3rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the tow ma il steam-shjp companies contemplate increasing their rates for the carriage of butter to an extent which will require the butterexporting companies to pay from £50,000 to £60,000 more per annum than they pay now, and that it is to be stipulated that shippers who contract to send any part of their export by the steamers of the Federal - Houlder-Shire line will have to pay an extra 3d. per box for any butter that they may send by the mail steamers.
– An extra 8d.
– Will the honorable gentleman make the fullest inquiries into this matter, so that complete information may be available to Parliament when the proposed mail tenders are being dealt with ? Furthermore, will he give the House the assurance that no tender will be accepted by the Government until Parliament has ratified the agreement?
– The matter referred to is a very serious one, and if I were to answer the question at once, having heard only just before the honorable member rose that it was to be asked, I might be led into making some error. I saw in the press some such statement as he has referred to, but I have not had time, and the Cabinet has not had time, to consider the position. As the matter is serious, I shall be much obliged if the honorable member will give notice of the question; not because I wish to put him off in anyway, but because I think that the seriousness of the position requires that the Government should have an opportunity to consider all the surrounding circumstances.
– I wish again to call the attention of the Acting Prime Minister to the existence of the Coal Combine to which I referred last week. I am following this matter up so carefully, because if there is a combination to rob the people by increasing the price of coal, there will be a corresponding increase in the price of every other commodity. Mr. Scott Fell, in an interview which appears in to-day’s Age, is reported to have said that a vessel which has always carried coal to New Zealand, recently could not obtain a cargo of coal, and had to take other loading. He says that he can give evidence in support of his statement. We know that when men enter into a conspiracy to plunder the public, they do not sign documents which would inculpate them.
– I ask the honorable member not to debate the matter.
– Is the honorable member aware that the head office of this combine will beout of the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, and will he, therefore, if he brings in a Bill to deal with it, insert a provision which will meet that difficulty? Will he also appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the operations of the steam-ship companies’ ring and the collieries combine, so that those concerned may be examined under oath, and reliable evidence obtained? I can see that it is impossible for departmental officers to get the necessary evidence.
-The interview with Mr. Scott Fell, to which the honorable member refers, is a long one, and I think that in this case, as well as in the other, the Government should have notice of the question.
– There are possibly two sides to it.
– Possibly. I notice that the vend or combine is being supported by certain persons whose support has caused me some surprise, though I know the reason of it.
– Does the honorable member refer to the coal miners’ lodges?
– I do not know whether they are called’ lodges.
– There is an automatic system now governing prices. Those concerned in the coal trade were starved while they remained separate.
– There is an automatic arrangement.
– It is a very useful one.
– No one objects merely to the regulation of prices.
– In Newcastle wages increase automatically in relation to the increase in the price of coal ; but a. combine should not.be allowed to do serious injury to the public, and a combine which raises the prices of coal required ‘by every manufacturer and household–
– The honorable gentleman is now debating the matter.
– I merely wish to point out, in answer to- the question, that such action would, in my opinion, seriously interfere with the public interests.
– The rise in prices might be a natural one.
– I know; but I should like the honorable member for Darwin to give notice of his question, because it is one–
– The honorable member is expressing opinions before he knows all about the matter.
– I know as much about it as most people do. I wish the honorable member for Darwin to give notice of his question, because it is a matter for the Cabinet to consider; especially his suggestion that a Royal Commission should be appointed.
– Apparently combines are wrong when they exist in another man’s electorate.
– There is no combine at all.
– Has the Minister of Defence yet been able to make arrangements for the medical examination of cadets, to determine thir physical fitness ?
– I have made the necessary inquiries.
– Speak up. We cannot hear the honorable member.
– I find that no medical examination now takes place, and I have caused a communication to be sent to all officers commanding cadets, instructing them that noboy should be permitted to enrol unless he is physically fit for the work. When I ascertain the result of this action I shall consider the advisability of causing a. medical examination to be made.
Alleged Shipping Combine.
– I wish to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz. , “ The existence of a shipping combine, and its detrimental effect on the community.”
– Have the members of the Opposition corner party only just discovered the existence of this combine ?
– It has existed for years.
– I thought that the Opposition wished to get on with the Tariff.
Mr.Joseph Cook. - Does not the Labour Party like this action ?
– I am glad that the existence of this combine has at last been discovered by members of the Opposition.
– I ask honorable members to assist me in maintaining proper order in the conduct of the business of the
House. It was complained just now, when a Minister was’ answering a question, that he could not be heard. The reason was that too many private conversatipns, carried on in loud tones, were proceeding in different parts of the Chamber. If honorable members wish to know what istaking place, they will have to exercise much more restraint in expressing disapproval of what is said, and there must be a greater avoidance of private conversation than there has been recently.
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– Although there isbusiness of pressing importance before the House, I feel constrained to take thisaction, because one of the steam-ship companies which has joined the combination to which I wish to refer, is subsidized by the Government for the carrying of Commonwealth mails to London and elsewhere, and because the tenders for the new mail contract close on the 3rd October next. I think that there should be power under the Australian Industries Preservation Act to deal with this combination, which iscertainly detrimental to Australian interests.
– We have been saying that for months.
– Surely the members of the Labour Party do not wish to establish a monopoly in regard to any statement?
– We are glad to have the assistance of the Opposition in this matter at last.
– The honorable member for South Sydney says that the members of the Labour Party have been saying this for months, but I, as ohe of those whoare largely interested in the export of a certain line of produce, have been seriously engaged for years in fighting the combine. Things have come to such a passthat we are now catching at the last straw to save ourselves from it. As a butter producer, I speak more particularly of the effects of the combine in connexion with theexportation of perishable produce. Two or three years ago, we were under the heel of a shipping combine, and had to pay 3s. 6d. a box for the exportation of butter.
– What was the honorable member’s attitude when the Commonwealth wished to regulate freights? He was opposed to it.
– I would remind the honorable member that question time has passed.
– The honorable member for Maranoa is entirely under a misapprehension. I shall deal later on with that phase of the question. At that time the price was considered too high, and a move was made to secure a reduction. . The result was that a line of Cargo steamers was brought into competition with the mail steam-ship company and offered us a freight of1s. 9d. per box. When the mail steam-ship companies found that we were able to secure this service, they, after mature consideration and in the light of years of experience in the carriage of butter to London, made us a definite offer to carry our butter at1s.10d. per box. I take it that companies having such extensive experience as that possessedby the mail steam-ship lines should know whetheror not that would be a payable rate. A contract was entered into with what was known as the three-line service by some of the shippers, whilst another section of shippers entered into a contract with the mail steam-ship companies. Those contracts extended over something like two years. That made by the Victorian shippers terminated some time ago ; but the contract made by Queensland shippers will not expire until the end of the year. When these contracts were falling in there was. a natural desire to enter into a new arrangement, and at a conference of shippers held in Sydney on 16th July last, representatives of the five lines were asked to state the conditions on which a contract for the carriage of butter to London and other oversea ports would be entered into by them. The conditions stipulated that the Combine should have the carriage of the whole of the exportable butter at 9-16d. per lb. in the case of the mail steam-ship companies, and1/2d. per lb. in the case of the cargo steam-ship lines. These rates were considered to be too high, and no agreement was entered into. I propose to read a clause from the agreement that was submitted for the first time at the Sydney Conference to which I have referred, and I should like honorable members, and particularly the honorable member for Barrier who takes a great interest in shipping matters, to give their attention -
The shipper agrees to ship during the currency of this contract by the steamers of the shipping companies all butters consigned to the United Kingdom belonging to the shipper, or in which the shipper may be in any manner directly or indirectly interested, or over which the shipper has or may or can have or acquire during the currency of this contract any control, directly or indirectly, and whether personally, by his agent or tenant, or by or as subcontractor. During this contract the shipper shall not acquire, have, or take any interest or control directly or indirectly in any butter shipped or to be shipped otherwise than under this contract, or, under any contract with the shipping companies similar hereto, and shall not become a party to the shipment of or permit to be shipped hereunder or under any similar contract any butter of any person, firm, or company who may have shipped butter by any steamships other than those to be provided hereunder, unless with the sanction in writing of the shipping companies. And the shipper furthermore agrees to furnish, if and when required by the shipping companies, the names and addresses of all persons, firms, companies, factories, creameries, and other producers or intending exporters, over or in connexion with whose export of butter the shipper now has or hereafter may have, or now has or may hereafter acquire, directly or indirectly, any control or interest.
I wish to show that this matter has been taken up in all the States, and with that object in view, I shall read a few extracts from reports that have been made regarding it. I was a delegate to the Sydney Conference, and am therefore in a position to know what took place there. Colonel Pleasents, writing to his factories, said -
You are aware that the rates at present being charged by the Five Lines Combine are 2s. 6d. for mails and 2s. 3d. for cargo lines, to all such as sign their contract, and. ship by their line. Any factory which does not sign the Five Lines Combine contract is being charged5/8d. per lb., equal to 2s.11d. per box.
Mr. McIntyre, who manages a large business in Brisbane, in writing to his Board, said -
Although nothing definite resulted from this Conference, it was made plainly evident that there would likely be certain alterations in shipping conditions which are not likely to find favorable acceptance amongst producers. The first is a proposed combination between the Orient, the P. and O., and what is known as the Three Line service, which comprises the White Star, Lund, and Aberdeen. The second is the usual sequence of such combines, namely, the raising of freights. It was mentioned that the freights by the mail boats would be raised to9-16d. per lb., and the slower boats to1/2d. per lb. On the basis of our last year’s exports from this State, namely, 5,108 tons, this increase would represent a loss to the industry of over£8,ooo.
That would be Queensland’s proportion of the loss. My own report to my company was -
The attached draft agreement of theproposed Five Line combination was submitted to the Conference, from which it will be seen that butter exporters have reason to be very much agitated about the carriage of their butterto London and other oversea ports. An advance in rates at which butter will be carried is demanded, 3-16d. per lb. by the mail boats, and1/3d. by the three lines.Personally, I condemn the combination on the principle that, Combines lead to monopoly, and often extortion. If the honorable member for Maranoa were present he would recognise that we have been fighting the Combine, and not merely talking about if. Mr. Robert Hay, of Sydney, reported -
The Association feels that it is, in the best interests of the butter producers, that the proposed shipping monopoly should not exist. The rates already submitted for consideration show an advance on last season’s freight rates aggregating no less a sum than £55,000 on the estimated export for the coming season, and this is a charge which must inevitably be borne by the producers.
Then the Export Butter Freights Committee of Victoria reported as follows -
The first-named was much interested in our subject, namely, butter freights to Britain, because it is by his Department that tenders are being called for the carriage of Australian mails to Europe.
That was a reference to the exPostmasterGeneral -
He deprecated the idea of making any contract at present that extended beyond two seasons, as by that time steamers under a new mail contract might be available for the export of butter. This view, as well as the opinion that any combination of steamers that would tend to create a monopoly, and raise the cost of such services to the producer, should be resisted, was warmly indorsed by the Federal ministers named.
The resolution arrived at by the Victorian Butter Shippers’ Association was -
That the butter shippers attending this meeting respectfully decline to enter into the proposed freight contract with the five lines of steamers in combination, but will beprepared to negotiate with the mail steamer companies for the whole of the proportion of their refrigerated mail’ steamer space available for export butter from New South Wales, reserving to themselves the right to ship any surplus by any other line or lines available.
Mr.Watson.- Poor old “ Anti Sosh “ must be dead.
– I am surprised that honorable members cannot sink their party politics when dealing with a question of this kind.
– Never be surprised at Tory interjections from the Labour corner.
– Coming to a later date we find that the Victorian and other shippers have been making a move to compete with this Combine. Messrs. Osborne and Black of the Western. District Butter Exporters’ Association, in writing to their factories as to the work of the Victorian Export Freight Committee at the InterState Conference in Sydney, said -
They explained that they had been requested by the Minister for Agriculture and others to arrange a service which would provide for the carriage of all the butter from. Australia to London. The mail steamers could not carry all the butter, and they had therefore combined with the three companies mentioned in order to give weekly clearances of all butter for export. They submitted an itinerary showing a service of forty-eight steamers to leave Melbourne during the” twenty-six weeks of our export season. At the outset the Committee objected to being compelled to ship butter by only such steamers as were controlled by this combination, and being prevented from shipping by other lines which provided refrigerated space for the carriage of produce to the United Kingdom. This view was placed before the P. and O. and Orient companies. The committee intimated that they desired in the first instance to contract with these companies for the Victorian proportion of the refrigerated space available in the mail steamers, and to be free to arrange with other steamship companies for the balance of the butter. The representatives of the mail companies absolutely refused to accede to the wishes of the committee. In effect their reply was - “ You must negotiate with the five lines, otherwise we decline to treat with you ; we will give you a service such as you never previously had, with the. mail steamers to carry as much butter as they can provide for, and with the P. and O. cargo boats, and the White Star, Aberdeen, and Lund liners to take the balance.” Eventually the committee agreed to enter into negotiations with the five lines, and asked them to submit an offer of freights. - The reply was9-16d. per lb. by mail steamers, and1/2d. per lb. by the cargo boats. This rate was an increase of About £40,000 a year for Australia as compared with the freight charged during the two previous seasons. ‘ It was considered unreasonably high by the committee, and an attempt was made to obtain a reduction. This failed.
Representatives of the P. and O. and Orient Companies were then invited to attend the Conference. Mr. Wesche and Mr. D. Anderson attended. Thedesire of the Conference, as expressed in the resolution, was conveyed to them. They were most emphatic in refusing to accede to this request. They explained the service of steamers which the combined Companies were offering, and intimated that the mail companies could not enter into negotiations, apart from the White Star, Aberdeen and. Lund lines. Asked whether they would be prepared to consider an offer for a reduction on the 2s. 6d. and 2s. 3d. per box respectively, Mr. Anderson replied that they would, as a matter of courtesy, receive such an offer, but they could hold out , no hope that a reduction of the rates quoted would be made. The Orient Company has further intimated that the freight upon butter by the R.M.’S. Orient, leaving Melbourne on 7th October next, will be 3s. 2d. per box to noncontractors, whilst those who sign the Combine contract will be charged only 2s. 6d. per box. It is evident, therefore, that an attempt is being made by the Combine to get the shippers of butter more firmly within its grip, and to break down the only opposition which now exists in the shape of the FederalHoulderShire Lines. If our shippers require cargo space upon the mail steamers they are compelled to enter into a contract to ship the whole of their butter, by those vessels, or to allow them the right to ship it by any other line that they may nominate. The effect of entering into such a contract is to place our butter shippers entirely in the hands of the companies controlling the mail steamers. Then, when our butter exporters apply for space for, say, 1,000 boxes of butter, they may be told by those controlling the mail steamers, “We can only take 250 boxes; the remaining 750 boxes must be shipped by the White Star, Aberdeen or Lund lines.”
