withits Australian business.
– It has no other business.
– Exactly, and therefore is not paying. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company say that their Australian business does not pay them.
– And still they are building more ships.
– Therefore, according to the Commission, we are to relieve ourselves of the Eastern embarrassment spoken of by concentrating our efforts upon a losing business1. The more closely we adhere to such a policy the more likely we are to go to the wall. It is stated that the Commonwealth should concentrateits efforts upon the Australian business,, and take no account’ of the Eastern business. That is to say, by concentrating its attention upon the business that does not pay, and ignoring and excluding the business that does pay, the Commonwealthwould be able in some mysterious way remake a success of a State-owned line of steamers.
– I should be glad if thehonorable member would quote what the Commission said. We did not say what he indicates. *
– I have already quoted from the report. The Commissionsay -
At present the British Shipping Conference, in which foreign shipping, is represented, regulates the Australian passenger traffic, not specially for the convenience of Australians, but rather to meet the necessities of its many and varied interests in the East and elsewhere. But a Commonwealth line, not being embarrassed by these conflicting interests, could concentrate its efforts on giving to passengers to and from England the best and most convenient services.
I may point out, in reply to that, that the Australian business does not pay the companies now engaged in the trade.
– Then it is very good of Messrs. James Laing and Company to come along with their new steamers.
– I suppose that the honorable member has known of many gold mines that have been abandoned as non-paying, and afterwards taken up by other simpletons, who have also lost their money.
– In many cases other simpletons have taken up abandoned gold mines, and have made them pay.
– I was just about to mention the alternative. Messrs. James Laing and Sons may make the new mail service pay ; but all the evidence we have been able to obtain so far is that the trade does not pay the companies now engaged in it. If the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company had not their Eastern business to work in with the Australian trade they would not be able to carry on.
– Why do the German and French steamers come here?
– Because of the subsidies which they receive.
– Some people say that the French and German steam-ship lines are losing money also.
– I am told that the German steamers would not come here but for the huge subsidies which the companies receive.
– Nor would the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, the Orient Steam Navigation Company, and Sir James Laing and Sons come here but for the subsidies which are paid.
– That is what I say.
– This Australian company would receive a subsidy.
– But the Peninsular and Oriental and the Orient Steam Navigation Companies declare that with the subsidies the Australian portion of their business does not pay. The balance-sheets of the Orient Company do not show any dividends so far as that part of its business is concerned. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company declare that they do not make money out of the Australian portion of their business, and that it is only because they are able to work it in with their Eastern business that their vessels come here at all.
– Is that statement contained in their annual reports? If so, I cannot see it.
– It has appeared often enough in their annual reports.
– Has the honorable member read it there?
– Yes. I admit that it is some years since I read it–
– Has the honorable member read the annual reports issued by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company for 1904 and 1905?
– No, but I doubt whether they contain the specific statement that the Australian portion of their business is paying. Now that the honorable member has spoken of it, I do recollect that in one report they point out that there has been an increase in. the freights to and from Australia, and that the Australian portion of their business is improving. From that statement, surely the honorable member for Barrier will not argue anything, except that there has been a revival of trade, and that the company has been taking advantage of it. But in the report of the Shipping Commission, it is pointed our that the very thing which is an advantage to this company must be excluded from a scheme for the establishment of a national fleet of steamers, and that by concentrating effort upon the losing part of the business, a magnificent success might be made of it. Any sound, commercial man would say that that would not be the case. He would argue that theless he concentrated upon the losing part of the business, and the more upon its paying part, the better would be his returns.
-Would, not the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company prefer to derive larger profits upon a smaller tonnage than smaller dividends upon a larger tonnage? If the Australian business were not paying, they would make larger profits upon their Eastern business - at least, that is the view which any commercial man would take.
– The honorable member again misses the point, namely, that a service as an independent service may not pay, although when worked in conjunction with the Eastern and India service it may pay. Those who have to depend entirely upon the Australian portion of their business - as have the Orient Steam Navigation Company - maintain that it does not pay.
– But the Orient Steam Navigation Company fight like men - the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company never did.
– That is another matter. I am dealing with one point which is specially emphasized in the report of the Commission. The Commissioners declare that in excluding the good paying portion of the business, and in concentrating upon that part of it which does not pay, a magnificent success might be made of a’ national line of mail steamers. Then they point out that there are the usual collateral advantages to be derived from a Commonwealth line of steamers. Amongst other things they say that it would have the effect of keeping money and work in the country.
– Does the honorable member for Barrier say that?
– Yes, and also the honorable member for Coolgardie, the honorable member for Kennedy, and several others.
– Does the honorable member object to that?
– I am not concerned with objecting to it. I am merely pointing out one of the collateral advantages claimed in connexion with the proposed establishment of a national line of steamers, namely, that we should keep the work required to be done, as well as the money and the ships, in the country.
– That is not a bad advantage, I should say.
– I notice, also, that the success of the proposed new line of steamers is said to be dependent upon a great many contingent circumstances. In short, the report of the Commission is full of “ ifs,” and “ buts.” For instance, in speaking of the necessity for running full ships during five months of theyear, for carrying, cargo between Australian ports, it says -
If this is merely a matter of arrangement with the coastal companies, there can be no reason why a State-owned line should not undertake coastal freights. If, however, the reason for declining the carriage of cargo is the limited time allotted to each port in the schedule of arrival and departure, it might be found impracticable for mail steamers to enter on such a trade.
Anybody knows that. It is tantamount to saying, “ If this thing should prove to be impracticable, why then, it will be impracticable.” Who desires reports of that kind as the result of a costly and prolonged investigation? No doubt it is a little bit of innocent and quite harmless padding, but it does not bring us any nearer a’ solution of this matter. Incidentally, this national line of steamers is to accomplish a number of things. It is to advertise Australia all over the world. I fancy that it would advertise Australia - and if I am not very much mistaken - it would advertise our folly all over the world as it has never been advertised before. In this connexion, I would remind honorable members that there are some kinds of advertisement that we would be very much better without. The advertisement of our failures and follies has already been made too much of by the rest of the world, and by others who have been described by certain honorable members of this House as the “stinking fish” party.
– Where have the failures and follies been proved to exist, save in the imagination of the honorable member and that of his friends?
– I am pointing out that, in my opinion, the establishment of a national line of steamers would be a failure, and that, therefore, the less we advertised it to the rest of the world, the better it would be.
– But suppose that the scheme were a success?
– If it were a success, it would be a. success, and that statement is just about on a par with the statements contained in the Commission’s report. The Commissioners say that if this could be done, and that could be done, the undertaking would succeed, but if this and that could not be done, it would not succeed. Who desires reports of that character? We want definite reports which are based upon exact data. Nothing else is of the slightest importance in connexion with an undertaking. which would involve us in an expenditure of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, and which would affect the exporters of our produce and all those who are engaged in our industrial enterprises. It is too large and serious a matter to be undertaken upon mere guesswork, such as the report of the Shipping, Commission has been based upon. May I point out in this respect that there never was a “cronk” undertaking entered into in any part of the world which did not show a balance-sheet which was “ passing fair” ? Take all the great outstanding “cronk “ affairs of the world. They have all shown excellent balance-sheets, and I fear that balance-sheets in themselves are -of very little value. Experience is the great test, and in this particular matter we have experience to guide us. Consequently, we should not commit ourselves to the mere guesswork and tabulations of the honorable member for Barrier and his fellow Commissioners. If the figures contained in the balance-sheet of the Commission are all right, then the scheme for the establishment of a national line of mail-steamers is »U right.
– Some people would say not. The honorable member would say that it was not all right, because it is one proposing Government control.
– I tell the hon orable member candidly that I have no faith in figures which are preluded by the statement that there are no definite and reliable data on which to base an estimate.
– The honorable member said that if the figures were right, the scheme would be all right; but even if they thought they were, neither the honorable member nor his leader would agree to it.
– The Commissioners who reported in favour of the scheme tell us that they are unable to make a definite and reliable estimate. They then proceed to make one.
– But the honorable member said that if these figures were correct the scheme would be all right.
– I say that if they are correct, they are correct, and if they are incorrect, they are incorrect. When I say this, I am simply parodying the report, for that is the nature of it from beginning to end.
– We shall see what Hansard says. I repeat that the honorable member said that if these figures were all wright the scheme would be all night.
– If I did, it was a mistake. Has the honorable member never made a slip of the tongue?
– Then the statement in question was a slip of the tongue ?
– Yes. I have yet to know that I did make the statement. The honorable member wishes to bind me down bv a slip of the tongue as an advocate of the nationalization of steam-ships, although all my arguments are against such xi proposal.
– The honorable member said something earlier which suggested that he was in favour of such a scheme.
– I can find nothing in the report of the Shipping Service Commission which would furnish us with the slightest justification for so grave and important a national departure. At any rate, I prefer keeping by the old paths of private enterprise until the experience of the world furnishes me with something better than this inquiry does - in the shape of skill in the recommendations, and in the shape of experience and skill behind those making the recommendations. We have, in the report of the Commission, a. statement to the effect that “ If Queensland had helped, what a difference there would have been.” “If this or that had occurred, what a difference there would be,” is a statement that we find in almost every clause of the report. If we could obtain for the national service all the freights to London ; if we could get the lands of Australia developed, and have them producing fruit and butter and other products of that kind in abundance ; if we could induce the States Governments to help to make the line pay ; if competition were abolished, and a fair and free run for our enterprise obtained ; if we could secure these and a multitude of other favouring circumstances - if, in short, all- the gales of prosperity would blow their happiest upon us - then, according to the report of the Commission, it would be a good thing to nationalize our shipping. But, strange to say, in the actual experience of an individual or a nation, one hardly ever .finds all these ‘favouring circumstances converging upon any one enterprise at thi one time. I, therefore, hold that, judged, upon any sound, practical basis. this report must be ruled out. In. presenting it, the Commissioners begin bv expressing their inability to furnish a practical basis, and that statement in the verv forefront of the report is amply demonstrated throughout its pages. The report is ingenious - it is clever - but I do not think that any one who looks at the matter from a broad business stand-point will say that it is convincing. There is still another thing necessary for the success of the scheme, and that is the possession of the requisite brains and skill to conduct such an enterprise. The report states that the Government can purchase brains and skill as well as any private company can do. Maybe thev can ; there is no guarantee, however, that the skill and brains which are so purchased would have the same free play as brains and skill have when their possessors devote them to concerns which they are running for private profit. The statement in the report to which I refer is equal to an assertion that the Government could make a man do that which a private individual now does for himself. That is the whole argument. It is begging the whole question, as between Socialism and anti-Socialism. Every one will admit that if we could secure people to do for the Government that which they now do for themselves - if the Government enterprise were as good in every particular as private enterprise - and apply the principle to every ramification of business and every detail and outlook of human life, then the case for Socialism would be complete. But this is Begging the question ; it1 is simply entering the whole field of controversy and argument. Instead of arguing out the matter upon plain business considerations, the Commissioners throughout the report have to make a skip now and again to reach the rosy considerations .which they have placed before us. I infinitely prefer the arrangements which the Government have made for the future carriage of our mails to the project sketched for us by the Royal Commission. I hope that the Minister will be able to make it clear that everything in the contract is straightforward.
– Hear, hear.
– That everything is straightforward and impossible of being wrongly construed. In other words, I hope he will make it clear that the contract has been well drafted, and that its meaning is- beyond the possibility of doubt. I trust also that he will give us some evi.dence of the bona fides of the contracting company - that he will give us something in addition to the name which has been placed before us. Sir James Laing may be all that is claimed for him; I have nothing to say against him. He has a great, record as a ship-builder, but I am told that he has never entered upon the building of vessels of the class required for this service.
– I think that is inaccurate, but still-
– If the company contemplates making use of the contract for the purpose of acquiring the requisite capital the Government ought to be aware of the fact.
– Hear, hear.
– Speaking generally, with no mail steamers in existence, with a contract still to be faced from its foundation to its completion, thecompany is one about which we should know something more before we give our consent to an agreement which is of supreme importance to exporters of perishable products, and of much importance to Australia generally. We cannot separate this mail service from its commercial side. I believe that our mail service does more to keep the commercial transactions of Australia with the older countries of the world at the point of expedition and despatchthan perhaps anything else of which I know. In .these circumstances, the question before us is a matter of supreme importance to all who have produce to ship, and for which they must find a market in other parts of the world. I shall len ve the Government to take the full responsibility of their action in this matter. If they conclude an agreement which proves satisfactory, which will command a service of the speed laid down for the price given, and will be subject to the other conditionsmentioned, they will -have completed a contract which will be in the interests of Australia as a whole, and will have made an excellent bargain indeed.
.- It is to be regretted that the honorable member who has just resumed his seat did not receive the last copy of Hansard and the other Parliamentary documents necessary to enable him to prepare his case. Had he done so, he would not have inflicted upon the House a series of very attenuated arguments, and what I may describe, I hope without offence, as some absurd conclusions. The honorable member, in the concluding portion of his speech, said that the Royal’ Commission had not attempted to deal with the salient points in the proposal to establish a Commonwealth fleet on a socialisticbasis. He left it to be inferred that, although a Government could purchase brains and energy, it could not guarantee that those brains and that energy would work for the State as vigorously as they would do in their own interests. But he concealed the fact that the brains and the energy employed in directing great private enterprises are very often purchased just in the same way as they would be if employed by a Government Department. I venture to say that the men who direct the great enterprises of the world are not always - are very seldom, indeed - actually shareholders in them. So that the real position is not as stated by the honorable member. I am rather sorry that he should have constituted himself the latest champion of the party which he joins in denominating “ the stinking fish party,” the party which is always prepared to repudiate the possibility of anything good coming out of Australia - the party which has attempted to blacken the good name of this community, and to hold us up before the world as a people who would shut out British subjects from cur shores, and as having actually refused to allow drowning men to land’.
– Any one who does not believe in Socialism is a member of “the stinking fish party” !
– I say that when the honorable member, admittedly on insufficient evidence, proclaimed these Commonwealth steamers must be a failure from their inception, he undoubtedly linked himself with those who are continually decrying Australia.
– Yet the honorable member supports the Government which is going to do the same thing !
– I do not know any member of this House who is more intolerant of interruptions than the honorable member is ; and when, early in his speech, I made what I considered to be a relevant remark, he actuallylost his temper, and told me that I was making an impertinent interjection. There was nothing impertinent in what I said. He was talking at that time about a purely legal question, and, as he was not a lawyer, I conceived that if there was anything in his point it should be argued out between legal authorities, rather than in a House mainly composed of laymen. Therefore, I think that my interjection was not impertinent, but was, on the contrary, extremely relevant to the point at issue.
– If it was not impertinent, it was absurd.
– We will leave it at that. I am quite prepared to accept the honorable member’s opinion of any interjection . which I make provided that he will accept my judgment as to his observations.
– Do not be so nasty ! Mr. MAHON. - If I have had the misfortune to be “nasty, “ it is difficult to avoid the example which the honorable member sets in his own speeches. I do not wish to revive old sores, tout, really, the honorable member is the last one who should mention that word. He commented very severely upon the first paragraph of the report of the Royal Commission, dealing with the question of poundage as opposed to the payment of a subsidy for the carriage of our mails. He said that it was impossible to dissociate the commercial classes, the producers, and the exporters from the rest of the community. The first paragraph in the report emphasizes the fact that this subsidized mail service is instituted chiefly for the benefit of a very small class of the community - that is to say, for those who are actually interested in commerce, whether as importers or exporters, and those who are engaged indirectly in such occupations. The honorable member overlooks the fact that 80 per cent . of the people of Australia were born in this country, and have very little interest in old-world affairs. The great bulk of the native-born people of Australia, and also a large number who have come to this country, and who have made their homes here, no longer have any necessity for communicating with the old world. They do not often write letters to send abroad. Therefore, it was pointed out in the report that it was immaterial to these people whether the mail-boats occupied three or four days more in the delivery of letters. It further went on to say - and I think justly - that the burden of payment for these subsidized mail services should be transferred, so that they might fall upon those who directly benefit. Although the honorable member may choose to say that it is impossible to dissociate the commercial classes from the rest of the community, there is, I think, good ground for saying that these charges should be borne by the people who reap the bulk of the benefit. The mail subsidies are paid out of Customs revenue, to which, as a matter of fact, as every one knows from experience, the working man, who rarely uses the over-sea mail services, contributes almost equally with the wealthier classes.
– The cost is only borne out of Customs revenue when there is a deficiency in the Postal revenue.
– Exactly; but the honorable member knows that there is a deficiency in the working of the Postal and Telegraph Department every year.
– That has not always been the case. Before Federation the Western Australian Post Office showed a surplus, and bore the cost of the mail subsidy.
– At the present time there is, I think, only one State in the Commonwealth, namely, South Australia, in which the Post and Telegraph Department is paying its way. Taking the service over the whole of the six States, the honorable member for Parramatta cannot deny that the work is carried on at considerable loss. That being so, the deficit is undoubtedly made good out of the Customs revenue,’ of which, as the honorable member is perfectly aware, the working classes of Australia pay an undue share. These are the” classes who, I say, do not use the oversea service to any great extent. On the general proposition that those who get the benefit of any Government service - of any collective effort of the people - should share in the cost, I should like to quote some extracts from speeches delivered at the recent Conference of Premiers, held in Sydney, in April, of this year. When the question came up of providing funds for old-age pensions, the President of the Conference, Mr. Carruthers, Premier of New South Wales, said - …… if ihe Commonwealth authorities will impose duties on tea and kerosene, and hypothecate or earmark Ihe revenue from those duties for the purpose of old-acre pensions, we shall have the back of the expenditure broken, and we shall Ret, in a simple way, a contribution from Ihe classes who most largely are the recipients of this pension. “ In a simple way “ are the words which Mr. Carruthers used”; and here we have a proposal to make the workers of Australia, who share in old-age pensions, direct contributors to the fund. Then, Mr. Bent, Premier of Victoria, on the same occasion, said -
Tt is the view of the Victorian Government that it would be wise for us at this stage to urge that the people who obtain the pension should contribute a little through the duties on kerosene and tea.
Mr. Davies, another member of the Conference from Victoria, said -
We do not propose either, that it (Federal pension fund) should be raised by some tax from the payment of which those who would get the chief benefit would be exempted.
Here we have ample precedent and justification for the position taken up bv the Royal Commission in the first paragraph of their report. Let me summarize the facts. Here is a subsidized mail service, used almost exclusively by one class of people in the community - that class who have business in oversea commerce; and to make up any deficiency in the payment for the service, the whole people Of the community are taxed. Mr. Coghlan recently estimated that about 80 per cent, of the residents in Australia are natives of the continent ; and that 80 per cent., I may assume, have very little interest in the social or domestic affairs of people on the other side of the world.
– Does the honorable member say that the 80 per cent, of the community have no relatives on the other side of the world?
