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Wednesday, 22 August 1906

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) . - I confess that, when first I saw this item, I looked upon it with great suspicion, as an insidious attempt to introduce the thin edge of the socialistic wedge for the establishment of a fleet of Commonwealth mail steamers, but, having made personal inquiries into the matter, I find that, so far from this being the case, it is intended to stimulate private enterprise to a hitherto unexplored source of wealth production. In a recent interview with the Chairman of the New South Wales Fisheries Board, I was assured that an experiment of this kind is very necessary, because no private capitalist would go to the expense of building a trawler on the off-chance of discovering a profitable enterprise, whereas, if the Government experiments demonstrate that capital can profitably be embarked in this industry, there are several men of means who will invest money in it. The proposal is defensible on the same principle as the Government putting down bores in waterless tracts of country in the interests of the community, with a view to promote settlement When the right honorable member for East Sydney was Premier of New South Wales, he authorized the expenditure of money for a trawling experiment, which was conducted under the supervision of Mr. Frank Farnell; but the operations were continued for only six weeks, under the most adverse weather and other conditions. That time was not sufficient to thoroughly explore our waters ; but the Reid Government went out of office, and was succeeded by a Ministry who would not renew the experiments, which had therefore to be abandoned at a critical moment. Mr. Farnell, however, assured me that the results obtained were encouraging, and he is an enthusiastic supporter of the present proposal. He has not the slightest doubt as to the profitable results of such an experiment. I am informed that it is estimated that the trawler will cost £6,500, but that it was considered desirable to provide for £8,000, in order to meet contingencies. Experiments made with Government-owned trawlers in other parts of the world have been attended with very gratifying success. Some of the most recent of these operations have been conducted off the Cape of Good Hope under the auspices of the Natal Government. The results have been so successful that already four private steam trawlers are following up the work commenced by the Government steamer, and orders have been given for the construction of another five privately-owned trawlers. I have verylittle doubt that similar results will ensue here. It may be asked, what will become of the trawler when she has accomplished the purpose for which she was originally built? I may point out that the steamer will Le of a class suitable for employment in connexion with our harbour and coastal defences, and in many other ways she could also be used. There is not the slightest doubt that the Commonwealth Government will, sooner or later, have to acquire a number of small steamers for defence purposes, and vessels of the type of the proposed trawler would be very useful for some kinds of work. Therefore, we need not contemplate any loss upon our original outlay. I .understand that the present Chairman of the Fisheries Board in New South Wales would be willing to give us the benefit of his supervising services and experience free of expense, and that there would be no necessity to incur any heavy expenditure in providing for the necessary supervision of the trawling operations. In view of the fact that the trawler is intended to open up a new field of private enterprise, rather than to promote socialistic objects, I shall not oppose the item.

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