– What does the honorable member suggest should be done?
– I am coming to that. I ask that justice shall be done to the producers of Australia. I have no wish to say anything detrimental to the company which is at present carrying our mails. Those who have been connected with shipping business for any length of time must recognise that the Orient Company has rendered splendid service to Australia, and personally I should be very sorry to see its line of steamers withdrawn. But I do ask the Government what they intendto do in this matter.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– The Government will shortly be accepting tenders for a new mail contract. As I have already pointed out, one of the mail companies which is in the Combine will probably tender for that contract. Now, therefore, is the time for the Government to impose such conditions upon tenderers as will prevent the recurrence of the evil of which I complain during the next tenyears.
– The honorable member is advocating Socialism..
– Thehonorable member may call it what he chooses, but I call it common sense. I admit, in all fairness to them, that the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies have behaved splendidly in that they have met the shippers of Australia in a truly Federal spirit. They have always refrained from extending to any portion of the Commonwealth conditions which they were not prepared to grant to any other portion. But I do complain that they are now endeavouring to enter into an arrangement with our butter exporters under which the latter will be compelled to ship the whole of their produce by the mail steamers, at a great increase over the freightage rates which the companies charged two years ago when they were in competition with other lines. I ask the Government to take this matter into their serious consideration, with a view to seeing that in the new mail contract the state of things to which I have referred will not be allowed to continue.
– Will the honorable member limit his remedy to butter freights?
– Decidedly not.
– Would he extend it to the passengers as well ?
– At the present timeI am more concerned with butter freights than with any other charges. I believe in the motto which affirms that the shoemaker should stick to his last, and while I am a member of this House I do not propose to talk upon subjects of which I know nothing.
.- I am rather pleased that the honorable member for Moreton has brought this matter forward, and I am especially’ pleased with the broad manner in which he has done so. I am glad that he has called attention to the existence of the shipping ring, and to its detrimental effect upon the industries of Australia. This is a question in which I have taken a keen interest for some time past, and I may add that a little while ago I had the honour to be a member of the Royal Commission which inquired into the matter of shipping freights and shipping conditions generally in the Commonwealth. Whilst. I confess that’ the honorable member for Moreton came forward and gave that Commission valuable evidence, I exceedingly regret that a number of prominent persons interested in the same line of business as himself did not tender the information at their disposal.
– They could not do so, because they were under the Combine.
Mr.McDONALD.- That is probably one of the strongest admissions that we have had in this connexion. When the Commission was inquiring into this matter the honorable member recognised, as did the members of that body, that the great majority of those interested in the shipping business were practically under the thumb of the Combine. So powerful is that organization, that in Maryborough the coastal Combine has sufficient influence practically to ruin the town if it so desires. I will give one illustration of its influence : One firm, which was engaged in shipping timber from Maryborough to Sydney, thought it would be wise to acquire a couple of small steamers of its own. Rather than have their vessels return to Maryborough empty, the members of the firm in question visited some of the merchants there and offered to bring back for them certain commodities such as bran, flour, &c. An arrangement was entered into, and in due course the vessels returned with these goods. Butwhat did the Combine do? Its members immediately waited upon the merchants and warned “them that if they permitted any more of their goods to be carried by these vessels, the rebate which they had been getting would be discontinued. The merchants, therefore, refused to have any more goods brought by the firm’s vessels. The firm to which I have already referred, accordingly decided to take back a quantity of flour and pollard and sell it by auction. I may inform honorable members that every man who bought those goods was threatened by the Combine. Indeed, one individual was practically banned by that organization which refused to carry any more goods for him. I make these statements upon the sworn evidence of witnesses before the Commission. I nowwish to refer to the influence of the over-sea Combine which deals with the shipping trade upon the otherside of the world. One witness gave striking evidence as to the power of this shipping ring. That gentleman was accustomed to ship goods from England, and his rebates had accumulated to a considerable amount. His agent, however,, shipped the goods of some other person by a non-union steamer for South Africa ; and thereupon the principal was threatened with the loss of his rebates. It will be seen that the shipping ring had power not only to refuse to carry this man’s goods, but also to deprive him of accumulated rebates amounting to nearly£300. Another case occurred in connexion with the Aberdeen line of steamers. The vessels of this line began to call at Brisbane and seemed likely to “workup a connexion in the carriage of butter and other perishable products to England. It was found by the combine that the Aberdeen line vessels would interfere with the meat carrying trade, to the detriment of the British India vessels, which are included in the agreement. A war of freights ensued, and the Aberdeen company, after a loss of £50,000 or , £60,000, were forced to capitulate, and to sign an agreement not to ship a solitary ounce of meat from Brisbane, although they were left at liberty to call at Sydney and ship as much as they chose. The people of Queensland were forced into the unenviable position that they had to pay to the Orient Steam Navigation Company a subsidy of . £26,000 in order that their butter might be shipped at Brisbane for the old country.
– In addition, even if the vessels of the Aberdeen line called at Brisbane, and had on board goods for that port, they were not allowed to land them, but had to take them to Sydney, whence they were transhipped.
– That is so; and it only shows the power of such combines asthat to which I am referring. I regret very much that more notice was not taken of this matter when the report of the Shipping Commission was laid before Parliament. Further, some very valuable information on the point can be found in the report of the Navigation Commission ; and it is clearly necessary that something should be done? I sympathizewith the honorable member for Moreton, and with those who are under the ban of, not only the coastal shipping ring, but also oversea shippingring. But those who suffer ought to be prepared with some scheme to get over the difficulty. We members of the Shipping Commission had the courage of our opinions, and reported that the only satisfactory solution was a Commonwealth line of steamers. It is idle to talk about legislation, so long as the shipping remains in private hands. The attempt made last year to deal with wages and conditions under a Bounties Bill has proved a failure.
– What is the AustralianIndustries Preservation Act for?
– That Act has alsobeen a failure.
– I thought it would be a failure when it was proposed.
– That is rather a sweeping assertion; it is not correct.
– Well, we shall see. In the United States, numerous Acts have- been passed with a view to combating trusts, but all have failed, as they surely will fail in Australia. I heartily congratulate the honorable member for Moreton on bringing this matter before the House; and I further congratulate him on his conversion from anti-Socialism to the common-sense Socialist view he now takes.
– Notwithstanding the great desire on the part of some honorable members that we should, as soon as possible, deal with the Tariff items, no one can, I think, complain of the time occupied in the consideration of a. question so important as that raised by the honorable member for Moreton. I was a member of the Shipping Commission, before which the honorable member for Moreton was invited to give evidence. The honorable member was examined at great length, and afforded us very valuable information, for which the thanks of Parliament and the country are due to him. The honorable member for Moreton was then under an agreement with the shipping companies, and his impression was that the agreement would continue; but it was pointed out to him that there was danger of a further combination which would have the result of crushing . imposts on the producers of butter in the way of freights. In answer to some questions by the Commission, the honorable member expressed the opinion very strongly that private enterprise, whether in the case of the shipping industry or any other, would give to the producers of Australia much greater advantages than would be afforded by the control of any State Department or Board. The honorable member must now see how. erroneous his idea at this stage was ; because he has been compelled, in the interests of his constituents and the producers of Australia, to come to this Parliament and ask for political influence, in order to remedy what he justly describes as a great wrong. The honorable member, in the course of his evidence, said that £120,000 per annum was quite sufficient to pay to the Orient Steam Navigation Company”; and he added that, if any greater demand were made in the way of subsidy or otherwise, it would be justifiable on the part of the Commonwealth Parliament, in the interests of the producers, to break down the combination by constructing a Commonwealth fleet. I must say that the honorable member has been consistent right through ; and I cannot do better at this stage than read a portion of his evidence given before the Royal Commission, as follows - 2835. Is there anything you could suggest by way of compelling the ring to give better facilities?You stated1/4d. per lb. would pay them, and they are receiving more than that now, with the probability of getting a higher price in the future should they get control of the whole trade; they would then run every one out of the business and go back to1d. per lb. - That is so; but we can provide against that in our contracts - that is to say, the PostmasterGeneral should arrange for the conveyance of produce in his postal contract, so as to have the whole thing working “together. 2836. Supposing the Postmaster-General were to lay down the condition that they shall not charge more than a certain amount, the ring might then reply and say they would want£500,000 a year instead of what is being paid now? - Then, I would say, do not give it. , 2837. In such a case, what action would you take? - I would suggest building our own boats. 2838. So that you consider the Commonwealth, should it have these excessive demands made upon them for the carriage of mails and produce, ought to enter upon a scheme for providing its own steamers to meet the trade? - Undoubtedly, “ Britons never shall be slaves.”
I congratulate the honorable member and the House on the opportunity which is now presented to do our duty in this matter. With the honorable member for Kennedy, I am of opinion, that Parliament did not pay sufficient attention to the evidence which was given before the Royal Commission. The evidence is in print for every honorable member to read ; and scores of instances may there be found similar to those which have been cited to honorable members this morning. . This shipping combination is strong enough to absolutely paralyze, not only the postal service, but the producinginterests of Australia. The time will come when Parliament will have to take determined steps; and if, as the honorable member for Moreton said, we do not intend to be slaves, there is only one method of breaking down the combination, and that is by the Commonwealth building a fleet for the carriage of mails and produce.
– I had expected that the right honorable gentleman at the head of the Opposition would have been on his feet ere this to defend the principle he enunciated but a short time ago. The right honorable gen- tleman in the recent electoral campaign devoted a great deal of attention to Queensland, and particularly to the electorate represented by the honorable member for Moreton. When the elections were over, he pointed with triumph to the fact that he had obtained in Queensland for anti-Socialism several supporters, and particularly the honorable member for. Moreton.
– I rise to a point of order. I desire to know whether my election has anything to do with the question of the existence of a shipping Combine?
– I think that the honorable member for South Sydney is entitled to make the remarks he is making.
– The right honorable gentleman at the head of the Opposition pointed with triumph to the fact that he had assisted to secure the election of the honorable member for Moreton.
– I assisted very humbly, and I never boasted of the fact.
– I think the right honorable member said that hehad assisted in the election of the honorable member, who was another bright star in the antiSocialist firmament.
– Butter is a very exceptional article.
– The honorable member for Moreton. when before the Royal Commission, did not know how tricky were the questions put to him.
– The honorable member for Parramatta is, I think, making rather a poor sort of apology for the honorable member.
– We shall have the facts directly.
– I think we have already had some very interesting facts.
– But not all.
– I am not now speaking of the honorable member’s evidence before the Royal Commission, but of his attitude here this morning. The ingenuity of the honorable member for Parramatta will not enable the honorable member for Moreton to escape from the position which he got into this morning, whenhe stated that the result of the free play of private enterprise - which was extolled in such eloquent and pathetic terms a little while ago by the leader ofthe Opposition - has been that the producers of Queensland are being robbed by a combination of oversea shipping companies. The principle of private enterprise which the honorable member for East Sydney, and, in a larger degree, the honorable member for Parkes, have persistently preached for some little time past, has resulted, so far as the butter producers are concerned, in their being robbed by the oversea shipping companies by being forced to pay improper and oppressive rates.
– We must take with a little bit of butter what was said.
– I take it that the honorable member for Moreton knew what he was talking about. When I interjected that the Labour Party has been talking of this for months, I was in error, because it is years since we first Brew the attention of the public to what these combines were doing. In Brisbane, two years ago, I drew public attention to the existence of the oversea shipping ring, and to the treatment meted out to the Honorable P. C. Byrne, a member of the Upper House, when, on behalf of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce, he waited on the representatives of the shipping ring in London. I indicated then that the effect of combinations of that kind must be to place producers in the hollow of the hand of unscrupulous private individuals. I do not think the members of the Labour Party generally wish to frame any indictment against capitalists as a class; but of late years developments have been all in the direction of further concentration and greater combination, with a view to exacting improper prices, freights, and charges from the public. That is the tendency everywhere. We see it in the operations of the coal vend, which, not satisfied with a fair thing by putting a reasonable price upon its coal, is limiting the number of persons to whom it will supply coal, thus . playing into the hands of the coastal shipping ring, enabling it to rob the consumers of coal in every part of Australia except Sydney. These indications show that some steps out of the ordinary will have to be taken, instead of keeping in the rut which has hitherto been followed. The honorable member for Moreton, when giving evidence before the Shipping Commission, went further than he was willing to go to-day. This morning, when asked for a suggestion as to the manner in which his grievance can be remedied, he said, “Let the PostmasterGeneral, in arranging with steam-ship companies for contracts for postal . services, lay down the condition that freights which they may impose shall not exceed certain rates.”.
– That is what I said in my evidence.
– That has been the suggestion almost from time immemorial.
– In replying to the questions of members of the Shipping Commission, the honorable member for Moreton went further. Hewas asked, “Suppose, as the result of imposing such conditions in mail contracts, the shipping companies asked for additional subsidies for the carriage of mails, and were in a position to demand them - as they would be in if there were only one or two competitors - what would you do?” He replied, “I should suggest the building of our own boats.”
– I say so now.
– I am in the same position.
– The honorable member says “ build them.”
– The honorable member has not closely followed the debates of the last Parliament. On the proposal that the Commonwealth should run its own mail steamers, I voted as I think he would have voted had he been here. I said that, up to that time,there had not been sufficient evidence of the existence of a combine adverse to producers’ and shippers, but that if it were demonstrated that it was working detrimentally to the public, I should vote for the establishment of a Commonwealth owned line. The effect of the mail and other steam-ship companies entering into this combination, and exacting improper and1 unreasonable freights from the people–
– Are they doing that ? They are interfering with others who are not in the Combine.
– As I understand the position - and I have paid attention to it for some months past - it is . this : On the failure of the syndicate to take up the last mail contract, the existing mail companies indicated to the representatives of the butter industry that they required an increase of the rates previously ruling.
– I think that that was a coincidence.
– It is a remarkable coincidence that they put forward their demand for extra rates as soon as the field was clear.
– It happened that contracts were expiring at that time.
– I do not think that the existing companies ever looked upon the possibility of competition as serious.
