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Friday, 11 March 1904

Mr FOWLER (Perth) - We have all listened with interest to the honorable member for Adelaide. No one, I think, will object to my statement that we can very well attend carefully to what he has said, and even where he was most severe on some of us, we can perceive still a kindhearted endeavour to turn us into what he thinks straighter paths. I welcome the scintillating of these thunderbolts which have been hurled at the heads of Western Australia's representatives for the last half-hour. They indicate to me the gratifying fact that the right honorable and learned member who launched them has recovered to a considerable degree that strength and vigour which we all hoped for from the change of scene which he enjoyed a little while ago. I sincerely trust that for many a day to come we shall continue to be favoured with these thunderbolts - not lessening in their brilliancy, and keeping the House at times in a condition of activity - for which I think we are all obliged to their author. I am glad to say that in very many respects I find myself at one with the right honorable and learned member, and when I do unfortunately differ from him, it causes me very grave and serious searching of heart and mind, lest I should unhappily have gone somewhat astray. I have so much respect for the right honorable and learned member that I have a tendency at times to admit that I am in the wrong, where I find myself differing from him. It is, therefore, necessary for me on such occasions to investigate very carefully and as impartially as I can the position which I occupy. On one or two matters on which I am unfortunate enough to differ from him, I have taken that course, and so far as his references to Western Australia are concerned, I trust to be able to show the House, as briefly as possible, that I, in common with my colleagues in the representation of that State, have every justification for the attitude which 1 take up. The right honorable and learned member waxed very vigorous indeed in his denunciation of the people of Western Australia, in connexion with the existence of a sliding scale, which I freely admit has been of considerable advantage to its Treasurer. I wish to point out a fact of which I thought the right honorable and learned member was cognisant - that the representatives of Western Australia at the Federal Convention which obtained that sliding scale were not speaking on behalf of the people of the State. The vast majority of the people of Western Australia were entirely opposed to the provision for a sliding scale, and would have put it aside if at any time they had been able to do so.

Sir John Forrest - Not a vast majority.

Mr FOWLER - At any rate a decided majority.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member might say a great number.

Mr FOWLER - In those days, when the Federal Convention was constructing the Constitution, Western Australia had a Parliament representative of only a very small section of the community; a large number of the people were unrepresented there. The representatives who were sent to the Convention were not elected by the people of the State, like the representatives of the other States, but were appointed by what was really a nominee Parliament.

Sir John Forrest -No, no.

Mr FOWLER - The Western Australian Parliament was at that time undoubtedly little better than a nominee Parliament.

Mr Watson - Did Parliament nominate the representatives, or were they nominated by only one gentleman?

Mr.FOWLER.- I will put it that the representatives were nominated by a nominee Parliament.

Sir John Forrest - The Western Australian Parliament is not very different now from what it was then.

Mr FOWLER - In my opinion the Western Australian Parliament is different now, and I give the Minister for Home Affairs the credit of endeavouring, as Premier of that State, to improve the position of affairs when the people clamoured so loudly that it was, perhaps, from the point of view of his own party, advantageous to concede reform. At any rate, the representatives of Western Australia at the Federal Convention demanded a sliding scale, ostensibly because the local revenue would suffer if that State entered the Federation, but really, by imposing a tax on the food of the people, to protect the interests of a handful of farmers and squatters who at that time dominated the local Parliament. As the Minister for Home Affairs interjected when the right honorable member for Adelaide was speaking, the people of Western Australia undoubtedly paid that taxation out of their own pockets, and that fact in itself is conclusive proof that if they had been able, they would not have asked for, but, on the contrary, would have bitterly opposed, the institution of the sliding scale. It is not in harmony with the chivalrous disposition of the right honorable member for Adelaide for. him at this juncture to throw the sliding scale in the teeth of the Western Australian people.

Mr Kingston - I do not think I did so.

Mr FOWLER - At any rate, the right honorable member should know that if the people of Western Australia then, or at any subsequent time, had been able to abolish the sliding scale, they would have done so.

Sir John Forrest - They can do so at any time they like.

