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Tuesday, 19 July 1904

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is just about time that we cleared our minds of all prejudice in this matter.

Honorable members on the other side have been speaking as though any one who desires to. say a word in opposition to these clauses and in favour of the proposal before the Committee is necessarily an enemy of trades unionism. The honorable member for Grey appealed to us not to take this undue advantage of the seamen of Australia, and he pleaded that without these clauses in this Bill they would be subjected to a reduction of wages and all the loss attendant on an oppressve exercise of power by the capitalist. The honorable member for Darling told us that every one on this side would do anything under the sun to defeat the aims of the seamen of Australia and to prevent them from getting their just rights. I commend these ad misericordiam appeals to the labour representatives of Western Australia, and I ask honorable members whether they believe that the members of the Labour Party over there are engaged in a vendetta against trades unionism in Australia, and trades organizations in general. The idea is too absurd to be considered for a moment. And it only shows that those honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Darling, who told us that he had an open -mind, have shut their minds hard and fast, and sealed them against any view but their own. I venture to say that some honorable members who have taken part in this discussion have just as sincere a desire for the welfare of the seamen of Australia as have honorable members who are in favour of the insertion of these clauses. It is not fair to say that the only alternative to the acceptance of the clauses is antagonism to the trades organizations of Australia. I began my consideration of this matter with a mind favorable to the insertion of the clauses in this Bill. The superficial view is that since we place our own ship-owners and seamen within the control of the Arbitration Court, therefore we should do ,the same thing with those of any vessels which come here for the purposes of trade. At first view that seems a proper and fair thing to do, but I submit that there is a very much wider view to be considered. We are supposed to try to look all round a question rather than to take a sectional view - of it. What is the argument which has been advanced from the other side for the insertion of these clauses in this Bill? Passing by the remarks of the honorable member for Darling, I come to what the Minister of External Affairs said on Friday last, when he made his statement in support of the proposition. His one argument - and it is the argument which we have heard indirectly to-night from the honorable member for Grey - was that Australian seamen would not be able to get a fair award unless the Court was permitted to control the wages on foreign-going vessels. That is a view from which I entirely dissent. There is no reason to suppose that the President of the Court would do anything of the kind suggested when he came to make his award as to our own seamen. I take it that if he were a reasonable man, with business habits, like Mr. Justice Cohen, in New South Wales, he would at once order the ship-owners to produce their books. He would, as the honorable member for Grey pointed out, compare the rates of Australian seamen with the rates of the seamen on foreigngoing boats. But' his investigation would not stop there, as the honorable member supposes. He would inquire into the balancesheets of these companies, and he would find there a very great disparity.

Mr Hughes - He might.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is no " might " about the matter.

Mr Hughes - Why should he want to look at the balance-sheets if he knew what he was going to find?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - According to sworn testimony, which has been presented to the Committee, the President of the Court would find in the balance-sheets abundant evidence to show that while one set of ship-owners were making money out of the Australian trade, another set were making practically nothing. Does the Minister dispute the statements which have been made to the Committee? Does he dispute the sworn statements in the balancesheets which were produced by the honorable and learned member for Wannon the other night?

Mr Hughes - Unfortunately the statements made in this House are not sworn to, otherwise we should get on a' great deal faster.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The statements which were made here the other night were taken from the sworn balance-sheets of the ship-owners, and I apprehend that the honorable and learned gentleman is not prepared to dispute them.

Mr Watson - The Western Australian figures are being disputed.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable and learned member for Wannon showed that, according to. their own" sworn testi mony, Mcllwraith, McEacharn, and Company, Proprietary, Limited, made a profit of over £45,000 last year.

Mr Watson - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has just shown me certain figures which have been supplied to him. That statement is proved to be absolutely incorrect.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a pity that the contradictions cannot be made in the Chamber.

Mr Watson - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has shown me the figures, and told me that he intends to make a statement to the Committee.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am sure that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports is prepared 'to prove that anything to do with any matter outside Australia is .wrong. The honorable member for Wannon also showed that another company trading on the coast is building up a huge reserve fund, and paying dividends amounting to 25 per cent., and that altogether the indications are that these coasting companies are doing exceedingly well. I should think, therefore, that any fairminded Judge, making an independent investigation in connexion with a matter of the kind, would come to the conclusion that if this disparity between the wages has existed practically for all time, and if, in spite of that, Australian ship-owners have been enabled to still make good profits, the present state qf things should at least continue. A Judge would not take the small sectional view imputed to him by certain honorable members in arguing the question - the view that merely because of the difference . between the rates of wages, and for no other reason, it was his duty to cut down the Australian wages, presumably to the level of the others. Unless that is so, the only argument which has been advanced in support of the inclusion of those clauses up to the present, naturally breaks down. That is the only argument which has been presented - the difficulty . of getting an award unless foreign ships are brought within the purview of the Court.