– I think that for the time they looked upon it as very serious. At any rate, they took the first opportunity after its disappearance to insist on higher rates for the carriage of butter, though the rates they were then receiving were higher than had been previously paid, compjetition having been brought to an, end, and a contract made slightly increasing the new rates. Now they are charging still higher rates, and, in addition, are operating against the freedom of trade believed in by the honorable member for Parkes.
– I wish that the honorable member wouldcast one eye inland on preference, and see how it interferes with freedom of commerce.
– There is a wide difference between the concern of a man for his flesh and blood and the right to live, and the desire of companies to make higher profits. Under present-day conditions the working man has no other weapon than combination. But the honorable member cannot say that combination is essential to the carrying on of trade.
– When the working man has a tribunal, he ignores it.
– The proposal to fine those who do not contract with the five combined companies is an interference with freedom of trade. Those who sign an agreement to export solely by their vessels are to be charged 2s. 6d. per box, while those who dare to patronise the vessels of the Federal-Houlder-Shire line will be fined 8d. a box for every box sent by the mail steamers.
– Not 3d.?
– The rate for butter sent by the vessels of the Aberdeen, Lund, and White Star lines is to be 2s.11d. per box to exporters who have not contracted with the combination, the vessels of those lines being slower than the others.
– That is to be the rate to those who are not unionists.
– Yes. If they desire to send butter by the mail steamers, they will have to pay an extra charge of 8d. per box.
– It is also said that those who contract with the Combine will receive a preference.
– Quite so. This arrangement is an undoubted interference with trade. It must be recollected that, even if the anti-trust legislation which we have already passed is as effective as its friend1 hope - and I have always been doubtful as to its effectiveness - it can deal only with trade within our own/ borders, and other methods must be attempted if we wish to endeavour to provide facilities at reasonable rates for the exportation of our produce. Whatever we may have the power to do in connexion with trusts within Australia, or operating on our coasts, we cannot by antitrust legislation interfere with oversea trade. I have hesitated, as I indicated some months ago, when the subject was being debated in this House, about giving my adhesion to the proposal to run Stateowned mail steamers, because I felt that there were nearer matters demanding attention at our hands. The coastal Shipping Combine should, I think, first receive attention; but action on the part of the companies whose vessels run between Australia and other parts of the world, such as has been adverted to this morning, is calculated to drive the Commonwealth - and that very soon - into the construction of boats of its own.
– ‘Not at all ; there is another way of doing what is necessary.
– There are some poli-‘ tical troglodytes who will not be moved, whatever happens. They will sit still and wring their hands if there is an interference with trade and commerce, but they will not move. I do not think that that will be the attitude of the people of Australia.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Honorable Members. - - Mr. Bruce Smith.
– I could put a lookingglass on to honorable members opposite pretty forcibly. A bundle of hypocrites !
– I do not pretend to say who are the political troglodytes. If I wished to do 50, I should put my finger upon honorable members in the Labour corner, who, for the last two or three years, have been advocating industrial methods which were in vogue in the troglodition era, hundreds, and even thousands, of years ago. . I do not wish to say anything about that this morning, because I have to deal with the subject before the House. The honorable member for Moreton has been taunted with the fact that some time ago he made certain statements, to wit that under certain conditions Britons never should be slaves, and that, under those conditions, he would advocate a Commonwealth owned line of steamers. I pointed out at the time, by way of interjection, that the honorable member was not aware of the tricky character of the questions addressed to him. Had he known that this Socialistic Commission set out largely with prejudiced minds to obtain grist for the socialistic mill, instead of to inquire into the ruling industrial conditions of Australia, I venture to say he would have returned a different answer to some of the questions put to him. When one has an opportunity to put questions to a witness, the answers one receives are sometimes marvellous.. I propose to examine the questions which were put to the honorable member for Moreton when he was before the Royal Commission on the Ocean Shipping Service, and also the answers that were furnished. They were a series of” supposititious questions having regard to a condition of things which never could come about in connexion with mail steamers in the Australian’ service. When such absurd questions are put to a witness, one need not be surprised if extraordinary answers are given to them. The honorable member for Moreton was asked -
Is there anything you could suggest by way of compelling the ring to give better facilities? You stated Jd. per lb. would pay them, and they are receiving more than that now with the probability of getting a higher price in the future should they get control of the whole trade; they would then run every one out of the business, and go back to id. . per lb.
That is an .entirely gratuitous supposition.
– It is what has happened.
– I am not aware of that. Honorable members of. the Labour Party may well laugh. So far, I have read, ‘not the answer given by the witness,, but the question put to him, and it was an absurd one. The answer which he gave was -
That is so;. but we can provide against that in our contracts - that is to say, the PostmasterGeneral should arrange for the conveyance of produce in his postal contract so as to have the whole thing working together.
Then came the question -
Supposing the Postmaster-General were to lay down the condition that they shall not charge more than a certain amount, the ring might then reply, and say they would want ^500,000 a year instead of what is being paid now.
They might ; they might do any other ridiculous thing. The probabilities, however, are all the other way. In this world of ours almost anything is possible, so that the highly absurd and improbable condition of things suggested in this question might come about. The question was in effect-, “ Supposing the company demanded £500,000)ayear what would you do? “ And the answer given was, “ Then I would say do not give it.” I venture to say that any honorable member would have returned the same reply. No one would think of giving a shipping company a subsidy of £500,000 per annum, and I therefore think that this question was a ridiculous one.
– Some of them receive £150,000 per annum.
– Does any one think that there is a probability of a shipping company receiving from the Commonwealth Government a subsidy of £500,000 per annum for services such as we now possess? The question was an entirely absurd one. Then a further question put to the witness was -
So that you consider the Commonwealth should it have these excessive demands - that is the demand for £500,000 per annum - made upon them for the carriage of mails and produce, ought to enter upon a scheme for providing its own steamersto meet the trade. “ Undoubtedly,” replied my honorable friend, “ Britons never shall be slaves.” In reply to such a question the answer was not a wrong one.
– We are satisfied with it.
– It is for the honorable member, and not for us to say that it is wrong.
– I do not think that it is wrong. If honorable members would agree to defer their demand for a Commonwealth line of steamers until the Government were asked to pay a subsidy of £500,000per annum we might all very well consider whether we ought to pay such a sum. In the meantime, we might all return the answer to such a Question, “ Britons never shall be slaves.” There is no likelihood of our ever agreeing to so preposterous a demand. The fact that the demand would be preposterous only serves to measure the absurdity of the question addressed to the witness. The whole series of questions appearing on this page and elsewhere in the report show that the intention of the Commissioners was not to get at the real condition of things so much as to make out a case for Commonwealth Socialism.
– What would the honorable member do in the present circumstances?
– In making any contract we have a right to do precisely what we do in connexion with every other Federal action. We have a right to see that under any dispositions we are making every citizen of the Commonwealth will be treated alike. The complaint this morning is that some of the citizens of the Commonwealth are being penalized by a subsidized steamship company. It is the bounden duty of the Government as the guardians of the Constitution to see that we do not subsidize any company which treats Commonwealth citizens unequally. That is. something very different from that which the Labour Party are trying to fasten on to the honorable member for Moreton. There is nothing of Socialism about it-
– What is there in it? Mr. JOSEPH COOK. - There is no more Socialism in it than. there is, for instance, in the provisions which we make, applying our telephone rates equally throughout Australia. . We make no distinctions; we can make none. Every citizen of the Commonwealth is equal. Equal treatment and equal opportunity for every individual citizen is what we guarantee, and then we say, “ Let him ply his private enterprise as seems best to him. We do not pretend to ruck people up and regiment them under the aegis of a State, in order that they may pursue their industrial occupations.” The honorable member for Moreton asked for a fair field and no favour for butter shippers.
– How is he to obtain it?
– He points out, as I have done, that all he asks is that the Commonwealth Government, in granting future subsidies, shall stipulate that every citizen is to enjoy the benefit of those subsidies.
– Does the honorable member approve of securing that object in the way that we have secured equal treatment in respect of the telephone service?
– No; the cases are entirely different; but the principle of equal treatment applies to both.
– Then how would the honorable member secure it?
– We do our duty here when we take care that any allocation of public moneys is fairly and equally apportioned amongst the trading community of Australia. That is all with which we are concerned.
– That does not overcome the difficulty.
– No, neither is the difficulty involved in the question brought under notice by the honorable member for Moreton. I do not propose to be led this morning into a general discussion on Socialism. We have a specific motion for the adjournment of the House.
– Thetelephone system was referred to by way of illustration by the honorable member himself.
– Yes; but we never admit that the telephone service is Socialism as preached and practised by the Labour Party. Every man who owns a. telephone pays for it. The man who cannot pay for a telephone service does not get one. So far as I am aware there is no Socialism about such a system. It is marked by as much individualism as I can think of.
– Will the honorable member give us a mail steamer on the same lines ?
– I desire to point out to the House that, by these numerous interjections, which are highly disorderly, the honorable member is being drawn off the track of his speech. I do not think the telephone service, or a definition of what is or is not Socialism, has anything to do with the Shipping Combine which the honorable member is asked to discuss.
– It is evident that when an honorable member rises to make a liberal proposition to the House he is bound to be greeted with the ironical cheers of the Tories in the Labour corner. Every one who has studied political economy knows that the theories they are. advocating to-day are thousands of years old, and the concomitants, as they always have been, of Toryism throughout British history. That is why they interject so ironically and so persistently, and laugh so derisively at any semblance of a Liberal proposition from another part of the Chamber. I do not intend to raise the whole question, which is suggested by the proposal, as to the free play of private enterprise, or even the larger question of the use and abuse of combinations as applied to our trading and commercial pursuits. There is a use of combination, a use of trusts as well as an abuse of them, and it is our bounden duty as a community to stifle the abuses of those combinations at the same time that we give free play to their beneficial side. With regard to the particular question under consideration I hold that we are entitled to see that in the Commonwealth no trading combination is permitted, which under the stimulus of a Government subsidy is devoted to any purpose outside that of profit, and fair, full and free opportunity for every individual to exercise his or her private aspirations.
– I go further than the honorable member for Parramatta, in that I do not think that a Parliament, representing the people, should allow any body of persons acting as a combine to do an injustice to a section of the community if it can be deterred by the law from so doing. The honorable member in his closing sentence said that our operations in this respect should be restricted entirely to bodies or corporationsreceiving subsidies from us. That would be a restriction of parliamentary powers to which no sensible man would agree.
– The honorable member should remember that I was discussing the exact question before the Chair.
– In his closing sentence the honorable member seemed to deliberately lay down his position, and said that he would restrict any combine receiving a Government subsidy from acting wrongly. Apparently the honorable member thinks that a combine which is not receiving a Government subsidy may be permitted to rob any section of the community. I am not one of those who hold that view. We are here to see that no section of the community is robbed or seriously inconvenienced. Reference has been made to the effect of a shipping combine on the shipping trade of Maryborough; which is in my electorate. That combine was a scandal, and its operations went beyond all recognised trading practices. It deliberately set to work to prevent owners of small ships from engaging in trade unless they submitted to its terms. I also am satisfied’ with the positiontaken up by the honorable member for Moreton in regard to this matter. The honorable member for Moreton and the honorable member for Parramatta were both out-and-out anti-Socialists at the last elections. The difference between them now is that the former, having come into close contact with the Shipping Combine, has been forced to abandon his’ theories, and to seek a remedy for. the evil of which he complains. The honorable member for Parramatta is a theorist, but the honorable member for Moreton finds that facts are stronger than theories, and accordingly appeals to this Parliament to protect the producers.
– Is the honorable member a theorist or a practical man?
– I hope that I am both.
– What does the honorable member know about butter? .
– I have been dealing in butter as long as I can remember. It would be amusing, if it were not humiliating, to listen to the speeches delivered by the honorable member for Parramatta in regard to Commonwealth and State enterprises. I have recently taken the trouble to read the parliamentary debates which preceded the States entering upon railwayenterprise, and I find that precisely the same arguments in opposition to the proposal were adduced then that are advanced now. I am one of those who believe that the only remedy which we can apply to the Shipping Combine is to be found in the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers. It is not sufficient to attempt to remedy existing conditions in regard to the butter producers alone. We have also to consider the producers of timber, wool, and ores, and I hope that we shall soon have to consider the producers of manufactured goods.
– We must go right round the compass.
– My remedy would, go right round the compass. One advantage which would accrue from the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers is that the Postal Department would be in a position to post up a daily list of the prices of various commodities in the world’s markets at every post-office throughout the Commonwealth. It would’ be able to consign Australian produce to our Customs officers, and one simple charge would then cover its carriage to the markets oversea. In that way, the producer might be protected. Let us do away with the hundreds of middlemen who stand between the producer and the consumer.
– The certificates of the Department would be quite as good as cash.
– If we are to protect the producers of Australia, we shall have to embark upon the enterprise of carrying by sea as well as by land. That seems to be inevitable. I cannot join with those who urge that the Shipping Combine is acting illegally. It has been found impossible for any Parliament in the world to effectively legislate against organizations of this character. I am not so sanguine as to think that we can achieve what other Parliaments, with quite as much intelligence as our own, and with greater experience, have failed to accomplish. It is not sufficient that freights should be regulated between the capital ports of the States. When a person reaches the capital of Queensland, he’ is only at the beginning of that. State. Settlers in the country are just as much entitled to justice as are the residents of great centres of population. How can they secure it if we merely force the Shipping Combine to do justice to the great centres? Are we to ignore the small settlers - those pioneers who have done so much for Australia? If we establish a Commonwealth line of oversea steamers, we must also establish subsidiary lines for the purpose of carrying produce from the smaller to the larger ports of Australia. Otherwise we cannot insure justice being done to the residents in the smaller settlements.
– I was not present when this debate began, and it took me some time to understand how it arose. I should not have said anything upon this motion had it not been for the somewhat ludicrous picture presented by the honorable member for South Sydney in posing as an advocate of sweet reasonableness in trade and commerce. There is an old figure of speech of “Satan reproving sin,” and I was very much struck with its application–
Several Honorable Members. - Oh, oh !
– The tuquoque reply is a very common-place form of retort. I was, I say, very much struck with the application of that figure to the honorable member for South Sydney. To hear him speaking of the tyranny of organizations is one of the most ludicrous pictures that could possibly be presented to us. The honorable member is at the head of a body of men who have existed upon tyranny, and whose special class - a wouldbe preferential class - would exist upon tyranny to the detriment of the rest of the community if they could do so. In a body of men who profess to come here and act fairly as between the whole community, it is quite an interesting spectacle to see the honorable member for South Sydney, backed up by the cheers of his party- -
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the motion under consideration has reference to the shipping combine, but instead of discussing that matter the honorable member is attacking the Labour Party.
