8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to give notice that to-morrow I shall move the adjournment of the House to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the serious deprivation to the pastoral and agricultural industries through the stoppage of the circulation of weather reports.
– Order! The honorable member cannot give notice of such a motion. If he desires to move the adjournment of the House it must be to discuss a matter of urgent public importance which has suddenly arisen and of which there has not been an opportunity to give notice.
– Will you suggest, sir, what steps I should take to overcome the difficulty ?
– All that is necessary is that the honorable member should intimate to me before the House meets, that he intends to move the adjournment of the House that day in order to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, the nature of which he should state.
– May I do that now?
– The honorable member will not be able to submit such a motion until the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply has been disposed of.
– Will the Minister for Defence state what steps, if any, have been taken with a view to the conversion of Victoria Barracks, Sydney, into a residential area?
– The matter is underconsideration, but a. definite decision cannot be arrived at until the question as to whether the property is to be treated as a transferred property or whether the State Government will give us a title to the land has been decided.
Alleged Infringement of Patent
– Will the Prime Minister lay on the table of the House all the papers, documents, and correspondence relating to the settlement of the litigation between the Amalgamated Wireless Company and the Commonwealth Government in 1914 for alleged infringement of patent rights?
– I shall endeavour to do so.
– Has the Prime Minister any information as to whether or not tenders are being called in England or elsewhere by Mr.Fisk for the erection of the necessary high-power stations provided for in the agreement made between the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Commonwealth or whether he knows by what process it is proposed to carry out the erection of those stations?
– I do not know. I have no information.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister when Senator Bakhap’s report on his visit to China will be laid on the table of this House. I may say, by way of explanation, that in the absence of the Prime Minister last week I directed this question to the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene), who was then in charge of the House.
– I have not seen the report, but will call for the papers and read them. I see no reason why they should not be laid on the table of the House.
Temporary Buildings - Designs
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Exports to South Africa
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. A quantity of “ B “ grade wheat was offered to and accepted by the South African buyers as such. 3 and 4. No. A delegation from the South African Government visited Australia and represented that the importers there had suffered loss in the transaction. 5 and G. The Australian Wheat Board and the Commonwealth Government agreed to pay £115,000, of which the Commonwealth’s proportion was £32,500. This payment protected the Australian Wheat Board and the Commonwealth Government against any claims in respect of wheat or flour. 7, The payment was a voluntary one, and, therefore, no legal claim can be made against the sellers of the wheat in question. 8, In view of the possibility of legal claims by the buyers against the vendors of this wheat, it is not considered advisable to disclose this information.
Chairman of Disposals Board
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr. GIBSON” (for Mr. Robert COOK’ asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Has he arranged with the Chairman of the Tariff Board (Mr. Oakley) to visit Horsham for the purpose of discussing Tariff anomalies with district farmers?
If so, will he so arrange that the Chairman of the Tariff Board may visit all country districts the’ size of Horsham and larger, in order that the farmers of Australia may have the same privileges as the farmers of Horsham to ventilate their Tariff grievances?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
States, and on their recent visits to New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia the members of the Board have visited country districts and met bodies of primary producers and investigated matters affecting primary production.
Temporary Employees Replaced by Returned Soldiers.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether there is any system of recompense for those Government employees (some of whom have ten years of service and are married men) who are being displaced by returned soldiers?
– Temporary employees have no claim for compensation when their services are terminated. They have no rights as to tenure, their employment being extended from time to time as occasion requires.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Taxation oi? Town Bands.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Returned Soldiers : ‘ Insurance Premiums - Dismissals - Adelaide Suburban Telephone Exchanges - Contract Clothing
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The Acting Public Service Commissioner has furnished the following advice : -
asked the PostmasterGenera], upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What is the itemized cost of contract clothing to the Postmaster-General’s Department for the various States for each year 1911 to 1922?
– Owing to the expense involved in providing an answer to the honorable member’s question, I must ask him to move for the preparation of a return.
Cost of Boots
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What is the itemized cost of boots contracted for and supplied to the Defence Department for each year 1911 to 1922?
-Owing to the expense involved in providing an answer to the honorable member’s question, I must request him to move for the preparation of a return.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What were the numbers from 1914 to 1918 of persons rejected from enlistment in -
What constituted the chief reasons for such rejections ?
-It is regretted that the military records are not available for the period 1914-1918. The matter is very difficult and complicated. The examining officers and staffs were scattered throughout the States, and these officers and their staffs were frequently changed’ owing to their enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, with the result that only records essential at the time were forwarded to State Head-quarters; further, the standards were altered considerably during the war, with the consequence that individuals who had been rejected were subsequently accepted, also, under voluntary enlistment there was no barrier to an individual being rejected more than once at the same or another centre, and it is known that there is a number of such cases. I am ascertaining what particulars are available in the Navy Office.
