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Friday, 15 July 1904

Mr RONALD (Southern Melbourne) - - Several honorable members have stated that no evidence can be adduced in support of the view that oversea ships should be subjected to the same restrictions as our local ship-owners. It may not be generally known that the Peninsular and Oriental Company, the Orient Company, the Messageries Maritimes, and the Norddeutscher - Lloyd carry passengers from Tilbury to Sydney for exactly the same fare that they charge from Tilbury to Fremantle, and that their vessels could, on arrival at Fremantle, discharge half their passengers, and carry other passengers from Fremantle to Sydney free of cost without incurring any actual loss

Mr Fowler - They charge from 50 to 100 per cent, more than do the Inter-State companies.

Mr RONALD - I was just about to point out that, notwithstanding these great advantages, they charge passengers 50 per cent, more than do our Inter-State companies. They are enabled to do this because of the superior accommodation which they provide, and also because of the social attractions which are offered by the class of passengers which they carry oversea.

Mr McLean - Then, where is the competition ?

Mr RONALD - The mail companies are able to offer accommodation much superior to that afforded by our coastal boats, which are thus heavily handicapped. Therefore. I maintain that we should not penalize local ship-owners, and let the ocean steamers go scot free. If we do so, we shall add to the injustice to which they are now subjected. It is quite impossible for the local companies to compete with the oversea steamers, because of the higher wages which have to be paid to Australian seamen, and our legislation should certainly be so framed that it will tend to place upon an equal footing all ship-owners who trade upon our coasts. We have been charged with making Australia appear ridiculous in the eyes of the world, by means of legislation which is intended to operate in regard to those who come from parts beyond the seas. If, however, legislation of this character is to be of any value it must be uniform in its application to all those who carry on our trade, and it would be unfair to impose upon Australian ship-owners or other employers conditions from which foreigners were exempt. I am speaking of British ship-owners as foreigners only in the sense that they are intruders upon the domain of our local shipping companies. It has been pointed out that if we insist on the oversea shipping companies paying the rates of wages prevailing on the Australian coast they will .overcome the difficulty by paying wages on a higher scale whilst the vessels are in our waters, and so adjusting the balance paid to the men for service beyond our limits that in the end they will not incur any greater expense than at present. If that takes place we must, I suppose, submit to it ; but that consideration should not prevent us from doing what lies in our power to place all ship-owners upon an equal footing. I do not hold a brief for the Australian shipowners, because they are very well able to look after themselves, but in common fairness we should not add to the disadvantages under which they already labour. The United States cannot be said to have made themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the world, and yet it is well known that none but American-owned vessels are allowed to participate in the coastal trade of that country. That is prohibition with a vengeance, and the day may arrive when we shall have to adopt similar measures in the Commonwealth. In the meantime, we should shape our legislation so that the conditions may be made as fair as possible for all concerned. We must never forget that Australia is an island continent, and that the Commonwealth must sooner or later become a maritime power. We all live in the hope that one day we shall see an Australian Navy. In the meantime we have made the best terms we can with the mother country. We must, however, have, ships of our own and a navy of our own, and become a maritime power. Any one who knows anything of ancient or modern shipping must be aware that a mercantile fleet and a navy proper go hand in hand. There is kind of parity of principle between them, and if a country has a large and important mercantile marine it must also maintain a naval force for . its protection. We need have no fear that any legislation we may pass would have the effect of deterring foreign ship-owners from sending their vessels into our waters to take our produce to markets abroad. Those who have travelled on the Continent or in America know that Australia is called "The Land of the Golden Fleece," and that it is believed that the sea washes pearls on to our shores. The ideas which are current as to the great wealth of Australia will always cause us to loom large in the eyes of business men, who will be only too eager to meet our requirements in the way of sea transit. They will always find it worth while to trade with us. Whilst we are not prepared to go so far as America has gone, and to insist that none but Australian-built boats shall participate in our coastal trade, we should ever keep before us the ideal of establishing an Australian mercantile navy. Therefore we should encourage, rather than handicap our local shipping companies. At the present time those companies are labouring under a very severe handicap by reason of the great attractions which are offered by the mail steamers in the way of comfort and society. They find it very difficult to compete with those vessels.

Sir John Forrest - Not at all.

