10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands) took the chair at 8 p.m., and read prayers.
The number of men whoseservices were dispensed with was approximately -
Railways, including Grafton-South Brisbane Railway, 800.
Murray Water Works, 160.
Federal Capital Commission, 400 to 500.
Postal Department. - The dismissals have not been due to the curtailment o! loan expenditure, but mainly to the completion of large non-recurring works upon which men were employed, and a general falling-off in the applications for telephone subscribprs’ services.
Other Departments. - The curtailment of expenditure did not involve the dismissal of employees.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.On the 27th April Senator Findley asked the following questions, upon notice: -
When was the contract entered into for the building of the submarines Otway and Oxley?
What was the contract price for each submarine ?
Was the contract price exceeded; if so. to what amount?
When was the contract completed?
When did the submarines leave England?
Was it found that there were serious defects in both submarines before their arrival at Malta?
Are the submarines still at Malta?
If so, how long will they remain at Malta before the defects, if any, are rectified?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable senator as follows: -
31st March, 1925.
The contract price of Messrs. Vickers Limited for the construction of the vessels with certain fittings, &c, was ?294,396 per vessel. Other fittings, armament, ammunition, stores, alterations and additions, Ac, were estimated to cost ?145,546. per vessel, making the total estimated cost of each vessel ?439,942.
Certain alterations and additions to the specifications and plans were found necessary during the construction of the vessels; the work thus involved was additional to that contracted for. The extra cost is not yet known, but the estimated cost in (2) should not be exceeded. 4.H.M.A.S. Oxley, 22nd July, 1927, H.M.A.S. Otway, 9th September, 1927.
8th February, 1928.
Yes. When approaching Malta. It is confidently anticipated that with the alterations now being made by the contractors and at their expense, this difficulty will be overcome.
Approximately till the end of August, 1928.
I am now in a position to furnish the following replies: - 1. (a) £7,118,508; (b) £1,329,368.
The loan expenditure as stated above includes £120,000 advanced by the Commonwealth Bank for housing, and £51,603 advanced by the Commonwealth Bank by way of overdraft.
The expenditure from revenue, as shown above, includes £442,961, representing capitalized interest on expenditure on the Federal Capital up to the 31st December, 1924.
The expenditure, as stated, docs not include payments totalling £1,019,638 made from receipts and repayments received by the Commission. This amount consists mainly of receipts from sales of goods and manufactures, from transport and other services, &c. The expenditure represents mainly the cost of purchase of the goods sold, and the cost of manufacturing and - maintaining essential services, and does not represent ordinary expenditure on construction or maintenance.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration(Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. -
No. 10 of 1928 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
No. 11 of 1928 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
Norfolk Island - Report for the year ended 30th June, 1927.
Population - Statement showing number of years required to double the populations of the Metropolitan Areas and of the extra Metropolitan Areas ofthe different States according to the rates of increase operat ing during the periods 1902-11, 1912-21, and 1922-27.
Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 161.
[3.9].- (By leave.)- On the 8th March last the Prime Minister announced that a poll would be taken this year on the subject of liquor in the Federal Capital Territory. It has now been decided to take it on the 1st September next, which is the date of the forthcoming prohibition poll in New South Wales. An ordinance is now in course of preparation which will provide authority for the taking of the. poll and prescribing - a The qualifications of voters; b the method of voting; and c questions to be submitted to the poll.
Enrolment and voting will both be compulsory, and the qualifications and disqualificatons of voters will be the same as those of Commonwealth electors. This will mean, so far as the residential qualification is concerned, that voters will require to have lived in Australia for six months continuously, and to have lived in the Territory for one month immediately preceding the date of their enrolment. The questions to be submitted at the poll, and the order in which they will appear upon the ballot-paper, will be as follow : -
The method of voting and the conduct of the scrutiny will be the same as for elections for the House of Representatives. Voters will, therefore, be required to mark their ballot-papers in accordance with the system of preferential voting prescribed for elections for the House of Representatives, and the question in favour of which an absolute majority of votes is ascertained to have been recorded will be deemed to have been affirmed. Provision will be made for a further poll to be taken at such time as the GovernorGeneral determines after the expiration of five years from the date of the first poll. The preparation of a roll for the forthcoming poll will commence as soon as the necessary enabling ordinance becomes law, and the last date for enrolment will be the 4th August, four weeks before polling-day.
[3.15]. - (By leave.) - I desire to inform the Senate that the Government has requested Senator A. J. McLachlan to represent the Commonwealth as senior delegate at the forthcoming Assembly of the League of Nations, and that Senator McLachlan has consented to act in that capacity.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: -
Government. The Government does not intend to pay Sir Charles Nathan for his services, but will probably bear a proportion of his travelling expenses.
Senator McLACHLAN (South Austra lia [3.16].- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This is a short bill to make provision to enable a court in a State or part of the Commonwealth to obtain the evidence of a person who is undergoing a sentence of imprisonment in another State or part of the Commonwealth. It is proposed to add a new section 16a to the principal act. This section will provide that where it appears to any court of record of a State or part of the Commonwealth or to any judge thereof that the attendance before the court of a person who is undergoing sentence in any State or part of the Commonwealth is necessary for the purpose of obtaining evidence in any proceeding before the court, the court or judge may issue an order directed to the superintendent or other officer in charge of the gaol or place, where the person is undergoing sentence requiring him to produce the prisoner concerned at the time and place specified in the order. When this order is served upon the officer to whom it is directed, in whatever State or part of the Commonwealth he may be, he will be required to produce the prisoner, in such custody as he thinks fit, at the time and place specified. The court before whom the prisoner is produced may make such order as to the costs of compliance with the order as to the court seems just. Any person who is brought from one State or part of the
Commonwealth to another in pursuance of an order under the act will be deemed to be undergoing his sentence while in that other State or part of the Commonwealth, and the officer in whose custody he is will have the same powers in regard to him as the superintendent or other officer in charge of the gaol or place where he is undergoing sentence has in that State or part of the Commonwealth. This measure has been asked for by the States who have found difficulties in the administration of the law; the habeas under which they have moved has been thought by some of the legal and judicial authorities to be of doubtful authority.
Debate (on motion by SenatorNeedham) adjourned.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The State Laws andRecordsRecognition Act 1901, provides for the recognition throughout the Commonwealth of the laws, the public acts and records and the judicial proceedings of the various States. In some recent proceedings in respect of an offence committed in New Guinea difficulties arose in proving in Australia that a warrant issued by a justice of the peace in New Guinea had been so issued. To meet such cases in future it is proposed to amend the State Laws andRecognition Act with a view to placing the Territories in a similar position to that of the States in regard to the proof of documents issued in the various Territories. The effect of the various clauses of the bill is as follows : - Clause 2 amends the long title of the principal act to make it clear thatthe act applies to Territories as well as States. Clause 3 provides for certain consequential amendments. Clause 4 inserts a definition of “ Minister “, when used in relation to territories and defines “ Territories “ as including territories governed under a mandate. The definition of “ Courts “ is also extended to include Territorial Courts and Arbitrators, under Federal, State or Territorial law, and all other persons authorized by law to hear and examine evidence. Clause 5 requires all courts within the Commonwealth to take judicial notice of all ordinances of any Territory. Clause 6 requires all courts within the Commonwealth to take judicial notice of the seal of any Territory. Section 5 of the principal act requires all courts within the Commonwealth to take judicial notice of the signatures of persons holding various offices, that is, the office of governor, judge, commissioner of titles, &c. By clause 7 this section is to be extended to the signatures of persons holding similar offices in the Territories. Clause 8 amends section 6 of the principal act. This section relates to the proof in courts of proclamations, commissions, orders and regulations issued by the Governor of a State or by any minister of a State. It is proposed to extend the section to proclamations, commissions, orders and regulations issued in a territory by the Governor-General, or by the minister or other authority in the Territory. It is also proposed to insert a new provision to the effect, that proclamations, commissions, orders or regulations issued by the Governor-General or by the minister or other authority in a Territory may be proved by production of a copy or extract purporting to be certified to be true by any Minister. Clause 9 amends section 7 of the principal act, which relates to the proof of proclamations or acts of a State. It is proposed by the clause to extend this provision to Territories. Clauses 10 to 14 extend the provisions of sections 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13 of the principal act to Territories. These sections deal with the following matters: - Section 8 relates to the proof of certain public documents and records. Section . 9 provides that any public document which is admissible in any State without proof shall be admissible to the same extent in all courts within the Commonwealth. Section 10 deals with the production of any book or other document of a State. Section 12 makes provision for the proof of the Government Gazette of a State. Section 13 deals with the proof of documents printed by the Government Printer of a State. Clause 15 inserts a new provision to the effect that where under any lawin forcein a Territory the Governor-General or the Minister or some authority in the Territory is empowered to do and act, production of the Government Gazette of the Territory purporting to contain a copy of notification of the acts shall be evidence in all courts within the Commonwealth of the fact that the act has been done. Clause 16 adds a new section, 15a, which provides that a by-law or regulation of a Territory may be proved by the production of a copy of the by-law or regulation purporting to be printed by the Government Printer of the Territory. Clauses 17 to 20 extend sections 16 to 19 of the principal acts to Territories. Sections 16 to 19 deal respectively with the proof of incorporation of a company; the proof of judicial proceedings, and the faith and credit to be given to public documents properly authorized. Section 19 provides that the provisions of the act are to be in addition to and not in derogation of any powers existing at common law or under any law in force in any State. The measure is a non-contentious one, designed to improve the machinery of the law, and I commend it to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Need- ham) adjourned.
. -I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This is a somewhat lengthy and interesting measure, but I can assure honorable senators that it contains no new principle. Its purpose is to improve the working of the Post and Telegraph Act. In order that honorable senators may better understand the bill, I shall endeavour to summarize briefly the proposed amendments of the principal act. Clauses 1 to 5 contain provisions to change the designation of the permanent head of the department from that of Secretary to that of “DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs,” and that of the chief officer in each State from “Deputy Postmaster-General,” to “ Deputy Director, Posts and Telegraphs.” The present designation of the permanent head does not correctly indicate the nature of the position he occupies, or convey a proper indication of the responsibilities attached to the position. The new title is in conformity with that adopted in respect of certain other Commonwealth departments - for example, Comptroller-General of Customs and Director-General of Health. The new designations for Deputy PostmastersGeneral has already been adopted by the Public Service Board in connexion with the classification of the service, it being much more appropriate than “Deputy Postmaster-General which, in fact, is a misnomer. While in clause 6, section 23 of the act is repealed and a new section inserted in its stead, actually the provisions of the present section are only altered to a very slight extent and for the purpose of making the wording conform to recognized postal practice. Proposed new subsections (2) and (3) are new matter and are being added because under the existing law the PostmasterGeneral is not enabled to recover from thesender the difference between the postage paid and the correct postage on postal articles which it is found after delivery were irregularly posted at a lower rate of postage than that applicable to the articles. The enclosure in a newspaper of something which is not part of the newspaper itself, necessitates a higher rate of postage to be charged, and the same applies in the case of other classes of mail matter which contain what may be termed irregular enclosures. Under the act at present any article which it is discovered contains an irregular enclosureis taxed double the deficiency in postage, and the amount is payable by the addressee on delivery ; but if the fact that the article or a number of articles contained irregular enclosures does not come under notice until after delivery is effected there are no means by which the loss of revenue can be recovered. This weakness in the law will be remedied by the proposed addition, and, moreover, it will give the department the power to recover such loss from the person primarily responsible, namely, the sender. Theprincipal features of the amendments contained in clause 7 are a new definition of a newspaper for postal purposes, and the introduction of a new postal classification, “Periodicals,” for magazines, reviews, and other periodical publications which will not come within the classification of newspapers.
– Can the Minister say why church papers have been taken out of the definition of newspapers.
– The honorable senator will probably see the reason for that as I proceed. At present publications issued periodically come within two classes, termed newspapers and magazines respectively. Newspapers posted by the proprietors thereof or by newsagents are accorded an extremely low rate of postage, namely lid. per 20 ounces on the aggregate weight of the newspapers posted at the one time. This is known as the bulk rate of postage. There is no bulk rate of postage for magazines. These publications, whether posted by the proprietors thereof or by the general public are charged at the rate of Id. per 8 ounces for each magazine. The act at present provides that a publication issued once a month may be registered as a newspaper, and defines a newspaper as a publication which consists in substantial part of news and articles relating to current topics or of religious, technical, or practical -information. A newspaper; however, is what the term implies : a medium for the dissemination of news, not of stories, articles on technical or practical subjects, historical reviews, &c. These latter properly belong to a magazine, although if embodied in a publication, the primary object of . which is the dissemination of news, they would constitute no bar to registration as a newspaper. Obviously, from a practical viewpoint a publication which is issued less frequently than once a week is not a newspaper. The object of its issue is not the dissemination of news, but the cir-‘ dilation of matter other than news, and for that reason the designation newspaper is altogether inappropriate. Such a publication should rightly, both from a public and departmental standpoint, be classified as a periodical. For precedent we have the fact that in Great Britain and the United Spates of America a publication must be issued,,,at intervals of not more than seven days to be regarded as a newspaper. Likewise, in the Commonwealth War Precautions regulations a newspaper was defined as a publication issued daily or at intervals not exceeding one week. It is also worthy of mention that newspaper men themselves have supported this view in representations made to the department concerning postage. They said - “ Surely we have reached a time when, if a paper is not issued once in seven days, it is a magazine. It may be a useful production, but it can hardly be characterized as a newspaper.” Owing to the wide definition of a newspaper contained in the present act, publications which are not newspapers in the generally accepted sense of the word have had to be admitted to the newspaper classification, and at present there are large numbers of publications on the register which are actually magazines and not newspapers ‘at all; but because they comply to some extent with the wide definition of a newspaper contained in the act they cannot be removed from the register, nor can the department logically refuse to accept for registration publications of a similar character which are frequently submitted for registration in order to secure the benefits of the cheap rate of postage applicable to newspapers. The low rate of postage on newspapers, namely, l£d. per 20 ounces, is at the rate of one penny and one fifth per lb., and imposes on the department a very heavy financial burden which increases annually, owing to the increase in the circulation of newspapers, and the continual addition of publications to the register of newspapers. It must be remembered that the 20 ounces for which 1½d. postage is re- .ceived does not necessarily represent one package to be delivered to one address; but may and usually does consist of a number of newspapers making up that weight, each for an individual address anywhere within the Commonwealth. There are cases to-day where the department is called upon to accept, convey, and deliver each to a separate address, ai many as 80 newspapers for lid. To give this service, the following is involved : - The weighing, assessment of postage, the preparation of the docket on which the postage is brought to account, and the collection of the postage. The stamping and separation of the newspapers into groups for despatch which may, and most frequently does, involve two separate handlings - the carriage of the newspapers by rail or by coach. The sorting at the office of address and in many cases delivery at the residence of the addressees by postman. Obviously, the postage is in no way commensurate with the cost to the department in giving the service, and while it is in the interests of the community, and the will of Parliament, that the dissemination of news should be facilitated, even though it may involve a loss to the Postal Department, it is not right that rates of postage which are so unprofitable should be extended to publications which are not issued for the dissemination of news. If the cost of the newspaper post could be analysed in such a manner as to show the average cost of the treatment of each newspaper it would be found that the postage was actually below the cost of conveyance from the point of posting to the point of delivery, which as I have shown represents only a minor portion of the cost of the service. The amendments to section 28 of the act are designed to placethis matter on a satisfactory basis and to define as a newspaper only those publica tions which are newspapers in the generally accepted sense of the term; are issued at intervals of not more than seven days, and consist in substantial part of current news and articles or illustrations relating thereto or to other current topics.
