8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Prime Minister prepared to make a statement as to the intention of the Government with regard to Wheat Pools for the coming harvest?
– In the GovernorGeneral’s Speech the intentions of the Government in regard to this matter were set out. Shortly stated, the Government intend to continue the policy pursued last year with respect to the States of South Australia andNew SouthWales.We shall bo prepared to co-operate with any State Government or, failing actionby any State Government, with the farmers of any of the wheat-growing States, on the same lines as those on which the assistance granted last year was based. It is to be distinctly understood that we fake no part whatever in any compulsory pool ; but in a voluntary pool, whether backed by a State Government or not, the Commonwealth Government is prepared to cooperate, and will notify the State Administrations and the farmers of each State to that effect. ‘
-I desire to ask the Treasurer whether, since the signing of the agreement between the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Commonwealth Government, any money has been paid on behalf of the Government to the company, and, if so, what amount?
– We have paid, as pro- .vided for in the agreement, the first instalment of 2s. per share.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House whether the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited has also paid an instalment in respect of the shares held by it?
– I have no knowledge as to exactly what has happened within the company itself. The agreement provides that they shall pay an instalment of 2s. per share, and I have no doubt that they have done so.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the Government have yet arrived at a determination regarding the requests made by Mr. Sastri on behalf of India?
– The Government have not yet come to a decision with respect to Mr. Sastri’s request for an extension, of the franchise tq those natives of India resident in the. Commonwealth who are not already enfranchised. It has, however, arrived at a determination regarding the extension of the benefits of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and at an early date will introduce legislation for that purpose. The other matter is still receiving the attention of the Government.
– In view of the universal outcry against the discontinuance of the issue of weather reports . by the Government Meteorologist, and the promise of the Minister for Home and Territories to review the matter, I desire to ask whether the Minister will revert to the practice of issuing such reports until a final decision shall have bees arrived at ?
– I understand that this is a matter for the Government Meteorologist himself to determine. He was. informed by the Government that a certain sum had been voted for the purposes of bis Department, and that he would have to keep his expenditure within that vote. In view of the continuous cry of “ Economy ! Economy ! Economy .’” that we hear from the Country party, I think it ill-becomes the Leader of that party now to say to us, “Why do you economize?” I re-( cognise, of course, that he will urge that” we should cut off expenditure in some’ other direction, and that the exercise of economy with respect to the weather reports is wrong.
– Has the Prime Minister yet received the award made by Sir Mark Sheldon with respect to’ the Kidman-Mayoh contract. According to a statement in the press Sir Mark Sheldon has arrived in Canada?
-My honorable colleague, the Attorney-General, proposes to lay on the table of the House this afternoon’ the award made by Sir Mark Sheldon.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I am informed that I made a mistake on Wednesday afternoon last in attributing to. Mr. Pigott, Member of the House of Assembly of Tasmania, the statement that the fruit-growers of that State had discovered a method of making jam without sugar. I find, on reference to the Melbourne Age report .of the public meeting of protest against the sugar agreement held in the Assembly Hall, Melbourne, on Monday, the 10th instant, that Mr. Pigott said -
Manufacturers in Tasmania were now making jam by a method which enabled them’ to do without sugar. This was not beneficial to the sugar industry.
If the Melbourne: Agc report is incorrect, perhaps Mr. Pigott will state in which particular it is at fault. I have no wish to misrepresent any one, or any industry, or State of the Commonwealth. My object in raising the question was with a view to ascertaining - whether the “ method “ referred to was as healthful to the community as wholesome sugar-.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that his Department has drafted a regulation, under the Postal Rates Act, whereby books, which have been wholly set up and printed in Australia, are deprived’ of the special rate of Id. for every 8 ounces of such postal matter? Will he make ‘inquiries’ and see whether he cannot give to the Australian printers the benefits in regard to postal rates that are enjoyed by outside printers?
– To the best of my belief the information which the honorable member has received is incorrect. There are special rates for books wholly set up and printed in Australia. I shall make inquiries and furnish the honorable member with full particulars.
Representation at Geneva Conference.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether a decision has yet been arrived at as to the number and personnel of the representatives of Australia at the next Conference of the League of Nations, to be held at Geneva in September next?
– The matter has been receiving attention. As I mentioned in this House some time ago, the High Commissioner will represent Australia. The question of additional representation is being considered, as is also a request by certain organizations of women for inclusion in this representation.
– Will the Prime Minister table the report of Mr. Merry, who was the delegate to the International Labour Conference at Genoa?
– Yes, I shall do so.
Rent of Post Office
– Can the PostmasterGeneral say whether it is true that the Macdonnell House authorities have raised the rent of the post office in that building from £600 to £800? Is this in accordance with the declared policy of antiprofiteering on the part of those authorities?
– I am not positive as to the actual figures, but those mentioned are approximately correct. Evidently the Macdonnell House people, as well as others, are “ out “ for a little more.
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House how much has been spent under the agreement between. the Commonwealth Government and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company for the refining and distributing of oil throughout the different States of Australia? There are two agreements; one in reference to exploration for oil in Papua by the British Government, the Commonwealth Government, and the company in conjunction, and another between the Commonwealth and the company for the re fining and distributing of oil in Australia. How much work has been done in each State towards the erection of refining mills, and what amount has been spent ?
– I shall have inquiries made.
– Does the Treasurer consider the cutting off of the weather information telegrams to the people in the backblocks any real economy? Will he tell us whether any money is really saved by this step?
– There is no necessity to “ cut off “ anything. ‘ The amount on the Estimates is the same as was the case last year, and the step taken in regard to the weather reports arises out of a redistribution of the services by the Meteorological Branch.
– Following on the question I asked last week, I desire to know whether the Minister for Trade and Customs intends making a statement regarding the sugar industry and sugar accounts to-day, and if he does.’, or when he does, whether he will move that his statement be printed so as to enable the House to discuss the matter?
– The answer to the latter question is Yes, and to the former question No. The balance-sheet is ready and the Ministerial statement is ready, but the audit is not complete. Although the Auditor-General’s officer and the temporary controller of the Sugar Board have been continuously at work - indeed, through the whole of last night - they have not been able to complete their work in time to enable a statement to be made to-day. I hope, however, that the matter may be dealt with to-morrow.
– I desire to know whether the £150,000 due to the Wireless Company on 1st July has been paid?
– It has not been paid.
– Will the Treasurer make inquiries as to the rent paid to the Sydney Morning Herald Proprietary for the Income Tax Office in Sydney, and ascertain whether or not it is excessive?
-I shall have inquiries made.
– In view of the construction of a building for the Commonwealth Bank, Melbourne, I desire to ask the Treasurer whether he has power - or, if not, whether he will endeavour to secure power - to preventnepotism in connexion with it?
Mr.BRUCE. - The position at present is that I have not any power in the matter, and any action the Government may take in the future is a matter of policy.
– About a fortnight ago the Prime Minister promised to obtain a report as to why the award by the Shipbuilding Tribunal granting an increase of wages to the mechanics and labourers at Cockatoo Dockyard has not been carried out. Has the right honorable gentleman any information to give us?
-I shall make inquiries into the matter.
– Will the Prime Minister he good enough to supply the House with a copy of the message which is said to have come from the Colonial Secretary with regard to the erection of a high-power wireless station in England ? I shall be glad if the right honorable gentleman will tell the House the circumstances under which the message was sent, and whether it was in reply to one from the Prime Minister?
– It is notusual to publish confidential communications ; whether they come from the Colonial Secretary or De Valera is quite immaterial. That is the answer to the first part of the question.
– I have full information as to De Valera, and now require information as to this message.
– If the honorable member would go into a Trappist monastery for six months he would be a better man. The answer to the second part of the question is “ No.”
Motion by Dr. Maloney (by leave) proposed and agreed to -
That the following paper, laid on the table of the House on 29th June last, be printed : -
Rentals paid By the Commonwealth throughout Australia - statement showing.
– Last week, in the absence of the Prime Minister, I asked the Leader of the House (Mr. Greene) if he would have inquiries made in regard to Captain George and two companions who about eight weeks ago left Singapore in an open boat for Australia, via Java, and have not since been heard of I shall be pleased if the Prime Minister will inform me whether the” inquiries made by the Government have yielded any information regarding the missing men?
– I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member know.
– Is the honorable member for Works and Railways able to supply me with the information for which I asked on Friday regarding the Ascot Vale Automatic Telephone Exchange ?
– I find as a result of inquiries that the PostmasterGeneral has let a contract for the mechanism of the proposed automatic telephone exchange, but delivery in order of priority will not be earlier than six months from now. However, the Works Department will have the building completed and ready to receive the plant when it arrives.
– Will the Prime Minister make available the names of the persons who shipped to South Africa inferior flour in respect of which the Commonwealth Government have agreed to pay a sum by way of compensation to the South African purchasers?
– The connexion of the Commonwealth Government with this matter is somewhat remote. The purchases were under the control of the Australian Wheat Board and the State Wheat Board but more particularly the latter.. I am not at all sure whether the names of the shippers can be obtained, but J. shall make inquiries to determine what can be done.
– In view of the grave dissatisfaction that existed on the last occasion of the selection of delegates to the International Labour Conference, owing to the insufficient time allowed for the selection, will the Government, in respect of future conferences of the kind, give ample notice to the councils of organized labour so that they may be able to make a selection which will meet with the approval of all?
– I should be glad to do so; but I remind the honorable member that Australian Labour’ had ample opportunity to select a delegate to the great Labour Conference at Washington, but declined to make any suggestion whatever. Australia was the only absentee in the whole civilized world fromthat gathering.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Development of Riverina
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Commonwealth Government is fully alive to the necessity of making available suitable lands for the settlement of immigrants. It has already intimated to the Governments of the various States that it is prepared to co-operate in the financing of any approved land settlement schemes submitted to it by the State Governments. The question of railway construction and road construction in connexion with such schemes is primarily one for consideration by the Governments of the States concerned ; but the Commonwealth Government will gladly co-operate in any proposal which has for its object the making available of lands for settlement by immigrants. In response to the invitation of the New South Wales Government the Commonwealth is appointing a representative expert to inspect and report on lands proposed to be made available for immigrants in that State.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the representations made for increased pensions for limbless soldiers, it is the intention of the Government to bring in the necessary legislation this session to provide therefor?
– The attention of the honorable member is directed to the Governor-General’s Speech delivered on 28th June last, wherein the Government’s intentions respecting this matter are set out. It is hoped to introduce the promised legislation at an early date.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable’ member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In connexion with the Campbell Browne expedition to New Guinea will be state -
Did Cabinet approve of this expedition ?
How much did this expedition cost?
Was Dr. Campbell Browne authorized to spend up to £10,000 ?
What instructions were issued in connexion with the expedition?
Was this gentleman properly qualified to inquire into the matters concerned ? (/) Was he engaged, whilst there, in prospecting for osmiridium?
Did friction exist between Dr. Camp bell Browne and the civil administration of New Guinea?
Did friction also exist amongst the members of the original expedition causing some of them to resign ;
Has there been a dispute between the Commonwealth and Dr. Campbell Browne as to the ownership or the auxiliary vessel Wattle?
If so, what has been the result?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
This was done. The total expenditure to date is £10,208 3s. l1d., less amount to be credited for unused stores, valued at, approximately, £200. A claim has been received from the director for amounts alleged to be due to him, the major portion of which the Government has definitely declined to admit. Negotiations are still proceeding; but it is estimated that the final adjustment of accounts will bring the cost of the expedition to, approximately, £10,500.
New Zealand Reciprocity
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On Friday last the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) asked if the Arbitrator appointed by the Government had made his award regarding the claim by Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh with respect to their contract for the construction of two wooden ships. I have to announce that the award has been received. The Arbitrator has. determined that the Commonwealth is entitled to refuse to accept delivery of the Burnside and the Braeside. He has further determined that the sum of £75,665 is due by Sidney Kidman and Joseph and Arthur Mayoh. to the Commonwealth, and he directs thatthe amount be paid accordingly. The Arbitrator further awards that the Commonwealth is entitled to its costs, in connexion with the arbitration proceedings, amounting to £676 7s.; and, also, that his costs, which he determines at £215 5s. 6d., should be paid by Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh. I lay upon the table a copy of the award.
Thefollowing papers were presented : -
New Guinea Expedition -
Interim report (by Dr. Campbell Brown) on the Natural Resources of theMandated Territory, 26th May, 1922.
Report on the Salient Geological Features and Natural Resources of the Territory, including Notes on Dialectics and Ethnology by Evan R. Stanley, F.G.S. (Geologist, Commonwealth Scientific Expedition), 1922.
Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited - List of Shareholders showing holders of £1 shares fully paid, and holders of £1 shares paid to 2s. per share.
Shipbuilding Contract with Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh - Award of Sir Mark Sheldon. Arbitrator.
Audit Act - Transfers of Amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council - Financial Year 1921-22- Dated 11th July, 1922. .
Norfolk Island Act- Ordinance of 1922- No. 5 - Preserved Fish Bounties.
Northern Territory Acceptance. Act and Northern Territory Crown Lands Act 1890 (South Australia) - Reasons for resumption of a Mineral Reserve and Reserve for Gold Mining purposes near Union Town, Northern Territory.
Public Service Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1922, No. 80.
Debate resumed from 14th July (vide page 519), 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 Please Your 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 address to Parliament:
Upon which Mr. Brennan had moved by way of amendment -
That the following words be added to the proposed Address-in-Reply : - “ 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.”
.- I obtained leave on Friday to continue my remarks to-day, my purpose being to give the Government time to lay before the House the position with respect to the Wireless Agreement. If the Government now desire to make a statement I shall be willing to stand aside - on condition, however, that I shall not forfeit my right to continue my remarks.
The situation with respect to wireless negotiations has been revealed for tlie second occasion in rather an unsavory light. The agreement is one of those “shandy-gaffs” which the Prime Minister has at various times brought before Parliament. There was, - for example, the agreement having to do with Nauru. This was hailed up and down the Commonwealth as having saved our farmers millions of pounds. It has been publicly demonstrated by very many speakers, inside and outside of Parliament, however, that that agreement has caused the loss of something like 6s. on every ton of superphosphate used throughout Australia. There was also the AngloPersian .’Oil Agreement, which seems to have aroused a good deal of dissatisfaction. Finally, there is this matter of arriving at an agreement for linking up Australia by wireless with the outside world, in which, again, the interests of the public do not appear to have been preserved. Such was certainly the case according to the terms of the original agreement. During the recess the Prime Minister went up and down the Commonwealth saying to the people, “ Give me a majority so that I may do various things.” With a majority assured upon every conceivable occasion, there would be, no doubt, many things, and many agreements for various half-bred arrangements forced through this House. It has proved highly advantageous to the Commonwealth that there should have been not merely an official Opposition in this Chamber, but a sufficient number of other honorable members in another party uniting therewith to demand that any agreement upon wireless be thoroughly investigated. Without doubt, had the original agreement been ratified by Parliament as swiftly and as hastily as the Government desired, there would have been trouble for Australia. However, a Committee was appointed to investigate and report. I am only sorry now that I did not go the “whole hog” by insisting that the agreement, as accepted by the Parliamentary Wireless Committee, should first receive the sanction of this Legislature. However, it was because of the personnel of the Committee that I was willing, at the time, that that body should conduct its inquiry, and that, if its report proved favorable, the whole of the negotiations should be concluded. I had reason to think that Parliament might well have confidence in that Committee. It was unusual in its- composition. It embraced two members of each party in this Legislature, irrespective of its numbers.
– There was no representative of the Considine party.
– For the reason, perhaps, that it would not have been possible to select two members therefrom. At any rate, a Committee was appointed, among the members of which there were only .Aree pledged Government supporters’, and om which there were four legal representatives; and one, Senator John- D. Millen, a. gentleman possessing an intimate knowledge of wireless. It is due to that member of the Committee that some public appreciation of his work should be Shown. Ho assisted the investigation with valuable suggestions and invaluable technical knowledge; and, but for his earnest and enthusiastic work, Parliament would have been landed in a worse mess than that in which it finds itself to-day.
When I left Australia in February last the Parliamentary Wireless Committee had unanimously “ scrapped “ the original agreement. It had come to. the decision that the agreement first submitted to the House was one which, under no circumstances, this Legislature should conclude. T. thought that the whole matter was .done with; but I was surprised, three months later, to ascertain that the agreement drawn up by the Parliamentary Wireless Committee had been concluded, and it was only in June that I was able to see a copy. I think the Committee exceeded the powers given to it by the House in fram- ing practically a new agreement differing almost entirely from the previous agreement.
– The honorable member is not forgetting that two members of his party were on that Committee.
– That is so. I am not attempting to exculpate any one. I am merely giving my opinion as to the action taken by the Committee, and that is, that when it unanimously decided that the agreement presented by the Prime Minister was absolutely unfavorable to the Commonwealth and should not be carried out their function was completed.
– Evidently the honorable member did not read the terms of the appointment of the Committee.
– And now that the agreement as finalized by the Committee has been presented tous, we find, through interjections, that it does not exactly represent in very material respects the views of the members of the Committee. For instance, it is suggested that it was understood by all the members of the Committee that there would be a seventh director appointed, completely independent of both the Commonwealth Government and the Amalgamated Wireless Limited. Not merely was that the impression in the minds of all members of the Committee. We find that Mr. Fisk, the manager of Amalgamated Wireless Limited, after considerable discussion by his directors, brought a typewritten document to the Committee in which he specifically granted the Committee’s contention as an act of grace.
– Surely the members of the Committee read the agreement before they signed it?
– If might be worth while to see exactly what was signed, whether it was a typewritten document or a printed document. In what way did the Committee decide that the agreement as submitted by the Prime Minister was faulty? In the first place, it was pointed out in this House that the agreement, as it stood, did not provide for the taking over of the wireless plant owned by the Commonwealth Government. On Friday I asked the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) the value of that plant, and he suggested that the amount was about £150,000. However, I have learned from other sources that its value is nearer. £300,000.
– The Prime Minister represented that the Commonwealth’s assets in this respect were a. liability.
– When the matter was under discussion the Prime Minister admitted that we were practically getting nothing for those assets, and that the new company could take or leave them, as it pleased. As a matter of fact, the value of the existing Commonwealth plant represents practically half the total capital we are asked to put into this company, and in taking the stand that in the negotiations this fact should have full recognition, we are simply taking the same stand as was taken by the Amalgamated Wireless Limited, who are putting plant into the company as capital. In the circumstances, one wonders why there should ha ve beenthis very material omission in the first agreement. The first agreement also failed because it made no provision for taking over the existing personnel of the Commonwealth Radio Service:. Nor did it state in specific terms what a commercial service should consist of from the Commonwealth point of view. The matter was to be left to the board of directors, and the Committee of this Parliament rightly decided that for this reason it was very essential that there should be an independent member of the directorate, so that the public of Australia, and the Commonwealth as a. partner in the company, would receive something like a fair deal. Further investigation also showed that Amalgamated Wireless Limited, as it then existed, had practically entered into an arrangement with the Marconi Company for the establishment of a high-power station at a cost of £600,000 without tenders having been called. I looked closely into the second agreement to see whether it contained any reference to this arrangement.
– That was practically a case of the Amalgamated Wireless Limited making an agreement with themselves.
– Or with people who held a considerable interest in their own particular company. As it was very likely that one of the first steps taken by ‘ the directorate would be to place such a contract, it was absolutely essential, in the opinion of the Committee, that the commercial control of the company should be in the hands of the Commonwealth, or, at any rate, that the Commonwealth should have an equal say, or should not be over-ridden at the start. It is evident that the Amalgamated Wireless Limited were not candid to the Committee as to the assets actually held by them, and as to their patents, and there is something significant in the fact that certain evidence was withdrawn when it was understood that the proceedings and findings of the Committee would he open to the light of day.
Because of these omissions the agreement which the Prime Minister brought down: to this House, and would have rushed through but for the attitude taken up by honorable members of the Opposition, and honorable members of the Country party, was unanimously turned down by the ‘Committee to which it had been referred, but as the Committee then proceeded to exceed its powers by remodelling the agreement, I consider that the result of its deliberations should have been subject to the ratification of this Parliament. The commercial management of the proposed company was evidently a bone of contention between the Amalgamated Wireless Limited and the Committee, as is shown by, a typewritten memorandum presented to the Committee by the manager of Amalgamated WirelessLimited. In this document this gentleman pointed out that the cardinal difference between the two agreements was as follows -
The first agreement provided -
For the Commonwealth control of the company in general meeting.
For the Commonwealth’s directors’ exclusive veto powers in certain directions, and
That the company directors,as opposed to the Commonwealth directors, should control the’ technical and commercial management.
Then he went on to say that his company was prepared to let the Commonwealth retain points a and b, and that in respect of c the company’s directors would surrender the commercial and technical management. When the agreement was drawn the difficulty of determining bow the seventh dircetor should be appointed was clearly realized, because special provision as to the way inwhich this matter should be determined was made in clause 6. Before this debate is concluded, I should like to see tabled in this House the terms of the reference to the arbitrator. I would like to know whether the reference informed him as to the exact position, whether it indicated as clearly as possible from the documentary evidence in the possession of the Committee that the unanimous view of the Committee was that ‘Sir Thomas Hughes, admirable though he might be in every other respect, was practically disqualified for selection as the seventh member of the Board.
– The reference to the arbitrator had to be in accordance with the contract.
