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Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator STEWART (Queensland) - I have to complain of the very incomplete information which has been placed at our disposal by the Government. One would have thought that in connexion with this important matter the Senate would have been provided with exhaustive information with regard to every aspect of it. Instead of that, we have the bald proposition of the Government asking us to ratify an agreement which has been entered into provisionally, and if any one wishes an explanation, he gets one explanation from one Minister and another from his colleague, and is consequently left in a most hazy state of mind. I object to this sort of thine. I think it is desirable that we should know exactly what we are doing when we vote upon this most important question. In the first place. I have been anxious to discover what the position of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company will be at the end of 19 15 if we ratify this agreement, but" I have not yet been able to find that out. I have not been supplied with any definite statement on the point. Until I am satisfied on the point, I shall vote against the motion. I con- fess that at the first blush I was inclined to vote for the motion, but as the debate proceeded I considered that I found that the result of adopting the agreement would not be what I desired. I fondly imagined that if we ratified the agreement we should at the end of twelve months relieve ourselves of an incubus, whereas at present the company have a right in perpetuity to operate in four of the States. The Government, if it desired themotion to be passed, ought to have taken care to have supplied the Senate with all the information available. The Pacific Cable Company is an experiment in Imperial Socialism.

Senator Keating - At the end of that period the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company could not, without our consent, open offices, get special land wires, or restrict us in our terminal charges. They would be absolutely in our hands to do whatever we pleased. Of course, we could not take their cables from them, but they would be absolutely in our hands as regards carrying on business in Australia.

Senator STEWART - They would be in the hands of the people of the Commonwealth ?

Senator Keating - All their rights as to offices, terminal charges, land lines, and everything else of that kind would absolutely cease.

Senator STEWART - What I understand the Minister to say is that at the expiration of this agreement, if ratified, the company would not be in a position to carry on business without the consent of the Commonwealth.

Senator Keating - Yes ; but we could not knock them out of existence or take away their property.

Senator STEWART - But the company would not be allowed to carry on business.

Senator Keating - We do not know what Government might be in power then. It would rest entirely with the Commonwealth to say what terminal charges or concessions they would give. The company would have to get all their concessions afresh.

Senator STEWART - If that is the position, I think that the Government ought to agree to the amendment of Senator O'Keefe.

Senator Keating - I have agreed to the amendment, but in another form.

Senator Higgs - The Minister has taken the sting out of the amendment !

Senator STEWART - The revised amendment is to add to the first paragraph of the motion the following words: -

But only upon the following condition, namely, that instead of article 25 of the agreement, the following shall be article 25 thereof, that is to say : - " 25. This agreement shall be in substitution for the two agreements, and the provisional arrangement mentioned in the fourth recital of this agreement. This agreement shall expire on the thirtyfirst day of December, nineteen hundred and fifteen."

I quote the fourth recital, for the benefit of honorable senators -

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 that is to say (a) An agreement dated the 14th day of April, 1900, and made between the Government of the State of South Australia (then called the Colony of South Australia) of the first part the Government of the State of Western Australia (then called the Colony of Western Australia) of the second part the Government of the State of Tasmania (then called the Colony of Tasmania) of the third part and the Extension Company of the fourth part. (4) An agreement dated the 16th day of January 1901 and made between the Government of the State of New South Wales (then called the Colony of New South Wales) of the one part and the Extension Company of the other part. (c ) A provisional arrangement made on behalf of the Federal Government with the Extension Company for applying to the other States of the Commonwealth the rates for transmission of telegraphic messages provided by the said recited agreements.

So far as I am able to discover, the amendment goes a long way to meet what I desire. I wish to place my position clearly before the Senate. There is no doubt a good deal of difficulty connected with this matter, and a very great deal to be said on both sides. But we have to decide oneway or the other now. What appeals to me is this : If we ratify the amended agreement, it will absolutely expire at the end of 1915. I suppose that no attempt would" then be made to renew it. In any case, the people of the Commonwealth, through their representatives in Parliament, would have the whole matter in their own hands. If we do not ratify the agreement, where do we stand? The company will have the right, in perpetuity, to operate infour of the Australian States. When I have to choose between the two positions, notwithstanding the very forcible arguments advanced on the other side during the present debate, I am compelled to come to the conclusion that the course proposed by the Government, if amended as suggested, is the more beneficial one. It is advanced in opposition to this that, if we ratify the agreement, by 1915 there will not be any Pacific Cable, and that our first great experiment in Imperial Socialism will have been written down a lamentable failure. I hope that nothing of that kind will happen. I remind Senators Higgs and Smith that the comparative failure of the Pacific Cable to date has been due to the laxity of the Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Department, which has not shown the business enterprise and capacity of the local managers of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company.

Senator de Largie - Has our Post and Telegraph Department the power fo adopt the tactics adopted by the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company? Are there not rates fixed below which they cannot go?

Senator STEWART - I am not aware of that; but if they are in the field to do business they should try to do business. At any rate, they might do one thing which is done by the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, and that is codify messages for business men. They have not been doing that hitherto. Seeing that the two cables are competing keenly for whatever business there is to be done, it is only due to our partners in the Pacific Cable Company that our managers here should at least exhibit the same enterprise and capacity as the managers of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company do. It is not enough to say that wehave Great Britain, Canada, and the Australasian States behind us. We cannot on that account afford to lie on our oars, and the authorities of the Post and Telegraph Department of the Commonwealth should rouse themselves to get a much larger proportion of the business than they have hitherto obtained. It has been advanced by Senator Higgs, and also, I believe, by Senator Smith, that if we refuse to ratify this agreement we shall Have complete control in Victoria and in Queensland. The population of those two States amounts to a little over one-third of that of the entire Commonwealth.

Senator Dobson - Nearly one-half.

Senator STEWART -About 40 per cent., I think, is the proportion. In answer to this argument, I point out that, so far as Queensland is concerned, the Pacific Cable gets the lion's share of her business now. I admit that thereismuch room for improvement in the way of increased business in Victoria. But, while we should have a monopoly of the business in the two States named, we should have to enter into active competition with the Eastern Extension Company in the remaining States for all time. I do not suppose that any one here imagines that the Commonwealth is going to permit this company to retain its footing in Australia for ever. Whether we ratify this agreement or not, the day will ultimately arrive when the Commonwealth will have to come to terms with this company, and I believe the present is as favorable an opportunity to do so as will ever occur. If we ratify the agreement, at the end of ten years we shall be in a position to terminate all our arrangements with the Eastern Extension Company. If we do not, the company may carry o business in this country for a century to come. That, it appears to me, describes the position at the present moment. After the assurances given by the Government, I find that there is no other course open to me than to support the motion, if amended as proposed. I trust that if it is carried the Government will bring a little pressure to bear upon the management of the Pacific Cable in Australia to induce those responsible to "hustle" a little more in order to get a bigger share of the business, and show that an enterprise of this kind can be as efficiently carried out under Commonwealth control as by a private company.

Senator O'Keefe - I ask permission to withdraw my amendment, in order that another, somewhat differently worded, may be submitted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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