– Not for one moment; but the honorable member for Lang knows as well as I do that even those from the old country, who have lived, as I have, for nearly a quarter of a century in Australia, have very little correspondence with the old country. It is wonderful how one’s correspondence diminishes year by year, until it is represented bv one or two letters.
– I think the honorable member is mistaken.
– The honorable member’ for Coolgardie is absolutely correct.
– I am giving my own experience. ‘
– Which is necessarily limited.
– Quite so; but 1 apprehend that what happens in my case, also happens in the case of other people. Therefore, I agree with the finding of the Royal Commission that the bulk of the public would not be inconvenienced by the adoption of the poundage system - that the mere fact that letters were delayed three or four days extra on the voyage, would not affect the great majority of the people in any way. The honorable member for Parramatta was, I think, quite at sea when he contended that the bulk of the people are interested in the maintenance of the oversea mail contract. It is a serious matter that the people of Australia should be paying £80,000 per annum more than, is necessary for the conveyance df the mails to England. When the honorable member asserted that the service of mail steamers is the test of all communication between Great Britain and Australia - that it nerves other shipping companies to make speedier voyages - did he ignore the fact that there are no mail subsidies as between Great Britain and America, and that the duration of voyages across the Atlantic has been reduced within the last twenty or thirty years by from 2 5 per cent, to 40 per cent. ?
– The honorable member knows that there are some subventions in the case of the Atlantic service?
– I know that the time of the voyage between England and America has been very considerably reduced during the last twenty years, not because of any mail subsidy, but simply because the steamship owners have found it pay them to provide a quicker and better service. In my opinion, the same result would follow in the case of the service between England and Australia. In the natural order of things private shipping companies would undoubtedly provide greater facilities in a very short time. The honorable member for Parramatta spoke of the revenue of the line of steamers as remaining at the present dimensions. Nobody who takes a rational view of Australian development could- agree with the honorable member in that respect. On all sides we see evidences of greater prosperity - increased exports as well as increased imports. We know that Australia has enjoyed several good seasons, and that a wave of prosperity has reached this country, causing our revenues to expand, and enabling the public to spend more money in every way. Consequently the honorable member is not doing justice to the Royal Commission when he claims that its calculations are based entirely on the present position of affairs. On the contrary. I think the Royal Commission was justified in holding that the export trade of Australia will largely increase, and that a Commonwealth line of steamers would undoubtedly share in the increased passenger and goods business. The honorable member for Parramatta also said that the shipping companies which at present carry on the traffic would not take “lying down “ the competition of a Federal line of steamers. That mav be so ; but I remind the honor-_ able member that dealing with the Govern-‘ ment is altogether a different matter from dealing with a private company. The Orient and Pacific Steam Navigation Company and the Peninsular and , Oriental Steam Navigation Company, if they attempted to apply unfair tactics; to the Commonwealth, would find that we have power within us to resent such tactics in a most decisive and emphatic way, which they would remember. The honorable member tried to justify his condemnation of this paragraph in the report of the Royal
Commission by saying that anomalies are not peculiar to mail contracts, and he mentioned the fact that the* Postal and Telegraph Department carries newspapers at a lower rate than that for letters. The honorable member should have remembered that the Department differentiates in regard to the importance in value of mail matter; but he altogether ignored that aspect of the matter. A newspaper is of comparatively little importance compared with a private letter, and therefore the Department chargesless for the conveyance of a newspaper than it does for a letter. The honorable member also mentioned an anomaly connected with railway management1, and stated that stone in the rough is carried over the railways at a lowerrate than that charged for carved stone. These were, of course, merely illustrations, but throughout his speech the honorablemember ignored the fact that the value of the article carried is an essential factor in* fixing the rate in connexion with all transportation charges. As I have already said,, the honorable member was placed at a great disadvantage in not having morematerial at hand in criticising the proposed contract. At various times he asked for more information, but I did not hear him specify the particular points which he desired should be further elucidated. Insome respects, I think the honorable member’s speech was rather contradictory. For instance, he said that if the Governmenthad really completed this contract, they had’ made a good bargain, and in the next breath, he said that the penalty of £25.000- to be enforced against the company under certain conditions was altogether out of proportion to the loss which the Commonwealth would sustain if the company did not carry out the contract. As a matter of fact, the honorable member said that Weshould sustain a loss of at least £300,000, whilst it might be infinitely more, and for that reason urged that the contractor should toe asked to deposit more ‘than £25,000. How the honorable member can regard as a good bargain a contract which involves a possible loss to the Commonwealth of £300,000 without any compensation is more than I can understand. The honorable member further said that; in case of default, the company would incur nogreater liability than the loss of the deposit of £25,000. I direct his attention to the fact that in the third paragraph’ of clause 39 of the Conditions of Contract, it is stated that -
The Postmasler-General may at once call upon the contractor and his sureties to enter into a new bond to increase the amount from£25,000 to£50,000, and so on. So that the honorable member was not accurate either in his criticism of the contract or of the Commission’s report.
– The contractors need not pay the extra £25,000; they could simply cancel their contract.
– I am not a lawyer, but I think the honorable member will find that the Commonwealth Government would have the power to enforce the penalty of £50,000.
– Hear, hear.
Mr.Johnson. - No
– I see that doctors differ. The Minister says that the Government would have that power. I again repeat my regret that the honorable member for Parramatta had not an opportunity to prepare his speech on this question. I was rather amused in following the honorable member’s speech, and comparing it with the report of an interview with a Mr. Paxton, which appeared! in the Sydney press a few days ago. I found that the honorable member’s speech was largely a reproduction of the arguments used by Mr. Paxton, and almost in the order in which they were used by that gentleman. I might just notice one statement which Mr. Paxton made to the newspaper interviewer. He said -
Although the contract looks genuine enough on the face of it, I must admit that I have a feeling that there is something which has not been disclosed.
This gentleman is evidently possessed of a most lively imagination. When he was in Perth some time ago, attending the conference of Chambers of Commerce, in speaking upon the same matter. Mr. Paxton made another most interesting and important discovery. At that time, he criticised the terms of the service for which tenders were invited by the Government, and, in reply, I pointed out that they were exactly the same as those which had been adopted by previous Governments. He said that no shipping authority would ever approve of such conditions as were sought to be imposed.
– He said that no one would tender ?
-No. What he said was that the conditions sought to be imposed by the Government were outrageous, and that no man with any shipping experience would give his approval to them. The clauses to which Mr. Paxton referred on that occasion happened to be clauses which found a place in a previous contract, and I reminded him that when the Watson Government were in office a no less distinguished shipping authority than Sir Malcolm McEacharn had approved of those conditions.
– But the honorable member would not put Sir Malcolm McEacharn beside Mr. Paxton as a shipping man?
– Where does Mr. Paxton come from?
– He is the chairman of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce.
– The chairman of the shipping section of the Chamber.
– I believe that is so. I reminded him that so eminent a shipping authority as Sir Malcolm McEacharn had fully approved, and had, in fact, revised the conditions of a previous contract before their publication.
– At the honorable gentleman’s request as Postmaster-General ?
– At the request of the Watson Government. It will hardly be credited that Mr. Paxton, the gentleman whose arguments have been repeated by the honorable member for Parramatta this afternoon, replied to my statement in this way -
Yes. That has confirmed the strong suspicions we always, entertained that Sir Malcolm McEacharn was in league with the Labour Party.
He did not attempt to show that the conditions were wrong in any way, but to my reminder, as an answer which he regarded as triumphant, he said that it was further evidence in support of the suspicion that Sir Malcolm McEacharn was in league with the Labour Party. That extraordinary invention indicatesthat the gentleman who has furnished the honorable member for Parramatta with the chief arguments which he used to-day possesses a strong imagination. I am not entirely in accord with the contract which has been proposed. I am in favour of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier, who, as chairmanof the Oversea Shipping Service Commission, has placed the Commonwealth under a considerable obligation by the industry, ability and research which he displayed throughout the conduct of the proceedings of that Commission. I think we certainly should pause before tying ourselves up for so many years to the payment of the large subsidy proposed to be paid to this company. Although I admit that the proposed contract is in many respects advantageous to us, there are many points in which I think it could be improved. Take, for instance, clause 10, which deals with the employment of white labour on board the ships. If honorable members will refer to the contract they will see that in every other clause it is provided that the contractor “ shall “ do this,, or “ shall not “ do that. Clause 8 says -
Every mail ship shall be a good substantial and efficient steam-ship.
Clause 9 says -
Every mail ship shall be always properly and sufficiently equipped in all respects.
But when we come to clause 10 we find these words -
The contractor binds himself to employ only white labour on vessels used or employed under the contract, but this condition shall not apply to the coaling or unloading of the mail ships at places beyond the limits of the Commonwealth.
Unless a penalty for the employment of black labour on a’ ship is provided in another clause, certainly it is not prescribed in any part of clause 10.
– It will be a breach of the contract.
– That may be, but it is not apparent on the surface. It is also undesirable that no provision should be made that only Australian and British seamen shall be em p loved. If we go on board a German boat we find nobody but Germans employed. Asahi, if we go on board a French boat. Ave shall find only Frenchmen employed.
– It is a condition of the subsidy in those cases that the company must employ French or Germans on the vessels.
– I think that the Prime = Minister might very fairly imitate that example, and say that none but Australian or British seamen shall be empoyed on these mail boats. No other nation could take offence at such a condition being inserted in the contract, because so far as their Australian trade is concerned - I do not know about their North American trade - the steamers belonging to the German or French companies adhere strictly to the provision that only the subjects of their nation shall be employed. However, I do not wish, to emphasize that point any further. I ask the Prime Minister to see whether it is not possible, even now, to insert a similar provision in this contract. There is another little omission from the contract, and possibly the PostmasterGeneral is not to blame, because if I remember aright, it was omitted from all previous contracts. So far as I can see, there is no arrangement requiring the contractors to be punctual in the delivery of InterState mails. Take, for instance, the mails leaving Sydney and Melbourne for Western Australia. Suppose that the steamer left Adelaide on a Thursday, instead of delivering the mails at Fremantle on the following Mond,av, as at present, she might not deliver them until the following Tuesday
– There is no time-table for intermediate ports?
– No. I speak now not so much from the postal point of view as in the interests of passengers. The Minister must see that access to Western Australia can be gained at present only by the ocean, and that therefore it is very important to those who travel, and who have business in that State, that an Inter-State time-table should ‘be kept. I believe that the Postmaster-General has done very well in altering the clause, stating that no fine shall be inflicted upon the contractor unless twenty-four hours be lost, so as to provide that the fining should start when the shin has lost even an hour. Bv clause 25 a fine of £5 pet hour is prescribed.” If the Postmaster-General considers it necessary to offer such a large payment for an accelerated service, this is a very small fine indeed to impose for any delay. For instance, a boat could be twenty-four hours late, and pay a fine of only £120 for the delay. Under certain circumstances it might pay a steamer to lose twentyfourhours, and the company would still be in pocket. Seeing that the rapid delivery of mails is essential, that penal tv is altogether inadequate. The honorable member for Parramatta laboured considerably over clause 15, which, provides briefly that should the legislation of the Commonwealth result in a diminution of the. earnings or an increase of the expenses of the ships, the contract shall be terminated.
I object to the clause - which I believe has found a place in previous contracts - on grounds entirely different from those urged by the honorable member. 1 think that it would give the company power to hold a threat over the Commonwealth. Regarding any proposed legislation, they might say, “ You will adopt that legislation atyour peril. We shall lose £10,000 or£1 5,000 or£20,000 a year by the legislation, therefore be careful as to whatyou do about it.” That is not a proper position for the Parliament to be placed in.
– Is the honorable member sure that all legislation would affect shipping ?
– I am not prepared to argue that point, which formed the subject of a long dialogue between the honorable member for Parramatta and the honorable member for Corinella. I think that the Prime Minister appreciates the position which I am putting - that it is scarcely right that we should have the threat held over us that, if we adopt certain legislation, penal consequences will follow.
– They are notheavy - £5,000-
– They are not heavy, but if that condition is accepted I think that we should insist upon a similar condition, giving the Commonwealth a corresponding advantage. There should be in the contract a clause providing that, if the legislation of the Commonwealth cheapens the operations of the company, we shall share in the advantage thus gained. For instance, as the contract stands, if, through the intervention of the Government, the Imperial Government, which holds the bulk of the shares in the Suez Canal, were to reduce the canal rates, the contractors would pocket the difference, and the Commonwealth would get no advantage. That, however, would not be fair, and therefore I suggest that it may be possible even now to insert a clause which will put the Commonwealth in a proper position, and not make the bargain one-sided. The contract is undoubtedly a great improvement upon previous ones, and the Government are to be complimented upon it in many respects. If the House is not prepared to agree to the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier, no doubt the adoption of the contract, subject to the improvements which have been suggested, is the best course that we can follow. The Government should make an attempt to have the terms of the contract modified, with a view to carrying these suggestions into effect. I do not think that we should for all time pay a subsidy exceeding by £80,000 per annum the cost of the service on a poundage basis ; and Parliament will be justified in saying to those who chiefly benefit by the establishment of subsidized mail services, “ We propose to readjust the burden, so that you shall bear the greater part of it. The cost of these services promises to be a very heavy burden upon the taxpayers of the Commonwealth, and it is only right that those who chiefly benefit shall bear the greater part of it.”
.- The consensus of opinion amongst honorable members seems to be that, if the terms of the contract are faithfully observed, the Government will have made a very good bargain. It is wrong to assume, as the honorable member for Coolgardie did, that the Opposition holds two diametrically opposed opinions on the subject, namely, that the Government have made a very good bargain, and that they have made a very bad bargain. Our opinion is that the contract will be a good one if its provisions are faithfully observed by the contractors. But some of us believe that some of the clauses of the agreement could be amended with benefit to the Commonwealth. It has been pointed out by a gentleman intimately connected with, and having a large experience of the shipping business, that the construction of the fleet of steamers necessary for the performance of the service will occupy at least three years. Now, the service is to be inaugurated on the 1st February, 1908, or in about eighteen months’ time, when the necessary vessels are unlikely to be ready. In view of that fact, the deposit of £2,500 is quite inadequate.
– A deposit of £2,500 and another deposit of £25,000 have been made.
– Not in cash.
– Yes, in cash deposited in London. £27,500 is the amount which the company stands to lose if it does not proceed with the service.
– I do notthink that cash to that amount is in the hands of the Government, although the equivalent of it may be:
– It is the same thing.
– I do not think that it is. Interest would not be paid on its equivalent. A bank before paying interest on such a deposit would require actual cash.
– The money is available if the company does not do what it has promised to do.
– In any case, the amount seems disproportionate, seeing that we are to pay £125,000 per annum for a ten years’ service, or, in the aggregate, £1, 250, 000. If the Commonwealth had to fall back upon the next lowest tender it would be involved in an additional expenditure of £300,000, even assuming that the tender would hold good after the acceptance of another tender. Therefore it seems to me that our interests have not been sufficiently safeguarded. It may be that it is not too late to make an alteration. Mr. John Paxton, whose criticism of the contract was published in the press a few days ago, referred to a matter which formed the subject of a question asked by me this afternoon, namely, the authority of Mr. Croker for signing the contract on behalf of Messrs. James Laing and Sons. Mr. Paxton says -
The agreement was not one which was required to be signed under seal, and assuming that Mr. Croker had the necessary authority the agreement should be perfectly binding. He assumed, however, that in respect of such an important piece of business the Commonwealth would have taken the precaution through their representative in London to obtain from Sir James Laing and Sons Limited, under the hand of their chairman or secretary, an extract minute from their official minute-book giving the precise wording of the authority which had been delegated to Mr. Croker. He did not think it at all likely that Mr. Croker would affix his signature without full authority, still using a phrase that was employed by barristers, “ For more abundant security’s sake,” the Commonwealth should see that this aspect of the matter was made clear.
It would appear from the statement of the Prime Minister that this precaution was not taken. The Government were content to make Mr. Croker responsible for the performance of the contract. I do not pretend to any expert knowledge upon technical points of this character, but, in view of the criticism passed by Mr. Paxton, who is a thoroughly experienced man, I was surprised to learn that the Government did not consider ‘it wise to adopt the course indicated. Of course, this is purely a contract for the carriage of mails between Brindisi and Adelaide, but I think it would have been wise to provide that the mail steamers should call at Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. In ali probability, the steamers will go on to two of those ports, because the trade inducements held out to them will be sufficient to make it worth their while to extend the voyage. We cannot forget, however, that the Queensland Government had to make a special payment to the Orient Company to secure the extension of that company’s service to Brisbane, and possibly the new contractors may make similar demands upon Victoria and New South Wales and Queensland. That is the reason why I think it would have been wise to make Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane ports of call for the mail steamers. We propose to pay the contractors £125,000, or £s>000 per annum more than is now received by the Orient Company. In return for this, the contractors undertake to shorten the period occupied in the conveyance of mails between Brindisi and Adelaide by sixty hours, and supply a fleet of greatly improved and larger steamers.
– At present we pay £1.20,000 for the carriage of our mails within 696 hours, and, under the new contract, we shall pay £125,000 for the carriage of our mails within 636 hours.
– Quite so; but I notice that it is provided in clause 7 -
That during the prevalence of the south-west monsoon, the “period of transit” from Adelaide to Brindisi shall be extended by thirtysix hours.
– That concession is granted to the present contractors.
– Its effect is to materially reduce the advantage conferred upon us by the new contract. Even if that provision is in the present contract, I think that, in view of the additional sum that is to be paid by us, the new contractors should have taken the risk of any delay owing to the prevalence of the south-west monsoons.
– The honorable member knows that there are times when ordinary speed cannot be maintained.
– I am perfectly well aware that when a vessel is passing through a monsoon she cannot be forced along against a head sea and a. head wind at her ordinary speed. But when ship-masters have reason to expect, as in this case, that they will meet with adverse conditions, they can drive their vessels at more than ordinary speed both before entering and after passing through the monsoonal regions, and thus make up for loss of time. Probably those who are responsible for drawing up the agreement failed, owing to their lack of nautical knowledge, to take this point into consideration. I presume that the steamers will be equipped with sufficient power to drive them at a rate of speed in excess of that required to keep strictly within the contract time. As a matter of fact, I gathered from a conversation I had with the captain of the R.M.S. China, that, whilst the Peninsular and Oriental steamers can comply with the requirements of the contract by maintaining a speed of sixteen knots per hour, they are capable, if necessary, of steaming eighteen knots per hour throughout the voyage. That being so, the new steamers should be capable of giving us an accelerated service strictly within the terms of the contract, despite any delay that may be involved when passing through the south-west monsoon. Clause 8 provides -
That the port of registry of the mail ships to be employed in pursuance of this agreement shall be a port within the Commonwealth of Australia.
