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Thursday, 2 August 1906

Senator KEATING (Tasmania.) (Honorary Minister) . - I hope honorable senators will not support the amendment, which, as those who were present yesterday when we discussed the matter will see, is of far-reaching importance. In introducing this agreement, I pointed out that the Government had followed the course of calling for tenders for a purely mail contract. An expression of opinion to that effect was made in this branch of the Legislature, if not in another place, when we discussed the Orient contract last year. Honorable senators who have perused the general conditions of tender, and the articles of agreement, must recognise that, on the face of it, and in substance, it is purely a mail contract. If those persons who are going to provide the means of transit choose, as is only natural, to, at the same time, use the ships for other purposes, it is purely their own affair.

Senator Stewart - Why mention the tonnage ?

Senator KEATING - Those persons have offered to give us ships of 11,000 tons ; and, although such vessels may not be necessary in themselves for the purposes of the mails, is there any reason why we should refuse the offer? Senator Stewart was, I think, better minded last session than he is now on this subject. I can assure the honorable senator that the Government, in framing the conditions, were very much impressed with what the honorable senator then said.

Senator Stewart - Like the honorable senator on another occasion, I then approached the question in " an attitude of inquiry."

Senator Pearce - The Government endeavoured to give effect to Senator Stewart's wishes.

Senator KEATING - That is so. The honorable senator is reported at page 3666 of Hansard for last year to have said -

There is one objection, however, to this contract, which I think may be very fairly urged from the Commonwealth point of view. To my mind, it unnecessarily mixes up the conveyance of produce with the carriage of mails. We have nothing to do with the export trade of the various States. All we ought to interest ourselves in is the carriage of mails from Naples to Adelaide. No doubt it is extremely desirable that vessels coming here should take away produce on the most favorable terms, but that is not our business ; it is the duty of the States to arrange that matter. Would the Commonwealth make an arrangement between different POStoffices within its jurisdiction for the carriage of goods as well as for the carriage of mails?

Later on he said -

Of course, if any matter could properly be brought within the category of mail matter, it would be the business of the Post Office t» arrange for its transmission. But surely it would not enter into competition with the railways in the carriage of wheat, or turnips, or potatoes ! Under existing circumstances that class of business would be considered to be outside its sphere. The carriage of produce between Australia and Europe is in exactly the same category. No doubt it is desirable that we should have cold storage and low freights by steamers visiting the different ports at regular intervals. But it is the business of the States to arrange for the steamers to call. When we have arrived at a state of unification, it will then be the duty of the Commonwealth to make the arrangements in these matters. Until that event occurs, however, we ought not to interfere with the functions of the States. In the contract it has been expressly stipulated that whilst the mails are tq be landed at Adelaide, the steamers must proceed to Melbourne and Sydney.

We provide in this contract that the steamers shall call at Brindisi, and, so far as Australia is concerned, at Adelaide. There is1 no provision made obliging the boats to call at any other port.

Senator Best - They are to call at Fremantle.

Senator KEATING - They call at Fremantle en route.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - They are not compelled to do so.

Senator KEATING - Under the contract they may stay there for six hours.

Senator Walker - They are obliged to go on to London from Brindisi.

Senator KEATING - They are obliged under the contract to go on from Brindisi to some approved port in Great Britain, and to leave from some approved port in Great Britain. The reason for that, as honorable senators are well aware, is that it is necessary to transport a certain portion of the mail matter by sea. If the heavier portion of the mail matter had to be transported overland across Europe the result would be a serious loss to the Post and Telegraph Department.

Senator Walker - Will the boats carry the heavier matter from Brindisi to London free?

Senator KEATING - The subsidy covers that. If the bulky mail matter, on which low postage is charged, had to be transported across Europe by rail, the cost would be so great as to involve a heavy deficit to the Post' and Telegraph Department on our mail service to Great Britain.

Senator Best - The conditions provide for the boats calling at Fremantle and Colombo also?

Senator KEATING - Under the contract the boats stay at those ports for six hours en route.

Senator Millen - If they did not call at Fremantle they would not be able totake the Western Australian mails.

Senator KEATING - Of course they would not. The idea of the contract isthat Adelaide is to be the terminal port for the eastern States, so far as the carriageof mails is concerned. If the boats did not call at Fremantle, it would be necessary for the Western Australian mails to> be brought over to Adelaide. Senator Stewart has spoken as if the people of Queensland would necessarily have a grievance if the provisions of this contract wereallowed to stand. As opposed to the honorable senator's suggestion, I venture to> submit to the Committee some views that have been recently expressed in Brisbane. In speaking yesterday I said that on thelast occasion on which we dealt with an English mail contract the Government and* people of Queensland expressed an opinion that that contract was so framed, and itsterms were such, that Queensland was unfavorably discriminated against. I havehere an extract from a report of an interview with Mr. Kidston, the Premier of Queensland, which appeared in the Brisbane Courier of the 20th of last month.. This report says -

Referring to the mail contract yesterday afternoon, the Premier made an important statement : " Mr. Deakin's action in the matter, so far as. I can see, has been quite correct," he said. " He tried to get the several States to arrangeto pay the subsidy for what might be called a commercial service, in addition to the mail service, and the Southern States naturally refused' to agree with it. They knew quite well that they would get the steamers without it. Mr. Deakin was then left to provide for a postal service, terminating at Adelaide. I am givingthe matter according to mv understanding of it. Adelaide is the end of our railway system in Australia, and Queensland has no more right tocomplain than Victoria or New South Wales would have. But, as Mr. Deakin knew - and every one else knew - these steamers were likely to come on to Melbourne and Sydney- for commercial reasons ; and the fact that the agents of" the company wrote a letter saying that they would do so does not alter the fact in any way, and did not constitute an engagement to do it insuch a way, but it became a part of the mail' contract. As I understand it, the mail contractwas a separate thing, and the mail service was; to terminate at Adelaide.

