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Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) - If I had heard any better scheme propounded for the settlement of this longstanding grievance than that which is submitted by the Government, I should certainly support it. In the absence of anyworkable scheme for overcoming the difficulty, I am obliged to support the motion. This matter has been before the Senate time and again, but, as the Americans say, we have " cut no ice." We have never got any "forrarder," and we are now just where we were in 1903. Nothing has been done, no progress has been made, and no new light has been shed on the question. In allowing matters to drift, as we have done up to the present, we have actually been playing into the hands of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. Existing conditions will suit them much better than the agreement submitted by the Government. I have listened to the debate on the matter from both sides, and I am pleased to think that it is a matter in connexion with which no party feeling has been introduced. The debate has, in consequence, been logical and reasonable; but, so far, no workable scheme (has been submitted toovercome the difficulty with which we have been faced from the very inception of Federation. We are all aware that this difficulty is a legacy which the Commonwealth has taken over from the States. It is not the creation of the present or of any other Federal Government. It was brought about before the Federal authorities had any control over the Post and Telegraph Department, and I am sorry to think that the manner in which it was brought about reflects no credit on one of the States of the Commonwealth. The Government of New South Wales signed the agreement with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company under very suspicious circumstances. To the credit of the Victorian Government be it said that, notwithstanding the fact that the Postmaster-General of the day signed a similar agreement, the Government and Parliament to which he belonged repudiated it, and would have nothing to do with it. I cannot understand Senator Fraser blaming the other States for having brought about the present position. If the honorable senator had made himself acquainted with the whole of the facts, he would have known that three of the States to which he referred had nothing whatever to do with the present agreement.

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator withdrew that statement when his mistake was pointed out.

Senator Fraser - I spoke of New South Wales, but I could not speak positively as to the other States.

Senator DE LARGIE - I can assure the honorable senator that Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania entered into their agreements with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company before there was any Pacific Cable at all. The agreement, so far as those States were concerned., was entered into under very favorable circumstances, as they paid no subsidy. No advantages were given to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, such as had been given in arrangements which the other States entered into. Therefore, so far as those States were concerned, the agreement was a reasonable one, and no blame can be attributed to them.

Senator Playford - The only blame was in making the agreement interminable.

Senator Clemons - Senator de Largie is not quite accurate as far as Tasmania is concerned. She entered into a horribly bad agreement.

Senator DE LARGIE - I must confess to be innocent of knowledge on that point ; but, as far as I understand the agreement entered into with .the three States mentioned, it was fair and reasonable.

Senator Clemons - They had no choice.

Senator DE LARGIE - I think that, from a monetary stand-point, they made a very good bargain indeed. Look at it from the point of view of Western Australia. She had no direct cable communication prior to the construction of the new route between Western Australia and Cocos Island to South Africa. That gave us a shorter route to Europe, and a much better one than existed before.

Senator Higgs - The Eastern Extension Telegraph Company laid that line after the Pacific Cable Board had proposed to do it.

Senator DE LARGIE - I have yet to learn that the Pacific Cable Board ever proposed to lay a cable from Western Australia to South Africa. Its scheme was confined to the Pacific, and did not propose to cross the Indian Ocean. There is no getting over the fact, however, that the present position is intolerable. If I saw any possible hope of making the Pacific Cable a successful concern, by not entering into an arrangement with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, I should gladly say : " Let us enter into active competition with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, and let us do all we can to enable the Government concern to come out on top." But I do not see how we can hope to compete successfully against the company. I can, on the other hand, see that we may lose a great deal of money, and that, having lost it, we shall be no better off than we are now. If we consent to the agreement introduced by the Government, there certainly will be a period when we shall be able to say that the whole of our relations with "the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company have come to an end.

Senator Clemons - I think not.

Senator DE LARGIE - At the end of twelve years, the agreement will come to an end ; but under the present position of affairs it will be perpetual. All the advantages that the company has at the present time - and they are many - will be continued for all time. In the face of that strong position, surely something practical must be done. I have already said that the present position is intolerable, and I see no better way of ending it than to enter into a fresh agreement, putting the whole matter on a more satisfactory basis than it is at present. Regarding the matter from that stand-point, and recognising the fact that those who have opposed the proposal of the Government have not advanced a better scheme of their own, I feel justified in supporting it.

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