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Tuesday, 24 July 1906

Mr CARPENTER (Fremantle) . - I am very anxious to see the next order of the day dealt with, so that I shall not occupy much time upon the matter under discussion : but I cannot give a vote without stating in a few words the position which I occupy, and foreshadowing an amendment which I intend to move. Speaking generally, I approve of the contract which the Government proposes to make. On the whole, Ministers may be congratulated upon having made a fair bargain under the conditions that exist to-day in the shipping world. There are some provisions in the contract which many honorable members would like to see much more in our favour ; but we know that in dealing with the gentlemen who control the shipping trade we have to do with men who wield considerable power, and who can. be of great service to us if that power is properly directed, whilst they can, and sometimes do, work considerable mischief, involving great loss to the people whom they are supposed to serve. It is something to find that, in spite of all that has been said by the croakers in and out of Australia-

Mr Wilks - What croakers does the honorable member mean?

Mr CARPENTER - Chiefly the opposition croakers - the gentlemen who have been referred to as "the stinking fish party," who go about and tell the people in the old country that Australia is a place to be avoided because there happens to be here a Labour Party which is bringing general ruin in its train.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable gentleman's party is continually describing Australia as a cancer or a living lie, and several things of the kind.

Mr CARPENTER - I hope that the honorable member, and those who are acting with him, have altogether dissociated themselves from that party.


Mr CARPENTER - I am glad to hear it. It is a comfort after all the abuse towhich Australia has been subjected to find that there are still some business men who have sufficient confidence in the future of Australia to invest a few million pounds in. a shipping service to carry the trade which they know Australia is in a position to do with the other side of the world.

Mr Wilks - If the interest on the outlay be guaranteed by a subsidy.

Mr CARPENTER - I do not know whether we are guaranteeing the interest. I am personally glad that the muchdiscussed white labour provision has been accepted as a matter of course. I do not know whether there has been any contention between the contracting parties on the point ; but, remembering that at the present day there are some honorable members of this House who are telling the public that they intend at the first opportunity to wipe this provision out of the Post and Telegraph ' Act - and who refer to it as a piece of folly - it is something to find that in making a new agreement for ten years with a new company, the condition as' to white labour is accepted without any demur. I desire to call attention to clause 6 of the contract, which is not quite clear to my mind', and on which I should like a few words of explanation. That clause provides that if during the sixth year of the contract, any competing line of mail steamers is performing the journey in a shorter time than isthe contracting company, the PostmasterGeneral may call on the latter to similiarly accelerate the service. That is a very wise provision up to that point; but I desire particularly to draw attention to the fact that under paragraphs b and c of clause 6, there is an assumption that if the contracting company give the accelerated service, they must, as a matter of course, receive some additional payment or compensation. Apparently it does not matter under the clause whether or not the accelerated speed involves any additional cost to the contracting company. We all know that it is quite possible that the adoption of a new fuel may render possible a speedier service at the same expense. For instance, oil as a fuel for steam-ships is coming to the front; and the next few years may see its general adoption by steamship companies. I am not quite sure whether the use of oil fuel to-day means an increase or a decrease in cost ; at any rate, . it is quite possible that there .may be found some means of accelerating; the speed without incurring any additional expenditure. Paragraph b of clause 6 provides that the increased amount to be paid to the contractors for providing the improved and accelerated service shall be taken for granted, whether the contractors are put to any additional cost or not, or even if, by the change, a saving is effected. Then paragraph c of clause 6 provides that with any such action on the part of the Government to bring about an accelerated service, provision shall be made for extending the period for which the improved service shall continue. If I rightly understand paragraph c, it means that if the Government at any time after the sixth year of the contract, call on the contractors to run their vessels at a quicker speed, there is to be an extension of the period of the contract.

Mr Ewing - No, not to that extent ; the paragraph simply means that it might be wise to extend the time in order to get better conditions.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The arbitrators would settle that.

Mr Ewing - But still, the Government could do nothing in the way of giving the contractors further payment, or an extension of time, without the approval of Parliament. Parliament virtually approves of the agreement before us, and no Government could interfere with the agreement without the approval of Parliament.

Mr CARPENTER - But by this clause, the Postmaster-General is given power to call on the contractors for an accelerated speed, and the paragraph lays down the conditions on which that accelerated speed shall be supplied.

Mr Ewing - I am quite satisfied that no Postmaster-General or Government would interfere with this contract without the approval of Parliament. The honorable member may take that as absolutely correct

Mr CARPENTER - It would not be an interference with the contract, but carrying out the contract; and I ask the PostmasterGeneral to look more closely into the clause. To me, it appears quite plain from the wording that if we exercise the power of calling on the company for a quicker service during the sixth year or after it-


Mr CARPENTER - It is plain to me that if, during the sixth year, an accelerated service is asked for, it can be supplied only on our observing the conditions laid down in paragraphs b and c of clause 6 ; and these paragraphs tie us down to giving inincreased remuneration and an extension of the period of the contract.

Mr Ewing - That is only possible, subject to the approval of Parliament.

Mr CARPENTER - If the Minister is quite sure that this would be regarded as an interference with the contract, and would therefore require to be brought before Parliament, I am prepared to accept his statement.

