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Tuesday, 19 July 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) (Treasurer) . - There is only one feature of the debate to which I wish to refer at this stage, because I think that the clauses have been pretty well threshed out. When I first introduced the clauses this day week, I alluded to the competition of foreign vessels on . the coast, and more especially to the fact that the . great proportion of these foreign-owned vessels were subsidized. I then said -

If, in addition to heavily subsidizing their lines, they also exact a condition that no Australian produce shall be carried to German ports, it is a question how far we are justified in our own interest in allowing that state of things to continue without making some attempt to counteract it - without something in the nature of retaliation. I do not propose to pursue that subject now, but it is a matter requiring consideration at the hands of not only this portion of the Empire, but of the British Empire generally, as to how far we are justified in allowing that sort of thing to go on without reprisals of some sort.

During the debate it has been urged by several honorable members that if our proposals were carried, and' the Court so extended an award as to include foreign ocean-going vessels, the foreign owners, as distinct from the British owners, would apply to their Governments, probably with success, for an increased subsidy to meet the extra expense entailed upon them, whereas the British-owned vessels would have no chance of securing any such com pensation. Consequently, the foreign shipowners would be able to surmount the difficulty created by the new conditions imposed upon them, whereas British ship-owners would be placed at a still greater disadvantage. I admit that that argument has had some weight with me, and that it would not be proper to run the risk of placing the British ship-owners at a disadvantage in comparison with foreign-owned vessels engaged in the coasting trade of Australia. In the same way that I object to our locallyowned vessels having to observe conditions that are not sought to be imposed upon vessels coming from oversea when they engage in our traffic, I am opposed to placing British-owned vessels which come oversea and seek, incidentally, to trade along our coast, at a disadvantage as compared with foreign vessels which follow a similar course. Therefore, in the event of the amendment proposed by the right honorable and learned member for East Sydney being defeated, I propose to alter the new clause 79 b by omitting sub-clause 1 with a view to substituting the following: -

Before any ship to which this part of this Act applies engages in the coasting trade,

(a)   Hermaster shall satisfy a Collector of Customs that no subsidy or bonus is payable, and that no agreement or arrangement exists under which any subsidy or bonus will become payable, in respect of the ship to the owners of the ship ; other than by the Government of the United Kingdom, or of the Commonwealth, or of a State, and

(b)   Her master shall enter into an agreement with the members of the crew in accordance with Schedule C.

The first portion of the amendment involves an alteration to the effect that if a vessel that is not locally registered seeks to engage in the coasting trade, it shall have to be proved that it is not receiving a subsidy from a foreign Government. If owners are receiving a subsidy from the Imperial Government or from the Commonwealth or States Governments in respect to the carriage of mails, for instance, no exception will be taken.

Sir John Forrest - That would not embrace a subsidy given for services rendered

Mr WATSON - Anything paid to the. companies for mail services in excess of the rates agreed to at the Berne Convention would be a subsidy, but any amount up to the poundage rate would not be a subsidy. In order to prevent the provision from apr plying to British vessels which receive mail subsidies, we propose to exclude them, and to make it apply only to- ships receiving subsidies from foreign Governments. A somewhat similar proposal was embodied in the Navigation Bill introduced in the Senate, but whilst that provision sought to impose disabilities upon subsidized vessels, it drew no distinction between British and foreign ships. We have drawn such a distinction in this amendment, one reason being that otherwise we should include all mail vessels that were receiving a sum representing more than the ordinary poundage rates.

Sir John Forrest - Would that be a subsidy ?

Mr WATSON - Yes; technically, if it were anything in excess of the poundage rates, it would be a subsidy, because it would amount to something more than a payment for services rendered.

Mr Reid - Would the provision apply to the Peninsular and Oriental Company in respect of the payment by the Imperial Government for the mail service as far as Colombo ?

Mr WATSON - No, because we have exempted subsidies paid by the Imperial Government.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - There is a great difference between payments made for services rendered and the freightage and mileage rates paid to the French and German companies.

Mr WATSON - Yes, a very great difference. One of the German subsidies is paid under a distinct condition in the contract that no produce such as meat or cereals shall be carried to Germany from Australia in the vessels belonging to the company. I think that that is an outrageous condition for any Government, which seeks to have vessels engaged in our trade, to enforce. I do not propose to go over the whole ground again, and therefore I only indicate what the Government propose to do in the event of the clause being retained. The proposal we now intend to submit is in consonance with the view I expressed when speaking this day week, but I was not then convinced, as I am now, of the necessity for immediate action in this regard.

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