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Tuesday, 24 July 1906

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) .- It is to be regretted that the honorable member who has just resumed his seat did not receive the last copy of Hansard and the other Parliamentary documents necessary to enable him to prepare his case. Had he done so, he would not have inflicted upon the House a series of very attenuated arguments, and what I may describe, I hope without offence, as some absurd conclusions. The honorable member, in the concluding portion of his speech, said that the Royal' Commission had not attempted to deal with the salient points in the proposal to establish a Commonwealth fleet on a socialisticbasis. He left it to be inferred that, although a Government could purchase brains and energy, it could not guarantee that those brains and that energy would work for the State as vigorously as they would do in their own interests. But he concealed the fact that the brains and the energy employed in directing great private enterprises are very often purchased just in the same way as they would be if employed by a Government Department. I venture to say that the men who direct the great enterprises of the world are not always - are very seldom, indeed - actually shareholders in them. So that the real position is not as stated by the honorable member. I am rather sorry that he should have constituted himself the latest champion of the party which he joins in denominating " the stinking fish party," the party which is always prepared to repudiate the possibility of anything good coming out of Australia - the party which has attempted to blacken the good name of this community, and to hold us up before the world as a people who would shut out British subjects from cur shores, and as having actually refused to allow drowning men to land'.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Any one who does not believe in Socialism is a member of "the stinking fish party" !

Mr MAHON - I say that when the honorable member, admittedly on insufficient evidence, proclaimed these Commonwealth steamers must be a failure from their inception, he undoubtedly linked himself with those who are continually decrying Australia.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yet the honorable member supports the Government which is going to do the same thing !

Mr MAHON - I do not know any member of this House who is more intolerant of interruptions than the honorable member is ; and when, early in his speech, I made what I considered to be a relevant remark, he actuallylost his temper, and told me that I was making an impertinent interjection. There was nothing impertinent in what I said. He was talking at that time about a purely legal question, and, as he was not a lawyer, I conceived that if there was anything in his point it should be argued out between legal authorities, rather than in a House mainly composed of laymen. Therefore, I think that my interjection was not impertinent, but was, on the contrary, extremely relevant to the point at issue.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If it was not impertinent, it was absurd.

Mr MAHON - We will leave it at that. I am quite prepared to accept the honorable member's opinion of any interjection . which I make provided that he will accept my judgment as to his observations.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Do not be so nasty ! Mr. MAHON. - If I have had the misfortune to be "nasty, " it is difficult to avoid the example which the honorable member sets in his own speeches. I do not wish to revive old sores, tout, really, the honorable member is the last one who should mention that word. He commented very severely upon the first paragraph of the report of the Royal Commission, dealing with the question of poundage as opposed to the payment of a subsidy for the carriage of our mails. He said that it was impossible to dissociate the commercial classes, the producers, and the exporters from the rest of the community. The first paragraph in the report emphasizes the fact that this subsidized mail service is instituted chiefly for the benefit of a very small class of the community - that is to say, for those who are actually interested in commerce, whether as importers or exporters, and those who are engaged indirectly in such occupations. The honorable member overlooks the fact that 80 per cent . of the people of Australia were born in this country, and have very little interest in old-world affairs. The great bulk of the native-born people of Australia, and also a large number who have come to this country, and who have made their homes here, no longer have any necessity for communicating with the old world. They do not often write letters to send abroad. Therefore, it was pointed out in the report that it was immaterial to these people whether the mail-boats occupied three or four days more in the delivery of letters. It further went on to say - and I think justly - that the burden of payment for these subsidized mail services should be transferred, so that they might fall upon those who directly benefit. Although the honorable member may choose to say that it is impossible to dissociate the commercial classes from the rest of the community, there is, I think, good ground for saying that these charges should be borne by the people who reap the bulk of the benefit. The mail subsidies are paid out of Customs revenue, to which, as a matter of fact, as every one knows from experience, the working man, who rarely uses the over-sea mail services, contributes almost equally with the wealthier classes.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The cost is only borne out of Customs revenue when there is a deficiency in the Postal revenue.

