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Friday, 15 July 1904

Mr CAMERON (Wilmot) - I have always been most bitterly opposed to this Bill, because I do not think it is calculated to benefit the people of Australia as a whole. I take a certain amount of credit to myself for having, in conjunction with one or two other honorable members, wrecked the former Bill. I have not yet spoken upon the present Bill, and I should like to briefly explain the reasons why I do not consider that it is conceived in the interests of the whole community. It appears to me that three classes of the community are interested in the measure. First of all there are the workers, who are chiefly represented under the name of unionists; secondly, the manufacturers; and thirdly the consumers, who represent the great majority of the community, and upon whom the unionists and the manufacturers "are dependent. There is also a fourth class, namely the workers who do not belong to' the unions. This Bill seems to have been brought forward entirely in the interests of the unions, who, under the guise of conciliation and arbitration, are attempting to secure control over those men who do not belong to the unions, and to force them into their ranks with the object of wielding greater political power than they have been able to exercise in the past. I may be' wrong, but that is the only conclusion I can form. We all know that certain portions of the Bill, as originally introduced, have been struck out, and that the unionists will not reap so much benefit as they had hoped. A number of manufacturers are to a certain extent favorable to the measure. The support which the Bill receives from this section of the community is derived from those manufacturers who are carrying on. their businesses in or near the large centres of population, such as Melbourne or Sydney. Certain States laws are in operation which seriously affect their operations, " and they find that manufacturers carrying on business in the smaller States are able to successfully compete with them, owing to the fact that the hours of work there are longer and the rates of pay somewhat lower. The Sydney and Melbourne manufacturers recognise that under the provisions of this measure they will be able to impose upon manufacturers in other States the observance of the conditions as' to hours and wages "with which ' they have to comply. If they succeed in this, the smaller manufacturers must give up business, or transfer their operations to the larger centres. They would not be able to compete with their bigger rivals on account of the extra cost of freight. Therefore, I can fully understand why the large manufacturers favour the Bill. The consumers and the men who do not belong to unions cannot derive any benefit from the measure, but, on the contrary, will probably be placed at a great disadvantage. If, as the result of the operation of the Bill, wages are raised and working hours are shortened, the cost of manufacture must be added to and the prices to the consumers increased. For these reasons I have always opposed this Bill. If it becomes . law we shall have a repetition of the case of the fox and the goose in the old fable. The Labour Party represent the fox and the rest of the community the goose. The Labour Party hope to secure a far larger degree "of political power, and if they succeed we shall, in the near future, see the goose eaten up by the fox. I now propose to deal with the proposed new clauses. We have been told that if the seamen are not brought under the operation' of the Bill they will be the only workers in the community who will derive no benefit from its provisions. Honorable members have not, however, adduced any evidence to show that the seamen are at present labouring under any great injustice, or that, owing to the unfair competition of oversea steamers with Inter-State vessels, the wages of the local seamen have been reduced. Not only should these statements be substantiated, but proof should also be afforded that no monopoly would be created if the present competition were reduced or abolished. If convincing evidence upon these points could be presented, some honorable members - I do not include myself - might be induced to support the Government proposals. We find that the 1,500 seamen employed on our Inter-State vessels are in receipt of higher wages than are paid to sailors in any other part of the world. Fourteen years have elapsed since the great maritime strike of 1890, and notwithstanding that the competition of oversea vessels has prevailed during the whole of that period, the wages of the local seamen have not been reduced. Why then, in the name of common sense, has this bugbear about reduced wages been , so persistently obtruded upon our notice?

Mr Tudor - Have the wages of the seamen not been reduced?

Mr CAMERON - They were reduced for a short time only, owing to the depression which prevailed throughout Australia.

Mr Tudor - They were reduced recently to the extent of 10s. per month, or about 7 per cent.

Mr CAMERON - At the same time, the' wages of our seamen are higher than those paid in any other part of the world.

Mr Tudor - In New Zealand and the United States, the wages paid to seamen are much higher.

