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Thursday, 2 August 1906

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I should like to reply to the remarks of Senator Keating on the observations which I made on this subject twelve months ago. I adhere to every word I uttered on that occasion. I believe that the Government should undertake a mail contract only ; but since they have seen fit to make it also a produce-carrying contract, I am not going to permit dust to be thrown in my eyes.

Senator Turley - Where is it stated that this is a produce-carrying contract?

Senator STEWART - That is exactly where the cunning of the document comes in. The understanding is so cleverly concealed as to be invisible to people who do not want to see it, but to others it is so plain that he who runs may read. Why is there this stipulation as to the tonnage of the vessels? It is ridiculous to assume that it is for the purpose of carrying mails. The Government stipulate not for one vessel, but for a whole fleet. The Government say to the prospective - and prospecting - company not only that they must build vessels of 11,000 tons, but must submit the plans and specifications to the Government representative. If there is no understanding that they are to be cargo vessels, why all these stipulations? The Prime Minister said that an arrangement, or understanding, had been arrived at sub rosa - though he did not use those words - that the boats were to proceed to Melbourne and Sydney ; and he might have added that that condition was not included in the contract, lest the Queensland people should desire them to also call at Brisbane.

Senator Turley - Is that true ?

Senator Keating - That is the first I have heard of it.

Senator STEWART - I do not know that these things are expressly mentioned in Cabinet, and, even if they were, there would be no record. Every Minister is bound in honour not to reveal what occurs at a Cabinet meeting. No honorable senator has yet attempted to explain why the Government insists on the stipulations I have mentioned.

Senator McGregor - Because the conditions were offered.

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator must be very silly. If these conditions were offered, why are they included in the contract? Does any honorable senator imagine- that the company is going to build vessels of this tonnage, and submit plans to the Government unless it expects to be paid ? And is not the payment included in the. subsidy^?

Senator Staniforth Smith - Certainly not.

Senator STEWART - I shall not dwell longer on the question of the tonnage. I can understand Senator Smith, and honorable senators from South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, being perfectly satisfied with the contract - it is not "the"ir funeral."

Senator Trenwith - Why would the vessels go on to Melbourne and Sydney?

Senator STEWART - Presumably because there is business to be got at Melbourne and Sydney.

Senator Trenwith - And the only reason why the vessels would not go to Brisbane would lae that there was no business.

Senator STEWART - If the honorable senator had listened he would have understood that my objection to the contract is that it is more than a mail contract, and if I am right in that, the vessels ought to be bound to go on to Brisbane and Hobart. If this is a mail contract only, the company's connexion with the Commonwealth should end at Adelaide and Brindisi. I have pointed out that the internal evidence of the contract itself convincingly proves to any man open to reason that a. cargo contract is contemplated, as well as a mail contract. It is as plainly there in the terms of the contract as the nose upon a man's face. I have pointed out that it does not affect the representatives of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, or New South Wales, because the vessels will call at Fre mantle, at Adelaide, and probably also at Melbourne and Sydney.

Senator Guthrie - They may or may not do so.

Senator STEWART - They are not bound by this contract to call at Melbourne or Sydney, and. our Victorian and New South Wales friends may find themselves in a difficulty some early morning. We have had some experience of the operations of shipping rings- in Australia already. I remember that the Aberdeen Company was in the habit of Bringing goods from Europe consigned to Queensland, and of actually taking them out of their vessels at Sydney to be sent on to Brisbane by other vessels, whilst the vessels in which' they were brought to Sydney continued their voyage to Brisbane. That foolish and vicious action was compelled by the shipping ring. What security have we that this company which is now being organized will not be a member of the same shipping ring, and that as a consequence the fierce competition amongst the shipping companies, on which some of our friends seem to rely so strongly, will not vanish into thin air? It is quite within the bounds of possibility that the New Zealand Government will offer this company a subsidy, and that, as a consequence, instead of sending their boats on to Melbourne and Sydney from Adelaide, as some of our friends fondly expect they will, they will prefer fo send them on te New Zealand,' and thus place the producers of the eastern States in a most difficult position.

Senator Turley - The honorable senator is proving that this is only a mail contract.

Senator STEWART - What I have said does not prove anything of the kind. Senator Turley does not see anything in this contract but what he desires to see. I repeat that these vessels are not bound to go to Sydney and Melbourne, and that is just where the company are getting the better of our friends from New South Wales and Victoria. Honorable senators representing those States believe that in this contract they are getting the better of Queensland, and that is why they propose to agree to the bargain. But the company, while aiding and abetting them to outwit Queensland, are at the same time outwitting themselves. That is the position. A threat on the part of the company not to call at Melbourne and Svdney would compel the producers in the eastern States to come to any terms which the combine might exact. Any one can see that, and even if honorable senators from New South Wales and Victoria do not care very much about the interests of Queensland, they should try to conserve the interests of their own State. Senator Keating was kind enough to tell the Committee what the Premier of Queensland thinks about the subject. I may inform the honorable senator that I had a conversation with the Premier of Queensland not very long ago, in which I believe I persuaded that honorable gentleman, much against his will, to my own way of thinking with regard to these contracts, and that is that they ought to be mail contracts pure and simple.

