10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. . Spbakeb (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Prime Minister able to say whether the statement in the Sydney press of to-day in regard to an alleged merger of the interests of the wireless and cable companies is correct?
– I have not seen the statement, but a committee, representative of the partner governments interested in communication within the Empire, and particularly the governments which are partners in the Pacific Cable Board, has, since January last, been considering the whole problem of cable and wireless com-, munication throughout the Empire, with a view to advising the respective governments as to the most useful steps that may be taken to co-ordinate and improve the services. The committee has been considering the possibility of a merger of the interests of the rival companies, and it may be that in the course of a few days an intimation that such an agreement has been come to will be made, but at the present time no official information on the subject is available.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether the newspaper statement that the Commonwealth Government is committed to the ultimatum delivered by the British Government to the Government of Egypt is correct f
– The Commonwealth Government has been kept fully advised of the negotiations between the British and Egyptian Governments. Some time ago I tabled documents relating to the negotiations up to that stage. These included the proposed draft treaty, the amended draft treaty prepared by the British Foreign Office, _ and a communication from Lord Lloyd, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, to thi Egyptian Government, made after the treaty negotiations had broken down. About November last a bill relating to public assemblies was introduced into the Egyptian Parliament, and, because the treaty negotiations were still in progress, the British Government made no representations iti regard to that measure. But when the negotiations broke down, a note, a copy of which has been already tabled in this House, was delivered by Lord Lloyd on behalf of the British Government to the Egyptian Government. It referred to certain legislative proposals, the reference being to the amended Public Assemblies Bill. The agreement made in 1922 between the British and Egyptian Governments, as a result of the report of the Milner Commission,, reserved four points for further negotiation. One related to the protection of the lives and interests of foreigners, for which Britain had assumed responsibility. The amended Public Assemblies Bill provides that the police may not interfere with any public assembly of citizens except at the request of the chairman of such assembly, and it imposes more stringent penalties upon the police for any infringement of that prohibition than can be imposed upon persons actually taking part in unlawful and seditious assemblies. The British Government represented that such legislation would make it impossible for Britain to discharge her obligation to protect the lives and property of foreigners, in view of the fact that in Egypt ordinary political gatherings very frequently degenerate into riots. The British Government therefore expressed very strong opposition to the placing of such legislation upon the Egyptian statute-book, and an ultimatum, of the terms of which the Commonwealth Government has been fully advised, was on 29th April last handed to the Prim*Minister by Lord Lloyd. It was in th(: following terms -
Your Excellency, I have the honour to inform you that since the presentation to Your Excellency of my note of the 4th April, His Britannic . Majesty’s Government in Great Britain have watched with increasing concern the growing evidence of the intention of the Egyptian Governments to proceed with certain legislation affecting public security. This legislation, as Your Excellency must be fully aware, not merely from verbal communication which I had the honour to make to you on 19th inst., but from similar communications made both to Your Excellency’s predecessor’ and to yourself before and after the date of the aide memoire which I had the honour to present to His Excellency Sarwat Pasha on 4th March last, is covered by the reservations re-affirmed in my note of 4th April.
From the newspaper reports it appears that the Egyptian Government, has decided not to proceed with the Public Assemblies Bill at the present time, but the Commonwealth Government has received no official intimation to that effect. When Zaghlul Pasha was Premier of Egypt he considered it essential that there should be legislation to enable the Government to exercise proper control, over public gatherings. The Suez Canal, which borders Egyptian territory, is the main’ artery of communication between Australia and Great Britain, and Australia has therefore a close interest in the preservation of order and good government in Egypt. Moreover in view of the status of the Commonwealth and its rights and privileges as a part of the British Empire, it. is proper that the Government should express fully its opinion on this matter, and utilize the right of consultation with the British Government which we enjoy. That right the Government has exercised.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether the Government of Great Britain has consulted, or is consulting, the Dominion of Canada with respect to the trouble in Egypt, and, if so, what attitude that dominion has adopted ?
– In conformity with the decisions arrived at during various Imperial Conferences dating back to that held in 1921,. all the selfgoverning dominions are kept fully informed on all questions relating to the foreign policy of the Empire. No doubt Canada has received information similar to that which was sent to Australia. I am not in a position to state whether the Dominion has expressed any opinion upon it. I would, however, remind the honorable member that Australia’s interest in this particular question is much greater than that of any other dominion, with the possible exception of New Zealand.
– Having regard to the special interest which Australia is said to have in this matter, has the right honorable the Prime Minister, as the head of the Australian Government, expressed approval, or will he now do so, of the terms of the Notes which he has quoted as having been addressed by the Government of Great Britain to the responsible authorities in Egypt?
– The Australian Government accepts and endorses the Note which has been addressed by the Government of Great Britain to the Egyptian Government on this particular question. Were that not so, the Commonwealth Government would communicate with the Government of Great Britain and point out where it was not prepared to accept any line of action which the latter might propose to take.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House whether the Government has yet appointed a successor to Mr. Herbert Brookes as a member of the Tariff Board ?
– I hope to be able to make a statement on the subject in the course of a few days.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether there is any truth in the published statement that, following on the indignation expressed publicly by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and other persons, concerning alien immigration to Australia, the Government proposes to introduce restrictive legislation to deal with the matter?
– There is no necessity for the Government to introduce restrictive legislation. If it should think proper to restrict the number of foreigners coming to Australia, it can take executive action in that direction under the power which was conferred upon it by an amendment of the Immigration Act passed by this Parliament two or three years ago.
– Has the Government taken any action to place restrictions upon alien immigration, particularly that of Italians? If it has not, does it intend to do so?
– The policy of the Government has been consistently directed to ensuring Australia’s racial purity as a member of the British commonwealth of nations. The maintenance of this racial purity has recently occupied the attention of the Government because it appeared that, because of the number of aliens coming to Australia- and the limited number of British migrants, and a birthrate of only 2 per cent., our position in that respect was being endangered. The Government has been negotiating with certain countries, but at the present moment, I am not prepared to make a statement on the subject.
– As the Treasurer has announced that the revenue received to date is approximately £2,250,000 below that which he estimated he would receive, is it his intention to re-impose the land and income tax which was remitted last year, in order that the deficiency might be wiped out?
– It is not customary to indicate the policy of the Government in answering questions.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the statement that was made by Sir Henry Barwell upon his arrival in London on the 22nd April last, that his most notable impression of the voyage from Australia on the Orient Company’s Ormonde was that all the canned fruits and oranges served on that vessel were the product of California, despite the fact that Australian fruit was available; also that he believed that similar conditions prevailed on other liners engaged in the Australian service?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member refers. . ,
– Is the Postmaster General aware that the following paragraph appears at page 17 of the annual report of his department: -
The returns for the year show that the Volume of telegraph business transacted decreased by 400,000 words in comparison with the previous year. The principal cause of this falling off of traffic was a loss of business to the department owing to the broadcasting of news items,- particularly sporting news.
Does he intend to take action to recapture that business ; and can he state what is the present position in connexion with “ A “ class broadcasting companies ?
– It is quite obvious that the volume of news which is being broadcast, especially in relation to horseracing and kindred subjects, has reduced the revenue of the Telegraph Department. That condition of affairs, I think, must continue so long as we have broadcasting, and I can see no means of recapturing that lost business.
– Is the Treasurer in a position to state how the New Zealand loan which was placed upon the market recently at 941/2 with an interest rate of 41/2 per cent, compares with the last Commonwealth loan that was raised?
– It is approximately 3 per cent, better; that is to say, New Zealand will receive roughly £3 more for every £100 of the debt that is nominally incurred. That has been the position for the last two or three years.
Position in Western Australia :
– Has the Minister for Works and Railways read the paragraph which appeared yesterday in the Western Australian news published in the Melbourne Age, which stated that considerable dissatisfaction is felt by the Country Roads Board in Western Australia, and that there is likely to be a State-wide conference to protest against the large amount of expenditure that is required to carry out the elaborate specifications with respect to bush roads work under the Federal Government’s main roads policy.
– I have not seen the article to which the honorable member has referred, nor am I aware that any trouble is taking place among the Country Roads Boards of Western Australia. At a recent meeting of the Federal Aid Roads Boards, held in Canberra, nothing transpired that would lead me to believe that any such trouble had arisen. I am prepared to admit that, during the last, twelve or eighteen months, there have been some difficulties, but I believe that most of them have now been overcome, and that the work of constructing main roads is proceeding more smoothly than it did previously.
– Will an opportunity be given to Parliament first, to discuss the proposed leasing of Cockatoo Island, and, secondly, to review the terms of the lease before tenders are invited and the establishment is taken over by a private firm?
– The form inviting tenders for the lease of the dock, with certain safeguards for defence purposes, is at present under the consideration of the Government. Before tenders are invited, I shall consider whether an opportunity will be given to Parliament to discuss the leasing of Cockatoo Island.
Appointment of Legislative Council
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Is it a fact that £30,000 (more or less) imposed as dumping duties on imported petrol pumps in 1920, was refunded; if so, why?
– Petrol pumps have been gazetted under the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act 1921-22. In 1926 an investigation was made to ascertain whether certain shipments of petrol pumps came within the terms, of the act mentioned, and importers deposited certain amounts as cash security to cover any dumping duty which might be found to be payable. The inquiry showed that the importations did not come within the scope of the act, and the cash securities were refunded. The amount involved was nothing like £30,000, the actual amount being under £4,000.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
With reference to the question by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie on the 7th De-, comber last, asking when the second and final report of the Development and Migration Commission dealing with assistance to the goldmining industry would be laid on the table of the House, to which the Prime Minister replied that he believed it would bc available in the very near future, is he yet in a position to 6tate when the report will be available?
– I am informed that the Second Report of the Development and
Migration Commission dealing with assistance to the gold-mining industry is now being finally revised, and should be available within two or three weeks.
Forestry School - Land Tenure - Transport Service - Lay Out of City - Curtailment op Employment - Liquor Poll - High Court Action.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– I regret that I am unable to make the information available to-day, but hope to be able to do so to-morrow.
On the 29th March, the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) asked me whether I - would undertake to give the State Forestry Departments representation on a council or board of control of the Australian School of Forestry. I have given the matter careful consideration, but am unable to see what useful purpose a board- so constituted would serve. Conferences of forest authorities take place at intervals, and an opportunity is thus afforded to the State representatives to discuss matters of general interest affecting the school. If, at some future time, necessity should arise for the constitution of an advisory body to deal with forestry matters, including the education of students for the higher professional offices, the honorable member’s suggestion will be borne in mind.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice - In view of the motions moved by the Honorable “King O’Malley and the then Prime Minister (the late Sir Edmund Barton) on 19th July, 1901, and the passage ultimately of an amended motion on 10th September, 1902, in the following terms : -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable, in the interests of human progress, that the Government secure as Federal Territory an area of land, well watered, healthily situated and large enough to fully meet all probable requirements, and secure to the Commonwealth the benefits to accrue from the position of the Capital, such area when secured to remain for ever the property of the Commonwealth, the ground only to he let to utilizers, all buildings to be erected under strict regulations, with due regard to public health and architectural beauty.
Is it the intention of the Government to interfere with the Commonwealth ownership of the Federal Territory?
-This involves a matter of Government policy. It is not the practice to make statements in regard to matter!) of Government policy in reply to questions.
– Was that motion passed ?
On the 28th March, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) asked me a series of questions relating to the Canberra bus service, including the following: -
In view of the grave discontent in Canberra in regard to transport services, wilt lie personally inquire into the whole matter so that men and women may at least get to their offices at the proper time, and not he left stranded in the rain because the bus driver cannot take them.
I then replied that I would discuss the matter with the Federal Capital Commission, with a view to ensuring all reasonable requests being duly met.
The position, at present, is that the Commission is conducting a critical examination of data collected regarding the suitability of routes, time-tables, and the service generally, as well as complaints received from various, sources, with the object of carefully reviewing the present arrangements, which are necessarily of a tentative character.
The Public Service Welfare Committee is in collaboration with the Commission in connexion with the matter, and it is hoped that, as a consequence of the action that is being taken, a reasonably satisfactory service will be instituted, which will meet the requirements for which it is designed, and for which the Commission can justifiably cater.
I may add that the Commission has already determined upon the purchase of additional vehicles and has invited tenders accordingly.
On the 27th April, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions : -
Reference to records shows that during his regime at Canberra, he excavated or formed City-circuit, Ainslie-avenue, and some residential roadways on the north of the city, where the present development exists, and that he arranged for the construction of the railway extension to the north of the river (since destroyed by flood). Development has proceeded in the areas in which leases were sold prior to the appointment of the Federal Capital Commission.
Last month questions were addressed to me by the honorable members for Capricornia ‘ (Mr. Forde) and South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) relative to the curtailment of employment by the Federal Capital Commission, and the constructional programme of the Commission. I have looked into the position, and have ascertained that the number of workmen at present employed by the Commission is, approximately, 1,450, and that it is unlikely that this number will be greatly reduced . in the near future. The maintenance of services during the next twelve months will necessitate the employment of practically the same number of men as are at present engaged in this connexion. The principal new services contemplated are extensions of water, sewerage, and electricity supply, roads, kerbing, and guttering, and stormwater drainage, all of which will proceed at about the present rate of progress. The chief building works proposed include, the National Museum, of Australian Zoology, new residences for public servants, various civic buildings,, and; services: such as a fire station, a police station and court, a milk supply depot, in, addition to other works of a minor nature. It is contemplated also that some large laboratory buildings will be erected for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and that, subject to parliamentary approval, a commencement will be made with the erection of the AustralianWar Memorial. Some of these proposed works, will probably be carried out by contract, but this will afford the same scope of employment, although the workmen will be engaged by contractors instead of directly by the Commission. It was publicly stated by the Commission over a year ago, when there was an extreme pressure of work in connexion with the preparations for the transfer of the Seat of Government, that the number of workmen, then totalling over 3,000, would necessarily be reduced as the pressure relaxed. The reduction in the Commission’s loan expenditure has also had some effect on the situation, and it cannot be expected that any considerable increase in the number of employees during the forthcoming financial year will occur.
The honorable member for Herbert. (Dr. Nott) asked me on Friday last whether I would make an official statement on the subject of the proposed liquor poll in the. Federal Capital Territory, and I told him’ that I hoped to be able to do so to-day. I propose now to indicate the position which has been reached in connexion with the matter. Honorable members were informed by the Prime Minister, on the 8th March, that the poll would be’ taken this year. It has now been decided to take the poll on the 1st September next, which is the date of the forthcoming prohibition poll in New South Wales. An ordinance is now in course of preparation, which will provide authority for the taking of the poll, and . will prescribe -
Enrolment and voting will both be compulsory, and the qualifications and disqualifications of voters will’ be the same as those of Commonwealth electors.. This will mean,, so far as, the residential qualification is concerned, that voters will require to have lived in Australia for six months continuously, and to have lived in the Territory for one month immediately preceding the date of their enrolment. The questions to be submitted at the poll, and’ the order in which they will appear upon the ballot-paper will be as follow : -
asked the Minister for . Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether the Chief Collector of Excise was aware of the Government’s intention to reduce the export duty on wine, prior to handing in his recommendations as to grape prices for 1928?
– Presumably the question refers to the Senior Inspector of Excise, South Australia. If so, the answer is Yes.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Are the statements correct which have been appearing in the press during the last few days, concerning a reported massacre in Papua, and is he prepared to make a statement on the matter?
– The reports received by me from the LieutenantGovernor indicate that there has been inter-tribal fighting between natives in the Western, Delta, and Gulf divisions of Papua, but that it has not assumed anything like the proportions which recent press statements have alleged. The official information in the possession of the Lieutenant-Governor lends no support whatever to the allegation that 500 lives have been lost since Christmas. As far as I have been able to ascertain, up to the present 54 lives were lost in intertribal fighting during October, November, »and December of last year, but the only fighting reported since Christmas is that which is alleged to have happened at Morigio, and in regard to which I am now obtaining particulars from the LieutenantGovernor. There is no truth in the statement that native police have figured in these disturbances. Possibly some confusion has arisen owing to a village constable having been implicated in one instance. A village constable is not a member of the native police. He is a native selected by the administration for the exercise of local authority within a village. It was alleged that the administration had delayed taking action on one occasion when fighting had been reported, but the advice received from the Lieutenant-Governor shows that this was due to the breakdown of the launch, by which the investigating officer was required to travel, which resulted in a fortnight’s loss of time, spare parts having to be obtained from another station.
asked the Minister in Charge of Repatriation, upon notice -
– I am obtaining the information, and . shall answer the honorable member’s question as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– On the 22nd March the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) asked me the following question : -
Whether, with a view of providing information regarding the alleged drift of population to the cities, he will instruct the preparation of a statistical return, for presentation to Parliament, showing the estimated periods which would elapse, on the basis of past increases of population during the periods 1901-11, 1912-21, and 1922-27 in metropolitan and country areas in each State to double its population?