– I should like to know whether it left the arbitrator untrammelled inhis choice or set out that his selection must be made within certain prescribed limits. I wish also to know whether the arbitrator was aware that the directors of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, after long and grave consideration, had deliberately surrendered control of commercial and technical management. If the reference to the arbitrator were placed on the table of the House these questions would be. at once settled.
– The arbitrator heard representations from both sides.
– My desire is to ascertain whether the Commonwealth representatives on the directorate were fully seized of the opinion of the Committee and the wish of the Government in this regard. On Friday last the Acting Leader of the Government (Mr. Greene) said as soon as the question was put to him that in no circumstances would the Government tolerate the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as seventh director. I wish to know whether the view of the Government in that respect was made quite clear to the arbitrator when he was requested to arbitrate.
The necessity for the appointment of an absolutely independent man as seventh director must be realized when it is remembered that the first big question which the directorate had to determine was whether tenders should he called for the erection of the big wireless station which the Radio Company had offered to erect for £280,000, or whether the work should be carried out at a cost of £600,000 by the Marconi Company without any tenders being invited. I fail to see that any excuse canbe offered on behalf of the Government for the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes. The Parliamentary
Committee to whom the agreement waa referred was not an ordinary Select Committee. It is true that at the outset the Government was not directly represented on it, but within a month or two of its appointment one of its members - * the honorable member ‘for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) - joined the Ministry. .Seeing that the Treasurer waa chairman of the Committee, the attitude of the Committee must have been perfectly well known to the Cabinet. It was never intended that a member of the Ministry should sit on the Committee, and I think it would have been wise and more fitting if the Treasurer, as soon as he was appointed to the Ministry, had resigned from the Committee. The feeling of dissatisfaction with what has occurred is intensified by the knowledge that the Cabinet, in these special circumstances, must have been fully conversant with the view of the Committee, and of the long debate which ensued by reason of the difference of opinion between the company and the Committee itself as to the question of control.
The . essential differences between the two agreements are worthy of attention. The alterations made are absolutely vital. An examination shows that they consist roughly of two series. The first alteration made was in paragraph (iii) of clause 3, which provided in the first instance -
That so long as the Commonwealth or its nominees continue to hold a majority in number and value of the shares of the total number of directors of the company (including the managing director if he has a vote) threesevenths in number shall be nominated by and represent -the Commonwealth, and four-sevenths shall be elected by and represent the holders of shares other than those allotted to the Commonwealth under this agreement.
This paragraph was amended to read -
That bo long as the Commonwealth or its nominees continue to hold a majority in number and value of the shares there shall he seven directors of the company, of whom three shall bo nominated by and represent the Commonwealth and three shall be elected by and represent the holders of shares other than those allotted to the Commonwealth . under this agreement, and the seventh director shall be selected by a majority vote of the other six directors, and if the voting is equal shall be selected by arbitration in the manner provided by clause 20 of this agreement in respect of matters in dispute between the Commonwealth and the company, and shall hold office for a period of three years, subject to removal at any time during that period by the unanimous vote of the other directors. The Board of Directors so constituted shall appoint its own chairman.
When we come to clause 7 of the new agreement, we find that there have been interpolated some six different provisions which completely alter the . whole purport and meaning of the original agreement. These amendments deal with very many matters. The first provides that the company shall take over the existing Commonwealth radio stations except those wholly controlled by the Department of Defence. .
– Are not these alterations for- the better ?
– I agree that they are.
– Then .why quarrel with them? If we had made only one or two alterations, the honorable member would have been satisfied, but because we made quite a number, and all for the better, the honorable member will have nothing to do with the agreement. “
– I am not dpposed to the agreement as it stands, provided there, is a clear understanding aa to the appointment of the seventh director. My sole contention at this stage’ is that, having regard to the magnitude of the alterations made, the House shouldhave been asked to pass judgment on the agreement before it was entered into. Another vital alteration hae been made in clause 6 of the original agreement, which now provides that the assets of the present Commonwealth stations are to be taken over at a valuation to be agreed upon. This involves a vital alteration with respect to the amount of capital which the Commonwealth has to find. . The only objection I have to it is that it is provided that -
The amount of the valuation shall be credited to the Commonwealth in part payment for the ‘ 500,001 shares to be allotted to the Commonwealth, and shall be deducted from the ‘’ last “ payments of capital to be made by the Commonwealth.
Having regard to the fact that the assets of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited are to be taken into account in part payment as from the- beginning, surely a similar arrangement should have been made with respect to the assets of the Commonwealth stations.
In clause 7 we have an absolutely new departure. It is provided that -
During the period of construction and’ reorganization or for a period of three years from the date of this agreement, whichever is the less, the Commonwealth’ shall pay to the company monthly all amounts expended in carrying on the existing Commonwealth Radio Stations, and the company shall pay to the Commonwealth monthly all sums received as revenue from the working of those stations.
Under that provision the company will practically receive all receipts, and at the same time the Commonwealth is placed in the position of being a contributor to the cost of plant construction. Clauses 8 and 9 deal with the question of personnel, while clause 11 relates to rates -
Any alterations in the rates for traffic within, the Commonwealth or between the’ Commonwealth and any Territory under the authority of the Commonwealth or between any such Territories shall be subject to the approval of the Government representatives on the Board of Directors: Provided, however, that such consent shall not be withheld if the Board is satisfied that such alterations are necessary for the purpose of meeting additional costs occasioned by increased wages awarded by any Arbitration Court or other industrial Tribunal df ,the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory. All other rates shall be fixed solely by the Board of Directors.
I should like some information as to the reason for the exclusion of all other rates in ‘this case.
– The company cannot raise the rates without the consent of the representatives of the Commonwealth on the board. t
– That condition relates only to local rates. All other rates can be altered by the board of directors acting as a whole; and it is conceivable that alterations might be made that would be detrimental to other Government activities. Clause 12, to my mind is the most important in the whole agreement. There we have defined exactly what is meant by a commercial service, whereas no such definition appeared in the original agreement. It is set out that-
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.
For the purposes of this. agreement, the Commercial Wireless Service means a service capable, as regards plant, apparatus, and personnel, of maintaining communication throughout 300 days of every year on the minimum basis of twenty words per minute each way for twelve hours per day.
If no such agreement is entered into within six months after the date of this agreement or within such extended time (if any) as is approved under this clause, the Commonwealth shall be entitled to give notice to the company of the cancellation of this agreement, and thereupon the agreement shall be deemed to be cancelled accordingly.
I think every member of the Committee will agree that that clause gave rise to the keenest debate, and was regarded as the key to the whole position. If the chairman of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is to remain as the seventh member of the Board the result will be practically to nullify the efforts of the Parliamentary Committee to insure that the Commonwealth should have its full proportionate voice in the determination of the guarantees of service; and, secondly, in regard to insuring that the service provided is that to which we are entitled ‘.
The second agreement is a distinct improvement on that first put before us, and is one which, having regard to the personnel of the Committee which recommended it, I would have been prepared to stand by without further action because of the radical alterations which it covers, but for the fact that it does not represent, not apparently express, (ihe unanimous desire of the members of the Committee. Considering that it was not the unanimous recommendation of the Committee, and having regard to the magnitude of the alterations made, I hold that it should be subject to review and ratification by this House.
I hope that the Prime Minister, when replying to the criticisms which have been levelled at the agreement during this debate, will give the House the full terms of the reference to the Arbitrator, and also state whether or not the present Commonwealth representatives on the Board have been chosen for some specific reason or merely in some haphazard way. The House is entitled to that information, and in the circumstances the Government should supply it.
, - I am sorry that I was not able to be present last week, when the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) brought this matter before the House; but in the interim I have read the press reports of the debate, and have discussed the matter with my colleagues. Before setting out the views of the Government in amplification of the’ statement made by my honorable colleague the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) last Friday, I may be permitted to offer a few observations by way of reply to the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page). The honorable member was good enough to condemn some of the agreements with which my name has been associated. He mentioned the Nauru Agreement, the Anglo-Persian Oil Agreement, and that now under consideration. I do not propose to weary the House with any lengthy references to any agreement other than that which is before it at the present time. The honorable gentleman has given us the benefit of a long and detailed comparison of the decisions of the Committee with the original draft as submitted to them. The honorable gentleman is of opinion that the thanks of the House is clue to the Committee for its labours, and with that view I agree most heartily. The honorable gentleman affects great satisfaction at the decision of the Committee to provide for a seventh independent director; it is, he says, a step in the right direction - because the Committee has given the Commonwealth control where before, it is alleged, it had no control. For that reason the Committee’s amendment is most satisfactoryto the honorable member. The’ honorable member says he is very glad, because the Committee has given the company less control and the Commonwealth more. ‘ That is what the honorable gentleman now says. I shall detain honorable members for only a few minutes while I ask them to look at the honorable member’s remarks when this matter was first before the House. Very few months have passed, and wireless telegraphy is in much the same position now as it was then. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) had, on that occasion, moved an amendment to submit the whole matter to a committee, refusing to accept the agreement as a basis. The honorable member for Cowper, as reported in Hansard, page 13985, of 7th December, 1921, said -
I agree with the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) as to the importance of wireless communication to Australia, not merely for the purpose of communication with other countries, and particularly with the heart of the Empire, but also for utilization in the wide spaces of the Commonwealth, in order to eliminate to some extent the isolation of the bush as it exists to-day.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) here interjected -
Do not forget that “ big business “ is in it - meaning thereby that a great corporation was involved in the matter, and that the Commonwealth was in grave danger. To that interjection the honorable member for Cowper replied -
There is big business in this matter, as I hope to indicate in a second or two. A proposition that really would have more support from me than the honorable member’s amendment is one that would not bring the Government into the business at all, but would permit all wireless communication, under proper guarantees and safeguards, to be in the hands of private enterprise-
– I still think that.
– Only a few months have passed, but a great change has come over the honorable member - which, I am sure, would handle it much -more satisfactorily from every point of viewthan anyhalf-bred companies we can form, one of which, according to our experience,has not proved an unchallengeable success. I agree with the Prime Minister that the Post Office should notbe called upon to handle,this matter of dealing with wireless. . . . In the circumstances, I think we are wise in getting into touch with a company that is in a position to acquire and use these rights in the freest possible way. Already installations that havebeen established by certain companies have proved unsatisfactory because of the absence from some of them of a small improvement patentedby Marconi. It is quite an inexpensive matter to install that improvement; but thefact that it is not available to these companies prevents their installations from being as satisfactory as they otherwise would be.
Of the three proposals before us, the Norman proposition is not worth considering alongside that which has been submitted by the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited.
The difficulty in regard to the Radio Communication Company’s offer is that it is anew company, and for the last twenty-fiveyears the various Marconi companies, with which the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is associated, have been building up their business, getting together a staff of experts, and setting up a series of workshops and installations throughout the rest of the world; whereas the Radio Communication Company nave been established for only a couple of years. In these circumstances, it seems to me that if they are not in a position to offer us more satisfactory installation than the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited can supply, the Commonwealth Government could do the work themselves from the very inception. However, I do not think that that’ is possible.
The proposition of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is one that deserves favorable consideration from this House. It should not take a great deal of time to investigate the bona fides of the company and see exactly where we stand. It is a concern which has been established in Australia for several years. Its balance-sheets have been open for investigation. Its paid-up capital is £180,000. Its nominal capital is £200,000, against which there are patent rights; wireless installations on various ships, worth from £450 to £500 each - -practically £100,000 in all; and workshops, plant, and .machinery, roughly valued at ‘about £50,000. The Bulletin, in September last; pointed out that the company was .handling its reserves, which amount to £40,000, .in a most conservative way. In any amalgamation which is formed, the company will, undoubtedly, be in a position to provide practically £1 for £1 for every share the Commonwealth is asked to subscribe. I would much prefer an arrangement under which the Commonwealth was left out as a partner. I understand that before the agreement before us was submitted a suggestion was mode that the company was prepared to undertake the whole of the work if it were given some guarantee that it would not .bc interfered with over an extended period. There was no desire on the part of the company for a monopoly; alf that was required was a guarantee and licence to operate. It is really for the purpose of examining the relative merits of the two propositions that I suggest there should bc some delay.
When the draft agreement providing for four directors for the company was before the House he delivered a glowing eulogy on the company. If the honorable member had been a shareholder in Amalgamated Wireless could be have spoken in a more enthusiastic way of their prospects? Could he have given any greater support to the proposal that they should have four directors ? He only found one fault with the draft agreement then ; it did not give the company enough control. He suggested that the company could do the work better than we could co-operating with it. There was no desire on his part for the Commonwealth to secure greater control; he said, on the contrary, that we ought to have less control. He wanted the company to have complete control. He never took exception to one clause in the draft agreement, but subscribed to it as it stood. It was quite open for him to take exception to any clause. He did not do so,, and, therefore, we may take all that he has now said as one .of those belated, but still timely, afterthoughts that occur to persons of the honorable member’s ifr. Hughes. mentality. So much for the honorable gentleman and the wireless agreement.
The honorable member referred to the Nauru Agreement, and the Anglo-Persian Agreement. The honorable gentleman wishes us to understand that he disapproves of both these agreements. According to him they are very bad agreements. These is only one thing that needs to be said by way of reply to the honorable member, and it is this: Hansard shows that when these agreements were before the House the honorable member voted for them. The division list on the Anglo-Persian Company, showed ayes 36, with the honorable member for Cowper amongst them. In the case of the Nauru Agreement there waft no division - no objection was taken to it. These facts are sufficient to show that the honorable gentleman’s objection to the proposal ‘before us is only one that arises out of the circumstances of his political position.
I am very glad, indeed, that an op- .portunity has been afforded to consider this matter, but it has now occupied the attention of the House at. great length, and I see no useful purpose in any prolongation of the discussion.
The point to which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) took exception was the appointment of an exdirector of the company as the seventh member of the directorate. The honorable member will correct me if I am wrong, but he took the view that this was a violation of the spirit of that part of the agreement which provided for the appointment of a seventh member. My honorable friend and colleague (Mr. Greene), speaking on Friday last, stated that that was also the view of the Government. I. should like to say that in the early part of last week, when I was unable to attend my office, I had been informed unofficially that the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes had been made, and’ I gave instructions to my statE to notify the company, as soon as the official communication came to hand, that the appointment could not be- agreed to. The official communication has since come to hand, and the company has been notified that the appointment cannot be accepted. I have myself written to Sir Thomas Hughes setting out the position which has arisen out of the discussion in
Parliament and out of the decision of the Government previously made.
I wish to make it quite clear, and I think the honorable member for Batman will agree with me in this, that nothing that has been said here is intended in any way to reflect personally on Sir Thomas Hughes. The objection taken is to the appointment as seventh member of a man who was intimately associated with the company. The intention of the agreement was that the person selected should be “ independent.” That is to say, one who had no previous connexion with the company. I said in my letter to Sir Thomas that we should have been delighted to co-operate with him had he been one of the three original members selected or appointed by the company, or if, in the case of one of those resigning, he were appointed to the. position; but that we took the view that it was the intention of the agreement that the seventh member should be an independent man, who had no previous association with the company. There the matter now stands, and the House would do well to let it remain there, with the assurance from me. that if the company cannot see its way to agree to taking the same view as the Government do, the Government will bring the matter before the House withoutdelay, and take no further steps in regard to proceeding with the agreement unless and until the House has had an opportunity of discussing it at full length.
– Supposing the Government decide to cancel the agreement, will the Government not be liable at law for a breach of the agreement?
– I am not here to answer legal questions ; I am here now as the head of the Government, to state what is the Government’s policy. Whether we are liable to an action at law or not can only be determined by the Courts of this country; an opinion may be expressed by the Crown Law Department, but I take it that the honorable member is not asking me now for such an opinion. I have stated the intention of the Government, which is not to agree to this appointment. That, I think, is very definite, and there the matter stands. In the circumstances, no prolongation of the debate can affect the position, nor can it affect our liability to. an action at law. The view which the majority of honorable members take in regard to the appointment is one which I myself share. I did not believe that such an appointment was in accordance with the intention of the Committee, and therefore I should have taken action to repudiate it, no matter what the House had done. I notified our representatives on the directorate to that effect before this session opened. When I was passing through Sydney about a week before the opening of Parliament, I said to our representatives on the directorate that we could not accept the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes in any circumstances. There the matter stands. I hope the House willnow allow the business of the country to be dealt with. This is the fourth week that the House has been in session, and no business has been done. Therefore, I ask the House to let us get on with public business, resting satisfied with the intimation I have given of the Government’s intention.
Mr.Charlton. - I must say that the position in regard to wireless is very unsatisfactory.
– If the honorable member can show me how speaking at greater length can make it better, I shall be prepared to speak all night, but it will not. I cannot charge myself with any neglect in this matter. I notified the Commonwealth directors, and they communicated directly with the directors appointed by the company, letting them know our interpretation of the agreement. Of course, the directors representing the company have a right to interpret the agreement from their point of view.
– I should not have entered into thediscussion of this amendment, but for the speech delivered by the Prime Minister. I have watched the proceedings of Parliament for many years, and I have had a little personal experience of parliamentary life, but I have never known a Legislature’ to be treated with such scant courtesy as that with which the Prime Minister treated the House this afternoon. He absolutely - flouted Parliament. The only information we have gained from him was confirmation of the impression that Australia is absolutely under adictatorship. I shall not go into the details of the agreement- the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan)did that very thoroughly when he movedthe amendment - but one thing about it that amazed me was the hurry with which the Prime Minister wanted to clinch the old agreement last session. This was a big project involving hundreds of thousands of pounds of Commonwealth money, and the Prime Minister produced an agreement, and asked honorable members to rush it through. I happened to be sitting in the stranger’s gallery on that day, and his attitude was equivalent to saying that everything would be all right; the House had simply to take his word for it. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page)-
– Unfortunately did take his word.
– I wanted further information.
– The honorable member voted against getting further information.
– The Leader of the Country party said that, but for the Opposition and his party, this proposal would have been adopted by Parliament last session. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Country party supported the Government last session, although some of them voted with the Opposition in favour of the amendment by our Leader (Mr. Charlton) to refer the matter to a Committee, which would report back to the House. That amendment was defeated because of the promise made by the Prime Minister that the agreement should be referred to a Committee representative of the three parties in the House, and which should not report back to the House.
– It is only fair to say that, but for the support given the honorable member’s Leader by the Country party, there would have been no investigation by a Committee.
– Support given by half the members of the Country party!
– It is only fair to say that the Leader of the Country party was told as much as the Leader of the Opposition was told, and the only difference between the two is that the latter was more active in conserving the interests of the Commonwealth than were the majority of the members of the Country party. There I leave that aspect of the question. This wireless project is a huge undertaking, and there is no need to hurry; it is not as if there were a danger that somebody would embark upon the scheme ahead of us. If it is a good proposition, there is only one policy to be adopted, and that is for the Commonwealth itself to handle it; if it is not a good proposition and is largely in the nature of a gamble and a wild adventure, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) says it unquestionably is, then the Government, who are such “ whales “ on private enterprise, should let private enterprise operate it. There is at least some consistency about the attitude of the Country party; they believe in handing over the project to private enterprise in any circumstances, giving to some personor corporation a monopoly in long-distance wireless telegraphy. That is not our policy; but whilst we believe in Government control of these services we do not believe that the Government should enter into a wild and reckless agreement with any company. The Prime Minister said that the present agreement was understood’ to give the Commonwealth equal control on the directorate; he laboured that point, and sought to prove that he was conserving the interests of the Commonwealth when he insisted on that. Will the right honorable gentleman explain why he approved of the first agreement, which deliberately provided that the company should have the dominant power? He was very ready to twit the Country party with a change of mind - he could bring no such accusation against members on this side of the House - but I should like him to explain his own change of mind. The Prime Minister told us that he was so strong in his belief that the Commonwealth must have equal control of this project that if it did not get it, if Sir Thomas Hughes didnot resign or his nomination were not withdrawn, the Government would repudiate the agreement; he said he had sent word to that effect.
-No; he said he would bring the matter before the House.
– At any rate, he indicated that the agreement could not stand. Our opposition to this project is not based alone on the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as the seventh director. That appointment has done nothing more or less than the Prime Minister agreed to do under the original agreement. And he now makes a fuss over that one feature. I agree that the appointment is serious ; but there are a number of serious features of the agreement for which this House should take the responsibility. It is Parliament, andnot a few members of it who constitute the Ministry, that is responsible to the country. It is true that Parliament gave the Government full power to enter into this agreement, but that authority was not conferred by the votes of honorable members on this side of the House. The Government were supported by some members of the Country party.
– By only five members of the Country party. Give us full credit.
– I do not desire to take any credit from honorable members in the Corner, and I hope that other members of the party, in addition to those who supported us last session, will vote withus on this occasion; if they do so, they will redeem themselves to some extent in the eyes of the people.
I come now to the most remarkable part of the Prime Minister’s speech. If I were a Ministerial colleague of the right honorable gentleman, and were treated as the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) was treated in this House, I would insist upon some understanding with the Prime Minister or leave the Ministry. The Prime Minister said that the Government could not agree to the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes, who was so closely associated with the company; he said that that appointment was contrary to the spirit of the agreement and the understanding of the Committee. Then he told us that he sent word to his staff to advise the Government representatives on the directorate that they must let the other directors know that he would not consent to the appointment.
– That was on Friday.
– No; he said that he did that before the opening of the session, although the honorable member is probably justified in not accepting his statement. We have had too much experience of pledges broken by the Prime Minister to place entire reliance on everything he says. (He said that he objected to the appointment before the opening of the session.
– The honorable member is wrong there.
– The Prime Minister did say that.
