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Thursday, 2 October 1913

Senator READY (Tasmania) .- I move -

That, in the opinion of this Senate, it is desirable that the Government should, as early as possible, establish a fleet of Commonwealthowned overseas and Inter-State steamers, commencing with the linking up of Tasmania as an integral part of the Commonwealth with the mainland, by means of a line of steam-ships. 1 now bring this matter before the Senate for tho second time.

Senator Millen - What happened to it last session ?

Senator READY - The motion was carried by a very large majority on the last day of the session. The only senators who voted against it were the representatives of the party opposite.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator left it until he gave his party an opportunity for doing nothing.

Senator READY - The motion did not come to a vote until the session was about to end; but when a vote was taken, it was so decisively indicative of the opinion of the Senate, that, largely as the result of it, the late Government made it a part of their policy to link up the State which I have the honour to represent with the rest of the Commonwealth by means of a line of steamers. That was the result of the motion. We, as a party, have been accused of not doing anything during our three years of office to improve the steam-ship service to Tasmania. What are the facts ? Until October, 1912, the contract did not expire, andi therefore, in the previous Parliament the Government could not do anything prior to that date. For many months prior to the expiry of the contract, representatives on both sides of the Chamber urged the Government to take steps to improve the mail service; and, as the result of a full inquiry, a debate initiated by Senator Long, the debate on the motion moved by myself, and the continued representations of the Tasmanian Labour members, the Government decided that the commonsense solution of the problem was the provision of a Commonwealth-owned line of steamers, and not the placing of a fresh contract in the hands of the steam-ship monopoly. At the request of the Labour men representing Tasmania, only a two years' contract was given to the steam-ship companies, in order that the Fisher Government might carry out a policy of its own when that term expired.

Owing to the shuffling of the political cards, our opponents are temporarily in power. They at once flouted the wish of the Senate, as clearly expressed in its vote. They at once flouted the wishes of a majority of the representatives of Tasmania. In the two branches of this Parliament, Tasmania has eleven representatives, and six of them belong to the Labour party. Senator Clemons has announced that, in defiance of the wish of the States House as expressed last session, and in defiance of the wishes of Tasmanian representatives, the Government has entered into a contract which will tie the Commonwealth up until 1920 in the hands of a pernicious combine. In two years' time, he says, a new steamer of the Loongana type will be put in the running, and the contract will be of five years' duration "from that date. Until 1920, therefore, the magnificent project of linking up Tasmania with the mainland by means of national boats will be relegated to the background. But we on this side, when the proper time arrives, will call these honorable gentlemen to book before their masters, the people of Tasmania, for their betrayal of the best interests of that little State.

So far as the time-table is concerned, the new contract is very little improvement on the present contract; while, so far as boats are concerned, if is undoubtedly an improvement. Let me point out at what a cost we have purchased that very slight improvement, and at what a disadvantage the whole of the people of Tasmania are to be placed for seven years by an unholy compact with private enterprise. We are to get another vessel of the Loongana type in two years; we are to get better boats. Probably, we shall have more speedy transit and more regular running, but we shall not get what the people of Tasmania have long asked for, and that is anything approaching a daily service. We are to have a three days' service for ten months of the year, and a five days' service for two months. Further, we are getting an unholy bargain which, with the exception of the two new boats, will enable the steam-ship companies to perpetuate their unfair treatment of Tasmanian shippers, because it will enable them to keep in service for seven years, the Paloona, thirteen years old, which is often- running from Sydney to Hobart; the Westralia, fifteen years old, which runs from Sydney to Hobart; the Oonah, which is twenty years old ; the Wainui, which is twenty-six years old; and that obsolete tub, the W a kal ipu, aged thirtysix years, running from Sydney to Launceston. It will enable the companies to dictate to the whole of the business people and the producers of Tasmania for seven years.

