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Wednesday, 25 July 1906

Mr FRAZER (Kalgoorlie) -- I wish to congratulate the honorable member for Barrier on the speech which he made in moving the amendment, and to say that I also listened with considerable interest to the able address of the honorable member for North Sydney. I think that it is general lv recognised that, whenever the honorable member for North Sydney speaks, he imparts to honorable members a great deal of information in regard to the subject under discussion. But before dealing with his remarks, I wish to devote a few words to the position which has been reached in connexion with the conveyance of mails from Australia to Great Britain. The Postmaster-General, when moving the ratification of the contract which has been entered into with Messrs. Sir James Laing and Company, told us that in 1897 we paid a. subsidy of £72,000 for a service of 696 hours, under an. arrangement to which the States, the British Government, and the Orient and Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Companies were parties. The possibilities of trade then, however, were not equal to what they are now. There has been a considerable increase in the Australian trade of late years, but that fact has not had the effect of reducing the amount asked as a subsidy for the conveyance of mails between this country and Great Britain, and it is now proposed to pay a still higher subsidy. Owing to the action of the shi npi ng ring, the Commonwealth was forced to pay a subsidy of £.120,000 per annum to the Orient Steam Navigation Company for the conveyance of mails under the contract now in existence, and Ave are asked to increase the subsidy by £5,000 under the terms of the contract now under discussion.

Mr McCay - What subsidy is asked, for in connexion with the proposed Commonwealth line?

Mr FRAZER - The Commission estimates the receipt of £150,000 from the Postal Department, which is only £4,000 more than the total amount now received by the Orient Steam Navigation Company from the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments.

Mr McCay - But the amount estimated for is mo:ie, not less, than that asked for under the contract.

Mr FRAZER - The money would be put into a Government undertaking. I ask the honorable and learned member whether he would not rather vote to expend £5,000 on a Government undertaking than to expend it on a private undertaking?

Mr McCay - That is too vague a question for me to answer.

Mr FRAZER - The honorable and learned member does net answer it because he does not wish to commit himself definitely to either private or Government enterprise.

Mr McCay - Before answering the question, I should wish to know the reason for the expenditure.

Mr FRAZER - In my opinion, a subsidy of £125,000 for a mail service to Europe is excessive. It is true that under this contract, the mail steamers will occupy sixty hours less on their trips than was stipulated for bv the contract under which a subsidy of £72,000 was paid.

Mr King O'Malley - What difference does that make to the people generally?

Mr FRAZER - The taxpayers of Australia are being asked to pay .£50, 000 or about £1,000 an hour, for that acceleration of service.

Mr Harper - The gain is sixty hours each trip, not on the aggregate number of trips.

Mr FRAZER - In my opinion, the number of those in communication with other parts of the world, to whom quickness of transit is of great importance, is verv small, putting out of consideration those connected with banking institutions, and the commercial classes of the community. The proposed subsidy is to be paid to benefit the banking and commercial institutions of Australia.

Mr McCay - Would the honorable member advocate the abolition of subsidies?

Mr FRAZER - I would substitute the poundage system referred to in the Commission's report.

Mr McCay - Then the honorable member is opposed to the establishment of a Commonwealth line ?

Mr FRAZER - No, not necessarily. I am dealing now with the question of subsidy, and will explain my position in regard to the amendment in my . own good time. The Secretary to the Postal Department, in giving evidence before the Commission, pointed out that, under the poundage system, the cost of an oversea mail> service would be about £40,000 per annum, so that a saving °f £85,000 per annum could be effected upon the proposed subsidy. The possibility of so large a saving is deserving of consideration. It may be argued that, if a poundage system were adopted, the service would not be so regular as that secured by the payment of a subsidy. No doubt it is quite possible that the steamers would not start punctually, as they do now from Adelaide, at 2 o'clock every Thursday afternoon. Thev might, indeed, leave as late as 6 o'clock on the days specified for their departure. But no line of steamers trading between England and Australia could successfully carry on its operations in the face of the competition which it would have to meet if it did not advertise months beforehand the date and hour of the departure of its vessels from the various ports of call. If it omitted to dp so, or departed to any great extent from the time-table laid down, the travelling public would cease to patronize it. But, even if we did not secure quite so regular a service as we now get, the saving which, would be made bv the adoption of a poundage system is worthy of consideration, and would justify us in facing the difficulties which are anticipated in connexion with such .1 system. The PostmasterGeneral tried to make a good deal of capital out of the fact that the vessels of the company which it is proposed shall, for the next ten years. carry our mails, will fly the Australian flag. No doubt,' we may congratulate ourselves upon the probability of having a fleet of vessels trading between Australia and England which will fly that flag: but the honorable gentleman might also have made provision for the manning of the ships with Australians or Britishers, 'to be paid Australian rates of wages. The honor able member for Kennedy last night showed what extraordinary changes have taken place of late years in the character of the British mercantile marine. He said that, while in 1.860 the foreigners employed on British ships were 9 per cent, of the total, in 1900 they numbered 47 per cent.