– I listened very carefully to him, and those are his words. The Assistant Minister takes his responsibilities in such a lackadaisical manner that he did not listen to what his leader said. We have the Prime Minister’s definite statement that he instructed his staff to advise the Commonwealth representatives on the Board to tell their codirectors that the Government would not agree to the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes.
– That is quite right. There were three intimations - one before any appointment was made, one afterwards when the Prime Minister was advised unofficially of the appointment, and the third when he was officially advised.
– Exactly. I thank the Minister for the confirmation of my statement. We have now learned that the Prime Minister notified the company of his objection three times. He notified them first before the opening of thesession. I assume he notified them officially after Sir Thomas Hughes was appointed. What a remarkable position this country is in! Not a word was said publicly about that objection ; but in reply to a question asked by Senator John D. Millen in another place the information regarding the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes was extracted from the Government. The mention of that fact in this House on Friday created a sensation, and almost a crisis, and so concerned did the Government become that the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Greene) made a statement on their behalf. I ask honorable members who are older parliamentarians than I am what was the position of the Treasurer? He replied to anumber of statements made inthe speech by the honorable member for Batman, and he had to brush aside practically all reference to the appointment of the seventh director.
– He said it was in accordance with the agreement.
– And so it is. He said that, so far as he could see, nothing could be done to upset the appointment.
– He said more than that. He said that he thought the appointment was in opposition to the spirit of the agreement, and he was surprised that it had been made.
– That is so; but the spirit of an agreement will not stand much of a test in a Court of law. The Treasurer further indicated to this House that nothing could be done to rectify matters, and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr.Watt) then suggested a possible way out by calling attention to the phraseology of clause 12. The Treasurer agreed that that clause might provide a “lever;” but the impression still undoubtedly remaining on his mind was that there was no legal way out of the impasse; and the Minister concluded a speech in which he tried to brush aside the strong feeling of the House. In acting in that manner, of course, he merely emulated the methods of his chief and dictator, the Prime Minister himself. Then came the luncheon adjournment, which provided the Government with time to discuss matters, so that they might come before honorable members with a suggestion. However, upon resumption, no indication was forthcoming that the Governmenthad decided to take a stand in any direction. Honorable members still more forcefully and seriously put their objections. And then, possibly following an urgent communication despatched to the dictator himself, came the belated decision to concede an adjournment until this week. The position now stands as follows: - First, the Prime Minister presented an agreement last session, which he sought to ram down the throats of honorable members without affording them an opportunity for its consideration. Next, owing to a timely protest from this side of the House, there was a delay, and’ a Committee was appointed to go into the whole subject. That Committee “ scrapped “ the old agreement and framed a better one; that much must be admitted. Now the Prime Minister has obviously advanced along a fresh line of activity. It is evident that he did not consult his colleagues; otherwise the Treasurer would never have spoken as he did on Friday ; for he is no fool. Had the Treasurer known what was in the mind of the Prime Minister and what had been done, he would not have been so abject last Friday. I repeat that it is obvious that the dictator consulted neither his colleagues in the Ministry nor his party. And then was sprung upon the country this appointment of a seventh director, who is supposed to be independent but who is not. If we are to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister, it would appear that he had thrice notified the Board of Directors that he would not stand for this seventh selection. However, this House will not, and cannot, accept that assurance. The whole matter is far too serious. There is more than half-a-million of money involved. This country may be let in for millions.
Mr.West. -Hear, hear ! And absolute waste, too.
– I am not prepared to say that. Frankly, I do not know; but I am entitled to press for more information. The amendment asks that Parliament be given time to consider the agreement, and approve it. The Prime Minister has furnished his answer. So far as the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes is concerned, legally, it is in accordance with the agreement, but it is against the spirit of the agreement. The only way in which the Government can get out of their difficulty is to ask Sir Thomas Hughes to resign. This, I understand, he is not prepared to do; because if he were, he would have done so already, and so have got the Government out of their very awkward dilemma.
– What would the honorable member have the Government do if Sir Thomas Hughes will not resign ?
– First, the Government should never have allowed the agreement to be signed without the approval of Parliament. Secondly; they should not now permit matters to go one step further without parliamentary sanction.
– Even that would not get us out of our legal difficulty.
– At any rate, Parliament would have been consulted and, to. that extent, have been responsible; and Parliament would have said, in effect, that it would not be dictated to by one individual; but that it had rights of its own. Now, if the Country party are prepared to stand for fair play, and if the alleged malcontents behind the Government are “game” to act in keeping with their words out- side this House - I refer to such as the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) - the amendment will be carried, and the rights of Parliament and the welfare of the country will have been preserved and vindicated. If, after having been given full opportunity to probe the whole subjectmatter, this Chamber should come to the conclusion that the agreement ought to be cancelled, wisdom would counsel that we cut our first losses and get out of the agreement without further involving the finances of the Commonwealth. We are told to-day that already the Government have paid out £50,000 under the agreement.
– Although not one penny has been paid by any one in the company.
– As for that, the Treasurer stated that he did not know how much the company had put up. I would like to know when that £50,000 of public money was paid over. Was it before or after the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes? I cannot imagine that the Government would have paid that sum, or any amount indeed, until after the agreement had been concluded; and surely the agreement could not be said to have been finalized until after every member of the directorate had been appointed.
– There is a second agreement provided for under clause 12, which has not yet been drawn, I believe.
– Then is it not the more glaringly premature for the Government to have paid away £50,000?
– I do not know. The conditions of the agreement - whatever they are - must be observed.
– Do those conditions provide that £50,000 of public money shall be paid over to the company even before the personnel of the directorate has been selected ? The wholeproposition appears to be fishy. One of the vital alterations to the agreement made by the Parliamentary Wireless Committee was that the company should not have control by medium of a majority on the directorate, but that the Commonwealth should have equal control of the Board. The agreement actually omits to say that the seventh director shall be independent.
– Honorable members want to know why.
– The agreement requires that he shall be selected by an independent arbitrator; but there is no reference to the independence of the person sochosen. As one of the vital differences between the original and the second agreement is to be found in this question of control, surely it would appear all the more strikingly to the Government that, before one penny of Commonwealth money had been paid over, every safeguard should be taken against the company securing absolute control.
– As a matter of fact, the agreement provides that that sum of £50,000 should be paid before the end of April last.
– Then, seeing that that would involve a disbursement of Commonwealth moneyprior to the completion of the board of directors, I can only repeat that the agreement is a. very bad one. No matter what may be the legal position, or what the commitments of the Government, the public have been let in for a bad bargain, which should not be ratified by their representatives.
But, after all, this sorry business is only one more link in the long chain of governmental blunders. How long will the country and this Parliament stand for such a state of affairs ? How long will the malcontents behind the Government meekly continue to support them?
– Are there really any malcontents there?
– I am just thinking that they are no more to be regarded as malcontents than the members of the Country party. Fireworks are let off “outside”; but, when it comes to a test, when votes are to be recorded, these critics behind the Government areall with them like lambs in one fold. However, we will hope that the spirit of independence has not quite flickered out; that the malcontents have not been completely chloroformed by their dictator, the Prime Minister.
– This fatherly advice is very touching.
– It is not fatherly advice, but fatherlycastigation, and I trust that it will do good. I hope it will cause both the Nationalist malcontents and the Country party to approach the test vote upon the amendment in a chastened. spirit, keeping in view the beat interests of the country, and not merely the welfare of the Government.
.- It appears to me that the House has become somewhat easily and unnecessarily perturbed over the matter of the wireless agreement. It would be well that honorable members should recall the facts which have led to the position in which they find themselvesto-day. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) brought the subject before this Chamber in September last year, when making his first report on the doings of the Imperial Conference. The right honorable gentleman then mentioned that one of the important matters - which he was not then able to deal with, however - was that of wireless communication, and he added that he would take the opportunity in the course of a subsequent statement of dealing with it. On the 5th October the Prime Minister devoted himself at length thereto, and he laid on the table the draft agreement with Amalgamated Wireless. It is futile for honorable members to say, therefore, that the matter of the agreement with Amalgamated Wireless was sprung upon them unexpectedly onadate in December when the- subject was afterwards raised. Honorable members, in fact, had had an ample opportunity, if they so desired, of acquainting themselves with the details.
– The Opposition availed itself of the opportunity.
– I shall speak in a moment of the attitude of the Labour party, which, I admit, has been consistent throughout. When the question of wireless communication waa brought under the notice of honorable members again in December , the Prime Minister said he was anxious that the matter should be dealt with there and then. I, for one, took the stand that a subject of such vast importance to the Commonwealth should not be disposed of in the closing hours of the session. I favoured its postponement until this session. However, in its wisdom - and I call emphatic attention to this–the House determined that the agreement should be placed in the hands of a Parliamentary Commiteee. That was the proposal of the Prime Minister.
– It was not the first, but, the second, proposal of the Prime Minister.
– I know that the Prime Minister believed in the agreement which he laid upon the table, and thus gave the House the opportunity of examining it, and I suppose that he thought in December that, after it had been lying on the table for two months, the House would be duly acquainted with its terms, and be prepared to say whether they would accept it or not. He believed in it ; he asked the House to accept it. The House said, “ No, we are not prepared to deal with it.” When the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition to refer the matter to a Committee, which, was to report subsequently to the House, had been negatived, the proposition was put forward by the Prime Minister that the agreement should be referred to a representative Committee which should be authorized not only to make any alterations in it, or any recommendations it chose, but also to empower the Prime Minister to sign the agreement so amended or altered. That was the deliberate determination of a substantial majority of this House. I voted with the Opposition against the proposal because I considered it involved a vicious principle, that is to say, the principle of the delegation of important responsibilities which I thought it was solely the duty of the House to undertake. However, the House determined otherwise. Honorable members said, “ We are all agreed as to the importance of this question of direct wireless communication with the Old Country, and we give you, the Committee to be appointed, power to make what alterations you please, and so long as you are satis- * fied, power to authorize the Prime Minister to sign the agreement.” On that determination a Committee was appointed, and all who have spoken upon this question have said that it was really representative. I, who was one who had voted against the appointment of the Committee, believing that it involved a vicious principle, consented, at the request of the Prime Minister, to act with the Treasurer as one of the Government’s representatives on the Committee. The Committee when elected proceeded to its duties. Its task was to carefully examine the agreement - but not only that agreement. The Leader of the Opposition will remember that when the terms of the motion were being discussed in this House he elicited from the Prime Minister, by way of response to an interjection, that the Committee was to be at liberty to do what it pleased, that it practically had a free hand, that it was not confined to a mere examination of this agreement suggested by Amalgamated Wireless, but could look into the other schemes submitted to the Government and bring in whatever recommendation it pleased. In these circumstances the Committee was appointed and got to work, and I say on behalf of its members, that it recognised the importance of the task with which it had been intrusted, and spared no pains to bring its labours to a successful termination.
– How many meetings did the Committee hold 1
– About sixteen, if I remember rightly, and they were lengthy meetings. We tapped every source of information of which we were aware; we examined all the witnesses available, and with the information we were able to elicit we amended the agreement that the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited had submitted to us, and moulded it into a form which we could recommend to the Government for acceptance. The meetings of the Committee were most harmonious. There was not a discordant note from beginning to end. Every man bent his mind to: his task. There was no sign of party recriminations, such as wo have in this House - those party recriminations which we all so deeply deplore, but which, I am afraid, many of us in our. hearts so keenly relish. There was no evidence of any party division. We sat around the Committee table, and every question that came up was discussed and determined according to its merits, and. when we concluded our labours I, for one - and I believe that I speak for all the members of the Committee, save the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) - was under the impression that, after our discussions, we had practically become of one mind in regard to the agreement which should be submitted to the Government for acceptance.
– Hear, hear!
– I now come to the attitude taken up by the honorable member for Batman. It has come to his fellow members of the Committee, I think I can take it upon myself to say, as a complete surprise.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Cook knows nothing whatever about the matter, because he attended one meeting only.
– I want to be perfectly fair to the honorable member for Batman. Early in the proceedings of the Committee, when we began to discuss the agreement, the honorable member certainly said that he did not commit himself to the principle of the Government handing over its functions in a matter of this kind to a private company, or sharing them with, a private company. But the honorable member had no need to make that confession, admission, or statement, because by virtue of his membership of the party to which he belongs, it was a cardinal article of his political faith. We all thought that if the honorable member intended to take up the position that he would have nothing to do with a matter of this kind, because he held that the Government should take over the complete control of wireless, he would have refused to accept a seat on the Committee. He should in such circumstances have stood back, and said, “ I can have nothing whatever to do with it.” But his attitude at that time was a- perfectly reasonable one. I gathered from him that while he was not to be understood to subscribe to the doctrine that we might enter into an agreement of this kind, he practically said to himself, “ Well, here I am, deputed by the House aa ‘one of the members of the Committee, and it is my duty, if the Government are going to enter into an agreement, to see that it is the best obtainable in the interests of the whole of the people of the Commonwealth.”
– That absolutely represents my position.
– I believe that that was the attitude taken up by the honorable member for Batman, and throughout the whole of the proceedings of the Committee, he was one of its most helpful members, subjecting every bit of information that came before us to ti keen test of his scrutiny. And when w had made up our minds that we wert near the end of our labours, when we were getting things into a shape which we could recommend for the Government’s acceptance, we appointed as a subCommittee Senators Drake-Brockman and John D. Millen, and the honorable member for Batman. These gentlemen took the new proposals of the Amalgamated Wireless Limited, which the full Committee had discussed, and went into them very carefully. The honorable member for Batman attended a meeting of that sub-Committee, and assisted in reducing the company’s proposals to order; in other words, he helped to lick them into shape. Senator Drake- Brockman reported the result of the labours of the sub-Committee, and the honorable member for Batman, being present when that report was made, did not utter a single word of dissent. There was no minority report on his part as a. member of that sub-Committee. He listened to the statement made by Senator DrakeBrockman, and it evidently met with the approval of the honorable member. At least, he acquiesced in it as being a correct statement of the labours of the sub-Committee. The matter then came before the full Committee for final discussion.
– Hear, hear; but I was not there then.
– I accept the honorable member’s word at once that he was not present at that particular meeting, but there was nothing done at that meeting except to adopt the result, of the labours of the Sub-Committee. When this was done the agreement practically assumed the form in which it ultimately went to the Prime Minister.
– And with the knowledge of my original declaration my name was put to an agreement which I said at the beginning- 1 would not support.
– The honorable member says that we put his name to the agreement. T shall show how this came about. At the time all the members of the Committee were under the impression that the honorable member for Batman had acquiesced in the agreement as recommended by the Committee as being the best that we could get, of course, always with the proviso on the part of the honorable member that he did not subscribe to the principle underlying the con;nexion between the ‘Government and a private company.
– I represented that the agreement was the best that I could do with it up to that stage.
– The honorable member had done so. The honorable member subscribed to the agreement as the best obtainable. He knew that it was the document which was to go to the
Prime Minister, and I shall show now how his name came to be attached to it. Our report was short and to the point. There was no necessity to go into a long rigmarole, because the agreement which we were submitting spoke for itself. It was suggested that the Chairman of the Committee should sign our brief report on behalf of the Committee, but as the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) said, on Friday last, one member of the Committee thought it would be well for all to subscribe their names to what would be an historic document.
– That member was the one who did not take any part in the deliberations of the Committee.
– However, that has nothing to do with the matter. I, on a subsequent occasion, subscribed my name with others. Of course, I was not able to see what names were on the document. I hod to take it on trust that others had signed it also. I attached my name, believing that the agreement was that which had been assented to in Committee, and was to be submitted to the Prime Minister for his signature. The Committee did their work conscientiously, and, I hold, well. So far as I have heard there has been no real criticism of the agreement apart from the principle involved. I understand the attitude taken up by the Official Opposition. They say that this is a matter that should be carried out by the Government. They say that it should be a Government activity, and that the Commonwealth should not be tied to any private company.
– We also 3ay that the matter should be approved by Parliament.
– Quite so. Honorable members of the Opposition have been quite consistent. They said, “Let the- - matter be considered by a Committee, but let it then be affirmed, if it is to be accepted at all, by Parliament.” So far the honorable members of the Opposition have taken up an attitude which is understandable and consistent, but I ‘think they ought to recognise that, the House having determined that the agreement, as recommended by the Committee duly appointed,, should be accepted by the Government;, they should loyally stand by it.
– And get the blame afterwards.
– There can be no blame attaching to ‘the Opposition, ,if blame is attachable to any one, because they have done all that they constitutionally could do to prevent this step being taken. But the House, having determined upon a certain course, the Opposition ought now to say, “We did our level best to save the country from this. However, the House was determined to have it. Let them have it. The future will show who is right.”
– And thus perpetuate a blunder.
– I remind honorable members opposite that the Committee, having carried out its duties in accordance with the terms of the reference to it, and! having submitted the agreement to the Prime Minister, and that agreement having been signed by him, it has become a binding contract. It is a contract which it is now beyond the power of the House to touch unless we say to the Government-
– God help Australia !
– I think the honorable member will admit that I am at least taking Up a logical position. I believe this to be a good contract, and one which will be for the benefit of Australia. Whether it be good or bad, however, it is a contract, and, as such, must be recognised by the House. The criticism of the’ Opposition is a criticism of the action of the Government in setting out on this business at all ; but, with the exception of ‘ that offered by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), there has been no ‘real criticism of the agreement itself. The criticism in which the honorable member has indulged in the House was not offered by him in the Committee. He attended to his duties conscientiously and regularly as a member of the Parliamentary Committee, and whatever the agreement may be, he ought to be prepared to take his share of the responsibility for it.
– I am; but would the honorable member, as a lawyer, like to take the responsibility of drawing up a watertight ‘agreement in the circumstances in which we, as a Committee, sat ?
– I would not; but we had to do- the best we could in the circumstances. Unfortunately, I have not the guidance of notes, and as I am unable to refer to documents, my remarks may be somewhat desultory. I contend that the criticism offered by the honorable member for Batman is not well-founded. Let us take, for instance, what he said as to this business being a gamble. It is no gamble. There is a certain amount of risk, as there is in every forward step - everything into which- the element of experiment enters - but one thing which the Committee set itself to do was to rigorously safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth so far as the expenditure of this large sum of money is concerned. The agreement is drawn in such a way that when we embark on the expenditure of the huge sums of money involved in the erection of the high-power stations it will be found that it safeguards the Commonwealth by providing that in any agreement entered into with a constructional company for the erection of plant there shall be guarantees that the plant shall be efficient for the purpose for which it is being erected. Power is put in the hands of the three nominees of the Government on the Board to veto any such agreement unless they are satisfied that the Commonwealth is safeguarded, and that we shall not have to pay for what we do not get. That is a complete safeguard, and it means that this business is no gamble.
– That provision relates to only apparatus, personnel, and plant.
– I fail to see how an apparatus that did not do the work that it purported to be able to do, and for which it was erected, could be said to he efficient.
– Not in any circumstances ?
– Hot in any circumstances. I am satisfied that if the honorable member for -Batman were one of the representatives of the Government on the Board he would take all sorts of care to see that we were not liable to pay for the erection of apparatus unless it had proved itself to be capable of doing what the contractors for its erection undertook that it would do.
– But we have paid for the work already.
– Such a statement merely shows that the honorable member has not read the agreement. Ohe of the clauses in it provides that in any agreement entered into with any company for the erection of these plants, guarantees to the satisfaction of the representatives of the Commonwealth Government on the Board shall be given.
– Under the agreement the Government will have to pay during the process of the erection of these plants.
– Not necessarily. That will depend upon the conditions of contract.
– But the Commonwealth Government has already paid £50,000 to the company.
– That payment has been made under the terms of the agreement, which provides that we shall pay 2s. per share on allotment. The 300,000 shares to be issued to the public are saddled with the same condition.
So much, then, for the fears of the honorable member for Batman that this is a gamble. I come now to his objection that the mere fact that the Government enters into an agreement like this with a private company tends to impair its status as a Government in its negotiations with the Governments of other nations. I do not think that objection will bear a moment’s examination. There is nothing in the agreement into which, we have entered with the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, that limits our right to formulate any policy we please. We have a perfectly free hand with respect to matters of policy. The Government may enter into any negotiations they please with any foreign Government with regard to wireless. We have provided in the agreement that wherever any question of policy arises effect must be given to it. I instance these two points made by the honorable member for Batman, and contend that neither will bear examination. The fact that the honorable member did not bring them, before the Parliamentary Committee while we were discussing the agreement and had’ an opportunity to look into them from, his point of view, must, to a very large extent, discount his criticism.
– What about the competition with the Pacific Cable Board?
– The Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) dealt with that question on Friday last, and it is unnecessary to repeat what he said. There will be a certain degree of competition. That is inevitable. But with that we have nothing to do.
In regard to the honorable member for Batman’s attack on the wireless agreement, I would remind the House that he did not raise these points before the Parliamentary Committee, and that it was not until two or three weeks after the deliberations of the Committee had been concluded that he intimated his intention of sending in a minority report. If the honorable member believed that the agreement was fraught with danger and possibly disaster to the Commonwealth, his very first action should have been to send in his report, which might possibly have influenced the Government. As a matter of fact, he did not furnish his report until some two months after the agreement bad been entered into, arid at a time when it could have absolutely no effect. Had he at once set out valid reasons why the agreement should not be accepted by the Government, the attention of the Cabinet would have been challenged, and they would have had to make up their minds as to whether, despite his representations, they would accept the recommendation of the Committee. He did not do so; and this attack is not made - II think the honorable member for Batman would be the first to admit it - so much for the purpose of saving the people of Australia from the effects of an ill-conceived agreement as one intended to operate to the detriment of the Government.