Mr CAMERON - At any rate, the wages of our seamen have not been lowered to any extent worth mentioning. No one has yet shown that these clauses will benefit the Australian seamen. In fact, they have been strongly opposed by two representatives from Western Australia, and by one honorable member from Tasmania. As a Tasmanian, but as one who has no personal interest in the matter, I am also opposed to their introduction, and for reasons which to my' mind are sufficient. We have been told by honorable members opposite that the rates which are paid to seamen employed upon ocean-going vessels do not represent a " living ' ' wage, and that they should be brought up to the standard that obtains upon Australian vessels. But if these provisions be carried, and if, as a result, the wages of seamen engaged upon ocean-going vessels are raised to the Australian standard, who will pay them? I unhesitatingly affirm that they will be paid by the producers of Australia.

Mr Frazer - Surely the honorable member does not think that the operation of this Bill must necessarily raise wages?

Mr CAMERON - I know perfectly well that the honorable member would never dare to support a measure the operation of which he thought would result in a lowering- of the wages of the workers of Australia.

Mr Frazer - I think that under this Bill we shall secure a tribunal which will decide upon the merits of each case.

Mr CAMERON - The underlying hope of members of the Labour Party is that the operation of this Bill will result in an increasenot in a decrease - of wages. We have been assured that the rates which are paid to seamen upon ocean-going vessels are infamously low. Is the honorable member for Kalgoorlie desirous of seeing the wages which are now being paid to Australian sea men reduced to the level of those which are being paid to the seamen engaged in oversea ships ?

Mr Frazer - Certainly not.

Mr CAMERON - The logical conclusion to be drawn from the honorable member's interjection is that he hopes to see the wages which are being paid upon oceangoing steamers increased. If they are increased to the Australian standard, who will ultimately pay them? Does any one suppose that the owners of those vessels will eventually sustain the loss ? Of course it is quite possible - as was pointed out by the honorable member for Fremantle - that any increased wages which may be paid upon oversea vessels whilst trading on the Australian coast will be deducted 'from the amount due to their crews at the end of their voyage. Although T am interested in wool, and to a smaller extent in grain, if these clauses be carried, I should not be affected in the slightest degree. They will not injure the land-owners, because there are a certain number of ships which come direct from England to particular ports, where, after discharging their cargo, they load up with wool or other freight, and return to the old country. These vessels will not come into competition with Australian boats, and therefore the class which I represent will not be compelled to pay a farthing more than they do at present. But there are an immense number of people in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, who will be grievously injured if these clauses become law. I allude specially to the producers of butter, cheese, and meat - to those who are interested in the export of perishable products. These persons must send their goods to England in' cool storage chambers. If the owners of ocean-going vessels are required to pay increased wages to their seamen whilst trading upon the Australian coast they will undoubtedly charge our producers increased freights. I ask honorable members opposite whom they are desirous of benefiting? Is it the British seamen, the foreign seamen, or those coloured natives of India and elsewhere, to whom they have meted out such peculiar treatment on previous occasions? I am in possession of a few facts which have not yet been touched upon by any honorable member, and which seem to me to be worthy of very close attention. I find that there are a certain number of oversea- steamers which engage in our coastal trade to a greater or less exlent, and which have been engaged iri it during the last twelve months. For instance, the Peninsular and Oriental Company runs twenty-six ships per annum to Australia and elsewhere. Each of these vessels employs upon an average 150 men. With the exception of the officers and engineers, all of them are either lascars or Goanese - in other words, coloured seamen.

Mr Tudor - The same boats make more than one trip.