I now have the information asked for by the honorable member. It is as follows : -
Statement showing the number of years required to double the populations of the metropolitan areas and of the extra metropolitan areas of the different States according to the rates of increase operating during the periods 1902-11, 1912-21, and 1922-27:-
– Some time ago the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J.
Francis) asked me the following questions : -
I am now able to supply the following information : -
The following papers were presented : -
Norfolk Island - Report for the year ended 30th June, 1927.
Ordered, to be printed.
Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1927, No 161. “”
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Deter-, minations by the Arbitrator, &c. -
No. 10of 1928 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
No. 11 of 1928 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
Motion (by Sir Neville Howse) agreed to -
That the following paper, laid on the table of the House on the 29th March last, be printed : -
North Australia - Initial report of the North Australia Commission on the scheme for the development of North Australia.”
Debate resumed from 27th April (vide page 4477), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the paper be printed.
Upon which Mr. Scullin had moved, by way of amendment-
That all thewords after” That “ be omitted with a view to insert the following words: - “, in the opinion of this House, the Government by the sale of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers has sacrificed valuable public assets and has placed Australian producers, shippers, and our people generally at the mercy of the shipping combine.”
. -Unlike the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who expressed pleasure because the Government was disposing of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, I record my regret at the failure of that Line. I am prepared to admit the wonderful work that it did during, and immediately after, the Great War, but we are now . dealing with the present, and not with the past.
– What happened in. the past may happen again should another war occur.
– I thank the honorable member for his interjection. Should another war occur, we can then do what we did during the last war. Perhaps, when I have presented to the House some figures in connexion with other nationalized shipping concerns, honorable members opposite will not hold such confident opinions on this matter. When the Commonwealth Shipping Board was inaugurated in 1923, some very optimistic references were made to it in this House, as may be seen by an examination of Ilansard, volume 103, at page 150. The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) asked the Prime Minister, by way of interjection -
Does the right honorable gentleman propose that the Line should be regarded as an ordinary company, in the matter of the payment of income tax?
To which the Prime Minister replied “Yes.” There has been, however, no need to lodge any statement with the Income Tax Departments, either State or Commonwealth. “The Leader of the Opposition, in his amendment, makes use of the words, “ The Government …. has sacrificed valuable public assets.” What are valuable public assets? Certainly not something that is a continually losing proposition.
– Then our railways are not valuable public assets.
– There is no analogy between our railways and the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, as I shall demonstrate later. But I am concerned now as to whether the Line is a valuable public asset, and whether, as such, it has been sacrificed. The Leader of the Opposition said that a fair and reasonable estimate of the value of the Line would be £3,000,000, and later he stated that “ These ships were thrown away for millions less than their true value.” Seeing that such a young country as ours has a national debt of £1,050^000,000, one might ask, with the late Lord Forrest, “What is a million?” It is insignificant in comparison with the capital of the ‘shipping companies of the world-
I draw the attention of honorable members to the changes that have taken place in shipping values since the year 1914, and as a basis of calculation I shall take a 7,500-ton cargo steamer, which could have been constructed in 1914 for £43,000, or at a price per ton dead weight of £5 18s. 8d. In 1920 the price of such a vessel was £259,000. Within twelve months of that time the price decreased to £60,000, a drop of £199,000! In 1927, when affairs had become more stabilized, the price of such a vessel was £62,000, or £9 5s. 4d. per ton dead weight. It is of no use for the Leader of the Opposition and other honorable members opposite to say that in their opinion the ships are worth a certain sum. They are worth only “what they will bring on the open market.. The Government invited tenders from British ship-owners - and there are in Great Britain numerous shipping companies and large groups of shipping interests such as those controlled by Lord Kylsant, capable of tendering - but only a few tenders were received. Lord Inchcape, to whom the Leader of the Opposition referred so frequently in a speech which he delivered last November, when Deputy Leader of the Opposition, controls ships worth millions of pounds, but he did not think it worth his while to submit a tender for our vessels. The value of our ships is what they brought on the open market, or their replacement value. Honorable members opposite said in 1925 that the Commonwealth Woollen Mills, at Geelong, which the Government sold for £151,000, were worth £350,000, and ihat public money was thrown away by selling them at the lower figure. If the woollen mills were worth as much as honorable members opposite said they were, it is astonishing that some wealthy union did not purchase them. Apparently, the unions desire, noi to run, but to ruin, businesses, as they have ruined the business of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers.
– They need their money to run strikes.
– That is so. The Prime Minister, in justification of the action of the Government in selling the Line to Lord Kylsant, referred to the sale of the Ormuz, with the object of comparing values ; but the Leader of the Opposition said that it was not a fair comparison, because the Commonwealth boats had refrigerated space.
– That was not my main contention.
– I submit that we obtained full value for our vessels. I propose to give honorable members’ some additional information about .the value of shipping. In December last a vessel of 8,200 tons, built in 1918, was sold for £42,000. The Corby Castle, of 5,697 tons gross weight and 9,600 tons dead weight, built in 1918, was sold for £56,000, or £9 16s. 8d. per ton, and £5 16s. 8d. per ton dead weight. A new steamer of 10,000 tons dead weight, built in 1927, was sold for £87,500, or £8 15s. a ton.
– The honorable member should give the names of the vessels.
– The vessel that I have just referred to was unnamed. She was a new boat, sold on the stocks.
– Was she a cargo vessel ?
– Yes. A foreign steamer, the Eastern Victor, a doubledecker oil burner of 5,726 tons gross and 8,654 tons dead weight, was sold for £6 14s. per ton gross or £4 10s. 8d. per ton dead weight. Two new Norwegian steamers of 10,200 tons each dead weight, with 12-cylinder diesel engines, German built, were sold to British owners for £200,000 each, or £19 12s. per ton dead weight. These figures show that our ships were sold, not sacrificed. Costs in 1920 and 1921 were two and a half times as high as they are at present. Taking our ships at a cost of about £80 per ton dead weight, which was what we paid for them, and deducting depreciation at 6 per cent, per annum for six years, which would be approximately 33 per cent., the value of the ships would now be £25 per ton less than £80 per ton, or a book value of £55. The ships were sold for approximately £21 per ton. If you apply the same rule to these boats as to other tonnage, and estimate that values in 1921 were two and a half times as high as at present, it will be seen that we received for our boats an equivalent to £52 10s. per ton. In the light of these figures it is of no use for honorable members opposite to say that because the liners cost between £1,000,000 and £1,250,000 each in 1920 they are worth anything like that amount to-day. Their value is what they will bring or their replacement cost. The Leader of the Opposition objected to the sale of the Ormuz as the basis for comparison. I wonder whether he will object to the comparisons that I have made?
The honorable gentleman said “ In the dark days of the war a chaotic position existed.” It certainly did; but what was the cause of it? It is well known that most British-owned ships were commandeered by the Government for war service, and that Australia had to rely mainly on foreign ships to transport her produce to the oversea markets. Foi this reason the Prime Minister of the day (Mr. Hughes) established the Commonwealth Government Line. Conditions are different to-day. It is true that there is still chaos on the water front, but it is not caused by a shortage of ship?. No one knows that better than the Leader of the Opposition. Although the purchase of the Commonwealth Government Line was an excellent thing during the war, the retention of the boats cannot be justified.
It has been argued by honorable members opposite that government ownership of . steamers and government ownership of railways are analogous, hut I disagree with that view. The governmentowned railways of Australia are a monopoly, but there is no monopoly of the sea. The shipping business is about the freest thing there is in the world of commerce to-day; yet, in spite of being a monopoly our railways are not run at a profit, as was the case a few years ago. The railways of Great Britain and the United States of America are privately owned, but w.e do not find the Governments of those countries rushing in to nationalize the services. The railways in those countries are being worked at a profit. The British Government has not followed the Governments of Canada and the United States of America in establishing government-owned steamship services.
There is an alternative to the public ownership of the steamers. It is the subsidizing of privately-owned vessels. Speakin on this aspect of the matter last November, the honorable member for Yarra is reported on page 1111 of Hansard as follows: -
Our only chance to establish an Australian mercantile marine is to build it for ourselves, and subsidize it. at least to the extent of our higher standard of wages and working conditions.
We have had our Navigation Act and Commonwealth Shipping Line in operation for some time. T do not need to reiterate the ill-effects which certain sections of the Navigation Act have had, nor do I need to call attention, at this stage, to the heavy losses which have, been incurred in operating our line of steamers. The Leader of the Opposition stated in his speech that Great Britain had subsidized her steamers. America has done something along the same line, although the methods which the Governments of those countries have put into operation to stimulate shipping have been quite different. Under the Trades Facilities Act of Great Britain, £26,352,0S6 have been advanced by the Governments of Great Britain and the North of Ireland to private companies to assist in the buying and the building of tonnage. This money was loaned at 2-J per cent, and was repayable and security taken for the loans. Of that amount the Kylsant group has received £9,290,000. A mail subsidy cannot properly be called & shipping subsidy. It has been said that the Governments of the United States of America and Canada have not only established a mercantile marine, but have expended large sums of money in enlarging their fleets. The right honorable member for North Sydney said that the Canadian mercantile marine had lost 23,000,000 dollars in three years, and owed nearly 21,000,000 dollars in interest to the Dominion Government, “but,” he added, “ the Canadian Government, instead of selling their ships, are building many more.” I doubt that statement. That Government is adding to the fleet five new steamers; but the balance-sheet shows that many vessels have been sold during the last three years, and I am certain that the Dominion Government controls less tonnage to-day than it did h: 1925. In the report and balance-sheet for the year ended 31st December, 1926, the directors recorded gleefully; that “the accounts showed a continued and most satisfactory improvement in operating loss, 90,191 dollars as against 948,053 dollars last year.” That is all right as far as it goes, but when the interest and depreciation are taken into account, the loss for the year was 6,687,221 dollars, making a total loss to date of 45,516,901 dollars, equivalent to £9,100,000. It may be explained that the decreased loss for 1926 was due partly to the sale of certain ships. The amount owing in interest was, approximately, 21,000,000 dollars.
They were operating 46 steamers, of a total dead weight of 312,090 tons, and those vessels appeared in the books at a cost of £13,250,000, or £42 per ton dead weight, whilst the amount owing to the Canadian Government was over £19,000.00, equivalent to £63 per ton dead weight. How long can this sort of business continue? The directors may add new ships to the Line, but the serial will continue, and the final chapter there, as here, will be the sale of the Line.
– They have a better chance than we have with our ships.
– They may have a better chance, but the balance-sheet does not show that they are doing any better. I turn next to the United States of America.
– Look up the balancesheets of some of the private companies.
– I have done so, and the figures I shall quote later from them will strengthen my argument against the nationalization of shipping. The reference of the right honorable member for North Sydney to the American mercantile marine was most unfortunate, for the balance-sheets reveal a commercial tragedy. The appropriation of the United States Congress for 1926 was a mere 24,000,000 dollars, about £5,000,000. On 18th February we learned from New York-
The Shipping Board has now sold all its cargo services on the Pacific Coast. On 16th February they accepted offers by three different business organizations for the three remaining Government-owned cargo services.
I ask honorable members to note the words “ three remaining government-owned cargo services.”
By this action the Government withdraws entirely from the shipping business on the Pacific Coast.
The right honorable member for North Sydney said- in November last -
The United States of America favours Governmentowned lines, because it wants to protect its citizens and give private enterprise a chance.
Referring to the vessels purchased by the American Government, he said -
Those vessels are used by the greatest capitalistic country in the world; a country where private enterprise has taken up its abode and built for itself a spacious and magnificent palace.
– The honorable member will tempt the right honorable member for North Sydney to make another speech, and that will be bad for the Government.
– I am not afraid of what the right honorable member for North Sydney may say if he cannot adduce better arguments than those he advanced in November last, when he spoke so favorably of the American venture. I draw the attention of honorable members to the terms upon which this last lot of ships were sold by the American Shipping Board to private enterprise. Twenty-one ships and the goodwill of the line were sold in November last to a corporation owned and operated by the Matson Navigation Company and the American.Hawaian Steamship Company for 1,981,755 dollars 50 .cents on a 2£ per cent, deposit, 22-J per cent, to be paid on each ship as delivered, the balance to .be paid over a period of seven and a half years, and interest on the unpaid balance to be at 4i per cent., payable half-yearly. The new owners undertook to maintain certain sailings, as Lord Kylsant has done in connexion with the purchase of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. What prompted the American Government to sell these ships? The answer is supplied by the balance-sheet. To July “next the net appropriation received by the Shipping Board will have been 3,583,772,761 dollars, including 22,290,000 dollars for the current fiscal year. In other words, about £715,000,000 has been placed at the disposal of the government-owned shipping enterprise by the people of the United States of America. Last year the loss on running amounted to nearly 12,828,620 dollars, to which must be added 4,838,943 dollars, representing the expenses in connexion with laid-up tonnage. After making certain allowances, the total operating loss for the year amounted to 15,926,412 dollars. “We must remember, also, that the depreciation on the appraised value only was 12,515,717 dollars, and this added to the operating loss makes a total of 28^ million dollars for 1926, or nearly £6,000,000. Surely this has been the most colossal shipping failure in the world’s history !
– Yet the American Government is going on with the enterprise.
– It is not ; it was never the intention of the American nation to engage permanently in the mercantile marine business. The honorable member’s interjection shows his ignorance of the facts.- The right honorable member for North Sydney said that the United States Government favours a State-owned line. It does not. On the 17th February the American Shipping Board issued a statement embodying its suggestions for legislation necessary to meet the present requirements and purposes laid down by the Merchant Marine Act 1920. The statement included these words -
If these conditions are provided, it is obvious that, no further difficulty should attend the ultimate transfer of the Government steamship services to private American ownership for permanent operation as contemplated in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.
I ask honorable members to note the con-, eluding words. There could be no more definite declaration of the intention of the people of the United States of America to be relieved of this disastrous business. Last year a meeting of shipping and shipbuilding men was convened by the directors of the American Mercantile Marine to bring about “ a clearer understanding of the position of the private steamship interests with respect to the various plans that have lately been suggested for upbuilding .the American Mercantile Marine.” The meeting was largely attended, and the report covering 140 pages of printed matter included a number of resolutions. One of these suggested that the principles and policies contained in the Wood Bill and the Copeland Bill be enacted into law, and that the board make a reasonable effort to procure amendment “ and modifications as might be necessary to provide “ such adequate aid as will assure the United States of America having a successful, permanent merchant marine under private ownership.” Not government ownership, honorable members will notice. The Shipping Board has no power to build new tonnage; but the intention of Parliament is being evaded by converting many vessels from coal to oil fuel, and the diesel.ising of the converted vessels has cost the board the equivalent of £18 per ton dead weight. No private company dare be guilty of such extravagance. This is another proof of how the people of the United States are being bled through the frantic endeavour of the Shipping Board to continue an enterprise which has already cost the people many hundreds of millions of pounds.
– What has been the total loss sustained by the American Government in connexion with its shipping enterprises.
– The loss resulting from the depreciation of tonnage in 1923 was over 500,000,000 dollars.
– I have already stated that the net appropriation by Congress to the board waa approximately £715,000,000.
– And yet the Government is remaining in the business. “’ ’
– It is not; it is selling its ships as fast as it can..
– How many ships does the board still own?
– I do not know. Last November the right honorable member for North Sydney said that the board had still about 269 vessels. As a matter of fact, it had about 2,300 ships, and up to the beginning of last year it had sold over 1,300 of them. I am perfectly safe in saying that the American Shipping Board has sold from 1,600 to 1,80.0 of its ships to the present time. That is the position of the American merchant marine, which is controlled by the Government of the United States of America. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) appeared to doubt the accuracy of my statement that the Americans are withdrawing from the shipping business. Certain ‘attacks were made on the Shipping Board. They were said to have been made by foreign owners, but this is what the shipping interests in New York think of the business. A report was sent by the Steamship Affairs Committee of the Maritime Association of the port of New York to the Committee of Commerce in the Senate. From it I quote the following extract : -
A nation-wide canvass conducted by the United .States of America Chamber of Commerce resulted in an overwhelming declaration against public ownership under any conditions whatever. In fact, there is nothing to indicate that any real support for a policy of public ownership of ships comes from those whose opinions are strongly coloured by their personal interest in the perquisites of bureaucracy. 750,000,000 dollars spent in last eight years in effort to establish merchant marine. What have the citizens got to show for their money. We .are told that the merchant marine is floundering, and that unless we embark upon another phase of this enterprise, involving the still further expenditure of more untold millions in capital costs and operating deficits, our merchant marine will perish.
Similar conditions exist in “ Australia. We cannot remain in the shipping business unless we are prepared to send a few more millions where the others have gone. The vessels that belong to this Line will rapidly become obsolete. In the light of those balance-sheets that have been issued by Canada and the United States of America, compared with whom we are poor indeed, are we prepared to continue the Line as a government concern ? This report further says - -
What assurance can the committee give us that this new orgy of spending is to result any more favorably than has that which has already endured for eight years.