Mr Hughes - It is not a difficulty, but an impossibility.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable and learned member say that it is impossible to get an award under the circumstances ?

Mr Hughes - Under iKe circumstances, certainly.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I suppose we cannot be certain until the matter has been tested.

Mr Hughes - But the honorable member was quite certain just now.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was speaking then of sworn balance-sheets ; I am speaking now of the statement of honorable members that it will not be possible to get an award unless foreign ships are brought under the control of the Court.

Mr Hughes - I say again that it will not.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I say there is no evidence of that in the facts as disclosed, whereas there is abundance of testimony which has been presented as to the other view of the case, and which has so far not been controverted. If there is effective contradiction to be made to those statements on oath on the other side, the sooner it is forthcoming the better.

Mr Hughes - The honorable member overlooks certain essential facts ; and unless he is prepared to consider those facts, he cannot arrive at an impartial conclusion.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am prepared to consider any statements made on this question. I do not think that the honorable and learned member should assume that I am not prepared to do so.

Mr Hughes - I do not accuse the honorable member; I simply say that he is overlooking those facts.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have tried to consider the facts ; at any rate, this is entirely a matter of opinion. Those on the Government side think that the minds of honorable members on this side are shut, while we are absolutely certain that they will not listen to any arguments. But all this does not get us much nearer to a solution. I want to make one or two remarks, showing the bearings of the question on a very wide circle of producers in Australia. The honorable member for Darling spoke in the most airy fashion about the way in which the producers in Australia would be affected by this legislation. The honorable member asked how -we know that the forcing up of the wages would make any difference in freights and in the expenses of the foreigngoing vessels. I should think that that fact needed no demonstration. For instance, we hear that the Government are considering the question of accepting a tender from the Orient Company, with an increase of subsidy up to£100,000; and the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-

General have said, from time to time, that this company has been running, its service at a loss.

Mr Watson - I said that that statement was made to me; I do not know whether the company have, or have not, been running ata loss

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Prime Minister has said that he has no reason to doubt the statement.

Mr Watson - That may be so; but the Peninsular and Oriental Company, on the other hand, have made a profit.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I understand that the Peninsular and Oriental Company make a considerable loss on the Australian portion of their trade.

Mr Watson - There is no evidence of that, except in regard to last year. It is not likely that the company would carry on one branch of their business at a loss year after year.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am informed that the company ran at a loss last year, at any rate.

Mr Watson - I understand that that was so.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am informed that the Australian portion of the trade has not, at any time, been profitable.