– Does that cover all newspapers.
– I think so. To cater for the publications now registered as newspapers which are issued less frequently than once in seven days and for publications now classified as magazines, a new section 28a has been provided for in the bill. This section gives the publications referred to the classification of “periodicals” and the proposed amendment to the Post and Telegraph Rates Act provides for the following rate of postage for periodicals : -
Before going on to explain the effect of these alterations as regards publications which will thereby be removed from the newspaper class, I wish to stress the point that no publication which is at present registered as a newspaper and is issued daily or at intervals not exceeding one week will be any way affected. Such publications will remain in the newspaper class and continue to be transmitted at the existing rates of postage.
As it is intended to adopt a bulk rate of postage for periodicals posted by the proprietors thereof and by newsagents, the effect of the alterations will be merely an increase in postage of the nominal amount of1d. per 20 ounces or four-fifths of a penny per lb. On the other hand the application of this new bulk rate to magazines will give to the publishers thereof a concession not hitherto enjoyed. At present they pay at ‘the rate of1d. per 8 ounces on each magazine posted, but under the new rate they will pay2½d. per 20 ounces on the aggregate weight of the copies posted at the one time, which will reduce the postage on all magazines which do not weigh exactly8 ounces or multiple thereof. So far as the general public is concerned, the alterations will have practically no effect at all, the only difference being that publications now classed as newspapers will be subject to postage at the rate of1d. per 8 ounces instead of1d. per 10 ounces and very few, if any, of the publications which will be transferred from the newspaper to the periodical class exceed 8 ounces in weight.
Clause 8 provides the machinery for the registration of publications as newspapers and periodicals. Section 29 of the act as it stands at present covers only the registration of newspapers; but as it is proposed to adopt a bulk rate of postage for periodicals posted by the proprietors thereof and by newsagents it is necessary to have such publications registered for transmission at such rate in a similar manner to that hitherto followed in regard to newspapers. This clause also provides the machinery for the removal from the register of newspapers of those publications which by reason of their infrequency of issue or other cause will, no longer be eligible for inclusion in the newspaper classification. Their transfer to the register of periodicals is a formal matter which will be covered by the regulations and for which it is unnecessary to make provision in the act. In drafting the bill the provision in the present act giving the right of appeal to a court against the deregistration of a newspaper was dropped as the view was held that as the final decision on the question of registration rests with the Postmaster-General the decision as to whether a publication should remain on the register should, consistently, also rest with him. In view of the fact that this right of appeal has been in existence for a considerable period it has now been decided to retain it, and when the bill is in committee I shall move an amendment to that effect.
Clause 9 provides for an amendment to the section of the act which relates to the repayment of postage in cash instead of by means of postage stamps affixed to the article. The portion to dp deleted provides for something which cannot at present be complied with by the department, namely, the marking of each article with the full amount of postage paid thereon. . As honorable senators are aware there is at present a bulk rate of postage for newspapers under which postage is calculated on the aggregate weight of the newspapers posted at the one time, and as’ the postage is paid on the total weight of the whole consignment, obviously it is impossible to mark on each newspaper the amount of postage paid individually. A slight error which occurred in the drafting of this clause has just come under notice, namely, that the words “ and the postmaster,” which precede the words “ or other officer “ in the present section, should also be deleted. This will be rectified later. The additional matter which it is proposed to insert is rendered necessary because of the adoption of the franking machines in the Commonwealth, and as the conditions relating to the use of such machines provide for the payment in advance of the value of the impressions representing postage.
Clause 10 relates to the sale of precancelled stamps. Under the provisions of the present act the department is unable to avail itself of the advantages to be derived from the sale of precancelled postage stamps for use by firms posting large quantities of parcels, catalogues, &c, at the one time, and in consequence the postage stamps on articles which are too bulky to be passed through any stamp cancelling machine have all to be cancelled laboriously by hand. The treatment of this class of postal article is greatly expedited by the use of pre-cancelled stamps and the system is in force in many other countries. No fear need be experienced that the system is unsafe from a revenue viewpoint as the regulations regarding the sale of these stamps wi?3 provide for their disposal only to firms which make large postings arid a record will be kept of the names of firms authorized to use pre-cancelled stamps. Moreover, all postings bearing pre-cancelled stamps will be made at a prescribed office over the public counter and there will be other safeguards which will adequately protect the revenue against loss.
Under clause 11 it is proposed to insert in section 38 of the act a provision which will enable the department to deliver an A.E. registered article to the authorized representative or agent of the addressee. An A.E. registered article is one on which the sender has paid a special fee in order to be supplied by the department with a signed acknowledgment from the addressee that he has accepted delivery. At present the department can deliver an A.E. registered article, if posted within the Commonwealth, only to the addressee personally, and this restriction has been the cause of a good deal of difficulty. In some cases personal hardship to both the sender and the addressee has resulted and instances have occurred where the department has had to refuse to deliver a registered article to a properly and legally authorized agent, although the addressee had instructed that delivery of the article in question should be made to his agent. This restriction does not apply to A.E. articles posted to Australia from abroad, for the international postal regulations, in common with the practice in other countries, permit delivery to properly authorized representatives or agents. It is to remove the anomaly and to overcome the attendant difficulties that the proposed alteration is necessary.
In the main, clauses 12 to 14 relate to the treatment of postal articles hearing or containing something of an objectionable or improper nature, and make clearer the method to be followed when an article of such nature is discovered in the post. Experience has shown that the provisions of the present act in regard to matter of an objectionable or improper character are too restricted. It is therefore proposed to take this opportunity of stating more clearly the nature of the matter which properly comes within this category.
The provisions of the act in regard to the treatment of undeliverable postal articles containing valuable or saleable enclosures are unwieldy. Clause 16 sets out to remedy this defect. At present anything of a valuable or saleable nature must be returned to the sender from the Dead Letter Office by registered post. Under a literal interpretation of the act anything of a saleable nature, no matter how small its intrinsic value, must be dealt with in this manner. Such a provision is unnecessary, and it is now proposed that only articles containing enclosures of such value as would render compulsory the registration of the article at the time of posting shall be forwarded from the Dead Letter Office by registered post.
The amendment proposed under clause 18 is to reduce the period for which telegrams and other official documents shall be retained prior to destruction. The present provisions, requiring the documents to be held for a period of two years, necessitate the use of a considerable amount of floor space for storage purposes, which, in many buildings, is needed for working purposes. As experience has shown that a document over one year old is rarely required, it is proposed to reduce the period of retention from two years to one year. The period will meet all necessary requirements. It will be noticed that in the case of transit or tape recorded telegrams the proposed period of retention is three months.
These records are required only for de partmental purposes, and such period of retention is all that is necessary.
At present the maximum amount for which a money order can be obtained is £20. If an order for a larger sum is required, two or more orders must be issued. Clause 20 increases the maximum to £40. This provision will be a convenience to the public, and should result in a saving of time and labour in the issuing of and accounting for money orders.For many years other countries, including Great Britain, have had a similar maximum for domestic money orders, and, apart from the provisions of the present act, there is no reason why the Commonwealth should not follow suit.
The remaining clauses, contain nothing of a contentious nature ; they are merely amendments of a formal character, which have been found advisable in the interests of the service.
Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In the main the amendments proposed in this bill are of a purely formal character, and are consequent upon the amendments to the Post and Telegraph Act in regard to newspapers and periodicals. The only features which appear to call for comment at this stage are those covered by clause 5, sub-paragraph (d), and the new part 1a - Periodicals - which it is proposed to insert in the first schedule to the act.
Clause 5, sub-paragraph (d) proposes the deletion from the present act of the provision giving the concession of bulk rate of postage to newspapers returned to the publishing office by news vendors and agents. Investigations have disclosed that this provision is practically a dead letter, of which advantage is seldom taken. In any case, thereis no justification for returns to be transmitted at the low rate of postage which was adopted by Parliament for the express purpose of assisting in the dissemination of news to the people of Australia. The application of the bulk rate of postage to returns is unquestionably a concession rate to newsagents only, which is not justified, seeing that the returns are forwarded to the publisher merely for the purpose of obtaining a refund in respect of unsold copies of a journal. The new part 1a of the first schedule sets out the proposed rates of postage for “ Periodicals.” Briefly stated, such rates are as follow: - (a) Posted by proprietors and newsagents, 2½d. per 20 oz. on the aggregate weight; (b) posted by the general public,1d. per 8 oz. for each periodical. The classification “Periodical “ will embrace publications, now registered as newspapers, which are issued less frequently than once in seven days, and publications now classified as magazines. The transfer to the “ Periodical “ classification of publications now registered as newspapers which are issued less frequently than once a week will only nominally increase the present rate of postage. Actually, the increase in postage will be only1d. per 20 oz., or four-fifths of a penny per lb. On the other hand, the proprietors of publications now classified as magazines will obtain the advantages of a bulk rate of postage calculated on the aggregate weight’ of each posting instead of, as at present, the postage being calculated at the rate of1d. per 8 oz. for each magazine. This will reduce the postage on all magazines which do not weigh exactly 8 oz., or a multiple thereof. So far as the general public is concerned, the alterations will have practically no effect, the only difference being that publications now classed as newspapers will be subject to postage at the rate of1d. per 8 oz. instead of1d. per 10 oz., while very few, if any, of the publications which will be transferred from the “ Newspaper “ to the “ Periodical “ class exceed 8 oz. in weight. For publications which are not at present registered as newspapers - magazines - there will be no increase in postage, as the rate of postage for “ Periodicals “ posted by the general public is1d. per 8 oz. for each periodical, which is identical with the existing rate for magazines.
Debate (on motion by Senator Need- ham) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 27th April(vide page 4451) on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce -
That the paper be printed.
Upon which Senator Needham had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words in the motion after the word “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ in the opinion of the Senate the Government by the sale of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers has sacrificed valuable public assets andhas placed Australian producers, shippers, and our people generally at the mercy of the shipping combine.”
.- Under existing conditions the shipping companies cannot expect to do more than make a fair profit on the capital invested. We have been told that freights between Australia and Great Britain would be kept down for the benefit of the Australian primary producer by continuing the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, even if we sustained a loss in doing so. But that is contradicted by some figures which were given by the Minister for Markets (Mr. Paterson), in another place, and which, in the long debate that followed, remained unchallenged. The Minister showed that without incurring any loss through running State-owned steamers, New Zealand by means of the ordinary competition of shipping companies was scoring an advantage over Australia in the matter of freights. He said -
From Auckland to London via the Panama Canal is 110 miles further than the distance from Melbourne to London via the Suez Canal, so that it cannot be said that any advantage enjoyed by New Zealand in respect of freight rates is because of its nearness to the market. Yet on the three commodities which the dominion exports in competition with Australia - dairy produce, lamb, and wool - it has an advantage. The freight rate on Iambs is 1.25d. from Australia and 1.18d. from New Zealand. In regard to wool, notwithstanding that Australia is very much the greater exporter, New Zealand has a slight advantage, the rates being 1.04d. as against l.06d. On butter, the rate is 4s. a box from both countries, but New Zealand enjoys the bigger discount. Until the recent arrangement was made by the Butter Export Control Board Australia received no discount, while New Zealand has been enjoying a discount of7½ per cent. for years, and in 1929-30 will benefit by a discount of 124 per cent.
The arrangements recently made by Australia will give to our shippers only part of that advantage. We shall get a discount of 2J per cent, if we export 40,000 tons and over; of 5 per cent, if we export 55,000 tons and over, and of 7i per cent., or the New Zealand rate, if we send away more butter than we have sent previously “in one year. New Zealand has an advantage over us in regard to dairy products.
He also showed that Tasmania was not deriving any great advantage from the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, because it carried only 10 per cent, of the cases of fruit despatched from Tasmania to the British market. We have little to gain by continuing these steamers for the purpose of securing low freights for our primary producers. On our particular lines of produce Kew Zealand enjoys an advantage over Australia.
It is true that a private company could not hope to run against a country owning its own vessels and cutting freights. If Australia continued to run its own vessels and cut freights, the only result would be to compel the private concerns to provide us with inferior, instead of up-to-date vessels. There is at present ample competition among private companies. Lord Kylsant and Lord Inchcape are engaged in a strenuous fight all the world over, and I think the people of Australia can rest assured that out of the competition now prevailing they will get a fair deal.
The terms of the contract between the Commonwealth Government and the White Star line provide for a guarantee that the vessels taken over will be run in the Australian service for ten years without any increase of freight except with the sanction of a local committee, on which no doubt the primary producers will be amply represented. What better guarantee can we have for the maintenance of an adequate service between Australia and Great Britain without any loss to us?
The vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line are getting out of date.
– They have been running for five or six years without a break. Any shipping concern that wants to keep its vessels up to date must dock them occasionally to prevent deterioration. But the Australian Commonwealth Line has not one steamer in reserve to take the place of another that requires docking. I am very much afraid that when our steamers are taken over by the White Star line they will need to be overhauled. The expenditure the company will have to incur in this regard will mean a saving of many hundreds of thousands of pounds to Australia.
