8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Tasmanian Agency : Offices at Hobart - Publication of Balance-sheets - Disposal of the Fleet.
– I understand that the Government have appointed the Government of Tasmania as agents for the Commonwealth Line of steamers in that State, and that the offices of the Line have been transferred to Launceston. Will the Minister in charge of the House see that offices are established in Hobart, where most of the shipping in connexion with the Commonwealth Line is done, and that every facility is given to shippers there?
– I know nothing of the circumstances, but shall have inquiries made. Manifestly, the Commonwealth Shipping Line will take every step necessary to facilitate the shipping of goods from Hobart.
– In view of the fact that the Commonwealth Bank, with its world-wide ramifications, is able to publish its yearly accounts about two months after the close of the financial year, and seeing that the accounts of the Commonwealth Shipping Line for the year ended 30th June, 1921, will not be available until the Budget statement is delivered next month, will the Minister representing the Prime Minister see that the balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Line of steamers for the financial year ended 30th June, 1922, is available within a reasonable time?
– I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Prime Minister’s Department, and endeavour to comply with the honorable member’s wishes.
– Is it a fact that Sir Mark Sheldonhas been authorized, on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, to interview Lord Inchcape, and to arrange for the disposal of the Commonwealth Line of steamers?
Mr.GREENE. - I was asked a similar question yesterday. I have to give the same answer, “No.”
.- (By leave) - I regret the necessity of having to use the House as a vehicle for the publication of the statement I propose to make; but, in view of the attacks thai have been made in this Chamber, under cover of privilege, by the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts), in which he has impugned the character of certain men outside, it is only fair that the denial which these men give to such allegations should be afforded the publicity usually given to utterances in the House, and be recorded in Hansard. I have received the following letter from Mr. William Albion Gibbs, assistant general secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labour party: -
Sydney, 12th July, 1922.
Sear Mr. Charlton, - I have read with surprise and indignation the malicious attack made upon rae by. J. H. Catts, M.H.R., in the Federal House, on the6th July. I am enclosing you my reply to the statements he has made concerning me, and I would be grateful, if it is possible at all, if you could arrange to have my reply read in the House, and thus recorded in Hansard. Thanking you in anticipation, and with best wishes, Yours faithfully, Wm. A. Gibbs, Assistant General Secretary.
Mr. Gibbs forwards the following declarations :
I, William Albion Gibbs, of 78 Mill-street, Carlton, in the State of New South Wales, do hereby solemnly declare and affirm that I never at any time,said I owned any of the sideshows figuring in Labour Carnivals, either myself or in conjunction with Mr. Simmons. For the carnivals Ihave supervised for the A.L.P., balance-sheets have been submitted, and forwarded to the Attorney-General’s Department, Sydney. This applies to the art unions conducted in 1920 and 1921. I have never stated that there had been embezzlements from the A.L.P, orLabour News. I have neverstated that if Mr. Higgins had his desserts ho would be in gaol.. The books have been audited by a public accountant each year, who certifies that they are correct.
And I make this solemn declaration, as to the matter aforesaid, according to thelaw in this behalf made, and subject to the punishment by law provided for any wilfully false statement in anysuch declaration.
William A. Gibbs.
Taken and declared at Sydney, in said State, this twelfth day of July, a.d. 1922. Before me - William Carey, J.P.
I, William Albion Gibbs, of78 Mill-street, Carlton, in the State of New South Wales, do hereby solemnly declare and affirm that I have been employed by the executive of the Australian Labour party, N.S.W., since my return from the war in 1916. I have read the statements appearing in Federal Hansard made concerning me by J. H. Catts, M.H.R. The said statements are absolutely and entirelyuntrue. Matron Lackey has never at any tune secured relief for me or my family, neither have we required same. I have never employed any man at ?1 per night to look after chocolate wheels at Labour carnivals. All helpers were employed by the carnival organizer, and paid from carnival proceeds.
And I make this solemn declaration, as to the matter aforesaid, according to the law in this behalf made, and subject to the punishmentby law provided for any wilfullyfalse statement in any such declaration.
William A. Gibbs.
Taken and declared at Sydney, in said State, this twelfth day of July, a.d. 1922. Before me - William Carey, J.P.
I, William Albion Gibbs, of 78 Mill-street, Carlton, in the State of New South Wales, do hereby solemnly declare and affirm that I have neverhad any boxes of chocolatesbelonging to the A.L.P., or any person, in my possession. I have never been connected with or concerned in any way with a carnival run by the A.L.P. at Parramatta. My wife has never banked sums of ?100, ?37, &c.,as a perusal of her bank-book shows. I have never had in my possession, nor have I now, any books belonging to the A.L.P. library, or to any other person. I have never managed a carnival at Cessnock for the A.L.P. No carnival has even been conducted by the A.L.P. at that place.
And 1 make this solemn declaration, as to the matter aforesaid, according to thelaw in this behalf made, and subject to the punishment by law provided for any wilfully false statement in any such declaration.
William A. Gibbs.
Token and declared at Sydney, in said State, this twelfth day of July, a.d. 1922. Before me - William Carey, J.P.
I, William Albion Gibbs, of 78 Mill-street, Carlton, in the State of New South Wales, do hereby solemnly declare and affirm that my brother died suddenly last August, and when on my annual holidays in October, I took several small articles he left behind to his mother, who lives in Melbourne. The trip did not cost me ?40. I have never told any person that it had. I have never purchased a house in my wife’s name from a Mr. Bathie for ?1,100. I am purchasing one from Mrs. C. Clark, Kogarah, for the sum of ?950, on time payment. I paid a deposit of ?125; the balance to be paid off at 38s. per week, at 7 per cent. interest. The contract is in my name.
And I make this solemn declaration, as to the matter aforesaid, according to the law in this behalf made, and subject to the punish went by law provided for any wilfully false statement in any such declaration.
Taken and declared at Sydney, in said State, this twelfth day of July, a.d. 1922. Before me - William Carey, J.P.
I feel that, in justice to the men who have been attacked here, under cover of privilege, by the honorable member for Cook, I am entitled to place these facts before the House.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware that the first portions of the Australian Arsenal are being built piecefashion at Maribyrnong, Victoria, and that this is contrary to the recommendation of the Public Works Committee, to whom the matter was referred, that the arsenal should be erected at Canberra?
– It is not a fact that we are establishing an arsenal at Maribyrnong. Certain ammunition and explosive factories are being erected there. I do not flunk it would be desirable to have the explosive factories at Canberra.
– Is the Minister for Defence yet in a position to afford me any information with respect to the repairing of the sea. wall below Fort Scratchley, Newcastle ?
– Can the Minister for Works and Railways inform the House what is being done to bring the works in connexion with the Murray River waters scheme under the unified control of the Murray Waters Commission?
– Yes. As honorable members are aware, a Bill to co-ordinate the whole of thework has been passed by this House, as well as by the Parliaments of South Australia and Victoria. Its consideration by the Parliament of New South Wales was interrupted by the closing of the session. I am assured, however, by the Premier of New South Wales that he will bring it before the Parliament of that State at the earliest opportunity. I am informed that the feeling in favour of the measure in the New South Wales Parliament is almost unanimous. It is not a party Bill, and we hope it will be passed very shortly.
Spanish Export Duties on Base Metals for Germany.
– Hasthe Minister for Trade and Customs read a cablegram in the press to the effect that Spain has imposed export duties on base metals sent from that country to Germany owing to the decline in the value of the mark giving Germany a decided advantage in smelting? Further, has the Government considered what will be the effect upon Australia, more particularly in respect of lead and concentrates, of the closing of that avenue of raw material to Germany? If so, is action to be taken here in the matter?
– I have read the statement to which the honorable member refers, and am having the matter brought under the notice of the Tariff Board.
– Will the acting Leader of the Government state whether an opportunity will be given the House to discuss the proposal to build note printing offices in Victoria before any definite action is taken to that end?
– I do not think that a discussion in this House could influence the decision which has been arrived at. The matter is entirely in the hands of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and unless we alter the law no decision that we might arrive at in regard to the work would have any effect on his determination.
– Then we had better appoint at once a Select Committee to go into the matter.
– Is the Treasurer aware that plans, specifications, and designs for the note printing office were prepared by a Commonwealth Department ? What is to become of them? Are they to be wasted, and is the Commonwealth to pay the expense of having the work done afresh by a private firm?
– I am aware of the facts mentioned by the honorable member, but under the law I have no control over the actions of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral state whether a report has been received from Sir Mark Sheldon, the Commissioner appointed to deal with the Kidman -Mayoh shipping contract? If so, will the honorable gentleman lay it on the table?
– The honorable member appears to be under a misapprehension. A Royal Commission was not appointed by the Government to inquire into the matter. Sir Mark Sheldon, as arbitrator, has been adjudicating, but I understand that his decision has not yet been received.
– Is the statement appearing in the press this morning correct that some of the services carried out in the Defence Department, NewSouth Wales, are to be transferred to the Flinders Naval Base? If so, is it the settled policy of the Government to transfer such activities from New South Wales?
– Questions regarding Government policy are not in order.
– When may the House expect the long anticipated statement regarding sugar ? When the Minister for Trade and Customs submits that statement will he include particulars of the imports of sugar for the year ended 30th June last?
– A financial statement regarding sugar will be submitted to the House on Wednesday next, and it will cover the whole of the operations from the commencement of control. As the accounts closed on the 30th June, and they have been submitted to the AuditorGeneral for a special audit, I do not think the honorable member will have cause to complain of unreasonable delay if he gets the particulars next Wednesday.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of the absolute need of all factories being supplied with first-aid boxes, will he request the Cabinet to permit manufacturers to purchase military medical outfits at cost price?
– There are no military medical outfits available, which are suitable for the purpose suggested by the honorable member.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it a fact that the Commonwealth Shipbuilding Yard at Williamstown has been sold, or are arrangements being made for the sale of same?
Mr. GREENE (for Mr. Hughes).No.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What were the imports of sugar into the Commonwealth from 1st July, 1921, to 30th June, 1922, giving separately tonnage, ports of shipment, ‘and values f.o.b. and c.i.f. and e., without duties?