Mr MAHON - Exactly; but the honorable member knows that there is a deficiency in the working of the Postal and Telegraph Department every year.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That has not always been the case. Before Federation the Western Australian Post Office showed a surplus, and bore the cost of the mail subsidy.

Mr MAHON - At the present time there is, I think, only one State in the Commonwealth, namely, South Australia, in which the Post and Telegraph Department is paying its way. Taking the service over the whole of the six States, the honorable member for Parramatta cannot deny that the work is carried on at considerable loss. That being so, the deficit is undoubtedly made good out of the Customs revenue,' of which, as the honorable member is perfectly aware, the working classes of Australia pay an undue share. These are the" classes who, I say, do not use the oversea service to any great extent. On the general proposition that those who get the benefit of any Government service - of any collective effort of the people - should share in the cost, I should like to quote some extracts from speeches delivered at the recent Conference of Premiers, held in Sydney, in April, of this year. When the question came up of providing funds for old-age pensions, the President of the Conference, Mr. Carruthers, Premier of New South Wales, said - ...... if ihe Commonwealth authorities will impose duties on tea and kerosene, and hypothecate or earmark Ihe revenue from those duties for the purpose of old-acre pensions, we shall have the back of the expenditure broken, and we shall Ret, in a simple way, a contribution from Ihe classes who most largely are the recipients of this pension. " In a simple way " are the words which Mr. Carruthers used"; and here we have a proposal to make the workers of Australia, who share in old-age pensions, direct contributors to the fund. Then, Mr. Bent, Premier of Victoria, on the same occasion, said -

Tt is the view of the Victorian Government that it would be wise for us at this stage to urge that the people who obtain the pension should contribute a little through the duties on kerosene and tea.

Mr. Davies,another member of the Conference from Victoria, said -

We do not propose either, that it (Federal pension fund) should be raised by some tax from the payment of which those who would get the chief benefit would be exempted.

Here we have ample precedent and justification for the position taken up bv the Royal Commission in the first paragraph of their report. Let me summarize the facts. Here is a subsidized mail service, used almost exclusively by one class of people in the community - that class who have business in oversea commerce; and to make up any deficiency in the payment for the service, the whole people Of the community are taxed. Mr. Coghlan recently estimated that about 80 per cent, of the residents in Australia are natives of the continent ; and that 80 per cent., I may assume, have very little interest in the social or domestic affairs of people on the other side of the world.

Mr Johnson - Does the honorable member say that the 80 per cent, of the community have no relatives on the other side of the world?

Mr MAHON - Not for one moment; but the honorable member for Lang knows as well as I do that even those from the old country, who have lived, as I have, for nearly a quarter of a century in Australia, have very little correspondence with the old country. It is wonderful how one's correspondence diminishes year by year, until it is represented bv one or two letters.

Mr Johnson - I think the honorable member is mistaken.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member' for Coolgardie is absolutely correct.

Mr MAHON - I am giving my own experience. '

Mr Johnson - Which is necessarily limited.

Mr MAHON - Quite so; but 1 apprehend that what happens in my case, also happens in the case of other people. Therefore, I agree with the finding of the Royal Commission that the bulk of the public would not be inconvenienced by the adoption of the poundage system - that the mere fact that letters were delayed three or four days extra on the voyage, would not affect the great majority of the people in any way. The honorable member for Parramatta was, I think, quite at sea when he contended that the bulk of the people are interested in the maintenance of the oversea mail contract. It is a serious matter that the people of Australia should be paying £80,000 per annum more than, is necessary for the conveyance df the mails to England. When the honorable member asserted that the service of mail steamers is the test of all communication between Great Britain and Australia - that it nerves other shipping companies to make speedier voyages - did he ignore the fact that there are no mail subsidies as between Great Britain and America, and that the duration of voyages across the Atlantic has been reduced within the last twenty or thirty years by from 2 5 per cent, to 40 per cent. ?