– If anybody is responsible for the line of argument which the honorable member for Parkes is now following, it is those who originally introduced that phase of the question. That being so, I cannot prevent the honorable member from replying to their remarks.
– The point of order raised by the honorable member for Darwin only affords another illustration of the fairness of the Labour Party attitude. Its members will attack persons in a particular direction, and then resent any attempt being made to reply to their attacks. In my opinion there is no body of men in this country who are less entitled to talk about tyranny and combination than is the Labour Party. They have lived upon it, politically, for sixteen years. They are depending upon it now. I have known instances of the tyranny of trade unionism. I knew of a case in which a trade union fined a member so heavily that in order to pay the fine he had to sell the bed from under his wife and children. When the honorable member for South Sydney declares that wages are upon a different basis now, because the whole existence of the family depends upon it, he is talking political humbug. The people are gradually finding this out, and as fast as they find it out the honorable member who leads the party is whittling away the extreme policy of his party. Where is the justice of this criticism of combines’? I should be one of the first in this Chamber to prevent tyranny by any absolute monopoly in trade or commerce. I have done my best in the Trades Hall of this country to stop it.
– How long ago?
– Before the honorable member had as much wisdom as he has to-day. The honorable member for Wide Bay spoke just now of “ undue “ robbery. In doing so. he used an adjective which forms a splendid peg upon which to hang a very strong argument. What is the meaning of “undue”? What are “undue” wages? What are “undue” freights? What are “undue” prices? Is the man who sells goods capable of giving an impartial opinion ? Is the man who buys them able to do so? I think we shall all admit that neither is. We require some third person to come between the two, and to give us an impartial judgment. The Labour Party has led Parliament to believe that if an impartial tribunal were created for the purpose of determining matters of industrial dispute they would bow to its decisions. But what do we find ? The award’s of the Arbitration Court, which are supposed to represent a reasonable mean between the two extremes, are ignored by the working classes. The decisions of the Wages Boards Appeal Court have recently been similarly treated. Yet there is not a member of the Labour Party: possessed of sufficient chivalry or consistency to denounce the trades-unionist classes for ignoring the awards of the very tribunals which they themselves havebrought into existence.
.- The subject which has been brought forward by the honorable member for Moreton is an important one, and if we can apply a remedy to what is an admitted evil, we shall be acting in the interests of the whole of our producers. Concerning the remarks of the honorable member for Parkes, I venture to say that he can point to very few cases in which the awardsof the Arbitration Court and the decisions of Wages Boards, have been ignored by the workers. There are numbers of cases in which the employers have refused to obey the awards of the Courts ; indeed, breaches are more common on the part of employers than on the part of workersAs a remedy, the honorable member for Parramatta has suggested that the Government shall arrange with the shipping companies to carry butter at a reasonable rate. I presume the honorable member means; that the Government shall fix the rates; and, if so, it seems to me a most extraordinary proposal. The honorable member advocates equality of opportunity and consideration for the whole community ; but I cannot see where the equality is if reasonable rates are fixed for butter, while other perishable products are ignored. The honorable member does not seem to get to “ holts “ with the question in a practicable way, but merely suggests that the Government should arrange for reasonable rates.
– I do not suggest any such thing. What I said was that the Government have no right to permit the subsidy to go to companies which differentiate between citizens of the Commonwealth.
– The logical meaning of that contention is that the Government must see that fair play is awarded to every exporter. As the honorable member for Parkes pointed out, there must be some authority to insure finality as to what is fair and reasonable.
– I am not responsible for the honorable member’s deductions.
– If the honorable member for Parramatta had really thought out the matter, he would not take the view he has presented to the House. My idea of the fair play which is advocated by the honorable member is that the Government must stipulate for certain reasonable rates , and, if that be so, the stipulation cannot be confined to butter. As surely as stipulations of the kind are made, shipping companies will ask for a higher mail subsidy. If the companies can arrange to secure high freights, so much is added to their profits ; but, if we restrict them, they will naturally and justly demand a higher payment from the Postal Department. On this ground alone the suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta is proved to be impracticable ; because we should refuse, in the interests of merely a section of the community, to pay more than we are entitled to pay for the carriage of mails. Any arrangement made by the Government in reference to butter must apply to all exports of produce. The Orient Steam Navigation Company may deserve more credit than they’ have received for carrying on a trade from which they receive no profit ; but the suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta, if carried out, would mean an investigation into the affairs of the shipping companies, and interference to such an extent that a much simpler method could be found in building Commonwealth vessels. If we undertake to regulate freights; and take the management of the business out of the hands of the shipping companies in what must be a half-hearted and inefficient way, why not “ go the whole hog ‘ ‘ ? The honorable member for Moreton has a very much better grip of the position than has the deputy leader of the Opposition. The honorable member for Moreton admits, as the honorable member forParramatta admits, that if the companies were to ask for a subsidy of £500,000, we should refuse to pay it. But if we ask the companies to make a number of concessions in the way of freights, £500,000 might not be an unreasonable subsidy.
– Suppose the shipping companies ask £1,000,000 or £2,000,000.
– The honorable member mentioned £500,000, and I want, if possible, to keep him to the point. The hon orable member said that the question asked the honorable member for Moreton by the Royal Commission was ridiculous, andwas capable of only one” answer. But if a. subsidy of£500,000 were asked, what is the alternative to complying with the demand ? As a matter of fact, in regard tothe mails, we are at the mercy of the shipping companies, unless we are provided with some effective weapon with which to fight them ; and, in my opinion, the only solution is found in the recommendation of the Royal Commission to establish a Commonwealth fleet. In spite of what the honorable member for Parramatta may say, the Royal Commission, of which I had the privilege to be a member, had no other object but to honestly elicit facts and opinions from those most conversant with the subject. The honorable member quoted only one question, omitting to read the whole series of questions which were directed to bringing out the facts. The mere fact that there is a feeling in favour of the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers will place a check on exorbitant demands on the part of the shipping companies. There is a difference of opinion as to what may be fair and reasonable, but there is no difference of opinion as to what is exorbitant. When profits rise as high as 100 per cent. or 150 per cent. we regard them as involving an unreasonable burden on the people ; and there are companies who make such profits. Combines which secure monopoly and absolute control are, unfortunately, not content with handsome profits, but, in their greed, and in view of the fact that they run tremendous risks, they make as much as they can while the opportunity, which may be brief, is presented.
– They pay dividends on watered stock.
– They do; they are not satisfied with a decent turn-over, but make as much profit as they can, however unjustly, in case a stronger competitor maystep in. I am not complaining of the formation of combines, which are merely an evolution of the present social system. But we are asked by the honorable member for
Moreton to face the situation, and to endeavour, if possible, to check a growing evil in the interests of the producing classes. Personally, I see no solution except the creation of a Commonwealth line of steamers, though it must be admitted that such an enterprise could be carried out in a constitutional way only in connexion with the Postal Department. It is unfair, however, to load that Department with a largely increased subsidy merely in the interests of a section of the community. Much good will be done by this ventilation of the question. There is a general movement in the direction of combines in order to check cut-throat competition, which sometimes decreases profits, and honorable members, I have no doubt, will face the question with an open mind as the honorable member for Moreton evidently has done. In theUnited States, where private enterprise is allowed a freedom unknown in any British community, great combines and trusts have been built up. But the eyes of the people there are being opened, and the President himself can see no other way to meet the Coal Combine, for example, than by the establishment of State coal mines, a policy opposed by the whole economic tendency of the country. Whatever political views we may hold only one solution presents itself to us in Australia, namely, State control.
– Would the honorable member be satisfied with President Roosevelt’s method?
– The honorable member is now trying to drag in another question. I merely pointed out a development in the United States, where the whole tendency has been in an opposite direction. In my opinion, we ought to indicate to the Government some steps which it is desirable to take in order to cope with the position.
.- We all agree that the honorable member for Moreton had a perfect right to occupy our time even at this inconvenient stage ; because he is, I think, one of very few in the House who has any large personal knowledge of the matter we are considering. I suppose that, taking the House as a whole, it is the most profoundly incompetent body to discuss matters of intricate commercial concerns.
– Let the right honorable member speak for himself !
– I had not finished; and the honorable member does not know what I am going to say. I always speak for myself, and sometimes for a few others; and that is what the honorable member can never say.
– The last election did not show that.
– I hope the honorable member will not spring at me yet, because I am only beginning. Most of us will admit, I think, that we are not competent to discuss intricate questions connected with shipping and trade competition. So far as these two mail ship companies are concerned, all the information I possess
– Does the right honorable member refer to the Orient Steam Navigation Company and the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company?
– I do not know of any other two shipping companies in the Federal service.
– The time allotted for the debate has expired.
– The honorable member for East Sydney, I understand, desires an hour’s extension of the debate.
– Not for myself.
– For himself and for other honorable members. I desire to speak.
– Is it the wish of the House that the debate be continued for an hour longer?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
– All the information which we possess in regard to the two mail companies justifies the belief that they are not making a profit out of their Australian trade, but, on the contrary, have for years past been suffering a dead loss in connexion with it. They do not appear to me in the light of greedy monsters who wish to devour the Australian producer. I believe that the Peninsular and Oriental Company earns large dividends in many branches of its trade, but not in its Australian trade. Private enterprise in some of the States has already been able to solve the difficulty which is being spoken of,in much more practical way than we could do, the representatives of the farmers of Victoria having concluded a business arrangement with a very important line of steam-ships under which they will be ableto send away 56 lb. boxes of butter at the rate of1s.10d. each. I donot know if the rate for butter has ever been lower than that.
– Not by the mail steamers. Other lines have carried it for about1-16d. per lb.
– The farmers of Victoria appear thoroughly satisfied with the arrangements made with the FederalHoulderShire line, and that combination has deposited in a trust fund an amount for the repayment of the fines, within certain limits which have been arranged, which the other companies may impose on its shippers. Consequently there has been a successful effort to deal with this matter by the shippers concerned and a large shipping combination. Honorable members have spoken as if the exportation of butter would employ a. fleet of steamers all the year round, but the total annual exportation of the Commonwealth is about 32,000 tons only.
– We do not wish to confine ourselves to butter.
– The debate to-day has been in connexion with the exportation of butter. Nearly the whole of the butter sent from Australia is exported within a period of four months each year, and could notemploy more than sixteen large steamers, each making one trip. That is not a gigantic trade upon which to float a Government line of steamers. Even the honorable member for Barrier is not bold enough to suggest a weekly line of Government mail steamers. He proposes a fortnightly service, which would compete with another company. Any Government line would have to fight the battle of competition with the shipping of the world. Of course, it would have a pretty big fund to draw on, in the revenue which is taken from the public of Australia, and could thus lose as much as it liked, and make its freights as low as possible, because some one else would have to pay the damage.
– If freights were lowered the public would get the advantage.
– I suggest that honorable members who, wish to make socialistic experiments had better try something less arduous than the establishment of a Commonwealth line of mail steamers. I do not think that the Commonwealth could enter upon a bigger enterprise than to compete with the shipping strength of the world. It would be one of the most desperate enterprises that we could engage in, and we could enter upon it only regardless of risk and expense. If Socialism is to be tried, we had better try it on shore, where we are masters, and under more promising conditions. We are not masters of the ocean yet, though we are trying to become so. But we are masters of the Australian soil, and if we start an. enterprise in Australia, we can exercise our supremacy within the Commonwealth to give it every opportunity. It must be remembered in connexion with the exportation of butter that special facilities have to be provided. The snipping freight for wool is something like. 1/2d. per lb., and it is not necessary to provide any but ordinary hold accommodation for it. But for the exportation of butter it is necessary to provide chambers kept artificially at certain temperatures by special refrigerating appliances, and there is no great discrepancy between the charge for wool and the charge of1s.10d. per 56-lb. box for the carriage of butter.
– Is the honorable member of opinion that the honorable member for Moreton was not justified in moving the adjournment ?
– I have said that I think he was. Honorable members have spoken of the. report of the Royal Commission on Shipping, but just let me read the names of those who signed it - Mr. Thomas, Mr. Chanter, Mr. Mahon, Mr. McDonald, Mr. Spence, Mr. Storrer. What chance would any one but a Socialist have with a Commission like that?
– The honorable member should read the other two names.
– I have read all the signatures to the report before me. Is there another report?
– Yes. Mr. Sydney Smith and Mr. Gibb , were also members’ of the Commission.
– They retired from it.
– They did not.
– The only member of those whose names I have read possessing a gleam of other than socialistic intelligence is the honorable member for Bass.
– What about the honorable member for Riverina?
– He is a red-hot Socialist.
– I do not preach one thing and practise another.
– I do not think the honorable member has ever been noted for his preaching.
– The members who signed the report were returned at the last elections, but the two who did not were defeated:
– An honorable member the other day spoke of the stupendous hypocrisy of the Opposition in showing interest in certain concerns, but, as the honorable member for Parkes has pointed out, there was never more stupendous hypocrisy than the affected hatred of combines and monopolies on the part of the members of the Labour Party. The party itself is a political combine. No man can join the Political Labour Leagues, at any rate in New South Wales, unless he takes the pledge that he will vote as a majority of the members dictate as to a candidate. The trade unions are the political combines of Australia. Their members actually refuse to work beside fellow Australians, as though these were lepers. This happens even after the unionists have signed a contract agreeing “to work amicably with free labourers. Even when it is not a question of blue metal or something else, they will not work with them. Honorable members of the Labour Party talk about disliking all combines and monopolies, but, as the honorable member for Parkes has said, they have been living on them all the time.
– We have copied the members of the legal profession.
– I am not denouncing the principle of combination. I have always said that the trade unionists have the same right to combine that wealthy ship-owners and other persons have.
– Or that members of the legal profession have.
– Members of the legal profession do not combine.
– But we have a minimum wage.