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
At the present time; there is only one subsidized aerial service in operation, viz., that between Geraldton and Derby, Western Australia (1,195 miles). A contract waslet to Messrs. Western Australian Airways Limited, for a period of twelve months, from 5th December, 1921, for the operation of a regular weekly (return) service over this route. The subsidy payable for maintenance of the service for the period of the contract is £25,000. The following additional contracts have been let for a period of twelve months, but service has not yet commenced: -
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– The honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) asked a question yesterday regarding certain official papers. I have looked into this matter, and find that the honorable member has already seen the papers, and that my predecessor declined to lay them on the table of the House. In view of advice I have received from the Crown Law officers, I am unable to comply with the honorable member’s request.
Balance-sheet : Freights.
– On the 13th July the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) inquired when the balance-sheet for the Commonwealth Government Line of steamers for the year ended 30th June, 1921, would be presented. I desire to inform the honorable member that, in accordance with the usual practice, the balance-sheet will be presented in the Budget papers.
On the 12th July, the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) asked if the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Line of steamers was aware that the managers of the line are charging higher freights from British ports to Australia than they are charging from Antwerp to Australia. In reply, I beg to state that the rate of freight from Antwerp to Australia is the same as from the United Kingdom to Australia.
Motion (by Mr. Richard Foster) agreed to -
That the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works have leave, so far as members of the House of Representatives are concerned, to sit in Adelaide during the sittings of the House.
Debate resumed from 13th July (vide page 467), on motion by Mr. Jackson -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral be agreed to by this House : -
May it Pleaseyour Excellency -
We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, beg to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to addross to Parliament.
.- Last night, when at a late hour the Leader of the House by an act of unusual mercy, agreed to the adjournment of the debate, I was discussing what is known as the wireless agreement made between the Commonwealth and. Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and I had pointed out that that agreement now executed between the Commonwealth and the company was the result of investigation by a Committee, following upon a motion moved in this House; also that in many radical particulars it was a departure from the agreement which the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) wished the House to adopt, and that it was still, in my view at all events, open to very severe criticism on the ground that the Government should not have given away its paramount rights by associating itself with a subordinate company of this kind. We may console ourselves, however, with the knowledge that the position is not as bad as it might have been; unquestionably it is not so bad as it would have been but for the timely protest made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). The Commonwealth Government have pledged this country to the expenditure of £500,000 in the first place, and I have sufficient knowledge of the developments incidental to undertakings of this kind to feel sure that our financial commitment is not likely to be limited to that amount. The agreement as it stands, as I have said, is much better than it was, but it is still open to criticism, and I say this with a full knowledge and admission that as a member of that Committee I had some little part in making suggestions as to how the agreement might be improved. I did not pretend to draft in detail a water-tight agreement between the Commonwealth and the company. That, I should have supposed, was a matter for very careful deliberation on the part of the Commonwealth Crown Law officers. The agreement now before us was hastily drafted by representatives of theCrown Law Department, but the fact that its details are still open to very serious question bears out in a very striking way our contention that it should not have been ratified without the consent of Parliament, and that, as the Leader of the
Opposition contended when the matter was first before us, we should have provided that the report of that Committee should come back to this House for further and fuller consideration. But for some reason which I am quite at a loss to understand, the Prime Minister was so eager to commit the Government to this agreement, so eager to commit the Commonwealth to this expenditure, and was so extraordinarily friendly to this corporation, that he would not brook any further delay - no delay at all if he could have helped it - and succeeded in getting the House to consent that there should be no delay beyond what was necessary for the Committee to consider the agreement; he would not postpone the final adjustment until the House had ah opportunity v of discussing the Committee’s report. I am sorry to say that the majority of the Committee have furnished a very sparse report. I quoted last night from the evidence, which is of a highly illuminating character. But the report of the Committee itself, I repeat, is meagre.- I reported at somewhat greater length. I, however, was in a minority. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has said that, because I furnished my report upon the eve of the meeting of Parliament, my action was necessarily a mere party political move. The reason why I presented my report so close upon the inauguration of the session was that it appeared to me that its earlier presentation could serve no good purpose. It could not be considered until Parliament had met, and was, therefore, in a position to do to. Also I was influenced by the fact that, whether I disagreed or agreed, the contract would be accepted by the Government, and would bind the Commonwealth.
A very startling and ominous piece of information is made known this morning. I refer to the answers to a series of questions put in the Senate Chamber yesterday bv Senator J. D. Millen, a member of the Committee. It will be recalled by honorable members that the original draft agreement provided for .the preponderating influence in the company to be that of Amalgamated Wireless, in respect of the directorate, as against that of the -Commonwealth. The Opposition in this chamber attacked that proposition; and the Committee accepted its view, as against that defended by the Government. As a result, in the present agreement there has been inserted «. clause to the effect that the directorate shall consist of an equal number of representatives of Amalgamated Wireless and of the Commonwealth, three on each- side, and that the chairman shall be selected by this joint directorate.
– And that, in the event of disagreement- 1
– Yes ; I was about to add that in that event the matter of his selection was to be submitted to an arbitrator. The chairman - this seventh member of the directorate - has been so selected. There was a disagreement between thegentlemen, representing the Governmentand those representative of Amalgamated! Wireless. At all events, there was a nominal disagreement, for the outcome has been that, following upon the appointment of an arbitrator, there has been selected and appointed- - as an independent chairman, be it marked - the Chairman of Amalgamated Wireless itself, namely Sir Thomas Hughes.
– That is the hottest thing I have ever heard !
– It is so.
– - The significance of the selection appeals to honorable members.
– It was the arbitrator who appointed Sir Thomas Hughes.
– The representatives on the Board, having disagreed over the selection of a chairman, appointed an arbitrator, who has selected as an independent chairman of the Board the Chairman of Amalgamated Wireless.
– The people will find the money and the company will run the show.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) will see that this does not affect the agreement.
– It explains to me, absolutely, why Amalgamated Wireless jumped at every alteration which we made in the agreement. It reveals to mo most clearly why, step by step, we drove them back, and why everything they said at first that they could not accept, they did accept. It was, of course, for the simple reason that Amalgamated Wireless realized that they would have the last say. The whole business is not only open to criticism, but to suspicion. These representatives of Amalgamated Wireless, I shrewdly suspect, are representatives of the Commonwealth; and these representatives of the Commonwealth, I am bound to believe, are largely representatives of Amalgamated Wireless. I shall proceed now to deal in detail with the questions of Senator J. D. Millen, and with the answers furnished thereto. The honorable senator first asked -
The answer furnished was -
– He is one of the best men in New South Wales.
– Probably one of the best friends of the honorable member and his party. The answer proceeds to state that those representing the shareholders are Mr. P. Bartholomew, Mr. E. T. Fisk, and Captain Langley Webb. Senator J. D. Millen next asked -
Those are the questions which were asked by a Nationalist member of this Parliament.
– And one of the best men in. the Senate.
– Probably, so far as I know; and, certainly, one of the best informed men on the Committee. So much I must say for the honorable senator.
– What was the answer to that last question ? No answer was forthcoming to No. 2.
– The answers are as follow: - 2 and 3. The agreement provided for the selection of the seventh director by the three Government representatives and the three company representatives. If they failed to agree, the agreement further provided for the appointment of an arbitrator, whose decision was to be final. No agreement was reached, and an arbitrator was appointed by the six directors. The decision of the arbitrator, after hearing both the company’s and the Government’s nominees, was for Sir Thomas Hughes. The appointment of the seventh director was in strict accord with the agreement approved by the Wireless Committee, the directors acting upon that agreement, and advising the Government what had been done.
– There was no answer vouchsafed to that portion of Senator J. D. Millen’s inquiry as to whether four of those directors were on the directorate of the old Amalgamated Wireless Company.
– As a matter of fact, they were.
– I thank the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) for the greater measure of frankness which he has now shown than was to be found in the answers furnished by his Ministerial colleague in another place. I suggest to the Treasurer - who was a member of the Committee - that it would be very courageous on his part, and highly proper, if, as a member of the Government, he were to tell the House that that arrangement, if it had been foreseen by members of the Parliamentary Wireless Committee would never have been made, and that the Committee never would have agreed to such a proposal, but would have advised unanimously against it. I can safely say that the Treasurer knows perfectly well that such is the fact.
– Is Sir Thomas Hughes connected with Amalgamated Wireless now?
– Then how can he be said to be an independent chairman? His appointment constitutes a violation of the terms of the agreement.
– Undoubtedly. I leave that aspect of the matter. I do not know that we have heard the last of it.
I will turn now to this agreement which has been ratified by the Commonwealth, this agreement which embodies vital alterations of the original proposals submitted to us, this agreement which, nevertheless, should never, in my view, have been executed.
– As you were a member of that Committee, may I ask you why we have never seen the printed report of the Parliamentary Wireless Committee ?
– It was laid on the table of the House.
– There has been no order given, so far, that it be printed.
-It ought to be printed. It has been made available to honorable members. I have a copy of the agreement before me.
– What was the name of the arbitrator? That individual has not been mentioned this morning.
– The arbitrator was Mr. Consett Stephen.
– I understand that that is correct.
I ask the patience of honorable members now while I examine some features of the clauses of the agreement which, at this stage, and upon that fuller deliberation which the agreement certainly deserves, present themselves to my mind. I do not wish to reflect on any member who sat with me on the Committee, or, incidentally, to reflect on myself. I merely say that this whole business should have been held up until Parliament had been afforded a fuller opportunity for consideration. Clause 3 states: -
The Company shall forthwith take all necessary steps to alter its memorandum and/or articles of association, so as to provide - (vii.) that no action or question or decision relating to or affecting -
the policy of the Commonwealth in connexion with naval or military or external affairs…… shall be taken, determined or made without the consent of the Commonwealth as expressed through its representatives on the Board of Directors.