Senator Findley, when speaking, waved his arms and said, “ The loss incurred by the Government in running the Line does not matter.” That is so, from his standpoint. He does not mind if a loss is incurred on any State enterprise, and the party with which he is associated looks at these enterprises from the same view-point. All the shipping enterprises controlled by the various State Governments are run at a loss. It seems to me that the main object in establishing these ventures is to find soft jobs for a few people. What is the attitude of the unions towards them ? They say, “ We shall run the ships to suit our own convenience, and hold them up whenever we like to do . so, loss or no loss.” Many people in Australia agree with Senator Findley that it does not matter what loss is sustained by any enterprise that is nationalized, so long as it is run in the interests of a section.
When, in 1925, the Government endeavoured to dispose of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, not a single tender was received on the conditions which were at that time laid down. Evidently no one was anxious to secure the vessels on the terms then laid down. On this occasion only one tender worth considering has been received. If these vessels are the bargain that my friends opposite declare them to be, other acceptable offers would have been received. The fact that only one tender was received on the condition laid down - that the vessels must be retained on the British register - is the best proof of the real value of the Line. Australia is a growing place; its production is greater than ever before, and its overseas trade is likely to increase. Surely a line of vessels engaged in carrying Australian produce to overseas markets would be likely to find plenty of purchasers if they were the bargain that my friends opposite have said they are. The Public Accounts Committee has shown us that Australia suffered a loss of £220,000 a year by running the steamers on Australian articles, and that this loss would have been converted into a profit of £30,000 if the crews had been on British articles. On Friday I said that I was never in favour of these vessels being run on the Australian register, because I recognized that they could not compete with Other lines.
– What about the Queensland sugar competing with cheap sugar grown outside Australia?
– The sugar question is quite a different matter. If we are to have a White Australia, we must pay for it.
– It is a Queensland matter.
– It is not a Queensland matter. In order to have a White Australia the Commonwealth Parliament deprived the Queensland sugargrowers of cheap labour, and if the growers had not been compensated in some other way, they would have been compelled to cease growing sugar-cane.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - The honorable senator is wandering from the question before the chair.
– I thought it was necessary to enlighten the darkness of my friends opposite in regard to sugargrowing in Queensland, and to show that the principle involved was really that of maintaining a White Australia. It also affects our overseas trade, because we subsidize the Orient Company to carry our mails with white crews.
We have been told by a union official that if the vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line are sold and run on British articles, the Seamen’s Union will take steps to declare them “ black “ and make all the trouble possible. As one who has read that statement, and also the statement of the Prime Minister in the other House, I trust that the Government will take a very firm stand upon this matter. I do not know to what extent Mr. O’Neill represents the Seamen’s Union, but it is just about time that the Government informed Mr. O’Neill and other members of the union, that the will of Parliament must be supreme, and that the interests of the country will be guarded. I think that the Government and the Arbitration Court have been extremely lenient to the maritime unions in dealing with troubles caused, particularly in regard to this Line. It is disgraceful, having regard to the excellent treatment of the members of the Seamen’s,, Union, and the high wages they received on the Commonwealth ships, that they should have destroyed the Line. Their behaviour has forced the Government to get rid of the ships altogether. The union says that it will declare the ships black, but I trust that the Government will teach Mr. O’Neill and his friends that the will of Parliament is supreme. I shall be behind the Government in any action which it may take to make the unions obey the law. Under the constitutional means provided through their representatives in Parliament, the unions have had full opportunity to make their protest against this sale. A majority of Parliament has decided that these ships are to be sold. We are being paid for them and conditions have been inserted in the agreement that they are to be kept on the Australian route, and that they will continue to carry Australian cargoes. Any company which takes over the ships on that understanding is entitled to full support from the Government, and an assurance that it will be granted the necessary facilities for carrying on trade. The unions are going just a little too far.
Our friends opposite say that the sale of these vessels is going to be a good election cry. They are quite welcome to it. Personally I feel sure that the majority of the electors of Australia are glad that the Government is getting rid of the ships, and I am sure that they will be behind the Government in any action that is taken to enforce the law. I am certain that I represent public opinion in my State when I urge the Government to take whatever steps are necessary to see that the company which has purchased these ships is given a fair deal.
– I have listened with interest to the remarks of speakers who have favoured the sale of these vessels. One honorable senator declared that the purchasers had secured a star bargain.
I should not call it a star bargain; I should say rather that it was an Easter gift. The vessels were given away, they were not sold at all. Other Government enterprises have been sold just when they were making a handsome profit.
– Can the honorable senator tell us who would have “given us more for the ships?
– Perhaps Senator Chapman might be able to tell us. I maintain that the disposal of these ships was an absolute gift to the White Star Line by the Commonwealth Government. My friend Senator Reid has said that his State is behind him in the attitude he has taken up on this matter; I can say with equal emphasis that my State is behind’ me in my attitude. It is no use” now opposing the sale, because the ships have been already sold, but I wish to express my disgust at the terms upon which they have been handed over. When the sale was being considered in 1926, the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) expected to receive for them much more than has been obtained, and the depreciation on steamships is _ not so great as is represented by the difference in- price. This transaction is an absolute crime on the part of the Government. If the ships were to be sold at all an adequate price should have been obtained for them. Senator Reid says that there was .only one genuine tender. It was patent to everybody that there was an honorable understanding among the shipping lines on the other side of the world that there would be only one tender.
– Who told the honorable senator that?
– I am telling the honorable senator now.
– The honorable senator has no proof of that.
– I have proof of it. These ships compare favorably with any vessels of their type. They have been so constructed as to carry eight 8-inch guns in case of emergency. Any of these ships could have out-distanced the Emden.
– They will still be available for defence purposes.
– No, they will not. We have an understanding with the company that the ships will run on the Australian route for ten years, but there is a provision that a committee may be approached for an increase in fares and freights. It is quite evident that freights and fares will go up, and the people of this country will have to foot the bill. The. ships are passing out of the hands of the Australian people to whom they originally belonged. The people of Australia paid £7,500,000 for the “Bay” liners, and now they, with two others, have been sold for £1,850,000.
– Does the honorable senator know of any enterprise that ever did any good once it was nationalized?
– These vessels may be compared with the railways. There is not a railway system in any State which is actually paying, but they are being maintained because they are essential services.
– I wish that a White Star line would buy the Queensland railways.
– The capacity of these ships, as far as refrigerated space is concerned, is second to none. The Line has been instrumental in keeping down freights between here and Great Britain. We have been told by Senator Reid that industrial unrest, fomented by the Seamen’s Union, has been responsible for the failure of the Line. That is not correct. There has been less industrial trouble on the Commonwealth Line of Steamers than on any other line during the last three years. The disagreement and unrest amongst the members of the Shipping Board has really damned this :Line in the eyes of the exporters. In 1926, when Mr. Larkin came back from Great Britain with an offer for the fleet, it was not opportune just then to accept it, and the Line carried on. The fact that the sale of the Line was being considered created an atmosphere of fear and distrust amongst the exporters. They were frightened to continue supporting it lest, when it went out of operation, they .would be unable to obtain space . on the other lines. It was this fear, rather than any industrial unrest, which was responsible for the falling off of trade. The ships of the. Commonwealth Line were built so as to enable them to carry certain armament, and on that account they are more valuable to the purchasers than other vessels would be. Some of them are only five or six years old. Senator Reid says that they could not be docked because there were no vessels available to take their places. The fact that they have been running for that period without being docked speaks volumes for their construction, especially when we remember that the two submarines recently built at Home, have had to be docked for repairs on their way out to Australia. When the ships first started on the Home route, they carried full cargoes on every trip, but now, owing to the stampeding of shippers to other lines for the reason which I have stated, they are not able to get sufficient cargo.
– These ships have always run with full cargoes.
– Since the sale of the Line the other shipping companies have reduced freights on dried fruits, wool, apples, and other items of cargo. This has been done on the condition that they obtain a guarantee of 70,000 tons of cargo. The Bulletin dealing with the operations of the Commonwealth ships stated a bulletin issued by the Federal Parliamentary Country party says that the ships last year carried only 11 out of every l,000bags of wheat, 23 out of every 1,000) bales of wool, 5.7 per cent. of flour and pollard, 2.6 per cent. of beef, 12.9 per cent. of mutton, and 12.1 per cent. of lamb. Why? Because the refrigerated space was not sufficient.
– Wheat is not carried in refrigerated space.
– I know it is not, but refrigerated space was necessary for many other classes of cargo that were offering. The ships of the Commonwealth Government Line were responsible for reducing the time occupied during the journey between Australia and Great Britain from 30 days to 28 days, Their presence on the run kept other companies up to the mark. Yet they have been practically given away to the White Star Line.
-The Line refused to call at Hobart for Tasmanian apples.
SenatorGRAHAM.- The Seamen’s
Union could not be blamed for that decision. The responsibility for failing to lift Tasmanian apples must rest with the management. Senator Verran asked me just now if I knew of any nationalized undertaking that could show a profit. Many government-controlled enterprises are paying, as the honorable senator knows. The Geelong Woollen Mills were highly profitable before Senator Guthrie and his friends secured them.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands.). - Order ! The honorable senator must confine his remarks to the motion before the Senate.
-I have no wish to disobey your ruling, Mr. President, but I should like to emphasize that the Geelong Woollen Mills paid handsomely up to file time that they were sold. Unfortunately, everything that this Government has touched has proved a failure. Full credit has not been given to the Commonwealth Government Line for its, influence in keeping down freights from Australia to Great Britain. Even if it were considered necessary to sell the vessels, the Government should have obtained at least £3,000,000 forthem.
-If this Government could not make the ships pay, a Labour Government certainly would fail to do so.
-Senator Reid need not be so bitter against the Labour administrations, in Australia.
– The successive Labour Governments in Queensland may be regarded as an illustration of what happens when governments engage in private enterprise.
-Queensland is doing verywell at the expense of the rest of the other States. The sugar industry in that State has been bolstered up to the extent of£ 3,000,000. A great deal of hard cash has been given to the Queensland growers by way of bounties to enable them to export their surplus sugar. It is little short of a crime that theCommonwealth Government Line of Steamers should have been sold for such a paltry sum to the White Star Line. There is not the slightest doubt that before long freights and fares will be increased, because the combine now has the people of Australia at itsmercy.
.- It was inevitable, I supposethat a long and animated debate should take place over the decision of the Government to sell- the Commonwealth ships.
– The debate has not been long and, so far, it has not been animated. :
– The honorsenator, at all events, spoke at some length, and appeared to be at least semi-animated; but I shall take his word for it that he was not. The Government decided, after the fullest inquiries, that it was in the best interests of Australia that the ships should be sold. I expected, and my expectations have been realized, that those who were opposed to the sale of the vessels would object to the price obtained; but I feel sure that the people generally will consider that, in the circumstances, it is very fair indeed. In this matter we have to consider the value of the ships to the sellers in the first place, andi to the buyers in the second place ; . and if
Ave examine the causes that were responsible for the Government’s decision to sell, I think Ave must come to the conclusion that the Government and the people of Australia have got out of an impasse very well indeed. The price offered by the successful tenderer is in the neighborhood of £270,000 for each ship. If honorable senators W111 bear in mind the price of shipping throughout the world, and consider -.also the. age of the vessels sold, they will”, I am sure, agree with me that the price received is essentially a fair one. Let us examine the value of the ships to. the sellers - the people of Australia. I do not know how honorable senators can describe as a valuable asset- a Line that is systematically losing £500,000 or more a year. ..Any capital value which can be put upon such vessels must be in the -nature of a minus quantity, in view of the hopelessness of making them pay under Government control.
It has been pleaded as a reason for the continuance of the Line that it has been of immense advantage to the producers of Australia ; but I should like to emphasize that wheat and wool, our greatest exportable primary products, have never been exported to any considerable extent in bottoms of the kind represented by the Commonwealth Government Line. Those vessels carried only 1 per cent, of Australian wheat. A fair quantity of wool is carried to the United Kingdom in vessels of the type represented by the Commonwealth vessels which have lately been disposed of, but the figures show that they secured only 2.3 per cent, of our exports .of that commodity. If the vessels were of such immense value to the primary producers of Australia, we would naturally have expected those two sections of primary producers to make some effort to retain the Line. Certainly we should have expected them to ship more of their produce by the Government steamers, in an endeavour to prolong the life of the Line. Other primary products were sent away in these vessels in the following proportion: - Flour, 5.7 per cent.; beef, 2.6 per cent. ; mutton, 12.9 per cent. ; and lambs, 12.1 per cent. The balance of our export trade in those branches of primary production was exported in vessels under private control.
An examination of the facts discloses that the primary producers, whom I notice honorable gentlemen opposite are endeavoring to rally to their support in opposing the action of the Government, have not responded so readily as might have been expected of them, assuming that the Line was of such importance to them. Naturally they looked at the matter from a business point of view. They either got better terms from other private shipping companies, or for some other reason of which I know nothing, they did not ship their produce in greater quantities by the Commonwealth Government ships. As a matter of fact, these vessels have had a fair proportion of the trade outwards from Australia to the United Kingdom, and have had wonderfully good cargoes from the United Kingdom to Australia. Almost invariably they have had 80 per cent, of their cargo space occupied on the run to Great Britain, and very often have returned with full cargoes. In these circumstances,
Ave have to look elsewhere for the reasons that have been responsible for their failure under Government control. The reason, as honorable senators know, is that the ships have been running under Australian conditions, which may be very good as long as their activities are confined to the Australian trade, but put them out of court immediately they meet outside competition.
– That applies to every industry in Australia.
– It does. While we persist in imposing artificial restrictions of labour on Australian industries, and back them up by absolutely ridiculous and tyrannical tariffs, those conditions will apply. The party to which I have the honour to belong is not alone in its determination to impose high tariffs. Honorable gentlemen opposite, if they were in power, would, I believe, enact even higher protective duties in respect of many industries. I hope, Mr. President, that you will pardon me for apparently disgressing; but after all, what I am saying is not really a digression, because the protective policy in Australia is inextricably interwoven with the subject now under discussion.
Some time ago the Public Accounts Committee made a careful investigation of the position of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers, and issued what I consider is an absolutely true and unbiassed statement concerning the conditions under which they were run as compared with ships’ in other parts of the world. It is most interesting to see what these conditions were. Honorable senators will find them set out on page 11 of the report, at the bottom of which there is the following paragraph, which has a distinct bearing on the sale : -
Taking Australian wages and conditions as at £100, the Committee was informed-
This is the result of the unbiased research of officials of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers - that in respect of a vessel of 6,000 tons gross the British wages would be £32.41 ;-
That is less than one-third - the American, £42.21:-
That is less than one-half, but is of little interest as our maritime trade with America is almost negligible - the Swedish, £24.51;-
That is getting down to one-fourth - and the Danish, £15.44, but since those figures were prepared, the Australian rates have been increased by 5s. a month per rating.