This is a subject which the present Government treat lightly, but they will go to the people of Tasmania presently, and take credit to themselves. They will say, " We got you a better service with better boats." Better boats, of course, they will be. But when it is realized that the mail service will cost the Commonwealth £15,000 a year, and that sum would pay the interest at 4 per cent, on the cost of two boats as good as the new boat we are to get of the Loongana type, worth £150,000; when ft is realized that the subsidy would not only pay the interest on two boats worth £300,000 in the aggregate, but leave £3,000 a year to provide for depreciation, honorable senators will appreciate, from a business point of view, what a magnificent opportunity to benefit Tasmania has been passed over.

Before I deal with the business aspect of my proposal, however, I wish to put in Hansard, for the benefit of the people of my State, the present position, briefly, backed up by sworn evidence, as to freights and fares, and the general conditions with which they are penalized by the shipping companies. A Select Committee which was appointed at the instance of Senator Bakhap, took a good deal of evidence in Tasmania. Let us see how 'the companies to whom the Government have given a new lease of life have treated Tasmania hitherto. Regarding freights, Mr. E. T. Clemons, a commission agent, doing a large business in Devonport, gave the following evidence -

Do you consider them unreasonably high? - Yes ; compared with those on the mainland.

Will you institute any comparison? - To give you one clear instance, the freight from Devonport to Newcastle on chaff is 23s. 6d. a ton, and from Adelaide to Newcastle it is only £1. Tt is a four-days' journey from Adelaide to Newcastle, steaming all the time, and yet the freight is less than from here, consequently our quotations have to be from 5s. to 7s. under the mainland price to get the business.

In that respect the freight rates charged are so high as to constitute a handicap? Undoutedly.

We see there how, in regard to chaff alone, in the north-west coast of Tasmania, men have to quote 5s. or 7s. under the mainland price to get the business, simply because of freight charges. Those conditions will be perpetuated by means of the new mail contract. On the subject of freights, evidence was given by Mr. G. Finlayson, who is connected with a large engineering firm in Devonport; -

Are they reasonable or excessive? - They are very excessive.

How do you arrive at a standard of comparison? - The charges from the Old Country to Melbourne, for instance, are sometimes less than from Melbourne to here on heavy lifts.

What would you call a heavy lift? - Anything over six tons. The present charge for a six-ton lift is £35 from Melbourne to Devonport.

What would the charge be from the Old Country ? - About 50s. to 60s. per ton ; it varies slightly.

And you find this a disadvantage in your trade ? - Undoubtedly.

According to that evidence, this gentleman, at Devonport, could get a 6-ton lift from the Old Country for £18 freight, but he had to pay £35 freight to get it from Melbourne to Devonport. If that is not daylight and legalized robbery, I want to know what is. I will quote another instance to show how all classes of the community are being penalized. I shall quote from the evidence of Mr. Unsworth, of the firm of Irvine and McEachran, one of the biggest wine and spirit merchants in Tasmania -

Freight on wines and spirits until about three years ago was the same as for goods - 10s. per ton. It was suddenly raised to 12s. 6d., and when I asked the freight manager of the company for an explanation he said it was to bring it into line with the other States. That was all the satisfaction I got. The rates were raised on ordinary goods some little time ago from ros. to us., wines and spirits were raised to 13s. 6d. ; but about three or four months ago, without notice of any kind in any shape or form, wines and spirits were raised to 15s. per ton, or 4s. more than for ordinary cargo. On bottled beer we only pay the same as for ordinary cargo. It is monstrous. For transhipments from England and Scotland, when the rate was 10s. per ton we used to be charged 7s. 6d., and it is now 14s. for wines and spirits.

Those figures are strictly for freights? - Yes.

In connexion with your transhipments from England and Scotland there has been an increase of almost 100 per cent. ? - Yes. They used to charge 7s. 6d., and now we pay 14s. and the charges.

