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Tuesday, 24 July 1906

Mr HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh) . - Just prior to the dinner hour the honorable member for Laanecoorie expressed the opinion that the Government had made excellent terms with the contractors. From the point of view of Ministers, possibly that statement mav be correct, but we have to consider whether it would mot be possible to improve the conditions. I think that that could be done. If the Commonwealth mails could be profitably carried by a company, the service could, with equal advantage, be undertaken bv the State. The honorable member for Parramatta told us that the company that were taking the new contract in hand were entirely new to this business. Therefore, they are on exactly the same footing that the Commonwealth would occupy if we decided to carry on the service for ourselves. The honorable member for Laanecoorie stated that there was no comparison between the conveyance of mails upon Government railways and the performance of similar work by State-owned steamers. The reason which he advanced was that we were going outside our own boundaries. I should like to point out to him that in South Australia, and the other States today, we are doing business outside our own boundaries - business with the old country, which I hope will continue to increase. In South Australia, we have established a depot to which the producer can. send a crate of fowls, a few pounds of butter, or other produce, and so soon as it has entered the depot, the Government assume! Control of it, ship it to the old country, and return him any profit that mav accrue from the transaction, whilst, if a loss be incurred, he is charged with it. In the past, the difficulty experienced has been to get our produce carried to the foreign market in first-class condition. Another difficulty has been to get reasonable terms, and it would be entirely in the interests of the producers if we established a Commonwealth line of steamers, not only for the purpose of carrying, our mails, but for the purpose of giving them far better terms than they can obtain under private enterprise. In this connexion, I have only to mention the enormous charges which have been levied by the mail companies for the carriage of butter to the old country. To-day, those steamers are carrying that commodity at something like half the freight which they formerly changed. Of course, we are told that butter is being carried1 at a loss, just as we are assured that the Orient Steam Navigation Company's enterprise results in a loss, but I am very doubtful of the accuracy of that statement. The honorable member for Laanecoorie desired to know if a national line of mail steamers would pay. I do not want to see a Commonwealth service established which will pay in the sense that a service conducted by private enterprise pays. What I desire to know is, " Can we, without loss, offer our producers better terms, and carry our mails much cheaper than they are being carried at the present time?" T am quite convinced that we can. I do not know whether the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier will command a majority but I shall certainly vote for it. It will not be my fault if it does not obtain a majority. Those who desire to see us obtain the best terms for the carriage of our mails and our produce, should support the honorable member for Barrier. We have been repeatedly told that the trade of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and Orient Steam Navigation Company is an unprofitable one. ' Yet, we find that shipping company after shipping company is not only coming here to compete in what is alleged to be an unprofitable business, but, after engaging in the trade, is building steamer after steamer. I can quite understand the Orient Steam Navigation Company declaring that they have not made a profit upon their Australian business. That may be so, but I would point out that some of those who are chiefly interested in that company, receive very large salaries as managers, dwell in magnificent palaces, and live like princes. They do not do that upon the losses which are incurred in the Australian trade. If I were conducting a large business, and received a large salary as manager, I would not grumble if I did not obtain a dividend. . It would not matter to me whether I was receiving £5,000 a year as manager, or the same amount in dividends.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Which of the managers of the mail companies receive


Mr HUTCHISON - I know of other companies whose managers receive that amount. I know of one industry in Western Australia, the chief director of which is receiving a salary of £5,000 per annum. I refer to the timber industry. I do not know what salary the manager of the Orient Steam Navigation Company receives, but I am quite sure that if his dividends were taken into consideration, he is getting considerably more than £5,000 a -year.


Mr Fowler - Is it not possible that' there is a commission for superintendence?

Mr HUTCHISON - That is very probable. Let us suppose that a national line of steamers did not pay. What right have we to ask a company to embark upon an enterprise in connexion with which we propose to pay a verv' large subsidy, if we know full well that, despite that subsidy, it will not pay?. I am very unwilling to believe that shrewd business men like Sir James Laing and Sons are prepared to sink an enormous amount of capital in the construction of a line of steamers if they are satisfied that the undertaking will result in a certain loss: Seeing that the inhabitants of the Commonwealth would derive any benefit which might flow from the establishment of a national line of steamers, I hold that if the enterprise resulted in a loss it is only fair that they should be called upon to bear it. Throughout Australia to-day the cry of a large section of the community is, " Let us have immigrants. Let us spend money in bringing them here." I should like any money which may be spent in defraying the passages of immigrants to Australia to go to our own line of steamers. We are asked to pay an enormous subsidy to a line of steamers for carrying our mails, and then - if I can judge of the temper of the liberal portion of the community - to bring to the Commonwealth a large number of immigrants whose passages would cost an amount sufficient to build a large fleet of our own. We have only to look at the history of immigration schemes in Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia to ascertain what they have cost. With the sum which has been expended upon them we could have had our own line of steamers running to-dev. Whether the undertaking would1 prove directly remunerative is immaterial. Even if it could be shown that there would not be a monetary profit straight away, the proposal would not stand condemned in my eyes. As the Shipping Commission has pointed out, the large subsidy which we are now paying for the carriage of our mails is being paid for the exclusive benefit of our commercial community. If it were not for that section of the community we need not insist upon securing an accelerated mail service at all. The report of the Commission states -

