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Thursday, 7 December 1905

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) - Without reflecting upon the vote given by the Senate last night, I think I may say that no vote that has been cast in this Parliament during my experience caused me greater pain. But it is some consolation to find that honorable senators who voted for the ratification of the agreement with the Eastern Extension Company have expressed the hope that the Pacific Cable will be supported in every way by the Government. I do not agree with Senator Stewart when he says that State institutions are not as successfully carried on as are privately-owned businesses. Take, for example, the Post and Telegraph Department. 1 think that that Department in this Commonwealth, covering as it does, such an immense area, is carried on most successfully. Whoever hears a complaint, except in an isolated case now and again, about the wrongful delivery of a letter? There was a case mentioned some time ago by Senator Guthrie where a letter addressed to a certain island was returned marked " Place unknown " ; but such instances are extremely rare. Senator Stewart says that we ought to carry on our Stateowned businesses as effectively as joint stock businesses are carried on. That is true. We need to have the most successful experts we can get in every profession connected with those enterprises. But if we want expert ability, we have to pay for it. It is a common thing in America for £10,000 per annum to be paid to a good organizer or captain of industry. I believe that .£10,000 a year was paid at one time to the manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary mine.

Senator Gray - If such a salary were paid to a Commonwealth officer, Senator Stewart would move a reduction.

Senator HIGGS - Senator Stewart wants to see our State institutions conducted successfully, but if it is proposed to pay more than ,£500 a year to a Commonwealth officer, he moves a reduction in the salary. I believe that the manager of the Queensland National Bank receives ,£3,000 a year. At all events, a few years ago he was paid £3,500. Senator Walker, who is connected with banking institutions, knows that it is a common thing to pay over £2,000 per annum to an expert banking official. When Senator Stewart argues that these salaries are not necessary, I reply that the fact is that they are paid, and that that shows that they aTe necessary. Ability will go to the place where it receives the most remunera- tion. If we want our Commonwealth enterprises, such as the Post and Telegraph Department and the Pacific Cable, to be carried on successfully, we must be prepared to pay reasonably high salaries to those who manage them, and not to be constantly moving reductions.

Senator Stewart - I did not move a reduction in the salary of any expert officer, but I did move a reduction in the salary of the honorable senator, and think it should have been carried.

Senator HIGGS - When Mr. Reynolds was out here in the interests of the Pacific Cable he did not strike me as being a very capable officer. I believe Mr. Reynolds is not getting a very high salary, but if better remuneration were offered, the services of a good man would be obtained. I should not have mentioned Mr. Reynolds in the way I have, had I not felt it my duty to relate my experience of the way in which that gentleman seems to favour, and to be afraid to do anything in opposition to, the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. Mr. Reynolds actually removed the canvasser whom the Pacific Cable Board had employed, in order to extend the business in Melbourne.

Senator Matheson - What reason did Mr. Reynolds give for that action?

Senator HIGGS - I do not know that any reason was given.

Senator Staniforth Smith - That was the canvasser who was stated to be doing damage to the business of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company.

Senator HIGGS - There seems to be a fear of offending the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, there being an idea that that company might be able to bring pressure to bear in other parts of the world. I am glad that the Government will endeavour to give effect to the motion, because I feel sure that it will lead to a diminution of the loss which we now have to bear in connexion with the cable. Senator Walker is of opinion that the Commonwealth is not a partner in the Pacific Cable; but, nevertheless, we have taken over an obligation.

Senator Walker - I asked whether the Commonwealth is a partner?

Senator HIGGS - The Commonwealth is a partner to the extent that we hold a sixeighteenth share, the several partners being - New South Wales, with two-eighteenths ; Queensland, with two-eighteenths ; Victoria, with two-eighteenths ; Canada, with, fiveeighteenths; New Zealand, with twoeighteenths; and Great Britain, with fiveeighteenths. Great Britain advanced the £2,000,000 necessary for the work, and the partners undertook to bear any loss, and to pay interest and principal. The deficit, which was £80,000 this year is not altogether loss, a certain portion being devoted to a sinking fund for the repayment of the principal. The payment extends over forty years, by which time, of course, renewals may be required, necessitating further expenditure. The Government will be able to glean from the observations of Senator Matheson, Senator Smith, and others, in what respects the Pacific Cable administration in Australia is defective. I think we ought to accept the suggestion of Senator Gray, and adopt the same financial system that is carried out in the Railway Departments of the States. We should endeavour to find out if a customer is a " good mark," and trust him to the extent indicated.

Senator Walker - A banker can guarantee his customers, so that the money would be safe enough.

Senator HIGGS - All the customers who use the cable should not be treated as people who desire to " take down ' ' the Commonwealth. I understand that the reason why cheques are not received is that that system has been condemned by one of the Postal Conventions.

Senator Matheson - How do the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company manage ?

