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Wednesday, 1 August 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - I can quite understand tiny member of the Senate who has glanced at this contract coming to the conclusion that it is, practically speaking, too good to be true. I have spent some time listening to the criticisms upon it, and I have come to the conclusion that there is much of it that requires very careful attention. I am going to point out some serious flaws in it. I will deal first, as the question has been very much debated, with what is meant by " registered tonnage." On that point I should like to offer this criticism: That it is the first and 'foremost duty of the Government clearly to understand what is intended by a contract that it puts before Parliament. To me it does not much matter whether the gross tonnage of the vessels to be built by the contractors is to be 11,000 tons, or whether, as seems more likely, it is to be something approximating to 15,500 tons. But the Government should come here with a distinct and clear understanding of what the words in the contract mean. They would be able to state explicitly and directly that 11,000 tons registered tonnage means so much in terms that can be understood by every honorable senator. I listened carefully to Senator Keating, and I gathered that he does not know what is meant. I have not heard him indicate what is meant. We have listened to many arguments as to what the words are intended to convey. But it ought not to be necessary for any single member of the Senate to have anything to say on this point, which ought to be expressed in language so clear that we could understand it at once, without having to debate what the real meaning of the agreement is. I am inclined - and I am sure many honorable senators are - to think that there are manythings in this contract which are to be viewed with suspicion. Whether I am right or wrong, it appears to me that what the contractors have probably had in their mind's is the possibility - and I defer to Senator Guthrie in saying this - of a registration in Australia which does not conform to the registration at Lloyds in England or under the Merchant Shipping Act.

Senator Guthrie - There can be no registration in Australia that does not conform with the Merchant Shipping Act.

Senator CLEMONS - I am inclined to think that there is some method of registration in Australia which differs from registration in England, and which would enable these contractors to indicate by 11,000 tons registered tonnage 11,000 tons gross.

Senator Guthrie - There is no registration in. any part of the British Dominions except under the Merchant Shipping Act.

Senator CLEMONS - Possibly I am wrong; but we know that this company will have to pay heavy dues and charges on its boats coming through the Suez Canal on their registered tonnage. Our ports also impose charges and- dues in respect of registered tonnage. Consequently, it is practically certain that the company will make the registered tonnage of its vessels as low as possible. I have also secured this information during the adjournment - that the registered tonnage of the Mooltan, one of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company's vessels - which is advertised as being 10,500 tons - is about 4,900 tons. That means that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation

Company pays dues and charges on 4,900- tons, whether in Australian waters or in .the Suez Canal. If the contractorsin this case are adopting the same system, of registration as the Peninsular and Oriental 'Steam Navigation Company does,, honorable senators will' see at once what it means.

Senator Turley - What other system of registration can they adopt?

Senator CLEMONS - I have a grave suspicion that if the company adopts thesame system of registration as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Companyadopts - taking the Mooltan as a sampleits boats will be nearly 22,000 tons gross. I do not imagine that these contractors areless astute than are the managers of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation. Company, and if that company can run a. boat of r 0,500 tons, and pay dues only on 4,900 tons registered tonnage, I think we may take it for granted that these contractors will do the same. If that be the case, the vessels are going to be of a gross, tonnage of about 22,000 tons. I think I am justified, therefore, in suspecting something behind this description of I I.000 tons registered tonnage. I venture tothink that we are all entitled to have suspicions about it. Coming, to the contract itself, I do not think that clause 5 has. been touched upon. It deals with the possibility of 'attaining! increased speed by the payment of ai further sum of £25,000- per annum. We have here - there is nothing in the contract to indicate it clearly,, but I think it is apparent - the possibility that these boats may be turbine steamers.. I wish to point out that the Government may have been caught napping with regard' to this clause, if the vessels are to be turbine steamers. It is almost a matter of common knowledge that the economical rateof speed of turbine boats is very much higher than the economical rate of speed' of steam-ships driven by any other method. I do not mean to say that this observationapplies actually to the boats referred to inthis contract. But let me give an instance. We have running in Australian waters theLoongana,. The economical rate of speed' of that boat is 16.6 knots per hour, which means that, if the Loongana is to be run> at a payable rate to her owners, she must

Tun at 16.6 knots per hour. The distancefrom Adelaide to Brindisi is, I haveascertained, 8,815 miles and the rate at which these boats are to run - allowingeighteen hours for stoppages - averages alittleover14milesanhour. I can conceive it to be quite possible, if they wereturbineboats, that itwould be just as cheap for the company to run them at the additional rate of speed provided' for in clause5, as it would be to run them at a lower rate.

Senator Pearce - The additional rate is only to berun when the Postmaster- General requires it.