Another element has to be considered in this connexion. Since the report was prepared, the Scandinavians, particularly the Swedes and Norwegians, have made their appearance on the seas with motor ships on which the wages paid are less than one-fifth of those paid under the Australian conditions, and with these the Australian Commonwealth Line has to compete.
Let us consider for a moment - I know every one wishes to be fair - what has been done by the men who enjoy these labour con,dition, to justify their continuance. When we come down to hard facts we should at least expect an adequate return for conditions such as these men enjoy. Let us take, for instance, the employment of white labour as against coloured labour. White labour, which is employed on nearly all the ships which come to Australia, is paid more than coloured labour, because fewer white sailors are required. Is that the case in! connexion with the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers? It is not. We find if we institute a comparison, that the position is very instructive. Figures supplied to the Public Accounts Committee showed that the “ Bay “ steamers under . Australian conditions carried a complement of 170, at a cost, including overtime and leave, of £3,725 per month, while a vessel of similar class on the British register carried a complement of only 154, at a total monthly cost of £1,654. Leaving wages out of consideration, how does it arise that the number of men employed on vessels under the Australian register, where the wages are higher and presumably the value given should be greater per man, is greater than on ships under the British register? It is very evident to me that these conditions have not had the effect of stimulating Australian seamen and other ratings to the extent that might be expected in view of the higher remuneration paid.
It is peculiar that these persons do not seem to be able to stand success. They have succeeded in securing conditions beyond the expectations of any maritime employees in the world They have secured conditions the like ofwhich the world has never seenand which, Idoubt, the world willever see again. Jeshurun is mentioned in the Old Testament as having “waxed fat and kicked.” These men have also waxed fat and kicked.
– And they keep on kicking.
– Yes, and, to use an Americanism, are kicking right now, as ships running on the Australian coast are being held up owing to the recalcitrant behaviour of one or two cooks. Let me give an instance of how little these gentlemen whoattend to the culinary needs of passengers, have need to grumble. There are men within the precincts of the House who can hear me out when I say that on a ship on which I travelled the cook drew a few pounds more permonth than the captain of the vessel. Is that a fair thing? It is a comic opera proposition.
– The cook is an important member of a ship’s complement.
– I presume he is or he would not be there. But the captain is also a most important member of a ship’s complement and surely he should be paid for skill he possesses and the training he has undergone. I may say that I hadno great admiration or enthusiasm for the resultant efforts of this overpaid cook. They left a great deal to be desired, but he kept on drawing a few pounds more a month than the captain, which, as Euclid would say, is a reduction to an absurdity.
– It is tragic rather than comic.
– Yes, it is tragic comedy, but that is the sort of thing that is happening. After an experience of some years, I believe-and I am glad to see the Government also believes - thatthe people have become utterly sick of this state of affairs. In circumstances which involve Competition with the rest of the world it is absolutely obvious that when competitors are paying in wages somewhere about one-fifth of what the Line has been paying, we should not endeavour to continue to derive benefit from the existence of the Line. The Government has acted wisely and, in my opinion,has been very fortunate to get out of the awkward position in which it found itself, as well as it has on this occasion.
A great deal has been said of what the Line has done in keeping down freights. It has done very little. It has carried an inconsiderable percentage of the goods to and from Australia. The shipping combine to which, my friends opposite so frequently refer, could at any time have driven the vessels of this Line off the water had it so desired. Did it do so? It did not. I do not say that it refrained from so doing from altruistic principles. I think honorable senators opposite have a false idea of what the shipping combine really is. A combine may be described as a number of persons bound together with the object of opposing others. What is the position in connexion with these shipping companies?
– There is an honable understanding.
– The honorable senator knows very well how the Conference was described before the Public Accounts Committee of which he was then a member. The report of that committee made it evenmore palpable than before, that it was impossible to continue the Line. He will also remember that the CommonwealthShipping Line authorities were as much in the Conference as were other companies, He must further remember that the Conference consisted of various shipping companies. It was a most elusive sort of thing, because shipping companies would slip in and out of it, as it suited their intentions, like rabbits in and out of a burrow. When they wished to do anything contrary to the wishes of other members of the Conference, they would slip out.
– If the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers had not been operating the Conference would have bad its own way.
– I do not think so. I am inclined to agree that it is true that the Commonwealth Line was able to give betters terms as a result of being a member of the Conference; but if the Conference had so decided, the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers would not have continued as such, for many months. It hadthe power and the money to chase the Commonwealth Line off the water. It did not do so. It did an approximately f air thing. Reductions in the freight on wool were not brought about by the Commonwealth Line, but by other shipping companies, and the reduction in the freight on butter by New Zealand. No doubt these reductions have been credited to the Commonwealth Line.
I wish to give it credit for working ‘as it has Tinder a huge weight and an absolutely staggering overhead ‘expenses in- the matter ‘of management. It has struggled against these obstacles and against a set of competitors who were absolutely neglectful of it rather than opposed to it. If we capitalized ‘the annual loss of £500/000 a year at 5 per cent., it would represent £10,000,000, which means, from a business viewpoint, that we are £10,000,000 to the bad, to which must be added £2,000,000, making a total of £12,;000,;000. We have incurred a loss of practically £12,000,000 during the time the Line has been in operation. In these circumstances we are well out of the difficulty, and I do not think the people of Australia will have anything to grumble at, neither will they complain at the amount fixed for repatriation. If there is one matter in which the Government has done well, it is in connexion with the cost of repatriating the ‘crews. I understand that an allowance of £50,000 has been made for repatriation. For the repatriation of whom? The repatriation ‘of ‘a number of seamen, stewards and engine-room men who I do not suppose wish to be repatriated.
– Most of them live in England.
– Yes, it is most instructive to see how these marvellous conditions have been taken advantage of by the seamen of Great Britain. Take, the classes for which these conditions were established. Who have been making the most noise since the Navigation Act and Commonwealth Conciliation . and Arbitration Acts have been in operation? Putting them in their order of merit - or demerit - they are: the stewards, the deck hands, and the engine-room complement. I place the engine-room complement last because these vessels, being nearly all oil burners, employ few firemen. “Of the stewards, 173 are Australians, and 202 Englishmen, ot men domiciled “outside Australia. In the case of the deck-hands, -the numbers are 85, and 140 respectively. Of the engine-room complement, the respective figures are 61 ‘and 89. Taking these three classes of employees we find that 219 .’are Australians and 431 English or men domiciled outside Australia.
– Yet the honorable senator blames Australian labour for the inefficiency of the Line.
– I blame Australian conditions and the enormous overhead expenses, which for seven vessels amounted to approximately £90,000 per annum, for having rendered necessary the sale of the ships.
– The heavy overhead expenses were not the fault of the seamen.
– I repeat that Australian conditions, and the enormous overhead expenses, made necessary the sale of the fleet.
Honorable senators may know that I have never looked with favour on th.e Line. They may recollect the occasion on which I have sought information about the ships - their cost, their Tunning expenses and other matters. I persisted with my enquiries until those in charge of the Line stated that they did not think it necessary to supply further information. I said then that, notwithstanding their reluctance to supply the information, I would get it.
– Will the honorable senator quote the rest of the figures he was reading ; I do not think the Opposition would like to see them in Hansard.
– Quote the lot!
– Seeing that the vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line of steamers were on the Australian register, and that their crews enjoyed the benefits of Australian wages and conditions, the Public Accounts Committee called for particulars of the domicile of the personnel of the fleet. From the figures which I shall quote it will be seen that for the whole personnel the majority of those whose domicile is outside Australia is not so great as in the three sections I have quoted. Apparently those who have cried loudest for Australian conditions have not been prepared to live in Australia. The figures obtained by the committee show that of a total complement of 1034 men, 514 reside in Australia, and 520 outside Australia. Of the masters, who do not belong to the agitator class, five live in Australia, and two in the United Kingdom. In the case of the pursers the figures are respectively 57 and 19. Sixty oftheengineers,whoseworkisofaskilled nature, are Australians, and 27 come from other countries. The 27 apprentices are all Australians. The more direct reppresentatives of the employing class are Australians, but the representatives of those sections for whom such wonderful conditions were created have not taken full advantage of them. It should lessen the blow of the sale of this Line to know that if any injustice is done, it is done not to Australian sailors, but to those unfortunates from other countries who have been misled into accepting employment on vessels operating under Australian conditions.
-They will probably be transferred to the British register.
– That is very likely. And, many of our Australian seamen, if they are wise, will do the same. The British register strikes the happy medium. Having regard to the observations of the Opposition, one would think that the British register is the result of tyrannical conditions imposed on the sailors of Great Britain. But that is not so. British sailors have always been well looked after. British Boards of Trade are not composed of cruel, inhuman men, but of men who are just as desirous of making the conditions of employees as comfortable and happy as possible as are other employers through- out the world.
The Opposition would have us believe that the British seaman is a down-trodden, unfortunate, and oppressed individual. He is not. Were British seamen of that class, do honorable members think that they would have played in the history of the world the wonderful part that has been theirs?
They get fair treatment. While I believe that Australian seamen should be treated fairly, I also believe that those who get good conditions should render better service than those treated less generously. Unfortunately, that has not been so in the case of the employees of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers.
– How does the honorable senator reconcile his statement that he had always been opposed to the Line with his previous assurance that, he approached this question with an open mind ?
– I do not remember having said that I approached the matter with an open mind. If I did say so, it must have been a slip of the tongue. I said that ever since I had been a member of this Parliament it had been my fixed idea that the Line was of no benefit to Australia, and the more I inquired into its operations, the more I was confirmed in that belief. Hence, my enthusiastic support of the step which the Government has taken.
– The honorable senator said that, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee he approached the question with an open mind, free from prejudice.
– AlthoughI do not remember saying that, my mind has been free from prejudice. There is a considerable difference between prejudice and reason. I approached the investigation without sentiment; but I had no desire to defend a class which, in return for good treatment, rendered unsatisfactory service. Throughout the history of the Line, honorable senators opposite have been careful to remain silent regarding the actions of the seamen. I realize the difficulty of their nosition - that whatever they said would have placed them in an even more difficult position. Perhaps their policy of silence was in the circumstances the most judicious and tactically effective.
I have dealt with the value of the ships to the seller which from our experience over a number of years, appears to be in the nature of a minus quantity. In the circumstances, I think that Australia is fortunate to receive what may be described as a fair commercial price for these ships. The sale of the vessels will not create a shipping monopoly or alter the existing state of affairs among the members of the Conference. In any case, we may rest assured that the Scandinavian nations with their wonderful fleets of motor vesels, particularly suitable for freight purposes - cheaply run, having sufficient speed, and additional cargo space because of their means of propulsion - will see that freights are not unduly increased. I also remind honorable senators that between the lines forming the Conference there is a great amount of internal competition. That has been the case in the past, and there is no likelihood that the Government’s action will alter the position. At any time the companies in the Conference could have combined to drive the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers off the seas. But they did not do so then, and there is no reason to believe that they will do so now. The conditions attached to the sale of the Line are such that it will be impossible for them to do so within the next ten years.
I am glad that the purchasers of the fleet propose to increase its efficiency by the addition of twomotor ships similar to those I have mentioned. The effect must be to improve the shipping service between Australia and Great Britain. That fact, together with the knowledge that the sale of the Line will represent a saving of at least £500,000 per annum to the people of Australia, is sufficient to justify us in supporting the action of the Government in bringing to so successful an issue the negotiations for the sale of the Line.
Senator BARNES (Victoria [5.3]. - I had no intention of speaking on this subject but-
– Tell us about the cooks.
– A story is told of a cook who went to his employer and asked for his pay as he was leaving his employ. When asked the reason for his leaving, the cook replied “ One of the fellows called me a B B.” When the employer inquired of the other men who had used the abusive term, one of them replied “ I do not know, but I should like to know who called the B B a cook “.
– Is that the way the shearers treat their cooks?
– The shearers all have good cooks. It takes as long to train a good cook as to train some of the officers of whom Senator Kingsmill spoke.
Honorable senators should consider the circumstances which led up to the establishment of this Line by the Commonwealth. I ask them whether they think that they were purchased for a joke, or whether they were considered necessary to protect Australia from the shipping combine.
– Their purchase by the Commonwealth was a necessity caused by the war.
SenatorBARNES. - At the time the fleet was purchased the action was considered necessary in the interests of Australia. Now the Government alleges that because the vessels are running at a loss, they are a burden to the Commonwealth. Because of that loss, estimated by Senator Kingsmill at£500,000 a year-
– It is nearer £600,000 a year.
– Whether the loss is £500,000 or £1,000,000, the principle involved is the same. Because of that loss we are told that we have to get rid of our vessels and place ourselves at the mercy of Lord Kylsant, and others of the same character.
– And what about Lord Inchcape?
– He will be with them. They will not cut each other’s throat. They will soon form a combination that will make the people of Australia pay higher freights than they are paying now. All combinations have done the same - all have made the people pay more.
I have before me the report of the Public Accounts Committee. It states that the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board decided -
To take all possible steps to bring fares and freights down to the lowest economical limits and, when fares and freights had been brought down, to use every endeavour to keep them down.
The comment of the Public Accounts Committee was: -
The Board recognized, as its only source of revenue was from fares and freights, that the’ expectation of Parliament that profits would be earned could be met only by a material increase in fares and freights, but as, in its opinion, the Line existed for the purpose of disciplining the private shipowners, and compelling them to charge only reasonable rates, . it was obviously precluded from making any increases, even had it so desired, because, if private ship-owners agreed to them, the cost to shippers in the Commonwealth would be much more than the losses incurred by , the Line if the increases were not made; whilst, on the other hand, if the Line alone imposed increases, it would not be able to obtain either passengers or cargo. The Board considered, however, that existing rates could be reduced if the trade were conducted more economically by the withdrawal from the berth of surplus tonnage, and with that object in view, it took steps to have rates lowered.
Those were the obsolete vessels which were sold. . .,.
