1st Parliament · 2nd Session
The President took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Senator PULSFORD (New South Wales). - I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until Wednesday next at 2 o’clock p.m.
I do so in order to discuss a matter of importance which has arisen under the Electoral Act with regard to the forthcoming-general election. It will be remembered that last year the Parliament passed a Bill which conferred the franchise on women, and a Bill, assented to on the 10th October last, which provided that the States should be divided into electorates, and that the elections should take place in the new divisions. At the beginning of this session I asked Senator Drake -
Is the work of preparing the new electoral rolls sufficiently well advanced for the Government tobe able to say that they will be ready without doubt in ample time for the elections that must be held towards the close of the year?
The answer which I received reads as follows: -
My colleague, the Minister for Home Affairs, informs me that every effort is being made to expedite this matter, and he is confident that the rolls will be ready. In New South Wales and South’ Australia the collection of names has been completed, and the Commissioners appointed for the purpose have issued their schemes of distribution into electoral divisions, these being exhibited at the various post-offices, and must, under the Act, await objections for a period of 30 days. Until the divisions are approved, the printing of the rolls must remain in abeyance. In Victoria the canvass by the police is practically concluded, and the Commissioner will proceed with the distribution into electoral divisions forthwith. In Queensland the police have finished the houseto house canvas, but all the listshave not yet been received. In Tasmania and Western Australia the collection of the lists is being pushed forward with all possible despatch.
It is evident from the reply that the Government wished the Senate to understand that every possible effort was being made and would be made to carry out the law. Not only did they say, but there was every reason to assume, that they intended that the law should be carried out. But if we may believe what we read in the newspapers, the law is not likely to be carried out, and those who were primarily responsible for the enfranchisement of women - an act which has a very marked effect on the electoral divisions - are not prepared now to give effect to that portion of the Electoral Act requiring the creation of new electoral divisions. If the next general election for the House of Representatives is held in the old electoral divisions, the results will be very unsatisfactory, because the divisions will ‘ not contain that fail- average proportion of voters which it is the desire and the expectation of Parliament that they should contain. The position is a very grave one, and as the Act requires the assent of both Houses to schemes of redistribution, I think it will be the duty of the Senate, when the time comes, to devote some attention to the steps which are being taken by the Government.
Senator McGregor. - Is not the honorable senator anticipating a debate which will take place in the Chamber 1
The PRESIDENT.- There is nothing on the paper to show that any debate will take place. The standing order, which says that a debate shall not be anticipated, applies to a matter which- is set down on the paper for consideration. It is only a matter of surmise whether we shall have a debate on this question during the session or not.
Senator PULSFORD.- My main object in moving the adjournment of the Senate is to give the leader of the Government an opportunity to make a statement on this very grave subject.
Senator O’Connor. - Will the honorable senator explain how it is that this failure to carry out the law relating to electoral divisions will affect the women’s vote?
Senator PULSFORD. - I think it will affect the women’s vote very much, because, instead of the proportions being fairly divided, they will be unfairly divided. In New South Wales, where women are so much aggregated in the cities, they will’ be denied that electoral power which it was the intention of those who advocated womanhood suffrage to bestow upon them.
Senator O’Connor. - They will get their votes.
Senator PULSFORD.- They will be able to put a vote into the ballot-box, but it is evident to everybody that their proper share of electoral power will be denied to them if the Act in its entirety is not carried out.
Senator O’CONNOR (New South Wales - Vice-President of the Executive Council). - I really do not see the reason why the honorable senator has moved the adjournment of the Senate.
Senator Pulsford. - The honorable and learned gentleman is unusually obtuse.
Senator O’CONNOR. - I waited very anxiously to find out some particular point to which I might reply, or to hear of some difficulty which had arisen. I do not see any.
Senator Pulsford. - Can the honorable and learned gentleman assure the Senate that the Act ‘will be carried out in its entirety ?
Senator O’CONNOR. - I do not quite know what the honorable senator means, but, according to my view, it will be carried out in its entirety. I shall explain exactly what the position is. It will be remembered that the Electoral Act introduced a new method of dividing the electorates. In the States the methods, had been different. In some States there was a schedule of electorates to the Electoral Act, while, in other States, the Electoral Act empowered a commissioner to delimit the boundaries of electorates from time to time. In our Electoral Act we adopted the method of appointing a commissioner to delimit the boundaries. It provides that there shall be a certain period during which objections may be made, that finally the report shall be laid on the table of each House, and that when it is approved of by both Houses the electoral divisions shall come into force. If a report is not approved, then it may be disregarded and another commission issued, or it may be sent back to the Commissioner with a request to furnish a second report, and the boundaries cannot be fixed under the Act until his report has been approved of by both Houses. In each State a commissioner was appointed. He delimited the boundaries of the divisions, and the proper notice was given for objections to be made. Every step which the law prescribed was taken. When the reports of the Commissioners were received it appeared that, as regards three States, it was quite impossible that the boundaries could be accepted. New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland were particularly affected by the conditions existing at the time when the divisions were made. A drought, unparalleled in duration and in severity, had held possession of a large portion of the country districts of New
South Wales and Queensland, and of a portion of Victoria, for a long period before the distributions were made, and while they were being made. It has only been quite lately that the effects of the drought have begun to be lessened and the normal condition of things to be restored. The result of the drought, as disclosed by the inquiries of the Commissioners, and it was patent to everybody, was an abnormal changing of the population. A large number of persons left the drought-stricken parts of the country to go into, not only the large cities, but the towns and other parts of the country temporarily, but it is stated that they are returning.
Senator Fraser. - Some of them permanently, unfortunately.
Senator O’CONNOR. - Some of them permanently, but others temporarily. It is impossible to know how much permanence there is in many cases. It was during the occurrence of these shifting conditions that the distribution of the States into electoral divisions was made. It must be obvious to everybody that it would be most unsatisfactory to have the boundaries of electorates fixed under those conditions, applying to normal conditions, which we hope the States will return to in the course of a year or so. It would simply mean that probably in the course of a year it would be necessary to have a new arrangement, involving a large expenditure and causing many difficulties in the distribution of seats. The Government found themselves faced with this position - that either they must ask Parliament to assent to boundaries which could not be permanent, must be unsatisfactory, and would lead to the disfranchisement of a large number of persons who. might be caught in the exodus back from the cities to their old electorates at the time when the elections were proceeding ; or revert temporarily to the old condition of things, accepting the old electoral boundaries and having the elections conducted on that basis. The Government felt that they had no- choice in the matter. They were obliged, if the law was to be administered fairly, to depart to a certain extent from the Act, that departure having been occasioned by the unhappy circumstance of a drought, over which the Government, notwithstanding some assertions to the contrary, had no control.
Senator Pulsford. - Which the Government have only just found out !
Senator O’CONNOR. - I am sure that, the honorable senator blames the Government for the drought. He said, or hinted,, that in some extraordinary way this action of the Government is likely to affect thewomen’s vote. It cannot do so any more than’ it affects any other vote. Thewomen’s vote will be in exactly the same position as any other vote. It will be registered under the old electorates.
Senator Pulsford. - We know that.
Senator 0’CONNOR.–If the honorablesenator knows that, I cannot see the point of his objection. Of course the women’s vote, like the men’s vote, will be affected by the failure to make these new divisions. In a large number of instances the women’s vote will be affected where women may have come with their husbands, their brothers, or their sons into the cities and are going back to, reside in their old electorates. The honorable senator seems to forget that there is something else besides the cities to be thought of in this country. We must have regard not only to the residents of the cities and their representation, but to the residents of the country also, and their representation. There is a view entertained by some honorable senators, that all that is to be known of the country of any State is what can be seen from the highest point of a city. But we have to regard the electorates in these States as a whole. We have the responsibility of seeing that people are, as far as possible, fairly represented in their electorates ; and we say that a condition of things has arisen, happily temporary, which has to be met by temporary expedients. Assoon as the difficulty is over, and things have resumed their normal condition, there is no reason why the law, as we laid it down in the Electoral Act, should not be followed as was intended. In order to meet the difficulty, of course it will be necessary to have some legislation. The Government are asking the other House to dissent from certain of the electoral divisions made by the Commissioners. Underthe law, the motion must be made by the Government either to assent to, or to disapprove of, the divisions. The Government have moved that the divisions in Tasmania and South Australia be approved of ; and similar action will be taken in the Senate as soon as possible. With regard to the other electoral divisions which are more particularly affected in the manner I have indicated, the- “Government have already moved that they be disapproved of. If they are disapproved of in the House of Representatives, there will be uo necessity to take action in the Senate. In any case, where divisions are approved of in the House of Representati ves, it will be necessary also to approve of them in the Senate before they can become divisions under the law. To sum up, the Government have done their very best to cany out the law, but circumstances have intervened which would make carrying it out absolutely unfair to the great body of electors in all those States that are affected by the drought. Therefore, the Government have thought it better to postpone the actual coming into operation of the provisions of the Electoral Act by providing for the present to adhere to the electorates as they were. When the normal condition of things is resumed, we shall provide for carrying out the machinery of the Electoral Act which we passed last session.
Senator FRASER (Victoria). - I agree to -a very great extent with what the VicePresident of the Executive Council has said. The only trouble I see is that the delay which has taken place will cause a great deal of inconvenience, and there will be a great rush towards the latter end of the session unless the subject is dealt with very quickly in both- Houses. The Government will be blameable for any inconvenience consequent upon delay.
Senator O’Connor. - The honorable senator is quite right ; the matter will be settled with all possible expedition.
Senator FRASER. - The greater part of the Commonwealth has suffered most intensely from an unprecedented drought. I know towns in the droughty part of the Commonwealth that, so far as human beings are concerned, have almost disappeared. The town of Bourke on the Darling, where property was valuable and people were getting high rents for buildings, has suffered, so severely that property has gone to ruin and waste. Of course, things are recovering. I suppose that at the present time the River Darling and the country adjacent to it would carry all the Stock in Australia. But the town of Bourke, and similarly situated places, cannot get back to their old condition of prosperity all at once. The people had to fly away from the droughty parts with their women1 and children ; and some of them have such a horror of drought that they will not go back. I know many portions of Queensland where a butcher or a baker has not been seen ‘ for a year. You never see a butcher’s cart or a baker’s cart there now. Previously there was competition between the tradesmen. Such a thing is unprecedented, and I hope will never occur again. I quite agree that the cities are too large. Melbourne is too large.
Senator Walker. - In proportion to population’, yes.
Senator FRASER.- They must become smaller. Nature’s laws will inevitably force down the population of the cities.
Senator Pearce. - Yet the honorable senator wants to make one of them the Federal capital.
Senator FRASER. - I am quite willing that Sydney should be the capital of the Commonwealth, and would vote that way to-morrow. I hope the Government will expedite the measure in question. Otherwise injustice will be done to a great many people. But really I do not see what the Government could have done except what they have proposed to do.
Senator PULSFORD (New South Wales).. - The remarks which we have heard from the Vice-President of -the Executive Council have only strengthened my argument. This quite clear, and everybody admits that this is the month of August. Everybody knows that the drought has practically gone. It is only when the drought has gone that the Government have found out the position ; and they are using the fact that there has been a drought to bring about a radical, unexpected, and unconstitutional change in the way in which the forthcoming general election is> to be conducted.
Senator O’Connor. - We could- not take action until the reports came in. We have no control over the Commissioners.
Senator PULSFORD. - The honorable and learned senator is perhaps the most accomplished “thrower of dust “ in- the Senate. He is usually able to make the best of a very bad cause. Everybody can see, whether they admit it or not, that the taking of the next general election on the old rolls is a distinct injustice to the women electors of the great States. In the three States of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, where the proposed new divisions are to be rejected1, the population amounts to about 3,100,000. In the States where the divisions are to be- accepted, the’ total is only about 700,000’. So that practically wherever there is a substantial and heavy women’s vote the Government have decided to fall back upon the old electoral divisions.
Senator 0’CONNOR - The ‘drought was not arranged upon an arithmetical basis.
Senator PULSFORD.- As I said before, the honorable and learned senator is a’ most accomplished “ thrower of dust.” If he would only look at the point he would have to admit that where the population has gone the Government might have followed. The drought has existed for a long time, and the Government might have arranged to give the people who have moved a vote in the part of Australia where they are now residing. I have succeeded in eliciting the views of the Government, and will now leave the country to judge of their fairness or unfairness..
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable senator’s questions is as follows : - 1 and 2. The matter will be considered by the Cabinet in connexion with the report of the Engineer-in-Chief.
– I move -
To correctly understand the agreement that is now submitted to the Senate, it is necessary to make some reference to the history of the past relations between the colonies of Australia and the Eastern Extension Company, and to the more recent relations with the proprietary known as the Pacific Cable Board. The various agreements made with the Eastern Extension Company date back as far as 1871, but I think it will not be necessary for me to go further back than 1899, in order to supply a historical background sufficient for the purpose of the present debate. I intend to condense my remarksas much as possible, because I hope- that the matter will be decided to-day, seeing that there is important businesson the notice-paper, for the next few weeks. But, while condensing my remarks, I wish to particularly bring one or two matters under the notice of the Senate, and I shall be glad if honorable senators will, in order to expedite matters kindly give me their attention for the few minutes I propose to occupy. We find that in 1898 the construction of the Pacific Cablehad been decided on, and the Eastern Extension Company, who previously had been doing all the outside telegraphic work for Australia, were naturally desirous as busi-ness men - because I do not think they poseas philanthropists - to make the best arrangement they could with the colonies in view of’ the competition which would arise as soon, as the Pacific Cable was completed. It is. not at all necessary to mince matters. Itis clearly shown in the negotiations, and? in the agreements, that the object of the Eastern Extension Company in making; a fresh agreement was to enable the company to compete with the Pacific Cable. Im 1899 the representative of the EasternExtension Company saw the Postmasters^General of most of the colonies, and the agreement which he proposed to ask the various: colonies to enter into was substantially thesame as that embodied in the parliamentary papers as having been signed by South Australia, Western Australia, and subsequently by New South Wales. There was one difference, however, which lay in the fact that, in the draft agreement, as .submitted to the Postmasters-General in the first place, the- 20th article did not appear. That is thecelebrated article which makes the contract terminable only by the mutual consent of theparties. In other words it is practically an interminable agreement. While these negotiations were going on - -and I mention this as - having some interest, perhaps, in connexion with another matter I shall have to refer to- - the Government of New South Wales, through their Agent-General, communicated to the Secretary for State for the Colonies, the terms of the proposed agreement. ThusMr. Chamberlain in 1899 knew what the.terms of the agreement were.
– That was the ‘ pro- posed agreement t
– That was in 1899, before the agreement had been signed by any colony.
– That was the proposed agreement with the different States ?
– It was the agreement with the various colonies, afterwards known as the contracting States. This fact is shown in a parliamentary paper of New South Wales relating to negotiations. First, there is a telegram from the Premier of New South Wales -to the Agent-General of that colony in London as follows : -
Wish you consult Mr. Chamberlain re proposals of Eastern Extension Co. as bearing on prospects Pacific cable.
The message gave au outline of the proposals which were contained in the draft agreement, and in reply the Agent-General wired to the Premier of New South Wales on the 8th November, 1899. First, I may mention that on the 4th November a telegram had been received by the Premier of New South Wales stating that the AgentGeneral was then communicating with Mr. Chamberlain. That telegram of the 8th November was as follows : -
In continuation telegram second, Mr. Chamberlain sees no objection to acceptance Eastern Company’s proposals contained in your telegram 25th nit. He points out, however, it is- not expressly stated that company is not in any case to increase its rates, and phrase at end telegram appears imply power reserved increase rate up to .1903 if revenue falls below amount fixed. Mr. Chamberlain would suggest 3’ou stipulate that once reduction made it must stand though traffic falls off.
