9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– The Prime Minister will have noticed that, notwithstanding the information he furnished to the House from the reports supplied to him,very alarming statements continue to appear in the press concerning the condition of the Sumatra and other vessels. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether he will consider the advisability of having an independent inquiry made into the whole of the circumstances connected with the vessels referred to?
– This, of course, is a matter of the most grave urgency. I have seen the statements to which the honorable gentleman has referred. They call for the most searching investigation and inquiry. The Sumatra, being what is known as a “King’s vessel,” her loss is not subject to a Marine Board inquiry, but we have telegraphed to the New South Wales Government requesting that such an inquiry should be held into the circumstances attending it. We are waiting for that inquiry; but at the same time we are ascertaining what facts we can, and investigating the whole of the statements against other vessels. I can assure the honorable gentleman that the’ Govern ment desire a most searching inquiry into what may be regarded as a national disaster, if not, possibly, a national reflection. The House may rest assured that the Government will take every action necessary to have the matter sifted to the bottom in order to ascertain the reason for the lamentable loss of life whioh has occurred.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the Conference having failed to settle the coal dispute, and the great inconvenience suffered by the people, owing to the limited supply and poor quality for gas producing purposes of the coal available, he will have steps taken to have the mines opened in accordance with the terms of the recent award of the Coal Tribunal, and if he will promise that any proposal to alter the conditions shall be submitted to the tribunal after resumption?
– This is also a matter of very great importance. I have noted with regret the position that has arisen in New South Wales. The Government are looking very closely into the circumstances of the case. As the honorable gentleman has suggested in his question that the mines should be opened in accordance with the terms of the recent award of the CoalTribunal, I must remind him of the discussions which have already taken placeon the subject in this House, and of my statement that the award of the Coal Tribunal has been in no way departed from, and is a subsidiary question.
– The mines are not being worked under the award.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he is in a position to make a statement to the House concerning the administration of the Mandated Territories ?
– I hope to make a statement on the subject to-morrow afternoon.
-With a view to easing the public mind on the subject of income taxation, will the Prime Minister make some statement as to the position in which matters really stand? Will he say whether the Government intend to go any further with their proposals, or will leave it to an incoming Government to deal with the question?
– I tried on Friday last to make the present position quite clear to the House. Owing to the impossibility of obtaining statistics in time to permit of Budget statements being prepared by the Commonwealth and State Governments, the proposal submitted to the Conference of Ministers will not be proceeded with during the present year. I wish, however, to make it very clear that the Government do not abandon their intention to try to define the areas of Commonwealth and State taxation in which only one taxation authority shall operate. But, as the scheme considered at the Conference cannot be proceeded with at once, the Government have submitted another proposal to have one collecting authority, to give immediate relief to the taxpayers. We intend to proceed with our endeavour to have the taxation laws of the Commonwealth and the States established on a more nearly uniform basis. There is no reason why an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State Governments that is being prepared should not be signed immediately. It will give relief to the taxpayers during the present year.
Abolition of Local Committees
– I ask the Treasurer whether he has noted that it is the intention of the Repatriation Department to disband the repatriation committees at places like Ballarat and Bendigo. If so, will the honorable gentleman take action to have full inquiry made before the work of any of the local committees is brought to a close?
– I will make full inquiry before the work of any of these committees is brought to a close.
Motion (by Mr. Austin Chapman) agreed to -
That the report be printed.
Preference of Employment
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. This was not a regulation but an instruction. It was superseded by the Governmentinstructions relative to employment of returned sailors and soldiers. 3 and 4. No record has been kept, but the Government policyhas been observed by Naval Establishments.
Officers in the Australian Imperial Force - Auxiliary Force.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of the great experience gained in the Flying Corps during the war by many members of the Australian Imperial Force, will he state -
Has the Department a complete list of such officers?
Will he favorably consider the formation of an Auxiliary Air Force?
Will he favorably consider the question of placing a number of machines at the disposal of such force for training purposes ?
Has the Department a list of names of men who served in the Air Force as mechanics ?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Exemptionfrom Navigation Act
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Government, with a view of promoting the development of Papua, exempt the latter from the provisions of the Navigation Act, inwhole or in part?
– The matterwill receive consideration.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are us follow : -
asked the Minister for Defence -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr.BRENNAN asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether, havingregardto the trying nature of the climate and the exceptional conditions prevailing in otherrespects, he will consider the propriety of introducing a superannuation scheme for public servants in tropical parts of Australia andthe Mandated Territories, notably Rabaul?
– Thissuggestion has already beenbrought officially under the notice of the Government, and will be duly considered.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answer to each of the honorable member’s questions is “ No.”
The following papers were presented : -
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of1923 - No. 5 - Recreation Land Leases.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1923, No. 81.
Debate resumed from 6th July (vide page 820), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I approach the consideration of this measure with some diffidence, because, unlike the former Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who was responsible for its creation and administration during the war, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), who has administered the Line since his accession to office, I have not been brought into close touch with its manager or high officials, and therefore I cannot speak with an. intimate knowledge of its operations. However, I compliment the Government upon the introduction of the Bill, the object of which is to place the control of the Line on a sound business footing. At the outset, the manager was, faced with extraordinary difficulties. The Line was established in a time of stress, and before the manager could hope to compete with existing shipping companies he had to establish agencies here and in Great Britain, appoint all the officials, and do a great deal of other preparatory work. It isnot for me to say now if mistakes have been made. Some honorable members holdthat the Line has not been worked to the best advantage; that because’ freights have been maintained at a high level, on many occasions ships were allowed to leave Australia without full cargoes. It is gratifying to know that by the appointment of a Board the business willbe brought into line with other shipping businesses. I suppose that, if Parliament were to be asked to vote a salary of £10,000 per annum to. the manager of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, there would be something like a public outcry ; but it is a fact that the Peninsular and
Oriental Steam Navigation. Company and other shipping companies offer very high salaries in order to attract to their services the best men available, and thus enable them to meet the keenest competition. Much will depend upon the personnel of the proposed Board. The Line consists of about forty ships, with four new vessels under construction, and the capital value, so we have been told, is. to be written down by about £8,000,000. Many of the Commonwealth vessels that were purchased during the war have more than paid for themselves by their war work, the value of which cannot be overestimated. It is quite reasonable that their value should now be written down, in order that the Line may be in a position to meet the keen competition expected from the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, the Orient Steam Navigation Company, the White Star Company, and other companies, that are building larger ships for the Australian trade. The Commonwealth Line includes five vessels of over 13,000 tons register, but the private companies named already have larger ships, such as the Ceramic, of 18,500 tons, and the new Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s vessel of 20,000 tons. I do not know whether large ships will be a success. The economic running of very big ships is still in the experimental stage; but the fact that keen business men controlling the private companies have decided to increase the size of their steamers is, I think, evidence of their: determination to fight the Commonwealth Line. If the Board is to compete successfully with private shipping lines it must be prepared to employ ships as large as those used by other lines. It must also cater for the general public by providing a more frequent service. At present the “ Bay “ steamers maintain a monthly service, whereas the vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Company and the Orient Company run on a fortnightly time-table. The exporter who is anxious to ship goods to Great Britain once a fortnight cannot be expected to chop and change about, from the Commonwealth steamers to the Orient or Peninsular and Oriental steamers. Naturally, he will adhere to one line, and that will be the one that affords him the service he requires. Therefore, in order to compete successfully with private lines the Commonwealth’s steamers must be up to date, and must give at least a fortnightly service.
I am pleased to note that this Bill will enable the Board to take whatever steps are necessary to increase the fleet. I hope that some of the old steamers will be sold, and that the proceeds will be devoted to the purchase of additional uptodatevessels.
Those countries which have been successful in, developing their mercantile marine have done so by means of subsidies. Germany subsidized ships to go to all parts of the world to secure trade for her people.
– That is a good policy.
– It is. If we want to develop trade we must subsidize those shipping companies who are willing to’ undertake the pioneering work of opening up overseas markets for our produce. As a matter of fact we pay a subsidy of £53,000 a year to Burns, Philp and Company to maintain a service of steamers to the Pacific Islands. We also subsidize the Orient Company to the extent of £135,000 a year, to have our mails carried to Great Britain. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) has told us that there is a great opening for Australian produce in the East. We should offer a subsidy to the Commonwealth Line of Steamers to induce them to place on that trade large steamers with ample refrigerated space.- They could not make a success of that venture without some subsidy, and I am afraid that, generally, they will have little chance of competing successfully with vessels owned by private companies unless we subsidize ,them. Therefore, I hope that’ the Government will be generous to the Board, and give them at least the same subsidies as are now given to Burns, Philp and Company and the Orient Company. Why should not our own vessels carry our mails to Great Britain ? They are as fast’ as those which are now Carrying them. The contract made by the Postmaster-General with the Orient Company is based on the speed of the slowest available steamer. Twenty years ago one could travel to Great Britain as fast as one can travel now. Some of the vessels may be speedier, but others are slow, and the mail contract is based on the speed of the slowest. We should insist on the mails being delivered by the speedier passenger vessels owned by the Commonwealth.
If the Commonwealth Line of Steamers are supported by the people of the Commonwealth they will have a great opportunity to make good. It is useless for our people to declare their belief in a Commonwealth Shipping Line, and yet not patronize it. Freights cannot be reduced unless full cargoes are supplied. The overhead charges and working expenses are just as high for half a cargo as they are for a full cargo. If the people of Australia can supply full cargoes for the Commonwealth Line of Steamers it will help considerably in making the Line a success.
The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) said that when he read of the losses sustained by the Commonwealth steamers he was so staggered that he felt inclined to “ let the whole thing go.”’ At first I had the same feeling, but when I learned of the cause of these losses I changed my opinion. It is. pleasing to note the fact that some honorable members of the Country party are friendly to the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. It is only right that the primary producers should know why their representatives are supporting the continuance of this Line. If it be true that the Commonwealth’s vessels are charging for farmers’ produce higher freights than private companies are charging, there is something wrong.
– If that is the case the producers cannot be blamed for not making use of the Line.
– That is so. But 1 would remind the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), who. says that he is inclined to “let the whole thing go,” that when we -ask a Government to extend railways into country districts we know that the lines when built are not likely to pay. Railways extended into country districts are not expected to pay at first; they are built for the purpose of developing the resources of the country, and affording primary producers an opportunity to get their produce to a market.
– Main roads are not expected to pay.
– No. Yet we would not be justified in ceasing to build railways or main roads on the ground that they may not show a profit. Of what use is it to build railways and enable the farmer to send his produce to a port only to find that, possibly * owing to a combination of. shipping companies, he cannot ship more than a portion of his produce, and that only at a prohibitive rate? The key to the situation is for the people of the country to have their own line of steamers, and so prevent such a possibility. I believe that the proposed Board will arrive at an understanding with the exporters, so that the latter will be able to secure reasonable freights.
Honorable members of the Labour party regret the necessity for the scrapping of some of the older vessels owned by the Commonwealth, but we realize that it is best to scrap them, and so put the Line on a decent footing. I know how difficult it is to control a shipping line. It . is not like running a bank. A shipping line has a difficult class of men to handle. Its employees are away from their homes for long periods. They have very heavy work to perform in the stoke-holds and elsewhere, and the least thing that sours or irritates them causes disputes. But my impression is that the management have displayed very little discretion in some of the small matters that have recently caused -disputes and stoppages. I do not know whether the men in control are natives of Australia or not, but I am sure that if they had had some experience in dealing with Australian labour a lot of the disputes could have been settled without- very serious stoppages of the service. They seem to try to run things with a very high hand, their attitude being, “ Those are our conditions; take them or leave them.” Seamen are differently situated from other men. They sacrifice all home life by taking up the sea-faring occupation. I should not like - I do not think honorable members in this House would - to follow a seafaring life! We ought to realize that a man cannot be too highly paid for taking his life in his hands, as these men do when they “ go down to the sea in ships.” Theirs is a very precarious existence. I hope that the management of the Line will’ endeavour to work in harmony with the men.
My Leader, Mr. Charlton, suggested certain alterations to the measure. He said that we ought to try to make the Line purely Australian. I agree with him. The head office should be in Australia instead of in London. We do not desire to have the London atmosphere surrounding its business. Those of us who came to Australia from the Old Country had in view the betterment of our condition; we desired to escape from the old conditions. If the Line has its head-quarters in Australia, it will work in an Australian atmosphere. The manager should live in this country, and the crews should be taken, as far as possible, from the taxpayers of this country, as our sailors contribute their share towards the cost of running this Line. I would not make it imperative to employ only Australians; but as many as possible of our own people should be employed. The requirements of the fleet should be met, to as great an extent as possible, in Australia.’ We can assist the man on the land by purchasing his commodities, and can assist the manufacturers by purchasing from them the articles that are required by the ships. Repairs also should be effected in this country. We should obtain the best possible man to manage the business, no matter what the cost might be. Private companies do not quibble over a few paltry pounds, they look for the man who is most suitable, and offer a sufficiently high salary to attract him. That was the policy which was adopted by the Government when the Commonwealth Bank was established, and the gentleman who was appointed to the position of Governor of the Bank made a success of it. The salary .which he received was a mere nothing compared with the profits he made. There is a great opportunity in Australia for the building up of a shipping line. We have produce which we desire to export to other countries. In the East there exists a great market for our flour, wheat, butter, meat, rabbits, jams and fruits; yet no real effort is being made to capture that trade. We have a Trade Commissioner in China, who has reported that there is an excellent market there for our foodstuffs. There would be no use in our keeping a representative in China if we had not the means to develop the trade which he seeks. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) has pointed out that Japan offers a splendid market for our meat. Unless we send our ships there with our meat, we shall not be able to capture that market. We are ten days nearer to the East than America is, yet America is capturing those markets. We should be up and doing. We should give the Commonwealth Line a bonus to encourage it to open up trade with the East.
I congratulate the Government on having brought this measure down. We are giving the Board a fair start, without a heavy handicap of debt. We must realize, of course, that we shallhave to meet strong opposition from the Shipping Combine; we cannot expect that it is going to receive the Line in any friendly spirit, and allow it to secure a share of the trade that is offering. We know from past experience that the Combine attempted to have our ships boycotted, by granting a concession to those who patronized their ships. This is the list, taken from Lloyd’sRegister of Shipping for 1922-23, of the largest companies operating ships, with many of which the Commonwealth Line will have to compete: -
Although we are placing the Commonwealth Line on a fair basis, I think it will be necessary also to give a subsidy for the carriage of our produce to markets in which it is not, at present, profitable to trade. By doing so, we shall be building up our trade and making the Line successful.
I hope that we shall have an opportunity, in Committee, of dealing with the amendments foreshadowed by my Leader. It would be a move in the right direction to have on the Board a representative of the employees to advise the management regarding labour conditions. Some private companies have given representation to their employees on the Board of Management, and the practice has proved successful. The Commonwealth has been noted for its experimental legislation. Here the Government have the opportunity to test the efficacy of the system of allowing the employeesto have a say in the management of this concern. If the employees had a representative on the Board they would be guided by his advice. I have met many men who are engaged in the industry, and have noted the keen, bright intellects they possess. If the unions are called upon to elect a representative they will elect the best man. We hope to be able to assist the Government to make this measure a. success, and the Commonwealth Line a bright gem in the crown of the Commonwealth.
.- I am able to give to this measure whole-hearted support - so far, at any rate, as its underlying principles are concerned. As the right honorable gentleman who moved the second reading (Mr. Bruce) said, it was the intention of the last Government to introduce such a measure, that having been its policy for some considerable time. The right honorable gentleman emphasized, very strongly, the point that this was the substitution of a Board for political control. If he meant it to be inferred that at any time since the inception of the Line there has been political control in the sense that the Government or Parliament has in any way interfered with the management of the Line, I say that there has not. been any political control. No private concern has. been allowed so much freedom in carrying out its policy as has: the management of this Line. The manager of a private company is responsible ‘to bis Board, which not only lays down a policy, but very frequently takes part in carrying it out. A Board of Directors at times interferes with the major details of a business, but there never has been any interference -with the manager of .the Commonwealth Government Line. ‘.The Board proposed in the .Bill will interfere -with the management. If the Board is a good one, that will be right and proper, but if it is a bad one, its interference will be most unfortunate, and the last state of the Line will be worse than the first. The greatest difficulty will be encountered in finding suitable men to serve on the Board. A Board is not of itself a synonym of excellence. It is composed of men, abd is good or bad just as they are competent or incompetent. Some people seem to assume that there is inherent in private enterprise a virtue which invariably leads to success, but the Bankruptcy Court is strewn with the wrecks of those who have set sail on the ocean of adventure and come to grief. Everything will depend on obtaining the right personnel for the Board, and in this a difficulty will arise at the very outset. Where can the Government obtain men for the Board ? It is, -of course, true that in a hig concern a man may do very well without knowing much of the details of the business in which he is engaged, provided he has the capacity of a > good administrator; in fact, it is frequently .better that he ‘should leave the details of the business to .other persons. I say nothing at this stage about the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), but it is obvious that we must have on the Board at least one man who understands how to make shipping pay. That above all things. I shall say something more about the Conference Lines in a few moments; but it is sufficient for me now to say that they are so powerful, and their influence is so wide, that they are able to command the very best of the brains that are available for this class of enterprise. It is not easy, as I have found, to get men who are at once competent and outside the influence of the Conference Lines. I am sure that the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) will realize that no salary can be too high to pay for competent men. Incompetent men are dear at any price.
A notable feature of the Prime Minister’s proposal is the extraordinary reduction of valuations ‘which be has thought proper to make. I do not understand the motive underlying his action. Who can benefit by iti Not the Commonwealth, for, as a ship-owner, it places itself distinctly at a disadvantage by writing down the value of property that it has to sell., and by shouting the fact of its worthlessness from the house tops. The right honorable gentleman affected to be very reluctant to disclose the names of the valuers, and the extent to which the various classes of ships had been written down, “because,” he said, “we are sellers of ships.” But every potential buyer will know from his speech that he is asked to buy soiled stock. He has been told ,so by the man who has the ships to sell - he has been told, in ‘fact, that they are not worth buying. If I were going to sell ships that kind of speech is the last that I would make. It does not benefit the State, then, to reduce the valuations of the ships, and the reduction, I shall shaw, can hardly ‘be justified by the facts. It cannot ‘benefit the shipper of goods. It appears to me that the only party that will be benefited will be the ‘Board. It is asked to take control of an enterprise which, during the last five years, has conducted its operations as ordinary firms do, having been subject to the fluctuations of the market, both in regard to freights and values. The Board is now told that it is required to conduct the concern upon the basis of a valuation which is 33 per cent, of >the present book valuation. The prospect before the Board is most enticing ! - It is very good for the Board, but for no one else. The reduction is not justified by the circumstances of the market at the present time, nor by the position in which the Line finds itself. The Prime Minister said that these valuations have been given to him by firstclass ship valuers. I ask him to tell the House who they were, because, when we are dealing with property of a kind of which 90 per cent, is under the control of one combination, to which 90 per cent, of the people who get their living in shipping must look for employment, and, further, when that combination can be the only ‘buyer of these ships, it is rather important to know the names of the valuers who are responsible for the great reduction of values. I venture to say that the Line would have been sold, lock, stock, and barrel, for very considerably more than the value which he now proposes to put on it. I make that statement, knowing exactly what I am talking about.
