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Friday, 15 September 1911

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - The Minister of Defence prefaced his remarks by stating that, to me, Western Australia was something like King Charles' head, and that I was always ready to oppose anything which was for the benefit of that State - in fact, that I had a " down " on it. It is a curious thing that if any honorable senator has the audacity to argue that the same law should apply to every part of Australia - to Western Australia, as well as to the State which he represents - he must, therefore, be accused of having a " down" on Western Australia. I did not ask that it should be subjected to any law to which I was not perfectly willing that the State I represent should not also be subjected. I fail to see, therefore, that the Minister had any justification for a remark of that kind. I am prepared to do the same justice to Western Australia or South Australia or Tasmania as to the State I represent, or the State in which Parliament is sitting. What do the Minister's remarks amount to, after all has been said and done? and they were emphasized by the view put forward by Senator de Largie. They all come back to this original proposition, that the proviso has been inserted for the one purpose of allowing two lines of mail steamers to carry passengers between Fremantle and the eastern ports.

Senator de Largie - We do not deny that.

Senator GIVENS - The honorable senator was emphatic in stating that we should not deprive the people of Western Australia of the facilities which they possessed prior to Federation. Let us examine that contention for a moment. The facility which they had in this direction before Federation was to travel from Fremantle to the eastern ports, or vice versa, in two lines of mail steamers manned exclusively by coloured labour, as against travelling in the coastal boats manned by white labour.

Senator de Largie - The majority of the Orient liners were manned by white labour.

Senator GIVENS - I travelled once in an Orient liner, and I had the displeasure, if I may call it so, of seeing four troops of Lascars lined up on Sunday morning for the inspection of the captain.

Senator Millen - May I point out that if the argument that we should not deprive the people of Western Australia of the facilities which they enjoyed before Federation is sound, it ought to be extended to cargo as well as to passengers.

Senator GIVENS - That follows as a natural conclusion. However, the question of cargo does not arise now. If the contention of the Minister and Senator de Largie be true, that we should not deprive the people of Western Australia of this particular advantage which they had prior to Federation, our White Australia policy must go by the board, because the advantage which they then, had was that they could travel with equal facility in black labour vessels as they could in white labour vessels. .

Senator de Largie - Why did you not travel by a white labour boat ?

Senator GIVENS - Because I did not have the pleasure of making the arrangements for the trip ; otherwise, I would have done so.

Senator de Largie - You could have made the arrangement.

Senator GIVENS - Where I was brought up it was not considered good manners for a guest to question the arrangements which his host had made.

Senator de Largie - Like most persons, you wanted to travel with the greatest comfort. .

Senator GIVENS - Let us examine this proposal a little closely, to see whether my contention that the verbiage of the subclause is a mere subterfuge is not correct. We are asked to believe, especially by the Minister, that this provision is required for the Northern Territory and the northern portion of Queensland, just as much as it is required for Western Australia. I want to point out that it will not apply in the case of the Northern Territory and North Queensland, 'because it is a fact, which is known to honorable senators generally, that there are no British-owned vessels trading there continually and carrying passengers regularly. The only line of vessels which are unquestionably owned by a British, company are the boats of the British India Steamship Company, which travel down the coast of Queensland. These vessels are almost exclusively manned by coloured labour. Is it suggested that we should place our own shipping under a disadvantage in order to provide facilities to people to travel by ships which are manned almost exclusively by that class of labour? This question of fair and unfair competition has been very much stressed by the Minister of Defence and by Senator de Largie. The latter stated that there was no question of unfair competition at issue. But I hold that we have no right even to allow opportunities for that unfair competition to exist. We have no guarantee that the mail steamers will not reduce their passenger fares between Australian ports below those charged by our coastal steamers.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator wants to put the people of Western Australia in the control of a trust.

Senator GIVENS - The Minister of Defence declared emphatically that the Government had not attempted to disguise the fact from themselves that the passing of this Bill would have the effect of largely increasing the expenditure at present incurred by Australian shipping companies. I quite believe that, on account of the better wages which they will be required to pay, and the improved conditions which they will have to provide, that the cost of running their vessels will be increased. They are not engaged in the business for the benefit of their health; and in order to recoup themselves for the additional outlay they will probably have to increase their passenger fares. Have we any guarantee that the mail steamers will raise their passenger rates accordingly? If they do not, may not that circumstance in itself attract to them practically the whole of the passenger traffic between Fremantle and the eastern States?

Senator de Largie - Where will the people come in if we drive them into the hands of a monopoly?

Senator GIVENS - Is Senator de Largie prepared to advocate a return to black labour conditions in order to get out of that combine? We all know that it is proposed to build a line of railway to Western Australia, and consequently I do not see that the residents of that State would be placed under any disadvantage if they had no alternative but to travel by our coastal boats. In the northern half of Queensland, there are just as many people as are to be found in Western Australia, and they travel to the southern portions of the Commonwealth in just as large numbers as the people of Western Australia journey to the eastern States. Every vessel travelling to the north of Queensland is filled with passengers. In the winter months, when the weather here is unpleasant, a great number of tourists visit that portion of the Commonwealth.

Senator de Largie - On our way to New Guinea recently, we saw the Wyreema, and she was practically empty.

Senator GIVENS - Probably that was because she was tied up at the wharf, and had discharged her passengers. My own experience is that at that season of the year it is almost impossible to get a berth on board the vessels travelling to Queensland. The northern portion of that State has not asked for an exemption of this kind. Tt is distinctly unfair to impose one set of conditions on our own people who are engaged in our own trade, whilst permitting outsiders, who are engaged in the same trade, to be free of all restrictions.

Senator Pearce - We do not do that.

Senator GIVENS - It is proposed to give the Governor-General power to do that, so far as the passenger traffic is concerned.

Senator Pearce - That is not what the honorable senator said.

Senator GIVENS - The Minister of Defence knows perfectly well that I was referring to the passenger trade. We ought not to impose on our own people worse conditions than we impose on everybody else. If the oversea steamers wish to engage in our coastal trade, they should be at perfect liberty to do so, provided that they conform to the general conditions which we lay down for the conduct of that trade. Unless we are prepared to adhere to that equitable . principle, we shall be open to the accusation of having penalized our own people who are engaged in our own shipping trade for the benefit of the foreigner.

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