– Do not ask me to be the first to admit that!
– I shall not. I should now like to say a word or two about the extraordinary attitude of the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Eade Page). I listened most carefully to what the honorable member said . I had heard the remarks of the honorable member on a previous occasion, as quoted by the Prime Minister, and I followed him with particular care to-day because I was a member of the Committee, and anxious to know exactly his attitude on the question before the House. I defy any honorable member to say now what that attitude is. This agreement was before the House for two months before December last, and the honorable member had an opportunity of perusing and digesting it, and of expressing himself on it when it came up for consideration in that month. -The honorable member deliberately voted that this important matter should be relegated to a Committee of the House with power to authorize the Prime Minister to accept and sign, it on behalf of the Government. Now the honorable member takes up the extraordinary position that if the Committee had improved this awful agreement only a little, he would have said nothing; we would have been acting strictly within the terms of our appointment if we had not altered it too much, and his criticism would have been disarmed. But -inasmuch as we made radical alterations in the agreement, and, as the honorable member admits, materially improved it, he to-day. criticises all our work. I say, again, that I really do not understand what the honorable member’s attitude is. Is it not a fact that the unfortunate occurrence of the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as seventh member of the Board of Directors has given all the point there is in this debate? But for this the debate would have fallen as flat as it would be possible for a deba’te to fall.
– There are other objections.
– The agreement may be open to criticism, but had this appointment not been made and brought to light, on a question in another place by a member of the Committee, nothing more would have been heard about’ it. I certainly was under the impression, as I think every member of the Committee was, that the clause in the agreement under which the appointment was made had been worded in such a way as to secure the appointment of a perfectly independent man as a seventh member.
– Did not the Committee know what was in the agreement?
– I say that I was under the impression that it was worded in such a way as to so provide, and I still think that it is open to question whether it is or not. The clause in the agreement provides for the nomination of three directors to represent the company, and three to represent the Commonwealth, and they are empowered to appoint a seventh. If the intention of that clause is not absolutely obvious I think it would be impossible to make it more so. It never entered into the mind of any member of the Committee that it was possible to- road the clause in such a way as to make possible the election of a member of the Amalgamated Wireless directorate to the position. The Committee, I say, is not to blame. If we had set out that an independent chairman was to be appointed, Sir Thomas Hughes might still have been the man. It is provided that if the six are unable to agree on the appointment of a seventh, they must call in an arbitrator to make the appointment; and one expects, when men are ranged on opposite sides in this way, that the arbi”trator appointed would be a man in whom every one of the six had implicit confidence, and that the person Appointed to the directorate would be a man unconnected with either side. One thing I regret is that we have not had a statement from the Government of the circumstances under which this appointment was made. It is difficult to understand the absence of such a statement. To begin with, if the six appointed an arbitrator, . the person appointed must have been acquainted with the clause under which the appointment was made. It would be perfectly obvious to an arbitrator appointed under such a clause that his duty was to appoint a seventh independent member. I cannot understand how any honorable man, appointed as arbitrator under the circumstances, could appoint a member who had up to quite recently been chairman of directors of Amalgamated Wireless, nor can I understand how any honorable man in that position reading the clause could, under the circumstances, accept the appointment as seventh member. I am, therefore, disappointed that the Prime Minister in making his statement, did not tell us the exact circumstances, if they were known to him, under which this appointment was made. As to the position of the Government, I venture the opinion that they are absolutely powerless under the agreement. If the terms of the agreement have been observed in the appointment, nothing can shift Sir Thomas Hughes but, his own resignation. It may be that when he is made acquainted with the fact that there is a general consensus of opinion on all sides of the House, and, I should say, throughout the public, that bis appointment is not an agreeable one, to say the least of it, he will gracefully resign. However, so far as the work of the Committee goes, I say, as a member, that it was done conscientiously and well, and I believe that the agreement that has been entered into with the Amalgamated
Wireless (Australasia) Limited, will redound not only to the credit of Australia but to her distinct advantage.
– We are indebted to the two members of the Committee who have spoken on this matter. But I think that what we really require is a. copy of the draft agreement which left the Committee to go to the Crown Law Department. I have spoken to several members of the Committee, and they all assure me that to the best of their belief provision was made in the draft agreement for the appointment of an in - dependent chairman.
– The word is used in the notes of evidence.
– Yes; but, unfortunately, the agreement does not help us in that regard. With all due deference to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who has just said that the spirit of the proposal was that there should be an independent chairman, I say that if we search the document from the first word to the last, we. find that there is not one in it which provides that, the chairman shall be an independent man.
– There is the clause relating to the appointment.
– That clause provides nothing- of the kind. It says that failing the agreement of three on the one side and three on the other, an arbitrator shall be called in. It is quite understood that a member appointed by mutual arrangement under such circumstances, becomes, in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, the chairman.
– That is why we required an independent man.
– Quite so; but, unfortunately, the Committee did not express in black and white what evidently was their intention. If it was the deliberate intention of this Committee to provide for an independent chairman, and if a majority df the Committee believed that such provision had been made, it is of the very first importance that the draft agreement which left the Committee should be laid before us.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the agreement is not in conformity with the draft?
– I do, because none of the members of the Committee who has spoken has read the agreement as compared with the draft.
– Do I understand the honorable member to say that in the agreement that has been signed the word “ independent,” which was in the draft, has been left out?
– The honorable member for Fawkner and other members of the Committee have assured me that they fully intendedthat the word “ independent “ should be in it. ‘
-No ; I said we thought we had provided for an independent chairman - I said nothing about the word.
– I say that those members were deliberately of opinion that provision had been made for an independent chairman. It was their intention that provision to that end should be made in the agreement.
– That is exactly what we thought was provided; but there is nothing in the suggestion that something was altered between the time the draft left us and the signing of the agreement.
– students of British history have read of a “ Ministry of all the Talents,” and here we had a Committee comprising four lawyers. It seems absurd that a draft agreement which they were unanimously of opinion provided for an independent chairman should not provide to that end. One member of the Committee has said that the circumstances surrounding this matter make him determined to draw up his own will.
– ‘Supposing any one read the clause as it stands, would it occur to him that it was possible to appoint any but an independent man, or likely that such a person would be appointed ?
– I say that to an ordinary, casual reader there is not the slightest provision made, or intent displayed, that the chairman shall be an independent man. I agree with the honorable member for Fawkner that, unfortunately, Sir Thomas Hughes has beenappointed in strict accordance with the letter of the agreement. I believe it is the opinion of every one in this House that, had Sir Thomas Hughes not been associated with the company, his appointment would be one at which no one could cavil. At any rate, that is the position I take up. I wish to make it quite clear that my intention is to support the amendment of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). It may cost us a considerable sum to break this contract,but I am as sure as that I am standing here that it will cost the Commonwealth a great deal more if we do not break it.
I now take the same attitude’ I did when the matter was previously before us. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) have taken full credit for opposing the agreement; but if it had not been for the opposition of certain members of the Country party, it is quite certain that those honorable gentlemen would have been strong enough to stop the agreement. The proposal was brought before the House at half-past 8 o’clock on the. Wednesday, and Parliament virtually went into recess at 8 o’clock on the Friday. There was a deliberate attempt to force this draft agreement through the House. I am not betraying confidences if I say that we were told by the Government Whip that it was essential ithis agreement should go to the Senate that night, and I told him that it would not go that . night, for the Government would not get it through. I voted in both divisions against the proposal, and I said on that occasion -
I protest against the Commonwealth Government entering into this semicompanymongering scheme. Rather than that the Commonwealth should enter into this agreement, it would be better either ‘ for- the Government to control the whole service as a national undertaking, or to allow a company to do so as a purely private concern.
There is no “half-way house” in those words. Speaking at 2.57 a.m. I said -
It shows the impropriety of the proposition we have before us when we are asked to debate it at a stage of the session when time does not permit us to do so properly. Our experience in connexion with some of the company arrangements made by the Commonwealth Government should warn us to be careful. We have had one “ wireless “ purchase already. The Commonwealth was to receive almost untold profits from the Wooltops arrangement, which was submitted to us by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) with even a greater flourishing of trumpets than we have had on this question. Where are those profits to-day? The procedure suggested in regard to the wireless contract is most dangerous. I shall not- say a word against the proposed Committee, but I claim that it is wrong for Parliament to delegate its rights to any Committee, no matter how constituted.
The Prime Minister said that the agreement must be dealt with at once, and I ventured the opinion that it would be better to refer the matter to a Committee with power to sit during recess, and that if necessary a special session should be held in order that the matter might be dealt with. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) to-day made a vigorous attack upon the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), and accused him of an extraordinary change of attitude. Consider the change in the attitude of the Prime Minister! He told us to-day that the Government will not proceed with the contract because the man appointed to be the seventh, director is not an independent person. The very agreement which he tried to bulldoze through the House in almost the last hours of last session made special provision that the company should have four-sevenths of the representation on the directorate and the Commonwealth only three-sevenths.
– What did the honorable member’s Leader have to say about that?
– I am dealing now with the Minister’s Leader. The Prime Minister, speaking on the 7lh December - I remind the House that Parliament rose on the 9th Decemberobjected to the AllRed or Norman chain, which would be entirely controlled by the Imperial and Dominion Governments, because it would not give us one wave-length and would involve the sending of our messages in instalments. The Treasurer admitted on Friday that the practicability of direct communication with Europe had not been established. From time to time, under certain atmospheric conditions, it might be possible to communicate directly with Europe; but the Treasurer admitted that it was quite possible that Australian messages would have to be sent in instalments. That was the very ground of the Prime Minister’s objection to the Norman All-British route, and for that reason he entered into a contract. With whom? The Marconi-Telefunken crowd.
– There are four breaks in the Norman scheme, but in the scheme now under consideration there will be only one.
– Will the Treasurer say that with only one break we can have a thorough commercial service? If he does, he is hazarding an opinion which very few Avireless experts will express.
– He said that if it did not give the anticipated service the Government would not have to pay..
– The honorable member knows that whenever a Government enters into company-mongering the country always has to pay.
– They should keep out of it.
– They should. But for the opposition offered to his scheme, the Prime Minister would have involved this country in an agreement which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), and the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), and every other honorable member of the Committee condemned immediately they, examined it. Although the agreement now under consideration may be called an amended one, it is very like the Irishman’s repaired musket - new in lock, stock, and barrel. What was the attitude of the Prime Minister in regard to the original agreement. He said -
I ask honorable members to take their courage in both hands, and to have a little faith in the future of this country. I hope honorable members will agree to the motion, and will let the whole world see that Australia has faith in her future.
The one great mistake that my Leader (Dr. Earle Page) made was. that, on that occasion, he had faith in - the Prime Minister. He is on the penitent form today, and I think I oan promise the House that he will never repeat the offence. It was well known in this House that the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) was directly opposed to this scheme.
– The honorable member means the postal officials.
– I repeat that the then Postmaster-General waa totally opposed to this scheme.
– Does that account for the Cabinet changes?
– When the Prime Minister was urging that the Postal Department was not competent to handle this work, the then PostmasterGeneral could not stand it any longer, and left the chamber, and very pertinently, but very improperly, I think, the Prime Minister remarked that the Postmaster- General had gone out. The Cabinet waa reconstructed almost immediately afterwards, and the then PostmasterGeneral, one of the brainiest and straightest men in the Cabinet, “ went out.”. He paid the penalty for daring to stand up against this little “ tin-god “ autocrat–
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw thatremark.
– I withdraw it.
– The honorable member is trying to crucify him.
– The honorable member will never go to Calvary for a political opinion. I am certain that the honorable member for Gippsland will not think that my remarks have been directed against him personally. When he was in the Cabinet he treated the House with the utmost courtesy, and I always regarded him as one of the most considerate Postmasters-General, so f.ar as country interests were concerned, that we had had up to that time. The best I can wish is that his successor will follow his example.
– The honorable member did everything within his power to turn the honorable member for Gippsland out of office.
– I tried to turn him out with the Cabinet. The House understands my attitude quite clearly. If the Postmaster-General wants the information, I tell him frankly that from the day when Hughes bought Ready, and made a political prostitute of my State, I resolved to put the Government out if I could do it.
– Order !
– I ask the House to consider the position in which we are placed.So far as the Government are concerned, they would have saddled the country with an agreement so rotten that an all-round Committee which, this House has appointed turned it down after very brief consideration. I do not believe . there is a Parliament in any part of the British ‘ Dominions in which the Leader of the House could bring forward, in the closing hours of the session, an agreement such as the one proposed by the Prime Minister last year, and entreat and plead with the House to pass it- an agreement so absolutely rotten in itself that a Committee of the House condemned it entirely. These considerations make us doubtful. Even laymen discovered in the agreement blunders and irregularities, and the production of such a document was not creditable to the Crown Law Department. As a protest against the manner in which this matter has been handled, and against a majority of this House delegating to any Committee or authority the inherent rights and powers of this Parliament to be the sole custodian of its own rights and privileges, and control all contracts and agreements involving expenditure for which Parliament is responsible, I shall vote for the amendment.
– I took a seat on the Parliamentary Committee believing that the Opposition had accepted the will of the House as indicated in the resolution of instruction for the appointment. I desire to trace briefly the form of the proposals that came before the House. The Prime Minister moved on the 7th December -
That this House approves of the execution by the Prime Minister of the agreement proposed to be made between the Commonwealth and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, a draft of which has been laid on the table of the House.
Upon this the then Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) moved the following amendment: -
That all the words after “that” be left out with a view to inserting in lieu thereof the words “the whole question of wireless be referred to a Committee of this House for investigation and report.”
The honorable member was not entirely against the proposal submitted by the Prime Minister, as will be seen from a perusal of his ‘remarks. For instance, at page 13983 he said -
An argument that will carry weight with many honorable members for the adoption of the proposal of the Government is the fact that the company with which he wishes to make an agreement is on Australian company……
The company has a capital of £200,000, and the Prime Minister tells us that it has been a financial success. It offers to us fairly liberals terms……
I am not willing to vote for the motion until I see my way clear. Too many undertakings have been carried out unsatisfactorily of late, and I wish in this matter to keep my eyes open in order to prevent mistakes. I say that the strictest inquiry is needed. This may be the best proposition possible; but we are not justified in voting for its acceptance until we have been able to investigate it.
The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), in the same debate, said at page 13985-
I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that there is some need for inquiry, although I do not think that the report of the proposed Committee should be delayed for any length of time.
– Hear hear; I quite agree with that.
– The Committee’s report should be made available at the earliest possible moment, and if it be favorable, the Government should be empowered to complete the negotiations involved. The solution of the problem of wireless telegraphy should not be regarded as a party question.
Honorable members will see that the Leader of the Country party said that the Government should be empowered to complete ‘the agreement upon receiving the report of the Committee. A division was then taken upon the amendment. It resulted as follows: -
For the amendment (26). - A. Blakeley, F. Brennan, J. II.” Catts, M. Charlton, M. P. Considine, L. L.” Cunningham, J. E. Fenton, W. M. Fleming, J. M. Gabb, J. A. J. Hunter, T. J. Lavelle, H. P. Lazzarini, N. J. O. Makin, Dr. Maloney, J. Mathews, C. McDonald, D. C. McGrath, W. J. Mcwilliams, Parker Moloney, S. R. Nicholls, P. G. Stewart, D. Watkins, J.
West, A. Wienholt. Tellers - F. Anstey, E. Riley. Pairs- F. G. Tudor, W. G. Mahony, W. H. Lambert.
Against the amendment (35). - L. Atkinson,
W. Bamford, J. G. Bayley, G. J. Bell, Sir Robert Best, R. P. Blundell, E. K. Bowden, S. M. Bruce, D. C. Cameron, J. M. Chanter. Robert Cook, E. B. C. Corser, R. Foster, F. H. Francis, W. G. Gibson, W. M. Greene, H: Gregory, L. E. Groom, W. G. Higgs, W. M. Hughes, E. Jowett, J. H. Lister, G. H. Mackay. W. M. Marks, G. A. Maxwell, Dr. Earle Page, A. Poynton, J. H. Prowse, A. S. Rodgers, Sir Granville Ryrie, Laird Smith, W. A. Watt,
H. Wise. Tellers- C. W. C. Marr, W. H. Story. Pairs- R. J. Burchell, A. Chapman, J. Livingston.
The Prime Minister, having sensed the general opinion of the House, moved to amend his original motion to make it read : -
That this House approves of the execution by the Prime Minister of the agreement proposed to be made between the Commonwealth and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., a draft of which has been laid upon the table of the House; subject to investigation and approval, with such alterations as they may deem necessary, by a Committee, consisting of six members of this House, two nominated by the Prime Minister, two by the Leader of the Opposition, and two by the Leader of the Country party, and three members of the Senate.
A division on this motionrevealed thirtyfour “ Ayes “ and twenty-eight “ Noes “ - a majority of six. My vote on . that occasion was given with Labour and the “Noes.”
The motion thereafter became an instruction of the House, and the three parties therein were invited to nominate representatives to act upon the Committee in order to carry out the terms of the motion. What were the members of the Committee acting for, if not to carry out the terms of that motion? It was quite proper for the Leader of the Opposition to move his amendment when he did last year; but, a majority of the House having defeated the’ purpose of the Leader of the Opposition, and having agreed to the motion of the Prime Minister, the terms ofthat motion became an instruction, to which all the parties acquiesced by selecting their representatives to act on the Committee. Therefore, it is not now open for the Opposition to move to revert to its attitude on its originalamendment last December.
Unfortunately, I was not able to be present at all the meetings of the Committee. The New South Wales elections were suddenly and Unexpectedly precipitated, and the State Government had asked me to take up the post of campaign director. This interfered with my duties as a . member of the Committee. I did not expect that the Committee would hold a large number of meetings. The members of my own party were at the time dispersed to the four ends of the Commonwealth, and it was not possible for me to consult with them regarding my position. I made up my mind, therefore, to do the best I could. I explained to the New South Wales Government, when accepting the post of campaign director, that I was a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Wireless Committee, and that there would be times when it would be necessary for me to be in Melbourne during the State campaign. There was also some misunderstanding in connexion with the notices sent out for the meetings of the Committee. I understand that we would be meeting in Melbourne on 25th January, and would continue our sittings from that date. ‘ I was not able to reach Melbourne until the 26th January,
When I found, following the meeting of the previous day, that the Committee would not be immediately proceeding with subsequent sittings. So I had to return to Sydney without having attended a meeting. I was present, however, at several subsequent deliberations. The main work of the Committee comprised the examination of documents. I very carefully went through all these, and I was provided with a transcript of the evidence. From a close consideration of the evidence, and of the ‘documents, a number of recommendations had formulated themselves in my mind. I communicated these to my fellow members of the Committee. I was asked by the chairman to put them in the form of a report embodying my own views for the consideration of the other members. Without reading this report now, I can say that the. amended agreement practically embodies my suggestions. Apparently, what I had in my own mind had beenindependently in the minds also of my colleagues. On 17th February, I drafted the document, and had it ready to send on to Mr. Bruce, thepresent Treasurer, who was the Chairman of the Committee. But, to safeguard myself from the stand-point of my party, I first forwarded a transcript of these recommendations to the Acting Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Charlton). This, I repeat, was before sending them to the Chairman. The Leader of the Oppositionimmediately answered my communication in a letter whichis not a confidential document, and which I shall read. I took every possible step to insure that my work on the Committee met with the approval, at any rate, of the party which I represented, and which. had appointed me. The letter is as follows : -
Lambton. 18th February. 1922.
Mr. J. H. Catts, M.H.R., Sydney.
Yours of the I7thinst, to ‘hand. I have perused your summary of evidence and recommendations with interest. It is evident that you have minutely considered the agreement, and your recommendations, if adopted, will materially safeguard the -interest of the Commonwealth. I have no suggestion to make that would improve your very able report. Thanks for copy.
With best wishes,
Upon that I was entitled to assume that my attitude met with the approval of the Leader. ‘of the Labour party in this House.
– But that does not touch the point that this House ought to deal with the matter.
– That letter indicates that my honorable friend indorses the agreement now executed by the Government, as it incorporates the amendments I submitted to him for his approval. The Opposition had tested the House. We had given expression to our views, and a majority in the. House had overridden us. When we decided to accept its decision, and to appoint our representatives upon the Committee, surely the action which we then took was for the purpose of carrying out the instructions of the House, namely, that the agreement should be probed by a Parliamentary Committee and amended in any way that that Committee thought fit, for the immediate ratification of the Government.
Undoubtedly we could have rejected the whole scheme, but I took the instruction of the House and my appointment by the Labour party to mean that I should try to arrive at a workable agreement.
I signed the report on the authority of my leader’s letter, quoted.
As for the minority report of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), I say, with the honorable’ member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), that the news of its presentation came to me as a very great surprise. I understood, at the last of the meetings of the Committee, that we had arrived at a unanimous agreement. The honorable member for Batman was present. He’ left the meeting rather early j but the understanding in my mind was that we had unanimously agreed, and that all that remained to be done was for that feeling of unanimity to be framed in the language of our recommendations. If the honorable member for Batman had intended to submit a minority report, surely i seeing that I was his colleague representing the- Opposition in this Chamber, he might have acquainted me with his purpose.
– Did you communicate with the honorable member for Batman when you sent along your suggestions to the Leader of the Opposition?
