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Thursday, 17 May 1928

Mr WEST (East Sydney) .- This morning I had on the notice-paper a question dealing with a very important matter affecting tie people on some of the Pacific Islands. Incorporated in the question as I originally framed it was an extract from the report of the Administrator of Norfolk Island. When I received my copy of the business-paper this morning I found that this extract had not been included. I regard this as a very grave matter, and up to the present I do not know why the extract to which I have referred was omitted from the businesspaper. The question dealt with the the operations of the Burns, Philp Shipping Company, and it affects the people on Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, and the New Hebrides. This company has the contract for carrying mails to the islands, and for the last seven years I have been endeavouring to have a better service instituted. The influence of the firm is so strong, however, that it seems able to control even the departmental officers. These islands are the gems of the Pacific; and they are places for the people of Australia to visit them either as tourists or as healthseekers. I . propose to read the extract from the report of the Administrator which I endeavoured to get on to the business-paper to-day, as I wish to induce the Department of Home and Territories to see that a better service is provided to the islands. The report states -

Bitter complaints continue to be received regarding the service provided for Norfolk Island with Australia, both as regard passenger accommodation and matters generally relating to cargo. As regards the former, many tourists have stated to me that much as they are charmed with the island, they will never visit it again as long as the present service continues. The cargo accommodation also falls far short of modern, requirements. The holds are not ventilated, and this, added to the slow speed of the steamer employed, often results in fruit arriving in Sydney " cooked " and -unsaleable. The accommodation for horses and cattle is so bad that intending importers hesitate to use it-, nor has the proper time-table been always strictly adhered, to. What is wanted is a larger and faster . ship, with much improved accommodation both for passengers and cargo. A more frequent timetable is also highly desirable. Until these can be accomplished the Norfolk Island producers will continue to be severely handicapped. As a consequence, trade with Australia will diminish, and that with New Zealand correspondingly expand.

I draw the attention of the House to the last portion of the paragraph. The New Zealand Government has steamers of its own which visit these islands three or four times a year, and are a real godsend to the people there. The inhabitants of the islands went so far as to have built a steamer of their own, but, unfortunately, they were unable to make the . service pay and the ship is now lying out of commission in Auckland Harbour. This matter affects the inhabitants of the New Hebrides and Lord Howe Island as well as those of Norfolk Island. Anything which hampers trade between Australia and the islands must be regarded as a very serious matter. Australia is endeavouring to build up its industries. The islands furnish a ready market for its exports, and in return we can take their fruit and other products. The Burns, Philp Company receives a subsidy of £55,000 a year forthe mail service between Australia and the islands. I have been on the steamer which runs to the islands, and I know that unless one is fortunate enough to obtain a berth on deck, one suffers the torments of hell in the confined and illventilated cabins below. The cabins are so narrow that I could not walk into them; I had to go in sideways. The steamer is so slow that the passengers often wonder whether it is moving or remaining still. The company has promised to provide a new vessel for the service. I had sufficient influence once to hold back the contract for twelve or fourteen months; but when Parliament went into session it was decided that the contract should be made. The company said, "Now we have got the subsidy, and we can tell the people to go where they like." I maintain that Australians should have the opportunity of visiting these islands in comfort. There is no better sanatorium in which to have one's health restored. If people who now travel to Paris to see the sights of that fashionable metropolis were to go to these islands they would enjoy the beautiful climate, and return well satisfied that they had gone to the better place. I am not now seeking the votes of the inhabitants of the islands. My majority is so great that I need not worry about them. But while I represent these islands I am not going to shirk my duty because of the influence of the Burns, Philp Company. I know that steps have been taken by this firm to keep me from obtaining justice for the island residents. The answer which I have received from the department to my representation is so evasive that I hesitate to send it down to the islands, or to the Sydney people who do business with them. The people there look to me to. do something to remove the disabilities from which they are. . suffering. The fare for 'the two days' trip from Sydney to Norfolk Island is about £5 10s., in return for which the passengers get very little to eat and practically no sleep. Certainly, when I travel I am always given a deck cabin, but that form of bribery has no influence on me. It should be compelled to put on the service a new steamer which would provide comfortable accommodation and travel at a reasonable speed. On behalf of the islanders, and also the large body of the Australian public which is denied reasonable means of access to some of the brightest jewels of the Pacific, I thank honorable members for the opportunity they have afforded me to place these facta before the Government. I hope that they will further assist me to induce the Government to break up the present injurious monopoly.

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