Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) - If no honorable senator proposes to speak in favour of the ratification, I should like to say a few words in opposition. As one who has always favoured a Pacific Cable, I have reason to complain of the manner in which this proposal is submitted to the Senate. In a motion which I have on the businesspaper, this very question is dealt with, and the debate stands adjourned. I did not, as I might have done, take the point that Senator Playford, with the present proposal, was anticipating the motion which stands in 'my name; because I was quite satisfied that tha matter could be debated as well on one motion as on the other. Honorable senators will see, however, that many of the remarks to-day might have been made in discussing, my motion. Senator Playford appears to us to-day as the friend of the Pacific Cable.

Senator Playford - Not at all ; I am the friend of an agreement which I believe to be the best in the interests of the Commonwealth.

Senator HIGGS - It is contrary to the honorable senator's ingenuous, frank disposition that he should appear in anything like a deceitful role. He has told us that he is no friend of the Pacific Cable, and yet he urges us to accept this agreement on the ground that it will be to the advantage of that enterprise and of the Commonwealth.

Senator Playford - I spoke of the Commonwealth.

Senator HIGGS - How can the agreement be .in advantage unless, as I imagine, it will SaVe the loss of the Pacific Cable. Senator Playford has fought against the Pacific Cable ever since it was proposed.

Senator Playford - Of course I have !

Senator HIGGS - Twenty years ago, Senator Playford was fighting the Pacific Cable, and he succeeded so well at one of the Conferences that he was described bv one writer on the subject as an advocatus diaboli. Honorable senators who are inclined to support the1 Pacific Cable must view, with the keenest of criticism, the remarks made by the Minister of Defence, who is a friend of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, and an enemy of the Pacific Cable.

Senator Playford - No, that is not fair.

Senator HIGGS - The Minister of Defence has told us that the Extern Exten sion Telegraph Company have been permuted to open offices in Victoria, and have been granted special lines, and that these facts' afford the reason why we should ratify the agreement.

Senator Playford - I did not say that that was the reason.

Senator HIGGS - The Minister of Defence said that one of the reasons for ratifying the agreement was to be found in the fact that the company had been granted special lines. In 1903, the then Government introduced an Appropriation Bill, voting several thousands of pounds to the construction of the special lines, in order, as we were told, to carry out the agreement. Honorable senators who were opposed to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, and favoured the Pacific cable, contended that it was not right to vote this money, when the agreement had not been ratified. Senator Playford, who was piloting that measure through, is reported on page 6044 of Hansard as saying, on 13th October, 1903 :-

I am assured by the Department that these two lines are absolutely necessary for its proper working, and I am quite prepared to agree to the omission of the words " owing to the use of a line having been granted to the Eastern Extension Company in connexion with international traffic " in both instances.

I then said that, in view of the Ministerial statement, I was prepared to withdraw my opposition to the vote, but I moved that the words quoted be struck out. Senator Smith opposed the striking, out of the words, on the ground that he wished the vote to be rejected, because otherwise the Government would point to it as an indication that the Commonwealth was agreeable to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company's, proposal. Senator Playford has told us to-day that we have granted this company special lines, and here I should like to quote a few of the remarks which I made on 13th October, 1903-

I should not like to think that the Vice-President of the Executive Council was guilty of the fraud and deception of which he would be guilty if he were endeavouring to pass this vote in order that he might point to it later on as an indication of some sanction having been given by the Senate to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company's operations. I do not believe that he would do such a thing. He has informed us that he requires this money for the construction of a telegraph line, and that we shall want it whether any proposed arrangement with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company be ratified or not. We shall agree to the item on that understanding.

The item was passed, but the words I have indicated were omitted.

Senator Dobson - The Minister of Defence has used the argument that we have granted concessions to this company.

Senator HIGGS - In October, 1903, we were told that the special line was required for the Department for special work.

Senator Keating - It has been used by the Department since.

Senator HIGGS - The Minister representing the Postmaster-General has told us that a special line has been granted to the company.

Senator Keating - The company have a little iron wire, which the Department were using, and for which another was to be substituted.