That is a purely negative provision, however. The agreement provides, in effect, that no such thing shall be done by the Company without the consent of the Commonwealth ; but it does not say what it ought to have said affirmatively, namely, that the Commonwealth shall have a free hand to do what it deems right and best for the preservation of the interests of the naval and military and external affairs of the Commonwealth. The agreement provides that the Company shall not do certain things without the consent of the Commonwealth; but it does not say that the Commonwealth may do an unlimited number of other things for its own preservation in respect of naval and military and external affairs. And that, I submit, is an important distinction.
I turn now to sub-clause viii. of the same clause, which states : -
That the Company shall not enter into or be a party to any commercial trust or combine, but shall always be and remain an independent British business.
Honorable members may know that the Amalgamated Wireless Company has been most assiduous in endeavouring to convince this Parliament, and, especially the members of the Wireless Committee, that it really is a true blue Australian business. As a fact, it is merely a joint in the tail of the Marconi Trust. And so the Commonwealth, by this agreement, becomes - to use the same sufficiently descriptive phrase - a joint in the tail of the Marconi Trust. And the Marconi Trust consists of the Marconi Company (English), the Radio Communications Company (United States of America), the French Wireless Company, and the Telefunken (German) Company. At this late date I take no exception to any company on the mere ground of its country of origin, but I suggest that my friends who do take a great deal of notice of that kind of thing should not endeavour to persuade themselves that the Amalgamated Wireless Limited is a simple, modest Australian company. All these concerns are bound together by mutual agreement. They are interdependent. But the important feature is that, while this large Trust is much interested in these very expensive experiments which the Commonwealth proposes to make in regard to long-distance wireless, of a kind which has never been tested out in any other part of the world - while they may be very much interested as outside observers and dividend makers, they have taken all sorts of care to incur no financial responsibility in regard to them.
– What experiments does the honorable member suggest as likely to be undertaken by the Commonwealth?
– The Commonwealth is making a most hazardous experiment in proposing to spend £500,000 in setting up commercial wireless communication over 12,000 miles, when it has not been proved that such communication can be carried on satisfactorily over a distance of 4,500 miles or thereabouts, and then not for such a service as that for which we have contracted.
– That is what the Prime Minister told us. He said that communication with Great Britain was already an accomplished fact, and was beyond the experimental stage. The Committee of this Parliament called a dozen expert witnesses, and every one said, “Yes, it does work every day, or some parts of some days.” But as a commercial system which will give us what we have pledged ourselves to get, it has never yet been proven in any part of the world.
– That is exactly the reason why we introduced the clause in the agreement to the effect that the contract for the erection of the power-station should contain an absolute guarantee of its efficiency.
– That is only partly so. ‘It was one of the features missing from the agreement which the Common- wealth Government endeavoured to get us to sign, but is now embodied in the agreement in a form, the weakness of which I shall proceed to show, improved though it may be. The clause reads as follows: -
The company shall, within six months after the date of this agreement, or within such extended time as the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board may approve, enter into an agreement providing for the erection and operation of the stations mentioned in paragraphs (/) and (g) of clause 5 of this agreement.
The agreement shall contain guarantees of such a nature, and to such an amount, as are approved by the Commonwealth representatives on the Board of Directors, for the provision of a direct commercial wireless service between Australia and the stations in the United Kingdom and Canada.
Then a definition of “commercial wireless” is given as follows: -
For the purpose of this agreement the Commercial Wireless Service means a service capable, a« regards plant, apparatus, and personnel, of maintaining communication throughout 300 days of every year, on the minimum basis of twenty words ner minute each way for twelve hours per day.
As the honorable member for Fawkner has interjected, that guarantee, for what it is worth, was placed in the agreement by the Committee of this Parliament against the will of Amalgamated Wireless Limited, but because the Committee thought that it was some measure of protection for the Commonwealth.
– I ask my friend as a lawyer to note. the language of this agreement, because these words were drawn for the most part by Amalgamated Wireless Limited.
– And settled by the honorable member himself.
– The honorable member for Batman was one of the legal members of the Committee who drafted the agreement. ‘ .
– I am absolutely candid about the whole matter. We took the draft agreement, and with the limited opportunities at our disposal made it as good as we could, and I was one of the sub-Committee which dealt with it at one stage only,, with Senator DrakeBrockman.
– The honorable member was one of the sub-Committee which interviewed Sir Robert Garran, the SolicitorGeneral, to finalize the matter. He was chosen as a legal- member of the Committee for that purpose.
– The honorable member is wrong. I did not interview Sir Robert Garran. .
– If the honorable member says that he was not a member of the sub-Committee I must accept his word, but I was under the impression that he was one of those who were deputed to finally draft the clauses embodied in the recommendations of the Committee.
– Only so far as I have stated, but if it will be any consolation to the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), I am prepared to say that I went- through the agreement, that T swatted over it, and that I did my best with it at short notice, and now, as might have been expected, that it has come before the House, I see many faults in it, and, apart from my- fundamental objection, realize that I was quite right when I said that it should not have been approved until it was brought here, and until the Crown Law officers had been consulted and had had an opportunity of dealing with it properly.
– Quite right.
– Now I shall proceed to point out the weakness of this guarantee. Let us see how it is proposed to guarantee the maintenance of a commercial wireless service. We enter into an agreement with Amalgamated Wireless Limited, and they enter into an agreement with one of those numerous branches of the Marconi Trust, in order to give this guarantee that they will supply a commercial wireless service, which means a service capable as regards plant, apparatus, and personnel of performing certain things. I can quite understand the reason for the use of these words, “ Yes,” they will say, “ the plant we have, the people we have, and the apparatus we have; we have done all you have asked us to do, but, unfortunately, owing to the condition of that mysterious thing known as atmospherics, and owing to fading wave lengths, and other causes over which God only has control, we cannot give you a service over 300 days of the year each way at the rate of twenty words per minute for twelve hours per day as agreed.
– Did the company represent at any time that they could do so?
– The Prime Minister represented that he could do so. It was quite a simple matter to him.
– But did the company make representations to that effect to the Committee?
– Certainly, every one did; both Radio Communications and Amalgamated Wireless Limited said that it could be done, and would be done.
– Yes, they were all rushing to get an agreement with the Commonwealth, and they all said, “We can do it,” but the Committee, in the familiar languageof my party, put the acid on them. We asked, “ How do you know you can do it when no one else has ever done it; what are the obstacles in the way of doing it?” The witnesses we called were unanimous in saying that there were tremendous difficulties which had never been overcome. We were told that there were a dozen different patents in force with the object of overcoming the mysterious difficulty of atmospherics, but that none of them had yet been tried out. Furthermore, we were told that no system, such as that to which the Commonwealth was committed, had been put into operation effectively in any part of the world. Of course, the Prime Minister said, “ Yes, you can go down to Koo-wee-rup to Amalgamated Wireless Limited there, and pick up messages from Leafield, in England, from New York, or from Bordeaux.” Because occasionally some stray, wandering messages are picked up from across the world - God only knows how they came or whether they will be likely to come again - the Prime Minister says, “Yes, we can enter into this contract with Amalgamated Wireless Limited with perfect confidence.” I do not know what is going to happen. All that I know is that we are committed to this costly experiment, that the indemnity or guarantee clause, when carefully read, is a very poor protection indeed, and I suspect that the time is not very far distant when we shall hear that there has been secretly appointed an Arbitrator, something like the Arbitrator in reference to the KidmanMayoh contract, to decide between Amalgamated Wireless Limited and the Commonwealth as to what is to be done about the service which cannot be given to Australia. When these things happen we shall probably be told that in order to avoid the expense of litigation - because we have already had expensive litigation with Marconi - and, incidentally, to avoid the publicity attaching to this question, the matter should be submitted to an arbitrator, and, if possible, one with his passage booked to New York, so that his finding may come back to us from America later in the year.
I do not wish to labour the matter unduly. I feel inclined to leave it at this stage. Perhaps the Treasurer will favour us with his views upon the question. Perhaps the honorable member for Fawkner will give us the benefit of his opinion.
– The Amalgamated Wireless Limited have made certain representations. What are the rights of the Commonwealth if those representations are not correct?
– Amalgamated Wireless Limited have pledged themselves to enter into a further agreement with somecompany or body whichwill give guarantees to be accepted by the Commonwealth representatives on the Board that they can give services which will be effective so far as personnel, apparatus, and plant are concerned, but they do not propose to giveus an indemnity if they fail to carry out their proposition on the ground that what they offer to do cannot be done. They do not say. “ If we cannot do this thing we will put you right financially.”
– If they fail, how can their apparatus be effective?
– They will claim that their apparatus is effective. They will say, “ We have the apparatus, we can talk to New York, we can take messages and send them; it is a first-class apparatus.”
– But there must be an effective service.
– But they will say that their apparatus isnot giving effective service because of the act of God. They will say that it is defective, not because of any fault in the apparatus itself, but because of conditions over which they have no control. I ask, not for a conditional, but for a real indemnity - an indemnity to “deliver the goods” or pay the money.
– The guarantees have to be of such a nature as will be approved by the Commonwealth.
– They have to be approved by the Commonwealth representatives as being sufficient only for that purpose.
– It seems to me that this is going to be a worse job than the last wireless affair proved to be.
– During the course of my speech I have had some friendly interjections from honorable members of the Country party. Let me tell them that I propose to move an amendment to the Address-in-Reply. It is not to be a censure amendment, but one designed only to save the Commonwealth at least £500,000. We have not been able always to join with our honorable friends of the Country party when they have been wanting to economize, as they call it, but they may help us to save some public money by supporting the amendment I intend to move.
– I am afraid the Corner party, when we proceed to a vote, will be found, as usual, supporting the Government.
– I well remember that, at the latter end of last year whenever the Government was in danger, the Ministerial Whip went round rapidly and counted heads. If he found that he had the numbers the Prime Minister would come in and say to the House, “ The Government is inflexibly determined, at all costs, to carry this proposal.” If it turned out, however, that the numbers were against the Government the right honorable gentleman would hasten in and assure us that the matter was entirely in the hands of the House, and that he would accept our decision whatever it might be. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) has often paid me the compliment of referring to my expressions of opinion and votes in this Chamber. I appeal to him to support me in this amendment. He is an earnest honorable member. Let him have the courage of his convictions. He has said, in solemn terms, some dreadful things about the Government, and all that I can say in justification of those statements is that most of them were true.
