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Wednesday, 25 July 1906

Mr BATCHELOR (Boothby) .- There seems to be a pretty .general concensus of opinion- that the agreement entered into by the Government with Messrs. Sir James Laing and Sons is a good1 one, so far as the Commonwealth is concerned, and that very little exception can be taken of it, the criticism which has been expressed having been directed chiefly to the point that the guarantee required may not be sufficient to compel the tenderers to proceed with the service- Therefore, I shall not discuss the contract itself, but shall confine my remarks to the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier. I am in favour of the principles of that amendment, that is, I think that, in the interests of Australia, the Commonwealth should have a line of mail steamers, in order to prevent the creation of a monopoly in the means of transport between this country and Great Britain, and to avoid the possibility of difficulty arising in the carrying on of the mail service. The existence of cheap and efficient means for the transport of goods is of the greatest interest to users and consumers alike, and the lack of them is a justification for both the construction of State railways and the control of steam-ships bv the Commonwealth. I do not think, however, that it is advisable to agree to the amendment in place of approving the proposed contract. If the honorable member for Barrier had put his proposition before the House as a distinct motion. I could have voted for it by way of affirming the principle which it embodies, but, having placed it before us as an amendment upon, the motion of the Postmaster-General, he asks us to decide between approving the contract and passing a resolution in favour of the establishment of a Commonwealth line of. steamers. In my opinion, the injury done to our producers and consumers by the Inter-State shinning combine is more immediate than anr other, and. if a choice has to be made between a number of reforms, we should seek to carry out first that which is most pressing. It is a mistake to try to carry too many reforms at the same time.

Mr Thomas - We must not save the world too soon.

Mr BATCHELOR - I think it better to do things bv instalments. We cannot save the world in one act. A beginning must be made somewhere.

Mr Thomas - Let it be made by the establishment of the proposed mail service.

Mr BATCHELOR - I think the honorable member is starting at the wrong end.

Mr Thomas - The honorable member can commence at the other end. I should support him.

Mr BATCHELOR - I am sure that the honorable member is sincerely anxious to reform the world, particularly by providing means for the sea-carriage of ,goods on Commonwealth vessels, and is ready to support the taking over of the Inter-State as well as the oversea shipping service. The Inter-State shipping service is an actual evil, which is inflicting loss and suffering upon the community, and a monopoly which should be taken over by the Commonwealth. The tobacco and sugar monopolies should be similarly treated, by being taken over at the earliest moment possible. In carrying out reforms we should begin with monopolies which actually exist, and can be shown to be inflicting injury on the community. Unless we can prove that actual damage is being done to producers and consumers, and the community generally, we have not much ground for appealing to the public to support the taking over of a service, and the making of it a national one. If the ratification of the contract would prevent the Commonwealth from carrying on the mail service later on, should that be thought advisable. I would vote for the amendment, but, as a matter of fact, a clause in the agreement enables us to take over the service if we find it necessary to do so.

Mr McDonald - Under that provision the Commonwealth may take over the vessels used in carrying on the service, but it cannot take over the company's business. The company could still continue in the trade, by using chartered vessels, and could continue running the mail service. The clause to which the honorable member refers is useless to us.

Mr BATCHELOR - I do not think that it is. I dc not think that the company, if the Government took over its vessels, would charter other vessels merely to retain a subsidy of £125,000 per annum. Besides, the Government have power to terminate the contract if the service is not being carried on satisfactorily. Those two provisions will enable us to take over the service if that is found to be necessary: However, I shall not argue the matter at any .greater length. I rose merely to give my reasons for not supporting the imme- diate putting into practice of a principle of which I am in favour, namely, the public ownership of means of sea-carriage as well as of land carriage.

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