The report goes on further to say, quotingthe words of the Queensland Premier: -

Mr. Deakinoffered to negotiate on behalf of" Queensland if she wished the steamers to comeon to Brisbane. The only thing we could do was to say that if the company had any offer tomake we would be very pleased to get it, and" we .would consider what seemed best to do in the interest of Queensland.

Further on in the same report Mr. Kidston is stated to have used these words: -

The only thing that would have justified us in complaining of the action of the Federal Government would have arisen if they had provided in the contract for other States to get an advantage from the service, in which Queensland was not sharing. So faT as I understand at present, that has not been done. The Federal Government have simply completed what seemed to them a desirable postal contract; and although the arrangement may not suit us so well as if we had been included in the service, I cannot see that any intentional injustice has been done.

Senator Millen - In other words, Mr. Kidston says that so long as we adopt Senator Stewart's earlier advice, we shall be all right.

Senator KEATING - I rom the opinions he expressed we might assume that Mr. Kidston was satisfied that Senator Stewart's suggestion had been adopted. On the same day - the 20th July last - an article appeared in the Brisbane Daily Mail commenting on Mr. Kidston's views. I do not propose to read the whole of that article, but I shall make one or two extracts from it which serve to indicate that there must be in Queensland some opinions on this matter which do not coincide with those to which Senator Stewart has just given utterance. The writer of the article in the Daily Mail says: -

When the Commonwealth Government came to renew the service two or three years ago, it stipulated for cold storage, which gave Queensland an undoubted claim to an extension of the service to Brisbane. The people had a distinct and unanswerable grievance. But they have no grievance now that the subsidy is paid for a service purely for mail purposes, with Adelaide as the Australian terminus, in so far as oversea transport is concerned.

In the concluding passage of the article it is stated : -

Let us hope for the credit of our mercantile community that hysterical denunciations, such as have disfigured the press for some weeks past, will now cease. If the new service starts and is maintained as proposed, it will be a splendid thing for Queensland. She will get a full share of the postal benefit, and if she does not become the terminus of the line it will be the fault of her Government.

Senator Stewart - Let the honorable and learned senator read the Courier's comments.

Senator KEATING - I 'have not the Courier's comments before rae. but I have read from the report of the interview with Mr. Kidston which appeared in that newspaper. Honorable senators will see that the suggestion that this is more than a mail contract has no more foundation than Sena tor Stewart's personal suspicion, if I may say so without offence to the honorable senator. Honorable senators must see that there is a feeling on the part of the State Government of Queensland that the grievance, from which Queensland suffered, or thought she suffered, under the provisions of the previous contract, does not arise under the provisions of this contract. I hope that >the Committee will not accept Senator Stewart's amendment, and that the honorable senator will be minded1, as he was last year after hearing the expressions of opinion from other honorable senators, and will not press the amendment.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [8.41]. - I hope that Senator Stewart will not press his amendment to a division. It is perfectly plain, as the Minister has pointed out, that this is a mail contract. In the article in which Senator Stewart proposes to introduce his amendment, only the terminal ports in relation to the carriage and delivery of mails are mentioned - Brindisi at one end and Adelaide at the other. The moment one of these vessels leaves Adelaide the duties and responsibilities of the contractors under this contract will be at an end. Senator Stewart will find in sub-cla,use 2 of clause 5 of the general conditions of tender attached to the contract that permission is given to the contractors to go to other ports beyond Adelaide. The intention of the contract clearly is that the terminal port shall be Brindisi at one end, and Adelaide at the other. The only mention of other ports is the reference to Col.lombo and Fremantle.

Senator Best - En route.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - As ports of call, as Senator Best says, en route. There is, of course, the idea that these ships will come here not merely to carry our mails, but also to carry our produce for the sake of trade. Does any one suppose that, lovely as Adelaide is, and beautiful and commodious as her harbor is, these vessels would remain there if they were given the opportunity to go on to Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, "for the purposes of securing trade? The desire of human nature for business and profit is no weaker amongst persons forming shipping companies than amongst other human beings, and I therefore submit that we may take it for granted that if the attractions of Queensland in the way of trade are sufficiently great, these vessels will go to Brisbane, as well as to Melbourne and Sydney, in which case the object which Senator Stewart has in view will be sufficiently served bv allowing these ordinary human motives to come into play. In the circumstances, we might very well leave the contract as it is, a purely mail contract, fixing the termini at Brindisi and Adelaide.

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