Let us consider these valuations. It is proposed, as honorable members know, to write down the value of the Line by £8,04S,438. Some honorable members may be under the impression that the values which it. is proposed to write down represent the cost of the vessels to us. Nothing could be further from the truth, because, with the exception of the “ Bay “ liners, the vessels have been written down year by year. When the criticism is offered that interest and depreciation have not been charged, it is only fair to point out that the value of the vessels, up to the time of the speech to which the right honorable gentleman referred, and subsequently up to February of this year, had all been written down year by year in the manner customary with shipping firms. The “ Australs,” which were the original fleet, were written down 10 per cent, per annum. I have not all the records by me, of course, but I have a very clear recollection of those of the years up to 30th June, 1922. I have not last year’s record, but I have that of 1921-22. In that year the fleet was written down : - “ Australs,” 10 per cent. ; “ D “ and “ E “ vessels, 10 per cent. ; and ex-enemy vessels, 5 per cent. In February, 1922, the book value of the “D” vessels was £901,322, and the market value £336,000; the book value of the “ E “ class was £1,201,171, and the market value £666,000; the book value of the “Australs” was £981,057, the market value £395,525 ; the book value of the ex-enemy vessels £854,810, and their market value £850,000. The ex-enemy vessels had been obtained very cheaply, and this accounts for only £4,810 being written ofl. The “ Bay “ steamers, which at that time were only being delivered, all of them not having made their first trips, had a book value of £5,760,000, and a market value of £3,500,000. The reduction of values proposed by the Prime Minister, in my opinion, not’ only places the Commonwealth at a disadvantage as the seller of the ships, but reflects on the policy of the previous Government, and
Mr. W. M. Hughes. on the management of the Line during the period from its inception to last February. It is most emphatically justified by the facts. When it was proposed to place the Line under a Board, it was suggested by the manager - in 1921, and again in 1922 - that the book values should be written down as follows: - “ D “ and “ E “ vessels, to £10 per ton; “ Australs,” to £5 per ton; exenemy vessels, to £6 15s. per ton; and “ Bay “ steamers, to £46 13s. 4d. per ton.. These reductions in the aggregate were as follows : - “ D “ vessels, £565,322 : “E” vessels, £1,441,171; “Australs.” £585,532; ex-enemy vessels, £4,810; and. ‘ Bay “ vessels, £2,260,000- a total writing down of £4,856,835. In February. 1922, the management of the Line was of the considered opinion that a writing down of values to £4,856,835 would be sufficient, yet to-day it is proposed to write them down by £8,048,438. Why? What has transpired during the last few months to warrant such an extraordinary reduction on the previous estimate of what was fair for the Line as a business concern ?
The Prime Minister in his speech dwelt insistently upon the losses, which he explained away, but which apparently he regarded as due, in the main, apart from the depression in the world’s trade, to the unsuitability and the high initial cost of the “ D “ and “ E “ steamers. Now, it so happens that these steamers were built in Australia, and it is said of them that they are unsuitable for the trade, that they cost a great deal to make, and that it was because of this, apart from the world depression, that the Line did not pay. I do not think the facts support that argument, for a moment. The Prime Minister said that the “D” and “ E “ vessels were very well made. They were very well made, indeed; as well made as ships could be anywhere; and they were made by men who, for the most part, had no previous experience of such a class of shipbuilding. It would be improper to me to compare those ships with others made under similar circumstances by workmen in other countries having no more experience than our own men, but I am safe in saying that any of the ships built in Australia will compare with ships built, not. in such countries as I have referred to, but built at any place at any time.
These vessels were designed by Mr. Curchin, who was the best man obtainable. It will probably be news to honorable members and others to know that they were built to au English design, and that Great Britain, which at that time was turning out shipping by millions of tons, was building ships to these very same designs. It was a type of ship that could be built rapidly, and the experts of Britain then thought it the most suited to the circumstances in which the Empire found itself. The position in regard to the’ “D” and “E” ships is this: We took every care to ascertain what was considered the most suitable class of ship, and on the advice of the English authorities we built the “ D “ and “ E “ class. Mr. Curchin in carrying out his work was not interfered with. He was put in control. The Government looked for results, and did not interfere with him. I say, too, that no industry in these times has ever worked so smoothly as did the shipping industry during the years it was in operation. I have had a somewhat chequered experience of industrial affairs, and I should consider myself most fortunate to be connected with an organiza-tion that worked half so smoothly. We were advised that the design was most suitable. But the Prime Minister now says it was unsuitable. I do not deny for a moment that the management of the Line may have thought it unsuitable. But the British authorities thought it suitable, and advised us to build the vessels. The cost of these vessels has been disclosed many times; it ranged from £30 to £36 a ton. In February, 1922, the management thought that writing down to £10 a ton was sufficient for this class of vessel. The “Austral,” the “ex-enemy,” and “ Bay-‘’ classes were written down to £6, £6 15s., and £46 13s. 4d. per ton respectively. This involved a total reduction of values of £4,856,835. No doubt it will be said that dur- ing -the last twelve months the values have still further declined. I do not say that they have not, but I do not believe for one moment that they have declined to the extent indicated by the Prime Minister. We are confronted with two sets of figures - a reduction of £8,000,000 and a reduction of £4,000,000. The gap is too wide; the explanation of the Prime Minister does. not bridge it. It was stated that there had been a very heavy loss on the “ D “ and “ E “ steamers, and, according to the right honorable member’s statement, the direct loss in 1921-22 was £168,618, and, if depreciation be taken into account, £448,893. Even those figures would not account for anything like the loss that we were told has been made. He tells us that the loss in 1921-22 was £1,200,000, while the estimated loss for the year just closed is £1,600,000, or thereabouts. There were no losses or very little, on the “ Austral “ and “ ex-enemy “ ships. Where were the losses ? It is very obvious that the figures presented show very clearly where the losses have occurred, and that is, on the “ Bay “ ships. I am very anxious to know by what amount the “ Bay “ ships are now written down. I have reminded honorable members what figure they stood at in the manager’s estimate in 1922, when the book value was £5,760,000. Some of these vessels are barely eighteen months old, they are all brand-new ships. I have said that their market value in February, 1922, was £3,500,000, but it has since declined to £2,260,000. Even including the cost of the two new ships of 12,000 tons, which I have not mentioned, there is a great difference between these figures and the result of writing off over £8,000,000,. and it can only be explained by a further writing down of the “ Bay “ ships. In arriving at an estimate of the value of ships similar to the “ Bay “ steamers, one has to consider, the circumstances. It is no use saying - “Well, these ships cost so much to build.” The honorable member for South Sydney has just asked, “ What is the policy of the great shipping companies of the world?” The large shipping companies are pursuing the only policy that can be followed by firms which find themselves confronted with circumstances such as those now surrounding them. They are launching out and building great and still greater steamers. They show no signs whatever of being appalled by the’ prospects* of trade. How much are they paying for these great palatial Steamers that ‘are ‘ being built? Very great sums.’ The manager of the Commonwealth Line himself stated to me that “it was impos.sible to place a current market value on the ‘Bay’ ships, because they are a special class of vessel built for a special trade.” But somebody has done it! Who, and at what has he valued them? I want to make it clear that the Board is to have put into its hands assets the book value of which exceeds £12,000,000. In February, 1922, the book value, according to the manager, was £10,596,000, and he proposed that it should be written down to £4,718,000, which is a reduction of 50 per cent., or a little more. Now it is proposed to write them down by 66 per cent. The “ Bay “ steamer is the only class that can be written down. The “ Austral “ class cannot be written . down ‘below £5 per ton, nor the “ex-enemy” class below £6 15s. The “ D “ and “ E “ vessels at £10 per ton are very cheap. It may be perfectly true that a quotation can be obtained from Scottish and British shipbuilding yards at £8 per ton ; but a fleet of vessels such as those of the ” B “ and “ E “ class cannot be obtained at that price, and £10 per ton is a fair valuation for them. In regard to the “ Bay “ steamers - they are the trouble - I cannot see why the management does not face the position fairly, and say that, although these ships are at present unprofitable, they will eventually be a paying proposition. Why this effort to discredit the Australian-built ships of the “ D “ and “E” classes. Without the “Bay” steamers, whether they pay now or not, the Line could not last, and would not pay. I agree with the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) that what we need to do, if we are going on with the Line - and are not creating a Board to get rid of the ships - is to build more vessels of the “ Bay “ class. We must either get out of the business or go on with it in ship-shape fashion. There is no half-way house, and the Government cannot run a great concern such as this without incurring some losses. We must have the best the world can provide, and must cater for the trade between Europe and Australia, and Australia and the East, as well as between here and other parts of the world.
While it seems to be assumed that de- preciation has nob been charged on the ships, in the presentation of the accounts, that is not so. The book value of the “ Austral “ vessels at 30th June, 19.21, was £12 8s. per ton, that of the “ D “
Mr. TP. M. Hughes. and “ E “ class vessels £26 16s. 6d. per ton, and that of the ex-enemy vessels £6 15s. 5d. per ton. The valuations of all these vessels have been gradually reduced. The Prime Minister did not refer to the insurance fund, which is an asset, and. which, in 1921, stood at £674,000. Before I pass from this point I desire to repeat that, in my opinion, & reduction of valuation below £10 for the “ D “ and “ E “ ships, £5 for the “ Australs,” £6 15s. for the ex-enemy ships, and £46 13s. 4d. per ton for the “Bay “ steamers, which involves a total reduction of £4,856,835, is unjustified. To that amount must be added the reductions to be made in connexion with the two vessels now under construction at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. A Board which cannot make such a concern as this shipping line profitable on the valuation now proposed will not be a business. Board. The manager of the Line was confident that on the reduced valuation made in 1921 he could make the Line pay.
Very little was said by the right honorable gentleman concerning the real position of the shipping venture of th© Nationalist Government. He said that the Commonwealth Line had conferred great benefits upon Australia, but on© might almost assume that the benefitswere mythical, or analogous to that class referred to by defeated candidates as “ moral “ victories ! The benefits which the Line has conferred upon the community were very substantial, and can be measured by the current coin of the realm. The accumulated net profits at 30th June, 1921, excluding ex-enemy vessels prior to 30tb June”, 1920, was £3,718,000, and including the ex-enemy vessels, £7,784,582. lt may be said that interest was not paid on the capital involved, and in a sens© that’ is true. But supposing a 5 per cent. dividend had been paid on these earnings,, the accumulated net profits of the fleet, excluding ex-enemy vessels, a,t 30th June, would have been £3,184,236, and if a 10 per cent, dividend had been paid the amount would have been £2,650,152. If we include- the net earnings of the exenemy ships, and a 5 per cent, dividend had been paid, the amount would have been £7,250,502, and if a 10 per centdividend had been paid, the amount would have been £6,716,418. That is to say, that nearly £7,000,000 would be now available in the Treasury after a 10 per cent, dividend had been paid. These are the facts which the Prime Minister passed over very lightly. That is the balance available for the reduction of capital. It is useless juggling with the facts. There they are. The balance over and above the 10 per cent, dividend would be available for the reduction of values, which, under the manager’s proposal in 1921, amounted to £4,856,000, so that, utilizing the accumulated profits from the Commonwealth Line, plus those of the ex-enemy ships, there is a balance in excess of the amount to be written off of £2,413,667.
The Prime Minister, holding the opinions he does, is to be congratulated upon having brought down this measure for the control of what, after all, is essentially a Government enterprise. If it is not a Government enterprise, what is it? There is a tendency nowadays in this and other countries for persons to be caught with catch phrases. Undertakings are damned in the ©yes of some because they are conducted by private enterprise; others, again, are denounced because they are controlled by a Government. Surely the more sensible way would be to consider every ‘business undertaking on its merits. A great deal may be said in favour of private enterprise; on the other hand, quite a lot can be said against it. We have to consider the circumstances of each case. Let is, for a moment, look at the present one. What alternative have we, as sensible people, to acting as we are doing ? The very soul and virtue of private enterprise is competition, which, it is said, is killed when a Government takes control. There is, unfortunately, too much truth in the latter part of this statement. But I ask. looking at the matter fairly, how much competition is there now in Britishowned shipping? For all practical purposes there is no competition between Australia and Great Britain other than that of the Commonwealth Line with the Conference Lines. I do not say that there are no tramp steamers, and no Norwegian or American ships, coming here, but a glance at the statistical returns shows that the overwhelming bulk of the tonnage is British, nearly all controlled by the Conference Lines I am not against the Conference Lines; I recognise that the British shipping industry could not live under present world conditions unless it was united in some way to enable it to make headway against its host of dangerous rivals. I realize, therefore, that the shipping firms are doing the only thing they can do; it is necessary for them to combine. But what about the shipper in Australia? Human nature is a curious thing. It enters in by the tiniest crevice; it is found everywhere, and it is in the shipping ring, without a doubt. And human nature being what it is, will any honorable member say that it is for the benefit of Australia., as part of the Empire, that the only vessels by which we can. send our goods to England should be controlled- by one great corporation ? No one will say that for a moment. Usually Government enterprise pushes out all competition, but at least the Commonwealth Line is not open to that charge. It does not exclude competition ; it merely creates it. Compared with the aggregate tonnage of all the other lines, it is probably as one to five, or one to ten - I do not ‘know - but its existence insures, in this case, competition, and that is a thing devoutly to be wished.
The Commonwealth Shipping Line is a Government-controlled line, and it will not cease to be so under a Board. That must be made perfectly clear. The railways of this country are no less Government enterprises because they are managed by Commissioners, nor are the municipal ‘ tramways any less State instrumentalities for being administered :by Trusts. The Prime Minister said that the Commonwealth Line was not a State instrumentality, and he contended - as it is very easy to do when one makes at once the definitions and the conditions under which these apply - that a Governmentinstrumentality does not pay taxes, and as the Commonwealth Line will pay taxes, it is therefore not a Government instrumentality.’ But that is not the position. A Government- instrumentality is an enterprise controlled by the State. This Line is controlled by the State, therefore, !is a Government instrumentality. What nonsense it is to talk about the contributions of this Lino to the taxation o,f the State making any difference! It is a mere bookkeeping arrangement; one Department crediting another Department with part of the moneys which belong to the Commonwealth. This Line is a State instrumentality. I am not, and never was, afraid of names. No doubt the Prime Minister, as he proceeds along his path, will come across many things that will, at first, fill him with horror, and which he will try to put aside by giving them pleasant names, but eventually he will accept them for what they are. I have only to repeat that I shall be very glad to support the basic principle of the measure. I do not believe that the reduction of capital ought to go to anything like the length suggested. Prom the right honorable gentleman’s own speechit is now abundantly clear that the Linehas done great work for Australia, and its record, judged even by commercial standards, has justified its existence. There are not more than one or two members in this Chamber who would to-day suggest that we should do away with the Commonwealth Shipping Line. It is something to have lived down the fierce opposition with which it was for years assailed; to have killed the desire to get rid of it ; to have lived to see the day when those “ who came to scoff, remained to pray.” The Prime Minister has shown that, compared with the people of the United States of America and Canada, we may regard ourselves as exceedingly fortunate. The right honorable gentleman said nothing about depreciation in America, yet although that country has lost nearly £500,000,000 on her fleet, she is not going to scrap it. The people of that country have had experience of combines on land, and they are not going to scrap their fleet, because they know that combines at sea are as little likely to consider the interests of shippers. For the reason that we have State-owned railways, America is going to have a State-owned shipping line, and we have a State-owned shipping Line for the reason for which we’ have had Stateowned railways for many years, and are determined to continue the State ownership of railways.
The Bill insures the stability of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. “Whatever may happen now, the Line can be killed only by the Board. In the circumstances, it is very important to know who are going to be appointed to the Board.
During the years when I have had to do with the .Line I found it exceedingly difficult to keep clear of the influence of the Conference Lines. The Line has come to stay. It has fought during these years against fierce competition. The rebate system, a, most unfair method of competition, was used against it, but the Line has lived that down, and is today no longer in any danger from such methods. It has made thousands of friends throughout this country among those engaged in producing interests. It has found employment for very many Australian sailors. I understand from the Prime Minister that it is not intended to change the port of registry, or to make this other than an Australian Line, in fact, as well as in name. I should be very strongly opposed to any suggestion to do otherwise. The Line has brought many millions to this country which would, but for it; have been spent overseas for stores and other things, and it now provides one, if not the most effective, means of bringing immigrants to this country.
I am very pleased to think that the Bill is likely to receive the support of the House. I view its introduction with great satisfaction, not unmixed, however, with a certain anxiety as to the personnel of the Board, and what the Board will do with the great powers given to it under the measure. Greater powers are to be given to the Board under this Bill than any shareholders in a private company would give to their directors. The members of the Board are to be given power to sell what vessels they like, at apparently at what price they please, and we are to have no control over them. I say nothing about that, because if we get the right men - competent mcn, determined to make the Line a success - I am perfectly willing that they shall have such powers. But to hand such powers over to incompetent men, dr to men who might desire that the Line should come to an untimely end, would be a very grave danger.
.- I have listened with a great deal of interest to the utterances of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes). I have been gratified to hear that he still retains a belief in the national necessity for the retention of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. But I am afraid that if the right honorable gentleman continues to make speeches so disturbing from the standpoint of the party with which he is associated, he will, like Ishmael, be cast out into the political wilderness. I express my intention to support many of the features of the Bill, but I cannot agree that the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) is entitled to be congratulated upon the introduction of the measure. The fact that the right honorable gentleman has expressed opposition to all forms of State enterprise exposes him and his Government to suspicion, as to whether they really desire this shipping Line to continue. I am reminded of the Words of the old song, “The Gypsy’s Warning”-
Do not trust him, gentle lady,
Tho’ his voice be low and sweet. particularly when I look upon the blushing country lass - I refer to the one-time Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) - whom the Prime Minister some time ago so basely betrayed and politically ruined in the eyes of the electors of Australia. The “ ancient and fish-like smell “ surrounding the sale of the Geelong Woollen Mills still lingers in my nostrils, and increases the doubts I entertain as to whether the Government have a real and earnest desire to insure the success of the Commonwealth Shipping Line.
