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Friday, 28 October 1904

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - The tone of this debate suggests that the Commonwealth ought to do something more than arrange for subsidies for mail communication. The trouble is that the Imperial Government apparently does not fully realize its responsibility to the outlying portions of the Empire, and I think that the Commonwealth Government should endeavour to bring about some propter understanding. I am not in favour of granting the increased subsidy, for it appears to me that the running of additional vessels in the trade will do no more than serve the interests of a few settlers in the islands. We experience great difficulty in securing a vote of £500 or £1,000 to improve mail services within .the Commonwealth, and yet the Government propose to grant a further sum of £6,000 to a private company to develop, as it is said, the trade of the islands. This company, according to the honorable member for Lang, is losing £16,000 a year by carrying on its island service. I am inclined to doubt that any company would! incur such a loss, unless it hoped by continuing the service to develop a profitable trade. As a matter of fact, settlement ir* the islands has not proceeded so rapidly as to suggest that the returns of the company from this source will be improved at an early date. Burns, Philp, and Co. are not likely to do anything at a loss, and I think it is time that we put a stop to this: "boosting" up of private companies. It would be better for us to devote this money to a service to be carried on b\ vessels owned by the Commonwealth. I am informed that the Merrie England is not being utilized as fully as we might reasonably expect, and it seems to me that shemight well be employed in this direction. The Government have not, so far, indicated that they are disposed to favorably view the granting of bounties, and I should liketo know the grounds on which they justify this proposal to give a bounty for the benefit of a mere handful of people-- a few missionaries and others. The plea is that the service should be maintained by us in the interests of the Empire ; but when we look into the matter we find1 that the rest of the Empire is apparently unwilling to join with us in this direction. In these- circumstances, it seems to me that no good purpose would be served from the point of view of the Empire by granting this increased subsidy. It would tend only to assist French settlement in the .New Hebrides, and to help the French to secure possession of them. The Commonwealth has not yet had time to develop an external policy, but it seems to me that, so far, we have been guilty of that very policy of laissez faire for which we condemn the Imperial authorities. The whole of these islands ought to be secured to Great Britain. Many years ago public meetings were held in Melbourne in favour of the annexation of the New Hebrides, and a proposal was made that' the Government of the day should send a representative ' to London to place before the Home Government the opinions of the people. These meetings, however, did not result in anything tangible, and so far the Commonwealth has been unable to take action. A mass of valuable information relating to the New Hebrides, and the position of the French in the islands of the Pacific, was collected bv the late Julian Thomas - "The Vagabond" - who took an enthusiastic interest in this question. No man was more intimately acquainted with the history of colonization in the South Pacific, and from his publications, as well as other sources, I have compiled a great deal of interesting information. Unfortunately, I have not got it with me to-day. I feel that it is time that some definite policy was adopted by the Commonwealth Government in relation to the islands of the Pacific Australia is now able to speak with a united voice, and I think that the Imperial authorities would be prepared to take more notice of representations made on behalf of the whole Commonwealth than they were disposed to take of the views of the individual Colonies. It would be well if some step were taken to make these islands a part of the British Empire, or at all events, to bring them more directly under British control ; but I do not think that the proposal to increase this mail subsidy is calculated to assist us in that direction. I shall vote for the amendment on the ground that the circumstances of the case do not justify the Government . proposal ; but I would strongly urge that some- steps should be taken .before it is too late to secure these islands to Great Britain. I believe that the .interests of the British people would be best served by our assuming control of them. If we succeed in establishing some reasonable system of governing British Papua we may feel disposed to accept some responsibility in regard to the New Hebrides. I should not be particularly opposed to our doing so if it were conceived to be in the interests of the nation, but I hold that it would be better for us to devote the money now proposed to be paid to this company to the maintenance of Commonwealth vessels employed in carrying on the service. I have only to repeat that, while I am sure it is our desire to be at peace with the nations of the world, I think that we ought to secure these islands for the British people.

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