No provision is made for the crews being signed on and off in Australia, which is a very important matter from a Commonwealth standpoint. In unfolding the terms of the contract the other day the Postmaster-General made much of the fact that Australians will be very much interested in the new venture. If that argument be worth anything it would be worth a good deal more if the contract had provided for the signing on and off of the crews in Australian ports- not necessarily at the port of registry, but at the starting point of these vessels from Australia. As the agreement stands, the crews will probably be signed on in London at the London rate of wages, and consequently Australian seamen will not derive any very great advantage from it. If it had been intended that they should receive any benefit, provision should have beenmade for the signing on and off of crews for the round voyage in Commonwealth ports. That would have insured the employment of Australian seamen at Australian rates of wages. Clause 9 stipulates -
That the plans of the new mail ships to be built to carry out this agreement shall within a reasonable time be submitted for the approval of the representative of the Commonwealth Government in London.
Now, the phrase “ within a reasonable time “ seems to me to be a very loose one indeed. Who is to define what will con stitute a reasonable period? In a contract of such an important character, a definite period should have been specified, within which plans for the building of the vessels should be submitted to the representative of the Commonwealth Govern ment in London. As matters stand, months may elapse before those plans are submitted, and all kinds of excuses may be urged for not submitting them earlier. Under the agreement, Sir James Laing and Sons can hawk their concession about for the next twelve months, at the end of which period they may be no further forward in the matter of the construction of the ships than they are now. It does not seem to me that,under the agreement, the Government have any means of compelling them to submit plans within what may be termed “a reasonable period” - that is, within three or four months of the ratification of the contract by this Parliament. Clause 11, which is perhaps the most important provision in the agreement, appears to have created some apprehension in the minds of certain honorable members, judged by the questions which were asked this afternoon in reference to the tonnage of the vessels. That clause provides -
That each of the mail ships to be employed in pursuance of this agreement shall be of at least 11,000 tons registered tonnage, and that each of such mail ships shall be capable of steaming at a minimum speed of fifteen knots per hour.
Now, in shipping parlance, the words “ eleven thousand tons registered tonnage” have a well-defined meaning. Registered tonnage is a very different thing from gross tonnage. The gross tonnage of the largest vessels of the Peninsular and “Oriental Steam Navigation and Orient Steam Navigation Companies visiting Australian ports, is something like 10,000 or 11,000 tons, but their registered tonnage is only between 5,000 and 6,000 tons. I think that Mr. Paxton himself has something to say upon this point.
– What does the fact to which the honorable member has referred, convey to his mind ?
– A A ship of 1 1,000 tons registered tonnage would convey to my mind a ship of about 16,000 to 18,000 tons gross register - in other words, a vessel which would have a gross tonnage of at least 5,000 tons more than any vessel of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company or Orient Steam Navigation Company coming to our ports. When a ship is said to be of 1,000 tons register, it means that she is a vessel of about 1,500 tons gross carrying capacity. The gross tonnage of any vessel is always a great deal in excess of its registered tonnage. I see now that Mr. Paxton did have something to say upon this point, and to make the position perfectly clear, perhaps it would be as well for me to quote his statement. He says, referring to clause11 -
It provides that each of the mail ships to be employed in pursuance of this agreement shall be of at least 11,000 tons registered tonnage. Now, I do not think that even the Government realizes what this means, and I am very certain that excepting the few closely connected with shipping business not many understand what the words “ registered tonnage “ mean or appreciate the value of the clause. It really means that the vessels to be employed will require to be more than twice the size of such steamers as the Mongolia and the Marmora, whose registered tonnage is a little under 5,000.
– The Marmora is advertised in the newspapers as a vessel of 10,500 tons.
– That is her gross tonnage. The steamers provided under this contract will require to be more than twice the size of the Mongolia and the Marmora, which are the finest ships of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s fleet visiting Australia at the present time.
– It will not do any harm if the vessels are of that size, I suppose?
– Not at all. I should be very glad to see them here, and I do not think that anybody would complain of their presence. I am., however, informed, upon the most reliable authority, that it will take at least three years to build these steamers, and, consequently, I fear that the contract cannot be entered into within the specified period, because there are not sufficient ships of the required tonnage afloat available which could be chartered for the purpose of carrying our mails. Mr. Paxton, in dealing with this question, said -
As a matter of fact, the total number of ships afloat at the present moment of the required tonnage would not be much more than sufficient to comply with the conditions of the contract. At the moment, I cannot give you the name of a vessel which would indicate the precise size called for. The nearest I can think of is the White Star liner Arabic, of 15,801 tons gross and 10,062 tons registered tonnage. The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which Sydney people know pretty well, is of 5,521 registered tons, and, therefore, as nearly as possible half the size of the steamers called for by the new contract. The idea that such steamers can be built for any such sum as£400,000 is simply preposterous. They will cost at the very least half a million apiece, and probably a great deal more, but the precise sum depends to a certain extent on the fittings and machinery.
I was induced to read the latter part of Mr. Paxton’s statement, because of the assertion in the report of the Shipping Commission that mail steamers suitable for a Commonwealth service could be constructed at a cost of £400,000 each. I have no wish to unduly occupy the time of the House in dealing with this motion ; my sole desire is to emphasize points that appear to me to be deserving of consideration. In clause 15 we have the provision -
Should the earnings of the mail ships be diminished and or the expenses of running the mail ships be increased either or both and whether prospective or actual by an amount of not less than Five thousand pounds (£5,000) per annum at any time during the currency of this Agreement in consequence of Commonwealth legislation relating to shipping enacted subsequent to the date of this Agreement the Contractors shall be at liberty at any time after such enactment to determine this Agreement on giving six months’ notice in writing to the PostmasterGeneral of their intention so to do. Provided always that if so required the Contractors shall furnish the Postmaster-General with a statement of the amount and particulars of such diminution of earnings and or increase of expenses such statement to be certified by a chartered accountant to be mutually agreed upon.
This clause may or may not have been cunningly devised to give the contractors a certain advantage. I refer more particularly to the use of the words “ legislation relating to shipping.” Those words, in my view, and in that of some eminent lawyers, do not necessarily imply legislation dealing directly with shipping. All commerce relates to shipping, and all interference with, or restrictions upon, commerce, have a direct relation to shipping of the most vital importance, since a shipowner’s earnings could be reduced to the vanishing point by such legislation. In the course of conversation with me, the other day, a gentleman eminent in legal circles, expressed the opinion that the words “ relating to shipping “ had been deliberately inserted in the clause in order that the contractors might take advantage of legislation passed subsequent to the signing of the contract, which might diminish or interfere in any way with the inflow of imports to Australia. He cited the Australian Industries: Preservation Bill as a measure which, in effective Operation, would have the result of diminish ing the earnings of a shipping service, and which, to that exent, would therefore relate to shipping. To obviate such a contingency, he suggested that the clause should lae so altered as to make it clear that it related only to legislation applying direcly to shipping. The point is an important one, and I trust that the Minister will make a note of it, with a view to seeing whether other words, which more clearly define the intention, could’ not be substituted.
– In any event it would have to be cleared up.
– And it is better that the point should be brought under notice at the present time, when it is possible to make the meaning of the clause clearer. If its general provisions be faithfully observed the contract is one to which no exception can be taken, and if it be brought to a successful issue the Commonwealth will be able to congratulate itself upon having its mails delivered by a very fine fleet of steamers, on terms which, so far as the price paid and the services rendered for that price are concerned, are very much in advance of those of the existing agreement.
– I must certainly compliment the honorable member for Barrier, who, with characteristic determination, has given a close study to a question that will before long receive in Australia far more attention than is being given to it at the present time. Some of the arguments raised in opposition to his amendment that a Commonwealth line of mail steamers should be obtained ar£ certainly strange. Scarcely any honorable member would advocate the selling of the railways of the States, or the transfer of our telephone or telegraphic system to private control. Speaking subject to correction, I believe that something like £150,000,000 has been expended on the railways of the States, and, compared with that sum, the £3,500,000 necessary to provide the Commonwealth with a national line of mail steamers is a very small amount. The producers in the centre of Australia may possibly be given differential rates on the railways to assist them in getting their produce to the sea-board, and it is, to ov the least, singular that we cannot extend the principle to the carriage of that produce to the motherland - the centre of the English-speaking race. I read a statement a few days ago in the Age that the private telegraph company in the United
States of America had robbed the unfortunates who suffered by the earthquake at San Francisco, and also their friends in other parts of the world, of upwards of £200,000. After that I do not think that any one would have the temerity to say that we should hand over our telephone or telegraphic system to a private company. There is one point for which the Government will receive the encomiums of the House, and that is that white labour only is to be used on these ships. I have spoken in this Parliament, and in the State Parliament of Victoria on several occasions, against the great injury that is being done to British naval supremacy by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. That company has done more to weaken the British mercantile marine than has any other company whose vessels leave British ports. It is stated in Mr. Ernest Williams’ book, Made in Germany - a work that has become almost a classic - that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company would take German goods, tranship them at the port of London, and bring them out to Australia at 50 per cent, less than it would charge to carry English goods. So much public opprobrium was cast upon the company by reason of that conduct after the publication of Mr. Williams’ book, that for its own sake it ceased the practice. But consider the company’s treatment of the lascars. On its vessels only 36 cubic feet space are allowed for each man. No one will say that it is possible for a human being to live healthily when the accommodation provided for him measures only 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2 feet high - a space only a little bigger than a decentsized coffin. The British Board of Trade, I believe, has fined the company repeatedly by not permitting it to utilize as much cargo room as the tonnage of its vessels would allow. This was done in order to insure that more room should be given to the unfortunate lascars who were crowded into practically rabbit hutches in the way I have described. What do we owe to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company ? I do not feel under the slightest bond of regard to it, but I do feel a great amount of respect for the Orient Steam Navigation Company, because it has worked its ships with white labour, and by so doing, has tended to promote, instead of lowering the British naval supremacy. The Peninsular and Oriental
Steam Navigation. Company receives more money from the British Government by way of subsidy than the Nordeutscher Lloyd Company or the Hamburg-American line receives from the German Government. It shows its gratitude by carrying German goods for 50 per cent, less than it charges for the carriage of British .goods. Lest honorable members should think I am very severe in dealing with this company, I should like to quote some of the remarks which were made concerning its conduct in the House of Commons, as reported in the London Times of 12th May, 1900. Mr. John Dillon, M.P., said that -
A British sailor should not be subjected to the competition of men who would work for half his wages and live on half his food. The Government encouraged the greatest steam-ship company to break the law.
It was the Peninsular and Oriental Company to which he referred, and at that time one of the directors qf the company was a member of the Balfour Government. On the same occasion Mr. Havelock Wilson said that he - di.i not object to lascars being employed, but they should be so on the same terms with regard to wages, accommodation, and food as British seamen.
That is what the party’ with which I am associated has always maintained. We do not fear competition with, any race in the world, provided the competition is on equal terms, and that coloured men, if employed, receive the same wages as are paid to white men. Sir Howard Vincent, a conservative member of the House of Commons, referred to the same matter in these terms -
Formerly lascars were employed only in the engine-room, but now they were employed on deck, the proportion in one case being sixty-one lascars; only twenty-nine, or less than half, were employed in the engine-room. Australian Governments, notably Queensland - and this is to the credit of Queensland - had taken a serious view of the matter, and had refused to give contracts to vessels carrying lascars.
Mr. Henry Labouchere, then member for Northampton, said that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company - had broken the law in a criminal manner, employing the men under conditions that fostered disease and shortened life.
Mr. Lloyd George, who is a member of the present Ministry in England - noticed that while on the American lines, and the Castle and Union lines, go per cent, of the seamen were British, on tramps 30 per cent.,,on the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s vessels only 25 per cent, wereBritish.
Mr. Weir asked if there were any labour conditions in thecontract. If there were not there ought to be, as when the British flag flew over South Africa, he supposed that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company would have at. their disposal the labour of Matabeles, Bechuanas, Swazis, and other native tribes, and these men would work for 4d. a day, and with a . little training cut out the lascars.
Admiral Field, a conservative, expressed, the opinion that the ‘conduct of the Government with regard to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company was deserving of strong condemnation, and though he would not vote against hisparty, still he would not support the Government on this question. He spokefrom the point of view of the naval supremacy of Great Britain. He said that we could not expect lascars to fight England’s battles at sea, and that, if theBritish mercantile marine were not manned7 by British sailors, Great Britain would beplaced in a position of great danger, because landsmen could not serve in time of” need, since they would not have the necessary training. Mr. Ritchie, who wasthen Chancellor of the Exchequer - and I ask those who would defend the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company to remember that one of Mr. Ritchie’s owncolleagues in the Balfour Government was a director of the company - said -
If the law had not been complied with it was not for the want of strong remonstrances. The Government had called attention to thefact that the space supplied to Iascar seamen was not the space provided for British seamen, and that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company were not acting in accordance with the Merchant Shipping Act. In thisway the Peninsular and Oriental Company had’ already been heavily fined.
– Does the honorable member say that Mr. Ritchie was a member of the Balfour Government at the time hemade that statement? I thought he resigned.
– He had not resigned” at that time. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He added that -
He agreed that such a company should be beyond reproach, and had made his opinionsknown to them more than once in strong terms, that they ought to give their Iascar sailors thespace required by the Merchant Shipping Act. He had gone further, and informed them, although the Board of Trade had been unwilling* to prosecute in the hope that its remonstrances might induce them to comply with the English law, the time might come when he would consider it his duty to order a prosecution if the law were not complied with…… And he hoped that in future they would not have the annual recurrence of these complaints.
That is the kind of shipping company that the honorable member for Parramatta is defending, and that he puts forward as an example against those of us who are in favour of nationalizing the mail service. I remember an occasion when the honorable member took the chair at a meeting of Labour members which was called to try to do something for the unemployed. I wonder that his voice and his ability - because no one would deny his ability - are not used in the interests of the white race. I cannot see how the honorable member can object to a national line of steam-ships. That great good man, the right honorable member for Adelaide, had great difficulty in South Australia in dealing with shipping companies on whose vessels lascars were carried ; and he has sent me a return showing that in 1893 no less than 667 Asiatics were dumped down in Australia against our laws. These men were brought in vessels from the northern ports, and the vessels, on commencing their return journey, were short of that number in their Asiatic crews. The State of New South Wales, to its eternal discredit, did not help the right honorable member for Adelaide in his efforts, but, on the otherhand, threw every obstacle in his way ; and the honorable member also had difficulty in getting some of the other States to assist him in the matter. No one can deny that there is a shipping combine - to prove the fact one has only to refer to the remarks of the late Mr. Seddon, as quoted toy the honorable member for Barrier. I have heard, both inside and outside the House, that there is a system whereby the shipping companies at our various ports allow percentages ; in other words,they use their power to keep out fair competition. It has been stated to men by a man who ships goods daily that it costs more to send cargo from Melbourne to Brisbane than to bring it from London to Australia. That could never happen if we had a national line. We should not then have the Peninsular and Oriental Company charging the foreigner - though I must say I respect Germany as a great nation - 50 per cent, less than is charged to people of the British race, although the latter are responsible for the large subsidies it receives. One argument quoted by the honorable member for Parramatta was very absurd. He stated that some one, who was opposed to a national line of steamers, gave as one reason that there might be quarrels if two or three clergymen happened to be travelling on the same vessel. It has been stated that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company always have a Church of England clergyman on board their vessels; but I can say that, when travelling on the steamers of that company, I found clergymen of different denominations conducting services at different periods of the day without any friction whatever. It is certainly ridiculous to argue that, because we have no State religion, we ought not to have a national line of steamers. If the other arguments of the gentleman quoted are as convincing as the one I have just indicated, I cannot give him much credit for intelligence. In connexion with private shipping companies, I might quote the great Gladstone, who, on one occasion, was asked whether he thought such companies would carry an enemy to the shores of Great Britain if the latter were involved in a European war, and who replied, “ I believe, for the sake of lucre, they would, if. possible, carry the enemy into the gates of heaven.” That was the great Gladstone’s opinion of shipping companies ; and that is my opinion ofthe Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. ‘ Every continental nation which assists shipping companies insists that only men of its own nationality, shall be employed; and we ought to take a similar stand, though I am willing to accept the white man as against the coloured. On the question of railways, I could not pin the honorable member for Parramatta to any definite expression of opinion. I have ‘here a letter which shows the cost of travelling on a private railway in Tasmania, on which I had the privilege of making a journey a few months ago with the honorable member for Darwin. On that line the charges are 4d. per mile first class, and 3d. per mile second class ; and, really, the sheep trucks in comparison are fairly decent.
– T - There are no cushions, but simply plank seats, like those provided for convicts.
– I ought to say, however, that backed up by the Van Diemen’s Land Company, this private railway carries certain kinds ofores at a considerably cheaper rate than that at which similar material is carried in Victoria. I cannot understand how any man, who believes in nationalized railways, can have the slightest hesitation in voting for the amendment. Those who support it may not win this time, but Iam certain that we shall win in the future. One argument in favour of a national line of steamers is that we could then convey to this country desirable European settlers.
– We could give cheap passages.
– The honorable member for Melbourne talks about winning next time - does he observe that this contract is for ten years?
– There may be some means of ending that contract. Will the honorable member for Dalley, bold as he is, venture to say what will be the political events of the next five years? The people ought to have the larger and greater power of the referendum.
– The power to take over the ships is already in the agreement.
– If weonce have the referendum, we shall obtain everything we want. I take second place to no one in the desire to see Australia populated, but I wish to see the country filled with our white brethren. If the various States will not pass just land laws, the Commonwealth ought to have the dominant power to create a fair and equitable land system, whereby our own people may be enabled to settle; and then the country might be opened to our white European brethren from any part ofthe world. I will go farther, and say that there ought to be a nationalized line of ships running between all the various ports of the . States. It is all very well to say that the shipping companies lose year after year ; but, in the confusion of combined interests, it is well nigh impossible to ascertain the real profit and loss. If I be present, I shall vote for the amendment, and, if absent, I shall pair in its favour.
.- The Postmaster-General and the honorable member for Richmond are to be congratulated on the excellent terms they have secured for the Commonwealth. I express that opinion the more heartily because I realize that had it not been for the special effects put forth by those honorable members, and by the Government generally, we should possibly have been placed in a very awkward position: as regards our oversea communication with the old country. This is a contract entered into with full knowledge on the part of those interested on both sides, and as the tender conditions provided for suggestions by any intending contractor, we may be sure that the terms are the very best that could be obtained under the present circumstances. For many reasons the agreement is a marked advance on any gained) hitherto; and, it being so favorable, the public support is assured. In this connexion a great deal depends on our own people. If the people of the Commonwealth and the people of the old country are prepared to help in every possible way those who do business with us under such favorable conditions, success is certain. Considering that we are beset on every side by conflicting interests, in the shape of foreign competition, it is time that something was done to render more complete the relationship between us and the old country. I realize that the projected company will displace an old company which has done business with Australia under very adverse circumstances for many years past. We have the word of the managing director of that company in Australia that its connexion with this country has been very unprofitable to the shareholders. That of course, is tobe regretted ; and I agree with those who have referred to the debt of gratitude which the Commonwealth owes to the Orient and Pacific Steam Navigation Company for their splendid resistance, as long as possible, to the employment of black labour. I should like to see the whole mercantile marine of the Empire composed entirely of our own people; and, therefore, I feel some regret at parting, under such conditions, with a company whichhas for so many years provided an object lesson to other companies in this respect. Another condition in the agreement, which ought to satisfy those honorable members who are prepared to support the amendment, is one of a very safe character, providing that the Commonwealth may at any time buy out the contracting company, and take over the line of steamers.