Mr CAMERON - That' does not affect the question. Under ordinary circumstances these men are discharged immediately on their arrival at the port where they were engaged, and a fresh crew is shipped. Consequently, every one of these vessels which makes a trip to Australia employs 150 men. Archibald Currie and Company have twelve ships trading to this country. These are also manned by coloured seamen - by lascars. Seventy of these are employed upon each vessel. The China Navigation Company has twelve steamers engaged in the Australian trade, each of which on the average carries fifty Malays. The British-India Company have twenty ships trading with the Commonwealth, each of which employs sixty-five lascars. The E. and A. Company has seventeen ships running to Australia, each of which carries sixty Chinamen. The Nippon-Yusen Kaisha Company have twelve ships engaged in the Australian trade, each of which employs sixty Japanese. The vessels of the Ocean Steam and West Australia Company, which is to all intents and purposes a Western Australian company, are manned, not by Australian seamen, but by Malays, of whom there are fifty upon each ship. The Orient Company runs twenty-six steamers per annum to Australia, upon each of which thirty coloured stokers are employed. These various crews make a total of 10,210 men. There are also. 4,880 men employed on vessels engaged in the trade, between Great Britain and Australia which are owned by four steam-ship companies registered in Great Britain, and I believe that I am justified in saying that if we could ascertain the actual facts, we should probably find that of that number one-half were foreigners.

Mr Tudor - To what lines does the honorable member refer?

Mr CAMERON - Lund's, the White Star line, the Aberdeen line, and Holt's line of steamers.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is acknowledged in the House of Commons report that only about one-half are Britishers.

Mr CAMERON - Very well. In addition to these, the vessels of the Norddeutscher Lloyd "line, the Messageries Maritimes Co., and a smaller company - all registered in European countries - trade to Australia, and are for the most part manned by foreigners. The figures which I have obtained show that there are 10,210 coloured men employed on the vessels that I have already enumerated, 3,600 foreigners on the foreign-owned steam-ships, and probably 2,400 on English vessels trading here. Therefore, out of a total of some 16,000 whose wages the Government desire to raise at the expense of their fellow citizens of Australia, 10,000 belong to coloured races, and. less than 3,000 are of British birth. In these circumstances I ask the Government how they can justify their present position- as contrasted with the attitude adopted by, them only two years ago, when the Post and Telegraph Bill was before the House. Members of the Labour Party then declared that a subsidy for the carriage of Australian mails should not be given to vessels manned by coloured crews. They urged that we should not grant one farthing by way of subsidy to such vessels, although it was admitted that the regularity with which they were, carrying on the existing service was beneficial to Australia. Without receiving any quid -proquo, they now ask us to pass a measure that would impose an enormous burden of taxation on our fellow citizens merely to benefit some 13,000 or r 4,000 coloured men and foreigners. Can they for one moment attempt to justify their present attitude? It seems to me that they are simply stultifying themselves. Far better would it have been if, instead of standing up as the professed champions of the 1,500 seamen engaged in the Australian coasting trade, they had agreed to the passing of a clause which would have insured the regularity of our mail services, and conferred a benefit on the community. It would have been far better had they said - " There are 1,500 men employed in the Australian coasting trade; let us as protectionists vote a bonus to enable them to continue to face any competition that may exist."

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely there must be more than 1,500 seamen engaged in the Australian coasting trade ?

Mr CAMERON - I can only say that in to-day's issue of the Argus it is stated that the number is 1,500.

Mr Batchelor - Supposing the Argus had stated that the number was 500?

Mr CAMERON - That would have been no worse than the outrageous statement made a day or two ago by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, when he asserted that there were some 13,000,000 acres under the plough in New Zealand. I have not an opportunity to check the figures as to the number of men employed on Australian vessels engaged in the coasting trade; but I think Hansard will show that it has been stated during the debate that there are between 1,500 and1,700 persons so employed. Honorable members will recognise, of course, that we cannot include the men employed by the Union Steamship Company, inasmuch as that company is registered in New Zealand. T accepted, as reliable, the statement which appeared in the Argus, as well as that made by an honorable member, that there were between 1,500 and 1,700 men engaged in this trade.

Mr Spence - There are' more than 1,500 registered in the New South Wales union.

Mr CAMERON - I am only repeating a statement I have heard in this Committee.

Mr Tudor - The Argus is not a very reliable authority.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The statement was first made in this Committee.

Mr CAMERON - The Argus, in " the view of the honorable member, may not be a reliable authority, but I have always found that it is.