Reports of River Heights
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Debate resumed from 19th July (vide page 605), 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 : - Mir 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’s representatives on the Board of Directors, be agreed to by this House.”
.- I Have listened, with a certain amount of interest, if not amazement, to the speeches delivered by an ti -Labour representatives upon the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and the most amazing feature of their utterances is the fact that every honorable member with legal training has absolutely failed to approve of the agreement with the Amalgamated Wireless Limited. These ingenious gentlemen - I am speaking of those on the other side. of the Chamber - put forward various suggestions for undoing, in a legal manner, something which they have already done and made as hard and fast as possible. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), with mental agility not characteristic of him, has gone to great lengths in pointing out the defects of the agreement. He concluded that portion of his speech by saying that the agree-‘ ment made was a legally binding document, and therefore nothing could be done. Later on, however, by another mental somersault, he recommended that the Government take certain action in order to nullify the blundering which has gone on in connexion with the matter. The responsibility for this blundering lies on the shoulders of the Government, and partly on the shoulders of the Country party; we, on this side, accept no responsibility whatever. This is only one of the many illustrations of the incapacity and incompetence of the one-man Government with which Australia is burdened at the present time. Apparently, without consultation with the Cabinet, the Prime Minister brought down this scheme, and it is a “scheme,” applying an ordinary meaning to the word. “ Scheme “ has become accepted as expressing something, to say the least, highly suspicious; and this is a “ scheme “ in all its meaning - a scheme which only such a Government as this would have the audacity to bring into being. The Government and their supporters must take every responsibility for the perpetration of this very questionable agreement. The. honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) knows perfectly well, as I venture to say most of the members on the Government side know, that the agreement is “too hot” - too flagrantly unfair; and the honorable member, like many others, is now endeavouring to find some way out of the impasse into which they have been led by the Government. There are certain people outside interested in this particular activity, and interested only because it means dividends; and it is well that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), who has investigated the matter thoroughly, should have launched his amendment, which has caused the Government and their supporters more worry and anxiety than any proposal during the last four or five years. The agreement was so obviously wrong and questionable as to call for this amendment, and now we have the Government and their supporters endeavouring to wriggle out of a position in which they have been placed by certain persons outside this chamber. Those persons, of. course, may be linked up with persona inside this chamber who are financially interested, and the latter, of course, will vote for the agreement. With themit is not a question of Australian interests, but a question of business and profits, and as business men they will do all things, questionable or otherwise, to further the agreement. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) made a speech to the executive of the Women’sNational Federation, in which he condemned the agreement. Byacertain method that honorable member has come to the conclusion that the agreementis a bad one) and that the Government or this House will have to get out of it the best way they can.
– What way is that?
– Practically repudiation. I did not hear the honorable member for Balaclava say that what we on this side have suggested is not a way out. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), with his legal mind and great experience - with his keen appreciation of all legal documents - is of opinion that this is a had agreement in certain respects, but that it is binding on the Government. The honorable member helplessly throws out his hands, and says, “ It is bad, but we have to accept it.”
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member most certainly said that the House would have to accept the agreement.
– I did; I said it was a good agreement.
– The honorable member said it was a good agreement, but made several qualifications.
– The honorable member pointed out several ways in which the agreement could have been bettered.
– Where? Give me one instance.
– Tha honorable member in passing referred briefly to the selection of an “ independent “ chairman. The question of an independent chairman was, apparently, by some means or other, intentionally or otherwise, overlooked. It was generally accepted by the Committee, so far as I can learn, that there was to be an independent chairman, but because of something of which I have no knowledge, the matter was dropped, and we have an agreement in which we find no mention of an independent chairman. May I say in passing that to get an independent chairman from the officers of the different Nationalist Leagues outside is an impossibility. The only way to get an independent chairman is from the Labour party. I do not care where we go in the Nationalist party, whether it be to the National Club or the different council* and executives of the partY, we find all linked up in the ramifications of finance and commerce throughout the country. How, in the name »f heaven, can it be expected that a man from the Australian
Bank of Commerce, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald, or the Colonial Sugar Kenning Company - a man linked up as tightly as it is possible for one to be with those who permeate the financial and commercial fabric of ‘ this country - can be independent in such a matter ? There is no such thing as an independent chairman when he is selected by our friends opposite, who represent the financial and commercial world ; to expect an independent chairman under such circumstances is so much rot and foolishness. After the lawyers opposite have finished with the agreement, we can only come to the conclusion that it is one which, at all costs, should not be consummated,* and I say that after listening to men who have endeavoured to show that it is a good agreement. But there is a way out. I would not for a moment pit my legal knowledge against that of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) or the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) on this particular matter, though there are points on which I might; but I point out that we are now seeking to restrain the rapacity and crookedness of certain people who represent Marconi and the Amalgamated Wireless, and prevent them from bleeding the Commonwealth more than is absolutely necessary. The amendment reads -
That 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.
