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Friday, 15 July 1904

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - I do not think that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was quite fair to the right honorable member- for East Sydney when he twitted him with having sparred over this matter' for two days before venturing to move an amendment.

Mr Frazer - 1 did not know that the Government had appointed him as their adviser.

Mr McLEAN - The right honorable gentleman stated clearly when he first spoke that he refrained from moving his amendment in order that the Government might not be hampered in any way, but might have full time to consider whether they would refer the proposed new clauses to the Navigation Bill Commission. Therefore, I think that the reasons which induced the right honorable gentleman to delay his amendment were highly creditable to him, and should be acknowledged as such. In his concluding remarks the Minister of External Affairs referred to honorable members as opposing these provisions because they were brought in by the Labour Government. I can assure the Minister that, so far as I am concerned - and I believe that this also applies to honorable members who are sitting around me - my attitude towards these provisions is not affected by the fact that the present Government have- introduced them. I should have taken the same position if they had been introduced by the late Government, or had emanated from any other section of honorable members. Those who believe that there is some justification for the inclusion of these clauses in the Bill, or in any measure, should be the first to refer them for inquiry to the Royal Commission. It must be admitted that, up to the present time, we have not had a scintilla of information which could justify any honorable member, having due regard to his proper responsibilities as a representative of the people, in voting for the clauses. On the contrary, the whole of the information placed before us goes to show that there is no necessity for them.

Mr Hutchison - The same statement might have been made prior to the last maritime strike.

Mr McLEAN - I am not aware that any similar provisions were presented for our consideration at that time. It is necessary, before asking us to support legislation which will doubtless dislocate our communications with the markets of the world to a considerable, extent, to show some justification for it. In the first place, it should be demonstrated that there is some necessity for such enactments, and, secondly, that the course proposed to be adopted will secure The object in view. The evidence before us proves conclusively that the oversea companies do not seriously compete with the local ship-owners.

Mr Tudor - How does the honorable member arrive at that conclusion?

Mr McLEAN - Because practically the whole of the cargo traffic along our coast is conducted by the Inter-State companies.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member does not take into account the "tramp" ships which carry a great deal of coastal cargo.

Mr McLEAN - Our coastal boats have practically the whole of the cargo traffic in their own hands, and, so far as we know, they also carry at least five-sixths of the passengers who travel from port to port within the Commonwealth. Their com-, mand of the trade constitutes as near an approach to a monopoly as it is safe to allow, to any body of men.

Mr Mauger - Then it would not work much harm if the remaining portion of the trade were taken out of the hands of the oversea companies.

Mr McLEAN - It would do harm to the extent that the present partial monopoly would become absolute ; and I, for one, am not in favour of granting an absolute monopoly to any body of men.

Mr Cameron - We have already seen how the tobacco monopoly -has worked out.

Mr McLEAN - I am not in favour of absolute monopoly in any case. It must be within the knowledge of every honorable member that the local shipping companies are extremely prosperous. No attempt has been made to show that, in consequence of keen competition on the part of ocean-going companies, local ship-owners are unable to pay proper wages to their employes.

Mr Tudor - Does the honorable member know that they recently reduced the wages of their seamen?

Mr McLEAN - I am aware that a mutual arrangement has been entered into under which the wages of seamen are to be reduced 10s. per month ; but I am not aware that that action was taken because of the inability of the shipping companies to pay the original rates. From the information which I have been able to gather, I refuse to believe that that was the reason underlying their action. I contend that the local shipping companies are extremely prosperous institutions. We know as a matter of fact that oversea vessels which trade along our coast do not make large profits out of the Australian trade. Honorable members opposite have not only failed to show us that these provisions are necessary owing to the competition of oceangoing steamers ; but they have failed to establish their assertion that the local shipping companies are unable to pay good wages to their employes. They have also failed to show that their own proposals would effect the object which they have in view. I cannot speak upon this matter from legal knowledge, but at least I can discuss it from the stand-point of a business man. It appears to me that it would be the simplest thing on earth for British or foreign ship-owners to evade any provision which we might choose to insert in this Bill regarding the wages to be paid by them whilst their vessels were trading upon the Australian coast. Let me take the case of the British shipping companies as an example. They are doing a large trade with every part of the world. The Australian trade forms a comparatively small and insignificant portion of their business. Do honorable members imagine for a moment that, in consequence of our legislation, they would raise the wages of their employes all round ; because, if they raised the rate of pay in one particular portion of the service, we know that they would have to make it uniform throughout, or else the service would become disorganized. Rather than do that, it appears to me that they could evade our legislation upon this subject by a very simple means. When entering into engagements with their seamen, they could easily arrange to pay them the same rates that are paid to seamen employed in other parts of the world. They could inform them that, in Australia, the law provided that seamen should be paid a much higher wage, and that, consequently, if they received this higher wage when on the Australian coast, it would be necessary to make a corresponding reduction during the rest of the voyage in order to equalize the total amount payable for the round trip.

