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Friday, 28 October 1904

Mr PAGE (Maranoa) - The thanks of honorable members are due to the honorable member for Lang for the information which he has given us about the trade of these islands. Last night the Prime Minister jocularly made a few statements in regard to the proposal which were quite in- sufficient, but with which he seemed to think we should be content. I have ascertained that the value of the exports from these islands to Australia amounted in 1899 to £23,261 ; in 1900, to £21,785; in 1901, to £16,116; in 1902, to £20,094 ; and in 1903, to £1 8,066. To obtain this trade the Government asks us to pay a subsidy of £12,000. The Prime Minister said last night that means would be taken to settle the island bv immigration. That is a fine thing to propose, when we have millions of acres of unoccupied land in Australia, and are crying out for population. Notwithstanding all the facts furnished by the honorable member for Lang, I have ascertained that the French, after an occupation of twenty years, have settled only 255 persons there, and the English, after an occupation of forty years,, have settled only 214 persons, of whom thirty-four are missionaries.

Mr Johnson - The English have not colonized the islands ; they have only traded with them.

Mr PAGE - The honorable member for Lang has told us that a French colonization society is paying subsidies to olbtain the trade of the 255 French residents. On five of the islands there are more Frenchmen than Englishmen, and on five others more Englishmen than Frenchmen, so that the influence of the two powers there must be about the same. But, although the honorable member for Lang tells us that the French are taking away the trade of the islands, we have it on the authority of the Prime Minister that it is the Germans who are doing so.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That statement had reference to the Marshall and Gilbert groups.

Mr McDonald - All the emphasis has been laid on the importance of the New Hebrides trade.

Mr PAGE - Yes; all we have heard about is the importance of the New Hebrides trade.

Mr Johnson - The subsidy covers the mail service to the other islands as well.

Mr PAGE - I know that; but apparently what is chiefly aimed at is the trade of the New Hebrides. The honorable member for Lang told us that Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Company were losing £16,000 per annum in connexion with this service. I do not know how to manage a steam-ship company, but, as a business man, I do know how to run a one-horse show, and I take it for granted that the same principle applies in both cases. If a company cannot be run at a profit it must shut up shop. I suppose that the representatives of Queensland know Messrs. Burns, Philp, and Company as well as do any honorable members in this House ; and it will be difficult to persuade them that that company are, in a spirit of pure patriotism, submitting to a loss of £16,000 per annum, in order to secure a trade worth only £18,000 per annum. Instead of paying £12,000, by way of subsidy, in order to secure a trade worth only £18,000 per annum, it would be better for us to make a present of £5,000 to the people of the New Hebrides, and have nothing further to do with them. When applications are made for the establishment of new mail services, such as are badly needed in many parts of the back blocks, it is as difficult to obtain any concession from the Government as to draw a tooth from a rhinoceros. When the honorable member for Darwin asked that a weekly mail service should be established between Tasmania and King Island, at a cost of between £400 and £500 per annum, his request was refused, on the ground that the cost would be too great. Yet there are more inhabitants on King Island than there are British settlers in the New Hebrides ; and, moreover, King Island forms part and parcel of the Commonwealth, whilst the New Hebrides are beyond our limits. It is ridiculous to talk of granting special facilities to the British settlers in the Pacific Islands, whilst we are denying ordinary postal conveniences to our own citizens. I intend to strongly oppose the Government proposal.

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