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Thursday, 2 August 1906

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) . - I think it is very ungrateful of Senator Stewart after not only suggesting, but urging - in fact, entreating and pleading - on a previous occasion that the Commonwealth Government should contract for nothing but the carriage of mails, and that the vessels should stop at Adelaide, that he should express dissatisfaction with the proposed contract. Every honorable senator remembers how pathetic Senator Stewart was on that subject. His eloquent words burnt into the very soul of nearly every one who heard him. The Government, when an opportunity occurred, took up almost every one of his suggestions, and is now endeavouring to put them into a contract. According to what the Honorary Minister has read, the very Premier of Senator Stewart's State has been influenced by his pleadings and suggestions of several months ago. Yet the honorable senator is not satisfied. He ought to be the happiest man in Australia; unless, as on another occasion, he has met some man from North Queensland who has influenced him in quite another direction. I am sure that every honorable senator is anxious that a favorable bargain should be made with respect to cool storage with any company that contracts to carry our mails. ButI differ from some honorable senators with respect to a contract of this description. The paper placed before us contains the conditions under which tenders were furnished. When the Commonwealth Government called for tenders, the offer was open to all the syndicates and private firms in the world. Certain conditions were laid down. Tenders were sent in under those conditions. Now the agreement comes be- fore us, and some honorable senators object to it. These objections should have been raised when the conditions were being formulated. If any one could showthat the terms of the contract are not in accordance with the conditions of tender, there would be some excuse for radical amendments. But honorable senators know very well, and I believe that the Government know very well, that if this agreement is not accepted, practically as it is, or if any material alteration is made in it, the contract will be set aside altogether. We shall then be in the same difficulty that we experienced someyears ago, seeing that on 31st January, 1908, the present contract will come to an end. Senator Guthrie's objections are of a varied character.

Senator Turley - The honorable senator complains that the ships are too big !

Senator McGREGOR - Or that our harbors are too small. For the last twentyfive years we have been hoping that the improvement in navigation between Great Britain and Australia would continue; but Senator Guthrie seems to be of opinion that the improvement has gone too far.

Senator Guthrie - I do not say anything of the sort, and the honorable senator knows it.

Senator McGREGOR - I do not know anything of the kind. When the honorable senator objects to a tender for the carriage of mails, because the contractors provide vessels of a larger size with vastly greater accommodation-

Senator Guthrie - No accommodation at all.

Senator McGREGOR - Does the honorable senator imagine that people build ships of that size for the purpose of carrying wind or ballast?

Senator Findley - Or merely to carry the Commonwealth flag?

Senator McGREGOR - People are building ships twenty times larger than some of those which at present carry our mails.

Senator Guthrie - Fifty per cent. larger.

Senator McGREGOR - Let us say 50 per cent. Do people do that simply for the purpose of carrying the Australian flag, or a few hundred tons of mail matter? Does the honorable senator know that a company, with the capital and shipping facilities to carry out a contract of this character, would find the subsidy of £125,000 sufficient to pay only a very small proportion of their expenses.

Senator Guthrie - What is the capital of the company ?

Senator McGREGOR - I shall talk about the capital presently. People build ships of this character with the intention to work them to their fullest capacity, as they must be worked if they are to pay.

Senator Guthrie - The ships are not built yet.

Senator McGREGOR - Senator Guthrie has expressed the opinion that the vessels will not be able to enter the port of Melbourne. Well, I do not suppose that the vessels will come up to Prince's-bridge, if only because the Queen's-bridge is in the way ; I do not suppose, indeed, that it is intended to bring the vessels into the Yarra at all. But if there is not depth enough at Port Melbourne or Williamstown, surely, with the dredge that was obtained from England some time ago, the Harbor Trust or the Government could make the port capable of accommodating vessels of the kind. In the place from which Senator Guthrie comes, it was possible, some years ago, to wade across the river, whereas now vessels of the size which has been mentioned canbe built and launched there.

Senator Guthrie - It might have been possible to wade that river 150 years gao.

Senator McGREGOR - There is no necessity for Senator Guthrie to be alarmed about the size of the vessels. I do not think that the representatives of Sydney will agreewith Senator Guthrie that vessels of11,000 tons could not berth in Port Jackson. At the present time vessels quite as large, and drawing as much water as would benecessary for the proposed vessels, go into Sydney Harbor.

