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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) . - The motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition has been more than justified, because it has enabled the

Leader of the Government in this chamber to make the position clear. Yesterday I 'asked the right honorable gentleman how he reconciled his promise to the Senate with the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. His reply was, in effect, that it did not matter what promise he, the Leader of the Government in this chamber, gave; the Government and its supporters would be bound by the Government's policy as enunciated by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Government in this chamber should lead, not mislead, the Senate, as he. did last Friday. Honorable senators were justified in believing that his promise to the Senate would be honoured, and that the Senate would have a further opportunity of considering the disposal of the Line. The Senate certainly should have that opportunity. The disposal of the Australian Commonwealth Line .of Steamers is a matter of great importance to the people of Australia. Senator Pearce says that it is the Government's policy to sell the Line. How long has that been the Government's policy? During the last election campaign neither the Prime Minister nor any member of his Cabinet announced the Government's policy in that connexion. On the contrary, the electors were led to believe that the Line which had been of such benefit to Australia would be continued.

Senator Chapman - They did not anticipate the losses that have been incurred since then.

Senator FINDLEY - It is true that under the act which constituted the Line, the Board, subject to the consent of the Treasurer, can dispose of any ship acquired or vested in it. It is, however, freely stated that two of the three members of the board are opposed to the sale of the Line. If this be true, has the Government authority to sell the Line without an amendment of the act or an alteration of the personnel of the Board? If the Government observes strictly the provisions of the act it cannot dispose of the Line except with the approval of the Board and with the consent of the Treasurer. This point ought to be borne in mind by honorable senators. The Public Accounts Committee, so we are told, went into this subject very thoroughly. Members of that bodyhave information which honorable senators who are not membersof it cannot obtain. During the debate on the motion in the name of Senator Kingsmill last week, honorable senators supporting the Government emphasized that the evidence given before the Public Accounts Committee wasin camera and that the committee based its recommendations on such evidence. The Line has cost the people of Australia many millions of pounds. It is true that the asset has depreciated in recent years; but we should not forget that the Line was established in the interests of, and that it belongs to, the people. We discussed its financial position at some length last week and dealt with its profits and losses.

Senator Guthrie - There are no profits.

Senator FINDLEY - According to the honorable senator, then, the ships are to be disposed of because of the losses that have been incurred. A year or two ago the Government sold the Geelong woollen mills to Senator Guthrie and his pals. Those mills were showing an enormous profit, so that, after all, the question of profit or loss in the operation of the Line is not taken into account by this Government. Its purpose is to get rid of all Government enterprises whether successful or unsuccessful. My contention is that the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line has been a successful enterprise. Certainly it has been a. profitable undertaking so far as Senator Guthrie and other primary producers are concerned.

Senator Guthrie - I am afraid the ships have been of no use to the primary producers ; they have been a terrible drag on the country.

Senator FINDLEY - I am sure the honorable senator has not given the position careful thought. He must know that, but for the existence of the Line during the war, the primary producers of Australia would have been confronted with disaster. It saved Australia, and, during that period, it made immense profits. After the war, and when the fleet had been augmented, it rendered signal service to all sections of the community. Any direct loss, as disclosed in the balance-sheet, is more than offset by the indirect gain to the people of Australia. Other Government enterprises show losses, but we do not hear this clamour for their disposal. Canada and the United States of America have suffered heavy losses on their shipping enterprises. We also have incurred losses in respect of this capital city. It is proposed to make it the City Beautiful. To that end an immense sum of money has already been spent here. What is being done for Canberra should be done for the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line, because it, too, belongs to the people of Australia. No one suggests that there should be a change of policy with regard to the Federal Capital.

Senator Foll - Mr. McGrath, one of the honorable senator's colleagues, declared the other day that it ought to be scrapped.

Senator FINDLEY - I am not responsible for what other members of my party may say. Certain supporters of the Government are also opposed to the sale of the Line, and I have no doubt that members of the Ministry took advantage of the occasion to speak to them about the matter. Possibly they made some unkind remarks to those supporters about their attitude towards the Line. . Apparently they are not allowed to have opinions of their own; they are expected to do as they are told. If they do not believe in the policy of the Government they have to keep silent, or else they are told to join the Opposition. I should like to know whether the Government intends to bring in an amendment of the act which created the Shipping Board. And if it be true that two members of the board are opposed to the sale of the Line, is it intended to depose them and appoint two others? We have a right to know what the Government proposes to do. Anticipating that I shall receive a reply from the Minister on that point, I shall resume my seat.

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