– I did. A copy went to him and every other member, of the Committee almost immediately. My suggestions were dated 17th February, more than a month before the final meeting. Afterwards the honorable member for Batman sat as one of a legal Committee of three, which reported favorably on the amended agreement. It is inconceivable, in the circumstances, that my colleague, without acquainting me, should have had in mind at that time the intention of submitting a minority report. Surely the honorable member must have known on the 22nd March, when the majority of the Committee had arrived at a decision, that he proposed to present a minority report.
I would like to vote upon the amendment with honorable members on this side, as I voted with them previously. Our views coincide. I understood that it was the determination of this party when it accepted the instruction of the majority in the House, and appointed its delegates to the Select Committee; that that Committee should, if possible, finalize (the agreement and place it before the Government for signature. It was in the belief that the Committee had arrived at unanimity that I signed the recommendations of the majority. I must be careful, therefore, that I do not stultify myself.
– Honorable members may rail against the agreement, but it will not alter it one iota. The agreement is a firm and completed agreement, for good or ill. and although much exception can be taken to something which has eventuated out of it, it must be carried through. There are only two alternatives. On the one hand the House can refuse to carry out the agreement; we can commit a breach of it rendering the Commonwealth Government liable to, perhaps, heavy damages. On the other hand the Government can proceed with the agreement. I do not think, however, that the . position is completely .hopeless; but before dealing with that aspect of the matter, I want to show Bow utterly futile the amendment is. If we take it for granted, as I think we must, that the agreement is a firm and completed agreement the amendment seeks to have incorporated in it a new term. The amendment reads-
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’s represents,:tives on the Board of Directors, be agreed to by this House.
Let us look at clause 12 of the completed agreement.- It provides -
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 (</) of clause 5 of this agreement.
The particular agreement to which the amendment refers is this future agreement, which is referred to in clause 12 -
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.
Parliament has no discretion in this matter at all. The discretion is completely that of the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors.
– If this Parliament expresses an opinion beforehand may it not’ have a very important influence on the Board ?
– But the honorable member’s amendment will not mend matters. If this House recorded a decision that it did not approve of the agreement that fact would not prevent the representatives of the Commonwealth directly on the Board of Directors approving of it in spite of the House. Under the terms of the present agreement the discretion in this regard is solely to be exercised by the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors and cannot be interfered with.
– Otherwise we could not get men worth their salt who would accept the positions.
– The Commonwealth’s representatives have to exercise a discretion. They can approve or otherwise of the terms of agreement as mentioned in clause 12. Many honorable members are under the impression that the amendment sought to ask the House to reject the main wireless agreement entered into on the 28th March, 1922, but such is not the case. .The object of the amendment is to invite the House to deal with some subsidiary agreement included in the agreement firmly entered into and completed on the 28th March last.
– Because it’ was too late to affect the other.
– Of course it was too late, but I want to get rid of the impression that honorable members seem to have formed. ‘ By the amendment the House is invited not to deal with the agreement of the 28th March, which has already been entered into, but another agreement altogether, which is contemplated by the terms thereof. This brings me to my second point, the exception taken to the appointment of the chairman of the board of directors. We all regret what has happened, and I agree with my honorable friends that the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes is against the spirit of the agreement. But at the same time it is completely in harmony with the terms of the agreement.
– And it might have taken place even had the word “ independent “ been inserted.
– The insertion of the word “independent” would have been a direction to the arbitrator . as to what he was to do.
– The word should have appeared in the agreement.
– Yes ; but those who know Sir Thomas Hughes esteem him as a> man whom all can respect.
– Listen to that !
– I have no personal objection to Sir Thomas Hughes. I regret the mistake of appointing an exdirector and chairman of the old company as the seventh director of this new company, but nevertheless’ the position was that if the three representatives appointed by the Commonwealth and the three appointed by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited failed to agree the matter had to be referred to arbitration. The statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that he refuses to accept the appointment amazes me - he has no option in the matter. Am I. to hear it proposed that the Government should repudiate their agreement ? I have heard my honorable friends’ reproach to the honorable member for Darling for proposing to repudiate an Arbitration award by refusing to abide by it. The Commonwealth Government .cannot refuse to. abide by their agreement, the terms, of which are clear and explicit. I have no hesitation whateverin saying that from a legal stand-point the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes is sound under the terms of the agreement.
But this Parliament is still in a position to legitimately exert pressure and to get a degree of relief. Clause 12 of the agreement is very important. It provides that within six months from the date of this agreement, that is to say, within six months from the 28th March last, or within such extended time as the representatives of the Commonwealth, on the Board may approve, the company shall enter into an agreement providing for the erection and operation of the stations mentioned in paragraphsf and g of clause 5. That is to say, these stations are-
First of all, the company have within six months to enter into this agreement; and then clause 12 goes on to provide -
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.
The guarantees are to be approved of by our representatives on the directorate. What are our guarantees in regard to a commercial wireless service? They are theses -
For the purposes of this agreement, the ‘Com mercial Wireless Service means a service capable, as regards plant, apparatus, and personnel,’ of maintaining communication through out 300 days of every year on a minimum basis of twenty words per minute each way for twelve hours per day.
It was upon representations to that effect by the company that we entered into this agreement, and now I understand from the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) that it is practically impossible for them to carry out this condition. If they are unable to carry out this guarantee, we have thus reserved to us the right to cancel the agreement. The provision enabling us to do so is contained in the following words : -
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, and thereupon the agreement shall be deemed to be cancelled accordingly.
– But would not any Court hold to the spirit rather than to the letter of the agreement?
– No; a Court will be bound by the letter of the agreement. If there is any difficulty as to the interpretation of any clause or a phrase in any document, the Court undoubtedly looks to the whole agreement for guidance as to the general spirit.
– The Court gathers the intention from the verbiage.
– That is exactly what I am explaining. The Court has to look to the whole of the agreement for the purpose of gathering the proper interpretation to be placed on any particular part of it. It is a vital term of this agreement that the Commonwealth Government should get this guarantee as to a particular service, and if the company cannot give us this service it is open to the Commonwealth Government to exercise its power to give notice for the cancellation of the agreement.
– But no Court would permit a breach of an agreement of this sort upon a technicality.
– This is no technicality. The provision is fundamental and substantial. The guarantees submitted are to meet with the full approval of the representatives of the Commonwealth, and if the company are unable to give us these guarantees the agreements will not be entered into, and thus the present agreement of the 28th March last may be cancelled.
– The honorable member is assuming that these people cannot give the guarantees.
– The Treasurer, speaking upon expert advice, said that these guarantees really could not be given.
– Does the honorable member suggest this as a way out of a very bad bargain ?
– I am. anxious to find some’ relief, and to show how pressure may be exerted by the Commonwealth, because I am with the House completely, that we shall suffer serious disadvantage if there are four representatives of Amalgamated Wireless Limited on the board of directors to three representatives of the Commonwealth. The whole spirit of the agreement is that there should be an independent chairman, and I hope that some modus vivendi will be arrived at. Sir Thomas Hughes may see his way to retire, or some satisfactory arrangement may be made to relieve the impasse
The whole project of wireless telegraphy, as embodied in the agreement, is a good one, and we are justified in encouraging it. I took strong exception to the original draft agreement which was suddenly, and I think improperly, thrust upon the House in the closing hours of last session. The two principal matters to which I took exception were the domina. tion of the directors of the company, and that no provision had been made for the valuation of the existing assets that were to be handed over by the Commonwealth to the company.
– .Would the honorable member speak of this as a new agreement or as an amended one?
– I should describe it as not a new agreement, but one that has been framed in terms of the decision of this House. The House approved of the execution by the Prime Minister of the agreement ‘ proposed to be made “ subject to investigation, and approval” by the Committee, “with such alterations as they may deem necessary.” I should not have voted for the original draft agreement, but for the conditions imposed by the House that it should be subject to investigation and approval by a thoroughly representative Committee. I was very anxious that some project of the kind should go on, and I was satisfied with the proposed investigation.
– Would not the honorable member say that “ subject to investigation “ meant that a result of the Committee’s investigation might be a recommendation .against the signing of the agreement?
– Clearly. The Committee undoubtedly could have advised against the signing of the agreement, and the Government could not have overcome such a recommendation. It was within the power of the Committee to ,say ‘ ‘ As the result of our investiga tions we are totally ‘dissatisfied with the proposed agreement. The whole scheme is wrong from beginning to end.” We were fortunate in our representation on the Committee, by whom the matter was thoroughly investigated. They gave the proposed agreement the most conscientious attention, and the agreement which has been openly adopted is infinitely more satisfactory than that which was originally proposed.
– Then the draft agreement must have been a bad one.
– It was not satisfactory, but that which has been adopted is quite a fair one. There are some pro: visions to which I personally might object, but that just now is quite beside the question, and, generally speaking, I think that the agreement is a good one.
Clause 2 of the agreement entered into provides that the Commonwealth shall take up 500,001 shares, and shall pay on allotment the sum of 2s. per share. It then goes on to provide for the making of calls, so that the total df £1 per share shall be paid by the Government by the 1st July, 1923. We are obliged under that clause to pay the whole amount due in respect of the 500,001 shares issued to the Commonwealth by 1st July, 1923 : but, on the other hand, clause 22, which is in many respects a very useful, one, singularly enough sets out that -
This agreement shall have no force and effect, and shall not be binding on either party, unless and until within six months after the date hereof, or within such extended, time as is mutually agreed upon, 300,000 new shares of £1 each are issued, and are subscribed for by private shareholders, and 2s. per share is paid up thereon.
It then goes on to declare that -
Further calls on the said shares shall be made on the same dates and for the same amounts as calls on the shares held by the Commonwealth.
– Have those shares been issued ?
– -They have been.
– Speculation is already taking ‘place in connexion with them.
– The point that I wish to make is’ that- whereas the Commonwealth is required under the agreement to pay by 1st July, 1923, the whole of the money due in respect of shares taken by it, there is no such requirement in respect of the private shareholders in the company. It is true that calls may be made on them; but, practically, all that they are obliged to pay in order to put the agreement into force is 2s. per share. Calls may be made upon the private shareholders in respect of the balance, but there might be considerable default in the payment of those calls if the venture was likely to fail, in other words, the whole risk is that of the Government. I refer to this matter only in passing. On the whole, I approve of the agreement, which, I repeat, must be accepted by the House as complete. It is an agreement which the House is obliged to carry out or suffer the consequences.
Sitting suspended from 6.27 to 8 p.m.
– I draw attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
.- I question whether, in recent times, this House has been called upon to discuss a more important topic than that which is under consideration this evening. We are considering a matter in which is involved an expenditure of over £500,000 of the taxpayers’ money. Surely, in these times of straitened finance, we cannot afford to throw money away, and the expenditure of so great a sum should not be permitted without the consent of this House, notwithstanding what any Committee may have recommended. I shall quote some motions with which honorable members are familiar, but I do so in order to show that so far as representatives on the Wireless Committee of the party on this side of the House are concerned, they could have done nothing but what the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) did. On the 7th December, 1921, the Prime Minister submitted the following motion : -
That this House approves of the execution by the Prime Minister of the agreement proposed to be made between the Commonwealth Government and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, a draft of which has been laid on the table of the House.
To that motion our leader, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) moved as an amendment -
That all the words after “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof “ the whole question of wireless be referred to a Committee of this House for investigation and report.”
The matter was discussed, and as honorable members know, the amendment was defeated by a majority of nine. But as a result of that discussion the Prime Minister was made aware of the fact that the House was not in a mood to accept the motion as he had submitted it. In order to get the Government out of their difficulty, the right honorable gentleman moved that the following words be added to the motion as submitted by him: -
Subject to investigation and approval, with such alterations as they may deem necessary, by a Committee consisting of six members of. this House, two nominated by the Prime Minister, two by the Leader of the Opposition, and two by the Leader of the Country party, and . three members of the Senate.
The speeches delivered on that occasion were few in number, but most emphatic in tone, and very logical. The amendment, supported by honorable members on this . side of the House, represented practically an instruction to any honorable member appointed to the Committee from this side, that no final decision was to be come to in the matter until such time as this* House ratified the agreement. That was, in fact, obvious from the reference to the Committee for investigation and report, since it was clearly the intention of honorable members that the report should be. to this House.
– That was never suggested by either of the representatives of the party opposite on the Committee.
– It is all very well for the honorable member to interject in that way, but I can inform him. that I discussed the subject with practically every honorable member of the party on this side, and knew that in their opinion, whether the Committee approved of the agreement or not, it should be subject to ratification by this House.
– They accepted positions on the Committee on that understanding.
– That is so, and they made it perfectly clear that they. would not consent to the acceptance of the agreement without ratification by this House.’
Nearly every Government that has tried to do business with the Marconi Company has been more or less bitten. The Imperial Government were nearly broken up as the result of transactions with the Marconi Company. Some very important members of ‘the Cabinet who were associated with the company were brought into the limelight in a way which most members of the House of Commons or of this House would certainly not desire. We have had some experience of the company in Australia. In 1906 a measure was passed in this . Parliament outlining certain action which should be taken to establish wireless in Australia. I think it was in 1911 that we imported a man from the other side of the world, a Mr. Balsillie, who was said to hold certain secrets in connexion with wireless. He had previously, I believe, been in the employ of, or associated in some way with, the Marconi Company, and he set to work very intelligently in Australia. As soon as the Marconi Company realized that there was likely to be a dangerous rival established in Australia under the auspices of the Commonwealth Government, they at once started litigation. As a. result, our’ operations were held up pending the decision of the Court. Finally, one of the Courts, I do not now recollect whether it was the High Court or not, refused an appeal to the Privy Council on the question. In order to satisfy the Marconi people, the Government of the day went to the expense of obtaining from Great Britain the services of a wireless expert in the person of Mr. Swinburne. They gave him a fee of £2,000 and expenses. He was asked to advise the Commonwealth Government whether the Balsillie wireless system was an infringement of the Marconi Company’s patents. The report of Mr. Swinburne was that there was no infringement of the patents held by the Marconi Company.
– Mr. Swinburne was accepted as an arbitrator.
– That is so; but notwithstanding that fact, the Marconi people proceeded with their litigation, and finally, in order that they might have no further trouble with them, the Commonwealth Government paid them £5,000. That did not satisfy the company, who desired to still further milk the State cow. They again approached the Government, and obtained an additional £2,000, or £7,000 in all. This proved that the Marconi Company were out after the almighty dollar all the time, and quite regardless of State or Commonwealth interests. I remember that in 1913, while the litigation to which I have referred was going on, the Cook-Irvine Government had to meet a protest from this side, because the Attorney-General in that Government held a general retainer from the Marconi Company. The establishment of a wireless system in Australia has been considered with more or less success from that time up to the present.
– The honorable member should not forget Mr. Fisk.
– He came out as an expert in wireless, and whether he is or is no£, there is no question that it would be difficult to beat him on this side of the Equator in putting up a smart business proposition.
I- want to show upon what flimsy grounds the Wireless Committee has found’ in favour of entering into the agreement with the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Company. This will be seen when we come to look at the notes of the proceedings of the- Committee, which, I understand, were compiled by the gentleman who acted as secretary, and no doubt with the cognizance of the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), who was Chairman of the Committee. I find that a number of the people examined were much interested in the business, whether that of the Radio Company or the Amalgamated Company. I wish honorable members to pay particular regard to what the notes on the evidence say on this point, for it is the one on which the Committee is supposed to have founded the report. The notes say - *
None nf the witnesses were able to indicate a system operating wireless commercial telegraphy in any part of the -world over a distance equal to that proposed to be covered by the direct service suggested by either of the proponents.
Not one single expert was able to satisfy the Committee that wireless operations could be made a commercial success over 12,000 miles.
– It has been accomplished since.
– No, it has not, and the honorable member, in saying that, is “up against” the witnesses examined. In regard to long-distance wireless the notes say -
Various opinions were expressed as to the capabilities of the proposed circuit, and it was stated that a French wireless company was erecting a station to transact wireless traffic with French colonies 12,000 miles distant, and that the Radio Corporation of America had in course of construction at New York an installation to work direct with any part of the world -
That is as far as any of the witnesses went - that in France and in America it was expected that it would be possible to convey messages 12,000 miles -
The longest wireless circuit to-day, regularly handling commercial traffic, is between Honolulu and Cavite, in the Philippine Islands, a distance of about 4,600 miles; and the evidence of the Post Office Radio Officers, supported by the logs of signals intercepted by them, denoted that this circuit was operating _ on a traffic efficiency basis far below that designated by the Imperial Commission as a commercial standard.
It will be seen that even at 4,600 miles’ operations were not successful, and in the face of that I cannot conceive why the Committee recommended the Government to take up shares in Amalgamated Wireless Company to the value of £500,001. So far as I know, the only experts examined were men interested in the company itself. We have men operating wireless in Australia, but they cannot be regarded as long-distance experts, though, no doubt, they are doing good work in sending weather warnings and other information. What is now proposed is a commercial transaction, and we ought to be thoroughly satisfied as to its prospects before entering into it. As it is, the House is asked to vote a sum out of the taxpayers’ pockets for a proposition which has not been proved to be a commercial success.
The cables have been at work during the past few days, and some of them, have sounded a somewhat favorable note. We have only to remember that Mr. Fisk is at the other side of the world to realize that the telegraph, the cables, and the newspapers are hard at work. I have armfuls of literature on the subject which have arrived from the same source. .Mr. Fisk is a busy man on a big job, with a great desire to realize big money.
– The newspapers are big shareholders.
– And so are the shipping companies, and some of these cables, like others, may prove very fallacious. The British Government have been investigating the subject of wireless for a number of years; and very few Governments, including the British Government, which have had to do with the Marconi people, have escaped being more or less “bitten.” At present, the British Government arc flirting with another wireless company, but there is always on hand a Commission to advise the Cabinet. Here is one cable from an independent source which I much prefer-
The Australian Government’s plan for direct communication -with Britain for twenty-four hours daily is regarded by the experts as im practicable, though it might be possible to get from six to eight hours daily all the year round.
Dr. Eccles, who I believe is Chairman of the Commission to which I have referred, says -
We need not expect any tangible results in this regard for two or’ three years.
If the Board, especially with its so-called “independent” chairman, is allowed to operate, the liability will not stop at £500,001. No doubt the Company will have the management of the concern, notwithstanding the three representatives of the Government, and before we are finished there may be an expenditure of £2,000,000. We have to be very careful in the handling of this agreement. Without questioning their honesty, I would point out that the whole training of those concerned in private enterprises gives them very little regard for the interests of the .Government. They all come from one State, and are now all more or less interested in private businesses. They are supposed to be high-class men from a Nationalist point of view, men of considerable means connected with various business companies, including Vicars, the big woollen manufacturer, and others; and yet the money of the taxpayer, and the destinies of the country, are to be placed in their hands. On Boards of Management, as well as on the magistrates’ bench, there is what is known as unconscious bias, and from this we may suffer. To put the matter mildly, the very men placed on the Board as the guardians of this half a million sterling are imbued with commercial instincts. If we had only one real watchdog on the Board it would be some protection. Wiry should not a man of probity, eminent in the Public Service and disinterested in commercial affairs, be appointed ? Instead of that the directorate is drawn from commercial circles exclusively. They all seem to be rowing in the same boat.
The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) seemed to express various views. He said he did not like the agreement, and he did not look with favour on the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as chairman. I do not think any honorable member could regard Sir Thomas Hughes as an independent chairman. The honorable member said that after all there was a ray of hope, because there are clauses in the agreement which will afford an opportunity later whereby we may be able to safeguard the position, I doubt it. The new agreement specifies a further agreement. Is Parliament to review the further agreement to be drawn up? If it is contended that the Commonwealth is not yet committed to any responsibility I would draw attention to clause 2 of the agreement, which states : -
The Commonwealth shall forthwith, after the expiration of one month from the date of this agreement apply for and the Company shall allot to the Commonwealth five hundred thousand and one shares (500,001) for which the Commonwealth shall pay on allotment the sum of two shillings (2s.) per share. Further calls in respect of the said shares shall be limited to the following amounts and dates namely : -…..
There are to be three calls of 6s. each, and the 2s. allotment fee makes up the full amount of £1 per share. The last of the callsis payable not later than 1st July, 1923, so that in about twelve months we shall have disbursed, if not the whole,
– What would be the position, seeing that we have signed- the contract ?
Mr.FENTON.- I admit that, we are committed to the decision of a majority of the members. When the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) repeatedly states that this House has done a certain thing, it ought to be remembered that the decision was not a unanimous one, because honorable members on this side were consistent in their attitude from start to finish. Our first complaint was that it was a big expenditure to authorize in such a hurried manner. We did not believe in money being paid out of the public exchequer to the extent of half a million without full investigation, and, secondly, we were firm in the contention that Parliament must sanction the expenditure.
I have a list of the shareholders of the company, but I shall not read out the names. The list, which was sent to honorable members months ago, discloses the fact that some of the keenest commercial men in the community are interested in the project, and they will see that, by hook or by crook, men are placed on the directorate who will look after their interests, to the exclusion, if necessary, of those of the Commonwealth. By what moral standard could an ‘ arbitrator appoint, as an independent chairman, a man who had been chairman of the Amalgamated Wireless Company? What was needed was a chairman whom everybody in the community could trust. The arbitrator must have had a queer notion of commercial morality when he deliberately determined that Sir Thomas Hughes should again take the chair.
– Perhaps he thought Sir Thomas Hughes knew more about the subject than anybody else.