In deciding to retain the fleet, the Government aro merely carrying out the mandate of the people at the last elections. The Government are afraid to dispose of the Line because they realize the public wrath which would arise from the adoption of such a course. They have, further, to conciliate the dangerous political Cerberus who sits in the corner opposite - I refer to the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) - and they have no doubt decided to continue to carry on the Line as a kind of sop to keep him quiet for the time being, or at least to induce him to modify his criticism. We all know that the right honorable member for North Sydney still has designs upon the Treasury bench, and we are led to believe that there are a few honorable members on the opposite side who were excluded from the present Government ready to support him. So that one can well understand why the Prime Minister trembles when the right honorable member for North
Sydney, like a pirate of old, brandishes his political cutlass, as he does from time to time. I have no political sympathy with either the right honorable member for North Sydney, the present Government, or any alternative to the present Government other than a straight-out Labour Government. But I feel justified in commenting thus upon this political conglomeration opposite which, composed of opposing elements, cannot afford the people of Australia any promise of stable government.
– Order! The honorable member will not find thatconglomeration mentioned in the Bill.
– That is so, but I am merely expressing my political distrust of the Government in connexion with this measure. The Government have done no more than they should have done in writing off the losses and reducing the valuation of the fleet. In that they have only carried out their national duty. I am most concerned, not with what the Bill actually contains, hut with what has been left out of it. There are some provisions of the Bill that are calculated to paralyze the Line. It is in that which has been left out of the Bill that we shall find the “nigger in the wood pile.” In writing down the valuation of the fleet, the Government have merely copied the example of every other country in the world. The United States of America, as has been mentioned during the debate, was compelled to reduce the valuation of her fleet, and we know that many private ship-owners went bankrupt during and after the war, or were compelled to greatly reduce their nominal capital because of the dislocation of trade throughout the world since the close of the war.
I am not prepared to join in the pæan of praise that has been raised to the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) for having established the fleet.The right honorable gentleman acted in a national emergency. Had he not done what he did, Australia’s trade would have been disorganized. Furthermore, he merely followed the example of other countres. In the circumstances, I am not prepared to give credit where I do not consider it is due.
Amongst other things, I am strongly opposed to the measure of power to be granted to the Board under the Bill. Clause 10 provides that, in addition to any other powers conferred by the Bill, the Board have power - subject to the consent of the Treasurer to dispose of any ships, land, offices, shipyards, wharfs, or other premises acquired by or vested in the Board in pursuance of this Act.
That is too great a power to hand over to a Board coupled with the sanction of the Treasurer. It is practically handing the government of the country over to a bureaucracy. This Parliament is likely to be in recess for eight or nine months, and, during ‘ that time we may have a repetition of such an incident as the selling of the Geelong Woollen Mills. The Treasurer will be in a position to act in complete defiance of Parliament, and may propose to sacrifice a portion, or it may ‘be the whole, of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, the Cockatoo Dock, or other instrumentalities vested in the Board, without consulting Parliament. This provision, coupled with the fact that the Line is to be made subject to taxation in the same way as an ordinary trading venture imposes, in my opinion, an unfair obstacle to its success. The right honorable member for North Sydney rightly ridiculed the idea of making a. Government undertaking subject to taxation. In this matter the Commonwealth Shipping Line should be in a position similar to that of the Governmentowned railways. It should be a weapon to use against high freights. It should assist the primary producer, and profits should not be looked for from it. Just as the development of Australia has been brought about by the extension of Stateowned railways for the opening up of the interior, so the Commonwealth Shipping Lino should be regarded as essential for - the development of our world trade. During and prior to the war, primary producers were loud in their complaints about the lack of regular shipping services and of insufficient suitable refrigerating space for their perishable products. To-day they have in the Commonwealth fleet an assurance that their requirements will be sympathetically considered and a regular service maintained. It must be admitted, of course, that at present, trade is to a certain extent languishing, but there is sure to be a widespread recovery in the near future. The fact “that Central
Europe and Russia are bound to be rehabilitated very shortly, and the markets there opened up to us, should induce the Government to give the Commonwealth Line every opportunity Lo succeed and expand. Without a substantial subsidy, it cannot hope to compete with the vessels of the overseas companies, particularly as it is also to be subject to taxation and the various other restrictions that have been indicated. The Peninsular and Oriental Company’s vessels are manned by cheap Lascar labour, and are not subject to the manning restrictions imposed oh the Commonwealth vessels. Their crews also work longer hours. That company is subsidized by the British Government, and the Orient Company, manned by low wage white” labour, receives a mail subsidy from Australia. These are the only two lines that guarantee a regular shipping service between Australia and Great Britain. Certainly, there are tramp steamers, but their regularity of service is not definitely guaranteed, and therefore we can only make a comparison with the Peninsular” and Oriental, and Orient Companies, which enter directly into competition with the Commonwealth ships. Unless the Commonwealth Line is subsidized, I cannot see how it can possibly make a profit in competition with the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient vessels under the conditions imposed by this Bill. The subsidy should be paid in order to equalize the competition of the Line with the various overseas shipping companies, and give the Line a chance of extending its operations.
It can be said that because the Bill does not provide for these matters the Government .are exposed to suspicion. Do they intend to transfer the ships to the British register and evade paying the Australian rate of wages, or observing Australian working conditions ? Is it the intention .of the Government to work the ships with black labour ? There is nothing in the Bill .to’ prevent that being done. If the Government propose to do this, then possibly the ships will be able to compete with overseas companies on equal terms, even with an unsympathetic Government in control; but members on this side of the House will strongly oppose any proposal to remove the Commonwealth ships from the - Australian register, or alter the working conditions.
– In other words, then, the ships are to be run, as I said the other day, for the benefit of the unions.
– The honorable member for Richmond complained the other day about the attitude of the Seamen’sUnion, but has he offered any remedy? Perhaps he wants the ships to be manned with black labour. That is the only inference one can draw from his remarks. His statement that theSeamen’s Union was opposed to the policy of aWhite Australia was an absolute misrepresentation of the facts. I would use a much more emphatic term were I permitted to do so. The Seamen’s Union has never at any time opposed the White Australia policy. I again remindthe honorable member for Richmond also, that 3,000 members of the union went to the war, and as many more were engaged in carrying our troops on ships that were constantly threatened by submarines or passed through mine-infested areas, while many thousands were also employed in the Australian overseas trade. His remarks, therefore, were absolutely uncalled for andunwarranted. No union has such a splendid record of service to Australia as the Seamen’s Union, which he has misrepresented so flagrantly.
– Do yon deny that the union is opposed to the White Australia policy ?
– I do deny it.I have been in close touch with the Seamen’s Union, as an official of that organization, and I can speak from practical experience. I have been at sea myself, and I know what I am talking about. I have consulted the union directly upon this particular question, and I have received this communication, which is signed by an official of the union : -
At no time in its history has the Federated Seamen’s Union opposed the White Australia policy, and never has it advocated a black Australia. We challenge Mr. Green to prove that, at any time, any person acting for or on behalf of the Federated Seamen’s Union has ever done so.
– I shall be pleased to accept the challenge.
– I have every respect for the honorable member as a citizen, but no respect for his political principles, and when I hear him and other honorable members, who are supposed to represent country interests, speak in this House in regard to vital matters, I wonder what in the name of Heaven made the farmers send them here. It seems to me, particularly after listening the other day to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) - I am sorry he is not here, because I would prefer to say what I want to say in his presence - that the political attitude of some members of the Country party is best described in the words of Canning -
Steady patriots of the world alone
True friends of every country, but their own.
When it comes to the development of Australian trade, and the building up of the great industries of this country, certain honorable members of the Country party cannot see beyond a cowshed or a barnyard. It seems that they are all the time wondering how much the farmers are going to get, regardless of the national welfare of Australia. Their attitude is at complete variance with the principles they have been sent here to enunciate. I appeal once again to the Government to grant a subsidy to the Commonwealth Line, in order that it may have an opportunity of developing and expanding its operations.
Certain honorable members have referred to the loss sustained by the Line during the last two or three years. The Leader of my party (Mr. Charlton)has properly argued that the loss dwarfs into insignificance when the national value of the fleet is taken into consideration. Critics of the Line, I notice, make no reference whatever to £400,000,000 spent on war destruction. They do not decry that, yet they criticise the purchase of this fleet, which was, in every sense of the term, a war expenditure, incurred to meet a national emergency. They willingly excuse and support the squandering of thousands of pounds upon the training of a handful of cadets at Duntroon and Jervis Bay, but complain of expenditure incurred for a definite scheme to promote the development of this country’s trade. Their political inconsistency is extraordinary, “but, of course, many of them have not been brought up in the proper political atmosphere. The one great opportunity to insure the future commercial greatness of this country is now presented to this Parliament.I remember many years ago hearing the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) remarking of some political opponents that, in the language f the Scriptures, they strain at the gnat and swallow the camel. I suggest that this might be said of those honorable gentlemen who now criticise the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The retention of the Line is absolutely essential as part pf our defence scheme. I have already referred to the number of seamen who went to the war. If we had not had an Australian mercantile marine, those men would not have been available to carry our troops overseas, and thus meet a national emergency. About 1,500 seamen are directly concerned in the retention of the Line, and there are also about 5,000 mechanics and shipbuilders and others who responded nobly during the war to the calls made upon them. With their dependants, the total is about 15,000. I say, therefore, that it is a very serious matter to bring forward any proposal that is likely to hamper or restrict the development of the Line. If the Government will not subsidize the Line, they should, at least, insure continuity in its shipbuilding programme. I understand they have placed another ship on the stocks at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. If, when that ship is built, work then ceases, hundreds of killed workmen will be thrown upon the labour market. Every nation worthy of its salt has recognised the importance of having shipbuilders and trained mechanics available for a national emergency. No nation would sacrifice any scheme that made this possible merely to get cheap ships. It is preferable for Australia to build her own ships, even if they cost a little more, than, to go overseas for them. At the present time, Great Britain is paying out millions of pounds to her starving unemployed because of the dislocation of trade arising from what may be called the rotten economic fabric of Free Trade, upon which the economic policy of England is based. I hope this Parliament will always recognise that practical patriotism is best shown by the adoption of a policy which makes for the development of our own industries.
Some reference has been made to the condition of the American mercantile marine. I have travelled in American ships, and, therefore, have had an op- portunity of comparing .their efficiency with our own. The Americans are not a maritime nation, and never will be. The American position in regard to shipping enterprise is totally different from our own. America is well supplied with shipping lines. A constant freight war is being waged across the Atlantic by French, Belgian, British, German, and Scandinavian shipping companies and ships of other nations. America has nothing to fear. The markets of Europe are as close to America as those of New Zealand are to Australia ; they can be reached in four and a-half days by the fastest steamers. On the other hand we in Australia are completely isolated from the rest of the world, excepting, of course, the East. We are at the mercy of shipping combines, which would squeeze the life blood out of our trade if we were not afforded some protection by our own steamers. Some honorable members who have attacked the Line forget that but for its existence freights would be much higher than they gre to-day. An honorable member struck the nail on the head the other night when he said that instead of subsidizing the meat industry we should subsidize the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. He said that if we, as a people, were obliged to incur a loss, we should do it in trying to place Australia’s produce on the world’s markets at a price at which it would have a fair opportunity to compete with that of other countries. The Government propose to subsidize a shipping line to the East, but that is only playing with the question. We must open up markets in other countries besides China and Japan, and we can hope to do so only by providing an adequate, efficient, and regular shipping service controlled by ourselves.
The Bill does not provide for the establishment of the head office of the Line in Australia. As an honorable member of the Opposition has already pointed out, the detachment of the management from the sphere in which the Line is actively engaged - here in Australia - has been responsible for about 80 per cent, of the trouble among the ships’ crews. With the head office in London there has been no one in Australia directly answerable for an interpretation of the policy of the Line or the decisions of its management. In this regard I speak with a certain amount of experience. Before I was elected to this House I had, as secretary of the Clerks Union, difficulty in getting the Commonwealth Line of Steamers to carry out certain awards. There were all kinds of irritating delays. It will be utterly impossible to get satisfactory results from the operation of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers unless tactful management and sympathetic control are displayed, and by having the responsible head located in Australia. No body of men can be more easily handled than seamen if they are treated with sympathy and tact.
TheGovernment would be well advised to provide in the Bill for the employees to be represented on the Board. The shipping industry depends upon the loyal co-operation of employees to a greater extent than does any other industry. Seamen are detached when at sea from the close personal supervision of the management, and unless they have that sense of responsibility which would be given to them by representation onthe Board of control, they cannot be expected to have a proper realization of the difficulties of the management or to give that loyal co-operation which is essential if the Line is to be operated successfully. Many business firms have granted their employees the right to share in the responsibilities of management, and my inquiries have led me to believe that the arrangement has worked satisfactorily.
I hope that the Government will place on the Board a man. with wide shipping experience whose interests are divorced from those of any privately-controlled shipping line. I should also like to see on the Board a shipbuilding expert, a representative of the employees, a business man, and a representative of the primary producers. As the primary producers are bound to reap direct benefit from these steamers, it is only fair to give them representation on the Board.
I have said some unkind things about the Government, but I at least congratulate them on retaining the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. In view of their political misdeeds, I would not have been surprised if they had slung the Line on the scrap-heap. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has not convinced me that his intentions are really well disposed towards the Line. His mild manner would lead one to expect nothing from him but good. Byron describes one of his characters-
He was the mildest mannered man
That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat - which shows that one cannot relyon manners alone. In conclusion, I hope that the Government will grant the employees representation on the Board, that they will establish its head office in Australia, and that they will give the Line a subsidy that will enable it so to extend its operations that Australia may reap a rich reward in increased trade and enhanced national prestige.
.- I anr glad that there was no cutting of throats or scuttling of ships before the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) was in a position to tell us how we could build ships, no matter what they cost; run them under all sorts of conditions, no matter how high the expense might be, and yet be able to place our products profitably on the markets of the world. It is very nice to hear such statements, but I am afraid the honorable member had only one section of the people in his mind when he was speaking. There are other and more important sections to be considered .
I am strongly in favour of one or two of the suggestions made by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley). He said, first of all, that we should provide in the Bill for the registrationof the Board in Australia. We have had the promise that this will be done, but I think that we should insist on it. I want it done for one very special purpose. If we are to continue this Line of Steamers - and I am opposed to it - I want it to work under the conditions under which private shipping companies have to work, and’ it should certainly be compelled to observe the provisions of the Navigation Act. I am sure that when Parliament ascertains the difficulties with which private companies have to contend under that Act common sense will prevail, and the Act will be drastically amended.
– In what respect does the Commonwealth Line of Steamers not come under the Navigation Act?
– I advise the honorable member to read the report of the Tariff Board upon the operation of the Navigation Act. Because of the high cost of running vessels under its provisions, that measure is destroying the industries of Australia. It affects even Melbourne manufacturers who try to sell their goods in Western Australia. I hope that theLine will be registered in Australia.
– Surely the honorable member has no doubt as to where it will be registered.
– I think that the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has given a promise in this regard, but honorable members should insist on having the Line registered in Australia - that is to say, I hope they will do so if they will not agree to my proposal that the Board should as soon as possible sell the whole of the ships.
– But if the Board would not do so, what would be the honorable member’s attitude ?
– If honorable members will not agree to my proposal to sell the vessels - and I do not think they will - then my view is that we should do all we possibly can to make a success of the Line. I do not want to see the steamers a failure. I. am not one of those, who, because he cannot have his own way, would wish to see that which he opposes prove detrimental to the country. But when I hold strong views, I am prepared to express them whether I find support or not.
The honorable member for South Sydney also suggested that it would be a good policy for the Government to subsidize these steamers, so that the trade of Australia mightbe increased. We have room in this country for tens of millions of people. God knows we need them, and we do not know when we may need them most. We have a magnificent country, in which there is ample opportunity for millions of people to make good . if we can find markets for our produce. These markets must be found, and to my mind, the best way to get access to them - if we are under the impression that we are being unduly exploited - is to grant subsidies under specified conditions to shipping companies willing to help us to develop our trade overseas. It is true, as the honorable member for South Sydney has pointed out, that such a policy has been pursued elsewhere. I heard the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) speaking to-day. I am not here to offer any excuse for the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), but I think that when he delivered his speech on this Bill he was most generous in his references to the actions of his predecessor in this connexion. No man could have tried to put the position more fairly than he did. He showed us clearly that his object in writing down the values of the vessels was not so that he could sell them easily, as has been suggested to-day, but so that the Board could provide interest and depreciation on the lowest possible valuation, and have a fair chance of making the Line a success. The speech delivered to-day by the right honorable member for NorthSydney reminded me of another speech he made a fortnight ago when we were dealing with the governing of the Northern Territory by Ordinances. Has there ever been a man inthis Parliament who has administered by Ordinances more than the right honorable member for North Sydney did when in office ? Is not everything, not only in the Northern Territory, but also in the Federal Territory, done by Ordinances ? The speech delivered by the right honorable member to-day was on the same lines as that in which he criticised the Government a fortnight ago, and must be regarded in the same light. He told us of what is being done in other countries. I ask any man with common sense if he would have spent his own money, or shareholders’ money, in continuing to build ships in Australia after the conclusion of the war, at the enormous price they were costing.
– The honorable member helped him to do it. He helped to pass the Estimates, and he kept in office the Government which incurred that expenditure.
– I have told the honorable member a hundred times that the evil we had was nothing to that which we would have if he and his friends occupied the Government benches. The honorable member for North Sydney told us that America would not sell its ships. As a matter of fact, that country has been trying its best to sell them. It has been doing its best to sell them to American people, and to have them utilized as American shipping. The same course was adopted by Canada. Canada also is paying a big shipping subsidy. Some fine vessels are running from Vancouver to Australia, and doing extensive business with this country, and I hope that we shall be able to increase the sale of our goods to Canada before very long. The result of the Canadian subsidy is that good service is rendered. The Canadian people do not complain that too high a freight is charged on the goods which they export, and that there is a combine which is destroying their trade. The ex-Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, told us of the rapacity of the Combine in Great Britain. Great Britain, to-day, is. still probably one of the greatest exporting countries in the world. We know that the reason for the existence of unemployment in Great Britain is the situation in theRuhr. Has there been any suggestion by the people of Great Britain that they are being exploited by the shipping companies ?
