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Thursday, 21 November 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I think that on this amendment the whole question of subsidizing the coasting trade is open. It seems to me that the proposed new clause 2 86a, if inserted, will provoke retaliation. It is evidently intended to strike, in some form or other, at those steam-ship lines owned by foreign companies which are seeking to compete for the trade of Australia. It is a case of blowing hot and cold. How the Government will be able to adjust the hot and cold breaths to the foreign companies is a matter which, of course, they have to determine for themselves. Sub-clause 2 of the provision simply means that if we consider that a subsidy which is offered to induce a foreign company to compete for the Australian trade is designed more for commercial purposes than for the carrying of mails, the Government will strike at that company. At any rate, the main intention of the provision is to put into the hands of the Government a weapon with which they can strike whenever they choose at foreign-owned ships, and possibly British ships, too. It is quite clear that the form of the provision will invite careful consideration by those shipping companies, and possibly provoke retaliation. As regards the coasting trade, it is well to consider the position we have got into after six years of deliberation from various points of view. The position will be best understood by recalling the history

Provided' that the carrying of cargo on a through bill of lading and passengers on through tickets to and from a port beyond Australia shall not be deemed to be engaged in the coasting trade.

We have something similar in this Bill. In 1907 a further proviso was put in, which showed the difficulty from both an economical and a constitutional point of view -

Provided further that until the Western Australian and South Australian railways are connected, carrying passengers between Western Australia and another Australian port shall not be deemed coastal trade.

Iri other words, Western Australia was to' have an advantage over any other State with regard to the coasting trade, and, as the' proviso showed on the very face of it, the absence of railway connexion between the' two States was the alleged cause of thaiconcession to Western Australia. It must' have been, more or less, clearly evident thatsuch a proviso was unconstitutional. That opinion was expressed at the time. It is also clear that, by the subsequent alterations iri that clause, the Crown law advisers of the Government were of that opinion, because it does not appear again in that' direct form. *

Senator de Largie - What authority have you for making that statement ?

Senator ST LEDGER - The inference is irresistible. It is borne out by the changes that were made during the passing of - the Bill' through both Houses.

Senator Needham - An inference is not: a fact.

Senator ST LEDGER - But the inference that I have made is a very fair one:>

Senator Pearce - I rise to orderSenator St. Ledger will see that the particular amendment under consideration deals entirely with subsidized vessels. He is now entering, into the whole question of the coasting trade. That will arise on new clause 5A which I have promised to' have reconsidered. An opportunity will then be afforded for the honorable senator to discuss the matter with which he has been dealing, but I suggest that he is out of order on this amendment.

Senator ST LEDGER - I thank the Minister for the way he is trying to meetme. As he assures me that I shall have an opportunity on the recommittal of clause 5A and on Senator Guthrie's amendment, I shall be content with that.

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