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Tuesday, 24 July 1906

Mr SALMON (Laanecoorie) .- The Postmaster-General and the honorable member for Richmond are to be congratulated on the excellent terms they have secured for the Commonwealth. I express that opinion the more heartily because I realize that had it not been for the special effects put forth by those honorable members, and by the Government generally, we should possibly have been placed in a very awkward position: as regards our oversea communication with the old country. This is a contract entered into with full knowledge on the part of those interested on both sides, and as the tender conditions provided for suggestions by any intending contractor, we may be sure that the terms are the very best that could be obtained under the present circumstances. For many reasons the agreement is a marked advance on any gained) hitherto; and, it being so favorable, the public support is assured. In this connexion a great deal depends on our own people. If the people of the Commonwealth and the people of the old country are prepared to help in every possible way those who do business with us under such favorable conditions, success is certain. Considering that we are beset on every side by conflicting interests, in the shape of foreign competition, it is time that something was done to render more complete the relationship between us and the old country. I realize that the projected company will displace an old company which has done business with Australia under very adverse circumstances for many years past. We have the word of the managing director of that company in Australia that its connexion with this country has been very unprofitable to the shareholders. That of course, is tobe regretted ; and I agree with those who have referred to the debt of gratitude which the Commonwealth owes to the Orient and Pacific Steam Navigation Company for their splendid resistance, as long as possible, to the employment of black labour. I should like to see the whole mercantile marine of the Empire composed entirely of our own people; and, therefore, I feel some regret at parting, under such conditions, with a company whichhas for so many years provided an object lesson to other companies in this respect. Another condition in the agreement, which ought to satisfy those honorable members who are prepared to support the amendment, is one of a very safe character, providing that the Commonwealth may at any time buy out the contracting company, and take over the line of steamers.

Mr Hutchison - We ought to have our own line of steamers.

Mr SALMON - The condition referred to is, in my opinion, the line of demarcation between those who think with the honorable member for Hindmarsh, and those who think as I do. Socialism must always be judged on its merits ; that is to say, any socialistic proposal must standi the test of whether it will be a paying concern - whether it will pay the State. I know that the honorable member for Hindmarsh is prepared to have Socialism in everything ; but I am not. We have not sufficient evidence before us to warrant our adopting the amendment; and, therefore, I am not prepared to support it. As I said before, the condition that we mav at any time take over the line ought to satisfy the supporters of the amendment.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that why the condition has been put in the agreement?

Mr SALMON - I think such a condition is part of every such contract ; at any rate, in my opinion, it ought to be part of every contract of the kind entered into between the State and private individuals.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The similar condition in English contracts is inserted in view of war.

Mr SALMON - The matter was referred to previously in this House. Of course, we are working under somewhat different conditions to those which prevail in the mother-land, but I, at any rate, welcome the insertion of the stipulation, although I feel that it will be very many years before the Commonwealth will be prepared to give it effect. I intend later to indicate very briefly why I think so. Referring to the contract, the penalties we have provided for are quite sufficient to guarantee not only greater expedition, but also the proper and thorough maintenance of the service. The honorable member for Barrier stated specifically that the suggestion contained in his amendment did not come from the Labour Party, or from any socialistic party, but from a Conservative member of the House of Commons, Mr. Henniker Heaton. We are all familiar with that honorable member's name, and are aware of the splendid efforts he has put forth in a particular direction, which the honorable member for 'Barrier has followed to a certain extent in Australia. Some of us, however, agree that the interjection made when the honorable member for Barrier uttered that statement was completely justified - that we find the most ultraConservative very close indeed to the Socialist.

Mr Thomas - I believe that Socialism is very conservative, since it tends to conserve all that is noblest and best in the community.

Mr SALMON - I agree with the honorable member that in a sense it is conservative, but I think that, if Socialism were adopted in its entirety, it would not tei" to conserve all that is highest and noblest in the community, but rather to bring us down to a very much lower level than, that which we occupy at the present time. One has only to read some of the publications with which we are now being favoured regarding the possibilities of the next 100 or 200 years of development to find cogent reasons for such a. belief as I have indicated. Whatever may be the genesis of the proposals contained in the amendment, no honorable member will deny that it is undoubtedly and essentially socialistic in character. It is purely and essentially a socialistic proposal, and should be discussed as such.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The same as the control of the railways.

Mr Hutchison - And* of the Post Office.

Mr SALMON - I will not say that it is the same as the control of the Post Office or the railways. There is a very marked difference to be considered. In the conduct of our railways and Postal Department our work is carried on within our own borders. If we go outside our own borders to conduct business connected with the Postal Department, we find it is only by international arrangement that we are able to do so.

