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Wednesday, 17 June 1914

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) .- I had hoped that the Minister would make a fuller and more satisfactory reply. Senator Ready brought the motion forward as a matter of great moment to the citizens of Tasmania, and asked for the co-operation of both sides of the Chamber in order that no injustice should be done to them. I go further, and say that it is a matter of moment to every citizen of Australia. Tasmania, unfortunately, is not a self-supporting State. It depends more than any other State on the tourist traffic from the mainland, and if the number of tourists is restricted by oppressive fares charged by the combination at present in existence with the consent of the Government, the matter becomes of serious moment, not only to Tasmania, but also to thousands of people in different States who periodically make for the island State to recuperate. When Senator McColl speaks as a responsible Minister in this chamber, his statements are likely to carry more weight than if he spoke as an ordinary member. The other day he said he had gone into Senator Ready's allegations that the freights and fares between Tasmania and the mainland were excessive. He said, " I have had an opportunity of going through the freights, and I think they are reasonable. In some cases they are on a par with, and in some case lower than, freights to other States." That statement of Senator McColl's is incorrect. Recently, a commission agent named B. T. Clemons, who does a very large business at Devonport, gave some evidence before a Select Committee which was appointed by the Tasmanian Assembly to inquire into the effect of freights between Tasmania and the mainland on business men and business generally -

Do you consider them unreasonably high? - Yes; compared with those on the mainland.

Will you institute any comparison? - To give you one clear instance, the freight from Devonport to Newcastle on chaff is 23s. 6d. a ton, and from Adelaide to Newcastle it is only £1. lt is a four-days' journey from Adelaide to Newcastle, steaming all the time, and yet the freight is less than from here; consequently our quotations have to be from 5s. to 7s. under the mainland price to get the business.

A difference of one day in the steaming, but a difference of 3s. 6d, a ton in the freight ! When Senator McColl went into this matter, did he see the evidence which was tendered by Mr. Clemons, and if he did, I am sure that he did an injustice to Senator Ready and to the traders of Tasmania when he said, as a responsible Minister, that the freights and fares to Tasmania are on a par and in many cases less than those between other States. It is characteristic of a shipping combine that every time they get an opportunity to increase fares and freights they do it, and ofttimes do it without the slightest justification.

Senator Oakes - Do not the workers do the same thing?

Senator FINDLEY - I am dealing with the Shipping Combine. When the small-pox scare was on in New South Wales the shipping companies increased their fares and freights, and when questioned on the subject by the merchants they replied that they were doing it in consequence of the small-pox in Sydney effecting their business. On the 5th July, 1913, the Argus, which is recognised as the official organ of the so-called Liberal party, published an article headed, "Inter-State Freights; increase of 15 per cent.," and containing this passage -

Merchants and manufacturers are complaining of a further increase in Inter-State freights by the steam-ship companies. In the past the practice has been to make small advances of 5 per cent, or less, but this latest jump is one of 15 per cent., making a total of 20 per cent, in the last six months. Business men regard the increase with alarm, and state that it will seriously affect the Inter-State trade. Even if it does not lead to the curtailment of imports and exports, it will necessitate higher prices being charged for goods, with a corresponding upward tendency in the cost of living.

Commenting on the increase, a merchant in Melbourne made use of the following words : -

This will mean a large addition to our expenditure, but what are we to do? The companies have the monopoly of the Inter-State trade, and appear to have an " understanding " regarding freights and fares which does away with competition. Therefore we are wholly in their hands. We recognise that during the last few years they have been compelled to pay large increases in wages to their crews, but an Increase of 5 per cent, was made to cover that. However, as they have seen fit to charge en additional 20 per cent, for the carriage of goods, we must pay it, and pass the increase on to the public.

A Melbourne merchant said that the shipping companies, in consequence of awards made by the Federal Arbitration Court and other industrial tribunals, were forced to increase the freights and fares by 5 per cent. In consequence of improved industrial conditions 20 per cent, has been passed on to the consumers, and this Melbourne merchant says that this was done because the shippers and consumers of Australia are wholly in the hands of a huge shipping combination ; that competition has been entirely eliminated. It is the opinion of other merchants, and it is the opinion of every Labour man in every part of Australia, that, although our friends say that there is no monopoly in the shipping business to-day, it is an absolute fact that competition does not exist as we understand competition. In the days that have gone there was competition between shipping companies, and very acute competition indeed; but throughout Australia to-day, although on paper it would appear that there are in existence individual shipping companies, they are one and the same institution. The fares and the freights are the same with respect to all shipping companies, and it is commonly stated that there is an arrangement between them with respect to the profits which do not go altogether into the coffers of particular companies. They have an arrangement amongst themselves which makes them nothing short of one of the biggest combinations we have in the whole of Australia. This is a very serious matter indeed, because what is being attempted in respect to the Tasmanian Shipping Combine might, should the present Government come back to power, which is not likely, be repeated in regard to other shipping companies. Surely Senator McColl does not want notice of such a motion as this to be able to tell us what the intentions of the Government are! The Tasmanian mail contract specially provides that there shall be no increase in fares and freights unless with the consent of the Postmaster-General. It ought to be an easy matter for Senator McColl, representing the PostmasterGeneral here, to get in touch with him and give an assurance that the Government do not intend to accede to any demand made by the steam-ship companies. I think it is up to him to do that in justice to Tasmania, and to the State which I happen to be representing.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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