It was in consequence of that telegram that the Postmaster-General of New South Wales, Mr. Crick, proposed to the representative of the Eastern Extension Company that an article should be inserted which would prevent the company from at any time raising the rate ; and what is known as article 20 was then added. That article provides -
This agreement shall remain in force until rescinded by mutual consent, expressed in writing.
– That is a terrible article.
– I am endeavouring to state the facts dispassionately, because I do not want to unnecessarily express any opinion in regard to what has been done in the past, but merely to state the facts exactly as they occurred. This article was inserted in consequence of Mr. Chamberlain having suggested to the Government of New South Wales that, provision should be made to prevent the rates being raised, and the draft agreement was signed on the 14 th April on behalf of Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania.
– Is the Minister quite certain that ‘ article 20 was inserted on account of the suggestion about the rates 1
– I am informed by all the parties to the agreement that that was so.
– I am sorry to say I cannot believe it.
– There seems to be no connexion between the two points ; at any rate, it was a roundabout way of doing a simple thing.
– It may not have been the most effective way, but I have been informed by almost all the parties concerned that there is a general consensus of opinion that the article was inserted in order to prevent the company from at any time raising the rates.
– It is an outrageous article.
– No matter how the article came to be inserted, we have to deal with the fact that it is there, and that this agreement was in the first place signed on behalf of Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. Subsequently, it seems that negotiations were opened with a view to obtaining the inclusion of Victoria and New South Wales in that agreement. On the 8th January, 1901 - that is to say, a few days after the establishment of the Commonwealth - a telegram signed by- the Postmasters-General of New South Wales and Victoria was sent to the Eastern Extension Company proposing to accept the draft agreement with some small modifications which had been suggested. There was also a telegram sent to some of the other States, including Queensland, informing them that it was the intention of the PostmastersGeneral of Victoria and New South Wales to accede to the agreement. Instructions were sent to the Agent-General to sign the agreement on behalf of New South Wales, but in the meantime the Government of Victoria had disallowed the action of the Postmaster-General of that State. Consequently no action was taken by the Victorian Government beyond that of the Postmaster-General in signing the. telegrams which I have mentioned. On the 16th January, 1901, the agreement was signed by Mr. Copeland, the New South Wales Agent-General, on behalf of the Government of New South Wales. It has been said, and I heard it stated in Queensland, that thiswas an agreement which should not have been entered into by New South Wales, because it was signed after the date of the establishment of the Commonwealth; and it has been contended that it was open to the Commonwealth’ to repudiate the agreement. The Commonwealth Government have gone very carefully into the matter, and have come to the conclusion that it was an agreement that certainly could not be rescinded under the circumstances - that the Government of New South Wales had at the timef ull legal right to enter intotheagreement. There can be no doubt as to the soundness of that legal position, because, although the Commonwealth had been established, the Post and Telegraph services had not then been transferred.
– But it was known that they would be transferred.
– I do not know whether Senator Fraser is speaking of a legal or of a moral right.
– I am speaking of a high moral right.
– I am speaking of the matter from the legal point of view, and there is no doubt that the Government of New South Wales were quite within their rights in entering into this agreement. The Commonwealth had been established, and the Customs Department had been transferred under the Constitution, but as to the Post and Telegraph service, the 69th section of the Constitution provides -
On a date or dates to be proclaimed by the Governor-General after the establishment of the Commonwealth, the following Departments of the Public Service in each State shall become transferred to the Common wealth : -
Posts, telegraphs, and telephones.
Naval and military defence.
Light-houses, light-ships, beacons, and buoys.
But the Departments of Customs and of Excise in each State shall become transferred to the Commonwealth on its establishment.
It is perfectly clear to me that pending a proclamation taking over these Departments, it was within the right of the States to make any agreement they chose. That that is so is clearly shown in the case of quarantine. Surely no one will contend, seeing that the Commonwealth has not yet taken over the administration of the Quarantine Department, that any action the States may have taken in regard to this Department is illegal.
– It is on exactly the same lines. I am putting that as an illustration which conveys to my mind clearly the legal right of the Government of New South Wales to take the action they did take. The Commonwealth had no power whatever to avoid the agreement that had been entered into. With regard to the moral question, it certainly does not come into this discussion, because we are standing in the shoes of New South Wales in this matter, and we certainly cannot take from the Eastern Extension Company any rights that they have acquired on the ground that we ourselves were not morally justified in the agreement we entered into. We stand for New South Wales in this matter, and every honorable senator must see that we cannot claim on account of any moral shortcomings of ours that we are entitled to break an agreement made with any person. If I sell my horse to a man for £10, and spend the money, I cannot turn round afterwards and say that because the horse was a present to me from my father, and I promised I would never sell it, I did a moral wrong in selling it, and I should get my £10 back. New South Wales had a legal right to do this. It was done for a certain consideration - a reduction of rates. The people of New South Wales, or at all events the cable users in New South Wales, enjoyed the reduction of rates, and we could not afterwards, standing in their place, say that there was something morally indefensible about the agreement, and that we therefore were not bound by it. I now come to the position in which the Commonwealth was placed at the time the Post and Telegraph Departments of the States were transferred to the Commonwealth. The position was that a binding agreement existed between the Eastern Extension Company and four of the States - New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania.
– All except Victoria and Queensland.
– But honorable senators must bear in mind that Queensland was hardly in the contemplation of the Eastern Extension Company at any time.
They sought to make an agreement with
Victoria and to have an agreement with five of the States of the Commonwealth. Queensland, perhaps, for two reasons - the comparatively small amount of business to be done, and the fact that it is the State in which the Pacific cable lands - was hardly likely under any circumstances to send but a very small portion of her business by any other than the Pacific cable, and the Eastern Extension Company had specially in mind the State of Victoria.
– New Zealand always stood out.
– I do not include New Zealand. When we took over the Post and Telegraph Departments of the States, four of the States had entered into this interminable agreement with the Eastern Extension Company, whilst two of them, Victoria and Queensland, were absolutely free to make any terms they chose. As soon as the Departments were transferred - and I think I may mention this, because it has appeared in the press, and is, I suppose, common property - a good deal of pressure was attempted to be brought to bear on the Commonwealth Government by cable users and by the press to induce them to sign an agreement which was the same as the agreement signed by the Postmaster-General of Victoria before Federation. The Government absolutely refused to do that, and I think it was a very good thing they did. The strength of the position which the Eastern Extension Company occupied in the negotiations lay in the fact that they had got an agreement with New South Wales, and the strength of the position which the Government occupied in the negotiations was that the company had not got an agreement with Victoria. The question of how this matter was to be dealt with by the Government was in their minds, and no doubt also in the mind of the Eastern Extension Company, for some time after the Departments were transferred. I now come to a period somewhat later, when the portion of the Pacific cable between Australia and New Zealand was completed, and we had to consider what would be our terminal Australian charge for business from New Zealand. We decided to fix the rate for the whole of Australia at one penny. I may mention that this was just after we had revised our domestic telegraph rates and had introduced a rate of practically one penny per word for all Australian telegrams. W e decided in dealing with New Zealand business to fix a penny as the uniform terminal charge for business between that colony and Australia. Then the Eastern Extension Company came along and said, “ If you are going to fix a uniform rate of one penny for business for the Pacific cable we presume you will give the same to us.” We said, “ No, you are maintaining differential rates between the various States of the Commonwealth.”
– That was to put improper pressure upon them.
– I do not think so. We were quite within our rights.
– The honorable and learned senator has not understood me.
– Perhaps not. We said, “ While you are maintaining differential rates as against some of the States of the Commonwealth, you cannot complain if we maintain differential rates as between the Pacific cable and the Eastern Extension cable.” We were clearly within our rights, and this was perhaps the first time that we in the Commonwealth were able to negotiate with the Eastern Extension Company with our hands perfectly free. If that position of affairs had been allowed to remain it would simply have meant that all the New Zealand business would have gone over the Pacific cable.
– Would not the Victorian business have been done by that cable also?
– If the arrangement had been maintained probably the whole of the Australian business would have gone over the Pacific cable, because, speaking from memory, there had been a differential rate fixed in the States with the Eastern Extension Company. I think it was a penny in New South Wales, and twopence and threepence in other States. We proposed to make it one penny for the whole of the Commonwealth, so that, taken from Victoria, the Pacific cable rate would have been one penny lower than the Eastern Extension rate, and in the case of the other States it would have been twopence lower. The Eastern Extension Company then said, “If you let us have the benefit of the uniform rate for New Zealand business we shall cease to charge a differential rate against Victoria and Queensland, with the understanding that the whole question will “be considered with a view to entering into some agreement to apply to the whole of Australia.” That arrangement is what is referred to in the agreement as the provisional arrangement, which took effect on 1st September, 1902. There was no agreement drawn up then, but from that -time the Eastern Extension Company ceased to charge a higher rate for Victoria and Queensland, and their charge was made uniform from all the States of the Commonwealth ; whilst the terminal rate with regard to New Zealand business was made equal as between the Pacific cable and the Eastern Extension Company’s cable. From that time, the 1st September, 1902, negotiations went on, to a certain extent in London and afterwards here, as to the terms on which the Eastern Extension Company would agree to release the Commonwealth from the agreements that had been entered into, previous to the taking over of the Post and Telegraph Departments, by the four States referred to. The negotiations were very protracted, and I think I can say that the Eastern Extension Company found in the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, a very able and a very astute negotiator. I do not think the company ever had more difficulty in completing an agreement than they have had in connexion With this one.
– The Prime Minister was no more able and astute in the business than were the representatives of the company.
– That may be so, but I think the Eastern Extension ‘ Company found, at all events, that our negotiator was quite equal to any one whose services they had command of at the time. I do not need to go into details. The proposals commenced with a suggestion for a long period. Fifty years was first proposed, then forty years, and later the proposal made was that the company should have an agreement with the whole of Australia, . extending over a period of twenty, years, in exchange for their interminable agreement with four of the States, as twenty years was the term for which they held certain rights in the Island of Cocos. The Prime Minister, on the other hand, took up the position that ten years, coinciding with the currency of the Braddon clause of the Constitution, would be a fair term. There the negotiations hung fire for a considerable time, and eventually it was agreed between the parties that the term should be practically twelve years.
– But this agreement does not end until five years after the Braddon clause.
– I have said that that proposal was not accepted. There were two parties negotiating, and honorable senators perfectly understand that in such negotiations each party desires to get something which the other party desires to keep on the best terras possible. It was necessarily a matter of compromise. The Eastern Extension Company would not concede the demands of the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister would not concede their demands. They agreed eventually to ten years, with two years’ notice afterwards, and for ordinary purposes we may say that the term of the agreement is twelve years.
– We cannot possibly end the agreement in twelve years.
– Yes; it is for ten years with two years’ notice afterwards.
– But it must terminate at the end of some calendar year, which will mean three years’ afterwards.
– Not at all. If it is desired to terminate the agreement in twelve years, the notice can be given to take effect from the end of the tenth year.
– The nearest date at which the agreement can come to an end is 31st October, 1915, twelve years next October.
– There need be no difficulty on that account. That is “the agreement so far as the term is concerned. In other respects the agreement is practically an extension to Victoria and Queensland of the agreement which was binding previously on four of the States. The principal concessions, as they are considered, to the Eastern Extension Company, are the right to open offices and to have the use of a special wire. That was one of the terms of the binding agreement they had, that they should have the right to open offices in the capitals of the States that were parties to that agreement, and should have the use of a special wire. There is one fact which has apparently been overlooked in the discussion of this subject. Speaking of telegrams generally the charge is 5d a word. The Eastern Extension Company have the use of a special wire, but they have to maintain the operators and a staff to do the business, and pay us 5d. for every word which is transmitted. From the Pacific Cable Board we take the same amount per word, but for that money we transmit and deliver the messages. Should that be considered an advantage to the Eastern Extension Company-
SenatorFraser. - They know it is an advantage.
-If the Pacific Cable Board, through their manager, Mr Reynolds, who will arrive directly, desire a similar concession to be given, the Prime Ministerhas said that no objection will be made.
– Are we to spend another £20,000 in providing wires for them?
– We desire to hold the scales exactly evenly.
– That is very difficult.
– Having entered into an agreement we must presume that the Pacific Cable Board are able to manage their business profitably in the same way as the Eastern Extension Company.
– It is a big assumption.
– Reference was made some time ago to canvassers being appointed by the Eastern Extension Company. We said to the Pacific Cable Board - “ If you wish to have canvassers, the Postmaster-General will be happy to act as your agent, and to appoint canvassers for you.” They sent a request, and we appointed canvassers for them for the Eastern States. I heard Senator Smith refer to the amount which we are to spend in providing a special wire ; but it has to be borne in mind that they do the business, and pay us all the same.
– It involves theemploymentof only half-a-dozen operators, and we have to keep the wire in repair for twelve years at our expense.
– That is nothing in proportion to the salary of the operators, because, if we were transmitting that business, we should have to use the wire. The agreement says that we are to provide a special wire for their use. We have not constructed a special wire for them, but have given them the use of one of our wires.
– The Government are making a profit out of it.
– From a monetary point of view, I believe that we are doing better. At all events, if the Pacific Cable Board consider that the Eastern Extension Company is enjoying an advantage they can get a similar concession. There is another provision which simply continues the stipulation in the former agreement - that they shall get their material in duty free, and shall not be charged income tax. We do not release them from the payment of the duties, but we have put in a stipulation to make good anything they may pay in those States in which they were formerly exempted from income tax ; and also to refund any Customs duties which they may pay.
– They are to be placed above the law.
– Will the Government refund land tax ?
Any income tax and any rates or taxes, parliamentary or otherwise, except rates and taxes on premises occupied as local offices.
We agree to recoup them what is paid, simply because that stipulation was contained in the agreements which are being superseded.
– The Government are building a wire from Melbourne to Adelaide. That was not stipulated in the agreement.
– No ; because Victoria is included in this agreement.
– In the new agreement?
– Will the remission of income tax and duties extend over 12 years ?
– No ; the agreement will terminate at the end of 12 years. There are one or two conditions which are entirely for the benefit of the Government as against the Eastern Extension Company. We have, for instance, secured lower rates to China and the East, and obtained a reduced rate on Government business. It appears that, under the agreement existing with the Eastern Extension Company, business over the Cape cable was taken at a lower rate than was provided originally in the agreements between the company and the States. The rates which stood at1s. 8d.and 2s. have been reduced to1s. 3d. and1s. 7½d. under table A. We were not able to obtain the insertion of a clause which would enable us to acquire any of the cables, which, of course, we could not confiscate. They declined to insert a purchasing clause; but it is clearly provided that they cannot part with a cable to any other company without first making an offer of it to the Commonwealth.
– That is of no use.
– It may be of. considerable use.
– It is of no use in the case of a joint-stock company.
– That will not stand in the way.
– They cannot reform the company without offering it.