We want to help honorable members of the. Corner party. Their Leader (Dr. Earle Page) says that criticism in some way seems to focus upon them. I have been pained by the bitter exchanges which have taken place between, not the opposing parties across the Chamber, but the two wings of the same party by whom we are left entirely out in the cold. We are not ambitious for power or office. I absolutely disclaim any ambition in that direction - for the present. I should be delighted to assist the Country party, at all events, until the country itself had time, a few months later, to express its own deliberate judgment upon the Government. I should be well inclined to support the Country party if they would only support some of the amendments which we move. Butthey will not. They have not seen their way, for instance, to help us to induce the Government to increase the pensions of the aged and the invalid. They have not seen their way to join with us in our spirited protest against the flooding of the industrial markets of Australia with cheap German goods. They would not vote for the amendments to the proposed AddressinReply which we submitted in respect of those two subjects. Nor could they see their way last night to stand by us in the maintenance of great Australian establishments such as the Commonwealth Woollen Mills which the Government, with their approval, are now going to barter away. Here, however, we have a purely nonparty matter, relating to wireless, and we should be able with some confidence to count on their votes and support. But I am almost hopeless. The honorable member for Swan is very sincere and earnest, and very whole-hearted in his condemnation of the Government. But, alas, he looks at us, and the Prime Minister comes in and says, “ It is all very well for the honorable member for Swan to complain that we have taxed dead cows, and calves which were never born - it is all very well for the honorable member to say that! But let him look on the ranks of Labour on the other side, and tell me what is to become of the great fabric of the British Empire if this motion to take off the taxation on dead cows and calves that are equally dead i3. agreed to.”
And so, I am sorry to say, we get no support, in the last resort, from honorable members of the Country party. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) goes to a meeting of his lady friends at Kooyong and attacks the Prime Minister hip and thigh. Then he comes back, enters the party room upstairs, and when he comes into the House, we find that he is a chastened spirit, determined to stand against Labour and for the British Empire and the Prime Minister of Australia at all costs. The Empire in this matter is not challenged. It is, as usual, quite safe. Honorable members of the Country party look at my Leader (Mr. Charlton), and say, “ It would be safe enough to vote for this amendment so far’ as the Leader of the Labour party is concerned, He is a good man. He is an honest man. But look at the company he keeps. He is a Christian among cut-throats. How can we support him in the circumstances?” No doubt they will vote against us once again; but in the solemn hope that they may not, and that they may have even now an eleventh-hour repentance, I propose, with great modesty and faltering confidence -
That the following words be added to the proposed Address : - “ but we desire to advise His Excellency that the agreement mentioned in clause 12 of the contract made between Amalgamated Wireless Limited and the Commonwealth should, before acceptance by the Commonwealth representatives on the Board of Directors, be agreed to by this House.”
– When the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) commenced his speech last night I thought he was going to deal seriously with the agreement that had been entered into between the Commonwealth and the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. I imagined that he was going to throw some light on his attitude, and give the House some information as to why he took the view that the agreement should not have been entered into. But, although I paid the honorable member the compliment of listening very carefully to his speech, and was proposing to take notes of the points made by him in order that I might deal with them, since I was Chairman of the Committee that considered the agreement, I found, to my amazement, that he had really nothing to say. It became more and more obvious with every word he .uttered that this was merely another attempt on behalf of the Labour party to flog the Government with anything on which they could lay their hands. Honorable members opposite, however, in this case, have chosen a most unhappy means of condemning the Government.
I propose to deal at some length with this matter, because I believe the House desires to obtain full information as to the exact terms of the agreement which was recommended by the mixed Committee appointed to consider it. Before doing so, however, I should like to < refer briefly to the attitude of the honorable member for Batman with regard to the whole subject, and particularly to his attitude towards the Committee, of which he was a member. He told us last night that his signature appeared, without his sanction, on the report of the Committee. That is correct. Let me explain the position. The Committee sat for some time, and considered the whole question thoroughly giving attention to .even the most minute details. Some honorable members of the Committee to whom I have spoken say that they have some recollection, as I have, that at the outset of the proceedings the honorable member for Batman said some- thing to the effect that it might be necessary for him to put in a minority report. That statement was made at the very beginning of the proceedings. Some members of the Committee have no recollection of the statement, but I remember it and several others do. With “that one small indication of what his attitude might be, he sat and worked with the Committee right through. He was one of a sub-Committee of three, who finally went through the draft and recommended it to the Committee as satisfactory.
– What is wrong with that attitude on the part of the honorable member?
– There would be nothing at all wrong with it if the honorable mem.ber had only maintained it. On the final day of meeting we considered and dealt with our draft report. It was a very short one for the reason that our views were expressed in the modification of the agreement as recommended by us. As it was very late in the evening the suggestion was made that I, as Chairman, should sign the report on’ behalf of the whole Committee. It did not occur to any one of the. other eight members of the Committee that it was not to be a unanimous report. The possibility of any lack of unanimity with regard to the report did not once cross our minds. It was decided, however, that the suggestion I have just mentioned should not be adopted for the reason that one member expressed the opinion that the report would be a most historic document, and he desired, therefore, to attach his signature to. it.
– Was the honorable member for Batman present on that occasion.
– I understand that he was not. The point I wish to emphasize is that it did not occur to any one member of the Committee on which the honorable member for Batman had worked throughout, that the report was not going to be a unanimous report. And all of us were amazed when we saw the honorable member’s statement after the report had been submitted. I have stated the f acts, and I leave honorable members to form their own opinion as to the attitude adopted by the honorable member for Batman.
– The honorable member will remember my speaking to a proposal made by Senator J. D. Millen for controlling this scheme by Commissioners, and that I said I was much more favorably disposed to that than to the agreement.
– So was Senator .J. D. Millen, but he signed the report. There is another side to this question. We have heard this morning i certain criticisms of the agreement, which .1 suggest were very futile and small, but we heard none of those objections when the honorable member for Batman was pretending to give the Committee his earnest assistance and co-operation in order to make the agreement as good as possible. I think the word “ pretending “ very much represents the honorable member’s attitude, if after having given us information and assistance in amending the agreement he now declares that he ought to have told us all these other things when we were considering the document. The honorable member was a member of the Committee, attended nearly every meeting we held, and went through the agreement in detail with us, and I think every other member of the Committee will agree that it never occurred to any of us that he would not sign the report. He did not raise the points then that he has mentioned to-day after the agreement has been signed.
I come now to the actual detailed objections which the honorable member has raised. He said that Commonwealth money is being thrown away, that it has not been proved that direct wireless communication over a distance from 10,000 to 12,000 miles is practicable, and I should imagine from his remarks this morning that he is totally opposed to the whole project of direct wireless communication with Great Britain. That is news to me. That the practicability of direct wireless communication with Great Britain is not yet established is undeniable. No man can say whether or not this can be done with certainty, and that was a consideration which more than anything else impressed the Committee. All of us were seized of the wonderful value to Australia which direct wireless communication with Europe would be, but we were not prepared’ to risk a great sum of Commonwealth money in such an undertaking on the evidence at present available. The experts examined by the Committee are confident that wireless communication with Britain can be established on the basis of a commercial service for 300 days in the year, twelve hours per day, and twenty words per minute. The experts said that such a service was possible if we erected the necessary stations. We asked them to adduce evidence in support of their theory, and all they could tell us were the results obtained by what is called “listening in” with their own instruments in Australia. A study of the summarized evidence will show that the experts have obtained very considerable results in that way over periods of weeks and for many hours per day. With the very inefficient receiving installations at present in existence they have been able to pick up wireless messages from Bordeaux, Leafield, and other stations in. Europe. The Committee were not satisfied, however, that that evidence was sufficient to warrant the Commonwealth spending a great sum of money, and we pointed out that the only basis upon which we could agree to recommend the purchase was that we should have some guarantee of the service which the Commonwealth would get in return for the money expended. It is very possible, and some people will say probable, that when a station for the purpose of giving direct communication with Great Britain is completed in Australia, it will not function to the extent that is expected. At first sight it would seem difficult to arrive at -any measure of compensation for the Government in the event of that happening, but the problem is not so difficult as it appears on the surface. The station to be erected in Australia will be one of the largest in the world, and even if it should not function over a distance of 10,000 or 12,000 miles, it will undoubtedly function for distances of 5,000 or 6,000 miles, giving us, for example, direct communication with America, and, probably, India. That provides a basis for entering into a contract which will provide proper safeguards for the Commonwealth. Suppose that a contract were made for the erection at a cost of £500,000 of a station to give direct communication with Britain for 300 days in the year, twelve hours per day. and twenty words per minute, and it should fail to do that, but should provide a commercial service t’o America and to other countries within a radius of 5,000 miles, it would be possible to reduce the Commonwealth expenditure from £500,000 to, say, £400,000 or £300,000 as the case might be. Upon that principle the Committee acted. We were not prepared to risk the Commonwealth money until we had a guarantee that we. would get good value for it, and the contract is so framed that there is no limitation in regard to the contractor to whom the work may be given. There have been suggestions that the contract must be given to the Marconi Company, but if there is any other firm that can give a better service at a cheaper price there is nothing in the agreement to prevent such a firm getting the contract.
– Who will determine that?
– The directors of the company.’ That is a safeguard which the Committee inserted, and I desire to make it clear to the House before I deal in detail with the agreement, because that is the whole basis of the arrangement into which we have entered, and it is a feature of the agreement which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) in the earlier part of his speech, at any rate, did not mention to the House.
– The Commonwealth commitment will be on a sliding scale according to the measure of efficiency.