– Yes. Since the war ended, there have been unemployed white people in the ports of Great Britain and the ship-owners have been employing niggers.
– The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) will have an opportunity directly, if he so desires, to make a speech on this subject. The people in Great Britain are satisfied with the existing shipping conditions. In prewar days very seldom was the complaint heard from people in Australia. . that they were unable to have their produce shipped to Great Britain and Europe at a reasonable cost. I am convinced that the existence of the Commonwealth Shipping Line has tended, to a very great extent, to keep up freights rather than to lower them. The expenses connected with shipping have been so great that the British shipowner has been compelled to increase his charges. The conditions under which British shipping works are totally different from those which govern our Line, which has to observe the provisions of the Navigation Act and our Arbitration laws; consequently the cost of running our ships must be considerably greater.
– The honorable member would surely not advocate reverting to the conditions under which British seamen work ?
– I would readily agree to sell these ships. In Committee, I intend to move that the Board be given power to sell the ships. If we found that we were being exploited, we could give a subsidy to any company which would provide shipping space under conditions which we would specify. I feel perfectly satisfied- that we would then be much better treated than we are at the present time.
The contention that it would be unjust to make the Commonwealth Shipping Line liable to taxation is to me absurd. The Board ought to be compelled to produce a fair and honest balance-sheet. The Railways Departments of the States render accounts to other State Departments for which they carry goods. An account is kept by the Post and Telegraph Department of all services which it renders for other Departments. Why should we not introduce that principle in connexion with the Commonwealth Line of steamers ?
– The Railways do not pay taxation to the State.
– Because they are run directly by the State; but they charge other Departments for goods carried, to enable them to produce a fair balancesheet.
After listening to the honorable member who has just spoken (Mr. Coleman), I begin to fear for the future. In matters that are controlled by the Government it is impossible to keep clear of political influence. Even when Railway Commissioners are given a free hand and drastic powers, political influence creeps in and affects the working of the system.
– Are you in favour of privately-owned railways ?
– No, because it is the policyof Australia that the railways should be run by the States. Many works could be carried on well by the State were it not for the political influence which enters into the control of them.
– Do you exert political influence on behalf of your friends ?
– I am not in the habit of using political influence. I have protested against having had to use influence which might be regarded as political. In connexion with the war-time profits tax, I, on many occasions, had to approach the Treasurer. I declined to deal with any matter from the individual standpoint, but endeavoured to get decisions of the Commissioner which would apply generally. I impress upon honorable members the danger that arises from political control. The Bill contains a provision that the work of construction shall be carried on at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, firstly under the control of the Government, and later under the control of a Board. I prefer that the members of the Board should be called “ Commissioners.” Holding the title, “ Board of Directors,” they will probably imagine that their only duty is to sit in a chair in an office. As Commissioners they would feel that they were managers in charge of a Department. To show how political influence becomes rampant, I quote from a report signed by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), who at the time was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee which inquired into the working of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard -
The general manager complained of the difficulty of this position.. “ Here I am,” he said, “ working under fifty-one awards, and new one* keep cropping up every day. How on earth can a man run an establishment of this sort and meet the contending forces of fifty-one different awards 1”
– That applies to private enterprise.
– Then we are ruining private enterprise. Is it any wonder that the cost of living has advanced so greatly that the producer finds it almost impossible to .make ends meet ? This report continues - “ Several unions cover one industry. There arc two painters’ unions: there are three carpenters’ unions. The labourers have many unions, and many awards and conflicting awards. It- is absolutely impossible to try to run this island on economic lines when you have so many conflicting rates of pay and overtime, and all that sort of thing, and different rates for night shift. One of the greatest difficulties here is the multiplicity of labourers’ unions, necessitating the employment of a much larger number of men than i* necessary. One union allows its members to handle steel and iron, another union only allows its mcn to handle wood. If I require a labourer to do general carting about the yard, I must have a man of one union to cart the steel and iron, and a member of another union to cart wood.” Question. - Is there Jio general labourers’ union? - No. All the painters and dockers insist that they shall curt nil wood about, and the ironworkers’ assistants insist that they shall cart all steel and iron about.
Ill other words, you must not ask a member of the Ironworkers’ Union to carry a piece of timber, or a member of the Timberworkers’ Union to carry a piece of iron. A painter’s labourer, I expect, would get the “ sack “ if he dared to carry a piece of iron. This report proceeds -
I have to pay the assistants to one grade 9s., though the award rate is only 8s.; I have to pay the shipwrights’ assistant, who is a painter and docker, 10s. a day. . ‘. . Question. - Do not the unions accept the decision of the management in. matters of that kind 1 - We cannot get them to accept it ; I have often volunteered to act as arbitrator, but they won’t accept my arbitration. The only way is to get them to fight it out amongst themselves, but we find that when they como to an agreement very shortly afterwards it starts up afresh again. They never seem to get to finality. A hig demarcation committee of the boilermakers’ engineers and the shipwrights sat the other day. The Gayundah was held up about fifteen months ago by a dispute between the shipwrights and the boilermakers as to certain work on that vessel, and this committee has been spending many hours in building up a demarcation. They drew up certain lines, and it was all right so far as they were concerned, ‘but trouble arose because they trod on the toes of three or four other trades, whom they had not taken into consideration. The fat was in the fire again.
Those were the conditions that were in force some time ago. We know how enormously the cost of construction rose during that time, and the extravagant fashion in which public money was being spent. Where these matters are controlled by the Government political influence creeps in, mismanagement and wild extravagance are the rule, and the ships are so expensively run that they are useless to the country. Judged by the last two balance-sheets, how are these ships going to be made to pay their way ! The “gross expenditure of the Line during the year 1921 was £2,9S0,000, while the gross earnings were £2,529,000. Thus the Line actually earned £400,000 less than it spent, without allowing anything for interest or depreciation. In the following year, the receipts were £2,274,203, while the expenditure, again without allowing for interest or depreciation, was £2,795,241. These figures show a loss for that year of over £500,000, and for the two years, of over £900,000. . To be of any value to the people of Australia, the ships must compete with privatelyowned ships. They must carry our produce to the markets of the world, and bring back merchandise, as cheaply as can any other boats. On these ships Australian rates of wages, as stipulated by the Arbitration Court, have to be paid. British ships do not pay those wages or comply with other expensive conditions imposed upon Australian ships.
– Will not the ships that it is proposed to retain be -used for carrying Australian produce to Europe?
– Of course;but I am contending that our ships ought to earn their working expenses and depreciation. I would be quite willing that Parliament should make a present of £10,000,000 to the Board if it could get a guarantee that the Line would pay working expenses and depreciation. In that event I would be quite willing to forego interest. If it could do that and compete willi other lines, I would be very pleased. According to the report of the Tariff Board, which was laid on the table of the House the other day, it costs more to ship goods from Adelaide to Fremantle under Australian conditions than to ship them from Great Britain to Fremantle under British conditions. Surely we ought to look at these questions from a business stand-point. The Commonwealth Government Shipping Line is a small affair when compared with all the industries of Australia.
Mr.O’Keefe. - Does the Commonwealth Government Line charge more for carrying goods from Adelaide to Fremantle than from Great Britain to Fremantle?
– I do not know what the Commonwealth ships charge. I do not think, as a matter of fact, that they trade on the Australian coast.
– Then the honorable gentleman’s argument applies only to Combine ships.
– The Governmentowned ships operate under more adverse conditions than privately-owned British ships. Australian shipping companies pay their way. I do not know what their profits are, but their shares have a fair market value, and they are adding new ships to their fleets. I belong to the class of person referred to by the honorable member for Worth Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes), who want to keep the Government as far away as possible from commercial undertakings. I believe such ventures will, under Government control, always end in disaster. . The Prime Minister has treated the last Administration generously. Although he would prefer the Government not to carry on the shipping business, he has done his best, in drafting the Bill, and by writing down the value of the ships, to give the Line every reasonable chance of success. If Parliament decides to have the Line, it should give it every possible support. I intend, when the Bill is in Committee, whether I get any support or not, to move an amendment giving the Board power to sell the ships at the most favorable opportunity.
.- Like many other honorable members, I am pleased to think that an attempt is being made to put the Commonwealth Government Shipping Line on what we are told, is a “ business basis.” I hope it is. But I disapprove of some of the provisions of the Bill. In the first place, I take exception to the Prime Minister’s statement regarding the establishment of the Line. I do this, not from any meanness of spirit, but because a principle is involved. The Prime Minister said that it was a stroke of genius on the part of (he ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) to establish the Line. When the Line was established, however, Mr. Hughes was Labour Prime Minister, and he was giving effect to Labour principles. Had he been a Nationalist Prime Minister he would not have been able to institute the Line. I agree that employees should have a voice in the management of the Line, which, as it is not run to make profits, ought not to score at the expense of the men who work on the ships. No Government undertaking can be a success unless the employees are given a voice in its management. That principle is being recognised by many of the great captains of industry in all countries where mass production is undertaken, and the reasons are ten times as strong why it should be recognised by an undertaking which is run by the people of a country. The men . employed by the Commonwealth Line are part owners of it. The adoption of this proposal would prevent a repetition of many of the industrial troubles that have hampered the industry in the past. A small misunderstanding sometimes grows to a bitter quarrel because pin-pricks, which occur in all industries, are not considered from the point of view of the men who do the work.
I agree that the Commonwealth Line should receive the benefit of the mail subsidies which are at present paid to the Combines. I disapprove of the clause which provides that the Board, with the consent of the Treasurer, may sell ships, dock-yards, &c. This would give the Board power, with the consent of the Treasurer, to dispose of the whole business. I would not object to the Board having that power, subject to the approval of the House. The ex-Prime Minister has said that the value of the ships should not be written down to the extent proposed by the Government, and the Government has convinced the country and the House that it is opposed to Government interference with private enterprise. Therefore, I believe there is a danger that the Government’s shipping business may be sold at a price equivalent to its written down value. If the Government will agree to substitute “ Parliament “ for “ The Treasurer,” the clause will be sufficiently safeguarded, for if it is then proposed to sell the Line, the Government will have to justify its proposal to the House.
– And it will not be possible to repeat the scandal of the woollen mills.
– That is so. There is that danger, which is emphasized, by the speech of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes). The right honorable member, by innuendo, at any rate, conveyed the impression that there was something wrong which he could not quite grasp. On the other hand, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) rather approved of the creation of a Board with absolute power, though he seemed afraid that political influence might creep in. We hear a great deal about “ political influence “ from such newspapers as the Age and the Argus, and from people whose desire it is to discredit parliamentary institutions. Personally, I am opposed to the Board having absolute control of the Commonwealth Line. I have no desire that the Government should interfere in the actual management, but this result could be guarded against without placing supreme power with the Board. If, for instance, industrial troubles should arise, and employees be treated with injustice, I submit that members of this House should have the right, not only to ask questions, but to move the adjournment of the House or take other steps to ventilate grievances, and sheet home the responsibility to the Government.
– How could you prevent political interference under such circumstances ?
– I submit that the Line can be conducted in such a way that, while affording this freedom to Parliament, there will be no political interference in the actual management. As pointed out by the honorable member for North Sydney, other undertakings of the Government are managed in the way I suggest without any undue interference resulting. My contention is that in case of an industrial crisis, when, perhaps, there is a deadlock, this Parliament should be supreme.
It is absurd to argue that the Commonwealth Line should pay income tax on its profits. The Line is “ up against “ one of the greatest combines in existence, a combine which practically controls the shipping of the world. If there is not a combine, there are such things as “ gentlemanly understandings,” which sometimes are more disastrous in their effects than the understanding among pirates of old. The Commonwealth Shipping Line will have to be prepared to meet the most determined and elaborate attempts of a powerful combine to destroy it; under the circumstances to ask the Line to pay income tax to the owners of the Line - for the payment would be simply a book entry - is as I have said, absurd, and calculated to hamper, in a high degree, its expansion in the future. I am in agreement with the general object of the Bill, which is to place the Commonwealth Line on a firm and business-like basis; but unless the deficiencies and difficulties I have pointed out are adequately met in Committee, I shall be compelled to oppose the measure.
.- I confess that “I am somewhat exercised in mind as to the attitude I should adopt with regard to the Bill under discussion. I cannot agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) that . the country has given the Government a mandate to pass such a Bill. Certainly I am under no necessity, having regard to my attitude on the platform during the election campaign, to support the measure; nor am I one of those indicated by the honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) as being frightened by a name. I am not influenced in my judg- ment of the Bill because it is said to represent StateSocialism. The one consideration that determines my attitude towards any measure is my belief or otherwise in its efficacy as an instrument for the public good ; I have simply to ask myself whether a measure will or will not work in the interests of the general community.
As to private enterprise as opposed to State control, I laid down a general principle when addressing the electors.I believe the Government should not enter upon any industrial undertaking that can at least be equally well conducted by private enterprise. If the Government proposes to enter upon an industrial venture, the onus of proof lies on it to show that, in the interests of the community, it can conduct it better than could any private individual or company.
I have said that I am somewhat exercised in mind as to my attitude towards the measure. In November, 1921, when the whole question of shipping was under discussion here, the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) made a statement about Government shipbuilding and the running of the Government Line. The present Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) followed with a speech in which he carefully examined thewhole shipping position. He dealt with the subject of shipbuilding, and, having done so, he said that the Government ought to give up any control that it then exercised in that connexion. He then dealt exhaustively with the advisability or otherwise of continuing the Commonwealth Line, and gave reasons, that appeared to me to be unanswerable, why the Government should discontinue the business. The Prime Minister, in the same speech, pointed out that the one object that the Government had in creating the Line was to checkmate the tactics of the British Shipping Combine and reduce freights. For reasons that he then set out at length, he expressed the opinion that it is impossible for a Government Line to achieve that end, and that, therefore, he could not vote for the continuance of the Line. He added that for some years to come the Commonwealth Line of shipping must be run at a loss. I listened most carefully to that speech, which convinced me that the Government should give up this enterprise.
– You were not hard to convince!
– It may be I was not, but the reasons given by the Prime Minister then seemed sufficient to warrant the conclusion that the Government could not achieve the end it had in view, namely, to compete with the Combine, and, in the interests of Australia, reduce freights.
Now the Prime Minister submits a Bill, the object of which is to provide for a continuance of the Line. In introducing the measure he expressed the hope that in the future the Line would accumulate profits out of which it would be able to provide its own working capital. I think, however, that the Prime Minister must find it rather difficult to hope for any such result, in view of the fact that in 1921 he predicted that the Line, if continued, must be run at a loss, and that the other day. he told us that the loss the Line had sustained during the last two years represented something like £2,600,000. If I felt that the Government Line would be able to compete successfully with the Combine I would vote for it every time. I believe, with the honorable member for North Sydney, that the object of continuing the Line is competition with the Combine. The right honorable member desires to insure competition.
– He suggested a subsidy.
– At present, I am pointing out that, not only the right honorable member for North Sydney to-day, but also the Prime Minister in introducing the Bill, insisted that, if the Line is continued, it must be on business principles. This means that the Line must enter into legitimate competition with any other shipping that is run on ordinary business principles, and that, if the Commonwealth Line cannot do this, it must “go to the wall.” If it be found impossible to compete on business lines, then the question may arise whether, in the interests of the Commonwealth, we should subsidize the enterprise. At present, however, I am asked to vote for a measure to provide for the continuance of the Commonwealth Line on strictly business principles. It seems to me that the Bill does not raise the real issue. Does any honorable member imagine that, having regard to the conditions imposed on this Line, it is possible to run it on business principles? The Bill imposes great restrictions on the Line, and then we tell the management to do the best it can; we tie the management hand and foot in some respects, and then tell it to enter into competition. Speaking from past experience, I, for one, say that this is an impossible task.Does any one believe that with these restrictions the Line could, with success, enter into fair and open competition with the Combine?
– What restrictions are there ?
– I mean the restrictions imposed by this Rill, and by the Navigation Act.
– All ships on our coast are under the Navigation . Act.
– We are not dealing with coastal shipping. We have principally in view the carriage of products from Australia to foreign markets. Even at the risk of a reasonable loss on the Line - which, I suppose, would be tantamount to giving a subsidy - if the passing of the Bill would defeat the ends of the iniquitous Combine, it would have my support. I believe, honestly, that the measure will not achieve that object, and, therefore, I feel compelled to vote against it. Like the honorable member for Swan, I have no desire to witness the failure of the Commonwealth Shipping Line as a business proposition. If the Line is not to be a success the sooner we get rid of it the better. But if the House and the country are determined to make this experiment then I, for one, shall be prepared to do anything to improve the Bill, and to this end consider any views expressed by honorable members who have criticised its provisions. My mind is open as to the details of the Bill and possible improvements.
– Would hot the honorable member prefer boats to be manned with white labour rather than Lascars, as are the Peninsular andOriental boats ?
– Of course I would. If we were asked to determine the character of international shipping, we would say, “ Give us the best ships that can be made; give our sailors the best pay and the best conditions that can be devised for their comfort and convenience on board; let us make the conditions perfect as far as possible.” But we are not considering that matter. We are discussing the provisions of the Bill from a practical point of view. Australia occupies an isolated position, and our primary pro ducts have to be carried to the ends of the earth. If we cannot do this with our own ships under conditions which’ we have imposed in the past, then in the name of common sense let other people transport Australia’s produce in the best possible way. Is any honorable member prepared to support a Shipping Line which will be carried on under ideal conditions at whatever cost?
– Then there is this point of divergence, the impossibility of economic administration.
– It can be done.
– It cannot be done from an economic point of view.
– The honorable member would not say that we should make no progress.
– Certainly not. If it were practicable to provide ideal conditions under this Bill, it would have my support; but we have to look at the project in a common-sense and business-like way. Ideal conditions are. not possible, as it is claimed that the Line has to be run on strictly business principles, so the sooner we get rid of this encumbrance the better. If the Government are determined to continue the Commonwealth Shipping Line, I agree with the honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes), that it must attempt it, not in a half-hearted way, but with their whole heart and soul; either that, or get out of it. My advice to the Government is to get out of it, and I shall consequently vote against the second reading of the Bill.