– We ought to have our own line of steamers.
– The condition referred to is, in my opinion, the line of demarcation between those who think with the honorable member for Hindmarsh, and those who think as I do. Socialism must always be judged on its merits ; that is to say, any socialistic proposal must standi the test of whether it will be a paying concern - whether it will pay the State. I know that the honorable member for Hindmarsh is prepared to have Socialism in everything ; but I am not. We have not sufficient evidence before us to warrant our adopting the amendment; and, therefore, I am not prepared to support it. As I said before, the condition that we mav at any time take over the line ought to satisfy the supporters of the amendment.
– Is that why the condition has been put in the agreement?
– I think such a condition is part of every such contract ; at any rate, in my opinion, it ought to be part of every contract of the kind entered into between the State and private individuals.
– The similar condition in English contracts is inserted in view of war.
– The matter was referred to previously in this House. Of course, we are working under somewhat different conditions to those which prevail in the mother-land, but I, at any rate, welcome the insertion of the stipulation, although I feel that it will be very many years before the Commonwealth will be prepared to give it effect. I intend later to indicate very briefly why I think so. Referring to the contract, the penalties we have provided for are quite sufficient to guarantee not only greater expedition, but also the proper and thorough maintenance of the service. The honorable member for Barrier stated specifically that the suggestion contained in his amendment did not come from the Labour Party, or from any socialistic party, but from a Conservative member of the House of Commons, Mr. Henniker Heaton. We are all familiar with that honorable member’s name, and are aware of the splendid efforts he has put forth in a particular direction, which the honorable member for ‘Barrier has followed to a certain extent in Australia. Some of us, however, agree that the interjection made when the honorable member for Barrier uttered that statement was completely justified - that we find the most ultraConservative very close indeed to the Socialist.
– I believe that Socialism is very conservative, since it tends to conserve all that is noblest and best in the community.
– I agree with the honorable member that in a sense it is conservative, but I think that, if Socialism were adopted in its entirety, it would not tei” to conserve all that is highest and noblest in the community, but rather to bring us down to a very much lower level than, that which we occupy at the present time. One has only to read some of the publications with which we are now being favoured regarding the possibilities of the next 100 or 200 years of development to find cogent reasons for such a. belief as I have indicated. Whatever may be the genesis of the proposals contained in the amendment, no honorable member will deny that it is undoubtedly and essentially socialistic in character. It is purely and essentially a socialistic proposal, and should be discussed as such.
– The same as the control of the railways.
– And* of the Post Office.
– I will not say that it is the same as the control of the Post Office or the railways. There is a very marked difference to be considered. In the conduct of our railways and Postal Department our work is carried on within our own borders. If we go outside our own borders to conduct business connected with the Postal Department, we find it is only by international arrangement that we are able to do so.
– Our produce departments conduct business outside our borders.
– If the amendment be carried, we shall be entering, not only into the postal business outside our own borders, but into the business of general carriers outside the borders of the Commonwealth.
– Does the honorable member not admit that our produce departments do that now?
– The honorable member must surely see that, if the amendment, were carried, the Commonwealth shipswould not merely start from Australia and take letters and other postal matter to the old country, but would take in, any cargo offering at ports of call on the way.
– The South Australian Government send produce Home now. It is possible for the producer in that State to send through the Government a pound or two of butter or a crate of fowls to the old country.
– I ami afraid we are talking of different things. It is one thing for the Government of South Australia to send produce to their Agent- General in London-
– No, not necessarily to the Agent-General.
– Well, to their accredited agents in London. But in doing so, they would be in a very different position from that which the Commonwealth Government would occupy in owning a line of steam-ships doing business with all and sundry on the route between here and the old country.
– They would be able to do the work better than it is being done now.
– That is purely a matter of opinion. The honorable member for Barrier, as Chairman of the Shipping Service Commission, has presented a very excellent report to the House. Though I have studied it, I regret to say that I have not vet completely mastered it. and possibly I never shall master the financial portions of it.
– I suppose that is why the honorable member calls it an excellent report?
– I agree that the honorable member for Dalley has hit upon one of the most frequent causes of expressions of admiration. It is not uncommon for persons who do not thoroughly understand a thing to assume that it is something remarkaby good. The honorable member for Barrier, in the report of the Commission, states that no definite and reliable figures were available to the Commission upon which to base an estimate. * That, in my opinion, is a confession which detracts very seriously from the importance of the financial portion of the report. The honorable member must realize, and, in fact, he has specifically stated in his speech that he cannot expect the Commonwealth to engage in an undertaking which will not be a profitable one. He informs us that the basis of the figures supplied by the Commission are mere estimates, and that they were unable to obtain the necessary information to supply a correct estimate of the total amount which it would cost the Commonwealth to take up this particular work. The honorable member, however, takes something for granted when he says - ®
Private companies would not send vessels to Australia unless by doing so they hope to make a profit.
I make bold to say that the hope that wewill make profits is one of the rocks upon which our fortunes most frequently split.
– But the honorable member will agree that no one sends ships out here without that hope?
– I agree with that, but that is no argument to use in support of soserious a proposal as that made by the honorable member. The honorable memberis not justified in asking the House to accept his proposal upon grounds so flimsy as that, because persons are sending vesselshere with the hope of making a profit, therefore, they must be making a profit, and the Commonwealth would makea profit. I refuse to accept such a statement ‘ as that as evidence. Later on, the honorable membertold us that the Peninsular and Oriental. Steam Navigation Company are highly prosperous. That, of course, we see on reference to their annual balance-sheet. If” the honorable member could not get exact: figures, it may be taken for granted that I could not get them. It has been frequently stated that it is impossible to ascertain the amount of profit on their Australian trade, but ‘it has been mentioned over and over again by Sir Thomas Sutherland, the Chairman of Directors, that that trade is unprofitable.
– Yet the company goon building new ships, when more lines: of steamers are coming into competition with them.
– The Australian tradeof the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company is only a part of their Eastern trade.
– What about other shipping lines?
– It must be recollected by the honorable member that this company’s boats do not trade only between the United Kingdom and Australia, but doa very large trade with the East and in certain seasons carry a very large number of passengers to and from the East.
– They arephilanthropists.
– I do not think so. I nm glad to see that their balance-shaft shows a profit. It is very probable that the line from Colombo to Australia - because, after all, that is all we ought to> take into account - is not a paying part of their business. The honorable member for Barrier went on to furnish certain calcula- lions which he had made. From these it would appear that it would cost £400,000 to build and equip each steamer that would be required for this trade.
– That is an overestimate.
– I do not know, but I am inclined to think that it is somewhere about the mark. The honorable member for Barrier has not been able to get all the :figures which he desired to obtain, but I am willing to accept his calculation. If we :have a fleet of eight boats, with one boat in .reserve, because it will be admitted that the Commonwealth should not be placed entirely at the mercy of the opposing lines, if an accident occurred-
– Does the honorable member mean to tell me that the Government could not charter a boat?
– The Government might find it extremely difficult to charter a boat, and the loss would be greater, possibly, than the interest on the cost of constructing the boat which would be kept in reserve.
– Is the company going to ;have nine boats ?
– I do not anticipate that the company would have to keep one boat in reserve all the time, but it would be a useful thing to have, at one end or the other, a boat which could be put ‘into use immediately when another boat had to be laid up for, perhaps, a month.
– It would be useful to have two boats.
– It would be more useful to have two boats.
– The question is whether it would be business.
– If the honorable mem”ber is prepared to say that, in his’ belief, eight boats would do the work, I shall base my calculations upon that number.
– In the report we have said so.
– For eight boats we should require the sum of £3,200.000, but the honorable member has not indicated where the money is to come from.
– They would not cost £400,000 each.
– The- honorable member for Barrier has accepted that estimate, and for the purpose of my calculation I shall accept it too. He has not indicated, “however, where the money is to come from.
– Tax the foreigner. In the report we say borrow the money. We -are now paying a subsidy of £120,000.
– I understood that the honorable member belonged to a party to which I am very glad to belong, and that is the non-borrowing party. I thought that he was not prepared, under any circumstances, to pledge the credit of the Commonwealth for any sum. Yet I find that when he comes along with a little pet project of his own he is prepared to pledge the credit of the Commonwealth in order to raise the necessary funds.
– At any time I am prepared to pay £90,000 instead of £120,000 a year.
– From my point of view, the socialistic proposition of the honorable member is not to be considered, because, in the first place, we have no evidence that the service would pay, and in the second place, it would compel the Commonwealth to borrow money for the construction of the vessels. These two objections are fatal to his contention.
– Has the honorable member any evidence that it would not pay?
– It is not the business of myself or of any other honorable member to come down here and produce evidence that it would not pay.
– In their report the Royal Commission say it would pay !
– It is the duty of those who submit such a proposition to offer irrefragible evidence that it would be a paying business for the Commonwealth to enter into. In the course of his speech, the honorable member for Barrier made several remarks concerning the protectionist members of the House to which I do not intend to refer more than to say that at any rate the three great bodies from whom he expected opposition did not find many recruits from the party to which I belong. He said that he expected that vested interests would be too strong, that prejudice would be too powerful, that ignorance would be too rampant, to allow his proposition te be carried. There is something which apparently he did not expect, and that is a feeling of common sense, which I hope will always obtain amongst a majority of honorable members concerning any proposals of this character. I trust that we shall never be prepared to pledge the credit of the Commonwealth in order to start a fleet of vessels across the sea, or to enter into a business, unless it is justified by circumstances and we are absolutely assured that it would pay. Not only does the honorable member for Barrier contend that the undertaking would be of a paying character, but also that it would be in the best interests of the Commonwealth to carry on this business. That is where the honorable member and I disagree.
– Did not the honorable member say in his electorate, about twelve months ago, that he was prepared to support a Commonwealth line of steamers?
– I would be very surprised if the honorable member could bring me evidence that I made that statement.
– The honorable member is reported to have said so.
– Perhaps the honorable member is thinking of something which occurred in the House three years ago when I strongly urged that we should subsidize a line of steamers to South Africa, for the purpose of getting, our produce there on something like fair terms. But that was a proposition of a very different character. I would like the honorable member to tell me where and when it was that I am reported to have made the statement he refers to.
– I saw the statement in one of the Melbourne newspapers. I was surprised when I saw it.
– I should be intensely surprised, too.
– I - It was said in reference to fighting a shipping combine.
– Is that so?
– That is how it was reported.
– Very possibly ; but we have not a combine, but a proposal which is of quite a different character. We have from the Government a businesslike proposition, which has been referred to in laudatory terms from one end of the ‘Commonwealth to the other. Honorable members and the press generally have practically been falling over each other in order to pour their congratulations upon the Government and the two Ministers immediately concerned in the matter.. I do not desire to delay the House. I feel perfectly, satisfied that ‘if the contract be carried out in the spirit in which it has been entered into we need have no fear for the future with regard to communication between Australia and the old country, and especially with regard to the carriage of our produce, which we desire to see placed upon the London and other markets in the best possible condition.
Sitting suspended, from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m-
.- When the last mail contract was under discussion in this Chamber, I, in common with other representatives of Queensland, found fault because it contained a condition which, in our opinion, should not have been inserted. The condition to which I refer provides that the steamers now carrying on the mail service shall come beyond Adelaide - the port at which mails are landed and embarked, and to and from which they are transmitted through the eastern States by means of the railways - to take cargo at Melbourne and Sydney. The Government in framing the present contract have admitted the force of that objection, because they stipulate that the service shall end with the transmission of mails to and from Adelaide. Indeed, if the Postmaster-General had not insisted upon certain conditions as to the tonnage of the vessels, I think that we should have had no complaint to make against the contract. The fact that steamers of 11,000 tens burden must be employed, and certain refrigerating and cargo space provided still gives Queensland a ground of complaint, because it makes apparent an attempt to provide a service for the other States. Queensland being left out, since steam-ship companies are not likely to send their vessels there, unless they obtain from that State a substantial subsidy in addition to that paid by the Commonwealth. Although Queensland has gained some material advantages by joining the Union, it cannot- be denied that she has also suffered greatly bv doing so, and more consideration should have been given to her interests in this matter. In the agreement it is stipulated that the mail steamers shall be each of 11,000 tons register, and capable of steaming at a minimum speed of 1 5 knots1 per hour. I have no objection to the stipulation as to speed ; but if a mail service alone is required, I do not see the need for the stipulation as to tonnage, because very much smaller vessels would be sufficiently large for the carriage of our mails. To my mind, the condition regarding tonnage has been*, inserted iri order that vessels mav be provided which will be sufficiently large to serve the oversea trade of Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, Brisbane being left out of consideration. I should have liked to see more attention given to the recommendations of the Shipping Commission. In mv opinion, we should have tried to obtain mail ships of our own. Great Britain, which subsidizes mail services on the Atlantic and Pacific, and to all parts of the world, reserves the right to use the vessels as transports or cruisers in time of international trouble. Similarly, if this country had a fleet for the conveyance of its mails oversea, it would secure, in addition to other advantages, that of having under its control a number of vessels which could be used to protect our commerce in time of war. My chief complaint, however, is that the proposed subsidy is to be paid largely to secure a passenger and cargo service for the ports on the western and southern coasts of Australia, and as far north on the eastern coast as Sydney. The steamers are not likely to go to Brisbane, particularly as New Zealand is talking of subsidizing the same line. If Queensland wants a line of her own, she will have to pay a considerable sum to get it. Although an ardent advocate of Federation. I am beginning to think that Queensland made a mistake in not standing alone. We never had a better mail and cargo service than when the vessels of the British-India Company steamed from Brisbane up our eastern coast, and through Torres Straits, giving a service to the East as well as to Europe.
– Why was that service not maintained ?
– We paid a subsidy of £60,000 a year for that mail service, and, as we are but a mere handful of people, could not afford to continue the subsidy subsequent to Federation. If the States were separate again, however, we could afford to pay the same amount in subsidizing a similar service. Queensland has ports other than Brisbane, some of them of almost as much importance. We have Rockhampton, which affords an outlet for almost as taree an area of country as does_ Brisbane. Then, again, Cairns is the port for a tract of territory the potentialities of which are not known even to Queenslanders, much less to residents in the southern States. Townsville is also another important seaport, and beyond Cape Yorke other harbors have behind them, along the rivers discharging into the Gulf of Carpentaria, some of the richest country on the continent. I submit that, in the conditions laid down by the Government. Queensland has been entirely left out of consideration. The people of that State will be taxed unfairly and unjustly to the extent that they will be called upon to contribute to a subsidy for a service from which they will derive very little advantage. They will probably be called upon to pay an additional subsidy in order to induce the owners of the new mail steamers to visit their ports and carry away their produce. I understand that the Prime Minister is still in communication with the contractors with reference to the extension of the service to Brisbane. It appears to me that something more than a mail service is contemplated, that the Government have considered not only the carriage of our mails to other parts of the world, but also the question of providing facilities for the conveyance of our perishable products to markets beyond the seas. In no part of Australia is the export trade developing to the same extent that it has done in Queensland during the last few years, and in any contract for other than a mail service the claims of that State should have been taken fully into account. If it were intended that the new service should be arranged solely with a view to the conveyance of our mails, why should conditions have been laid down as to the tonnage of the steamers and the provision of refrigerated space? For a mail service pure and simple it would have been necessary to stipulate merely that the mails should be taken on board and delivered at certain specified ports within a given time. The contract, however, goes far beyond that. It is required that the steamers shall be of a certain tonnage, that they shall maintain a. certain rate of speed, that certain machinery shall be provided, and that the plans of the vessels shall be submitted for the approval of the Postmaster-General. Why ? It is clear that the new service is intended to provide not merely for the carriage of ‘mails, but for the conveyance of perishable products from our ports to the markets of the world. Under these circumstances, I contend that Queensland had a right to be considered as well as Western Australia. South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. Fremantle is to be the first and last port of call in Australia, and Adelaide, the present terminus of our railway system, is to be the final port, so far as the conveyance of mails is concerned. We know, however, that neither at Fremantle nor Adelaide will the new steamers be able to obtain a sufficient amount of cargo to make it worth their while to trade out here. The Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General knew very well that the contractors would find it necessary to extend their service to Melbourne and Sydney in order to secure freight and passengers. I think that steamers, whether subsidized or otherwise, coming to Australia by either the Torres Straits or the southern route will eventually have to call at Queensland ports in order to fill their holds with cargo. That, however, is not the point. The agreement entered into by the Government is not for a mail contract only. That is the objection that was taken by the representatives of Queensland when the last mail contract was under discussion, and that is the position that I am assuming now. The conditions imposed upon the contractors make it almost imperative that their steamers shall call at Melbourne and Sydney, whereas Brisbane has been left out in the cold. I do not wish to embarrass the Government in amy way, or to make it more difficult for them to come to terms with one of the great shipping companies for the carriage of our mails to the old country, but I do not think the fairest possible bargain has been made in the interests of the whole Commonwealth. If time had permitted, and the conditions had been favorable, I should have preferred to adopt the recommendation of the Shipping Service Commission, and to arrange for the mail service to be carried out bv means of steamers chartered or owned by the Commonwealth. I do not think that any such arrangement is within the possibilities of the immediate future, but I contend that equal justice should have been measured out to every State in the Union. I am not speaking for Queensland only, because I feel that Tasmania has also been left out in the cold. I suppose that some of the mail steamers will call at Tasmanian ports in order to add to their cargo, and that the contractors “will also find it to their advantage to proceed to Brisbane. But there is nothing in the terms of the contract to compel them to do so, whereas thev will be obliged to go to Melbourne and Sydney. Under a mail contract pure and simple there should be no necessity to submit the plans of the proposed steamers for the approval of the Government. It would have been sufficient to require the contractors to take our mails on board at certain ports, and deliver them at other ports within a specified time. The conditions laid down place the agreement entirely beyond the category of a mail contract, and I conceive that every State has a right to share in the advantages conferred by it.