Mr FOWLER - But, even at the present time, there is a majority in the Western Australian Parliament who would oppose the abolition of the sliding scale.

Sir John Forrest - I think so too.

Mr FOWLER - And that majority does not represent the ideas of the community. As one who took an active part in the Western Australian Federal campaign, which was bitterly fought for a number of years, I can say that the federalists of that State, who were the large majority, would a hundred times rather have had a transcontinental railway than the sliding scale made a condition of the union. I believe, further, that if that railway had been demanded as a condition, it would have been granted and embodied in the Constitution.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think so.

Mr FOWLER - Unfortunately, the construction of a transcontinental railway is not provided for in the Constitution in black and white; but the federalists of Western Australia, while battling for the union, secured from the leaders of the movement throughout Australia, such promises as entitled them to tell the electors of the Western State that if they agreed to Federation, a line would follow. As a proof of that, there are on record declarations by Sir Edmund Barton, by the Prime Minister, by you yourself, sir, and, most emphatic of all, by the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide, that if Western Australia federated the railway would be provided.

An Honorable Member. - That was a bribe.

Mr FOWLER - It was no more a bribe than the promise of the Federal Capital was a bribe to New South Wales. Although the construction of the railway is not a condition set down in the bond, the Western Australian people are, in my opinion, as fully entitled to it as are the people of New South Wales to the immediate provision of a Federal Capital. This question is now complicated in the most remarkable' way, with what is called the Esperance railway scheme, and I should like to briefly explain the position. The Government of Western Australia is accused, by the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide, of ignoring the interests of the people of the gold-fields, by refusing to provide this new means of railway communication from the coast, and he urges that the line ought to be constructed by the Federal authorities, in order to combat the fostering of what he regards as the selfish interests of the dominant body in Perth. But Western Australia has simply followed the same policy of railway construction that has been followed throughout the States of Australia, namely, a policy of centralizing all trade in the capital city.

Mr Kingston - Does the honorable member approve of that policy?

Mr FOWLER - Even the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide has assisted to carry out a similar policy in his own State.

Mr Kingston - I opened up every port.

Mr FOWLER - I think it could be shown, if necessary, that in certain districts in South Australia, the conditions would justify the interference of the Federal authorities in the matter of railway construction, just as much as do the circumstances in Western Australia. The goldfields may be somewhat unfortunately placed, but the position at the present time is one of natural development. There is a railway from Fremantle to some distance beyond Kalgoorlie, and that railway has been pushed out gradually, step by step, from the capital city. It was first taken to Southern Cross, then to a point half-way between that place and Coolgardie, and eventually right on to the centre of the goldfields. It was very natural that the railway should run from the capital into the mining localities, as these were being developed and proved worthy of railway communication. Why is it argued that there should be a railway from Kalgoorlie to Esperance? The right honorable and learned member for Adelaide indulged in some rhetoric about the requirements of health, dying children, and so on ; but it must be remembered that the proposed line would run 250 miles into a miserable sandpatch on the Australian Bight. How many working men - even supposing they were able to do so - would care to send their children that distance to such a place?

Mr Frazer - Has the honorable member ever been to Esperance?

Mr.F OWLER. - No ; but I have been to a point not very far distant, and I have a pretty good idea of what the place is like.

Mr Frazer - I can assure the honorable member that Esperance is a very nice little town.

Mr FOWLER - It is extremely unlikely that at the present time, or for many a day to come, sick people and others requiring to leave the gold-fields on account of their health would go near Esperance.

Mr Frazer - They cannot go there now .

