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Wednesday, 1 October 1913

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania Honorary Minister) . - I desire, by leave of the Senate, to make a statement. Honorable senators will remember that on Friday last I was urged somewhat insistently, though 'I make no complaint on that score, to give replies to various statements made, andquestions put, regarding a number of matters referred to on the Supply Bill. I regretted exceedingly that that very insistency and continued urging of requests for information was in itself the reason why I could not reply to honorable senators. I then indicated that I would take the earliest opportunity to answer the statements made and questions -put. I propose to do that now, and especiallyto reply to various questions put in the Senate for some weeks past with regard to the Tasmanian mail service. It may be necessary that I should apologize to honorable senators who do not come from Tasmania if I have to devote five minutes to my references to this question.

Senator Maughan -The honorable senator need not apologize. It is an Aus tralian matter; it affects Queensland as well as Tasmania.

Senator CLEMONS - I am very glad that honorable senators from other States take an interest in the little State in which I live. When the Government undertook the task of arranging a Tasmanian mail service, the chief consideration was to secure, so far as the mail service is concerned, a rapid, regular, and uniform service throughout the year. That was the primary consideration, but subject to that, the opportunity was afforded, as it is always afforded when a subsidy is proposed to be given for any steam-ship service, to consider the matter of providing for the comfort and convenience of passengers, and facilities for conveying freight (between the mainland and Tasmania.These werethe objects that the Government had in view when endeavouring to arrange for the Tasmanian mail contract. I am glad to be in a position to give honorable senators the particulars. First of all, the future service, so far asLaunceston and Melbourne are concerned, will be this: On three days of the week, each way, a boat of the Loongana class willleave throughout thewhole of the year, without any intermission or exception whatever, either for winter running or for docking purposes. The days of the week on which the boats will leave Launceston will be Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the days on which the boats will leave Melbourne will be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I wish to emphasize the fact that this service will be continued throughout the year, without interruption. In addition, during the two principal summer months of the year, a boat of the Loongana class will go from Melbourne to Burnie, and from Burnie to Launceston, andback again from Launceston, viaBurnie, to Melbourne. This service will be in addition to the regular service of three days each way in each week. Further, in addition, during one of the bi-weekly trips, vid Burnie, the boat of the Loongana Glass will also call at Devonport.

Senator Ready -During two months of the year only.

Senator CLEMONS - During the two chief summer months of the year. The agreement also stipulates that there shall be provided on board these boats adequate and sufficient accommodation for the sorting of the mails, with free accommodation for one sorter. I do not wish to greatly emphasize that, but those who live in Tasmania will recognise that it may mean a considerable advance in the rapid delivery of our mails.

Senator Pearce - What if the sorter gets sea-sick?

Senator CLEMONS - Since the honorable senator has referred to that, I should like to express the personal opinion that the system of sorting in transit should be developed as far as possible. If it done successfully anywhere in Australia, I venture to say, from a long experience, which Senator Keating and other members of the Senate have shared with me, that it should be done in connexion with the service between Melbourne and Launceston.

Senator MULCAHY (TASMANIA) - There is plenty of time, anyhow.

Senator CLEMONS - Not so much us. Senator Mullan thinks, perhaps; but I may give him my sympathetic opinion on the subject, when I say that the time which will be afforded will probably be two and a half hours between Melbourne and Queenscliff, and two and a half hours between the Tamar Heads and the Launceston wharf. That is my sympathetic reply. I venture to say that the five hours will be ample for what is required.

Senator de Largie - When we were inquiring into this matter, we learnt that the mails were frequently allowed to lie in Launceston for about half-a-day.

Senator CLEMONS - I may assure Senatorde Largie that it was to prevent that kind of thing, and expedite the delivery of mails all over Tasmania, that this provision for sorting during transit has been arranged. In addition, we have inserted a new clause in the contract, which we hope will be sufficiently stringent for the purpose, to insure punctuality of departure. It was impressed upon the contractors in conversations, and in the contract, that it is desirable that a steamship service for the conveyance of mails should be run as far as possible on the lines of a railway service, and that punctuality is one of the first rules which must be observed. I assure the Senate that it will be observed under the contract. To further secure the rapid delivery of mails in Tasmania, it has been provided that the mails shall be landed at once at Launceston on the arrival of the boat without any delay for swinging the vessel round.

Senator McGregor - Would it not be better to arrange for the punctual arrival of the steamers?