It concludes with certain suggestions as to the manner in which their ships should be disposed of. That is an expression of American public opinion. It, and the balance-sheets, should convince honorable members without any further argument on my part, of the inadvisability of continuing in the shipping business. The loss in America last year was
I shall deal now with the agreement in relation to sailings and freights. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), has said -
We are told of a hocus pocus agreement to be made with some little company, which is to give a guarantee. That guarantee will be ‘ worthless.
I say that Australia’s trade is worth keeping, and while that is so there will- j be every inducement to observe the terms of the agreement. The United States of
America have entered into such an agreement with those to whom their lines have been sold, and the South African merchants have acted similarly with the shipping lines that are trading to that country. Only a few months ago a meeting was held of the Association of Chambers of Commerce of South Africa, at the instigation of the Government, to deal with the shipping position. They suggested that preference should be given to a line which was already established in the South African trade, as the delegates could not take the responsibility of recommending the Government to enter into a contract with interests that had no experience in shipping. The charge has been made by Sir Robert Thomas, one of the lesser lights in the shipping world in Great Britain, that the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company is an octopus. A similar charge has been made by the Leader of the Opposition in this House. Sir Robert Thomas said that this octopus, having its tentacles all over the world, fixed rates and could make half cargoes pay. The fact is that the Conference Line, in consultation with the traders themselves, fixes the freight rates. If any of those freights bear hardly on an industry, they are reduced.
– That is a new doctrine.
– It is not a new doctrine. When a company sets out to secure new business, it has to offer attractive terms. That is the position all over the world. If the honorable member will take the trouble to read the Shipping News he will see that the men who know the business best are those who are engaged in it, and that they act in the way that I have just mentioned;, they make agreements with shippers, just as the honorable member would make an agreement to sell a customer a pound of cheese. Why is it that government enterprise has never paid? Lord Inchcape and Lord Kylsant are referred to as shippig magnates, and Kidman, Jowett and others as beef and sheep barons. Why can ‘those persons make their enterprises pay when nationalized industries cannot be made to pay? Perhaps the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), during the course of the speech that I expect him to make on this matter, will tell us how the Queensland sheep and cattle stations are paying their way.
– I do not think that he will.
– Individualism will always win out, but collectivism invariably has a fatal ending. Human nature does not change with the passage of time. I quote the following from the diary of Samuel Pepys, dated the 21st July, 1662, page 268, Wheatley, volume 2: -
Thence to the dock, where we walked in Mr. Shelden’s garden, eating more fruit, and drinking, and eating figs, which were very good, and talking while the Royal James was bringing towards the dock, and then we went out and saw the manner and trouble of docking such a ship, which yet they could not do, but only brought her head into the dock, and so shored her up till next tide. But, good God! what a deal of company was there from both yards to help to do it, when half the company would have done it as well. But I see it is impossible for the King to have things done as cheap as other men.
I shall bring that opinion up-to-date. In January of this year a member of the House of Commons, Mr. HoreBelisha, asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he was acting in the best interests of the nation in giving work to private dockyards. Later in his question, which was an exceedingly lengthy one, he asked -
And does not the honorable and gallant gentleman also consider the interests of economy, , and has it not been proved that the dock-yards can build these ships more cheaply than private firms?
The fact that the dock-yards had not built any flotilla leaders or destroyers did not matter. The reply of the First Lord of the Admiralty was most effective. He said -
With regard to the interests of economy, we certainly are studying them, and that is one of the main reasons why we allocate the ships in the way we do.
I repeat that we may change the breed, but we cannot change human nature.
I shall now deal with the question of the conversion of the “Bay” liners to auxiliary cruisers. Listening to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), one would think that these vessels would for ever be lost to the Empire as auxiliary cruisers. Although they are fast becoming obsolete, I contend that under the new conditions they will be as readily available to the Admiralty as they were under the ownership of the Commonwealth; that, should the necessity arise, they will be commandeered by the British Government, with all other units of the merchant marine.
– They will not be under the control of the Australian Government.
– I should not mind that, so long as they were under the control of the British Navy. If, during the last war, we had had boats that were capable of being converted to auxiliary cruisers, they would have been commandeered by the British Government. We do not know where the steamers are likely to be on any given date, and thus the time that would elapse before they could be converted to auxiliary cruisers is not likely to be any greater under the new than under the old regime. The Leader of the Opposition, in a speech which he delivered last November, stated that the White Star line was controlled by interests in the United States of America. The honorable gentleman knows that that is not now the case. I am perfectly satisfied that the purchasers are entirely British. Regarding the purchase of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company by the White Star line, a financial shipping journal states -
This transaction, brought about by Lord Kylsant, marked the beginning of the end of an American shipping venture, which was doomed from its inception, by reason of inherent financial weakness, to ultimate failure.
Upon the reconstruction of the White Star Company, with a capitalof £9,000,000, shares to the value of £4,000,000 were taken up by a subsidiary company, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Therefore, it is safe to assertthat little more than one-half of the amount of £86,000,000, which the Leader of the Opposition last Friday said was controlled by Lord Kylsant, is actually used in that gentleman’s shipping enterprises.
– Lord Kylsant is also chairman of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. He is still the controlling influence in all of those com-, panies.
– That bears out my contention. I am endeavouring to show that, although he is the chairman of directors of or controls companies with a total capital of £86,000,000, the relations of those companies are so interwoven that the capital actually in usedoes not amount to the figure quoted by the honorable gentleman. I shall refer to other shipping lines in Great Britain to show that Lord Kylsant is not the only “pebble on the beach.” The Peninsular and Oriential Steam Navigation Company has a capital, in addition to debentures and reserves, of over £22,500,000. The capital, debentures and reserves of the Cunard line amount to over £14,000,000. There are registered in Great Britain and Ireland no fewer than 656 wholly British companies, the combined capital of which amounts to over £273,000,000. ^ Mr. Stewart. - Is that inclusive of Lord Kylsant’s interests?
– Yes. The total sum invested in British shipping is approximately £443,000,000. Of course, it must not be thought that the whole of that £443,000,000 is actually represented by shipping; some of it is in the form of gilt-edged securities. These companies must have some means of obtaining ready money to increase their fleets. It is, however, certain that a large portion of it plays an active part in their shipping enterprises. It will’ thus be seen that hundreds of millions of pounds are invested, over which Lord Kylsant has no control. Great as it is, it is less than one-fifth of the total money invested in British shipping. I should also like to add, for the benefit of honorable members who are unaware of the fact, that most of Lord Kylsant’s holdings are listed at much below par. Many of the £100 stocks can be bought at anything from £70 to £95. Some of the £1 shares are listed at 12s., and the £10 shares of at least one company are listed at £8.
– And some are at a premium.
– I found that the shares of only two companies were at a premium, and in one case the shares were 61/2 per cent, cumulative preference shares, at a premium at only 21/2 per cent. In view of those facts, how can the Leader of the Opposition talk about British shippingstocks being at a premium, especially when, the average earnings of British shipping is 5.18 per cent. A great number of shipping companies have been ‘wound up, some of them voluntarily, because they were not paying. The shipping business is still in a state of flux, and is not by any means as financial as the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) would have us to believe when he asked me early in my speech to mention the earnings of the shipping companies. The best means of gauging the financial position of the shipping companies is to- examine the stock sheets of the stock exchange. From them, it will be found that in the main the stocks of British shipping are under par. I am not afraid of British domination of the seas being challenged successfully, and those engaged in the shipping business are best qualified to know the exact position. Sir Walter Runciman, another of the lesser shipping lights, when summing up the position a month or two ago, said -
As’ far as British capacity to carry safely, swiftly and cheaply, with advantage to the consumers of the world and with profit to the owners of British ships, I have no ultimate fear. What can be seen of the intellectual powers of our builders and engineers, establishes the confidence of patriotic observers, and those who direct, manage, and navigate our vessels can hold their own, in continuity of a sane policy, and the elimination of ‘waste, and ingenuity of arrangement and combination against their competitors, whether these competitors be individuals, corporations, or State departments.
That is a fair statement of the position so far as British interests are concerned, showing they are not afraid of the American merchant marine, which is controlled by the Government of the United States of America, the Canadian merchant marine, or of private ownership throughout the world.
– Canada is a British possession.
– I am speaking of State ownership.
The Leader of the Opposition said that we had hauled down the Australian flag. I ask the honorable member to look at the Bulletin of this week, in which appears a cartoon showing the Australian flag being hauled down by a little boy representing Australia. The union spokesman is saying to him, “Here! don’t you haul down the Southern Cross,” and the little boy is answering, “I am sorrier about it than you are, but you would fly your own red flag over it.” What is public opinion in Australia today respecting the sale of the Commonwealth Line ? The Daily Telegraph Pictorial of the 1st May, has published this article -
Representing over 30,000 members, the Council of the Producers Associations of New South Wales has unanimously carried a resolution approving of the disposal of the Commonwealth ships.
I venture to say that when the facts of the colossal failures of the merchant marine of both America and Canada are broadcasted throughout this country many thousands of those who are at present hesitating about whether this sale is justified, will swing definitely behind the Government. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Prime Minister’s desire was to inflame the minds of the people, because of the threat of an insignificant few of the great masses of the workers. I presume that he is alluding to the maritime unions, and I am rather astonished that he has spoken of them as an insignificant few. They may be few in number, but they are not insignificant.
– He certainly does, and without the control by those unions the Labour party would be able to give effect to many of its ideals. The maritime unions have become arrogant and in many cases are positively un-Australian. They control the Labour movement of today, and that cannot be denied by honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) spoke of the occasion when he led the farmers to the wharfs to load ships.
– Does the honorable member agree with that?
– I agree with what the honorable member for Gwydir said.
– Would the honorable member take the law into his own hands?
– I am not going to be side tracked by the honorable member. If the members of the maritime unions refuse to load the products of this country, the producers themselves would be justified in loading the vessels. There is no breaking of the law in that.
– They did it in the north.
– Yes, and because of that strike the honorable member for Herbert is now sitting in this chamber. No one knows that more than the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore). During the last strike on the eastern coast, meat was left in the refrigerators to rot, because the men refused to supply coal with which to keep the refrigerators working. Yet honorable members opposite prate about us taking the law into our own hands because we dare’ to load our own goods. In the circumstances, the honorable member for Gwydir would be fully justified in collecting a number of primary producers to go to the wharfs and load their own goods. I, as one of the few manufacturers in this House, have had personal experience of the effect of shipping strikes. As a result of strikes the firm with which I am connected lost a large amount of business. In addition, we incurred extra expense through the forced transhipment of goods and consequent loss by pillage. That loss would not have been incurred had the goods been carried by the regular steamers. Honorable members opposite may say that we must not take the law into our own hands. Why do not the unions honour the agreement made by the Arbitration Court? The Labour party is impotent, and, what is worse, is afraid to interfere. Honorable members opposite have attempted to play on false patriotism, but. the fact remains that their own supporters have done more to end the Commonwealth Line than has anybody else. The position that was created left no alternative but to sell the Line. I have shown that the fleet has not been sacrified, that two wealthier countries than ours are doing what we have done.
– We are selling seven vessels. The Government of the United States of America has sold from 1,600 to 1,800 vessels of its fleet. It is doing what we have done. The idea underlying the American Merchant Marine Act was that the ships should ultimately pass to private enterprise. That fact definitely support.’ my statement. It is far better that we should subsidize a shipping service, something on the lines that Great Britain is doing under its Trade Facilities ActThat would certainly be preferable to continuing the Line at a heavy loss. In conclusion, I express my satisfaction with the action of the Government.
.-I have listened with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson), and I shall deal with one ot two aspects of it. When the proposal to sell the Commonwealth Line was last before the House, I spoke upon it, and voted against it. I am well aware that nothing that I, or any other honorable member, can say, or that this House as a body can say, will affect the issue, because the Line has definitely been ended. We have had no opportunity, and, indeed, the Government decided to give this Parliament no opportunity, to discuss the exact terms of the sale. When negotiations were previously entered into for the sale of the Line, the Government did intend to give the House an opportunity of discussing and voting on the proposal. I have waded through a number of previous speeches and debates, and without, going into details,. I wish to refer to certain cablegrams which the Prime Minister himself sent to the board in London, and which were quoted by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and. the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). The Prime Minister clearly indicated on that occasion that the intention was to seek the ratification of Parliament for the sale of the Line. On this occasion a different procedure has been adopted. Cabinet decided to sell the Line.
– It was bought without the permission of Parliament.
Mr.- ‘ STEWART.- The Line was bought in extraordinary circumstances. I invite the honorable member to say whether he considers that the purchase of the Line was an unwise . and unwarranted action.
– It did not accomplish much good.
– The honorable member is the first, at any! rate in this
House, that I have heard say that the Line has not been of benefit to Australia. The procedure on this occasion has been entirely different. Cabinet, in a general way, decided to sell the Line, but the Prime Minister clearly indicated that the Government itself would take the responsibility of saying what was a reasonable offer. The conditions of the previous negotiations were, broadly: -
Those conditions were subject to the ratification of this Parliament. On this occasion the Government took upon itself the responsibility of effecting the sale, without seeking ratification from Parliament. Important alterations were made in the original conditions of sale, although there is still provision for the ships to be maintained on the British register for ten years, and for an equivalent service to be provided. The matter of a reasonable price is a very debatable one, to which I shall give my attention shortly. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) pointed out, while there has been a suggestion that a board should be appointed, the salient stipulation of the original agreement, that there should be no increase in freight rates without the consent of the board, has been eliminated. True, the Prime Minister stated that the board will be appointed, but of what use will it be in controlling freight rates?
– Does the honorable member.,think there would have been any chance of selling the ships had the provision as to freight rates remained in the agreement?
– Perhaps not. Its elimination certainly gives rise to curiosity as to the motives of the purchasers. The possibility of an early increase in freight rates is very patent. One wonders how far the Government can legally enforce the provisions of the agreement. What would be the position of the Government if, through a most fantastic mischance, Lord Kylsant went into liquidation and was “sold up”? Consider, too, what would happen if another war broke out, and the British Government requisitioned the ships. The purchasers would then have every justification for asking that the conditions of the agreement be waived. A thousand and one circumstances could arise which would release the purchasers from the terms of the contract. It is certain that this Government will go the way of all governments before the ten years have elapsed, and one wonders who will have to face the difficulties that must certainly result from this sale. Only two years ago this Government was negotiating for the sale of the Line for £3,500,000. I am aware that ten ships were involved in that sale, but I understand that three of small value were sold for a little less than £100,000, leaving seven as the basis for the present sale. The Government now proposes to sell those seven ships for £1,900,000, £50,000 of which is to be regarded as repatriation money.
– That merely indicates that the Government was out in its original estimates.
– It indicates either that the Government was negotiating the first sale at a price far above the value of the ships or that it is now selling the ships at a price far below their value. The disparity is considerable, particularly when one considers that the £1,S50,000 is not by any means a cash price.
The Prime Minister was unfortunate when he endeavoured to give a comparison of values. The right honorable gentleman cited the sale’ of the Ormuz, and was quite frank in stating that that ship was built in 1914, and was therefore fourteen years old at the time of the sale, when it brought £257,500. The “Bay “ liners were built in 1921 and 1922, are now six years’ old, and are being sold for about £300,000 each. I think that this is the Government’s own calculation, five “ Bay “ liners at £300,000 each, the balance of the purchase money being for the “ Dale “ liners. One has to consider not only the relative ages of the Ormuz and the “Bay” liners, but the modernness of each, and reflection lead one to consider that the price received for our liners was sadly inadequate.
– The Common- monwealth liners had four times more refrigerating space than the Ormuz.
– That is so, hut on the other hand the Ormuz had a much greater passenger capacity, and I balanced one against the other. The Government advanced as its main reason for the disposal of this Line the allegation that it was losing money. The sale was based on the assumption that the losses that occurred last year would continue. I refuse to accept that as a correct hypothesis. The principal losses were incurred by the operation of the two “ Dale “ liners, which in fulfilling the purpose for which they were built, lost heavily on their voyages. Purely with the object of opening up new markets for our primary producers, they were placed on the West of England run, a non-paying venture which the Conference Lines would not undertake:
Mr.C. Riley.- The “ Dale “ liners lost altogether £400,000, £60,000 of which was lost in one year.
– I have the figures for the years 1927-28. In 1927 the two “ Dale “ liners lost on the outward trips £23,727, and on the homeward trips £49,980. Since then they have been removed from the West of England run, and for 1928 the losses on the outward trips have fallen to £6,575. The removal of those liners to the more profitable London and Liverpool runs has practically proved that the losses could be eliminated. Further, the report of the Public Accounts Committee indicated quite clearly that certain economies in administration could be effected. During the last two years, and particularly last year, Australia experienced adverse export seasons, as even the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) must admit. I claim that there would be a great diminution in the losses of the vessels in normal seasons. I consider that the Line could have been made to pay even under existing conditions, had it not forced freight reductions. Just imagine what the representatives of the producers would have said had the Line not forced freight reductions, but run merely to present a favorable balance-sheet.