Mr Hughes - But the original agreement would have to be filed with the English shipping master, and the subsequent agreement with our shipping master, so that it would be impossible to make the third agreement of which the honorable member speaks.

Mr McLEAN - These companies could make their own agreements.

Mr Hughes - But the last agreement must be filed.

Mr McLEAN - Under these provisions, if British or foreign companies engage in the Australian trade, they will have to pay the local rates. But when entering into engagements with their seamen, what is to prevent them from stipulating for the payment of such rates of wages when on and off the Australian coast as will equalize the amount payable for the whole trip.

Mr Hughes - The honorable member has not read the clauses, or he would see that that could not be done.

Mr McLEAN - These provisions cannot override Imperial law.

Mr Hughes - The question has nothing whatever to do with the Imperial law. It is a matter of an agreement made in England.

Mr McLEAN - It appears to me that it would be very easy for a shipping company in any part of the world to enter into an agreement which would render our laws on the subject nugatory. If they did not do so, it is quite evident that they would have to adopt the alternative of doing no coastal trade whatever.

Mr Hughes - That is so.

Mr McLEAN - I do not wish to give our local shipping companies an absolute monopoly which will enable them to charge any rates they choose.

Mr Robinson - The Minister of External Affairs is a 'free-trader.

Mr Hughes - What relation has this matter to free-trade? None.

Mr McLEAN - I think that the Minister is right now, although he was very wrong when he twitted the honorable and learned member for Corinella with having changed his views upon the fiscal question. There was not the slightest justification for his accusation.

Mr Hughes - That matter has been satisfactorily adjusted.

Mr McLEAN - The question which is now under consideration is not a fiscal one, because free-traders and protectionists are equally interested in keeping up communication with the outer world. The most rabid protectionist knows that Australia must continue to import largely. There are a great many commodities which we cannot profitably produce, and it is to our interest that we should be able to procure these with as little delay, and at as low a price as possible.

Mr Hughes - That has nothing whatever to do with the coastal trade.

Mr McLEAN - The Minister misapprehends the meaning of the clause, if he cannot see that our foreign trade is intimately connected with this question. The whole of our producers are largely dependent upon the facilities afforded them to sell their products in the outer markets of the world. We have a very small consuming population and a very large productive territory. It is to our interest to produce as largely as we profitably can, and to sell our surplus products in any part of the world where we can obtain a market. To do this, it is necessary that we should possess speedy and cheap means of transport with the markets of the world. It is not by piling disabilities upon those who are engaged in the ocean-going trade that we can hope to secure favorable rates for the export of our surplus products. We have already administered some very irritating pin-pricks to these companies. In the first place, we taxed their ship's stores - a proposal which I confess I supported - and, 'secondly, we attempted to dictate to them the complexion of the crews which they should engage - a proposal which I did not support, because I believed that in that matter we were overreaching ourselves, just as we are doing on the present occasion in endeavouring to dictate the wages which they shall pay to their seamen.

Mr Watson - Only if they engage in our trade, I thought that the honorable member wished to reserve the Australian trade to our own ship-owners.

Mr McLEAN - The . Prime Minister misunderstood me very much if he entertained any such impression. I desire to treat our own ship-owners fairly, just as I do every other section of the community ; but I am not prepared to sacrifice the interests of the whole of the- people of the Commonwealth, to enable them to make huge fortunes.

Mr Tudor - Does the honorable member think that our own ship-owners should be subject to the provisions of this Bill, and that the foreign ship-owner should escape them.