Senator CLEMONS - The proper provision is made for that purpose, because the two boats which are to carry on the service are bound down to travel at a certain rate of speed between Gellibrand Light, in Hobson'sBay, and Tamar Heads. Rapid transit is provided for by the contract. A further condition is being enforced, and that is that the rates and freights now charged for the conveyance of passengers and goods between Melbourne and Tasmania shall not be increased at any time during the currency of the contract without the consent and approval of the PostmasterGeneral.

Senator Ready - They are too high now.

Senator CLEMONS - Into that matter I cannot go at present.I have intimated, I think, about the most important clauses in the new contract.

Senator O'Keefe - What is the term of the contract?

Senator CLEMONS - The term of the contract is five years, and is to start from the date when the new steamer of the Loongana type is ready here to take up the running.

Senator Ready - That is practically a seven years' contract from now.

Senator CLEMONS - No. The existing contract, which still has a year to run, had to be extended. There was no other possible or desirable means of meeting the position until the new boat is available. As soon as the new boat does take up the running, the contract will begin, and the currency of it will be five years.

Senator Ready - It means private enterprise for the next seven years.

Senator CLEMONS - I am not going to deal with that matter. I cannot expect to convince my honorable friend in regard to the question of principle. I trust, however, that my honorable friends will concede to this side the right of determining on what principle the contract is to be carried out. All I ask is that they will make this concession, that on those lines, and subject to that limitation, this is a good business contract.

Senator Ready - It is far from a daily service.

Senator CLEMONS - I should like to make my statement without too many interruptions. I wish to mention, in reply to Senator Pearce, that the present amount of the subsidy is £13,000, and that the future amount will be £15,000. I wish to emphasize what the Commonwealth is to get as a business proposition, looking at it in the coldest and the hardest way possible, for the extra sum of £2,000 a year. First, a new boat has to be put on the service to carry the mails. It will cost at least £150,000. It is to replace a boat which for about five months in the year has been doing work that, practically speaking, it will take up. The value of the boat which is to be replaced is, at the most, £15,000. Therefore, the Commonwealth, by paying £2,000 a year more for the service, is to get a boat which will cost £150,000, instead of a boat which the owners would sell to-day for £15,000. But that is not all. In addition to the improved service, the cost of running a new boat of the Loongana type is at least £2,000 more than the cost of running the boat which it is to replace, and that is theRotomahana. Therefore, from a business point of view, the Commonwealth, by paying £2,000 a year more, is securing, so to speak, from the other side, the full value of the interest on £150,000, less £15,000, that is, the value of the present boat, and the full value of at least £2,000 per month for five months of the year, which will represent to those concerned the added cost of runing the improved service.

Senator de Largie - That is one way of putting it.

Senator CLEMONS - I venture to put the matter in that way. I have explained the position, as far as I can, quite fully. I have kept nothing back. I submit that, at any rate, this is a business proposition.

Senator de Largie - When a steamship company trading to Western Australia puts on new boats from time to time, it does not get any increased subsidy.

Senator CLEMONS - I can only answer that suggestion in this way: that if any one, on business lines, can quarrel with this arrangement, then every arrangement made for the Tasmanian mail service during the previous ten years has been a hopelessly bad one. I am careful to make no particular reference to the late Government. I shall include, if you like, all preceding Governments. I submit that, having regard to the nature of the mail service, for which we have paid £13,000 a year, the old ser vice, by comparison with the new service, must have been hopelessly and unutterably bad. There is no comparison, from a business point of view, as to the value which the Commonwealth is going to get for the subsidy. By various questions and statements on the subject, I have been reminded of some of my utterances regarding the question of combines. I stand on this side to-day, and adhere to every single statement that I have ever uttered on the subject. If any member of the Senate wishes to know what I have said, I refer him to Hansard, Vol. 64, where he will find my statement in regard to the question of this combine on a motion for adjournment by Senator Long. In conclusion, I will state my attitude in regard to combines. I distinctly object to any combine, shipping or otherwise, using the Government or the people of Australia. But I do not object, and I never will object, to the people of Australia using combines. I venture to say that in the present case we have got out of this combine more value for our money than we could have got out of any single shipping company; and I am glad to do it. There is no honorable senator who is more glad than I am to get out of the combine as much as is possible.

Senator Ready - You would have a hard job to persuade the people of Tasmania as to that.

Senator CLEMONS - I am perfectly satisfied to undertake my own hard jobs. I do not ask for assistance in that matter.

SenatorReady. - Will you let me ask a question before you sit down?

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