.- Prior to casting my vote in favour of the Bill, I wish to speak about one or two matters connected with it. Surprise and gratification have been expressed by honorable members because the Government intend to retain the Commonwealth Shipping Line. That surprise is expressed in view of the announced policy of the Government. Honorable members have a vivid recollection of the sale of the Geelong Woollen Mills, and theaction of the Government in respect of other Commonwealth enterprises. There may be a sinister reason for the step now proposed. Ministers may not be prepared, themselves, to abolish the Line, but they may hope that by the appointment of an unsympathetic Board, it will eventually be dis- posed of. In ‘South Australia, a Board administered the Wheat Pool for some time, but at an inquiry it was shown that the personnel of the Board was not in sympathy with the principle of Government Pools. This may be the motive actuating the Government in the appointment of a Board of Control for the Commonwealth Shipping Line. The ‘personnel of the proposed Board should comprise not only practical men, who would be paid adequately for their services, but also persons sympathetic with the principle underlying the establishment of the Commonwealth Shipping Line; if not, then my fears will be well founded that the Government intend to abolish the Line by indirect action. The Prime Minister has stated that the Bill provides for the disposal of unsuitable tonnage. A good deal of the tonnage at present deemed unsuitable might assist materially in the development of Australia, and before it is disposed of the Government should consider whether it could not be used for coastal trade, especially in those places where development is languishing for want of proper transport facilities. The Prime Minister on ..many occasions has made special reference to the necessity for the development of Australia. Beyond these utterances nothing has been accomplished. Only the other day, the honorable member for Denison (Mr. O’Keefe), when referring to the necessity for adequate shipping communication between the mainland and Tasmania, stated that the shipping lines trading to the Pacific Islands had been subsidized to the extent of £55,000 per annum. Railways are being constructed as developmental works, and very seldom is the question raised whether they will pay or not. This aspect should be considered in the disposal of unsuitable tonnage. An honorable member, a few days ago, stressed the necessity for oversea markets. Various parts of South Australia are dependent on coastal shipping lines for the marketing of their goods. The people of Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, rely wholly upon one shipping company; there is no railway ‘connexion. It is true that the East-West railway crosses the top of the peninsula, but that area is .practically uninhabited. Settlement has taken place south of the
East- West line, and Shore is no railway connexion with the mainland. The peninsula is not a wilderness, but is composed, mostly, of good, arable, wheatgrowing land. The settlers there have to contend with very many difficulties, for many of which this Parliament, having no jurisdiction, cannot provide a remedy. The area of Eyre Peninsula is as great as half, that of Victoria. There are few facilities, such as water conservation and reticulation. The bone of contention is that one private shipping line has the monopoly of carriage of goods to and from the peninsula. Some years ago, the Adelaide Steam-ship Company had opposition. The rival companies cut their freights to squeeze their rival out of the trade. Freights and fares were reduced to a ridiculous extent. I have heard that it was possible, if one went the right way about it, to obtain a free passage. Eventually one company sold out to the other, and at present the Adelaide Steam-ship Company alone trades to Eyre Peninsula. They charge what freights and fares they wish, and the people are at their tender mercies. According to the Sun Pictorial of 9 th July, the Prime Minister, when speaking recently on immigration, stated -
Their theories were based on wrong conclusions. They wanted to hold a country larger than the United States of America with a population of a little over 5,000,000 people. We have dispossessed the aboriginals of Australia because they had failed to develop Australia. What are we going to say in the future if we are not prepared to develop it?
Eyre Peninsula could be properly developed if the Governments concerned were alive to their responsibilities. The Commonwealth Shipping Line should not be run merely for profit, but also to develop the .potential resources of Australia - the principle on which’ railway lines of development are constructed. The people of Eyre Peninsula are paying the same rates and taxes as are other people, and from the revenue from these the loss on the “Commonwealth Shipping Line, the transcontinental railway, and other railways has to be met. They should, therefore, be given the advantage of those services to enable them to transport their produce to the other side of Spencer’s Gulf. We should, at least, attempt to make their conditions such as would enable them to enjoy the same privileges as other people living nearer the metropolitan area enjoy, and thus protect them from the excessive and unwarranted charges that are made by the shipping company. A portion of the profits made by the shipping company trading to that part of the coast should be going into the pockets of the primary producers on Eyre’s Peninsula, as settlers there and in other parts of South Australia are being exploited by the shipping companies. If some of the vessels of the Commonwealth Line entered into competition with those of private companies it would compel them to reduce their freights.
The continuance of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers depends largely upon the personnel of the proposed Board, and before any vessels are disposed of’ an effort should be made to see if some could be utilized in the coastal trade, and thus assist those who are at present seriously inconvenienced for the want of shipping facilities. The settlers in the district which I represent are severely handicapped, and I trust their interests will be considered now that the whole question of shipping facilities is under consideration.
.- I desire to congratulate the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) upon the very concise balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Shipping Line which he has submitted to Parliament, which shows the public the actual’ position of the Line. I realize the difficulties of the Government, particularly in view of the statement made by . the Prime Minister that, although the Geelong Woollen Mills had experienced good times, the undertaking was likely to be faced with difficulties, and that the best thing the Government could do was to dispose of it. I am quite in accord with the Prime Minister’s contention, and I think the same can be said concerning the Commonwealth Shipping Line. Splendid work was done by the Commonwealth vessels while the war was in progress, but that has now passed, and Government vessels are in competition with those of other shipping lines. Under present conditions in Australia, the Commonwealth Line will never be a paying proposition.
Although we have been informed that the value of the ships has been written down to such an extent that the Commonwealth has lost millions of pounds, honorable members opposite are now suggesting the payment of a subsidy, which proves that the venture is always likely to be unprofitable. Why should we continue losing money? The establishment of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers and the passing of the Navigation Act have been the means of preventing competition in the Australian shipping trade, and there are Australian companies operating in the overseas and Inter-State trade which place shippers in the position of having either to accept the rates demanded or to decline to ship their produce. I cannot see any possibility of the provisions of the Navigation Act being materially amended whilst the Common” wealth Line is in existence. From 1910 to 1914 apples were shipped from Tasmania at 2s. 7d. per case, and even in 1916, when shipping was particularly scarce, and the war at its worst stage, the freight was only 3s. 6d. per case. At present the freight on apples is 4s. on all Commonwealth vessels, and on those of the Conference Line 4s. 6d. per case. Apples have been shipped from Tasmania by a Conference Line vessel at ls. 8Jd. per case, which is the cheapest freight ever paid.
– Vessels manned by black labour.
– This vessel was manned by white labour. While the provisions of the Navigation Act are en-> forced, outside shipping companies are not likely to enter into the business to any extent, which means that primary producers in particular are handicapped.
– The honorable member is hardly fair. The Commonwealth Line reduced their freight from 5s. to 4s., and the Conference Lines then decided to carry apples at 4s. 6d. per case.
– I do not expect the -low freight mentioned to be charged again, _ because the conditions will not allow it. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) is in favour of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers being continued in the interests of the Australian people. I am an Australian, and am as strong a believer in the possibilities of Australia as any honorable member in this House; but we can pay too much for Australian sentiment. I am entirelyopposed to the continuance of the Commonwealth Line, because I believe we can be served better by private enterprise. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) referred to the work done at Cockatoo Island, and deprecated .the. action of the Government in having as much repair work as possible done in other countries. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) stated that the vessels of- the “D” and “E” class, and some cruisers and other war vessels had been constructed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard; but we have to remember that it took four and a half years, and involved an expenditure of over £1,000,000 to build in Australia a vessel which could have -been constructed in England in one year for £300,000. That is paying dearly for encouraging Australian sentiment. When the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) was in Tasmania, he said that up-to-date electrical machinery had been installed at Cockatoo Island for cutting out port holes, but the men declined to handle it, because with it work was done in a much shorter time. We are proud of some of the work performed in Australia by Australian artisans; but it is impossible for Australia to progress if unnecessarily high rates have to be paid. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) said that the vessels of the Commonwealth Line had been written down in 1921 by 10- per cent., and, although that may have been justified, a slump has since occurred and lower prices have now to be accepted. As the Government favour a continuance of the Line, under a Board of Control, highly competent men, should be appointed. I am, however, of the same opinion as the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who stated that the undertaking must be conducted as a business proposition, and if that cannot be done, it is time the Government went out of the business.
Sitting suspended from 6.29 to 8 p.m.
.- Mr. Speaker-
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.-
– My main purpose in rising to- contribute to this debate is to give credit to those who, during the last five years, have been responsible for the administration of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. I desire also to refer to the anti- Aus tralian spirit that has prompted the utterances of the- honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook). I do not think it would be possible for any honorable member to give expression to more reactionary “ views. His . speech only justifies the opinion that I hold concerning many individuals who prate about their loyalty to Australia, and their patriotism. It shows clearly that those people are no more patriotic or loyal than it pays them to be. Such views as those propounded by the honorable member ill become the representative of a constituency in such an isolated part of the Commonwealth as. Tasmania, which needs all the protection that the Commonwealth Line is able to afford it. Happily the remarks of the honorable member for Denison (Mr. O’Keefe) stand in striking contrast. He contended that it was necessary for Tasmania to receive every consideration at the hands of the Government in the matter of shipping facilities.
– He is a live member.
– Yes. It is unfortunate that there should be an honorable member holding such unsound views as those of the honorable member for Franklin, and it is surprising that his electorate returned . him. There are other political Jeremiahs among us. We have listened to speeches from the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who said sufficient to make it clear that they were not particularly anxious for Australians employed in the shipping industry to have the working conditions that they now enjoy if it meant extra cost to them or to the Commonwealth. The Labour party prides itself on the splendid provisions of the Navigation Act. We are glad that Australia is able to give the lead to other parts of the world in regard to the conditions governing employment in the mercantile marine. The improved conditions benefit not only those who “ go down to the sea in ships,” but afford added security to the passengers. If the honorable members for Swan and Fawkner desire to whittle away the safe - guards contained in the Navigation Act they should be manly enough to say so. Those honorable members have gone just far enough to indicate that the underlying reason for their objection to the Commonwealth Line is the favorable conditions under which the seamen are engaged. Labour members are determined, if possible, not only to retain the advantages gained, but also to improve upon them. There is certainly room for improvement in the Navigation Act, and no doubt we shall be able to suggest amendments the adoption of which would provide a greater measure of justice to. the employees, and enhance the prestige of Australia. As this continent is many thousands of miles from the markets of the world, we are entirely dependent upon shipping services. If we were placed at the mercy of the Inchcape combination we should be compelled to pay it greater tribute than the cost of the provision of improved conditions for the seamen. During 1920, the Inchcape Combine increased its freights in every shipping service except that to Australia. We know perfectly well that it was the existence of the Commonwealth Line that saved Australia, as a whole, and the primary producers in particular, from the clutches of the Combine. It is beyond my comprehension that honorable members opposite, who represent primary producers, should express a wish for the discontinuance of such a beneficial Government enterprise as the Commonwealth Shipping Line, which has done a great deal in the interests ofthe primary producers in the last five or six years. I was much impressed by a statement made by the exMinister for Defence (Mr. Massy Greene), when he occupied the position of Minister for Trade and Customs. In introducing the Tariff hepaid a distinct compliment to the Commonwealth Line for having come to the rescue of the primary producers at a moment when they would otherwise have been completely at the mercy of the Inchcape combination. That fact has, apparently, been overlooked by honorable members opposite, who represent primary producers.
– Does thehonorable member suggest that the Commonwealth Line is cutting rates?
– It has prevented rates from becoming excessive, because in 1920, as I have already indicated, the Combine raised the rates to every port except the ports of Australia. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) thought that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) had gone too far, and he said that the honorable member should recollect that when the private companies were charging the fruit-growers of Tasmania 5s. a case for the carriage of fruit to Great Britain, the Commonwealth Line reduced the charge to 4s., which made the Combine cut down its rate to 4s. 6d.
– Still, it was robbery.
– If the honorable member thinks that the Commonwealth Shipping Line freights were excessive, how can he reconcile the position of the Inchcape combination ? The Commonwealth Line has been subjected to many difficulties largely in consequence of the Inchcape Combine, whose ramifications are widespread. It might be of interest to mention a number of them. We see Lord Inchcape’s hand in the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Shipping Companies, in the British India Shipping Company, the Australian United Steamship Navigation Company, in the New Zealand Shipping Company, the Federal Line, the Union Steam-ship Company, Burns, Philp, and Company Limited, the Eastern and Australian Line, in Mann and George (South Africa), Cory and Company, in the English Coaling Company, Port Said, in coal mines and jute mills in India, in banking in India - the recent purchase of the Bank of Allahabad - in lighterage plants at Colombo, Bombay, and Suez, inMcKinnon & McKenzie, agents, of India ; in McDonald and Hamilton, agents, of Sydney, and also in engineering works and docks.
– He has both feet in. the trough.
– Absolutely ; and if he could make the people of the Commonwealth pay tribute by way of increased freights in respect of the Australian services which he controls, he would beable to wallow in the trough at our expense. If any action of mine can prevent it he will never do that. The short-sightedness of many honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), is apparent in their attitude towards this Bill. Although the Line has sustained certain losses-
– Tell us how many strikes there have been ?
– Any difficulties experienced in connexion with the operation of the Line have been more than counterbalanced by the protection given to Australia. It is unfortunate that a certain number of vessels of the Line should be lying idle in Hobson’s Bay and Sydney Harbor, but we should not forget that those steamers are an adequate safeguard to the primary producers of the Commonwealth against any attempts by the Inchcape combination to unduly raise freights. If our commercial men had been sufficiently patriotic to patronize the Commonwealth » vessels to a greater extent, the Line itself would have been in a much more satisfactory position to-day. There has been a systematic boycott of Commonwealth ships. Preference has been given to vessels of the Inchcape combination. I would not be in the least surprised if , as a quid pro quo, the Conference Lines gave a rebate in freight to our commercial houses. But, of course, we know the underlying purpose is to destroy the Commonwealth Line, and later to levy increased freights upon Australian produce. The following statement from a letter written by Mr. H. B. Larkin, the general manager of the Commonwealth Line, in March of this year, is illuminating: -
Australians shall not ship. goods in their own ships without being fined by the Combine. This, in effect, was the law laid down by the great London Conference of the Shipping Combine which caused me to take counter action that resulted in freights to Australia being appreciably lowered.
This significant statement tells of the great forces that were arrayed against the Commonwealth Line, and how they were met. The fact that the Line is registered in Australia means the circulation of something like £500,000 extra to those who are engaged in working the ships, so it should be 6ur duty to see that the Line which has rendered such valuable service to the Commonwealth is adequately supported.
I turn now to an interesting statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) on 29th November, 1921, when speaking on the Estimates -
The first thing Mr. Larkin -has claimed is that our ships prevented the Conference Lines from increasing the general cargo rates last year, as they -had done in other places. This,” -it is claimed1, has saved us an increase of 25 per cent. . . . . The second claim is tl lit the Commonwealth Line has ‘benefited shippers by incorporating the. Commonwealth Sea Carriage of Goods Act provisions in Bills of Lading, and that various lines have followed with a clause tantamount to this. I think the Commonwealth Line can claim to have huu a considerable effect in this direc-Mon.
The Prime Minister, as a partner in a large wholesale firm in Flinders-lane, can, I think, speak with authority on this phase of the Commonwealth Shipping Line’s operations. He went on to say-
In the third -place it is said to -have been of advantage to shippers by giving opportunity for shipping from other British ports. Finally it is claimed that the Line has increased the bill of lading valuation -limit. With regard to the last-named point, there is not a shadow of doubt that the Commonwealth Line had a very considerable influence in that respect. The Conference Lines were refusing to accept liability for anything over £100 per package; but they have , had to come into line eventually, and increase that amount. It is open to question whether it was the Commonwealth Line which (brought that about, or whether it -was obvious that the Conference Lines would have to increase the amount owing to the general increase in prices.
As a commercial man, the Prime Minister has a keen appreciation of the benefits conferred upon Australia by the Commonwealth Line, and it is regrettable that those engaged in commercial pursuits have not given a little more evidence of patriotism by supporting the Commonwealth Line. Later in his speech on that, occasion the Prime Minister said -
I cannot vote for continuing to carry ‘ on >. the shipping business, because I do not believe that we can achieve the object which influences members to support it, namely, the curbing of the machinations of the Combine against Australian shippers.
I should like to know what caused the Prime Minister to change his belief in the future of the Line.
– He attained to more wisdom, no doubt.
– I do noi forget the statement, with perhaps a sinister meaning, made by .the right honorable member for North .Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes). Are we to infer that by the appointment of the Board the Prime Minister is now indicating his opposition to the Line?
– The honorable member is thinking that the Prime Minister is appointing the executioners?
– That is in my mind. I cannot reconcile the statement made by the Prime Minister on 29th November, 1921, with the provisions of this Bill. Unless I receive an assurance from the Prime Minister that there is no desire or intention on his part to carry into effect the hope to which he gave expression in 1921, it will he necessary for me to oppose the appointment of this Board. I am not prepared to allow the Government to make use of the Board which is to be appointed, under the provisions of this Bill to wipe out the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. If it is their desire to place this Line in such a position that it can serve Australia to better advantage in the future, ‘they will receive every support for their proposal, but if, on the contrary, it is their intention to rid the Commonwealth of a service that has been of such great value in affording protection against combinations of overseas shipping companies, it would be more to their credit if they asked the House, straight out, for its indorsement of such a proposal.
Past Governments have not given to the Line the consideration it should have been afforded. In 1920, a contract was entered into with the Orient Steam Navigation Company for a four-weekly mail service between Australia and Great Britain, and it involved the annual payment of £130,000 out of the public funds to a private company. Another branch of the Inchcape Combine has been able to secure a subsidy of £32,000 a year for a mail service between the mainland and Papua and the Mandated Territories.
– The Commonwealth is paying £53,000 for that service between the mainland and the islands.
– The figure supplied to me by the Prime Minister the other day was £32,000.
– A new contract has * started since June.
– It shows the sharp practice, or, shall ‘I say, the sharp methods employed bv the Government in supplying honorable members with information. When I asked .a question on the first day of sitting I had a right to learn from responsible Ministers that a new contract was being negotiated with Burns, Philp, and Company for an increased subsidy.
– The £53,000 is for the carriage of mails and cargo.
– That ‘ is not what I was led to believe.
– I was given the information at the Department the other day.