Senator CLEMONS - The company may say, " We are going to run these boats at a payable speed, and we ask' you to give us so much more money for doing so," -whereas the fact may be that the additional increased rate will involve no more cost. In other words, the Commonwealth will be paying£25,000 for nothing.

Senator Guthrie - Any increase in speed will mean extra cost.

Senator CLEMONS - If the boats are to be built with an economical rate of speed of 151/2 knots per hour, it will be absurd topay the company£25,000 more for running them at that economical rate. I have worked out the rate of speed at which they will have to run to reduce the journey to 612 hours, as provided in clause 5. The average will be under 15 miles an hour. I am allowing for all the stoppages.

Senator Guthrie - They will not run at 15 miles an hour through the Suez Canal.

Senator CLEMONS - I have made due allowance for that. The point may not be very important, but it is worth while to mention it.

Senator Mulcahy - Is the honorable senator taking the Loongana as typical of all turbine boats?

Senator CLEMONS - No; but the salient feature of all turbine boats is that they can run at a higher rate of speed than their economical rate. The turbine is only suitable when a high rate of speed is desired. That is the essence of it. Now I come to clause 6 ; and here I wish to give notice of an amendment that I think ought to be moved. My first criticism is that I am unable to ascertain for what reason the Government has hit upon the sixth year of the fixed period of ten years, for ascertaining whether there is a better line in competition with the mail steamers affected by this contract. Senator Keating gave no explanation, and on the face of it, one may well wonder why the sixth year has been chosen'. Why not the fifth or the seventh? I see no reason to limit it to the sixth. I see no reason, if we are going to get a better service, and if it is desirable that we should get a better service, why we should limit ourselves to a period, when the fifth year of the contract has gone by. This is one of those arbitrary selections which have to be made, but which nothing in particular can justify.

Senator Keating - I presume that the sixth year was chosen: because then half the contract period will have elapsed.

Senator CLEMONS - Possibly it has been chosen because it represents one-half of the contract period. Expressing purely my own opinion as to the construction of clause 6, I have not the slightest doubt whatever that the extended period' referred to in paragraph c means a period beyond and over the fixed term of ten years. I have been informed that the AttorneyGeneral in another place said distinctly, clearly, without any reservation whatever, that that extended period would not go beyond the original fixed term of ten years. But I have heard that Senator Keating now admits that it does. I have no doubt what ever that on a strict construction, this exfended period could mean nothing, but some period of time over and above the fixed term of ten years. Unless we put that interpretation upon the clause, I fail to see how we could interpret the extended period, and what meaning we could possibly give to paragraph c.

Senator Fraser - Is there any limit to the extended time?

Senator CLEMONS - There is absolutely no limit. The question we have to consider is whether there ought to be an extended period over and above the ten years, or whether it is desirable that the period of the contract should be strictly limited to the ten years. As the clause reads, there is power to give the contractors a further period of ten years, or if you like, twenty years. That power is placed entirely in the hands of the PostmasterGeneral, acting on behalf of the Executive. The introduction of the power to arbitrate clearly indicates that it is to be placed altogether outside the province of this Parliament to say for what, if any, period the contract shall be extended. I do not think that it is the desire of this Senate that the contract shall be extended under any circumstances beyond the ten years, without the ratification and authority of Parliament. If that be so, and assuming that that is the intention of the Senate - and I hope the intention of the Government - 1 propose to move an amendment to paragraph c.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator cannot move any amendment while there are two amendments before, the Chair.

Senator CLEMONS - Does that mean that there is a limit?

The PRESIDENT - An amendment has already been moved. The Standing Orders provide that there shall be only one amendment at a time before the Senate. There is an amendment on the amendment that has been moved. The original questions is, therefore, for the time superseded, and the question under discussion is the amendment on the amendment.

Senator CLEMONS - I know that there has been a ruling, that there can only be one amendment at a time before the Chair.

The PRESIDENT - That is fundamental. Taking the amendment for the time being to be the original question before the Senate, I shall put the question - " That the words, proposed to be added be added." After that is disposed of, any honorable senator who has not spoken may move another amendment.

Senator Fraser - Cannot an honorable senator who has spoken move an amendment ?

The PRESIDENT - He cannot. We cannot have half-a-dozen amendments before the Senate at once.

Senator CLEMONS - Perhaps, Mr. President, you would indicate to , me the manner in which I may move an amendment ?

The PRESIDENT - I do not think the honorable senator can at present move an amendment.

Senator CLEMONS - I do not mean at present; but when the other amendments are disposed of. Will it be competent for me then to submit another?

The PRESIDENT - I do not think so. The Standing Orders provide that an amendment may be moved by an honorable senator, and that in moving that amendment, . he may speak to the original question and to the . amendment. When the amendment so moved has been disposed of, other honorable senators, who have not spoken, may move other amendments ; but honorable senators who have spoken cannot move further amendments. Otherwise there would be no end ; an honorable, sena tor might speak, and afterwards continue moving amendments, and thus the discussion would never terminate. If Senator Clemons wished to move a further amendment after the amendment before us had been disposed of, he need not have spoken, but could have submitted his amendment by-and-by.

