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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Mr SPEAKER - I ask the honorable member not to refer to that matter..

Mr WILKS - I wish to do so only incidentally. I was about to point out that the Commonwealth will get some return for the money proposed to be expended in bounties in the employment which will be given to our people by the establishment of industries, and in the development of the country which that will create. But for the proposed subsidy of £125,000 we shall get no advantage of that kind. It is stipulated that white men only shall be employed on the mail steamers, but there is not a provision requiring that Australian rates of wages shall be paid, and that the shipsshall be manned by Britishers or Australians. and not by Dagoes, Scandinavians, and men of other races. The Labour Party, who are voting for the subsidy, will secure no returnfor the class which they represent, though the commercial community, on the other hand, will be bene fitted by the establishment of speedy and regular mail communication between Australia and Great Britain. I intend to move for the addition of a proviso in the contract requiring the construction or docking of the mail steamers in Australia.

Mr Austin Chapman - At what place?

Mr WILKS - I do not care, so long as the work is done in Australia.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - Is there a dock in balmain?

Mr WILKS - Several ; and some Government clocks very close to that suburb.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The principal Government dock is in my electorate.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They are real, good, socialistic docks.

Mr WILKS - The honorable member for Parramatta. will not be asked, in supporting the amendment, to depart from his free-trade principles, so far as any freetradeprinciple exists in this House. The amendment does not raise the fiscal question. During the last fiveyears we have been repeatedly told by the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, and other protectionists, that we should support their proposals in order to get in a blow at the foreigner. They have said, " Do not admit foreign goods. Build up Australian industries, and keep Australia for the Australians."

Mr Isaacs - We do not desire to strike at. foreigners, but we do not wish them to strike us.

Mr WILKS - I have been so influenced by the arguments of honorable members opposite that I wish now to strike at the foreigner, which, in this instance, means at the ship-builders who are carrying on their operations outside Australia. I desire that the proposed mail steamers shall be built in Australia. The supporters of the Ministry, when dealing with fiscal matters, have always regarded Great Britain as a foreign competitor, from whom our manufacturers should be protected, and, in this instance, I am prepared to do as they have taught us to do, namely, to strike a blow at the foreigner, especially as it will cost us nothing, since the vessels will be built at his expense.

Mr Thomas - Why not build them ourselves, out of the money raised by Customs duties, which, we have always been told, is paid by the foreigner ?

Mr Hutchison - Does the honorable member for Dalley term Britishers foreigners ?

Mr WILKS - Those who are opposed to us invariably regard the people of Great Britain as foreigners, and the honorable member himself voted the other day to prevent them from dumping their goods in Australia. I ask him to assist me in having these vessels built here, especially as it will not cost the country any more than to have them built in England.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why should £4,000,000 worth of steam-ships be dumped in Australia?

Mr WILKS - That is a very pertinent question. I am turning the arguments of honorable members against themselves. Of course, I shall be told that the vessels cannot be built here, but the PostmasterGeneral has not tried to provide for that. The Prime Minister told us last night that the designs and plans for the steamers are to be submitted to a representative of the Government, with a view to satisfying him, I suppose, that the vessels will be of a certain type and character. Why should we not go further, and require that they be built in Australia?

Mr Hutchison - Should we make a dock at the Federal Capital to provide for that ?

Mr WILKS - We already have the docks. No doubt some honorable members are afraid to support the amendment, because the work may be done in New South Wales. The otherday, when a deputation which waited upon the Premier of Victoria was informed that wire netting is not made here, although it is made in New South Wales, the members expressed a preference to have it made here by prison labour rather than use netting made in New South Wales. When we are told by protectionists that we should vote to give work to Australians, are we to understand that what is meant is that we should support only proposals protecting Victorian industries? I ask honorable members to deal with my proposal from an Australian point of view. I am prepared to allow these vessels to be built in South Australia, or in Victoria, if that is possible.

Mr Hutchison - Should not the honorable member have voted for the nationalization of the service before making this proposal ?

Mr WILKS - I hear the little weak voice of the honorable member again. The Royal Commission, whose report he supported, made no such recommendation ; but now hesays,in his little piping way-

Mr SPEAKER - References to the personal characteristics of an honorable member are likely to be offensive, and should not be made. These expressions, therefore, are not in order.

Mr Hutchison - I do not mind the honorable member's rasping voice.

Mr WILKS - A Scotchman should deem it a compliment to be told that hehas a piping voice. The Royal Commission did not recommend the building of thesevessels in Australia. Protectionists havetold us that the iron industry is the basis of all others, and should be amongst the first fostered in any country. Under these circumstances, I should like to know why theGovernment have not arranged that some, if not all, of the new vessels required under the contract should be built in Australia. I scarcely expect that my amendment will be agreed to, but I have put it forward as an expression of my view that the Government have not been sufficiently keen in giving effect to their protectionist principlesin connexion with the framing of the contract. I am quite consistent, as a freetrader, in bringing forward such a proposal, because free-traders desire that industries shall be carried on in every hamlet. They object, however, to the whole of the community being penalized in order to foster certain enterprises. The PrimeMinister has told us that we shall have the Australian flag at the masthead of the vessels engaged in the new service. But I should prefer to hear the ringing of thousandsof Hammers.

Mr Austin Chapman - Trade follows the flag.

