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Wednesday, 13 July 1904

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - The proposal of the honorable member for Kooyong, that the business of Parliament should be conducted by those on the Opposition benches, and that half-a-dozen honorable members should retire and fix matters up between them, is as cool a one as I have heard uttered in this Chamber. To some of us the measure now under discussion is of very serious importance. The Government have recognised the interests involved by suggesting a general discussion upon the clauses which have been pro- ' posed. I have listened to a considerable part of the debate which has taken place, and it has appeared to me that some Honorable members have worked themselves into a state of needless alarm as to the effect of the proposed new clauses. They seem to think that immediately they are passed, British ships will cease to come here, and that the Tasmanian apples will never reach London, because there will be no vessels to carry them there.

Mr Cameron - The producers of Tasmania will have to pay higher freights.

Mr SPENCE - Among the surprises of the debate was the statement of the honorable and learned member for Angas, that the subsidies given to foreign vessels advantage our producers. He seems to be unaware that the North-German Lloyd Company's vessels, which are subsidized to the extent of £115,000 per annum, are prohibited by the terms of their agreement with Germany from taking from Australia, on their return voyage, either frozen meat, dairy produce, or cereals. The Campagnie des Messageries Maritimes also receives a subsidy of 8s. 4d. a mile, and the Japanese subsidize their vessels which come here to the amount of £50,000 a year. But if the honorable and learned member thinks that these nations subsidize their vessels in the interests of the Australian producer, he is more simple than I have hitherto taken him to be.

Mr Glynn - We send £-10,000,000 worth of wool to the Continent, and wool ' comprises five-sixths of our exportation to Germany.

Mr SPENCE - We all agree with a great deal of what has been said about the desirability of keeping up our communication with the old world. What has been said in that regard is a statement of facts which have nothing to do with the question before us, unless it can be shown that the proposed new clauses will prevent oversea vessels from coming to Australia.

Mr Cameron - They will increase the freights which will have to be paid by those who export produce from Australia.

Mr SPENCE - There is no proposal to raise freights, nor has it been shown that the effect of the proposed new clauses will be to impose greater burdens upon our producers. The Bill is a measure to provide for the settlement of industrial disputes by conciliation and arbitration, and it is admitted that the seamen of Australia, for whom no State legislation can provide, are those for whom a Commonwealth measure is most needed. But if a dispute occurred between the employes of Australian shipowners and their employers, the latter would probably urge that they could not increase wages because of the severe competition of British and foreign vessels to which they were subjected. That argument could not be left out of consideration by the Court. Therefore, to make the awards of the Court of any value, they must, when necessary, be applicable to British and foreign vessels trading on the Australian coast. If it were shown that the oversea companies charged higher passenger fares than were charged bv the local companies, and did not carry freight between Australian ports, the Court would probably hold that there was nothing approaching unfair competition. But, while we are desirous of allowing the Court to deal with the whole matter, honorable members opposite wish to prevent the Court from having that power. It will be generally admitted that it would be better not to pass a law than to leave a loophole for escape from its provisions which might render it abortive. The honorable and learned member for Angas will see at once that if we exempt British-owned vessels from the operation of the Bill, Australian ship-owners, who desire to remove themselves from the scope of the measure, will be easily able to do so by registering their vessels in Great Britain. This could be done under the provision of the Merchant Shipping Act, which makes it clear that any British subject owning a ship may register it in Great Britain.

Mr Glynn - The honorable member forgets that the ship-owner would not only have to register his ships, but would have to start the voyages of such ships from England.

Mr SPENCE - No; a ship-owner could register his ships in England, start them from a British port, and never come back again. The seamen who desire that means should be provided for referring disputes in which they engage with the ship-owners to an Arbitration Court, wish to see their employers placed upon a fair footing with their competitors from abroad. They seek to protect them against unfair competition, and that for which they ask no reasonable minded man could very well refuse. They say that their employers should not be compelled by an order of the Arbitration Court to pay wages higher than those which are enforced in regard to other ships engaged in the same trade. The point referred to by some honorable members that foreign steamers which are not competing with locally-owned vessels may still have to comply with the requirements of these provisions, has no great force, because if there is no competition the terms of the award of the Court will not be enforced. If, as has been stated, the Australian shipowners are making enormous profits,, they will probably not complain of competition on the part of foreign rivals. In such an event no harm would be done. I fail to see any reason for the alarm which has been felt by some honorable members that British ships will not call here to take away our produce. Is it reasonable to suppose that any such state of affairs will be brought about by legislation which is intended merely to insure that fair conditions shall be observed by all those who engage in our local shipping trade?

