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Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - The discussion has tended, I think, to bring the minds of many honorable senators who entertained diverse views on the subject into closer unanimity than at the outset. I have listened with a great deal of interest and attention to the speeches of Senators Higgs and Staniforth Smith, but so far as the motion is concerned, I would venture to say that interesting as their remarks have been, they have failed to point out how or in what way the Government could act better in the circumstances, than they have proposed. This agreement was enteredinto some time ago, and has been in operation since it was signed, subject, of course, to the ratification of the two Houses. The ratification of one House was given two years ago, and it is unnecessary for me to repeat the history of the agreement since that time. So far as the States are concerned, I think that Sir Edmund Barton, in agreeing with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company on the lines indicated in this memorandum of agreement, chose the lesser of two possible evils. There is no doubt that the company, in connexion with Australia, as elsewhere, were out for profit, and like all other business concerns, they endeavoured to make the most of the opportunities which arose. They do not pose, I suppose, as a philanthropic institution, but desire to make the largest possible interest on their capital. I have no great affection for the company. I recognise thoroughly that they have been motived by profit from the be ginning, and! although, in many instances, they may have endeavoured to get concessions from the States in the guise of persons who were endeavouring to benefit the people in the States, and in other parts of the Empire, still, to use the words of Thackeray, they always kept their eyes on the main chance. We are asked by this motion to ratify the agreement, and after some discussion. I think that honorable senators on both sides recognise that it is the lesser of two evils which it asks them to accept. The amendment of Senator O' Keefe goes very much further than I think any honorable senator would like to go. Clause 25 of the agreement reads as follows : -

This agreement shall remain in force until the 31st day of October, 1913, and thenceforth until terminated by two calendar years' notice in writing by either party, such notice to expire at the end of some calendar year.

The amendment proposes that that clause shall be replaced by the following one: -

This agreement shall remain in force until the thirty-first day of October, nineteen hundred and thirteen, and no longer, and shall cancel all previous agreements entered into between the Eastern Extension Company and any State of the Commonwealth.

We might as well ask for the moon as ask the company to accept an agreement under those circumstances. We have to bear in mind that there are in existence to-day between the company and the various States quite a number of agreements which will be in no way affected by this agreement, if ratified.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Which agreements is the Minister referring to.

Senator KEATING - Those honorable senators who have perused this agreement will have noticed that there are two classes of agreement referred to therein. The fourth recital sets out -

And whereas the present rates for the transmission of the Commonwealth traffic are governed by the two agreements, and the provisional arrangement next hereinafter mentioned -

The two agreements and the provisional arrangement are referred to in that paragraph as a, b, and c. The sixth lec'tal sets out -

And whereas it is desirable that the provisions of the said recited agreements and provisional arrangement should, subject to the modifications hereinafter appearing, be combined in one agreement, which shall be in substitution for the said recited agreements and provisional arrangement.

Those two agreements, and the provisional arrangement, concern themselves only with the transmission rates for Commonwealth! traffic,, and by the operation of this agreement its provisions would be substituted for the provisions, of those two agreements and the provisional arrangement, which are always spoken of in subsequent portions of this agreement as " the said recited agreements and provisional arrangement." Later on there is another recital which at first sight does not seem to have any bearing on this agreement at all, which will be found in paragraph 8 on page 10 of the papers. I draw Senator O'Keefe's special attention to this -

And whereas at the date of the transfer of posts telegraphs and telephones to the Commonwealth as aforesaid divers other agreements were subsisting between the Extension Company and the States now comprised in the Commonwealth or some of them the benefits and obligations of which agreements thereupon passed to and were assumed by the Commonwealth that is to say : -

Then there are eight agreements recited, some of which' are perpetual, some for twenty years, and some for ninety-nine years. I will refer to one or two. No. 7, for instance, is as follows: -

A lease dated 13th July, 1900, from the Administrator of the Colony of Western Australia to the Extension Company for 99 years of two lots of land containing together 10 acres 2 roods 28 perches situate at Cottesloe near Fremantle in the Colony of Western Australia for station purposes.

Then No. 8 is referred to in this way -

An agreement dated 17th July, 1901, being a grant by the Government of South Australia to the Extension Company of land about 3^ acres in extent situate near Jervois Bridge on the Port Adelaide River for station purposes with a covenant by the said Government for the construction of a wharf and deepening of the channel of the said river as therein expressed.

Senator Stewart - Do these agreements give the company the right to carry on after the expiration of the agreement with which we are now dealing, if it is ratified ?

Senator KEATING - No j only so far as the agreements themselves go.

Senator Stewart - They would ownland, and so forth.

Senator KEATING - That is all.

Senator Higgs - - The Minister might answer the question whether they would be able to carry on the telegraphic business under an r of those agreements.