– It profiteered in the early stages of its operations.
– The Prime Minister, whom honorable members opposite follow so faithfully, definitely stated on many occasions, as may be seen by reference to Hansard, that during the war the Commonwealth liners carried Australian wheat for £7 10s. a ton, while at the same time British ships were charging £13, and foreign ships up to £15 a ton.
– And yet it made £3,000,000 profit.
– The mental agility of the honorable member is remarkable. When he is cornered on one point he jumps to another. I know that my old friends in the corner are rather uneasy on this subject, and they have good cause to be so.
I wish now to deal with the last weekly bulletin issued in the interests of the Country party. I quote the following from the Melbourne Sun of 1st May, though I believe that similar statements were supplied to other sections of the press : - “ In trying to make the sale of the Commonwealth Line a weapon of attack against the Country party, Labour pretends to be concerned about the effect of the sale on the man on the land. The farmer should know the facts,” stated the bulletin of the Federal Parliamentary Country party, issued to-day.
Apart from the fact that the sale meant, an annual saving of about £600,000, the bulletin states, the ships last year carried only 11 out of every 1,000 bags of wheat, 23 out of every 10,000 bales of wool, 5.7 per cent, of flour and pollard, 2.6 per cent, of beef, 12.9 per cent, of mutton, 12.1 per cent, of lamb, and 10 per cent, of the 1,100,000 cases of apples from Tasmania.
The Public Accounts Committee reckoned it carried only 7 per cent, of Australia’s total trade.
Freight charge reductions were due not” so much to ships as to the Federal Government’s export machinery, which had reduced dried and canned fruits freights from 70s. to 50s.
The Butter Board recently secured a discount of21/2 per cent, from the Conference lines, 5 per cent, for a certain greater amount, and 71/2 per cent, if the quantity exceeded 70,000 tons. The new line would be independent of the Conference lines.
As an effective reply to those statements I would repeat what I said in my previous speech on this subject. At the moment I shall confine myself to the estimate of the Public Accounts Committee that only 7 per cent. ‘of our trade was handled by the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers.
– That is 7 per cent, of our total overseas trade.
– It has been said that such a small percentage could not affect the 93 per cent. I deny that. The Commonwealth Line was successful in reducing freight rates in 1926 by 10 per cent.
– It was said to have done it.
– It. did it, as I shall prove to the honorable member. I contend that a shipping line handling 7 per cent, of our business, and following the policy of reducing freight rates, can play a very important part in our economic affairs. When the Commonwealth Government Line made the reduction that I have mentioned, the Conference lines had similarly to reduce their rates, or lose their business. Had it not done so, the holds of the Commonwealth boats would have been filled to overflowing, and cargo would have been banked up at every port in Australia for shipment by the Government-owned vessels. This would have meant that the loss at which the Line was being operated would have been converted to & profit, and that the producers of Australia would have clamorously called upon the Government to increase the size of the fleet to cope with the extra business at the reduced rates. Lord Inchcape was wise enough to realize this, for, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) revealed to honorable members some time ago, he cabled to Australia to the effect that there was no room for his boats and ours to operate on the same route. He said that either the Government must buy his vessels, or he must buy theirs. That shows conclusively that even a comparatively small line of steamers, adopting a policy of freight reductions, is able to influence the general shipping position in a very definite manner. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has made certain statements in respect to the inquiries of the Public Accounts Committee, of which he is a member. He has insisted that the reductions made in 1923, which the manager of the Line, Mr. Larkin, and the Melbourne manager, Mr.
Brennan, have asserted saved the producers of Australia £2,000,000, were really caused by Holt’s Blue Funnel line.
– How was the opinion formed that the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers effected the reduction? It was a mere guess.
– It wa3 nothing of the kind, as I shall show by quoting certain cablegrams.
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) knows that the reductions were effected by the Commonwealth Government Line, for lie heard all the evidence that was given before the Public Accounts Committee.
– I reply that the statement is a mere guess.
– The honorable member for Forrest stated - and he will correct me if I misrepresent him - that the reductions were made by Holt’s Blue Funnel Line.
– I quoted information that Holt’s effected the reduction in wool. I shall deal fully with the matter later.
– I am glad to have the honorable member’s qualification.
– I have made no qualification.
– If the honorable member does not qualify his previous remark, so much the worse for him. Let me quote some cablegrams on this subject which passed between the manager of the Line in London and the Australian board. On 1st December, 1925, the chairman cabled to the board - .
It is proposed to increase rates from £5 to £5 10s. measurement and objectionable cargoes by £1 per ton. Chairman is in accord.
The board replied “ Cannot agree.” On the 31st May, 1926, the board cabled to Mr. Larkin, “Suggest substantial reduction in freight rates.” No reply was received from Mr. Larkin, and on the 14th June the board sent another cablegram to him in the following terms : -
Board proposes to make an early announcement material reduction in rates for export wool, apples, other fruit, frozen meat, cheese, In rd, rabbits, hides and skins.
Mr. Larkin replied to this the next day as follows : - “ I definitely cannot agree.” On the 12th July the reductions were announced, and we have it on the authority of the Prime Minister that they resulted in a saving to the primary producers of Australia of £522,896 in that year. The right honorable gentleman gave specific details of the savings effected in various classes of freight. Those figures are already recorded in Hansard, so I do not propose to repeat them. The gentlemen who declare that the Commonwealth Government Line has not effected any reduction in freight rates are thus condemned out of their own mouth. If this Line has had no beneficial effect and can be ignored by the Conference lines, why has the Government insisted that the buyer must guarantee that a not less effective service than that at present operating must be maintained for ten years? If our Line has not kept freight rates down why has the Government made the buyers agree not to raise freights without consulting representatives of the producers? If in spite of the undertakings that have been obtained the purchasers of the Line decide to raise freights 10 per cent., or even 15 per cent., what can the Government do about it? What can the honorable member for Forrest do? They are utterly helpless. After the sale of the Line our primary producers may be obliged to pay extra rates on every carcass of lamb, every box of butter, and every case of fruit that they export from the Commonwealth. We should not forget for a moment that our ships are passing into the hands of the greatest shipping combine the world has ever seen, and that it will be able to demand whatever rates it chooses.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson) said something about the British ship-owners giving us fair play. A review of the history of the war will show how much fair play the British shipowners gave the people of Great Britain during the war years. On a previous occasion I challenged any honorable member of the House, from the Prime Minister downwards, to contravert my state-, ment that the manner in which the” British ship-owners plundered the people of Great Britain during the war is one of the blackest pages in British history. I again issue the challenge. While these pirates of commerce were appealing to patriotic Britishers to leave their homes and cross the sea to fight for their country th? seamen of Great Britain were hurried on board their ships, taken out into the Channel, often torpedoed, sometimes to be drowned like rats in a waterhole, and sometimes to be fished out again, taken back to Liverpool and almost at once sent to sea again. During the whole of this time the ship-owners were increasing their freight rates. At last the charges reached such an exorbitant figure that the British Parliament imposed a war-time profits tax of 60 pur cent, which it ultimately increased to 80 per cent, in order to try to get back from the ship-owners some of the money that they had plundered . from the people. Every increase in pay that the British workmen obtained in order to buy food and clothing was rendered ineffective, hecause its purchasing power was at once reduced by an increase in freight rates. In the face of these facts can we expect fair play from the British ship-owner.j ? If they did not give their own countrymen fair play in a .time of dire national peril, is it likely that they will give us fair play in a time of peace? I say without hesitation that what these gentlemen did in the last war they will do again immediately the opportunity presents itself. If the Kylsant group decided to increase freight rates to and from Australia by 10 per cent, or 15 per cent, our people would have to pay them. If the Government thinks otherwise let it tell us what it would do if such an increase occurred. What would the Country party do about it? When the proposal to sell these ships was first made I can imagine the Government saying, “ We must get rid of these ships, but we must have the Country party in it; therefore we will have a combined meeting of the Nationalist and Country party members.’” When I was a member of the Country party a proposal to hold a joint meeting with the members of the Nationalist party would have been anathema to us. Had it been proposed that we should meet with the Nationalists to consider the selling of the Commonwealth ships or any other matter, it would have been possible to see blue smoke issuing from the windows of the party room, and filling the corridor outside the door. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) suggests quietly that times and circumstances have changed.
– So have the views of the honorable member.
– I shall deal with that interjection in a moment. I can visualize what happened at the combined meeting of the Nationalist and Country parties. The high protectionists and the low protectionists, the new Staters and the anti-new Staters all filed in together, and when the Prime Minister, beaming affectionately upon the meeting, rose to speak, I can well imagine the welcome that he received. I have no doubt that in justification of the combined meeting he said, “ Are we not all brethren ?” and that there was a deep throated reply from every corner of the room “ Yea, we are brethren.” So a proposal was made for the sale of the ships, and I can imagine my old friend the Treasurer saying to his leader, “ Don’t forget to give them plenty of the Seamen’s Union ; that is the stuff.” At any rate, such excellent results were achieved at that combined meeting, when honorable members opposite decided so expeditiously to dispose of the Commonwealth Line, that further combined meetings have been held, and I have no doubt that they have become the permanent practice. Of course, this is a free country, and parties are entitled to combine and meet together, but I suggest to my former colleagues of the Country party that on the particular occasion to which I have referred something was put over them.
– Be candid ; the honorable member has a sore head because he backed the wrong horse.
– The race is not yet finished. The Treasurer, dealing in November last with my attitude towards the Commonwealth Line, played the juvenile game of tip and run ; he uttered just sufficient words to create a certain atmosphere, and then left the subject. He said -
I shall call attention to the change of mind of the honorable member for Wimmera, on this matter in 1924. He has changed his mind again since then.
What did the Treasurer mean? When I entered this House I was pledged to support the Commonwealth Line. As a member of the Government I advocated its continuance; so did the Treasurer. Today I am still advocating the same policy, and yet the Treasurer, who has changed his own views with an audacity that is rare even in this chamber, charged me with inconsistency. I well remember the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill) speaking strongly in 1923 in support of the Commonwealth Line, and stating that the producers approved of it. Knowing how unscrupulous the British ship-owners were during the war, I am not optimistic enough to believe that they are less unscrupulous to-day. And commercial conditions are different from what they were prior to the war. There is now more combination amongst shipowners.
– Did the honorable member accept war prices for his wheat ?
– Because of the rapacity of the British ship-owners, Australian producers had no chance to get war prices for their wheat. Most of it was sold on the basis of 4s. 9d. per bushel ; we could not get more, for the reasons stated by the Prime Minister, namely, that British ship-owners charged £13 pelton and foreign companies £15 per ton to carry the wheat to Great Britain. A freight of £12 per ton is equivalent to £1 per bag, or 6s. 8d. per bushel. It was to these hungry companies that the profits of the Australian primary producers went during the Avar, and it is to them that any profits that should accrue from the export of primary produce will go when the Commonwealth Line is sold. Never in our history were the primary producers of Australia exposed to such keen competition in the world’s markets as they are to-day. Our meat has to compete with that of the Argentine, our butter with that of Denmark, Argentine and Russia, our canned fruits with those of California, and our dried fruits with those of California and the Mediterranean countries. Parliament has legislated to create export control boards in an endeavour to assist the producers. The loss of £500,000 a year on the operations of the Commonwealth Shipping Line was at least spread over the whole of the Australian people. If under private management freights are increased to balance that amount, a direct tax will be placed upon those of the primary producers who are helping to keep the country solvent by selling Australian produce in open competition in tlie markets of the world. I suggest to honorable members of the Country party that in respect of the sale of this Line they have been let down. I recognize that there are two sides to the question; a loss of £500,000 cannot be ignored by any Government; but when the alternatives were the distribution of that loss over the whole of the people, including those engaged in secondary industries, and the residents of the capital cities, or the placing of it upon the primary producers through rapacious ship-owners increasing their freights to an equivalent or greater amount, honorable members should have taken no risks, but advocated not only the maintenance, but also the extension of the Line.
In regard to the defence value of the vessels, we have sold five auxiliary cruisers with a striking power, if not a defensive power, equal to that of the light cruisers Sydney and Melbourne. Moreover, there were seven of those auxiliary cruisers as against only two light cruisers, and having regard to” their value in time of war for the carriage of troops and the maintenance of our connexion with the overseas market, surely a portion of the loss of £500,000 could be regarded as a defence vote.
– The Labour party tells us that we shall never be called upon to defend ourselves.
– I am considering the matter from my own point of view; I am not here to defend the Labour party. Those vessels were carrying ‘the Australian flag, and under the control of this Parliament. If in time of war, circumstances were such as to make it desirable that the vessels should be placed at the disposal of Great Britain, I would wholeheartedly and unreservedly agree to that course, but at least it would have been the right of this Parliament to decide how and where the ships should be employed.
I propose to deal briefly with the statement of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson), that the United States of America is going out of the shipping business. I interjected several times that it was not going out of the shipping business in the way that the Commonwealth is. The fact is that the United States of America is continuing its state-owned line. Congress has not passed any measure to authorize the sale of the line lock, stock and barrel at almost scrap rates, as this Line has been sold.
– The United States Senate rejected President Coolidge’s recommendation that the Line should be sold.
– I thank the honorable member for that interjection. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), speaking on this subject last year quoted from a shipping newspaper called the Syren a statement by General A. C. Dalton, the President of the Merchant Fleet Corporation, which is controlled by the Shipping Board of the United States of America, and is a government enterprise. General Dalton was the guest of honour at a dinner given by the European representative of the Shipping Board of the United States of America. The dinner was .held on the 30th August, at the Savoy Hotel, and among those presentwere Viscount Inchcape, Lord Kylsant, Sir Ernest Glover, Sir Allen Anderson, Sir George Higgins, and many other leading shipping magnates. Notwithstanding the presence of those representatives of shipping combines and corporations, General Dalton uttered some straightforward truths in regard to the Merchant Fleet Corporation of the United States of America. The newspaper report read -
In the course of his speech, General Dalton remarked that past experience had definitely established the fact that private’ American ship-owners could not maintain and op’erate merchant vessels under the American flag on certain essential trade routes in competition with other more experienced nations. The Shipping Act of 1916, as amended in 1920, clearly recognized this fact, and to meet this condition the American people, through Congress, mandated that there should be established an American Merchant Marine, commensurate with the volume of its foreign commerce. The Shipping Board, in the foundation and maintenance of a merchant service ,to all parts of the world, clearly had in mind from its very inception the basic policy and principle as laid down in the act that individual enterprises should be given full’ and free opportunity and a just reward for its accomplishment. There has been in America much criticism of the Government for engaging in a commercial shipping enterprise, but the Shipping Board would have failed in its plain duty to the people if it did not carry out the full intent and will of that people, by continuing those services that were essential to their foreign trade.
– What does that prove ?
– The honorable, member for Bass (Mr. Jackson) asserted that the Government of the United States of America was disposing of its fleet. It may be true to say that the obsolete vessels are being sold. Action along those lines was taken some time ago by the Australian Government, because after the war we found to our cost that a good deal of jerry building, had been indulged in. But it is an indisputable fact that the Government of the United States of America has not made any proposal to wipe out its line as this Government has done with the Australian Commonwealth Line. On the contrary, it is to be retained as a Government utility. The honorable member for Bass referred glibly to the colossal losses that had been made by that Line. The determination to continue it thus has an added significance. The Canadian’ Government is acting in a similar manner. Canada is a sister dominion whose standard of living and conditions are not dissimilar from our own. Although it has been losing heavily upon its shipping enterprise, it is building modern vessels, apparently with every intention of continuing in that enterprise. The point I wish to emphasize, however, is that Canada is less dependent than are we upon overseas, trade. A very large proportion of the Canadian trade crosses the border into the United States of America; but every ton of produce we export must be conveyed to the markets of the world in ships’ bottoms.
– How does New Zealand fare?
– New Zealand’s position in regard to her export trade is similar to ours. It has been suggested that the rates to that country are practically identical with those to Australia, and because of that fact and the absence of a Government-owned line of steamers it is declared that the Australian Commonwealth Line has rendered no service to Australia. My reply to that contention is that although the Australian Commonwealth Line has carried only a small percentage of our oversea trade it has regulated freights not only to Australia, but also to New Zealand.
– The honorable member is being humorous.
– I have stated the facts. Does the honorable member think that shrewd, hard-headed persons’ like the Inchcapes and Kylsants would charge the people of New Zealand 10 per cent, or 15 per cent, more than the people of Australia? They do not want to see a government-owned line established in New Zealand. They have no liking for such lines.
