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Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator MACFARLANE - The Eastern Extension Telegraph Company also offered to lay a third cable, which was done. Two years afterwards the different Colonies urged that under the guarantee there was a loss of £55, 000, and asked the company to raise the rates. The companv, however, urged that the experiment of the 4s. tariff should be continued, but ultimately agreed to make the rate 4s. 9d. per word, which continued until 1900, or thereabouts. These facts show that the company were not anxious for high rates.

Senator Sir William Zeal - Were they not ?

Senator MACFARLANE - This shows that the company were anxious to encourage business, and when the Colonies withdrew from the agreement, the company continued the low rate, in spite of heavy losses to themselves. The discovery of gold in Western Australia in 1896 led to an enormous increase in the Australian traffic, and in the three years succeeding the discovery the guarantee was exceeded by £i23>233> £170,515, and £121,016 respectively ; so that there was no loss to the Colonies. According to the information given to me, although these large receipts suddenly fell away again, they had put the company in a position to renew their offer to lay the Cape Cable with a reduction in the tariff, but without . any demand for subsidy or guarantee. We hear complaints of injustice being done to the Pacific Cable Board by reason of the fact that they do not enjoy privileges which are extended to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company I have no particular reason for being a friend of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, but only want fair play. The question is, whether having regard to the interests of the whole of Australia, there is any better course open to us than to ratify the agreement now presented. It is said that the company have been given a special wire. On the 29th July, 1903, Sir Edmund Barton said that this provision 'was necessary in order to facilitate the international traffic. He quoted the following extract from a. letter by the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company : -

It would materially expedite the cable traffic to have a line and system wholly devoted to it, and where it would not have to take turn with the large intercolonial traffic. It would also be a convenience to the public that they should be in direct communication with the agency that carries their messages from one end of the world to the other, instead of through the intermediary of the local Telegraph Department, whose jurisdictions end with the boundaries of the respective colonies. The international telegraph traffic is almost wholly a code, is of a special nature, and is worked under complicated and extensive rules and regulations.

Referring to the proposal for a Conference, he said -

A conference for the purpose suggested in Mr. Chamberlain's last despatch, of seeing in what way our partnership interests in the Pacific cable can be reasonably dealt with, and whether the parties to the Pacific cable can agree upon a common ground of action in future, is quite after my heart, and I am perfectly willing to confer upon such matters.

I have come to the definite conclusion that, so far as the question of entering into this agreement is concerned, a conference is unnecessary, and would only involve useless delay. Of course, a conference for other purposes is entirely another matter.

The Conference has been held, and the result is, as I understand, that it suggests practically that the new agreement should be ratified, subject to an amendment of the kind which has been moved by Senator O' Keefe. We cannot do any better, I think. They sent out Mr. Reynolds to make terms with us in regard to the Pacific Cable. Speaking on this point on the 29th July, 1903, Sir Edmund Barton said -

It so happens that there is now on his way to Australia the general manager of the Pacific Cable Company, Mr. Reynolds, whose intention I know from official documents is to come here and to make such arrangements with the Government in reference to that cable as may be necessary. I shall welcome him most heartily.

What has been the result of the Conference? Practically nothing, except that we know that the cable is making a loss, and that the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company have offered to reduce their rate to 2s. 6d. a word, if the receipts will allow it. I do not know whether honorable senators have in their hands the papers which were circulated in 1903, and which. I think, are well worth reading. A question has been raised about sending telegrams in the way in which the senders desire. According to the Berne Convention, we must do as the sender of a cable may require. On this point, Mr. Chamberlain wrote on the 15th August, 1899, and a passage from his despatch is contained in the following extract : -

The question of fair treatment was raised by the Eastern Extension Company in a communication addressed to the Colonial Office in July, 1890, and by Mr. Chamberlain's direction the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Selbourne, replied as follows, dated London, 15th August, 1899 : - " In regard to the claim in paragraph 16 of your letter - that the Company should have the right to collect and deliver their international messages in Australasia in the same manner as prevails in this country - I am to observe that the Australasian Colonies are parties to the international telegraph convention, and are therefore bound to send any telegrams marked to go by the Company's route by that route."

So that it is not a question of acting of our own free will. The Pacific Cable Company can get the same privilege if they require it. 4

Senator Staniforth Smith - Is not Mr. Chamberlain against the agreement which we are asked to ratify ?

Senator MACFARLANE - I see no evidence of it.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Then the honorable senator has not read the papers.

Senator Keating - What Senator Smith saw was the despatch which Mr. Chamberlain wrote when he had not seen the agreement.

Senator Staniforth Smith - He wrote a despatch in which he asked us not to ratify the agreement, and which will be found in my speech.

Senator MACFARLANE - As to rates, Mr. Warren, the manager of the Eastern Extension Company in Australia, on 25th July, 1901, wrote -

Under this sliding scale the tariff has been already reduced from 4s.9d. per word to 3s. 6d., and it is practically certain that a further reduction will be made to 3s. to the contracting States on the 1st January next. The reductions are automatic, and if no Pacific Cable were laid at all the rates would diminish to half-a-crown per word, with no power to the company to raise them again.

If the rate comes down to2s. 6d. per word it could never again be raised, and 3s. per word does not pay the Pacific Cable. I have looked at the matter all round, and I cannot see that the Commonwealth can do better than ratify the agreement. I wish to be perfectly fair. I should very much like to see the cable in which we hold a third interest better supported than it is. But, in justice to the whole community, we must recognise that if we do not ratify the agreement we shall put four States to very serious expense.

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