Mr RONALD - If the right honorable member for Swan would only travel by a coastal steamer once he would not care to repeat his experience. Even if it cost ten times as much to travel between Perth and Melbourne by a mail steamer as it does to travel by a coastal vessel, I venture to say that the right honorable member would gladly pay the higher fare.

Sir John Forrest - The intercolonial steamers are not so bad as that.

Mr Carpenter - Some of the new coastal boats provide very good accommodation.

Mr RONALD - They are quite as bad as I have depicted.

Mr Fowler - We can attend to that in the Navigation Bill.

Mr RONALD - I hold that uniformity of industrial legislation is essential, and we cannot obtain that uniformity unless the seamen are brought under the operation of this Bill. It has been said that if these clauses are inserted the measure will be hung up indefinitely, because of the international relationships upon which we shall impinge.

That is an exceedingly serious matter. But we are sometimes called upon to play the heroic, even in ' legislation, and I think it is far more honest and praiseworthy to say exactly what we mean in this Bill than to attempt to achieve our end by another means. Let us be frank and honest upon this matter - we need not be impertinent in our dealings with the Imperial Government. I repeat that 'the mail steamers at present enjoy great advantages as compared with our coastal vessels. A glance at the fares levied by the former will show that they charge the same rate for a passage from Tilbury to Sydney as they do for one from Tilbury to Fremantle.

Mr Fowler - How does that affect the coastal trade

Mr RONALD - To the extent that the coastal vessels have to compete at a very great disadvantage. If the mail steamers can carry . passengers from Fremantle to Sydney without losing anything, they can' carry passengers for nothing.

Mr Fowler - As a matter of fact those vessels charge from 50 to 100 per cent, more for passages along the Australian coast.

Mr RONALD - The companies trust to the superior advantages which these floating palaces provide to attract business from the coastal trade, and so long as there is a snobocracy in existence people will- prefer to travel by those steamers rather than by - local " tramps." Most fools will pay a great deal for society. One has merely to impart a little " tone " to it-

Sir John Forrest - How does the honorable member travel?

Mr RONALD - I have always travelled by the mail steamers. After I arrived in Australia I admit that, as a parson, I obtained a refund of 50 per cent.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When the honorable member visited Western Australia some time ago, how did he travel ?

Mr RONALD - I travelled by the mail steamer. I would not take£1,000 to travel by a coastal vessel.

Mr Johnson - There is a better chance of obtaining improved conditions upon our coastal steamers whilst they are required to compete with the ocean liners.

Mr RONALD - The competition is all on one side, because the mail steamers can carry passengers from Fremantle to Sydney for nothing, and still make as much profit as they are making at the present time. The fare from Tilbury to Fremantle, by these vessels, is identical with that charged from Tilbury to Sydney. Surely, honorable members cannot experience any difficulty in grasping the elementary tact that the coastal trade represents all gain to tha mail steamers, whilst in the case of locally-owned vessels it does not. The mail steamers have had too many, advantages conferred upon them already. Their fares are absurdly high. For example, the vessels of the White Star line carry passengers to London for 50 per cent, less than do the steamers of the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient companies. That margin cannot possibly be represented by the difference between the " living " upon these vessels. In spite of all balance-sheets to the contrary, I hold that the Australian trade pays these mail steamers very well.

Mr Johnson - The Peninsular and Oriental Company has lost £90,000 in the Australian trade during the past twelve months.

Mr RONALD - Its loss was previously stated at . £50,000. Apparently, the figures have grown since. I repeat that the adoption of the amendment will impose a more severe handicap upon our local ship-owners than that under which they at present labour.

Mr. HENRYWILLIS (Robertson).During the course of my speech just delivered, the Minister of External Affairs asked me the name of the English statesman who had resigned his Cabinet position because he had made a speech in opposition to the policy of the Government of the day. I was unable to recall it at the time, but the gentleman in question was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, Mr. T. W. Russell. In writing of the incident, the Review of Reviews for March, of the present year, says : -

It was at Clogher, on 20th September, 1900, and during the general election, that Mr. Russell suddenly astonished and delighted the tenant farmers by declaring in favour of compulsory purchase, in order to settle the land question. He was opposed bv the landlords, but won the seat despite their opposition. He lost his office, however. He told his constituents, " Lord Salisbury, no doubt, dismissed me from the Government because of the Clogher speech."'

I need not go further. I think the extract which I have read shows very clearly that I thoroughly understood what I was talking about.

Progress reported.

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