Mr Hutchison - Our produce departments conduct business outside our borders.

Mr SALMON - If the amendment be carried, we shall be entering, not only into the postal business outside our own borders, but into the business of general carriers outside the borders of the Commonwealth.

Mr Hutchison - Does the honorable member not admit that our produce departments do that now?

Mr SALMON - The honorable member must surely see that, if the amendment, were carried, the Commonwealth shipswould not merely start from Australia and take letters and other postal matter to the old country, but would take in, any cargo offering at ports of call on the way.

Mr Hutchison - The South Australian Government send produce Home now. It is possible for the producer in that State to send through the Government a pound or two of butter or a crate of fowls to the old country.

Mr SALMON - I ami afraid we are talking of different things. It is one thing for the Government of South Australia to send produce to their Agent- General in London-

Mr Hutchison - No, not necessarily to the Agent-General.

Mr SALMON - Well, to their accredited agents in London. But in doing so, they would be in a very different position from that which the Commonwealth Government would occupy in owning a line of steam-ships doing business with all and sundry on the route between here and the old country.

Mr Hutchison - They would be able to do the work better than it is being done now.

Mr SALMON - That is purely a matter of opinion. The honorable member for Barrier, as Chairman of the Shipping Service Commission, has presented a very excellent report to the House. Though I have studied it, I regret to say that I have not vet completely mastered it. and possibly I never shall master the financial portions of it.

Mr Wilks - I suppose that is why the honorable member calls it an excellent report?

Mr SALMON - I agree that the honorable member for Dalley has hit upon one of the most frequent causes of expressions of admiration. It is not uncommon for persons who do not thoroughly understand a thing to assume that it is something remarkaby good. The honorable member for Barrier, in the report of the Commission, states that no definite and reliable figures were available to the Commission upon which to base an estimate. * That, in my opinion, is a confession which detracts very seriously from the importance of the financial portion of the report. The honorable member must realize, and, in fact, he has specifically stated in his speech that he cannot expect the Commonwealth to engage in an undertaking which will not be a profitable one. He informs us that the basis of the figures supplied by the Commission are mere estimates, and that they were unable to obtain the necessary information to supply a correct estimate of the total amount which it would cost the Commonwealth to take up this particular work. The honorable member, however, takes something for granted when he says - ®

Private companies would not send vessels to Australia unless by doing so they hope to make a profit.

I make bold to say that the hope that wewill make profits is one of the rocks upon which our fortunes most frequently split.

Mr Thomas - But the honorable member will agree that no one sends ships out here without that hope?

Mr SALMON - I agree with that, but that is no argument to use in support of soserious a proposal as that made by the honorable member. The honorable memberis not justified in asking the House to accept his proposal upon grounds so flimsy as that, because persons are sending vesselshere with the hope of making a profit, therefore, they must be making a profit, and the Commonwealth would makea profit. I refuse to accept such a statement ' as that as evidence. Later on, the honorable membertold us that the Peninsular and Oriental. Steam Navigation Company are highly prosperous. That, of course, we see on reference to their annual balance-sheet. If" the honorable member could not get exact: figures, it may be taken for granted that I could not get them. It has been frequently stated that it is impossible to ascertain the amount of profit on their Australian trade, but 'it has been mentioned over and over again by Sir Thomas Sutherland, the Chairman of Directors, that that trade is unprofitable.

Mr Hutchison - Yet the company goon building new ships, when more lines: of steamers are coming into competition with them.

Mr SALMON - The Australian tradeof the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company is only a part of their Eastern trade.

Mr Hutchison - What about other shipping lines?

Mr SALMON - It must be recollected by the honorable member that this company's boats do not trade only between the United Kingdom and Australia, but doa very large trade with the East and in certain seasons carry a very large number of passengers to and from the East.


Mr SALMON - I do not think so. I nm glad to see that their balance-shaft shows a profit. It is very probable that the line from Colombo to Australia - because, after all, that is all we ought to> take into account - is not a paying part of their business. The honorable member for Barrier went on to furnish certain calcula- lions which he had made. From these it would appear that it would cost £400,000 to build and equip each steamer that would be required for this trade.


Mr SALMON - I do not know, but I am inclined to think that it is somewhere about the mark. The honorable member for Barrier has not been able to get all the :figures which he desired to obtain, but I am willing to accept his calculation. If we :have a fleet of eight boats, with one boat in .reserve, because it will be admitted that the Commonwealth should not be placed entirely at the mercy of the opposing lines, if an accident occurred-

Mr Thomas - Does the honorable member mean to tell me that the Government could not charter a boat?