– That probably will be the basis which will be adopted. The honorable member for Batman said that he did not pretend to draft a watertight agreement that could be open to no objection. I resent that statement. He was one of the four lawyers who were members of the Committee, and he was one of the sub-Committee of three who considered the agreement, and reported to the main Committee that it was a proper document which the Committee could recommend to the Government. The honorable member has suggested that, there was not time for the agreement to be properly considered by the Law officers; if there were any doubts or uncertainties in his mind as to the agreement being water-tight, surely he, as a lawyer, should have warned the Committee of the danger into which they were walking. But he did not give us one indication that we would be unwise to accept the draft which had been prepared by the Solicitor-General and the Crown Law officers. The agreement came back to the main Committee from three legal members of the sub-Committee, and not one word did the honorable member say to indicate that the agreement was not water-tight, and that the Committee was running a risk by recommending it.
– Did the Committee take notes of evidence and of the deliberations ?
– We took notes of evidence only. Senator J. J>. Millen was appointed secretary of the Committeeand made notes of the evidence taken, and I am sure I may say on behalf of the whole Committee that we are very much indebted to him .for the invaluable assistance he gave us.
Another point made by the honorable member for Batman was that the majority report was very sparse. There was no necessity for a long report ;a such a report would probably have confused the issue. We embodied in the agreement all the recommendations, which the Committee had to make, and I think that was the most valuable report we could have made. The minority report, made by the honorable member for Batman, has now come to hand after a very long delay. I,” and I have no doubt other members of the Committee, have read it through, and I do not think there is the slightest necessity for me to deal with its contents. It raises no points that are not met by the agreement, and it represents a’ statement totally different from anything the honorable member ever said while the Committee were considering the matter. As this minority report throws no new light upon the subject, I do not propose to waste the time of the House in discussing it in detail. What I shall do to assist the House is to go through the agreement and give a very brief outline of its main provisions. Amalgamated Wireless Limited, as it exists to-day, is a very small company, with a capital of about £200,000. The agreement provides that the capital shall be increased to £1,000,000, divided into £1 shares, of which the Commonwealth shall take 500,001, and other subscribers 499,999.
– Did the honorable member see the list of shareholders of the company?
– The whole list?
– Yes. Clause 3 provides that the Commonwealth shall be entitled, in respect of its share of the capital, to have three representatives on the directorate; that the company shall have three directors, and that there shall be one other, to be appointed by the first six, if they can agree, and, if not, by an ‘arbitrator”. We have heard to-day that the ‘six directors could not agree, and Mr. Consett Stephen, of Stephen, Jaques, and Stephen, solicitors, Sydney, has been appointed arbitrator. He is president of the Law Institute in Sydney, and I do not think that the selection could have been placed in better hands. With respect to the information given to the arbitrator when called upon to make his selection, I have no particulars; but, as a member of the Parliamentary Wireless Committee, I will say that it was not our intention, when the clause under discussion was framed, that a person who had been previously associated with the company should be chosen as the independent seventh director. And I feel bound to say that I was equally surprised, .with other honorable members, to learn of the decision which had been come to by the arbitrator.
– Does the agreement say anything about an independent Chairman?
– No ; it does not use the word “independent”. Clause 3 of the agreement provides: -
– What is the Treasurer going to do in connexion with the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes?
– The selection of that . seventh member of the directorate does not emanate from, or hinge upon, any recommendation of the Government. The matter is one with which the Government have nothing whatever to do.
– Is Sir Thomas Hughes now acting in his capacity as a director? Has he been appointed Chairman ?
– So far as I know, Sir Thomas Hughes, has accepted his appointment. But the matter has nothing to do with the Government.
– The Government never take any responsibility.
– That is the sort of interjection which the honorable member generally makes. On this occasion there is no solid ground whatever for his comment. Any honorable member possessing an impartial mind will say that, if a seventh person has to be added to a directorate on which there are already three representatives of each side, the fairest method of selection is to employ the services of an independent arbitrator. In this instance, seeing that the arbitrator is a gentleman of considerable standing, the president of the Law Institute in Sydney, and that the selection of Sir Thomas Hughes was a matter for the arbitrator solely, how can any fair-minded member hold the Government responsible?
The next point with which I wish to deal is embodied in clause 5 of the agreement : -
Australia the necessary stations and equipment for a direct commercial wireless service between Australia and the United Kingdom;
The company is to take over the existing radio stations throughout Australia. These are to be operated and re-organized so as to provide a service at least the equal of that now being furnished by the Commonwealth. The next clause covers the basis on which the stations are to be taken over. That is to be at a valuation to be made by a committee, “including two representatives of the company and two of the Commonwealth, with an independent chairman, to be agreed upon by the other four representatives and, in default of agreement, to be determined by arbitration.” Also, the whole of the personnel of our existing stations are to be taken over, and are to carry with them all their present rights respecting pay, and all their accrued rights regarding pensions and the like. With respect to pensions, the Commonwealth is to be responsible in conjunction with the company, according to the periods of service given by the employees with the two separate entities. That is to say, the Commonwealth are to be responsible covering the period in which it has employed the men concerned, while the company is to be similarly responsible for the term in which the operators shall have been working as its employees.
Clause 7 provides that, during the period of construction and re-organization, or for three years from the date of the agreement - except in the case of the existing radio stations in New Guinea, in respect of which the period is seven years - the Commonwealth shall pay to the company all amounts expended in carrying on existing radio stations. Thus it would appear that the Commonwealth is to bear any losses which may be occasioned during that term. At first sight honorable members may be inclined to think that here is furnished an opportunity for the company to lose as much as it may care, while the Commonwealth will be unable to protest, but must merely bear the loss. Upon a further analysis of the agreement, however, it will be found that nothing of the sort can happen. The stations are at present in the hands of the Commonwealth. After the expiration of the periods set out in the agreement they are to be taken over and operated by the company, and any losses that may thereafter accrue will fall upon the shoulders of the company. It would be absurd then to suggest that in view of those facts, the company would be careless whether losses were occasioned during the intervening period, seeing that they would subsequently have to carry on those mismanaged stations, and would be themselves responsible for all losses.
Obviously, it would be in the best interests of the company to make the stations as efficient as possible, as early as possible.With respect to the existing radio stations in New Guinea, the Commonwealth undertakes to bear possible losses, as I have already pointed out, for a longer period, namely, seven years from the date of the agreement. The reasons for conceding an extended term, in the case of those distant territorial radio stations will be obvious.
Alterations in the rates for traffic in respect of wireless are to be subject to the directors nominated by the Government, and not to the majority of the Board. I have already dealt with the question of the guarantee; that matter is covered in clause 12. There is no reason why a contract cannot be drafted so that the rights and interests of the Commonwealth shall be abundantly safeguarded. We expect to be in a position whereby we shall be assured that for whatever money we may spend we shall be givenan adequate return. I do not wish to leave in the minds of honorable members the impressionthat it is absolutely certain, that the main station, when erected, will function for 12,000 miles. It is not certain; but there will be a reduction in the cost of the service if it does not so function. That it will function for a very considerable distance is a practical certainty.
– Will it reach Egypt and link up with the big radio station there?
– It may not; but it will link up with India, and thus with the Norman chain, which has a station in that country.
There is further provision in the agreement that the whole system shall be handed over to the Government in case of war or of public danger. And, further, it is provided that the wireless installations shall not compete with the land lines already established in the Commonwealth. Such provision is necessary, of course, to safeguard Commonwealth revenue. With respect to places which are not served by a telegraph line in distant parts of the Commonwealth, there is nothing contained in the agreement to prevent their being served by wireless, and continuing to be so served.
Special provision is inserted in the agreement by which nothing contained therein - shall be construed to prejudice or limit in any way any right or power of the Commonwealth to acquire on just terms, compulsorily or otherwise, any share or interest of any person in the company.
Some honorable members may fear that we are handing over to a monopoly for all time the control of wireless in Australia. Such is not the case. If the company should become a monopoly there is nothing in the agreement, or elsewhere, to prevent the Government from taking steps to acquire the whole concern on just terms.
The last provision of the agreement is to the effect that the shares which are to be subscribed by others than the Commonwealth must be so subscribed within six months, or within such extended time as may be mutually agreed upon; otherwise, the Commonwealth can refuse to go on with the whole matter.
– Is it possible, even now, to secure the election of an independent chairman ?
– There would be considerable difficulties in the way. An independent arbitrator has been chosen, a gentleman of irreproachable character, who has come to the conclusion, upon the weight of all the evidence before him, that the best man whom he can appoint is Sir Thomas Hughes.
– I wonder why the word “ independent “ was left out in respect of the chairman of the Board. The last paragraph of clause 12 gives the Commonwealth the leverage, if the Government desired to make use of it.
– Some leverage might be exercised on the basis of the paragraph in question, namely: -
If no such agreement is entered into within six months after the date of this agreement …. the Commonwealth shall be entitled to give notice to the company of the cancellation of this agreement.
But I think that I have made the position perfectly clear. It was never the intention of the Committee that such a situation should arise. It was not within the minds of that body that there should be selected a person who had been associated with Amalgamated Wireless before accepting the office of what the Committee reckoned would be an independent chairman. I can confidently say that the Government would not desire that such a selection of a seventh member of the Board should be made.
– It will relieve the situation considerably if the Treasurer can consider that phase of the matter.
– I quite agree.
– What is the term for which Sir Thomas Hughes has been appointed ?
– It was provided that there should be a definite period, either of five or seven years. I have forgotten the exact term.
Another point with which I desire to deal has to do with the interjection of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell). He asked whether these stations would link up with the Norman chain. Unquestionably, even if the station erected in Australia failed lamentably it should pick up Singapore, and it would be surprising if it could not pick up the next stage in India, while it would be extremely probable that it would also pick up the station in Egypt. It all depends upon the extent to which the Australian station will function.
As the Norman scheme has been mentioned, one should, I think, say a word or two about it, because it was considered very carefully by the Committee of this Parliament. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has said something with regard to the Norman report, and has indicated that it declared that commercial wireless over a range of more than 2,000 miles was an impracticable proposition, It was not a fair statement from the honorable member with his knowledge of the position. The Norman report has been the subject of most unpleasant discussions. I put it no stronger than that. It has had surrounding it an atmosphere altogether undesirable. In fact, suggestions have been made that it really is the cable interests working against wireless. Many other suggestions have been put forward, but I do not wish to labour the point, except to say that the Committee of this Parliament took a good deal of evidence about the Norman report, and all matters connected with it. Therefore, it is surprising to find any member of that Committee quoting that report as though he believed it to be the last and final word in regard to the subject.
