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Thursday, 24 June 1915

Mr TUDOR (Yarra) (Minister of Trade and Customs) .- If the honorable member for Robertson had been present when I moved the second reading of this Bill, I do not think he would have given utterance to the sentiments which he has just expressed. As far back as 30th July last, my predecessor - in office, the honorable member for Darling Downs, submitted to all the State Governments a draft agreement, under which it was proposed that the Commonwealth should take over the lighthouses, as it had been asked to do by no less than four different Premiers' Conferences. The matter was advanced a stage by the Bill of 1911, which was passed into law; but the honorable member for Darling Downs, who succeeded me, found it impossible to induce the States to come to an agreement. New South Wales and Victoria alone fell in with the proposal. Three other States have agreed to the arrangement, with modifications, and have undertaken to send representatives to a Conference which is shortly to discuss the subject. Dr. Wollaston, when Comptroller- General of Customs, settled with the State officers, the question of what lights should be taken over. That was about seven years ago ; but the States have not responded as they should have done. As a matter of fact, although eleven months have elapsed since the honorable member for Darling Downs submitted his proposal, one State Government has not yet replied. Are we to hold up for all time the whole question of the transfer of the lighthouse service?

Mr Fleming - Why not pay the States?

Mr TUDOR - They are going to be paid.' The lighthouse service will not be a revenue-producing branch of the Department. We shall be losing money on it every year.

Mr Groom - And by taking over this service we shall relieve the States.

Mr TUDOR - We shall relieve them of a considerable expenditure. I feel confident that had the Opposition been in office they would have had to introduce to-day, or three months hence, the very Bill that I am now asking the House to pass.

Mr Fleming - I should have objected to it even if the present Opposition had brought it forward.

Mr TUDOR - We did not hear the honorable member offer any objections to the proposals of his party when they were in office. He was then as dumb as an oyster. Coming to other question's which have been raised during this debate, I may explain that during the last three years the Commonwealth has expended on lighthouses £40,000, and has not received in return a penny by way of revenue. Until we take over these lighthouses we shall not receive any revenue from the service. The honorable member for- Darling Downs, when in office, told the States to go on with any necessary work relating to the lighting of the coast, promising that the Commonwealth would pay for any service provided in conformity with the plan proposed by Commander Brewis

Mr Groom - We made such an arrangement with Victoria in regard to the Wilson's Promontory light.

Mr TUDOR - We both agreed as to the necessity of the work. In Victoria, a powerful modern optical apparatus has been installed at Wilson's Promontory, and new lights have been erected at Cape Liptrap and Citadel Island. In the Northern Territory, two new lights have been constructed near Darwin, at Fort Point and Emery Point, and these were lighted only a few weeks ago. At Cape Don, where a light is very urgently required, the construction is now actively proceeding of a powerful modern light, which will be manned by three keepers. In Queensland, seven lights of the automatic, unwatched type, are under construction north of Cooktown, inside' the Great Barrier Reef, and it is expected that these lights will be lighted within the next few months.

Mr Groom - During the next wet season ?

Mr TUDOR - Yes. Plans have been prepared for the erection of lights in Tasmania, at West Point, on the west coast, and at Cape Forestier, on the east coast. The lighthouse estimates this year also provide for the establishment of lights in Western Australia, the purchase of lighthouse steamers, and also two unattended light-ships. In addition to this, as I have said,, more than two years ago the Commonwealth advised all the States that all new works of an urgent character which might be undertaken by them, and which complied with the requirements of the Commonwealth Government, would be paid for by the Commonwealth on the same basis as that adopted for the payment for transferred properties. Something has been said about the transfer of the officers; and, as I pointed out when the. honorable member for Darling Downs was speaking, this has never been a complete Department in itself. The men connected with Harbor Trusts, Marine Boards, and other bodies- of the kind have not been exclusively employed, and there is, of course, a difficulty regarding them. I have no doubt, however, that, in the case of men who are exclusively employed on this class of work,it will be possible to do something, though the chances are that, under the new arrangements, there will not be the same necessity for so much clerical assistance. One payment, as we know, will do for the. whole of the six States, and the labour involved may not require the transfer of many officers. As to the rates, it has been decided that there shall be paid 8d. per ton per quarter, with a maximum of £150. This means that a vesselof, say, 4,500 tons, which completes her voyage and discharges all her cargo here, will pay £150, while a vessel which calls only at one port, say Hobart, en route to another port outside Australia will pay only 4d., or £75, instead of the full rate. In view of the very serious dimin ution of traffic at present, it is quite possible that the revenue may be more than £10,000 or £12,000 less this year, though, no doubt, the position will improve when the conditions become normal. The honorable member for Brisbane referred to the employment of timeexpired Navy men, who may have met with accidents or other misfortune; and I can only say that the three sub-branches of the Department, as they may be called, namely, those dealing with navigation, lighthouses, and quaran tine, will, I think, present suitable opportunities for such employment. To this end, it may be necessary to widen the Public Service Act so as to open the way to men who are now prohibited by the age limit, or for some other reason of the kind. At any rate, we should see that these men are not shut out entirely from employment. I quite realize that first aid to the injured is most important, and I shall take a note of the suggestion made. In reply to the honorable member for Cowper, I may say that, in the original Act, it is provided that, where a lighthouse has been erected or acquired by the Commonwealth, it shall, as soon as practicable, be connected with the nearest convenient telegraph or telephone office, the expense to be charged to the Department administering the Act. This, however, can be done only after we have acquired or erected a lighthouse. That provision was, I think, inserted at the instance of the honorable member for Gippsland, when the original Bill was before the House, and I think that it is a very necessary one. The question of the method and the amount of the compensation to be paid was carefully considered, but I undertake, before this Bill is finally passed, to submit the matter once 'more to the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral, in order to see if any alteration can be made in the direction suggested.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Sittingsuspended from 6.30 to 7.45. p.m.

In Committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Acquisition of lighthouses by compulsory process).

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