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Wednesday, 13 July 1904

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) - I cannot altogether follow the reasoning of the honorable and learned member for Angas. First of all, he has accused the Government of introducing legislation with the object of raising the wages of the local workers, and now he is objecting to a provision which is intended to do some measure of justice to a section of the employers. I desire to point out that the object of this legislation is to as far as possible do away with all industrial turmoil. The workers, after having striven for many years to attain their ends by means of strikes and other equally undesirable methods, were recommended to adopt constitutional means, and now that they are doing so, they are being accused of endeavouring to coerce and penalize the other side. We have provided for a Court wherein all disputes between employers and their employes may be settled. The tribunal will be an impartial one, and all those engaged in industry ought to be glad to have an opportunity to avail themselves of it, should necessity arise. Referring to the proposals immediately before us, I could have understood the objections which are being raised, if we were proposing to impose upon foreign steamers trading upon our shores conditions other than those with which local shipowners have to comply. As a matter of fact, we are endeavouring to place all ship-owners upon the same footing. We desire to treat all alike; but some honorable members unreasonably assume that we shall drive the oversea vessels away from our coast. The suggestion has been made by the right honorable member for East Sydney that these clauses should be withdrawn and subsequently inserted in the Navigation Bill. But I would point out that if that course be adopted the only remedy open to us will be to prohibit oversea vessels from engaging in our coastal trade at all. Whether we are in a position to take up that stand - as has been done in America - is very questionable. . I ask honorable members if there is anything unfair in demanding that ocean-going steamers shall comply with the same conditions as are imposed upon our own local ship-owners? Personally, I fail to see it. I would also remind the Committee that when the Customs Bill was under consideration, a similar principle to that which we are now asked to indorse was clearly laid down. In that case we compelled all ships trading with Australia to pay duty upon the stores which they consumed in Australian waters. It seems to me that the same argument which induced Parliament to come to that conclusion applies in the present instance with even greater force. It has been said that if the Government insists upon these proposals the Royal Assent to the Bill will be withheld. Personally, I fail to see anything within the four corners of our Constitution which will prevent us from obtaining the Royal Assent to this measure-.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The argument which was advanced was that the inclusion of these provisions will result in the Royal Assent to the Bill being delayed.

Mr WATKINS - A similar argument wai used on a previous occasion, but the prediction was not justified by events. I could quite understand the Royal Assent being withheld, if we imposed upon British ships disabilities to which we did not subject our own . ship-owners, but not otherwise. I can also conceive that these provisions are open to attack by the old Opposition from the free-trade stand-point, but I cannot understand the attitude which is taken up by some honorable members who, prior to the advent of the present Ministry to office, voted for. the protection of every Australian industry and are now voting against the introduction of these clauses.

Mr Cameron - Some of the members of the Labour Party intend to do the same thing.

Mr WATKINS - I cannot understand, I say, why any honorable member who sat upon this side of the House during the last Parliament, and supported proposals to extend protection to other forms of industry should now refuse to give fair play to our own ship-owners. To my mind the position is an absolutely inconsistent one to adopt. In his speech in this debate the right honorable member for Swan practically repudiated the whole of his career in Federal, politics. When he occupied a seat upon this side of the Chamber he loudly declared in favour of the development of Australian industry. Yet during the course of this debate he delivered a most admirable free-trade speech from every stand-point, simply because he desires Western Australia to be specially exempted from the legislation proposed I fail to see in the proposals of the Government any evidence of a desire to specially penalize ocean-going vessels as against locally-owned steamers, and accordingly I shall support them.

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