I know of no other points made by the honorable member for Batman. In fact, as I listened to him I was surprised to find that he proposed to bring under the notice of the* House nothing more than he had said in order to show why he had taken such a very extraordinary attitude towards the Wireless Committee, and all matters connected with it. I have no hesitation in telling the House that the agreement, as it is now drafted, has been very carefully considered. The Committee tried to close up every avenue through which the Commonwealth Government could be involved in financial liability, and obtain no result. A .Committee composed of members of all parties in this Parliament is extraordinarily valuable, and the work done by this Committee was exceedingly well done - and having regard to the magnitude of the task, expeditiously done. The attention and time devoted by the members of the Committee to the work with which they were intrusted justify me in telling honorable members that they may quite safely rely upon the interests of the Commonwealth having been safeguarded as far as it was possible to do so.
Having heard all that the honorable member for Batman has had to say to-day I do not for a second imagine that his attack has been directed towards the findings of the Wireless Committee. It has been directed solely against the Government. It was an attempt on the honorable member’s part to delay the business of the House, and throw another stone at the Government. He has not succeeded. I do not think his effort has achieved more than have the other efforts of his party during the last few days.
– What assets have been taken over from the Commonwealth by the Amalgamated Wireless Limited?
– I have not the figures with me at the present moment, but I think they are valued at £150,000.
– Originally the Government proposed to give them away.
– No; the company did not want them.
– The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Batman is nothing more than a repetition of what we have had from honorable members opposite within the last few days. I have been sitting here listening to nearly everything that has been said. Since I have been in office I have seen certain things in the press in regard to matters in respect of which it was alleged the Government had fallen short, and I thought that, perhaps, the discussion on the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply would crystallize some of those complaints and enable me to discover the hideous faults, if there are any, with which the Government might be charged. I have listened, but I have not heard of any, and I have come to the conclusion that the present Ministry must be almost as satisfactory as I thought it to be. We had one amendment submitted by the Leader’ of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) dealing with probably the most serious problem we have in Australia to-day, namely, the industrial position, but the best the honorable member could do in order to thrust the blame for this grave and important situation on the Government was to say that it was all due to the fact that we had not properly administered the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act. However, that charge did no good.
– It did good outside.
– I do not propose to answer the charge now. I am merely endeavouring to indicate a few of the matters that have come under attention during the last few days. There is a welter of argument pointing to the fact that the industrial situation here is entirely due to an economic factor felt all the world over. The only thing apparent was the purpose of the Leader, of the Opposition, who now interjects with delightful frankness that the debate has done an enormous amount of good outside. Every one knows the purpose the honorable member had in view when he submitted his amendment and advanced the argument to which I have just referred. He also touched upon immigration, but I could see nothing in what he said of the slightest value. The Government have indicated their immigration policy, namely, that it is a matter for the States, and that we are willing to cooperate with the States. I have gone through all the suggestions offered, and nothing has come to light of the slightest use in combating the policy of the Government. The matter of old-age pensions has been introduced at a time when no benefit could be achieved by the old-age pensioners, even if the amendment submitted opposite had been carried. When the Budget is under consideration will be the proper time for considering that question. I do not wish to speak on lines on which I might be supposed to be defending the Government. The Government needs no defence.
– What about Flinderslane?
– I could say a lot about Flinders-lane, but I am hardly the person to do so, because some people may think that I am still interested in Flinders-lane. As a matter of fact I am not. I have given up my position there. Nevertheless, having been there, I do not propose to deal with a matter which already has been effectively dealt with by the Leader of the House (Mr. Greene) in that well-balanced and well-reasoned speech he delivered last night. Every other question raised had been already answered by ‘him in a very admirable fighting speech delivered by him on the previous night.
However, there is one little matter to which I do wish to refer. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams), speaking on the question of - finance yesterday, indicated that in his opinion, in view of the figures I placed before the House the other day, I was actually going down the hill, and becoming like any other old politician. I do not wish to refer to this matter at length, but the source from which the comment comes naturally gives me grave alarm. I can assure the honorable member that his criticisms are a little premature. I have not quite sunk into the position he suggests. It might be of help to honorable members if I said a word or two about the honorable member’s statement that he disagreed with something I had said in Brisbane - that we had very little more than £4,500,000 of our expenditure in which we could effect necessary and possible economy. As there are many honorable members who are looking forward to the Budget, and possibly preparing Budgets for me, I will give them some assistance by indicating how I arrived at that figure.
In regard to “War Services,” we are committed to actual payments amounting to £32,000,000. Last year the figure was £31,361,000. The principal item, of course, is interest and sinking fund, which amounted to £21,083,000 last year, and will be more this year, because we have still further obligations to meet. The next important item under this heading of “ War Services “ is £7,028,000 for war pensions. Other items of expenditure in this direction are for repatriation and other war activities. The latter have practically gone or, at any rate, I hope they will be gone this year, but we have still an obligation to meet in regard to the repatriationof our soldiers. I do not think that we shall be able to reduce the expenditure on war services below £32.000,000. Upon “Additions, New Works and Buildings” we spent £2,584,000 last year. We shall probably be able to reduce the expenditure in this direction this year to £1,500,000. The expenditure on “ Special Appropriations “ amounts to £14,972,000. Of this amount £7,035,000 is absorbed by payments to the States, and £5,295,000 by invalid and old-age pensions, and the payment of the maternity allowance. Expenditure under this heading is controlled by Acts of Parliament, and I am afraid that this year it must inevitably amount to nearly £15,000,000. This expenditure added to the £32,000,000 for “ War Services “ and £1,000,000 for “Additions, New Works and Buildings,” not including defence, makes a total of £48,000,000. Then we have an irreducible expenditure upon “Defence.” It is the task of any Government to properly defend its citizens. We have already announced a reduction of the Defence expenditure by something like £1,800,000, but we can go no further in this direction without a deliberate breach of the trust placed on our shoulders. Our expenditure on “Defence” will be, at least, £4,700,000, bringing the total expenditure to £52,700,000.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– When we adjourned for lunch I was dealing with a statement I had made, and which had been challenged by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) , as to the amount in respect to which economies could be effected in the expenditures of the Commonwealth. I had given figures for war services, new works and buildings, special appropriations, and defence, which total £52,700,000. There is one other item that falls within the ordinary departmental votes, and that relates to the Department of the PostmasterGeneral. During last year that Department spent £7,758,000. Allowing for the greatest reduction conceivable, that expenditure could not be brought down to less than £7,500,000, seeing that the service is producing a revenue of over £9,300,000 per annum.. If we add that total to the figure I have given, we have a grand total of £60,200,000. Our total expenditure lastyear was £65,118,265. I think, therefore, that my honorable friend will agree with me that I had at least some basis for the statement I made.
I have given these figures at this stage because I think they will enable honorable members to form their own views as tothe possibilities of this very much discussed question of the reduction of the governmental expenditures of the Commonwealth to-day. I have looked very closely into the matter, and without foreshadowing in any way what I propose to say. or do when I present the Budget, I point out that the Government in this regard is in very much the same position as that of every private trading concern in Australia’ at the present time. Owing to the war and the causes which followed from it, the expenses of every business in Australia to-day have been enormously increased. I am safe in saying that there is scarcely a business which, after it has made every possible reduction in its outgoings, could show a profit at all if it had to rely on its prewar basis of turnover. The position of the Commonwealth is very much the same, and we are not helping the people of Australia by trying to indicate that our financial salvation can be brought about simply by a reduction of governmental expenditure. The only solution is to be found in an increase inour national turnover, a greater prosperity throughout the country, and a broadening of the basis on which the necessary taxation has to be collected.
The only other point with which I should like to deal is that which was raised by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt) respecting the meat subsidy which the Government has undertaken to pay. With the attitude taken up by the honorable member on the broad, general question I am entirely in sympathy. The circumstances of this case, however, are very different. While I agree with the views he expressed as to what is necessary for the prosperity of this great industry, I have- only to say that* it cannot be brought about at the moment. The meat industry was faced with a very great crisis. It was possible that the industry, which is of great benefit- to the whole Commonwealth, might be wiped out, not. by the exercise of the’ true law that ought to determine these things - the law of supply and demand - but in consequence of a fight that was going on between the great trusts which control this particular trade throughout the world. In view of this circumstance the Government came to its assistance. It has to be remembered, (however, that the Government did not come to its. assistance for the benefit of individuals or in the interests of the trade alone. We came to its assistance in the interests .of Australia as a whole. I agree entirely with the honorable member, and probably have stronger views than he has with regard to the use of the money of one section of the community to assist another section which, as a result of the operation of the ordinary law of supply and demand, is in momentary trouble. Such a thing is the affair of the industry concerned, and those involved must solve their own problems. The information which the honorable member has given should be of great value to the industry of which he spoke; but I repeat that the circumstances in this case were entirely different. It waa . for a national purpose, and not for the benefit of any class of the community, that the Government took action. The Government has afforded the industry temporary relief, but it lies in the hands of the industry itself, now that it has been given this opportunity of thinking out ways and means, to find a permanent solution of the great problem with which it is faced. I make this statement because I recognise very clearly the great sincerity of the honorable member for Moreton ‘(Mr. Weinholt) and the earnestness of his views with regard to this specific matter.
I am afraid I have detained honorable members at much greater length than I had intended to do. I rose only to deal with the subject-matter of the amendment. So far as that is concerned, I have put the position as it was and as it appeared to the Committee that was appointed to consider the agreement. That Committee did a very great service to this country, and there is now a fine opportunity to establish a wireless system that will be in the future of incalculable benefit to Australia. I recommend to honorable members the decision of the Committee as being the true solution of a difficult problem, and I am certain that the House will not for one moment accept the amendment which has been submitted.
– I rise only to make one or two observations with regard to the subject-matter of the amendment, and more particularly with regard to the appointment of the seventh director of the company.
