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Wednesday, 6 December 1905

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) - I move -

That the following words be added to paragraph 1, as amended : -" Provided, further, that the company shall within three months from the first day of January, nineteen hundred and six, execute the agreement as so amended."

I did not avail myself of the opportunity to speak on the main question. I think we ought to congratulate ourselves that, after the debate of to-day, we have reached a position in which everything is actually as clear as mud - as easy to see through as a brick wall six feet thick. I take an exactly similar view to that entertained by Senator Turley. I shall, of course, support the amendment I now submit, but I shall then exercise my right to vote for wiping out the whole agreement. It has been submitted - very graciously, I think - by almost every honorable senator that four of the States are practically within the clutches of a great octopus, and must remain there for a considerable time yet. What that time will be none of us know. I am satisfied that the members of the Government themselves are by no means sure as to the road on which they are travelling. If there are four States in such a deplorable position, I cannot for the life of me see how we can work out their salvation by sending the other two States to perdition with them. That position seems about the most illogical that could possibly be taken up, and yet we are told that it represents the only hope for the four States.

Senator Gray - What remedy does the honorable senator propose?

Senator HENDERSON - My remedy is to wipe out the whole agreement, and do our duty towards our own cable, allowing the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company to find their own feet. This agreement was signed irrevocably by the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company in 1903, the Commonwealth being left to accept or reject it at any time within a" period from one to ten years, or, for aught we know, a hundred years. We are now at the end of 3 905., and this agreement was signed by. the Prime Minister, subject to the ratification of Parliament, early in 1903. Suppose, for argument sake, that we irrevocably ratify this agreement to-night, I desire to know whether the company will have the same option that we have had to regard it as a document which may be signed by them any time during the next five years, ten years, or hundred years. It is evident that everything in connexion with this cable business has been done in the most slipshod fashion, and nobody will take any responsibility. The matter has been done, and the agreement is simply there for us to accept or reject. That is a most cruel way to submit important business to an assembly of men who have to look after the welfare of the several States. I submit the amendment in order to make sure that, if the agreement is ratified, there shall be no uncertainty - that the company shall not be allowed to regard it as an agreement which may be signed in generations that are to come.

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