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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Mr THOMAS (Barrier) .- I am opposed to the first portion of the amendment, because I have always held that our mail contracts should be contracts for purely postal services. I am glad that the proposed agreement is for a service of that description.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - Then why all the talk which has been indulged in regarding the provision which should be made for the carriage of cargo?

Mr THOMAS - The agreement provides that the mails shall be delivered at Adelaide, and that the service shall terminate there.

Mr Fisher - Not if the ships go further.

Mr THOMAS - They are not bound to go further. If they go further,they will carry the heavy postal parcels, and thus obviate the necessity for them being forwarded by rail. If the amendment be agreed to, it must necessarily reopen the whole question of the carriage of our mails, because a great many otherconditions would have to be considered. Take, for example, the proposal that the mail steamers should visit Brisbane. Before any such arrangement could be entered into, it would be necessary for the Government to know what amount of trade the vessels would be likely to obtain there. The contract between the Queensland Government and the Orient Steam Navigation Company was made upon the understanding that the whole of the exporters of butter from that State would ship their commodity by the mail steamers. The reason why the vessels of the Orient Steam Navigation Company were willing to proceed to Brisbane for a subsidy of , £26,000 per annum was that they were assured of a certain amount by way of freight upon the butter exported from Queensland. The Commonwealth Government, however, could give no such guarantee. Last night the Prime Minister read the communications; which he had received from the various States Governments in reference to the carriage of perishable produce, and the reply of the Queensland Government offered him no guarantee that a single pound of butter would be exportedby the new mail vessels if they called at Brisbane.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The Queensland Government cannot give him any such assurance while the present contract is in existence.

Mr THOMAS - If any proposals were made by the Governmentin the direction suggested, the first question they would be asked by the contractors is, "What quantity of cargo can we obtain from Brisbane?" If they could secure a paying cargo, they would visit that port without a single penny being added to the subsidy. It will thus be seen that a large number of questions would be raised immediately if the contract provided for other than a purely postal service. When the Shipping Commission was taking evidence in Adelaide, three witnesses appeared before it, one being an agent, and the other two being fruit exporters. These witnesses assured us that if they desired to ship fruit to the old country, either by the vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company or the Orient Steam Navi gation Company, they had to enter into an undertaking to allow that fruit to be sold by the agents of those companies in London.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - That condition does not obtain in regard to the export of Tasmanian fruit.

Mr THOMAS - The Shipping Service Commission was told by a witness that it applied to Adelaide, . and that it cost him 1s. 6d. per case more to have his fruit sold in London through the agents of these companies than it did under another arrangement open to him. He was consequently forced to ship his fruit to England by other steamers. Any one who has a knowledge of the export trade in perishable products is aware that our exporters find it advantageous to ship by the mail steamers,because of their speed and regularity. That being so, it is only fair that the advantage of being able to ship by such steamers should be extended to exporters in every State capital. If it be true that the. Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Steam Navigation Company are able to impose on shippers in Adelaide conditions which they cannot enforce in Melbourne, Sydney, or Hobart, owing to the larger consignments of fruit offering there, it will be necessary for us, if this question is to be dealt with in the contract now before us, to provide that every person shall he at liberty to avail himself of the cool chambers on board these steamers, and to ship hisperishable produce by them without any condition as. to its sale in England. If we were to enter upon "these questions we should also have to determine whether or not the company should be required to reserve a certain area of cool 'storage for shippers in each State capital. The company might otherwise allow all the cool storage space on a steamer to be occupied by a shipment from Brisbane or Sydney, leaving no space whatever for shippers at Adelaide. If this is not to be a purely postal contract, we shall have to give consideration to all these questions. They are so important that, even if their discussion extended over a week, no ' complaint could be made, but I do not think that the Post and Telegraph Department should have to pay for more than the carriage of the mails. Under the existing contract with the Orient Steam NavigationCompany, Queensland has had a sentimental, but cer tainly not a. legitimate, grievance. That contract provides that the mail steamers shall call at Sydney and Melbourne, but the provision does not cost the Commonwealth a penny more than it would otherwise have to pay.

Mr Fisher - It is a good thing that Broken Hill is not on a river.

Mr THOMAS - If I made an unjustifiable claim on behalf of Broken Hill, it would not be said that I was right in doing so.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Of course nothing must go beyond Sydney.

Mr THOMAS - That is not a fair statement. Even if we inserted in this contract a provision that the mail steamers should call at Melbourne and Sydney, we should not be called upon to pay an additional subsidy, but Brisbane takes the stand that such a provision would be unfair to itself. This contract, therefore, does away with the sentimental grievance under which the capital of the northern State has labored. It says, in effect, to the contractors, " Your steamers need not go beyond Adelaide, unless you desire that they shall do so." There is no doubt, however, that they will proceed to Melbourne and Sydney. As Brisbane's sentimental grievance has beenremoved, I hope we shall agree that this contract shall be purely a postal one, providing for nothing more than the delivery of the mails at Adelaide.

Mr Johnson - By way of personal explanation, Mr. Speaker, I wish to state thatwhen I roseto second the amendment I was under the impression that it. had been proposed in the form in which it stands on the notice paper. I was not aware that the first clause had been so altered as to give it an entirely new complexion. I wish to take this opportunity ofstating that I do not agree with the alteration in question.

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