– Just prior to the dinner hour the honorable member for Laanecoorie expressed the opinion that the Government had made excellent terms with the contractors. From the point of view of Ministers, possibly that statement mav be correct, but we have to consider whether it would mot be possible to improve the conditions. I think that that could be done. If the Commonwealth mails could be profitably carried by a company, the service could, with equal advantage, be undertaken bv the State. The honorable member for Parramatta told us that the company that were taking the new contract in hand were entirely new to this business. Therefore, they are on exactly the same footing that the Commonwealth would occupy if we decided to carry on the service for ourselves. The honorable member for Laanecoorie stated that there was no comparison between the conveyance of mails upon Government railways and the performance of similar work by State-owned steamers. The reason which he advanced was that we were going outside our own boundaries. I should like to point out to him that in South Australia, and the other States today, we are doing business outside our own boundaries - business with the old country, which I hope will continue to increase. In South Australia, we have established a depot to which the producer can. send a crate of fowls, a few pounds of butter, or other produce, and so soon as it has entered the depot, the Government assume! Control of it, ship it to the old country, and return him any profit that mav accrue from the transaction, whilst, if a loss be incurred, he is charged with it. In the past, the difficulty experienced has been to get our produce carried to the foreign market in first-class condition. Another difficulty has been to get reasonable terms, and it would be entirely in the interests of the producers if we established a Commonwealth line of steamers, not only for the purpose of carrying, our mails, but for the purpose of giving them far better terms than they can obtain under private enterprise. In this connexion, I have only to mention the enormous charges which have been levied by the mail companies for the carriage of butter to the old country. To-day, those steamers are carrying that commodity at something like half the freight which they formerly changed. Of course, we are told that butter is being carried1 at a loss, just as we are assured that the Orient Steam Navigation Company’s enterprise results in a loss, but I am very doubtful of the accuracy of that statement. The honorable member for Laanecoorie desired to know if a national line of mail steamers would pay. I do not want to see a Commonwealth service established which will pay in the sense that a service conducted by private enterprise pays. What I desire to know is, “ Can we, without loss, offer our producers better terms, and carry our mails much cheaper than they are being carried at the present time?” T am quite convinced that we can. I do not know whether the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier will command a majority but I shall certainly vote for it. It will not be my fault if it does not obtain a majority. Those who desire to see us obtain the best terms for the carriage of our mails and our produce, should support the honorable member for Barrier. We have been repeatedly told that the trade of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and Orient Steam Navigation Company is an unprofitable one. ‘ Yet, we find that shipping company after shipping company is not only coming here to compete in what is alleged to be an unprofitable business, but, after engaging in the trade, is building steamer after steamer. I can quite understand the Orient Steam Navigation Company declaring that they have not made a profit upon their Australian business. That may be so, but I would point out that some of those who are chiefly interested in that company, receive very large salaries as managers, dwell in magnificent palaces, and live like princes. They do not do that upon the losses which are incurred in the Australian trade. If I were conducting a large business, and received a large salary as manager, I would not grumble if I did not obtain a dividend. . It would not matter to me whether I was receiving £5,000 a year as manager, or the same amount in dividends.
– Which of the managers of the mail companies receive
– I know of other companies whose managers receive that amount. I know of one industry in Western Australia, the chief director of which is receiving a salary of £5,000 per annum. I refer to the timber industry. I do not know what salary the manager of the Orient Steam Navigation Company receives, but I am quite sure that if his dividends were taken into consideration, he is getting considerably more than £5,000 a -year.
– Oh, no.
– Is it not possible that’ there is a commission for superintendence?
– That is very probable. Let us suppose that a national line of steamers did not pay. What right have we to ask a company to embark upon an enterprise in connexion with which we propose to pay a verv’ large subsidy, if we know full well that, despite that subsidy, it will not pay?. I am very unwilling to believe that shrewd business men like Sir James Laing and Sons are prepared to sink an enormous amount of capital in the construction of a line of steamers if they are satisfied that the undertaking will result in a certain loss: Seeing that the inhabitants of the Commonwealth would derive any benefit which might flow from the establishment of a national line of steamers, I hold that if the enterprise resulted in a loss it is only fair that they should be called upon to bear it. Throughout Australia to-day the cry of a large section of the community is, “ Let us have immigrants. Let us spend money in bringing them here.” I should like any money which may be spent in defraying the passages of immigrants to Australia to go to our own line of steamers. We are asked to pay an enormous subsidy to a line of steamers for carrying our mails, and then - if I can judge of the temper of the liberal portion of the community - to bring to the Commonwealth a large number of immigrants whose passages would cost an amount sufficient to build a large fleet of our own. We have only to look at the history of immigration schemes in Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia to ascertain what they have cost. With the sum which has been expended upon them we could have had our own line of steamers running to-dev. Whether the undertaking would1 prove directly remunerative is immaterial. Even if it could be shown that there would not be a monetary profit straight away, the proposal would not stand condemned in my eyes. As the Shipping Commission has pointed out, the large subsidy which we are now paying for the carriage of our mails is being paid for the exclusive benefit of our commercial community. If it were not for that section of the community we need not insist upon securing an accelerated mail service at all. The report of the Commission states -
It does not appear that outside the class mentioned the general community would, to any material extent, be inconvenienced by the adoption of the poundage system. A few days’ delay in the deliveryin Great Britain of private correspondence, which occupies some five weeks in completing the whole journey, can rarely involve hardship either to the writers or recipients of such correspondence. Moreover, the heavy subsidy now being paid for the conveyance of oversea mails conflicts with the principle which the Department usually follows in regard to inland mails - that each service shall pay its way. Any deficiency in postal revenue must be made good out of Customs and Excise taxation -
I want honorable members to take particular notice of that - and as the; bulk of this taxation is paid by the masses who rarely use the subsidized service, we think some effort should be made to re-adjust charges, so that the burden of the subsidy may fall upon those who are directly benefited by it.
– Do not the masses benefit indirectly by the present service?
– No. I ask the honorable member to look around the circle of his acquaintances, and to point to one who derives any benefit, either ditrectly or indirectly, as the result of the mail steamers reaching Australia a day or two earlier than would otherwise be the case. But every one would benefit by the adoption of the poundage system, seeing that it would effect a saving of£80,000 annually. There is not a single acquaintance of mine - and I have a few hundred scattered throughout the Commonwealth - who would suffer loss by the adoption of the poundage system.
– With the exception of that friend of the honorable member’s - the merchant prince - in South Australia.
– I will give another illustration.I find that at the Premiers’ Conference - carrying out the idea of the Shipping Commission, that the cost of the mail service ought to be borne by those who benefit by it-
– The Premiers’ Conference was held before the Commission reported.
– I am aware of that. At the Premiers’ Conference Mr. Carruthers stated -
If the Commonwealth will impose duties on tea and kerosene and hypothecate or earmark the revenue from those duties for old-age pensions we shall get in a simple way a contribution from the classes who most largely are the recipients of those pensions.
The demand is always made that the poor shall contribute to the cost of any scheme from which the community is to receive a benefit. The honorable member is one of those who would seek to shift the burden of this subsidy on to the shoulders of the poor - who receive no gain from it - by requiring that any loss should be made good out of Customs and Excise revenue. At the same Conference, the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Bent, said -
It is the view of the Victorian Government that it would be well for us at this stage to urge that the people who obtain the pensions should contribute a little through the duties on kerosene and tea.
That is the way with some legislators ! They would shift these burdens on to the backs of those who have become poor in making others wealthy.
– Do they not already contribute by way of the duties on narcotics and stimulants?
– They contribute in every direction, and the Opposition will not assist us to remove some of these burdens from their shoulders.
– They contribute more largely through a heavy Tariff.
– As the result of the reduction in the telegraphic rates - and very few poor people use the service to any extent - there was a loss amounting to £11,000 in South Australia, and £11,000 in Queensland, during the year before last. That reduction was made entirely in the interests of the commercial classes, and the poor have to make good the loss so occasioned. It is time that we had something different.
– And the honorable member has been fighting for the manufacturer just as keenly as others have been fighting for the commercial classes.
– I have been fighting both for the manufacturer and the worker. I am not particularly anxious to protect the manufacturer, unless he is prepared to protect the labour employed by him. By way of further illustrating the point I wish to make, I would quote the statement made at the Conference of Premiers by Mr. Davies, Attorney-General for Victoria, who emphasized what the Premiers of Victoria and New South Wales had said. Referring to the old-age pension fund, he stated -
We do not propose that it should be raised by some tax from the payment of which those who would get the chief benefit of it would be exempted.
If this system is to be adopted, then it is time that the commercial classes, who will reap the benefit of the accelerated mail service, should be called upon to contribute the larger subsidy that we may have to pay. I am sorry that the honorable member for Barrier is not likely to carry his amendment, but I am glad that there is in the contract a provision .giving the Commonwealth power to take over these steamers whenever the Parliament mav decide to do so. We are nearing a general election, and it is possible that the honorable member for Barrier, if defeated1 on the present occasion, may be successful in the next Parliament. One of the provisions of the contract of which I do not altogether approve is that which calls upon the contractors to provide a guarantee of only £27,500. Having regard to the extent of the speculation, that is a very small sum.
– Tt is a mere bagatelle.
– In the circumstances it is.
– Usually there is no deposit.
– Had the Governments responsible for other contracts looked after the interests of the country they would have insisted upon a substantial guarantee being given in each case. Still, there is no comparison between the existing established mail service and a purely speculative company.
– They are not speculative. Sir James Laing and Sons Limited are as strong as the Orient Steam Navigation Company.
– They will be as strong as the Orient Steam Navigation Company when they succeed with this contract. There is no proof, however, that they are going to carry on the venture. Thev are possibly going to sell the concession - just as many Government concessions are hawked about and sold - to someone who may not be quite as capable of fulfilling it as they are.
– Laing and Sons Limited are only speculative ship-builders.
– Oh, no.
– I have sufficient faith in them to believe that if they retained the contract entirely in their own hands they would carry it out successfully, but we have no guarantee that they will. I am not in favour of the contract - I prefer something that would be better for the community. I am in favour of a national line of steamers which would carry out a patriotic work in a way that is not done to-day by many ship-owners. Much to the detriment of our mercantile marine, we have steamers employing large numbers of lascars in doing work which could be much better performed by white labour. The Orient Steam Navigation Company say that they employed them, not because they are cheaper, but because they are more amenable to conditions. Have honorable members ever seen the lascars on the mail steamers taking a meal ? Have they seen them gathered round a tub of food without knives or forks, and plunging their hands into it? They behave like hogs. It is not for the benefit of the lascars that these steam-ship companies employ them. It is shocking to see them eating on these vessels.
– I have seen them many a time, and they are quite as clean as the honorable member is.
– The honorable member does not know what he is talking about. They never trouble to wash their hands before sitting down to a meal. If the honorable member thinks that they are so clean, I shall avail myself of the firstopportunity to secure for him an invitation to dine with them, whilst I look on. Under our mail contracts we must have white labour, as long as we have a Liberal Government in power. There is little likelihood of the Opposition gaining office; but if they did, the white labour section in the Post and Telegraph Act would be struck out.
– Do not say that.
– The Opposition tell us that they would strike it out.
– They only say that.
– They mean what they say; but, happily, they are not in a position to carry out their desire in that respect. The position in regard to our mercantile marine is so bad that if we were called upon to take part in the great struggle that must come in the near future we should not have sufficient men to man our ships. And yet, year after year, the lascars employed on mail steamers are increasing. Do I want lascars to fight for my hearth and home? Do those who have property wish to intrust them with it? Nothing of the kind ! Purely patriotic considerations should lead us to recognise that it is time we established a Commonwealthowned line of steamers, in which we could1 train seamen, not for the British Navy, but for our own Australian Navy. As the result of the establishment of such a line of mail steamers, the rebate system would disappear. We know what the mail companies have done in the past. One gentleman alone has got something like £12,000 in commission and rebates. And1for what? For cheating the producers of this country by compelling them to allow him to ship all their butter and other produce at far more than would be a reasonable figure for carrying at.
– Government railways have also been paying rebates. “
– I am just as much opposed to them when paid by a Government ; and I am quite sure that when the railways of this country belong to the Commonwealth, as one day they will, the rebate system will be ended. The Commonwealth could not, under the Constitution, allow them to be paid. Had it not been for the statements made in opposition to the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier, I should not have had much to say upon this proposal. I am not opposed to the contract itself, although I believe that there is room for amendment in it. It is a little bit onesided. It leans rather to the side of the contractors.
– The honorable member does not believe in the principle of subsidies.
– I would not pay subsidies at all. I would devote the money to the maintenance of a Government line of steamers. The British Government at one time believed in paying subsidies, but now it has discontinued them on the American lines of steamers. A Commonwealthowned line of steamers would prevent a shipping combine from fleecing our producers in the way th’ey have done. The very fact of the new line coming into existence will insure much fairer charges being made to our exporters, who at present are being treated most unfairly. Fair play is not at present being accorded to our coastal trade. To my way of thinking as a layman - and my view is backed up by the soundest legal opinion that can be obtained in this country - we provided by Act of Parliament that when over-sea steamers engaged in the coastal traffic they should pay the same rates of wages as our local shipowners have to pay. That was a fair provision. Commonwealth-owned steamers would pay the wages rates ruling in the Commonwealth, and that in’.itself would be an advantage to those, ship-owners who are at present carrying on our coastal trade. I am astonished that the Commonwealth Government has refused to do justice in this connexion. They are not likely to do justice until such time as a stronger party from my side of the House is able to compel them. We cannot compel them to do it at present.
– Why not?
– Because, unfortunately, we have not the numbers. I only wish that we had the power that the honorable member for Parramatta sometimes suggests that we have. I can assure him that if we had it we should use it to compel a good many things to be done that are at present undone. Is there any plank in our platform that is being advocated by the Government at the present moment? Not one ! I may add that, although personally I advocate the nationalizing of our mail services, the Labour Party as a party has not said that it is in favour of nationalizing them, or, in fact, of ‘ nationalizing, any other industry. All that it has said is that it is in favour of nationalizing monopolies. Before we nationalize monopolies, we have first to obtain the power, and, secondly, to prove that a monopoly exists. I go somewhat further than that, and say that I am prepared to nationalize any undertaking at the earliest moment whether it has been proved to be a monopoly or not, if, by so doing, we can secure a better service to the community for the money expended’. . For the reasons I have given, I shall have the greatest pleasure in supporting the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier.
– I am very anxious to see the next order of the day dealt with, so that I shall not occupy much time upon the matter under discussion : but I cannot give a vote without stating in a few words the position which I occupy, and foreshadowing an amendment which I intend to move. Speaking generally, I approve of the contract which the Government proposes to make. On the whole, Ministers may be congratulated upon having made a fair bargain under the conditions that exist to-day in the shipping world. There are some provisions in the contract which many honorable members would like to see much more in our favour ; but we know that in dealing with the gentlemen who control the shipping trade we have to do with men who wield considerable power, and who can. be of great service to us if that power is properly directed, whilst they can, and sometimes do, work considerable mischief, involving great loss to the people whom they are supposed to serve. It is something to find that, in spite of all that has been said by the croakers in and out of Australia-
– What croakers does the honorable member mean?
– Chiefly the opposition croakers - the gentlemen who have been referred to as “the stinking fish party,” who go about and tell the people in the old country that Australia is a place to be avoided because there happens to be here a Labour Party which is bringing general ruin in its train.
– The honorable gentleman’s party is continually describing Australia as a cancer or a living lie, and several things of the kind.
– I hope that the honorable member, and those who are acting with him, have altogether dissociated themselves from that party.
– Most certainly.
– I am glad to hear it. It is a comfort after all the abuse towhich Australia has been subjected to find that there are still some business men who have sufficient confidence in the future of Australia to invest a few million pounds in. a shipping service to carry the trade which they know Australia is in a position to do with the other side of the world.
– If the interest on the outlay be guaranteed by a subsidy.
– I do not know whether we are guaranteeing the interest. I am personally glad that the muchdiscussed white labour provision has been accepted as a matter of course. I do not know whether there has been any contention between the contracting parties on the point ; but, remembering that at the present day there are some honorable members of this House who are telling the public that they intend at the first opportunity to wipe this provision out of the Post and Telegraph ‘ Act - and who refer to it as a piece of folly - it is something to find that in making a new agreement for ten years with a new company, the condition as’ to white labour is accepted without any demur. I desire to call attention to clause 6 of the contract, which is not quite clear to my mind’, and on which I should like a few words of explanation. That clause provides that if during the sixth year of the contract, any competing line of mail steamers is performing the journey in a shorter time than isthe contracting company, the PostmasterGeneral may call on the latter to similiarly accelerate the service. That is a very wise provision up to that point; but I desire particularly to draw attention to the fact that under paragraphs b and c of clause 6, there is an assumption that if the contracting company give the accelerated service, they must, as a matter of course, receive some additional payment or compensation. Apparently it does not matter under the clause whether or not the accelerated speed involves any additional cost to the contracting company. We all know that it is quite possible that the adoption of a new fuel may render possible a speedier service at the same expense. For instance, oil as a fuel for steam-ships is coming to the front; and the next few years may see its general adoption by steamship companies. I am not quite sure whether the use of oil fuel to-day means an increase or a decrease in cost ; at any rate, . it is quite possible that there .may be found some means of accelerating; the speed without incurring any additional expenditure. Paragraph b of clause 6 provides that the increased amount to be paid to the contractors for providing the improved and accelerated service shall be taken for granted, whether the contractors are put to any additional cost or not, or even if, by the change, a saving is effected. Then paragraph c of clause 6 provides that with any such action on the part of the Government to bring about an accelerated service, provision shall be made for extending the period for which the improved service shall continue. If I rightly understand paragraph c, it means that if the Government at any time after the sixth year of the contract, call on the contractors to run their vessels at a quicker speed, there is to be an extension of the period of the contract.
– No, not to that extent ; the paragraph simply means that it might be wise to extend the time in order to get better conditions.
– The arbitrators would settle that.
– But still, the Government could do nothing in the way of giving the contractors further payment, or an extension of time, without the approval of Parliament. Parliament virtually approves of the agreement before us, and no Government could interfere with the agreement without the approval of Parliament.
– But by this clause, the Postmaster-General is given power to call on the contractors for an accelerated speed, and the paragraph lays down the conditions on which that accelerated speed shall be supplied.
– I am quite satisfied that no Postmaster-General or Government would interfere with this contract without the approval of Parliament. The honorable member may take that as absolutely correct
– It would not be an interference with the contract, but carrying out the contract; and I ask the PostmasterGeneral to look more closely into the clause. To me, it appears quite plain from the wording that if we exercise the power of calling on the company for a quicker service during the sixth year or after it-
– Not after the sixth year.
– It is plain to me that if, during the sixth year, an accelerated service is asked for, it can be supplied only on our observing the conditions laid down in paragraphs b and c of clause 6 ; and these paragraphs tie us down to giving inincreased remuneration and an extension of the period of the contract.
– That is only possible, subject to the approval of Parliament.
– If the Minister is quite sure that this would be regarded as an interference with the contract, and would therefore require to be brought before Parliament, I am prepared to accept his statement.
– I do not think there can be any doubt about it.
