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Thursday, 25 July 1912

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - I think there is every reason for Senator Long's motion having been brought forward to. day. At the same time, I regret that under the terms of it we are not allowed to discuss the question of the convenience of passengers, but must confine our remarks to the mail service. There is, however, much to be said as to the mail service alone. I understand that the Government have called for tenders for the 12th October. I regret to say that the time that is available will make it rather difficult for this Government to effect any alteration under present conditions. I am not going to criticise this Government or any previous Administration, nor shall I enlarge upon the present service to Hobart. But, as to the service between Launceston and Melbourne, I may be permitted to lay a few facts before the Senate. I think it will be agreed that, of the two boats running, the Loongana is absolutely satisfactory for all purposes. She is an excellent boat as far as relates to passenger accommodation, and she is a very fair boat in the matter of the delivery of mails. She is the fastest boat at present running in southern seas. She admirably suits the re- .quirements in regard to the River Tamar. I do not suppose any one desires to say a word against the Loongana. Personally, I regard her as being as good a boat for this service as we could hope to have. The other boat, however, is utterly unfit for the service. That she is so is not entirely the fault of the vessel herself. We must face the difficult facts of the position. One of the chief troubles is the state of the river. The difficulty of navigating the river is such that a boat like the Rotomahana is dependent very- largely upon tides. She cannot deliver her mails as speedily and certainly as the Loongana can, because the Loongana was specially built with a view to service in the Tamar.

Senator Needham - It is a question of draught.

Senator CLEMONS - Yes, it is; but that difficulty could be overcome. The Loongana has overcome it entirely. That is to say, no matter what the state of the river may be, the Loongana does deliver her mails as quickly, probably, as could any boat that could be built. To state the case fairly, the trouble with which we are confronted now arises only in the winter time. In the summer the Loongana does all the running, and does it satisfactorily. I do not wish to make personal statements, but the interest I have taken in this business entitles me, I think, to point out, without going into 'details and mentioning names, that the present arrangement for the mail service between Tasmania and the mainland - I hesitate to say this, but it is a fact - implies the recognition of a combine. Now, frankly, I do not like the recognition of combines. I do not like combines at all. I do not wish to press that point too strongly, but I will remind the Senate of what the facts are. The companies undertaking this mail service, have been two only since Federation began. Those companies are the Union Steam-ship Company of New Zealand, and Messrs. Huddart, Parker and Company.

Senator Guthrie - Prior to Federation, there was also the old Tasmanian Steamship Company.

Senator CLEMONS - The correction is not of sufficient importance to interfere with my argument. Since Federation, the tenders for these mail services have been acquired by a combine ; because the facts to-day are that the Loongana was built by the Union Steam-ship Company, and every plank of it is owned by1 that company, whilst the Rotomahana is also the property of the Union Steam-ship Company, but is chartered by the co-tenderer, Messrs. Huddart, Parker and Company.

Senator Ready - They are all in the game.

Senator CLEMONS - This is a state of things that I have never liked, and I have never hesitated to say so. But it is the condition of things existing to-day. As a matter of fact, the Rotomahana is utterly unfit for this service. That is no doubt the reason for this motion, which I entirely support. But dealing with the matter in a practical way, I firmly believe that there is not in Australian waters to-day another vessel which is fitted to take the place of the Rotomahana. 1 wish to deal with the position quite fairly, and, therefore, I say frankly that I do not believe that either the Union Steam-ship Company or Messrs. Huddart, Parker and Company have available to-day another vessel that is better than the Rotomahana, bad as she is. At any rate, I do not know where another vessel could be obtained. That being so, I will venture to make a suggestion to the Minister. This is not a party matter at all, and I am not criticising either this Government or their predecessors. My suggestion is this : Tasmania would, I believe, be perfectly satisfied - all of us who are interested in improving the mail service would be perfectly satisfied - and the requirements of the passenger accommodation would be met as far as the Melbourne-Launceston trade is concerned, if we had two Loonganas. Put in a nut-shell, that is what we really want.

Senator Guthrie - That would mean the Commonwealth Government paying £26,000 a year instead of ,£13,000.

Senator CLEMONS - I entirely dissent from the opinion that the cost to the Commonwealth would be £26,000 a year.

Senator Guthrie - It costs us £13,000 a year for one Loongana.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Guthrieis misstating the facts. The Commonwealth Government pays a subsidy of about £13,000 for a steam-ship service, which means, not only running a service of two boats between Launceston and Melbourne, but also another one between Melbourne and Burnie. The only difference in cost that would accrue from the adoption of the suggestion which I have made would1 be, practically speaking, the difference of the interest onthe capital necessary to buy a Loongana, and the money at which- you might fairly expect to sell the Rotomahana to-day '; and if there is anything else of difference in the matter, also the slight additional cost of running another Loongana as compared with the cost of running the Rotomahana. That is the position. I would also suggest to the Government that, if they think this matter of sufficient importance to give it their attention - as I hope they do - in calling for these new tenders, due on the 12th October, they should endeavour to accept a tender for just that limited time which is ' necessary to enable one or both of these shipping companies to build a second Loongana. In other words, if the Ministry accept a tender for the usual three years' period now, I do not think they can get a better tender so far as boats are concerned than one which would involve the continued use of the two now in the service. But I think that the Ministry might show a determination to improve the service. With that end in view, they might negotiate, and, in regard to the tenders, specify such a time as would enable a new boat to be constructed. I believe that the service requires two Loonganas. It is necessary tr» have such a service from the point of view of the delivery of mails; because the mails delivered by the Rotomahana are often very much later than they ought to be. Frequently, a mail which the Loongana would deliver in Launceston so that the post-office could have it sorted by 11 or rs o'clock in the morning will not, when carried by the Rotomahana, be delivered so as to be sorted before 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

Senator Ready - By the Rotomahana, you do not arrive at the wharf in Launceston till 2.30 p.m.

Senator Keating - When the Rotomahana delivers the mail in Launceston on Saturdays, unless a person has a private box, he does not get his letters until the Monday morning.

Senator CLEMONS - That is as to Saturdays ; but in regard to ordinary days the difference between the running time of the Rotomahana and the Loongana is at least three hours. With regard to Saturdays - and one or other of the two boats always arrives in Launceston on a Saturday - the Rotomahana comes in, and her mail is not delivered until Monday morning unless, as Senator Keating says, a person has a private box. The post-office delivers no mails that are brought to Launceston on Saturdays by the Rotomahana. I think I have now brought before the Senate all the facts which I desire to mention, and I would simply reiterate to the Government the practical suggestion that they should, if possible, arrange for tenders in such- a way as to make it necessary for these companies, if they get the contract again, to put on within a reasonable time -say, fifteen or eighteen months from October next - 'two Loonganas instead of the present Loongana plus the Rotomahana. If they do that, they will do extremely well, and will greatly improve the mail service between Tasmania and the mainland.

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