Mr WILKS - Not in this case, because the vessels are to be built at the other end of the world. I admit that under present conditions it would cost more to build the large steamers required an Australia than in the old country, but any loss that might be incurred would not fall upon the Commonwealth. It may be urged that we have not the necessary mechanics to carry out the work here, but I believe that in Australia we have as expert men as are to be found in ;any part of the world1. Most of the ironworkers in our various dockyards have come from the great ship-building establishments on the Clyde, at Belfast, and elsewhere, and Have already taken part in the construction of ships in Australia. One vessel built in Sydney many years ago - I refer to the Governor Blackall - has yielded more service than, perhaps, any other steamer of her size in Australian waters. Those who think that the iron industry should' be protected should not lose sight of the importance of the ship-building section of it. tinder the operation of the Tariff, thousands of iron-workers haw been thrown out of employment, and no class of workmen would appreciate a provision such as I have suggested more fully than those connected with the ship-building industry. In the United States of America it is compulsory upon ship-owners to build within that country the ships that they propose to employ in carrying on subsidized mail services. If the Postmaster-General does not see his way to insist that the new steamers shall be built in Australia, I trust that he will at. least stipulate that thev shall be docked within the Commonwealth. I find that the general conditions of tender contain the following provision : -

In order to determine whether the PostmasterGeneral may declare any mail ship unfit for service or whether the Contractor shall be able to show cause to the contrary a special examination shall be made of the hull and machinery of any such mail ship by such person or persons as may lie mutually approved by the Postmaster-General and the Contractor, and his decision shall be binding on both parties.

Apparently, it is intended that the inspection shall take place periodically in the old country, and a highly-paid official will have to be employed to act on behalf of the Commonwealth. It is desirable, however, that the inspection should be carried out in Australia under the direct eye of the Commonwealth authorities.

Mr Frazer - At Mort's Dock, for instance.

Mr WILKS - I do not care whether the ships are docked there or in any other Australian port. The honorable member may recollect that I voted against every protectionist item in the Tariff, and that I have never fought in the interests of Mort's Dock. We have a Government Dock at Sydney, and there is also a dock, at Williamstown. I believe that it is intended to build a dock at Adelaide, and another at Fremantle. The Sutherland Dock, in Sydney Harbor, and Mort's Dock, at Woolwich, are capable of accommodating the largest vessels that Visit bur ports. We have been reminded of the great advantages conferred upon us owing to the large amount of money spent upon supplies for the mail steamers visiting our shores. I would point out, however, that no class of vessels spend less money than do the mail steamers. The bulk of their victualling supplies are drawn from abroad, and the money which they lay out here does not confer any special benefit upon the community. Eight steamers will be engaged in the new service, and if each vessel has two dockings per annum, sixteen dockings will take place every" year.

Mr Thomas - The honorable member opposed my amendment, which, if carried out, would insure the performance in Australia of all the work in connexion with the mail steamers.

Mr WILKS - But we should first have to nationalize the mail service. No one can say that the difference between the cost of docking in the old country and here would be so great as to endanger the contract, and I trust that the plea that I am now making on behalf of a large number of poorly-paid men, namely, the. dock hands, will prove successful. I suppose that upon a steamer of 11,000 tons in dock it would be necessary to employ about 250 men for at least four days, and that if any repairs were necessary other labour would have to be engaged. The Government have told us that they are anxious to establish an Australian Navy, and, that being so, they should do everything they can to encourage the ship-building industry, so that we may be able to construct our own ships. If I chose to follow out the protectionist argument, I could show that the construction of the steamers amongst us would be beneficial not only to the iron-workers, but" to many other classes in the community. Although we could not, with our present facilities, build the whole of the eight steamers required, there is nothing to prevent us from constructing at least two of them, because many of our engineering shops are equipped with all the necessary plant, such as rolling mills, lathes, hydraulic riveting machines, and other appliances for turning out the most intricate work in connexion with a ship. The mere construction of the hull, although a vast work, is not a difficult one. Even though men might have to be imported to assist in carrying on the work of construction we should gain by the introduction of sturdy immigrants of a desirable class. Australian ship-builders could construct these vessels. I am very pleased to submit the amendment, because, to my mind, it is upon an altogether higher plane than is the proposal to sanction the payment of bounties upon tropical and semi-tropical products. I hold mat the time has arrived when we should discontinue the payment of a mail subsidy. Australia is a country of so much importance that ships will come here for the trade which they can get without any inducement being offered to them in the shape of a mail subsidy. The American liners do not receive a subsidy from the United States Government, and the people of that country experience no difficulty in connexion with their mail services. I fail to see that the average elector of Australia will gain anything whatever from the proposed contract. I suppose that the number of persons in' my electorate who are concerned in the delivery of postal matter from England is comparatively small. But every one of them is concerned in the payment of this subsidy. Included in their ranF.cs are hundreds of men who have never faced a. worse time than that which they have experienced since a protective policy for the Commonwealth was inaugurated. Here is an opportunity for the Government to put into practice their cry of " Australia for the Australians." Of course, I realize that the House will not support my amendment, but I do hope honorable members will agree that I have, at least, made out a sufficiently strong case for the work of docking these vessels to be done in Australia. Consequently I move -

That the following words be added : - " Provided that the proposed steam-ships shall be constructed or docked in Australia."

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