– I am prepared to accept the honorable member’s statement. I do not doubt that what he has suggested has taken place. There are coastal services in which the Commonwealth steamers could ‘be employed to advantage. We have vessels lying idle, yet distant parts of the Commonwealth cannot get those satisfactory mail or shipping services which it is their right to expect. I * should like to know whether the Inchcape Combine is not getting in this respect a prior consideration to which it is not entitled. I have already shown its ramifications and how it includes certain well-known companies trading on the Australian coast; and, since we know that the Government are not prepared to assist various primary producers along our coastline to market their produce to the best advantage, I am forced to the conclusion that it is the desire of Ministers to scientifically sacrifice the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I hope that this is not their intention, and that wider opportunities will be afforded to those administering the affairs of the Line to enable them to tender for the mail services. Indeed, they should be given absolute preference,^ not only in the matter of conveying mails from Australia to other parts of the world, but also in maintaining a service between the mainland and Papua and the Mandated Territories. Again, seeing that our steamers are placed at a disadvantage in other parts of the world through not being able to secure cargoes because of & systematic boycott, I think we should be patriotic enough to afford them a preference which would make them profitable and at the same time put them in a position to render to people in distant parts of Australia that’ service which it should be our earnest desire to afford them. I hope that in Committee we shall so amend the Bill as to safeguard ourselves .against the sale of the Line, ‘which I fear may happen, and put the Line on that basis which will give to those who are employed in it the confident belief that they can justify its retention for the purpose, not only of making* profits, but of affording Australia the most efficient and satisfactory shipping service it is possible to obtain.
Mr.F. FRANCIS (Henty) [8.40].- I regret the introduction of this Bill. I thoughtthat the Government would have brought in a measure to abolish the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. They started off very well by getting rid of the much-talked-of Commonwealth Woollen Mills at Geelong.
– The nest will be the Commonwealth Bank, and after that the Note Issue.
– I have always been opposed to Government trading. It may be, as has already been said by honorable members on the opposite side of the House, that bythe appointment of a Board to control the Commonwealth Line of Steamers the Government are seeking a way out.
– It was suggested on the honorable member’s side of the House.
– I know that it was also suggested from this side. I do not care much for suchmethods.It would be much better for those who are opposed to Government trading to declare in the Chamber what they are always prepared to say outside. I pledged myself to my constituents to vote against any Bill that had for its object the encouragement of Government trading, and I am doing my duty in opposing the Bill with which we are asked to deal to-night. Instead of getting out of trading, the Government are giving the system a fresh lease of life. They have given a second bounty to the Meat Combine. If I had had the opportunity I should have voted against the Bill which authorized its payment. Honorable members opposite are no doubt sincere in their agitation for the nationalization of industries. They would bring all industries under the control of the Government. I think that by competition among those engaged in private enterprise we are likely to. get much better results than we shall achieve by having industries controlled and financed solely by the Government. Not only are the Government giving new life to the Shipping Line; it is quite possible that they will give new life to other spoon-fed industries which are always coming to them for assistance. The sugar industry is one of those. Parliament has afforded a legitimate method whereby all Australian industries can be protected. I have always stood for the principle of affording full protection to all industries in Australia. We must allow private competition to proceed, and we must not take over the control of shipping or enterprises of a similar nature. The Government should candidly admit that the Commonwealth Line has served the purpose for which it was established, and that, therefore, they intend to get out of the business and to allow those who know more about it-
– To exploit us.
– No. The companies who are controlling shipping have possibly endeavoured, at times, to exploit us. There is a method, other than that of throwing at them a line of ships, by which we could have some control over their charges. The Government should cease trading. The sooner we cease trading the sooner we shall obtain stability in all enterprises. Different industries are continually coming to the Government for assistance. I protest against that practice being encouraged. I regret that the Government have introduced a measure to give new life to the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and I hope that this proposal is to be only of a temporary character.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has received many congratulations on his clear and excellent speech in moving the second reading of this Bill. I think that special congratulation might be offered to him on the particular skill which he displayed in putting up such a splendid case for the retention of a Line which, at the outset of his political career, he threatened to abolish. It requires a good deal more skill than the average man possesses to be able with such lucidity, emphasis, and apparent sincerity to stand up for something, to abolish which one has entered political life. We on this side have no desire to embarrass the Government on this measure. Especially have we no desire to embarrass the Prime Minister by reminding him of his recent wonderful conversion. We cannot avoid, however, taking advantage of the opportunity of saying that the fine, clear argument which the right honorable gentleman put forward in favour of the retention of this Line destroyed the only case he had for the sale of the Woollen Mills. I listened with interest the other day to the right honorable gentleman when he pointed out that, although some millions of money were lost on the Shipping Line, there were indirect gains to the people. He pointed out that not only were those gains enjoyed by the people during the war, but that they were to be enjoyed in the future ; because, he said - and very rightly, too - we would have some means of arriving at what is a fair freight to becharged. I answer the right honorable gentleman by saying that it is a most important thing in the interests of cheap clothing for the people of this country that we should have a “Woollen Mill by which to check the profiteering tendencies of private manufacturers. There is the additional argument in our favour that the Commonwealth Mill was making huge profits as well as bringing an indirect gain to the people of Australia.
The life of the Commonwealth Shipping Line has been spared, by some miraculous dispensation of “ Big business.” For that we are truly grateful. I do not desire to say anything against this measure on its second reading. There are some grave omissions which I hope will be rectified in Committee. I merely direct the Prime Minister’s attention to two aspects with which we shall deal in detail later. In the Bill there is a proposal that all the shipping and dockyards shall be handed over to a Board. The dockyards that are to be handed over are in New South Wales - Cockatoo and Garden Island. I- take this opportunity of registering my protest against the proposal to abandon the carrying on of shipbuilding and repair work at Williamstown. That is an absolute breach of faith with the people of this State; it is a greater breach of faith than was committed when the Government sold that block of land at Geelong which was a gift to the people of Australia. Tho dock at Williamstown was sold to the Commonwealth Government at a remarkably low figure, and it was clearly understood at the time that the Government were going to extend the dockyard for shipbuilding purposes, for the overhaul of vessels, and for their repair. Now it is proposed that it shall be sold. I understand that the sale has not yet been finalized, and I hope that the Government will retrace their steps in the matter. During the last three years an average of about £25,000 to £30,000 a year has been spent on repair work and some shipbuilding at the dockyard in this State. Prom 1918 to 1922 about 400 men were employed there. Experts were brought into the State to take charge of different .departments of that establishment. We are now told that the dockyard is to be sold to the Harbor Trust, which had the opportunity of taking it over in 1918, when the Com- monwealth Government took it over, but did not do so. In the meantime the Trust has erected works at Williamstown, which have been completed within the last six or seven months. Are those works to be stopped ? The staff employed at the works of the Harbor Trust will step into the dockyard, forcing on to the unemployed market the well qualified staff that is there at the present time. That is a very serious matter from every point of view.
The decision of the Government strikes the death knell of shipbuilding in Victoria. I do not wish to. raise that which, it might be suggested, is a parochial question; but Victoria is an important State having the second largest population in Australia, and we do not think it deserves the treatment which the Federal Government are meting out to it to-day. No nation can progress that does not engage in shipbuilding. I am not actuated by jealousy regarding the shipbuilding which is carried on at the Cockatoo Dockyard. That yard, I believe, is the best in Australia. The yard at Williamstown comes a very close second to Cockatoo, and there is room for both to be carried on at an even greater pressure than is the case to-day. A definite guarantee was given by the late Government that shipbuilding would be extended in this country if the workers would make good. I challenge anybody to say that the workers did not make good at the Williamstown dockyard. We had to-day from the ex -Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) a tribute to the manner in which work was carried on there. The Prime Minister himself the other day praised the quality of the work. Yet, before any sale has been effected, one of the big punching machines has been sent out of the State.
– The Government has “ lost its punch.”
– I hope that it will have lost more than that before we have finished with it. Artisans are being driven out of the State. I have gone into this matter very carefully with the secretaries of the unions. They have given me some remarkable figures, from which
I gather that about thirty years ago the ironworkers generally in New South Wales and Victoria were equal in number, while at the present time about five men are employed in New South Wales to every one in Victoria. That proves that two things are happening - that the Victorian State Government has not looked after the interests of its State as capably as the New South Wales Government, and that the Commonwealth Government is not helping Victoria. The secretary of the Shipwrights’ Union says that they have 900 members in New South Wales, and 150 in Victoria - six to one. That is a remarkable position, which is to be accentuated. The explanation of it is that there is no stability and no scope in this State for the iron trade.
I draw the attention of the Prime Minister to another aspect of the question. Since last Christmas there have landed in Victoria over 100 artisans for the shipbuilding trade. They came from Scotland and England, and were mostly iron shipbuilders and boilermakers. I am assured that only about twenty-five secured employment at their trade. A few have gone on the labour market, and obtained intermittent employment as labourers; others have gone out of the State altogether; some are unemployed at the present time in Melbourne; and the remainder have returned to Scotland and England to give this country a very bacl advertisement. This decision of the Government will affect places like Castlemaine, where Thompson’s were making marine engines, as it will result in men being thrown out of. work there. I suggest to the Government that, even though they do not retain this as a shipbuilding yard, they ought to retain it for carrying out certain repair work. We have fought in this House, and we shall fight again, hi support of the principle that, as far as possible, repairs should be effected in Australia. I think that those repairs might well be distributed over the States of Australia. If the whole dockyard is not retained, the staff should be retained for effecting necessary repairs to vessels in this port.
I emphasize one other as’pect that we put forward as a party. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), speaking the ether day on the motion for the second reading, suggested that the marine workers should have representation on the Board that is to be established. That suggestion has been supported by other honorable members on this side. We put it forward with a desire to help in making the Line a success. We are interested in the Line because it was founded by a Labour Government, and it represents to some extent the nationalization of shipping - a policy in which we believe. It is our duty in considering a measure like this to make constructive suggestions.
The Prime Minister, in his speech, told us that the intention of the Government was to appoint a Board of three members - one to be primarily concerned with the shipping line, - another with repair work, ‘and the third wholly with finance. I agree that those are three very essential and important factors, but I suggest that there is another important factor that will make for the success or otherwise of the Line. That factor is labour. In no industry does labour play a more important part than in shipping. We urge in all sincerity, with a desire to make the Line a greater success than it has been, and to remove all cause of friction between the workers and the management, that the Government should carry out l-he suggestion from this side of the House. I do not say that” it would solve the problem, but it would be a step towards a solution. Honorable members should rid themselves of their opinions regarding the relations of employers and employees. The people, represented by the Government and Parliament, are the proprietors, and we must look at the problem from the point of view of the proprietors, as well as that of the workers. While we have not the same object as most other employers, namely, to get the most out of the business by exploiting the community and sweating the workers, we want to make the industry efficient and profitable. As our aim in this respect is the same as that of other employers, I would direct the attention of honorable members to what intelligent employers are doing in various parts of the world to bring about co-operation between employers and employees. I regard such co-operation as one of the essential factors in running any industry, whether nationalized or privately owned. It is, moreover, a growing idea. I do not agree with - nay, I resent the allegations of - those people who are eternally slandering the workers by charging them with deliberately slowing down. Time and again this accusation has been proved a slander. When the question is investigated, it has to be admitted that we are not getting efficiency in industries, but further investigation will show that it is not fair or reasonable to use the argument solely against the workers. Greater lack of efficiency will in many cases be found on the side of the employers, and where it occurs on the side . of the workers, it is due very rarely to any deliberate act of slowing down, but more often to the system under which they work. Shareholders in a company, for example, are in most cases quite indifferent to the welfare of the workers. They have no sympathy and no concern for those who make their dividends, and that feeling naturally becomes mutual I do’ not suggest that this result is due to reckless unconcern by the workers, or heartlessness hy the shareholders.. It is due to the soulless system whereby people draw dividends without .knowing whence they come, or how they are earned. The workers are regarded as cogs in a machine, or units of power. If we are ever to have progress in this country, or peace in industry, we must get away from the idea that labour is a commodity - something, to be measured as so many units of power. Honorable members on this side of the House will strive, when the Bill is in Committee, to insert a provision that a representative of the maritime unions shall be appointed to the Board. It is proposed to have a marine expert, a repairs expert, and a finance expert. We say that a labour expert should be there, too.
This proposal cannot be dismissed with idle sneers or a wave of the hand. It is past the experimental stage in the industrial world. There is a tendency all over the world towards what is known as .the democratization of industry - that is, the organized co-operation of workmen and their employers. The practice is growing in every advanced country in the world; intelligent employers of labour are seizing upon it for their own benefit as well as that of their employees. In 1917-18, the Whitley Committee recommended the formation of Works Committees, and, over these, Joint Industrial Councils for each industry. These committees and councils were to represent the employers and employees in equal numbers. I have endeavoured to obtain all the information available on this subject, and have studied the reports of the International Labour Office, which was established by the League of Nations, and has employers and employees represented upon it. I recommend those publications to honorable members. They are unbiased inquiries into problems which are of great concern to the people of every country. One or two phases of the reports are worthy of the special consideration of honorable members. The governing Body of the International Labour Office, at its meeting in Genoa on the 9th June, 1920, desired the office to conduct an inquiry into industrial production in the various countries of the world. The resolution was moved by the employers group. I have the report, which, after going very extensively into the scope of the inquiry, deals in one chapter with “’ Solutions.” Among the solutions stressed by the- report’ was the democratization of industry. It points out that Works Committees are operating in England to-day in industries employing over 3,500,000 workers. I confess that I was astonished that the number was so large, although I knew the system was being extended. The report also states that sixty Joint Industrial Councils are in existence in England. The Joint Councils control the whole of an industry. The Works Committees are elected by the employees in each factory or industry, and have free access to the management and to the books of the company. The committee, therefore. has knowledge of the inside working of the business. The inquiry then went to the United States of America, and selected a number of illustrations of what was happening there. The report mentions the firm of Filene Brothers, of Boston, which is managed by eleven directors, of whom four are elected by the 2,000 employees of the firm. The employees appoint a committee, whose decision is final in cases of dismissal or reduction in rank and other conditions of labour. There are also general meetings of employees to decide conditions of labour and all questions affecting the days that shall be worked. Each worker has a share in the general profits of the industry. The system has been in operation for sixteen years, and has had a marked effect upon the success of the business. It was started as an experiment to increase the profits of the firm. That, by the way, is one of the objections which the workers have to it, but the objection cannot be raised in regard to -nationalized industry, the profits of which belong to the people of the country. Members of the Opposition are not asking for any alteration as great as that, but only for a step forward. We realize that the democratization of industry can come only by the education of both sides, and that, education can come only by experiment. As we have Democracy in politics at the present moment, why should we not have Democracy in industry ? Autocracy has been proved to be bad, and has failed both in politics and industry.
I noticed, with considerable interest and approval, a statement by Herbert C. Hoover upon this question. He said - and the phrase sums up the whole of his statement - “ Industrial democracy is just and efficacious.” The Commonwealth Government Shipping Line has ahead of it many difficulties which will not be surmounted unless a satisfactory understanding is reached between the workers in the industry and the management. Whilst I resent .the suggestion that there is a general policy of slowing down, it is known that there is lack of co-operation between those who work and those who employ them, and that this militates against the best interests of any industry. To face the matter, frankly, we have to make that admission. I was interested in the report of a joint industrial council of the building trade that met in London in 1919, to consider the problems of the building industry. It came to the conclusion that the four main factors tending to restriction of output were -
This report was framed by a joint industrial council, upon which employers and employees were represented. The first of the four reasons -suggested is “ fear of unemployment.”
– That is the worst of all. .
– It is the worst, and it hangs like a nightmare over the workers of every country. If men do not bend their energies to their work because of the fear of unemployment and the misery and starvation that follow upon it, no reasonable person can blame them very much. Give continuity of work to the men who work, give them some security of another job when their present one runs out, and maintenance when they cannot get employment, and much of the fear of unemployment will be swept aside and greater confidence created. The fear of unemployment, however, will never be removed -without a general social reconstruction; but even under the present system something might be done to minimize it. The second factor - “ disinclination of workers to make unrestricted profits for private employers “ - is easily understood, but it does not operate in connexion with a national concern like the Commonwealth Government Shipping Line. The third factor - “ Workers’ lack of interest in the industry owing to non-participation in control “ - -can be remedied, and members of the Opposition are advocating one step in that direction. We say, give the workers a voice in the control of the Line, and give them a sense of responsibility in their work. Too often we hear the complaint that the workers are not taking a personal interest in their work, but almost every time a request is made to give them a personal interest, it is refused. I believe that if the third objection were removed, as it has been in some notable cases by private employers, it- would solve very largely the fourth point, that is, “ inefficiency, both managerial and operative.” Co-operation between managers .-and men will make for greater efficiency than in -the past. With Democracy in industry, the passive wage-earner will take part in the control, and share in the responsibilities of the undertakings engaged in, and that will be particularly true of nationalized concerns. We often hear the gibe from our opponents that there are just as many strikes in nationalized industries as in the industries carried on by private enterprise. I am not disputing that for the moment, but if those responsible for a nationalized industry will not treat their employees in a different way from that in which private employers treat theirs, they cannot expect different treatment in return. If the. workers are given a share of responsibility, they will respond in the way we desire. With a representative on the Board whom they trust they will learn the difficulties of the management, will be in a position to appreciate the problems that are to be solved, and, with a proper incentive, will assist in their solution.
Suggestions by the Labour party have been adopted’ in the past in regard to Labour representation on Committees of Inquiry and Commissions; but there one cardinal mistake is frequently made by anti-Labour Governments. When they appoint a representative of the workers they generally make the selection outside the trusted leaders of the Labour movement. The workers ought to have a free and unfettered .choice of their own representative, a free and unfettered choice of men in whom they have confidence and to whom they will listen. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) that with such representation as is now proposed, and. with the mutual understanding thus created, there would be prevented many, of those small disputes’ which in the past have stopped the work of the Shipping Line. As to the selection of representatives in whom the men believe, it is interesting to note what Mr. Cadbury, who speaks with some knowledge, says : -
The test of a scheme is the extent to which it creates and fosters a spirit of good-will without lessening the loyalty of the worker to his own class and its organizations.
I think that is a very significant statement, coming, as it does., from a man with much experience in such matters.
– He practices what he preaches.
– Quite so. We do not say that the proposal now made will solve all the industrial problems that confront us - that if there be a representative of the marine workers on. the Board it will insure peace for ever. We do say, however, that with Arbitration Courts fixing the rates of wages and hours of labour, and with a workers’ representative sitting ‘at the table, many troubles will not arise, or, if they do; will be smoothed away without any stoppage of work. Of course, there will always be a clash of interests; that can not be avoided in any form of business or occupation. We had bloodshed and turmoil for years in Europe owing to the clashing interests of different groups of capitalists in the world ; hut with a better understanding brought about in the way now suggested, we shall bring about a greater era of industrial peace than is possible by any iron-;handed method. Believing, as the Labour party do, that private property is the sole aim of the majority of private employers, we are not very hopeful that’ the many schemes outlined will ever prove the solution of the social problem. That is why we have faith in nationalization as a step towards socialization, and we believe that what we suggest is one step to giving the workers some control, and a sense of responsibility in the work they do.