– The consensus of opinion among’ honorable members, and among all right-thinking people in Australia, is that it was diabolically wrong for the arbitrator to select Sir Thomas Hughes. For an arbitrator to have the effrontery to appoint such a man in the circumstances shows a low standard of commercial morality.
– What about the man who accepts the position?
– He is also blameable. Are these men thirsting for the cash? It seems that the more wealthy a man is the more he wants.
– They got foursevenths of the representation, which was what they wanted under their first agreement.
– Yes ; and they secured it by devious ways. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) brought in the original agreement, roughly drawn up, and said, “ It is all right, take it.” But a Committee, consisting mostly of his own supporters, found that the agreement was not all right. It has been altered, but even now it is not an acceptable document. I had hoped that the man appointed chairman by the arbitrator would have resigned, but no amount of talk or writing, and no vote in this House, even if by a twotoone majority, can wipe out the stain on the character of the men who have taken part in this transaction. The shareholders’ list shows that “ Thomas Hughes, of 26 Hunter-street, Sydney,” holds 571 shares. Another man of the same name has 500 shares, but I do not know whether he is a member of the same family or not. The Marconi International Marine Communication Company, of the Strand, London, holds’ 16,000 shares, and another shareholder is “ Marconi’s Wireless Telegraphic Coy. Ltd.,” at the same address, with 33,000 shares. What does “International” mean? In the early days of the wireless controversy in Australia the Commonwealth was in conflict with the Telefunken Company. All companies, asthey become stronger, endeavour to swallow their smaller competitors, and that has happened in connexion with wireless telegraphy. The Telefunken Company is non-existent because it was swallowed by Marconi Wireless, in which to-day is a host of German shareholders.
– Read out the names.
Mr.FENTON.- What does the honorable member know about the shareholders in Marconi’s Wireless Telegraphic Coy. Ltd., registered at the Strand, London, W.C. 2? He might, write for a list of the shareholders, and not get the information. It is true, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said, that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., with which the; Commonwealth Government is associated, in this agreement,is mixed up with one of the biggest International wireless con-; cerns. And what will that mean ? When all the smaller wireless companies have been gathered in under one banner and one control, what will theGovernment have to pay for patent rights in connexion with wireless telegraphy? When that time comes the screw willbe put on the Government. The wireless companies have been working in Australia for the last ten years to achieve that object, and the company shareholders here and in London have been throwing up their hats with joy because the Commonwealth Government have been duped into making this agreement. What was said in another place, to-day? It will be admitted that one of the members of the Committee who knew most about wireless telegraphy was Senator John D. Millen. He is a man with technical training, a loyal supporter of the Government, and one of the strongest Nationalists in Tasmania. He has an expert knowledge of the technical side of wireless telegraphy. He is a man who does not hurriedly express an opinion without first providing himself with carefully sifted information, and he said that, owing to the later developments, he was suspicious of the whole company. Another senator who occupied a seat on that Committee interjected, “You are not alone in that opinion.” The company is surrounded by suspicion owing to its recent actions. Thank God, we have found out its character so soon, although, even now, it may be too late to escape some of the consequences of the Government’s association with it. Senator Millen, who has studied this question for years, concluded by expressing the opinion that the best policy for the Government to follow would be to tear up the agreement and have nothing more to do with it. That confirms my earlier statement that if the same Committee were to reconsider this agreement in the light of later events, it would recommend the Government not to accept the proposal. When there is a danger of the national exchequer being heavily depleted, is party feeling to be allowed to prevail? The Government have a majority of votes in this Chamber, they can insist upon rejecting the amendment. They . can proceed with the agreement, and continue to be associated with the smartest set of commercial men in Australia. If they do, judging by the past history of those gentlemen, the Commonwealth will be fleeced. That is the prospect that faces honorable members; but because an adverse vote might transfer the Labour party to the Treasury bench honorable members opposite will vote like dumb-driven cattle, even although their consciences, if they have any, dictate that they should vote otherwise. If honorable members regard the amendment as a motion pf want of confidence, and will not vote for it for that reason, there is -a way out for them. This House has power to insist upon the agreement being referred back to the Committee “for investigation of the whole of the circumstances, in the light of later events. By doing that honorable members can, without hurting the Government, do right by the taxpayer. I leave it at that. A warning note has been sounded. Without any intense party feeling, I say that it is the bounden duty of the House to see that nothing is done to mulct the taxpayers in a large sum of money in. connexion with this project. For the honour of the House and the country,- and for the sake of the taxpayers, I appeal to honorable members of all parties to adopt the course I have suggested.
.- I have not intervened earlier in the debate on the Address-in-Reply because I thought it was about time, during the last fortnight, that Parliament applied itself to the consideration of the specific items of the Governor-General’s .Speech. And I would not speak now but for the extraordinary facts that have been elicited during the course of this debate. I speak as one who voted for the Committee of Investigation. I admit that I did so somewhat reluctantly, because of the embodiment in the motion of the principle to which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) referred at an earlier stage of to-day’s procedure. I did not like, and I never do like, the principle of delegating parliamentary authority to any section of Parliament; but I was impressed with the evident desire of the Government to push on quickly with the scheme, which, according to the Prime Minister’s representations, was urgently required to serve the growing interests of communication between Australia and other lands. I also was one who favoured the idea of the Prime Minister and the Government for direct communication in one span with the United Kingdom and the northern continent of America. I think that the more ohe reads of the deliberations of the English authorities and the rival forces that are working there for small radii and large radii respectively, the more one feels that for a country like Aus tralia there should be no intervening stations, if wireless communication can be conducted without them, and there should be as few as possible if the radius cannot embrace half the circumference of the globe. I thought when voting for the resolution appointing the Committee, and no doubt other honorable members also thought, that the Government had carefully considered the whole matter; that the Prime Minister, armed with the facts he had obtained in England and after consultation with his colleagues, was prepared to recommend a well-digested and well-considered scheme to this Parliament. I was surprised to find as the Committee started on its work, ‘and later when it rendered its report, that that was not so; that the preparatory work had been done indifferently and in an ill-digested and impetuous way? as unfortunately has been too often the case with important proposals put before this House. In view of .the principles at stake, and the magnitude of the sum involved, it is unpleasant to realize that it is too late to intervene with any effect. A proposal which was raw and crude was submitted by the Prime Minister, and was sent to a Committee for investigation. It was not a Select Committee according to the wording of its commission. It was a general committee of inquiry, bound by no standing orders, but bound only by the practice of Parliament. I think every honorable member, . whatever his view of the difficulties that have arisen, will admit that the agreement emerged from the Committee with many substantial and important improvements. A number of safeguards protecting the interests of the Commonwealth were imposed on the company, .but every safeguard or provision, introduced by the Committee constituted a reflection upon the Government, because it had not deemed it its business to protect the interests of the Commonwealth in the way that this nonparty Committee of investigation had done. I think the Committee deserves thanks for its assiduous labours and for the improvements effected in the agreement, but I am bound, when saying that, to state also that in my opinion the Committee acted with the utmost irregularity from start to finish, and I am going to give five or six phases of the inquiry that strike me as being outside the range of parliamentary practice, and which should not be sanctioned for any future Committee of this House. First of - all the honorable gentleman who presided was appointed by the wish of this House a member of the Committee when he was a private member. Subsequently - I believe shortly before the Committee started to deliberate - he accepted the invitation of the Prime Minister to join the Government. While it is not the invariable practice, it is almost the invariable rule that, in such circumstances an honorable member will not serve, but will seek to be discharged from an obligation which is dual, namely, his duty as a member of a Committee to members of this House, and his duty to his colleagues when he became a Minister. Whether he liked it or- not, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) could not evade his duty to his colleagues in Cabinet, where solidarity ought to reign, and generally does reign. I think it unfortunate that the Treasurer should have continued to hold office on that Committee, and the mistake was intensified by the fact that, apparently by the unanimous wish of his colleagues, he was appointed Chairman,- and doubtless his personality and position influenced the deliberations of that body. Then the second mistake which I think was made, and I say it with great respect to members of ‘the Committee who laboured in so self-sacrificing a way for sixteen or seventeen sittings in the development, of this agreement, was that they sat in private. It would have been better, as we see now, if the Committee had taken evidence in public. There was nothing to hide, and there were no technical or strategic reasons, such as might exist in time of war, why the Australian public should not be informed as to the basis of the arrangement, the conditions governing it, and the reasons that impelled the authorities of the Commonwealth to engage in this unusual and important undertaking to girdle the earth with wireless, and to make possible an early realization of our hopes of daily communication with, the United Kingdom. The third mistake was that the Committee kept no minutes of its meetings, of the evidence taken, or of its deliberations. I can understand members of a Committee wishing their deliberations to be private. Our Standing Orders with regard to Select Committees make ‘this course obligatory, but ordinary Committees are judges of their own affairs, and this Committee ought to have been able to present .to members of this House and of another place, if necessary, the evidence tendered by witnesses, and the points of conflict between experts whose opinions were solicited. Honorable members would then ha.ve been able to exercise an enlightened judgment upon the agreement if ever it came into question.
– There ought to have been a verbatim report.
– Of the evidence, yes. We have been supplied with a printed copy of the notes, prepared, I understand, by one of the members of the Committee with great skill, I should imagine from internal evidence. That honorable gentleman has given us, for the first time, an intelligent view into the procedure of the Committee, as well as the subjectmatter of their deliberations. But it has reached us too late for analysis or comparison with this important agreement. It seems that some members of the Committee helped to make the fourth mistake. They signed the report without reading it, or without understanding it. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has told the House that he did not sign it.
– There is no doubt about that.
– I accept the honorable member’s word, of course; but the public were led to believe, when this report was placed in the hands of the Government, that it was the unanimous finding of the Committee.
– We thought it was too, until the honorable member for Batman the other day declared that it was not.
– Hardly one member of the Committee can justify to his own conscience the signing of that particular part in the report which deals with the appointment of the seventh director. In their own notes it is clear that they intended the seventh member to be an independent director. At one stage in their deliberations, it was stated that there should be an -“independent chairman” elected by the six other directors, but when the report came up for consideration by the Committee the verbiage was loose, and a slip-shod arrangement purporting to provide for an independent chairman slipped through. The Government equally unaware of the looseness of the language, and apparently unadvised by anybody but the Committee, signed the agreement, and went to bed and dreamed that they had an independent chairman.
– Did they want one?
– I suppose, they did. I am ‘not assuming any bad faith on the part of the Government or the Committee. I am submitting what appears to me to be the weakness in the whole procedure, and the chain of evidence upon which we are now deliberating. Then there were unauthorized signatures placed upon the document. The name of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has been mentioned as appearing among those of the signatories, but it would seem that he did not sign it. In the course of an extensive experience of Commissions and Select Committees, and of investigations generally of one kind and another, I am bound to say that I have never seen or heard of a Committee that was so recreant to the forms and methods which honorable gentlemen in this House usually .insist upon so punctiliously. And, while thanking the Committee, I feel that I. must mention these matters in case their action may become a precedent for a loose and irregular method of working within the parliamentary machine.
Certain important phases of the whole matter were elicited by the operations of the Committee. The first and most striking of them all points to the experimental condition of the wireless project. One would have thought, to listen to the Prime Minister last year, or to hear the statements of alleged experts interested in securing contracts with this and other nations, that the science and art of wire- less telegraphy were a known thing to the experts of the world. Yet it is perfectly plain, as one reads the notes of the Committee, that long-distance wireless is in a nebulous condition. This is an experiment, with no assurance vouched for, either by experts or thinkers, that it will succeed. I admit, of course, that experiments have to be conducted, and that the Government of an isolated continent such as this might well aid the perfection of experiments in the direction of providing us with new forms of world intercommunication.
– Still, “ nebulous “ is scarcely the word to employ.
– Worse could be reasonably used; In respect of the paragraphs in the Committee’s notes, for example, dealing with atmospherics, how many of the experts, and of the alleged experts, agree as to what can be done to-day ? Similarly, J. might refer to other technical phases. The very material with which the Committee has provided us throws doubt upon the wisdom of any expensive experiments which might be made at this stage, although, of course, that was not the object of that material. I say, then, that this is not a finished or perfected science. It is, indeed, in a rudimentary stage. It is obvious that the longer our span of communication with’ the outside world the more doubtful becomes the question of whether success will attend our efforts. This is one of the phases elicited now, and, for the first time, for the information of the public.
– The Prime Minister said that all that had been got over. The right honorable gentleman told us that it had all been settled.
– So I understood; but the Committee takes the other view, and says that it is problematic what measure of success may attend these experiments, even though they be placed in the most capable hands.
Another important phase is brought to light by the notes. Another offer was made to the Committee, and, indirectly, through the Committee, to the Government. I have heard complaints about the treatment of that offer by the Committee - complaints raised, probably, by interested parties. We must discount the utterances of people who, through chagrin, feel themselves called upon to criticise the actions or intentions of public men. But two things about this matter strike me. First there is an extraordinary difference between the estimates of the Amalgamated Wireless .Company and those of the Radio Communication Company for the erection and maintenance of a station. One estimate is, in round figures, £300,000, and the other is about £600,000.
– These were in respect of different stations.
– I admit that they were not for the same class of station; but, according to the notes of the Committee - as I have read them - the expert associated with the £300,000 offer claimed that he could do what Australia wanted - that is to say, establish wireless communication between this country and the outside world. And there is a difference of 100 per cent, between that estimate and the other.
– The One had to do with the erection of eight masts, which w,ere deemed to be sufficient ; ‘while the other company reckoned that the erection of twenty-four masts would be essential.
– That comment merely serves to show the extraordinary difference of opinion ‘between men who are acknowledged experts. How, then, can inexpert uneducated laymen such as ourselves hope to finalize, or dogmatize on, matters of this kind?
This proposition was apparently turned down by the Committee because it. was - to use its own words - “ financially unworkable.” But the Committee did not provide any information to reveal to honorable members in what particular respect it was unworkable or financially unsound. If there is any re-investigation of the problem, the rival claims of these two companies should be placed in juxtaposition, and, by impartial analysis, and with all available expert help, compared for the information of the public of Australia.
– What good will that do unless we get out of this agreement?
– -I shall . come to that phase. I am speaking now as if it were possible to do so.
The third interesting point elicited with respect to the Committee’s work lies in the fact that the estimate of £600,000 made by Mr. Fisk on behalf of Amalgamated Wireless was not backed by. any details. It is extraordinary that an expert should have come before a duly constituted tribunal to tender evidence to the effect that it would cost £600,000 to erect this station, and that he should not have been equipped with full details of his estimate, and should have had no drawings, plans, or specifications, or statement of requirements. If I were acting upon a Committee before which an expert witness was tendering an estimate of that character - unsupported, as I say, by any documentary data - I would say, at any rate, that we should postpone our deliberations until the whole of the material could be placed before us - by cable, if necessary. For it is vital to learn exactly upon what ground such an estimate is based.
Now, as the result, of all these things, we have come to an extraordinary impasse, to one of the most awkward situations in the history of Commonwealth legislation. This is due to the unexpected working out of one clause of the agreement, in relation to the Chairman. It compromises the Government ; it compromises the Committee. It embarrasses honorable members who voted for or who voted against the original motion, and the whole situation is such that it cannot be resolved at this present sitting. Sir Thomas Hughes has been appointed, by correct forms of arbitration - -according to what we hear - to the position of seventh director. I have been glad to hear the remarks uttered in this Chamber, and to perceive that there is no insinuation of personal dishonour or impropriety against that gentleman. A large number of honorable members know Sir Thomas Hughes. I know him personally. He is an admirable citizen, a man of standing, one who possesses the highest business qualifications, and who is altogether one of the most respected men in the commercial life of New South Wales.
– That is what the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) says about him, so he must be all right.
– I confess that I do not quite perceive the imputation.
– Does not the honorable member know what it means? It means that if you have got enough money you can even secure an alliance between the Catholics and the Orangemen!
– Well, speaking as an orange-grower, I am very glad to hear it, especially as this is the season when oranges are ripening. Seriously, .however, this aside demonstrates how goodwill and a spirit of brotherhood, notwithstanding the flambuoyant utterances of certain trouble-makers among the public at large, may turn to happy account a situation of this kind. We should be careful against the employment of any expression which might be levelled .-gainst the personal probity of Sir Thomas Hughes. He is the accident of an accident. But this phase I cannot understand, namely, how a gentleman as highly versed in legal art as is Mr. Consett Stephen, the arbitrator - if all the facts were placed before him, and the whole history of the Committee’s deliberations as expressed in these notes made available to him - could have deliberately selected for appointment to the position of the seventh director a man who had been so closely identified with Amalgamated Wireless. It is unthinkable! That very fact, apart from his qualifications - which do not subdue it - seems clearly to disqualify Sir Thomas Hughes from further participation in this contract or agreement. The Government say that they will not accept the appointment.
– No; they did not say that.
– The Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Greene) said on Friday last-
– The Prime Minister did not say so to-day.
– I shall tell the honorable member what he did say if I heard him correctly in the din which prevailed at the time. He said that the Government would not accept the appointment, and if the position could not be modified this contract would go no further until the matter had been, dealt with in this House. In other words, he said that he would do his best, and if the appointment was insisted upon the matter would come back to this House.
– That is what he said.
– The honorable member is now apologizing.
– It is not my business, and it certainly would not be my pleasure to do so. That is a position which the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) could fill, as could no other man iri this House, as he is temporarily detached from all associations past, present and to come.
– His Excellency has omitted to send for me.
– Sometimes even the representative of the King, makes mistakes. The legal position, we are advised, is that this is a completed contract, and it does not matter if the Government accept the nomination or not.
– If that is so, what the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) stated is so much piffle.
– I failed to find a term that would be applicable. I listened to the right honorable gentleman, and I do not think he did himself justice in analyzing such an important problem, probably because he was not well, and having been away from the House for some days was unfamiliar with the work of the Chamber last week. I expected some very definite announcement from the Prime Minister as to the attitude of the Government on this question. Honorable members need not worry much in my judgment concerning the legal position. If I were a member of the Government with any influence I would say “ We will not accept. this position, contract or no contract,” and I do not think the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia.) Limited would go to law with the Commonwealth. They would, if they are the shrewd men which I judge them to be, come back and say. “ We will amend the contract or make a new one with you.”
– Frightful political immorality.
– I am not preaching immorality of any kind, but am only endeavouring to predict what is likely to happen. I am not worrying about the course this company may take at law for breach of contract, because I think they are more concerned about getting a wireless system established than going to law with the Commonwealth authorities.
– They were whales, for litigation in the past.
– I believe this matter will be settled by negotiation . between the Government and the company, and if it is this battle .will not have been fought in vain. We shall have a better contract,a contract amended in more respects than this, particularly in relation to method of contribution to the funds.
– Suppose they take the other course and assert their rights in the Law Courts of the country, would the Commonwealth, not be liable under the agreement ?
– Not being a lawyer I should think so. I believe the first agreement, in the language of the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), ia a complete one which presupposes and provides for a second agree- ment under clause 12, which has not yet been framed. There may be methods, by the operations with the company under the second agreement, which will remedy the defects honorable members can see in the first, but I believe and hope that the company will have sufficient sense to recognise that public opinion, as expressed almost unanimously in” this House, is against it, and .will modify it at the request of the Government… I (have no hesitation in saying that in any further discussions with the Government the company will prove amenable to suggestions, and the negotiations will probably result in a satisfactory arrangement.
– Their business . arrangements with the, Government in 1914 were not altogether satisfactory.
– I do not know whether the personnel is the same. At any rate, the rj Commonwealth has a fairly large leverage in connexion with this matter if it cares to exercise it.
– What is the leverage?
– I think it is this : If there is to be a successful wireless system, involving a huge business, the profits, if the rates are reasonably high to be made by a co-operating Government as well as by the shareholders of the company will be large, and the directors will seek those profits rather than have recourse to law for a breach of contract.
– According to honorable members opposite, this will be a complete failure.
– I am not predicting that. I do not think any one can say it will be. They are saying, as I have mentioned, that -it is very doubtful as to the extent it will succeed. I can go no further than that, and I trust that doleful prophesying will be falsified by experience. I do not share the views of honorable members opposite that it would be better if the Commonwealth Government, acting through one of their many agencies, conducted this business themselves. I believe that private enterprise has a place in work of this kind, but I do not consider it desirable to give this work entirely into the hands of private enterprise, no more than it- would be to make it entirely a Government monopoly as certain honorable members opposite wish. If it is what I believe it is, I hope this crossbred scheme, which is, after all, a compromise involving beneficial elements of public control, with certain salutary features of private enterprise, will go through because the public interest can be safeguarded and private brains, initiative, and enterprise obtained. I trust that some such agreement as this will be registered, combining the two elements which, working together, will, I think, serve the community and the interests of the country.
– What . is the honorable member’s view in regard to the Government putting £500,000 into an experimental venture of this kind, and at the same time closing down the Woollen Mills at Geelong which have made £250,000 in profits?
– I am not going to complicate the issue by making any such comparison.
– The honorable member did last week.
– If we had known the experimental condition in which this matter rested, Parliament would not have voted as it did, but would have appointed a Select Committee, or a body of experts, to inquire as to the possibility of making effective radio communication between this country and other parts of the world. If we had known as much as we know now we would not have authorized definite action being taken until a report was submitted, to Parliament. It is a revelation of an unpleasant character to know that we are placed in this position through undue haste in’ connexion with the discussion of the subject last year. Whatever the outcome may be, whether the amendment is adopted or not, I trust this will be a lesson to the Government not to rush forward matters when such meagre information is before honorable members. The Acting Leader of the House committed himself and his colleagues in the House the other day, and his attitude is confirmed by the statement to-day of the Prime Minister. He told the House to-day that the appointment by the arbitrator of a seventh director had brought about a deadlock, and if he could not resolve the question this House would have to decide what is to be done. I am satisfied that, if I vote for the amendment at this stage, I shall not be assisting in cancelling’ the present contract. That amendment deals with a contemplated subsequent contract.
