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Wednesday, 25 July 1906

Mr CAMERON (Wilmot) .- I offer to the Prime Minister my congratulations on the very able speech which he has just made. If the conditions of the contract are faithfully observed, Australia will undoubtedly have made a very good bargain. But, although the Prime Minister has told us, on the strength of the statements made by the person conducting; the negotiations, that there are three large ship-building companies behind Messrs. Sir James Laing and Sons, that statement demands' corroboration. Some years ago, when the Tasmanian Parliament was considering a proposal to make a railway on the West Coast, all sorts of statements were made by the person who was trying to bring about the construction of the line > but nothing came of his efforts, because his: statements were found not to be correct. . Therefore I suggest to the Prime Minister that, before the motion is passed, he should obtain assurances from the firms that he has named that they are distinctly interested in this contract, and will see that it is carried into effect. Such a course will1 remove all doubt on the subject. The honorable and learned gentleman made one little slip, to which I feel it my duty to call his attention. He told us that America has no shipping worthy of the name, because she has no import trade. But, if he refers to the Statesman' s YearBook for 1906, he will find that America is the third largest importing country on the face of the globe.

Mr Deakin - Mv statement was made on the authority of one of the best known American magazines.

Mr CAMERON - According to the Statesman's Y ear-Book, England heads the list of importing countries, Germany comes next, and America is third, with an import trade valued at £232,000,000 per annum. When the Prime Minister compares themagazine statement on which he relies withthe figures in the Statesman' s Y ear-Book, he will find that he has been in error, and, I trust, will admit it. No doubt, his eloquence led him further than he would' go if he were to repeat his speech. But, as he has been wrong in one statement, it makes it all the more necessary that he should prove that the suspicion that the contract is an attempt to work a little financial scheme is unfounded. It would be, surely, a simple matter to obtain a telegram of confirmation from the firms in question, and thus set all doubts at rest. Because there are many doubting Thomases about - I refer, not to the honorable member for Barrier, but to those who say that the contract is too good to be likely to be carried out. In my opinion, the Governments of the States made a great mistake, in refusing to co-operate with the Prime Minister in making arrangements to secure accommodation on the mail steamers for the conveyance of perishable produce, but we know that they are very jealous of the Commonwealth Government, because of the well-founded fear that this Parliament wishes to usurp the powers of the States, and they are determined not to allow that to be done. To my mind1, the Governments of the States have acted against the interests of their people in not entertaining the Prime Minister's offer. I cordially recognise the spirit in which that offer was made, and believe that, had it been accepted, rft would have been to the manifest advantage of the people of Australia. The honorable member for Barrier spoke eloquently in favour of his proposal for the establishment of a fleet ot vessels to be owned by the Commonwealth. An argument which has been used to support this proposal is that the States railways have proved beneficial to the people of Australia, and that a. Commonwealth steamship line should be equally useful. I think that that argument will not hold water. When it was first proposed to construct railways in Australia, the population of the country was very small, and not very wealthy. English companies had no inducement to construct railways here without land concessions, or large yearly grants of money. The various States Governments, however, were charged with the means of providing communication between the ports and the interior, and found that they could borrow money cheaply in London for the construction of railway's to open up the country.

Mr Batchelor - If it had been left to private enterprise, Australia would not have been developed.

Mr CAMERON - As the Governments of the States had alienated very little land at the time, they were, by making railways, improving their own property. The construction of railways enabled them to settle people in the country, and increase their revenue accordingly. The proposal that we should acquire a fleet of mail steamers is, however, of an entirely different character, because private owners are ready to do all that we require in- the way of providing us with shipping accommodation. If we found it difficult to induce shipowners to send their vessels here, we might reasonably ask the Government to engage in the undertaking recommended by the Commission; but it would be the height of folly for us, under present conditions, to enter into competition which could only end in disaster. "Under these circumstances, I feel that it is impossible for me to support the amendment.

Mr Thomas - I am sorry to hear that, because I was reckoning on the support of the honorable member.

Mr CAMERON - I can assure the honorable member that when he brings down a reasonable and sensible proposal, designed to promote the best interests of the community as a whole, I shall give him my strongest support. If, however, he submits schemes which can only end in disaster, or can benefit only one section of the community at the expense of the great majority of the people, he will meet with my bitterest opposition.

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