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Wednesday, 1 August 1906

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator cannot second the motion and afterwards move an amendment.

Senator MACFARLANE - I am aware of that, sir. I do not intend to move an amendment, but I wish to suggest certain improvements, leaving it for the Government to make amendmentsif they choose. One of the points which I wish to raise is with regard to clause 6 of the agreement. I do not think that the Minister gave quite so clear an explanation of what is meant by the clause as honorable senators would have liked. It provides that the Commonwealth may increase the subsidy to the contractors for providing an accelerated service, upon the conditions that -

(b)   The amount of the additional annual subsidy to be paid to the contractors for providing such improved and accelerated service; and

(c)   The extended period for which such improved and accelerated service shall continue. shall be determined by arbitration inthe event of the parties failing to agree. That provision means, if it means anything at all, that this alteration of the contract can be made by the Postmaster-General, and that the extended period is not limited in any way whatever. It can go beyond the term mentioned in the contract.

Senator Keating - I think it would be subject to the term mentioned in the contract.

Senator MACFARLANE - In case of a disagreement, the matter is to go to arbitration, and the arbitrators are to be the final court of appeal, because their decision can be made a rule of the High Court. So that we might very easily be landed on the horns of a dilemma, and our contract might be found to be for a very much extended period. There is another point which I suggest for the consideration of the Minister. In clause 11 of the agreement, it is provided that the steamers of the contracting company " shall be of at least 11,000 tons registered tonnage." The Minister this afternoon, like the Prime Minister in another place, wasvery cautious in his explanation of what "registered tonnage" meant.

Senator Millen - There was no caution about Mr. Deakin. He said that it meant what it meant.

Senator Guthrie - It means what is put on the hulls of ships by the Board of Trade after deduction of space , for boilers, bunkers, and crew.

Senator MACFARLANE - The Merchant Shipping Act, section 7, requires that the registered tonnage shall be cut into the beams of the vessel. That condition is carried out in the case of the vessels owned by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company by the registered tonnage being cut and painted on the beams in indelible letters; and that is the only register officially recognised. It is the tonnage on which the vessels pay their dues. Section 77 of the Merchant Shipping Act mentions how that register tonnage is to be arrived at. The matter is also dealt with in section 79. It is provided that to ascertain the registered tonnage certain deductions shall be made from the space included in the measurement tonnage. Othersections dealing with the matter follow, leading to the natural assumption that there is only one "registered tonnage," and that is the net registered tonnage of a vessel.

Senator Clemons - " Registered tonnage " equals net tonnage, and it never meansanything else.

Senator MACFARLANE - Yes. Therefore, when this contract says that the registered tonnage of the vessels shall be 11,000 tons, it means, if it means anything, net tonnage; that is to say, vesselsabout twice the size of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company's steamers which visit our ports. If we are going to leave this provision as it stands, it will be open to any one to commence legal proceedings against the contractors if these steamers are not up to the registered tonnage specified. I have no wish tosee this contract made null and void. Therefore, I shall not move the insertionof either the word " net " or the word "gross" ; but I suggest that some alteration in this direction is necessary. Some yearsago, under the States laws, Chinese Immigration Acts were passed limiting the number of Chinamen introduced to one for every 500 tons register of the vessels which brought them. In South Australia, someof the steam-ship owners held that they were entitled, in this connexion, to have regard to the gross tonnage ; but that was objected to by the South Australian Government, and it was held in law that it should apply to the net registered tonnage. I amaware that in former years, in Victoria, some Chinamen were admitted on the gross tonnage ; but we need not go into these matters, because the Commonwealth now prevents Chinese immigration under different conditions. When the Prime Minister says that the vessels under the agreement are to be much larger and better than any which now visit Australia, he evidently ha"s it in his mind that the term "' registered tonnage " means the net registered tonnage.

Senator Best - Thev will be very fine vessels if that is what is meant.

Senator de Largie - Does the Prime Minister say that the net registered tonnage is meant?

Senator MACFARLANE - No ; and I fancy that the Prime Minister does not know what is meant.

Senator Best - It is a pity that the Senate does not know what agreement it is entering into.

Senator Keating - Under the agreement the contracting company will provide three times the refrigerating space now provided by the Orient and Pacific Steam Navigation Company

Senator MACFARLANE - I have here the British Merchant Shipping Act, which is verv clear in its directions as to how the tonnage of vessels is to be arrived at.

Senator Fraser - The shape of a vessel has a lot to do with the matter.

Senator Mulcahy - -Yes; but "registered tonnage " is a well-known term to nautical men.

Senator Fraser - Two vessels may be of the same registered tonnage, but their carrying capacities may be very different.

Senator MACFARLANE - Section 7 of the Merchant Shipping Act provides -

Every British ship shall before registry be marked permanently and conspicuously to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade as follows : -

The section then sets out how vessels are to be marked, and goes on -

The Board of Trade mav exempt any class of ships from all or any of the requirements of this section.

Then section 77 of the Merchant Shipping Act provides -

The tonnage of every ship to be registered, with the exceptions hereinafter mentioned, shall, previously to her being registered, be ascertained by Rule r in the Second Schedule to this Act, and the tonnage of every ship to which that Rule 1 can be applied, whether she is about to be registered or not, shall be ascertained by the same rule.

The rule in. the section sets out how the measurements are to be taken ; and it is made very clear how the registered, tonnage is to be arrived at. I suggest to the Government the advisability of consulting some of their legal friends.

Senator Col Neild - - Let us make it clear now by providing that " registered tonnage " shall be as denned by the British Merchant Shipping Act.

Senator MACFARLANE - I have no desire to endanger a good contract by an amendment of the kind. I should like a little more information about those who are associated with Sir James Laing and Sons. Some very influential names have been mentioned.

Senator Best - But these firms are not bound by the agreement.

Senator MACFARLANE - That is so. I understand that most of those other firms are not ship-builders, but engine-builders; and, no doubt, they would be only too glad to get contracts on condition of' taking a few shares in the mail company. That, I take it, is the reason for their association with Sir James Laing and' Sons. These associated firms are not directors in the contracting company, which, so far as we know, have no ships of their own at the present time.

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