Senator HIGGS - They pay no attention to the understanding, and the general public find the present arrangements reasonable. I have asked repeatedly for the names of the representatives of Australia on the Pacific Cable Board. I was informed, in answer to a question, that the number of representatives to which Australia is entitled is two, but, in reply to further questions, I elicited the fact that Sir Horace' Tozer is the only representative we have. It may be that Lord Jersey has been acting as one of the representatives ; but he is now in Australia. He was a delegate at the Pacific Cable Conference, and it may be that he no longer represents the Commonwealth in this connexion. If that be so, some up-to-date man, and not a mere figurehead, ought to be appointed to urge the Pacific Cable Board to do all that appears to be necessary in Australia to make the cable a success - to take those steps which the Government apparently do not feel themselves called upon to take. That we have not a live Pacific Cable Board is. largely the fault of our Government. New Zealand is carrying out its obligations in a very active way, as is shown by the receipts, and Canada, I also understand, has a very live representative on the Board. I believe that Sir Horace Tozer has done his best in the interests of the cable; but I think there ought to be a representative and also a canvasser appointed for Melbourne. One of the first duties of the canvasser should be to hunt the newspaper files, and ascertain the names of the members of the various Chambers of Commerce who pressed the British Government, Canada, and New Zealand to construct this cable, and who deputationized the various State Governments and carried resolutions in favour of the enterprise. It would be interesting to know whether these gentlemen send any of their business messages over the Pacific Cable.

Senator Staniforth Smith - It would also be interesting to know whether these gentlemen were instrumental in urging that the Eastern Extension Company should be permitted to open an office in Melbourne.

Senator HIGGS - I have no doubt that some of them were active in that connexion. It ought also to be the duty of the representatives of the Board to ascertain what, and to whom, rebates are granted by the Eastern Extension Company. If good evidence could be obtained that rebates are granted, it would form sufficient reason for an early determination of the agreement entered into with the company. The Pacific Cable Board are bound by international obligation to charge every customer, large or small, the same rate, and all commercial men will admit the justice of such a policy. Imagine for a moment what the state of affairs would be if the Post and Telegraph Department were to charge a half-penny in the case of a firm who sent, perhaps, 1,000 letters, while charging the full price of twopence to all customers who use its lines to a lesser extent.

Senator Gray - I have never heard of any rebates being granted.

Senator HIGGS - That may be so ; but I produced in this Senate a card on which was printed a statement that a rebate was given to cable users if they sent their cables through Reuter's Agency which is closely in alliance with the Eastern Extension Company. What would be the effect if the several States adopted differential rates for. various customers?

Senator Playford - I think that the rebates are in connexion with the coding. When a customer hands a message in, it is coded, and the charge thus reduced.

Senator Pulsford - The rebate is all in the coding.

Senator HIGGS - I know that a certain charge is made for the coding of messages, but after that has been done for the customer, the company codes the messages for themselves. Why cannot an ordinary business firm do the same thing?

Senator Gray - Large firms do.

Senator HIGGS - Surely in the Post and Telegraph Department sufficient brains could be found to carry out the same system. It could be advertised that the Department is prepared to cable messages at a reasonable cost, and if a message be reduced to ten words for the customer, it might be reduced to five, or even to three, or one, by the Department. We saw from a recent Court case that Reuter's Agency were able to get a young man of twenty-one years of age at a salary of £75 per annum to do the coding ; and' surely the Commonwealth ought to be able to get a suitable person at , £140.

Senator Turley - The small salaries are the reason of the success of their business.

SenatorHIGGS. - The small salaries may be partly the reason.

Senator Turley - That is what I mean.

Senator HIGGS - But while the subordinates get low salaries, the heads are exceedingly well paid. I understand that the Eastern Extension Company pay their Australian manager over £1,500 per annum, with a considerable allowance for expenses, whereas Mr. Scott, the Chief of our Post and Telegraph Department, receives£1,000 per annum. In a Department like that of the Post and Telegraph good experts ought to be paid well ; and until that view is taken in regard' to our public servants generally, we shall certainly encourage the feeling which Senator Gray says exists, that it is not worth while taking any more interest in the business than is represented by the salary. An American gentleman, who is assistant manager of a railroad company, was in Australia the otherday, and gave as an objection to Government enterprise the fact that if a manager or employe made a successful suggestion hereceived no reward, whereas if a mistake were made there was nothing but censure. Under such circumstances, a Government servant very often says: "Well, perhaps the best thing I can do is to say nothing, and stick to my billet." I am afraid there is a good deal of truth in the opinion expressed by the American visitor. When we find in the Government employ men of high capacity and ability, we ought to give them credit for their value and pay them well. I am very gratified at the expressions of approval which have fallen from honorable senators as to the necessity for diminishing the annual loss, and for making the Pacific Cable an up-to-date business enterprise.

Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.

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