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Wednesday, 18 July 1906

Mr SPEAKER - I would point out that these constant interruptions, amount- . ing almost to a dialogue, must be disconcerting to the Minister. Honorable members will be at liberty to make their speeches when the Minister has concluded.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - It is very hard to have one Laing criticising another. It would give me very much pleasure indeed if the honorable member stood aswell as does his namesake across the ocean. Without any hesitation, this £25,000 was placed at our disposal, and1 from our inquiries we are satisfied that there need be no fear entertained of the standing of Sir James Laing and Sons. Seeing that we occupy that position, I ask whether the successful tenderers are not in a position at least equal to that occupied by the companies which already possess a line of steamers? is it reasonable to suppose that the former would gut up £27,500 if they did not intend! to see the contract through ?

Mr Johnson - They have twelve months in which to hawk their concession around.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Nothing of the kind. I have received assurances under that heading also. They do not propose to do anything of the kind, but intend to proceed with the work of building a fleet of steamers for themselves. I have that information from an undoubted financial authority. Does not the honorable member think that the firm are strong enough to undertake the work?

Mr Johnson - They are strong enough-

Mr SPEAKER - If I had not already called attention to the interjections of honorable members, I might suppose that the Minister's question warranted a reply. But I would again point out that these dialogues must be very disconcerting to an honorable member who has prepared his speech.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member for Lang asks such pertinent questions - questions to which such complete and reassuring answers can be given - that I am obliged to him for enabling me to elucidate some of the points connected with the contract. What does the accelerated speed under the new agreement mean ? It means that we shall obtain a regular service of 636 hours, or twenty-six hours less than the service at present 'provided by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. When we secure a 612 hours service, it will be fifty hours less than the mail service providedby that company.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But we cannot obtain a 612 hours service under the proposed contract.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am disposed to agree with those who assure me that we can. What does that mean in comparison with the present 'Contract, which some people would evidently like to see extended? It means a difference of sixty hours. Is there no advantage to be derived from a service which is sixty hours less than that provided at present? But, as a matter of fact, we shall secure a service which is eighty-four hours less. This accelerated speed will mean that correspondence received by an, incoming mail can be replied to from Sydney, in the case of the 636 hours service, by the same vessel ; while, if we secure a 612 hours service, it will permit of answers being forwarded all the way from Brisbane. In my opin ion, that is a very decided advantage, and! one that is worth paying for. Some honorable members appear to think that the provisions of the contract are not sufficiently stringent. Need I point out that the penalties provided are very drastic indeed? Under the existing contract, if a. mail steamer is twenty-four hours late, thepenalty imposed is £100. If a vessel istwentythree hours late, no fine can beinflicted. But, under the new contract, the penalty provided is £5 for every hour that a vessel may be late in delivering itsmails. The accelerated speed of the new service will mean that residents of all thecapitals will be able to answer letters by return post, and to catch the outgoing mail. That will be of very great advantage.

Mr Kelly - That is with the accelerated service ?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Yes. Even, under the 636 hours service, the residents of Sydney will be able to reply to their correspondence by the outgoing mail. Probably, business people even in Brisbane will' be able to forward replies by the outgoing steamer, because the first term of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam NavigationCompany'scontract will expire about thesame time as the current contract with theOrient Steam Navigation Company, and, naturally, theBritish Government will ask the former company to provide a serviceequal to the new service of the Commonwealth. With a little pressure, doubtlessthe Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company will be able to do that. If" the acceptance of the proposedcontract will expedite the transit of British mails, it will-' prove a decided gain to the entire community. There is no need forme to say very much more in regard to this contract. I should like to add that the Government expect to secure an accelerated train servicein connexion with, it. After paying a large sum to expedite the carriage of mails oversea, we do not think it is right that they should be permitted to remain in any capital for any considerable time. They should be forwarded on by train without delay.

Mr Cameron - Are the Government takingany steps in that direction?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Yes, weare taking steps in that direction, even inconnexion with the mail service to Tasmania. It will not be very difficult to accomplish our object, because the State authorities will recognise that our request isa reasonable one. The running ofthetrains should be expedited, so that the- people may receive their mails at the earliest possible moment. I have alreadystated that the negotiations conducted by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, the Prime Minister, and the Secretary for the Post Office, with Mr. Croker representing Sir James Laing and Sons, were conducted in the most business-like and friendly way. A liberal spirit was exhibited on both sides. Mr. Croker endeavoured to meet us in a reasonable way, and did all that he possibly could to bring about the early acceptance of the contract. So far as we know - and surely the Government ought to know - there is no warrant for the statement that the subsidy is nearer £250,000 than £125,000 per annum.

Mr Wilks - Is the honorable member going to oppose my amendment?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I shall deal with it in due course. I am glad to see that the honorable member, together with his right honorable leader, has adopted the view of the Government that it is necessary ' to establish great industries in Australia, and that, whilst we ought not to aim at the impossible, anything that is reasonable and proper for the encouragement of great industries should have our support. It is pleasing to hear that the honorable member's leader stated in Queensland that he would help to establish such industries, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see our big mail steamers constructed at Mort's Dock. I would point out that there is plenty of room for three great lines of steamers in the service between Australia and Great Britain. I' have nothing to say against either of the other two. We hope that they will remain in the service. Competition is the life of trade, and competition between the three lines would be highly beneficial to Australia. This contract, although not very pleasing to some who cannot 'view these matters except from a party stand-point, is viewed with satisfaction by the Government. They took a risk in giving notice of their intention to cancel the present agreement, and when they did so all sorts of gloomy forebodings were indulged in. The acceptance of the contract by a firm of undoubted strength is highly gratifying. It is to be hoped that every contract that is let will meet with no sharper criticism than has been levelled at that now under consideration. What have the opponents of the contract said? They have simply declared that it is a very fine one, and that they can not understand how the contractors are going to carry it out. I would point out, however, that the Orient Company have succeeded in carrying out a similar contract with a smaller subsidy, although in that case they had not to provide such fast or such large steamers as will be required under the one which this 'House is now asked to ratify. We know very, well that the larger the steamers the greater the trade and the consequent returns. That being so, it is difficult to understand the criticism which has been levelled at the contract unless some of it has come from an interested source, and is designed to throw an obstacle in the way of the acceptance of this agreement.

Mr Lonsdale - It is a contract with shipbuildens.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - They are the sort of people with whom we desire to make contracts. We need to enter into agreements with men who can not only supply us with the stipulated service, but are capable of providing an increased service when it is required. Once these great s'hip-building firms start to build steamers for the Australian trade, it is to be hoped that the number of vessels which they put on the service will steadily increase. The question before us is one in which every class is interested. It is a matter that affects every one, and should appeal to all of us, not from a party, but from a national, stand-point. I take it that there will be no opposition to the ratification of the contract, although, naturally, some criticism will be offered j but before we talk of refusing to ratify it we should ask our-, selves what the alternative is. What should we have in front of us if we refused to ratify the agreement? Let us recall our position when we were practically at the mercy of the ship-owners. Having regard to all the circumstances, I commend this motion to honorable members, believing that the contract is an excellent one, that it will result in great good to the people, and' that it is one of which we may well be proud. Although the contractors are ship-builders carrying on business in Great Britain they are of our own kith and kin, and I hope that this large expenditure on an Australian service will be but the beginning of many Australian lines. I sincerely trust that the day is not far distant when we shall be able to more Tully supply the wants that we have been paying others to provide for us, and that we shall be able ere long to build our great mail steamers in Australia, thus findingwork for our own people, instead of sending it out of the country.

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