-No. If there should be a movement as there is for the State to acquire these cables, the agreement will enable us to prevent them fi-om passing out of the hands of the company. If, for any reason, they should wish to part ‘with their cables they must first give the Commonwealth an opportunity of acquiring them. We do not in any respect stand in a worse position. The agreement applies to all the States, but for a limited period only, with the stipulations which I have mentioned, and which are entirely in favour of the Government. We get rid of an interminable agreement, so far as four States are concerned, and enter into an agreement which is to run for twelve years. That may seem a long period, but really it is a short one in the life of a nation. It is much better that we should be free from these entanglements. At the end of that period it will be open to the Government to make an agreement with the Eastern Extension Company, or with the Pacific Cable Board, or with both of them ; or, if it should seem best iu the interests of the people of Australia, to make no contract with either of them.
– Do I understand that Senator Barrett wishes to move that this question should be considered in Committee ?
– It is irregular and objectionable that a question should be partly discussed in the Senate and partly discussed in Committee. But I propose, with the consent of the Senate, to put the motion on the distinct understanding that it must not be taken as a precedent, and that it is distinctly irregular. A mistake was made in the preparation of the business-paper, and for several days the question was put down for consideration in Committee. It wasonly yesterday that I discovered that the only resolution arrived at by the Senate was that the matter should be considered, not that it should be considered in Committee, and -the error was rectified. Under thesecircumstances, I think it is only fair to those who wish the question to be considered in Committee to put the motion which Senator -Barrett proposes to move. I would ask honorable senators, however, not to discuss the merits of the case on that motion, because we really ought to have decided before Senator Drake made his speech in what, manner the question, should be considered.
– Although it may prolong the discussion, theGovernment will be acting wisely, and, I believe, in the interests of not only theSenate, but the question itself, if they concur in my proposal. In my opinion the history of this company, their treatment of the general public before there was any competition in cable business, and their negotiations with the States as well as the Commonwealth Government, demand at our hands the fullest discussion. It would hardly be possible for any honorable senator,, on, a general motion in the Senate, to discuss the question on its merits. The Minister for Defence admits that it is a very long story, because the negotiations go back as far as. 1871.
– I did not say that.. I said that agreements between the company and the colonies had existed since 1S71.
-We have to discussthe negotiations which have taken place since that year. I feel that it is riot right for theGovernment under cover of a general motion to attempt to stifle discussion. At this stage I refrain from expressing the very strong opinions I entertain regarding not only this question but also the company.
The amendment I propose to move is-
– The honorable senator should move a substantive motion which, if carried, will supersede the original motion. I admit that this is irregular, but under the circumstances I think it ought to be allowed.
– Then I move-
That the further debate on the question bet continued in Committee of the whole Senate.
– May I ask if it will be competent to give reasons why we should not go into Committee t
– –If reasons can be given why we should not go into Committee, then, undoubtedly, reasons may be given why we should go into Committee.
– Certainly ; the whole matter can be discussed.
– Seeing that this proceeding is rather irregular, I should like to ask whether going into Committee will bar any member of the Senate from discussing the motion submitted by the Minister if it is not amended in Committee?
– Certainly not; that is why I shall put Senator Barrett’s proposal as a substantive motion.
– This matter is so- very important, and can be looked at from so many aspects, that it is not possible for any honorable senator to deal with it and to secure the information to which we are entitled in one speech. I cannot see what objection the representatives of the Government can have to going into Committee, unless- they desire to rush the agreement through. As honorable senators have seen from the correspondence, there are several partners to the Pacific Cable who object to the Commonwealth ratifying the agreement until there has been a special conference.
– Every partner except the Commonweal! h objects.
– In Committee we could discuss that aspect of the question. We could also ask the Minister for Defence what is the meaning of certain clauses in the agreement. But if the Senate does not go into Committee, how could any of us elicit information from the Government on any one point without losing our right to speak on other parts of the agreement ? If the Minister for Defence speaks in reply to a question, the whole debate will come to an end. The business of the country before both Houses has been of such an important character that we have not had an opportunity of looking into this agreement as we should have liked to do, nor of realizing the seriousness of the position. . The Government have adopted an extraordinary method of bringing the subject before the Senate. They could have brought it up in the form of a Bill, as they have done in the case of the naval agreement, so that marginal notes could have been supplied, and the measure would have gone’ through several stages, enabling us, at each stage, to get a proper idea of what we were doing. But this agreement comes before us in unusual type, and is wrapped up in such a quantity of correspondence concerning the Eastern Extension Company that I defy even any lawyer, by reading it through once, to comprehend the whole of its provisions. It is so complicated, and is printed in such small type, that it is very difficult to understand what it means. It is only fair to the Senate, and to the partners in the Pacific Cable scheme, that the question should be thoroughly discussed. We cannot do that under cover of two resolutions. If the question goes into Committee, I propose to ask the Minister for Defence what is the meaning of some of the clauses. I intend to ask him whether it was not published in the newspapers that Sir Edmund Barton was entering ‘into an agreement with the Eastern Extension Company in the interests not only of. the Commonwealth, but also of the Pacific Cable. It was publicly stated that the agreement was to provide that there should be no cut-throat competition between the two cables. Is there anything in this agreement of that nature ? If we do not go into Committee I cannot elicit that information until Senator Drake speaks a second time, and then his replies to my questions may not be as clear as I should like them to be. In proposing that this agreement should be ratified in the form in which it is submitted, the Government run a great risk of having it thrown out. Indeed, from the tone adopted by some honorable senators, I think there is considerable risk in that direction. Some honorable senators deprecate going into Committee, because it will take a long time to discuss the subject then. Those honorable senators have always been pro - Eastern, if I may so describe them. They are in favour of the agreement, and are anxious to get it through with all possible haste, so that we may not realize the enormity of it. If there is nothing of an extraordinarily unjust character about the agreement, why does the Government decline to go into Committee where we may have a full discussion ?
Senator MACFARLANE (Tasmania).There is a great deal to be said for going into Committee to acquire information, which I think the public may look for. But, if we are going into Committee in order that amendments. may be made, I would point out that that would invalidate the agreement altogether. If that happened, the strong position which the Eastern Extension Company at present occupies would not be weakened in the least degree. It would be very much better for us to adopt the agreement now than to have interminable negotiations going on. If we make amendments we may lose the agreement.
– The view which has been put by Senator Macfarlane appears to me to be perfectly sound. The Government have been carrying on these negotiations since March, 1901. The negotiations were necessary to enable the Commonwealth to escape from very serious difficulties created by the extraordinary way in which the States had acted in regard to this subject. It is a legacy which we had to take over from the States. Having taking it over we had to make the best of it. We had on the one side our own Pacific cable. On the other side we had the obligations which the States had entered into, and which must have seriously interfered with the profitable working of our own cable. But there was the position. These rights existed, and we had to do the best we could to get over the acceptance of them. We negotiated, and as the result of negotiation we have brought up this agreement, which is the best possible arrangement that can be arrived at for the Government. The agreement represents the most careful negotiations and stringent endeavours to secure the best terms that could be got. If it is not adopted now, I do not see what can be done. We cannot amend it in Committee. It stands or falls. If it is not adopted the whole subject must be thrown open once more, and we shall be exposed practically for all time to competition with our own cable, which it is the very object of this agreement to get rid of. I quite see the force of what Senator Higgs says, that there ought to be the fullest inquiry, and it might be impossible to elicit all the information that is desired in an ordinary second reading debate. The Government, therefore, take up the position that, as they have nothing to conceal, and wish to supply not only honorable Senators but the whole public with the fullest information about the subject, they will not offer any opposition to going into Committee. The intention of the Government is to place the fullest information before the Senate. But how were we to know that honorable senators did not understand the agreement ?
– It is very difficult to understand it.
– How was it possible for the Government to know that honorable senators had not made themselves fully acquainted with the courseof the negotiations as they had proceeded? We are perfectly willing to give all the information that is required, but it must be understood that if any amendment is made in the agreement it cannot possibly be carried out.
– It is quite possible that the Government have done the very best thing that could have been done in the very difficult circumstances in which they have been placed. But, looking at the document which has been placed before us, we find that the other members of the partnership into which we have entered are protesting against our entering into this agreement as it stands. It is due to our partners that the Senate should go into the subject carefully, and should thoroughly exhaust the information which is given, not only for the benefit of the Senate, but of the general public outside. It may be proved that the Government in the most difficult circumstances have done the very best thing that could have been done. But, as some of us know, the Eastern Extension Company is an expert at agreements, and has been throughout its long career. No one has ever scored against it, and I do not know whether we shall be able to score against it in this case ; but I think that we ought to go into Committee and to exhaust the subject thoroughly, because in a short time all the various partners in the British Empire scheme of the Pacific cable will be asking for information from the Commonwealth as to its views upon this most important matter.
SenatorFRASER (Victoria). - I indorse every word which has fallen from Senator Reid, and from honorable senators on my left. The public are entitled to all the information that is available, and that information can only be given in the manner now proposed. As to the ratification of the agreement, I have not made up my mind as to what is the best course. It might be better, in the interests of the people. of this country and of others concerned, that the agreement should not be ratified ; and in such case I do not see what harm could follow.
– The company would be able to charge the old rates.
– But they would not have the right of opening an office in Melbourne, and thereby geting a large proportion of the traffic. I heartily support the motion for dealing with the matter in Committee.
– I should like to add a few words before the President leaves the Chair. A remark made by Senator Reid reminds me of a phase of the matter to which I omitted to allude. That remark was to the effect that a request has been made in some quarters that a conference of some kind should be held before we enter into this agreement.
– Is Senator Drake in order ?
– If necessary I shall ask permission to make the statement.
– Strictly speaking the debate ought to be confined to reasons why we should or should not go into Committee. T do not propose to stop the Minister of Defence, but I remind him that these points will all have to be considered in Committee.
– The statement I propose to make is important, and will not occupy more than two or three minutes. We are aware that a request was made by some of our partners in the Pacific cable that the matter should be discussed before this agreement was ratified, that request coming from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, amongst others. The Government think that the request for a conference with regard to a matter purely between ourselves as States, arises from a want of knowledge of the circumstances. I pointed out thai, the terms of the agreement entered into in the first place were communicated to Mr. Chamberlain in 1899 and he then expressed approval of them.
– There is great doubt about that.
– I meant to inform the Senate that yesterday the Government received a communication from one of our representatives on the Pacific Cable Board to the effect that he had seen the Secretary of State for the Colonies and explained the matter, and that Chamberlain had now agreed not to proceed any further with his request for a conference.
Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania).- Thelonger the debate goes on the more evidentit becomes that there are honorable senatorswho do not want to go into Committee, and the more strange to me appears the position We find that the whole discussion has been started in an irregular way. Directly a. motion was intimated, though not officially communicated to the Chair, in favour of our going into Committee, steps were taken tocurtail discussion. Senator O’Connor does not want us to go into Committee.
– I hare just said thatI do want the Senate to go into Committee, and we are waiting for the honorablesenator to conclude in order to do sp.
– Senator O’Connor for some reasons may want the Senate to gointo Committee, though no doubt he came here with the fervent hope that that stepwould not be taken. There- seems to beextraordinary unanimity amongst the senators from South Australia in their desire tohave this discussion stopped at the earliest possible moment. That is an attitude which I shall not support. I recognise that but for the form in which the original motion was put, and ‘but for a feeling that there aresome extraordinary circumstances, it would not have been necessary or desirable to go into Committee. It is because the Senaterecognises that the matter is surrounded by so many circumstances which may fairly be called mysterious that there is adesire to go into Committee. While I think our going into Committee is an excellent plan, I do not pledge myself directly or indirectly to support a single amendment. I shall vote for going into Committee because there ought to be the most searchinginquiry, and not necessarily to afford an opportunity of interfering with an arrangement which the Government have made, an arrangement, which I frankly say, was made under circumstances of great difficulty I am prepared to be convinced that the agreement is the best possible under the circumstances, though, of course, I may be convinced in an opposite direction. I am very glad to see Senator O’Connor support soheartily the motion to go into Committee.
Question - That the further debate on the question be continued in Committee of the whole Senate - resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee :
Motion (by Senator Drake) proposed -
– It must be admitted that the agreement entered into by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Commonwealth with the Eastern Extension Company has relation to a difficult subject which presents many points for consideration. The question is complicated owing to the fact that the various colonies have made agreements with the Eastern Extension Company, so that to a certain extent the matter is prejudged, especially in the case of New South “Wales. The attitude of that State seems to have been somewhat extraordinary. The Government of New South Wales simultaneously negotiated with the Eastern Extension Company and with the partners represented by the Pacific Cable Board, and subsequently signed agreements with both. The agreement with the Eastern Extension Company was signed by the New South Wales Government only sixteen days after they had signed the agreement with the Pacific Cable Board, and only three months before the Postal Department was taken over by the Commonwealth, this, of course, being subsequent to the consummation of federation. An agreement was arrived at by Mr. Watt, the Postma.sterGeneral of ‘Victoria, and Mr. Crick, the Postmaster-General of New South Wales ; and subsequently Mr. Gurr, who succeeded Mr. Watt, signed, in conjunction with Mr. Crick, the agreement with the Eastern Extension Company, which is still in force in New South Wales. Sir George Turner, who was Premier of Victoria, repudiated the action of his Postmaster-General as a- breach of an honorable agreement entered into with the various countries in respect to the Pacific cable. But, as I have said, the Government of which Sir William Lyne was the Premier, not only signed an agreement with the Pacific Extension Company, but -also signed an agreement with the Pacific Cable Board. It is unprofitable, however, to discuss these matters, because the damage, if any, has already been done. All we have to do is to consider every phase of the question, and, with our knowledgle of past events, endeavour to make the best bargain possible for the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister and the Minister for
Defence have told us that the agreement before us is a splendid agreement for the Commonwealth, bearing in view the previous action by the States as colonies. .It is pointed out that, in the place of four perpetual agreements between the States and the Eastern Extension Company, we have an agreement which gives only twelve years to the Eastern Extension Company in which to exploit Australia and injure the Pacific cable business. I suppose that, the inference we have to draw is that the Eastern Extension Company had made a very bad bargain ; indeed, the Prime Minister, in an interjection, said that the agreement was so good that it almost made him suspicious. I think there is very good reason for suspicion. It is remarkable that a company who have shown such strenuous and continued opposition to the laying down of any line which would deprive them of a monopoly - who have shown such alacrity to sign an agreement–
– Alacrity ! It has taken about eighteen months to complete the negotiations.
– Possibly Senator Smith means alacrity in proposing the agreement.
– I can show that since the agreement was signed the Eastern Extension Company have used every endeavor to induce Parliament to ratify it. Is it likely that if the benefit is all on our side, the Eastern Extension Company, who are noted for their astuteness and ability in negotiation, would sign an agreement detrimental to their own interests 1
– Has anybody said that the benefits are all on our side 1
– I presume the Minister thinks that it is to the benefit of the Commonwealth to sign the agreement.
– That does not mean that the benefits are all on our side.
– I have had some years experience in connexion with submarine telegraphic work. I propose to point out that the Eastern Extension Company have been well advised in making this agreement. We have not benefited the Pacific cable, but have injured it by signing this agreement. Senator Drake implied by a remark just now that the Eastern Extension Company were not particularly anxious to have this agreement signed.
– No ; I did not say that. The honorable senator said the reverse.
– I desire now to refer to the insidious methods adopted by the company to place information before the people with a view of misleading them. It has been their object to point out that they are the pioneers of telegraphic communication with the East, and that they are practically benefactors. We find in all the leading papers of Australia inspired articles stating that the Pacific cable had nothing to do with the fact that the Eastern Extension Company reduced their rates.
– Some of the rates ; they admit that they have reduced some rates since the construction of the Pacific cable.
– My honorable friend, Senator Playford, has a very tender spot in his heart for the Eastern Extension Company.