Mr Harper - But there has been an enormous increase in our mercantile marine during that period.

Mr FRAZER - That does not affect the percentages with which I am dealing.

Mr Harper - The quotation of percentages is very misleading, unless all surrounding facts are given.

Mr FRAZER - Even the honorable member for Mernda cannot dispute the statement that, if 40 per cent, of those employed on British ships are foreigners, it means that nearly half the total number of men there employed are foreigners.

Mr Fowler - Even the British Conservatives are becoming alarmed at the increasing number of foreign seamen employed in the mercantile marine.

Mr FRAZER - Yes ; and they ought to be alarmed. ya we hear the honorable member for Gippsland deploring the fact that we will not subsidize ships upon which black labour is employed. It seems to me that any one who takes that view must be entirely out of sympathy with the object that we have in view, namely, to increase the number of white British subjects employed in our mercantile marine. I would infinitely prefer to see Danes, Germans, or Swedes, rather than lascars, employed upon British ships.

Mr McCay - What proportion cf. the 48 per cent, of foreign seamen employed in the British mercantile marine are coloured men?

Mr FRAZER - According to the return handed to me by the honorable member for Kennedy, there were, in i860, 334 lascars employed on British ships, whereas in 1900 the number had increased to 36,000.

Mr Thomas - There are more .than that now.

Mr FRAZER - I think that indicates a position sufficiently alarming to induce us to seriously consider whether we should; not insist that none but Britishers should be employed upon any steamers subsidized by us.

Mr McLean - Does the honorable member think that Great Britain should deny means of employment to her coloured subjects ?

Mr FRAZER - I think that her duty to her white subjects should come uppermost, particularly in connexion with the mercantile marine, upon which she may have to depend at some critical period of her history. We should all feel much safer if we knew that our mercantile marine was manned by Britishers instead of by lascars, who can have no sympathy with our aspirations.

Mr Wilks - Should we not be in an equally weak position if we substituted Scandinavians for lascars in our ships - would not the Scandinavians fight against us in time of war?

Mr FRAZER - I should prefer to depend upon Scandinavians rather than lascars. The least we could expect would be that any foreigners working upon vessels flying the Australian flag would become naturalized citizens of the Commonwealth.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If we were at war with Germany, the honorable member would prefer our ships to be manned by Germans rather than lascars.

Mr FRAZER - The honorable member is suggesting an extreme case. At present, we are at peace with all the great powers, and I should prefer to see white foreigners rather than black British subjects on our ships. We could get over the difficulty so far as foreigners are concerned by insisting that they should become naturalized subjects, which throws on them the obligation of having to defend bur country. I do not see any insurmountable difficulties in the way of adopting the amendment of the honorable member for Barrier. It has been admitted by those who should be in a position to know, that there is no reason why the Commonwealth should not successfully Jim a line of State-owned steamers. Mr. Kenneth Anderson stated that it would be as easy 'for the Commonwealth as for a private company to obtain the services of expert and experienced men to manage their enterprise. It has always been urged by those who are opposed to the Government taking over paying concerns, that Government control and supervision is not satisfactory, except where a monopoly can be brought about. I would point out, however, that more than one case could be quoted1 to prove the contrary. For many years politicians in Victoria held the view that the Government* railway workshops could not successfully compete with the Phoenix Foundry Company, at Ballarat, in the manufacture of locomotives. Experience showed, however, that under capable management and strict supervision the Government- workshops could hold their own against all the manufacturers of locomotives in Australia. It was. demonstrated that they could turn out as good an article as could private manufacturers, and at less cost. Further, at the Government railway shops, at. Eveleigh, the officials have shown that they can carry on their work more economically than it can be performed in private establishments. The experience gained in these establishments seems to me to furnish an effective reply to. the remarks of the honorable o member for North Sydney. The honorable member was not successful in his attempt to show that the put forward by the Shipping Service Commission, are unreliable. He disagreed with them, but was not in a position to give us facts and figures in support of the position he assumed, and, therefore, all his protestations were useless. The honorable member for Barrier has devoted close attention to the subject for many months, and has had the advantage of listening to the evidence given by many of the most highlyqualified men in Australia. After close study and investigation, he has prepared a report based upon the best available testimony, and has produced estimates which we are justified in accepting until they can be shown to be unreliable. To my mind', he has made out a. very strong case in favour of the establishment of a Stateowned line of steamers, and, therefore, I shall vote for his amendment. I think it will be preferable for us to pay £125,000 per annum by way of subsidy to a Commonwealth undertaking, in the profits of which the general public would share, rather than to a private concern. The proposed new contract, although no doubt, in many ways, better than that now being carried out by the Orient Company, appears to call for an altogether exorbitant subsidy. I believe- that a service equal in many respects, and inferior in very few, to that proposed could be obtained by paying for the carriage of the mails upon the poundage system, at the rate of, say. £40,000 per annum. Therefore, I do not think we should be justified in ratifying the agreement.

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