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Wednesday, 17 June 1914


Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I share the view which has been expressed by several honorable senatorsthat this is a matter which affects the mainland, although it does so in a less degree than it affects Tasmania. The series of questions which were asked from time to time by the representatives of Tasmania when the negotiations for the contract were pending shows the keen interest which was taken in this matter at the time. That interest, while it isnaturally more pronounced in the case of Tasmanians, is, to some extent, shared by the public on the mainland. On several occasions I have had the pleasure of visiting Tasmania, and I was not slow torecognise the expensive nature of the travelling between that State and Australia. But our chief interest in this matter lies in the fact that the Government may enter into similar contracts in regard to very much larger services than that immediately under notice. The plea, which is raised by honorable senatorsupon the Government side of the chamber, such as Senator Oakes, is that wageconsiderations are a justification for an increase in existing freights and fares.


Senator Oakes - It is not the sole consideration; but it is a factor.


Senator RAE - The eagerness with which Senator Oakes grabs at an excuse to saddle unionism with the blame for the additional charges which this company desires to make is a sample of the contention habitually raised by him--


Senator Oakes - How does the honorable senator account for the charges goingup?


Senator RAE - I will deal with that matter presently in my own way. But I would point out that the habit of attributing the rise in prices to an increaseof wages reverses the actual process of affairs. It is the continued increase inprices which compels the workers to demand higher wages to meet the exploitation to which they are subjected. Instead. of increased wages necessitating increased prices, the very reverse is the case. When Senator Oakes asks for* enlightenment - and the Lord knows he requires it badly enough - I invite him to reflect carefully upon the remarks made by Senator Stewart and Senator Ready in framing their indictment against this company. They pointed to the enormous dividends paid on the subscribed capital of the company, and the way in which these companies cover up their actual profits by watering their stock. That is the method which is usually adopted to conceal illicit gains, and it is also used as a justification for further extortionate demands. I do not know to what extent the law can prevent it ; but I contend that, in a case of this kind - if the general companies law cannot be amended to meet it - it is the manifest duty of the Government, and of the Postmaster-General in particular, to ascertain the actual position of the company concerned, what is its nominal capital, what dividends it is paying upon its watered stock, and what is its actually subscribed capital. That is the way in which this matter should be approached. Time after time in our Arbitration Court we have been told that wages cannot be increased because an industry is not paying. But, unless the President of the Court has power to look into the assets and liabilities of the employers concerned, he cannot justly deal with that phase of the matter.


Senator Oakes - Do not forget that the union secretaries tell the Judge that the increased wages can be passed on to the public.


Senator RAE - Senator Oakes is one of those little-minded men who imagine they can score a point by quoting the real or imaginary remarks of union secretaries. Surely he can rise above such petty considerations. I am not aware that any member of the Labour party has ever claimed that union secretaries are so infallible that we should accept their ipse dixit. Consequently, what any union secretary may have said has nothing whatever to do with this question. It is quite true that in many instances increases of wages are passed on to the public. But when a firm or a company states that its increased prices are the result of the payment of higher wages granted under an award of the Arbitration Court, it almost invariably happens that that firm or company is paying an increase in wages of perhaps 1 per cent., whilst charging the public an increase of 15 or 20 per cent. Instead of being content merely to recoup itself for any additional cost consequent upon a higher wages sheet it makes that cost a pretext for the most extortionate demands. If this particular shipping company is going to demand that it shall be permitted to charge higher freights and fares to and from Tasmania on the ground that an award of the Arbitration Court has recently increased the wages of a certain section of the workers in the shipping industry, we have a right to demand from it a clear and explicit statement, backed up by proof, as to what additional percentage of cost is involved in the working of its line of steamers consequent upon those increased wages. Because an increase of wages may have increased the cost of the service to an infinitesimal degree the company should not be granted permission to make any increase in fares and freights that it chooses. Unfortunately we have in power a Government whose members are only too eager to go in for contract work of any kind whenever they have an opportunity of doing so. They are only too anxious to oblige their friends who contribute to the expenses of running their party. Consequently we can find no real remedy for the existing state of things until we have displaced from office a Government who are practically committed to this sort of conduct. It is not as individuals that I blame them. As men they may have all the virtues of the saints of old. But inasmuch as they are allied to the party which is founded upon " boodle " and corruption they must inevitably obey the commands of their masters or lose their support.


Senator McColl - The whole thing is a political placard.


Senator RAE - The Government are themselves indulging in political placards by helping these firms to look forward to increased profits in the future, knowing that they themselves will share in those profits. They know that they can run their campaigns, and get temporary command of the reins of government in the States or the Commonwealth, only by means of the enormous funds which they are able to expend in falsifying the position of the political problems of the country, and inducing the ignorant or illiterate to take them at their own face value. I am confident that if it were not for the command of. funds corning from such bodies as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the Shipping Monopoly, and the Coal Combine, they would not secure 10 per cent. of the adherents that they succeed in returning to this Parliament under existing conditions. The only way in which we can prevent this kind of nefarious and dangerous contract being entered into in the future is by getting rid of the party which is so prone to indulge in them.







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