Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 2 December 1927

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so.

I desire to protest against an answer which I received a few days ago from the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs. Honorable senators are entitled to expect accurate information. If the Ministry does hot wish to supply answers to certain questions, it would be better for honorable senators to be so informed in plain language. A few weeks ago I asked what was the annual consumption of sugar in Australia, what was the price per ton in Australia, and what was the price outside Australia. I. was informed that the annual consumption in Australia was about £330,000.I presume that that figure is fairly correct. I was also advised that the wholesale price in Australia was £30 6s. 8d. a ton for refined sugar for fruit processing; £3611s. 9d. a ton for refined sugar for other purposes, and £32 15s. 6d. a ton for mill white sugar. I take it that those figures also are correct. The reply to my question as to the price outside Australia was to the effect that foreign prices vary according to the rates of duty in the various countries. Of course they vary. I was told that the price in England was £30 5s. a ton ; in Canada £30, and in the United States of America £28. Why was the answer limited to those three countries? Why was not mformation supplied as to the price of sugar in Cuba, Java, New Zealand and other countries? The quotations given -were, of course, the price plus the duty. Great Britain raises £17,000,000 a year from its revenue duties on sugar, so the price in the Mother Country must be plus the duty. I asked also if any rebate was allowed on the purchase of sugar used in the making of jam for export, and was informed that the rebate was £12 15s., thus making the price of sugar to the manufacturer of jams for export £17 lis. 8d. I should like to know if Australian housewives making jam for their own use, are also in a position to buy sugar at the Australian price, less the amount of rebate allowed to the export manufacturers.

Senator Crawford - No. Rebate is allowed only on sugar used in the manufacture of commodities for export, and is equivalent to the amount of duty.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know that the same concession is not extended to housewives who use sugar in jam-making; but I should like to know if jam manufacturerssuch as Jones and Company, of Hobart, who manufacture largely for local consumption, receive a similar rebate.

Senator Crawford - No, but they get the benefit of a special price of £30 6s. 8d. a ton. As the £1 shares of many of the jam manufacturing companies in Australia are selling at £2 10s. they cannot be doing too badly.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not thinking of the manufacturers, but of the consumers. There is au import duty on jam.

Senator Crawford - Yes, of 3d. per lb.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Consumers in Australia who purchase Australian jam have to pay at the rate of £12 15s. a ton more for its sugar contents than is paid by the consumers of that jam when it is exported either to Great Britain or to the Dominion of New Zealand. To my mind that is unfair to the Australian consumers.

A few days ago I asked a question concerning the mail subsidy, a subject in which I have taken a good deal of interest, and I was informed that the Government paid £130,000 a year for a four-weekly service between England and Australia, which amount covers the carriage of mails and a certain area of refrigerating space. In 1897 a contract was entered into between the British Government and the Orient and Peninsular and Oriental Companies for the carriage of mails between England and Australia, under which these two companies were paid £170,000 a year for a weekly service. Of this amount, £72,000 was paid by Australia, and the balance by the British Government. The vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Company and the Orient Company picked up the mails on alternate weeks.

Senator Reid - As that was before Federation, the States must have contributed.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes; I believe they did so on a population basis. In 1905 the subsidy was increased by £10,000. In 1906 Australia's contribution amounted to £120,000 for a two-weekly service, and in that year the Commonwealth entered into a contract on its own behalf with the Orient Company, as the British Government refused to be a party to a contract which provided that Iascar stokers should not be employed on vessels carrying Australian mails. For two years £120,000 a year was paid to the Orient. Company. As the Commonwealth was under the impression that it was paying too much, it gave the Orient Company notice that in two years' time the contract would be reviewed. In the interim, the Government endeavoured to get another company to take up the mail contract, and a British company offered to provide better facilities, larger boats, and a certain amount of refrigerating space, which was then an innovation. The Government, of which Mr. Deakin was the leader, asked Parliament to ratify an agreement with that company, but some honorable members did not think that it could be carried out because of the opposition of other important shipping interests. They proved to be right. The Commonwealth Government had then to fall back upon the Orient Company, which undertook to carry our mails for £170,000 a year for a fortnightly service. It was then suggested for the first time that refrigerating space should be provided, and the contract embraced the carriage of mails and the provision of refrigerating space. In answer to a question I asked some time ago I was informed that the Government is paying the Orient Company £130,000 a year for a four-weekly service; but the information with which I was supplied through the Postmaster-General's Department was that that amount covered the mail service and also refrigerating space. I am anxious to know how much of the £130,000 is for the carriage of mails and ho\v much for the refrigerating space provided. On a poundage rate our mails could be carried by the Orient Company for £30,000 a year, because the P. and O. Company, to which we do not pay a subsidy but which carries our mails on a poundage rate, carries more of them than does the Orient Company.

