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Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator FRASER (Victoria.) - Since I visited Ottawa on this matter someyears ago, I have taken a deep interest in it. and I largely agree with the views expressed by the last speaker. Before I make up my mind finally, I desire to know what was the result of the Conference held in London. I think that weare entitled to get this information from the Government. I cannot get any information.

Senator Playford - The report was laid on the table of the Senate.

Senator FRASER - The latest paper which I could get is dated 1st November, 1905.

Senator Keating - There is a report dated 13th September, 1905.

Senator FRASER - That paper has not been supplied to me, and all that appears in the report of 1st November, 1902, is stale news to me.

Senator Clemons - The later information does not advise us to ratify this agreement.

Senator FRASER - That is what I wish to know. If that be so, I cannot reconcile it with my convictions to vote for the ratification of this, agreement. I am not saying a single word against the Eastern Extension Company. There can be no doubt whatever that it is a well-managed concern. It is ably and cleverly managed, and in that respect, of course, has a considerable advantage over any concern controlled by the Government. From the information I have received from the large firms in Melbourne and elsewhere, I find that it is universally admitted that they get more attention from the Eastern Extension Company than they do from the Government, representing the Pacific Cable Board. I can well understand that, because we know that the " Government stroke ' ' comes in, and what is everybody's business is nobody's business. I can easily imagine that, in the circumstances, the Eastern Extension Company will get the business, because of their special attention to the work. But I would ask why did four Colonies break the agreement entered into, and virtually destroy what they had themselves agreed to? The four Colonies to which I refer clandestinely made an agreement with the Eastern Extension Company, and that, in my opinion, was a monstrous thing to do, because it was a breach of faith with Great Britain, Canada, and the other Australasian Colonies who were originally responsible for this undertaking.

Senator de Largie - To which Colonies does, the honorable senator refer?

Senator Playford - The only Colony which did what the honorable senator said was New South Wales.

Senator FRASER - And three other Colonies.

Senator de Largie - They never broke any agreement.

Senator FRASER - I am glad to say that Victoria and Queensland stood out from the beginning ; but I can tell honorable senators that had it not been for Sir George Turner, Victoria would not have stood out. The Postmaster-General of Victoria at the time was actually a party to the agreement, but when he asked his Premier, Sir George Turner, to ratify it, that right honorable gentleman - to his credit be it said - refused to do so. Let me say to honorable senators that if this agreement is not ratified, and Victoria and Queensland continue to stand out, the Pacific Cable will be able to hold its own, because Victoria commands nearly half of the whole of the cabling business, and the business of Queensland is considerable, and is increasing.

Senator Playford - Victoria and New South Wales are about on a parity.

Senator FRASER - I think that Victoria has always been ahead of New South Wales. Senator Playford. - For three months the Victorian business was 11,000 words, and that of New South Wales 10,554 words. The difference is a mere nothing.

Senator FRASER - I will not argue that point. The fact remains that Victoria controls a very large portion of the business. When the Governments of the four Australian Colonies entered into the agreement with the Eastern Extension Company, they did so behind the back of Canada, New Zealand, and England, all of whom protested.

Senator Dobson - New South Wales entered into the agreement after Federation.

Senator FRASER - The New South Wales Government entered into the agree : ment after the other arrangement had been made, and that was a disgraceful thing, for which no excuse can be offered.

Senator Staniforth Smith - And 'after the Post and Telegraph Departments had been handed over to the Commonwealth.

Senator Playford - No, she could not have done that.

Senator Keating - They were not taken over until the 14th January.

Senator Higgs - Yes, the proclamation was dated the 1st of January.

Senator Clemons - At a time when it was practically certain that they would be handed over to the Commonwealth.

Senator FRASER - Precisely, and I say the action of the New South Wales Government was taken deliberately. I cannot dwell upon it, because I can hardly trust myself to express my opinion of it. At that time, offices were opened by the Eastern Extension Company, and they are open now illegally. The Minister must be aware that these offices have been open for all "these years illegally, because once the Senate refused to ratify the agreement they should have been closed. They are open illegally now. In saying that I do not suggest that I would act harshly towards the Eastern Extension Company, because I admire their ability and their business habits and tact, but I do say that the Eastern Extension Company's offices are now illegally open in Victoria and in Queensland. Another matter to which reference should be made is that a special wire was erected by the then Government for the Eastern Extension Company, although for years previously the business had bean carried on over the old telegraph lines, and it: has not greatly increased of late ; in fact, it must have decreased very materially during tha year of the drought. The Government went out of their way to give the Eastern Extension Company a special wire, thereby further handicapping our own line, because the special wire naturally gave the Eastern Extension Company an advantage. I could have understood the action of the Government if they had constructed a wire over which both companies had equal advantages.

Senator Playford - We are quite willing to do so. and we have told the Pacific Cable Board that we will give them a wire at any time.

Senator FRASER - Subject to the other company's privileges?

Senator Playford - No.

Senator FRASER - I understand that1 the Eastern Extension Company have been given, a prior claim to a special wire.

Senator Playford - But we will give the Pacific Cable Company another wire.

Senator FRASER - That would be absurd. To erect wires for which there is no necessity would only be to incur useless expenditure. I contend that the £30,000 expended on the erection of the special wire for the Eastern Extension Company was a useless expenditure, inasmuch as they could have done very well without it. It was only a sop to the company; it was throwing money away, and was very bad business on the part of the Commonwealth Government. It is shown throughout that the Eastern Extension Company, even in the Commonwealth, have been given advantages to which they are not entitled. All I ask for is fair play all round. I will not for a moment do any injustice to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, but we are doing a distinct injustice to our own company when we give special advantages to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company.

Senator Playford - If the honorable senator desires to favour the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company he will vote against the ratification of this agreement.

Senator Walker - They have got an everlasting agreement.

Senator FRASER - Did the Conference held in London recommend that this agreement should be ratified?

Senator Macfarlane - Yes.

Senator Clemons - Subject to material alterations.

Senator FRASER - I am prepared to support the recommendation of the Conference.

Senator Clemons - Then the honorable senator must vote against the ratification of this agreement.

Senator Playford - Undoubtedly, because wehave not made the suggested alterations.

Senator FRASER - I shall follow the recommendation of the Conference, because I assume that its members knew what they were doing.

Senator Playford - I am very doubtful about that.

Senator FRASER - Then it must be because information was not given them which should have been given them. However, it is quite easy for the Government to find out all about it, because a gentleman is now in Australia who was a member of the Conference.

Senator Playford - He was our representative also.

Senator FRASER - Then it is quite easy for the Government to find out all about it, and the Senate is entitled to the latest and best information. We should not be treated like children, and kept in the dark. We are entitled to all the in formation in connexion with this matter that is in the possession of the Government. It has often been said outside that ithe Eastern Extension TelegraphCompany reduced the cable rates; but I say, with knowledge, that the company never lowered the rates by one farthing until they were compelled to do so. Any one who is well posted in the matter must be aware of that. They are, therefore, not entitled to the thanks of the community, of the bankers, merchants, and traders of Australia for having reduced their rates. Up to the very last moment they kept their rates as high as they could.

Senator Macfarlane - They offered to reduce their rates in 1900.

Senator FRASER - Yes, on certain conditions.

Senator de Largie - They have been no worse than other private enterprise concerns in that respect.

Senator FRASER - I am not saying that they are, but what I am saying is that they are not entitled to any thanks for having voluntarily reduced their rates when they did so only because of the competition of the Pacific Cable. On the information before me, I am compelled to vote against the motion.

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