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Wednesday, 13 July 1904

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - If there is one characteristic more , than another which has distinguished the Labour Party since its advent to office it is its predilection for the establishment of monopolies. Strange as it may seem, honorable members have only to trace the legislation which the present Labour Ministry have submitted since their accession to the Treasury benches to find that the whole idea underlying it has been in the direction of establishing monopolies either for employers or employes. This fact was especially emphasized in connexion with the clause relating to preference to unionists. Yet in face of these repeated attempts to legislate in the narrowest possible way, we find honorable members opposite declaring that they come here, not as the representatives of one class, but of all classes in the community. That assertion, however, must be largely discounted by their attempted legislative action in the special interests of one class only - and that class a small minority of the community. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has affirmed that 1,500 seamen are labouring under an injustice in the absence of legislation of the character proposed, and that we are justified in legislating to prevent its continuance. . I go further than the honorable member, and say that if only one person in the community is suffering an injustice it is our duty if possible to remove it. But no evidence has been adduced in support of his contention that anybody is suffering injustice. On the contrary, it is admitted on all sides that these 1,500 seamen are getting the highest wages paid to seamen in any part of the world ; and the local steam-ship companies are enjoying the greatest profits, and are building new steamers out of those profits. If we admit, just for the sake of argument, that 1,500 seamen are labouring under an injustice, what is the nature of the remedy which the honorable member suggests should be applied? He practically says that we should cure the evil of which he complains by imposing a greater injustice upon thousands of producers in all parts of Australia. We are to confer an advantage upon certain individuals to the disadvantage of many other members of the community. I shall always resist legislation of that nature. What will be the effect of adopting the proposals of the Government? Obviously it must be to create a monopoly so far as our Inter-State shipping is concerned for the Australianowned vessels. As. a matter of fact these steamers already practically enjoy a monopoly. For a long time competition between the various coastal steam-ship companies has been a thing of the past. If they have not actually amalgamated they have arrived at an understanding by means of which freights and passenger fares are maintained at a certain level. It has already been abundantly shown that there is practically no competition, except in regard to the carriage of passengers, between oversea vessels and the Australian steamers engaged in our coasting trade. As a matter of fact, there is really no competition in the passenger trade, because the oversea mail steamers do not adopt cutting rates. Their rates are considerably higher than are those of the Inter-State' vessels, and that is an indication that they do not desire to compete with our coasting steamers in the carriage of passengers. I can therefore quite understand the arguments of honorable members opposite, who contend that legislation of this kind is really unnecessary. If it be unnecessary, and I hold that it is, why should we be asked to pass it ? Surely every intelligent person will agree that it would be time enough to introduce legislation of this description when the necessity for it had arisen. When it is admitted that there is no need for such legislation, it is merely a waste of time for the Committee to consider these clauses. What would be their effect ? It has already been shown by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat that there is a doubt even in the minds of the most eminent legal authorities as to whether these provisions could be enforced against foreign vessels, and surely it is right that we should have regard to that aspect of the matter. If it would be impossible to enforce these provisions against foreign vessels, then obviously their effect would be to penalize British ships to the advantage of foreign vessels. I do not imagine, for one moment, that that was the intention of the Ministry in introducing these proposals ; but they should have been very careful to ascertain the exact extent of our power to make them operative against foreign shipping. Surely the Government have no desire to subsidize foreign ships at the expense of British vessels. We should ask ourselves whether the large ocean-going mail steamers which visit our shores do any injury to Australia. To my mind they have done a vast amount of good. Australian commerce has been largely built up through their instrumentality, and yet we are asked to pile up disability after disability against the operations of these vessels. They have unquestionably enhanced the progress and prosperity of the Commonwealth. I for one would rather see every legitimate encouragement offered to them to increase and multiply, so that they may bring more and more trade to our shores, and take away more and more of our produce in exchange for the good things they bring to us. Their visits to these shores are not calculated to inflict any injury upon the Commonwealth, but, on the contrary, are an immense advantage in every respect, and I therefore think that we should use all legitimate means to encourage the trade developed through their agency. The passenger trade is the only one in which they engage on the Australian coast. I find that the total number of passengers carried annually between the different ports of the Commonwealth is a little over 215,000. Of that number 29,000 are carried by British ships, and 7,000 by foreign vessels, or a total of 36,000 as against 179,000 ' carried in purely Australian steamers. The public have a perfect right to determine for themselves by what lines they shall travel. If one line of steamers offers better accommodation than does another, there should be no interference with the liberty of travellers .to select that which is best suited to their requirements. The ocean-going steamers charge very much higher rates than do the Australian coasting vessels, and only the wealthier classes of passengers are likely to travel by them. Another point which we have to consider is what has been the effect of this competition on Inter-State passenger traffic. We all remember that a few years ago the Inter-State steamers were small and inferior. Vessels of the type of the Ly-e-Moon and the Barrabool were regarded as first-class passenger steamers in the Inter-State trade, but today they would be looked upon as fit only for use as coal hulks. It was largely owing to the example set by the oceangoing mail steamers that improvements were effected in our Inter-State steam-ship services, and now very largely as the result of this competition we have such magnificent vessels engaged in the coastal passenger traffic of Australia as the Kyarra and the Grantala, which compare very favorably with the oversea mail steamers. If we destroy this competition - and these clauses would tend in that direction - we shall create a monopoly that will prevent further progress in a direction that has been immensely beneficial to the travelling and shipping public. What would be the effect of the monopoly which it is now desired to create ? The right honorable member for Swan has verv pertinently pointed out that the producers should remember that any restriction on navigation must mean the establishment of a monopoly, and an increase in the cost of the transit of their produce. That is a self-evident proposition. The Droducers of staple products for export would suffer more than any other class of individuals from the imposition of any further restrictions on the operations of oversea steam-ships. Let me deal now with the question of who would have to pay. We know perfectly well that whenever restrictions, involving greater outlay in production and distribution are imposed, the increased cost is always passed on to the people. In the long run the people always have to pay. It must be borne in mind that the large mail steamers and other ocean liners have to contend against many heavy disabilities. They have, amongst other harassing impositions and regulations, to fight against the disability of heavy port dues, and other charges, as the result of their temerity in visiting us. I cannot understand the motive of the Government in proposing to include these navigation clauses in this Bill. These provisions relate, not to a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, but to a Bill which is at the present time the subject of inquiry by a Royal Commission. The Ministry acted very unwisely and injudiciously - I might almost say improperly - in taking what I consider to be the very heart out of the Navigation Bill, and proposing to make it a kind of addendum to this measure. These clauses should have been part and parcel of the subject-matter of the inquiry by the Royal Commission appointed to consider what would be the probable effects of the passing of the Navigation Bill. Moreover, a very serious difficulty will arise if this part of the Bill is carried. An alteration in its title will be imperative for one thing. And then there will be the possible ultimate loss of the whole measure should these clauses be found, as I believe they will, to be ultra vires. Feeling as strongly as I do that these clauses should form no part of this Bill, I am not tempted to any great degree to support even the amendment proposed by the right honorable member for Swan. It seems to me that the proposed amendment is a most unsatisfactory compromise.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The whole hog or none.

