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Thursday, 14 July 1904

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - -I do not propose to prove injustice. All that I need do is to prove that we have been deluged with conflicting statements with regard to the Government proposals, which, above all things, require investigation at the hands of an impartial tribunal. We are told, on the one hand, that the ship-owners wish to reduce the wages of their seamen, because they cannot compete with the oversea companies.

Mr Fowler - There is no evidence of that.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was just about to say that no evidence whatever has been submitted in support of that assertion. On the other side, however, abundance of proof has been given that the oversea steamers do nol seriously compete with the Inter-State vessels, and that the statements of the InterState ship-owners are very wide of the mark. It has been incontestably proved by official figures, published by the Australian shipping companies themselves, that they are not by any means in the impecunious position that they have sought to represent, when they have been discussing questions of wages with the officials of the Seamen's Union. On the contrary, their own published statements show that most of the companies are doing exceedingly well, and that they could well afford to increase the wages under present conditions.

Mr Mauger - Why did they recently reduce the wages of the seamen by 10s. per month ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why do capitalists generally obtain their labour as cheaply as they can?

Mr McDonald - In order to increase their profits.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Exactly. No evidence has been furnished to show that that reduction of wages was justifiable. But, on the other hand, 'the facts presented to us show conclusively that the ship-owners could well afford to revert to the old rates of pay, or even to increase them. Therefore, I submit that unless it can be shown that the "ship-owners are in a fearsome condition, owing to the competition of the oversea cqmpanies,. we' ought not to be told that this matter is of such urgency as to prevent the possibility of any further investigation with regard to the contradictory statements made. Abundant evidence has been produced to show that the great ocean mail steamers are not making much profit. We have this upon the authority of the Government themselves, because they say that one of the large mail companies wants a very much larger subsidy, on the ground that it cannot afford to keep its boats running under present conditions.

Mr McDonald - The mail companies want all they can get.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course they do; but why do the Government believe one set of ship-owners, whilst they are not prepared to credit the story told by another section ?

Mr Watson - No member of the Government has contested the statement that the mail companies are not making money. All we say is that they are competing with the Australian ship-owners.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is alleged that the Australian trade of the P. and O. Company is very far from payable. Therefore, most of the competition with the Inters State steamers, which is stated to be unfair, is carried on at very great loss. The fear which is entertained by those honorable members who are directly interested in keeping open the great highways used by the vessels which carry the produce of Australia to the home markets, that the action contemplated by the Prime Minister may have a disastrous effect upon the interests of the producers, appears to be quite justifiable, and there is every warrant for the request that the conflicting statements which have been placed before us should be the subject of a searching investigation. On the one side fears are expressed that the wages of the local seamen will be reduced unless the legislation proposed by the Government is regarded as of paramount importance. But there is no evidence to ' justify that apprehension. On the other side, there is a well - grounded ' fear that the clauses which it is proposed to embody in the Arbitration Bill will have a very disastrous and far-reaching effect upon Australian producers as a whole. I represent a constituency which is very largely interested in fruit-growing and in farming, and I think that I am abundantly warranted in supporting the motion, which merely asks for further inquiry before any legislation is passed. We are entitled to know what possibility there is of bringing up the wages of the seamen to the point of a fair living wage - which all honorable members desire - without inflicting injury upon our producing interests. I hope, therefore, that the Prime Minister will consent to the remission of the proposed new clauses to the Commission for further investigation. I cannot conceive that such a proceeding would in any way invalidate or destroy the effect of the Arbitration Bill as a whole.

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