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Tuesday, 19 December 1911

Mr PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Defence) - We would like, if it could bedone, that some explanation should be made by you at this Conference, because it seems to us. that if we could add to the revenue of the Pacific Cable Board to the extent of ,?14,000- per annum, it puts that Board in a better positionfo make reductions an its ordinary messages. Possibly that ?14,000 per annum might be used" in still further reducing the charges, and it seems-, inexplicable to us that that consent should havebeen refused for the reason given.

Later in the debate, Mr. Samuel said -

The point raised by Mr. Pearce with referenceto the suggested new cable to be laid by the Pacific Cable Board between Australia and NewZealand is a matter not within the province of" the British Post Office, but of the British Treasury. However, I will take steps to represent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the strongdesire that is felt both in Australia and New Zealand that the Pacific Cable Board should be authorized by the United Kingdom, so far asthe United Kingdom is a party to that Board, to proceed with this work. Perhaps that is alfc I need say at present.

Then the President, Mr. Asquith, said -

I will see that further consideration is givento that matter.

I am glad to say that, as a consequence of that promise, a Bill was introduced into the Imperial Parliament just after we left England to authorize the laying of this cable. As to some extent connected with this question, I may say that at the Conference I had the honour and pleasure, as an Australian delegate, of moving a resolution in favour of the nationalization of an Atlantic cable. I wish to take this opportunity of saying that the whole of the delegates at the Conference, with the exception of the British delegates, strongly supported the nationalization of a cable across the Atlantic. The motion to which I refer would have been carried had it not been for the Strong representations of the British Postmaster-General. He informed the Conference that he was conducting negotiations with the Atlantic Cable Com- panies, and expected shortly to be in a position to make an announcement which he believed would be found to obviate the necessity of going to the expense of laying an additional cable. The colonial delegates, of whom I was one, strongly objected to leaving Great Britain without some further promise, and before we left we had a promise from the British PostmasterGeneral, confirmed by the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, that if within a reasonable time the negotiations between the British Government and the Atlantic Cable Company did not achieve the result hoped for, a subsidiary conference would be called to consider definitely the plans and steps to be taken to lay a State-owned cable across the Atlantic. There has been no communication from the British Government so far to indicate whether the negotiations spoken of have secured what was desired, except that since the holding of the Conference the Atlantic Cable Companies have conceded what they had previously refused, namely, the reduced rate for deferred cable messages. I have every reason to believe that that concession was largely due to the pressure resulting from the discussion of the motion at the Imperial Conference. If the British Postmaster-General is not able to get satisfactory assurances from the Atlantic Cable Companies that we shall be treated as well as we are treated by the Pacific Cable Board, the Commonwealth Government will press for the carrying out of the promise for the holding of a subsidiary conference to determine the question whether or not an Atlantic cable should be laid by the authorities concerned in the present Pacific Cable. That will be the only satisfactory solution of the difficulty if the Atlantic Cable Companies refuse to do what they ought to do. This is not contingent upon the matter we have now in hand, but I thought it proper in dealing with this question to make this explanation of the way in which matters connected with the cable question were dealt with at the Imperial Conference. The proposal now submitted will place the Pacific Cable Board in a better position to stand up against the severe competition it has to face, and will enable it to give Australia a better service.

Senator Keating - Has the Imperial Bill to which the honorable senator referred been passed?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. The British Parliament passed a Bill giving consent to the construction of the line. It was passed during the present session of that Parliament.

Senator Millen - Were the representatives of the British Government and the Pacific Cable Board in agreement as to the proposal ?

Senator PEARCE - I presume they were. The representations in connexion with the matter were made by the officials of the Board on the part of the Board as a whole.

Senator Millen - I was wondering whether there were representatives of the British Government on the Board.

Senator PEARCE - There is no evidence of that.

Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.

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