It does not appear that outside the class mentioned the general community would, to any material extent, be inconvenienced by the adoption of the poundage system. A few days' delay in the deliveryin Great Britain of private correspondence, which occupies some five weeks in completing the whole journey, can rarely involve hardship either to the writers or recipients of such correspondence. Moreover, the heavy subsidy now being paid for the conveyance of oversea mails conflicts with the principle which the Department usually follows in regard to inland mails - that each service shall pay its way. Any deficiency in postal revenue must be made good out of Customs and Excise taxation -

I want honorable members to take particular notice of that - and as the; bulk of this taxation is paid by the masses who rarely use the subsidized service, we think some effort should be made to re-adjust charges, so that the burden of the subsidy may fall upon those who are directly benefited by it.

Mr Liddell - Do not the masses benefit indirectly by the present service?

Mr HUTCHISON - No. I ask the honorable member to look around the circle of his acquaintances, and to point to one who derives any benefit, either ditrectly or indirectly, as the result of the mail steamers reaching Australia a day or two earlier than would otherwise be the case. But every one would benefit by the adoption of the poundage system, seeing that it would effect a saving of£80,000 annually. There is not a single acquaintance of mine - and I have a few hundred scattered throughout the Commonwealth - who would suffer loss by the adoption of the poundage system.

Mr Wilks - With the exception of that friend of the honorable member's - the merchant prince - in South Australia.

Mr HUTCHISON - I will give another illustration.I find that at the Premiers' Conference - carrying out the idea of the Shipping Commission, that the cost of the mail service ought to be borne by those who benefit by it-

Mr Mahon - The Premiers' Conference was held before the Commission reported.

Mr HUTCHISON - I am aware of that. At the Premiers' Conference Mr. Carruthers stated -

If the Commonwealth will impose duties on tea and kerosene and hypothecate or earmark the revenue from those duties for old-age pensions we shall get in a simple way a contribution from the classes who most largely are the recipients of those pensions.

The demand is always made that the poor shall contribute to the cost of any scheme from which the community is to receive a benefit. The honorable member is one of those who would seek to shift the burden of this subsidy on to the shoulders of the poor - who receive no gain from it - by requiring that any loss should be made good out of Customs and Excise revenue. At the same Conference, the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Bent, said -

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

That is the way with some legislators ! They would shift these burdens on to the backs of those who have become poor in making others wealthy.

Mr Wilks - Do they not already contribute by way of the duties on narcotics and stimulants?

Mr HUTCHISON - They contribute in every direction, and the Opposition will not assist us to remove some of these burdens from their shoulders.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They contribute more largely through a heavy Tariff.

Mr HUTCHISON - As the result of the reduction in the telegraphic rates - and very few poor people use the service to any extent - there was a loss amounting to £11,000 in South Australia, and £11,000 in Queensland, during the year before last. That reduction was made entirely in the interests of the commercial classes, and the poor have to make good the loss so occasioned. It is time that we had something different.

Mr Wilks - And the honorable member has been fighting for the manufacturer just as keenly as others have been fighting for the commercial classes.

Mr HUTCHISON - I have been fighting both for the manufacturer and the worker. I am not particularly anxious to protect the manufacturer, unless he is prepared to protect the labour employed by him. By way of further illustrating the point I wish to make, I would quote the statement made at the Conference of Premiers by Mr. Davies, Attorney-General for Victoria, who emphasized what the Premiers of Victoria and New South Wales had said. Referring to the old-age pension fund, he stated -

We do not propose that it should be raised by some tax from the payment of which those who would get the chief benefit of it would be exempted.

If this system is to be adopted, then it is time that the commercial classes, who will reap the benefit of the accelerated mail service, should be called upon to contribute the larger subsidy that we may have to pay. I am sorry that the honorable member for Barrier is not likely to carry his amendment, but I am glad that there is in the contract a provision .giving the Commonwealth power to take over these steamers whenever the Parliament mav decide to do so. We are nearing a general election, and it is possible that the honorable member for Barrier, if defeated1 on the present occasion, may be successful in the next Parliament. One of the provisions of the contract of which I do not altogether approve is that which calls upon the contractors to provide a guarantee of only £27,500. Having regard to the extent of the speculation, that is a very small sum.

Mr Wilks - Tt is a mere bagatelle.

Mr HUTCHISON - In the circumstances it is.

Mr Ewing - Usually there is no deposit.

Mr HUTCHISON - Had the Governments responsible for other contracts looked after the interests of the country they would have insisted upon a substantial guarantee being given in each case. Still, there is no comparison between the existing established mail service and a purely speculative company.

Mr Ewing - They are not speculative. Sir James Laing and Sons Limited are as strong as the Orient Steam Navigation Company.

Mr HUTCHISON - They will be as strong as the Orient Steam Navigation Company when they succeed with this contract. There is no proof, however, that they are going to carry on the venture. Thev are possibly going to sell the concession - just as many Government concessions are hawked about and sold - to someone who may not be quite as capable of fulfilling it as they are.

