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Thursday, 10 October 1912


Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - On the first reading of a Supply Bill, one is at liberty to discuss the administration of the Government. There is a part of their administration which has a very close relation to the State of Queensland. I wish now to direct the attention of the Government, and also of Senator Givens, if I can bring him into line, to a matter which is of far greater importance than anything which I may have said or done in the past. I refer to the Vancouver mail service. The history of the matter is rather interesting, and, very shortly, the people of Queensland will require some clear explanation of how it is that, in the matter of the Vancouver service, their State has been, to use the language of the boulevards, " completely left." As you, sir, have been dragged into another matter, I may be permitted to use your name in connexion with that to which I am referring. In company with a number of us, you were a member of a deputation that waited on the Prime Minister in Queensland in connexion with the Vancouver mail service;


Senator Millen - After the interview with theex-Postmaster-General, Mr. Thomas, in Sydney.

SenatorST. LEDGER. - Yes ; after that interview. There was an influential deputation of representatives of both Houses of Parliament, the Chambers of Commerce, and various industries, that waited upon the Prime Minister. I am not going to traverse, though I might do so, what was said on that occasion. At previous conferences, some things were said which were necessarily more or less confidential ; but I think that everything at the conference with the Prime Minister was above board. Your memory, Mr. President, may be refreshed, as it was just now in connexion with another matter, when I recall the fact that, towards the close of the interview which the deputation referred to had with the Prime Minister, I said that the trouble with the Queensland people, and possibly with the whole of the people of Australia, was whether the Vancouver service was to continue on the deep blue sea, or be consigned to the care of His Satanic Majesty. At that time, if there were to be any oddslaid on the event, I was going to back His Satanic Majesty. Now the Vancouver mail service to Queensland and New South Wales has gone, and the half-prediction at that time has been fulfilled. The Government received ample warning between 1910 and the present year that their negotiations were likely to end in that way. I propose now to call attention to the extraordinary course which the Government took with the people of Queensland, and, to a certain extent, with the people of Australia, upon this matter. Between May or July, 1.910, and subsequently, the Prime Minister, time and again, gave the assurance that things were all right. Shortly after the Government assumed office with an overwhelming majority and an overflowing purse, the result of the policy we had initiated and carried out with the States, the question of the continuance of the service, occupied the attention of this Parliament, and representatives of Queensland drew frequent attention to the matter.


Senator Needham - Did not they have to face a deficit when they came into office?


Senator ST LEDGER - Let the honorable senator look up the finances, and he will be able to answer that question far better than I can. On the 5th October, 1910, .1 expressed in this Senate a fear that the service was to be abandoned. At that time I had reason to believe, on the highest authority, that the negotiations were being conducted in such a way that the Government must have known that, unless they altered their policy, a service from Canada to New Zealand would be inaugurated in spite of them, and Australia would be left. Senator Findley replied to my question, on the 15 th October, in these words -

There is no occasion for that anxiety. 1 still entertained fears upon the matter, and, on the 25th November, 1910, I stated in this Chamber that, although much that was said - I was then referring to the Brisbane and Sydney Conferences, at which the -Postmaster-General and the Treasurer were present - was confidential, I could- say without any breach of confidence that I had forecasted the present position. I then warned the Government and the PostmasterGeneral that it was pretty certain that Queensland was going to be "left" in this matter. That warning, however; was brushed aside. It was thought that I was playing a mere game, but it is now evident that my information was perfectly accurate. The matter was again referred to in another place on 4th October, 1910, when a specific question was asked in regard to Auckland being made a port of call. On that occasion the PostmasterGeneral replied -

The matter has been considered, and the Government have decided not to alter the present contract.

What is the natural inference to be drawn from that statement ? That, notwithstanding the warning which had been given regarding the perils of the position, the Government had determined, at all hazards, that the Vancouver service would be continued. Otherwise, why did the PostmasterGeneral declare that the contract would not be altered? He went on to say -

Canada having been notified to that effect. When a new contract is under consideration we shall determine whether New Zealand is or is not to be included. . . . There is to be no alteration in the present service.

If ever an utterance by a responsible Minister, in the light of after events, was misleading, certainly that utterance was.


Senator Guthrie - What is the difference to Australia?


Senator ST LEDGER - The Vancouver service has disappeared.


Senator Guthrie - Not to Australia?


Senator ST LEDGER - I do not regard Sydney as Australia.


Senator Guthrie - Nor do I regard Brisbane in that light.


Senator ST LEDGER - Will Senator Guthrie deny that the Vancouver service, as it existed in 19 10, has disappeared?


Senator Guthrie - lt is still serving Australia.


Senator ST LEDGER - It does not exist as it existed in 1910, and that is the point which is of considerable interest to Queensland and, possibly, to New South Wales. which were the pioneers of this service. It was a service which they instituted prior to Federation, and which was continued' for some years after the advent of Federation. That service has absolutely gone.


Senator Chataway - And we helped to take over the white elephant of South Australia.


Senator ST LEDGER - The contrast is very strong. I do not wish unnecessarily to place the interests of State against those of State. But it is about time that this matter was raised, and that the attention of the Government was drawn to the position in the sharpest possible manner on behalf of the people of Queensland, whom I represent. No amount of quibbling on the part of Senator

Guthrie-


Senator Guthrie - Where is the quibble ?







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