Mr Ewing - I do not think there can be any doubt about it.

Mr CARPENTER - As I read the clause, I believe it would not be considered an interference at all, and we should be tying ourselves down to something which might prove to be very irksome in the future. With reference to the amendment, I wish to say that I recognise the excellent work which has been done by the honorable member for Barrier, and the members of the Commission of which he was chairman. They have rendered Australia a service by the very extensive inquiry they have made, and by producing a report from which it is evident to any unbiased mind that the scheme they recommend is a practicable one, and that the Commonwealth Government might own and run a line of steamers to do their own work, and the work of the producers of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has pointed out that State ownership and controlof a line of steamers is not a part of the labour platform. I am pledged according to that platform to advocate the nationalization of monopolies, but the oversea shipping service cannot certainly be classed as a monopoly.

Mr Thomas - It is not far off it.

Mr CARPENTER - I admit that may come very near to being a monopoly, and that by-and-by we may be subjected to the control of a shipping combination.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is quite as much a monopoly as are some of the businesses that have been so described.

Mr Thomas - Every bit as much.

Mr CARPENTER - I am not prepared to argue that question now. I have considered the matter for some time, and I am bound to confess that I think there is a distinction between a monopoly, as generally understood, and a line of steamers competing with other lines on the high seas. I was going to say that I regret that it would not be possible under such an agreement as that before us to have some understanding with the company that they should not by any action of theirs become a part of a monopoly; that they should not, while enjoying a subsidy from the Commonwealth, inflict upon the people of Australia the evils which a shipping monopoly can and does inflict.

Mr Thomas - Is the honorable member prepared to vote that they shall not join the shipping ring in England?

Mr CARPENTER - I will tell the honorable member directly what I propose to do.

Mr Thomas - If the honorable member would do that he would kill this contract, and it might as well be killed by that way as by the honorable member's proposal.

Mr CARPENTER - As soon as ever we had any indication that this company has become connected with the Shipping Conference, as it is called, but which is merely the respectable name for a shipping combine, the Government should have power to take over the company's boats at once, and run them as a Commonwealth concern. No one would then support them more strongly than I should.

Mr Thomas - I suppose the business would then become a monopoly ?

Mr CARPENTER - It would be part of a monopoly.

Mr Thomas - That would be the dividing line.

Mr CARPENTER - I do not wish to place myself in a position of antagonism to the acceptance of this contract, whichI think offers the best terms we can get under existing conditions, but I still desire to protect the people of Australia from any combination between the new company and existing companies, which would place them at the mercy of a capitalistic combine. I therefore give notice that I will move the following amendment: -

That the following words be added to the motion, " and is of opinion that the Government should at the earliest possible date acquire and control any approved steamers built pursuant to this contract in order to provide the producers of the Commonwealth with cheap and rapid carriage of sea-borne goods."

Mr Hutchison - The contract already provides for that.

Mr CARPENTER - The contract gives the Government power to acquire the steamers.

Mr Glynn - We had better wait until we see what they are like.

Mr CARPENTER - The amendment which I propose to move forestalls the honorable and learned member's objection.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would be buying a pig in a poke.

Mr CARPENTER - The honorable and learned member for Angas perhaps did not hear the amendment I intend to propose. I propose to use the words " acquire and control any approved steamers built pursuant to this contract." I do not suppose that the Government would buy a pig in a poke, as the honorable member for North Sydney has put it. I intend to submit the amendment as indicating what I wish the Government to do.

Mr Glynn - The honorable member proposes that the Government may take two of the steamers and permit the rest to go on with the trade.

Mr CARPENTER - It must not be forgotten that, according to the terms of the proposed contract, the Government will have power to buy all or any of the steamers constructed by the company.

Mr Hutchison - Would it be fair to leave them in possession of only half their steamers ?

Mr CARPENTER - The Government will have that power if we approve of this contract. I am merely, in my amendment, including what the agreement already provides for with the proviso that we express the opinion, while accepting the contract, that the Government should, at the earliest possible moment, exercise the power of purchase which it gives them.

Mr Thomas - Who is to decide what will be the earliest possible moment?

Mr CARPENTER - The Government; who else would decide that?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I take it that the honorable member suggests that we should acquire the whole fleet engaged in carrying on the service.

Mr CARPENTER - We should acquire a sufficient number of the boats to enable the service to be continued, but I do not desire that the Commonwealth Government should be bound down to the purchase of any and every ship which the company might build or acquire.

Mr Wilks - The amendment of the honorable member for Barrier is better than that proposed by the honorable member.

Mr CARPENTER - I hope that if he thinks so the honorable member for Dalley will vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier.

Mr Wilks - I do not believe in it, but I think it is better than the honorable member's amendment.

Mr CARPENTER - If the honorable member does not believe in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier, he will, no doubt, vote against it. What I propose is merely that we should accept the contract as the best that can be obtained for the time being whilst we think that the Government should have the power, and should have an expression of opinion from this House that they should exercise that power, as soon as they think fit, to acquire and control these steamers.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member suggests that in substitution of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier?

Mr CARPENTER - Yes. I am opposed to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barrier, and I shall submit in preference to it the amendment which I have suggested, which expresses my own view.

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