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Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) - I move -

That the amendment be amended by leaving out the word "fifteen," line 11, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word " thirteen."

It is quite clear nhat the policy which the Government has adopted with regard to this matter has been very truly described as a policy of drift. It 'is natural that such a policy should have been adopted, but it is not business, and is not in the interest of the Commonwealth. The Government accepted this agreement as a kind of legacy from its predecessor, who, in turn, accepted it as a legacy from the States ; and while I admit that the Government was faced with a difficult position, I cannot admit that it has done all it might have clone to carry out the wishes of the Senate. The Senate objected to confirm the agreement in 1903, with the object of having a conference of the partners to the cable. That Conference has since been held. I hold in my hand a copy of its report. The document is rather a disappointing one; but it is, I think, disappointing because the Commonwealth Government has. been luke-warm in the matter. It appears almost to study the interest of the Eastern Extension Company rather than of our partners. Consequently, the managers of the Pacific Cable seem to have been disheartened. A tone almost of despair runs through the report. It cannot be. admitted that it is recommended that the agreement should be ratified. I do not think the Conference recommends that it should be ratified ; but it says that if the agreement is ratified - and the impression that it would be could only have been gathered from the Commonwealth Government - two amendments should be made. After pointing out that the Senate,, after discussing the agreement at several sittings, adjourned the ratification for the object of securing a Conference of the representatives of the partners to the Pacific Cable, the report goes on to deal with the circumstances under which the Conference was held. Then conies this paragraph-

In the meantime the Australian Government allowed effect to be given to the agreement by permitting the company to open an office in Melbourne, and giving them a special wire to that city.

Nothing could better illustrate the lukewarmness of the Australian Government with regard to the Pacific Cable and the backing given to the Eastern Extension Company than this fact. What does it mean? Although the Senate declined to ratify the agreement, and although twenty of us signed a petition backing up the action of the Senate, and urging that a Conference should be held, the Government has allowed the Eastern Extension Company certain facilities in Melbourne in defiance of our wishes. Is it possible for the Government to contend, in face of facts like that, that it has done its duty lo the Pacific Cable Company? What is the meaning of such conduct I am unable to understand.

Senator Sir William Zeal - It was not done by the present Government.

Senator DOBSON - The last three Governments of the Commonwealth have simply allowed the matter to slide.

Senator Clemons - Did any member of the present Government sign that petition?

Senator Higgs - I could not say.

Senator Clemons - Where is the docu-ment?

Senator Higgs - It was sent on to the Cable Conference.

Senator DOBSON - The whole tone of the report of the Conference shows that it was influenced by the feeling that the Commonwealth Government was working against the Pacific Cable. Why do Ministers appear to flout the wishes of the Senate in this way? What was the use of our declaring that we would not confirm the agreement when the action of the Government virtually confirmed it, and gave to the company facilities which New South Wales, prior to Federation, made such a fatal blunder in granting? The action of the Federal Government has been, of course, most dis heartening to all those who desired to see the Pacific Cable placed in a proper position. I can quite understand, therefore, why the Conference came to such a very negative determination. Let honorable senators recollect that the Pacific Cable was laid down not only for the purpose of enabling us to have two strings to our bow, but also as an Imperial cable - an Imperial link. Is it a proper thing for us to leave our partners in the lurch, and absolutely try to back up the Eastern Extension Company? That is what has been done all through. The company itself has done nothing which honorable business men should not do. But at the same time it has done everything possible to throw a damper on the Pacific Cable. Before it was constructed, the company's agents talked about the cost and the impossibility of constructing and working it. I do not blame them. I do not accuse them of being guilty of anything but honorable practices. They have been active and diligent in pursuing the interest of their company. But is that a reason why we should do everything to help the company against our own partners ? The managers of the Pacific Cable now ' find that they do not get the business from Australia that they expected, and the fact that the Commonwealth Government is playing into the hands of the Eastern Extension Company naturally makes them hesitate to incur further expense in opening offices of their own. They feel, of course, that the Government is not only not helping them, but working against them. Another paragraph in the report of the Conference says -

We. consider that the Pacific Cable Board should forthwith be given such facilities, and that the Board should take steps to secure the largest possible amount of Australian traffic by all legitimate methods of business competition; This would, of course, involve the Board in very considerable expense in connexion with local offices, and with advertising and canvassing, and we think it might be left to the discretion of the Pacific Cable Board to negotiate an amicable arrangement with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, provided that no arrangement be finally concluded without the approval of the Governments concerned.