– As I read the clause, I believe it would not be considered an interference at all, and we should be tying ourselves down to something which might prove to be very irksome in the future. With reference to the amendment, I wish to say that I recognise the excellent work which has been done by the honorable member for Barrier, and the members of the Commission of which he was chairman. They have rendered Australia a service by the very extensive inquiry they have made, and by producing a report from which it is evident to any unbiased mind that the scheme they recommend is a practicable one, and that the Commonwealth Government might own and run a line of steamers to do their own work, and the work of the producers of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has pointed out that State ownership and controlof a line of steamers is not a part of the labour platform. I am pledged according to that platform to advocate the nationalization of monopolies, but the oversea shipping service cannot certainly be classed as a monopoly.
– It is not far off it.
– I admit that may come very near to being a monopoly, and that by-and-by we may be subjected to the control of a shipping combination.
– It is quite as much a monopoly as are some of the businesses that have been so described.
– Every bit as much.
– I am not prepared to argue that question now. I have considered the matter for some time, and I am bound to confess that I think there is a distinction between a monopoly, as generally understood, and a line of steamers competing with other lines on the high seas. I was going to say that I regret that it would not be possible under such an agreement as that before us to have some understanding with the company that they should not by any action of theirs become a part of a monopoly; that they should not, while enjoying a subsidy from the Commonwealth, inflict upon the people of Australia the evils which a shipping monopoly can and does inflict.
– Is the honorable member prepared to vote that they shall not join the shipping ring in England?
– I will tell the honorable member directly what I propose to do.
– If the honorable member would do that he would kill this contract, and it might as well be killed by that way as by the honorable member’s proposal.
– As soon as ever we had any indication that this company has become connected with the Shipping Conference, as it is called, but which is merely the respectable name for a shipping combine, the Government should have power to take over the company’s boats at once, and run them as a Commonwealth concern. No one would then support them more strongly than I should.
– I suppose the business would then become a monopoly ?
– It would be part of a monopoly.
– That would be the dividing line.
– I do not wish to place myself in a position of antagonism to the acceptance of this contract, whichI think offers the best terms we can get under existing conditions, but I still desire to protect the people of Australia from any combination between the new company and existing companies, which would place them at the mercy of a capitalistic combine. I therefore give notice that I will move the following amendment: -
That the following words be added to the motion, “ and is of opinion that the Government should at the earliest possible date acquire and control any approved steamers built pursuant to this contract in order to provide the producers of the Commonwealth with cheap and rapid carriage of sea-borne goods.”
– The contract already provides for that.
– The contract gives the Government power to acquire the steamers.
– We had better wait until we see what they are like.
– The amendment which I propose to move forestalls the honorable and learned member’s objection.
– It would be buying a pig in a poke.
– The honorable and learned member for Angas perhaps did not hear the amendment I intend to propose. I propose to use the words “ acquire and control any approved steamers built pursuant to this contract.” I do not suppose that the Government would buy a pig in a poke, as the honorable member for North Sydney has put it. I intend to submit the amendment as indicating what I wish the Government to do.
– The honorable member proposes that the Government may take two of the steamers and permit the rest to go on with the trade.
– It must not be forgotten that, according to the terms of the proposed contract, the Government will have power to buy all or any of the steamers constructed by the company.
– Would it be fair to leave them in possession of only half their steamers ?
– The Government will have that power if we approve of this contract. I am merely, in my amendment, including what the agreement already provides for with the proviso that we express the opinion, while accepting the contract, that the Government should, at the earliest possible moment, exercise the power of purchase which it gives them.
– Who is to decide what will be the earliest possible moment?
– The Government; who else would decide that?
– I take it that the honorable member suggests that we should acquire the whole fleet engaged in carrying on the service.
– We should acquire a sufficient number of the boats to enable the service to be continued, but I do not desire that the Commonwealth Government should be bound down to the purchase of any and every ship which the company might build or acquire.
– The amendment of the honorable member for Barrier is better than that proposed by the honorable member.
– I hope that if he thinks so the honorable member for Dalley will vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier.
– I do not believe in it, but I think it is better than the honorable member’s amendment.
– If the honorable member does not believe in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier, he will, no doubt, vote against it. What I propose is merely that we should accept the contract as the best that can be obtained for the time being whilst we think that the Government should have the power, and should have an expression of opinion from this House that they should exercise that power, as soon as they think fit, to acquire and control these steamers.
– The honorable member suggests that in substitution of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier?
– Yes. I am opposed to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier, and I shall submit in preference to it the amendment which I have suggested, which expresses my own view.
.- The honorable member for Barrier, as well as the members of the Shipping Service Commission, of which he wasthe chairman, may, I think, be very well satisfied with the report they have presented, when they take into consideration the criticisms which have been levelled against it. The only serious attempt to criticise that report was that made by the Age newspaper, and the honorable member for Barrier, when speaking the other day, flattened that criticism out in such a way as to afford sufficient justification for the decision arrived at by the Commission. I may say in passing that it has taken the proprietors of the Age a couple of issues to gracefully retreat from the position taken up by that newspaper in criticising the report. There has, in fact, been no criticism of the report to which any member of the Commission can take exception. If it had been possible to criticise it severely, honorable members of the Opposition, the section of the press opposed to the nationalization of the shipping and other industries, and especially the antiSocialists, would have taken a stronger stand against it than they have done up to the present. One matter connected with the criticism of the report to which I should like to refer, is the fact that a letter was published in one of the newspapers, over the signature, I think, of Mr. Kenneth Anderson, who made a very strong point of the fact that the members of the Commission arrived at conclusions which are, in his opinion, erroneous, and which he thinks they would not have arrived at had they seen, as they might have done, the balancesheets of the Orient Company. I mention this matter now in order that the position of the members of the Commission may be clearly explained. It is true that we had an opportunity to see the balance-sheets of the Orient Compan, but it is also true that it was proposed that if we tookadvantage of that opportunity we should keep secret what we had seen. We distinctly stated at the time that the Commission was not formed to pry into the private affairs of any company doing business in Australia. We were conducting our investigation in the public interest, and desired that any information we obtained should be made known to the public. Consequently, we declined to see the balance-sheets of the Orient Company on the condition suggested.
– Does the honorable member not think that what was desired was that the information should not come to the knowledge of rival companies?
– I am not suggesting that that was not the object of the condition imposed, but Mr. Kenneth Anderson, no doubt inadvertently, makes the statement to which I have referred, without thinking for the moment of the reason we had for not inspecting the balance-sheets of the company. It is quite possible that he did not desire that the private affairs of the company should become known to those conducting rival companies, but it was because we would be unable to publish the information obtained that we declined to inspect the balancesheets of the Orient Company. I make this statement in order that members of the Commission may be put right in connexion with the somewhat important objection raised by Mr. Kenneth Anderson in his criticism of their report. I may further say, so far as Mr. Andersonis concerned, that no one connected with the oversea shipping industry treated the Commission more courteously, and proffered more information to assist them in carrying on their inquiry, than he did. I regret to have to say that in Victoria, in New South Wales, and even in Queensland, a better public spirit was not exhibited, that greater interest was not taken in the work of the Commission, and that a. larger number of the public men connected with the shipping industry were not prepared to come forward to give evidence. In some cases we actually had to drag it out of them. In one case it was not until we had virtually threatened to summons an individual that we were able to get any information from him, and when it was supplied it was of a very meagre character. I think it is just about time that the Commonwealth dealt in a definite way with the huge shipping ring which now dominates, not only our oversea trade, but also our coastal trade. Each year the shipping ring which is controlling our oversea trade is becoming more powerful, and it is only a question of time when, if some step be not taken to check its actions, it will have the producers, of this country practically in its hands. It is for that reason we think that it is in the public interests that a Common wealth line of steamers should be run. I do not propose to dwell long upon these particular matters. First of all, let me dwell upon one important case which is referred to in paragraph 14 of the report. It goes to show that if certain consignments - and it refers more particularly to the fruit trade - are not sent through the shipping companies, and sold by certain agents whom they dictate, the combine will not, carry the fruit at all. Where a company dictates, not only the particular line of vessels by which fruit shall be carried, but also the particular agents through whom it shall be sold, I think that, from the stand-point of the interests of our producers, it is carrying things a little too far. Furthermore, we are told in this paragraph that had the shippers a free opportunity To sell bv such agents as they desired, or ‘by whatever method they desired, they would be in a position to save not less than is. 6d. per case on their fruit. In Adelaide this monopoly practically has the fruit trade at its mercy, and could ruin it at any moment if it thought proper. That is a very serious state of affairs, and certainly it is one which ought not to be allowed to exist. I do not intend to read this particular paragraph, as it is rather long, and it may be referred to by honorable members if they choose. In Brisbane we had evidence from Mr. T. C. Beirne, a very large importer, in which he pointed out that owing to the combine’s practical monopoly of the oversea trade, those who require certain goods at special seasons are virtually at its mercy, and have to pay whatever charges it thinks proper to impose. In one case to which he particularly referred, he did not know until the goods were actually landed at the wharf that there was going to be an increase of about ros. or £1 in the freight. He also told us that in the hands of these companies the power of the rebate system is so strong that, owing to the broker who used, to handle the goods he sent to Brisbane having once shipped a consignment of goods to South Africa by a line of vessels that was outside the ring, he was threatened with the loss of his rebates. It is an extraordinary thing that irc such a case the combine can say to a marc that if his agent, who is also agent for a large number of firms doing a similar class of business,, should send a. particular shipment, even without his knowledge, by an outside line of vessels, he shall lose his rebates,, which may amount to any sum from. £10, or £20, up to £200 or £300. That is a very serious state of things. It. prompted us to suggest that the sooner thecombine “was broken down the better, and; we are of opinion that the only way in which that can be -done is. by establishing a. national line of steamers. Let me point out another action of the combine. From. Brisbane, Townsville, and Rockhampton a very large consignment of meat is shipped.. For some years it was carried by boats that proceeded bv the northern route to Great Britain. There was a feeling prevailing; that the prices charged were rather high, A new line of boats - I think it was theAberdeen line - came upon the scene, and competed for this trade. But the combination which is conducted in Queensland! ports principally by the British-India Company, was so powerful that, after a fight which lasted for several months, and in which the Aberdeen line lost, according to> the press, from £30,000 to £40,000, thelatter was compelled to capitulate. And to-day, although the Aberdeen line is allowed to go on from Sydney to ‘Brisbane- and ship other commodities, it is not allowed to take an ounce of meat away from Queensland. It will be seen that the combine interferes very largely with the progress and development of the meat industry, to the detriment of that State. Under these circumstances, we naturally think that it is an evil which ought to be abolished assoon as possible.
– It is very nearly a monopoly.
– At the present timeit is practically a monopoly, and one which is acting detrimentally to the best interests of the Commonwealth. The combine has alsothe right to regulate freights. It may be argued that, if too high a rate be fixed, other steamers may come along and takethe commodities at a lower rate. But that is not so simply done, because the combine has the shippers in the hollow of its hand. In other words, it retains, in the shape of rebates, enormous sums, which the shippers would lose if they were to ship by other vessels. Under these circumstances, we can honestly say that the combine is an actual monopoly at the present time. Vear after year, as the volume of trade increases, the amount of rebate also increases, and the power of the combine becomes more complete and effective, and therefore a national line of steamers ought to be instituted. For a moment I wish to refer to the monopoly along the coast, and to indicate the evils which, in my opinion, justify our recommendation. On the Queensland coast there is a shipping monopoly as great as, if not greater than, any oversea monopoly affecting the transport of our produce, with the result that industry there is hampered in every way possible. I wish to place the House in possession of an incident which shows how, by means of the rebate system, this combine has been able to materially injure so important a town as Maryborough, where, as honorable members knew, many of the locomotives in use on the Queensland Government railways have been made, where there is one of the biggest timber industries in the State, and where other industries also flourish. A firm of sawmillers there - Messrs. Hyne and Son - had a contract to supply timber to Sydney, and for its conveyance secured two small vessels, the Mayflower and the Hopewell. It was, of course, necessary for them to obtain back-loading from Svdney; but they found it almost impossible to do so, because persons who wished to send goods to Maryborough were afraid to consign by their vessels, for fear of losing the rebates due to them in connexion with consignments by the vessels of the combine. Messrs. Hyne and Son therefore purchased a quantity of flour, bran, and cement, and, I think, pig iron, and, sending this to Maryborough, gave it to a commission agent to sell. It is well known that business men, when a lange quantity of a commodity is thrown on a market, buy largely in order to protect their own interests, so that the public may not be able to supply their requirements at wholesale prices. Therefore, when these goods were offered at auction at Maryborough, a number of the merchants there purchased them. For doing so, however, they were threatened by the shipping combine with the loss of their rebates, and were allowed to keep these rebates only on condition that they promised to refuse to purchase anything more carried by the vessels of Messrs. Hyne and Son. In the case of a baker who had obtained flour from Sydney by one of those vessels, the combine went so far as to say that it would not carry any more goods for him. In making these statements, I am not dependent for my information on mere idle rumour, but am supported by the evidence given on oath before the Shipping Commission. I have, moreover, copies of the original letters which passed during the transactions. Messrs. Hyne and Son tried to come to terms with the combine, and in regard to the negotiations write as follows : -
At the inception of our trade with Sydney the representatives of the combine here called 00 us, and wanted to know on what terms we would agree to work with them, that is, not to carry cargo backwards. To this we agreed to accept a low minimum back freight in instance of each of our vessels, 50 tons for “ Mayflower,” and 100 tons for “ Hopewell,” which we were prepared to carry at 10s. per ton, and as the rate of combine in the main is 17s. 6d. per ton this left them with a profit of at least 5s. per ton after they paid rebate to their customer of 10 per cent.’, and paid what little labour was incurred in taking delivery at this end. But this did not suit the combine ; they wanted the whole of coastal freights to be entirely in their hands. Subsequently to this we made them still more reasonable offers, which they rejected.
The action of the combine has been to put an end to what might have been a flourishing trade between Maryborough and Sydney, where there is always a great demand for timber, importations to meet it being made from other parts of the world. Such a trade would have benefited the people of Maryborough and of the Commonwealth generally. An even more serious case occurred in connexion with a quotation for silky oak logs. Messrs. Hyne and Son desired to obtain a number of these logs from Northern Queensland, where the tree flourishes, the timber being sent from there to various sawmills to be cut up. Messrs. Burns, Philp and Company, however, exercise a great influence up north, because of their stores and other establishments in different centres, and, to a large extent, the business of the timber -getters is in their hands. Therefore, when Messrs Hyne and Son asked for a quotation of prices, they received the following letter: -
We are duly in receipt of your’s of the 22nd inst., and now beg to confirm our wire, advising that we had asked Mr. James Lyons to quote you for Silky Oak Logs, which we understand he has done. We may state that we are unable to quote for shipment by any other than the Associated Company’s steamers, otherwise we should lose our accrued bonuses with those companies.
It is extraordinary that such things can happen in a democratic country like Australia, where everyone speaks about the liberty and freedom which we enjoy. A combine such as I have been describing can wield enormous power, and can, as I have shown, practically bring about the ruin of an important industry. In addition to what has been done in regard to the timber industry, I would point to the action of the shipping combine in connexion with the carriage of pig-iron for Walkers, Limited, at Maryborough. The combine have laid down freight conditions which operate to the serious disadvantage of those who are engaged in carrying on industries at all our Queensland ports. The moment that they obtain full control of the situation - and they have almost succeeded in ousting all competitors - they will be in a position to dictate any terms they please, and to compel the public to pay exhorbitant rates for the carriage of their produce or of the goods which they may require for manufacturing or other purposes. The present position of affairs is a public scandal, and the sooner an improvement is effected the better it will be for the Commonwealth. All honorable members who have spoken during this debate have expressed the opinion that monopolies and combines are bad. It is well known that, in connexion with the oversea trade, the reduction of the freights upon our perishable products has been of great advantage to our producers, and has placed them in a much better position than they occupied some years ago. This reduction was brought about only when a few outside firms came along, and captured a. certain amount of the trade, in spite of the combine. Then the companies that were carrying on the contest against the combine became so strong that the shipping ring were compelled to take them into the fold, with the object of again increasing freights in order to recoup themselves for the losses sustained. When Mr. Kenneth Anderson was giving evidence before the Commission, I asked him if it would be possible for a competing firm to join the shipping combine, if it so desired. He replied that it would all depend on the financial strength of the firm. In other words, he conveyed the impression that if a firm were sufficiently strong to fight the combine, the latter would be prepared to accept it as a member of the shipping ring, whereas in a case such as that of the Aberdeen line they would dictate their own terms.
– The party to which the honorable member belongs is a combine.
– It is a benevolent combine. The Commission contend that if we were to run our own line of steamers we should be able to provide employment for our own citizens under conditions very different from those mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne. We should also be able to give our employes reasonable wages, and would be able to afford a desirable outlet for our young men who have a liking for a seafaring life. I think, moreover, that if we had a Commonwealth fleet, our citizens would display more interest in maritime life generally. It is desirable that this interest should be encouraged, in order that we may be enabled to train officers and men to man an Australian Navy when the conditions are ripe for the maintenance of such an institution. We should also be in a position to assist our producers to place their produce upon the markets of the world to greater advantage than at present. We could provide them with a more regular and rapid means of transit than they have enjoyed in the past. This is a matter of special importance to our butter and fruit industries. If we had a fleet of our own we should advertise Australia, perhaps, more effectively than by any other means. As the honorable member for Barrier pointed out, we should have at our hands a means of introducing our best products in the way of fruits, preserves, and meats, and this in itself would probably lead to the opening up of fresh markets.
– What about our wines?
– Although the members of the Commission were almost without exception teetotallers, they did not lose sight of the fact that we might provide passengers by our steamers with wines grown in the Commonwealth, and thus introduce the product of one of our staple industries to the favorable notice of the outside world. We were told that if we established a Commonwealth-owned line of steamers we should have to fight the Shipping Conference. I do not believe that that result would be brought about, because the Shipping Conference would realize that if the Commonwealth once embarked in such an enterprise it would have to go on with it. They would appreciate to the fullest extent the distinction between the Commonwealthand, say, the Aberdeen line, and would realize that if they once entered into a fight with us they could not expect to sweep us from their path within a few months. No people worthy of the name would allow any combination to exist within the Commonwealth which was greater than the Commonwealth itself. Under these circumstances, I contend that no shipping ring or combination would attempt in any shape or form to fight the Commonwealth. We have been told that if the proposed new mail contract be ratified the contractors will establish a new line of steamers to fight the combine. If they can form a company and expend £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 in constructing a fleet of steamers, and if they can afterwards establish a remunerative trade with Australia, why in the name of common sense cannot the Commonwealth do so ? We have been assured by the honorable member for Parramatta that whilst it is true we can purchase the services of men who are qualified to run a national fleet of steamers, those men would not devote the same energy to their task that they would exhibit if they were employed by private enterprise. The Shipping Commission were informed by Mr. Kenneth Anderson that we should require to engage the services of men who are familiar with every phase of shipping, in order to insure the running of a Commonwealth line of steamers as economically and profitably as possible. We all realize that. But the Commission were also informed that these men could be obtained if we were prepared to pay them reasonable salaries. I contend that it is only natural that the Commonwealth would secure the best available talent. Is it not reasonable to suppose that the men who would be placed in charge of a national fleet of mail steamers would - for the sake of their own reputations - do their best to make it a success ? Would they not endeavour to make it successful because of the emoluments which would attach to their positions? Here in Victoria have not the Government imported a gentleman to take charge of the railways?
