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Wednesday, 25 July 1906

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) .- I wish to say, at the outset, thatI am not prepared to support the amendmentof the honorable member for Barrier, though I congratulate him upon the excellent speech which he made, considering the material which he had in hand. I have read some of the evidence given before the Royal Commission, and fail to see that it justifies the conclusions arrived at. In any case, I think that the time has not yet come when the Commonwealth should obtain a fleet of steamers for the carriage of mails and produce between Australia and Europe. I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the Postmaster-General in moving the motion, and, having since read it in Hansard, congratulate him upon the clearness with which he has explained the provisions of the contract. But I am greatly disappointed that Brisbane has not been made a port of call. So far as the arrangements for the carriage of mails are concerned, the contract, as nearly every speaker has admitted, will provide a very good service, if its terms are duly carried into effect. I am convinced, however, that its framers had in mind, not only a mail service, but also a service fcr the carriage of produce from the Commonwealth, to the home markets. If that is not so. why is it stipulated that steamers of not less than1 1,000 tons register shall be employed. Vessels of that tonnage are not required merely for the carriage of mails. Then there is the stipulation as to refrigerating space. I understand that the steamers which are to be built will have a capacity for the carriage of perishable produce three times as large as that of the vessels of the Orient . Steam Navigation Company. That stipulation does not relate to the mere carriage of mails. My chief objection to the contract is that it is not required that the steamers shall proceed as far as Brisbane. I made the same complaint last year, when the Orient Steam Navigation Company's contract was being discussed, and, I think, angered the Postmaster-General by the persistency with which I stuck to my point.

Mr Austin Chapman - I was not angry. I admired the honorable member's persistency.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I am glad that to-night the honorable gentleman wears a smiling face, and I hope that he will continue to do so when I have concluded my remarks.

Mr Tudor - It is not stipulated in the contract that the vessels carrying on the service shall come to either Melbourne or Sydney.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I shall deal with that matter directly. I do not find faull with the amount of the subsidy to be paid, although it is a large one. We must pay a big sum of money to secure quick and regular communication between Australia and the old country. My complaint is that preference has been given to Melbourne and to Sydney at the expense of Queensland, to some extent. The contract is to have force for a period of ten years. The new contract will not be more satisfactory to Queensland than that which is now being carried on by the Orient Steam Navigation Company. Ten years is rather a long term for which to enter into an arrangement for the carriage of our mails. For a decade at least we shall not 'be able to make any other arrangements for the carriage of our produce to the world's markets. In all probability many improvements in shipbuilding will take place in the immediate future, and long before the contract has expired the steamers now proposed to be built will have become obsolete. I should have preferred to pat the Government on the back for having made a good bargain, and I am sorry that, instead of doing that, I have to urge a complaint. I find it very difficult to understand why Queensland should always be ignored in connexion with a mail contract. The Government should have obtained an assurance from the contractors that the mail steamers would proceed to Brisbane as well as to Melbourne and Sydney. I am sure that they would never have entered into the agreement but for the fact that Mr. Croker, the representative of the contractors, had written a letter, stating that the steamers would call at Melbourne and Sydney. The Government could not have afforded to overlook the claims of those capitals. I am perfectly aware that the Postmaster-General was away from the Commonwealth at the time that the contract was settled, and I am not blaming him personally for the mistake that has been made. As a member of the Government, however, he must bear a certain amount of responsibility, and I would urge him to endeavour to arrange to make Brisbane a port of call for the mail steamers. If the steamers do not go on to Brisbane, the feelings which Queenslanders now entertain towards the Federal authorities will become even less cordial. We endeavoured to persuade the Barton Government to include Brisbane as a port of call for the mail steamers, but they absolutely refused to. comply with our request. Queensland has ever since had a grievance, and I think that it is time that the injustice under which she has been labouring should be removed.

Mr Thomas - That object could be achieved if we ran our own vessels.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Queensland has to pay a subsidy to the mail steamers which now come on to Brisbane, and has also to contribute a much larger proportion than she should be called upon to pay towards the subsidy necessary to insure that Melbourne and Sydney shall be made ports of call.

Mr Austin Chapman - We hope to see the steamers go on to Brisbane.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - That is merely a hope, and is not sufficient. We wish Brisbane to be placed upon the same footing as the capitals of the other States. I think that some consideration should also be given to Tasmania, .which occupies very much the same position that Queensland does. Although Queensland will receive little or no benefit from the new mail service, she will have to contribute £16,287 1 os. per annum towards the subsidy. She will also be required to pay £1,000 per annum for the carriage of mails by rail from Adelaide to Brisbane. Of the latter sum, New South Wales will receive .£2,89 os. 7d. ; Victoria, £267 7s. 4d. ; and South Australia, £271 5s. 2d.

