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Wednesday, 7 December 1927

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - At present a subsidy of £130,000 a year is paid to the Orient Steamship Company for the carriage of overseas mails. Although it is termed a mail subsidy, I have been informed by the department, in answer to a question that I asked in this chamber recently, that it is granted not merely for the carriage of mails, but also for the provision of refrigerated space. The Orient Company provides not more than 2,500,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space, whilst other boats provide about 40,000,000 cubic feet. I desire the Minister to state how much longer the contract has to run, and whether any future contract will contain a similar clause. If it is to be a part of the contract, I desire to protest against the amount being charged to the Postmaster-General's Department. It might be said that it does not matter which department pays the money, but I maintain that each department should bear its own burden. Sometimes when we make requests for additional postal facilities we are told that they cannot be provided because the department is not paying its way. Here is a direction, in which £100,000 may be saved annually to the PostmasterGeneral's Department. I realize that the existing contract cannot be altered, but in any future contract entered into the position should be rectified. It is absurd to pay any subsidy for the provision of refrigerated space. A subsidy might have been necessary twenty years ago, when few vessels had cooling chambers, but this is not the position to-day. I have long advocated the abolition of the mail subsidy, because I believe that we should do better by having our mail matter carried at poundage rates. The contract provides for a four-weekly service.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Vessels belonging to the Orient Company come and go every fortnight.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That may be so, but the subsidy is for one trip each way per month.

Senator Crawford - The contract is on a four-weekly basis, but vessels of the Orient Company call here fortnightly.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The additional trip each month is run to suit the convenience of the company, and not to meet the requirements of the mail contract. That is a further argument for the abolition of the subsidy. Although the contract provides for only one trip each way per month, we really get a fortnightly service. What further evidence is required that there is no longer any need for a subsidy? The competition among the shipping companies is so great that their vessels will come here irrespective of any mail subsidy. The granting of the subsidy has not resulted in a quicker service. We do not get our letters now much more quickly than we did 25 years ago. In fact, 40 years ago letters from England took less time to reach us than is the case to-day, because at that time they were taken overland to Brindisi, in Italy, whence they were conveyed by a fast steamer to Suez. The result was that letters which left London a week after the mail steamer were placed on board that vessel at Suez. Now mails from England are unloaded at Marseilles, so that they take only four days less to reach Australia than if placed on board the steamer in London. I understand that the alteration from Brindisi to Marseilles was considered advisable because of the unreliable nature of the Italian railways at that time. As that condition no longer exists it might be advisable to revert to the previous system. I should like to know whether in future the carriage of mails will be combined with the provision of refrigerated space.

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