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Friday, 15 September 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - This provision is meant to give a discretionary power to the Governor-General in Council to exempt a specified class of boats - that is to say, British ships - in regard to a specified part of the trade. Senator Givens was quite inaccurate in saying that the provision will apply to the whole of the coastal trade. If he will read the clause he will see that the provision applies merely to the passenger trade, and cargo is specifically excluded from it.

Senator Givens - I said so in my remarks.

Senator PEARCE - I suppose that most of us have a King Charles' head, which we like to drag in on every occasion, and his objection to Western Australia is King Charles' head with Senator Givens. Anything that is likely to confer "an advantage upon Western Australia is taboo with the honorable senator immediately.

Senator Givens - I want the same laws to apply to Western Australia as apply to every other State.

Senator PEARCE - If the honorable senator has not concluded his remarks, I shall sit down and allow him to continue. There are other parts of Australia, including some portions of the State from which Senator Givens comes, which may w.ell benefit from this provision, and which require it quite as much as does Western Australia.

Senator Givens - They have not asked for it.

Senator PEARCE - First of all, as regards the competition for passengers, the area within which the provision would apply is limited, and it cannot be disputed that the mail boats passenger charges to and from Western Australia are at least 25 per cent, higher than the charges made by Australian-owned ships. The Australianowned ships therefore cannot complain of any competition in the matter. Freights do not come into the question, because no cargo is involved in the proposal. Let us look at the position of the Northern Territory. Senator Millen says that there are no British ships trading there. That is so, but is it not possible that if under this provision the exemption is allowed in the case of British ships, whilst foreignowned ships are excluded from the benefit of it, it may operate as an inducement to British ships to trade with the Northern Territory ?

Senator Walker - One British company - the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company Limited - is trading there now.

Senator PEARCE - We are all agreed that it is desirable that the Northern Territory, in the development of which the Commonwealth is at present specially interested, should be given all the facilities of communication with which we can supply it. The shipping companies will no doubt regard this provision from a commercial point of view. No shipping company will go to the Northern Territory unless it can make a profit by doing so. We have never disguised the fact that the provisions of this Bill will increase the working cost of the shipping around Australia. If we say to ship-owners, " We shall exclude you from trade with the Northern Territory or the northern ports of Queensland unless you comply with all the provisions of this Bill," they will reply that in that case it will not pay them to go there, and they will not go there. The consequence will be, not that we shall have Australianowned ships engaged in the trade with those parts of the Commonwealth, but that there will be no ships trading there at all. Steamers that are now giving ports in those parts of the Commonwealth some service, though a poor service, will pass them by. I ask honorable senators if they think that that would be desirable? The time no doubt will come when these ports will have developed, and Australianowned ships will go there. When such a lime arrives we may be sure that the Government will withdraw this exemption, and the trade will be reserved to Australianowned ships. Until such time as there is a sufficient passenger trade with those remote ports to justify Australian-owned ships in taking up the trade, we must, in order to promote their development, give the proposed exemption to ships that do not comply with our coasting trade conditions, but call at those ports for the convenience of passengers. I am as anxious as Senator Givens can be to secure the whole of the Australian coasting trade for Australianowned ships, but we should in such a matter exercise a little common sense, and endeavour to accomplish our purpose without inflicting hardship on people in isolated portions of the Commonwealth. Coming back to the position of Western Australia, I remind the Committee that, with the exception of the Northern Territory and the northern portions of Queensland, that State is in a very different position from, other States of the Commonwealth. There is railway communication between the other States with the exception of Tasmania, but that State is in very close proximity to Victoria. Undoubtedly the Australian-owned ships now trading between the other States and Western Australia are a good type of vessel, but they give Western Australia only a weekly service. In these days of rapid communication and business pressure it is desirable to afford the fullest facilities to persons travelling between Western Australia and other States for the transaction of business. It is true, as Senator Givens has said, that the British ships can comply with all our conditions, but it will not pay them to do so in order to secure the limited amount of passenger traffic between Western Australia and the eastern States. We must face the fact that the local steam-ship companies are not complaining, nor have they any reason to do so, of the competition of these British ships for the passenger traffic. They acknowledge that the Western Australian trade is the most profitable trade around the Australian coast. They are building their steam-ships practically out of the profits derived from that trade. I am not prepared to say that the Government will grant an exemption under this clause in the case of all the places to which I have referred, but I can mention another part of the Commonwealth in respect to which a case of some sort might be made out for an application for the exemption.

Senator Millen - Some sort of a case.

Senator PEARCE - A good case can be made out for the application of the provision, but a case of some sort might be made out for the application of the pro vision to the trade with Tasmania. There is a very considerable tourist traffic between the mainland and Tasmania, and during the apple season the British ships to which Senator Givens referred trade between Sydney and Hobart, and a considerable portion of the tourist traffic is carried by those boats. There is at the present time no local line of steamers doing the same trip. We have not heard any complaints from local steam-ship owners that the carrying of passengers between the mainland and Tasmania in these boats constitutes a serious grievance with them, while I venture to say that it has been the means of the introduction of a large sum of money into that State which would not Otherwise have found its way there. By Striking out this provision for exemption we shall not be doing anything to benefit Australian-owned ships. We shall not put a penny into the pockets of their owners. We shall be merely limiting the facilities Which people at present enjoy. I trust that, the Committee will not accept the amendment, but will leave this discretionary power with the Governor-General in Council. I have said that if at any time it is shown that trade with remote ports has so far developed that all necessary facilities of communication can be afforded by locally-owned shipping, any Government of which I may be a member may be trusted to see that those facilities shall be availed of.

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