– Senator Smith appears for the other company, apparently.
– Senator Playford is noted for the way in which he has always fought for the Eastern Extension Company ; and at the conference which he attended in 1887–
– No ; the honorable senator is wrong again. It was in 1884 or 1885.
– At that conference the honorable senator was nick-named “advocatus diaboli ” ; and he got that nick-name of “ the devil’s advocate” because of the stand he took on behalf of the Eastern Extension Company.
– This is the first time I have ever heard of it. Nobody ever dared say such a thing to my face, because he would probably have been knocked down.
– I have found some interesting references in a book which is to be found in the library.
– Whom is it by?
– It is by Mr. Johnson.
– I was fighting for my own colony and not for the Eastern Extension Company.
– I admit that in the book to which I have referred it is stated that Mr. Playford - as the honorable senator then was - made an able and statesman-like speech. I must give the honorable senator credit for that. I propose to read an extract from a newspaper ; and I remind honorable senators that similar articles haveappeared in almost every paper in Australia.
– Is this from a leadingarticle ?
– No, it is not from a leading article, but from a special article in the newspaper : -
It will thus be seen that the rate was 4s. a. word , more than twelve years ago-
I direct attention of honorable senators tothe date, because I intend to refer to it later. long before the Pacific cable was considered to be even a practicable project ; and the statement made by many. Federal members of Parliament that the Pacific cable reduced the rate from 9s. 4d. to 3s. , or that it even influenced the reduction from 9s. 4d., are made under a total misapprehension of the facts of the case.
These inspired paragraphs appeared in all the leading newspapers of Australia just before the matter was considered in Parliament, the intention being to make it appear that the Pacific cable had not influenced the Eastern Extension Company in any way in the reduction of their rates. Thiswas twelve years ago, it is said : and let me point out that in 1S77 - 26- years ago” - the Pacific cable project wasdiscussed at a conference held in Sydney. Over twenty years ago Sir Sandford Fleming, who has been the life and soul of the Pacific cable project, and has rescued us from the thraldom of this octopusmonopoly, advocated the Pacific cable very strongly. In 1887, sixteen years ago, thePacific cable was approved by a Colonial Conference held in London. It is significant that previous to the holding of theColonial Conference in London in 1887, but subsequent to the notices that were sent out by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, calling the conference together - that is to say, between the time the invitations were sent out and the meeting of the conference - Sir John Pender, the Chairman of the Eastern Extension Company communicated with all the PostmastersGeneral in Australia, and informed them that he was agreeable to reduce the rate from 9s. 4d. to 4s. Why did he do that? Was it not because he had taken alarm, and believed that this conferencewould decide upon the construction of the-
Pacific cable ? His object was to pre-judge the. matter, and, by offering these reductions, to render the conference futile.
– What has this to do with the question whether we should agree to this agreement? Surely we all know the history of the matter 1
– Senator Playford does not wish to hear anything said against his pet, the Eastern Extension Company. This discussion was permitted in another place.; and, unless the Chairman stops me, I intend to proceed with it.
– It is perfectly germane to the subject, but it is useless.
– At this Colonial Conference held in 1887 Mr. Deakin made these significant remarks -
Whether the Pacific Company succeeded or not in entering upon active operations, it had already conferred a considerable benefit upon the Australasian colonies by bringing the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company to a much more liberal frame of mind.
That was Mr. Deakin’s opinion at that time. Sir Edmund Barton, speaking only last month, in referring to the .Eastern Extension Company said -
They maintained the higher rate whilst they had an opportunity of doing so in the absence of competition ; and it is a fact which must be placed to the credit account of the Pacific cable that undoubtedly it was the expected competition of that cable which largely led to a reduction of rates on the part of the Eastern Extension Company.
It is clear, therefore, that the statements which appeared in the press are an absolute perversion of the truth ; and could only have been inserted with the object of leading members of Parliament, who might not take the trouble to look up blue-books to find out exactly the condition of affairs.The direct result of the construction of the Pacific cable has been an enormous saving to the people of Australia. The words transmitted from Australia to Europe in 1901 totalled 2,330,000. And it is therefore clear that on that business we have saved in consequence of the reduction from 9s. 4d. to 3s. per word, which has been solely due to the Pacific cable, a sura equal to £738,000 annually. This is the sum saved to the people of Australia by the construction of the Pacific cable. The loss to Australia on the Pacific cable is £30,000, as a consequence of the receipts being less than the expenditure, and we have therefore the net result of ‘ a saving to
Australia of £700,000 as the direct consequence of the construction of the Pacific cable. In view of these figures no one can say that the Pacific cable is not justified. Is it not selfish on the part of the merchants who practically monopolise the cables, and to whom the cables are specially beneficial, that after getting the people of Australia, or the people of the three eastern States to build the Pacific cable and guarantee the expense, they should clamour for such privileges for a rival company as would render the Pacific cable a financial burden upon the people.
– They are patriots, of a certain kind.
– The merchants of Sydney and Melbourne commenced a strenuous agitation to secure certain privileges for the Eastern Extension Company after the Pacific cable had been constructed, the effect of which would be in the direction of making the Pacific cable a burden on the people generally, while at the same time they would be enabled to secure a further reduction in cable rates for themselves.
– Only a section of the merchants.
– I quite agree with Senator Reid that this was the action of only a section of the merchants ; and I believe that the honorable senator strongly opposed the granting of concessions to the Eastern Extension Company.
– The honorable senator is referring to the demand made that Victoria should sign the agreement made with the other States.
– Yes. Mr Sandford Fleming made some allusion to the position of the Eastern Extension Company at the Conference to which I have referred. I learn from the report that :
Mr. Pender, chairman of the different companies composing that system, had laid before the Conference certain letters and statements tending to show (1) that the scheme was on physical grounds impracticable ; (2) that if capable of realization it would be a financial failure ;
So that practically the interests of the Empire were to be ignored, direct communication between Canada and Australia was not to be brought about, and we must communicate with Canada round the other side of the world, simply for the benefit of the Eastern Extension Company. If they had had their way, Australia and Canada would never have had any direct cable communication, and the most vital interests of the Empire would have been sacrificed, simply because they desired as business men - and I do not blame them for it on that account - -‘to possess an absolute monopoly. When the Colonial Conference of 1887 met, the late Sir John Pender, as chairman of the Eastern Extension Company, wrote to Sir Henry Holland. The Conference was a conference of the representatives of the various sovereign States of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and England. I quote from the proceedings of the Colonial Conference of 1887, page 184 -
Our system is now very much in touch with His Majesty’s Government, and we have letters from the Foreign Office to the effect that whenever discussions take place in regard to submarine telegraphs we shall have full information on the subject and representation during such discussion. I therefore hope that the Colonial Office, looking to the vast interests involved in the submarine telegraphic system, will grant to my companies similar recognition on the present occasion.
This private company was given the right to be represented at a conference between sovereign States. Sir John Pender was careful to make no suggestion for reciprocity at the Conference. It did not occur to him to suggest that representatives of the Governments of those States should have a right to be present at the conference he had with the authorities of the Eastern Extension Company. But he demanded and was allowed representation at the Colonial Conference to which I have referred. A person who was present at the Conference made these remarks : -
Mr. Pender was in constant attendance “buttonholing” the delegates and exerting his influence both inside and outside the Conference.
It is very significent that they offered to frank cables for the various members, and to do everything they possibly could in order to get their cause favorably regarded.
– Sir Sandford Fleming was doing just the same thing on the other side.
– How could he do so, when he had not at his disposal any cables over which to offer any facilities 1
When Mr. Bowell in 1893 came to Australia and consulted the Premiers, he reported to the Canadian Government, “There was undoubtedly a very proper fear of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, arising out of a knowledge of the power of that corporation and the possibility of an early increase of telegraph- tolls.”
That is, if the Pacific cable project should fall through, they would immediately put up the rates again.
Mr. Johnson in his “Annals and Aims of the Pacific Cable,” says, “The3’ had not, however, been long on Australian soil before they discovered that influences were at work that had already filled the minds of leading public men with doubt as to the practicability, of the scheme, and with the conviction that the Imperial authorities were tacitly opposing the undertaking.
The company is capable of using enormous political influence. Its president is Lord Tweedmouth, a member of the House of Lords, and I am informed that its list of shareholders includes a very large number of members of the House of Commons, and of high officials. Even the Under-Secretaries have shown the greatest hostility to the Pacific Cable Board. I wish honorable senators to understand the enormous power which the Eastern Extension Company can wield, and that they will do anything not absolutely dishonest in order to attain their ends, and to keep their enormous monopoly. Finding that their scheme was unsuccessful, they altered their tactics. At the Jubilee Conference in 1897, the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company put forward a proposal that they should obtain exclusive rights for Australia - I think that for downright impudence that is unsurpassed - on condition that they connected the colonies with the Cape, and laid a cable from the Cape to England. This scheme was put forward by the company as a substitute for the Pacific cable. The line to the Cape was built solely with the object of thwarting the Pacific cable scheme. We are therefore also indebted to the Pacific Cable Board for the cable which gives us direct connexion with South Africa. Directly after the J ubil.ee Conference was concluded, the Imperial Government were memorialised, and asked to have the proposed route of the Pacific cable surveyed. They acceded to the request, and put on a vessel to take the soundings The Colonial Governments waited patiently to hear the result of the survey, and a period of four yeans elapsed before it was found that the ship had been quietly and mysteriously withdrawn, and that the survey had only been started. No notification was ever made to the colonies of the withdrawal of the ship. Is that not an extraordinary position? Does it not indicate the extraordinary power which the Extension Company wields?
– The ship was not withdrawn by the company, but by the Admiralty.
– But who pulled the wires ?
– The British Government agreed, at ,the request of the Jubilee Conference, to send a boat to survey the route of the proposed cable, and after a stait of the survey was made the boat was quietly taken off. It is a very suspicious thing that it was withdrawn in that mysterious way. The Extension Company asked for a subsidy of £100,000 if they built a cable line via the Cape. When their request was refused they immediately started to lay a cable, and it was being laid before the Pacific Cable Board was established. Their only object was to block the Pacific cable. Whatever the result has been, they can take credit for the fact that they left no stone unturned to get an absolute monopoly of the business.
– That was quite natural, and the honorable senator would have done exactly the same thing.
-I daresay I would.
– Then why make a song about it ?
– I nave had experience of submarine telegraphy, and I wish honorable senators to understand the character of this company. It is interesting to consider the enormous profits which they have made out of Australia and other countries in the East. The company represents’ a combination of three companies, with a capital of £1,525,000. On amalgamation, by a well-known system of “ watering,” £472,000 was added, making the capital nominally £1,997,500. On the sum they have paid only 5 per cent, dividends, and people naturally ask, what is 5 per cent. 1 Let us see what dividends they have really paid. They have paid on this sum not only 5 per cent, dividend, but also 2 per cent, bonus, which is equal to 7 per cent, on the watered capital, and 9 per cent, on the real capital. An examination of the published statements discloses that they have also expended out of the profits no less than £1,571,540 on extensions and other re’ productive works, besides the amounts which they have paid into sinking funds. So that they have spent more than their original capital in laying down fresh lines out of clear profits, and there remains unexpended and undivided a fund of £804,000.
– What has all this to do with the agreement?
– I wish to show how they have exploited the people of Australia, and how they desire” to continue to do so. We come to this interesting little summary of their operations. Starting 30 years ago, with a capital of £1,525,000, they have paid in dividends and bonuses £4,117,500; spent on extension, &c., £1,571,540; have an unexpended balance of £804,193, and made net profits to the amount of £6,493,233. That is the company which has been exploiting Australia up to the present time, and which we are expected to believe has been a benefactor and a pioneer.
– I have read all this in print.
-Senators O’Connor and Playford object to my going into these matters. I hope that I have not wearied the Senate in my endeavour to show, first, what a huge powerful monopoly the company possess ; secondly, how they have exploited the people by extracting from them a profit of £6,500,000 ; thirdly, how they exhausted every effort to kill the Pacific cable project; fourthly, how the crushing rate of 9s. 4d. a word was only reduced as the direct result of the Pacific cable, and a net saving to the people of Australia of £700,000 a year was effected thereby ; fifthly, how the Cape cable was only laid in order to block the Pacific cable, and to retain a monopoly : and sixthly, how their plaintive appeal as a poor injured company to whom we ought to be lenient, and as the pioneer cable company to the East, is merely throwing dust in our eyes.
– They have said nothing about being poor - that is all the honorable senator’s invention.
– The implication is that we ought to treat leniently a company which has been the pioneer. It was not the pioneer to the East, because the Indian Government in 1846 laid the first cable to India, over a distance of about 1,500 miles.
– lt was the pioneer company to Australia.
– It was the pioneer company from India to Australia ; and the net profits which they have made - I do not say out of Australia, but with their cable- have been £6,493,233 on a capital of less than £1,525,000.
– The agreement was not entered into because they were the pioneers, or because they were poor.
– I do not suggest that it was. I am only endeavouring to unmask the company. The Prime Minister says that we have made a splendid agreement. I venture to think that the company, who have made a life-long study of this question, and have shown a wonderful acuteness in endeavouring to retain a monopoly, would go to any length to attain their object, so that it does not follow, on ipse dixit of the Prime Minister, that it is a good agreement.
– Can the honorable senator give us any idea of what the profits of the company -will be, in competition with the Pacific cable ?
– They might be willing to lose the reserve of £804,000.
– They might have to lose it.
– I believe that a time is coming when the Marconi system will supersede the submarine cable to a very great extent, but that until it is brought into operation on practical commercial lines this octopus-like monopoly will never be broken down. They cannot get a monopoly of the air.
– They have a good slice of the land.
– They may have a monopoly of the land and the sea, but as they cannot get a monopoly of the air, they will not have a monopoly when Marconigrams are introduced.
– Then they may lose all their capital, too.
– They have a reserve fund larger than the total cost of their lines, so that even if they were not to make another penny profit the shareholders would be recouped the value of their shares. This gentle and benign company, which is so simple and childlike in its demeanour, has,, according to the astute Sir Edmund Barton, “fallen in” over this agreement. We areasked to accept this triumph of diplomacy as an arrangement under which the balance of benefits is all on one side. We are told that we have dislodged the company from what would otherwise have been an impregnableposition, and have placed them practically in a position of dependency upon us. On the probabilities of the case, knowing theremarkable astuteness of the company and its business aptitude - seeing that its officers know more about cabling and the requirements of its business than the PrimeMinister does - is it likely that it would consent to this agreement if it were a benefitto the Pacific cable? It is not at all likely. Therefore, upon the probabilities, it would be much better for us not to consent to theagreement. But we cannot discuss the probabilities; and I want to point out first whatwe are said to gain by this proposed agreement, and, secondly, what the Eastern Extension Company will gain by it. Thoseare the principal points.
– There is anotherpoint - What better agreement can beentered into ?
-If I succeed in showing that it would be betterfar us to have no agreement rather than toaccept this one, it will be quite sufficient. The Prime Minister claims, first, that an interminable agreement with certain of the Stateswas established, and that we now have constituted an agreement which will last for twelve years- that is, till the 31st- October, 1915. His second claim is that the result df his negotiations has been a reduction of the cable rate to India to 2s. 6d. per word ; and, thirdly, he claims as an advantage the right to purchase the Eastern Extension line vid the Cape, if the company is willing ,to sell it. Let us considerthese supposed advantages. When thetwelve years expire on the 31st October, 1915, what is to happen? Suppose we want to buy the Eastern Extension Company’s line vid the Cape. Are they bound to sell ? They are not. The agreement is not on a legitimate business footing. Is it likely that at the end of that time we shall beable to say to the company, “You must close up altogether and leave- Australia.” The most we shall bc able to do is to insist upon a fair division of business between th& Eastern Extension cable and the Pacific cables
– We might refuse to the company the right to have offices in Australia.