Senator O'Keefe - We ought to be in Committee.

The PRESIDENT - We cannot go into Committee now, and those honorable senators who make the suggestion speak without knowledge of the Standing Orders. I admit that on one occasion a discussion was initiated in the Senate and finished in Committee. If that was a good practice, it would apply to every motion. Any motion might be half discussed in the Senate and then be taken into Committee. That is contrary to our Standing Orders; and if we initiate a discussion in the Senate we can not, in the middle of such discussion, go into Committee. I can see no reason why we should go into Committee on this motion. I quite admit that a great many amendments may be moved, and the motion may be discussed at great length, but I see no reason whatever to depart from the fundamental Standing Orders of the Senate in this connexion.

Senator CLEMONS - While I do not in any way dispute your ruling, Mr. President, I should like to point out the position in which we find ourselves, for your ruling' does not apply to me only. Because one or two honorable senators, who have already spoken to the motion, happen to have moved amendments, the limit apparently has been reached. I understand that our Standing Orders provide that there can be only one amendment on an amendment.

The PRESIDENT - I do not say that.

Senator CLEMONS - I thought that was how you had ruled.

The PRESIDENT - I said that we could only have one amendment at a time before the Senate.

Senator CLEMONS - Do I gather that if any honorable senator who has spoken wishes to move an amendment, he must wait until the two previous amendments have been disposed of.

The PRESIDENT - If he has spoken to his original question, or to the original question, and an amendment, he can not afterwards move another amendment.

Senator CLEMONS - That being your ruling, Mr. President, I suggest the desirability of postponing the discussion in order to consider some means of going into Committee. The proper consideration of the motion must necessarily be seriously hampered if we deal with amendments in the Senate only. Unless we go into Committee there will obviously be a restriction on the power of honorable senators to improve the contract as they think fit. I suggest to Senator Keating that he should consent to an adjournment of the debate, in order, as I say, that you, sir, may consider some means of permitting us to go into Committee. So far as I am concerned, I am willing to refrain from making any further remarks, and to regard myself as being cut off from submitting amendments which I think desirable. I may indicate, however, how, in my opinion, paragraph c ought to be amended. I should like honorable senators to understand that I make these suggestions on the assumption that they do not approve of an extended term being granted by the Executive, that is to say, by the PostmasterGeneral, as expressed in the clause. What I should like to move is that paragraph c should be amended to read as follows: -

The time within the fixed period for which such improved and accelerated service shall continue.

That would be a clear statement that any alteration of the service should be an alteration of the original fixed period of ten years.

Senator Turley - We have an amendment on clause 2 before us.

Senator CLEMONS - I am only indicating the amendment I should have liked to move in order to meet the question raised in clause 6.

Senator Dobson - Would such an amendment be fair to the contractors?

Senator CLEMONS - Certainly. The position would be that if the contractors wanted to give an accelerated service they could do so at any time after six years, but they could not do so for a longer time than the ten years originally fixed without the sanction of Parliament. Whether honorable senators approve of such an amendment or not is for them to decide ; but, as I say, I submit it on the assumption that we do not desire to extend the period for more than ten years without giving Parliament an opportunity to go into the question. That exhausts my criticism of clause 6 ; and I think I have already expressed my opinion as to clause n, whichdeals with the registered tonnage. But I may indicate an amendment which, if we were in Committee, I should certainly submit in order to make that clause clearer. I should like to insert words providing that the ships to be employed in pursuance of this agreement " shall for the purposes of payment of dues and charges be of a registered tonnage of 11,000 tons." If we had sucha provision we should know exactly what we are doing; but, again, I am debarred from submitting an amendment in that direction.

Senator Dobson - Is the honorable senator not content with a gross tonnage of 11,000 tons, and a net tonnage of 6,000 or 7,000 tons?

Senator CLEMONS - The honorable senator misunderstands me. I am not quarrelling with the provision of 11,000 tons, but with the uncertainty oni the part of the Government as to what their own contract means. I object: to vote for an agreement the terms of which I do not understand. There has been much debate as to what ' 1 registered tonnage 1 ' means, and I venture to say that many honorable senators do not understand its meaning.. If, however, we insert words to the effect I have suggested, the point will be made clear. If the contractors contended that such a tonnage was too much, they would be exposed as practically endeavouring to induce us to believe that the vessels to be employed would be of 20,000 tons. We certainly ought to have an opportunity to debate this matter in Committee. If it is worth discussing at all, the agreement is worth an honest attempt to improve it. There is another debatable clause, which has so far escaped much criticism, and to which I shall not devote much time. I entirely object to, dissent from, and dislike clause 36 of the general conditions of tender. As honorable senators will notice, that clause is not like a similar clause im the contract made bv the Imperial authorities with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company or in the contract with the Orient and Pacific Steam Navigation Company. If the power given; were to purchase the vessels for defence purposes in time of emergency and stress I should have no objection. Whether I have to vote for the contract or not, I desire to say that