– Since I entered the profession I have never combined with any one else ; I have always been too busy trying to make all I could for myself. Combination might perhaps help some members of the bar; but there is not much combination in the profession ; each is doing the best he can for himself. But those who denounce combinations of ship-owners should denounce combinations of trade unionists. There is no difference in principle between the two, though some honorable members live on one set of combinations by professing hatred of the other. I believe as firmly as they do that government of the best type would not be possible if the whole power of the community were not devoted to suppressing wrong or oppression, either by a business combination or a trade union. The question is which of two remedies to choose. I think that
Socialism is not the better remedy. It is infinitely preferable to suppress abuses, whilst preserving the liberty of the individual to as great an extent as possible. That is my line of reform. The other is to suppress individual liberty in order to suppress combines and monopolies; to substitute farmore terrible and tyrranous combinations for those now existing. There is a chance of subduing business tyrannies, but a tyranny created by the concentration of the powers of the State, supported by the police and the soldiery, could not be fought against by any individual. The adoption of Socialism would be the substitution for what we object to, of tyranny worse than that of any individual or combine. The State is powerful enough to suppress the iniquitous practices which have been alleged to exist in connexion with the shipping trade, and we ought to be able to devise suitable means for doing so. I have made no secret of my view that, if trusts use their power to sweat their employes, to crush honest competition, and to prevent fair and open dealing in the ordinary course of trade, they should be treated as a sneak thief would be treated. I have not the slightest respect for any man or body of men using power unfairly to the great mass of individuals. But the reasons for which I denounce the excesses of trade unionists, compel me to denounce, with even more hearty detestation, the excesses of other combinations, because I make the largest allowance for men who have only their labour to live on, as compared with those who have millions of capital behind them.
– Was not the honorable, member arguing the other day in favour of preference ?
– No. I was putting the law on the subject before a Judge, but the application was sucha hollow one that I had to smile when I was trying to put it.
– But the honorable member took the money.
– The honorable member should not say that. I earned what money I received.
– The time allowed to the honorable member by the Standing Orders has expired.
– The object of the honorable member for Moreton in moving the adjournment was to direct attention to the action of certain shipping companies in refusing to accept, at ordinary rates, butter offered for export by persons who had not contracted to give them the whole of their business. I had not read the newspaper from which the honorable member quoted this morning, and, until he spoke, did not know exactly what had been arranged. I desire, however, to direct attention toa proposal made by the Government a short time ago, which, had it been agreed to by the States, would have obviated the present situation. At the Conference of States Premiers held in Sydney in 1906, the present Prime Minister said -
Now, turning to another subject. As you are aware, we are calling for tenders for mail contracts, which are purely postal contracts so far, and which are returnable next month. The postal service is put first, but any additional facilities which tenderers can offer will be taken into account. It has been suggested more than once whether it is not possible for you, as States, discussing the matter among yourselves, to arrive at an agreement, so that we could take up the whole of the cold storage accommodation of the mail steamers, if not for the whole year, at all events for the full extent of the Australian season. The export of frozen products is growing so large that even the extra cost involved in sending them by the rapid mail service does not deter competitors from making the fullest use of our present mail boats. We expect that the successful tenderers will probably provide a larger cold storage capacity in their steamers, and if we were in a position to say in connexion with our mail contracts that, speaking on behalf of the Stales, they had arranged among themselves to take such and such a space, adjusting it among themselves from time to time.as might be found necessary, so as to ensure to the company a sufficient total, I think we might arrange to take practically the whole of the cold storage, and secure it at a lower rate. If your Agricultural Departments will consider amongst themselves whether they could not give such an undertaking - the difference in our seasons is an important factor- we might be able in letting that contract to take storage freights into consideration, and make a deal with them. Speaking of the Commonwealth alone, it is of no special interest to us, but it might be of great value to some of the States, and we are prepared to act for some or all of them, but, of course, our offer must be made in the first place, to all.
Subsequently, on 26th April, 1906, the Prime Minister wrote in the following terms’ to each of the States Premiers -
I have the honour to invite your attention to the proposal put forward by me at the recent meeting of the Conference of State Premiers, to the effect that the Agricultural Departments of the States should be urged to immediately communicate with the exporters of perishable products, or others interested in them, in order that we might arrange to guarantee either the whole or a certain proportion of the cold storage accommodation which will be provided by the steamers to be employed in the mail service between Australia and Great Britain.
The matter is one of considerable urgency, as the Postmaster-General expects to receive the tenders for the mail service next month. Unless some early intimation is received through the State Government of the wishes of the producers it will not be possible to make this a condition of the contract with the successful tenderers, and an unique opportunity may be lost for making most favorable conditions for an Australian export of trade of products for which the quickest possible transport is desired.
Under the circumstances may I ask that you will give instructions for the matter to be considered at the earliest possible date, both as to the quantity to be shipped and the rates to be obtained.
That letter practically embodied the statement made by the Prime Minister at the Conference of Premiers. I propose now to read some of the replies received. In the first place, Mr. Bent, Premier of Victoria, wrote -
This Government regrets it does not see its way to guarantee to fill a certain quantity of space, especially as nothing definite can be arranged with the meat and other exporters.
With reference to the new cargo steamship line to which you refer in your letter, it is felt that nothing can really be done in the matter until a distinct offer has been received.
The following reply was received from Mr. Kidston, Premier of Queensland -
Adverting to previous correspondence on the subject of the Conference which was held here by Queensland exporters relative to the question of securing cold storage space on Europeanbound steamers, I have the honour to append hereto resolutions which have been arrived at on the subject by the said Conference : -
That it is unnecessary and undesirable to seek Federal assistance in freight arrangements outside the mail service, which mail service should provide refrigerating space available for each State of the Commonwealth.
That a service starting from Brisbane and calling at all the principal ports of this State is essential to the development of our industries, and such service if subsidized should be under the sole control of our own Government.
In other words, Queensland did not wish the Commonwealth to interfere.
– What did Mr. Tom Price say?
– I do not think I have his reply here. The Prime Minister’s suggestion was considered at a Conference held at Parliament House, Brisbane, on 19th May, 1906, and at that gathering -
Mr. H. Sinclair (Queensland Farmers Cooperative Company) moved, and Mr. G. Fox (Rockhampton Co-operative Company) seconded - “ That it is not desirable to pledge ourselves at present in the manner proposed by Mr. Deakin, to ship our produce by one line of boats, thus creating a monopoly.”
The mover of this motion was the honorable member for Moreton.
After discussion, this motion was withdrawn on the understanding that another Conference would be convened by the Chief Secretary within a month, and that, in the meantime, the several associations concerned give the matter full consideration.
At that time, the honorable member for Moreton objected to the proposal of the Commonwealth Government. We desired to be in a position to enter into an arrangement with the steam-ship companies in regard to the carriage, not only of butter, but of any other produce that might be available, and we explained to the Premiers of the various States that if our suggestion were adopted the whole of the available cold-storage space on the mail steamers would probably be taken up. I have shown how our proposal was received.
– State jealousy.
– I have merely made these quotations from the correspondence in order to show that the Federal Government were anxious to facilitate the export of perishable produce.
– And could have made a good arrangement.
– There is no doubt about that. As to the present situation. I may say at once that the Government certainlydoesnot desire to see any monopoly in existence. Several contracts will come in within the next few days, and I have no doubt that the Prime Minister, who is dealing with the matter, will take this question into very serious consideration before any tender for a new service is accepted.
– That is the point. We want to help the Government.
– We are not going to be put in a hole. If we cannot get our services carried out at a reasonable rate when this question comes to be dealt with in a few days, we shall have to consider what further action should be taken.
– That is the talk - a Commonwealth line of steam-ships.
– I do not know about that, but we certainly do not intend to be blocked in any shape or form. . The leader of the Opposition just now rather sneered at the idea of a Government line of steam-ships as savouring of a sort of Socialism.
– I think it is the most pronounced form of Socialism.
– Then is the right honorable member prepared to say that the States should dispose of all their tramways and railways? The State ownership of railways and tramways is just as much Socialism as would be the running of a State-owned line of mail steamers.
– The honorable member at one time wished to sell the New South Wales tramways.
– That was over twenty years ago, when I was practically a youth. I am not saying anything about the suggestion that the Government should run a line of steamers of its own ; I am replying to the argument advanced by the leader of the Opposition, and I urge that a Government has as much right to run a line of steamers’ under a properly constituted body as it has to carry on a railway service.
– Is the honorable gentleman in favour of Government-owned steamers ?
– I am speaking now on behalf of the Government ; if the honorable member desires to consult me privately he may do so later on. I think he knows very well what opinion I hold in regard to the question that he has just put to me. At the present time I am merely endeavouring to meet the argument of the leader of the Opposition that a State-owned steam-ship service would represent Socialism, whilst State-owned railways do not.
– Our railways in Australia cannot be competed with, but if we started a shipping line of our own it would have to stand the brunt of the competition of the shipping world.
– The railways of the States have to compete against the shipping ring around the coast that prevented me from passing the Inter-State Commission Bill when I desired to do so. There can be no question as to the competition which the railways have to face in that regard.
– And the States railways compete with each other.
– Which they ought not to do.
– Would the honorable member treat the coal vend as he would deal with the shipping ring?
– I have said today that I am opposed to any vend or combine that is doing serious injury to the public.
– So we all are.
– I should like to see the Opposition dare, whilst certain individuals remain members of their party, to take any action.
– How can we?
– When the right honorable member had power to take action in this respect he did not attempt to do so. Imagine the honorable member for Parkes, who is a. member of the Opposition, joining in an attack on shipping or anything of the kind. The honorable member for Kennedy said that the Commonwealth legislation relating to the manufacture of harvesters was a failure. I hold that it is not. That legislation will be proved very shortly to be anything but a failure. It is at the present moment, or will be very soon, on the highroad to success.
– McKay is sweating his men.
– Then he will be prevented from doing so.
– If necessary, we can further legislate on the subject.
– Quite so. As to the honorable member’s references to the Australian Industries Preservation Act, I may say that the Act is effective, although somewhat cumbersome. All that is necessary is to shorten the procedure by which we may deal with trusts; the course that we now have to take under the Act needs only to be simplified. Speaking as I do for the Government, I express the hope that in any arrangement that may be made, nothing will occur that will lead to the boycotting of those who send their produce by other lines to oversea markets. I feel that the temper of this House is such that if anything of the kind did take place we should not rest until some action had been taken.
– We are all behind the honorable member in regard to that matter.
– I shall vet have the right honorable member behind me on the Tariff.
– The Government are loading up the duties on the very producers whom the honorable member says they desire to assist.
– The time allowed the honorable member under the Standing. Orders has expired.
– I can only saythat I hope there will be no further trouble in regard to this matter.
Sitting suspended from i.to 2.15 p.m.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. Just before the suspension of the sitting in answer to an interjection by the honorable member for East Sydney, I made a statement in which I referred’ to the fact that he had received certain money in his capacity as a barrister. I had understood him to say that in pleading for preference to unionists before the Arbitration Court in New South Wales he thought so little of his case that he was actually laughing to himself. During the adjournment for luncheon I have had a conversation with the honorable member, and I find that I misunderstood his remarks in that connexion. I therefore wish to withdraw the statement which I made.
– With the consent of the House perhaps I may be permitted to add a few words. In the hurry of the moment I confess that I did not do justice to the matter to which reference has been made. The honorable member for Barrier fell very naturally into the mistake which he made owing to the imperfect way in which I was expressing myself. So far as the question of preference to unionists is concerned, I argued before the Arbitration Court - and argued with personal conviction so far as a lawyer is supposed to have any conviction - that in passing the Conciliation and Arbitration Act this Parliament intended that preference should be extended to unionists if the President of the Court considered that a majority of those engaged in any industry favoured that principle, and if he was satisfied that they did not violate the prohibition imposed by the Statute in respect of using their funds for political purposes. I argued that with great earnestness and sincerity - not as a matter of personal conviction - but as my view of the meaning of the Act. The period at which I could not repress a smile was at quite another stage of the proceedings. The Australian Workers Union hasrules which enables it to subsidize political candidates and to run a very influential political newspaper. These actions were so clearly opposed to the prohibition contained in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act that in dealing with that phase of the question, I could not address the Court very seriously. But my view of that Act is that this Parliament by a majority affirmed the principle of preference to unionists.
– The honorable member himself passed that Act.
– I voted in opposition to the principle of preference to unionists. The Bill, however, was passed. I am very glad that the honorable member for Barrier has afforded me an opportunity of explaining my position more fully.
– I rise for the purpose of emphasizing the necessity for the Government assisting people who are not in a position to assist themselves. In many of the States and particularly in New South Wales, we have a great deal for which to thank the dairying industry. What that industry has already accomplished demonstrates that too much attention cannot be paid to it. As honorable members are aware owing to its success, portions of the country which were formerly unsettled are now being occupied. Railways are being constructed and these too are assisting in the development of our resources. It behoves us therefore to do all thatwe can to assist to build up one of the great primary industries of the country.
– Impose a duty upon butterboxes to encourage it.
– One thing at a time is quite enough to deal with.
So far as the dairying industry is isconcerned, there are some things which those engaged in it have been able to do for themselves. For instance, they have established their own butter factories. But when they have reached that stage they have experienced a check, because, unfortunately for Australia, the markets of our producers are not within our own boundaries. “ Our dairy farmers have to compete in the markets of the world. Honorable members must have noticed during the past few weeks that a considerable discussion has been going on amongst our dairy farmers regarding the best means of placing their commodities upon those markets. I regret that their efforts in this direction have not been as successful as we could have desired. I do not suggest a remedy for the existing condition of affairs. But in Australia it has been the custom for persons - after they have tried to assist themselves - to appeal for help to a paternal Government. I may mention that I have been in close communication with the Minister of Trade and Customs in regard to this matter. I have also had conferences with the Postmaster-General in regard to the insertion of certain conditions in the tenders for our new mail contract. The company which holds that contract at the present time practically decides what the freights shall be by vessels owned by, all other lines. I have suggested to the Postmaster-General that in the tenders for our mail contract provision should be made for. sufficient accommodation for our dairy produce, frozen meat, &c, and that the Government should attempt to insure reasonable freights being charged. Whilst it is important that we should have quick mail transit, it is equally important that we should have facilities for speedily placing our produce upon the markets of the world. To that end we require to use the mail steamers for more reasons than one. I ask the Government to consider this phase of the question in calling for tenders for our new mail contract. I am pleased to know that they have not lost sight of the desirableness of providing cold storage accommodation upon our mail steamers. I hope that their efforts in this direction will be successful. One of the difficulties experienced at the present time results from an inability on the part of our dairy farmers to place upon the “market that portion of their produce which oversea vessels are not able to carry. I think that the Government may be able to assist them in that connexion. If they are able to secure cold storage accommodation upon our mail steamers and to guarantee that the freights charged upon perishable products shall not exceed a certain amount, they will have accomplished a great work. To my mind the question is of equal importance with that of the carriage of our mails. When the new mail contract is under consideration I trust that the House will show its sympathy with those persons who are doing their best to develop this . great country.