– But we cannot deprive the company of the right of remaining in Australia, or the right to share with us the cable business from Australia. So that for twelve years we1 are giving them -a great advantage over us, and it may then be very difficult for us to claim for the Pacific cable an equality of business with the company.
– Why does the honorable senator presume that we shall share the business with them -at the end of twelve years 1 Why should we ?
– Will my honorable and learned friend say that at the end of twelve years we are going to bundle them out of Australia ? They are here carrying on a legitimate business.
– We need not bother about them.
– We cannot say that their cable business in Australia shall terminate. The most that we can claim is an equality of business with them. So that we are going to give them a continued advantage for twelve years, and the most we can then do is to claim an equality with them. The cable rates to India are put forward as a great advantage and a strong reason for the adoption of the agreement. But is i’; likely, on the face of things, that the company could charge 4s. 1 Od. per word to India and’ only 3s. per word to England, when India is on the direct route, and not more than half the distance 1 Of course they had to make a reduction in the Indian rates. Otherwise the position would be absolutely absurd. But they ought to have made a reduction to ls. 6d. a word in messages to India, instead of which they have reduced the rate to 2s. 6d., only <>d. less than the rate of Great Britain, which is more than twice the distance from Australia. As to the right to purchase the cable via” the Cape, I consider that that is of no value whatever. If it had been said that at the end of a fixed time the Commonwealth had the right to come in and purchase on terms to be agreed upon by arbitration it would have been a valuable concession. But the only terms we have secured are ‘that we can purchase if the company wish to sell. A joint stock company is the most indefinite thing in the world when you come to deal with it at close quarters. It is an aggregation of shareholders, who can transfer their stock in such a way that it is nominally in the same hands, whilst really the shareholders are a different body. A different set of shareholders may own the South African cable next week, but the line will still belong to the Eastern Extension Company.
– Still, the obligation will remain.
– There is no obligation. As I stated two years ago in an address before the Intercolonial Chambers of Commerce, it would be quite possible for the Russian or the French Government to buy up the shares of the Company, and one day, at the commencement of war with a foreign power, we might find that the enemy had stopped all our cables.
– The purchasers would have to take all the liabilities.
– But there is a commercial value to a cable, and there is also a national value. A particular cable may be worth £1,000,000 as a commercial concern, but it may be worth £2,000,000 from a national point of view. I am pointing out the great danger to the country when these cable lines are in the hands of private people. There is a risk of their getting into the hands of foreign nations. The only safety’ is to have them controlled by the Government.
– There is no trouble about cutting cables in time of war ; it is the easiest thing in the world.
Senator STANIFORTH SMITH.There is considerable trouble if the lines belong to the Government.
– Whichever nation has command of the sea can cut the cables.
– We believe and trust that Great Britain will always have the command of the sea.
– If that is the case foreign nations will not want to buy the cables.
– So long as the British Government has command of the sea, foreign nations cannot cut the cables, but if those foreign nations have command of the land offices they can do whatever they like.
– They can tap the lines and read our messages.
– That is so.
– If there is no agreement will not the Eastern Extension- Company be able to charge higher rates against Victoria and Queensland ?
– That will not matter, because we have the Pacific cable in operation, and there will be no injustice from the rates which the Eastern Extension Company charges. These are the alleged advantages accruing from the agreement. I now want to point out what are the advantages which the Eastern Extension Company receives. It is a point which has never been understood up to the present. First of all, by clause 16, the Federal Government is not to give the Pacific cable any advantages that are not equally shared by the Eastern Extension Company. That is the principal thing. We are bound hand and foot, and it is impossible for us to secure any advantage for the. Pacific cable for twelve years. The second point is that we are bound to lay down at Commonwealth expense special lines for the exclusive use of the Eastern Extension Company for twelve years. Those lines will cost over £30,000, and they must be maintained at our expense. Thirdly, the Eastern Extension Company is given power under clause 20 to break an -agreement entered into with the State of Western Australia, dated the 9th January, 1889, with reference to their station at Broome, if the Federal Ministry at any time consents, an arrangement which will render nearly 2,000 miles of telegraph line laid by Western Australia ‘under an agreement with the company absolutely useless.
– Western Australia will be in as bad a position as South Australia claims to be in.
– She will be in the same position as South Australia would be in if the Port Darwin line were closed. I was told quite arrogantly at Broome that the Company had decided to close up the station there.
– So that Western Australia has to lose as much as South Australia 1
– Inasmuch as in South Australia the bookkeeping provisions are likely to cease sooner than in the case of Western Australia, Western Australia has far more to lose. Fourthly, the Eastern Extension Company is to pay no Customs duties, no wharfage rates. no harbor rates and lighting charges, no income tax or rates. So that it is practically in a better position than any. of the States of the Commonwealth. The States have to pay customs duties on their imported goods, from which the Company is exempt. It is placed in a position practically above the law of the Commonwealth.
– We give the same advantages to the Pacific cable.
– But the Pacific cable belongs to the people. I have pointed out four advantages that the Eastern Extension Company have received ; and they will have a further advantage, owing to the fact that the lines they are now laying down are to be used exclusively for cabling. This is a great advantage from the point of view of those who use the cable, because messages can be sent with much greater celerity, and there is less probability of mutilation. If it be left to commercial men to send their cables either by the Pacific route, or by the Eastern Extension Company’s lines, it will, for the reasons I have shown, be better to use the latter, because the ordinary lines are sometimes clogged with intercolonial messages.
– The Government always send their messages by the ordinary lines.
– I have myself many times had to wait when I desired to cable, owing to intercolonial messages having priority. Persons who use the Pacific line will have all kinds of disabilities. We know that the great bane of every one who has to use a cable, is the mutilations which occur ; and it is sometimes most difficult on this account to understand the meaning of messages.
– That is an entirely unproved assumption.
– My personal experience is that sometimes I have had to wait a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, because of other messages having priority. The new lines now being laid down by the Eastern Extension Company, will be kept clear, and will be worked by skilled operators. Directly the Eastern Extension Company obtained assent to the clause which provides that no advantage shall be given to the Pacific Company, they proposed an apparently innocent clause, which only showed their Machiavelian diplomacy. This clause provides that if there is a certain increase in the traffic over their lines the company will reduce the charge to 2s. 6d. per word ; and people regard that as not only reasonable, but very generous on the part of the company. Merchants, ship-owners, and others who have to send cable messages have not shown much patriotic Spirit in their support of concessions to the Eastern Extension Company as against the Pacific Cable Board ; and this clause makes it to their interest to send every message over the Eastern Extension Company’s lines in order to. swell the messages to the number necessary to secure a reduction in the rate. The Eastern Extension Company practically say to merchants and others - “ You send all your messages over our lines, and we shall reduce the charge to 2s. 6d. per word “ ; and merchants regard it as clearly to their advantage to act on the suggestion. I consider this one of the most astute, most cunning clauses in the agreement. lt means that when the Eastern Extension Company have deprived the Pacific Cable Board of anything like their fair share of business, they will reduce the rate, and then the Pacific Cable Board will have to fix their rate at the same figure. In the meantime, however, the Eastern Extension Company will have practically monopolised the tariff.
– I do not admit that argument. It is open to the Pacific Cable Board to take exactly the same course.
– But the Pacific Cable Board have made no announcement to that effect.
– If it is such an astute move why do not the Pacific Cable Board follow suit ?
Senator STANIFORTH SMITH.Because the other company have forestalled them. We must not forget that the Eastern Extension Company have exclusive rights in Tasmania - that practically they have Tasmania in their pocket.
– But Tasmania may start the Marconi system.
– The Marconi system is the only salvation for which Tasmania may hope. Then, in addition, we have to guarantee the Pacific Cable Board against loss, and pay thousands a year as a subsidy. In view of the fact that the Eastern Extension Company have exclusive rights in Tasmania, is it not reasonable that the Pacific Cable Board should have exclusive rights in Victoria and Queensland ? If this agreement be not ratified, it will be within our power to direct that every cable message from Victoria and! Queensland shall go via, the Pacific ; and that could be done without injustice to either of the States, or to any users of the cables. The rates over the Pacific cable are exactly the same, and must always be the same as those over the Eastern Extension cable ; but directly this agreement is ratified, we shall have given away all our rights for twelve years. It is admitted that this agreement for twelve years is not in the interests of the Pacific cable.
– We say that it is not injurious to the Pacific cable. The honorable senator seems to keep on twisting my words.
– TheMinister for Defence said that , we were in the position that we had to accept what had been done by the colonies - that the question was prejudiced. I also say that we are bound by the action of the colonies but we are still in a position, if we do not ratify the agreement, to insure that all the cabling for Victoria and Queensland shall go over the Pacific route. Victoria doesonethird of the cabling business of Australia; and with the business of Queeusland, and what will come from the otherStates, we could easily give the Pacific cable one-half.
– How is it proposed tosecure that business % By legislation ?
– By differential terminal rates. The Minister for Defence stated that if the agreement be not signed, we shall have the right at any time to make differential terminal rates ; and that being so, we may secure that all the cabling from Victoria and Queensland shall go by the Pacific route without, as I say, doing any injury to either State. I do not desh’e that more than one-half of the total business shall go by the Pacific cable, because I recognise the rights of the Eastern Extension Company, who have three lines as against one line of the Pacific CableBoard. If .we ratify the agreement, the Pacificcable, in my opinion, will not get morethan one-third of the business for the next twelve years ; and then what will happen ?’ Even then we cannot demand more than one-half of the business ; so that the effect of the agreement is to allow the Eastern Extension Company to exploit us for twelveyears, at the expiration of which we can only make an arrangement which it is open, for us to make at the present time.
– How does the honorable senator propose to get rid of the interminable agreements t
– “Those agreements may go on for all time, because they cannot alter the fact that we can secure one-half of the business. If there were no interminable agreements - if the colonies had made no arrangements with the Eastern Extension Company - and we were now free to make any agreement we liked, no agreement would be made by this Parliament which would not give the Eastern Extension Company one-half of the business ; and that I regard as a very fair division. We have to look at this matter from a business point -of view. I am not one to blame the Eastern Extension Company for what they have done ; and, as Senator Playford said, I should probably do the same if I were a member of the company. But we have to remember that this is an exceedingly astute company, and we must treat them on a purely business basis. We want an arrangement under which they shall not overreach us, and obtain benefits which, in all fairness, should be equally divided. At the conference it was, I believe, said that when the Pacific cable project was carried into effect it was possible and probable that the three eastern States would exclusively use that means of communication, leaving the western States to the Eastern Extension Company. When we were discussing the Post and Telegraph Billon 1 7th July, 1902, the late Senator Sir Frederick Sargood proposed a new sub- clause as follows : -
Telegrams shall be transmitted by the route prescribed by the sender at the tariff for that route.
The intention was to enable the sender of -a cable to say which cable he desired his message to be sent by. The PostmasterGeneral, who is now Minister of Defence, strenuously opposed that, and voted with the majority, and the amendment was lost by 16 votes to -9. We did not recognise then that the sender had a right, provided the rates were equal, to have his message sent by the cable he selected.
– Yes ; but it was pointed out that that was provided for by the International Convention.
– I read the honorable and learned senator’s ;speech through carefully, and I could see nothing about that.
– Will the honorable senator give me the page of Mansard in which it appears ?
– I cannot give the page, but the debate took place on the 17th July, 1901, and it was upon clause 80 of the Post and Telegraph Bill. Now, if that is the position, the Eastern Extension Company may lower their rates whenever they please, and to whatever rate they please, and we are not in a position to give any advantages to the Pacific Cable Board which we do not also give to the Eastern Extension Company. It will be seen that the Eastern Extension Company get all the better of the deal. They can reduce their rates as they please, and we have no voice in the matter.
– The people will get the benefit of a reduction in rates.
– My honorable friend is a merchant, and he speaks about the people getting the benefit of a reduction of rates. I admit that cheap cables are of immense advantage to Australia, and will tend greatly to increase our commercial prosperity. That is why I say the Pacific cable is justified. But it must be remembered- that the group of individuals who specially benefit are the merchants and sharebrokers, and a reduction in the cost of cables may make a difference of thousands of pounds in the year to some big commercial company. What we desire is to have some agreement under which we could take half the business for the Pacific cable, and let the Eastern Extension Company have the other half. If we could secure that, the Pacific cable would become an advantage to the people, instead of a burden upon them.
– No one could be got to agree to that.
– If we sign an unfair agreement, as this agreement, in my opinion, is, the Pacific cable will be a burden upon the people for at any rate the next twelve years. To show how it is possible for a private company to overreach a company run by Governments, I may mention what is taking place at the present time. I was speaking to a cabler the other day, and he sent his boy down to a cable company to send a message to England. He said the message was to be sent by the Pacific cable, because he desired to assist the Pacific Cable Board. The message was sent, and the next day he sent a message to Holland.
The messenger came back with the information that the rate was 3s. 6d. per word. The sender said that the ratewas only 3s. by the Eastern Extension Company’s cable, and the reply was - “Yes, but by the Pacific cable the rate is 3s. 6d.,” and he found that to send a message by the Pacific cable to any part of Europe, except Great Britain, the rate may be from 6d. to1s. 6d. per word more than if the message is sent by the Eastern Extension Company’s cable.
– Whose fault is that ?
– How does the honorable senator propose to remedy that?
– I am not proposing a remedy now, but I am pointing out the way in which the Eastern Extension Company does its business.
– We should make friends of our enemies.
– We should make agreements with our enemies. I do not believe in making friends with our enemies, when they are to get the best of us. I have shown that a message sent by the Pacific cable to any part of Europe with the exception of Great Britian, may cost considerably more than it would cost if sent by the Eastern Extension Company’s cable. Again, business people are given another inducement to make use of the Eastern Extension Company’s cable, because where the volume of their business is sufficiently large, they are given a reduction in the rate to 2s. 6d. per word.
– The honorable senator is advertising the Eastern Extension Company.
– I am stating absolute facts, and the expert canvassers of the Eastern Extension Company, who are now endeavoring to make special arrangements with merchants in Melbourne and in Sydney, are saying every day to these people what I am now putting before honorable senators. The Eastern Extension Company has an advantage in having more central offices, and an army of canvassers. Then they make special arrangements, which we can know nothing about, with regard to rebates on business done by large merchants.
– The honorable senator says we know nothing about them.
– If a representative of the company goes to a merchant and tells him that at the end of each month he will get a rebate of 2s. or 2s. 6d. on every cable he sends, we can know nothing about that.
– The honorable senator is saying that he knows about it.
– I know that it is being done, but I cannot give special instances, because I have no desire to introduce personal matters. I know that the company is making special arrangements with certain merchants.
– For a long period ?