Senator Guthrie - What are those vessels?

Senator McGREGOR - There is, for instance, the Grosser Kurfurst, which I saw lying at Circular Quay.

Senator Guthrie - That is about half the tonnage of the vessels mentioned in thecontract.

Senator McGREGOR - The Grosser Kurfurst is 13,000 tons.

Senator Guthrie - The vessels under the contract will be 3,000 tons larger.

Senator McGREGOR - There are vessels belonging to the White Star Company which are probably as large, or, at any rate, nearly as large, as the vessels will be under this contract.

Senator Lt Col Gould - The White Star vessels are 12,000 tons.

Senator Guthrie - Yes, gross.

Senator McGREGOR - I am merely endeavouring to show how ridiculous Senator Guthrie's arguments are in regard to the tonnage of the vessels. I do not care whether the tonnage mentioned be net or gross ; if the vessels were 20,000 tons it would be the duty of the different Governments in Australia to make provision for them, in the interests of the producers. Such arguments as Senator Guthrie has used do not weigh with me for one moment. According to the amendment, the vessels would be bound to call at Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Hobart.

Senator Findley - And yet the proposer of the amendment says that the vessels would not be able to enter the ports at those places.

Senator McGREGOR - I am not going to decry the shipping facilities of the Commonwealth. If those facilities are not equal to any in the world, they can be made so. Our natural advantages in this respect are greater than can be Found anywhere else. If the ports at present are not able to accommodate vessels of the size proposed, they can easily be made to do so, because our ports, in their natural conditions, are superior to any to be found in the old world. I have not the slightest doubt that the vessels under this contract will always call at Melbourne and Sydney for the purposes of obtaining a full cargo. If this amendment were carried, the vessels would be compelled every trip to call also at Brisbane and Hobart; but honorable senators know very well that there are certain times of the year when no cargo can be procured at those ports. Under those circumstances, why should the vessels be compelled to call, when, it might be,they could only do so at great loss ? We may rest assured that the vessels will call at every port where they can find cargo that will pay, and there is no need forany compulsion in the matter. The greater the number of shipping companies trading to Australia the better it will be for the producers of this country, because competition must result in reasonable freights.

Senator Guthrie - How canany industry, such as the butter industry, for instance, be built up unless vessels call regularly at the ports?

Senator McGREGOR - Vessels do not call for butter when there is no butter to be got. I never knew a shipping company send vessels to a country for butter where they could get nothing but wheat, or send them for wheat where they could get nothing but rice. Each shipping "company sends vessels to places where they can get the cargo that is wanted, and so it will be with the company under the contract. This is a serious matter, and I am endeavouring to show that we ought to adopt this contract. What those who support the amendment desire will be gained if it will pay the shipping company to call at the ports mentioned. Senator Guthrie has described this as a mere option agreement which is going to be hawked about Great Britain in order to form a company with the object of robbing the people of Australia. But the Government have given us an assurance-

Senator Guthrie - Let the Government lay the full particulars, on the table.

Senator McGREGOR - In endeavouring to effect a favorable bargain with anybody on the face of the earth, is it always thebest way to expose everything? The Government will give the fullest informationat the proper time ; and in the meanwhile I am satisfied with the assurance we have received. Let us suppose that all Senator Guthrie's predictions come true, and that this business is a fraud from beginning to end ; we are doing the best we can, and we should only be thrown back on the poundage system at the termination of the contract. Then if the public were dissatisfied with the poundage system we should be in a position to say that the Government had done all they possibly could, and that private enterprisehaving failed, it was an opportune time tocharter a line of steamers of our own. The position would afford justification for such a proposal. We must remember that the contract is for the carriage of our mails from Adelaide to Brindisi, and that, sofar as the producers are concerned, there will always be the competition of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company.

Senator Guthrie - Yes ; seven dayslater.

Senator McGREGOR - Another line of steamers would run once a fortnight, and the competition would guarantee fairly low freights and regular transport to-

England. Suppose the company carries out this contract and does not. go to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, or Hobart, and it becomes evident to the people of the Commonwealth that the company is not -doing justice to our producers, will they not rise up and say, " This is a contract which we think should continue no longer" ? What, then, would be the position of the Commonwealth Government ?

Senator Fraser - They could not break the contract.