A great portion of the losses incurred by the Line is ascribed to inefficient management. The Public Accounts Committee was emphatic that the triumvirate who were managing the Line were either incompetent or temperamentally unfit to carry on the ‘ task of acting in concert. Surely that matter could have been remedied easily enough. The members of the board did not have their 5 positions allotted to them for life. If it became obvious to the people who owned the Line that the management was useless and inefficient, the remedy was to -remove that management. Why was it not done? The Government was well aware that the board could not do its job. Why was it permitted to continue adding .loss to loss?
– That might have saved £25,000 a year.
– Would that have been in the matter of salary paid ?
– What about the stoppages through strikes?
– The Public Accounts ‘Committee made reference to industrial trouble. I know that strikes do occur, and that they are unavoidable.
– The honorable senator also knows that they are illegal.
– Strikes have been illegal ever since we have had a Trades Union Act.; nevertheless action has to be taken by people when they know that the law makes no provision for giving them what they think they are entitled to. The last industrial trouble in which I was personally concerned was that in which the men engaged in the pastoral industry ceased work. The members of the Australian Workers’ Union stand very loyally to arbitration. There are very few industrial troubles among them, compared with the huge membership of the union. But we had a big industrial trouble in 1922. It was not because we were anxious to strike; the strike was brought about because of the inefficiency of a judge who gave an outrageous award. He made a mistake in his own figures and would not go back on it. Of course we lost, but so did the other fellow. Our loss amounted to about £3,000,000, because of a mistake made by a judge. Do honorable members suggest that men should lie down in such circumstances and not put up a fight?
– What happened to the judge?
– Nothing happened to him; he is still drawing his screw, although it was made clear in this chamber that he had made a mistake.
Coming to the effect which the Line had in keeping down freights I point out that the Public Accounts Committee reported as follows: -
Further, in August, 1926, the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board was instrumental in bringing about a general reduction of approximately 10 per cent, on freight rate6 on commodities exported from Australia to the United Kingdom and .the Continent. Confidential documents placed before the committee prove that this all-round reduction was not a spontaneous action by the other shipowners, but was forced by the determined action of the members of the Shipping Board in Sydney. The -annual saving to Australian primary, producers and -exporters <by reason of this reduction alone amounts to far more than the greatest annual loss made by the Line.
– Where is that to be found?
– On page 22 of the honorable senator’s report.
– No. The honorable senator is quoting from the minority report.
– It may be the minority report, but the fact stated has not been disputed in any other part of the report. In Parliament we take notice of minorities. Why cannot we take notice of the minority report of men who were just as honest, earnest, and capable as those who signed the majority report ? In another portion of its report the Public Accounts Committee, referring to industrial trouble, said: -
For some time, both before and after the inception of the Board, the operations of the Line were, it was stated in evidence, considerably hampered by industrial troubles, but in June, 1925, an arrangement was made by the Board with certain unions in the transport group, other than the Seamen’s Union, and since that date it was claimed the Commonwealth Line had had’ no serious trouble.
It has been mentioned thatthe loss onthe Line has been about £600,000 a year. The Public Accounts Committee shows that the overseas trade of the Commonwealth is considerably over £300,000,000 a year, and that is the volume of trade we are now placing in the hands of the shipping combine, with power to charge whatever rates it likes. Increased freights may not be charged at the moment, but they will be in the not far distantfuture, and it will takebut a smallincrease in rates on a volume of trade amounting to £300,00.0,000 a year to outweigh easily the £600,000, which the people of Australiahave been payingto maintaintheir ownfleet of vessels on the overseastrade. Wehaveno reason to expectthatthepurchasers of these steamers will be more mercifulthanother combines haveproved to be in our experience. The simplicity of a government that believes they will beamazes me.
-This poor little Line of steamers carried only 7 per cent. of our trade at any time.
– That may be true, but what will be the position when we are at the mercy of these people, having no steamers of our own?
– These shipping people have been trading on the Australian trade for years satisfactorily and successfully.
– Successfully, perhaps, but not satisfactorily to the. people of Australia. We have had many instances of how hard it has been for primary producers in Australia tomake a livingbecause of the high rates of freight theyhave had to pay on the produce they have shipped to overseas markets. The loss of £600,000 a year on the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers is a flea-bite compared with what the people of Australia will have to pay when their own vessels are no longer running. The Public Accounts Committee has shown that had it not been for the existence of the Australian Commonwealth Line freights would have been increased by 15 per cent. What would that 15 per cent. increase mean to the people of Australia on a total trade of £300,000,000 a year ?
-How does the honorable senator account for the lower rates paid bythe New Zealand producers ?
– Off-hand, I cannot account for them.
While the steamers of the AustralianCommonwealth Line were well equipped for carrying passengers and freight, they were also, I understand, capable of carrying guns more powerfulthan those on the Sydney, our cruiser that sank the Emden. The Governrnent professesto be very concerned about the defenceof Australia, yet it has disposed of what are equal to eight cruisers of the Sydney class, and has paid £4,000,000 for the building of a couple of cruisers in Great Britain.
-Isit not a slight exaggeration tosay that the vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line are more powerful than , the Sydney for defence purposes ?
– I am informed that they are, and as the Minister has not contradicted me, I must accept the statement as correct.
I wonder what the object of the Government is in getting rid of a line of steamers that hasbeen soeminently serviceable to the community and a unit that would be powerful in the defence of Australia ifthe necessity arose.
– As the vessels willtill be on the Australian trade, they will be available for defence purposes.
SenatorBARNES.- Butnot under our own management.
SenatorGuthrie. - Surely the honorablesenator would not mind them being underthe management ofthe British Navy.
– But that would not be under our own management. We took good care to keep our soldiers under our own management when we sent them abroad. Our sea services during the war were just as important as were the services given by our men in the trenches; and as we did not hand over the control of our soldiers to the British army, I contend that ‘we ought not to hand over to the British navy the command of our own vessels.
In my opinion the real object of the Government is to use all the powers it has at its command to destroy any service that is run successfully or unsuccessfully by the people of Australia. Time and time again it has demonstrated that that is its object. How is it that other people can get that efficient management, which the Government cannot obtain? We have ample power to sack any man who is inefficient. The country is not obliged, any more than a private employer would be, to retain the services of a board of management ot of the captain of a vessel whose services have proved to be inefficient. Mention has been made of the Commonwealth woollen mills. They made a profit of £50,000 during the last year, of their operations. Nevertheless they were sold, or rather, given away. It was claimed that they were not being managed properly, but any concern which can make a profit of £50,000 in a year must be under fairly efficient management. In that instance, the country itself selected the management. There are other instances also, but I shall not go into them. I desire merely to state my most emphatic objection to the disposal of so important a service as this. No one can convince me that seven ships so well equipped and so comparatively new as these, could be bought anywhere else on earth for £1,900,000.
– The Seamen’s Onion should have bought them.
– The Seamen’s Union may have many faults, even. I suppose, as has the Lawyers’ Union, which occasionally needs to be disciplined. I am sorry that the Government has seen fit to do this grevious thing, and am sure that it will meet with the condemnation of the people when they have an opportunity to pass judgment upon this action.
– This matter was threshed out when the proposal for the sale of the ships waa first made, and most of the figures that have been quoted during thisdebate were quoted then. The Government has received tenders for the Line, and has submitted those tenders tothe House for consideration. The whole thing seems to hinge on the protection of the primary producers. It has been stated that the primary producer will be subjected to untold exactions, such as excessive freight charges if the Line is disposed of. The profits that were made by the Line during the war were made from the primary producers, but at that time there was no sympathy expressed for them. They had to pay in order that the Line itself might be a paying proposition. At that time the Line served its purpose, which was to get the freight overseas, other vessels not being available. To-day the sympathy professed for the primary producer appears to me to be a very weak argument. This Line is a white elephant, and is losing over £500,000 a year. During the last three years it has lost over £1,500,000. If a man who is running a business finds that it is losing money, he gets rid of it as quickly as possible in order to cut his loss. The Commonwealth Government, in its wisdom, is getting rid of this white elephant, because it is not a paying proposition. The ships are relatively new, but as they become older the losses will be greater. Repairs and replacements will be necessary, and the loss in future years will be a good deal more than £500,000 a year. Why should we, as a Parliament, inflict upon the taxpayers of this country such a great loss, when we have a chance to sell the Line? We are obtaining £1,900,000 for it. If we got nothing at all for the .Line, but merely saved the loss which we are now making, it would be a good thing for the Commonwealth to get rid of the ships.
Much has been said about this Line joining the combine, and about freights going up. The Government provided against this in the conditions which it laid down for tenderers. Clause 6 of the conditions states -
Tenders should include an undertaking to enter into an agreement and provide satisfactory guarantee or security to -
Maintainthe vessels on the British or a dominion register for a period of at least ten years;
Conduct, with the existing fleet and/ or other vessels of an equal size, speed and class and with at least equal accommodation for passengers and refrigerated and other cargo for a period of not less than ten years, a minimum service equivalent to that provided by the Line between Australia and Great Britain at present, viz., at least eighteen round voyages per annum.
– Ten years is not a very long time.
– It will cost a great deal in repairs and replacements to keep the present service going for ten years. It is evident, from the conditions which have been laid down, that the Government is determined to protect the interests of the Australian exporters and importers. Clause 7 of the conditions states -
Offers should include detailed proposals as to the services which tenderers are prepared to provide.
The Government will give particular consideration to the terms of proposals submitted in respect to: -
The maintenance of an efficient and reasonable passenger service; and
The provision of refrigerated space in vessels to be substituted for or employed in conjunction with the existing units of the fleet.
Even new ships to be added must come up to a certain standard in order to meet the needs of exporters and importers. Every possible care has been taken by the Government in drawing up these conditions. Referring to these stipulations, the successful tenderer states -
Clauses6 and 7. - The conditions contained in these two clauses are acceptable and will be complied with, namely: That the vessels be maintained for a period of at least ten years in the British register; and
That they be continued to be employed in the trade between Australia and Great Britain as at present - indeed, it is hoped to augment the service rather than otherwise, with suitable vessels, all partly insulated; and of approximately equal speed to the “ Bay “ steamers. Conversely, the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia for the said ten years to extend to the new owners the same privileges, advantages and facilities - whatsoever they may be - as the fleet has hitherto enjoyed under Government control.
Those conditions have been accepted by the tenderers, and full provision is made for the next ten years to ensure that the ships will come up to the standard necessary, and that the exporters will not be exploited. . In regard to condition 8, the successful tenderer states -
This clause deals with the question of rate of freight, and safeguarding the interests of Australian exporters and importers. It is the intention as far as possible to continue the policy of the Australian Commonwealth Line in this respect, and, in any case, there will be no exploitation of Australian exporters and importers.
The staple industries of Australia, such as wool and wheat, were not seriously catered for by these vessels, but were left to other lines. There was plenty of space in these ships for this class of trade. In the details of the ships given on the tender form, it is stated that the Esperance Bay, which has the biggest carrying capacity, has space for 768,135 bushels of wheat. The smallest vessel, the Fordsdale, has very nearly the same capacity, namely, 750,162 bushels. Therefore, it was not for want of space that this trade was turned down. As regards wool, it is stated that the carrying capacity of the Esperance Bay is 721,880 bales.
– There is something wrong there. No ship could carry as much as that.
– It is set out in the official paper.
– It must mean pounds weight.
– If it is wrong, then the paper from which I am quoting is wrong. In any case, it is clear that there was sufficient accommodation in these ships to cater for Australia’s primary products, but it was not availed of.
There has been much talk about the effect which the existence of this Line had in keeping down freights, and restricting the operations of the shipping combine. New Zealand, however, has no Stateowned shipping line, yet cargoes are being carried from there to the Old Country cheaper than from Australia. Therefore, the Government has done wisely in selling the Line.
It would be a good thing if honorable senators opposite would advise the seamen to. give these vessels a fair deal, and not subject them to hold-ups, as they have been in the past. At the present time seven large ships are lying idle in various ports in Australia through the cooks’ strike. Their total tonnage is 27,390 gross, and the approximate capital involved is £610,000. The number of passengers inconvenienced by this hold up was 3,500. They had to leave the ships and to find their way back to their homes. Cargoes delayed, stopped, and interfered with to the detriment of owners amounted to 35,000 tons. As much as possible of the cargo has been handled by other ships. “Working days lost were 160 ; the number of men directly involved is 400, and indirectly all the men engaged in loading and discharging cargo have been affected. Wages lost by the men involved amount to £10,000. No industrial organization can stand such serious losses.
My advice to my, honorable friends opposite is to persuade trade unionists to bring reason to bear in all their deliberations. Our principal need to-day is industrial peace. If Australia is to prosper we must have industrial peace, so that we may have a reasonable expectation of success in all our industrial enterprises. I regret that the industrialists have declined the invitation of the Prime Minister to attend an industrial peace conference.
– That would not suit the agitators.
– I held in my hand two statements dealing with this important matter. The first is a cable message, dated London, 26th April, in the following terms : -
Mr. Ben. Turner has reported to the Council of the Trade Union Congress that progress is being made with negotiations at the conference with the group of employers led by Sir Alfred Mond. The sub-committees have reached agreements regarding credit and currency, trade union recognition, and victimization arising from the general strike. Questions of industrial relationship and machinery for conciliation and negotiation will be discussed at an early date.
The second is dated Sydney, 26th April, declaring that trade unionists will not attend the proposed industrial conference.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Plain). - Order! The honorable senator “must confine his remarks to the motion before the Chair.
– I was under the impression that the statement which I was about to read had a direct bearing upon the motion, because we have been told that continued industrial unrest in Australia was a factor in the Government’s determination to sell the ships. It is because the Line was subjected to so many industrial attacks that the vessels proved a losing proposition. However, if you rule me out of order, sir, I shall not continue the discussion .along those lines. I feel strongly in this matter. The Government, in my opinion, has taken a wise step. The interests of the primary producers will not be jeopardized by the sale of the Line, because the vessels carried only 5 per cent, of Australia’s exportable primary products. I commend the Government for the businesslike arrangement which it has made.
– We are living in an age when it is desirable that all men who have opinions should state them definitely. The Government’s decision to sell the ships was not unexpected. I doubt if any man, other than the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) would have undertaken the responsibility of purchasing the vessels which proved to be the nucleus of the Commonwealth Government Line. We have to remember, however, that during the earlier stages of the war any action that could strengthen our hands was justified; but when the war was over the usefulness of the fleet to the Commonwealth was not so apparent. Every one knows that the platform of the Labour party contains a plank for the nationalization of industry; but, up to the present my Labour friends have not had the courage to give full effect to it. It is just as well that the general public should be reminded that the Labour objective is the nationalization -of all industry. The sooner the leaders of Labour declare themselves, the sooner they will be regarded as honest men.