Our opponents opposite believe that private enterprise can be made successful, but I do not think there are many who take the view that private control has been humane to the workers in all ages, or is even so at the present time. Notwithstanding all the advantages that we enjoy from increased methods of .production, by up-to-date machinery- -despite the fact. that the problem of production was solved long ago by scientific methods - thousands and tens of thousands of workers are continuously on the breadline, and have to face the gaunt spectre of unemployment. Honorable members opposite, in their political campaigns, advance as a solution - and I believe many of them are sincere - the adoption of co-operation and profitsharing. We shall put those honorable members to the test, and see how far they believe in their own profession. But copartnership and profit-sharing, politically speaking, are meaningless, because there is no legislation by which they can be enforced. Of course, we can have copartnership and profit-sharing by nationalizing industry, and if honorable members ‘believe ‘that what they preach is. best as between the private employer and his employee, surely they ought to approve of it when applied to nationalized industry, over which the Parliament has control. What we propose is not copartnership, but a long way short of that ideal ; we merely suggest that the workers shall have one representative out of four on the Board. A proposal to that effect would test the sincerity of honorable members opposite.
As I said at the outset, we on this side desire the success of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, because we wish to see our country progress. We believe that the success of the Line will tend to the development of Australia; that it will help those who are tilling the soil, and those who have commodities to export. We desire the success of the Line because it. represents one more experiment in nationalization. We were proud of the success, of the ‘Geelong Woollen Mills, and righteously indignant when the Government parted with them. We are glad that the Government do not propose to dispose of the Shipping Line, but I may say that there were arguments ten times stronger for the retention of the woollen mills than for the retention of the shipping. The mills have proved successful indirectly and directly, whereas the Commonwealth Line has proved a success only indirectly, and it remains to be seen whether it will result in the profits hoped. We are interested in the Line, and, therefore, we want industrial peace, and, to that end, the co-operation of those who manage with those who work. Labour is not a commodity, and should never be treated as such. The workers should be consulted in all matters pertaining to their particular industries; and if they are they will respond even more generously “than they have when not consulted. Such a response will prove to the advantage of the people generally, the Government, the management, and the workers themselves. In Committee, an amendment will be moved to carry out the idea’ that I have expressed. I hope that the Government will accept the suggestion, and render any proposal from this side unnecessary. We on this side make the suggestion sincerely because we are really greater believers in the Commonwealth Line than are the Government themselves, and even more anxious for. its success. We unanimously support the second reading, in the hope that the Bill will be improved in Committee.
.- The Country party have been urged by honorable members opposite- to do their duty and vote for the retention of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. I do not know whether the Opposition know exactly for what the Country party stands?
– It would be very difficult to say.
– I shall try to enlighten the honorable member, who told us that there had been a systematic boycott of the Commonwealth Line. I hope the honorable member does not infer that that boycott was initiated by the primary producers of Victoria, or of Australia.
– Commercial magnates on the other side of the world are responsible.
– I wish to entirely dissociate primary producers from any boycott of this Line, and I should like to show what they have done, and have tried to do, for the Line, and what it has done for them in return. To that end I shall shortly give some figures dealing with the rates charged as between Australia and the markets of the world. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) has told us that the primary producers should patronize the Commonwealth Line. I am now speaking for the wheat-growers, who probably have more freight to offer than has any other primary or secondary industry in Australia, and I may say that we have done everything to get in touch, to keep in touch, and to 3o business with the Line. The platform of the Country party declares in favour of the extension of the Commonwealth Shipping Line by the inclusion of large and fast steamers with plentiful insulated space for the purpose of carrying perishable products to the markets of the world at reasonable rates; any profits made to be utilized in the expansion of the service. The main reason why we ‘have supported this Line is that we believe that in days gone by we have been exploited, and probably will be exploited again, by the Shipping Combine. We had hoped that the Commonwealth Line would be the means of preventing this exploitation, but it has not proved all that we hoped. During the war period we chartered an immense number of vessels, and the Commonwealth Line, which, I believe, was purchased in 1916, entered largely into the overseas carrying trade. For the years 1916 to 1920 inclusive, the average price paid was 100s. 6.24d. per ton, equal to 2 s. 8.31d. per bushel. In the year 1916 the average price was 95s. 2.77d. per ton, equal to 2s. 6.61d. per bushel, an increase, comparedwith pre-war days, of 233 per cent. In 1917 the rates increased to 101s. Id. per ton, the average being 2s. 8.54d. per bushel, or an increase of 250 per cent, over pre-war rates. In 1918, the rates increased to 120s. 4d. per ton, the average being 3s. 2.68d. per bushel, or an increase of 320 per cent, over pre-war rates. In 1919 the rates fell to 101s. Id., the average being 2s. 8.5d. per bushel, or an increase of -250 per cent. In 1920 the rates increased to 120s. 4d. per ton, the average price being 3s. 2.69d. per bushel.
– Were those rates for the Commonwealth Government Line?
– For all lines, including the Commonwealth Government Line. There was an average increase in that year of 320 per cent, over pre-war rates. During this period British-owned ships were subject to 60 per cent, excess profits tax, and later to 80 per cent, and 90 per cent. The Commonwealth Government -Shipping Line was not subject to this tax, and all profits made were paid into the Consolidated Revenue. The ex-Prime Minister said that millions of money were made during this period. I believe hestated that the fleet had paid for itself, and showed a profit of some £3,000,000 sterling. We* can readily see that the bulk of these profits were made out of the primary producers by, principally, the carriage of wheat, wool, hides,’ skins, oats, and other primary products.
– How did the Commonwealth rates compare with other rates ?
– We obtained no relief from the Commonwealth Government Line.
– The honorable member’s party kept the then Government in office.
– The honorable member’s party were not very anxious to put them out. The pre-war rates were from 2.6s. to” 27s. 6d. per ton, the average being about 9d. per bushel, while during the wax the rates ranged from 2s. 6d. to 3s. .2d. per bushel. Those figures are in connexion with the five compulsory Pools. Taking the first voluntary Pool, my Board of Directors expressly desired their chartering agents to get into touch with the. Commonwealth Government Line, and so far as possible to put all business in their way. Seeing that the Government had helped to finance the Pool, and given a guarantee, we considered it our duty to help the Commonwealth Government where possible. At the commencement of chartering operations, from late October until early November, 1921, the corporation requested its selling and chartering agency, Messrs. James Bell and Company Proprietary Limited, to keep in touch with the Commonwealth Government Line, and where advisable and profitable to charter their vessels. From time to time Mr. George Bell reported that he was in touch with the Line, but that charters could not be arranged, for the United Kingdom and/or the Continent except at rates about 5s. per ton above those quoted through David Bruce and Company, London, and at which charters were effected. The Commonwealth Government Line, however, was prepared to quote “ D “ boats for India at what we proved to be current market rates. After early December the Indian demand for cargoes, which had been great during October and November, and which was supplied by the Australian Wheat Board, eased, and only odd cargoes were required. The Commonwealth Government Line was given first option over all Indian inquiries, as a result of which the Dumosa and the Dilga were chartered on the 12th December, 1921, and 18th February, 1922, respectively. In addition, several other, vessels chartered by the corporation for the United Kingdom, or the Continent, with an Indian option, were utilised for Indian safes because of their positions and rates of freight. Out of seventy-five vessels chartered by the Wheat Corporation, although we were prepared and anxious to give preference to the Commonwealth Government Line, only four vessels of that Line were secured.
To give an illustration of the replies we received from the Commonwealth Government Line, I would point out that on the 14th February, 1922, they replied thanking the corporation for their offer, but stating that the rates were not attractive. They requested our chartering agent to keep in- touch, as “ circumstances may arise where it may suit us to offer you a steamer even at the rate indicated.”- About this time we chartered vessels freely at 50s. On 2Sth January we chartered the Australia at 50s.; on 27th January, the Grelden -at 50s.; on 31st January, the
Canada at 47s. 6d.; on 8th February, the Norwich City at 50s.; on the 11th February, the linden at 50s.; and on 16th. February, the Freienfels at 50s. The Commonwealth Government Line were then holding out for 55s.
– Did those vessels belong to the Conference Line ?
– Those vessels were supposed to belong to the Combine, but they were giving better rates than the Commonwealth Line. On 22nd March, 1922, the Commonwealth Line offered by telephone the Austral-port for the “United Kingdom and/or the Continent at 50s., and this was the first occasion on which they entertained this rate, although we had been chartering at 50s. from 2Sth January. By this time the corporation had effected 90 per cent, of the charters required to meet its total commitments for the season 1921-22. “We had previously tried to do business with the Commonwealth Line, but had not been successful. Out of seventy-five vessels, only four of the Commonwealth Government Line were chartered. The Dumosa was secured for India at 37s. 6d. per ton, the Dilga for India at 35s., the Australport for the United Kingdom and/or Continent at 50s., and the Dinoga for Egypt at 47s. 6d. These figures relate to the first voluntary Pool. Exactly the same position applies to the present Pool. We have chartered altogether twenty-two vessels, and of those only three are Commonwealth Government Line steamers. As late as the Srd of this month we communicated with the manager of the Commonwealth Shipping. Line and suggested that we were anxious to do business with them. The following letter was received from Mr. G. H. Kneen, the acting manager for the Line, dated 5th inst. : -
Wheat charters. - I am obliged for your favour No. 1.04&m of 3rd instant, but regret to advise that at present market freight rates for wheat to United Kingdom and/or Continent, the business is not sufficiently attractive to warrant the fixture of any vessels of this Line.
I want to make it quite clear that, as the Government had given a guarantee, we did everything possible to help this Line. It is the desire of the primary producers of this country to foster the Line, as they believe it operates in their interests by keeping rates at a reasonable level. We do not ask that rates shall be cut unduly, or that the vessels shall work for nothing. We want the management to make a reasonable and fair turnover, and we are prepared to pay the same rate as paid outside - 30s. for parcels, and from 31s. 3d. to 32s. 6d. for cargoes; yet we cannot do business. I have made inquiries as to the vessels that could be placed immediately at our disposal. We are open to charter ships to-morrow if we can obtain them. I understand that in Melbourne there are ten Commonwealth Government steamers, comprising the Australpool, the Australplain, the Araluen, the Dinoga, the Dumosa, the Erriba, the Eurimbla, and the EuwarraTwo vessels, the Elouera and the Euroa, have not yet been taken over by the Commonwealth, and they are still in the hands of the Commonwealth Shipping Construction Branch. The other eight vessels are anchored in the Bay, idle, rotting, and encrusted with barnacles. Surely it would be better to use them. In Sydney there are eleven steamers laid up. We have endeavoured during’ a period of nearly two years to practice what we preach, yet the Commonwealth Government Line has not allowed us to do so. At every turn we have been baulked. It would seem as if the manager of the Commonwealth Government Line had no desire to do business. During the 1921-22 season, taking the seventy-five vessels chartered, the average price at which we obtained them was, approximately, 5s. below the quotations of the Commonwealth Government Line. The figuresspeak for themselves. While I should like this Bill to be passed, yet, at the same time, I consider that the Line should be carried on efficiently and in the interests of the primary producers. If it is not to be properly managed, then at the first opportunity I shall vote for itsextinction.
Mr. PATERSON (Gippsland) [9.43J.- I wish to make a few brief observations, on the financial statement tendered in connexion with the Commonwealth Shipping Line. It seems to me that many honorable members are under a misapprehension as to what the losses really have been. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) today made reference to depreciation which in times past had been written off. Some of the vessels had been written down in value to £6 10s. and £10 per ton, and in the case of the . ‘ ‘ Bay “ class to £46 13s. 4d. per ton. The right honorable member for North .Sydney appeared to be under the impression that in respect of depreciation millions were being written off below the already reduced figures quoted. It appears to me that this financial statement deals with the whole position from the inception of the Commonwealth Line until the present date, and does not appertain specially to anything which happened in between. The balance-sheet shows the original capital values of the whole of the ships, and some honorable members are, apparently, under the impression that the difference between the original value of £15,000,000 and the present value of £4,750,000 is a total loss. That is quite a mistake. Of the. £15,000,000, the original value of all the ships which have been at one time or other in the service of the Commonwealth Line, about £1,000,000 worth of tonnage, or a little more, has been either sold or lost, and the insurance money recovered, which reduces the £15,000,000 to a little under £14,000,000. That £14,000,000 has been written down to £4,750,000; but the difference between those two figures of a little over £9,000,000 is many times greater than our total loss. Profits have been made sufficient to cover well over two-thirds of that £9,000,000 total depreciation, with the result that the actual net loss is only £2,646,000. To speak of a loss of only so many millions sounds ridiculous, but the difference between the total loss of two and two-third millions and the apparent loss of the difference between £15,000,000 and the four and two-thirds millions is very considerable. The six and one-third millions profit, made from the inception of the Line until now must be placed against the total depreciation. I am prepared to give the Line a fair trial. If it can pay. 5 -per cent, interest on the reduced capital and similar taxation to that which an ordinary company would be compelled to pay, and carry on upon a competitive freight basis, it will justify its existence. The right honorable member for North Sydney referred in scathing, terms to the intention of the Government to tax the Line, and said that it would be only a bookkeeping entry, as the money would be debited to one Department and credited to another.
But if that is done we shall have an opportunity of judging whether or not the Line can carry on if it is taxed as an ordinary shipping company. If the Line can be used - I am not quite so optimistic as are some honorable members opposite - as a means of reducing the intolerable freight rates without transferring that intolerable burden to the shoulders of the general taxpayers, it will certainly justify its existence. If it cannot do that, the justification for its existence will cease. I am willing to give it a fair trial.
– I do not know whether what I have to say will come within the purview of this Bill, but I am quite prepared, Mr. Speaker, to submit to your ruling. Commonwealth shipbuilding is a rather comprehensive term, and I should like to take this opportunity to refer to the wooden ships built under contract by Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh. It may also be said that the case is sub judice, but what I. have to say can not in any way affect the litigation now in progress. I was a member of the Public Works Committee, which took a great deal of evidence,’ and which went exhaustively into the construction of the Burnside and Braeside. I was the only member of the Committee, who voted against the majority in regard to the ships being taken over by the Government, and the question- of valuation. I do not say that the Government have treated the contractors unfairly, but I say, without hesitation, that they have been treated ungenerously. As mentioned by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes), the men engaged on the construction and inspection of the wooden ships were steel ship architects and supervisors who had had no experience hi> -wooden shipbuilding. The evidence taken by the Public Works Committee was to the effect that whilst we have large quantities of timber available none was suitable for the building of large ships. For instance, the ribs were specified to be in one piece.
– Order ! The Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), earlier in the session, certified to this House that the Kidman and. Mayoh contract and the resultant Arbitration proceedings were sub judice. It is an invariable and ancient practice and usage not to permit the discussion of a question before the Courts, and I therefore cannot allow the honorable member to proceed on the lines he is now following.
– I shall submit to your ruling.
.- I intended to oppose the appointment of a Board to control the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, especially after hearing the right honorable member for North . Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes), the father of the original project, who had a great deal to do with carrying it through, and who suggested that the proposed Board would, in all probability, decide to dispose of the Line. I was also inclined to vote against the Bill until I heard the revelations of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) as to the method in which the Line is carried on. It is time new blood was infused into the management.
– If we can get that done.
– That is the point I wish to stress. The right honorable member for North Sydney, who spoke somewhat in his old strain, does not at heart approve of the scrapping of the ships or of the writing down of their values, as an excuse for disposing of them at a ridiculously low price, as was done with the Geelong Woollen Mills. The speech of the right honorable member was redolent of old ideals, which to-day are deep in his breast, but which circumstances prevent him ventilating as he would desire. Before we do anything in the matter of disposing of tha ships, the question put to the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) by the ex-Prime Minister as to possible members of the Board, should be answered. I am just as strong in my desire that the Government should carry on this important undertaking as I am that they should control other essential industries. The Prime Minister has said it is the policy of the Government to dispose of Government ventures competing with private enterprise; but it is also their policy to continue the Line and to extend its operations. I have yet to learn that Australians cannot do all that is required of them if they only have the opportunity. The freights quoted by the honorable member for Echuca reflect upon the management of the Line, but, as the exPrime Minister said this afternoon, there has been no political control or intervention in connexion with the Commonwealth ships. If that is so, in view of conditions existing, the sooner political control asserts itself thebetter for the Commonwealth. It is needless to repeat the arguments adduced this afternoon; but now that Australia has a national status there is no necessity for us to lean upon older countries for support or to continue to be bled, as we have been by private companies since we have been a producing country. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) seems to think that it is impossible for the Line to be carried on successfully under Australian conditions, but even if it means a little sacrifice on our part to have white men manning these vessels, we should be prepared to make it. The men in our midst are reliant andself-dependent, and display those fine qualities which characterized our soldiers who fought in France. The virility, initiative, and courage shown by our men who fought overseas was due to breeding and the opportunities given them here. The conditions under which they have worked and lived have allowed them to develop as men should do. The right honorable member for North Sydney said that we should not get the ‘ ‘ wind up “ as soon as we have one reverse. We took the cream off the shipping business while the war was in progress, and should not withdraw now. We did not pay any excess profits tax, and if we had it would have been merely a bookkeeping entry. The ex-member for Hindmarsh said that the profiteers ought to pay 100 per cent. excess profits tax, and I was prepared to urge it, but by taking 75 per cent. of every 100 per cent. we condoned the offence. Under the Government’s shipbuilding programme, vessels of the “ E “ class were constructed even in the Port Adelaide River, an undertaking that had previously been undreamt of, and, in the opinion of the ex-Minister for Shipping (Mr. Poynton), the ships built there were eqnal to anything constructed in America or Great Britain. But now there is a slump, and some are prepared to “ drop their bundle.” Those who adv.ocate such a policy are not true Australians. I am with the ex-Prime Minister -God knows I have little reason to be with him on anything! - on this occasion when he supports the continuance of the Line, and says that, instead of writing down the ships and crediting them with only half their value, we should push on and take a broad view of the whole question. As the honorable member for .South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) suggested, we should go into the business with both hands, and, if mistakes have been made, they should be corrected by business men. We have a littoral of 12,000 miles with a scattered population, principally in the coastal districts, so there is ample opportunity to develop the Commonwealth Shipping Line in the interests of the whole community. The- huge shipping combines are working merely to amass money, and not in an endeavour to develop the Empire. If the vessels of the Inchcape Combine have been running at a loss for a couple of years in an ‘ endeavour to strangle the Commonwealth vessels, and the latter have eventually to go out of business, the primary producers will, in the end, have to make up the deficiency by paying much higher freights. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) directed attention to the disabilities experienced by the settlers on Eyre Peninsula, which territory is divided from the main portion of South Australia by Spencer Gulf. Owing to the absence of railway connexion with the main system, the producers in that locality are dependent entirely on the Shipping Ring. A plank in the South Austraiian Labour party’s platform provides for the acquisition of a State Line of steamers to serve the west coast, which would enable it to be ‘developed more rapidly than is. being done at present. -The Commonwealth, however, have a Line of steamers, and common sense demands that its operations should be extended to meet the requirements of settlers such as those I have mentioned. At present we are only in our swaddling clothes, and must crawl before we walk. ‘If we are knocked back on our seat, like a toddling infant, we should be placed on our feet and given another chance. Australians have sufficient initiative to do all that is required. The determination which characterized the efforts of the Australians in France would be demonstrated in connexion with this undertaking if the opportunity were afforded, and would-be sufficient to insure success. The picked men of the German Army were selected to meet the “ Aussies.” We were told of ‘this, and they “ met their Waterloo.” The same thing would probably happen to the shipping companies. The following is from the report of the Administrator of the Northern Territory for the year ended 30th June, 1922:-
The Government shipping trade has been carried on as in 1920-21, -with the same results of dissatisfaction to settlers and heavy loss to the Government. The loss is principally due to the unsuitability and inadequacy of the John Alop, the vessel provided for carrying on the trade. Her very poor sailing qualities and low engine speed cause her voyages to outports to >be of inordinate length and highly expensive in the matters of payments for petrol and high wages and overtime to the crew, while her register being only 33 tons, nearly one-third of which is taken up by water, fuel, and ship’s stores, the result is that, to the injury and quite legitimate dissatisfaction of settlers, cargo has frequently to be left behind at Darwin, and more voyages have to be undertaken than would be necessary with an efficient vessel which an amount considerably less than the .total loss on the John Alee for the last two years should easily provide.