Mr FOWLER - We are told, in addition, that if this railway were constructed, the means of communication between the goldfields and the eastern States would be very much improved. I firmly believe that there ought to be land communication between east and west ; but a railway between Esperance and Kalgoorlie would not get over the difficulties created by the absence of a transcontinental line. After the journey of 250 miles to Esperance, there would still be a sea voyage to Adelaide; and I ask. honorable members to consider for a moment which of the two routes would be the more popular with the people on the gold-fields. Travellers would have to remain at Esperance until they could secure a boat to carry them to Port Adelaide, whence there would be another railway journey to the city. On the other hand, if there were a transcontinental railway, a traveller would step on board the train at Kalgoorlie, and in thirty-six hours would be in Adelaide. How many people would care to spend time and money on the round-about journey viâ Esperance, when they had to face all these changes, and the delay and trouble involved by the repeated handling of luggage? So far as passenger traffic is concerned the construction of the Esperance line would, in my opinion, prove a waste of money. We are told, however, that the line would be convenient for the transference of cargoes and goods generally ; but I do not believe that even in this respect the route would receive much patronage. The handling of cargo would result in damage and expense, and although the rates on the transcontinental line might be a little higher, the advantages would be so great that it would be used to carry the greater quantity of goods from the eastern States. The agitation for a line to Esperance, so far as the Federal Parliament is concerned, was very largely the work of one gentleman whom the electors found it necessary to displace ; and I am quite willing that the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide should take his information from the new member for Kalgoorlie. I feel quite sure that whatever views the honorable member for Kalgoorlie may entertain about the Esperance railway, he would not block the construction of the transcontinental line until the Esperance scheme was adopted also by the Federal Parliament.

Mr Frazer - Quite so.

Mr FOWLER - This leads me to the question of the scope and operation of the Arbitration Bill, or the Navigation Bill, or both, in connexion with the shipping trade of Australia. The right honorable and learned member for Adelaide dealt at some length with this subject, on which I admit he is an authority; and he urged, with a considerable amount of force, the claims of seamen to consideration from this Parliament. I agree that seamen, in common with all workers, are entitled to consideration when these measures are before us; and I should be the last to refuse them that degree of justice to which they are entitled. But the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide, and those who

I think with him, altogether beg the question when they demand protection for Australian seamen. It is assumed that the conditions of competition inflict hardship on, and that there is a species of competition at work which is unfair to, Australian seamen. I deny both these premises. In my opinion the Australian seamen, to use a sporting phrase, " stand on velvet."

Mr Page - I am surprised to hear the honorable member say that.

Mr FOWLER - I think I can prove the truth of my statement. When we talk of competition, we must be careful to include all the circumstances of the competition. It is no argument for a man to say that he is entitled to a greater degree of consideration than another upon one particular point if there are other phases of the question which neutralize his contention. If it can be shown that the employers of Australian seamen are able to pay higher wages than are paid by the employers of the crews of the ocean-going mail steamers, I think that the plea raised on behalf of the Australian seamen appears unnecessary.

Mr Tudor - Is that a reason why the English companies should sweat their seamen ?

Mr FOWLER - There is, in this connexion, no question of sweating any man. The question is, do the seamen on board the ocean mail steamers come into competition with those onboard the Inter-State steamers ?

Mr Page - Undoubtedly they do.

Mr FOWLER - It is impossible to prove that they do in the slightest degree. I know something about the general conditions on board the Inter- State steamers. I have travelled between my own State and the eastern States frequently for many 'years past, and, if necessary - though I do not think that it is required of me at this juncture - I could give honorable members some rather surprising particulars from my own experience of the way in which the steamers are managed in the interests of their owners, and to the detriment of the persons who use them. Western Australia having endured for some years the unsatisfactory conditions imposed by a monopoly, the mail steamers began to call at Fremantle, and immediately there was an appreciable improvement in the conditions of travelling upon the Inter-State boats.

An Hon orable Member. - The ring was broken up.

Mr FOWLER - Unfortunately, the ring still exists, but the calling of the mail steamers at Fremantle has had a very wholesome effect upon the conditions of travelling upon the Inter-State steamers. The proprietors of the Inter-State steamers make enormous profits because of the monopoly which they still enjoy in regard to the carrying of cargo. The mail steamers carry practically no cargo from one Australian port to another; they simply bring cargo from Europe and deliver it at their various ports of call in the Commonwealth, on their return picking up cargo at those ports for delivery in Europe. Undoubtedly, passengers and mails are carried from port to port on the coast by the mail steamers, but the fact that the passenger rates on the average are 30 per cent. higher on the mail steamers than on the Inter-State steamers shows that there is no competition.

