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Friday, 15 July 1904

Sir LANGDON BONYTHON (Barker) - I wish to say a word or two upon my position in relation to the proposed new clauses now before the Committee, but, prior to doing so, I would take this opportunity to express my regret - and I am sure that it is shared by every member of the Committee - at the absence from the Chamber, at this important juncture, of the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide, who has taken such a keen interest in legislation to provide for COl.ciliation and arbitration, and especially in all matters relating to the control of navigation. We all deplore the cause of his absence, and sincerely hope that he may shortly be restored to his usual health. When the Barton Administration gave notice of their intention to introduce legislation of the character provided for by the clauses which the Government now propose to insert in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, I gave my adherence to their proposal, and I agreed with them that the best way to accomplish what was desired would be to insert the necessary provisions in a Navigation Bill. I have since seen no reason to change that opinion. To act as suggested by the present Government would be, it seems to me, to adopt a course which is beset with doubt and difficulty. If we insert the proposed new clauses in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, there is, as has been pointed out by the right honorable and learned member for East Sydney, more than a possibility that the Royal Assent to the measure may be indefinitely deferred. I acknowledge the force and importance of the argument of the Prime Minister, and of the Minister of External Affairs, that to pass a Bill the provisions of which do not apply to seamen would be to pass one which would, be very incomplete and imperfect in its operation. But, on the other hand, it appears to me that a distinct advantage would be gained by referring the clauses under discussion to the members of the Royal Commission who are now charged with the very important duty of inquiring into and reporting upon the provisions of the Navigation Bill, and that any disadvantage resulting from the consequent delay would be more than compensated for by the information we should thus obtain. I am in entire agreement with honorable members who think that the coastal trade of Australia should be protected against outsiders who attempt to compete unfairly with local ship-owners. But the position is surrounded with many difficulties, so that it is necessary for us to proceed with extreme caution. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat was quite right when he pointed out that we should make sure that our legislation will be effective; and I think we should also take great care that it be not unfair. We cannot afford - to put before the Committee a consideration which is on a very low level indeed - to ignore the claims of the Empire of which Australia forms a part. Our position in regard to foreign vessels trading on our coasts is quite different. We have few or none of the obligations towards them which bind us in regard to English shipping. If the honorable and learned member for Wannon makes further inquiries, he will, I believe, find that British ships trading along the coasts of New Caledonia are not as unhampered as he seemed to think when he spoke the other night. How can we satisfy ourselves on these points better than by dealing with the whole subject by means of a Navigation Bill, the provisions of which will have been fully and impartially inquired into by the members of the Royal Commission? Furthermore, we should be very careful not to pass legislation which may prejudice our producers. That aspect of the case has been elaborated very ably by the honorable and learned member for Parkes, and by other honorable members, but I do not think that this Parliament is at -all likely to disregard the claims of the producers, because honorable members realize that the progress of Australia is bound up with their prosperity. We should also be careful not to prejudice the interests of outlying portions of the Commonwealth whose populations are dependent for their means of communication with other places in Australia, and with the outside world, upon the ocean-going steamships. I believe that what is aimed at can be accomplished without detriment to the producer, and without injury to the shipping interests of Great Britain. But in view of all the circumstances of the case, and taking into consideration the fact that the members of the Labour Party are divided amongst themselves upon the question, I think that the need for the further consideration of the subject has been fully demonstrated. Therefore I shall vote against the inclusion of the proposed new clauses in this Bill, so that they may receive full consideration from the members of the Royal Commission on the Navigation Bill

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