Mr Austin Chapman - I am going to knock all that off.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I am very glad to hear it. I am beginning to think very well of the Postmaster-General.

Mr Austin Chapman - The arrangement recently made at the Postal Congress will render it .unnecessary for the States to make any further payments under that head.

Mr Cameron - Will Tasmania share in the benefits of that arrangement ?

Mr AUSTIN Chapman - I am speaking of railway charges.

Mr Cameron - Do not the charges for the conveyance of mails by steamer come within the same category ?

Mr Austin Chapman - The honorable member must give notice of questions ®f that character.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Altogether, Queensland will be required to pay £17,287 10s. - a very substantial sum, considering that she will not receive the same benefit that will be conferred upon Victoria and New South, Wales. Either the amount payable by Queensland should be reduced, or the other States which are to be specially benefited under the new contract should be called upon to contribute any additional subsidy that may be required to insure Brisbane being made a port of call. At present Queensland is receiving differential treatment, utterly opposed to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, which distinctly lays down that no discrimination shall be made between the States.

Mr Austin Chapman - Brisbane is receiving exactly the same treatment as Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I do not think that that is quite correct. Before the contract was signed the Prime Minister had in his pocket a letter from Mr. Croker, representing the contractors, to the effect that the mail steamers would go on to Melbourne and Sydney, but to no other ports. All I desire is that Brisbane shall be treated in the same manner as the capitals of the other States.

Mr Thomas - The business men of Brisbane told us that the postal service should terminate at Adelaide, and that any trading arrangements should be left to private enterprise.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The new company will not receive any special subsidy from Victoria or New South; Wales, and if any additional amount is required by the contractors as a consideration for proceeding on to Brisbane, the Commonwealth should provide it. The PostmasterGeneral stated that the contract provided that Adelaide should be the terminal port, and that no objection could be raised to that provision. That is quite true so far as the carriage of the mails is concerned, but Adelaide will not be the terminal port for the steamers. It was not thought possible that before agreeing to the contract the Prime Minister would have in his pocket a letter , giving an assurance that the steamers would go on to Melbourne and "Sydney, but to no other ports.

Mr Austin Chapman - We should also be glad to have an assurance that Brisbane would be made a port of call.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Had pressure teen brought to bear by the Federal' Government the company would doubtless have consented to make Brisbane a port of call. I should be the last representative^ of Queensland to ask for a favour in v her name, and I am satisfied that the public of that State would resent anything in the shape of a favour being extended to her. All I ask is that Queensland shall be placed on an equal footing with the other States. We have a right to make that demand.

Mr Austin Chapman - So it will be. It is on the same footing at the present time.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I regret to contradict the Postmaster-General, but under this contract Queensland is not on the same footing with the other States, since Brisbane is not made a port of call.

Mr Cameron - Would .there be a sufficient depth of water to allow of these steamers going to Brisbane?

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - They could go to the port just as they could go to Tasmania. Apparently, however, the Federal Government is utterly indifferent to the needs and the wishes of the State of which I am a representative.

Mr Austin Chapman - I do not think that is. a fair statement.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - That, at all events, is my opinion. The whole arrangement is nothing more nor less than a piece of political hypocrisy, so far as Queensland is concerned. If it were not so, Queensland would share with the other States .the advantages of the service. The value of a mail service relates not merely to the .regular delivery of letters and papers, 'but to the provision made on the steamers for the carriage of perishable products in cool chambers. In that respect the contract appears to be a failure. The Postmaster-General, is aware that Queensland is now paying to the Orient Steam Navigation Company a subsidy of £26,000 per annum for making Brisbane a port of call. That expense had' to be incurred because of the failure of the Federal Government to provide in the contract with the company for the vessels of the service calling at Brisbane. The charge is a most unfair one to be imposed on Queensland, and ought to be taken over by the Commonwealth. I' must admit that it is paid as the result of an arrangement made by the Queensland Government, and that there may be something in the contention of the PostmasterGeneral, who sought last year to excuse the action of. the Commonwealth Ministry by saying that it had been entered into without reference to them. But I desire the Federal Government to provide under this contract that the vessels engaged in the service shall call at Brisbane, and that the cost of the extended service, whatever it mav be, shall be borne by the Commonwealth.