Mr Mcwilliams - If the honorable member allows this matter to go before the Royal Commission on the Navigation Bill, I shall undertake to show that there is no competition, and that, apart from the mail steamers, the producers of Tasmania are not provided with means of direct communication with South Australia and Western Australia.

Mr SPENCE - It is not proposed to necessarily interfere with the mail steamers. A great deal has been said with regard to the magnitude of the British mercantile marine. I find by examination of the most recent figures that British steam-ships represent 53 per cent, of the total steam tonnage of the world. Germany comes second a long way behind with 10 per cent., America next with 6 per cent., and France with 4 per cent. Therefore, if sailing ships were included, British-owned vessels could carry nearly the whole of the commerce of the world. Some of the figures relating to the Australian shipping trade are very interesting. I find that in 1902, according to Coghlan, the total number of Inter-State and oversea vessels' entered at ports of the Commonwealth was 17,878, representing a tonnage of 26,791,360. Of this total the Inter-State vessels numbered 6,188, with a total tonnage of 7,526,165. The vessels entered and cleared for the United Kingdom numbered 1,402, with a tonnage of 4,200,300. The! vessels cleared for British Possessions numbered 2,445, with a tonnage of 3,779,299. The number of vessels which cleared for foreign ports was 1,755, with a tonnage of 3,602,502. A number of interesting figures have' .been quoted in connexion with the growth of the Australian shipping trade, and some of the statistics are quite startling if they are quoted in a certain way. It will be found that whilst the British shipping in Australian ports has increased by only 44 per cent, during the last eleven years, the German shipping has increased to the extent of 191 per cent., and that of the United States by 43 per cent. Taking the British-owned vessels, we find that they have 84*7 per cent, of the trade; the German vessels have only 7*7 per cent. ; the French vessels, 2'6 per cent. ; and the United States vessels, 1*3 per cent. ; Scandinavian vessels do about 1 per cent, of the trade. Curiously enough, the United States does about 12 per cent, of the New Zealand trade. These figures show that the alarm about foreign shipping is not well founded, when we consider the actual percentage of the trade. That emphasizes the point which I made previously about leaving no loop-hole by means of which ship-owners can register their ships in Great Britain. I do not claim that this is a subject which I have specially studied. But I have listened to the arguments with an open mind, and it appears -to me that no case has been made out against the clauses, and that there is no need for alarm with regard to interference with British shipping companies which trade with Australia. The interests of the consumers need to be considered. We should not consider the producers only. We must see that justice is done all round. We are here to represent all classes. I trust that before long even the honorable member for Parkes will see that the present Government and the party which supports it consider the interests of all sections of the community, and treat them on an equality. That is being done in this connexion. We may safely leave to the Court the determination of the matters that arise under these clauses. With regard to the seamen themselves, there is not much in the argument that we cannot effectively safeguard their interests under the clauses. The Seamen's Union is a worldwide organization that has had a very large influence in regulating matters affecting British shipping. Seamen hold fairly tenaciously to any increased advantage which they secure. If, by the operation of any Australian law an advantage is secured to them, they will cling to it tenaciously, and keep the ship-owners to the terms of the agreement at the end of the voyage. But suppose that they do not. Still, we shall have done all we can do. I wish to make it clear that we cannot eliminate the seamen from the provisions of an Arbitration Bill. It is impossible to exempt them. It will be quite safe to leave it to the Court to deal with questions of exemptions, and to vary the rates for different kinds of shipping to meet the varying conditions. If it be true that the Australian shipping companies have no desire to bring foreign ships under the operation of this Bill, and they take no action, of course, no cases will arise under the clauses. My principal object is to deprecate the needless alarm as to inference. We can safely trust the Court. But unless the seamen are included the whole Bill might as well be thrown aside.

Mr Mcwilliams - The law compels foreign ship-owners to register.

Mr SPENCE - But, except for these clauses, they could register as ship-owners in Great Britain, and so dodge the law. We do not wish to allow that loop-hole. Our law should embrace every ship that comes to our ports, leaving it to the Court to adjust the conditions, which certainly differ in regard to different ships that trade with Australia. The Court will have all the evidence before it in specific cases, and will, if necessary, vary the conditions in regard to every ship. It will be found in practice that the awards of the Court will not .interfere in any way with Australian interests.

Progress reported.

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