Senator HIGGS - Let the Minister who is interjecting, look up his answer given to me in regard to this matter. To show the want of frankness on the part of members of the Government, let me quote a speech made by Mr. Deakin in the House of Representatives when the amendment to which I have referred was sent down.

Senator Gray - That was the honorable senators own Government.

Senator HIGGS - I do not claim any Government. I shall support the Government whan they pass what I regard as good legislation ; but when a Government do what I think is not right, I hope I shall always be found criticising them and placing obstacles in the way of detrimental In order to get our amendments carried in the other House, or for some other reason, Mr. Deakin said on the 34th October, 1903-

The Senate have struck out all the words after the word "border" in the first item, and all the words after the word "borders" in the second item. These words merely constitute explanations which it was necessary to insert in the Bill, but which were placed there to afford information to honorable members of both Houses. Now that they have served their purpose, I see no reason why the Senate amendments should not be agreed to.

He did not tell the House of Representatives that the Senate struck out the words so that neither the Government nor anybody else should be able to point to this special wire as an indication that it had agreed in any way to the proposed ratification of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company's agreement. What did the Government do after the Senate, because it had confidence in the Minister, had passed the vote? Apparently they went to the re presentatives of the Pacific Cable Company^ and said : " We have granted! the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company a special line. We are committed to this agreement ; we have allowed the company to open offices, and we, therefore, ask you to accept this agreement for a period of twelve years." If the Conference had been attended by a representative of the Senate, who understood the position, he would have said that the offices were not opened by the company until after the Senate had held up the agreement. I remember being informed that Sir Edmund Barton told Mr. Warren not to open his offices, not to do anything in Melbourne until the agreement had been approved by both Houses, but that gentleman. with the audacity which characterizes his company, opened bis offices, and special lines were granted to the company, after twenty senators had signed a document to the effect that they would not even consider the agreement until a Conference was held. A senator said, to-day, that we objected to the agreement because a Conference was not held. But that was not the only reason for our objection. There are many senators who objected to the agreement on the ground that it' would give the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company privileges to which they were not entitled, and which should not have been given by any one who had the interests of Australia at heart. Of course, when we obtained a victory, we were quite prepared to allow the proposal to go without stating that we were absolutely in opposition to it. We did not press the senators who said that they would oppose the adoption of the agreement because a Conference, had been held, to go further, and say that they were opposed altogether to the agreement. I ask honorable senators who have at heart the interests of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, to realize that the position to-day is just as iti was on the 6th March, 1903. when the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, sent the following telegram to the Prime Minister of Australia: -

Canadian Government protests against action your Government. Concession made by New South Wales to Eastern Telegraph Company regarded by Canada violation of spirit of agreement under which Pacific intentions of cable core was constructed. Action proposed now nothing less than extension objectionable concession for a period of years to other parts of Commonwealth. Canada assumed large share responsibility of Pacific intentions of cable core. Believed that all colonies, parties to contract, would do everything possible to direct business over a new line.

Canadian Government much regret that departure from that understanding which has already occurred against their protest, and now urge upon Government of Commonwealth that no further extension granted to Eastern Extension Company.

I have it on the best authority that the feeling in Canada to-d'ay is that it is not in the interests of the Pacific Cable that the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company should be allowed to retain, offices in Melbourne, and to have a special line from that city to Adelaide, and to Sydney, and the feeling in England is exactly the same. At page 1.5 of this correspondence, there is a very interesting and informing letter by Mr. Seddon, the Premier of New Zealand, in which he says -

I beg positively to state, so far as New Zealand is concerned, knowing how far-reaching in securing business such concessions are, this Government would never have entered into the agreement respecting the Pacific Cable.

Senator Playfordsays that, if we ratify this agreement, we shall be better off at the end of twelve years, because then they would have no special rights.

Senator Playford - We shall be free.

Senator HIGGS - What shall we be free to do at the end of twelve years, if we are foolish enough to allow the company to remain? We are losing nearly £90,000 a year.

Senator Playford - We are losing £80,000 odd now, and the amount is dropping every year.

Senator HIGGS - In 1903 we lost about £90,000. This loss has accrued from allowing the company to get special advantages unfairly in Victoria.

Senator Playford - But the honorable senator -will see that we cannot get rid of the special agreements with four States if we refuse to ratify this agreement.