Mr Austin Chapman - Has the honorable member read the remarks of the Premier of Queensland? They do not fit in with his statement.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I have read them, and intend to refer to them presently. If the Commonwealth Government said, " We shall make arrangements with the new company for Brisbane to be made a port of call, and will bear the increased cost, whatever it may be," it would act justly to the northern State. I know that the company expect to receive an offer from the Queensland Government, but I sincerely trust that if an offer is to be made it will come from the company itself. Instead of a subsidy of £26,000 per annum being paid to the Orient Steam Navigation Company, I should prefer to see a revival of the system under which some years ago Queensland paid a subsidy of £50,000 or £55,000 to the British-India Company for an independent service to London. That was money well spent. The trade of Queensland to-day must be seven or eight times greater than it was at that time, and if we are to have a line of steamers of out own-

Mr Thomas - Hear; hear.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - For several years I have advocated that we should renew the arrangement under which Brisbane was the terminal port, and under which every Queensland port up to Thursday Island would be touched.

Mr Bamford - Why do the Queensland Government not go in for such a scheme?

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I believe that we shall have it. Although I do not expect that Queensland will be treated with any generosity by the Federal Government, I feel satisfied that, as the result of this contract, we shall have an independent service between Brisbane and London; that the steamers engaged in that service will proceed from Brisbane to Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, Cooktown, and other ports up to Thursday Island, and thence across the Arafura Sea to Tanjong Priox, the port of Batavia, Java. That was the old route, and it was an excellent one. I am informed by the Prime Minister that the present contract, unlike that made with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, does not provide for the mail steamers calling at Melbourne or Sydney, so that if the company chooses it need not send its vessels beyond Adelaide.

Mr Austin Chapman - No; but they would require twice the subsidy if we bound them not to send their vessels beyond that port. Every one knows that they could not afford to stop there.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - But they might go on to New Zealand, and not touch at Melbourne or Sydney. If that were done, however. I think the Federal Government would find a way of compelling the company to revert to the old system.

Mr Austin Chapman - We also desire them to make Brisbane a port of call.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - And the Federal Government ought to provide that the steamers of the service shall call there. Some consideration should also be given to Tasmania. It appears to me that the new company expects to secure a very substantial subsidy from Queensland. In the Argus of 16th instant the following statement appeared: -

When interviewed yesterday, Mr. W. A. Croker, who conducted the negotiations with the Commonwealth Government, stated most emphatically that up to the present the only subsidy which the new association had been promised was that which the Commonwealth would pay, viz.,£125,000 per annum. The statement made by the Shipping Gazette is, perhaps, anticipatory of arrangements being concluded between the new association and the Queensland and New Zealand Governments, for the steamers to call at Brisbane and Wellington. If this extension of the mail service were arranged the Queensland and New Zealand Governments would possibly supplement the federal subsidy by the payment of£100,000 for the services rendered.

Whatever influence I possess will be used in the direction of preventing Queensland giving a subsidy to the company. In Queensland generally, and particularly amongst the commercial community, the way in which Brisbane has been treated is strongly resented. I have here the report of a deputation which waited on the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Denham, with regard to this question. It is headed Queensland's Position: Strong Speech from the Minister," and reads as follows : -

Brisbane, Saturday. - A deputation, consisting of representatives of the co-operative butter factories', which waited upon the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Denham) to-day, presented a resolution agreed to by them at a meeting held this morning : -

That this meeting regrets to note that the interests of Queensland producers have been ignored in the acceptance of a mail contract which does not include Brisbane as a port of call.

Mr. Denham,in the course of his reply, said that on this occasion the Commonwealth authorities had most astutely protected themselves. On the previous occasion there was an implied condition that steamers should come on to Victoria and New South Wales ; but this time they only contracted with them to come to Adelaide. Up to the present they in Queensland were quite in the dark. There were some communications' going between the Premier and Mr. Deakin, but there was nothing more in them than what they had seen in the press, that Brisbane might be a port of call. The new company evidently expected to be able to bleed Queensland for coming here. Speaking personally, his own opinion was that they should not pay one penny royalty or bonus for steamers coming here. It would be infinitely better for the State to have a service going up the coast, calling in the East, then going toEngland. They were evidently going to play a waiting game in trying to bleed the State of Queensland, but he would use all the influence he possessed to prevent the subsidy from being given.