Mr Watson - It is curious that the company should carry on for so long a trade which is unprofitable.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the trade helps other services ; it is profitable indirectly, but not directly. Here are two large shipping companies, which are making practically no profit; and if the wages on their boats are forced up, I apprehend it will make a difference. The honorable rriember for Grey said that one set of seamen living under the same conditions as another set of seamen, ought to receive the same rates of wages. May I point out to the honorable member that the sailors who man the foreign ships do not reside in Australia, but in countries where it costs much less to live ; and to force up wages, as is suggested, to the level of the Australian rates, would be in reality to give the foreign sailors much higher wages than our own men are receiving. Being domiciled in other countries, where the value of money is, say, twice what it is in Australia, it is quite evident that to force the wages up to our rate would be to give the foreign sailor much higher wages than are paid to our own sailors. I make that remark, in passing, in reply to the honorable member for Grey. My contention is that we have plenty to do to look after our own sailors, without attempting to control the trade of the world. If the trade at present is unprofitable for many of the ocean-going ships, then to force on them an increase of expenses would very probably run them out of competition. That may be precisely, what many honorable members who are supporting these clauses want to do ; and they instance other countries where that policy has been followed. They point to America and Russia, and, so far as I know, these are the only countries in the world which take these drastic measures in regard to foreign shipping. If we are going to drive away those who offer us shipping facilities the effect must fall very heavily indeed on our primary producers, scattered throughout the length and breadth of Australia. If, on the other hand, we are going to allow British and foreign ships to trade here, but to compel them to increase their fares and freights, then we shall again strike a very heavy blow at our exporters. Honorable members have asked to-night for some information as to what effect such a policy would have on the export business of Australia. Figures have already been presented to the Committee, and here are some more which have been supplied by a Tasmanian exporter to South Africa. I find that the rates for general cargo for South Africa via, and with transhipment at, Melbourne - as would, perforce, be the case if our Inter-State boats had to be employed - range from 42s. 6d. to 57s. 6d. per ton, and for apples, from 2s. 6d. to 3s." 6d. per case. By the boats trading direct between Tasmania and South Africa, the rates on general cargo amount to 30s. per ton, and on apples to is. 4d. per case. I submit that the difference between those prices means the difference between profitable and entirely unprofitable industry. ' That is a very serious aspect of this question which I have to consider, representing, as I do, so many thousands of the primary producers of Australia. The various classes of labourers, in connexion with our primary productions, are not overburdened with wages, so far as I am aware ; and I submit that it is an economic truth, susceptible of the most complete demonstration, that if further charges are placed on the transportation of produce to the natural markets, we necessarily endanger - I do not say that this would actually occur - but we menace the rates of wages those people have now. That is a view which we ought to bear in mind in considering a question of this kind. Our handicaps here are great enough now to prevent our taking any step which would decrease by one iota the facilities afforded for getting Australian produce to market. Our wheat is at a disadvantage compared with that of Canada and Russia, those two countries being much nearer the great markets of the world. The same may be said of our butter, which is handicapped by reason of our great distance from London, as compared with Denmark; of our fruit in competition with the fruits of Italy and California, and also of our wool in competition with the wool of Argentine. So one could go through the whole of the primary products of Australia. The handicap we suffer by reason of our great distance from the markets of the world is obvious. With the few people we have in Australia, and the large areas over which they are scattered, our products must necessarily be more than we can consume ; and a large export is as the very life-blood of the community. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we should have all possible facilities to get our produce to the markets of the world, and thus be enabled to somewhat overcome the severe handicap under which we should otherwise labour. I was very much surprised the other day to hear the statement of the Minister of External Affairs that the Government proposed later on to introduce into this Bill a clause which would have the effect of altogether excluding foreign ships from our coastal trade.

Mr Watson - I think the Minister said that that clause would apply only to ships which are subsidized.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister did' not make that qualification, and the proposal raises a very large and serious question for Australia. Personally, I think that such a provision would strike a severe blow at the coal mining industry of the Commonwealth.

Mr Isaacs - That question does not, I think, arise at this juncture.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think it does;, the question is whether these clauses shall be submitted to the Royal Commission, and no doubt this clause also will be considered in its relation to the whole subject. I admit, however, that the question does not arise directly at this point.

Mr Watson - It will arise; I shall be proposing that clause by-and-by if we carry this provision.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The only two countries, so far as I know, which have driven away foreign shipping altogether from their coasts are the United States and Russia. I have yet. to learn that we are to frame our legislation with a view to imitating the shipping tactics of either country. The only result of this kind of legislation, and of the pursuance of a policy of isolation such as is being pursued in the industries of the United States, is to steadily - as in the case of that country - send down the shipbuilding barometer. Figures were quoted here to-night which prove incontestably that the United States shipping is not keeping pace with wear and tear - that the ship-building industry is a steadily declining quantity.

Mr King O'Malley - America is a world in itself.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course it is; there are 80,000,000 of people, and America as a nation has been in existence for a very long time. To compare America with Australia for the purpose of showing that we ought to imitate the methods of that country seems to me to be like trying to fit a pair of boy's trousers on a man. The idea is absurd. There is no analogy between countries whose conditions are so diverse, and which are so widely separated. May I also remind honorable members that these countries can afford to do what we, isolated as we are from the rest of the world, cannot afford to do? America has infinite resources. I think I may be pardoned for using the word "infinite" in this connexion, because the resources of that country are so tremendous. The same thing may be said of the great empire of Russia. Both countries are nearer to the heart of the world than we are. They can also protect themselves against any penal consequences which may ensue from their actions in a way which we cannot hope to imitate. Let us rather consider our shipping in its relation to the Empire as a whole. It is precisely in connexion with the Empire relationship that one other consideration suggests itself. We are told that we may safely exclude foreign shipping ; but I do not think we can. Our shipping policy must to-day be considered as part of a general Empire policy. That is the popular view which is taken of all these questions nowadays, when preferential trade is in the air, and a tremendous impulse has been given to the loyal aspira tions of the people of the whole Empire. Let us therefore consider our shipping relations with the world as a matter of Empire concern. If we drive all foreign ships from our coasts, the foreign nations affected will not take it " lying down," to use Mr. Chamberlain's phrase. Figures were quoted the other night to show what may happen if foreign nations commence a crusade against Great, Britain's shipping trade, which to-day is worth ^120,000,000. Therefore, I submit that the Empire to which we belong, and to whose methods and trend of legislation I hope we shall more and more conform, must be considered as a whole in dealing with navigation laws, and such matters as are now before us. Taking that view of the question, one sees how very dangerous it would be to adopt such drastic measures as have been proposed by the Government. In this matter we have everything to gain from trying to conciliate rather than to antagonise foreign nations. Great Britain owns more than half the shipping trade of the world, and her interests might be seriously menaced if we began to fight with foreign nations. I, for one, so long as I am an Australian, and belong to the great Empire to which we are all proud to owe allegiance, will oppose everything of the kind. Furthermore, I ask, what arguments have we heard as to the disastrous consequences likely to befall Australian seamen if the proposed clause is not adopted ? The arguments which have been adduced have not been supported by a single statement of fact that could be substantiated If honorable gentlemen who support the insertion of the proposed new clauses have evidence in proof of their assertions, why do they not produce it? Figures have been quoted from this side of the Chamber to show that the local shipping companies are very successful in their competition with British and foreign companies; that they earn huge profits, pay good dividends, and build up huge reserve funds, while paying the Australian rate of wages. Figures have also been quoted to show that the last reduction of our sailors' wages by ros. a month was in no sense justified.