.- Whilst I condemn the action of the shipping ring as an interference with freedom of trade and with the rights of free citizenship, I’ cannot but feel amused at the inconsistent attitude taken up by the Labour Party. As a matter of fact, the Shipping Combine is merely asserting the principle of prefer- ence to unionists by preventing “scab” shipowners from coming into competition with union ship-owners. But it seems that as soon as capitalists combine to achieve the very purpose for which trade unionists organize what is virtue in the one case becomes a crime in the other. Personally, I opposed the principle of coercive preference to unionists as a negation of the democratic recognition of a man’s right to live. It seems very inconsistent that the party which is opposed to the Shipping Combine, asserting the “preference to unionists” principle, should have so strenuously fought during the period that it held office to have that principle engrafted on the statutebook of the country as a vital part of its policy. So vital, indeed, that it risked the fate of the Labour Government in the effort to carry the principle into law and lost office in that effort. I am absolutely opposed to combinations which have for their purpose illegitimate interference with the rights of private individuals in their industrial, social, and other relations.
– Has the honorable member always been opposed to unionism?
– I am not, and never have been, opposed to unionism ; quite the contrary, but I am opposed to such combinations - whether they be a trades union of employes or of employers - using their power tyrannically to infringe the rights of others. If they were consistent, the leader . of the Labour Party and his followers ought to be supporting this combination instead of opposing it. The whole evil complained of is the evil of monopoly ; arid vet the proposal is to cure one monopoly by establishing a greater one, which would have the power of the public purse behind it, and which none <;ould withstand. In order to cure the evil, we should take a directly opposite course, and seek to bring about competition. I suggest to the honorable member for Moreton that he should induce competition by forming an organization of producers and shippers, for the purpose of providing their own steamers in which to convey their goods.
.- The honorable member for Lang contends that the combinations of employers and the combinations of workers are the same in principle. In my opinion the combination which we are opposing to-day has for its object the undue squeezing of producers, whereas workers combine to prevent themselves from being squeezed by combinations of capitalists. I thank the honorable member for Moreton for introducing the subject to-day ; and I can assure him that honorable members will lean more to his evidence, which was given on oath, than to the somewhat captious opposition ,of the deputy leader of the Opposition. The evidence of the honorable member for Moreton was quoted by the honorable member for Parramatta with a view to showing that the former, when before the Shipping Commission, did not know what he was talking about.
– Nothing of the kind.
– However, the honorable member for Moreton is of the same opinion as he was when he gave evidence; and it must be admitted .by the honorable member for Parramatta that the honorable member is quite in his rights in making the statements he has made to-day.
– Quite so.
– We agree for once.
– Then surely the honorable member must be wrong !
– No; I think I am quite right. I must give the honorable member for Parramatta the credit that there is no man whom I have met in my political experience of seventeen years, who has so persistently and consistently exercised the role of critic, as he has done in his present position. It mav interest honorable members to know the opinion of an eminent man in regard to the shipping ring in Great Britain. It was on this point that I inquired, when the leader of the Opposition was speaking, as to which shipping companies he was referring. I desire to quote from Talks with Mr. Gladstone, by the Honorable Lionel A. Tollemache. The following is an extract from one conversation -
That was the opinion of Mr. Gladstone, and I give it for what it is worth. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company broke the laws of England for nine years. In the House of Commons on the 12th May, 1900, a debate took place on this question ; and I should like to make a few Quotations, not from the speeches of Labour or Irish members, but from the speeches of such gentlemen as Admiral Field, who’, though he would not vote against the Conservative Government, would not vote in their support, because he considered their action in supporting the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and in not compelling that company to obey the law, was ruining England’s supremacy at sea. That company is one of the five which have entered into the Combine in’ Australia ; and it is a company which to this day do not treat their Iascar seamen as they should. For instance, they allow lascars space equal to about double the size of an ordinary coffin, whereas the space which should be allowed, under the British law, is’ 120 cubic feet. For nine years this shipping company escaped any direct penalty, because Lord Selborne, a member of the Salisbury Government, was on the board of directors. However, the following is an extract from a speech by Mr. Ritchie, the President of the Board of Trade in the Salisbury Government, in the course of the debate which I have mentioned. The extracts are from the report of the London Times, which is accepted in the House of Commons as .al: most as authoritative as Hansard. Mr. Ritchie is thus reported -
Mr. Ritchie said that if the law had not been complied with, it was not for the want of strong remonstrances. The Government had called attention to the fact that the space supplied to Iascar seamen was not the space provided for British seamen, and that the P. and O. Company were not acting in- accordance with the Merchant Shipping Act. In this way, the P. and O. Company had already been heavily fined.
That means that the vessels of the company, in consequence of- the reduced space allowed for the seamen, have to pay higher harbor dues, and so forth, than they otherwise would. The report of the speech goes on -
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.
There is no company doing so much to destroy the mercantile supremacy of Great Britain as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. I have always admired the action of the Orient Steam Navigation Company for the great fight which they have made with white seamen as against Iascar seamen, who are employed because they are more subservient than white men, just as the kanakas were employed in Queensland because they were content with low wages. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company regard themselves as too superior to undertake the conveyance of steerage passengers, though we know that it is the steerage which has supplied much of the brain and brawn to Australia. Mr. Weir, who, I believe, is also a Conservative member of the House of Commons, asked in the course of the debate whether there were any labour conditions in the contract, seeing that the company .received ^400,000 a year from the British Government. The report of Mr. Weir’s speech contained the following -
If there were not, there ought to be, as when the British flag flew over South Africa, he supposed the P. and D. would have at their disposal the labour of the 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.
If honorable members read the full report of that debate in the House of Commons, they cannot feel very much respect for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company.
.- I am very glad that the honorable member for Moreton has brought this subject before us for discussion, but I am sorry that party feeling should have been introduced. Situated as we are, so far; from the home land and our market, we cannot regard this matter too seriously. As a member of the Shipping Commission, I regret the reflection which has been cast upon that body, that they held a fishing inquiry for the purpose of obtaining information of a certain kind. T became a member of tha.t Commission with a perfectly open mind ; and, after hearing or reading all the evidence, I came to the conclusion that it was time we seriously considered the position. If we cannot get fair dealing from the shipping companies, it is our duty as directors for the Commonwealth to do our best under the circumstances; and if the best means Commonwealth vessels, we ha.ve a perfect right to provide them. I believe a Commonwealth line of steamers would prove very successful, if shippers and the public generally would realize the fact that they were shareholders in the enterprise. It has been suggested that strong competition would be experienced from the shipping companies. But that competition might be fought if, as I say, the people as n whole regarded the establishment of the State vessels as an enterprise of their own.
– The Pacific Cable is not very strongly supported as yet.
– Perhaps the advantages of that cable have not been brought sufficiently home to the people ; and it is only when the shoe pinches that the necessity for action is realized. We have to consider, not only butter, but every other product exported from Australia, and, moreover, this is a matter which interests importers, . because high freights mean high prices. If high freights are charged by private shipping companies, the profits go into the pockets of the shareholders, and not into the pockets of the people of Australia, or into the revenue necessary for” the public services. The honorable member for Parramatta sought to bring the evidence of the honorable member for Moreton into disrepute because some questions of a certain character were addressed to him by the Shipping Commission. I am glad to say, however, that the honorable member for Moreton faithfully adheres to the opinions he expressed as a witness, and I am sure that if improper questions had been asked of him he would have been quite able to put matters right. It is a pity, after the time and labour which were devoted to the taking of evidence and the preparing of reports, that the Shipping Commission should be spoken of as it has been to-day by the honorable member for Parramatta. It is a very singular fact that the whole of the members who signed the report of that Commission were returned at the last election, whereas two members of the Commission who did not sign the report were rejected. I ought to say that one member of the Commission resigned his seat in a straightforward way.
– The hour for which the debate was extended has now expired.
– With the permission of honorable members, I should like to say a word or two before concluding my remarks.
– I hoped to commence the detailed consideration of the Tariff schedule to-day, but, as the hour is now late, I am willing that this debate should continue if any more honorable members desire to speak.
– Is it the pleasure of the House that the debate be continued?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
– Let us get on with the Tariff.
– I should be pleased to go on with the Tariff, but this morning honorable members stood up to enable the adjournment to be moved.
– No one in this part of the Chamber stood up.
– We stood up to enable a certain matter to be discussed for two hours only.
– No dissent having been expressed when I asked if it were the desire of honorable members that the debate should be continued, the matter cannot now be discussed.
– When first returned to this Parliament, I said that Federation would not be complete until there was a Commonwealth line of steam-ships running between the mainland and Tasmania. We hear a good deal about transcontinental railways, but proper communication be-, tween Tasmania and Australia can be given only by a Commonwealth line of mail steamers. The people of Flinders Island have shown themselves to be more courageous in dealing with a matter of this kind than the Commonwealth Parliament has been. They found it difficult to communicate readily with Tasmania, and therefore arranged for a steamer of their own. If certain steam-ship companies will not give concessions to those who have butter and other produce to export, we should act in accordance with the motto quoted by the honorable member for Moreton, that “ Britons never shall be slaves,” and establish a line of steamers of our own. Surely the Commonwealth could manage a service such as that as well as it could be managed by any one else, because it would be worked in the interests and for the benefit of the whole community, andthe people, realizing that, would give it their support.
.- I have been very pleased to listen to the discussion which has taken place on this question, and was more than pleased when it was inaugurated by an honorable gentleman who is not a member of the Labour Party, but one supposed to be an anti-Socialist. The action of the shipping companies seriously affects the producers of Australia, and the members of the Labour Party fully indorse what has been said in regard to it. Our conduct in supporting the honorable member proves that, although we are supposed to be class legislators, we take a keen interest in everything affecting the welfare of the people. We have been accused of inconsistency in opposing a combination which is practically asking for preference to unionists. But, speaking in the last Parliament on this question, I said -
I am not opposedper se to the Shipping Conference, which is described by some people as a “ring.” I am a trade unionist, “ and, as such, believe that every worker who fails to join a union is a fool to himself and his family. I have no particular objection to an employer enjoying the right to join a union whatever may be the name by which it is called ; but some of the features of the Shipping Conference in England are certainly inapplicable to a trade union.
I take that stand to-day. I have no objection to shipping companies or other employers forming unions ; they have as much right to do so as have employes. But, while I favour trade unionism, and have done what I can to induce men belonging to the labouring classes to join trade unions, I have always said that no union asking for preference to unionists should close its books. I have said on the public platform that, whilst a unionist has a right to declare that he will not work beside a non-unionist, his action in taking that stand makes it necessary that his union shall not close its books. When the leader of the Labour Party was in power - and I think that it has been a calamity to the Commonwealth that he did not remain in power until the present time - he moved, with the support of every member of his party, to allow men to join unions under the Arbitration Bill, taking from those who asked for preference the right to close the books of their unions.
– I moved to make the Bill clearer, in order to insure that.
– Yes ; but the shipping companies are taking another attitude. The members of the Shipping Commission were told that a new company would not be allowed to join the present English combination on the same footing as that occupied by the companies already in the ring ; that no other company could join unless it possessed sufficient capital to be able to force its way in. We were also told, in connexion with the coastal shipping combination, that no other company would be permitted to join, although it might be willing to agree to all the rules of the combination. The companies now in combination object to other companies joining them, because they say that they are able to cope with all the trade on the coast. But the rule that trade unions which ask for preference must not close their books should apply to combinations of shipping companies. The shipping companies have gone further than any trade union would go. In an instance which was brought before the Shipping Commission, an attempt was made to penalize a certain individual, not because he had not been loyal to his agreement with the ring, but because his broker in London, who was also a broker for certain shipping companies dealing with South Africa, had sent cargo by a vessel which did not belong to one of the companies in the ring. What would be thought if the members of a trade union were to say : “ We are quite satisfied with our conditions of employment, and are being treated fairly by our employers, but we are going to strike against them because an employer in South Africa has ill-treated an employ” ? It comes with an ill grace from. lawyers to object to preference to unionists. Yesterday, I asked a New South Wales barrister, who has to live a good deal of his time in Melbourne, why he, has not joined the Victorian Bar, and he told me that, in the first place, he would have to pay £50.
– That is the law of the land.
– The lawyers had a great deal to do with making it.
– That payment is made for the upkeep of the Bar library. I object to it as much as the honorable memberdoes.
– Whatever may be the purpose to which the money is applied, a man cannot join the Victorian Bar without paying £50. I am pleased to know that the Acting Prime Minister and members of the Opposition will not- support any mail contract under which every person in the Commonwealth will not be treated alike.
– And every State.
– If every individual in the Commonwealth is treated fairly, every State must also be treated fairly. At the present time, the mail companies are prepared to forward butter at a certain rate, provided that the exporter’s whole businessgoes through their hands. If he does part of his business outside the Combine, he has to pay more. I was glad to hear honorable members say that this is not treating all the members of the community alike. If Parliament determines that no mail contract shall be ratified unless it providesthat every person in the community shall be allowed to ship butter by the mail steamers at the same rate, we shall have gone a long way in the direction of establishing a State line of mail boats. The mail companies have us under the whin to some extent, so far as the carriage of perishable produce is concerned. This applies particularly to the carriage of butter, and I recognise that I am now speaking in the presence ‘of an expert, who has given considerable attention to this matter, and, as Chairman of the Shipping Commission, I wish to thank him for the evidence which he gave to us in Brisbane. Shippers of butter prefer to send their consignments by the mail steamers, because of the regular despatch and arrival of those steamers, and because their time-tables provide for a regular weekly delivery in England. While a tramp steamer mav keep to its time-table, its arrival in London often considerably disturbs the butter market. For instance, if it were known that a big shipment of butter was about to arrive by a White Star steamer, that would affect the prices given for the cargo by a Peninsular and Oriental or Orient steamer reaching London a day or two before. There is an advantage in sending all our butter to the old country bv the mail steamers, since their regularity of delivery prevents the market being suddenly over-stocked.
– A contract has been entered into with the mail company.