– And to run them as private railways are run elsewhere.
– Just so. We require the services of men to run a national fleet of steamers upon similar lines.
– The honorable member’s party would not let them do that.
– Are the Railways Commissioners not allowed to do that in
New South Wales? Is it not a fact that last year those gentlemen returned to the Treasury of that State £300,000 or £400,000 owing to their magnificent management ?
– They have made a mess of things in New South Wales.
– It was owing to the magnificent seasons.
– The railways were paying before the drought occurred in New South Wales, and in one year the Commissioners returned a profit of nearly £250,000 to the Treasury. When the drought took place they showed their sagacity by carrying fodder for starving stock at extremely low rates, in order that they might save that stock in the future interests of New South Wales.
– A private company made more money in that year than in any other year of its history.
– A Royal Commission has recommended that the Railways Commissioners in New South Wales should be got rid of as quickly as possible.
– The honorable member for Parramatta will agree with me that the late Mr. Eddy made the New South Wales railways a financial success.
– And who gave him a very bad time?
– Providence stepped in and gave him a very bad time.
– The Socialist party were always tormenting him.
– And if they had had the power they would have hunted him away.
- Mr. Eddy was a strong man, and I regret that we have not a dozen more like him to take charge of other national enterprises.
– If I recollect rightly, the honorable member’s own leader voted against Mr. Eddy’s salary upon the ground that it was too high.
– I do not think so. If I did, I soon found out my error.
– Now I come to think about the matter, T. know that the honorable member did not vote in the way that I indicated, although the majority of the Labour Party did.
– It is only reasonable to suppose that whoever was intrusted with the work of running a national line of steamers would do their best for the Commonwealth, if only to save their own reputations, and to retain their positions. I have already referred to the fact that the establishment of a Commonwealth fleet of mail steamers would be the means of providing a large number of our citizens with a maritime training. The serious decrease that has taken place in the number of British sailors in our mercantile marine is sufficient to make us pause and think. I find that in1860 the total shipping tonnage of Great Britain was 4,257,739 tons, whereas in 1900 it was 10,550,094 tons. The number of British seamen during those forty years increased from 157,112 to 175,532. In the former calculation the masters and officers have been excluded, and in the latter they have been included. In1860 the British mercantile marine employed 14,280 foreigners and 335 lascars, whereas in 1890 their numbers had increased to 36,893 foreigners and 36,023 lascars, or a total of 72,916. In other words, the proportion of foreigners and lascars to British seamen in1860 was 9.3 per cent., whereas in 1900 it was 41.78 per cent. Here we have a clear proof that in running oversea ships, private enterprise will employ the cheapest labour procurable. That point is worthy of special notice by those who favour the repeal of the section in our Post and Telegraph Act which prevents our mails being carried by vessels which employ coloured aliens. The fact that the number of lascars engaged in the British mercantile marine has increased from 335 to 36,023 during the past forty years should be taken into consideration. The establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers would tend to minimize that evil.
– If the British authorities made a similar proposal in their postal contracts with regard to white labour, that difficulty would be largely overcome.
– I admit that the British Government have not made a similar proposal, but they are in a different position. At present they are deriving a very large revenue from a portion of the Empire, which comprises a coloured population of something like 350,000,000. In the circumstances, we are not compelled to give the same recognition to those coloured people.
– Nevertheless, the question is one into which the British Government will have to look very seriously.
– That is so. I do not propose to deal with the figures advanced by the Commission in support of their recommendations, for they have not been seriously assailed.
– It is just as well not to deal with them, because they constitute the main feature of the report.
– No honorable member has seriously assailed them.
– Why need we do so when the Commission themselves assail, them?
– The only newspaper which seriously endeavoured to challenge them was the Age, but after the speech made by the honorable member for Barrier in support of his amendment, it gracefully backed down. That speech was a complete refutation of the criticism levelled at the report.
– But the members of the Commission themselves say that they are only guesses.
– It is true that some of the figures may be, so to speak, slightly experimental, but in the main they will withstand all criticism. Some honorable members say that the amendment is an excellent one, but that it is inopportune. Had the honorable member for Barrier failed to take advantage of the present opportunity, he would have been unable to submit his proposal with the prospect of its being carried into effect until this contract had expired. I, therefore, hold that the course he has taken is a proper one. Before passing from the report of the Commission to other matters, I would say that, when the terms of this contract were published, Mr. Denham, Minister of Agriculture and Secretary of Railways in the Government of Queensland, said that he objected to it, and that he felt that that State was being bled in connexion with it Whilst I personally approve of the Government inserting in the contract a clause compelling the mail steamers to go as far as Brisbane, I regret very much that Mr. Denham, or some other member of the Queensland Ministry, failed to place before the Shipping Service Commission evidence showing the situation in which Queensland was placed in connexion with the Orient Company’s contract. Before proceeding to Brisbane, the Chairman of the Commission - the honorable member for Barrier - wrote to the Government of Queensland, asking if any members of it were prepared to give evidence, and the then Premier, Mr. Morgan, replied that they were. When we reached Brisbane, however, the Chairman received a telephone message from a Government officer that it had been decided that no member of the Ministry would give evidence, but that, if we desired it, a State official would be prepared to give’ evidence. Such a witness would, doubtless, have given us some official and stereotyped answers to any questions submitted to him ; but we wanted something more. Our desire was that a member of the Government should come before the Commission, and give us some idea of what, in their opinion, should be done in regard to the calling of the mail steamers at Brisbane. Although Queensland was vitally interested in the carriage of mails under future contracts, not one member of the Government was prepared to give evidence before the Commission. I regret this, not merely because I was a member of the Commission, but because, as a representative of Queensland, I wished my fellow Commissioners to learn how unjustly Queensland was treated in being called upon to pay £26,000 per annum to secure the calling of the Orient Steam-ship Company’s mail steamers at Brisbane. In the circumstances, it illbecomes any member of the Queensland Ministry to find fault with anything that is being done in regard to the mail contract. We have been told bv the PostmasterGeneral that this is to be an Australian company ; but he did not tell us to what extent it could be so described. All that we are told is that the company is to be registered in Australia, All that we can gather from the statement of the Minister, and the other information placed before us, is that we are to give a concession to certain persons who will subsequently’ form a company, which, if successful, will build a fleet of steamers and carry out the terms of the contract. We are also told bv the Postmaster-General that the gentleman who has signed this contract has given a guarantee to the extent of £25,000. but, having regard to the fact that the building of this fleet of steamers would involve an expenditure of about £4,000,000, that is a very insignificant sum. I would draw the attention of honorable members to an incident which took place in Queensland some time ago. A certain company desired a concession for the construction of a railway from Normanton to Cloncurry. We were told that this concession was not going to be hawked round London or anywhere else, but that the financial magnates interested ‘in the company were in a position to put down (he £4,000,000 necessary to build the line, and to carry out other works in connexion with the scheme. That was the argument used to induce the members of the State Parliament to vote for the granting of the concession, and in the same way the Postmaster-General has said that the company proposing to take up this contract could build the necessary steamers, and carry out all the conditions, without appealing to the public. The concession was granted, in addition to which five or six other concessions were granted to different companies to build various lines of railway. Although those companies put down sums varying from £2,500 to £”10,000 by way of guarantee, not one of the railways has been built up to the present time. I should like to warn the Postmaster-General that,, a guarantee of £25,000 is, in my opinion, insufficient under the circumstances, for the reason that,’ if the company fails within a reasonable time to give some guarantee that the vessels will be built, and if the contract is not proceeded with, the Commonwealth will be involved in a loss of, perhaps, -£50,000 or £100,000. The historical incidents to which I have referred are therefore worth remembering. It behoves us to think very seriously before we enter into the contract now proposed. We should have some guarantee that the scheme is not going to be hawked around London, so that a company may be formed, or mav be attempted to be formed, with the consequence of landing us ultimately in a serious difficulty. We are told that this is to be an Australian company, and that the ships are to fly the Australian flag. What is the use of their flying the Australian flag and being registered in Australia if the shares are held in London? In Austria-Hungary the Government insists that at least two-thirds of the shares of any company subsidized by the State shall be held in the country, and by Austrian subjects. Germany goes even further. In Japan the Government refuses to grant a concession to any company the shares of which are not held by Japanese. In America the conditions are still more stringent. Before we can call this an Australian company, at least two-thirds of the shares should be held in Australia. A clause should be inserted to provide that not only the shipment of all crews, but their discharge, shall take place in Australia. That would make the company a little more Australian than it will be under the agreement as it stands at present. With such an amendment the contract will be improved. But I regret very much that the Government has not seen its way clear to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier.
– The honorable member’s own party is not solid upon it.
– I cannot help that. J can assure the honorable member that the members of the Royal Commission are very solid. Combines, not only in the coastal trade, but in the oversea business, are all-powerful to-day, and do very much to retard the development of Australia. The only method by which those combines can be induced to take a reasonable view of their duties, instead of fleecing the public of Australia, is by adopting some such proposal as that of the honorable member for Barrier to nationalize the shipping industry. We should thus create an enormous influence in favour of Australia. To have a fleet such as is proposed by the Royal Commission sail from our ports to other parts of the world would be one of the biggest and best advertisements we could possibly have.
Mr. DAVID THOMSON (Capricornia) £9.36]. - I do not rise to congratulate the Government upon this new contract. On iiie contrary, I think thai, if it is ratified, it will inflict a flagrant piece of injustce upon Queensland, and will do more damage than any honorable member contemplates. In the fust place, the Postmaster-General has told us that this is a mail contract pure and simple. If that be so, why is there n clause in it requiring that the ships shall be of the size of 11,000 tons? It is not necessary to have vessels so large simply to carry mails to England. It appears ro me that there is something behind the proposal. It must be admitted that they must do other work. They must come to Melbourne and Sydney, where the large centres of population are situated, for tiade purpnses. The carriage of mails alone would not pay a fleet of this character. The amount they received for that purpose would only barely pay interest on the .>utlay. Under the proposed contract only two States of the Commonwealth will have the ships calling at their ports, namely, Western Australia and South Australia. Much was said some time ago about the contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, which we then had before us, nnder which the Commonwealth Government contracted to pay £120,000 for the carriage of mails. But now the Government is to pay £125,000. The Orient
Steam Navigation Company not only calls at Melbourne and Sydney, but also goes on to Brisbane. Under this contract the voyage of the steamers will terminate at Adelaide. There is nothing to compel them to go elsewhere. It is true that we shall secure some advantage in a shortening of the time of the voyage; but the great masses of the people care nothing about the saving of a few hours. They do not know when the English mail either leaves or arrives in Australia. They do not feel much interest in it. Only a few people like the richer merchants, and those who wish to communicate with Europe, are interested in the speed of the mail boats. Wc cannot afford to allow this country to be muJct in a further expenditure of £5.000 to save a few hours. There is much to be said about the contract from a monetary stand-point. The present mail service is, in my opinion, just as good as the new service will prove. I see very little in the condition that the vessels shall be registered in Australia and fly the Australian flag. That may be all verv well from a patriotic point of view; but I, as an Australian, do not attach much importance to the stipulation. Personally, I would just as soon see the English flag continue to flv over the mail steamers until the time arrives when we have vessels of our own over which to fly our flag, As to the calling of mail steamers at Brisbane, I know there are at present negotiations goinsr on between the Premier of Queensland and the Prime Minister as to what the extension of this facility would cost. So far, I understand that Messrs. Lang and Sons Ltd’, have asked for an extra subsidv of £26,000 per annum ; but I think that the Queensland Government would be exceedingly foolish to fall in with any such idea. I know that to-morrow I shall_wire to the Premier of Queensland’ advising him to have nothing whatever to do with such a proposal, which I regard as an injustice to the northern State. Sydney, and all the other Australian ports are bound to be visited’ bv the mail steamers for the purposes of trade, and yet Queensland is to be left out.
– We are not aware that the Premiers of any of the States have been consulted.
– But the Premier of Queensland has been consulted as to the payment of an extra subsidy, although that State is at present paying its quota of the Commonwealth subsidy. Such a proposal appears to me to be an infringement of the Constitution, because it practically means certain States legislating for one State, and differentiating that State from the other members of the Union. As I said before, I hope that the Queensland Government will refuse to pay any further subsidy, but will reserve any such assistance for a Torres Strait service. We are told that the steamers of the contracting company, under the new agreement, are to run fifteen knots an/hour ; but what is that speed compared with the twenty-four or twenty-five knots an hour of the Atlantic liners?
– The new boats will have to do more then fifteen knots an hour, in order to perform the voyage in the allotted number of hours.
– Even if the new steamers did sixteen knots an hour, the German liners and the Cunard liners on the Atlantic are now doing twenty-four and twenty-five knots. According to the terms of the agreement, it is apparent that, instead of £125,000 per annum, we shall have to pay £150,000 per annum, if the vessels are to attain the higher speed. Then it seems to me to be wrong to enter into a ten years’ contract with the company. It would have been far better to have contracted for a shorter period with the old company, even if we had to pay more. We have no guarantee that the contracting company occupies anything like the position which has been indicated. We have been told to-day that the company has up to the present built only tramp steamers, and their deposit of £25,000 is a mere fleabite.
– Who has said that the contracting compay are building only tramps ?
– That is what is said by those who have gone into the question.
– It is not correct.
– Of course, it does riot follow that because the company has up to now built only tramps, it is not capable of turning out ocean greyhound’s. A man who can build a tramway can build a railway. I dare say this is a very respectable firm, and doubtless it will have to find a lot of money in order to go into this enterprise; whether or not the enterprise will pay them is for their consideration, not ours. I have nothing further to say, except to repeat my protest against this agreement as it stands. There ought to be a stipulation that the vessels, shall call at all the States : and I may point out that Queensland in the past has been badly treated, not only in connexion with the mail service, but in a great many other ways. I have, time after time, madethat statement, and it cannot be repeated too often. The people of Queensland think that they have been badly treated, and a great number have the idea of secession in their heads. That may be only empty talk, and I do not attach much importance to it; but when we find that a State is badly treated, simply because it happens to be situated far away from centres of population, a point should be strained in order to extend some assistance. It is well known that ever since the inauguration of the Commonwealth, the- Queensland finances have been on the wrong side, and that that State has had to take less than the three-fourths of the revenue to> which it is entitled under the Constitution. I hope these boats will go on to Brisbane. There will certainly be plenty of trade therefor them in the future. At the presenttime the dairying, meat, and other industries of Queensland are looking up, and I have no doubt that in a few years she will’ be the premier State. In ten years time there will be a big difference in the condition of affairs in Queensland, and it isvery hard that the boats of the contracting company should be permitted to stop at Sydney.
– There is nothing inthe contract requiring them to stop at Sydney.
– There is nothing in the contract to compel them to go to Sydney.
– In that respect Queensland is placed in the same position as the other States.
– That is so; but the honorable member overlooks the fact that there is a very big population in Melbourne and Sydney as compared with the population of the capital of Queensland, and also the fact that Brisbane isso much further off. A company running these very large boats might consider that it would be too expensive to take them on to Brisbane for the trade of that port. I think that, even though we should have to pav a little more for this contract, it should be specified that the boats should call at a port in each of ‘the States.
– Would the honorable member have the boats engaged in the Vancouver service go on to Western Australia ?
– Western Australia pays her share of the cost of that service.
– They might go to Western Australia, so far as I am concerned. If it is a Commonwealth service it should serve all the States.
– Let the honorable member consider the cost.
– If it were shown to be necessary I should have no objection, nor would the people of Queensland. What I complain of is that the proposed contract is for a direct line from England, and it is not proposed that the boats shall call at ports in all the States. I hope that this contract will not be ratified. I intend to oppose it, and will do all I can to secure its rejection. I have only my vote with which to “prevent its ratification, and I know it is of very little use to talk when a majority of honorable members are opposed to one’s views, but if the contract is ratified I hope that the Government will see their way to introduce some condition under which the boats engaged in the service will call at Brisbane.
– We should have no guarantee that the proposed national line would go there.
– We will guarantee that if honorable members will agree to the amendment. I must congratulate the honorable member for Barrier on the project submitted by the Shipping Service Commission. That Commission has proved to be one of the best that has been appointed by any Commonwealth Government. It has submitted a number of practicable recommendations, and’ has shown us how to do something. It is all very well for honorable members to try to pick holes in the figures submitted by the Commission, but I think that their estimates are in some cases rather too high than too low. There is only one matter regarding which there may be an element of speculation, and that is the revenue to be derived from such a line. The Commission considered the revenue derived by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and the Orient Company, and I think that when the figures are carefully considered it will be found that the Shipping Commission have not been very far out in their estimate of the probable revenue from a Commonwealthowned service. I am satisfied that if we established such a service it would be an eye-opener to the world, as it would prove that we in Australia are able to provide a line of magnificent ships. I am sure the honorable member for Barrier would not advise the construction of inferior vessels. The question is asked whether such a line of steamers would pay, and I reply that if it pays a private company such as the Orient Company or the Peninsular and Oriental Company to run a line of steamers here it would pay the Commonwealth Government equally well.
– The honorable member for Barrier is proposing the establishment of another competing line.
– The honorable member is proposing the right thing, and you are not proposing the right thing - a lot of sharks as you are, trying to take the people down.
– The honorable member must address the Chair.
– A few days ago we had under consideration a proposal to build a great railway through the desert of Western Australia at a cost of £5,000,000. We found a majority of honorable members in this House supporting that proposal, but if we can afford to pay £5,000,000 for the construction of that railway we can better afford to pay that sum for the construction of a Commonwealth line of ships. Such a line of ships would be of very great service, and it would be much more profitable to the Commonwealth to construct eight or nine ocean-going vessels than to construct the railway I have referred to.
– No fear. The building of the railway would mean unity.
– This is the true Federal spirit.
– It would be better evidence of the true Federal spirit that honorable members should support a proposal to connect us with Great Britain by establishing a line of Commonwealth ships rather than a proposal for the construction of the proposed transcontinental railway to connect us with Western Australia.’ We hear nothing about the necessity of paying interest on the cost of constructing that railway. I again congratulate the Shipping Commission on their report, and I should prefer action on the lines they recommend to the acceptance of this contract. I do not say that by the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers we should be able to do away with the £200,000 now paid annually towards our naval defence, but a Commonwealth line of steamers would be useful for the defence “of our shores. I repeat again that I hope this contract will not be ratified, and that a Commonwealth line of steamers will become an accomplished fact.
