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Wednesday, 29 June 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I should like to have some information as to the actual position of the vessels constituting the Commonwealth line of steam-ships. Some time ago a Ministerial statement was made, showing that the operations of the Commonwealth line of steamers had. been eminently successful last year, but recently I noticed a paragraph in the press in which it was reported that business had fallen off to a considerable extent, and very great difficulty was experienced in securing freight. Coming up the Bay the other day I noticed at Williamstown and Port Melbourne five vessels lying idle, which I assumed were Commonwealth steamers,because they were identical in appearance. If the Minister could make a statement regarding the immediate or near possibility of freights being secured for these vessels, it would be very satisfactory to the taxpayers. I do not know whether the crews have been paid off or not, or whether the vessels are lyingthereawaitingfreightswhichareavailableat

Williamstown; but from their general appearance I should say the vessels are at rest until the opportunity arises for them to be put in commission again. I shall be glad to hear from the Minister whether there is any likelihood of trade reviving, and whether every effort has been made by the Government to obtain freights from some partof the world to keep the boats in commission. I should think their capital value was atleast £250,000, and I am naturally exercised in my mind as to how long this valuable asset of the Commonwealth is likely to remain idle. I do not know if the Department is offering special inducements to obtain cargoes, but it will be. far bettor to run the boats at a small loss than to let them lie idle, because idle assets deteriorate very rapidly.

Has anything been done to carry out a promise made to me some time ago by the Trade and Customs Department to appoint an officer, who is at present residing at Devonport, to act as Customs officer for Devonport and Burnie? For some years we have had no Customs officer operating on that coast. Both those ports are important, and many business people there import their merchandise direct from the Old Country, and have been put to the inconvenience of passing their entries at Launceston. Some years ago both Devonport and Burnie were ports of entry. The appointment of a Customs officer would be very welcome to the importing section of the community on that part of the Tasmanian coast.

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