Senator SirWilliam Glasgow - The P. and O. Company receives a subsidy from the British Government.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, and the Commonwealth pays it on a poundage basis, and it carries a larger quantity of our mail matter than does the Orient Company. Immediately mails are ready for despatch from Australia they are forwarded by the first vessel available, and if the vessels of the P. and O. Company left twice as often as those of the Orient Company a correspondingly large tonnage of mail matter would be carried by the mail boats of the former line. According to the information I received from the Government, the subsidy of £130,000 is for a four- weekly service, and consequently we are not entitled to receive a more frequent service from the Orient Company. On a poundage basis I do not think we are paying more than £30,000 a year to the P. and O. Company. I have carefully perused the PostmasterGeneral's report, but cannot find the actual amount which the Commonwealth is paying to the P. and O. Company.

Senator Reid - The P. and O. Company would not carry Australian mails unless it received a subsidy from the British Government.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mail matter would be carried by the company on a poundage basis even if the British Government did not subsidize the company; but doubtless we get the benefit of the British Government's contribution. Of the £130,000 paid to the Orient Company as mail subsidy a proportion is really paid for refrigerating space. I understand that the mails carried by that company could be carried for about £30,000 per annum. In that case, £100,000 is paid for the refrigerated space provided. I should like to know whether we are getting value for that expenditure. It is significant that the Peninsula and Orient Company actually carries more mail matter between Australia and Great Britain than is carried by the Orient Company, although the former receives no mail subsidy. In a letter dated 27th October, 1927, the PostmasterGeneral's Department wrote -

In February, 1925, Peninsular and Oriental vessels under contract to the United Kingdom post office commenced to run a fortnightly service, which is still maintained, as against a 28-day service by Orient contract vessels, as the result of which the Peninsula and Oriental Line carried the greater proportion of the mails and thus reduced the earning capacity of the Orient contract line.

Even supposing that my estimate of £30,000 for the carrying of mails is too low and that a fairer basis would be £50,000, we are still paying £80,000 per annum to the Orient Company for its refrigerated space.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - One of the conditions of the contract with the Orient Company is that only white labour shall be employed on its vessels trading to Australia.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so; but I remind the Minister that in a discussion which took place in Parliament in 1906, it was stated that the Orient Company had admitted that that condition did not increase its working expenses. Even supposing that only £50,000 of the subsidy is paid in respect of refrigerated space, I maintain that it is unfair to saddle the post office with that expenditure. It may be contended that as it is government expenditure it does not matter to which department it is charged; but with that contention I do not agree. I am in favour of penny postage; but if I were to suggest in this chamber that penny postage should again be adopted, the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral would immediately reply that that could not be done because the post office is not paying its way. How can it pay its way if it is saddled with £100,000, or even £50,000, which should be borne by another department? We are' entitled to know whether the amount Of the Subsidy paid in respect of the refrigerated space has increased the amount o'f that space made available on vessels trading between England and Australia. As a result of inquiries which I havemade I find that the refrigerated space provided by vessels belonging to different lines trading between this countryand Great Britain is as follows: Commonwealth and Dominion Line, 7,750,000 cubic feet; the Federal and British India Line, 7,700,000 cubic feet; Australian Commonwealth Line o'f Steamers, 5,680,000 cubic feet ; Peninsula and Oriental Branch Line 5,100,000 cubic feet; Peninsular and Oriental Royal Mail Line,4,490,000 cubic feet; Aberdeen White Star Line, 3,700.000 cubic feet; White Star Line, 2,700,000 cubic feet; Holt's Line, 2,300,000 cubic feet; Orient Company, 2,250,000 cubic feet; Scottish Shire, 700,000 cubic feet - a total of 42,370,000 cubic feet. Honorable senators will see that the Orient Company, to which a subsidy is paid for the provision of refrigerated space, is next to last on that list. The refrigerated space on vessels belonging to the Orient Company trading between Australia and Great Britain is as follows: - Orama, 174,000 cubic feet;Otranto,156,000cubic feet: Oronsay, 152,000cubic feet; Ormonde, 104,600 cubic feet; Orvieto, 95,000 cubicfeet; Orsova, 88,000 cubic feet; and Osterley, 87,000 cubic feet, making a grand total of 952,600 cubic feet for the vessels ofthat company. The steamers belonging to the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers,to which no subsidy is paid, provide . refrigerated space as follows - Esperance Bay and Largs Bay each 362j000 cubic feet; jervis Bay, Moreton Bay, and Hobson's Bay, each 360,000 cubic feet; Fordsdale, 158,000 cubic feet; and Ferndale) 157,000 cubic feet, a total of 2,119,000 cubic feet. If we reduce those figures to tons, on the basis of 4.0 cubic feet to the ton, we find that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamersprovides refrigerated space for 142;000 tons of cargo as against 56,000 tons . provided by vesselsbelonging to the Orient Company. The Australian