Mr Wilks - Laing and Sons Limited are only speculative ship-builders.

Mr Ewing - Oh, no.

Mr HUTCHISON - I have sufficient faith in them to believe that if they retained the contract entirely in their own hands they would carry it out successfully, but we have no guarantee that they will. I am not in favour of the contract - I prefer something that would be better for the community. I am in favour of a national line of steamers which would carry out a patriotic work in a way that is not done to-day by many ship-owners. Much to the detriment of our mercantile marine, we have steamers employing large numbers of lascars in doing work which could be much better performed by white labour. The Orient Steam Navigation Company say that they employed them, not because they are cheaper, but because they are more amenable to conditions. Have honorable members ever seen the lascars on the mail steamers taking a meal ? Have they seen them gathered round a tub of food without knives or forks, and plunging their hands into it? They behave like hogs. It is not for the benefit of the lascars that these steam-ship companies employ them. It is shocking to see them eating on these vessels.

Mr Liddell - I have seen them many a time, and they are quite as clean as the honorable member is.

Mr HUTCHISON - The honorable member does not know what he is talking about. They never trouble to wash their hands before sitting down to a meal. If the honorable member thinks that they are so clean, I shall avail myself of the firstopportunity to secure for him an invitation to dine with them, whilst I look on. Under our mail contracts we must have white labour, as long as we have a Liberal Government in power. There is little likelihood of the Opposition gaining office; but if they did, the white labour section in the Post and Telegraph Act would be struck out.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Do not say that.

Mr HUTCHISON - The Opposition tell us that they would strike it out.

Mr Carpenter - They only say that.

Mr HUTCHISON - They mean what they say; but, happily, they are not in a position to carry out their desire in that respect. The position in regard to our mercantile marine is so bad that if we were called upon to take part in the great struggle that must come in the near future we should not have sufficient men to man our ships. And yet, year after year, the lascars employed on mail steamers are increasing. Do I want lascars to fight for my hearth and home? Do those who have property wish to intrust them with it? Nothing of the kind ! Purely patriotic considerations should lead us to recognise that it is time we established a Commonwealthowned line of steamers, in which we could1 train seamen, not for the British Navy, but for our own Australian Navy. As the result of the establishment of such a line of mail steamers, the rebate system would disappear. We know what the mail companies have done in the past. One gentleman alone has got something like £12,000 in commission and rebates. And1for what? For cheating the producers of this country by compelling them to allow him to ship all their butter and other produce at far more than would be a reasonable figure for carrying at.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Government railways have also been paying rebates. "

Mr HUTCHISON - I am just as much opposed to them when paid by a Government ; and I am quite sure that when the railways of this country belong to the Commonwealth, as one day they will, the rebate system will be ended. The Commonwealth could not, under the Constitution, allow them to be paid. Had it not been for the statements made in opposition to the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier, I should not have had much to say upon this proposal. I am not opposed to the contract itself, although I believe that there is room for amendment in it. It is a little bit onesided. It leans rather to the side of the contractors.

Mr Wilks - The honorable member does not believe in the principle of subsidies.

Mr HUTCHISON - I would not pay subsidies at all. I would devote the money to the maintenance of a Government line of steamers. The British Government at one time believed in paying subsidies, but now it has discontinued them on the American lines of steamers. A Commonwealthowned line of steamers would prevent a shipping combine from fleecing our producers in the way th'ey have done. The very fact of the new line coming into existence will insure much fairer charges being made to our exporters, who at present are being treated most unfairly. Fair play is not at present being accorded to our coastal trade. To my way of thinking as a layman - and my view is backed up by the soundest legal opinion that can be obtained in this country - we provided by Act of Parliament that when over-sea steamers engaged in the coastal traffic they should pay the same rates of wages as our local shipowners have to pay. That was a fair provision. Commonwealth-owned steamers would pay the wages rates ruling in the Commonwealth, and that in'.itself would be an advantage to those, ship-owners who are at present carrying on our coastal trade. I am astonished that the Commonwealth Government has refused to do justice in this connexion. They are not likely to do justice until such time as a stronger party from my side of the House is able to compel them. We cannot compel them to do it at present.


Mr HUTCHISON - Because, unfortunately, we have not the numbers. I only wish that we had the power that the honorable member for Parramatta sometimes suggests that we have. I can assure him that if we had it we should use it to compel a good many things to be done that are at present undone. Is there any plank in our platform that is being advocated by the Government at the present moment? Not one ! I may add that, although personally I advocate the nationalizing of our mail services, the Labour Party as a party has not said that it is in favour of nationalizing them, or, in fact, of ' nationalizing, any other industry. All that it has said is that it is in favour of nationalizing monopolies. Before we nationalize monopolies, we have first to obtain the power, and, secondly, to prove that a monopoly exists. I go somewhat further than that, and say that I am prepared to nationalize any undertaking at the earliest moment whether it has been proved to be a monopoly or not, if, by so doing, we can secure a better service to the community for the money expended'. . For the reasons I have given, I shall have the greatest pleasure in supporting the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier.

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