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Wednesday, 17 June 1914

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) , - I was absent from the Chamber when Senator Ready submitted this motion. At the time I was engaged upon the work of a Select Committee of the Senate of which I am a member. It is not my intention to address myself to the motion at any length. But I am personally interested in it for this reason : Some little time ago when the present Government were negotiating with the contractors for a new mail contract between Tasmania and the mainland a considerable amount of opposition was exhibited by my honorable colleagues to any contract being entered into for a lengthy term. Whilst the negotiations were pending it occurred to me that it would be very advantageous if that contract contained a provision which would enable the Postmaster-General to veto any proposed increase in fares or freights during its continuance. Accordingly I communicated with the PostmasterGeneral pointing out to him that it was desirable that the contract should contain a clause of that character. I am pleased to say that very shortly afterwards I received a cable from the PostmasterGeneral in which he informed me that the contract would contain such a provision.

Senator Ready - What is the good of that if the Government will not enforce it?

Senator KEATING - I am not responsible for that. The ready response which my suggestion evoked from the PostmasterGeneral inspired me with confidence as to what would happen in the event of any contingency arising when it became necessary for him to act as his discretion directed. If any attempt be made on the part of the contractors to increase the fares and freights during the pendency of the contract, I am sure that the Government will not sanction it unless they find that such increase is absolutely warranted by circumstances.

Senator Ready - Does not the honorable senator think that the fares and freights are far too high now?

Senator KEATING - That is another matter entirely. The provision in the contract applies only to an increase in the fares and freights. The Government have no power to decrease them. I was Chairman of a Select Committee, which some time ago investigated the whole question, and which inquired into the matter of une fares and freights between Tasmania and the mainland as compared with those which obtain both in Australia and elsewhere. That, however, has no bearing upon the subject which is now under consideration. The Government cannot increase the existing fares and freights, but they can prevent an increase of them, and I am sure that any . Government which may be in power, before sanctioning au increase, will have full regard to the whole of the circumstances of the case. For communication with the mainland, Tasmania is entirely dependent upon a steam-ship service. There is no prospect of getting a tunnel under the Strait, as Senator Stewart has suggested, and there is no prospect of a bridge being built over it. "Under these circumstances, it is abundantly evident that any proposal to impose an additional charge upon the people of Tasmania, who desire to get into closer communication with their fellow Australians on the mainland, will be most carefully scrutinized.

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