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Thursday, 2 August 1906

Senator GUTHRIE (South Australia) . - I intend to support the amendment. That this is more than a mail contract alone is shown by the fact that the Government insist that the company shall provide. 11, 000-ton boats. To carry our mails from Brindisi to Adelaide there is no necessity to have boats of that tonnage. Clearly. the boats are intended to carry something more than mails. The Commonwealth Government converted the Butter Commission, which had been created by the Government of Victoria, into a Federal Royal ' Commission, and it made two reports to the Governor-General. Regarding ocean freights, it said -

After much deliberation upon the evidence regarding ocean freights, we are of opinion that this is one of the most pressing questions concerning the butter industry. It is also a ques tion of vital importance to the Commonwealth, inasmuch as the majority of our rural producers are interested in the export of butter. This trade, therefore, may now be recognised as one of the most important to the people of Australia.

The argument of the Minister was that the States Governments are not prepared to take up this question, but a Commonwealth Royal Commission reported in those terms to the Governor-General. Further, it said -

Since the inception of the export trade in butter, the carriage of this product has been practically in the hands of the mail companies. Whilst readily acknowledging the fact that the facilities offered by the mail companies assisted the butter industry at its inception, the present action of these companies in endeavouring to secure a contract for a number of years at a trivial reduction on the existing high rates, must be looked upon in the light of the evidence, as an attempt to monopolize the trade.

According to this report, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Steam Navigation Company were monopolizing the principal industry of Victoria.

Senator de Largie - And the honorable senator wants to clinch the monopoly !

Senator GUTHRIE - No. I want the contract to set out that the proposed company shall provide a sufficient amount of cool storage, not only for the producers of Victoria and South Australia, but also for the producers of every State.

Senator de Largie - And the same freight from each port?

Senator GUTHRIE - No. The contract ought to prescribe the maximum freight which the company could charge from the various ports. It is to start with a subsidy of .£125,000 from the Commonwealth to compete against all the companies which are now engaged in this trade.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - That ought to assist the contractors to break down the monopoly of which the honorable senator speaks.

Senator GUTHRIE - Exactly ; But in the contract there is no guarantee that they will provide any cool storage.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator does not want a mail contract, then?

Senator GUTHRIE - Only a short time ago, when we were asked to ratify the contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, the honorable senator stood up here and said that it should be not only a mail contract but an assistance to the producers, and it provided for cool storage.

Senator Playford - I have not yet stood up to speak on this question.

Senator GUTHRIE - Well, the other representative of the Government did.

Senator Playford - We tried to get the States to agree, but they would, not, and then we went in for a mail contract pure and simple.

Senator GUTHRIE - No; because, in accordance with the conditions of tender, the contract with that company contained a special provision for cool storage. In the contract under consideration to-night, there is no such provision made. Unless it be made, it would be far better for the Commonwealth to get its mails carried on the poundage system, Because the cost would be a good deal less than ^125,000 a year.

Senator Fraser - Under that system, we could not compel a boat to come here.

Senator GUTHRIE - No. Unless we can compel the boats to come here, we had better resort to that system, as we should only have to pay for the carriage of the cargo, whether letters, or anything else, by weight. I think that Senator Stewart is absolutely right in his contention, and that if the representatives of Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland are alive to the interests of their States, they will vote with him. It is suggested that the proposed company will send its boats from

Adelaide to New Zealand, where it may get another subsidy, to take in loading.

Senator McGregor - Why should it not if it carries out our contract ?

Senator GUTHRIE - There is no contract in existence yet. My opinion is that the proposal of the Government is really to hand over to a few speculators a concession to be traded off in the London market. The duty of Parliament is not to play into the hands of a few speculators, but to consider the interests of the people of Australia. On these grounds, I intend to vote for the amendment.

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