– If we found we were being exploited, the Line could bo reestablished..
– That interjection proves that the supporters of this action of the Government are hard up for arguments. The honorable member- for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) can be depended upon to advance the strongest argument available.
– He is a Scotchman, too!
– I am reminded that another Scotchman, Sir William McPherson, the leader of the Nationalist party in Victoria, on one occasion extolled the virtues of the Australian Commonwealth Line and said that he always patronized it because he obtained the best service from it. Also that when 600 Scotchmen recently wished to have a cheap, comfortable trip overseas, they travelled by a “ Bay “ liner.. The honorable member for Fawkner would be the last person to say that 600 Scotchmen would be likely to make a mistake when it was a question of getting full value for their money. If we were to attempt to reestablish the Line we should not be able to purchase for the sum of £1,850,000, vessels capable of performing the service that is being performed by the five “ Bay “ liners and the two “ Dale “ boats that have been disposed of by the Government. This country will be committed to a heavy expenditure should we decide to again establish an Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. It would not occasion me surprise if such a proposal were advanced in the future.
Last Saturday week, in the word3 of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), the pen was put to paper which disposed of this Line for all time. Honorable members are fond of talking of mandates. They roll that word on their tongue as though it were a delightful morsel. The people did not give the Government any mandate to dispose of this Line. In 1925 honorable members of the Country party were sent to this Parliament pledged to support the continuance of the Line.
– Oh, no.
– I speak, of course, subject to correction.
– Who sold valuable forest areas in Queensland?
– Honorable members opposite will not stand their ground. I wish to discuss the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line; but they persistently endeavour to introduce other subjects. The Prime Minister should at least have laid on the table of this House the tenders which he had received, and then taken the responsibility of declaring that the tender of Lord Kylsant at £1,850,000 should be accepted, so that in open debate we could have discussed the merits of the proposal. Instead of doing that, the right honorable gentleman took upon himself the responsibility of placing pen to paper; and now, notwithstanding any arguments we may advance or any resolution we may pass, the Line has definitely been sold. The action of the Prime Minster cannot be defended, . particularly in view of the fact that he was not returned with a mandate to sell the Line.
I deprecate strongly the suggestion contained in a statement which is reported to have been made by Mr. Moate, the Secretary of the Marine Stewards Union, that these vessels will be declared black. Nobody resents more strongly than I the sale of the Line and the circumstances which surround it. When I consider the probable effect upon the producers of this country, my anger is as great as that of any man. But, after all, this Parliament is the elected of the people, and its decisions must be obeyed by the people, whether those decisions be in accordance with or contrary to their views. No section of the community has the right to say that they will endeavour to take the law into their own hands and adopt reprisals. At the same time, the threat of the Prime Minister that “ two could play at that game,” or words to that effect, was entirely out of place.
– The honorable member himself has said that he would not allow the law to be abrogated.
– What I said was that I did not approve of such action. I indicated plainly and definitely that I deprecated the threats that have been made by these men; but I did not say what action I would take, or suggest reprisals. If honorable members opposite wish me to speak more plainly, I will say that the Prime Minister ought to have ignored, or at any rate to have contented himself with an expression of regret at the suggestion of the marine stewards. That he should have made threats in return, I consider merits our disapproval. Then we have the statement of the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott). It has been suggested that that honorable member did not express certain sentiments. I heard clearly what he said - that not only would he be prepared to do certain things if these men took the law into their own hands, but also, by way of interjection, that he would string up some of them. I deprecate and protest against the use of such language, by whomever it may be used. Any action of this Parliament will be judged by the people at the next elections. The ballot box is the agency through which both employers and employees may express either their approval or disapproval.
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat said that the times have changed. They certainly, have changed greatly. The honorable member was cheered throughout his speech by honorable members of the Opposition, who backed up almost every statement that he made. When the honorable member was a member of the Government, however, they found fault with everything that he did. To-day he hardly knows where he stands. He is not Labour, he is not Country party, he is not Nationalist. Where then does he stand?
– When did I say that?
– At any rate I have said it. I wish to make perfectly clear my attitude to the Commonwealth Line.
I do not believe in government interference with private enterprise. During the war the Commonwealth Line did good work, because most of the shipping at that time was utilized for the transport of soldiers and freights to the Old Country. As soon as the war ended the Line should have been sold, as has been stated by the Prime Minister. Had that been done we should have made a profit of millions of pounds, instead of a substantial loss ever since. . Yet the Labour party wished to continue the Line. Most of our government enterprises have been established by Labour governments, and they have proved absolute failures. The Commonwealth Line is a glaring instance of the disastrous effect of government interference with private enterprise. Tasmania has had a sorry experience of State shipping. During the war the Tasmanian primary producers were unable to ship their produce as quickly as they desired, because of the shortage of vessels. A Nationalist government was in power at the time, and a great cry arose that Tasmania should buy a fleet. As a result the Government was induced to purchase vessels solely to help the primary producers. The first ship was obtained for £64,000, and the next - a newly-launched vessel- for about £100,000. Two other smaller vessels were also purchased to trade with the islands. One of those is now lying idle, and cannot be sold. The other -is trading with the islands at a great loss. When this fleet had been in operation for a couple of years, an election took place in Tasmania, and the acquisition of the vessels was largely responsible for the defeat of the Nationalist Government and the coming into office of a Labour government. As there was a considerable loss on the operation of the fleet, the Government decided to sell it. The Melbourne, which was purchased for £64,000, was sold for £5,000. The Poolta, practically a new vessel costing nearly £100,000, was sold for £25,000. The smaller vessels cannot be given away. In view of the action of the Labour Government” of Tasmania, one looks for a motive behind the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. It is nothing but propaganda for the next elections, with the idea of gaining the vote of the primary producer.
I would tell honorable members opposite that the people are fed up with the piffle of Labour members in this House concerning the sale of the Commonwealth Line. One has only to read the report of the Public Accounts Committee to ascertain the exact position. When the Line was taken over by the Shipping Board its capital value was written down by £8,000,000, but, despite that and the additional advantage of the profits that were made during the war and the moneys received for the sale of 47 vessels, the fleet last year showed a loss of £500,000.. The Labour party wish to continue that loss at the expense of the taxpayers, although the seamen were the only persons in the community receiving any benefit from the Line. Why did not the Trades Hall purchase the fleet and demonstrate to the people of Australia that it could be run at a profit? The Labour party knows full well that those vessels could not be run profitably without a vital alteration of the conditions of the seamen. The Government, when the Commonwealth Line was taken over by the Shipping Board, gave it a generous start, and if ever a shipping venture should have succeeded it was that Line. It should certainly have been a paying proposition. Can we say that the seamen, cooks, stewards, and waterside workers gave to the Line that consideration which was given to it by the Government? The leaders of the unions were, undoubtedly, out to “ down “ the Commonwealth Line, just as they were out to “ down “ every industry in Australia. A cartoon which appeared in the Bulletin some time ago on the Commonwealth Line was most apt. It depicted a big fat butcher standing alongside a sailor on the deck of a vessel, and at their feet was a goose that had just been killed. The butcher was saying, “ My God, Bill, I think that we have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.”
– That is the tenth time that we have heard that story.
– It is so true to fact that it bears frequent repetition. The union leaders have never given the Commonwealth Line a fair deal.
Honorable members may not know the conditions under which Australian seamen work, and for their enlightenment I shall compare the wages of seamen of other countries with those of our seamen. The wage in Great Britain is £9 a month; in Belgium, £4; Denmark, £8 10s. 3d: ; Sweden, £8 9s. 7d. ; Germany, £4 17s. 7d. ; Holland, £S 4s. 9d. ; Italy, £5 lis. Id.; and Norway, £8 10s. 3d. In Australia a boatswain receives £17 a month; an able-bodied seaman, £16 1.0s., and if employed as a lamp-trimmer, £17 ; an ordinary seaman of 18 years and over, £12, and if under 18 years £10; fi donkeyman, £20; a greaser and fireman, £19 ; a storekeeper, £20 ; a trimmer, £17 ; a fireman greaser, £20; and a fireman driver, £20. The Australian wage is for eight hours’ work, while the wages paid’ in other countries are for ten hours’ work. Those wages would probably be all right if the ships had not to compete with those of other nations. The men on the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers worked only eight hours a day. If a deck hand was engaged in keeping anchorwatch in port, he had to be paid overtime at the rate of ls. 9d. per hour. If the ship was at sea at 8 a.m. on any of certain holidays the seamen would be entitled either to a day off on shore at the home port, within one month afterwards, or an extra day’s sea pay. These holidays were: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter’ Monday, Foundation Day and the King’s Birthday. As it was practically impossible for the men to have time off in port, they took the extra wages. Provision was also made that when a ship departed from any of the main ports on a Sunday or holiday the seamen were entitled to an extra day’s pay. That condition prevailed when the ships of the Line called at Tasmania for fruit. The waterside workers would not load as much fruit into our liners in a day as they put into other ships in the same period, because they knew that while <*the Commonwealth liners would wait, other ships would not remain after 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon. Our liners were therefore hung up when they called at Tasmania and the waterside workers received overtime for working on Saturday night and Sunday morning, at the rate of 4s. 6d. and 6s. 6d. per hour respectively. Also, because of the delaying of the liners until Sunday morning, every sailor on board received double pay. Is it any wonder that the Line did not pay. The award also provided that every seaman who served any employer continuously for one year should be allowed leave of absence on full pay in that year or in the following year, for a continuous period of fourteen days. Again, the men did hot take the- holidays, but took additional pay in lieu thereof. Those men, unskilled labourers, earned from £30 to £40 per month and their keep. No skilled mechanic in the country, though he has the additional burden of supporting himself, his wife and family, can earn such money. It was absolutely impossible for our liners to pay in those circumstances. The overtime provision reads -
Except as otherwise provided, for all labour over the hours of labour, a seaman shall be entitled to overtime payment at the rate of 2s. 9d. per hour.
A land worker cannot obtain that rate. Also, this provision applied to those sailors who were, allegedly, so badly treated -
The employers will provide for the use of the seamen all necessary utensils, to be of enamelware of of similar nature thereto, but not of tin, free of cost to the seamen, and also bedding, consisting of mattress, pillow and two blankets, a third blanket to be supplied on application in cold latitudes.
Those men received higher wages than any other seamen in the world, they worked the shortest hours, had excellent accommodation, and yet they were never satisfied, and never would be satisfied while urged on . by their organizers. Those are the reasons why the Line was a failure. Its employees did everything to prevent the Line being of proper service to the people of Australia. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) mentioned that the Commonwealth Steamers had been of wonderful benefit to the primary producers. The honorable member would like us to believe that, but he does not believe it himself, because he knows that our ships carried only 7 per cent, of the cargo exported from Australia. Some little time ago the then Minister for “Works and Railways went, with other people concerned, to the Commonwealth Line to obtain a quote for wheat freightage. They also visited other lines, and in every instance the quote of the Commonwealth Line was 5s. a ton more than that given by the other lines. That year 47 ships were engaged in carrying wheat away from Australia, hut none was carried by the Commonwealth Line on account of its excessive freight demands. That is how the Line helped the wheat-growers. It is only when there is a prospect of an election being held that the Leader of the Opposition seeks to ingratiate himself with the primary producers. However, he will fail in his effort on this occasion.
I consider that the Government has obtained a very fair price for the Line, particularly when one realizes that the ships have not been thoroughly overhauled since they were launched. Had the Commonwealth Government retained the Line it would have been obliged to spend at least £500,000 in re-conditioning the ships. The purchasers will have to spend a good, deal of money to bring them up-to-date.
Mr.Fenton.- If they do we shall have to pay, because that is one of the conditions of sale.
– Even if that money is added to the cost of the ships, I consider that they have brought their value. As the- honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson) says, anything that is put up to auction by public tender brings what the bidders consider to be its fair value. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned that Lord Kylsant is a managing director and shareholder in numerous concerns which have an aggregate capital of £85,000,000! That indicates that, he has ability and that the Line will pay in future under his direction. I listened very carefully to the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) who claimed that the Line had been the means of reducing freights. I am afraid that the honorable member knows very little about the matter, and I shall set out the freights on fruits for the years 1910 to 1914, and thence annually to 1921, to prove that the honorable member is incorrect - 1910-14. - Freight on apples from Australia overseas, 2s. 71/2d. per case. 1915. - War period, 3s. 3d. per case. (Due to war conditions, all shipping companies imposed a sur-tax of 65s. a ton, plus 20 per cent.) 1916. - This year all refrigerated tonnage requisitioned and controlled by the British Government had a freight rate of 4s. The Minister for the Navy, recog nizing the condition of the fruit industry, fixed a rate for the vessels under the control of the Australian Government at 3s. 3d. per case, and during the year Tasmania exported 814,590 cases of apples. 1917. - 3s. 3d. per case. 1918. - No fruit was exported as no space was available. 1919. The refrigerated tonnage still under requisition was increased to 7s. 7d. per case. The Commonwealth Line freights also went up to that figure. 1920. - 7s. 7d. per case. 1921.- 8s. per case.
In 1921, the first year that the “Bay” ‘ Line carried fruit from Australia, and the year when the Commonwealth Line showed an excellent profit, the “ Bay “ liners charged 8s. per case, the same rate as the other lines. Instead of assisting the Australian primary producers, it battened on them, and took every penny it could obtain in order to make a profit. If other ships could carry fruit in 1916-17 at 3s. 3d. per case in war time, what right had the Commonwealth Line to charge 8s. a case in 1921 - when the. war was over? The Line did not reduce freights, but followed other lines every time there was an increase. In 1922 the freight came down to 6s. on all lines, and in 1923 it fell to 5s. In 1926 another reduction occurred, but it was made in the Conference Lines office and not in that of the Commonwealth Government Line as honorable members opposite have asserted. But still we pay more to-day than we paid in 1916 and 1917, during the height of the war. The rate then was 3s. 3d. per case, and to-day it is 3s. 6d. per case..
The Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers has not been of the slightest value to Tasmania. That State has been treated as though it was not part of the Commonwealth. When the Public Accounts Committee was inquiring into this matter I gave evidence before it from the Tasmanian point of view. Mr. Larkin, the manager of the Commonwealth Government Line, took exception to certain of my statements and wrote to the committee respecting them. By the courtesy of the committee a copy of his letter was sent to me. I sent a reply to the committee, but I wish to offer some further comment on several paragraphs of it. The first reads as follows : -
With regard to the accusation that Tasmania has never received any benefit from the
Line, I may state that it was the first to provide a direct service from United Kingdom ports to Tasmania after the war. In October, .1919, we inaugurated a service of fortnightly cargo sailings from east and west coasts United Kingdom ports alternately, but received very poor support, and in February, 1920, Tasmanian importers were seeking a resumption by other lines of their pre-war London-Hobart service, and were prepared to bind themselves to those lines under a penalty of 10s. per ton on any cargo carried for them by others.
I do not hesitate to say that that paragraph is absolutely inaccurate, and I informed the committee to that effect. I have gone to some pains to obtain accurate figures in regard to this matter from the Hobart Marine Board. These show that the arrivals of Commonwealth Government boats at Hobart from the 19th July, 1919, to July, 1926, were as follows:-
The details are as follows :
So much for the fortnightly service which Mr. Larkin boasts of having inaugurated.
Another paragraph in the letter reads as follows : -
Prior to January, 1923, Tasmania paid a sur-charge of 20s. per ton on all cargo from United Kingdom ports - in other words, their rates were 20s. per ton above the ruling rates to mainland ports - but when in that month I cut the rates to Australia by 10s. per ton I simultaneously . abolished the 20s. Tasmanian sur-charge, making the total reduction for that State 30s. per ton, as against 20s. per ton to all other States.
That statement is substantially correct, but I point out that Tasmania was the only State which had to pay a sur-charge. That in itself was a most unfair thing. Mr. Larkin could afford to abolish the surcharge, for the very good reason that he was getting no cargo on which it was payable. I deny Mr. Larkin’s statement that the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers was “the first to provide a direct service from United Kingdom ports to Tasmania after the war.” The New Zealand Shipping Company’s vessel Hurinui arrived at Hobart on the 26th January, 1918, with 864 tons of cargo, and the same company’s vessel, the Hororata, arrived there on the 14th September, 1919, with 270 tons of cargo.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The first vessels of the Commonwealth and Dominion Line - not the Commonwealth Government Line - that called at Hobart with cargo were -
That company has maintained a regular service up to the present time. That list proves that if the Commonwealth Government Line had wanted the trade to Tasmania it could have got it by carrying cargo direct to Hobart, but it preferred to carry our cargo to Victoria, whence it was transhipped to Tasmania at an extra cost of £1 per ton. That was most unfair and unreasonable. In proof of my statement that the management of the Commonwealth Government Line did not want to handle interstate cargo I quote a statement made by the man. ager, Mr. Kneen, in Hobart -
Referring to the timber trade, he explained that it was never the policy of .the Line to compete with Australian coastal steamers, although they had done so in special circumstances for Queensland with frozen meat when there was no direct boat from that State to another. From the point of view, of possible delay to the vessels concerned, the “Bay” steamers could not very well handle interstate cargo, for the boats sailed to a close itinerary, and during the fruit season they had little time in ports. Further, assuming that they agreed to handle the Tasmanian timber, they would have every Tom, Dick, and Harry howling out for them to take their cargo, and there would be so much that the steamers would be unduly delayed and heavy losses caused.
