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Wednesday, 18 July 1906

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Owing to the short time at the disposal of the contractors, the contract provides that they shall not be required during the first six months to conduct the service with the ships that are to be built according to the conditions of contract. They must, however, provide vessels that will carry the mails within the specified time. I think that it will be found that the contract is very clear upon that point. It has been drawn up under the advice of two of the ablest lawyers in Australia, namely, Mr. Croker and the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor. It is provided that the steamers shall each have a registered tonnage of at least 11,000 tons. I think it is most desirable from the stand-point of the Commonwealth that we should have trading to Australia ships of a better class than those now coming here. The new vessels will be able to accomplish the voyage in quicker time than the present mail steamers ; they will provide three times the refrigerated space that is' now available, and they will afford additional inducements to travellers. The contractors recognise that they will be coming into competition with powerful companies who are now engaged in. the Australian trade, and that they must be thoroughly up-to-date if they are to enjoy a fair share of that trade. They feel that if they can offer the public something better in the way of accommodation* than they have hitherto been receiving they will be considerably assisted in carrying out their undertaking. I would point out in this connexion that the average tonnage of the eight Orient steamers engaged in the present service is under 7,000. The average tonnage of the ten vessels comprising the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company's fleet is less than 8,700 tons. In addition to the ships being of 11,000 tons register the contract provides that the plans for their construction shall be submitted to the Government. That is a most desirable state of things from our stand-point, and it will also be of assistance to the contractors, because, when once we have entered into this undertaking, which provides for the payment of a sum considerably in excess of £1,000,000, the Government, and succeeding Governments, will naturally feel that the interests of the new contractors are, to a very great extent, their interests. If the contractors prosper it will be an indication of the prosperity of Australia, and there is no doubt that every reasonable assistance will be accorded to them, not only by the Government of the day, but by the Parliament and people of the Commonwealth. In this matter, as in others of much smaller magnitude, the success of one naturally hinges upon the other. I have very little doubt that everything will run smoothly, and that the service will prove of very great benefit to the people of the Commonwealth. As regards the question of a further acceleration of speed, I have already pointed out that, at the end of five years, if any other line of mail steamers trading to Australia is completing the voyage in less than 612 hours, arrangements can be made for the vesselscarrying the Commonwealth mails to provide an equally expeditious service. I have also pointed out that the port of registry must be within Australia. That seems very little to say, but what does it mean ?

Mr Johnson - The Postmaster-General will not say which is to be the port of registry.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I cannot control that matter; but I hope it will be Twofold Bay, the Federal Capital port. After all, it does not matter very much in which capital the vessels are registered. The important point is that they will be registered within the Commonwealth, which will make the undertaking practically an Australian one.. Australia will be interested in it, and that fact is something of which we may be proud. No doubt it will be the forerunner of many other undertakings, and when members of the Opposition come to view matters from a better stand-point, we shall probably be able to build some of these great ships in Australia. I hope that that day is not far distant.

Mr Johnson - When we block up our ports by tariff walls and anti-trade Bills?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Surely it is not the honorable member speaking who prevented us, by every means in his power, from establishing the iron industry in Australia - an industry which would have enabled us ourselves to undertake the building -of ships? This is a serious business. Hitherto honorable members opposite have proved the stumbling block which has prevented us from bringing about the desirable state of things of which I speak.

Mr Johnson - Nonsense. We cannot build them !

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - When I was in Glasgow recently I saw some of the biggest ships in the world launched there, -and I am credibly informed that there are men living in that city who can remember the time when they could step across the very spot where those vessels were launched. How, then, can the honorable member for Lang exclaim, " Nonsense, we cannot build them " ?

Mr Johnson - We have not the necessary plant or the material.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - We have all the raw material in this country. I look upon that as. a most desirable end to aim at, though owing to the attitude art the honorable member, and some of his friends, it does not seem possible of attainment just now. As some question has been raised regarding the deposit which has been mad'e with the Government, I wish to say that we have a deposit of £2,500.

Mr Johnson - That is a very small deposit for so lar,ge a contract.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member was a member of this House when contracts were left without any deposit being required at all. In addition, we have in the bank a guarantee of .£25,000, which is as good as a deposit, so that practically we have in hand £27,500. A further demand for an additional £25,000 can be made at any time, if it is considered that sufficient progress is not being made with the construction of the necessary vessels. [Si]- 2

Mr Johnson - The Government have not the first £25,000 in' hand. They have' only £2,500. "

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The bond, that we have received is, in the opinion . of men who are competent to judge, absolutely as good as 25,000 sovereigns. It; is a bank guarantee. But why, I ask,; was not that objection taken when the. conditions of the contract were first sets forth? The amount of the deposit was, clearly stated then, and any company pos>sessing a line of steamers was at liberty to tender for the contract.

Mr Johnson - Any established company.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I do not object to honorable members barracking for , some of the companies which have missed , this contract. Personally, I fail to see. much difference between an established ', company, whose ships are unable to carry' out the conditions of the contract as to speed, and a firm cf ship-builders, con- ,cerning whom we have made the closest inquiry, and concerning whom we have obtained the most' satisfactory assurances.

Mr Johnson - It is only a firm whichis interested in the building of tramp' steamers.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The hon'orable member may endeavour to throw discredit on the contractors.

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