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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I learn that various constructions have been put upon certain words which I used in the speech I made in connexion with this contract yesterday, which are not warranted by what I said. Quoting from the Hansard report, I find that what I said was -

In these circumstances I cannot vote ' for the amendment. I am not going to say that under certain conditions there might not be justification for a State-owned service. If we found persons taking advantage of a monopoly which they had established, and making it' absolutely injurious to the interests of Australia, some action might have to be taken, but I do say that nothing of that kind has arisen, nor is it likely to arise with the free competition of the ocean.

That is what I said, and that is what I stand by, and I protest against any interpretations which are altogether wide of the mark being placed upon my words. I have only a word to say about this amendment. I am absolutely against the proposal in the contract, and would substitute for it the provision contained in the British contracts, which the Ministry have sought to make it appear - probably without knowledge - is similar to the provision in this contract. As the honorable member for Parramatta has said, if it is similar, why should not the Government accept it, and if the provision in this contract differs from it, what is the reason for the difference? Is it not that, instead of having the power merely to take possession of these steamers in an emergency such as war, they may vest the power in the hands of the PostmasterGeneral to acquire, for any or for no reason but a socialistic reason, possession of these boats? The Prime Minister said that the Postmaster-General read from a British contract a provision similar to that in the present proposal. I have no doubt at ' all that what the honorable gentleman read was paragraph 32 of the Peninsular.

Subject to the provisions of the Subvention Agreement between the Admiralty and the company, dated 3rd April, 1894, or of any subsequent Subvention Agreement, the Admiralty shall at any lime during the continuance of this Agreement, if they shall consider it necessary so to do, have power and be at liberty to purchase all or any of the mail-ships at a valuation, or to charter the same exclusively for Her Majesty's service, at a rate of hire to be mutually fixed and agreed on by them and the company, or, in case of difference, to be determined by arbitration, and every or any difference as to the amount of valuation or hire or rate of hire so to be paid shall be determined by arbitration.

That reads as though it were similar to the proposal in this contract, but when we attach to it the schedule which gives the grounds for the acquisition of these boats, it is not so.

Mr Isaacs - What schedule?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The schedule quoted by the honorable and learned member for Corinella.

Mr Isaacs - I do not think there is one in that contract.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is subject to the provisions of the subvention agreement between the Admiralty and the company.

Mr Isaacs - I think that the honorable member is, perhaps, inadvertently overlooking the fact that the schedules referred to were in connexion with the Cunard1 contract.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The schedules were quoted from that contract, I understand.

Mr Isaacs - That is a different one.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - At any rate, we have had quoted the only conditions which apply, and it is shown that they apply to the purchase of the steamers for war purposes. Reading the paragraph alone, it might be taken as corresponding practically with the contract. But, reading it with the subvention agreement, and also with the schedules attached to the Cunard agreement, it is shown that it refers to the purchase of the vessels for war purposes. After that clear statement of the position by honorable members, the Ministry cannot get out of this position, either they thought thev were doing the same thing as the British Government, or they are acting on the principle advocated by honorable members in the corner, who have openly avowed that they support the proposal of the Government because it is

Sir John Forrest - Where would we get the money from ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Ministry would hope to get the money from the British lender, I suppose. The right honorable member- must know that the members of the Commission of which the honorable member for B arrier was chairman proposed to borrow money in Australia for the purpose.

Sir John Forrest - But Parliament would have to approve of the purchase of the vessels first.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Parliament might be asked to approve after the agreement to acquire the vessels had been made.

Sir John Forrest - No. before.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Government could' commit itself to the purchase of the vessels without reference to Parliament, and the latter could only refuse to ratify the Act by displacing them.

Sir John Forrest - That would be a risky job to undertake.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Risky undertakings have been entered into before now by those who depended upon the vote of a certain number of honorable members.

Sir John Forrest - Not involving the raising of several millions of money, I hope.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know about that. At any rate, that is the position. The Government profess to wish to copy the British contract. They see clearly now that they have not done so, and they refuse to alter their own terms, and by that means do what they at first professed they were ready to do.

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