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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Mr SPENCE (Darling) .- If I understand the members of the Opposition aright, they wish to amend the contract so that the vessels carrying on the service may be purchased by the Government only for use in time of war. Apparently they would leave the Australian people at the mercy of the shipping company carrying on the service, if it declared war on us. The object of the provision in the contract to which exception has been taken is to protect the interests of the people of this country in the event of certain contingencies arising. One of those contingencies is the possibility of the shipping company which is a party to the contract joining with the existing shipping ring .which controls freights and fares from the other side of the world, and may ultimately declare war on the people of Australia by increasing the rates charged to shippers at this end. I hope that the Government will stand by that provision. The members of the Opposition have posed as the friends of our producers and exporters. But if they had read the evidence taken in recent inquiries they would know that our people have had to fight hard to secure reasonable lates, and that a satisfactory mail-boat service for the transport of perishable produce is of great importance to them. The contract has been discussed as if it. were merely a contract for the conveyance of mails, whereas, in reality, the underlying intention is to secure the services of a fleet of up-to-date boats for the quick transport of our products to the markets of the old world.

Mr Johnson - We can have a straightout socialistic fight now.

Mr SPENCE - It is a great pity that some honorable members are afraid of the word " Socialism," and run away without examining the ideal for which it stands. Would it not be unwise to make a contract for ten years without safeguarding the interests of those who have to do business with the old country? The need for protecting their interests is the real reason why this provision is inserted, Without it, the fortunes of our producers will be in the hands of the company.

Mr McColl - There is too much competition for that.

Mr SPENCE - There is really no competition. , The honorable member is not' alive to the facts of the case. It is not denied that freights are arranged at the other end, and the importers do not object to them, because they can be passed on to the consumers.

Mr Lonsdale - That assists the Australian manufacturers.

Mr SPENCE - The amount of cargo' to be carried is also regulated, and when only enough is offering for three or four vessels, it is often spread over six. It has been argued that, by increasing the freights on exports to Australia, the companies are put in a position to give reasonably low freights to those who send produce from Australia, particularly because our exports exceed in quantity our imports. Then, too, high freights on imports assist local manufacturers. But in Western Australia attempts have been made to regulate freights at this end, and it would be outrageous if Parliament for ten years abandoned its right to interfere with arrangements threatening Australian interests, leaving itself without a weapon to protect our exporters. It is not contended that the rates already fixed are unreasonable, but there is no doubt that they control the oversea shipping sufficiently to enable them to raise freights at this end. Freights would not, of course, be raised to the point which would prevent exports, but it is admitted that the companies could raise them to any rate short of that. There is no doubt whatever that if this company does not join the shipping ring they will be unable to obtain freight to Australia. In the circumstances it would be madness for us to leave ourselves at the mercy of the company. In spite of the alarming suggestion that what is proposed is socialistic, I am satisfied that before' the close of the ten years period, this Parliament will see that it is wise that we should have our own shipping as a check upon the shipping ring. I believe that circumstances will arise which will demand the enforcement of this provision. If the shipping ring which this company will join dictates terms to them, it might happen that the Government will have to buy them out to insure the carriage of perishable products' in the interests of the Australian producer. There can be no doubt that in the. near future there will be a tremendous, expansion of our export trade in fruit and other produce, and the ships proposed to be built under this contract will not be able to carry all the freight offering from Australia. It is this outlook, probably, which justifies these people in entering upon a contract of this kind.

Mr Johnson - Then this provision does not mean what is meant bv the provision in the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company's contract, but something more.

Mr SPENCE - I cannot understand honorable members of the Opposition being such sticklers for copying what England has done. We should do what the Government have proposed, and that is consider Australian conditions.

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