That confirms what I have just said, that I believe that the Pacific Cable managers would, under other circumstances, have applied for terminable facilities; but the Government, in spite of the decision of the Senate, granted such facilities to the rivals of the Pacific Cable. Is it any wonder that the managers of the Pacific Cable do not know what to do? They looked to their partner, the Commonwealth Government, and they find that partner going against them and supporting their rivals by giving them facilities in spite of the action of one of the Houses of this Parliament.

Senator Playford - Nothing of the sort; the honorable senator is simply ranting.

Senator DOBSON - I am ranting to the point, at all events.

Senator Playford - The statement has no foundation in fact.

Senator DOBSON - If my honorable friend thinks that that is the way a partner should act I do not agree with him. The E'astern Extension Company has got a firm, hold of the cable business in Australia and Tasmania. It has facilities which the Pacific Cable managers have not got to run the business. It understands the canvassing, and is apparently in touch with the Government. It has been able to induce the Commonwealth to grant facilities in direct conflict with the decision of this Senate.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator ought to remember that the other House decided the other way, and confirmed the agreement.

Senator DOBSON - That is a nice position for the leader of the Senate to take up ! Of course, there was a decision bv the House of Representatives, but the Senate refused to adopt that decision. Then the Ministry flouted the Senate, and practically confirmed the agreement as far as they could by their actions. Does the Minister suggest that it is, not my duty to "rant," as he calls it, against that sort of business ?

Senator Playford - In 3903, when we were discussing this matter, the company had opened their office in Melbourne.

Senator Higgs - Thev did not open, the office until after the Senate had objected to the agreement.

Senator Playford - I find on inquiry that the company had this office open before we discussed the matter.

Senator DOBSON - Under what terms and conditions did the company open, this office in Melbourne.

Senator Playford - The terms and conditions of the agreement entered into.

Senator DOBSON - Of the agreement the Senate has, not yet confirmed?

Senator Playford - Yes; they opened the office before the Senate was. asked to confirm the agreement.

Senator DOBSON - If the Senate does not confirm the agreement, or desires to postpone it until next session, will the Government give the company notice to quit ?

Senator Playford - I do not know that it would be right and proper to do so. I do net think we could ask the company to leave the office simply because the consideration of the matter had been postponed ; but if we refused to ratify the agreement that would be another matter, and I should say that we could then give them notice.

Senator DOBSON - If we postpone the matter until next session, or refuse to ratify the agreement, will the Government be able to get rid of the company so far as the Melbourne office is concerned ?

Senator Playford - Yes, in either instance." But I do not think it would be considered just or fair to give them notice to quit if the question were only postponed. If, however, the Senate refuse to ratify the agreement, the company will have to go.

Senator DOBSON - I should like to know the terms and conditions on which the company have exclusive use of the line between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Senator Playford - Tentative conditions.

Senator DOBSON - The same conditions as those on which they hold the office ?

Senator Playford - The same conditions,.

Senator DOBSON - I am glad that the Minister seems to think a resolution of the Senate of some value; but had he thought so previously he would not have given the company these great concessions.

Senator Playford - I did not give the concessions.

Senator DOBSON - But the Minister is. supporting the action of other Governments that have given concessions.

Senator Playford - I am only stating the facts.

Senator DOBSON - I understand that, supposing the agreement is not confirmed, but is postponed until next session, the company will continue as they are?

Senator Playford - Yes, until the matter is decided.

Senator DOBSON - It is two years since this matter was first discussed, and if there be postponement, the third year may follow.

Senator Playford - I think it is the duty of the Senate to come to a decision one way or another.

Senator DOBSON - Is it right of the Government to grant concessions in spite of the contrary decision of the Senate? All the facts show how unbusiness-like has been the action of the Government. I do not accuse the Government of deliberately acting unfairly to anybody, but they must see that our partners have the right to complain. The members of the Board were not likely to use any but diplomatic language; but it is, clear from the sentence I have quoted that they1 are bitterly disappointed with the action of the Government-

Senator Playford - Perhaps I may be allowed to state the exact terms on which the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company occupy these offices and have the use of the special line. The conditions are that it must be "clearly understood that these concessions are tentative only, and that in case of the refusal of either House of Parliament to ratify the agreement, these privileges are to instantly cease, the office to be closed, and the use pf the telegraph line to revert to the Postmaster-General. In such an. event, no claim is to be made by the company for the loss of the privileges or for any ex:pense incurred in connexion with fitting up or opening the office, or in connexion with any arrangement made for the tree of the telegraph line.

Senator Higgs - What is the date of the document from which the Minister is reading that information?