– It adds something to the existing contract.
Mr.WATT. - The amendment will advise His Excellency, if it be carried -
That the agreement mentioned in clause 12 of the contract made between Amalgamated Wireless Limited and the Commonwealth should, before acceptance by the Commonwealth’s representatives on the Board of Directors, be agreed to by this House.
The carrying of that amendment would resolve nothing. It would not resolve the position in regard to the Chairman of Directors, because that is dealt with in the present agreement, and not in the agreement referred to in clause 12.
– But it is the only means that presents itself to us of holding up the original agreement. The Commonwealth representatives on the Board of Directors need not approve of these guarantees until they, are satisfied in other respects.
– My friend will not contend that it would destroy the recourse of the company, if the amendment be carried, to get damages against the Commonwealth for breach of the original agreement.
– No; but the carrying of the amendment would be a direction to the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors which they could not possibly ignore.
– However, the responsibility now rests upon the Government to straighten out the tangle for which they are primarily responsible. The House certainly shares that responsibility to the extent that it voted for the resolution; but the Government are the executive of this House, and it is perfectly clear that, apart from any question of party, this community views with disfavour the appointment as seventh director of a man formerly closely identified with the contracting company. I accept the assurance of the Government that this matter will come to us if it is not otherwise resolved, and then the Ministers must take the full responsibility for their action.
.- I understand that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) proposes to vote with the Government, although I should have thought that, apart from the fact that the amendment, if carried, would or would not resolve any situation in this question of the Wireless agreement, it would have settled a matter which is very near and dear to the honorable member’s heart. However, the merits and demerits of the Wireless agreement are not now in question, having been settledby the fact thatthe Government, having their majority, can afford to treat the House with utter contempt. I rise, in the classic language of the honorable member for Balaclava, to address myself, not to party passions, but to . you, Mr. Speaker, who rise above those passions. I want to say a few words to you, sir. I want you to throw your mind back to the events of last year, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in introducing his wireless proposal, propoundedthe virtues of this agreement. He told this House and the country that this arrangement would take over a scheme on which the Commonwealth were losing £60,000 per annum, that it would change it into a sure gain of £50,000, or 10 per cent, profit on a £500,000 investment; that the cost of all messages would be reduced by one-third; that he had a list of the shareholders of Amalgamated Wireless Limited which showed that they were all Australian citizens; that there was to be an amalgamation between the Government and a purely Australian company; that Amalgamated Wireless Limited had no connexion with Marconi’s or Godfrey Isaacs ; that it was an Australian company, interested in Australian patents, and that the whole of the daily press of Australia was behind the scheme. What commended itself to me in the Prime Minister’s remarks was the idea that if I could not get a wireless scheme in which the nation was the absolute controller, it would be of advantage to get the next best, that is to say, a. scheme, which while securing for us Government control and guarding the interests of the public against rapacious charges, also gave us that intelligence, efficiency, and honestv with which “ big business” is generally associated. But the Prime Minister was not satisfied with that alone. He was anxious to rush his scheme through the House at the last moment of the session, and you, Mr.
Speaker, remember how the House refused to accept it, until at last the right honorable gentleman was driven to con- « sent that the agreement should go to a Parliamentary Committee for considera- tion, and that the Committee’s decision should be binding. Had I been appointed as a member of that Committee, I should have gone to it with an open mind, believing that I was selected to peruse a scheme honestly presented by honest men for honest ends, and not believing that I was to be the dupe of men deliberately conniving by illegal means to make me a cover for deliberate fraud on the country. Otherwise, I would have- scanned every word of the agreement in order to see that its meaning’ was perfectly clear. I should not have assumed that, trading on my honesty and credulity, an agreement would have been presented the spirit of which was not in accordance with its language; but, if after all was over, I found that I had. given my signature to something which was not what .1 expected it to be, or what the other members of the Committee expected it to be, or that the document -which we approved was not being carried out in’ accordance with the spirit of it, that by playing on a mere word, or a sentence, or a paragraph, the other parties to the agreement were placing on it a construction which was the very antithesis of that which every member of- the Committee had signed; if I found that by concocted phrases these people were endeavouring to make the Government and the country mere instruments so that a subsidy might be’ given to organized capitalists of the Commonwealth, I should have declared that my signature was valueless, exposed the whole matter to the House, and disclaimed any further responsibility for the agreement. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider how far the statements made in thi3 matter are true. Remember that the Prime Minister said that this scheme was to be an amalgamation between the Government of Australia and a purely Australian company, which had no relationship with Marconi’s or Godfrey Isaacs. I presume that the right honorable gentleman had sound reasons for mentioning this fact. Just as one would repudiate any association with “ Squizzy ‘.’ Taylor, the Prime Minister likewise, apparently, found it necessary to make it clear to the country that he had no association with the gentlemen I have mentioned. Let us take the right honorable gentleman’s first statement. . Is it true that Amalgamated Wireless Limited is essentially an Australian company? Is it true that Marconi’s and Godfrey Isaacs have no connexion with it? What came out before the Wireless Committee? Let us see the master hand behind all this. Let ‘ us peruse the share list of Amalgamated Wireless Limited. That list can be divided into three parts. Of course, the first part is controlled by the Marconi people, who hold 180,000, or roughly one-third of the shares. Theirs is a controllinginterest. The second part is controlled by overseas and local ship-owners,’ One can quite understand, as far as the ship-owners are concerned, with their humanitarian and business instincts, that they would have a direct interest in the thing. It is’ quite proper that they should have their representatives appointed. The third part consists of 24,000 shares. To whom, do they belong? They are represented in the head office in Sydney by Mr. Fisk, general manager, who is also a Marconi man, and by Mr. Wilson, who is the secretary. As a matter of fact, not more than one-fourth of the shares are distributed among the general public of Australia. That is the general position; and now let us consider it in parts. Let us consider first the Marconi’s. You know, Mr. Speaker, that “ Marconi “ is a name to conjure with, like the name of Edison. It appeals to the popular imagination, but it must be remembered that Marconi is not so much Marconi as he is a cover for the greatest gang of political spielers that floats on the high sea of finance. That fact is well known, and every one can draw the moral. In 1912, Mr. Herbert Samuel was Postmaster-General; I thinkLloyd George was Minister for Trade ; the Master of Elibank was also a Minister; Rufus Isaacs was Attorney-General; and Godfrey Isaacs and his brother Harry were some of the “ big guns “ of the Marconi system. At that time there was a little ditty in the London music halls, which ran something like this -
Samuel had a little gang,
It lay exceeding low,
And everywhere that Samuel went
The gang was sure to go.
Rufus Isaacs, of course, as AttorneyGeneral, in the early part of 1912, bought in suddenly. He bought 10,000 Marconi shares; Lloyd George did likewise; and so did the Master of Elibank. Mr. Samuel closed with the contract with the Marconi’s, and the £1 shares at once went up to £3. Then the “ gang “ sold out and scooped the profits. In the last hours of. the session the Government endeavoured to push the contract through.
– Is it nob correct to say that the Committee of inquiry found that those gentlemen bought American Marconi shares?
– The shares were being floated in, London. The Marconi concerns are all linked up. As a matter of fact, the Marconi Wireless, the Marconi International, the Marconi Spanish and General, the Marconi Dutch, the Marconi American, and the Marconieverythingonearth are one and the same. It is a great gang, and everywhere you will find the Isaacs in it, except in Germany, and even there they are behind the scenes. In the last hours of the session the move was blocked by Major Archer-Shee, who exposed the gang and got a Committee appointed, and the whole thing was investigated. It was said that Rufus Isaacs was bribed. Qf course he was not bribed, but he got in on the £1 basis, and got out on a £3 basis. That is the Marconi system, with which the Prime Minister has told us we have absolutely nothing to do. .
Let us come back to the second part, that is, the ship-owners in the Marconi concern. The shipping companies have their representation. They hold one-third of the shares. Amongst the men who sit on the directorate is Thomas Langley Webb, of Huddart Parker Limited. He holds 200 shares, and Huddart Parker Limited holds 14,800 shares. You know, as well as every man in the House, Mr. Speaker, that Thomas Langley Webb does not represent on that directorate merely his 200 shares, but represents the entire investment of the company of which he is director. Suppose that Thomas Langley Webb, being a representative on the Wireless directorate, as he very properly is, this Government proceeds to select John Langley Webb, a brother, also of Huddart Parker Limited, to represent the Government, would this House or the country agree ‘that that would be a proper thing to do? Could one of those two men, being relations, represent a company and the other represent the Government on the directorate? Is it not inevitable in every dispute that would occur on the directorate that the interests of Webb, representing the Government, must give way to the interests of his co-directors and co-partners? Whom has this UOvernment appointed? Mention has been made of Sir Thomas Hughes. I am not so. much troubled about Sir Thomas Hughes, except that it strikes me as most remarkable that when some poor devil of a Roman -Catholic is appointed to a miserable position at £3 or £4 a week by a Labour organization or the Labour party there is a howl about it, and the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) would howl from every platform in the country. This present Government is not affected by any sectarianism. Orangeism and Catholicism, are alike acceptable to it, provided they have plenty of money, and float well in the world of capitalism. The gentleman who comes to recommend him as a person of good character would not so recommend him if he were a member of this party. Sir Thomas Hughes would then be used as an argument to show how the Labour party is under Papal domination. It is not so* in the present case in any shape or form. Sir Thomas Hughes is out of the way, so let us leave him out of the way. Would it not bo a proper thing, considering we have men connected with the Navy who have been in intimate touch with the wireless, scheme, like Rear-Admiral Creswell, whose reputation and position depend upon their honest conduct and honest representation of the interests of this country, that they should have been appointed te represent the Commonwealth ? Were there not in the Public Service . of this country three men who could represent Australia? Did this Committee know for one single moment the type, character, and reputation of the men who represented the Commonwealth? They were merely called upon to investigate without consideration of the type of man. Of Vicars they knew nothing, and of -Stephen nothing. Being outside the arena, they know no more of wireless than I do. One is a lawyer, and the other a woollen manufacturer. They have no more intimate knowledge of wireless than a man taken from the streets qf this city.
– They are very reputable men.
– But that does not qualify them to fill the position. A man maybe reputable, but is that any reason why he should be given charge of an enormous plant, or why he should be made master of a ship? . ls it any reason for appointing him to the charge of a business about the conduct of which’ he knows nothing? Surely it should have been possible for the Government to obtain from the Public Service of the Commonwealth three gentlemen possessing an intimate knowledge of the wireless systems of the world, who could have represented them on the Board and have pitted their knowledge against that of these other men.
In a recent publication there appears a list of the directors of this company. There we find the names of Sir Thomas Hughes, of 26 Hunter-street, ‘Sydney; Captain T. Langley Webb, representing Messrs. Huddart. Parker and Company: Mr. Alfred Goninan, representing the Commonwealth Steel Products, Newcastle; Mr. James Taylor, of 11 5 Pittstreet, Sydney, accountant ; and Mr. C. P. Bartholomew, representing Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company. I do not know whether the 11,000 shares in the name of Mr. C. P. Bartholomew are his own property or whether they are the property of Messrs; Beard, Watson, and Company. That is a proper subject for investigation. Many of the shares are held by companies. “ It is clearly provided in the agreement that certain shareholders may be represented by the persons named in their behalf to represent them. Let us assume that Mr. Bartholomew is the representative of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company, and that the 11,000 shares in his name are his own property. He is practically a co-partner of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company, which after all is a mere trade name. In essence and fact, “Beard, Watson, and Company” boils down to “ Bartholomew, Allard, and Company.” Bartholomew is appointed to the directorate, to represent a company, and his partner Allard is appointed to the directorate . as a representative of the Commonwealth Government. In the circumstances it is immaterial whether Sir Thomas Hughes is, or is not, the seventh director. It is all part of a great game.
– Is the honorable member aware that we have in Sydney a Mr. Allard who is a member of the firm of
Messrs. Allard, Way, and Hardie, and another Mr. Allard who is a member of a different firm. The honorable member
– Is the honorable member sure that he knows the Mr. Allard who has been appointed to represent the Government?
– I think so.
– What is his Christian, name?
– I forget it. I am merely pointing out to . the honorable member that there are two Allards carrying on business as public accountants in Sydney. Each firm is distinct.
– There are not two “ Allards “-there are hundreds. I am speaking of George Mason Allard.
– Then heis not theAllard who is a member of -the firm of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company. It is Mr. Horace B. Allard who is a member of that firm.
– I am speaking of George Mason Allard, who is chairman of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company, and who has’ been appointed to represent the Commonwealth Government on the board of directors of this new company. If the honorable member takes exception to my statement let him consult the Australian Investors’ Digest.
– The honorable member is mixing up two different persons.
– The honorable member saysthat I am mixing up things. I could well understand an honorable member who has had long association with the jam trade, mixing up some things, but I am not mixing up the names of these two men. I am dealing with George Mason Allard, and I know nothing about Horace. George Mason Allard, I repeat, has been appointed by the Commonwealth Government as its representative on the board of directors.
– What has he to do with Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company?
– He is chairman of directors of that company.
– That is incorrect.
– I shall send for the publication in which the name of this gentleman is given. Meantime I shall proceed on the assumption that George Mason Allard is the right man, and that Horace is dead.
– I am absolutely certain that I am right.
– The honorable member is more often wrong than right, and he is wrong on this occasion. If you, Mr. Speaker, had not been listening so intently to my remarks, you would have called the honorable member to order for making disorderly interjections.
– It is absolutely improper that two members of the one firm should be members of the Board - one representing the Commonwealth and one representing private shareholders. In the circumstances, the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes is of no concern. The position, from the stand-point of the Commonwealth, would have been just as bad, even if Sir Thomas Hughes had not been appointed. If he were put out ‘tomorrow and an independent chairman were appointed, the Marconi crowd would still have control of £500,000 of Commonwealth money, and absolute control of the company from beginning to end.
I have just had handed to me the Australian Investors’ Digest for the present year, and there I find it stated that George Mason Allard has been appointed to the Board as a representative of the Government. What has the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) now to say in regard to Horace? I. ask the House to consider what reason the Government can have for expecting the interests of the country to be safeguarded in the circumstances I have just outlined. We can imagine a conversation taking place between Bartholomew and Allard in regard to a question involving a rise or fall in the price of shares. As a matter of fact, that Bartholomew and Allard stand to win £5,000 or £7,000 may be dependent on the vote of a partner in the business. Is that a safe thing 1 I say that if George Mason Allard was a genuine honest man, on that directorate in the interests of straight business, and determined by his vote and proposals to act according to bis judgment in the interests of this country, he would not have permitted any Government to place him in a position in which he might be an instrument for the financial ruin of his own business partner. That is a false position for him to occupy. Themere fact that he accepted such a position demonstrates that he is not an honest man, and is not prepared to do the honest thing. The Government who appointed as a director a man who does not represent any vital interest of the country, but who represents only big business and the money power of Australia, cannot claim to desire honest representation of the principles for which they profess to stand. I have no hesitation in saving that this business is “ crook “ in all its bearings from top to bottom.
– I see that the other Allard is an auditor for the company,
– As one of the inducements to honorable members to vote for the agreement last year, the Prime Minister told us that the whole of the daily press of Australia is behind this scheme. There is only one newspaper in Australia that has put any money into it, and that is the Sydney Morning ‘ Herald. This shows how much the Australian daily press is behind the scheme. The right honorable gentleman told us definitely that it was a cleariy defined scheme, and would effectively carry out its object. He said thatit would do all that was agreed upon, and desired that the agreement should be rushed through this House. Now we know that it can do nothing of the kind, and the Commonwealth is asked to put up £500,000 of the taxpayers’ money. The Wireless Committee asked Mr. Fisk whether he could guarantee that certain things would be carried out in accordance with the desires set forth, and ho said, “ I do not know. I must consult my directors..” Did he communicate with Mr. Webb, with Mr. Bartholomew, with Sir Thomas Hughes, or with the Australian directors? Not at all. He communicated directly with the Marconi Company in London. They are his bosses, and they are masters of the situation. It was not until they had given their decision and wired it to Mr. Fisk that he was able to give an answer to the question put to him. That should be an effective reply to the affirmation that these negotiations are being carried on by the Government with a purely Australian company. This country is called upon to put its money into the scheme, but, excepting under certain conditions, the other party need put in no more than 2s. per share on allotment, whilst all material is to be obtained from the Marconi people.
– They got that provision put in.
– Yes, to make sure of it. All materials are to be obtained from the Marconi people in London, and they can charge any price they please. Against that we have no guarantee for our protection.
– To what clause of the agreement is the honorable member referring when he says that all material must be obtained from the Marconi Company ?
– The honorable member puts a question which is about as awkward to me as it would be to himself. My reason for saying so is that the honorable member cannot refer to notes, and I am in the same predicament, because I cannot read from notes, and must depend largely upon my memory. My recollection is clearly and distinctly that material must be obtained from the Marconi people in London.
– If it represents patented articles the Marconi Company in London is the only firm that can supply them.
– Yes. They can only be supplied by the Marconi people. What is going to happen is that this country puts its money into this concern, we have to buy from the Marconi Company in London, and they can charge £400,000 for £200,000 worth of goods. The Commonwealth will pay up its share, and if the scheme is a success the others will come in. whilst if it is a failure the Commonwealth will have to carry the whole proposition. It is clearly specified in the agreement that while they are to pay moneys On certain dates, that can be otherwise arranged.
Finally, I will say that this arrangement with the Marconi system is a refutation of everything which the Prime Minister put before us last year. The matter was forced upon this House in the last hours of the session. An attempt is now made to defend the proposal, and a Ministerial majority is endeavouring to’ force this thing upon the country. It is fraught with disaster, failure, and fraud. It would not stand an honest investigation before a Court of law. The scheme is so cunningly devised that these sly capitalistic members are able to read into this agreement their own interpretation. An honest Government, when they found that their intentions were being defeated, that the company clearly and definitely took advantage of a word, interpreting “ separate “ to mean “ independent,” would have brought the proposal to an end. Who is to control the expenditure of the £500,000 of public money? Is it to be Sir Thomas Hughes and. the men associated with him, or the Government and the people of Australia whose property it is? Are we to consent to an arrangement under which the people of this country will be exploited, or are we to enter into an arrangement of a satisfactory kind ? This proposal cannot be justified, and would not in ordinary circumstances be defended by any Government having control of the affairs of this country. We must take into consideration not merely this wireless proposal. We must go far beyond that. The Government that proposes to give away £500,000 of public money to a private company is the selfsame Government that only a few weeks ago cast a vote to destroy the Commonwealth Woollen Mills that were providing a clear gain of £250,000 to the people of this country.
– Order ! The honorable member is not in order in reflecting upon a vote of the House.
– Whom can I reflect on? I must reflect on some one. I will not, of course, reflect on the House itself. We are all too honorable to be reflected upon; but I think I should reflect upon the division and the resolution of last session. This scheme does not stand on its own. It is only one of halfadozen schemes, the submission of any one of which should have been sufficient to paralyze the Government standing behind it in any country in the world. There has during the last twelve months been a complete reversion of policy by the present Government. Last year they had a clear and definite policy, and what has taken place only shows the change that has occurred in the character and formation of the Government. Last year- a member of the Government formulated their policy in connexion with the woollen manufacturing industry. He gave reasons for the ex-, pansion of woollen manufacturing, showed how it would serve the country, why we should invest additional money in it. I am not dragging a new subject into the debate, but additional evidence of a big change of policy on the part of the Government.
It was not sufficient to keep the Government going as it was; it was necessary to reconstruct and strengthen it if possible. Therefore, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Wise) was ‘taken into the bathroom and had his throat cut, and was thrown out to the winds; that was his reward for long years of faithful service to the Government and to his Leader. Of course, one or two gentlemen of lesser light were also rejected, but the office of Treasurer became empty, and it was necessary to fill it. Who should be placed at” the Treasury? Well, there are many men who have been long in Parliament, men of astute ability and assiduous supporters of the Government; but office is not given to a person because of long political experience, nor to a man who, although only a short period in Parliament, makes up for the brevity of his political life by the intensity of his support. They did not give the office of Treasurer to that noble British officer who came and occupied the Government benches as if he were an army in occupation - it was not given to the officer of the Royal Fusiliers as compensation for his wounds and in addition to his medals - neither political nor military service counts. It had to be given to the importing British firm of Paterson, Laing, and Bruce, with all its allied banking, insurance, and trust association, in order to bring all the business interests it could to the support of the Government. One can well understand the intense virtue with which a man may reject £400 per annum taken out pf the public Treasury in the full light of day, and also the other virtue that can hold control of the channels through which the commodities of the people must pass, and levy a toll of 5 per cent., 10 per cent., and 15 per cent, per yard on the products of Victorian factories. One can well understand how profitable can be the transaction, and how necessary it was for the Government ‘to get such support, in order that the Prime Minister might reverse his own policy and abandon that set forth by the Honorary Minister (Sir Granville Ryrie) last year. So this firm came in to control the Treasury; and the Government closed the national mills which have been an instrument of defence, and which should be an instrument to protect the people in times of peace against exploiters. That is only part of the whole contract in which the firm of Patterson, Laing, and Bruce is the presiding genius. Contrast this wireless scheme with the destruction of the woollen mills and the abandonment of a revenue-producing proposition. On the plea that private enterprise must be sustained this Government takes half a million of public money and hands it over as a subsidy to a gang of private capitalists. How can this be justified on any sound principle? It will be remembered how thi Prime Minister once referred to the gentlemen he now leads as those whose business it was to fill their pockets at the expense of the people, but now he sustains the representatives of the privileges of wealth, and in return gets their support and money. The other day the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) told us how a gang of men had taken advantage of opportunities to export from this country food unfit for human consumption. This was done without punishment and without condemnation by the Government - without one word of reproach. Then it was sought to preserve the good name of the country, not by punishing the criminals, but, on the contrary, by subsidizing them out of the public pocket. Yet, after this act of crime, we see the representatives of the farming community finding excuses for such a Government - in face of the fact that advantage had been taken of the country to make profit by the exportation of miserable stuff which even the Japanese rejected.