Mr. EdwinIngledew, a prominent merchant of Devonport, was examined by Mr. Whitsitt, a Liberal member -

It seems to me there is an unholy combine existing at the present time, or shall we call it an " honorable understanding." Do you consider the present charges are fair and reasonable? - I consider the rates of freight are too high. I will give you an instance. In regard to chaff, prior to the rate on potatoes being raised from 10s. to us., the rate on chaff was 15s. It was then put up to 16s., a is. increase to apply to chaff the same as to potatoes. There was some trouble at the Sydney wharves, and they raised it to 17s. per ton, maximum 25 bags to the ton. .Straw-chaff, though perhaps 27 or 28 bags to the ton, would be charged freight as 25. If weighing 20 bags to the ton, you would declare it on 20, so that they cut it both ways. The existing rate now to Sydney is 18s., as against 12s. 6d. from Adelaide to Sydney.

In other words, Tasmania is paying 50 per cent, more for the conveyance of produce from Devonport to Sydney than South Australia is paying for the conveyance of produce from Adelaide to Sydney. Yet the Government have entered into a contract which will perpetuate these hardships. On potatoes during a few years - one of the most staple products of Tasmania - the freight has jumped from 9s. to lis. a ton. On leather, an important product of Tasmania, there has been a 50 per cent, rise in the freight. The freights on wool, flour, and all other articles have correspondingly advanced. So far as fares are concerned, I need not repeat in full what I have already said in this Chamber. It is a fact that the return fare of £2 12s. 6d. between Melbourne and Launceston is day-light robbery. It represents one of the highest shipping fares charged in Australia, and is altogether out of proportion to the service performed by the company in carrying a passenger from

Melbourne to Launceston and back. If a passenger requires a deck cabin, he has to pay 10s. extra, making the return fare £3 2s. 6d. Senator Clemons prides himself upon the fact that there is a clause in the new contract which will prevent the shipping company from increasing the existing charges. I should think there would be.

Senator Long - How generous!

Senator READY - Yes; how noble of them, in view of the fact, which is supported by sworn evidence, that we have been, in Tasmania, penalized as much as 100 per cent., and certainly as much as 50 per cent., more than the freights for longer distances in other waters of the Commonwealth. The Government proposal to protect the people of Tasmania, so far as an increase of fares and freights is concerned, is practically worthless, because the company would exhibit even greater cheek than I credit them with if they had the temerity to raise the existing rates.

Senator O'Keefe - They could raise them, and the Tasmanian people would be absolutely helpless.

Senator READY - Although I do not think the company would have the temerity to increase their present extortionate fares and freights, I hope that, should they desire to do so, the clause of the contract which has been referred to will be found to be water-tight, and the company will be unable to evade their responsibilities under the contract.

Senator Long - It could be done with the consent of the Government, and that could be very easily obtained.

Senator READY - My honorable friend reminds mo that there would not be a great deal of difficulty in the company getting the consent of any Liberal Government to an increase of fares and freights.

Senator O'Keefe - The only penalty the company would suffer if they raised the freights would be the loss of the mail contract.

Senator READY - That is so, but I do not think they would like to lose the contract. It is too profitable, and the subsidy paid is too large to lose. I wish to put the business aspect of the matter again very briefly before the Senate. Evidence was taken by the Select Committee with respect to the profits of these companies. One well-informed gentle- man stated, in evidence, that a boat owned by this Combine plying between Hobart and Sydney earned £43,000 in one season. The expenses of the vessel were less than £20,000, so that there was a profit of £23,000 on the running of that one boat. Another gentleman estimated that their freights from southern Tasmania were worth £30,000 profit in a year.

I do not wonder at this, in view of the evidence elicited by the Fruit Commission. There is an arrangement between the various shipping companies trading in Australian waters with respect to these freights. I may inform honorable senators that the freight on Tasmanian fruit between Sydney and Brisbane is 17s. 6d. per ton; whilst the freight on fruit carried from Brisbane tq Sydney, the same distance, is 9s. 9d. per ton. In other words, the fruit-growers of Tasmania are called upon to pay nearly double the freight on their fruit which the people of Queensland are asked to pay on. similar produce carried south. Will honorable senators say that that is a desirable condition of .affairs? I find that on 23,737 cases of Tasmanian fruit sent, by one of the Australian United Steam Navigation steamers in a season, from Sydney to Brisbane, the freight was £1.760; whilst on 46,594 cases of fruit sent from Brisbane to Sydney, the freight charged was only £1,241. So that Tasmanian growers were called upon to pay £500 more in freight than was - charged to Queensland growers for the carriage of exactly double the quantity of fruit.