– The Labour objective includes the nationalization of primary industries.
– The objective of the party is the socialization of all industry. The ships of the Commonwealth Line had a fair trial. The Government proved patient and long suffering, and was fully justified in relieving the general taxpayer of the financial burden which the running of the ships placed upon their shoulders.
The workers of Australia appeared to regard the Line as a toy to play with. When I was rearing my family I was careful always to place dangerous toys out of the reach of my children. The seamen and other industrial organizations acted as they pleased with the Line. Messrs. Walsh and Johannsen caused strikes whenever it pleased them to do so. My honorable friends opposite cannot deny this. The ships were continually subjected to industrial troubles. The position became so bad that finally the Government decided to sell the vessels. Now that they have been disposed of, our friends opposite are charging the Government with having betrayed the interests of the primary producers. They tell us that we are now at the mercy of the shipping combine. Will they be honest enough to say what is their own objective? Is it not true that, as a party, they are out to destroy capitalism?
– For the purpose of substituting an absolute and complete combine of their own.
– That is so. The Commonwealth Government ships were an inspiration to a certain class of industrialists to do wrong. They took advantage of every opportunity, through the medium of the Line, to interfere with the interests of private employers, it matter not how good they were.
Last week I saw two letters written by so-called Labour representatives to the Premier of one of the States. 1 shall not call them Labour men. Their faces are no cheer-up society. In their letters they state that the present unemployment difficulties in the Commonwealth are due to the capitalistic system; that the only remedy is to give effect to the Labour plank for the socialization of all industries, and that the right thing to do is to bring out men from Russia to destroy the capitalistic power in the Commonwealth. I do not suggest that the general body of the Labour movement believes in the wisdom of this plank of its policy; but there it is.
By selling the Line the Government has done the right thing. The vessels had a good trial. The men working on them had the best of conditions, and yet the Line went to the bad to the extent of over £500,000 a year. It has been urged that the presence of the vessels on the run between Australia and England kept down freights. I doubt if that statement can be substantiated. Surely my honorable friends opposite realize that the employment of capital is necessary for the production of wages, and that the more capital we have invested in the Commonwealth the higher will be our wages bill. The experience of the Line has not been a happy one. A friend of mine who travelled on one of the vessels told me that every seaman employed on the ships came first, the captain second; and the passenger last. The conditions of employment were so good, and the wages so high, that there should have been every incentive to the men to give a good return for the wages received, and make the Line a profitable concern. Unfortunately, that was not done..
When Senator Graham was speaking I asked him, by way of interjection, to name one enterprise that had proved a success under government control. I know what happens, because I have had some personal experience in this matter. When I was Minister of Public Works in South Australia I bought a mine. Honorable senators will please remember that, at that time, I was a firm believer in all the principles of the Labour party, and resolved to put this one to the test. I would not like to tell the Senate all that happened in connexion with that mine. It was a good proposition, and it should have been a profitable venture, but the men employed on it regarded it as a sort of lying-in hospital or a benevolent institution, with the result that it proved a failure. Throughout Australia we have had numberless instances of nationalized activities - mines, shipping, machinery works, and many other ventures - that have been unprofitable. Can Mr. Theodore say that the experience of the State Government in Queensland has been a happy one? The position reminds me of the story of an old man who could not pronounce the words, “ Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” and was told, “ Oh ! just1 say, shake rags, make rags, and away they go.” Actually that is what has happened in connexion with many nationalized industries in Australia. At all events, they have all gone. The Commonwealth Government Line has been costing the people of Australia over £500,000 a year. It would have been better to give it away than to retain it on that basis.
The Navigation Act has also hampered progress in this country. I should like to see that legislation repealed. There are many people in Australia today who say that the Navigation Act has been a menace to Australia, largely because the men who have been receiving such high wages and enjoying such favourable conditions have not acted fairly to their employers. On one occasion when I was putting the case for some miners before the Arbitration Court the judge said, “If the mine cannot pay reasonable wages it should be closed down.” If the Line cannot pay its way it should be sold. Those who have purchased the ships are very optimistic.
– They are very courageous.
– They are; and I do not think the Commonwealth will lose by the transaction which has just been completed. As the men have abused the laws passed for their protection they must bear the consequences. My friends opposite know that there is not a Labour leader in the Commonwealth with sufficient courage to tell the men that they should obey the law.
– It is not the rank and file who are to blame.
– No. They obey the dictates of a few open-mouthed men who are hanging on to their backs. I cannot understand why they so readily respond to the wishes of these mealymouthed creatures, who cause disputes and stop-work meetings, and whose views are contrary to those of real trades unionists. I am glad the ships are sold, and when the burial service is held I shall be pleased to say, “ Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
. I wish to say only a few words in support of the Government’s rather belated action in disposing of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The action of the right” honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), as Prime Minister, in establishing the nucleus of the Line, was justified, since we were then at war and it was very difficult to obtain , tonnage to carry footstuffs from this country, which was overflowing with milk and honey, to feed the men who were fighting for us overseas. But it is ridiculous for honorable senators opposite to say that the Line has been of any service to Australia since the termination of the war.’ As a primary producer who has shipped wool, wheat and meat from Australia, I can say without fear of contradiction that the Line has been of no service whatever to the primary producers of Australia. Wool is our principal primary product, the most valuable freight carried by any ships, and of this commodity the Commonwealth Line has carried only 2.3 per cent, of our exports. The Opposition claim that the Line has been instrumental in reducing freights on primary products, upon which the success of this country depends; but the ducts from New Zealand, where there is no Government line of steamers to Great Britain are less than they are from Australia. If we study the freights from South Africa and other Dominions, where there are no state-owned steamers, we find that in respect of primary products they are less than one-half of those charged by the Australian Commonwealth Line.
There is no doubt that the ideals of the Government in establishing the Line were worthy of support, but conditions have altered to such an extent that its retention is no longer justifiable. I believe in men receiving high wages and being provided with good accommodation, but those employed on these ships have not given their employers a fair. deal. The union bosses have done more to destroy the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers than all the shipping combines are ever likely to do. There have been innumerable strikes and stop-work meetings, and union leaders who have advocated slow-down tactics have always been preaching inefficiency. As Senator Kingsmill said, ships of the same class and tonnage on the British register, are effectively manned by fewer men than are those of the Australian Commonwealth Line. I do not object to high wages, but it is an economic impossibility to compete with companies whose wages bill is only one-fifth of that paid to the seamen on these ships.
– And consequently they cannot be a factor in keeping down freights.
– They cannot. 1 do not think the Line could pay its way even if freights were increased by 25 per cent. In the present circumstances it cannot be placed on an equal footing with its competitors, and the whole situation is Gilbertian. It is a tragedy and not a farce, particularly when, as Senator Kingsmill stated, some cooks are paid more than the masters of ships, who are responsible for the navigation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers, crew and cargo. If there is a shipping combine, the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers has been a member of it, and has charged the same freights as other shipping companies.
It has been said that the sale of the Line will have a detrimental effect upon employment here; but if we look at the facts we find that those whom honorable senators opposite -term the “ brass hats,” have been ‘living in Australia, whilst most of the seamen who enjoy Australian conditions and pay have been living overseas.
– They do not believe in the principle of keeping the money in the country.
– No, they get all they can and then take it out of the country. According to the information with which we have been supplied, the Commonwealth has been losing over £500,000 a year, which is a colossal sum. We have also to remember that the capital value of these ships was written down by over £8,000,000, when they were placed under the control of the Commonwealth Shipping Board, in order to place the Line on a proper business basis. Even when operating on this greatly reduced capital value they have been unable to meet expenditure. It is absurd for any one to blame those in control. The unfortunate position of the Line is due to the fact that the wages paid are five times higher than those received by seamen on the vessels with which the Line is competing.
Honorable senators opposite have frequently referred to certain governmental activities, which they said should not have been sold. We have been told that the Commonwealth Woollen Mills at Geelong were showing a profit of £50,000 a year, when they were disposed of. That is an absurdly inaccurate statement. It is true that those mills made a profit during the war ; but later when they had to enter into competition with other woollen mills it was found that even with a reduced staff of 300 which was working only one-third of the time, they could not carry on without a loss. When the Commonwealth mills were showing a profit during the war period, they were not paying Commonwealth or State taxation, or rates of any kind. These mills are now being conducted by private enterprise, and-
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands) .-Order ! The honorable senator will not be in order in discussing the operations of the Commonwealth Woollen Mills.
– I wished only to state that the Woollen Mills are now employing 600 hands, working full time. Many of the employees are shareholders, and are delighted with the results of the sale. The people of Australia will also be delighted to know that these ships, which have not been of any benefit to the primary producers and a terrible burden to the whole of the people who have had to share the loss, have been disposed of. We have heard a good deal from time to time concerning the . value of socialistic enterprises, and of the benefits to be derived from the control by the people of all means of production, distribution and exchange, but I think from the experiences which governments have had in the past, we are able to definitely determine that privatelycontrolled business is of greater advantage to the people.
.- One point which I do not think hasbeen sufficiently emphasized during the debate is that we have been losing as has been said between £500,000 and £600,000 a year on the Line. But in addition, as has not been mentioned, the ships are becoming obsolete, and before long they will have to be replaced.
– That will not be necessary for another sixteen years.
– If the Commonwealth Government had retained the Line, two new ships would have been necessary in order to maintain a monthly service each way. The Labour party would expect those vessels to be built in Australia regardless of cost. Judging from past happenings, it would be necessary immediately to write down their capital cost as was done in the case of the existing vessels, so that, in addition to incurring further losses of at least half a million annually in connexion with the working of the fleet, that additional loss of capital would have to be borne by the taxpayers. We are not justified in asking them to bear such losses. The Opposition, which condemns the Government for selling these ships, has remained silent about the sale of the unprofitable State cattle stations by the Queensland Labour Government. Is not the supply of cheap meat to the people as important as cheap freights ? I commend the Government for having the courage to dispose of the Line.
– Notwithstanding that the fallacies of the Opposition have been exposed, they have been repeated to-day, and probably honorable senators opposite will continue to repeat them until the next election. I, therefore, feel that it is necessary to set out the real facts in the interests of the electors. The Opposition has endeavoured to compare the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers with our national railways. The comparison is absurd.. A public utility like our railways, with which there cannot be competition, should be a Government monopoly. There is, however, no monopoly of oversea shipping. On the contrary, there is competition between the various companies. Honorable senators opposite have contended that because ships which cost about £7,000,000 have been sold for a little under £2,000,000, the sale is really in the nature of a gift. Senator Greene showed that that reasoning was unsound. He pointed out that the “ Bay “ steamers were built during the war period when building costs were at their peak. Yet the argument has been repeated here to-day that these vessels have been almost given away. Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual for 1928 contains a statement showing the fluctuations in the price per ton for building a new 7,500-ton cargo steamer over a period of years. The figures might not be exactly applicable to the vessels of the Australian Line of Steamers,but they will give a fair indication of the trend of shipbuilding costs. The statement is as follows: -
That statement shows that shipbuilding costs have decreased considerably since about 1919, when the contract for the building of the present Commonwealth steamers, with one exception, was let. Building costs have dropped at least 60 per cent., and the present day cost of construction should have been quoted. When this is taken into consideration, together with depreciation, the price received appears to be reasonable.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Second-hand ships are to-day selling at ridiculously low prices. I regret that I have not been able to obtain comparisons with vessels of the type of the steamers sold by the Commonwealth Government, but according to Fairplay, the recognized world’s shipping authority, other vessels have been sold at prices which will astonish honorable senators. The steamer Port Hacking, about 9,400 tons dead weight, has just been sold for £13,150. The Colonia, a two-decker steamer of 10,250 tons dead weight, has been sold to Norwegian buyers for £25,000. The Norwegian steamer Dagfred, of 8,919 tons dead weight, fetched £45,000. The Belgian steamer Graanhandel, of 6,430 tons gross, built in 1919, has been disposed of for less than £25,000. Smaller vessels have been sold at exceedingly low prices, the reason for which is to be found in the tremendous amount of idle tonnage there is in the world to-day. According to Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual, the total laid-up steam tonnage of the world is 4,000,000 tons. That of Great Britain and Ireland is 621,000 tons; the idle tonnage of the United States of America is 2,550,000 tons; and that of France, 91,000 tons; Greece, 79,000 tons, and Italy, 83,000 tons. In the face of these facts there can be no prospect of any rise in freights for some years to come.
Senator Barnes says that freights to and from Australia will be increased by about 15 per cent. straight away because Of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line, and some time ago Senator Needham said that because of the existence of the Line freights from England to Australia had been reduced by about 50 per cent. I notice that during this debate there has been no mention of that figure in regard to drop in freights. That is because there has been a much greater drop in freights between England and countries which have no State owned lines of steamers. The following tables show the estimated average rates of freights for steamers in the open market
It will be seen from these tables that nothing is to be gained by mentioning one instance in which the existence of the Commonwealth Line may have reduced freights. The average freights between England and other countries have dropped considerably more than have the freights between Great Britain and Australia. Senator Barnes would have us believe that we are not justified in attributing the losses of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers to industrial troubles. I am prepared to admit that some of the losses incurred by the Line were due to bad management, but at the same time I hold that the greater proportion of the losses was due to the direct action tactics of the unions. It is true that at the present time the unions are turning their attention to private lines, but we never know when the turn of the Commonwealth vessels will come again.
In the Sydney Morning Herald of the 19th March, 1924, it was reported that the assistant secretary of the Seamen’s Union, Mr. Johannsen, had stated at the Shipping Master’s office that he was there to prevent the Line from selecting the men required, and he challenged the right of the owners to pick their own men. That afternoon the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board felt impelled to make the following statement : -
The Seamen’s Union demands the right of selection of a crew for the Fordsdale, and the men selected from the members of the union by the board’s officers are being prevented from signing articles. The Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board is unable to delegate the selection of a crew for such valuable property as the Fordsdale to irresponsble union officials. The Fordsdale will be removed to Cockatoo Island, and will remain there until men the board considers suitable offer themselves for engagement.