– I do not know what the periods are, but I know that they are making special arrangements with merchants to induce them to send their cables by the company’s line. Then even in the matter of forms ; those who make use of the cables can get as many of the Eastern Extension Company’s forms as they please for nothing, whilst they have to pay4d. per 100 for the Pacific cable forms. There may not be much in this, but all these little hindrances prevent business going to the Pacific cable. Then the Eastern Extension Company offers great advantages in the matter of mutilations. If a cable message is sent by the Pacific cable it has to go over a line clogged with State and Inter-State telegrams to reach the landing station in Queensland. It will then go across by , the cable to Vancouver ; from there across Canada, and thence across the Atlantic cable to Great Britain. When the receiver gets it, he may find that there is some mutilation in the message ; and in order to discover what message was really sent, he has to lodge the cost of cabling back to find out the mistake and where it occurred. If the message is repeated in the same form, it is assumed that the fault is with the sender, and the receiver forfeits his deposit. If it is repeated in a different form, it is assumed that the mistake is made by the Cable Board, and the receiver then has to wait until inquiries are made to find out who is responsible for the mistake, whether the authorities in charge in Australia, Canada, or Great Britain. In the case of the Eastern Extension Company the message is sent by the one line.
– No. There are ever so many administrations concerned. Their messages go over the wires of several companies.
-They are to be given a specia line from Melbourne to Adelaide. A message from
Melbourne will go over that line; and it will go over their cable from Adelaide.
– To where ?
– To England.
– Through certain transmitting agents, of course, but the one company is responsible ; and if a message is mutilated and it is repeated in a different form, it is assumed that the fault is with the Company, and the receiver’s deposit is handed back to him at once ; whilst in the case of the Pacific cable, in which four Governments are interested, the inquiry as to who is responsible for a mistake involves a great deal of bother to receivers in having their deposits lying with the Pacific Cable Board for a considerable time. I refer to these matters to show where the advantages to merchants are. There is another advantage to be referred to. It is well-known that many cables transmitted by merchants are sent after banking hours, and unless they can get a bank guarantee, no cheque will be taken by the Government. The cost of the cable may be 9s. 6d., or any greater sum ; but as the Government will not take a cheque, the sender must put his cash on the counter if he desires his message to go by the Pacific cable. The Eastern Extension Company say - “ Give usyour cheques or anything you like. Have an account with us, and we will send you a statement at the end of each month.” These are all advantages which appeal to business people, and they show what may be done by a private firm as compared with a Government institution. There is no doubt, as I have pointed out, that the Eastern Extension Company are making special arrangements with business people, and while they are nominally charging the same rate as is charged for the Pacific cable, they are actually charging a lower rate. It is important to consider also that by their special lines they are absolutely independent of the Postmaster-General and his staff. It has been stated that Great Britain does exactly what we do in giving the Eastern Extension Company landing lines. That is quite true ; but it is also true that they charge the company £5 per mile per annum for every line they have. If that be applied to Australia, it will be found that, as we have entered into an agreement tobuild 2,356 miles of special lines for this company, a charge of £5 per mile per annum would amount to £11,780 annually. The British Government send the messages on the landing lines themselves but, as I have said before, half-a-dozen or a dozen operators can work those lines, and. their employment involves very little expense. Here the Eastern Extension Company will be rendered independent of the Postmaster-General and his officials ; and, instead of charging them £11,780 a year, which would be at the rate they pay in Great Britain, we merely save the wages of. a few telegraph operators. Great Britain, also makes terminal charges in the same way that we do. It is hardly necessary forme to say that I am actuated by no personal motive in speaking strongly against the Eastern Extension Company. I have none but the kindest recollections of any business connexion I have had with the company; I have met with only the greatest kindness.and hospitality from every representative of thee company. I have never been in the employ of the company, but I have often been connected with these people in the way of business. I admit that the company has been; of great advantage to Australia in the early days ; and another thing which appeals tome in their favour is that in tropical regions they are the finest employers of labour I know of. Their treatment of their officials in places like Broome and Port Darwin supplies an object lesson which the Commonwealth might well be guided by. They give their clerks good salaries, provide them with various comforts necessary in a tropical climate, and they give them six months? leave every three years, and a first-class fare to England and back. They treat their officials well in every way. If we. walk across the road, in Broome, from the* company’s office, we shall find Government clerks getting a wretched pittance of ten shillings a week as tropical allowance and’ leave of a fortnight a year, which does not. give them time even to get to Perth and back. This has nothingtodo with the question before us, and though I think it is not necessary, I refer to it merely to show that I am not, actuated by any personal motives in what I have said. I contend that we should deal with this question on business lines, and purely in the interests of Australia, and we should not for twelve years absolutely place ourselves under the domination of this company. I desire now to say that even. if we consider this agreement an advantageous one, in view of the fact that our partners in the Pacific cable hold a different view, it is advisable that we should accede to their request for a conference. We must remember that we form only one of the parties to what we may call an international agreement. For the first time we have a partnership with Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, and we should be extremely careful that nothing we do as partners to the agreement in which we are mutually interested, shall be considered by the other partners to that agreement as being unfair to them, or as taking unfair advantage of the trust and confidence they have reposed in us. Their opinions are entitled to just as much respect as our own. The Prime Minister entered into this agreement honestly believing that it is in the best interests of Australia, but the other partners unanimously believe that it is not in the interests of the Pacific cable. They are entitled to hold that opinion, and the only fair, honest and straightforward way is for us to say - “Before we ratify the agreement we are willing to hear what you have to submit.”
– The request for a conference has been withdrawn.
– By New Zealand and Canada?
– Surely the honorable Senator does not want three conferences ?
– Two of the three partners still ask for a conference
– I think not.
– I am positive that they do. Mr. Chamberlain may have said that under the circumstances he would not press for a conference.
– That communication was received from one of the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Cable Board.
– Considering that New South Wales had signed an agreement with two rival companies, we should not be guided by the opinion of its representative, Mr. Copeland.
– He is a representative of the Commonwealth.
- Mr. Chamberlain, representing Great Britain, has regretted very much that the conference asked for was not appointed, but for some mysterious reason he has withdrawn his request. Let us consider the question from the British stand-point. It must be admitted that Great Britain acted in a m6st generous and statesmanlike manner in regard to the Pacific cable project when it departed from all its traditions of colonial policy. It had never previously given a contribution to or joined in an undertaking of this description. It is paying about £600,000 towards a cable which unites two outlying portions of the Empire, and which does not go near its shores. It agreed to pay fiveeighteenths of the cost of maintenance, and to bear any loss which might accrue. The . cable is owned by the people, and if it is a commercial success it may be the pioneer of many similar ventures. If it is a success it will mark a new era in submarine telegraphy ; if not, the whole movement will fail. It is the first partnership agreement between Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, and as a matter of national honour we should leave no room for a suspicion of overreaching or unfairness in the agreement which we propose to make with the Extension Company. Our national interests may suffer if we ratify the agreement in its present form. It is quite possible that at some time or other we may desire the> co-operation of these countries in other joint undertakings. Is it likely that they will place sufficient trust and confidence in us again to co-operate with Australia in any other undertaking, if we now decline to grant the conference for which they ask ?
– They are not asking for a conference. They have withdrawn the request.
– They have not withdrawn the request.
– The Secretary for State has.
– The Minister for Defence is absolutely wrong, and his statement is very misleading, because Canada and New Zealand are still clamouring for a conference. Any future undertaking in which we may require the co-operation of Canada and New Zealand will undoubtedly be looked upon with suspicion, unless we grant their request for a conference in this matter. We shall lose nothing by acceding to the request. All we do is to afford them an opportunity to lay before us their reasons, which we can accept if we like. There is no hurry to ratify the agreement. The representative of the Extension Company has not stipulated that it must be I done within a certain time. Suppose that a conference were held, and fresh information were obtained, we could then say, “ we shall alter the agreement,” or “we shall refuse to ratify the agreement.” We are charged by our partners with breaking the spirit of the contract. I shall read a few extracts in which that accusation is made. In a despatch, dated 18th June, 1903, the Secretary of State for the Colonies writes : -
The Governments of Canada and New Zealand hold that the agreement between the New South Wales Government and the Eastern Extension Telegraph Com pany, of which the agreement negotiated by your Ministers is in effect a recognition and an indorsement, involves an important deviation from the essential conditions which existed at the time of the completion of the contract for the construction and laying of the Pacific cable, and on the basis of which they entered into that contract, and I had hoped that the suggested Conference, by affording facilities for an exchange of views not possible in the ordinary course of correspondence, would have resulted in an adjustment satisfactory toall parties. I therefore received your telegram with much regret.
– He was not aware of the facts at that time.
– No ; and he is not now. We cannot be aware of the full facts of the case until a conference is held. That language is as strong as can be used in a communication between two Governments. In my opinion, it is a very strong indictment of the policy of the Ministry. Further on, he says -
The situation appears to me to point conclusively to the necessity for a closer definition of the basis of the partnership in the Pacific cable, and a clearer statement of the mutual obligations of the partners, and no more convenient way of attaining this object suggests itself to me than the appointment of a conference authorized to deal finally with all the various matters of principle in dispute. I venture to hope that on reconsideration your Ministers will recognise that the continuance of the present state of things is fraught with prejudice to the interests of the Pacific cable itself, depending as they do so largely on the harmonious co-operation of all the partners, and I trust that I shall receive an early intimation of the readiness of your Ministers to fall in with my suggestion, and to nominate a representative with the necessary powers.
– The request has since been withdrawn.
– What is the use of the Minister reiterating that statement, when he knows that the other partners have not withdrawn their request ? The Prime Minister of Canada sent this telegram to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth on the 6th March, 1903 -
Canadian Government protests against action your Government. Concession made by New South Wales to Eastern Telegraph Company regarded by Canada violation of spirit of agreement under which Pacific intentions of cable core was constructed. Action proposed now nothing less than extension objectionable concession for a period of years to other parts of Commonwealth. Canada assumed large share responsibility of Pacific intentions of cable core. Believed that all colonies, parties to contract, would do everything possible to direct business over a new line. Canadian Government much regret that departure from that understanding which has already occurred against their protest, and now urge upon Government of Commonwealth that no further extension granted to Eastern Extension Company.
That is a very strong indictment from one whom we all admire as an able and courteous statesman, and who could not employ more vigorous language in making a protest from one nation, I may say, to another. I cannot understand the position of the Government in refusing a conference when it is asked for by a statesman like Sir Wilfred Laurier, who expresses his belief that there has been a distinct violation of the spirit of the agreement by Australia.
– Does the honorable senator forget that the provisions of the draft agreement in 1899 were communicated to Mr. Chamberlain, and that he approved of them?
– Like the Bourbons, I forget nothing. I am dealing with his opinion at a later time, when he had a fuller knowledge of all the circumstances. On the 25th March the Prime Minister of Canada sent the following telegram to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth : -
New South Wales having, against Canada’s protest, granted concession to Eastern Extension Company, Canadian Government cannot consent to Commonwealth’s proposed agreement with that company, enlarging area of concession even for a limited period, and we persist in our . protest against contemplated arrangement.
Then we have a telegram sent on the 13th May from the Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth in these terms-
With profound regret learn agreement signed. Sincerely hope Parliament will not ratify it. Have written you fully on matter.
In his letter Mr. Seddon says -
I have, after making careful inquiry, ascertained that, given the concessions proposed, the Eastern Extension Company will be in a far better position to increase its business, and it will have a command of business which otherwise it would not secure, and, correspondingly, the business of the Pacific cable will be reduced. It would be absurd for a moment to suppose that the Eastern Extension Company, by being granted direct connecting lines, the right to have their own offices, ana the direct control of their receiving and delivery business, obtains no advantage. I do not for a moment think it will be urged that from patriotic motives alone the company permitted an interminable contract to be reduced to ten years. The gain to the Eastern Company means loss to the Pacific cable, and that loss, and without anything to compensate them therefor, will mainly fall upon the mother country, Canada, and Hew Zealand.
So that we have all our partners complain:ng that we have violated the spirit of the agreement. Even if our partners are wrong in their view, as the Ministry contend they are, and we have got an agreement which is very detrimental to the interests of the Extension Company but which is beneficial to the interests of the Pacific Cable Board, by all the rules of international courtesy we ought to afford them an opportunity to meet us in conference and to point out where, in their opinion, we have violated the agreement. When the conference was concluded we could say “ we are still unconvinced and we -shall ratify the agreement.” If they should point out reasons of which we are not aware why it was inadvisable to ratify the agreement, we should be in a position to take that course. To postpone tie ratification for a few months would do no injury to any one. No time for its ratification is stipulated, and it could be done as well six months hence as to-day. We may find that some alterations are advisable. The company may be so frightened at the agreement not being ratified that they may offer further concessions. I am positively certain that they will move heaven and earth to have this agreement ratified, inasmuch as it delivers the Commonwealth into their hands for the space of twelve years. We are not entitled to set cur opinions against the views of our partners in the Pacific cable. I hope that the Senate will accede to the unanimous request of our partners that a conference shall be held. I ask them to do so not only for the reason that we are interested in the Pacific cable, but because of any future joint co-operative movement that we may wish to enter into. There may be other parts of the British Empire with which it may be to our advantage to enter into some co-operative agreement. Is it well for us to vitiate the probabilities of the successful attainment of such an object by now entering into an arrangement with the Eastern Extension Company to which our partners are unanimously opposed ? It places Australia in a humiliating position - in a position of endeavouring by some kind of a ruse to get the better of the three partners- Canada, New Zealand and Great Britain - who are. interested with us in the Pacific cable. We can see from the despatches which have been brought before us, and which are very courteously but strongly written, that in the opinion of the Secretary of State we have violated the contract. Whether we have actually done so or not we shouldtreat with courtesy and respect the views of our partners. In private life, when a man enters in a partnership in any line of business, he is not justified in signing an agreement with a rival company, which will injuriously affect the business of his partners.
– Is ours more than contingent partnership ?
– There is only the honorable senator’s statement that what we have done will injuriously affect the Pacific cable.
– It is my statement, together with statements of Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain.
– They are no portions of our partnership
– They are our partners in the Pacific cable. Canada owns five-eighteenths of the line ; Great Britain, five-eighteenths ; and New Zealand, two-eighteenths. I regret that I have taken up so rauch of the time of the Senate, but I feel strongly on the subject, because I have some practical knowledge of it. I wish the Senate to refrain from doing something which I honestly believe will strongly reflect upon the good faith of our young Commonwealth. If we refuse to assent to a conference our partners will naturally believe that we have acted unfairly, and have violated the spirit of our contract with them. We will be besmirching the fair reputation of Australia, and injuring ourselves in regard to any cooperative effort which we may wish to enter into with any other states of the British Empire in the future. If we agree to the conference, all we have to do is to convince our partners that we are doing a fair thing.
If it is shown that we are wrong, we can admit it, and refuse to ratify the agreement. But if we prove that we are right, the agreement will be signed. I trust that those honorable senators who believe that the agreement is a fair one will consent to the conference, in order that our partners may have our view fairly placed before them. For these reasons I beg to move -
That all the words after “Senate” be omitted, with a, view to insert in lieu thereof the words “is of opinion that the conference proposed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies between representatives of the various parties in the Pacific cable Should be held before any agreement is ratified between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Eastern Extension Company.”
– I wish to ask for the ]uling of the Chairman on a point of order. The point is that I gave notice of an amendment which I intended to move with regard to the agreement. My proposal stands upon the business paper in the following form : - That contingent on the Senate going into Committee to consider Message 13 of the House of Representatives, I would move -
And whereas the terms and conditions of the said partnership are based on a, pro raid distribution of all expenses and profits arising out of the construction and operation of the said cable :
And whereas His Majesty’s Imperial Government, the Government of the Dominion of Canada, and the Government of New Zealand have, as partners aforesaid, protested that the ratification of the proposed agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Eastern Extension Company will prejudice the financial success of the Pacific cable scheme :
And whereas His Majesty’s Imperial Government, acting on behalf of the protesting Governments, have respectfully and urgently requested that before the proposed agreement is ratified by the Commonwealth Parliament, the several Governments concerned in the Pacific cable scheme should appoint representatives for a special conference to consider the whole question with representatives of His Majesty’s Government :
And whereas it is not desirable that any partner in the Pacific cable should suffer a sense of wrong or injustice or believe that the Commonwealth is guilty of a breach of faith when that sense and belief may be removed by a special conference :
This Senate respectfully urges the Honorable House of Representatives to withdraw its request for the Senate’s concurrence in Message No. 13 until such special conference has been held.