– I wish to say a word on this question. I am in favour of something being done which will help us, and which especially will be of advantage to the northern State. With that object in view, and believing that, under the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier, Queensland, as well as the rest of the Commonwealth, can be provided with a good shipping service, I shall support that amendment. We have had instances from the other side of the readiness of honorable members to give up something. According to his own statement, the leader of the Opposition has given up no less a thing than this Parliament. The right honorable gentleman also proposes to give up the provision we have made for the employment of white seamen in vessels subsidized bv the Commonwealth. Whatever we may feel about giving up this Parliament, none of us on this side thinks of giving up that provision. I shall support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier, and I hope that we shall be able to carry it.
.- Whilst we may be making a very good bargain with the new shipping company, so far as the cost of carrying our mails is concerned, I think that if we were running the business ourselves we should be quite satisfied to adopt the poundage system which has been referred to, and thus save £80,000 a year on the present expenditure. That is a verv large sum, in my opinion, for the Commonwealth to have to pay for the sake of a few days earlier delivery of mails. As I pointed out last year, I do not think that the speedier service afforded by the contract system is worth the additional cost, even to the merchants, who contend that it is. Although under the poundage system there might be a delay of a day or two in the delivery of mails, all the merchants concerned would be placed on the same footing, and one would be given no advantage over another. The majority of our merchants and others seem to think that it is necessary that we should have a quicker service than we could procure under the poundage system, and if they are prepared to pay a large proportion of the additional cost under the contract system I do not think that it would be wise for us to object. At the same time I think that in a mail contract of this description we should have some guarantee that the shipping company obtaining the contract will make provision for the transport of perishable products. I am aware that a great many people in Australia do not believe that the Post Office should be debited with expenditure incurred by other Departments, but I hold the view that the public Departments of the Commonwealth should be considered as one, and that each should be expected to assist the other. If by their arrangements with the steamship companies the Postal authorities can get concessions and benefits from the snipping companies, they should do so. I know that the Government of the Commonwealth have communicated With the various States, and have not received from them that support which they might reasonably, have expected. At the same time, I think it is their duty to make some provision in reference to the carriage of perishable products, in order that there shall be a guarantee. No doubt, for its own sake, a shipping company may make some concessions in that direction, but, at the same time, there is no guarantee that it will be done. If in the contract the Postmaster-General had inserted a condition to that effect, a service would have been assured to the shippers. I am very glad, however, that it contains a clause empowering the Commonwealth to purchase the steamers if the Parliament should think it advisable to do so. In a contract extending over the long period of ten years, it is only right, I think, that that power should be taken. What troubles me as a Tasmanian representative, is that provision is made at the public expense for the conveyance of the mails to all parts of the Commonwealth except Tasmania. Under this proposed contract, the mails will be landed at . Adelaide, and despatched by train, to the various points on the mainland, but Tasmania will have to pay for the transport of its mails across Bass Strait. Last year, when the acceptance of a contract was under consideration, Tasmania! and Queensland got an advantage in that direction. Under the new arrangement.
Queensland will still have its mails sent on by train from Adelaide at the expense of the Commonwealth, but Tasmania will have to pay for the conveyance ofits mails across the Strait. That is not exhibiting the true Federal spirit. In view of the fact that Tasmania has also to pay a special rate for cablegrams, and a subsidy of £4,000 to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, I trust that the true Federal spirit will be displayed, and that before the termination of this Parliament the carriage of mails across the Strait will be made as free as on the mainland.
– The discussion on this important question has not been of such a character as I should have wished. And the Ministry is not doing full credit to the subject when it neglects to make a fuller explanation, and to reply to some of the speeches which have been made. It is of no use for honorable members to try to shirk the responsibility which rests upon them. The Commonwealth must be provided with a mail service in one way or the other. Since its inauguration, it has never received an offer for the carrying of its mails at a fair price and under fair conditions. Under these circumstances, we shall have to face, sooner or later, the question of carrying in our own ships, not only the mails, but also the produce of our people to other parts of the world. It may be evident that a majority of the representatives of the people are not of that opinion now, but that in no way justifies an attempt to make little of a great question such as this is. If I caught his reasoning correctly to-day the deputy-leader of the Opposition said that the subsidy paid to these boats is of general benefit to the whole of the community, and that fast services are absolutely necessary if we are to take our place amongst progressive nations.
– I think that that was said in criticism of the Commission’s report. I said that anything which affected advantageously the commercial class as well as the exporters of produce must necessarily affect advantageously every man and woman in the community.
– That will serve my purpose equally well, and I quite agree with the honorable member, but I submit that no better argument could be advanced in favour of a national line of steamers, because if anything which affects the merchant and the importer, also affects the producer, then it is our duty to find the very best and the cheapest method of carrying on those services. That brings us to the question of whether for the carriage of mails and cargo a national service is cheaper and more effective than a service such as that which has been provisonally agreed to between a steam-ship company and the Government to carry the mails. I quite agree with those who contend that we should have the most uptodate steam-ship service between Australia and other parts of the world. Under these circumstances I consider that a large subsidy is justifiable, but although I believe that from their point of view the Government have made a fair bargain, I am of opinion that even greater advantage would accrue to the Commonwealth and its people if they could face the initial cost of pro viding a line of steamers to carry not only mails, but also the products of this country to other countries, and to bring back the products of other countries. Furthermore, it has been pointed out by the honorablemember for Kennedy that in Australia there is a shinning combine even more drastic in its operations than the shipping combine at the other end of the world. My view is that if we met this big oversea combine by a national line of steam-ships it would be equally necessary to provide a subsidiary service to meet the wants of the States. I am one of those who contend that we ought not to be afraid of things that are new if we can prove that they are right, and would be beneficial to the community. Australia has a great advantage in being self-contained. It has an advantage - from one point of view it is a disadvantage - in having no great shipping at the present time, and it would be to our distinct advantage if we could initiate an oversea service, and also an Australian service, so as to completely meet the necessities of the people who are settled over a very vast continent. Let us take the conditions which prevail at the present time in the district I represent. For some years the condition of affairs at the port of Maryborough has beensuch that no person has been free to trade as he wished. When Messrs. Hyne and Son endeavoured to send timber from Maryborough to other parts of Australia, and to bring back cargo, not only did the combine refuse to assist them, but it placed every obstacle in their way, and would not even enter into an agreement allowing them to take back freight at low rates and under a sharing arrangement. They went further, and announced that any one buying goods brought to Maryborough in the vessels of Messrs. Hyne and Son would lose the rebate’s to which they were entitled. Some honorable members consider that such dealings are to be regarded as freedom of contract, and a proper system of trading; but, in my opinion, they are commercially immoral, and any Government having the power to put an end to them, and allowing them to continue would be unworthy of its position. It is thought by some that the Australian Industries Preservation Bill will meet the case ; but, even if it does, it will not put an end to the oversea shipping ring. One of the weak points in the contract - and this criticism should have been .answered from the Government Bench - is that it contains no provision preventing the company carrying our mails from combining with the other shipping companies now doing business here, and leaving us in our present position. No one who examines the correspondence and the conditions of the contract will consider that we have had a fair and honest offer for a mail service. I am of the opinion that it would have been better, as the honorable member for Bass has pointed out. to continue, for some years to come, to pay poundage rates for the conveyance of our mails, until the people of the Commonwealth became ready to make arrangements for the establishment of a national line of steamers. If we agree to the contract, we shall be bound for a period of eleven and a half years from the present time, and, as the honorable member for Coolgardie has pointed out, many developments in ocean transport are to be expected in that period. No doubt there is a majority against the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier; but the arguments pui forward in support of it have not been answered by those who are defending the contract. The honorable member for Parramatta says that the Commissioners gave an estimate of the cost of constructing a fleet of steamers large enough to carry on the Government service, which was not reasonably correct.
– The Commissioners say that it is not correct.
– I submit that the figures of no one connected with the Commonwealth are generally regarded as so reliable as, and’ will be taken more readily than, those of Mr. Coghlan. I have always found greater accuracy in his works than in those of any other statistical writer to whom I have had to refer, and have always been satisfied5 with’ my dealings with him. It is his figures which are impugned when the estimate of the Commissioners is challenged. The Commissioners put forward no estimate of their own. All they say is, “ We have done everything that we can to obtain the best estimates.” No doubt Mr. Coghlan was able to obtain information from some of the most competent authorities in London.
– No doubt; but experts here say that he has not been supplied with a full estimate.
– An estimate going into shillings and pence was not expected, but that furnished by Mr. Coghlan is fairly complete, and, I ‘venture to say, as nearly accurate as could be obtained by appealing to any one else on the subject. ‘ If that is the only difficulty which prevents the honorable member from favorably considering the proposals of the Commissoners, I suggest that the Commonwealth Government should ask some of the chief ship-building firms what they would build the necessary steamers for. It is a usual thing for firms to submit estimates of this kind. No doubt Messrs. Harland and Wolff would say what they could build the vessels for, and would be quite willing to undertake the work, because they would be sure that, upon its completion, the payments d’ue would be made. Then, to deal with another statement of the honorable member for Parramatta, the people of the Commonwealth would be benefited if the effect of establishing a national line of steamers were to increase competition and reduce rates. That would bring about a state of affairs which, to the honorable member, is almost ideal. We have heard from him a thousand times of the advantages of competition, and the fact that there would’ be fierce competition between the national line and the private lines is a reason why we should support the proposal. Even if there were a loss in the working of , the national line, the public would benefit bv the reduction of rates created bv the competition. There would be an indirect benefit somewhat akin to that which results from the construction of nonpaving railways.
– The honorable member refers to developmental lines?
– A railway constructed’ as a developmental line soon becomes a paying line, and, ultimately, helps to support other lines, which do not pay directly, but, indirectly, are beneficial to the community, as a national line of steamers would be, even if it did not show a profit on its working expenses. It has been contended by some honorable members that our railway systems, which are socialistic, are monopolies,- with which competition is impossible. I do not believe, however, that Socialism can exist only where there is monopoly. If socialistic principles could not hold their own even against private competition, I would not support them long. It is because I believe them to be sound, beneficial, and necessary to the development of the community, where there is competition, that I support them. I am as willing to face competition on the high seas as in connexion with any State enterprise on land.
– Is the honorable member in favour of increasing the loss at present incurred in connexion with the postal service, by carrying on an unprofitable mail service ?
– The honorable member is assuming that there would be a loss in connexion with the mail service.
– The Commission show that there would be a profit of £11 2,000 per annum.
– I am not here to father the figures put forward by the Commission, but I would point out that manifestly inaccurate figures have been submitted by other authorities, and that the most egregious blunders have been committed by some of the leading newspapers. I cannot vouch for the correctness of the figures put forward by the Commission, because I am not acquainted with the details. It cannot be denied, however, that Mr. Coghlan is most reliable in matters of this, kind.
– Mr. Coghlan did not make up the balance-sheet.
– No, but the capital expenditure estimated by the Commission is based upon Mr. Coghlan’s figures.
– Yes, but how could boats built at a cost of £375,000be equal to vessels costing £500,000?
– What steamers cost that amount ?
– The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s steamers.
– The question as to whether boats of the required class would cost £350,000 or £500,000 could easily; be settled by calling for tenders. I venture to say that if the Government cabled to some of the principal builders in England they could ascertain within a very short time exactly what expenditure would be involved in the construction of steamers of any given class. In estimating the income of the proposed Commonwealthowned line of steamers, the Commission have based their calculations upon the number of passengers carried by the present mail companies during the seven months over which the busy season extends.
– No. We calculated upon the steamers having a full complement of passengers for five months in the year, and did not reckon on. having any passengers for the balance of the period.
– The number of passengers carried by the present mail companies has nothing whatever to do with the question.
– The Commission have allowed a very considerable margin for contingencies, and I think that their expectations are very reasonable.
– Always supposing that the Commonwealth-owned steamers drove one of the other lines out of the trade.
– It is contemplated that the Commonwealth-owned steamers would be equipped upon such lines that they would be superior in every respect to the vessels proposed to be employed under the new contract. No reasonable expense would1 be spared, and there is no reason why the Commonwealth line should not secure the cream of the public patronage. Moreover, we should be able to avail ourselves of the services of the officials in all the Commonwealth Departments in providing facilities to producers for despatching their produce to the best markets. The postal officials, for instance, could give information to farmers and others as to the markets to which they could forward their produce to best advantage, and there is no reason why the Customs officers should not also lend their assistance, in facilitating exportation generally.
– Would the honorable member make our public servants general carriers and forwarding agents?
– Why not? What is the object of government but to afford every facility for production and the pursuit of industry, thus promoting the comfort and
– The theory as enunciated by the honorable member is an excellent one.
– Many wild theories have been enunciated in the history of the world. Some of the most desirable reforms have, when first proposed, been stigmatised as wild and impracticable.. I venture to say that arrangements could be made under which the railway servants of the various States could render valuable assistance to our settlers in the back blocks, and enable them to send away their produce to the best markets without incurring agency and other charges, such as thev now have to bear. I would point out that in 1888 or 1889, the Queensland Railway Act was amended to enable the Railway Commissioners to make an arrangement such as I have suggested. That action was taken in a State that was not then regarded as so radical in its political tone as some others. The idea of the St’ate owning steamers is no new one. Nearly thirty years ago a certain Premier of Queensland took it upon himself to order a steamer, with a view to breaking down a monopoly. I should like to add a great deal more upon this matter, but I have already declared myself in favour of the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers. I believe that the nationalization of these services is the only course which will ultimately succeed. I am not prepared to pamper any socialistic scheme, but I claim that the proposal of the honorable member for Barrier can be justified upon the grounds of economy and justice. The reason why a number of State concerns have not succeeded as thev ought to have done, is that those who have been charged with their management have not been in sympathy with, them. In some cases it was to their interests not to succeed. Can we have, a brighten example of what can be accomplished bv the State than is afforded by the Newport workshop? Its position has been challenged again and again, and upon each occasion it has come out vic
– In fact, it is wonderful what the proposal would accomplish.
– The difference which the conveyance of a few passengers would make is neither here noi there. That being so, we could bring immigrants to the Commonwealth in the “off” season for practically nothing, and we should only incur the cost of having to feed them in transit.
– In fact, the proposal is a regular bile bean. It will cure all evils.
– Nothing will cure all evil’s. I believe in competition. If socialistic enterprises cannot withstand competition I will not support them. I am more strongly in favour of competition than is the deputy-leader of the Opposition, because I would not support an unsound proposal.
– If the amendment were carried, a motion would soon be submitted in this House, declaring that owing to “ unfair competition,” other ships coming to Australia should be prevented from carrying goods.
– That may be so. Perhaps such things have been done; but the honorable member must recollect that we now have an enlightened democracy sending representatives to Parliament, the like of which has never been known before. I trust that the amendment will be thoroughly threshed out in the light of day, and it is the duty of the Opposition to see that that is done. From every point of view those who support the establishment of a national line of steamers have had the best of the argument, although those who entertain the opposite view will, I think, have the best of the voting.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Dugald
Canteen Bill: Action by the Commanding Officer at Queenscliff - Telephone Service : Toll System.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
. -I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister representing the Minister of Defence a matter of very considerable importance. Honorable . members will recollect that upon Thursday last this House passed through all its stages a Bill for the abolition of canteens. In connexion with that measure the Commanding Officer at Queenscliff has taken a most remarkable course. He has issued to his officers and men the following circular: -
Queenscliff, 21st July, 1906.
From C.O. R.A.A., Victoria,
To Officers Commanding Melbourne District.
CO. desires that each Warrant Officer, noncommissioned officer, and other soldiers in the R.A.A. serving in Victoria should give a direct answer to the following questions : -
Do you personally desire that the sale of all intoxicating liquors should be forbidden to soldiers in barracks and camp ?
Do you desire that the canteen as now established should continue?
Cox-Tayloy, Capt. R.A.A.,
Staff Captain and Adjt.
– Is the honorable member quoting from an official document?
– I am quoting from a copy of an official circular which has been issued. A referendum of the officers and soldiers is being taken whilst the Bill for the abolition of canteens is under consideration in another place.
– There is need for action to be taken somewhere.
– The course adopted by the Commanding Officer at Queenscliff is decidedly objectionable, and it seems to me that it is open to the construction that it is an endeavour to discover what officers gave the information which was used in this Chamber.
– Conduct of that sort should be stopped at once.
– I have never previously heard of such an attempt being made to interfere with legislation passed by this House. Coming, as it does, from officers who have derived undoubted benefits from the establishment of canteens-
– By whom is the circular issued ?
– By H. Cox-Taylor. Mr. Deakin.- “By order.”
– Yes ; but I do not know by whose order. The course which has been adopted is entirely wrong. I do hope that the Government will take steps to put an end to this sort of thing, and to let the officers at Queenscliff know that they have certain duties to perform. The course of action which has been taken is decidedly outside their duties, and isan insult to this House.
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports was good enough to inform the Prime Minister that he intended to bring this matter forward, and the latter has caused certain ‘inquiries to be made. I shall read a copy of a memorandum from the Commandant in reference to inquiries, regarding the circular issued at Queenscliff by the Commanding Officer of theRoyal Australian Artillery, Victoria, to officers commanding district. It reads as follows: -
The Commanding Officer R.A.A. stated in answer to a telephone message that the circular was issued by his authority, and on his own responsibility, as he had been informed that the warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of his command were greatly -surprised at the proposal, to abolish all military canteens, and that, before approaching the Commandant on the matter, desired to know the feelings of the members of his command regarding such canteens.
The copy of the circular is similar to that referred to by the honorable member. The steps that have been taken, however, are likely to be satisfactory to the House. The Minister of Defence has issued instructions that no further action is to be taken in this matter by the Commanding Officer, Royal Australian Artillery, Victoria, and has directed that the Commandant shall supply a full report regarding it.
.- I should like to ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General when we are likely to obtain information regarding the proposed application of the toll system to the telephone service. It appears to me that the newspapers can obtain a good deal more information than honorable members can. I have seen in the Argus and Age information which I have been unable to obtain in respect to the action .contemplated by the Government, although when many of my constituents ask what is likely to take place I am unable to reply. I should like to know when this information will be available to honorable members.
– Mr. Speaker, I desire to say-
– Order. The honorable member has already spoken.
– The honorable member for Moreton can always see in the newspapers information that is not obtained bv honorable members, and is never likely to be.
– Where do they obtain it?
– I cannot pretend to such profundity of knowledge as would enable me to say where they obtain some of it.
– They get it in Queensland, and send the news to me.
– The Postmaster-General will be in the House to-morrow, and I shall direct his special attention to the honorable member’s inquiry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.44 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 July 1906, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060724_reps_2_32/>.