Senator Playford - I see no date on the document, but the Secretary to the Department tells me that the date is March.

Senator Higgs - -Why is the date not on it? I cannot accept :i document of that kind.

Senator DOBSON - The Minister read the document in, a tone, and looked at me in a way that suggested the remark, " I told you so." Yet the Minister has previouslytold us quite the contrary. He seemed previously to take the view that the company would remain for ever under the present terms, unless we absolutely refused to confirm the agreement.

Senator Playford - Nothing of the sort.

Senator DOBSON - I am glad to see that, so far as it goes, a business arrange ment has been made. But does Senator Playford not see that neither a Government nor a Minister has the right to make such an agreement? What was the use of our sending representatives to the Conference when, in the meantime, the Government made tentative arrangements under which the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company obtained all they desided ?

Senator Playford - Before this matter was discussed at all, the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company had these privileges.

Senator DOBSON - How could the privileges be granted before the discussion took, place?

Senator Higgs - Has the official who is instructing the Minister any document to show that the facts are as stated, or is he speaking from memory as to the date ?

Senator DOBSON - The Minister contends that these arrangements were entered into before the Senate discussed the matter.

Senator Playford - I am informed that the arrangements were entered into on 10th March, 1.903., and Parliament did not meet until July."

Senator DOBSON - The moment the Senate refused, as it did in strong and good speeches, to confirm the agreement, the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company ought to have had notice to quit.

Senator Playford - The Senate did not refuse to confirm the agreement, and the honorable and learned senator knows that. The consideration of the matter was only postponed.

Senator Keating - It was pointed out at the time that the postponement was not a refusal to ratify.

Senator DOBSON - It was a tentative refusal to ratify.

Senator Keating - It was not a refusal.

Senator Playford - The honorable and learned senator says that the arrangement was not entered into until after the Senate had discussed the matter, and when he is shown the contrary he takes other ground.

Senator DOBSON - I said I thought it was quite possible that the arrangement was entered into before the Senate discussed the matter; but, if that be the case, it places the Minister in, if anything, a worse position. The moment the Senate refused to ratify the agreement, and referred the matter to the consideration of our partners, the company ought to have had notice to quit.

Senator Keating - The honorable and learned senator knows, of course, that the agreement took effect from the moment it was signed.

Senator DOBSON - Every honorable senator can see perfectly well that the Pacific "Cable Board have had the worst of the negotiations. When the suggestion was made to confer as to what should be done, the position was given away, and the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company got all the facilities they desired. Senator Keating has said that no one has pointed out in what way the Senate can improve the position, or .what better plan can be adopted than the confirmation of the agreement. From the point of view of the Ministers, I can quite understand that thev see no better way. They have made up their .minds to push this agreement through both Houses, and they have acted on the assumption that the agreement will go through in spite of the Senate's decision. A better way would be to show loyalty to our partners ; the Government have been disloyal. A better waywould be to bow to the decision of the Senate; that decision the Government have tried to flout. A better way would be to back up the Pacific Cable Board in every way, as our partners say we ought to do; the Government have not helped the Pacific Cable Board at all(, but have directly and positively helped their rivals.

Senator Playford - I 'wish the honorable senator were in office, to do all these wonders !

Senator DOBSON - I wish I were; it would be nice amusement for me. Both Ministers seem to think that nothing can be done - that if we alter a single word the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company will not accept the agreement.

Senator Playford - Show us what can be done.

Senator DOBSON - How can the Minister, or anybody else, tell what the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company may do until the matter has been fully discussed, and the amendments are submitted to them ? When two lawyers are endeavouring tosettle or compromise an action, it is very common for one of them to say, " I shall go so far, but not a step further " ; but every negotiator takes much the same course, and nobody takes any notice of such words. A weak Government, however, have done so in their efforts to push this agreement through by the aid of all the arguments they can conjure up. The Eastern Ex tension Telegraph Company are entitled to fair play and justice, but not to the sympathy, support, and help of the Government as against the Pacific Cable Board. The Eastern Extension Telegraph Company have received that help, and that is the ground of complaint. Senator Playford commenced his remarks by " running down " the Pacific Cable Board; he could not submit this motion without showing his sympathy with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company.

Senator Playford - That is absolutely untrue.

Senator Higgs - Withdraw !

Senator Playford - Then I shall say that the statement is contrary to fact.

Senator Sir William Zeal - I rise to a point of order. I submit that it is very improper for a Minister of the Crown to say that a statement of an honorable senator i's absolutely untrue. It is most disgraceful !

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