Mr Tudor - What about the freights?

Mr FOWLER - Upon the average an Inter-State cargo steamer gets three times more for carrying goods from Sydney to Fremantle than a mail steamer getsfor carrying goods from Sydney to Europe. Assuming that the one voyage takes about half as long as the other, honorable members will see the tremendous advantage which the proprietors of the Inter-State steamers -have over the proprietors of the mail steamers. The owners of the InterState steamers pay to their men wages about twice as high as are paid on mail steamers, but under the conditions referred to they can afford to do so.

Mr Tudor - The wages paid upon the Inter-State steamers ars about three times as high as the wages paid on the mail steamers.

Mr FOWLER - The proprietors of the Inter-State steamers could afford to pay their men four times as much as is paid to the men on the mail steamers. Under the circumstances, what competition is there between the two classes of steamers tending to bring down the rates of wages paid to the Australian seamen? The mail steamers take no cargo from the Inter-State steamers, and it is the amount of cargo carried that determines the prosperity of these shipping companies. While in many instances the mail steamers have not been able to make the slightest profit, the Inter-State steamers have been piling up huge fortunes for their owners. Furthermore, the Australian shipping companies have been making more money than they know what to do with in the ordinary way of paying profits, and have been building new steamers out of revenue. If I cared to go into details on this subject I could tell a marvellous tale of the prosperity which has followed the increase of the shipping trade between Western Australia and the eastern States.

Mr Page - Yet the Brisbane River is full of steamers which have been laid up.

Mr FOWLER - We have been told that, if we impose the rule demanded by the right honorable member for Adelaide, all that will happen is that passengers to Western Australia will have to pay slightly higher fares. If that were the only result of its application, I should not offer such a strenuous opposition to the right honorable member's proposals. There is, however, a great deal in this move which is not altogether on the surface, and it is just as well that it should be made perfectly obvious at this stage of our proceedings, because, no doubt, the matter will come up again. I have here a cutting from the South Australian Register of the 6th October, 1903. It contains the substance of an address delivered by the Honorable R. S. Guthrie at a meeting held in Adelaide under the auspices of Branch No. 1 of the A.N. A. He was speaking upon the question of shipping, a subject upon which he was well able to speak, being, I believe, secretary to the Seamen's Union, and having occupied that position for some years. But, unfortunately for those who are agitating with a view to secure a monopoly for Australian steam-ship owners, Senator Guthrie rather imprudently gave his case away. Let me quote a small portion of his address. He said -

The policy of the future depended upon development, but in the meantime he was prepared to advocate the extension of the provisions of the Arbitration Act in the direction of including all ships trading between the ports of the Commonwealth. At the same time, he would relieve Australian shipping companies of port and light dues, and compel the foreign firms to make up the amount.

That proposition is so manifestly unfair that it requires no comment from me. Senator Guthrie shows a strong bias when he suggests that port and light dues should be imposed upon foreign shipping firms, and that the local companies should go free. He goes on to say -

The time was not far distant when mail steamers would have to abandon their coastal trade. He did not know any part of the world where such liners as the F. and O., Orient, and soon, traded from port to port. The day would come when the goods carried by those boats would be discharged into smaller coasting vessels, and when that day arrived, Port Adelaide by its geographical position would become the first Australian port.

Mr Lonsdale - That is in the interests of Adelaide.

Mr FOWLER - Certainly it is. The ostensible object of these gentlemen is to protect Australian seamen from competition, which, as I have attempted to show, is purely imaginary; but their real aim is to make Port Adelaide a great distributing centre.

Mr Hutchison - That is if the circumstances warrant it ; it will not become a great distributing centre otherwise.

Mr FOWLER - If the circumstances warrant it, well and good, but I protest against any artificial attempts to bring about the desired result.

Mr Tudor - The object is to prevent the British shipping companies from sweating their sailors.

Mr FOWLER - Can we prevent English employers from sweating their workmen ?

Mr Tudor - We can if they trade along our coast.