Senator Pearce - Was this last session?

Senator STEWART - No, recently. The Premier of Queensland evidently has not realized that this contract is something more than a mail contract, and that is why he has spoken in the terms quoted by Senator Keating. The honorable and learned senator gave the Committee the benefit of the opinion of one organ of public opinion in Queensland, and I will read the opinion of another. Not that I care very much for either, because I very seldom agree with them, or they with me. Just in order to show that there is some difference of opinion in Queensland on this subject, I take the liberty of reading what the Courier has to say about it. I ask the special attention of honorable senators to the following article, which appeared in the Brisbane Courier of Friday, 27th June: -

The statement made that either the letter or the spirit of the new mail contract provides for Adelaide being the terminal port of call for the mail steamers received a flat contradiction from the Prime Minister's own explanation, as given in the House of Representatives. One need not question that it may, as he says, be the best mail contract - for the southern States - that has yet been entered into; but, so far as Queensland is concerned, no advantage whatever has been gained. The vessels, remarked Mr. Deakin, were to" be constructed according to plans submitted to the Government, with a provision for more than three times the cold storage of the present liners. Here, then, is the assumption that the purpose of the contract is, not only the speedy and regular delivery of mail matter, but also the regular and speedy carriage of refrigerated produce from Australian ports to the markets of the United Kingdom. If the only question to be considered was the saving of time between Brindisi and Adelaide, the two terminal ports for the receipt of the mail bags, why should it have been deemed necessary to submit plans of the steamers to the Federal Government, and why should there have been any reference to the fact that the new steamers will have more than three times the frozen space of the present steamers? From first to last, within and outside the terms of the mail contract, there is a clear understanding that it has as much to do with the carriage of produce as with the regular delivery of letters; and the boast made about increase of space has no meaning unless. there isa definite assurance that the mail steamers wilt call at other ports as well as Adelaide. Thesame conclusion is reached by other lines of argument.

I ask honorable senators to pay particular attention to this part of the article.

Suppose, for example, that there has been> any uncertainty as to whether the mail steamerswould call at Melbourne or Sydney there would1 have been no meaning in the Prime Minister'sreference to greater facilities for the carriageof Australian produce, as South Australia has not developed at such a rate as to require threetimes the frozen space for her products, and it is certain that the shippers of Melbourne and' Sydney would not send the produce of their ownStates by subsidiary steamers for transshipment at Adelaide. It is only a quibble to say that thetwo southern ports were not specifically mentioned' in the mail contract, when its general terms imply the inclusion of these ports in any contract that might be accepted, and when Mr. Deakinhas been given the private assurance of the agentsof the new company that for commercial reasonsthe steamers would continue their voyage to Melbourne and Sydney. Another consideration must be duly weighed in connexion with the comparatively high subsidy to be paid. The only justification for such a subsidy is found in increased1 speed and better accommodation for frozen produce. There never yet has been a mail contract in which the two things have not been associated ;. and supreme folly would be shown' in their dissociation. Where a subsidy has to be paid for the carriage of the mails it is surely cheaper and more efficient to arrange that the steamerswhich carry the mails shall also be thoroughly equipped for the carriage of frozen produce, asthe same canal and port dues have to be paid, and there is practically the same cost of working the steamers.

Senator Millen - Is the honorable senator reading this in support of or irc opposition to his own views?

Senator STEWART - Partly in support of them. The writer of the articlecontinues -

The principle here involved was practically recognised at the last general election when the present Queensland members and the Commonwealth Parliament painted fine pictures about the advantages that would be given to the States by a superior class of up-to-date steamers fitted' with all the improvements that science could devise for taking frozen meat and butter round: half the world. And the result of all this boastful talking and argument is that Brisbane hasbeen treated as utterly unworthy of consideration, and that Queensland producers shall pay taxesin order to give the producers of other St ites advantages which they themselves do not enjoy. The splendid mail steamers of 11,000 tons, fitted to carry three times the former amount of produce, will call at Fremantle and Adelaide - by- compulsion ; at Sydney and Melbourne - according to a definite understanding ; but Brisbane, -which commands a wider scope df country and greater natural resources than are tapped by any other Australian port, is asked to accept an arrangement in which there is neither compulsion nor understanding that Queenslanders would be given the same benefits conferred on other Australians. The people of southern Queensland must contribute in cash for a subsidy that will give the other States a fortnightly service of splendid cargo steamers; but if they want the same service they must arrange for a special subsidy. And yet, according to the Constitution of the Commonwealth, no differentiation is supposed to be made between State and State. Tn a matter of this kind, one might expect that Queensland's representatives will' show a united and resolute front against the Federal Government. Their failure to do so should make electors pause and consider when the next appeal is -.-made to the country.

I quote that article for what it is worth. As Senator Keating kindly gave us the Daily Mail on the subject, I have given the Brisbane Courier on the same subject. Honorable senators now have Loth sides of the shield presented to them, and -can decide the matter in which ever way thev please.

Senator Lt.-Col.GOULD (New South Wales) [10.44]. - I do not know whether the Government propose to go on with the -debate, or to adjourn at this stage. Three or four other honorable senators desire to speak, and I therefore suggest that the -debate be. adjourned.

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