The itinerary of the Line was determined by the seamen and the stokers in the hold, by whom the vessels were held up in Australian ports on many occasions. In regard to the precedent established in connexion with the Queensland meat trade, when Tasmania wanted timber taken to Western Australia, the “ Bay “ liners were leaving our shores half empty. They would not have been delayed in port by the timber cargo, because they stayed 36 hours at Hobart to load apples, and the loading of the timber would have occupied only three hours. The truth is that the Line did hot want the interstate trade, and never catered for it because of an “honorable understanding” with the Australian shipping companies that it should not enter into competition with them.
The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) stated that henceforth Australian shippers will be in the hands of the shipping combine, which will raise the freights on our produce travelling to overseas markets.
– So it will.
– That is imagination. We can best gauge the future by the past, and I say unhesitatingly that the White Star line, the Shaw Savill line, the New Zealand Shipping Company, the Peninsular and Oriental Company, and the Orient Company have always treated Australia fairly, and I would sooner trust them than the Australian unionists. In any case, the British companies will not be free from competition. Up to date foreign motor and oil-fuel ships are calling at our ports, and they will carry cargo at reasonable rates. We are not at the mercy of the British companies, although I prefer to patronize them because of their fair treatment of us in the past.
My attitude towards the Commonwealth Line is not influenced by what is being done in America and Canada. My only concern is the freights which the
Australian shippers will have to pay, and I am convinced that they will pay less when the steamers of the Commonwealth Line are operated by private enterprise than, they have been paying in recent years. We must remember that the Navigation Act was brought into operation to protect this Line, and contrary to the advice of the British Government. It has been responsible for all the trouble that has been experienced with the seamen’s unions and their leaders; and I repeat that some union ‘leaders are intent on upsetting, not only Australian shipping, but every other industry. The Opposition moved a vote of want of confidence in the Government because of its inactivity in regard to unemployment. The Navigation Act gives to seamen employed on Australian ships greater benefits than are enjoyed by seamen in any other part of the world. But more than half of the crews of the Commonwealth Line are not Australians. They are Englishmen, Norweigans, Swedes, and Danes, and as far as they were concerned the Navigation Act merely provides extravagant conditions for men belonging to other countries. How futile it is for honorable members to talk of the evil of unemployment in Australia when idle men walking about the streets are too lazy to work on the ships at better wages than are paid to’ the seamen of any other nation.
I congratulate the Government on its sale of the Line. This transaction is in the interests of the taxpayers and producers, because there is not the slightest doubt that if the Line were continued under government control Parliament would have to advance to the Shipping Board immediately £1,000,000 to enable it to carry on. At the present rate of losses, that sum would last for only two years, after which a further appropriation would be required. The Government would be well advised to take the further step of selling the Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Honorable members opposite say that the men employed there are experts and indispensable ; but in any trade if one man leaves his job there is always another as good, if not better, ready to step into his shoes. Men no less expert are in the employ of Mort’3 Dock and other private enterprises, and if Cockatoo Island Dockyard be sold the men now working there will still . find employment with some private company, and their skill will not be lost to the country.
One of the conditions of the sale is that the purchaser shall establish and maintain a fortnightly service between Australia and the United Kingdom. Will the itinerary include Tasmania? Undoubtedly, it should. That State is part and parcel of the Commonwealth, and is entitled to the same benefits as the others. If the new owners of the Line cannot extend a fortnightly service to Tasmania, the people of that State should demand at least a monthly service. The people of the Island being dependent upon sea transport, their industries are everlastingly jeopardized by strikes which interrupt communication with the mainland. I urge the Government to insist that Tasmania be included in the itinerary of Lord Kylsant’s line, so that it may be put on an equal footing with other States.
.- The Prime Minister and those of his supporters who have spoken have argued that it is necessary for the Australian taxpayer to be relieved of the burden of operating the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. They have passed lightly over the great benefits which the Line has conferred upon Australia, and have predicted nothing but tragedy and despair if it should continue under government control. On a former- occasion the Prime Minister occupied an hour and a half in doleful prophecies of this kind, and when speaking on the subject last week he was equally discursive. Many of his supporters repeated his unfounded statements as to the losses sustained by the Line and the conditions under which it has operated in the past. In their attempt to persuade the Australian people that the Government has done what is in their best interests, these Jeremiahs have protested too much.
– The people, know that the sale is in their interest.
– If that is so, it was a work of supererogation for the Prime Minister and his supporters to occupy so much time in telling the people what they already know. Australia is an isolated country, and without a governmentowned mercantile marine it will be at the mercy of private enterprise, which is without patriotism, or national sentiment, and is actuated only by greed for dividends ; the higher the dividends it can make so much the better for itself - the remainder of the community can look after itself. During the war the owners of ships on not. only the British, but also other registers, bled Australia white. They increased freights time after time. The scarcer the tonnage became, the higher the freights were raised, until eventually Australia was compelled to establish the Australian Commonwealth Line. No honorable member opposite will dare to say that that Line was not of great benefit to the people of Australia during the war period.
– We all admit that.
– If a shipping line is of value in time of war, it is equally of value in time of peace, because exactly the same factors operate in each case*, the question is still one of profit-making. No . patriotism was shown by the shipowners to the British commonwealth of nations during the war. .
– Of course there was.
– If the earning of profits at the rate of 10 per cent., 15 per cent., 20 per cent, and even 50 per cent, is an indication of patriotism, they were certainly very patriotic. The War Time Profits tax was imposed with a view to the prevention of such exploitation. The cost of the Australian Commonwealth Line was in the nature of a premium against exploitation, and if it had been retained it would have continued to ‘ safeguard our interests. The people of Australia as a whole are vitally concerned in this matter, equally with those who produce wool, wheat and meat. Every section of the community will be affected by the disposal of the Line. Australia is a protectionist nation. It has passed legislation designed to protect the industries that are established within its borders. It has decided, rightly in my opinion, that if it is to be self-contained and placed in a position which will enable it to defend itself against aggression, it must establish the iron and steel and other manufacturing industries which are essential to the development of a great nation.
That policy has been gradually built up for a definite purpose, the protection and the advancement of this country. But the natural corollary of industrial organization to the point where a nation is self-contained and self-reliant is a mercantile, marine. The fact that a large number of the combatant nations were compelled during the war either to establish a mercantile marine or to subsidize heavily one that was already established, proves that there must be at least the nucleus of a mercantile marine in time of peace so as to be in a state of readiness in the event of an outbreak of hostilities. Personally, I abhor the word “war.”I realize, however, that Australia isolated position renders necessary the maintenance ofits line ofcommunication with other countries, but not necessarily with cruisers.
– The honorable member’s friends have destroyed Huddart Parker’s line of communication.
– The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson), the honorable member forGwydir (Mr. Abbott), the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) and other honorable members have on this, as on previous occasions, raised the question of wages and conditions.
– I did not.
– Australia is spending annually considerably more than the £220,000 which is the difference in wages between English and Australian rates, in rendering assistance to secondary industries. Honorable members opposite object to protection in the form of wages to Australian seamen, but do not utter any protest against the expenditure which is incurred with the object of protecting our various industries. We not only protect our industries in that way against the cheap labour products of other countries, but where protection is not applicable, we resort to the payment of bounties. That policy has the endorsement of the people of Australia. During the year 1926-27, the bounty paid to the wine industry amounted to £442,000, which is almost equal to the annual loss on the Australian Commonwealth Line. This Parliament is of the opinion that the wine industryis essential to the development and the prosperity of Australia, and is therefore prepared to spend upon it upwards of £500,000 a year.
– What about the amount which the Government received from that industry by way of excise ?
– Even if we deduct the amount received by way of excise there is still a respectable sum. The honorable member for Riverina does not object to the wine industry being assisted in that way. The amount of bounty paid on the production of iron and steel in that period was £256,000. Was any protest made against that expenditure? Other bounty expenditure was sulphur £34,000, seed cotton £17,000, and cotton yarn £30,000. Next year, probably a bounty will be paid on the production of rice, which will please the honorable member for Riverina. The total amount paid by wav of bounty in the year 1926-27 was £780,641.
– Is the honorable member opposed to that policy?
– I am in favour of protecting Australian industries and of giving bounties to those which cannot be protected in the ordinary way. But I am also in favour of having an Australian mercantile marine, and am prepared to pay for it.. The Government and its supporters are opposed to government and in favour of private enterprise. That is a fundamental difference between those who sit opposite and those who sit on this side. The Ministry and its supporters represent the wealthy, vested interests. One could not expect them to display antagonism towards their friends. The political, social and financial atmosphere in which they live makes them feel friendly towards private enterprise. They stand for the perpetuation of private enterprise and all the waste and inefficiency which it represents. An. inspection of the Various industries of Australia reveals that waste andinefficiency, whichis the result of the adoption of prehistoric methods and the use of obsolete machinery. Those manufacturers who cling to obsolete methods and who are not efficient should have their fault pointed out to them.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) said that this action of the Government is a demonstration against
State trading. Why does not the honorable member and his friends go the “whole hog”? There are many State instrumentalities which they could attack. They have attacked the Commonwealth Bank from time to time, but so far it has managed to survive. Apparently, the Government will attack some State enterprises, but not others, because in the latter case the job is too big for it. The honorable member for Henty and other honorable members have stated that the savings effected by the Commonwealth Line are more or less mythical. The latest report of the Public Accounts Committee states that while the Line had been of great advantage to Australia, its advantages were outweighed by the losses which it had sustained.
– It was of great advantage during the war.
– And also since the war. As a matter of fact, the Public Accounts Committee, in the first report which it issued, favored the retention of the Line. I intend to quote extensively from speeches which have been delivered by the Prime Minister in defence of the Line, and it .will be seen that the arguments that are now being advanced, not only by the right honorable gentleman, but also by his supporters, are completely contradictory of declarations which were made only a little while ago. One of the first advantages conferred by the Line was the cutting down of the time occupied in the journey from England to Australia from 33 to 29 days. The Prime Minister was one of the first to applaud that achievement. The Line used oil fuel in its steamers and compelled other lines to act- similarly. When the modern “ Bay “ boats were built they embodied experiments in regard to refrigeration. Those experiments were successful, and the other lines were obliged to make similar provision for the carriage of Australian soft and citrus fruits. There were distinct advantages in both of those departures from the ordinary practice. The Public Accounts Committee, which has upon it National, Labour, and Country party members, submitted- in August, 1926, a report in which it unanimously recommended the continuance of the Line in the interests of Australia.
– That was an interim report.
– It recommended the continuance of the Line in the interests of Australia. Before it arrived at that decision it examined 29 witnesses. Pressure was then brought to bear upon it The committee examined one other witness, Mr. Larkin, the manager of the Line, whose statements the honorable member for Franklin went to great pains to contravert just before the dinner adjournment. After hearing the evidence of that gentlemen the committee made a declaration that the Line should be sold, as the benefits received from it outweighed the losses on its operation. It was a most extraordinary somersault, but no more extraordinary than that of the Prime Minister, who has blown hot and cold upon this proposition, who has defended the Line time and time again, and at last has become its enemy, as has the’ majority of the members of the Public Accounts Committee.
– How long did it take them to change their opinion?
– Not very long. The evidence which brought about that extraordinary change of opinion on the part of the Public Accounts Committee must be very interesting reading to those who have taken part in this debate. Apparently pressure has been applied, and it has been so successful that so far as one can judge by the debate- and interjections, there is not one friend of the Line on the Government side of the House. It would be very interesting to know whence that pressure came. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), who is the secretary of that mysterious body known as the National Consultative Conn-, cil, is invited to give his testimony on that subject.
– I shall do so a little later.
– The honorable members for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott), Swan (Mr. Gregory), Franklin (Mr. Seabrook), and Henty (Mr. Gullett) spoke of the losses on the ships, and deprecated the idea that they had ever been of any use to Australia. The Prime Minister is also of that opinion, but let me quote what he said in this House on the 10th July, 1923, and his remarks will furnish a reply to the honorable member who the other night said that the position in regard to wheat freights was unaltered, and that when the Minister for Works and Railways sought freight space, the Commonwealth Line desired to charge 5s. a ton more than the rate charged by other lines. This is what the Prime Minister said in regard to wheat -
Shortly after the Line was established it was carrying Australian wheat to London at £7 10s. per ton, at a time when British shipowners 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.
– To what period did the Prime Minister refer?
– He was referring to prices current when the Line was established.
– That was in 1916.
– The honorable member for Franklin said that we could trust private enterprise, which had always been fair to Australia. Let us investigate the actions of private enterprise as exemplified by the shipping trust or combine and its relations with the Commonwealth Line. The cables that I shall read have been quoted before in this House, but for the edification of the honorable member for Franklin and other honorable members who contend that private enterprise will do a fair thing by Australia, I shall repeat them. The following cablegram was received from London, dated 7th December, 1925 -
It is proposed to increase outward freight rates (i.e., from the United Kingdom to Australia), subject to merchants’ consent as per agreement on the following basis: - £5 measurement, to £5 10s. ; £3 15s. to £4. Lower measurement rates by 2s. 6d. ; objectionable cargoes, £1 ; leaving iron and steel rates, paper, and most weight rates untouched.
To that cable the board on the 7th December replied -
Outward freight rates. - Board of Directors has decided at meeting to-day cannot agree to any increase rates, considering such course fatal to interests of Line as being opposed to purpose for which it exists.
On 23rd December, 1926, the following cable was received by the Commonwealth Line : -
In view of the coal position, conference propose immediately advance outward freights by approximately 15 per cent. Foreigners agree. It is proposed to exclude items such as rough weights. British owners ask your earnest consideration and agreement. Atlantic Lines increased from 15 per cent, to 25 per cent. Understand other trades also considering. Reply.
To that the Board replied: -
Referring to your telegram of the 23rd instant, regret we cannot agree. Consider it would be equally impolitic from both British owners and our point of view. To refrain from advancing rates may encourage reduction berth tonnage, which is desirable. In any case oil-burning tonnage could not justify. Coal trouble is only temporary and in our opinion likely to reduce volume of traffic.
On the 9th July the following cablegram was sent by the Board: -
Inform conference that this Line cannot further countenance the penalizing of Australian shippers in order to maintain excess tonnage on the Australian:United Kingdom berth. Negotiations with view to bring tonnage clown to economical minimum having failed, board has decided to abandon west coast service forthwith, and as from Monday, July 12, to make following reductions on present freight rates from Australia: - Wool (scoured and greasy), frozen meat (all classes), cheese, hides and skins, all id. per lb., ordinary cased goods, 10 per cent., with the exception of dried fruits, canned fruits, which already dealt with; apples, (id. box; rabbits, 10s.; general cargo, 10 per cent.
The honorable member for Franklin and other honorable members supporting the Government may get some assurance from the cables sent only two years ago, in which private enterprise sought to increase freights by 15 per cent, on a number of lines to and from Australia. In November, 1920, the Shipping Combine suggested that freight on general cargo should be increased, but the management of the Commonwealth Line refused. Freights were increased on the North Atlantic lines and other lines, but no increase was made in freights to or from Australian ports. The only reason for that was the existence of the Commonwealth Line. On the 7th February, 1921, the Combine fixed the rate on refrigerated cargo as follows: - Beef l-15/16d. a lb.; mutton, 2 1/8 d. a lb.; lamb, 2-5/1 6d. a lb.; and rabbits, 184s. a ton. On the 21st March, 1921, the Commonwealth Line fixed these lower rates: - Beef, lid. a lb.; mutton, l-7/8d. a lb. ; lamb, 2d. a lb. ; and rabbits, 140s. a ton, a reduction of over £2 on one item alone. Because of the reduction of freights on Commonwealth vessels the
Conference Line was compelled to reduce its freights, but not until the following month. In the Argus of the 30th March, 1921, appeared the following annonucement : -
It is understood that the rates for refrigerated meat and rabbit cargoes have been reduced to the same level as those recently announced by the Commonwealth Line.