I wish to know whether, as I gave notice of that motion, the honorable senator is in order in anticipating my proposal by the amendment which he has just moved 1
– I think that Senator Smith is qUite in order. The mere fact that notice was given by Senator Higgs of his intention to do something gives him no precedence whatever. His proposal only stands on the notice-paper as a matter of convenience. In addition to that fact, when we went into Committee, Senator Higgs did not move his motion. If his point of order were a good one, it would be competent for some honorable senator to shut out a possible amendment by putting upon the notice-paper another proposal on the same lines and not moving it. If Senator Higgs proposal had been a substantive motion it would have been called upon in the ordinary way ; but inasmuch as it is a mere expression ‘of his intention to do something, the honorable senator placed himself in no better position by giving notice. Therefore Senator Smith’s amendment is quite in order.
– The Chairman knows why I did not move my amendment - I had no chance.
– I desire to explain that I had not the slightest idea that Senator Higgs had given notice of an amendment. I had not seen his amendment.
– It stood upon the business-paper for days.
– I had not the slightest desire to overreach any one on this question. If I had known that Senator Higgs had given notice of his proposal I should have been pleased to stand aside for him. I am quite willing to withdraw my amendment so that Senator Higgs may have an opportunity of proposing his, because the object of his proposal is similar to mine. I ask leave to withdraw it. i
– I object.
– If any honorable senator objects the amendment cannot be withdrawn.
– I am not interested in the competition between Senator Higgs and Senator Smith with respect to which amendment should be proposed, but as the Secretary of State for the Colonies has withdrawn his request for a conference, it seems to me that the whole subject is now on a different footing. Senator Smith has no ground whatever for moving an amendment of this character after the announcement which I have made.
– Can the honorable Senator state the circumstances which led to the withdrawal ?
– I do not propose to follow the honorable senator through his long speech, a great deal of which consisted of historical retrospect that really had nothing to do with this matter. Whatever the Eastern Extension Company may have done in the past, whatever services it may have performed for Australia, or whatever charges may have been made, have nothing to do with this question. I think I was right in commencing with the year 1899. Nothing that occurred previous to that date appears to me to have any bearing upon the agreement before us. What I desired to hear from Senator Smith, and what I thought he would particularly address himself to, were his views on two points. Granting that it was undesirable that the States, previous to the transfer of the Department to the Commonwealth, should enter into these contracts with the Eastern Extension Company, by what means could we get rid of them? But Senator Smith did not touch that question, and when I challenged him he simply said - “ Let the interminable agreements remain.” Senator Smith contemplates with equanimity the continuance of a state of things under which four States are bound by interminable agreements to the Eastern Extension Company, while the other States are free. He prefers that to any arrangement by which one uniform agreement can be made applicable to the whole Commonwealth. Looking at the question from the point of view of the Federation, it is most undesirable that the present conditions should continue. As time went on the more inconvenient would these agreements be found, until eventually the Commonwealth Government would probably have to enter into some agreement which would be far less advantageous than that now submitted for ratification.
– Could not the Government, by some arrangement, have freed Tasmania, which seems to be in a hopeless position’
– The agreement with the Eastern Extension Company was made by the Tasmanian Government, and up to the present time the Commonwealth Government have not been able to devise any means by which to free Tasmania from the conditions thereby imposed.
– Did the Commonwealth Government suggest that Tasmania should be freed ?
– That is a matter which hasbeen and is under the consideration of the Commonwealth Government.
– I should like to know whether the Government tried to make Tasmania’s freedom a condition of the signing of the agreement before us.
– That was no part whatever of the negotiations.
– It ought to have been.
– The honorable and learned senator is talking about a different agreement. We are now dealing with the agreement which Tasmania, along with South Australia and Western Australia, entered into on the 14th April, 1900; and in order that these three States, and also. New South Wales, might not remain subject to all the conditions of that agreement, the Government signed the agreement now before us. Senator Smith is not prepared to admit that the Government have done a good thing in relieving the four States from the interminable agreements. Is it the view of the Senate that the agreements entered into by Tasmania, South Australia,, Western Australia, and subsequently by New South Wales, should be allowed to remain for all time ? If so, I can quite understand that honorable senators will not be disposed to ratify the agreement now before us, the principal object of which is to free those States from their present entanglements.
– But suppose the Senate thinks that a better agreement could be made ?
– That is another point ; I am now dealing with the speech delivered by Senator Smith. The Government acted on the view that those agreements would probably in the end be very injurious to the Commonwealth, and that the best policy was to endeavour as early as possible to arrive at an arrangement by which the States would be freed.
– What do the Government propose to do when we are free from this agreement? Take one-half of the cabling business 1
– Under this agreement it is proposed that for twelve years the Eastern Extension Company and the Pacific Cable Board shall, so far as the Government are concerned, be in a position of equality ; the Government do not favour either. During the term of the agreement the Eastern Extension Company is to be bound down to their table of rates under the schedule, and the rates are the same as those charged by the Pacific Cable Board.
– The agreement is not bound to terminate in twelve years.
– The agreement only has binding force for that time. The con-, cessions which were made to the Eastern Extension Company by the colonial agreements are to be continued under the new. agreement, and that cannot be helped. The Prime Minister has, however, stated that he is willing to give the same concessions to the Pacific Cable Board if -desired. If the Eastern Extension Company employ canvassers, or have officers of their own, and transmit their messages over special wires, then the Pacific Cable Board may do the same, so that the cables may compete on equal terms.
– The Eastern Extension Company has a distinct advantage.
– “Will the Pacific Cable Board be able to give discounts 1
– No ; they are subject by the agreement to the articles of the International Convention, one of which is that the rates must be uniform.
– Are the Eastern Extension Company under the same obligation ?
– The Eastern Exten-_ sion Company, under this agreement, will te subject to the conditions of the International Convention.
– How can it be proved that the Eastern Extension Company do not give rebates 1
– How can that be proved in the case of the Pacific Cable Board ? Senator Smith told us that the Eastern Extension Company do this and that, of which we know nothing, is mere guess-work. I have no doubt that the Eastern Extension Company employ ordinary -business methods ; but the same methods may be used by the Pacific Cable
Board, so that there is fair competition. I think that Senator Smith, although he spoke at great length, has failed to disclose any particular in which the Pacific Cable Board will be prejudiced under this agreement. The Pacific Cable Board can only get the business’ that they obtain from cable users, and they may send out canvassers and advertise their rates, so that those of the public who choose may patronize them. I may mention incidentally that Senator Smith is quite mistaken in his reference to the discussion on the Post and Telegraph Bill, when the late Senator Sargood moved that all routed messages should. go by the route marked on them. Sir Frederick Sargood in moving his amendment said : -
This is in accordance with the agreement of the International Convention of Berne.
That was never contradicted.
– Did not the Minister for Defence oppose that amendment, and vote against it 1
– I did. The amendment was discussed, and defeated on the ground that it was one of the articles of the Convention. It is the practice at the present time, and always has been, for a telegram marked to go by a certain route to be sent by that route. As to the amendment, I can quite understand how the protests - if we choose to call them so - arose in New Zealand, Canada, and Great Britain, and how the request for a conference came to be made. New South Wales entered into the interminable agreement which has generally been disapproved of, and, as soon as the Postal and Telegraph Departments were transferred to the Commonwealth, a proposal was made that the Commonwealth Government should, on behalf of Victoria, sign the same agreement. The Government refused to adopt that proposal, and have refused all along. I have not the slightest doubt that as soon as it was known that the Federal Government had signed the agreement now before us, the bald fact that we had done so was cabled to our partners in the Pacific cable, .who naturally concluded that it was similar to that entered into by New South Wales.
– Mr. Chamberlain at first acquiesced ; but when he got the full text, he objected, and asked for a conference.
– The first idea conveyed to our partners was that we had
I entered into the agreement which had been so strongly objected to in the case of New South Wales ; and I can quite understand the protest. Then a protest came from Great Britain, and the request for a conference made by New Zealand and Canada was supported by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Honorable senators ought to bear in mind that, as I have shown from the New South Wales parliamentary papers, the terras of the draft agreement, before it was signed by any of the colonies, was communicated to Mr Chamberlain in 1899, and that Mr. Chamberlain, through the New South Wales Agent-General, approved of it, but suggested that a provision should be inserted tu provide against any increase of the rates. That suggestion was met by the insertion of article 20. I can quite understand that what was in the mind of Mr. Chamberlain at the time when he got by telegraph notice of what we had done, was that we had signed the agreement which the Commonwealth’ Government have all along refused to sign.
– Nothing of the sort.
– Then Mr. Chamberlain got communications from New Zealand and Canada, and he supported the request for a conference. But Mr. Copeland, the Agent-General for New South Wales, explained to Mr. Chamberlain what the agreement actually was, and the result was that Mr. Copeland now informs us that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has withdrawn his request for a conference.
– Have Canada and New Zealand withdrawn their request for a conference?
– I have no doubt that Canada and New Zealand will withdraw it when they know what the exact agreement is.
– There is no warrant for that supposition.
– The Government of Kew Zealand have read the agreement, -and it appears in their parliamentary papers.
– The point of view from which the matter is regarded by New Zealand and Canada - I cannot blame them -is that they are partners with us in the Pacific cable, and that their only interest is to increase the business in order to promote its chance of paying, and avoid the probability of having to make - up a deficit. But we are in a different position altogether. ‘
The Government of the Commonwealth represent six States, four of whom have entered into agreements with the Eastern Extension Company, and three of whom have become partners in the Pacific cable. The Commonwealth Government represent all these parties, and we may speak of them as trustees for the Western States, to look after the interests of the Eastern Extension Company, and as trustees, so far as revenue is concerned, at all events, of the other States, that have a corresponding interest iri the success of the Pacific cable. We hold, therefore, an entirely different position from Canada and New Zealand. Canada and New Zealand may come to us and say that we should do so-and-so, speaking entirely in the interests of the Pacific Cable Board, but we cannot take that view.
– It is a shameful thing to say so.
– The Commonwealth Government cannot take up that position, because, as representing’ three of the States as partners in the Pacific cable, and representing and acting for other States that are at the present time under agreements made with the Eastern Extension Company, in connexion with which their revenue to a great extent depends on the amount of business that goes over the Eastern Extension Company’s lines, we are in an entirely different position from Canada and New Zealand. I say that our duty in this matter was to reconcile the difficulties that had arisen, and to do equal justice to all the States of. the Commonwealth. It was purely a domestic matter for the Commonwealth Government to settle, and not a matter to be settled in conference with parties whose interests were not the same as the interests of the Commonwealth, whose interests were entirely on one side and not at all on the other side in this matter. The Government, therefore, quite apart from all other considerations, were quite justified in taking action, because they had all the facts at their hands. Canada could not tell us anything we did not know. New Zealand could not tell us anything we did not know, nor could the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and why therefore should we hesitate, having all the facts at our hands, and being the proper body to act in the interests of both parties, if I may use that expression ? It was for us as the Commonwealth .Government to settle this matter, and we have settled it’ in a way which I think is equally fair to the Eastern Extension Company, the Pacific Cable Board, Board, and the people of Australia.
– I wish to congratulate Senator Smith on his very able speech. I may say that I prefer the amendment of which I gave notice, because I think it places the position in a comprehensive and complete form, and would commend itself, if carried, to the members of the other Chamber. I am therefore glad to know that Senator Smith proposes, by leave, to adopt the terms I suggest. I cannot express my surprise in sufficiently vigorous language at the very great ingratitude shown by the Minister for Defence in his observations concerning Canada. I shall refer to the report of a speech made by Sir Sandford Fleming quite recently in Ottawa - a speech which, I think, will convince every member of the Senate who hears it, that the amendment proposed by Senator Smith is one which we must support. We have only at this stage been told by Senator Drake that Mr. Copeland has intimated that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has withdrawn his request for a conference. This debate will not conclude to-day, and I ask if the honorable and learned senator is willing, between now and Tuesday next, to send a cable to Canada, and another to New Zealand, asking them if they are prepared to withdraw their request for a conference ? The message would not cost very much, and we should be brought into complete touch with two of the parties who have protested most strongly against this agreement.
– If the expense stands in the way, we can defray it.
– Senator Drake is not likely to complain of the expense, because he will be able to send a message over the Pacific cable at 2s. a word, the rate for Government messages, and indeed he might even be able to send it without any expense at all. I should like Senator Drake, before the sitting closes, to answer that question. It is only fair to the Senate that what I suggest should be done. Senator Drake has sprung upon us this afternoon a cable from Mr. Copeland.
– No ; a private letter.
– But surely since Mr. Copeland sent that letter we have had other communications. We have had a communication from Mr. Seddon, dated 6th August.
– Is this an official letter ?
– No, it is not official.
– I think our standing orders require that all these letters shall be laid on the table.
– TheMinister should not make capital out of a letter which cannot be produced.
– The letter is dated 10th July.
– Senator Drake has told us this afternoon that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has withdrawn his request for a conference, but he knows from the printed papers which have been placed before us that Mr. Seddon sent a protest against the agreement dated 6th August, nearly a month later than the date of the letter to which he has referred.
– It was not fair to have made the statement when the letter could not be produced.
– The information has been introduced in a left-handed kind of way in order to induce honorable senators to reject the amendment proposed by Senator Smith.
– If the letter has been quoted it must be laid upon the table.
– Senator Drake did not quote the letter, he only referred to it. He says that it is a private letter, and that it cannot be brought before the Senate. That is not a fair way of doing business. If we had not probed into the matter we should not have known that this was a private letter or that it was dated 10th July. The honorable and learned senator led us to believe that he had just got word from Mr. Copeland, and when he made use of those terms we thought he had received a cable. The impression left upon the minds of honorable senators was that a cable on the subject had been received from Mr. Copeland since this question was dealt by the House of Representatives. I think it very wrongon the part of the Government to act in this way ; but it is only in keeping with their general attitude upon this particular question. What is the reason for all this secrecy and haste ? How is it that secrecy characterizes all the negotiations with this company? What do we find when we turn to the correspondence laid upon the table ? Do we find a series of letters passing between the Government and the Eastern Extension Company 1 No, there is hardly anything of the kind there. I think there are only two letters from the Eastern Extension Company, one from Mr. Warren, referring to Canada’s protest, and stating that the company can canvass, and the other a letter written to Mr. Atlee Hunt in reference to the Prime Minister signing this agreement. The Prime Minister and members of the Government in dealing with a company such as this, whose practices are known, should have had everything in writing. The moment the Eastern Extension Company approached the members of the Government, and asked that an agreement might be made, the Prime Minister should have said - “ Let me know in writing what you propose. Do not let us have any backstairs influence.” This company has too much backstairs influence and secrecy in its dealings. 1 hope honorable senators will not be influenced in any degree whatever by the fact that the Prime Minister has signed this agreement. We should dismiss from our minds any idea that if we do not- ratify the agreement the action we take will be a reflection upon the Prime Minister.
– He will resign if he is not supported.