Senator HIGGS - If we keep Victoria and Queensland for the Pacific Cable, we shall have a base from which we could work. We could then send the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company out of this State, and refuse to allow them to canvass for telegrams. Senator Playford has stated that, under the Post and Telegraph Act. we could not prohibit the company from canvassing for telegrams, opening offices, and receiving wires. If that is the view taken by this Government, when the Act gives the Postmaster-General absolute and exclusive control over the receiving, collecting, and delivering of telegrams, what hope have we that they will ever do anything against the company? They say that the company will still be here. If the .company could do as well without offices, why did they ask for an agreement? They wanted an agreement because they knew what a tremendous advantage it is to have open offices and special wires. Senator Playford mentioned what the Pacific Cable Board would not do in Australia, and pointed to their lack of business methods. Who is to blame in this connexion but the Commonwealth, through its PostmastersGeneral, for not giving the same privileges to the Pacific Cable Company as have been granted to the other company? Surely, if there had been any business enterprise in our Postmasters-General - surely, if they had been dealing with their own money - they would have adopted some method of trying to attract business to the Pacific Cable ! Nothing has been done. No one seems to have an interest in the Pacific Cable. They have not an office. Judging from the way in which it has been treated by Postmasters-General, and by the officials, one would think that the Commonwealth Government have no interest in the Pacific Cable. The other day the Government could not tell me even the names of the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Pacific Cable Board. They are doing nothing to attract business to the Pacific Cable, and giving all the privileges to the other company. What does Sir Horace Tozer, one of our representatives on the Board, say in reference to the disadvantages under which the Pacific Cable labours, and also in reference to the pooling scheme? In an interview published in the Melbourne Argus, on the 31st March last, he says -

We are fighting an uphill battle. The Eastern Extension Company is getting three times as much business as we are. We ought to get at least half the Australasian traffic. We transmit messages just as quickly as they do. The fact is, however, that the State Governments are strangely apathetic. They are letting things slide. Why, this very day I saw a cable message which had come from the British Government, and which was_ received over the Eastern Extension Company's route. That was not as it should be. All the Governments interested in the Pacific Cable agreed to send their messages over it. I believe the States have done this, but here is an instance of the British Government patronizing our competitor. All the States, as I said, are apathetic. They do not push our interests in any way. They just sit still, and let things happen.

Referring to the pooling scheme, he says -

The suggestion has never been discussed by the Board, nor do I think there would be any chance of such a proposal being entertained. We can carry on as we are. There are vast vested interests against us. The capitalists talk about the cable being a "socialistic experiment," but I am confident that we can make a success of it. What annoys our partners - New Zealand and Canada - is the way our interests are neglected in Australia.

We heard to-day from Senator Playford that certain proposals were made in reference to pooling, and that they came from the Pacific Cable Board. But the other day, when T asked for the correspondence in reference to this matter, I was told that there was none. Now where did the Government get the information which was laid before the Senate to-day by the Minister that under a pooling scheme, the Pacific Cable Company proposed to take 35 per cent. of the receipts, and the other company to take the balance? Did that information come from the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company? If it did not come from that company, it must have come by way of correspondence, and if it did, why was it not laid before the Senate? Why were we told that which apparently is not a fact?

Senator Playford - I cannot tell the honorable senator. It may have come since he spoke, but I really do not know.

Senator HIGGS - If the Minister will pledge his word that that is the case, it is ail right.

Senator Playford - I cannot. It may have come subsequently to that question being asked.

Senator HIGGS - The question was only asked the other day. In another case, we were told that negotiations were being conducted concerning the pooling. Senator Keating read a memorandum to say that my motion was under the consideration of the Government, and that there were certain negotiations going on which might have the effect of inducing them to urge me to alter its wording. Surely these negotiations could only be the result of correspondence ! There is too much mystery about the whole thing, and I suggest to honorable senators who have entered the Senate since this matter was discussed in 1903, and who, owing to the Government keeping thismotion in the background, have not had an opportunity of expressing their opinions, that they should take the advice of those who. for some years, have been deeply interested in the cable service, and that is to reject the proposed agreement. and endeavour to make the Pacific Cable a financial success.

Suggest corrections