– It is about time that that matter was dealt with on behalf of the Government.
– The circumstances which led to the appointment of the seventh director have been set out >in> detail by the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), and I do not propose, therefore, to go into them.
– There is one thing that should be explained, and that is why the word “ independent “ was omitted from the clause in question.
– The honorable member had better ask the sub-committee that question.
– The Government was in no way responsible for the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes. He was appointed in the terms of the agreement that had been definitely entered into, and which this Government completed in the terms of the resolution passed by this House. While the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as the seventh director may be in accordance with the strict legal interpretation of the agreement, the Government considers it to be an entire breach of the spirit of the agreement. I have nothing, nor have the Government as a whole, anything against Sir Thomas Hughes personally.’ We entertain for him the highest regard; but no one oan forget for a moment that he was chairman of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, that he resigned that position, and that he was promptly nominated by his company for a position in the new company. To the Government that appears to be a distinct and definite breach of the spirit of the agreement into which we entered. It was the intention of the Government, as it was that of the Committee, and, I believe, of the agreement itself, that the seventh director should not be a man either associated directly with the Government, or associated directly with the company, but a man taken from the community as a whole, who could be regarded as an entirely independent person.
I may say that the making of this appointment came with as great a shock to the Government as it came to the House. We learned of it only quite recently. The Government, however, is giving notice to the company that in no circumstances whatever can it consent to the nomination of Sir Thomas Hughes. With that, for the time being, I leave the matter. Honorable members will appreciate the significance of what I have said. While there is no doubt that, according to a strict legal interpretation of the agreement, Sir Thomas Hughes has been legally appointed, we say quite definitely that we cannot accept his nomination.
.- The subject-matter of the amendment which has been moved by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is highly important, and the honorable member is to be commended for bringing it before the House. He has been subjected to severe criticism, but I venture to say that the verdict of the public will be that he has done a work of much importance to the community. The luncheon adjournment to-day seems to have come most opportunely from the point of view of the Government. Before we adjourned the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) was put up to reply on behalf of the Government to the honorable member for Batman. During the discussion of the very important point with which the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Greene) has just dealt, I asked the Treasurer, by way of interjection, what it was proposed to do in regard to Sir Thomas Hughes’ appointment. I received no answer. We were practically allowed to believe that the view of the Government was that the appointment had been made in accordance with the agreement, and, consequently, had to stand. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) subsequently renewed the attack. He put two or three very pertinent questions to the Treasurer, but did not elicit any satisfactory answer. Evidently, during the adjournment for lunch the Government, recognising the position in which they had been placed, decided that their Acting Leader should make a speech as soon as the House resumed, explaining their attitude. It is most unusual for two Ministers to follow each other in a debate of this kind. That, however, is what occurred this afternoon, and the object was apparently to -cover up the true position. It is a new system.’
– A new system” -team work.
– Yes. We have had the Minister who is temporarily leading the Government in this House following another member of the Government, and saying that they were unaware of this appointment of a seventh director until it was brought out to-day.
– No; what he said was that the Government had only learned of it quite recently.
– Then why did they not take the House into their confidence, and state at once what they were going to do? Why did they wait until a member of another place had addressed a question to a member of the Government, and had elicited this information? Why did they wait until the matter was debated in this House before they admitted the importance of this point? Honorable members will recollect that when this matter was brought before the House’ on a previous occasion, we on this side took exception to the proposal. The Prime Minister brought the agreement to the House, and moved that it be accepted. He and his Government were prepared to enter into that arrangement with Amalgamated Wireless Limited for a system of direct wireless communication with Great Britain, the Commonwealth to find £500,000. The agreement provided also - and this is a point 1 particularly desire to stress - that the company should have four-sevenths of the representation on the directorate. I pointed out that and other defects, notably that no provision was being made for the taking over of the Commonwealth’s existing wireless property. . I moved an amendment to the effect that the matter be submitted to a Committee of the House for inquiry, such Committee to report back to this House. The Prime Minister was against that course, but, when the debate had proceeded for some time, he moved an addendum to his former motion to provide that a Committee should be appointed from both Houses to inquire into the agreement, and report back to the Government, which should have power to act on the finding of the Committee. We, on this side, opposed that proposal.
– Others also opposed it.
– Yes ; but it was carried by thirty-four votes to twentyeight. We strenuously resisted the Government proposal as being unbusinesslike. I urged that if a Committee was to be appointed by the House, it should report back to the House, and had that been done, we would not have been faced with the fact of Sir Thomas Hughes having been appointed to the directorate before the House had an opportunity of expressing its opinion. It is because the proposal of the Prime Minister was indorsed by the House that we are in such an unfortunate position to-day. It is a remarkable fact that, in respect of representation on the directorate, the company is now in exactly the same position as it would have been in under the agreement which the Prime Minister asked the House to accept holus-bolus; Paragraph 3 ofclause 3 of the agreement which the Prime Minister submitted read -
Solong as the Commonwealth or its nominees continue to hold the majority in number and value of the shares, of the total number of directors of the company, including the managing director, if be has a vote, threesevenths in number shall be nominated by and represent the Commonwealth, and foursevenths shall be elected by and represent the holders of shares other than those allotted to the Commonwealth under this agreement.
That clause was subjected to inquiry by the Committee, and although the Committee made an alteration in the agreement to remove the defect, it is strange that to-day the very thing that was sought to be avoided has happened. The company has four-sevenths of the representation on the board of management, although the Commonwealth has to find half of the capital.
– Can the honorable member explain how a capable man like the arbitrator, Mr. Stephen, with a knowledge of all the circumstances, could make such a nomination ?
– I cannot. The honorable member has anticipated the question I intended to ask. Evidently his thoughts are running in the. same channel as my own. The Committee recommended that the company and the Commonwealth each should have three representatives on the directorate, and that a seventh director should be appointed by them, if they could agree, and if they could not, that the matter be referred to an arbitrator. Mr. Stephen, who was nominated as arbitrator, is spoken of very highly by honorable members opposite, and I have nothing to. say against him ; he may be a very competent man.
– He is.
– How could he, in the face of that agreement, if it is to be interpreted as Ministers and the members of the Committee say - namely, that the Chairman is to be an independent person - recommend the appointmentof Sir Thomas Hughes, who is chairman of the company that is a party to the agreement?
– That makes one doubt his competence.
– It does. It is unfortunate that we have not had a chance to peruse the agreement. In fact itwas not until I asked a question that it was laid upon the table of the House.
– Why have we not had copies of the papers?
– The agreement is not printed, and the original was laid upon the table only in response to my question. It is regrettable that honorable members have not had a chance to make themselves conversant with the recommendations of the Committee. We are expected to discuss an important matter like this without having before us either the findings of the Committee or the evidence that was adduced at the inquiry. But, after all, this House, by agreeing to the Prime Minister’s proposal to allow the Government to put the finding of the Committee into operation without further consulting Parliament, is responsible for what has happened.
– Hear, hear!
– We cannot avoid that aspect. Notwithstanding the warning given by honorable members on this side of the House, Parliament gave the Government that power, as. a result of which we find ourselves in the present deplorable position. Everybody knew that the Prime Minister would enter into the agreement, no matter what its terms were. I do not mean anything offensive by that. But he had brought before the House a draft agreement which the Committee found was loosely drawn and unsatisfactory and did not safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth. Now, after the Committee have reported and recommended an improved agreement, the Government have entered into a contract with the company. I desire to know the reason for all this haste. The Government, were, for some reason, very anxious to ratify the agreement, and we were told by the honorable member for Batman today that Amalgamated Wireless Limited islinked up with other companies. We had not that information before, and I believe that if the House had known that other companies were involved it would not, by a majority of six votes, have resolved that the Government should have power to act on the finding of the Committee without reference to Parliament.
– The House knew at that time that the Prime Minister had brought this project back from London.
– The House knew that, and also that the Prime Minister was pushing very hard to get the agreement through in the last hours of the session. What satisfaction is it to the House to find now, after the exposure by the honorable member for Batman, that Sir Thomas Hughes, the former chairman of the company, has been appointed the seventh director, so that, whilst the Commonwealth finds £500,000 of the total capital of £1,000,000 for the purpose of what Ministers have admitted to be merely an experiment in wireless telegraphy, the company have been given the majority of representation on the directorate for which they asked in the first place? The Acting Leader of the House has said that He will challenge the appointment that has been made. That is the very thing that I wish to suggest to the House. What have the Government done in regard to this matter?
– Did not the Treasurer say that there were almost insuperable difficulties in the way of getting an independent chairman?
– He led the House to believe that that was so. But probably during the lunch hour the Government held a Cabinet meeting; they saw the weakness of the position, and how the Commonwealth has been committed in respect of a liability of £500,000, and finding themselves in a tight corner, they resolved to tell the House that they would probe the whole matter. The country has a right to be thankful for one result from the amendment moved by the honorable member for Batman, and it is that the Government are at last stirred into activity, and will do something to safeguard the financial interests of the Commonwealth.
– I assume that the statement of the Leader of the House means the cancellation of the agreement.
– I want to know if it does; the House should have a definite statement upon that point. I doubt whether the Leader of the House dare go so far as that in the absence of the Prime Minister. This matter is worthy of the closest consideration. The Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) implied that the Government were powerless in this matter, inasmuch as the company had acted within the terms of the agreement that had emanated from the Committee, and which the House had empowered the Government to accept. If that is so, there is only one thing for the Government to do. If the company have acted within the terms of the agreement, the Government should repudiate it, and say that they find they have been “ taken in,” and that theinterests of the Commonwealth are not safeguarded. I ask the Minister in charge of the House whether he will give anassurance that the Government will cancel this agreement if Sir Thomas Hughes is not removed from the position of chairman?
– Does not the honorable member think that this debate should be adjourned until Wednesday next?
