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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro) (Postmaster-General) . - I might intimate, in the first place, that, although we think that the wording of the contract is perfectly clear, the Government, to remove a doubt which has been expressed, intend to insert the word "directly" between the words "legislation" and "affecting," in clause 15. That will meet the objection sought to Le met by paragraph 3 of the amendment. The gentleman who represents the contractors has consented to the alteration. As regards the other matters affected by the amendment, they have been discussed so fully that I do not propose to occupy time in dealing with them again. The contract has been the subject of negotiations for a considerable time past ; the parties with whom we are contracting are at the other end of the world ; and it will take a long while to build the vessels required for the service. Under these circumstances, I ask honorable members to determine as quickly as possible whether the contract shall or shall not be ratified. If the arrangement is as good a one as its critics have admitted it to be, it is most desirable that we should proceed to carry it into effect as soon as possible. We should not reopen the subject by attempting to insist on provisions which will mean an increase in expense. The honorable member for Darwin has asked what about the responsibility ? Does he mean the responsibility of the contractors? Is there no responsibility t attaching to the lodging of the deposit of £27,500, and the liability to swell that amount by another £25,000? Are we not safeguarded by the character of the contractors ? So far as we can ascertain, no stronger combination could possibly be dealt with, and surely we have as solid a guarantee as could reasonably be expected. It seems to me that we have taken every precaution. The contractors have shown that they are very much in earnest. They are men of very great reputation, and of good financial standing," who have proved that they can build ships. I do not think that there is any need tol re-open the contract with a view to imposing conditions which might' involve us in the payment of large additional sums of money. The Government have shown a desire to meet the wishes of honorable members. When a doubt was expressed last evening, with regard to the effect of one of the provisions of the contract, the representative of the contractors was approached, and1 undertook to make the position quite clear. I hope that we shall ratify the contract at the earliest possible moment, so that the contractors may be able to immediately proceed with the construction of the steamers. I believe that we shall have every reason to be proud of the new fleet. We shall have a number of verv fine vessels flying our own flag, and providing accommodation which should be of the greatest advantage to our producers, and to the community generally.

Mr. FISHER(Wide Bay} [8.47].- No one desires to detract from the credit due to the Postmaster-General and1 other Ministers for having made a good bargain ; but I have vet to learn that even a good contract cannot be improved upon. It is difficult for the representatives of Queensland to regard the new contract with unalloyed satisfaction, because that State is the only one that has been entirely shut out from the benefits of the service. Although I admit that arrangements have been made for a purely mail contract, we cannot disguisethe fact that underlying the agreement is an understanding that a shipping service shall be afforded that will provide suitable accommodation for the conveyance of our perishable products to the markets of the world. The Postmaster-General asks why the whole question should be re-opened, but I would point out that it is merely proposed! to ask the contractors to render additional services for a further consideration. No one should be in a better position than the Government to conduct the necessary negotiations. The contractors have shown their desire to perform certain services for a given sum, and no doubt thev will be willing to further meet our requirements if we are prepared to increase the subsidy. The contractors are not proposing to bring their vessels out here for the good of their health, but because they believe that they will be able to make the service a payableconcern. No doubt the steamers will proceed as far as Sydney, and I think that the amendment is entitled to receive the fullest consideration of the Government. I venture to say that the question of extending the service to Brisbane has been discusser! bv the representative of the contractors and: the Government, and that the only reasonwhy it has not been dealt with in a broader spirit is that the Government fear that if thev were to propose the payment of a further subsidy the contract would not be accepted by Parliament. As a matter of fact, a number of the members of the Queensland' Government have announced that they prefer to have a service of their own rather than continue the payment of a' high subsidy to the Orient Company. They cannot be reasonably expected to go onpaying £T, 000 per fortnight to the Orient Company in order to secure the presence of" the Orient steamers in a port whose trade is so rapidly increasing. I was surprised at theoffhand manner in which the PostmasterGeneral dealt with the amendment. If it had been suggested1 that Sydney should bepassed over, he would, doubtless, have taken a much more serious view of the matter. The question would have been discussed fully and freely without any regard' to the time that might be occupied. I am at one with those who hold that we should' not argue this question merely for debating purposes. The contract is of a practical character, and mv point - is that theservice proposed to be rendered could be- made still more satisfactory if we were prepared to pay an additional sum in order to secure an extension to Brisbane. The Government should be the last to place obstacles in the way, and they should experience no difficulty in renewing negotiations before the contract has been finally ratified by both Houses of Parliament.

Mr Austin Chapman - The amendment proposes that the service should1 be extended to Brisbane " without any extra charge."

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