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Thursday, 25 July 1912

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) .- I wish to briefly address myself to the motion. I indorse what has been said by Senators Long and Ready as to the comparative unfitness of the Rotomahana for the service between Melbourne arid Launceston. It is necessary, however, that we should understand that there is, perhaps, another view to be taken of the matter, and that the shipping companies may have their own reasons for the employment of that vessel. The whole subject is not disposed of by the statement that the Rotomahana is thirty years old, and has been reboilered, or had new engines put into her at any time during her career. The shipping company has to consider the service from the point of view of its responsibility to make profit. I am not speaking on behalf of the companies, but I wish to say that the prin ciple of endeavouring to secure better postal communication between Tasmania and the mainland was affirmed by the Senate previously, and its importance has been realized by. the. representatives of Tasmania since the Senate came into existence. The attitude of previous Governments iri this matter has been no less favorable to Tasmania than the attitude of the present' Government. Senator Ready, when speaking, attributed to the present Government a disposition to invite alternative tenders in order that Tasmania might be served more effectively than it is at present. I may inform the honorable senator that alternative tenders were called for previously, and one of the alternatives proposed was of such a character that it was said that no company would be likely to tender for it. The Government postponed the time for the reception of those fenders for either four or six months, at my request, to enable possible tenderers outside of Australia to tender. I mention that in order to Show that Tasmania's interests in this matter were not ignored by previous Governments.

Senator Long - Is not this the first occasion on which we have had lenders called for a daily service?

Senator KEATING - I think it is the first time that tenders have been called for a service Of six days a week from Burnie to Melbourne. I may be permitted to quote from a report that was adopted by the Senate as far back as 1902. Its brevity, conciseness, and application to the subject are such that I am justified in quoting it at length. A Select Committee of the Senate was appointed in the first session of the Federal Parliament to inquire into and report upon-

1.   The advisableness of the Government of the Commonwealth taking measures to improve the steam-ship communication between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia.

2.   The best means to adopt for such a purpose.

3.   The estimated cost involved in the adoption of such means.

That is concise", and fairly covers the whole subject. The report submitted, with a considerable quantity of. evidence, was equally concise. I had the honour to be Chairman of the Select Committee that brought up this report, which Parliament indorsed, and the Government subsequently acted upon. The report of the Committee is as follows -

The Select Committee of the Senate appointed to inquire into and report upon (1) the advisableness of the Government of the Commonwealth taking measures to improve the steam-ship communication between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia; (2) the best means to adopt for such a purpose ; (3) the estimated cost involved in the adoption of such means - have the honour to report to the Senate as follows : -

1.   That the importance to the people of the

Commonwealth of the communication between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia is such as to demand an improved steam service.

2.   That it is desirable that there should be established a daily mail service each way throughout the whole year between Tasmania and Melbourne, and that as far as practicable the hours for arrival and despatch of mails should be on every day approximately the same.

3.   That the existence of such a service would lead to increased commercial intercourse between Tasmania and the mainland States to the benefit of all.

4.   Evidence has been given to your Committee relative to the advisableness of the Government of the Commonwealth owning a line of steamers to connect Tasmania with the other States of the Commonwealth. Your Committee are of opinion that such a proposal should be considered in connexion with any movement for the acquisition by the Federal Government of the railways of the several States, and in connexion with the question of defence, respecting which evidence has also been given to your Gbmmittee as to the possibility of constructing steamers for the TasmanianAustralian trade, with a view to their utilization in time of war, as a valuable adjunct to Commonwealth defence.

Senator Long - That is good, but it is a pity that nothing was done.

Senator KEATING - This was recommended to the Government for consideration.

Senator Ready - The Government did not act upon the suggestion.

Senator KEATING - No Government has done so. I am inviting the present Government to turn to the report which was adopted by the Senate as far back as 1902. The fifth paragraph of the report reads -

Your Committee recommend the Government in the meantime to invite tenders for the performance of a six days a week steam service each way between Melbourne and Tasmania, such service to be three alternate days of the week by way nf Launceston, and the remaining three days of the week by Devonport and Burnie, due consideration being given to improved passenger accommodation and increased speed.

Those were the days when the Pateena, the Flinders, and the Coogee were engaged in the service. As a result of this report, the Government calling for alternate tenders and postponing the return of the tenders to enable British or foreign shipowners to compete if possible, the Loongana came into fhe service by a special arrangement entered into by, I think, Sir James Mills and Sir Edmund Barton. The Loongana was an experiment. Every one knows that she has been a successful experiment. In regard to effecting a better mail service than that which exists at the present time, I think I can rely on the support of both Senator Long, who has submitted this motion, and Senator Ready, who has spoken to it, in asking the Government to give fair consideration to what was recommended by the Select Committee, whose report I have quoted. I am not suggesting for a moment - and I am sure that Senator Long will understand this - thatthe Government) are open to criticism for not having given effect to the proposals contained in that report. They have been standing there for any Government to act upon since 1902. It would only be a fair thing, now that we are discussing this subject, to refer to the fact that a Select Committee of the Senate did take evidence in Tasmania and elsewhere, and brought up the report which I have quoted. I believe that any Government, no matter what party be in power, would do well to give effect to the proposals implied, if not directly contained, in the report, and would obtain, by doing so, substantial support from all members of the Senate.

Senator Long - While not criticising this Government, I think the honorable senator would be justified in calling attention to the fact that they have been just as negligent as all previous Governments in respect to those recommendations.

Senator KEATING - Quite so; but what I am now arguing is that the opportunity of utilizing the recommendations is one that the Government ought not to neglect. They have a good opportunity, not only of making the service between Tasmania and the Commonwealth a Commonwealthowned service, but incidentally of utilizing such a service as, in the terms of this report, a valuable adjunct to the Australian naval service.

Senator Needham - The honorable senator has been a member of Governments since that report was presented. What action did those Governments take?

Senator KEATING - The action taken was of the character that I have mentioned. We invited alternative tenders. We took no action in making the service Commonwealthowned, and as far as utilizing the opportunity of creating both a connecting link between Tasmania and the mainland, and establishing a service which would incidentally be an advantage in naval defence, we took no action. We called for tenders in such a way that we asked for the cost of a daily mail service across the Straits, but in the result came to the conclusion that the present service was, as to frequency, preferable to a daily one. A daily mail service would, of course, be very much more expensive. If the Government considered that point, the question would arise whether the Commonwealth would be justified in incurring such expenditure. In the meantime, without levelling any criticism at the Government, I would invite their consideration to the desirableness of establishing an improved service across the Straits, and their attention to the report of the Select Committee which received the indorsement of the Senate ten years ago.

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