On the 5th November, 1924, it was reported in the daily papers that the Com’ monwealth Line had come into conflict with the Seamen’s Union, and the Marine Stewards’ and Pantrymen’s Union, as a result of which both the Ferndale and the Moreton Bay would be delayed, and might be tied up indefinitely. The trouble had arisen through the refusal of the stewards on the Moreton Bay to watch over mental cases on the way to England on the steamer’s previous voyage. On the 6th November, 1924, the Sydney Morning Herald drew prominent attention to the fact that the Ferndale had been definitely boycotted .by the waterside workers, and that valuable cargo had been lost to the vessel owing to the overtime strike and the action of the maritime unions in holding the vessel up for a crew. We see, therefore, that at a critical period in the history of the Line, the vessels were actually held up and valuable cargo was lost as the result of illegal action by unions which were not willing to submit their cases to arbitration. Owing to the refusal of the waterside workers to work after 5 p.m., the unloaded portion of a large meat shipment had to be handed over to the steamer Raranga, which was being loaded by Dalgety and Company Limited under the flag of the White Star Line. This valuable cargo had to be handed over to an outside line because of the action of the waterside workers.
– To the line which it is now proposed to declare black.
– Yes. There are honorable members on the Labour side who say that they are in favour of arbitration, yet have defended the action of the men during the time that the Line has been in operation, saying that such action is in no way responsible for the loss and the decision of the Government to sell the ships. The report from which I have been quoting goes on to say -
Another 1,000 tons of cargo has been’ lost in Sydney owing to the hold up of the vessel for want of a crew. The irony of the position is that the cargo which the waterside workers will not load after 5 p.m., was loaded on to the rival steamer Raranga, by labour from the Shipping Labour Bureau.
On 27th February, 1924, the Commonwealth Government liner, Moreton Bay, was held up owing to the strike of her stewards. On 19th November, 1924, the Evening Sun, Melbourne, contained the following report : -
In spite of all the efforts by the management to establish the Line satisfactorily, the men who exist by the Line have ceaselessly campaigned to throw it out of gear, even to the jeopardy of their own livelihood. No other shipping company has had such trouble with organized _ labour. For long, every Commonwealth liner, on its arrival back in Australia, from a voyage overseas, was held up by some petty dispute, in face of the warnings that there is a limit to loss on the Line to which the country will submit.
Now, when we have reached the stage when the losses are so great that the country will not bear them any longer, honorable senators opposite, who never raised their voices before in protest against the action of the union, are shedding crocodile tears over the sale of the ships. The statement continues -
In the hamstringing of the Commonwealth Line the waterside workers then took a hand. The first result of the Sydney overtime strike was to compel 500 tons of wheat consigned by a. Commonwealth vessel to be left behind to be shipped by a non-Australian steamer worked by men of the bureau which the union was challenging. Another vessel of the Line, the Carina, was delayed in Melbourne just long enough to dissipate the profit which normally would have been made on the cargo it brought from Europe.
On 23rd August, 1924, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Mr. A. F. Waters, President of the Employers’ Federation, had stated that -
The black-listing of the 50 members of the crew of the Fordsdale is one of the most remarkable cases of unionist tyranny on record. The Fordsdale is an Australian ship, which was built in an Australian dock by Australian workmen for a State-owned Australian enterprise. When she was launched, arrangements were made to man her with an Australian crew for her maiden voyage, and so. it might be supposed everything about the ship, from her ownership and the laying down of her keel, to her ultimate going to sea, was in keeping with the principles so loudly advocated by local socialists.
On the 31st July, 1924, the Melbourne Age reported -
The Seamen’s Union has decided to declare - the Commonwealth steamer Fordsdale black on her arrival from London. The men claimed the right to pick up her crew when she sailed on her maiden voyage four months ago, but the management refused their dictation, and ultimately secured a unionist crew that was chosen by her captain.
This is the sort of thing that went on in connexion with the Commonwealth Line ; now the men have transferred their affections, and are taking their job control methods to other ships. On Thursday, 1st March, the second cook of the Huddart Parker steamer Ulimaroa gave notice. Application was made to the union for a cook, but the secretary of the union stated that no labour would be offered unless an extra cook was placed on the vessel. The Ulimaroa had been running for years with the same complement of cooks, and it had been found that this number was sufficient to cater for a full passenger list. As a matter of fact, it is very seldom that the ship sails with its full complement of passengers. The first demand served was for two additional cooks, making fifteen in the galley; but that demand was afterwards reduced to one. Because that demand was not conceded, the galley staff on sailing day walked off the ship. They had a constitutional means of redress. If conditions were wrong there was nothing to prevent them from going to the Arbitration Court and getting their grievances remedied, but instead of that they waited until sailing day, and then walked ashore. The passengers were disappointed, and many of them seriously inconvenienced. There were men who, for business reasons, wanted urgently to get away. There were others on holiday who had only a limited amount of time at their disposal.’ Some of the passengers were returning to Australia, and had, perhaps, only a small amount of money to carry them over. Seven ships are now held up owing to similar tactics. It is action of this sort which has really brought about the sale of the Commonwealth Line.
Statements have been made by members of the Labour party that if this Line is sold it will be declared black, and that the new owners will be subjected to this harassing treatment. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will hot stand for that sort of thing. Personally, I voted in South Australia to give the men arbitration, so that they might obtain fair wages and fair conditions. We have set up an industrial court for that purpose. Surely the men can have nothing fairer than that. Nevertheless, instead of abiding by arbitration, they are prepared to hold up the whole trade and commerce of Australia, and adopt direct action to enforce their demands. If this continues, the question will . arise as to who is really going to rule Australia - Parliament or unions. I stand behind Mr. Bruce, and behind the Government, in the determination to see that the awards of the Arbitration Court are enforced, and that the will of Parliament is supreme.
– I am inclined to think that the Labour party is using this matter of the sale of the Commonwealth ships as a kind of election issue. When the Leader of the Opposition was speaking in this chamber on the subject, he said that the present Government had sold the Commonwealth Line in order to please its political’ friends, who found the money with which it fought elections. We might retort by saying that the Labour party is using this issue as a means of discrediting the Government at the Commonwealth elections, and thus pleasing its friends, who provide its funds for fighting the elections.
Those who oppose the sale of these ships say that they should be retained for two reasons. They say, in the first place, that they would be useful in case of war, because they have been designed to carry guns. If they would be useful for that purpose, it must be remembered that, even if they are sold, they can be commandeered for defence purposes. Therefore, the first argument falls to the ground. The other argument is that they have some influence in keeping down freights and charges to the producers. That argument has been answered very effectively by Senator Kingsmill and other speakers, who have pointed out how unlikely it is that the Commonwealth Line, which carries such an insignificant portion of the freights from Australia, could have any influence in keeping down freights and charges. Ii may also be pointed out that, although the Conference of overseas shipping lines comes’ to some general arrangement as to rates, there does exist very keen competition for cargoes between Australia and Great Britain. If the companies trading to Australia attempted to increase freights beyond a reasonable figure, they would immediately meet strong competition from other lines. There are continental shipping lines, including oilburning Swedish vessels and Norwegian, French, and German ships, to say nothing of American lines, which are all looking for freights. The Conference Lines dare not put up the freights beyond a fair thing, or they would lose a great deal of the trade which they have at present.
The Leader of the Opposition says that the almost inevitable result of this sale will be that freights will rise. My view is that if the companies try to raise freights, they vill meet with competition from other lines. What is the reason for many of the increases that have taken place in freight rates? The seamen themselves, and the Labour party must accept some responsibility for high freights.
– Talk sense..
-I shall talk sense if it is possible to hammer sense into the honorable senator’s head. There is a strike in Australia to-day in the Huddart Parker ships, which are being held up, with a consequent loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds, because of some paltry dispute amongst the men. The cost of the strike will have to be borne by the producers through increased freights. A short while ago we had a big overseas shipping strike, which caused immense losses, and resulted in increased freights. It is not always the greedy, grasping companies that are the cause of high freights.
– But there have been no increases in freights during the period of which the honorable senator speaks.
– Nevertheless, such things have a tendency to keep freights up. Surely Senator- Needham will admit that if a company has to meet extraordinary expenditure, it cannot work from its reserves; it must meet the cost by increasing its revenue. At one time I was a supporter of a government-owned shipping line, believing that it might solve our overseas transport problems. Consequently, I was an ardent advocate of the policy of collectivism, or State enterprise; but experience has taught me that the State is not capable .of running a trading business successfully. In certain protected industries the State may be on safe ground. A State may successfully manage railways and post offices, because these are not subject to competition, but invariably government-controlled concerns fail when they are subjected to the keen competition from outside.
– How does the honorable senator explain the huge loss on the Queensland railways?
– Unfortunately very few railways in the Commonwealth are paying just now. The severe competition from motor transport services is largely responsible -for the serious deficits in the accounts of several State railway systems.
– Would the honorable senator sell the Tasmanian railways.
– No. I approve, nevertheless, of the sale of the Commonwealth Government ships. If Senator Needham argues seriously that ships which cost £12,0Q0,000, and which involve the taxpayer in losses amounting to over £500,000 a year, should be kept in commission as a government activity, he is not fit to occupy a seat on the Treasury bench. The mere suggestion that they should be retained is ridiculous. The attitude of my honorable friends opposite clearly indicates a great lack of business ability on their part.
– Does the honorable senator argue that it is good business to sell for less than £2,000,000 ships that cost over £12,000,000?
– I will now tell Senator Barnes something interesting. Some years ago, when I was a member of the Tasmanian Parliament, the primary producers practically forced a Nationalist government to purchase a fleet of four small steamers* - two vessels for the tradebetween the islands and the mainland of Tasmania, and two freighters for the Australian trade. The Government ran those ships for three or four years, and, needless to say, they proved a losing proposition. When a Labour government came into power, its first important official act was to sell two .. of the larger vessels. This afternoon I received a telegram from the Under-Treasurer of Tasmania stating that the capital cost of the Poolta, then practically a new ship, was £68,181, and the Melbourne, an older vessel, £59,468, and that the two ships were sold for £26,000. In other words, they were sold at a loss of £101,649. In addition, there was a trading loss on those vessels of £100,000 in three years, so that the total loss on two small vessels alone was approximately £201,000. Contrary to the attitude of the Labour party in this Parliament, the Labour Government in Tasmania came to the rescue by selling two State ships which had been bought by a Nationalist government.
– Does not the Labour party in Tasmania believe in nationalization?
– Yes ; but members of the party in that State have a certain amount of common sense and business ability. It would appear, from the argument of our friends in the Labour party here, that they have a careless disregard for the expenditure of public money.
– It is evident that the Tasmanian Nationalist Government paid ten times too much for those ships.
– Not at all. The vessels were bought very cheaply. The two smaller ships have been retained for the island trade because, while they are showing a loss of £30,000 to £40,000 a year, if the Government sold them it would have to pay almost as much by way of subsidy to a private shipping company to carry on trade with the islands around the coast.
It is strange that while honorable senators of the Labour party have been complaining of the sale of the “ Bay “ and “ Dale “ steamers, nothing has been said concerning the disposal, a year or two ago, of six “ D “ class freighters, each of 3,300 tons, and costing £95,000 each. Those vessels were sold for £28,000 each, and, in addition, twelve “ E “ class ships, which cost £220,000 each, were sold for £42,500 each.
– This Government sold those ships.
– Of course it did, but there was no outcry about that transaction. I consider that the price obtained for the “Bay” and “Dale” steamers is a very fair one indeed, and I congratulate the Government upon the transaction. I should like to add that when the Tasmanian Labour Government sold two of its vessels, ships were dearer than they are to-day, so, in all the circumstances, the price realized for the’ Commonwealth Line is a very satisfactory one. Actually it would have been good business to give the ships away rather than to keep them on the run when they were showing such heavy losses.
It has been argued that they should have been retained, because they were responsible for keeping down freights, thus benefiting the primary producer. That is very problematical. “We must expect to incur losses on all such transactions. If a man buys a motor car, and runs it for a week, he can only sell it for one-third of its original cost. Similarly ships depreciate rapidly. The vessels of the Commonwealth Line have been in use for a considerable number of years. They are comparatively old ships.
– The oldest was built seven years ago.
– That is a good agc for a ship.
– Not at all. The average life of a ship is twenty years.
– That may be. I believe that if Senator Needham had been in power as .a member of a Labour Government he would have favoured the sale of these ships in the same circumstances. Notwithstanding the protests that have been made - by the Labour party about the action of the Government in this matter, even a Labour Government would not have dared to keep the ships running at such a heavy loss. . This protest is only an electioneering cry.
It has been stated that the Line gave ‘ employment to a large number of Australian seamen. That is not true. “When I came over from Tasmania in the Nairana last week I heard an argument between two men concerning the Government’s decision to sell the ships. One steward said to me - “ The Government should not have sold the ships, because they provided employment for Australian seamen.” The other man, who happened to be an official of the Cooks and Stewards’ Union, said to me “Don’t you take any notice of what he says. The Line has never been any good to the Australian seamen. Only British seamen are employed on the ships. Very few Australians are able to get jobs on them at all.”
It has occurred to me that perhaps there is another reason why the Labour party wishes to retain the ships as a Government activity. Up to the present this reason has not been mentioned during the debate. We all remember what happened when the big shipping companies were struggling with the seamen, and when the trade and commerce of Australia was held up. During that crisis members of the Labour party were mute. “We did not hear one word of protest from them. The situation was rapidly becoming critical indeed, and at one stage, it looked as though the shipping companies, and the people generally, would take joint action against the seamen. Then when things were about at their worst the Commonwealth Line came to the rescue of the seamen. It broke the strike. On another occasion, when the waterside workers were causing trouble, the Commonwealth Line again came to the rescue. The management, not being required to make profits, ac ceded to the demands of the waterside workers, and brought about an end to the dispute. No doubt the management felt that it had no need to worry, because there was plenty of money behind it and, if need be, another loan could be raised.