Mr McLEAN - If the honorable member can prove that our local ship-owners are subjected to keen competition, which renders them unable to pay reasonable wages, I shall be prepared to go with him to any extent that is necessary. Up to the . present time, however, no information has been supplied which would justify that view of the case. On the contrary, all the evidence goes to show that they are subjected to no serious competition - that they enjoy all but a monopoly of our coasting trade, or, at any rate, as near a monopoly as it is safe or wise to give them. Their profits are quite sufficient to enable them to pay fair wages. Personally, I would apply the same rule to them as to others. If there are any reasons, of which we are not now aware, which will justify the view that they are subjected to serious competition, those reasons should be ascertained by referring these clauses to the Navigation Bill Commission for inquiry and report. From the information which is, at present, before us, I shall oppose these clauses no matter in what Bill they may be included. I am not prepared to prejudice the interests of the rest of the community, and especially the producing interests, for the sake of the ship-owners. It is vital to our producers that they should have speedy access to the markets of the world.. Unless they can obtain that no expansion of our primary products can take place. I am not prepared to jeopardize these large interests for the sake of a mere sentiment. Of course, it sounds very plausible to say - " It is not fair to ask our own shipowners to pay a reasonable rate of wages if they are subjected to competition with others who pay a much lower rate." But when we come to examine that statement, we find that no serious competition exists, and that our own ship-owners are making handsome profits.

Mr Tudor - But they will be compelled to go into the Arbitration Court, and yet the honorable member would not call upon the owners of foreign steamers to comply with the same rule.

Mr McLEAN - The foreigner is not engaging in the trade to any appreciable extent.

Mr Tudor - He is.

Mr McLEAN - Not to such an extent as to jeopardize, in the slightest degree, the interests of Australian-owned vessels. My honorable friends must not attempt too much by means of an Arbitration Bill. It is utterly beyond our power to raise the wages of the whole of the British seamen, however much we might desire to achieve that end.

Mr Hutchison - We can prevent the wages of our own seamen from being reduced.

Mr McLEAN - We should recognise our true position, and consider what we have power to do. We should not attempt to make ourselves ridiculous in the estimation of the people of the outside world by endeavouring by our pigmy legislation to rule the destinies of the other great nations of the earth. I expressed the same view when we were dealing with the clause in the Post and Telegraph Bill requiring every person engaged under contract to carry our mails to employ only white labour. We" are making ourselves ridiculous by saying to the owners of vessels employing coloured crews, "You may carry our mails at poundage rates ; but you must not enter into a contract with us that would be to our advantage." Whilst we know perfectly well that owners of oversea vessels engage in the Australian trade for their own, rather than for our benefit, we must nevertheless recognise that it is really far more beneficial to us than it is to them. We are far removed from the markets of the outer world, and are absolutely dependent on. the means of transport to those markets which these vessels afford. We cannot hope to grow and prosper or scarcely to exist without this trade. When my honorable friends opposite are speaking so glibly about the danger of a shipping strike, I feel constrained to ask them what would happen supposing that the owners of these oversea vessels went on strike for a little time.

Mr Ronald - We should soon get ships of our own.

Mr Watson - They have already struck the butter producers fairly hard.

Mr McLEAN - The honorable member for Southern Melbourne is of a somewhat sanguine temperament; but where we should find the funds to purchase steamers to supply the place of those now trading to our shores is beyond my comprehension. If these ship-owners closed our trade and our communication with the outer world for a few weeks, they would quickly bring us to our knees; we should -soon learn our true position.

Mr Watson - We should soon have a line of steamers of our own. The honorable member would have to join with us in paying for it.

Mr McLEAN - No doubt the honorable gentleman would save enough out of the profits . of his national tobacco monopoly and his banking scheme to enable the Government to purchase one or two small vessels.

Mr Watson - I should endeavour to raise a little more by placing a tax on the honorable member's land.

Mr McLEAN - I am afraid that the vessels so secured would be a very poor substitute for our existing means of communication. I candidly tell my honorable friend that, with the information at present before me, I feel compelled to oppose these clauses. I should oppose their insertion in any Bill ; but if he could show me that there was any real necessity for legislation of this kind - ' if he could show that the competition was so keen that our local ship-owners could not afford to pay a fair wage - I should be prepared to help him.

Mr Watson - The trouble is that it is so very difficult to convince the honorable member.

Mr McLEAN - My honorable friend has not attempted to convince me; he has not supplied me with any information. I am ready to afford him every reasonable opportunity to do so, and can conceive of no better means to accomplish this end than to submit these clauses to the Royal Commission on the Navigation Bill.' The honorable member for Melbourne Ports is a member of the Commission, and does any one think that the interests of the seamen will be overloked by him? He will see that every scintilla of evidence bearing upon their case is obtained and thoroughly sifted.