Senator KEATING - I cannot say exactly what those agreements are, but there is no doubt that they are not affected in any way by the agreement the Senate isnow asked to ratify, and they should not be. They are recited1 here as agreementsthat were in force and operation at the time of the transfer of posts, telegraphs, and telephones to the Commonwealth, and it is further recited in connexion with them, that - the benefits and obligations of which agreements thereupon passed to and were assumed by the Commonwealth.

In a lease for ninety-nine years, provision is made that certain things shall be done by the lessee and by the lessor. Take, for instance, the grant of land in South Australia. I do not know exactly for what purpose it was granted.

Senator Playford - One purpose was for the landing of the cable.

Senator KEATING - Obviously in that case certain conditions constituted an agree-, ment between the South Australian Government and the company, and honorable senators will have noticed that one of the covenants on the part of the Government was the building of a wharf. Then I refer honorable senators to agreement No. 5 -

An agreement dated nth May, 1894, by the Governor of New South Wales for the lease to the Extension Company for twenty years of a piece of land situated at La Perouse, Sydney, for station purposes.

Senator Dobson - Can the honorable senator refer the Senate to the four agreements entered into by the four States to which we are objecting?

Senator KEATING - They are referred to in the recital with which I have already dealt. Those are the agreements which would be affected by the ratification of this agreement ; but I am pointing out now that there are here recited some eight agreements, and, with the exception of No. 4, concerning Tasmania, all the others seem to me to be agreements that have been entered into by this company with the various States Governments or Administrations in respect to matters incidental to the carrying on of their business in the several States, the leasing of land, the acquisition of the freehold of land, and so forth. I have not been able to read them all through, but I quote agreement No. 2, for instance -

2.   An agreement dated 24th day of June, iS/5, between the Governor of the Colony of New Zealand of the first part the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales of the second part and the. Extension Company of the third part. Whereby by article 2 the Extension Company was empowered to lay a submarine telegraph cable be- tween New Zealand and Sydney in the Colony of New South Wales the terminal point on the coast of New Zealand to be at a point called Blind Bay or Golden Bay and the terminal point at Sydney to be at the telegraph station there. By article 6 the Governments respectively agreed to afford to the Extension Company all proper and reasonable facilities to enable the Extension Company to lay the said cable and keep the same in repair and to acquire any land necessary for their terminal stations in the said colonies including a free grant of any Government land suitable for that purpose. By articles 7 and 8 the Government of New South Wales agreed to afford to the Company certain facilities for working the cable at Sydney and by articles 12 and 13 provision was made for the indication of route without charge and limiting any terminal charge of the Government of New South Wales to the lowest ordinary rate.

Senator Dobson - It is obvious that we do not wish to interfere with that.

Senator KEATING - Honorable senators will notice that only the date, and not the term of the agreement, is stated.

Senator Dobson - The amendment is only intended to apply to the four principal agreements with the States.

Senator KEATING - There would be no objection to that, but if by the amendment honorable senators propose to say that on the expiration of the term of the agreement, the Senate is now asked to ratify, all contracts between any State and the Eastern Extension Company shall cease, I point out that they would be proposing to deal with leases and grants of land made to the company subject to conditions with which they may have compiled.

Senator Mulcahy - We desire the specific cancellation of certain contracts.

Senator O'Keefe - Or something which will meet the objections stated in paragraph 7 of the report.

Senator KEATING - Then I submit that the proposed new clause 25 should read in this way -

This agreement shall remain in force until the thirty-first day of October, nineteen hundred and thirteen, and no longer, and shall cancel the said recited agreements and provisional arrangement.

The latter words are those by which reference is made to the specific agreements for which this is proposed to be substituted.

Senator Dobson - Would it not be safer to give the dates of the agreement which we desire to have cancelled?

Senator KEATING - I remind the honorable senator that thev are referred to throughout this agreement as " the said recited agreements and provisional arrangement."

Senator Walker - Should we not also require to alter the date to 1915?

Senator Clemons - That is of the essence of the amendment.

Senator KEATING - I was not dealing with that, but with the legal aspect of the matter. It has just been suggested to me that there are two lots of agreements recited.

Senator Clemons - I very much doubt if the clause which the Minister has suggested will meet what is required.

Senator O'Keefe - I am willing that the matter should be adjourned, in order that Ministers may frame an amendment which will meet the object which we all have in view.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator proposes to reduce the term by two years.

Senator O'Keefe - Are Ministers in favour of the spirit of the amendment?

Senator KEATING - Certainly ; but I do not know about altering the date of the termination of the agreement. So far as a provision making this agreement an absolute cancellation of the agreements for which it is substituted is concerned, we are certainly in accord with the amendment.

Debate (on motion by Senator Gray) adjourned.

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