Mr FOWLER - If the honorable member thinks that we can prevent the British shipping companies from sweating their seamen he is more simple than I thought. What would happen if we attempted to impose such conditions as have been suggested ? If the British steam-ship owners made up their minds that our trade was worth having, it. would be the simplest thing in the world for them to evade the law.

Mr Page - Why do the shipping companies make Fremantle a port of call now - to benefit the people of Western Australia or themselves ?

Mr FOWLER - They call there to benefit themselves, and I am not arguing on any other basis. I contend, however, that whilst they are benefiting themselves they are conferring an advantage upon the whole of Australia, and that the policy of those who would interfere with the mail steamers is to benefit one port at the expense of all the others. It would be the simplest matter possible for any oversea company to evade the conditions which some honorable members desire to impose. They pay their sailors a certain sum per month, and there would be nothing to hinder them from making a bargain with seamen in the port of London for the round trip, paying the Australian rates whilst the vessels were on our coast, and compelling the sailors to go without wages for a time when they left our shores, in order that their pay might be kept down to the average English rate.

Mr Tudor - Any law can be defeated by collusion between two or more parties.

Mr FOWLER - It would be utterly foolish for this Parliament to attempt to pass legislation that could not be carried out.

Mr Tudor - According to the honorable member, nothing can be done, even when the railway is built.

Mr FOWLER - The construction of the railway between South Australia and Western Australia has nothing whatever to do with this question. So far as that work is concerned, however, I will go so far as to say that if South Australia assisted us to secure the transcontinental railway I should be perfectly willing to concede the common rule.

Mr.Tudor. - That would be a case of " thank you for nothing," because, according to the honorable member, the law could not be enforced.

Mr FOWLER - If they thought they could enforce the law, I should be willing to concede it to them, and to give them my opinion for nothing. I wish to indulge in a little prophecy - although, as the American humourist says, " it is not wise to prophesy unless you know." I believe that if the railway to Western Australia were constructed, South Australia would be the last State in the Commonwealth to demand the application of the common rule. Why?. Because its undoubted effect, with the railway in existence, would be to concentrate trade, to a very large extent, in Fremantle. I believe that that port has a large future before it, and that it will become, naturally, and without any' artificial aids, the depot of a great deal of the European trade with Australia; just. as by reason of its geographical position Sydney now has almost a monopoly of the American trade. I should, however, be the last to ask that artificial means should be used to bring about that result. So far from desiring to restrict the mail steamers to one port, I am anxious that the whole of the States should have the fullest means of communication with the outside world. I believe that even the people of Queensland are by no means anxious to support a policy that would have the effect anticipated by those who are moving in the direction indicated by the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide. Not long ago the representatives of Queensland formed a deputation to the Premier to ask that Brisbane should be made a port of call for the English mail steamers.

Mr Groom - All we wanted was equality of treatment.

Mr FOWLER - And that is all that Western Australia asks for, or expects. I believe that the representatives of Queensland have a perfect right to ask that the mail steamers shall call at Brisbane; but if they desire to bring about that result they must withhold their support from the policy of the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide. I trust that Western Australia will receive the consideration to which she is fairly entitled, and that the issues will be perfectly clear to honorable members before they vote upon them. I am sorry that the question has been raised to-day in such a thin House, but I have no doubt that it will be again discussed at a later stage. In any case, I can assure honorable members that Western Australia feels very strongly upon this particular subject, and that most strenuous opposition will be offered by her representatives, and by the people themselves, to any attempt to increase her isolation. When one fully realizes the intent of the present agitation, it cannot fail to impress him as being monstrous. The very persons who are endeavouring to deprive Western Australia of the advantage conferred upon it by reason of the mail steamers calling at Fremantle, are those who are most bitterly opposed to the construction of the transcontinental railway. They will give, us neither one. thing nor the other. Under such circumstances, I am sure that the feeling of fairness which animates honorable members of both Houses of this Parliament will be definite enough, when the time comes, to prevent such an injustice being inflicted upon the State which I have, the honour to represent.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Sydney Smith) adjourned.

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