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Wednesday, 17 June 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) . - I support the action of Senator Ready in moving the adjournment of the Senate to call attention to this matter, because while it may be said to be a Tasmanian matter, it is one with which the Commonwealth has to deal, and in all matters of that kind the affairs of one State are the affairs of all. There is a reason why I take a special interest in this subject. During the first Parliament of the Commonwealth, Senator Keating moved for a Select Committee to consider the question of communication between Tasmania and the mainland, and I had the honour to be a member of that Committee. We made certain recommendations which afterwards bore fruit, and resulted in the Loongana being placed on this trade route. That arrangement is beginning to show decided signs of wear. One of the weaknesses of the position is that there is no competition. That is admitted on all hands. Honorable senators on this side representing . Tasmania gave the Government fair warning of the difficulties they would get into in dealing with this question. I think that Senator McColl said that Senator Keating was responsible for the clause in the contract agreement which prevents the shipping companies raising fares and freights. It was most unjust to give the credit for that to Senator Keating. I am going to show that it was unjust. I have here the Hansard for last session, when the contract was under consideration. I can only find one place in the volume where Senator Keating touches the question at all. At page 14 of Hansard for 1913 the honorable senator spoke on the subject; but he never mentioned the question of fares and freights. The only thing he referred to was the substitution of another steamer of the Loongana typo for the Rotomahana. It will be found throughout the volume that Senators O'Keefe, Ready, and Long, before the agreement was entered into, warned the Government of the position in which Tasmania would be placed under it. I find, at page 622, that Senator Ready raised this very question. Referring to Senator Clemons, he said -

He knows that quite recently an intimation appeared in the press of Australia that the fares of the steam-ship companies throughout the Commonwealth, with the exception of Tasmania, were increased. 15 per cent. The increase was to apply to every other route except the Tasmanian passenger trade. If we, by means of our mail contract, give the shipping companies the right for seven years to impose what fares, freights, restrictions, and conditions on Tasmania as they liked, clearly we shall have the Tasmanian faresand freights increased at perhaps a greater ratio in the near future. It is clearly courting the inevitable if we give them a contract.

That was before the contract was entered into, and it was the first time the matter was raised during the proceedings of last session. It was raised by Senator Ready, and not by Senator Keating. Senator Ready again raised the question in a most direct fashion at page 1102, when he asked the following question : -

I wish to ask the Minister of Defence -

(1)   Whether the agreement in respect of the Tasmanian mail service which is now being drafted provides for -

(a)   an increased subsidy;

(b)   a seven-years' contract; and

(c)   any restrictions of freights and fares ?

(2)   Will the Government give the Senate an opportunity of considering the agreement before it is ratified ?

In the light of these quotations, I say it was most unfair for theVice-President of the Executive Council to give Senator Keating the credit of having raised this question. It was never raised by him at all. It was raised by Senator Ready, and in sufficient time before the signing of the contract to have the question of restrictions and conditions looked into. I have not had time to go through all the speeches on the subject that were made last session; but I know that Senators O'Keefe and Long delivered speeches on the same lines as those delivered by Senator Ready. In the circumstances, the

Government cannot say that they were not warned of the position likely to arise. When they included this provision in the contract what did they mean by it? Did they mean that all that the companies would have to do would be to say that, owing to an increase in wages, they proposed to put up fares and freights 20 per cent., 10 per cent., or 5 per cent., and that the Postmaster-General would automatically increase them accordingly ? But he is under no obligation whatever to do so. If that provision means anything at all, it means that the PostmasterGeneral is the sole arbiter in this matter. The question which Senator Ready put to the Vice-President of the Executive Council was a very simple one, and one that he ought to have been able to answer merely by exchanging a note with the Postmaster-General in another place. He simply had to inquire of that gentleman, " Are you going to grant the request of the Union Steam-ship Company?" We know perfectly well that the reason urged in support of that request is that the wages of the wharf labourers have been increased.

Senator McColl - Will it not be time enough for us to take the hurdle when we come to it? There has been no move in this matter that I am aware of.

Senator PEARCE - I repeat that if the Vice-President of the Executive Council had addressed a note to the PostmasterGeneral he would have been able to elicit the desired information.

Senator Ready - It is persistently stated in business circles in Tasmania that the freights are to be raised.

Senator PEARCE - The PostmasterGeneral knows whether any move has been made in that direction, and could therefore have easily supplied the VicePresident of the Executive Council with the necessary information. We have to recollect that the subsidy which is paid to this company was not fixed by competition. No tenders were called, the company merely intimated the amount which they required to provide a mail service to Tasmania, and their claim was granted by the Ministry, in spite of the protests of a majority of the representatives of that State, who objected to the Commonwealth being tied to such an agreement for a number of years. Tasmanian senators are merely doing their duty to the State which they represent in bringing this matter forward. They are protecting the interests of the producers there. As Senator Keating has now returned to the chamber, I propose to repeat the statement which I made during his absence. I hold in my hand a volume of Hansard for last session, from a perusal of which it will be seen that only on one occasion did the honorable senator raise the question of a mail service to Tasmania, when, on page 14, he referred to the desirableness of substituting another Loongana for the Rotomahana. But Senators Long, O'Keefe, and Ready repeatedly raised the question of the wisdom of inserting in the conditions of the contract some such restriction as that which has been mentioned in regard to fares and freights.

Senator Keating - What I said was that I wrote from Tasmania to the PostmasterGeneral suggesting that a clause should be inserted in the contract enabling the Postmaster-General to veto any proposed increase in fares or freights during its continuance, and that he acknowledged my communication, and stated that such a provision would be inserted.

Senator PEARCE - Upon what date was that?

Senator Keating - It was whilst negotiations for the contract were pending.

Senator PEARCE - And the question raised by Senators O'Keefe, Long, and Ready was raised while the contract was pending, as will be seen by reference to Hansard, page 1041 -

Tasmania will be paying a pretty dear price, and to some extent those on the mainland who do business with that State will also pay a pretty dear price, for the improvement of the service if a long contract is entered into, unless" there is a very stringent clause in the agreement binding the companies down to certain fares and freights, not more than the present ones.

Senator O'Keefe - Who made that statement ?

Senator PEARCE - Senator O'Keefe.I may tell Senator Keating that I quoted the direct question put to the VicePresident of the Executive Council by Senator Ready as to whether provision of the character indicated in the statement by Senator O'Keefe was to be made in the contract. When, therefore, Senator Keating made the claim which he did, he might, in fairness to the other representatives of Tasmania, have indicated the effective part which they played in this matter when Supply Bills were before the Senate. Having entered into this contract - which I do not think is a good one - it is the duty of the present PostmasterGeneral to prevent the raising of these fares and freights, unless it can be absolutely proved that the service is being run at a loss.

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