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Thursday, 28 November 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - Though it is intended that the information supplied by ship-owners under this clause shall be regarded as confidential, we know that a resolution of either House of this Parliament could secure the publicity of that information. The marginal note to the clause refers us to a section of the Merchant. Shipping Act, but I find that, although such a section appeared in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906, it has since disappeared from the Act. I have tried, without success, to discover the reasons why it has been omitted. It may be that the Imperial Parliament considered that such a provision should not apply exclusively to the shipping trade. Senator Vardon has properly said that if we may ask persons engaged in the shipping trade to disclose their gross earnings, there is no reason why we should not try to discover the earnings of persons engaged in every other kind of business. If it is intended to provide that any one carrying on business in Australia shall disclose his earnings, let us say so straight away, and embody that as a general principle in a special Act. Some honorable senators on this side are anxious that the Navigation Bill shall go through, if possible, as a Christmas present to the ship-owners and seamen of Australia, but we are confronted here with the introduction of an important principle, and if we let the head get in by means of this clause, we may soon find that the whole body will get through. We know that it is the policy of the Government and their supporters to make inquisitorial investigation into the business affairs of people engaged in every industry.

Senator Millen - If there was a doubt on the subject this clause makes it clear.

Senator ST LEDGER - The Government are tempting the Opposition to oppose this proposal, and it would be far more frank of them to agree, in view of legislation anticipated, to abandon this principle in connexion with this Bill. We know that it is intended that it shall be given full effect in a more comprehensive way, and why, therefore, should it be included here? We should, I think, have some explanation of the reason why a similar provision has been dropped out of the Merchant Shipping Act.

Senator Millen - If that be so, the marginal note to the clause is not honest.

Senator ST LEDGER - It is so. Such a provision appeared in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906, but it does not appear in the Act to-day.

Senator de Largie - We are not responsible for what may be left in Imperial legislation or what may be left out of Imperial legislation.

Senator ST LEDGER - We are entitled to know what the Government are after in this matter. The Minister was, no doubt, very pleased to be able to inform me that this provision is taken from the Merchant Shipping Act, because I do not hesitate to confess that, especially in connexion with matters of this kind, I have a very great respect for Imperial legislation. But this is not Imperial legislation. The Minister is clearly very well informed in this matter by his official advisers, and he should be able to explain why this provision has been omitted from the Merchant Shipping Act. On the broad principle I fail to see why we should make these inquisitorial inquiries as to the gross earnings of ship-owners. I have always been opposed to unnecessary and dangerous intrusion into the realms of private enterprise. I object to the Government asking me how much I earn. If people engaged in one industry are obliged to answer these inquiries, people engaged in all other industries should be under a similar obligation. The proposal is made specially in this Bill, and it is a reasonable assumption that it is made for a special purpose. Is it suggested that the shipping companies have been victimizing the public? Speaking generally, I do not suppose that an exact return would be made under this clause. Who makes an honest return for the purposes of the income tax? Let those who do so lift their hats, that we may know who they are. I do not suppose that a shipping company would make a straightforward, honest return of its gross earnings.

Senator de Largie - Why has the honorable senator such a " set " on Australian shipping companies?

Senator ST LEDGER - It is generally assumed that I am the champion of monopolies and' combines. One great newspaper, published not 1,000 miles from here, scarcely mentions my name, except with the suggestion that I am a hireling of monopolistic institutions. Senator de Largie has now made the discovery, and I congratulate him upon it, that I am not an altogether biased and hopelessly prejudiced champion even of the Shipping Combine. I again ask that the Minister shall explain why it is proposed that this special inquiry should be made in the case of shipping companies, and why a similar provision has been omitted from the Merchant Shipping Act.

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