It has been stated that one of the outstanding reasons for the sale of the Commonwealth Line was that its cargoes were infinitesimal compared with those of other vessels, and that therefore it had no effect whatever upon the fixing of rates. The instances that I have given show conclusively that immediately the Commonwealth Line reduced its freights, the Conference Line followed suit. On the 22nd January, 1923, further- reductions tools place. The freight on beef, mutton, lamb, pork and veal was reduced by $d. a lb.; on butter by 6d. a box;, on rabbits, by 10s. a ton; and on fruit by ls. a case. General cargo rates were reduced 10s. a ton. For some weeks the Combine refused to reduce its rates, but eventually was compelled to charge the rates adopted by the Commonwealth Line. It is estimated that those reductions saved the primary producers of this countray £2,000,000 a year. Then again, taking the exportation of fruit, which was touched upon by the honorable member for Franklin. In 1925 there was a large surplus of Australian canned fruit, the freight on which was, at that time, 70s. a ton. The Commonwealth Line agreed to carry a full cargo at the rate of 50s. a ton. Although the managements of the .other lines were very annoyed, and loudly protested, they were compelled to adopt the same rates. Yet honorable members behind the Government say that the Commonwealth Line has effected nc saving whatever to the primary producers of Australia. The saving in the export of canned fruit alone, on the figures which I have quoted, was over £20,000 a year. The Prime Minister, in 1926, blew quite warm and friendly to thi’ Commonwealth Line. He said that the Dried Fruits Control Board and the Canners’ Association were saving £33,000 a year by virtue of the fact that the Commonwealth Line was carrying cargoes at reasonable rates. Again in July, 1926, the Commonwealth Line announced a further reduction, and refrigerated cargo was reduced by one-eighth of a penny a lb.; butter and fruit by 6d. a box; and general cargo from Australia by 10 per cent. Referring to these reductions the Prime Minister said on 13th July, 1926-
It is presumed that the reductions made by the Australian Commonwealth Line will also be put into force by the Combine Steamship Lines. The effect of the lower freights may be gauged from the following figures relating to the export of main products : -
That amount is greater than the amount which the Prime Minister alleges has been lost on the Line.
– That is merely an estimate.
– It is not an estimate.. The figures are worked out on the tonnage for the year. Those figures were set down by the Prime Minister, and if the honorable member has any quarrel with the right honorable gentleman he may correct the figures later. The Shipping and Commerce of Australia, a journal, which, like honorable members opposite, believes strongly in private enterprise, made the following observation in its issue of October, 1926 -
It is some years since such a drastic cut was made in the general freight rates from Australian ports. This will be a direct loss to the shipping companies concerned.
Further on it stated -
Freights to Java and Singapore have not changed.
Had the Commonwealth Line been operating to those ports the rates would have been reduced. In October, 1926, the British and foreign shipowners again approached the Commonwealth Line, seeking to increase the freights between the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom by 15 per cent. The” Commonwealth
Shipping Board again refused to have anything to do with the proposal. Confidential details were placed before the Public Accounts Committee, indicating that the efforts of the Commonwealth Shipping Board had brought about substantial reductions in freights, also that its refusal on other occasions to increase freights had successfully kept down freight rates. That is the same Public Accounts Committee, the National and County party sections of which, like the Prime Minister, blow hot and cold. I have here an estimate of the savings in freight on different items in 1927 as against 1921, effected by the influence of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. It reads -
– What are the relative figures for New Zealand.
– If the honorable member investigates the New Zealand rates he will find that that country is not so well off as Australia in- its freight rates, and that its people pay considerably more for their meat than do the people of Australia.
Only a few years ago the chairman of the Commonwealth Shipping Board supplied the Prime Minister with estimates and valuations of the Line, and recommended that £3,500,000 was a fair figure to be asked for the Line. On that basis the Prime Minister commenced negotiations for its sale, but for some reason or other those negotiations broke down. Since then three boats have been sold for £70,000, and, even allowing a very heavy depreciation, it is apparent that Lord Kylsant received a present of somewhere near £1,000,000 when purchasing the Line. His is, indeed, a very lucky company. But that transaction is only in keeping with the usual actions of the Government which, only a short while ago, sold the Commonwealth Woollen Mills. Honorable members opposite have dilated upon the alleged losses of the Commonwealth Line. I point out that whether a service shows a loss or a profit, private enterprise must be served. The Commonwealth Woollen Mills were sold, notwithstanding the fact that they had made a profit of £190,000. Although they were worth £297,000, they- were sold to a very fortunate syndicate of Flinders.lane. Melbourne, for £155,000, and last year those mills returned a profit of £50,000 to their new owners. Sp enchanting has been the experience of the shareholders of that concern that the shares have just doubled in value.
– Why does not the honorable member tell the whole tale?
– I have given the facts, and it is open to the honorable member to give his version if he wishes to do so. The Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was not given a fair deal.
– By the unions.
– No; by the Government which the honorable member supports. There has been a continual agitation in the Government ranks to sell the Line. For over ten years pressure has been consistently exerted to stultify all efforts to make the Line a success, and ultimately those efforts were successful in killing it, as were similar efforts successful in inducing the Government to sacrifice the Geelong Woollen Mills. The management of the Line did not give it a fair deal. A huge staff of highlypaid officers was built up, and, when some of the boats were sold, the same staff was still maintained. When the Public Accounts Committee investigated the operations of the Line it was found that it took a board of three highly-paid individuals to control the Line. The chairman of that board was paid £6,500 a year, and the other two members each £3,000. One of these two was exclusively in charge of Cockatoo Dockyard. Then there were two private secretaries each drawing £850 a year, a Sydney manager receiving £800, and a Melbourne manager £1,100. There were also a London manager and numerous agents at the various ports of call. If the gentlemen in control of the Line were earnest in their endeavours they would at least have run it efficiently. All this talk about the failure of the Line being the fault of trade unionists is so much bosh. Any failure is attributable to the action of the Government and of the management. Honorable members opposite have commented at length on the attitude of the seamen employed on the Line. There has been no trouble among the employees of the Line for the last two years, and I invite honorable members opposite to support their rash and irresponsible statements by quoting definite dates when trouble occurred.
– What about the trouble that occurred on the Largs Bay on the 2nd March of this year?
– The number of industrial stoppages on the Line have been few, indeed. The Prime Minister, when endeavouring to justify the sacrifice of the people’s line of steamers attempted, unsuccessfully, to juggle with the figures. In order to make a strong case to bolster up the absurd selling price he said, presenting the company’s advantages, that the company would have to pay interest on a capital outlay of only £1,900,000, whereas the Commonwealth Line had to pay interest on a capital of £4,725,000, and that a saving of wages would be effected amounting to £220,000. The right honorable gentleman also said, “As a set-off the purchaser will lose considerable revenue from coastal trade.” When dealing with the contention of my leader in regard to the loss of the coastal services, the Prime Minister ridiculed the idea of that trade being of any advantage whatever to the Line, and stated that it amounted to a freight percentage of only .06 and a passenger percentage of 3.4. T suggest to the right honorable gentleman that he cannot have it both ways. .He might attempt to justify what was done by making a certain statement, but he should preserve a sufficiently good memory not to use the same statement to justify something quite different.
The defence aspect of this subject has been discussed by some honorable members. We have recently entered into a contract for the construction of two” cruisers. which will cost the country approximately £4,000,000; but now we are disposing of ships which are of great value as auxiliary cruisers for £1,850,000. Where is the consistency of the Government? Although the vessels of the Commonwealth Government shipping line are not armoured they Were constructed under Admiralty supervision, and are capable of mounting eight 6-in. guns or one 4-in. gun.
– They have a speed of only 15 knots.
– Their maximum speed is 16i knots. When mounted with guns the “Bay” liners and the “Dale” cargo ships are comparable, except that they are not armoured, with vessels of the Sydney and Melbourne class, and could successfully resist attacks by vessels like the Emden.
– Then they are not trading ships, but war ships.
– They would be ‘ mantraps.
– That is not so.They might,’ nevertheless, be of considerable value for defence purposes if the need should arise.
The Prime Minister has not dealt fairly by either the country or the House in this matter. During the debate on the “ proposed disposal of this Line last year, the right honorable gentleman allowed it to be understood that Parliament would be consulted before a sale Was actually effected.
– - He said the very opposite.
– The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), speaking in the debate which occurred on the 10th November last, said -
If the intention of the Government, as announced by the Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, is persisted in, a bill ‘ will have to be introduced to give effect to it. ,
The Prime Minister allowed the honor-able member for Richmond tq vote on that assumption. The honorable.., member also said, in referring to the proposed sale - . .
It w.ill be necessary to. repeal certain legislation. That cannot be done except by coming to’ this House. I shall then oppose the hill.
There can be no doubt that the honor’ si hi e member was under the impression that he’ would have an opportunity to vote against the disposal of the Line. In the face of this, I submit that the Prime Minister was entirely unjustified in selling the Line. On Saturday night he directed that the contract for the sale should be signed. Both the Government and the Prime Minister have deliberately misled the House.
– The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) is not in order in using the words “ deliberately misled.”
– I withdraw those words, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will say that the right honorable gentleman allowed the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) to vote on the occasion to. which I have referred under the impression that the Line would not be sold before Parliament had been consulted.
– That is not correct.
– I advise the honorable member for Barton- (Mr. Ley) to read the report of the speech of the honorable member for Richmond. He will find it on page 1,236 of last year’s Hansard.
– The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear, after the honorable member for Richmond had spoken, that the matter would not be submitted to Parliament.
– He did not do so until after the vote was taken.
Every honorable member opposite who has participated in this debate has referred to the wages and conditions of the Australian seamen.
– I did not do so.
– I understood the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson) to say that a certain amount of money would be saved in wages.
– I did not say that.
– I accept the honorable member’s assurance, but every other honorable member opposite who has spoken on the motion has’ referred to the high wages and good conditions which Australian seamen enjoy; yet their average wage is less than £5 per week including keep. We should remember that a seaman is away from home most of his time, and lives under conditions which cannot be called comfortable. He is out in all weathers, and suffers all kinds of disabilities notwithstanding that the Navigation Act provides for accommodation which is superior to that enjoyed by the seamen of any other country. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) read a list of the wages paid to seamen of other nationalities. He stated that Asiatics receive, in some cases, only about £4 per month and “ keep.” The “ keep “ . consists of rice and fish for food, and the fo’castle for s place of habitation. The rate for Swedish seamen is £4 17s. 7d. per month, and for those of Germany, £8 8s. 4d. per month. But many seamen on foreign boats live under conditions which are not fit for human beings. If honorable members opposite believe that the conditions which foreign seamen have to live under should apply to Australian seamen we may justly assume that they think similar conditions should apply to our coastal trade.
By selling these vessels the Government is contracting itself out qf a responsibility which it should carry. The wages and conditions of our seamen are fixed by the Arbitration Court after the closest investigation. It would appear that some honorable members opposite consider that because our seamen are receiving higher wages than those of Japan and Norway our steamers should be sold. With great regularity honorable members opposite, and particularly the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook), adversely criticize Australian wages and conditions. Whenever such subjects as unemployment, industrial disputes, or shippingconditions are before us these honorable members attack the working men of Australia. The honorable member for Franklin has condemned the seamen for daring to demand a mattress, a pillow, two blankets, and, in cold climates, three. What standard of living would he pro. vide for these unfortunate workers? Does he desire that they should live like savages or animals? The Australian seamen have fought for many years to obtain decent conditions. During my time on the Australian water front these men were herded into the fo’‘castle and obliged to live like pigs. Their “ dining room “ was mostly the railing around a pig pen. Wherever the odour was most objectionable one could be sure of finding the quarters of the crew. Even under the so-called glorious conditions of to-day there does not seem to be much difference beween the quarters of the live stock and the quarters of the crew.
For the reasons that I have given J shall support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition.
.- I spoke at some length on this subject m a previous debate and do not intend to traverse the arguments that I then used. But I must heartily and cheerfully congratulate the Government on having at last sold these ships and so relieved our taxpayers of a heavy obligation. I also heartily congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) and the Deputy-Leader (Mr. Blakeley) upon their recent appointments, but I condole with them upon having to support such a weak case so early in their new career. One expects to hear, a logical and weighty argument from the Leader of the Opposition, but even a good debater needs some kind of .a case to enable him to show his ability. On this occasion the Opposition has no case at all. I was surprised to find the Leader of the Opposition urging as a reason for the retention of this Line that it is beneficial to our coastal trade. He also used the argument that the Line must have been of some advantage, for the Government had made it a condition that the purchaser should maintain a service at least equal to that which we have at present. It does not at all follow from that that the service has been satisfactory. The people of Australia need have no fear that we shall not receive a good service when these vessels have been placed upon the British register. It would not be possible for any service to be of material benefit to Australia so long as all the conditions of the Navigation Act were applicable to it. That cock would not fight. The Leader of the Opposition then applied himself to the two major issues - first, freights, in connexion with which losses had to be taken into account; and secondly, the bad bargain made by the Government with Lord Kylsant.
The influence of the Line upon freights was fully debated on the censure motion. Certain cables had been quoted without regard to their context, but although the Public Accounts Committee was most anxious that the best possible case for the Commonwealth Line should be established, the majority of the committee was never quite satisfied that the Commonwealth Line had been directly instrumental in reducing freights. One particular cablegram has been quoted. It is a pity that what was intended to be private and confidential evidence before the Public Accounts Committee should have been disclosed in the House; but I support the statement of the Honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) that the only reduction of which we had definite evidence was that which was brought about by the Blue Funnel Line, which belonged to the Conference group. The members of the Shipping Board resident in Australia had claimed that the Commonwealth Line was responsible for freight concessions, and these assertions have been glorified into an imaginary profit and loss account wherein the primary producers are shown to have benefited to the amount of £2,000,000. Not only was the claim disproved in one instance, but other members of the Public Accounts Committee will endorse my statement that we were never satisfied that on any occasion the Commonwealth Line was directly responsible for the reduction of freights. So far as the alleged saving of £2,000,000 to the primary producer is concerned, I cannot help marvelling at what our small fleet of seven ships is supposed to have achieved in opposition to the many large and powerful companies in which Lord Kylsant is interested. It is ridiculous to suppose that a Line with only seven ships, which are gradually depreciating and could not be replaced unless a further call were made upon the taxpayers, could dictate to such forces of capital and organization as were so vividly described by the Leader of the Opposition. If the Line did save £2,000,000 to the primary producers, it is a pity that the Board did not go the whole hog and considerably increase the benefits to the exporters. It must be apparent to everybody that the amount of relief granted to the primary producers was counter-balanced by the losses incurred by the Line. The board should’ have cut itself adrift from the Conference, had no further dealing with the octopus of private enterprise, and declared - “ We are losing £500,000 yearly now ; why not increase the loss to £1,000,000 and thereby double the benefits to the primary producers?” Of course, this benefit would not actually reach the primary producers ; it would be somewhere in the air, probably in a bubble that would burst before anybody could get any advantage from it. Undoubtedly the Line has given certain indirect benefits, particularly in respect of refrigerated space, and passenger accommodation, but those advantages, I believe, will be maintained under the agreement of sale. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the losses regarding which the .Government expressed alarm were without foundation. Unfortunately, they are not imaginary; they are only too well founded. A profit and loss account certified by the Auditor-General shows that the losses have been approaching £600,000 a year. Because of this unsatisfactory state of the business, the Government could not allow the enterprise to continue. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred also to the profits made by the Line during wartime, and the exploitation of Australian shippers by private companies. It is a significant fact that although the total losses of the Line have been approximately £12,000,000, its only profits, which amounted to £3,690,000, were made during the war period.
– And in respect of them no war-time profit tax was paid.
– That is so. Honorable members opposite have professed great concern for the primary producer. I am not opposed to reasonable wages and working conditions for all sections of the community. But the primary producer is on a different footing from those engaged in secondary production. He has to submit, and does submit cheerfully, to the conditions laid down by Arbitration Courts and Wages Boards. But, although he is unable to pass on those costs, he has to accept world’s parity for his products. The primary producers, particularly the wool-growers, also form a big section of the taxpayers; and ‘as such they are again penalized in order to make good the losses on unprofitable Government trading. Honorable members on this side of the House have always consistently opposed Government trading enterprises, and I am glad that this particular one has been disposed of. The bounties paid on the exports of primary products have been mentioned. As a representative of a rural district I say that what is sauce for the goose of secondary production should be sauce for the gander of primary production. The manufacturing industries are highly protected, and the present Government has always realized that some consideration is due to the primary producer also, and has endeavoured to mete out justice more evenly to all sections of the community. In using this, illustration the Deputy Leader of the Opposition omitted to mention that bounties are not utilized’ to bolster up Government enterprises that have proved to be unprofitable; they are helping legitimate private enterprises in industries that have great developmental possibilities, some of which were established by the pioneers. So far from being a sop to millionaires, bounties are helping the struggling farmer and orchardist, and are eminently justifiable. The argument in regard to the value of the Commonwealth Line to the wheat fanner is as dead as Julius Cesar. The Commonwealth Line has not carried any wheat for years. It does not want that class of cargo. It has been working in harmony with the Conference lines, and ha» been tarred with the same brush. For that the management cannot be ‘criticized, because this Parliament, wisely or unwisely, placed the Line on a commercial basis, and those who were in charge of it were endeavouring to make it pay its way, which it could not possibly do while the ships remained on the Australian register.
