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Friday, 28 October 1904

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) - I intend to support the amendment on the ground that this is a matter which concerns the Imperial Parliament far more than the Government or Parliament of the Commonwealth. I have no desire to discount the strategical value of these islands to the Empire, but Australia has already contributed very largely to the naval subsidy, and should not be called upon further to provide naval stations in the Pacific for the British Fleet., However important these islands may be as outposts to the Commonwealth, they must be still more important to the Imperial policy of Having naval and coaling stations scattered broadcast along the trade routes. But when the Imperial authorities appear to take so little interest in this matter, one is necessarily led to the conclusion that the strategical value of these islands cannot be so great as has been represented by the honorable member for Lang and others. Apart from that consideration, however, I think that we have enough to do within our own Continent in working out our own destiny, without devoting public funds to the development of the resources of outside territories. Mention has been made of several directions in which money might well be spent in providing increased facilities for settlement within the Commonwealth, and there is scarcely an honorable member who could not multiply the complaints which have been made that those who are doing pioneering work for the Commonwealth are not receiving that assistance at the hands of the Government which they are entitled to expect. Nevertheless, we are asked to lavish an additional £6,000 on this company to develop islands thousand's of miles away, and to assist the products of those islands to come into competition with those of our own producers. The honorable, member for KenTnedy has already referred to the position in regard to the maize, bananas, and other products of these islands. I am a protectionist right through the piece. We have imposed protective duties on these commodities to protect our own producers, and are also paying a considerable sun; by way of sugar bounties, to preserve Australia for the white races. In these circumstances, I, for one, am strongly opposed to subsidizing either mail steamers or cargo carriers to bring the products of the cheap labour of the Pacific Islands into competition with the whitegrown products of the farmers and fruitgrowers of Australia. By the aid of kanaka labour maize can be produced more cheaply in those islands than in Australia, the difference in the cost of labour being so great as, perhaps, would enable the settlers, notwithstanding the duty, to compete successfully with Australian growers. In addition to this subsidy, which we are asked to pay, in order to extend increased facilities to the 214 British subjects who have settled in the New Hebrides-

Mr Kelly - The subsidy applies to the mail service, not merely of the New Hebrides, but of many other islands.

Mr WILKINSON - I quite understand that," but I think that we are already paying more than sufficient in this direction. In addition to the native-grown maize, which might be introduced from these islands by means of the subsidized steamship service, we should have bananas landed here to compete with the products of the fruit-growers of Australia, although complaints are already being made that the latter have to compete with fruit ' . grown by Chinese and other Asiatics on the northern coast of Queensland. The complaint is a serious one, and I do not think that we should be justified in 'spending the money pf the white taxpayers of the Commonwealth in subsidizing any service whereby the produce of a cheaper class of labour than can be employed in Australia may be brought into competition with the produce of the white races in the Commonwealth. It is said that this company is a very patriotic 'one, and is continuing a trade in which it incurs an annual loss of £16,000. Those who come from Queensland, and know something about the company, feel that that statement must be accepted with a very considerable quantity of salt. Our experience of Burns, Philp, and Co., is that they do not give much away, and that if they spend£1 it is with a view of reaping a profit of £2, £3,or £5 from that expenditure. The Committee has not yet been informed what area of land in the New Hebrides group is owned by the company.

Mr Mahon - And how they acquired it.

Mr WILKINSON - Information in regard to both points would certainly be of interest. Have they a large stake in those islands, and are they asking us to subsidize their steam-ship service in order to enhance the value of properties there which they have acquired? It might perhaps pay them to show a loss of £16,000, if they can thereby obtain a subsidy which will enormously increase the value of the estates which they have acquired in these islands. My knowledge of the firm's transactions in various parts of . Northern Queensland, however, leads me to think that there is something behind this proposal which is not plain to the Committee. In any case, I am of opinion that the money could be better spent in providing facilities for communication for our scattered communities in the wilds, who are suffering the hardships incidental to pioneering life in the endeavour to develop the resources of the Commonwealth.

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