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Thursday, 27 September 1906

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) - - I trust that the honorable senator will not press his amendment. He has quoted my remarks in connexion with a statement he made with reference to a proposal of Senator Macfarlane when the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was under consideration. If he means to ascribe to me the opinion that it was not competent for the Government bv any means to abolish the cable charges he is attributing to me a view which I never held. Time after time, I urged upon him to take the bold course of abolishing these charges, and I pointed out that it could be done. I indicated that there was a great distinction between a definite cable subsidy and a conditional guarantee. The honorable senator and his colleagues, however, seemed to think that Tasmania was paying, and was chargeable under the Constitution with this guarantee as well as the subsidy of ,£4,200 per annum payable to the Eastern Extension Company. So far as Tasmania is concerned, she is undoubtedly responsible during the bookkeeping period for expenditure as at the time of transfer. She was paying £4,200 per annum bv way of subsidy, and over and above that there was a conditional guarantee to the company of ,£5,600 per annum message rates revenue. Who was responsible for that - Tasmania? Yes, primarily ;' but at the time of her entry into the Commonwealth, no. Victoria took her share of the responsibility long before the Commonwealth was established, and it was because we in this Parliament reduced the charge from id. to Jd. per word that Victoria was held to have no further liability. She had accepted the responsibility for her portion of the guarantee or. condition that the cable charge should be reduced to id. ; and because the charge was further reduced to Jd., it was held that, although she received the benefit of the reduction, her liability under the guarantee ceased. As a matter of fact, the £5,600 conditional guarantee was not operative, and was not an expenditure of Tasmania. The question of cable communication between Tasmania and the mainland was intermingled with a large number of agreements which a number of the States had entered into with the Eastern Extension Company in connexion with the Port Darwin overland telegraph line and other services. The honorable senator knows that the £4,200 debited to Tasmania was allocated amongst the other States, who were also parties to those other agreements with the Eastern Extension Company. It is all very well to imagine that when Tasmania came over to the Federation she was paying £5,600 to the Eastern Extension Company, but, as a matter of fact, the public on both sides of Bass Strait were paying practically id. per word above the governmental telegraph charges to the company, and making up that amount and more.

The people upon both sides of Bass Strait - not Tasmania - by_ paying since Jd. per word have been bearing the burden of that £5,600. It is the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the other States who have been paying this extra toll before and since Federation - who have been paying the message receipts revenue. That is the point which I repeatedly attempted to impress upon Senator Drake at the time that he was a Minister. The question of the relations of this company with Tasmania have been, at my instance, most carefully considered by the .present Attorney-General, who has recommended that the course proposed can be constitutionally adopted. More than that I cannot say. If Senator Drake will not withdraw his amendment, I ask honorable members to vote against it.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2, and title, agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

Standing Orders suspended, and Bill read a third time.

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