– To some extent the mail companies have us under the whip, because the producers prefer to send their consignments to England bv their vessels. I take it that these mail steamship companies, recognising that the rates to be fixed must depend on the extent of the consignments received by them, lay down a rule that all butter carried under an arrangement entered into before a certain date shall be liable to a lower freight than is charged under agreements subsequently entered into. The basis in each case is not the same. I understand that the Acting Prime Minister has said that the Government will take action ; that in future on entering into a mail contract, they will demand that a fixed rate shall be charged for all butter shipped by the vessels of the contracting company. It seems to me that if that course be adopted the mail companies will ask more than they are now charging. I do not mind if thev do, because every advance made- in the rates charged for the carriage of our perishable produce to England will be an additional reason for the establishment of a Commonwealth line of mail steamers. I hope that the Opposition. as well as the Government, will be firm with regard to that point.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I regret that there is a time limit fixed for the . speeches in this debate, for I was very much interested in the speech which was being delivered by the honorable member for carrier. The importance which honorable members attach to this question is shown by the fact that although under the Standing Orders a debate on a formal motion for the adjournment of the House is limited to two hours, that time limit has been considerably extended. The honorable member for Moreton has moved this motion in order to draw the attention of the House to a shipping combine, and its detrimental effect on the community. We know that such a combine exists in Australia to-day, and I propose only to address myself to the question of its prejudicial effect on the community. In his lamentations on behalf of the producers, the honorable member. for Moreton pointed out that they were injuriously affected by this combine, and suggested as a solution of the difficulty that the Government, in entering into future mail contracts, should make certain special stipulations for their protection. The honorable member for Barrier and those who think with him naturally rejoice when such an appeal is made. Every time that the evils of the shipping combine are brought before the House, they feel that thev are getting a step nearer their goal : the establishment of a State owned line of mail steamers. I think it is my duty to do more than listento the cries, reasonable or otherwise, of the producer, and of the commercial classes. It is remarkable that this complaint should have come from the anti-Socialists. I certainly have been from the first opposed to subsidies and subventions of any kind, holding that the people of Australia should not have imposed upon them any imposts designed to provide for such grants, I cannot understand how anti-Socialists are able to plead on behalf of the commercial classes that a sum of money shall be paid to a shipping company in order to facilitate their trading operations. The producers, who are also anti-Socialists, likewise ask that in their interests certain conditions shall be imposed under our mail contract, which must involve expense to ‘the general community. If a mail contract is to be anything more than one for the carriage of mails, then the directors of the shipping companies, as business men,’ will naturally ask for a higher subsidy, and if their demand be acceded to, an additional impost must be borne by the people.
– If we took the butter freights from the mail companies, they would require a higher subsidy.
– It is my duty to say something on behalf of those who are not directly concerned with the primary producing interests. The people in my electorate and others engaged in like occupations will have to pay the piper in order that the primary producers in Moreton and other electorates may have their grievance redressed. We cannot stop at the producine interests, and if we go beyond them we shall approach more closely to the goal which the honorable member for Barrier has in view. If we have fixed butter freights, under our mail contracts, it is only right that we should have fixed rates for the carriage of passengers and general cargo. If we do that, we shall get still closer to a State-owned line of steamers.
– The people will put up with that.
– If the honorable member is prepared to agree to a State-owned line of steamers, he ought to haul down the anti-Socialist flag. I am opposed to Stateowned mail steamers. It is the duty of the State to regulate and control any occu-. pation which is injurious to the general community, but I draw the line at the State-ownership of a steam-ship line. If I had the time I could show clearly that those who are opposed to the regulation and control of industries are absolutely subjected to State regulation and control from the time that they rise in the morning until they seek their beds at night. I am in favour of the Australian Industries Preservation Bill being put into operation with a view to obviating the detrimental effects of the Shipping Combine. I am told that the Acting Prime Minister intends to take action in that direction. He must deal, however, not only with the Shipping Combine but with other trusts. If we regulate and control one combine we must not allow another to escape. Apparently some honorable members think that combines are all very well when their operations do not injuriously affect one’s own electorate. The Acting Prime Minister this morning was asked what action the Government intended to take with regard to the coal vend, which has a prejudicial effect upon far more people than are affected by the operations of the ‘ Shipping Combine.
All users of coal, whether for industrial or for household purposes, are affected by the vend. We find, however, that members of the Labour Party are not so anxious to deal with that vend, for the simple reason that an increase in the price of coal is contemporaneous with an increase in the wages of the men engaged in the coal mining industry. The unionists in that industry favour the coal vend, because it has a favorable effect upon them - it results in an increase in their wages - but there are hundreds of thousands of trade unionists in other industries who are penalized by it. If the Labour Party are prepared to regulate one combine they should be prepared to regulate all of them.
– We are prepared.
– I wonder whether the honorable member for Newcastle is prepared to support action being taken, under the Australian Industries Preservation Act, against the coal vend. When that measure was under consideration, I mentioned that it would apply to that combine, but the honorable member said that it would not. The Acting Prime Minister, who shared that view, now says that he will put it into operation against’ the vend. The capitalists who own our, coal mines have to pay but a small royalty for mining in the coal reserves. The land was handed over to them under very easy leasehold conditions, and surely they should be the last to seek to take advantage of the general mass of the community, which consented so readily to this land being handed over to them. They are defeating the law of supply and demand. We are getting away from the old economic teaching that the law of supply and demand will regulate everything. I have lived long enough to waver in my adhesion to that principle. A still higher law is that of humanity and the Jove of fair dealing. When we are asked by the Labour Party to nationalize certain industries, the sentimental cry is raised. ‘ I object to such an appeal, not because of its sentiment, but because I know that the proposal could not be carried out on the lines they suggest.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– I shall have an opportunity later on to show in what respect I differ from the Labour Party. They go for the direct goal of ownership; I stand for the. absolute power of the State to regulate and control. I fail to understand how an ti- Socialists can come here one night and plead for State assistance for the commercial classes, and on the next night for State assistance for the producing classes, when they are not prepared to go a step further. I think that the people of Australia should never be asked to pay a subsidy or subvention for any purpose. ‘ A mail contract should have regard only to postal facilities. That may be an oldfashioned idea, but I present it in all seriousness to the House. Ifthe PostmasterGeneral thinks that a mail contract should provide for something more, then why should he stop at the primary producer? If he is going to include in a mail contract conditions regarding butter freights, why should he not impose conditions regulating fares and freights generally? The experiment of State-ownership of steamers would not be much more costly than would the supervision and control suggested by some honorable members.
– If we have all this supervision and control, we shall be within measurable distance of a State-owned service.
– Quite so. I can quite understand the attitude of the Labour Party, who say that we ought not to tinker with these questions. I admit the existence of a Shipping Combine, but I say that whilst we recognise the right of labour to organize we cannot refuse to recognise the right of capitalists to do the same thing. In my opinion it is the duty of the Commonwealth to prevent those persons who are outside these two parties from being crushed between them. So far the Australian Industries Preservation Act has not been tested. The sooner that it is tested the better. If experience proves that it is really a dead letter I shall adopt a bolder course than that which I have hitherto taken. The detrimental effect of the Shipping Combine is admitted by everybody. The remedy suggested by the honorable member for Moreton is that certain provisions should be inserted in the tenders for our new mail contract. I differ from him.
– What is the honorable member’s cure?
– I am not here to present one. I wish the Australian Industries Preservation Act to be tested without delay, and I may add that I am opposed to granting assistance to any particular class of our producers.
: - The honorable member for Moreton is to be congratulated upon having brought this matter before the House. I regret that so much time has been occupied in discussing it seeing that we are all practically of the same mind. In 1903 I brought before Parliament the fact that a Shipping Combine existed which regulated and controlled freights between Australia and one of her most lucrative markets - I refer to South Africa. A member of that Combine, who held a seat in this House at the time, denied that such an organization existed. To-day the position has entirely changed. It is admitted that a combination exists amongstship-owners with the avowed object of getting as much from the producers as possible. It is well, therefore, that the people should be thoroughly informed of the effects which this Combine will undoubtedly have upon industry. Its influence upon our trade with South Africa is now apparent. To a very large extent we have been squeezed out of that market to which we were entitled by ties of blood and kinship. The Argentine has virtually taken the whole of that market from us. This result is almost entirely due to the suicidal policy of the’ Combine which existed at that time. I have previously described that policy as a tax upon production. I was rather surprised to hear an honorable member opposite satirically interject that we might encourage production by imposing a duty upon butter boxes. I hold that there is a vast difference between a tax which is levied by the State and one which is levied by the individual. The State has a perfect right in the interest of the progress of the country to impose a tax. But no private individual or combination of individuals has a right to do anything of the kind. Here we have a number of men who have joined together for the purpose of penalizing those who do not give them the whole of their trade. That is what the existence of the shipping ring means, and it is a thing which Parliament cannot tolerate. I hope that the result of this discussion will be to strengthen the hands of the Government. I have no doubt whatever as to the attitude which the Postmaster-General and the Acting Prime Minister will assume. So far as they are able they will secure for the producers of the Commonwealth the best terms possible, and in addition they will see that all our producers are treated with equal consideration. Happily, in Australia we have not suffered to any extent from the effects of internal combines. But these institutions are beginning to grow in our midst both in strength and numbers.
– We have one of the worst combines in the world in Melbourne - the Brick Combine.
– The first combine from which we suffered was the sugar monopoly.
– What about the Newspaper Cable Combine?
– That was established after the formation of the Sugar Combine.
– It is one of the worst combines in existence.
– Ibelieve that it is. The formation of the Sugar Combine was soon followed by that of the Shipping Combine. Then came the Combine which controls the amount and quality of our news from other parts of the world. Subsequently we came under the heel of the Standard Oil Trust of America. The competition to which that Trust is subjected is almost a negligible quantity. Then we had the Tobacco Combine, and later still the Coal Combine.
– And the Inter-State Shipping Combine.
– That Combine, I am sorry to say, is a growth upon the South African Combine of four years ago, to which I have already alluded. Under these circumstances it behoves us to seriously consider this question with a view to seeing that the law already upon our statute-book is put into operation. If it is not sufficiently strong to accomplish the purpose for which it was enacted we shall have to amend it. It is only by doing so that we can hope to stop the growth of these noxious weeds and prevent their material increase.
– What has been the effect of the Australian Industries Preservation Act up to date ?
– I believe that it has been printed. I do not think that it has acted even as a deterrent. My own opinion is that until it is put into force it will be regarded by those who are most interested merely as a legislative declaration and that consequently its provisions will be ignored.
– Suppose that the Act fails - as it has done in America - what shall we do?
– We shall need to amend it.
– Suppose that it fails entirely ?
– The force of public opinion is more powerful than is any law.
– It has not proved so in America.
– The honorable member does not altogether appreciate the condition of things which obtains in America if he says that. Unfortunately, those who are suffering most acutely in America are not able-owing to want of organization - to give expression to their opinion.
– The combines there control thepress which supplies the public with “ doctored “ information.
– The honorable member has placed his finger upon the plague spot. It is, of course, through the press that public opinion must gain its fullest expression. But it very frequently happens that associated with these combines are lesser combines. A “ ring “ may have dependent upon it a lesser combine which may act just as prejudicially and malevolently upon the public - and even in a more aggravated form - as the combine itself. As has been said -
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘era,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
Thus we find that any parasite upon the body politic has its parasites. In Australia at the present time we have lesser combines which are prejudicially affecting the public interest. There is in connexion with one great trust which regulates production a smaller combine which regulates distribution. The latter in its turn exercises great tyranny upon those whose duty it is to serve the public. In dealing with the Shipping Combine I ask honorable members to recollect that we may have to go much further and deal with those who are in the position of suppliers to the great freight carriers which are owned by the Combine. I have been interested to notice the number of town and metropolitan members who. have addressed themselves to the question; and I feel that, perhaps, it would have been better if those who represent country districts had given us the benefit of their personal knowledge. As one who does represent a country district, I desire to say that, in addition to the shipping companies, there are other combines, which, although they are not, at the present time operating to the full extent of their power, may yet, in the near future, become a great menace to the success of the butter industry.
– As they did a few years ago.
– Yes, when they put into their pockets a large amount of money which was intended, not for them, but for the primary producers. I am as anxious as any one to proceed with the Tariff ; but I feel that the time occupied in this discussion has not been lost. I have not delivered speeches of four or five hours on the Budget and on the general question of the Budget and Tariff - in fact, I have not spoken at all, being anxious to deal with the Tariff items. But the honorable member for Moreton deserves the thanks of the House and the country for placing so prominently before us a state of affairs which, if not immediately dealt with, will have a very marked effect on not only the amount of production, but the very existence of an industry which we all hope to see flourishing.
– The honorable member for Moreton has no need to apologize for bringing this important question under the notice of honorable members. However pressing the Tariff may be, the question now before us is of the very greatest importance to the primary producers. The honorable member for Moreton must, I think, be very much surprised at the small support he has received from honorable members on his own side, especially from honorable members in the Opposition corner, who are the selfappointed guardians of the primary producers of Australia. This discussion, so far as sympathy with its object is concerned, has been left entirely to honorable members on this side.
– How does the honorable member know?
– Has the honorable member for Capricornia uttered one word to-day ?
– I have not had a chance.
– The honorable member has had as much chance as I have.
– As a matter of fact, my sympathies are entirely with the honorable member for Moreton.
– Then why does the honorable member not take the trouble to let the House and the country know the fact? If there is one thing more than another that must have astounded the honorable member for Moreton, it must have been to hear the honorable member for Flinders say that no one stood up in the Opposition corner to support the motion for adjournment.
– The honorable member for Flinders was not present.
– I think I can appeal to the honorable member for Moreton to confirm my statement that what the honorable member for Flindess said was absolutely incorrect. The honorable member for Moreton would not rise to move the adjournment of the House without having arranged for supporters, and I know perfectly well he did not come to honorable members on this side for support. Therefore the honorable member must have had promises from honorable members on the same side of the House as himself.
– We did rise in support of the motion.
– I agree that honorable members did rise to support the honorable member for Moreton, but the statement of the honorable member for Flinders shows what his idea was, namely, that he would not - nor would those over whom he had control - in a matter of such great importance to primary producers, rise to support a motion for the adjournment of the House.
– The honorable member for Flinders was not present.
– I ask honorable members not to carry on conversations across the Chamber in loud tones when an honorable member is speaking. It is most unfair to honorable members who desire to hear the debate, and also unfair to the honorable member who is speaking.
Mr. Page. - I rise to a point of order. The honorable member for Fremantle keeps interjecting that the honorable member for Flinders was not in his place when the honorable member for Moreton moved the adjournment of the House. I say emphatically that the honorable member for Flinders was sitting in the Opposition corner, and that I spoke to him.