Mr SALMON - The Government might find it extremely difficult to charter a boat, and the loss would be greater, possibly, than the interest on the cost of constructing the boat which would be kept in reserve.

Mr Thomas - Is the company going to ;have nine boats ?

Mr SALMON - I do not anticipate that the company would have to keep one boat in reserve all the time, but it would be a useful thing to have, at one end or the other, a boat which could be put 'into use immediately when another boat had to be laid up for, perhaps, a month.

Mr Thomas - It would be useful to have two boats.

Mr SALMON - It would be more useful to have two boats.

Mr Thomas - The question is whether it would be business.

Mr SALMON - If the honorable mem"ber is prepared to say that, in his' belief, eight boats would do the work, I shall base my calculations upon that number.

Mr Thomas - In the report we have said so.

Mr SALMON - For eight boats we should require the sum of £3,200.000, but the honorable member has not indicated where the money is to come from.

Mr Wilks - They would not cost £400,000 each.

Mr SALMON - The- honorable member for Barrier has accepted that estimate, and for the purpose of my calculation I shall accept it too. He has not indicated, "however, where the money is to come from.

Mr Thomas - Tax the foreigner. In the report we say borrow the money. We -are now paying a subsidy of £120,000.

Mr SALMON - I understood that the honorable member belonged to a party to which I am very glad to belong, and that is the non-borrowing party. I thought that he was not prepared, under any circumstances, to pledge the credit of the Commonwealth for any sum. Yet I find that when he comes along with a little pet project of his own he is prepared to pledge the credit of the Commonwealth in order to raise the necessary funds.

Mr Thomas - At any time I am prepared to pay £90,000 instead of £120,000 a year.

Mr SALMON - From my point of view, the socialistic proposition of the honorable member is not to be considered, because, in the first place, we have no evidence that the service would pay, and in the second place, it would compel the Commonwealth to borrow money for the construction of the vessels. These two objections are fatal to his contention.

Mr Wilkinson - Has the honorable member any evidence that it would not pay?

Mr SALMON - It is not the business of myself or of any other honorable member to come down here and produce evidence that it would not pay.

Mr Wilkinson - In their report the Royal Commission say it would pay !

Mr SALMON - It is the duty of those who submit such a proposition to offer irrefragible evidence that it would be a paying business for the Commonwealth to enter into. In the course of his speech, the honorable member for Barrier made several remarks concerning the protectionist members of the House to which I do not intend to refer more than to say that at any rate the three great bodies from whom he expected opposition did not find many recruits from the party to which I belong. He said that he expected that vested interests would be too strong, that prejudice would be too powerful, that ignorance would be too rampant, to allow his proposition te be carried. There is something which apparently he did not expect, and that is a feeling of common sense, which I hope will always obtain amongst a majority of honorable members concerning any proposals of this character. I trust that we shall never be prepared to pledge the credit of the Commonwealth in order to start a fleet of vessels across the sea, or to enter into a business, unless it is justified by circumstances and we are absolutely assured that it would pay. Not only does the honorable member for Barrier contend that the undertaking would be of a paying character, but also that it would be in the best interests of the Commonwealth to carry on this business. That is where the honorable member and I disagree.

Mr McCay - Did not the honorable member say in his electorate, about twelve months ago, that he was prepared to support a Commonwealth line of steamers?

Mr SALMON - I would be very surprised if the honorable member could bring me evidence that I made that statement.

Mr McCay - The honorable member is reported to have said so.

Mr SALMON - Perhaps the honorable member is thinking of something which occurred in the House three years ago when I strongly urged that we should subsidize a line of steamers to South Africa, for the purpose of getting, our produce there on something like fair terms. But that was a proposition of a very different character. I would like the honorable member to tell me where and when it was that I am reported to have made the statement he refers to.

Mr McCay - I saw the statement in one of the Melbourne newspapers. I was surprised when I saw it.

Mr SALMON - I should be intensely surprised, too.

Mr Wilks - I - It was said in reference to fighting a shipping combine.

Mr SALMON - Is that so?

Mr Wilks - That is how it was reported.

Mr SALMON - Very possibly ; but we have not a combine, but a proposal which is of quite a different character. We have from the Government a businesslike proposition, which has been referred to in laudatory terms from one end of the 'Commonwealth to the other. Honorable members and the press generally have practically been falling over each other in order to pour their congratulations upon the Government and the two Ministers immediately concerned in the matter.. I do not desire to delay the House. I feel perfectly, satisfied that 'if the contract be carried out in the spirit in which it has been entered into we need have no fear for the future with regard to communication between Australia and the old country, and especially with regard to the carriage of our produce, which we desire to see placed upon the London and other markets in the best possible condition.

Sitting suspended, from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m-

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