Commonwealth Line of Steamers is third iri the list of shipping lines trading with Australia, so far as the provision of refrigerated space is concerned.

Senator Lynch - Am I to understand that the Orient Company gets a subsidy for providing a stated amount of refrigerated space?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - According to the Post Office authorities, although £130,000 is paid to that company as a mail subsidy, a portion of the amount is paid to ensure that a certain amount of refrigerated space is made available.

Senator Lynch - Then we get the refrigerated space in the other vessels for nothing. It appears to be a profitable undertaking for the Orient Company.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The right honorable the Leader of the Government, when referring to the proposal to dispose of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, said that as that Line carried only 7 per cent. of the cargo between Australia and Great Britain, its influence in shipping circles was practically negligible. In that case, I ask him what effect can the small amount of refrigerated space provided by the Orient Company have. Out of 42,370,000 cubic feet Of refrigerated space it provides only 2,250,000 cubic feet. We are entitled to ask whether the payment of this subsidy has improved refrigerating facilities On vessels trading between this country arid Great Britain, and whether the Orient Company has advanced with the times. Honorable senators may recollect that the Public Accounts Committee recently investigated the finances of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and submitted both a majority and a minority report I propose to quote an extract from the majority report.Under the heading, " Benefits of the Line," that majority report states-

By the building of themodern " Bay " and "Dale" steamers the Commonwealth Line had impelled other owners to improve their ships and services; and by the provision of experimental refrigerated chambers in its ships it had encouraged andrendered possible the successful marketing of Australian soft and citrus fruits overseas. Goods carried in thesechambers, it mightbe mentioned, pay no freightunlesstheyarriveattheir destination in good condition.

That report gives tothe Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers,not to the Orient Company, to which a large subsidy is paid-, the credit fbr having improved the refrigerated space in the vessels of the various companies trading between England and Australia. Our own Line not only provided better and more up-to-date refrigeratedspace, but compelled the other companies to do likewise.

SenatorFoll. - That evidence was given by the heads of the Australian Commonwealth Line:

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) -This is stated to be one of the benefits of the Line. As the majority of the Committee favour the sale of the Line, we can take it for granted that anything for which it gives the Line credit is somewhere near the truth. The Leaderof the Senate (Senator Pearce), in his speech oh a previous motion, outlined the conditions upon which the vessels would be sold. One of those conditions is that the Line shall remain in the Australian trade. Does the Government intend to allow the company which purchases the boats to compete in refrigerated space with another company to which it pays a subsidy of £130,000 a year ?

Senator Foll - The amount of space provided by the Orient Company is only a fraction of what is required.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Of course it is. I am arguing that we should not pay a subsidy.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - Is it not necessary to work under a contract to ensure that the company will run to a schedule?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Thirty years ago that might have been justified, but today the competition which exists renders it unnecessary. I have riot a word to say against the Orient Company; we owe a good deal to it. On one occasion I went to Wes'tern Australia by an Orient boat. During the voyage I had a conversation with the captain, in which he said, " I feel sure that you will be pleased to hear that on this boat we have not only all white men, but also all British subjects."