– I point out to the honorable member for Maranoa that the facts may be exactly as he states them, but, even so, no point of order is involved ; and, further, that the honorable member’s opportunity for correcting the honorable member for Fremantle will be when the honorable member for Gippsland has sat down.
– I am sorry it is not a point of order.
– Whether they rose to support the motion or not, no one can deny that not a solitary member in the Opposition corner has risen to support the honorable member for Moreton during this debate. I was greatly surprised to hear the honorable member for Illawarra say, “Let us get on to the Tariff, which is more important.” I am a strong protectionist, and, with other honorable members, I am most anxious to see the Tariff passed ; but I also believe in seeing that the interests of the primary producers are not neglected. This nation cannot progress unless both country and city are prosperous - the interests of the one are inseparably bound up with the interests of the other. After all, this is a sort of Tariff question ; but the tariff now under discussion is introduced by the shipping companies, not for the purpose of protecting the community, or of raising revenue for the Commonwealth, but for the purpose of protecting and raising revenue for the companies themselves out of the producers. I regret that party feeling has been introduced into the discussion ; in fact, nearly all honorable members opposite who have spoken have done so in order to reply to members of the Labour Party. At the same time, I think the members of the Labour Party may, to a very great extent, be pardoned for the stand they have taken to-day. The views of that party on Socialism have been so often grossly misrepresented by those who regard themselves as the only representatives of the primary producers, that they may be pardoned for endeavouring to nullify the effect of the misrepresentation. The Labour Party have been accused to-day of turning this into a party question for the purpose of discussing Socialism. But even if they have done so, they may be pardoned under the circumstances. One remark has been made to-day which I should not like to pass without a protest. The honorable member for Parramatta accused the members of the Shipping Commission of deliberately putting questions in order to trap witnesses, and said that those witnesses, although giving evidence on oath, would have given different evidence if they had seen the effect of the questions put to them. But if there is a level-headed man, I should say it is the honorable member for Moreton ; and it is nothing less than an insult to him for the honorable member for Parramatta to suggest that he could be led to vary his evidence by. considerations of that kind. As a matter of fact, I believe that the honorable member, who went before the Commission full of most valuable information, meant every word he said.
– Hear, hear !
– It does not matter to me whether State interference is called Socialism or paternalism, the primary producers, although they may be under the leadership of honorable members opposite, theoretically anti-Socialists, display what the honorable member for Parramatta calls great common sense, but what others call Socialism, when, in any matter affecting themselves, they appeal to the Government for assistance in the same way as do those engaged in other industries. There may be a misapprehension that this question is one of interest to Queensland only. I received the impression from the remarks of the right honorable member for East Sydney that the Victorian butter companies had made a satisfactory agreement with some shipping companies; but I am informed by the honorable member for Moreton that that agreement is exactly the same as the one in force in Queensland. I know that the gentlemen who instigated the honorable member for Moreton to bring this matter before the House were the managers of theWestern District Co-operative Butter Association and the. Co-operative Butter Association of Gippsland. It will be seen, therefore, that the question is of interest, not only to Queensland, but to all butter producers throughout Australia. Of course, the facts disclosed make it imperative that something should be done by the Government. The evils are not to be remedied simply by making an agreement with the mail steam-ship companies to carry butter at a certain price. The mail steamers cannot carry all the butter ; and, in regard to the balance, the producers would still be at the mercy of other shipping companies. I should not be at all surprised if, with the great growth in production that has taken place, and the enormous capital involved, the situation does not end in the Government having to take some practical steps, in which all classes of the community except mere theorists will agree to create a line of Government steamers for water carriage, in the same way as we have Government railways throughout Australia for land carriage.
– This is no new question. On the 17th July last, the honorable member for Balaclava, on a motion for the adjournment of the House, dealt with the question of cold-storage accommodation; and it was pointed out then that the steps which the
Prime Minister had taken in order to get the co-operation of the States and failed, as pointed out again to-day by the Acting Prime Minister.
– I think there was a misunderstanding as to the conclusion that the effort was a failure.
– Does the honorable member mean that the States misunderstood the offer ?
– It was either that, or the Prime Minister misunderstood the reply of the States.
– No, the reply of the States was a distinct refusal.
– The Acting Prime Minister to-day read the answers to the letter sent by the Acting Prime Minister to the States in July, 1906, but he forgot that, at my request, within the last three months, namely, on the 17th July, he issued the following letter, already printed in Hansard, on page 603 -
I have the honour to invite your attention to the fact that this Government has recently called for tenders for a mail service between Australia and Great Britain. Copies of the conditions are forwarded herewith.
Therefore every effort has been made, unfortunately so far without success, to secure the co-operation of the States in this matter.
– Has it occurred to the Minister that replies were somewhat influenced by the Combine, that they were the result of a conference with the shipping people ?
– Our communication was merely acknowledged.
– Perhaps influence was used to prevent definite replies being sent.
– I should like to know whether the rates now being charged by the Combine are too high ?
– The old rate by the Lund, White Star, and Aberdeen boats was1s. 9d. per box, and by the mail boats1s.10d. ; and the rates which are about to come into force are 2s. 3d. and 2s. 6d. - a very substantial increase.
– Perhaps the companies were losing money on the old rates.
– I am not going into that question. The point is that they are charging exporters who will not contract with them for the whole of their business 2s.11d. instead of 2s. 3d., and 3s. 2d. instead of 2s. 6d., while an outside company is willing to carry butter for1s. iod., and to set aside 8d. to compensate for increases imposed by the Combine. I presume that it will not be argued that the butter which is being carried for1s.10d. a box is being carried at a loss. It has beenemphatically stated from all parts of the House, though the honorable member has not raised his voice.-
– It would not be wise for me to speak without knowing the facts.
– The facts have been stated.
– No one has said whether the companies are losing or making money.
– That is not our business. The objection of honorable members is to acombination against the interests of the primary producers, and the debate shows that if our legislation is not sufficient to protect them, Parliament is prepared to go further.
– Are the shipping companies to be compelled to carry on at a loss?
– Can the honorable member explain why differing rates are charged?
– That is preference to unionists.
– The honorable member may sneer at unionists.
– I am not doing so.
– If it is right for capitalists to combine to increase their profits, surely those who have only their labour have a right to do so to secure fair play. Why are the shipping companies so anxious to bind shippers’ to them within a few days of the opening of the new mail tenders? No objection can be taken to fair business combinations, having as their object the securing of reasonable conditions and the’ earning of fair profits upon capital, by preventing cut-throat competition. This is an age of cooperation, though unfortunately capitalists seem unwilling to co-operate with labour. But no one has been able to put forward a definite proposal for putting an end to a state of things which every one regards as unsatisfactory. It is indeed difficult to say how best to deal with it. Still the ventilation of the subject will show to those who control the shipping companies that, whilst Parliament has no desire that they should carry on. their business at a loss - and could not compel them to do so - it will not allow them to penalize the primary producers.
– If we keep the honorable member in office ten years longer, lie may deal with the matter.
– The honorable member was in office for some years. I think that I helped to keep him there, but he endeavoured to get me out of office at the earliest possible moment.
– These matters must be dealt with in the interests of the country.
– Of course they must be dealt with. As a matter of fact, when we made a determined effort to deal with this question, and sought to introduce competition, there was a loud outcry on the part of the honorable member and his supporters. We were told practically that it was a crime for us to step out of the beaten track and to attempt to secure a new line of steamers.
– What nonsense.
– We were subject to pin-pricks by the honorable member and his party, as well as by the newspapers which support them. Every effort was made to destroy the contract.
– The Government were complimented on the contract, and told that it would be an excellent arrangement if it could be carried out.
– I am surprised that the honorable member, as exPostmasterGeneral, should mention that contract.
– I have yet to learn that it is undesirable for a Government to try to make a good bargain for the country.
– There never was a greater fiasco.
– I admit that we failed, but I believe that had we not been attacked on party lines by some of the newspapers - and especially by those published in New South Wales which support the honorable member’s party - it would have been possible for the Prime Minister to bring that contract to a successful issue.
– I ask the honorable member not to discuss the mail contract.
– I have nothing further to say, except that I think I have shown that every effort has been made by the Government to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement. Although the States have not responded to our call, I do not think that they will long be silent. It is their duty, as well as the duty of the Commonwealth, to take action. There may be a conflict between the Commonwealth and the States, but surely we recognise that the Commonwealth and the State Legislatures are elected by the same people.
– Is that the position - that because the States will not act the Commonwealth will not ?
– No; I say that with the co-operation of the States we shall do very much better in letting a contract.
– I wish to help the honorable member.
– Such a project is pressed by the honorable member when it suits him, and is resisted by him when it does not suit him.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- At this late hour I shall occupy the attention of the House for only a few minutes. As the honorable member for Gippsland has said, very few of the Opposition have risen to support the honorable member for Moreton. The fact ‘that so many honorable members on this side of the House have remained silent is, however, not to be taken as indicating on their part a want of sympathy with the position which he has taken up. The reason why so many honorable members of the Labour Party have addressed themselves to the question is that they recognise that in dealing with this matter we are approaching within measurable distance of that which they have always favoured - the nationalization of our oversea traffic. Like the honorable member for Moreton, I am opposed to the State ownership of mail steamers ; but we do not say that it would be very wrong to establish a Commonwealth line. We simply hold that it would be undesirable. This debate, however, should show the shipping companies, which have done great work for Australia, and deserve every consideration, that unless they can prove that they are absolutely justified in raising the freights on perishable produce consigned to oversea markets, this House will be prepared to go to the extreme I have mentioned, rather than allow our producers to be victimized. We do not wish to resort to a State-owned steam-ship service.
– How would the honorable member interfere with the shipping companies?
– I should require very clear evidence that they ‘were improperly victimizing producers before I would countenance such a proposal.
– Cannot a man charge what he likes?
– If he can get it. I believe that the country would support interference , by the State should any combination avail itself of its power to in any way crush or restrict our primary industries. I rose only to emphasize the point that even those who are entirely opposed to State-owned industries recognise that they might be driven into a position where it would be very difficult to escape from them, and that in their own interests the shipping companies should take every care not to compel us to resort to that extreme.
Question resolved in the negative.
asked the Prime Min- i ster, upon notice -
Has his attention been called to an article which appeared in the Hillston Spectator of the 10th inst., stating that Dr. D. S. Jordan, Presilent of the Leland Stanford University, had written to some person in Sydney, enclosing an extract from the San Francisco Chronicle, which set out -
– The answer which has been placed in my hands is that -
The whole matter will form the subject of very careful inquiry.
asked the Ministerof Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers To the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
Minister of Trade and Customs,upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
Bible Reading in State Schools :
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Some time ago the Acting Prime Minister was questioned regarding a telegram from’ Brisbane, published in a Melbourne newspaper, to the effect that the Premier of Queensland had proposed that a referendum on the question of Bible reading in State schools should be taken at the next Federal election in that State. If I remember rightly, the Acting Prime Minister said that he was opposed to anything of the kind. My object in rising to-day is to point out that in Queensland the movement for scripture reading in State schools is a very live one ; and that, although a league which has been established for some time has been doing active work in connexion with it, it has had nothing to do with the request to the Federal Government. The suggestion was made by the Premier of Queensland, possibly with a view to avoid expense. Will the Acting Prime Minister be good enough to make a definite statement as to whether the Federal Government will allow the proposed referendum to be taken ?
– We have enough sectarianism as it is.
– I think that the Acting Prime Minister should be able to give a definite reply. This question is of very great interest to the people of Queensland, and, in the event of an adverse reply being given, the league which is working in favour of scripture lessons in State schools will, no doubt, bring influence to bear with a view to a separate referendum being taken within the next few months.
.- The other evening, when the deputy leader of the Opposition moved the adjournment of the debate, upon the Judiciary Bill, I sat with members of the Opposition for some time, and then crossed the Chamber, and voted with the Government. I wish to explain that being a new member I was not aware that the motion of the honorable member for Parramatta was tantamount to a motion of censure.
– One could not censure this Government with any motion.
– Consequently I had to choose between two evils - between passing a motion of censure upon the Government, and putting in power a set of men with whose views I have not the slightest sympathy. I did think that the Judiciary Bill and the . other measures which have since been dealt with should not have been introduced before the Tariff had been disposed of, and if I could have taken any step - short of displacing the Government - to protest against the course of procedure adopted, I should have taken it. It has been stated that I was under caucus control in respect of the vote which I gave. As a matter of fact, I acted entirely of my own accord. Seeing that the matter has been commentedupon by the press of my own State, I wish to say that I sat with the Opposition for some time owing to my want of parliamentary experience. As soon as it was pointed out to me that the motion was tantamount to a motion of censure upon the Government, I crossed the floor of the Chamber.
– It was not so regarded.
– It was.
– The motion was carried against the Government.
– It would have been regarded as a motion of censure if the decision of the Committee had not been reversed. I chose the lesser of two evils, and I feel sure that my action will be indorsed by those who sent me here.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) (4.8]. - I congratulate the young member who has just resumed his seat upon his singular candour, and also upon his happy description of theGovernment as an “ evil.” Honorable members upon this side of the House have long regarded the Government as the most crying and terrible evil with which any country could be afflicted. Consequently, we are in entire agreement with the honorable member. But I rose chiefly for the purpose of calling attention to his frank admission that if he had had his own way he would have recorded a protest against the action of the Government. Therefore, I am driven to the conclusion that the honorable member would have acted according to the dictates of his own conscience but for the fact the caucus forbade him.
Mr.J. H. Catts. - That is not correct.
– In reply to the remarks of the honorable member for Parramatta, I desire to point out that the “ youthful “ member for Cook - as he has described him - did not say anything against the Government. . He said that he was not in favour of the discussion of the Tariff being interrupted by the Judiciary Bill at that stage. However, that’ is a very small question. In answer to the observations of the honorable member for Oxley. I wish to say that on a previous occasion I stated thatI did not agree with the proposal of the Queensland Government to take a referendum upon Bible reading in State schools at the’ next Commonwealth elections. At that time I do not think that any direct application had been made by the Queensland Government in that connexion. But this afternoon the Prime Minister informed me that yesterday he received a communication from the Oueensland Premier in reference to the matter, and that immediately afterwards he had sent a reply stating that as the next Oueensland elections would probably be held about the time of the Com monwealth elections, and for other reasons, he did not think it wise to entertain the proposal. Upon the next sitting day, I shall lay upon the table of the House a copy of the Prime Minister’s reply, so that honorable members may read it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.12 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 September 1907, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1907/19070927_reps_3_39/>.