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Friday, 25 June 1915

The PRESIDENT - As the hour of 4 o'clock has been reached I must, in accordance with the sessional order, put the question -

That the Senate do now adjourn.

Question put, and resolved in the negative.

Senator KEATING - It was provided in the agreement that compensation should be paid as for properties which had become vested in the Commonwealth under section 85 (i) of the Constitution - that is to say, compensation was to be paid in all respects as though the. property in relation to lighthouses had vested in the Commonwealth under that section of the Constitution.

Senator Turley - At the time of the transfer.-

Senator KEATING - Those words are not expressed, but I have just now looked up section 85 (t) of the Constitution. At any rate, the provision in the agreement was to the effect I have stated. Now, in this Bill provision is made as to the mode of compensation in respect to each lighthouse taken. It is stated that compensation - shall be the payment in perpetuity of interest at the rate of three and one-half pounds per centum per annum on the amount of compensation so determined in respect of the lighthouse or marine marks so acquired.

Then in paragraph 5 it is stated -

The interest payable in pursuance of this section shall be payable as from the date of the acquisition of the lighthouse or marine mark, and shall be paid annually or at such shorter periods as the Treasurer thinks fit.

For a long time there was a difference between the Commonwealth and the State Governments as to how compensation should be made for the transferred properties, and at the time I was Minister for Home Affairs this question became very acute. I therefore authorized an officer to act on behalf of the Commonwealth Government and value the various properties transferred, in conjunction with a valuing officer from each State affected. The value of the transferred properties was determined, and it was proposed by the Commonwealth Government that interest should be paid to the States on those capital sums. Some of the States - I think most of them - received this intimation with a certain amount of surprise.

Senator TURLEY - The proposal was that the Commonwealth should take over, say, £10,000,000 of their debts, and pay interest on that amount.

Senator KEATING - That would be the effect of our proposal, and, as I have said, it was received with some surprise. Some of the States demurred. What the position at present is I do not know, but, from what the Minister has said, it appears that at least one State holds the opinion that it ought to get cash payment for the lighthouses and marine marks taken over. The Government of that State evidently does not want to be paid by interest payments or the assumption by the Commonwealth of any portion of its debts. It seems, from what the Minister says, that there is an indisposition, 'to say the least, on the part of three or four of the States to adopt the agreement.

Senator Turley - Three, I think.

Senator KEATING - Yes : New South "Wales and Victoria have fallen in with the agreement, and Queensland has made a promise, although it has not yet redeemed the promise by signing the agreement. As far as the other three States are concerned, there has been indifference, apathy, or indisposition to accept it. I think, therefore, we should have a little more information on the subject. I do know that, so far as my own State is concerned, there has been a good deal of consternation owing to the charges proposed to be levied upon shipping going to Tasmanian ports. Hobart, it is claimed, will stand comparison with any port in the world.

Senator Russell - The question of light dues is quite apart from the principle of this Bill.

The PRESIDENT - I would point out that the honorable senator cannot discuss the question of light dues, as that principle does not arise under this Bill.

Senator KEATING - I am aware of that, and I am not proposing to discuss the light dues, but all I want to say is that there was a great deal of consternation on the subject of light dues; and I would like to have some assurance as to whether that has affected the acceptance of this proposed agreement by the Tasmanian authorities.

Senator Russell - I understand that State has nominated an officer to attend a Conference to adjust that matter.

Senator KEATING - That is all I am concerned about.

Senator Russell - I will put the agreement in Hansard if the honorable senator thinks it desirable.

Senator KEATING - I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister that the State of Tasmania has taken steps to nominate its valuer under the proposed agreement, to act in conjunction with an officer appointed by the Government. Under these circumstances I can see that there is no other course for us to follow but to discharge the obligation thrust upon the Government and Parliament under the Constitution, and to pass a measure of this character.

Senator Russell - I think I misled the honorable senator when referring to the Conference in regard to the valuation of property. The question of the light dues has been adjusted, and the State of Tasmania is perfectly satisfied, I understand.

Senator KEATING - As I have the assurance of the Minister that the State of Tasmania is satisfied, I see no objection to the Bill. It is one which we must pass in order to carry out the declared policy of this Parliament. I will regret, and I think we will all regret, if the powers of compulsory acquisition have to be exercised, but if the Bill is passed I am inclined to think that the States will fall into line and transfer the lighthouses to the Commonwealth in the same spirit that characterized them with regard to the other transferred Departments, the responsibility for which we had to accept under the Constitution.

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