Mr Austin Chapman - Will the honorable member read what Mr. Kidston said ?

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I shall do so later on.

Mr Austin Chapman - It is a more recent utterance.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The question is too serious to be treated frivolously. I have here an extract from a leading article in the Brisbane Courier, which puts forward very clearly the position of Queensland -

There are two points clear : that the mail service is to be between Brindisi and Adelaide, and that the contractor guarantees that the steamers shall continue the voyage to Melbourne and Sydney. The reference to Brisbane is that the steamers will "probably" come here. "Probably" is not sufficient; it means that they will come if we give a special subvention as in the case of the Orient steamers, at least so we lake it, making the usual estimate of commercial enterprises, and taking the usual meaning of words as applied to business affairs.

It mav be candidly said that the main interest of Queensland as Jar as this mail contract is concerned is in getting the steamers to Brisbane for cargo purposes, and chiefly for the butter trade. It is vital to the butter industry that there should be speedy and regular delivery. Without regularity the sale of the product cannot be made direct to the distributor; it must be left to the speculator who is prepared to take a market risk. And the element of speed is essential, both from the financial point of view and the consideration of quality. To insure regularity at any rate, there must be a penalty clause in the contract, and no shipping company or association of persons will submit to a penalty clause without a subsidy. These facts are mentioned so that it may be made perfectly clear that the requirements of Queensland are such that the suggestion of any steamship service inferior to that given by the mailboats would be an unacceptable alternative. And in the matter of butter freights Queensland with her remarkable expansion is interested more in looking carefully to the future than either New South Wales or Victoria. In those States the industry seems to have reached something like its culminating point; all land for dairying is utilized. But in Queensland we are only on the fringe of the production and export. In 1900 our butter export was of the value of ,£51,729; last year it ran to over half a million sterling.

I feel certain that there will be just as big an increase in the production of butter in Queensland during the next five years. The article continues - lt is important to note the expansion in the principal States, and the exports to the United Kingdom for the year ending 30th June, as compared with the two previous years.

I do not propose to quote the figures which are then given ; it will be sufficient for my purpose to say that the export of butter from Brisbane in the year 1903-4 was 1,804 tons; in 1904-5, it was 2.635 tons; and in 1905-6, 4,005 tons. The article proceeds -

The Queensland export, it will be seen, is increasing very rapidly - much more rapidly than in either Victoria or New South Wales - and it may be mentioned - and as an important point - that we -have a large Inter-State and South African trade, account of which is not taken in the figures here given.

The paragraph concludes -

Our increase is largely owing to the fact that we have had the benefit of speedy and regular communication with the London market; the improved facilities for transport have stimulated production. It requires no rhetoric to emphasize this : if last year it was found so necessary to have the rapid and regular transit by sen that Queensland was prepared to shoulder a special subsidy of ,£26,000 a year, how much greater will the necessity be two years hence, when the new contract will come into operation? Without unduly inflating the prospects of the trade it may be said that within two years, in all human probability, our export of butter will equal that of New South Wales.

Thus it will be seen that the importance of Queensland being placed on the same footing as Victoria and New South Wales in connection with the new mail contract is not a matter of mere sentiment. There are other business considerations than those we have mentioned, but it is not necessary to refer to them at present. The Prime Minister, we are told, has a letter of guarantee that the new liners will call at Melbourne and Sydney, and " probably " at Brisbane, and there is interest in the statement that the steamers will also "under certain conditions" proceed to New Zealand. So far as we are informed as to the present position, Queensland, one of the States of the Commonwealth, is placed, upon the same footing as New Zealand, which is outside the federation altogether. No doubt when the contract is tabled, if there is no satisfactory statement made respecting the extension of the service to Brisbane, the Government of this State will take up the line of protest, and follow it up in a move vigorous manner than marked the Queensland attitude in the matter of the Orient contract.

I hope there will be no need for the Queensland Government to take up that attitude, or to do more than send an ordinary protest to the Commonwealth authorities. Upon more than one occasion, the State from which I hail has suffered very considerably as the result ot having joined the Federation. For instance, she has never received her full three-fourths of the Customs and Excise duties collected within her borders, and there is no hope of her deriving from; the mail contract the benefit which will be conferred upon the other States. I protest against such injustice being meted out to Queensland. I know that it is idle for me to appeal to the Government to remedy that injustice, but I do appeal to honorable members to remove it by inserting in the proposed contract a provision that the mail steamers shall make Brisbane a port of call.

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