There can be no doubt that there is an arrangement between the different companies to fix fares and freights on the trading routes. At question 11,381 of the evidence taken by the Fruit Commission, Mr. W. McDonald, the general manager of the Australian Company, gave this evidence -

We have elicited in evidence that there is an arrangement between the various shipping companies relative to freight charges. Is that so? - Yes, we have an arrangement to run at fixed rates of freights and fares. That arrangement was arrived at after a very grave consultation in conference ; the rates were fixed at that conference.

That is the reason why Tasmanian growers have advocated for years a direct service from Hobart through to Brisbane.

Senator Bakhap - Are not the companies going to try a direct service ?

Senator READY - There are rumours to that effect; but even if the direct service were established, 1 suppose the honorable senator, as a representative of Tasmania, would not be satisfied that Tasmanian growers should have to pay rates of freight twice as high as those charged to the fruit-growers in other States.

Senator Bakhap - I should like to see Tasmanian growers given cheaper rates; but I do not think the Government could do the business for them much cheaper.

Senator READY - We shall see that presently. Mr. W. H. Luffy, a wellknown fruit importer of Queensland, gave this evidence to the Fruit Commission -

There was an arrangement between the companies not to trade direct? - That is right. To my mind it would be one of the best paying routes in Australia- a line of steamers direct from Hobart to Sydney, to touch at Newcastle and Brisbane. If the steamers were up to date they would take a lot of the intermediate trade and passengers between Sydney and Brisbane.

If we established two Commonwealth owned boats in the trade between Melbourne and Launceston, and one between Hobart and Sydney, and right up the Queensland coast, we should insert ithe thin end of the wedge to break up the present arrangement, which is so inimical to the producers of Tasmania.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And to the whole Commonwealth.

Senator READY - My honorable friend reminds me that the whole Commonwealth would be benefited.

What is the position of the companies which have now such a hold upon the people of Tasmania? The Union Steam-ship Company, which is only about forty years old, gave their shareholders, about two years ago, 200,000 shares, besides dividends. They are now reconstructing again, ' and their profits have been so great that they have had again to water their capital considerably. I think it was last year that Huddart Parker and Company asked for £250,000 for an issue of new shares, and about £2,500,000 were offered within a fortnight by investors anxious to secure shares in so profitable a company. I know a business man, who, on the second day after the issue of the shares was advertised, could not get a share, although he applied for 2,000. This shows the position of the companies that are extorting high freights and fares from the people of Tasmania.

Coming to the consideration of Commonwealth-owned steamers as a business proposition, which the present Government have turned down,. I remind the Senate that, according to the last year's statistics which I could get- those for 1909 - the value of the trade between Tasmania and the mainland was at that time £5,391,636 per annum. The import trade was valued at £2,387,854, and the export trade at £3,003,782. Since then I believe that the trade has increased to considerably over £6,000,000.

Coming to the service which we have asked the Government to make a commencement with by establishing their own boats, I have already mentioned that the subsidy paid in connexion with the mail contract would pay the interest on the cost of the vessels. I want now to briefly deal with the profits these people are making out of the Melbourne-Launceston service. Any one who takes the slightest trouble to inquire into the matter will find that the Loongana has been a veritable gold mine to the company. They have, already paid for her, and a good deal, over, out of the profits they have made on her running. I am aware that there are some who will dispute that statement and say, probably for party purposes, that the boat has not been profitable to thecompany. I have here some figures which are absolutely accurate, and cannot be challenged. I have the passenger lists for the Loongana for twelve months. The lowest figures show a passenger list of 310 per week, and the highest for the Christmas week 1,900, for the three trips each way. In the case of the lowest list, the fares for the 310 passengers - 223 first and 87 second saloon - amounted to £725 ; the fares for the highest list amounted to £3,824. I have carefully worked out the average of the passenger lists for the whole year, and I find that it is 500 per week, 300 first saloon, and 200 second saloon. The average receipts then of the Loongana from passengers' fares alone amount to £1,370 per week, or £5,480 per month. This is the magnificent proposition which the present Government have turned down.