Mr Spence - It has been bowled out twice lately.

Mr CAMERON - When I address myself to any question before the House, it does not, as a rule, give me a report extending over more than a couple of lines, so that it does not have much opportunity to misrepresent me.

Mr Tudor - A more extended report of the honorable member's speeches will be given in to-morrow's issue of the Argus, because he is now praising that journal.

Mr CAMERON - I merely state what I believe to be the facts. Most of the Australian newspapers, even if opposed to a man, will generally endeavour to give him fair reports of his speeches. I cannot complain of the action taken by any newspaper in regard to myself during my political career; but even if I had reason to complain, I should not do so. It is idle for an Honorable member to fight against a hostile newspaper, because it can write him down, and leave him without redress. He might reply in the House to. any attack made upon him,, but if the newspaper ignored that reply, it would have but little effect. But I have been led away from my line of argument. Whether the number be 1,500 or 15,000 I would remind members of the Labour 'Party that the persons whom they propose to benefit by the passing of these clauses are, for the most part, coloured seamen from beyond Australia. I know that the members of the party have reasoning powers, and, therefore, I wish to drive home the point that they are proposing to increase the wages of those men at the expense of their fellowcolonists. That is the point which I am anxious that they should fully consider. This is not a party question. If these clauses were defeated, the result would not be the resignation of the Ministry. I, as one of 'those who helped to place the present Government in power, may claim at any rate that they give full consideration to any views that I express. I have been a member of the Commonwealth Parliament since its creation, and think that those who have been associated with me in this House from the first, will' bear out my statement that, whenever, a measure, which I believe to be a reasonable one, is introduced, I am ready to support it irrespective of party considerations.

Mr Watson - Hear, hear.

Mr CAMERON - If, on the contrary; I believe any measure to be undesirable, then, regardless of the party from which it has emanated, I always vote against it. That has been my record, and in these circumstances I urge the Government to consider this question, not from any party point of view, but from the broad standpoint of whether the Bill is likely to be beneficial. The honorable member for Perth made a strong appeal on behalf of the people of Western Australia, and I sympathize with the course which he adopted. I cannot imagine that any representative of Western Australia will hesitate to follow the course adopted by him. It must be evident that if these clauses be passed there will be only two courses open to the owners of the oversea steam-ships. Thev must either increase their rates - with the result that the increased' cost will fall upon the persons who take advantage of their services - or else disregard Fremantle as the first port of call. What guarantee have we that these vessels would continue to touch at Adelaide if Fremantle were no longer their first port of call. Is it not more likely that, instead of calling at Adelaide, they would come straight on to Melbourne or Sydney, or make Sydney and Melbourne alternately their terminal port? If they adopted the latter course then all the produce requiring to be exported in cool chambers would have to bs sent down to, Melbourne or Sydney from week to week, and the cost of shipment would thus be greatly increased. Such an arrangement would knock little South Australia completely out of the running.

Sir Langdon Bonython - What about little Tasmania?

Mr CAMERON - I shall deal with Tasmania presently. Although South Australia may be large in area, she is small in the matter of population.

Mr Batchelor - The population of Adelaide is larger than the whole population of Tasmania.

Sir William Lyne - The representatives of these little places have a great deal to say.

Mr CAMERON - Although the representatives of the big places may not have much to say, there is very little in what they put before the House.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member is probably referring to the right honorable member for East Sydney.