Mr Poynton - Yet it was made.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course it was made, because the men had no Court to which to take their grievance. Now, however, we are proposing to set up a Court for them.

Mr Poynton - The oversea vessels carry one-third of our passenger traffic.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is an entirely gratuitous statement. My opinion is that fewer persons would travel bv sea from State to State if the large oversea vessels were withdrawn. A week or two ago I was about to book a berth to enable me to come round from Sydney by the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company's vessel, the Mongolia; but I was glad afterwards that I did not, because the steamer had an exceptionally trying experience. I am an indifferent sailor, and when I go down to the sea in ships I like to go by the biggest boat I can get. If I could not travel in a large boat, I would probably take the train, and there are thousands of others who, like myself, patronize the sea only because of the large and comfortable vessels available to them. The multiplication of these immense vessels means the increasing of the number of travellers by sea, and it is by no means to be thought that if these vessels were driven from our coasts the number of travellers by sea from port to port would be anything like so large as the total ' now is. In any case, it is an utterly unenlightened policy for us to drive from our shores these marvels of engineering skill and transportation. In this twentieth century the different parts of the world are coming closer together, and in consequence human competition is becoming more and more severe. The last thing we should do, therefore, is to drive oversea vessels away from our shores. We should rather encourage more such vessels to come here, so as to make it easier for our producers to get to the markets of the. world.

Mr Poynton - Similar arguments were used in opposition to the movement to prevent children from being employed in the mines in England.

Mr Watson - And the factories, too.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member for Grey suggest that the position of Australian seamen is as hopelessly miserable as was that of the children to whom he refers?

Mr Hutchison - If one considers the accommodation and the food which they are given, their position does not seem to be very far removed from' that of the children in question.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I take leave to doubt the statement. I do not say that our sailors live in a paradise : but to make a parallel between their condition and that of the little children who were forced at the beginning of the last century to work in the English mines is to draw the bow at a venture. The Australian sailor is entitled to the best wages that can be paid to him; but I have yet to learn that the insertion of the proposed clauses in the Bill would help him to get justice from the proposed Arbitration Court. That is the point on which we are at issue. If I believed it to be impossible for Australian seamen to obtain fair awards without some such provisions as these, I would seriously consider the advisability of their insertion. But facts go to show that any reasonably-, minded judge would have to consider the matter for only a few minutes to see that there is no justification for a decrease in the rate of wages, and abundant reason for restoring the ios. a month of which our seamen have been deprived. I am not speaking at random. I base my remarks on the figures which have been given to us - figures taken from sworn statements, from balance sheets, and from the statement of some of the ship-owners themselves. The information with which we are supplied all goes to show that the ship-owners of Australia are making good profits and can afford to pay good wages. That being so, what judge would hesitate to prevent them from further reducing wages. Those who support the- insertion of the proposed clauses make unsupported assertions to the effect that without them our sailors could not look for a satisfactory award from the Court. There is, on the contrary, abundant evidence that, even if the clauses are not inserted, the Court will be able to look after our own sailors. That being, so, and remembering that the ultimate intention of the Government is to keep Australian trade to Australian and British ships, to the exclusion of foreign ships, I think that the matter is one for the investigation of the tribunal which the Government have already created to report upon navigation matters generally. I hope that the Committee will vote for that investigation. There are other persons to be considered besides the ship-owners of Australia, and all who are affected, directly or indirectly, by the legislation which is brought before us, equally deserve consideration.

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