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - Does the honorable senator mean to say that 300 first and 200 second saloon passengers represent the total number carried backwards and forwards in the week ?

Senator READY - Yes, the total passengers carried per week.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator's estimate must be under the actual figures.

Senator READY - No. I have satisfied myself beyond all doubt that these are reliable figures, and that the Loongana earns £5,480 per month from passenger fares alone. Now, what are the expenses of the Loongana? I have here another reliable estimate dealing with that. I have one estimate fixing the expenses at £3,000 per month, but I think that that is somewhat under the mark. I have another estimate allowing £360 per week for coal, £150 food, £175 wages, £275 other expenses, and £125 interest, which should not be overlooked, giving a total of £1,085 per week, or £4,340 per month. That is almost an exaggerated estimate of the expenses. But on that exaggerated estimate, the passenger traffic alone returned a profit of no less than £1,140 per month. It will be seen, therefore, that the Loongana is a very handsome paying proposition.

Senator Bakhap - The service pays only about 8 per cent.

Senator READY - The honorable senator knows that the service to Tasmania is one of the 'most profitable that the Union Steam-ship Company possesses.

Senator Bakhap - The company's representatives admitted that it was profitable, but they did not say that it was very profitable.

Senator READY - Dees the honorable senator see any green in their eyes? The successful business man usually keeps his mouth shut.

Senator Bakhap - There is nothing to prevent other companies from competing against the Union Steam-ship Company.

Senator READY - The honorable senator is child-like and bland, after the fashion of the wily Celestial. If there were any prospect of competition with the Union Company, the people pf Tasmania would not be agitating for the establishment of a Commonwealth mail service. But there has not been any competition for years, nor is there likely to be.

Senator de Largie - That remark applies to the whole of the coastline of Australia.

Senator READY - Exactly. The Union Steamship Company, in conjunction with Huddart Parker and Company, are now receiving from the Common- wealth a subsidy amounting to about £73 5s. per trip. They are making big profits every year. Yet in the face of this knowledge the Commonwealth turned down a business proposition that every honorable senator would jump at with both hands if he only had the means at his disposal. Every business person in Launceston recognises that. Only the other day, I had a conversation with a member of the Tasmanian Government, who recognises it. I had another conversation with a prominent Liberal, who told me that he had wired to the Commonwealth Government protesting against this contract being let, especially for a term of seven years. At the present time, Tasmania is spending about £500,000 on the River Tamar. We intend to make the front door of Tasmania a presentable one, and to enable ships trading to that State to proceed up. that river with safety and expedition. Why ? Mainly for the benefit of . this company, which is exploiting all the producers of Tasmania.

Senator Long - And the consumers.

Senator READY - Yes; because all freights and fares are calculated in the cost of articles, and the burden is passed on to the consumer. The people of Tasmania are being taxed to pay these charges and fares.

A proposition was offered to us by the people of Australia through the late Government, under which the six States could have entered into this most businesslike undertaking of establishing Commonwealthowned steam-ships to Tasmania. Tasmania would have had no responsibility in connexion with it, except her Federal responsibility. The whole of the big States would have helped the Cinderella of the Commonwealth in this enterprise. But because the proposal emanated from the Labour party it was turned down.

As a representative of Tasmania, I have done my duty here. We b.iva been refused information, and our protests have been unavailing. But I am glad to say that there is a growing feeling against the crime which has been perpetrated in allowing this company practically to dictate the conditions under which we shall conduct our business, and under which we shall travel to and from Tasmania till the year ' 1920. Those who are responsible for this crime will, I feel sure, soon be hurled from the positions which they now occupy.

The people will' have an object-lesson in the perpetuation of this monopoly through the efforts of honorable senators opposite - an object lesson which will do more good to the Labour party than any other act which my honorable friends have committed.