I believe I voice the view of all honorable senators when I say that the speech which was delivered by the Leader of the Senate respecting the Geneva Conferenceafforded us considerable pleasure. I agree with a great deal of what the right honorable senator said. I anl wholly with him iri believing that the pebpi'e of Australia do not take sufficient interest iri foreign affairs-. We had a striking illustration of that fact in a previous Parliament: The right honorable gentleman attended the Washington Conference, at which some very gbod work was done. Upon his return to Australia he gave the Senate a review of the proceedings. A speech along similar lines was delivered in theeither House by Mr. W. M. Hughes. The galleries were not even half filled, and the Sydney Morning Herald, which is probably the leading newspaper in Australia, published a reportonly seven inches in length ina back sheet. The following week the House of Bepresentatives had before it the question whether the people of the Commonwealth should pay a halfpenny a lb. more for their sugar.. The galleries were filled, the" Queen's Hall in Melbourne was crowded, and it was difficult to secure the admittance of a friend for the purpose of hearing the proceedings. The Sydney Morning Herald in its next issue devoted 32 inches to the speeches which were delivered bli that occasion. I couldnot help contrasting the interestwhich was taken in foreign andhome affairs. I read on one occasion that the editorof the London Times wrote to one of his principal foreign correspondents iri Europe askirig him to try toincrease the circulation of that journal. The correspondent replied that it would be a very goodthing if more foreign news was published. The editor wrote back stating that a letter asking for suggestions had been sent to every subscriber, and that 17,000 replies had been received. A large number was satisfied with the paper, and did not want any alteration. Some suggested more sporting news, others more news in relation to the stock exchange. Only one of the replies suggested more news on foreign affair's, and it was sent by a widow who had a son growing tea in Assam, and who wanted to learn more about that country.

Senator Pearcealso toldus that we should give greater support to the League of Nations, and send our ablest men every year to its assemblies: I agree with him.I stand strongly for the League of Nations, in the belief that it is the hope of the world at the present time. I confess that I was sorry to hear the Minister's explanation of one of the speeches he made at Geneva, in which he said that the tendency in Australia was to rely upon conciliation rather than arbitration. Surely it is not intended that the League of Nations shall take the place pf conciliation? It should function only when conciliation has failed. British statesmen in past years did not commit their country to war until they had exhausted every avenue of conciliation. I could not help contrasting that speech of the right honorable senator with the one which he made yesterday. In Geneva the gravamen of his argument was that we should press for conciliation rather than arbitration Yesterday he urged that we should place our reliance upon the Arbitration Court. Conciliation without arbitration is of no avail. It was tried in New South Wales and proved a failure. The father of Sir Robert Garran was the President of the New South Wales Conciliation Board, and did very good work. Conciliation must be supplemented by arbitration.

Senator Foll - Can you have conciliation when one party issues an ultimatum ?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Conciliation can be tried first. The Arbitration Act does not take away the right to conciliate. The parties are advised to try conciliation first, and, if that should fail, to submit their case to the Arbitration Court.

The following statement is contained in a cablegram, which I noticed in the press a few days ago: -

Australia is to have the full and early benefit of any,Marconi development in wireless communication. Were it not for Australia, the British Empire would not be in possession of her wireless chain to-day.

It is most gratifying to know that Australia put up such a good fight for the beam system, and it would ill become us if we did not give full credit to the right honorable member for North Sydney for the stand that he as Prime Minister of Australia took at that conference. He stood out against all the experts, and gained the day. We are indebted to the late Marquis of Salisbury for the advice " never to trust experts ; that according to clergymen nothing is pure, that if wc listen to a doctor nothing is wholesome, that according to a soldier nothing is safe, and that if soldiers had their way they would fortify the moon to save us from an invasion from Mars." I am bound to pay my tribute to the ex-Prime Minister who is mainly responsible for the fact that the beam service is in operation to-day. When I think of what he did to provide ships to take our wheat to the markets of the world during the war, I cannot help thinking how rich we are as a Nationalist party inasmuch as we can say to a great man like Mr. Hughes : - "We have eleven or twelve men in our team who are abler and more distinguished than you are, but although, the great services you have rendered to Australia in the. past entitle you to be classed as a professional bowler, you can not be a member of the team."

Suggest corrections