– He “will not resign because the other House supported him without a division.
– The Prime Minister will not resign. This matter, I think, shows the advantage of the position which the Senate is in. We can discuss these matters quite apart from party considerations. There is no question of the Government resigning involved. We pass our resolutions, and when they go to the other Chamber they are acted upon or not as honorable members there desire. Unfortunately, owing to the party system, a threat of the Government resigning sometimes influences Members of Parliament to vote in a direction in which they do not believe. Senator Drake’s reference to Canada at this stage may well be met by Sir Sandford Fleming’s speech at a meeting of the British Empire League held at the old Bail way Committeeroom, House of Commons, Ottawa, on Tuesday, 19th May. The report of the speech appears in the British Empire Review for July 1903, under the heading of “ The Pacific Cable Dispute.” I find that Sir Sandford Fleming moved the following resolution : -
That the Canadian Government be requested toconsider the propriety of sending a Cabinet Minister or other person as Commissioner to Australia to endeavor to bring the partners in the Pacific cable to a mutually satisfactory understanding with respect to its working and other matters relating thereto.
In discussing this resolution, he said -
The reports of the discussion in the Senate and the telegrams which passed between the Commonwealth and the Dominion furnish painful reading, not only to every member of the League, but to hundreds of thousands who are not members. The matter in dispute affects the revenue derivable from the Pacific cable, but this is not the only consideration, important as it is. The financial question is trifling compared with the irritation and divergence of mind of the Governments of the people who have entered into partnership. The question is far wider than losses or profits of commercial enterprise. It is a matter which concerns the good faith and honour of closely-related. States.
I ask honorable senators to direct special attention to that point. Financial considerations, according to Sir Sandford Fleming, may be put on one side, as the question is far wider- than that. He says -
It is a matter which concerns the good faith and honour of closely related States ; and thedifficulty, if not removed by the influence of wise and generous counsels, may seriously affect the prospect’s of the British people, and the future of the Empire as a whole. It may, indeed, be regarded as the beginning of a family quarrel, the outcome of which no one can foretell. Much as the misunderstanding is to be deplored, it is the cause of rejoicing to the old enemy of the Pacific cable, if one may judge from press reports of the attitude of the chief officials of the Eastern ‘Extension Company at their annual meeting, recently held in London. As the result of long plotting, that company have, at length, achieved a double victory. They havenot only succeeded in taking from the Pacificcable its fair share of telegraph earnings, but they have managed by their machinations to get the owners of that undertaking atloggerheads. . . . The question which we may ask ourselves to-day is, how can the League serve Canada, ‘serve Australia, serve the Empire by seeking to remove the difficulty t In what way and to vhat extent can we inaugurate the blessed service of peacemaking? I respectfully submit that a remedy is possible, but the circumstances demand prompt action. The most likely means of reaching a better understanding is for Canada to moke an advanceto Australia by appointing a Commissioner, preferably a Cabinet Minister, to proceed at once to the Southern Commonwealth to confer fully and frankly with the Australian authorities on the whole subject. The Commissioner would learn on the spot by direct contact with the leading men of all shades of opinion much that could not be learned in any other way. As a delegate from Canada he would be listened to with th& utmost respect, and. he would be able to assure the Australians that at no time has Canada been actuated by an)’ narrow or unfriendly spirit ;
What a difference between the attitude of Sir Sandford Fleming towards the Commonwealth and that of the Minister for Defence towards Canada !, that her desire has always been and now is to cultivate the closest relations; that ever since the Colonial Conference of 1887, when the Pacific cable as a joint State enterprise received its first great impulse, Canada has been mainly moved by a patriotic and imperial spirit. The Commssioner will have it in his power to remind our southern friends and fellow subjects that when Canada initiated the movement to establish the Pacific cable the lowest cost o£ telegraphing between any part of Australia and Europe was 9s. 4d. per word, and that the charge tQ-day is 3s. per- word. Australians will not fail frankly to recognise that the saving to them of Gs. 4d. per word is in a great measure due to the persistent efforts of Canada. What does a saving of 6s. d. per word mean *1 According” to the last returns of telegram business which have reached Canada the total number of w.ords transmitted between Australia and Europe in 1901 was 2,330,515 words, and if this volume of traffic be reckoned at 6s. id. per word, we have it demonstrated that there is an actual gain to Australia of not less than £737,850 annually This is the first result of the efforts of Canada to become connected telegraphically with Australia.
Because lt is the first result of the efforts of Canada we ought to deplore the suggestion of Senator Drake that it is only interested in the financial aspect of this question,
– No ; what I said was that Canada is interested in the Pacific cable, and is not interested in the Eastern Extension Company.
– The honorable and learned senator said that Australia had no right to consider anything but its own interests. He said, in so many words, that Canada is only considering its interests - the question of the profits and losses of the Pacific cable.
– The honorable senator misunderstood me.
– I feel sure that the honorable and learned gentleman will find that statement recorded in his proof tomorrow morning.
– Oh, no ! What I said was that Canada is interested in only the Pacific cable, not in both cables.
– The impression which the honorable and learned gentleman conveyed to the minds of honorable senators was that Australia must look after its own interests because Canada is doing so. Now
Canada has shown all along that it has had in view not only its own interests but those of Australia and Great Britain.
– What I said was that this is a domestic matter for us to settle, as the honorable senator will find when he reads the report in Hansard.
– I believe that my recollection is right so far. Sir Sandford Fleming went on to say -
The Commissioner will, of course, take some means of pointing this out. Nothing will appeal more forcibly to the intelligence of Australians than such a striking fact. As far as my personal observation goes the people of Australia are much the same as the people of Canada; and I am quite sure that if the situation were reversed, if it could be shown that by any course of action Australia had in an)’ degree been the means of contributing to Our advantage to the extent of three and a half million dollars a year, Canada could only entertain the most kindly and grateful feelings towards Australia. Let us then rest satisfied with the conviction that a commission to our fellow subjects in the South will have no difficulty in winning their confidence and. friendship, and that any misunderstanding which now exists will be completely dispelled.
He then referred to a proposed arrangement for the transmission of press information across the Pacific cable, and declared that if it had been exchanged between the two countries, it would have prevented this agreement from being signed. From these eloquent remarks of Sir Sandford Fleming we learn what great force there is in the contention that a conference should be held before this agreement is ratified.
– lt appeals to Senator Dobson.
– I am satisfied that Senator Dobson will be found supporting the question from the Empire stand-point. We differ as to the headship of its different parts. He prefers the monarchical system while I favor the elective system. We .both believe, however, in bringing about a state of affairs in which this congeries of States, monarchical or republican, shall be worked in most complete harmony with each other. Surely, in connexion with the’ first agreement between the Commonwealth and other States, we should try to cultivate the most friendly relations, and not allow a feeling of irritation and bitterness to grow up amongst kindred people. What chance shall we have of developing better commercial relations with those countries if we break faith with them now, as they say we are doing 1 In another part of his speech Sir Sandford Fleming said there was no doubt that great difficulties had to be surmounted, and he was not prepared to utter a harsh word about the Commonwealth in that regard. Why should we show such anxiety to rush into the arms of the Eastern Extension Company when we may, if we have that desire, just as easily do so six months hence ? We have a right to allow the other partners to the agreement to be heard. The Prime Minister cannot complain if this amendment is carried. It does not say that the Parliament will refuse to ratify the agreement eventually, but merely that a conference should be held before the concurrence of the Senate is requested. Some persons may consider that it is a reflection upon the Prime Minister ; but I hold that in dealing with great public questions we should not be influenced by the personal feelings of members of Parliament. Sir Edmund Barton, although he is Prime Minister, is only an ordinary individual like ourselves or other members of the community. Surely, out of regard for his personal feelings, we are not going to perpetrate a great injustice, and to offend the people of Canada, the people of New Zealand, and a great number of people in Great Britain?It it is very true that Mr.Chamberlain at first does not appear to have offered any strong objection to the proposal. But it must be recollected that when the negotiations were begun, the South African war was in full progress. With 250,000 men fighting in South Africa, he had no time for considering such a project as the Pacific cable. What do we find on referring to the correspondence? We find that on the 22nd March, 1901, Mr. H. Bertram Cox addressed from the Colonial Office to the Secretary to the Treasury a letter, in which this passage occurs : -
If their Lordships concur, Mr. Chamberlain will be prepared in communicating the resolutions of the board to the representative? in this country of the several Governments concerned, to send also copies of this letter, and to suggest that their Governments appoint representatives for a special conference to consider the whole question with representatives of His Majesty’s Government.
– That letter was sent before this agreement was thought of. It referred to the old agreement which was signed by New South Wales.
– Was it very old ?
– I mean the old agreement as compared with this agreement. They were referring to the agreement signed by New South Wales, and dealing with a. proposal thatVictoria should sign it.
– We should not have heard anything of this matter if we had not gone into Committee. This old agreement which Senator Drake speaks about was signed by Mr. Crick on the 16th January, 1901.
– That is the agreement which this one supersedes.
– The ink was hardly dry on the agreement when this letter was written. Senator Drake, as PostmasterGeneral, knew of the existence of this letter in July 1901, as he told me in reply to a question the other day. . He knew in July 1901 that the parties were urging that a conference should be held before the agreement was signed. Although in 1901 the members of the Government were possessed of that information, still they took no action on the request of the Imperial authorities until, I think, the 26th April, 1903.
– The facts were that the New South Wales Government had signed the agreement, and the Commonwealth Government were asked to sign it on behalf of Victoria. There was no occasion for a conference.
-The point is that the honorable and learned senator knew very well that the parties to the Pacific cable objected to the New South Wales agreement. But although he and the Government knew that, no action was taken until the Government sent an answer to a telegram from the old country to say that they did not see their way to grant a conference.
– The Commonwealth refused to sign on behalf of Victoria.
– On the 6th of April, 1903, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth sent to the Agent-General for New South Wales this telegram : -
I have replied to Secretary of State declining proposal for conference. Consider that no good result can follow, and further delay must result. Position has to be faced as it stands. It is impossible to act as if New South Wales agreement of 1901 had not been made. Commonwealth is largest shareholder in Pacific cable, and insecuring limited term instead of interminable duration of existing contracts has cleared the way for future success of Pacific route. Consider that board would be well advised if they took steps to meet their rivals by employing commercial methods to secure business for the cable.
The point is that the Commonwealth Government has all along refused to grant the conference which these protesting parties asked for. “What possible . disadvantage could have accrued to the Government from a conference? .Of course Senator Playford hag all along been advocating the interests of his own State, as has been pointed out. He succeeded so well that at the 1895 conference he could well afford to be facetious about the result. That result was to delay the construction of the Pacific cable for five or six years.
– A . good job, from the point of view of South. Australia. We have lost a great deal over it as it is.
– I do not blame Senator Playford for fighting for the interests of his own State, but why should South Australia be considered at the expense of the other States? Western Australia has spent a large amount of money in the construction of the overland telegraph line.
– We spent £600,000 on the overland lines;
– And probably if South Australia had adopted’ more business-like methods they would not have cost so much. Western Australia has also constructed a land line costing hundreds of thousands of pounds; but the Commonwealth Government allow a clause to be inserted in the - agreement with the Eastern Extension Company by which that line will become practically useless. It was a disgraceful thing that the agreement should, ever have been signed on behalf of New South Wales. It was discreditable that any representative of that State should have been able to surrender the rights of New South Wales toon extent which binds the Commonwealth. It. would never have been done if affairs had been conducted in an open and above-board manner. But they were not so conducted. They were conducted in a secret and shameless fashion, which will be to the everlasting disgrace of the roan who agreed to fall in with the views of the* company. The company is prepared by fair means or foul - by cajolery, by flattery, by entertaining persons’ at banquets, and even by bribery, I believe, to gain its ends.
– The honorable senator could not prove that.
– I know I cannot prove it. There are certain things that cannot be proved. But I am not going to mince my words in regard to this company. It has been so successful in certain respects that there is no other inference to be drawn than that it was prepared to spend money to gain its ends. I repeat that nobody would have been disadvantaged by the conferenceasked for by the partners to the Pacific Cable. The Commonwealth did not ask for this agreement in the first instance. It was asked for by the Eastern Extension Company.
– No. My first knowledge of the subject was that the people of Victoria were clamouring for lower rates.
– The honorable and learned senator’s knowledge of this question seems to be more limited than it ought to bc If he will turn to Hansard, page 2779, he will find that, speaking on 29th July this year, the Prime Minister said -
The Eastern Extension Company approached us for the purpose of making an agreement.
– I speak from my experience when I say that when I took over the Department the clamour came from certain people in Victoria who wanted lower rates, because they were paying higher rates than were paid in New -South Wales.
– I think that, although the honorable and learned senator was Postmaster-General, he took a back seat in these negotiations. The company approached the Prime Minister personally, and I am quoting his own words. Does any one believe that the company would approach the Commonwealth, for on agreement if they did .not consider that they would not be advantaged by it ? Hitherto they have done nothing but exploit the States by means of their ‘monopoly. The Pacific Cable can do the business of the States just as well as the Eastern Extension Company. We can have a monopoly of the business in Queensland and in Victoria ; and the cable business from Melbourne is far more important than that of any other State, for the reason that Melbourne is the chief distributing port of Australia. It will be far better for us as a Commonwealth to run the risk of losing money by allowing the company to compete with the Pacific cable than to enter into this agreement which will last for .twelve years, and give them special consideration such as is proposed. ‘ I trust that the Senate will support Senator Smith in his demand for a conference. I hope to see the Victorian and Tasmanian senators especially eager in supporting him.’ Tasmania has been left out in the cold by the Prune Minister in his negotiations.
– ils the honorable senator going to compel the Secretary of State for the Colonies to agree to a conference?
– How did the honorable and learned senator know that the Secretary of State for the Colonies had withdrawn the request for a conference 1
– -By means of a private letter.
– Is it right .that the Minister .should tell us that he depends upon a private letter 1
- Mr. Copeland himself will be here before long. .
– Of what use will his presence be, so far as this question is concorned 1 I urge honorable senators to treat the matter as ohe of public concern, and to support the amendment. A great deal is at stake. A conference will bring about better relations between the three parties who are in partnership with us - Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain. The representatives of these countries will be able to hear what the representatives of Australia have to say, and the latter’s arguments can be met, and, if possible, refuted by the representatives of the’ other side. Then there is the possible gain that the representatives of Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain may be able to suggest to the Minister for Defence, if he be on the ‘conference, a better agreement, which will protect the Commonwealth against this powerful company.
– No doubt we shall get a better agreement if we have a conference.
– We shall get an agreement which the people can understand, and which may be construed in a proper way in a court of law. The present agreement is drawn up on such a plan that the company would be able to “pick holes in it,” in such a way as to lead to costly and useless litigation. There is’ .a great deal at stake. The parties to the Pacific cable have spent £2,000,000, and have undertaken to pay something like £75,000 per annum for 50 years in the interests of this cable, in addition to the cost of up-keep, and .so ‘forth. If we ratify this agreement the Eastern Extension Company may make the losses on the Pacific cable so large that the contracting parties will be glad to sell it as old wire, or get rid of it in any way, as a huge burden ; and, the Pacific cable destroyed, we shall once more find ourselves in the octopus grasp of the Eastern Extension Company.- .
– The Eastern Extension Company will then have a world monopoly.
– I hope that all personal considerations will be dismissed, and that this question will be decided on public grounds, and public grounds only.
Senate adjourned at 4.5 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 August 1903, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1903/19030814_senate_1_15/>.