Mr CAMERON - I am referring to the honorable member for Hume. If Adelaide ceased to become a port of call for the oversea mail steamers, and I honestly believe that if these clauses were carried it would, the people of South Australia would find themselves in precisely the same predicament as that of the people of Western Australia and Tasmania. The district which I represent is not in the slightest degree interested as' to whether the oversea vessels call at Hobart or not ; and Hobart possesses a certain advantage over Western Australia and New South Wales, inasmuch as there are two lines of steamers trading between New Zealand and England which are provided with cool chambers, and which call at that port every fortnight. Those vessels would not come under the operation of this Bill, for the simple reason that they merely call and take on board" cargo, after which they leave for New Zealand, and take the goods to their destination round by Cape Horn. So that, even if these clauses are carried, Hobart will not be injured to such an extent as would be the case except for the calling of those stea mers. She will still have' some "show." But she is deeply interested in the mail steamers during the period of the year known as the apple season. A large number of cases, of fruit, amounting to about 400,000 or 500,000, are carried to England by steamers which come from Sydney direct to Hobart on the way to London. I do not think that they bring any cargo from Sydney to Hobart for transhipment. If those vessels cease to can a severe blow will be struck at the apple growers of Tasmania. I do not say that they will be injured for all time, but they will suffer for a considerable period. Of course their fruit must be carried in cool chambers in which a certain temperature is registered. Under these circumstances, having to do the best I can for my State, I am compelled to oppose the clauses. I am influenced by two principal reasons. First, I do not believe in them, and secondly, they will do a large amount of injury to the people of Tasmania and the mainland. I wish to call the attention of the Western Australian members who may not yet have made up their minds definitely as to how they shall vote-

Mr Frazer - Thanks.

Mr CAMERON - I am always happy to give good advice to a young man who is starting in life. I find that the vessels of the Ocean Steam and Western Australian Company, which are manned by Malays, do a very large amount of trade between Perth and Singapore, and various other settlements in the East. They trade largely in sandalwood and other products. They also carry cargo between Western Australian ports. Great injury will be done to the trade of Western Australia by the cessation of the visits of these ships. If they ceased to make Fremantle their chief port of call, undoubtedly the Western Australian producers would be injured. Under these circumstances I am justified in earnestly urging the Government not to do anything which is likely to injure producing interests in the States I have named. The Minister of External Affairs has informed us that if these clauses are carried the Government intend to introduce other clauses giving a preference to British vessels. If they do so, I cannot for the life of me see of what advantage the preference would be. There are only four foreign companies, including the Japanese company, trading with Australia. All those companies "receive subsidies from foreign Governments. Those subsidies are a distinct advantage to the people of Australia, because the more the competition that exists between over sea shipping companies, the more likely we are to get low freights. That fact cannot be disputed. It is intended to exclude foreign companies from participating in the Inter-State trade. But they do not participate in it at the present time. The Norddeutscher-Lloyd, the Messageries Maritimes, and the Japanese vessels do not, I honestly believe, take one ounce of freight between one Australian oort and another. Therefore, what in the name of goodness is the use of telling us that the Government intend to exclude them from engaging in the coastal trade? Of what benefit would it be to British ships which at present do not suffer from the competition of the foreign lines to give them a preference over those lines in the Inter-State trade ? There is not likely to be any competition in the future, because it must be perfectly well known to honorable members that those foreign vessels which receive subsidies from the French, German, and Japanese Governments respectively, are under special contract to complete their voyages within- a given time. They have no time to enter into the Inter- State trade. They cannot run between Hobart and Perth, for instance. Consequently they are not in the slightest degree likely to enter into competition with British lines. They are not doing so now, and they will hot do so in the future. Therefore, to talk of giving a preference to British companies is simply what is vulgarly called " rot." No preference can be given to British vessels in this respect, simply because there is no competition. But it is decidedly to our advantage to have those foreign vessels catering for the oversea trade, because the more ships there are the more the competition, and the lower the freights. There is one other aspect of the question with which I shall briefly deal. We have heard much of the competition between ships owned by local companies and those owned outside Australia. I assert that at the present time all the steam-ships owned in Australia are practically working under arrangement, that there is a combination amongst them to keep up freight rates, and an agreement that they will not carry an ounce of cargo at" less than those rates. I will prove that statement. Furthermore, we know perfectly well that the local shipping companies are supporting these clauses simply because they would secure protection under them. They hope that the clauses will enable them to keep up their charges, or to raise them still higher. I will give an instance in point. There are certain companies which trade between ports in various parts of Australia anti Tasmania.' Occasionally, one of these companies finds that business in a certain direction is very slack, and that their vessels are not returning what they consider to be enough to pay a fair dividend. They immediately commence to look for an opening. They see that there is a large amount of trade in some other direction, and they immediately put on vessels to compete for a portion of that trade. The company that does, I may say, three- fourths of the trade between Tasmania and the mainland is the Union Company. Occasionally another company, findthat there is a large export trade between Tasmania and the mainland, has a "cut in." The competing company knows perfectly well that in order to induce producers to ship with them they must offer some special inducement. The moment they determine to enter the trade, they announce that they will reduce freights by probably one-half or one-third. In that way they give producers an incentive to trade with them. The result is that for a short time there is- " cut-throat " competition between the two companies. Then the companies say to themselves - " This is not good enough." The company that has hitherto been doing the trade says to the competing company - " It is of no use fighting us in this way ; the result will simply be that we shall lose money, and freights will come down so low that there will be no profit for anybody. Let us enter into an amicable arrangement." They do so. They say - " Instead of killing each other with competition, let us determine what is a fair thing, so that we" can pay good wages and large dividends. It is better to have half a loaf than no bread.We will raise the freights to what they were a little while ago, or perhaps a little over." They do so. I .will give an instance in point for the benefit of those honorable members who ma-y doubt that that is what takes place. Last year, and for years past, the Union Company of New Zealand, which is practically an Australian company, did two-thirds of the Tasmanian trade. Owing to the drought on the mainland, there was a large trade in produce between Devonport and Sydney, and other parts of the Commonwealth. The Patterson line of steamers entered into the business. For a time " cut-throat " competition went on. Then the two companies agreed to raise freights. Last year, trie