Mr Watkins - Judging by the votes given by the honorable member when the Tariff Bill was before us, we thought that he was convinced of the wisdom of this principle.

Mr McLEAN - I have never given a vote indicating that I favour anything' of this kind.

Mr Watkins - The honorable member, on this occasion, is going to cast a vote for free-trade.

Mr McLEAN - I was in favour of the policy of a White Australia ; but I certainly did not favour the proposal to make ourselves look ridiculous by endeavouring to create a "White Ocean." I favour the passing of an Arbitration Bill, dealing with employers and employes in the Commonwealth, but I certainly think that we should make ourselves ridiculous by endeavouring to raise the wages paid by the shipping companies throughout the world, whose vessels happen to come to our coast.

Mr Watkins - The honorable member is in favour of protecting Victorian industries, but not of protecting Australian shipping.

Mr McLEAN - If I have failed to convey my views to the honorable member I am sorry. I have told the Committee that if evidence could be produced showing that there was really any necessity for these proposals I should support them.

Mr Watson - We have never succeeded in convincing the honorable' member on any vote taken in the House since we have been in office.

Mr McLEAN - The honorable member is scarcely fair to me.

Mr Watson - My statement is true.

Mr McLEAN - If the honorable gentleman turns to the Hansard report of the speech which I delivered on the motion for the second reading of this Bill, he will find that I there clearly foreshadowed every vote that I have given up to the present time.

Mr Watson - With one exception; the honorable member said the other night that he had changed his opinion with regard to one matter.

Mr McLEAN - But we did not go to a division on that question. When I made the statement referred to I was aware that we were not likely to go to a division, inasmuch as there was a friendly amendment in view. I did not wish, however, to sail . under false colours, and I candidly told the House that I had changed my mind on that question, and gave my reason for doing so. My honorable friend will see that I clearly stated during the debate on the motion for the second reading, the extent to which I was prepared to support' him. I clearly indicated the provisions in the Bill that I would oppose by every means in my power. Another Government was then in office, and had charge of the Bill, and I have not in the slightest degree altered my attitude towards any of the provisions of the Bill since my honorable friend took office. He knows that I entertain none but the most friendly feelings towards himself and his colleagues.

Mr Watson - Hear, hear.

Mr McLEAN - If they were free in every way to exercise their judgment, I believe my views would differ from theirs to only a very small extent.

Mr Tudor - -Arp we not free ?

Mr McLEAN - Certainly not. The honorable member who preceded me dropped a hint to that effect when he said " There are those watching me, who will see that I do not- "

Mr Frazer - Are not the honorable member's constituents watching him?

Mr McLEAN - Yes ; but my actions are not being watched by any particular unions. I am not here in the interests of any special union.

Mr Watson - Neither is the honorable member.

Mr McLEAN - I am here in the interests of the whole people.

Mr Watson - So are we.

Mr McLEAN - I am here to represent the views of the whole of my electors.

Mr Hutchison - If the honorable member thinks that we are not here to act in the same capacity he is in error.

Mr McLEAN - My . honorable friend has a brand on his banner, which shows that he is the representative of a class.

Mr Watson - Labour is not a class.

Mr McLEAN - Then, instead of being the representative of a class, he is only the representative of unions which constitute but a fraction of that class. If he represented the whole of the workers, he would no doubt represent a very large, influential, and deserving body ; but he represents only a fraction of them.

Mr Frazer - He represents a majority of those who recorded their votes at the last election, just as the honorable member represents a majority of the electors in his .constituency.

Mr McLEAN - I represent the workers in my electorate, just as much as the honorable member represents the workers in his constituency. The truth of this statement is shown by the fact that I have always had their support. I was never more proud of anything than of the letters I received on the occasion of my last contested election, which I am happy to say was a good many years ago. I then received letters from workmen, who offered to come at their own expense from the remotest parts of the State to Gippsland, in order to help me, if I thought that the contest was going to be a close one. One workman came from Ballarat at his own expense, and another from Brighton-

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. McDonald). - Order ! I must ask the honorable member to deal with the question before, the Chair.

Mr McLEAN - I was drawn into this digression by the interjections of my honorable friends. I do not think I need say any more. My feeling is that up to the present no justification has been shown for the passing of these clauses. If there is any justification for the Government proposals it should be ascertained, and I cannot conceive of a better way to secure the necessary information than to submit the clauses for investigation and inquiry by the Commission which has been appointed to deal with the Navigation Bill.

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