One reason why State enterprises fail is that there is a lack of responsibility. The management is not called upon to hustle for living. Consequently it becomes lax and careless. I shall be extremely interested in the near future to see if Mr. O’Neill and Mr. A. H. Moate carry out the threat to declare these ships black. I shall also be interested in seeing whether the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) and Senator Findley will support the Seamen’s Union or any similar organization in this declaration, or whether they will stand by the law and constitutional practice of the country and tell these men they are doing wrong. So far as I am personally concerned, I believe we have reached the stage at which we shall have to tell the seamen, and certain other trade unionists, that they must obey the law or suffer the penalty. The time has arrived when we should restore the management of trade unions to the rank and file, and take away the autocratic power now possessed by a few individuals. If these men carry out their threat and bring starvation, want, misery, hardship and depression into the homes of the working people of this community, I shall not be afraid to openly condemn them, and to do what I can to assist in seeing that the trade of this country is carried on in a legitimate manner. I shall support any Government which adopts a strong attitude if such an unfortunate event should occur. I congratulate the Governmentupon having disposed of the ships which have caused such enormous losses, and also upon the very satisfactory price it has secured for them.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Needham’s amendment) be left out - put. The Senate divided.
Majority … . . 18
Question so resolved in the negative.
[8.55]. - During the debate we have heard it said by the Opposition that the vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line of
Steamers have been a very valuable asset to the Commonwealth. Finding it difficult to understand how a line of ships losing at the rate of £500,000 a year and the capital value of which had to be written down by £8,000,000, could be so described, I was moved by curiosity to turn to a dictionary to discover the exact definition of the word “ asset.” I find that it comes from an old French word meaning “ sufficient “ or “ enough “. I should say that we have had sufficient and enough to prove that “ this very valuable asset “ exists only in the vivid imagination of honorable senators opposite.
– The right honorable gentleman did not hold that opinion a few years ago.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.That is so. I confess that I am a disillusioned man. There was a time when I too believed that these ships were a valuable asset ; but I am one of those who, when up against a stone wall, know it is there and are prepared to admit it. In this case we are up against a stone wall. It has been demonstrated not only by speeches which have been delivered during this debate, but by bitter experience that this Line instead of being a valuable asset has been a cursed liability to the Commonwealth.
I desire now to refer briefly to one or two statements which have been made during the discussion. In the first place the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) said that the sale of these ships was the greatest sin that had been committed by this Government. If it .is then we shall not have much for which to ask absolution at the next general election. The Leader of the Opposition further said that the ( Prime Minister (“Mr. Bruce) in disposing of the fleet yielded to the pressure, of financial interests. I should like to know what the honorable senator meant by that.
– The honorable senator knows what it means.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE Let me remind the Senate first of all, that these ships have been sold to a company not one share in which is held in Australia. That being so the <” financial interests “ must be outside Australia.
What did the honorable senator mean? Did he wish to impute corruption?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.No doubt it is an illustration of what we shall hear during the election campaign, but such a statement ought not to be made here. The shareholders in the company which has purchased these steamers reside not in Australia but in Britain. That being so there can be no political advantage to the . Prime Minister or to his Ministry in selling the “ships, and I therefore ask the honorable senator what he meant by his remark.
Reference has also been made to the value of the ships for defence purposes. Honorable senators opposite seem to have very short memories. Do they forget that the Commonwealth had not only, its own war ships during the war period, and also the use of ships owned by private companies? Do they forget that the Orama, which was running between England and Australia prior to the war, was commandeered by the British Government, armed with guns and rendered very valuable service? Do they forget that the Commonwealth Government commandeered the Berrima, the Karoola, the Kanowna and quite a number of other vessels? There still remains in the hands of the Governments of the United Kingdom and of the Commonwealth the power to commandeer not only such ships, but any other suitable vessels on the British register ‘for use in any part of the Empire.
I do not propose to pursue the argument concerning the value of the ships in keeping down freights since this has been answered by Senator Chapman and others who have quoted instances of even great reductions for which the existence of the Line was in no wise responsible. The Leader of the Opposition seemed to think that there was some inconsistency between the speech made by the Prime Minister a year or two ago, when he was referring to a proposal to sell the ships, and his recent speech in regard to the tenders received. But the Prime Minister is also a disillusioned man. At the time he made the speech to which the honorable senator referred, he believed that the Government could lay down certain rigid conditions under which the ships should be sold. We attempted to do so; but what was the result? The shipping combine, which the Opposition tell us is so hungry for these ships, did not rush into the arena. The Government did not get a single offer for them. In these circumstances, the Prime Minister and his colleagues were convinced that the Government could not attach rigid conditions with which no purchaser would be likely to comply.
It was, however, the conclusion of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition’ which interested me most, and his reply to a pointed question by Senator Ogden as to the attitude he would adopt if the Seamen’s Union declared the ships black. An opposition is a recognized part of the system of parliamentary government. It has its place. It is the Governmenttobe at some future time. On a subject such as this it was proper, therefore, to ask the Opposition what its policy would be if a section of the citizens of this country endeavored to defeat the will of Parliament by unconstitutional action - action contrary to the law of the country. What did the Leader of the Opposition reply? He said, “I will answer that question at the proper time, and in the proper place.” Is there a more proper place than this chamber for dealing with such a question ? Is there in the Commonwealth a more appropriate place in which to put such a question and to expect a reply? This is a branch of the legislature of the Commonwealth, and Senator Needham has been elected to it by a section of the people to assist in the government of the country. Here is a definite challenge to the Parliament and Government of the country, and yet the Leader of the Opposition says that this is not the proper place in which to state his attitude.
– I said nothing of the sort. I stand to what I said.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.What is “ the proper time ? “
– It is not for the Minister to determine it.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.When this challenge is thrown down to constituted authority - when this defiance of the Parliament and the Government is threatened - surely this is the proper time for all who believe in constitutional government and the authority of Parliament to state their attitude. When could there be a more proper time - where a more proper place than this? May I suggest that what the honorable senator has in his mind is that, as on the occasion of the British seamen’s strike, and also when the transport services were held up, he will remain silent until after the event. Then only will he tell us his opinion.
– The Minister has 30 members supporting him as against six in the ranks of the Opposition. Surely he can handle the situation.
– I did not expect Senator Needham to answer the question.
– It was a question to which the honorable senator had .every reason to expect a reply.
Honorable senators opposite have declared that during the last year or so no industrial disputes have occurred in connexion with the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and that, therefore, the loss sustained by the Line cannot be attributed to that cause. That is a strange argument, because undoubtedly industrial disputes that have taken place in connexion with this Line over a series of years have inflicted most serious loss upon it. They were of a character different from that of ordinary industrial disputes. There was no disagreement over wages, hours, or other working conditions. All the benefits enjoyed by the seamen had been obtained for them, not by the Walshes or Johannsens, and other latter-day unionists, but by the Guthries, the Sangster a and other leaders .of the seamen who believed in constitutional government.
It was not Walsh and Johannsen and the Seamen’s Union, as constituted today, who obtained those conditions for the men; they already enjoyed them when these gentlemen from foreign dimes ‘ appeared on the scene, and proceeded to institute in this country what is known as job control. I do not know whether honorable, senators are fully aware of the meaning of that term; but I shall give the Senate a picture of job control as painted for me by a member of the Commonwealth Shipping Board. One of the Commonwealth liners, manned by unionists who were working under the Navigation Act, and awards of the Arbitration Court, giving the highest wages and the best conditions obtaining in any part of the world - conditions that were outlined by Senator Kingsmill, and compared by him with those obtaining in other countries - had on board hundreds of passengers who had left their homes and had all their luggage with them preparatory to proceeding to the other side of the world. The refrigerating space in the ship was full of perishable cargo, which with a week’s delay would be made absolutely valueless. There was other cargo in the holds which depended for a profitable price on reaching the market at the right time. It had been placed on board by the shippers in the hope and belief that it would reach its destination at the proper time. The ship was ready to sail, when three firemen, within an hour of the scheduled time of. departure, came up from below, and began to walk on to the gangway. They were intercepted by one of the ship’s officers, who asked them to return. Theyreplied, “ No,” and walked off. The captain was informed, and at once negotiations were begun to have them replaced. The union was communicated with, and was asked to replace the men. It refused to do so, although there were scores of unemployed seamen in the neighbourhood of the union office at the timeThe ship was thus held up. One of the men who had walked off went that night to the Superintendent of the Labour Bureau, and asked that his action should not be recorded as a black mark against him. He said - “ I did not walk off the ship voluntarily. Three of us were told that we had to leave the vessel at a certain hour. I had no grievance; but I was told that I had to walk off - that if .1. did not, I would be a marked man. I would have been declared a scab. I would have been declared black. I had to walk off at the behest of the delegate of the union.” The superintendent said that he had every reason to believe that that man had told the truth.
A good deal is said about the conduct of the men; but the blame for action of this sort is not to be laid at the door of the seamen themselves. The responsibility lies with those who under this latter day system of unionism constitute themselves the masters of . the men, and tell them what they are to do. These individuals do not take their instructions from their employers, the unionists who put them in their positions, and provide their salaries; they dictate to the men what they shall do. That is job control, and that policy was pursued relentlessly, particularly against the ships of the Commonwealth Line. Senator Chapman has shown how ship after ship of this Line was held up - and he could have made the chapter longer than he did - while ships carry ing similar cargo and sailing to the same ports, but manned by coloured and foreign labour, were allowed to sail without let or hindrance. These Australian ships manned by Australians who arc paid the highest rates of wages in the world, and who enjoyed the best conditions known, were picked out for this special treatment by the so-called Seamen’s Union. They were selected by these emissaries of the Soviet who have declared through their mouthpiece that they utilize this system not to obtain better conditions for the workers. but to bring capitalism to its knees. The trouble that is occurring with the ships of the Huddart Parker Line to-day is due to the same policy; it has been caused by the same men in the same way. How can any State-owned or even privately-owned industry succeed under those conditions, which have done more than anything else to bring about the absolute and abject failure of “ this attempt at State ownership?
But our honorable friends opposite do not believe to-day in State ownership; that is not part of their platform. What they now aim at is not the nationalization, but the socialization, of industry. In the words of Mr. Willis, one of the leaders of this new unionism, the socialization of industry means ownership of it by the men who work in the industry. State ownership we are told is. State capitalism, and is only different from private enterprise in so far as the State instead of a private capitalist, is the employer. The socialization of industry is far in advance of that, according to their wild theories, and, therefore, the men who work in the industry should own it.
That is the ideal promulgated from Moscow, and that is the ideal of the Labour party to-day. That is on their platform. But they have not the courage, even if they had the capacity, to put that plank of their policy into operation. They had .a wonderful opportunity in connexion with the sale of the Commonwealth Line, to put it into actual practice, if they believed in it. Here was a line of steamers with adi the goodwill of a going concern, which they say was capable of being made a success, and according to the Leader of the Opposition it was practically given away. When ex-Senator Bob Guthrie was Secretary of the Seamen’s Union, he told me just before he was kicked out of the Labour party, because he dared to stand for his country and advocate conscription, that they had a bank balance of £35,000, besides freehold properties in every part of the Commonwealth. I suppose that now Walsh and Johannsen have had the management of the affairs of that union for a few years, the bank balance is not quite so substantial as it formerly was. But, at any rate, they have another Treasury on which they can call to-day. They have at their back the resources of the Government of one of the greatest countries in the world. They have the resources of the Russian Government behind them, and they are linked with that government in that one of their leaders, aye, their chief apostle in this country to-day, is blatantly declared to have been promoted to a high position in the council of the Russian Government ! He is now a member of the executive of the Third Internationale, and everybody who understands the constitution of that peculiar form of Government in Russia, knows that the executive of the Third Internationale is the real Government of Russia.
What would £1,000,000 be to the Soviet? Mr. Garden had ‘ only to say “Here is a glorious opportunity to demonstrate to the people of the Commonwealth the virtues and advantages of the socialization of industry. Let us buy this Commonwealth” Line, and run it on socialistic principles. Let the men who run the industry own it, and then all the people of Australia will be converted to this great doctrine of ours.” But I have not heard a word by honorable senators opposite in advocacy of this remarkable doctrine of the socialization of industry. They have been advocating State capitalism all the time. That is not the socialization of industry. That would not be the ownership of the industry by the men who work in it. That would be only another form of capitalism. I presume, however, that honorable senators opposite will presently have to answer for their sins. Mr. Garden will want to know why they missed this unique opportunity to secure possession of the Line for less than a couple of millions.
– No wonder the Government would not give Mr. Garden a passport when he wished to go abroad, he is too great an asset to this Government.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.I. agree that he is a great political asset to us, but for quite a different reason from that which the honorable senator has in mind. Mr. Garden, at least, has the honesty to tell us where he stands ; but there are many persons holding public positions who, by their silence, give consent to his nefarious doctrines. They do not believe in them, although they have not the courage to say so. He is an asset in that he enables the people of this country to see the sort of men who are shaping the policy of the Labour party to-day. The Labour party could have possessed the Line for a mere song, to use the expression of the Leader of the Opposition. For £2,000,000 they could have given ocular demonstration of the success of their theory of the socialization of industry. The only conclusion we can draw from their inaction- is that they do not believe in the principle that has been placed on their platform, and placed on it not to attract the common-sense voters, but because the men who are driving them to-day demand that it shall be placed there. They have not the courage to denounce those who are dragging Australian unionism in the mud. They say, “ This is not the proper place or the proper time to do it,” and thus seek to avoid the issue; but they cannot avoid their responsibility by remaining silent while systems built up by the unionists of the past are being gradually broken down. Do we not all remember the splendid work that ex-Senator Guthrie did on behalf of the seamen of Australia in the framing of the Navigation Act? That measure gave them the best conditions enjoyed by seamen in the world to-day. But how did they respond ? Since the coming into force of that act their behaviour has been so rotten that it has made the measure a by-word. They have brought it into contempt throughout Australia and have created against it a public opinion, which almost imperils its existence. It is due to the excesses and the wrongful actions of men of the type of Walsh and Johannsen and to the way in which the seamen have abused the privileges which have been bestowed upon them by the people of this country. Those who sit opposite are as fully aware of this as I am; yet they allow this abuse to go on without raising a word in protest.
It has been mentioned time after time during this debate that the followers of the believers in direct action have declared that they will make every effort to thwart the will of Parliament; they will penalize the people of this country because the Parliament, elected by the people, and the Government responsible to that Parliament, hare taken a step which is believed to be in the interests of the country; in some unconstitutional way they will try to dragoon this Parliament. Yet our friends opposite in this case also have uttered no word of protest. It is that sort of. attitude that is bringing unionism into disrepute, and keeps the Labour party in Opposition, where it will remain so long as its leaders allow their courage to be subdued as it hasbeenduring this debate.
Question - That the paper be printed - put. The Senate divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 9.21 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 May 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1928/19280502_senate_10_118/>.