The Prime Minister declared that after the war we should have no more relations with Germany, and I call attention to this in order to show what we are face to face with to-day. We remember how,, before the war, there were crowds of British- German and German-American, and so there are Australian-German who have no regard for this country beyond what profits they can make out of it. Their trading was condemned, but by its means the industrial power of Germany was built »up. to the destruction of people of our own race. The Prime Minister said then that we would be fools and idiots if after the war we were to renew this traffic. Well, the war is over, and the Government propose to renew the traffic. When the Prime Minister was charged with this the other day, he said, “ I am still against any trade with Germany, I still abhor it.” What power is there to compel him to reverse any policy he believes in? What becomes of a man who denounces others for being the instruments of outside cliques and factions, and yet is compelled to vote in Parliament for a policy with which he does not agree? On the floor of Parliament he declared that if he had his own way there would be no more trade with Germany: yet it is clear that the Government permits such trade. Who forces the Prime Minister to do this? Not his Government, because outside the Treasury the members of it are all his instruments. Not the party, because they dare not remove him; they are in the unhappy predicament that one can say of them what is often said of another party, “ They dare not for fear they will kick out their brains.” It is certainly not those gentlemen who, under the influence of a lynx-eyed press, jumped on the platform to denounce him, but whom he got together privately, looked at them, and squirted them back into their holes. They dare not reject him ; they dare not impose on him a policy which he dare not follow. It is a deeper and stronger power - the subterranean force outside of this Parliament - that compels the Prime Minister to give half a million of money to the Wireless Company. The Government’s reversions of policy are not imposed on them by their followers, but by powerful influences outside of this Chamber which are the real masters of the country. Irrespective of the power of this Parliament the Government are drifting willynilly. There is a constant growth of debt within Australia. Intense and growing corruption, in a variety of forms, like worms feeding on the carcasses of men, is gradually undermining the national foundations. The production of Australia is loaded with three times the amount of indebtedness it had to bear before the war. What is the use of condemning the workmen when the Government of the day are the mere instruments of those outside forces that are controlling the destinies of the Commonwealth? This wireless business, the closing down of the woollen mills, the reversal of policy on the German question, the other matter that the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) dealt with, and the wooden ship scandal, which the newspapers have said would be enough to con demn any Government except this, all stand to their eternal disgrace; but this Government are held in power by the vote of those who detest them.
If I were to go to you, Mr. Speaker, and say that I was anxious for the dissolution of this Parliament, and if I told you that I was anxious for a period of political turmoil by testing the feeling of the electors, I know that you would believe me. But that is not what I wish. In the political battle, as well as on the field, one has to consider not his personal convenience, but must remember that he x is merely a factor in the fight. Irrespective of whatever misfortune or inconvenience that may bring, we are bound at all times to make our votes conform to our utterances in this Chamber. I have been for a long time engaged in the political life of Australia, and I have not yet learned any means by which I could explain to my constituents how I could denounce this Government- and yet provide 150 excuses for voting for them. One last word to the Country party in reply to the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who asked the other day, “ Why is it that if we are so contemptible, and so few in numbers, that both the Nationalists and the Labour party denounce us?” I would point out that the Country party’ is not exceptional in that respect. There is a three-cornered vote in this House, in which each party has only its own friends, and has two sets of opponents. While the Country party is not in an exceptional position in that respect, it is repeatedly voting for the present Government, although it is constantly denouncing them in all their works. That party would like to replace the Government, but at the same time it is telling its constituents and the country that it cannot vote against the Government when it. comes to the test, for the simple reason that to vote for them would mean the triumph of the Labour movement. You, Mr. Speaker, know very well that that is not so. A vote against this Government would not mean the political supremacy in this Chamber of the Labour party, because it cannot rule except by tha support of the honorable members in the Corner, and that they will never give. Nor, if we voted for them, would they be able to rule the country until the next election, because they have distinctly said that they would not rule even with our support, which we are willing to give them. If they would take their chance and vote against the Government, the Government would either have to go to the country or reconstruct.Reconstruction, the Country party tell us, is what they want, but they will not vote for it. They want to go to the country, but they will not vote for that. The Government, consequently, remain as they are, and they are kept in power solely by reason of the votes of honorable members in the Corner. Members of the Country party want to go to the people to catch the votes of the detached Nationalists, who, I believe, are proLabour, and they want to get the votes of any Labour men they can on the ground, of course, that they are antiGovernment. That is the game. It comes off both ways. If the Nationalist candidate will not let them get hold with that - and certainly I would never do it - why do they not take their fortune in their hands. When the Prime Minister was out to give his half-a-million “ dope “ he wound up with his usual peroration. He said, “ This is a young, prosperous and virile country. Let us take our courage in our hands.” Let the Country party say the same thing. Let them exclaim something about “ Great and glorious Australia.” Why do they not say : - ‘ Australia is a young and virile nation. We, the noble and purified Country party, will take our fortune in our hands.” So do it now ! Now is the hour of acceptance. This Government, ofcourse, treat the Country party with contempt; they scorn them as they do us. The Prime Minister comes in, and, conscious of a majority, quickly says, regarding the wireless scheme, “ We will consider it. If it is not satisfactory, of course, we will probably bring the agreement to a close.” He knows very well that just as the Government put £50,000 into the scheme as the first dose, so another £150,000 due on 1st July is bound to go to the Marconi gang. That money goes to-morrow, if they get the vote to-night.
– Yes, to-morrow.
– Not on the Government’s statement.
– The Government will be so deep in the scheme that if they do not get out of it to-night they cannot be released from it at all.
– They will be shot out of it if they do.
– What has the Acting Leader of the Government (Mr. Greene) to say to that.
– Ask him to-night if they will give a guarantee that no more money shall pass to that company until Sir Thomas Hughes goes out.
– The honorable member is entirely wrong in saying that there is £150,000 due on the 1st July.
– Not earlier than that date.
– I can also assure the honorable member that it is not due at the present moment, and it will not be paid until such time as we know what is going to happen.
– See the cunning play of words ! O clever man ! He will give us an assurance that nothing will be paid until the Government see what is going to happen. That is nothing.
– If the honorable member wants it in more definite terms, the money will not be paid until the promise of the Prime Minister has been redeemed.
– Then we have an assurance straight from the Government that not another penny will be paid into this company until Sir Thomas Hughes has been removed from the directorate.
– Or until the matter is referred back to the House.
– And will the Minister kindly mention to the Prime Minister at the same time that I have the same objection to George Mason Allard as I have to Sir Thomas Hughes. To all the “ Doubting Thomases”inthe Corner I say, “ Now is the hour of decision; you can save your country.” I appeal to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who is always guided by sound principles, and to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), who sits beside him., and to all those honorable members who sit about him. Honorable members will recollect how some honorable members, who were expected by the newspapers to flog the Government, always found excuses to vote for them. The newspapers gave up in despair, one after another, but said at last, “We have one hope of salvation; surely George Maxwell will save the country.” So the honorable member for
Fawkner mounted the platform and denounced the Government; but incidentally he, too, found some excuses for them. As if to compensate the Government and show that he meant nothing by his criticism he gave a “ back-hander “ to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) and so made himself right with both the newspapers and the Government. The newspapers said next day that the honorable member addressed a large meeting, but his speech -consisted mostly of “love taps.” Then they looked to the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), and he, too, disappointed them. “I say to those honorable members and others in the Corner, “ Now is the chance to save your country, and save half a million also.”
-As the last speaker made a personal reference to me, I desire to say, by way of personal explanation, that he has mixed* up the two Allards and I have proof that he is harking on wrong premises.
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. J.
– Yes, Mr. Speaker, and if I cannot satisfy the honorable member for Bourke on this point I shall at any rate tell the facts to the House.
.- It seems to me that on Friday last and today we have been engaged in the rather unsatisfactory occupation of crying over spilt milk. The only fault I have to find is with the tone of the crying. If onetenth of the talk which has been indulged in at the last two sittings had been uttered on the 7th and 9th December last we would not have been in the trouble in which we find ourselves to-day.
– Some of us fought hard enough then.
– Yes; and I give those honorable members all credit for their fight, but unfortunately they were not in the majority. We have been told by some honorable members that they had no idea that the conditions in connexion with wireless were so unsatisfactory as the Committee found them to be. It is surprising to me that they did not know this. Some of them, including the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) told us that they were impressed and carried away by the state ment of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) on the subject. I do not think that that statement carried very much weight. What’ influenced the majority of honorable members on that occasion was the enormous amount of propaganda, both by printed matter and button-holing, that had been carried on by agents of the Wireless Company amongst honorable members. Every honorable member was deluged for weeks and weeks, aye, and months, before the matter came before the House, with literature regarding the wonders of wireless. Every little demonstration that took place was represented to them as proof that long-distance wireless was an accomplished fact, that direct communication with Europe could be established in all circumstances, and, if that was not sufficient, honorable members were button-holed by gentlemen who almost lived here for a time in order that they might be impressed with the wonders which wireless had already achieved. Honorable members will recollect the demonstration which took place in the Queen’s Hall, when all sorts of wonderful valves were installed. We heard people from Brighton talking and singing, but we did not learn till afterwards that Brighton could not hear anything from the Queen’s Hall. On the following evening a thunderstorm occurred, and the whole installation collapsed. Later on, this chamber was hung with all sorts of valves in order that the Prime Minister might in his private room hear what was taking place in the House. We never heard of any practical results from that demonstration, but that was one of many things that was done in order to impress honorable members. Anybody who had taken the trouble to read about wireless must have known perfectly well that the communications established on occasions with Europe were accidental, and could not be depended upon continuously; that wireless communication over very great distances is still in its childhood, and at any time developments might take place. But further than that, we had a practical opinion upon the subject. Lord Northcliffe, during his visit to Melbourne, was entertained by the pressmen at Menzies’ Hotel, and for that’ occasion he had prepared a speech on how a newspaper’ was established and operated. After a big speech in support of the toast of his health, had been made upon public questions of the day, he said he had come prepared to speak to pressmen only, and he would adhere to his prepared notes. During the progress of his remarks he said, “ As regards overseas news, ‘we thought we would be able to make great use of wireless, but found it was utterly unreliable.” That was sufficient evidence for me that for practical purposes long-distance wireless had not yet attained reliability. It is well known to every honorable member who spoke to me on the subject that I was strongly opposed to the Commonwealth having any relations with the Amalgamated Wireless Company. My reason, in the first instance, was that I believed that wireless was in its childhood, that great developments might take place at any moment, and I did not see why the company should get the benefit of those developments with the- financial strength of the Australian nation behind them. Further than that, I preferred to link up with an. all-British Imperial scheme, and reap the advantage of any knowledge which the Imperial authorities acquired as a result of their operations. It is interesting to note that while the Prime Minister was strongly opposed to the principle of a number of stations with a 2,000-miles radius, which it was stated was all that could be relied upon, we are told to-day that the British Government are now endeavouring to carry out the recommendation of the expert commission with regard to long-distance telegraphy. If we had not been so mighty hasty about rushing into this agreement with a private company about the 9th December, we would have been able to take advantage of this big Imperial scheme for wireless telegraphy throughout the world.
– It might be said that, but for what we have proposed, that scheme would not have been launched.
– The British Government are not bothering about what this Government may be doing. They have very much bigger concerns of their own to link up Canada, South Africa, and India.
– And this scheme will link up with that project.
– That depends upon the terms which may be made with the
British Government. If we had not entered into this agreement, we could have joined in .that scheme without. asking to be linked up. One of the reasons why I objected to the wireless agreement was that I had no faith in the company. I say that unhesitatingly. I felt that it was going to be a big speculative scheme. And evidently it is, judging by the share report issued by Joseph Palmer and Sons, of Sydney, for this month, recommending the wireless investment to the public. Their ‘report states that no calls are expected for some months, so evidently the company do not intend- to ask the Government for the money at once. The report states further -
A good many rights and new shares came on the market, but .met a steady demand, and 2s. paid shares rose to 5s. Gd., but are now a little easier at as. . . . Early dividends are not expected. to be great.
All honorable members remember about the 10 per cent, on £500,000 that we were told we were to get. The report states’ further that the Amalgamated Wireless shares have a speculative value apart from their investment value; so evidently the shares will be run up on the market with the assistance of this Government. There is another matter. I take objection to the tone in which this debate is being conducted. This matter was being discussed on the 7th. and 9th December last without any party feeling. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) took the stand, and quite properly so, that the House should not authorize the scheme until a Committee had inquired into and reported on it. I was sitting in the House at the time, being then a member of the Government, and I recalled to mind a remark once made by Mr.. Glynn, formerly a member of the Government, regarding the peculiar position in which a Minister occasionally found himself. Mr. Glynn spoke about his composite mind and his individual . mind, and remarked that on that particular occasion his individual mind was easily made up; but he found it rather difficult to make up his composite -mind upon the matter then before the House. Well, on that occasion, too, my composite mind was at variance with my individual mind, and I was amazed in my individual mind at the House taking the unprecedented course of delegating its powers to a Committee for, I think, the first time in the history of this Parliament, and that to a Committee which it did not select, and: whose names it did not know.
– That was because we thought time was essential in the success of . the scheme.
– Can it he said that in the launching of such a scheme a difference of six months was so essential as to justify the delegation of the powers of the House to an unknown Committee?
– It was eaid to be so at the time, at all events.
– If the matter was so urgent, Parliament could have been called together months ago.
– I agree with the honorable member. The agreement was only signed on the 28th March, so the question of urgency was not so important after all.
– It would have made a great difference to the company, though.
– I dare say it would.. On that occasion, as I say, I was amazed at some members of this House allowing the proposal to go through, and I could not help thinking that they had swallowed all that Mr. Fisk had told them.
– Did you bring this matter before the Prime Minister ?
– I certainly wished I had been free then to have said all I thought on that occasion. Members cannot evade their responsibility for having accepted the proposal. Some of them, no doubt, feel that they ought to kick themselves for having voted for the agreement, but instead of doing that they turn round now and kick the Prime Minister, who has been abused so much to-day. No matter what he may have asked this House to do then, members must accept their responsibility for theposition that has arisen.
– The responsibility is upon the Government, and upon no one else.
– The honorable member knows that he cannot place the responsibility upon the Government in that way, because, as the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) pointed out, the House authorizeda Committee to report upon the matter, and the Government have acted in accordance with that report. I voted, as a member of the Ministry, with the majority, and I cannot get away from my responsibility. I am sorry that such a bitter attack has now been made . upon the Prime Minister, and above all I am perfectly amazed at the reference made to the subject by the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who was not then acting as leader of his party. Every one knows . how very bitter he was on the Prime Minister. On the former occasion he said wireless should not be treated as a party question, and when the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) interjected that there was big business in it, he urged that the report of the Committee should be available at the earliest possible moment, and said that if it were favorable the Government should be empowered to complete the negotiations involved. He preferred the whole going to a private company, but the propositions of the Amalgamated Wireless deserved favorable consideration. When the Leader of the Opposition interjected “that we would be able to settle the matter when we returned after the recess, the honorable member for Cowper said that that was rather a long delay. He said then that the arrangement made with reference to the directorate was one that could be in- dorsed, and that arrangement provided for the Government appointing three directors and the company four. He said that it provided that the business men connected with the enterprise should have control of the business side. Why is he making all this fuss to-day, when on the former occasion he was prepared to swallow the scheme holu.s bolus? The Prime Minister further said that the honorable member for Cowper had agreed to this, but without investigation. An honorable member thereupon interjected, “ read the finish of his speech.” Well, I shall do so. It is as follows : -
I should be sorry to be the cause of any long delay in the settlement of this matter; but, in my opinion, it requires more investigation.
That is all the honorable member for Cowper said. And this is all he wanted investigated, according to his own words -
The proppsition of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is one that deserves favorable consideration from this House. It should not take a great deal of time to investigate the bona fides of the company and see exactly where we stand. It is a concern which has been established in Australia for several years. Its balance-sheets have been open for investigation. Its paid-up capital is £180,000. Its nominal capital is £200,000, against which there are patent rights; wireless installations on various . ships, worth from £450 to £500 each- practically, £100,000 in all; and workshops, plant, and machinery, roughly valued at about £50,000. TheBulletin, in September last, pointed out that the company was handling its reserves, . which amountto £40,000, in a most conservative way. In any amalgamation which is formed, the company will, undoubtedly, be in a position, to provide practically £1 for £1 for every share the Commonwealth is asked to subscribe. I would much prefer an arrangement under which the Commonwealth was left out as a partner.
That is all that the honorable member ‘was going to investigate. But, with some other members of his party, namely, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook), the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), the honorable, member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), he voted against the amendment of the Leader of the ‘Opposition. Those same honorable members also voted, I believe, for the amendment added to the original motion by the Prime Minister, namely, that, subject to the approval of a Parliamentary Committee to be appointed, the Prime Minister should be authorized to execute the agreement, with such alterations as the Committee might see fit to make. I understand that I am not correct in saying that the honorable member for Indi voted in favour of the motion as amended by the Prime Minister; but my remarks hold good in respect of those other honorable members indicated. Upon that occasion, there were very few speakers. The House had swallowed everything. Seven honorable members spoke ; one only from the Ministerial side, two from the ranks of the Opposition, and four from among the Country party. The honorable member for Cowper supported the proposal ; but the other three, namely, the’ honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), and the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt), in no unmeasured terms condemned the whole business. It was startling, therefore, for one to listen to the honorable member for Cowper to-day describing the agreement by a term which was not originally his, but which the honorable member for Moreton had applied to it last December, namely, that it was a “shandygaff.” agreement. The honorable member is sorry for what he said and did ; and, instead, of kicking himself, he is kicking the Prime Minister. I have no objection to the kicking of persons who deserve it, but I do not like to see innocent persons suffer when those who are causing the suffering should themselves be punished.
I repeat that I was a member of the Government at the time; but it was well known that I objected to the agreement. I can assure honorable members that I am still more keenly opposed to it to-day. I have no faith in the company. I feel sure that it will be a speculative concern. I do not expect to see the company carry out the long-distance telephone business. We have found, over and over again, that we can get longdistance telephonic messages - sometimes when they are least expected - but that they are not reliable. Lord Northcliffe himself testified to that. The Leafield Station in England is the home station of the 2,000-mile radius Norman scheme which the Imperial Government have, adopted. Yet there were messages sent out from that 2,000-mile station which were picked up at Perth 12,000 miles away. Particulars of this feat were published in the papers, and the report so surprised the Leafield people that we received a message asking if it was true. Here were messages being picked up 12,000 miles away, when the operators and experts generally thought that they could be sent over a distance of only 2,000 miles. It is a fact that during the war the Perth station picked up messages from Berlin. On one occasion three pages of foolscap, typewritten, were taken at Perth, being part of a Berlin message recording rejoicings over one of the German victories in the war. These things do happen occasionally, and unexpectedly. I emphasize that they cannot be relied on.
The Post Office authorities worked keenly on the subject after, they had taken over responsibility for wireless in this country. It should be remembered that the Postal Department had been in control for only a few months. Wireless had been carried on by the Navy Department during the war, when money was freely expended upon such matters, and when considerable costs had to be incurred, the interest bill in connexion with which we are still paying. The Postal officers have not had the time to get matters going in good working order; but they have carried on some telephonic experiments with Tasmania. I have been informed that wc could talk with Tasmania and that they could hear us, but that we could not hear them in reply at all; there was, apparently, something about the atmospherics surrounding Melbourne which prevented it. We have eagerly jumped at and swallowed the bait consisting of what an interested party has told us; whereas, before the Parliamentary Committee, that same party had to confess that he could not give any guarantee about anything.
I appreciate the work of the Committee. Its members took on a very disagreeable and arduous and important job. I am only surprised, indeed, that they accepted their responsibilities. They worked through three summer months, when most honorable members were away enjoying their vacations. The only fault that I have to find is that, when the members of the Committee received such terrible revelations as were provided by Mr. Fisk and others about the impossibility of things generally, they did not throw up the whole job. They probably took the view that they were intrusted by the House to present the agreement to the Government with such alterations as they deemed fit, and that, upon the authorityof the House, the Prime Minister had absolute justification for signing it. I say to honorable members now: Let us take the responsibility. Let us abuse ourselves that, upon the seven th and ninth days of December last, we adopted a certain. line of action for which we alone were .responsible, and for which we must answer to-day. I can only hope that the whole sorry business will prove a warning to us never again to delegate to any Committee the powers of this House, even though it be nominated by ourselves.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Blakeley) adjourned.
House adjourned at- 10.39 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 July 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220719_reps_8_99/>.