The continuance of this enterprise by means of -the John Aloe .must inevitably continue to result in heavy loss to the Government, and general inconvenience to and dissatisfaction among those whose interests it is the intention to serve. The best solution of the difficulty would ‘be for the service to be carried out by a private firm contracting on reasonable terms with the Government, but the call for tenders with this end in view has had no result, and the only alternative seems to be to provide an efficient and economical vessel, and with her improve the service and reduce the losses.
How well the Government are developing the Northern Territory ! The report shows that the loss on this ship is more than wha’t would ‘be required to provide a larger vessel, and yet we submit to that loss. If we cannot do better than we are doing in some instances, we ought to hand Australia back to the blacks, and return to dear Old England. A good deal was said in South Australia at the last elections about what was to be done in the Northern Territory, but the fish did not bite, because most of the candidates who relied on that line df argument lost their seats. The proper way to develop ‘the Territory is to get away from the fringe of it. There is a lot of good country inland, but the Government use a steamer one-third of the tonnage of which is devoted to the carriage of water ! ‘
Every patriotic Australian wishes to do the best possible to develop this continent by Australians. We have led the world in industrial reforms, and we should up- hold the Navigation Act. The war taught us the benefit of our industrial legislation, and why should we go back to the Lascar days when a poor sailor had to sleep in any little hole into which he could crawl ? An “ Aussie “ will not tolerate that. The Labour party will stand to its guns and uphold the Navigation Act, and it will also fight to the last ditch before it allows the Commonwealth Shipping Line to be scrapped.
A very good point was made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin)’, who asked that the Board should include a representative of the men employed in working the ships. We may have the best vessels in the world, but. they cannot be turned to useful account unless they are manned by efficient seamen. When the Australian soldiers on board the Somali wanted to take charge of the ship, I was not foolish enough to believe that they could do so. I remarked, “ Wait a minute. Who is going to stand on the bridge and navigated” One man replied, “ I am a certificated engineer; I can do that.” I, did not think that was sufficient, so I replied, “ One man is of no use; you must have engineers who understand the machinery.” One of the party then called out, “ How many certificated engineers among us, boys?” and five of them held up their hands. Still I was not satisfied that the men should do what was proposed, and I asked, “ Who are prepared to go into the stokehold ?” “ How many A.B.’s here, lads,” was the next query, and about a dozen hands went up. Then I was “ up against it,” and as the chairman I was forced to put the motion that cost me sixty days. One honorable member today wanted to know how many stoppages had occurred on the “ Bay “ steamers. If the seamen were represented on the Board of control stoppages could be. prevented by the conditions being made satisfactory. Perhaps it is thought that. a suitable man to represent the employees is not to be obtained, but I think that if we take a sporting risk one will be forthcoming. When ex-Sena.tor E. S. Guthrie died, his work in connexion with the Navigation Act was so fully appreciated that he was called the Plimsoll of Australia. Most men on the Labour side have to wait till they are dead before they receive such encomiums. If the late Senator Guthrie could earn such a tribute, there need be no fear of securing a worthy re presentative of the .seamen. If the Government adopted the suggestion of the honorable member for Yarra, it would help to promote efficiency in the service, and I feel sure that the conditions referred to by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) would be eliminated. If the appointment of a Board would mean- that the Commonwealth Line was to perform *hara-kiri I could not vote for the measure.
– I do not intend to cover all the ground that has been traversed in the course of the debate. A great many of the matters that have been discussed will arise again in Committee, and a definite decision will have to be come to upon them. I am going to try to remove one or two misapprehensions that appear to exist in the minds of some honorable members. The first which, I think, should be cleared away is the suggestion that the Government are not sincere in introducing this Bill, and the proposal for the appointment of a Board to control the Line. Any honorable member who heard the speech I made in this House in November, 1921, when this matter was fully discussed, will recollect that I stressed the point that if the Government were to continue in the shipping business it was imperative in the interests of the Line itself that it should be placed under separate control, and if it was to be given a reasonable opportunity of succeeding, written down to a fair valuation. . I think honorable members will believe me when I say that if I or the Government wanted to “ kill “ the Line, we could have stepped in and sold the vessels. Many political sins are charged to our account, but I do not think any honorable member will accuse us of lack of courage. I can assure the House that the underlying motive of the Government, in introducing this Bill, was to give the Line the very best opportunity of proving successful. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) was not quite fair in his criticism of the management. He stated the facts with regard to wheat charters during the last two years, but said nothing of the service rendered to the wheat farmers ofAustralia by the Line during the war. Therefore it is only fair that I should remind the House of what happened at that time. If they will throw back their minds they will remember that shortly ‘after the Line was established it was carrying Australian wheat to London at £7 10s. per ton, at a time when ‘ British ship-owners were charging £13 and more, and foreign charters were as high as £15 per ton. The Commonwealth Line’s rates were a considerable benefit to the Australian farmer at that time, and it is only fair that I should mention the matter. Another fact to be borne in mind with regard to the charters mentioned by the’ honorable member is that the ships which were offering at rates considered unremunerative by the Commonwealth Line had to get . return cargoes to their home ports or go back in ballast. It is natural that vessels so placed’ should be prepared to accept rates which, in other circumstances, would prove unremunerative.
– Many of the vessels came here in ballast.
-These facts should be stated before honorable members express their judgment upon what, I think, was a rather one-sided statement concerning the past management of the Line.
– Does the Prime Minister propose, at a later date, to answer the criticisms in which the honorable member for Echuca indulged?
– I shall bring the matter before the management of the Line. It has to be borne in mind that the acceptance of these wheat charters by the Commonwealth Line would have meant sending the ships away on a long journey and returning them to Australia in ballast, because there was no possibility of getting a return cargo. I mention this fact to remove the impression that the management of the Line has been guilty of something in the nature of an absolute dereliction of duty in regard to the handling of freights from Australia. As part of my administrative duties I have been obliged to go fairly closely into the management of the Line, and I am satisfied that whatever else may be said against it, no one can accuse it of having done anything except exercise the greatest care to insure its success. I may also, remind honorable members of the successful fight put up quite recently by the Line with respect to the discrimination shown by the whole of ‘the Conference Line vessels against shippers by the Commonwealth Government Line.
With regard to the debate generally, one of the misconceptions which I desire to clear away from honorable members’ minds has relation to the valuations at which these vessels have been taken into account. I can assure honorable members that what we endeavoured to do was to determine the fair market value of the ships to-day, and to hand them over to the Board at a valuation that would offer some’ reasonable prospect of success. If, as has been suggested, we really wanted to “kill” the Line, we could have done that simply by handing over the vessels to the Board at an inflated’ valuation. Had that been done, the results would have been apparent in their operations, and within twelve months we should have had a clamour to get rid of the vessels because they were unprofitable. I ask honorable gentlemen, therefore, to acquit the Government of any suggestion that in writing down the value of those ships we had a sinister motive.
– It could only have one effect, namely, to help the Board in the management pf the Line.
– Yes. I am glad that the honorable the Leader of the Opposition agrees with me. Our sole purpose in writing down the valuation of the ships was to insure the future prosperity of the Line. The vessels now stand at their fair market value - neither too high nor too low.
As to the “ Bay “ liners, the “ D,” “ E,” and “P” vessels, we have their certified values, and they are to be handed over to the Board on that basis. These vessels were valued by C. and W. Kellock and Company, brokers, of London. Honorable members may remember the document which I hold in my hand. They saw it during the debate on the Commonwealth Shipping Line in November, “1921. This document is a chart showing the drop in the values of shipping over a number of years. As many honorable members will recall, it was handed round in this Chamber on the occasion to which I refer, and there was some discussion as to whether that course should have been followed. It was produced by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) as evidence of the . tremendous depreciation that had taken place in the value of ships, and to show the present position of the Commonwealth Line, as well as the probable results of their future working.
– Was it from that chart that the present valuations -weire made’?
– The -ex-Praane Minister told the House at the time that t)he chart which he produced could he relied -on, !becatrse Uhe people w”bo ‘hail ‘prepared it ftnew the value of -ships. We have . employed, on this occasion, ‘the very -same people whose valuations could apparently “be relied on in 1921. We have taten in the “D,” “E,” and “F” class vessels at the values they have placed on them, hut for reasons suggested by my right honorable friend this afternoon we have taken in the “ Bay “ liners at £160,000 in excess of the valuation of this firm. The “ Bay “ steamers are . of . a peculiar character; Ehey were built for a special trade. They are difficult to value, ‘because possibly (Jhey are not of thai type which every . ship-owner would want to purchase. Having “been built for the Australian trade -onljj we thought that they were each worth. £100,000 more than tfhe valuation placed upon . them ‘by the brokers. This indicates that we have “kept a fairly balanced mind in regard to these valuations, and have not written down everything for a sinister motive. The people who have made these valuations were brokers for tie Overseas Prizes Disposals Committee. “They are “brokers to the Marshal to the Admiralty, and they are valuers to the Admiralty. They have no possible connexion, such as has been suggested, with any [Shipping Combine, and their reputation is such that I do not think . any one could seriously entertain the . suggestion that their -valuation of . a vessel would 4>e anything hut in accordance with their ifo.esf judgment.
The vessels, -upon which we have not bean able to . obtain particular valuations, have been taken in on . the basis of tsales of similar vessels effected during the last . two or thr.ee -months. (En. -order to -arrive at a -proper comparison . of values, we have taken the year i-n which each ship was bud-It, its dead-weight tonnage, the date on which its survey was due, the estimated cost of . une survey, and . the estimated market value after survey. I do not propose to say what those values ace, and thus allow any one who may be contemplating a ‘purchase to know ‘the price we are putting on the -vessels, but I can gi-ve a ‘broad outline of what has -been done. W-e have -a steamer which was ‘built in 1906. Fortunately, a vessel which was sold -Hery ireeHnitly wm <built in the saime yesi. Tihe a-espefiti.’Ke tonnages wease7,180 amd’7,200 items. Tibe surrey in one . case took iplaee last year. Theisurv.ey for . the other -.was canned -out tthis -year. In this way wse , -weue able ito make -a comparative valuation of . each vessel to he -handed over -to the Board with a vessel of a similar character recently . sold. It appears to me to be the fairest basis that could possibly be iafcen. There is no justification foa- the suggestion that the valuations upon which we ; pr.op.ose to transfer these vessels to . the Board are anything . but their fair market value to-day. ‘They are undoubtedly valued at prices at which any iprudent ship-owner would place them on his books to-day if 3ie’had to take stock of his fleet.
The . next point raised is . that the valuations placed on . these vessels . must be abnormally low . because of certain figures which were . given . to . the ex-Prime Minister by /the management of the Line in February, 1922.. Two . sets of figures were supplied -to the ess-Prime Minister to . show the actual depreciation of the steamers. In August, 1921, -a depreciation of £4,180,875 -was proposed . on a -book value of . £9,842,000, but no action was taken at that time to write -.down values. The rate of -depreciation was . then shows : at 42 per cent. In February, 1922, it was proposed to show a depreciation of £4,856,835 , on a value of . £10,598,000, which would ^present 46 per cent. The ©.ovemmejat , now jprop.ose ito allovW for a depreciation of 63 per cent. The oldervessels hiav-e . eontianed to get . older ; their life ds not un-1-iinit.e.d. The “.ex-.enemy” and “ Austral “ steamers <were obliged ito r.nn during the war in an abnormal way, teexbaimlly in a way in which no prurient ship-owner would run his vessels except in the stness of wax . and great necessity. Furthermore, there has been from July, 1921, to the present time, a considerable shrinkage in the value iof tonnage of their tyipe. I suggest ‘that the figituses we mow put for waid . -axe not unlike Ifoetwo earlier (proposals for depueciation put forward by the management of the Line, but a*e reasoimWy . consistent with £hem. On this occasion we have a double icheck. W.e sane not : r.elying -solely on the anamagement of the Line. ‘We have ‘also secured -direct valuations, where possible, and where that was not possible have established a basis of comparison with the selling price of other vessels of similar character. Therefore, there is nothing to be said against our figures on the ground that the depreciation provided for is absolutely abnormal and unnecessary. No man cares to write “down his assets in a drastic way, but it is an unpleasant necessity to which, from time to time, Governments and private individuals engaged in trade are subjected. A man who has not the courage to write down his assets to a fair market value, as we have done, is heading straight for inevitable disaster. There are two sides to the picture. If we have taken the valuations at too low a figure, no one will suffer. The Board will get the ships at a low value, which will enable it to show a margin of profit on very low freights. I remind honorable members that until 25 per cent, of the capital is reached, every penny of these profits will go straight into the reserves of the Line to establish its financial stability. If the valuations are low - and I do not think they are - nothing but benefit in the long run will accrue. The only effect of fixing the valuations too high would be to doom the Line to disaster from the first minute that the Board took over the steamers. It would not show the position we are now in, or what the result of the operations of this Line have been from its commencement. If there is anything we need to do regarding this shipping venture it is to try to see the facts fairly, and to know exactly where we stand. I suggest to honorable members that there is nothing about. which they need be apprehensive in relation to the valuations; I believe the valuations at which we have arrived represent the fair market value of the asset we are handing over.
There seems to be some misapprehension with regard to the position of the “ D “ and “ E “ vessels. The right honorable member for North Sydney stated that these vessels were built to a design recommended by the British Government. So they were; - they were standard vessels that wore being built by Britain, and by practically every other country during the war. The fact remains, however, that while they were admirably suited for trading up and down the Mediterranean, and for similarly short runs, they were not suited to the trade in which we proposed to use them - the longdistance overseas trade. There is no possible question that, for that type of vessel, they represented first-class workmanship. There is no suggestion that the price which they cost, under the abnormal conditions which were prevailing at the time they were built, was excessive. As to workmanship and cost they bear comparison with the standard ships that were being built in every other part of the world. The right honorable gentleman said today that the management of the Line did not approve of their design. That is quite correct; the management said they did not approve of them because they were not suited to the trade in which we desired to engage them. There is no questioning that fact; it has been demonstrated clearly by the results of the last two years. I have here a statement of the individual voyages which have been taken by these vessels inwards and outwards, showing the actual gross earnings and gross expenditure. Nothing is included on account of interest or depreciation, but there is a charge for the insurance reserve - which is debited against each individual trip instead of being taken out of the profits as a whole. In not one. voyage made by a “ D “ class steamer did the gross earnings equal the gross expenditure.
– Would they not be suitable for the shorter trade to the East?
– There are quite a number of trades for which they would be suitable. The point I am trying to make is that there is no complaint regarding workmanship, cost, or anything of that nature; but that these vessels are not suitable for the particular trade in which they have had to engage while in the hands of the Commonwealth. Without question, very serious. losses have been incurred by these particular vessels. I gave figures the other day showing the position, and I stress them now only because they and my statements regarding the “ D “ and “ E “ vessels were somewhat challenged to-day by the right honorable member for North Sydney.
– For what reason are these vessels not suitable?
– They have not sufficient steaming capacity; they cannot carry the necessary quantity of coal. The suggestion was made to-day that it must be the “ Bay “ steamers which are losing money. I confessI could not follow the reasoning which led to that conclusion. That is not the position ; those vessels are proving to be quite a good investment, and on a reasonably fair capitalization there should be no doubt of their ability to cover their own charges, including interest and depreciation, and to run at a reasonable profit.
There is only one other point which requires clearing up, and that has reference to the insurance fund. The figure at which it was suggested the fund stood was £600,000. That has been increased since the datetaken, and it now stands at £900,000. The suggestion was made that it was not brought to account at all. I should like honorable members to look at the statement. The insurance fund has been brought to account just as the whole of the profits and everything else connected with the Line has been brought to account. Honorable members will see that it is the third item in the hig ‘ statement, under the heading “Profits, Recoveries, and Present Market Value of Fleet.” It is brought in as “ Insurance Reserve at 30th June, 1923, £992,250.” A deduction has to be made on account of outstanding claims, leaving the fund at £901,000. .
These are the only points on which there appears to ho some slight confusion in the minds of honorable members. I suggest that the case has been presented to honorable members with absolute frankness and reasonable fairness: It appeared to bc suggested that I had tried to present the case in blacker colours than the facts warranted. I ask honorable members to believe that I attemptedto put the case with the utmost possible fairness, and to show exactly the position of the Line in order that honorable members might decide for themselves the possibility of its being run successfully in the future. I hope that the House will pass the motion for the second’ reading of the Bill, and let us get into Committee and see whether there are any alterations designed to improve it which the Government can accept.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
delegate to League of Nations Assembly.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
I desire to inform honorable members that I am now in a position to announce the alternative delegate to the League of Nations Assembly in September next. The Government has invited Miss Jessie Watson Webb, M.A., a member of the” Melbourne University, and a lecturer in history, who is at present carrying out historical research work in Athens, to accept the position, and she has consented to do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.41 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 July 1923, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1923/19230710_reps_9_103/>.