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Friday, 15 September 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I quite agree with the Minister in his rather pathetic admission that " some sort of a case " might be made out for this proposal.

Senator de Largie - Can the honorable senator not get over that habit of cracking jokes every time he rises to speak?

Senator MILLEN - I do not know that there is any other way in which to deal with such a speech as Kas just been delivered by the Minister of Defence. I never heard a more plausible speech, and it really answers itself. Take the last statement the honorable senator made, that any Government of which he was _ a member would, whenever the trade with any port by Australian-owned ships was sufficiently developed to satisfy local needs, see that this exemption was withdrawn. Let us apply that to the State of Western Australia. Is not the trade of that State developed sufficiently, and yet that is the very State which it is intended shall be given the benefit of the proposed exemption? We have well established coastal lines now running between Fremantle and the eastern States, yet it is proposed that this exemption shall apply to the Western Australian trade. Let us examine the Minister's argument a little further. He instanced the Northern Territory, and pointed out that this provision was necessary for the development of that Territory. Am I to understand that we can only hope to develop the Northern Territory by cheap black labour, because that is the effect of the honorable senator's argument? I am sure the honorable senator cannot mean that, yet his statement simply means that in order to develop the Northern Territory it is necessary to permit certain ships which, for the purpose of my argument, will be worked with black labour, to be exempt from the conditions which are applied to Australian-owned ships. If that be a sound argument to apply to shipping, it may be applied to the construction of a railway.

Senator Pearce - I never used such an argument, and the honorable senator knows it.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister referred to the Northern Territory. He said that no British ships are going there, and that if the effect of the operation of this provision was to bar foreign-owned vessels it might induce British ships to take up the trade with the Territory.

Senator Pearce - Seeing that this applies only to British ships, foreign ships are barred.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister said that, by giving British-owned ships the benefit of this exemption, they would be permitted to take advantage of this trade. Let me put the matter in another way. The Minister contended that this exemption would be useful to enable the Northern Territory to be developed. What does that mean ? It is proposed to give an exemption to trade to the ports of the Northern Territory, to vessels like those of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, which carry black labour. If it is necessary to give an exemption to blacklabourcarrying vessels in order that they may take the produce away from the Northern Territory, it should be equally necessary to permit black labour to produce the commodities taken by the black-labour steamers. And if it is necessary to do this, why limit the exemption to passengers ? It is far more important to the Northern Territory just now to secure means of getting produce away than to get improved passenger accommodation.

Senator de Largie - Because there is practically no passenger traffic there at all.

Senator MILLEN - Is that why this provision is inserted ? Let honorable senators who supportthis clause try and cover up the point as they will, it is merely an attempt to destroy what the Labour party especially regard as a principle in order that a few Western Australian travellers may have a little additional comfort.

Senator de Largie - A few?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, a few.

Senator de Largie - A larger percentage of Western Australians travel by sea than of the people of any other State of the Commonwealth.

Senator MILLEN - Still there are only a few, comparatively speaking. The sole effect of this provision is not to givethe Western Australian people the means of reaching the eastern States, because they have that already, but to afford facilities for a certain number of people to " blackleg " upon an established principle, to use a familiar and well-understood term. The object is, in other words, that a few Western Australian persons may travel with additional comfort. That is putting the matter in the plainest possible language.

Senator Givens - To travel in boats in which they have to dress for dinner.

Senator MILLEN - Probably that may be one of the attractions to those who support the proposals. I should like to apply to this Western Australian traffic the same argument that the Minister applied to the traffic of the Northern Territory. The Minister's argument was that if you could by law shut out foreign vessels from the Northern Territory, you would thereby encourage British vessels to go there. Apply that argument to the Western Australian traffic as it exists to-day. If you could shut out British-owned vessels from the Western Australian trade, sooner or later that trade would get into the hands of the coastal boats, and so do a great deal to bring about that weekly service which is the desire of the Minister. I am not saying whether there should not be some exemption, but if you are going to lay down a law, you should apply it all round, and not permit the Minister to pick out certain ports to meet the convenience of a certain section of the public who use a certain line.

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