I disagree with this clause. I object to the Postmaster-General having the right at any time to purchase the boats at a valuation, and also to his having the right at any time to charter them. This, again, is a power given to the Executive Government, without any provision for consideration bv Parliament. I admit there is pro.bably a safeguard in the fact that a sum for the purpose would have to appear on the Estimates; but I object to the principle.

Senator Staniforth Smith - If the Postmaster-General agreed to purchase the boats, and Parliament did not vote the money would the company have an action against the Government?

Senator CLEMONS - I do not think so. I do not think there would be any chance of an action being brought because the Postmaster-General desired to purchase, and Parliament objected to the purchase, of the boats.

Senator Walker - Why not insert the words " subject to the sanction of Parliament " ?

Senator CLEMONS - I do not want to qualify the clause, which is obviously safeguarded, seeing that, the PostmasterGeneral could not .purchase the vessels without a sum appearing on the Estimates.

Senator Mulcahy - Why should the Postmaster-General not have the option, if there was any advantage in securing the boats?

Senator CLEMONS - If the honorable senator wants my reason, I say quite openly it is that I object to the 'Commonwealth owning these steamers. I do not want to in any way disguise my views ; and I am entirely adverse to any proposal that the Commonwealth should own these boats.

Senator Mulcahy - So am I.

Senator CLEMONS - I do not propose to offer any further criticism1 of this contract. Reluctant as I am to oppose the agreement, I shall have to do so, unless some at least of the alterations I have indicated are made. I cannot consent, for instance, to agree to a contract the terms of which I have to pretend I understand, or on the terms of which I have to place my own interpretation, which may possibly differ from the Minister's interpretation. I decline _ to agree to even a resolution the terms of which the Ministers themselves openly admit they do not understand. Such a position would be derogatory to the dignity of this or any other Chamber. In this connexion let me indicate what previously happened in the case of the proposed contract with the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. Honorable senators, I have no doubt, remember that in that proposed contract there was a clause which induced some of us to believe - I merely quote this by way of illustration - that if the contract were agreed to, certain old contracts with the various States Governments would thereupon be annulled, and have no force or effect.

Senator Playford - After a certain period.

Senator CLEMONS - It was pointed out in the Senate that considerable doubt was created by the words of the agreement, as to whether those old contracts would be rendered null and void by the adoption of the new agreement. It was asserted that the Attorney-General, Mr. Isaacs, had stated that the operation of the words would be sufficient - that the old contracts would go. But the Senate, I think verv wisely, decided to make the provision clear, and inserted words by which it was specifically stated, without equivocation or doubt, that if the agreement were ratified, the old contracts should expire, and have no further force or effect. We know the sequel. Whether for that reason or some other-

Senator Keating - There was another very important amendment as to the termination of the agreement itself.

Senator CLEMONS - There was; but with deference to Senator Keating, I did subsequently attach very great importance to the fact that the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company _ refused to ratify that agreement. Rightly or wrongly, I thought their refusal was largely due to the fact that we had provided, in explicit terms, that the old contracts should be of no force if we adopted the new contract. The Eastern Extension Telegraph Company presented a clause which was vague and misleading, and we made it clear. That illustration applies with considerable force to the present agreement; and I urge honorable senators not to support too hastily, an agreement which has much to recommend it, but to make certain that we clearly understand what the contract is we are allowing the Government to enter into.

The PRESIDENT - With reference to the suggestion which has been made more than once as to the advisability of continuing the discussion, of this matter in Committee, I should like to say that it is, of course, my duty, as far as possible, to so rule as to permit the fullest and freest discussion of all matters submitted to the Senate. In the circumstances, I suggest that if it is considered by the Senate that it is advisable to discuss this matter in Committee, the present debate should be adjourned, and, before the time fixed for its resumption has arrived, a motion might be made, after notice, that the motion be referred to the Committee of the whole Seriate. If that is d'one, the amendments of the motion now before the Senate will disappear, because they will not have been moved in the Committee, and the whole question will be considered afresh. If it is the wish of the Senate that that should be done, it can be done in accordance with our Standing Orders, but it will be necessary to get rid of the debate in the Senate first of all. If the debate is adjourned, the Minister in charge of the matter, or some other honorable senator, can give notice of a motion that the matter should be discussed in the Committee of the Whole.

Motion (by Senator Guthrie) proposed -

That the debate be now adjourned.

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