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Wednesday, 17 June 1914

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I have every sympathy with honorable senators from Tasmania who have brought this matter forward, and also with the people of that State. But if those honorable senators think that the present Government will render them any assistance in this matter, they are very much mistaken.

Senator Ready - The honorable senator thinks that our confidence is misplaced ?

Senator STEWART - Indeed, I do. So far as I can gather, the present Government are hand-and-glove with all the shipping companies, and with every other combine. In fact, they depend upon private enterprise for their very existence. I believe that their party funds are largly supplemented from that quarter. Indeed, I am credibly informed that a proportion of the profits made by large combines is placed to the credit of the Liberal political funds in Australia. We have here a system somewhat akin to that which obtains in the Old Country. There, when a particular political party desires funds, when it finds the war chest getting low, it sells a title, or a number of titles, and gets money from that source. Here, the companies contribute in payment for benefits conferred, and in the hope of rewards to come. This arrangement is all very fine and profitable for the companies on the one hand, and for the Government on the other. The companies are making enormous profits - profits which are not legitimate at all.

Senator Ready - The steam-ship service between Launceston and Melbourne is the most profitable service in Australia.

Senator STEWART - I do not wonder at it. If one looks at the rates which this particular company charges, he will see they are extortionate. I really cannot understand how any industry is able to prosper under such conditions. As is very well known, the shipping companies are having a real royal time of it. They are not only paying large dividends, but they are continually watering their stock. If any honorable senator will take the trouble to investigate the affairs of the Union Steam-ship Company, of the Howard Smith Company, of the Huddart Parker Company, or any other shipping company trading either in the Commonwealth of New Zealand, he will find that what I have said is true. I believe that Capital is as much entitled to a fair reward as is Labour. Under our existing system, the use of private capital is necessary, and its possessors are entitled to a fair return for their outlay. But there is a wide difference between a fair and an exorbitant return. There is a profit which is fair and ample, and which is sufficient to enable the shipping companies to carry on their businesses comfortably. On the other hand, there is a profit which is altogether too great, and one which in time becomes so enormous that these companies are compelled to resort to the device known as " watering," so as to conceal their real profits. In some instances to which reference has been made, companies are earning as much as 30 per cent. profit on their original capital. That means that a little over every three years their capital is renewed. But in order to hide their enormous profits they are obliged to water their stock. Consequently they have to present their shareholders with a large number of shares, either for a very small consideration, or for no consideration at all, so that the apparent return of the companies is not more than 6 or 7 per cent.

Senator Rae - Would it not be good business to make that illegal?

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator opens up another field of thought altogether.

The PRESIDENT - Into which the honorable senator had better not be led away.

Senator STEWART - In any case, prevention is better than cure, and it would be very difficult to cure private companies of stock-watering. The present position is very comfortable for the companies and the Government; but how do the people fare ?

Senator Oakes - You do not hear a word from the steam-ship companies about the seamen and firemen's combine.

Senator STEWART - I do not know whether Senator Oakes has ever fired in the stoke-hole of a ship. If he had, he would not say that the wages received by these men are more than they ought to get. Apparently, there is very little on any subject that the honorable seuator docs not know, but this is one matter into which he has, apparently, omitted to inquire. I would suggest that, in order to enlarge his knowledge, and qualify him more effectively for the position of senator in the next Parliament, he should take work as a stoker for a few months. He could then come into this chamber and talk about the high wages paid to these men.I was trying, when side-tracked, to imagine the condition of the people under the present system. Everybody knows that the people of Tasmania are in a very bad condition socially. The supreme test of the well-being of any country is whether the population is increasing or decreasing. When we learn that the population of Ireland has decreased by 50 per cent, during the last fifty years, we naturally come to the conclusion that Ireland has been very badly governed, and that her people are very ill-off. I merely mention that to illustrate the commonlyaccepted axiom that when a country is prosperous people not only stay in it, but grow and multiply. If, on the other hand, a country is not prosperous, people leave it. Tasmania is not only not adding to her population, but is not keeping her natural increase. For every child born in Tasmania an able-bodied man or woman leaves the island. It might be imagined that Tasmania was a country of naturally poor resources, and that, therefore, people were compelled to leave it; but that is not the case. It is a country of very great natural resources. It has comparatively large areas of agricultural and pastoral land; it has a great deal of mineral country, and resources of water-power which are unequalled in the Commonwealth. Its natural position in the Commonwealth, under good government, would be very high. Its present position, under bad government, is the lowest that can be found.

Senator Oakes - She had three years of Federal Labour rule, and went to pieces.

Senator STEWART - Labour government is the plague that seems to blight everything; but when had Tasmania a Labour Government until now? Apparently, Senator Oakes refers to the Federal Labour Government. Were they responsible for the"blight " which has prevailed over the whole of the mainland during the past three years?

Senator Oakes - According to Senator Ready, the Federal Government are to blame in this matter.

Senator STEWART - The present Government, but not the Labour Government.

Senator Ready - Under the Labour Government Tasmania got all she asked for.

Senator STEWART - And probably more than she deserved. Under the Labour Government Australia prospered as she had never done before.

Senator Oakes - There never was a greater time for the combines.

Seuator STEWART.- And the combines have been making money hand over fist. Everybody, from the combine down to the youngest labourer in the land, has been better off than was ever the case before.

Senator Pearce - When the dog is fat, the fleas fatten also.

Senator STEWART - That exactly states the case.

Senator Oakes - The combines live, but the Labour party went down.

Senator STEWART - The Labour party went down to come up again, as the honorable senator will find to his surprise and chagrin before many months are over. It went down only in another place, but even there the Government's miserable majority of one is very little to boast about. When I think of the twentynine Labour senators who sit here, and the seven Liberals who do not sit opposite, I feel proud of the Democracy of Australia. I believe that, in the near future, there will be a handsome majority on our side in another place. We do not want there such a large majority as we have here, but we do want a majority sufficiently large to enable us to do something to help the producers. I was pointing out the difficulties under which the people of Tasmania labour owing, in a large measure, to the ravages of the Shipping Combine. I understand that some time ago an inquiry took place into the fares and freights between Tasmania and Australia and Tasmania and the Old Country. Mr. G. Finlayson, who was connected with a large engineering firm in Devonport, gave the following evidence : -

Are they reasonable or excessive? - They are very excessive.

How do you arrive at a standard of comparison ? - The charges from the Old Country to Melbourne, for instance, are sometimes less than from Melbourne to hero on heavy lifts.

What would you call a heavy lift? - Anything over six tons. The present charge for a six-ton lift is £35 from Melbourne to Devonport.

What would the charge be from the Old Country? - About 50s. to 60s. per ton; it varies slightly.

And you find this a disadvantage in your trade ?- Undoubtedly.

According to that evidence, this gentleman could get a six-ton lift from the Old Country for £18 freight, but had to pay £35 to get it from Melbourne to Devonport.

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