Melbourne Steam-ship Company saw that business was pretty brisk in Tasmania. They therefore entered into competition. They reduced the freights then ruling for produce from 9s. per ton down to 5s. Consequently they got a share of the trade. The other two companies, finding that they were not doing as well as they could wish, said - " Let us form a ' pool.' " The three, companies thereupon entered into an arrangement bv which they " pooled " the business. Freights were immediately raised from 5s. to '9s., and exist at that rate to the present day. There is a ring for you ! There is monopoly ! I say, therefore, that if we prevent the oversea ships from entering the trade, we shall be creating simply a vast monopoly. As another instance of the manner in which the shipping ring to which I have alluded injuriously affects producers, I might mention that about two ' years ago a line of small steamers, sailing from Launceston, entered the Inter-State trade, and accepted produce at lower rates than were then ruling with other companies. These vessels continued to carry cargo at lower rates than were given by the other companies, until a few months ago, when the directors of the larger companies approached the directors of the Launceston company, and guaranteeing them a certain amount of freight, whether the produce was actually carried or not, took them into the ring, with the result that the unhappy producers are now obliged to pay whatever charges the combine chooses to exact from them. Under these circumstances, I ask if it is to the best interests of Australia to prevent, competition, and thus make it impossible for our producers to obtain fair play from the steam-ship companies. I have shown, I think conclusively, that if the proposed new clauses are agreed to, and wages are increased, the result may be disastrous for our producers. There is another aspect of the question with which I should like to deal, but, as I understand that it is desired to have a division this afternoon on the question before us, I have decided not to do so. The aspect to which I allude is as to the advisability of legislating in regard to vessels coming here from abroad. Only a few months ago an address was passed in this Chamber which, in my opinion, was calculated to bring discredit upon Australia.

Mr Tudor - To what does the honorable member refer?

Mr CAMERON - To the address of protest passed by the House a few months ago in reference to the proposed employment of Chinese in the Transvaal. ^1, with four other honorable members, voted against the motion, and we are the only five men who now dare to hold up our heads in the Chamber, The House, as a whole, received an ignominious snub for its illjudged interference. It seems to me that, lest we do anything which is likely to make us conspicuous in the eyes of the civilized world, not for our justice, but for the reverse quality, we should consider very carefully such proposals as are now before us. I thank honorable members for the very patient manner in which they have listened to my remarks. I know they recognise that, whatever my faults may be, I am a fair fighter, and say openly what I mean.

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