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Tuesday, 19 December 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

My desire is to briefly move the second reading of the Bill, and then the Government will consent to the debate being ad journed if that is desired, so that we may get back to the Tariff. The object of the measure is to facilitate the business of the Pacific Cable, and to enable it to stand up against the competition of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. It is considered by the Pacific Cable Board, on which Australia has representatives, that it will accelerate the intercolonial service between the Commonwealth and the Dominion, practically duplicate the two branches of the cable between Norfolk Island and Queensland, and between Norfolk Island and New Zealand, and render possible very considerable economies in working expenses. The statement of the Board on the subject, which I may perhaps be permitted to read, is as follows -

The total value of the traffic - which is maintained by the Pacific Cable Board and the Eastern Extension Company - is set down at , £30,000 per annum, and of this the Pacific Cable Board had succeeded, up to twelve months previously, in securing£20,000 per annum, which represents nearly 20 per cent. of the Board's total revenue, and it is of great importance that no risk should be run of a loss of receipts under this head.

The Eastern Extension Company has two direct cables between Australia and New Zealand, but the overland portions of the route are of insignificant extent, and their practical immunity from risk of injury gives to the route as a whole a very large measure of security against interruption. On the other hand, the Pacific Cable Board has but a single and somewhat circuitous line of cablevia Norfolk Island, and at either end considerable stretches of land line, the Sydney-Southport line being 700 miles long, and subject to disturbances and delays, which are a constant source of trouble and anxiety. The only way to put the Pacific Cable route on an equality in material respects with the company's route is by the laying of a direct cable.

The proportion of the traffic secured by the Board during 1908-9 declined 3.5 per cent., and the only cause that can be assigned for the diminished share of business is a growing feeling that the company's route is quicker and more trustworthy than that by Pacific Cable.

The proposed cable would duplicate the existing cable between Norfolk and Australia and Norfolk Island and New Zealand. Owing to an interruption to the Pacific cable off the New Zealand coast, communication was entirely interrupted for three days, during which time the Board's traffic with New Zealand had to be handed at Sydney to the Eastern Extension Company and the whole of Reuter's international traffic to and from New Zealand, as well as that of other important customers and all intercolonial traffic, was lost to the Board. This loss of traffic and of prestige would have been obviated had the proposed cable been laid, and it is feared that similar interruptions are not unlikely to recur from time to time.

The direct cable would enable more effective and economical arrangements to be made by the

Board for the transmission of international traffic than those at present in use. Risks of the long land line between Sydney and Southport would be avoided, great reductions could be made in the staffs at Southport and Norfolk Island - only three officers would be required at Norfolk Island, where the cable could be worked through a relay, while Southport would be kept chiefly as a training establishment, and used only for Queensland traffic and when an interruption should occur between New Zealand and Norfolk Island. The saving that would result is estimated at ?6,000 per annum.

The cost of an adequate cable, it is estimated, would not exceed ?155,000

Senator Millen - The saving referred to is exclusive of the interest on the capital outlay ?

Senator PEARCE - I presume that it is the saving which could be made in connexion with the staff. The Pacific Cable Board has been trying to get this line for a considerable time. The Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments were perfectly willing, but, strange to say, difficulties were raised by the British Government. The British Treasurer, first of all, made a stipulation that it should not be allowed to interfere with wireless. We had some difficulty in understanding what the meaning of the objection was, but the assurance asked for was given. At the Imperial Conference held recently a motion was moved dealing with the matter in the following terms : -

That in view of the social and commercial advantages which would result from increased facilities for inter-communication between her Dependencies and Great Britain, it is desirable that all possible means be taken to secure a reduction in cable rates throughout the Empire.

I had to speak on that motion, and I was previously informed of the difficulties in connexion with the Pacific Cable Board. The Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, was in the chair at the time, and the British PostmasterGeneral, Mr. Samuel, was also present. At page 289 of the report of the Imperial Conference it will be found that I said -

The only other point I want to raise is this : That the British Post Office has taken up an attitude towards the proposition by the Pacific Cable Board which I would have thought Mr. Samuel might have explained to us here. I am informed that it was the Treasury, but I dare say Mr. Samuel knows about it. The Pacific Cable Board wanted to lay a new cable between Australia and New Zealand for the purpose of facilitating business and also increasing their revenue. If this cable could have been laid it would have resulted in an additional revenue to the Cable Board of ?14,000- per annum.

I made that statement on the authority of Sir George Reid and Mr. Coghlan, our representatives on the Pacific Cable Board.

That would necessitate a Bill being passed bye the Government of the United Kingdom to giveauthority to lay the cable, and the application, was made to the Government foi that permission.. The Treasury asked, first of all, that the Governments concerned should give an assurance that if the wireless stations proposed to be erected in the Pacific were erected, those wireless stationswere not to be used for commercial messages. That assurance was given, and then the Treasuryinformed the Board that they could not consentto the laying down of that cable between Australia and New Zealand because, in future, it- might interfere with the development in connexion with wireless. That was the only explanation we had, and it seems to me -an extraordinary proposition, equivalent to saying that we will not lay down Dreadnoughts because an. aeroplane may be able to blow them up or down.

SirJoseph Ward. ; Quite right; it ought to bedone.

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