– It should be adjourned beyond Wednesday so that honorable members may have an opportunity of perusing printed copies of the whole of the evidence and reports. This is a serious business, but the House was forewarned of it. The Government, seeing what has happened, are endeavouring to escape their responsibility. So far as I know, the Minister’s promise of investigation is merely a smoke screen in order to smother criticism. The Acting Leader of the House said to me that he wanted the Address-in-Reply adopted to-day, and the Treasurer remarked that the debate was a waste of time. If ever good work has been done in this country, it has been in the discussion of the matters that have been brought before the House within the last few weeks. The Treasurer said that the people outside will notice what is happening. They will; if the majority of honorable members will not take notice, at any rate the people outside will get information that they did not possess formerly as to the way in which the affairs of the country are being conducted at the present time.
Mr.Watt. - This matter should be postponed.
– It should. There is no justification for the Government endeavouring to bring the debate to a conclusion to-day. The issues are too serious. As I cannot move that the debate be adjourned, I ask leave to continue my remarks on Wednesday next, or that the Government will agree to an adjournment.
– Wehave brought this matter forward in the public interest, and it has been disclosed beyond all shadow of doubt that there is a danger to the finances of the Commonwealth. However, I have not succeeded in my request that the debate be adjourned.
– Why was the honorable member refused?
– I only know that I did not succeed, and that, in view of the refusal of the Government, honorable members should be prepared to take a firm stand. Are they going to permit this agreement to be ratified without demanding further information? It is useless for honorable members on the other side to shelter themselves behind the Government. A mistake has been made, and one which may prove very serious and costly. Honorable members are the custodians of the public weal. I ask them if they are going to be browbeaten and suppressed upon this vital question ? Is this a matter to be glossed over or rushed through?
– It will not be rushed through; the honorable member may be quite sure of that.
– I trust that a majority of honorable members are of the same view.
– Hear, hear!
– The importance of the subject cannot be too urgently emphasized. The country is about to be involved in an expenditure of £500,000 at a time when honorable members are pointing to financial stress, and urging the need for greater economy than ever. Here is a semi-private concern, an enterprise as to which there is grave doubt whether it will pay. If it were certainly a paying proposition the Government would not be invited - indeed, they would nob be given a chance - to put up halfamillion of public money. Private interests would see to it that they ran the whole “show” themselves and retained all the profits. The Government have asked Parliament to ratify this outlay of £500,000. If the project proves a success the public will reap the benefit ; but, if it turns out a failure, the Commonwealth, which cannot afford to lose money, will not only lose but will have the added bitter knowledge that the sum has been thrown away; in a semi-private venture.
The Treasurer has admitted that the whole scheme is in the nature of an experiment. There is nothing assured or successfully demonstrated in the proposition for wireless connexion with the outside world. Wireless is in its infancy. The money of the people will be employed in experimental development. The Government are averse from the continuation or establishment of State enterprises, however profitable they may be. On the one hand they are now proposing to dispose of the Commonwealth Woollen Cloth Factory at Geelong; and, on the other, they are prepared to put £500,000 of the people’s money into a risky semi-public enterprise, the control of which, however, the Government may actually agree to place in the hands of the representatives of private interests upon the directorate. If honorable members are going to be content with the Government repudiation of the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes they will still be blameworthy; they will not have done their duty in the direction of safeguarding the public interest. The debate should be adjourned till next week; and, meanwhile, the Government should equip themselves with complete particulars, and should be ready to make an ample statement of their intentions. An adjournment would afford an opportunity for the
Government to see that the whole business is placed on a better footing. I would not be surprised if the outcome of the present unfortunate state of affairs were heavy and costly litigation, involving the Commonwealth, and probablyadding thousands of pounds to the liability of the people in respect of the wireless project. It is time honorable members let the country know that they are ready and willing to stand up for their responsibilities. The question now for honorable members opposite is not of keeping the Government in power, but of doing the right thing by the people. The Government will not listen to counsels of delay. They say, “ This business must go through.” Are honorable members going to be “ bull-dozed”? Are members behind the Government about to show themselves once more to be so docile that, no matter what may be the merits of the case, they will fall into line at the crack of the whip?
The ParliamentaryWireless Committee did good work, no doubt. Its members sought earnestly to protect the interests of the Commonwealth. But the private interests outside have found a way whereby to secure just what they have sought all, along, and they have got it under the agreement. The Government have just announced that they will repudiate the appointment of the seventh member of the directorate; but honorable members should not be satisfied with such a declaration. They should demand to be assured whether, under the agreement, the Government have the power to repudiate the selection of Sir Thomas Hughes.
– A very bad beginning has been made, anyhow.
– That is so; and, if we allow matters to proceed from such a bad beginning, the country will suffer heavy losses. I say emphatically that if the Government will not grant an adjournment of the debate, this House should take a drastic course of action in order to protect the rights of the people.
– The declaration of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) has placed the question under debate in a different category from that which it occupied before; and, in the circumstances, I ask that the Government agree to an adjournment. There may be far-reaching consequences if the agreement is hastily ratified. The
Government have announced that they will not stand for the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as seventh director of this hybrid company.
– What I said was that the Government were notifying the directors that they would not accept the nomination of Sir Thomas Hughes.
– I am anxious to learn what is the responsibility of the Commonwealth in the light of events which may follow upon the repudiation of the selection by the arbitrator. We do not know that we may not be let in for costly litigation.
– The company may snap its fingers at the Government.
– For that reason, and in the light of all the circumstances, the Government should agree to an adjournment of the debate. Very few honorable members have had an opportunity of perusing the typewritten agreement. Even members of the Committee appointed by Parliament cannot’ say that they are familiar with its terms. The Government would be showing its appreciation of the importance of the subject if they acceded to the evident desire of the majority of honorable members. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
– Very well, I will agree to that course.
– Will the Government supply honorable members with copies of the agreement, and of the evidence?
– I will endeavour to see that that is done.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
The following papers were presented: -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act -
Determinations and variations of Determinations, by the Arbitrator, &c. -
No. 8 of 1922 - Commonwealth Temporary Clerks Association.
No. 9 of 1922 - LineInspectors Association.
No. 10 of 1922- Australian Postal Electricians Union - Application for reclassification of a member.
No. 11 of 1922- Professional Officers Association - Applications for reclassification of certain members.
No. 12 of 1922 - Common Rules made effecting non-reduction of allowances in certain cases, and deductions from recreation leave.
Motion (by Mr. Greene) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Will the Minister in charge of the House lay on the table next week a list of- the shareholders of ‘ the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited?
.- Honorable members are at a great disadvantage in trying to understand the provisions of the signed agreement with the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) ‘Limited if, for example, they wish to compare it with the draft agreement submitted originally to the Wireless Committee, and I think it would be proper if the Government supplied copies of both agreements to honorable members next week and also a printed report of the evidence taken by and the deliberations of the Wireless Committee. It would greatly assist honorable members, and, no doubt, finalize the matter on Wednesday next.
.- The Government have lately been talking about reducing the amount of expenditure allowed for the reporting of meteorological conditions. I ask the Ministry to stay their hand in this direction until the whole question has been thoroughly inquired into. These meteorological reports are not only of great advantage to the growers of raw material; they are also sometimes a matter of life or death to those who travel up and down the north coast of New South Wales. It is important that people who live in the valley of the Hunter River should know what is happening in regard to the rainfall and flood waters. I am sure the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) recognises this, and I would like him to promise that the Government will not curtail expenditure on the despatch of meteorological reports until the whole question has been thoroughly inquired into. Even at a time when it is highly desirable to cut down expenditure as much as possible, I. am sure there is every justification for spending money upon these reports, because we ought not ti talk of economizing at the expense of people whose lives may be actually in danger. Not only is there loss of produce and live-stock through flood waters, but in some cases on the northern rivers there is actual danger to human life. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) will bear out what I say.
– Hear, hear!’
– The Minister for Defence must know it also. I urge him, if possible, to restore the meteorological services.
– While we are on the matter of the need for economy, I would ask the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene), before he decides on any .direct line of economy, to submit to each honorable member a list of proposed reductions, so that he may be able to prevent the curtailment of expenditure in his own particular electorate? ‘ I find that every honorable member who has howled economy is anxious to economize at the expense of Melbourne Ports, and not in his own division.
.- The Minister for Home and Territories has recently issued an instruction to the Meteorological Department not to exceed the vote agreed to by Parliament for the service to which the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) has referred; and .the Meteorologist has discovered, or was aware, that certain internal reports sent from town to town in New South Wales, and in that State only, could be cut out. This decision will not, of course, affect the information sent to the Meteorological Bureau from all parts of Australia, on which forecasts are issued daily, nor will it affect the general meteorological information distributed by the Department.
– It will not affect the reports which are of such assistance to coastal shipping.
– No. The general forecasts will be issued in ‘ exactly the same way as hitherto, and the information furnished from the Bureau will be sent out in exactly the same way as at present. I believe the only thing proposed to be cut out is this internal information sent in New South Wales. However, I will bring the matter under the notice of the Minister.
In regard to the question asked by the honorable member for-
– Melbourne Ports.
– No. I did not take the honorable member’s remarks as, being anything but humour, although Iadmit the honorable member’s sagacity in stating that while every honorable member wants economy, the last place in which he wants to see it exercised is his own constituency.
– Would very much economy be effected in regard to the weather reports?
– In the aggregate, the cost of transmitting weather reports is considerable, but, as the honorable member knows, the aggregate figures we publish do not represent real expenditure, because there is a considerable amount of inter-departmental expenditure, which, for the purpose of bookkeeping, has to be shown in the national balance-sheet, swelling it very materially every year.
– No money is paid.
– The money is paid by the Treasury from one Department to another.
The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) has asked that the list of shareholders of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited be laid on the table. I shall endeavour to comply with the honorable member’s request if it is possible to do so.
– I do not think there will be any difficulty about doing so,because the list was supplied to members of the Wireless Committee.
– If it is possible to do what the honorable member asks it will be done.
In regard to the request of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), that copies of the original draft agreement and of the agreement as finally entered into by the Common wealth withthe company should be distributed, I shall endeavour to see that that is done: I make a further appeal to honorable members to do their utmost to close the debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply on Wednesday next.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 July 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220714_reps_8_99/>.