Senator McGREGOR - No; but they could carry it to its legitimate conclusion. If the company were not doing what was in the best interests of Australia, the Government would have power under the contract to say, " You are not doing what is right, and we shall therefore put into operation one of the provisions of this agreement. We shall take over your boats, and run them ourselves in the interests of the Commonwealth." Is not that a safeguard in the interests of the producers of the Commonwealth ?

Senator Fraser - The company might be very glad to. sell the boats.

Senator McGREGOR - If we were glad to buy them, and they were glad to sell them, where would the trouble be? It is even now predicted that there will be cutthroat competition between the existing companies and the new company.

Senator Fraser - All the better for the producers of Australia.

Senator McGREGOR - That is just what I was going to say, and I am glad that Senator Fraser, with his customary powers of perception, is able to see that.

Senator Millen - I thought the honorable senator was opposed to competition ?

Senator McGREGOR - I shall satisfy Senator Millen before I have finished. Suppose that the existing shipping companies agreed to carry produce at such low rates that in three or four years the contractors for this mail service would have to cave in ? The same power would still lie with the Commonwealth Government to take over the vessels, and continue to run them. Then the cut-throat competition would be against the Commonwealth vessels, and if the producers of Australia saved £t, 000,000 or £1,500,000 in reduced freights, could they not afford to pay a little in taxation to support vessels owned by the Commonwealth when it was by the competition of those vessels that they were enabled to secure the low rates of freight? I hope that honorable senators will see that, so far as the cut-throat competition is concerned, it can do the Commonwealth no harm. I hope that the amendment, if not withdrawn, will not be carried, and that we shall do the best we can to have this contract agreed to. If it is agreed to the Commonwealth will be placed, so far as a mail service is concerned, in a better position than any of the States Iba ve ever occupied under a mail contract. Honorable senators will see that I support the ratification of this contract, not from any great anxiety to support the Government, or to defeat the opposition to the contract, but because I believe that, so far as the carriage of our mails is concerned, this agreement will be in the best interests of the Commonwealth, and that ultimately it is bound to be also in the best interests of the producers of Australia.

Senator DELARGIE (Western Australia) [9.35J. - I am quite in accord with the sympathetic remarks which Senator Pulsford made concerning the loss of this service by the Orient Steam Navigation Company. We have to remember that the Orient Steam Navigation Company is a White-labour company, and on that ground most honorable senators must have considerable sympathy with it in the circumstances. It is possible that they would prefer to have seen the Orient Steam Navigation Company in the position of the contractors for the new service, but there can be no doubt* that if the size of the boats to be provided is any indication, the new company will give us a better service than the Orient Steam Navigation Company has supplied. Whilst the Orient Steam Navigation Company has failed to obtain the contract for the new service, they will have the comfort which every free-trader is every ready to give to the man who is cut out of a job, that they can turn their attention to something else for the time being. I do not know whether they will succeed in getting something, else, but the opportunity to try for it will be open to them. I can agree with many of the remarks which have fallen from Senator Guthrie. I should like to have seen this contract made more of a cargo contract than it is, but apparently all the efforts of the Commonwealth Government to secure the co-operation of the) States Governments to that end 'were in vain. They could not induce the States Governments to meet them, and were consequently obliged to make terms for a mail contract pure and simple, and, with the exception of the reference to the size of the vessels to be provided, to leave all questions affecting the carriage of cargo out of consideration in the preparation of this contract. With respect to Senator Stewart's amendment, I believe that if it were inserted we might as well tear up this contract at once, as it would become necessary to start the whole of the negotiations over again. I am satisfied that if the amendment is accepted, it will be impossible for any one, to deny another claim which will be brought forward, and that is the claim that the Vancouver service shall be continued to Fremantle for the benefit of Western Australia. If the one claim is granted, the other cannot be denied, and so the whole thing would be made ridiculous. Our business at the present time is to secure as good a contract as we can get for the carriage of our mails to and from the most convenient port in Australia, for their distribution and collection. In order if possible to a'waken the consciences of some honorable senators, and particularly of Senator Stewart, I should like to say that rather than that the Committee should accept the amendment, I should prefer that the word " Adelaide " should be left out, with a view to insert the word "Fremantle." Fremantle is the first Australian port at which these boats will touch on the voyage from Europe, and why should they go beyond that port?

Senator Guthrie - What would the honorable senator do with the mails after they reached Fremantle?

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