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Wednesday, 17 June 1914

Senator READY (Tasmania) . - I desire to say a few words before withdrawing this motion. I think that much good will result from the discussion which has taken place this afternoon, and from a thorough ventilation of the subject-matter of my motion, which, though it is of less importance to the other States, is of primary importance to Tasmania. So far, we have had nothingfrom any Minister in this Chamber beyond the promise of the Vice-President of the Executive Council that he will look into the matter and advise the PostmasterGeneral of the statements which have been made here. It is remarkable how my honorable friends opposite always deny the existence of a shipping combine. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, in reply to a question which I put to him upon this subject, implied that there is no such thing as a shipping combine in the Commonwealth. Now he must know better than that.

Senator McGregor - Why, he prays for it.

Senator READY - Some little time ago I asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council a question in regard to an increase in freights and fares, and he replied -

If the honorable senator has information as to the existence of a shipping combine he should place it before the legal authorities, and allow them to ascertain whether it is correct or not.

That is the kind of evasive reply which I receive to my questions. Not only did I quote statements by Mr. Mcwilliams, who is a supporter of the present Government, against the Shipping Combine, but I had intended to call the attention of the Vice-President of the Executive Council to some of the sworn evidence given before the Fruit Commission by Mr. W. McDonald, the general manager of the Australian Shipping Company. That gentleman was asked -

We have in evidence elicited that there is an arrangement between the various shipping companies relative to freight charges. Is that so?

The reply given was -

Yes. We have an arrangement of our own at fixed rates of freights and fares. That arrangement was arrived at after a very grave consultation in conference. The rates were fixed at that conference.

If one talked for half-an-hour one could not state the fact more clearly and pithily. There is an arrangement.

Senator Oakes - Is there any harm in that 1

Senator READY - There is, because it has been clearly established that that arrangement is detrimental to the public.

Senator Oakes - Why do the miners fix the price of coal at Newcastle?

Senator READY - We have shown that this arrangement is detrimental to the best interests of Australia, and Senator Oakes cannot deny it. He has nothing to say in reply to our statements that the depredations of this shipping company should be effectively checked. I do not think it is a good thing for the reputation of the Senate that Ministers should rise in their places and solemnly put before it statements which are inaccurate and misleading. The VicePresident of the Executive Council stated that he had compared the freights and fares charged by this company with those charged by other companies, and had found very little difference between them. I ask him to put those freights and fares, before us, so as to allow us to institute a comparison. The fact is -that on most of the produce shipped the freights to Tasmania are higher than they are elsewhere. Take, for example, potatoes, which form the staple product of Tasmania. The freight on potatoes during the past few years has jumped from 9s. to lis. per ton - a serious and heavy tax on the potato-growers of the north coast of that State. On leather, another of our secondary products, freights have increased 50 per cent, in the last few years; while on wool, flour, and general merchandise freights have generally risen. Ask the opinion of any gentleman prominent in the mercantile world about the Shipping Combine, and he will tell you that very often the shipping people will not even take their stuff. Sometimes they take it into their head not to load it, particularly bulky stuff, calmly telling the merchants, "We will ship it when we like, and not when you like." Almost daily complaints are made in mercantile circles in Tasmania regarding the loss, delay, hindrance, and general inconvenience caused by the tactics of the combine. During a previous speech Senator Oakes, by interjection, asked why we did not prevent the Orient Steam -ship Company from competing with Australian steam-ships.

Senator Oakes - I said nothing of the sort. I said that your Navigation Act prevents the Peninsula and Oriental and Orient lines from competing with the Australian companies.

Senator READY - The Navigation Act allows them to compete on equal terms if they comply with Australian conditions.

Senator Oakes - The Act prevents every oversea company from competing, and builds up a greater combine in Australia than there was before.

Senator READY - No; we have a perfect "right to ask oversea companies to comply with the conditions which we at tempt to make the Australian shipping companies observe. I fail to see why we should give any preference to black labour crews. Our Australian mercantile marine is sufficient for Australia, and the fact that it is managed at present for the benefit of the companies and not for the people does not alter the ethics of the question. The great Liberal party advocated a reduction in the cost of living. It must be patent to every honorable senator that freights and fares when" increased immediately increase the cost of marketable articles, because the extra charge is at once added.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8.0 p.m.

Senator READY - When the waterside workers or the seamen's union or the stewards organization or any other industrial body connected with shipping desires an increase in wages it is forced to appeal to an Arbitration Court. Its members cannot get it summarily at any time or under any conditions. Nearly all these bodies are federated industrial unions, and are therefore unable to strike in order to obtain better conditions. The only method they can adopt is to cite a case for arbitration. That is the reasonable and practical course usually followed by an industrial union. It has not only to wait and waive its right to strike, but often has to take exactly what the Judge or the Court cares to give it. It is not the dictator of its own terms. It is bound entirely by the conditions which the Court may impose.

The newspapers of the Commonwealth raised a great outcry when the waterside workers demanded better pay and better conditions. It was an awful thing, and we read striking headlines in the press about it. It was going to. strike at our commerce and shipping, and therefore it was objected to, and the men were called unreasonable and unfair. It was only owing to the efforts of Mr. Hughes, Mr. Laird Smith, Senator de Largie, Senator Guthrie, and other leading members of this political party that the union did not strike. This party saved the strike, urging the adoption of the method of submitting the case to a tribunal. Our friends on the other side approve of that, and yet on the other hand we have a combine, not of the many, but of the few, who are interested in shipping companies, able at any time and in almost any circumstances to stick up the whole of the trade and commerce of Australia, and demand, practically at the point of the bayonet, higher freights and fares from every person who uses theirvessels.

As I am reminded by Senator Findley, they can rob the community, and no appeal can be made against their decision. That is what has happened in the case that has been so fully debated this afternoon. A combine of the few is able to exploit the people. There are no conditions. They do not have to submit their case to any tribunal. They say the freights shall be so-and-so, and they are so-and-so. The newspapers do not object. Senator Oakes and his colleagues do not object. Only the worker is objected to when he demands a living wage for his toil. The rich man or corporation can ask for anything at any time, and the party opposite are silent.

This motion will probably have done good. It has hung out the danger signal to the shipping companies. It has exposed Senator McColl's a misleading statements. It has drawn attention to the attempt of the combine to further exploit the people, and I hope the Government will recognise that the Senate has made an emphatic protest against the danger impending in Tasmania. I beg leave to withdraw the motion.

Leave granted; motion withdrawn.

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