Mr JOHNSON - I agree with the honorable member. If we are going to depart from the principles of freedom of action - if we are going to impose these restrictions on the right of the people to conduct their business as they think fit - we have a right to go still further. We should not compromise with principles. This legislation would not really affect the wages of Australian seamen. The seamen employed in over-sea ships are not Australians. They are engaged at home or abroad for the round trip, and sign articles of agreement drawn up outside Australia. I seriously doubt whether the form of agreement provided for in the proposed new schedule would not contravene the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act so far as British' vessels are concerned. The form is as follows : -

It is agreed between (name), the Master of the Ship and the persons whose names are subscribed hereto, and who are members of the crew of the ship, that from the day of 19 , to the day of 19 , or until the ship ceases to engage in the Australian coasting trade, whichever is longer, every award, existingor future, of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration which purports or is construed to extend or apply to the ship or to any service or employment on the ship shall so extend or apply to the same extent as if the ship were trading solely between ports in Australia, and shall be binding on and complied with by the master, owner, agent, and crew of the ship, anything to the contrary in the ship's articles of agreement with the crew notwithstanding.

I wish to direct particular attention to the last twelve words. What national complications may we not invite by requiring an agreement of that kind from the master of a foreign, or even of a British ship? We are attempting to pass a law which will override the British Shipping Act and the shipping laws of foreign countries. It may be that we have the power to pass such legislation - I shall leave the question to the legal authorities in the Committee to argue amongst themselves' - but it appears to me, as a layman, that we are arrogating to ourselves authority which we do not possess and cannot enforce. As I am of opinion that the proposed new clauses, if they have been brought forward seriously, should be considered, if at all, in connexion with the Navigation Bill, and not as part of the measure under discussion, I give notice of my intention to move, after further discussion has taken place, the omission of all the words after the words " This part of the Act shall come into operation," with a view to test the feeling of the Committee on the question.

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