We have heard a good deal of the interim report made by the Public Accounts Committee. I say frankly that the committee was indiscreet in submitting an interim report; it is unlikely to walk into the same danger again. The members of the committee were sympathetic towards the Commonwealth Line, and were influenced by the suggestion of a member of the’ Shipping Board that any indication in the interim report that the committee would recommend the’ discontinuance of the enterprise would be detrimental to its further operations. Having still to examine the most important witness, the general manager of the Line, Mr. Larkin, the committee decided not to put in the interim report anything that might injure the business operations of the Line.
In regard to the actual sale of the Line I shall quote the opinion of Mr. Larkin. He is said to have battled for a reduction of freight, and, as the manager of the Line from its inception and during the stressful years of the war, when ‘ it undoubtedly rendered valuable service, may be presumed to have had its welfare at heart. He is of opinion that the agreement of sale is a good bargain in the circumstances. The circumstances include the reduction in the cost of shipbuilding, and the fact that the “Bay” steamers have reached an age when the cost of upkeep will certainly increase. The ships have been running at full pressure, and although docked in accordance with the regulations they have not been overhauled as fully and completely as they should have been. No doubt they will have to undergo such an overhaul, the cost of which must be taken into consideration when judging the price paid for the fleet.
Mr. Larkin said that he favored the appointment of a body representative of all interests, and no increase of freights to take place without reference to it. Although the suggestion has been ridiculed, I think that it has much to commend it. So far from the producers being at the mercy of a combine, we know that the vessels controlled by Lord Kylsant will be subject to competition. The shippers are not idiots, and if, following the transfer of the fleet to private enterprise, any action is taken which is detrimental to their interests, they will be able to protect themselves by patronizing other lines. That is the rational view to take. Then there is the excellent provision for the maintenance of a fortnightly service. I “have no reason to change the opinion that I held when I signed the report of the Public Accounts Committee which recommended that the Line should be sold, and when I cast a vote in this House on the motion of censure which was launched by the Opposition last year. Having been defeated on that censure motion I cannot understand why the Opposition should now say that the Government ought to have acted differently. I have no knowledge of any promise by the Prime Minister to allow this matter to be discussed before he took definite action to dispose of the Line. The big majority of honorable members gave him a mandate to complete the sale. It would be contrary to business principles to debate in this House the terms of a contract. If such a procedure had been followed the disposal of the Line might have been placed in jeopardy. The Government had every justification for the action which it took, and I feel sure that if a vote is taken at the conclusion of this debate it will again have the support of a majority of honorable members. I contend that the Line has had an absolutely fair go. No action has been taken without the concurrence of a majority of honorable members of this House, and, therefore, a majority of the people of Australia. In 1923 an act was passed which placed upon the Shipping Board certain definite obligations, one of which was the payment of interest on its debentures. That payment was not made. It was found impossible to make the Line pay; consequently, no course was open other than to effect its sale. The Government has acted logically and sanely, and has observed strictly the conditions that were imposed by this Parliament in 1923. I supported it then, and I support it now. It will give me pleasure to see this socialistic enterprise, for which this party has never stood, pass out of existence, thus conferring a benefit upon the taxpayers of Australia, including the primary producers. . .
.- The honorable member for Robertson has expressed pleasure at the prospect of being able to wash his hands of this business, and to breathe more freely in the future. I hardly think that those will be his thoughts after the next election, when the people of Australia have expressed their opinion on the action of the Government, in relation to this Australian activity. The Government has always shown a desire to cripple, and, if possible to destroy, any thing that is Australian, and at the same time to bolster up private enterprise.
My main purpose in rising was to direct a few remarks to the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook), who to-night made what he evidently considered was the speech of his life on the question of the Navigation Act. In order that I may not do him an injustice, I shall quote from the minutes of the proceedings of the Navigation Commission, of which he was a member, and which was appointed at the instigation of that section in this House which has always endeavoured to break down the standard of living which the Australian workman today enjoys. Now that the Australian Commonwealth Line has gone, it may be considered an easy matter to destroy the Navigation Act. In 1923 the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) moved in this House that a commission be appointed to inquire into the effects of the Navigation Act upon the Australian coastal shipping service. That motion was agreed to, and the commission was appointed. It visited every portion of Australia’s seaboard, as well as the Mandated Territories, but failed to find a scintilla of evidence to prove that the Navigation Act had been detrimental to the shipping services of Australia. Prior to the war, private enterprise operated a happy-go-lucky, catch-as-catch-can shipping service around the coast of Australia. Several companies were engaged in the trade, and they sent their vessels simultaneously to the different ports. The low standard of wages, the undermanning of the ships, and the conditions under which the seamen worked, made it possible for the companies to carry on at the low fares and freights, which then existed, and still show a profit. The Navigation Act was passed in 1912, but its coastal provisions were not proclaimed until 1921. Two or three, years were occupied in preparing the ground for its introduction. A commission was appointed to inquire into the conditions of the seamen. It went exhaustively into their conditions of employment, the nature of the work they were called upon to do, and the risks which they ran. The war broke out, and the shipping services of Australia were placed under Government control. They were then so organized that overlapping of services was abolished, and only the actual requirements of the different States were catered for. The Government found that one service was sufficient for what had formerly been done by three. At the termination of the war the ships were handed back to their respective owners, who immediately formed the Australian Steamship Owners’ Federation and, instead of sending three ships simultaneously round the coast, they, sent only one. The honorable member for Forrest is always whining because the service to Albany consists of only one boat a month, despite the fact that it is more often empty than overloaded when it leaves that port. The commission investigated the charge that they could not get their timber shifted, and ascertained that up to the end of March, in the year prior to its investigation, every stick of timber sold had been shifted, and that the shipping company was prepared to handle all that could be produced as far ahead as the following January; yet the production of timber in that year was a record one. It will thus be seen that the requirements of the Commonwealth were fully met. But they wanted to make out that it was the wages the men received, the overtime rates, and the holiday privileges, that were responsible. In making these inquiries, we went to Geraldton, and we had the manager of the Wyndham meatworks before us. In one paragraph of the report he makes a statement regarding the effect of the Commonwealth Line on freight rates. Strange to say, it was Mr. Seabrook who asked the question which elicited the statement. Mr. Seabrook is the honorable member for Franklin, the gentleman who spoke for an hour or more this afternoon in. an attempt to prove that the Commonwealth Shipping Line is of no service to Australia. This is a statement from a man in close touch with the primary producers in one of the more distant parts of the Commonwealth. . The statement was made to Mr. Seabrook, but he does not want to take any notice of it. He wants to talk about hops and apples; and if a Labour Government came into power and established a shipping line to
Tasmania,he would be- prepared to join the Labour party. This is an extract from the report of the Commission -
Do you consider that the Commonwealth Line is treating the industry as fairly as it should in regard to freights? - I understand that, in order to get loading from London, they have to come to terms’ with the Shipping Conference. That means that the Conference dictates the homeward freights.
That is to say, the Commonwealth steamships are of no benefit whatever to Australian industry? - I would not put it that way. I think that if the Commonwealth ships were not running, the freights would be higher than they are now, and we would not get so good a service. I do not think we could continue to run the Wyndham meat-works without friendly consideration from the Commonwealth Line.
By the Chairman. - Yet you say the rates are not lower than can be obtained elsewhere? - The rates are the same, because I suppose the Commonwealth people have to come to terms with the Shipping Conference or fight them.
Why? - They are not able to fight them, because, I take it, the Conference is too powerful. They would not get sufficient loading from London.
By Mr. Seabrook. - Do you consider that the freights of the Commonwealth Line are too high? - I do.
By Senator Dunoon. - Do you think that freights generally would be very much higher if the Commonwealth Line were not in the business? - I’ am satisfied that they would.
Those statements were made to Mr. Seabrook and Mr. Duncan, two of the gentlemen now supporting the Government. They were asking questions regarding the shipping freights around Australia, and, incidentally, they obtained a little information about overseas freights. This is not faked evidence; it was obtained from the manager of the Wyndham meat-works.
-hughes. - Have not those meat-works closed down?
– They may have closed, but it was not because the Commonwealth Line did not try to protect them. The honorable member contends that now that the Commonwealth Line has been disposed of, the competition in shipping will keep down freights. As the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, Lord Kylsant and Viscount Inchcape between them control British shipping, and they dictate what freights shall be charged. The honorable gentleman is hopeful of getting lower freights, but he cares not by what means they are obtained, or by what vessels Australian produce is carried overseas, so long as he reaps the benefit. That kind of patriotism does not appeal to me. Mr. S. S. Glyde, manager of the State shipping service of Western Australia, when giving evidence before the royal commission, was questioned by Mr. Anstey regarding the State-owned steamer the Kangaroo. His evidence reads - 670. In 1920 the freights were increased upon the coast by 25 per cent.? - Not on the W estern Australian coast. 671. Were you approached? - Yes. 672. You were asked to increase freights ? - Yes. 673. Did you do it? - No, the Government refused to do it. 674. You say that that action saved the people in the north from 25 per cent, to 30 per cent, in freights and passage money? - Yes. 675. You say in your report that the BritishConference steamship owners dictated the freights on exports. Would you mind explaining in what way they controlled the freights? - When the Kangaroo commenced running, the freight from and to Java and Singapore were precisely the same as from ports on the eastern coast. They were immediately brought down to something within reason, considering our geographical position, and the other companies immediately followed our example.
This small vessel traded between Western Australia, Java and Singapore, and immediately its freights were reduced, the Conference line was compelled to follow suit. Yet we are told that the Commonwealth Line was not responsible for any reductions of freight, although the Prime Minister went so far as to capitalize the benefits that the primary producers of Australia had received in consequence of its operations. Mr. Anstey further questioned Mr. S. S. Glyde- 676. Did the black boats follow? - Yes. 676 A. In one part of the report you say : “ Before them.s. Kangaroo was running, the cost of transporting pearl shell from Broome to the United Kingdom and the continent was £10, and to the United States of America. £11. These rates appeared exorbitant, and by degrees we got the rates down to £7 per ton to the United Kingdom and the continent, and to £65s. to the United States of America. When we reached these figures we were warned from Singapore that the Conference steamers would not lift our transhipments at Singapore if we either directlv or indirectly undercut Holt’s’ rates”?- Yes. That is. a different class of cargo altogether. Prior to the Kangaroo coming on the coast, America was taking nine-tenths of our pearl shell from Broome by the black crew ships, via Singapore. There was no other connexion between Broome and Singapore than by those steamers, and there was no connexion between Fremantle and New York direct; so that, if they brought it to Fremantle, it had to be transhipped probably in the Eastern States to get it to New York. The only way in which to avoid the double transhipment was to send it via Singapore. 677. What is the freight on pearl shell? - 125s. per ton at present. 678. Can you give the commission some idea of the freights from Australia to Singapore on other lines? - I can give you the freight on pearl shell; it is in that report, lt was £12 per to’n before the Kangaroo started running from Broome to Singapore. lt is now £6 5s. per ton.
– Is the Kangaroo still trading?
– I do not know.
– It was sold some time ago.
– I understand that, the Bambra, a more up-to-date vessel, has taken the place of the Kangaroo. Even if the Kangaroo has. been sold and pinched out by the combine, that fact does not controvert the evidence that I have quoted.
– The Kangaroo was sold., not because it was pinched out, but because it was run at a loss.
– It was the means of reducing freights, and therefore conferred a benefit upon the community, as did the Commonwealth Line. I think that I have adequately proved that the advantages conferred by the Line more than justified its existence, and the people will, at the next election, show in no uncertain way their disapproval of the sacrifice of the Line. The honorable member for Franklin objects to the conditions under which Australian seamen work, but the conditions are no better than those under which the great mass of the workers of Australia exists. When I was a lad working in a factory I saw men maimed week after week and no care or protection was given to them, nor even decent conditions. Our womenfolk once worked under sweated conditions, and surely no honorable member behind the Government would advocate a return to that form of slavery. The workmen do not get increased wages or conditions by the mere asking or by the. strength of their numbers. They have to appear before the Arbitration Court, and when they receive just treatment, honorable members behind the Government howl like coyotes. The fly in the ointment to-day from the point of view of the honorable member for Franklin is that the seamen get decent conditions. God knows that I would not be a sailor for all the tea in China. I should not care to live away from home for months at a time.
– Canberra is almost as bad as that.
– It is a monument to the foolishness of men supposed to have brains. If the honorable member would move a motion to scrap Canberra tomorrow, and to get back to common - sense and civilization, I should not hesitate to support him. The Federal Capital is costing this country millions of pounds, and little or no benefit is being derived from the expenditure, but because the Commonwealth Line was making a loss every year, it was sold, despite the enormous benefits that it conferred, upon the primary producers. It would appear that when the producers of this country have a good harvest, they want it carried overseas in vessels manned by any sort of labour, black, blue or br indle, so long as it is cheap. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) had something to say about the high wages paid to seamen under Australian conditions of . labour, as well as to overtime rate of pay and other matters. Apparently, the honorable member is a believer in the popular fetish that under our present commercial system every man should gel the highest price offering” for any commodity that he happens to be retailing. Immediately after the war there was a definite attempt to increase the prices of certain commodities. The Chambers of Commerce denied it in half-page advertisements in the newspapers of Melbourne and elsewhere. The people were told that prices would not be increased, but they were. If, then, seamen’s wages have been increased in recent years, the advance has only been in line with the increase of wages in other industries. The seaman has as much right to get an extra shilling for the commodity he has for sale as have the merchants in George and and Pitt streets, or elsewhere, to obtain higher prices for their articles of commerce. When this is done by big merchants or retailers, it is regarded as good business, but when it is done by the working man, it is condemned in unmeasured terms. His every action is regulated by a judge of the Arbitration Court. Thousands of trade unionists have to wait years, in some cases, before their claims come before the court for hearing, and if there is a suggestion that the judge is going slow on the job, we have’ a public outcry. Then when unionists get an award, certain sections of the community say that they are exploitingthe Commonwealth. Actually they have a right to all that they can get. The judge with all the evidence before him declares that they must work a stated number of hours a. week for a certain wage rate which governs also overtime and holiday pay. Beyond this the men cannot go except in certain unforeseen circumstances. Nothing is said, however, if the commercial community obtains increases up to 100 per cent, for any commodity which it has to offer. We are told that they are entitled to all that they can get, but we have never yet heard of pastoralists, wheat-growers, fruit-growers, or merchants being haled before the courts and told to produce their balancesheets. Yet practically that is required of the worker in regard to every demand which he makes for an increase in wages.
– And it has never yet been suggested that the primary producers should get full prices for their products.
– We on this side of the House have always been prepared to give the primary producers a good deal. During the war we submitted a proposal that they should receive a wage commensurate with the value of their labour plus a certain price for their commodities in the local market, and as much as it would bring in the overseas market. Why should the working man be treated in a different manner?
– One of our principal complaints is that unionists will not work under an award unless itsuits them.
– Perhaps that does happen sometimes. Merchants also, I re-, mind the honorable member, are in the habit of withholding commodities from sale in the hope of reaping an advantage from a higher market. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) asked just now what the Labour party would do if it were in power to-day. Our principles are well known. I remember very well the birth of the. party after the great maritime strike in 1891. I stood amongst the crowd on Montefiore Hill, Adelaide, to help forward the movement to secure Parliamentary representation for the working classes. After that great strike we were told that if we were not satisfied with the laws, we should appoint our own representatives in Parliament so as to amend then; but immediately the movement was started, practically every newspaper in the land attempted to crush it.
– Order ! The honorable member is wandering from the subject before the Chair.
– I admit that I am digressing somewhat, but I am replying to the arguments and interjections of honorable members who have urged that industrial disputes have been responsible for- the failure of the Commonwealth Line. If honorable members wish to ascertain the facts, I invite them to study the statistics dealing with all phases of our industrial activity. If they do that, they will realize that nothing has been achieved without the aid of the workers, thousands of whom are now seeking employment in all the States.
– There are plenty of jobs available everywhere.
– The South Australian Government is unable to find work for the unemployed in that State. This Government also, is in the same’ position, and it is allowing human beings to starve. By the sale of the Commonwealth Line, it proposes to scrap a considerable number of Australian seamen employed on those vessels. The men will have to come down to the level of the coloured labour on the Peninsular and Oriental and other lines, or join the army of unemployed in the capital cities of the Commonwealth. I warn the Government that it is riding for a fall. Nemesis will eventually overtake it. The Labour party has nothing to be ashamed of. . We pro-‘ test strongly against the sale of” these ships on such, a flimsy pretext as has been advanced by the Government, and we await with confidence the judgment of the people on the transaction.
Debate (on motion of Mr. G. Francis) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 May 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1928/19280502_reps_10_118/>.