I did hope on this proposal to receive the consideration and assistance that such a worthy project merits. I had hoped to secure the support of Senator Keating, who was a member of a Committee which brought down to the Senate a recommendation

Senator Bakhap - The honorable senator has put forward a bigger proposition.

Senator READY - Not at all. If Senator Bakhap chooses to visit the Parliamentary Library, and read up the evidence which was taken by the Committee which recommended the establishment of a Commonwealth oversea steam-ship service, he will find that for the sum of £4,000,000 - surely not an impossible one for this great Commonwealth to find - we could secure a fleet of six wellequipped vessels, each of 12,000 tons, which would maintain a. fortnightly service with England, and which could carry our mails.

Senator Bakhap - We should build a couple more warships to defend the vessels which are already trading there.

Senator READY - The Labour party realized their duty in the matter of establishing an Australian Navy. They have done their duty nobly, instead of encouraging a mere flag-flapping Dreadnought mania. I would recommend my honorable friend to go to the fruit-growers of Tasmania, and inquire whether a Commonwealth line of steamers, trading overseas, would be a good thing for Australia or not. Take the opinion of such authorities as Mr. George Graham.

Senator Blakey - -Read his statements in to-day's newspapers.

Senator READY - Whatever his politics may be, Mr. Graham has always advocated the establishment of a national line of oversea steamers. Crusted Conservative though he may be, he has been statesman-like enough to look ahead, and to recognise that the only solution of our transport troubles to Great Britain lies in the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers. Let me quote another authority - Mr. Elwood Mead. That gentleman is recognised as an authority in his particular branch of agricultural science. He advocates the running of an Australian-owned line of steamers. So, too, does Mr. Preedy, of the Customs Department.

In many parts of the world, the question of sea transport is receiving more and more of governmental attention. Had the present Government not entered into a fresh contract, against the wishes of nine-tenths of the people of Australia and Tasmania, we could have had a couple of vessels with a speed of 25 knots running to Tasmania, and, indeed, Mr. O'Malley's ideal of 30 miles an hour would not have been impossible of attainment. In this connexion, I would like to refer honorable senators to a recent number of the Shipbuilder. If they will refer to that publication, they will find that between Dieppe and Southampton the steamer Paris is running under contract at 24 knots per hour.

Senator Bakhap - How many knots has she to do altogether ?

Senator READY - It is true that the voyage is a short one. She is built on similar lines to the Loongana, and is of light draft. Had the Government not entered into a fresh contract with the Union Company, the people of Tasmania might have had an improved Paris running between Melbourne and Launceston.

Senator Bakhap - We are going to give them the money with which to build a boat themselves, if they choose.

Senator READY - The honorable senator's much-beloved Legislative Council will never permit them to build ships. Men of such high intellectual calibre would never advocate governmental sea transport.'

Senator Bakhap - It is precisely what some of them do advocate.

Senator READY - With all their ability, I say that many of these men have not the statesmanship of a bull-frog. We might as well expect the sea to run dry as anticipate that they will do what the honorable senator suggests.

Our opportunity was here. But for. a mere political accident - the majority of one - we Tasmanians should have sen our efforts attain fruition, and we should have been able to travel to our homes at the week end in our own steamers, and under our own blue Australian flag. Unfortunately, instead, we are compelled to place on record our hostility to the renewal of a contract which will, for a lengthy period, place Tasmania at the mercy of a few persons who have no sympathy with her aims, her trade, her aspirations, her ideals, and' with the commercial men who are conducting her businesses. That has been done, and we cannot undo it; but sooner or later the day of reckoning will come, when their masters, the people of Tasmania, will have something to say to those who have so unfairly and so cruelly betrayed their State.

Judging by their intellectual standard, I feel sure that honorable senators on this side of the chamber, with their wide statesmanship, their wide outlook, and their depth of thought, will support my motion. Even though it will be too late, the passing of the motion will at least serve to show the very wide divergences of opinion and the very wide differences of principle between honorable senators on this side and those on the other side who are misrepresenting their own State.

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