Mr Deakin - The honorable member knows that there are some subventions in the case of the Atlantic service?

Mr MAHON - I know that the time of the voyage between England and America has been very considerably reduced during the last twenty years, not because of any mail subsidy, but simply because the steamship owners have found it pay them to provide a quicker and better service. In my opinion, the same result would follow in the case of the service between England and Australia. In the natural order of things private shipping companies would undoubtedly provide greater facilities in a very short time. The honorable member for Parramatta spoke of the revenue of the line of steamers as remaining at the present dimensions. Nobody who takes a rational view of Australian development could- agree with the honorable member in that respect. On all sides we see evidences of greater prosperity - increased exports as well as increased imports. We know that Australia has enjoyed several good seasons, and that a wave of prosperity has reached this country, causing our revenues to expand, and enabling the public to spend more money in every way. Consequently the honorable member is not doing justice to the Royal Commission when he claims that its calculations are based entirely on the present position of affairs. On the contrary. I think the Royal Commission was justified in holding that the export trade of Australia will largely increase, and that a Commonwealth line of steamers would undoubtedly share in the increased passenger and goods business. The honorable member for Parramatta also said that the shipping companies which at present carry on the traffic would not take "lying down " the competition of a Federal line of steamers. That mav be so ; but I remind the honor-_ able member that dealing with the Govern-' ment is altogether a different matter from dealing with a private company. The Orient and Pacific Steam Navigation Company and the Peninsular and , Oriental Steam Navigation Company, if they attempted to apply unfair tactics; to the Commonwealth, would find that we have power within us to resent such tactics in a most decisive and emphatic way, which they would remember. The honorable member tried to justify his condemnation of this paragraph in the report of the Royal

Commission by saying that anomalies are not peculiar to mail contracts, and he mentioned the fact that the* Postal and Telegraph Department carries newspapers at a lower rate than that for letters. The honorable member should have remembered that the Department differentiates in regard to the importance in value of mail matter; but he altogether ignored that aspect of the matter. A newspaper is of comparatively little importance compared with a private letter, and therefore the Department chargesless for the conveyance of a newspaper than it does for a letter. The honorable member also mentioned an anomaly connected with railway management1, and stated that stone in the rough is carried over the railways at a lowerrate than that charged for carved stone. These were, of course, merely illustrations, but throughout his speech the honorablemember ignored the fact that the value of the article carried is an essential factor in* fixing the rate in connexion with all transportation charges. As I have already said,, the honorable member was placed at a great disadvantage in not having morematerial at hand in criticising the proposed contract. At various times he asked for more information, but I did not hear him specify the particular points which he desired should be further elucidated. Insome respects, I think the honorable member's speech was rather contradictory. For instance, he said that if the Governmenthad really completed this contract, they had' made a good bargain, and in the next breath, he said that the penalty of £25.000- to be enforced against the company under certain conditions was altogether out of proportion to the loss which the Commonwealth would sustain if the company did not carry out the contract. As a matter of fact, the honorable member said that Weshould sustain a loss of at least £300,000, whilst it might be infinitely more, and for that reason urged that the contractor should toe asked to deposit more 'than £25,000. How the honorable member can regard as a good bargain a contract which involves a possible loss to the Commonwealth of £300,000 without any compensation is more than I can understand. The honorable member further said that; in case of default, the company would incur nogreater liability than the loss of the deposit of £25,000. I direct his attention to the fact that in the third paragraph' of clause 39 of the Conditions of Contract, it is stated that -

The Postmasler-General may at once call upon the contractor and his sureties to enter into a new bond to increase the amount from£25,000 to£50,000, and so on. So that the honorable member was not accurate either in his criticism of the contract or of the Commission's report.

Mr Johnson - The contractors need not pay the extra £25,000; they could simply cancel their contract.

Mr MAHON - I am not a lawyer, but I think the honorable member will find that the Commonwealth Government would have the power to enforce the penalty of £50,000.

Mr Ewing - Hear, hear.

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