Clause 12 of the agreement is -
The company shall, within six months after the date of this agreement, or within such extended time as tho representatives of tlie Commonwealth on the Board may determine -
Before the period can- be extended, the representatives of .the Commonwealth on the Board must approve - enter into an agreement providing for the erection and operation of the stations mentioned in paragraphs (/) and [g) of clause 5 of this agreement. The agreement shall contain guarantees of such a nature and to BUd 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.
Whilst the Government have been lax and stupid, wilfully stupid, I believe, in. allowing the Marconi Company and other companies to dip their hands into the Commonwealth Treasury, there is nothing to prevent the Government instructing their representatives as to what procedure shall be followed iu regard to an extension of the period mentioned in that clause. I hope that the Government will instruct their representatives that no agreement shall be entered into without adequate guarantee against lose. Because of atmospherics and acts of Providence” and other people, including the Prime Minister, the guarantee should be great. I do not anticipate, ‘ however, that the Government will ask for any guarantees which will be likely to harass their friends. God forbid that this Government, who were placed in office by the financial and commercial interests, should do anything derogatory to their nominators, or anything that would decrease in the slightest degree the profits of those people. The amendment provides a way out for the Government, but because that way is clear. I do not anticipate that the Government will accept- it. It may be said that because party feeling has been introduced into this discussion, honorable members who axe opposed to the agreement cannot vote for the amendment, lest by so doing they might jeopardize the Go,vernment They must accept the responsibility for their own mental gymnastics, but to my mind if a thing is bad it is bad. As for this amendment being a party issue, there is no doubt as to where members of the Labour party have stood right from the inception of the project. We knew that it was just another of those boodling schemes which the Government have been perpetrating ever since 1916. Despite what may be said by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), the amendment affords a means of escape from the present unsatisfactory position.
I am not at all satisfied with the Commonwealth representatives on the directorate - Sir William Vicars, Mr. J. Stinson, and Mr. M. Allard. It is an extraordinary fact that in some instances Mr. G. M. Allard is mentioned and in other instances Mr. M. Allard; obviously both names apply to the same man. Sir William Vicars is, firstly, a business man, .and, secondly, a strong adherent of the National party. He is one of the first directors of the National Club in Sydney, the meeting place for the Nationalists and anti-Labourites in that city, and I suppose that it is because of the money ‘ he put into the club and into the party funds that he is chosen as a Commonwealth representative on the Wireless directorate. He has very great financial interests, not only in woollens, but also in banking, insurance, and many other large concerns, and when we remember that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is linked up with the Sydney Ferries, and the Sydney Ferries are linked up with the ABO Bank, and so on right down the list, we see that these three directors have identical financial interests. In one directorate we may see the names of Sir William . Vicars and Mr. Mason Allard. On some other company Sir William Vicars and Mr. Stinson are the directors, and right through the list these three men are linked up with almost every financial or commercial interest of this country. How can we expect such men to represent the Commonwealth ? They are representing the commercial and financial world, not Australia.
– Is their commercial experience of no value?
– Most decidedly it is, provided it is given for the country’s good. But if it is given for the benefit of certain private financiers it is of no value to the ‘ Commonwealth and should not be tolerated. Why have the Government made this extraordinary departure of putting private commercial men on the Wireless directorate when, on * all other concerns of a like character the Commonwealth is represented by public servants only? What control has the’ Commonwealth over Sir William Vicars? What penalty can it impose on him ox Mr. Stinson or Mr. Allard?
– They can be removed from the Board.
– But what would he the benefit of removing them if the Government are to continue the policy of appointing directors of the National Federation to these positions? In connexion with the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, a company in which the Commonwealth is partnered with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the Government have selected representatives upon whom they can visit punishment for any misbehaviour. They are men whose honour and jobs are at stake, and they would not lend themselves to manipulation by any outside financial interests. One of those representatives is Sir Robert Garran, a servant of the Commonwealth, whose reputation and position are at stake. Another representative is Sir Robert Gibson, who has been connected with the Commonwealth Service for quite a long time, although he has now retired. Mr. Lockyer is another’ Common wealth servant. All three are men who have a record of long public service and good reputations, and they have - something tangible to lose if they do anything that is not honest and upright. Representing the Commonwealth on the Wireless directorate, however, are some of the leading lights of the commercial -and financial world, with all its trickery, and’ all its ramifications.
– I think the honorable member will find that Mr. Stinson was a public servant.
– Is he at present an employee of the Commonwealth?
– Sir Robert Gibson certainly is not.
– At the time of his appointment he was.
– Never at any time.
– This is not the first time in which the people of Australia have been robbed by the wireless people. This is not the first occasion on which lies have been told and Governments misled. Honorable members probably retain painful recollections of the manner in which the Commonwealth was bled in 1914 by this same gang, namely, the Marconi people and Amalgamated Wireless. Honorable members will recall that the Labour party investigated certain patents of Father Shaw. These were adopted, following examination and inquiries by Mr. Balsillie. Then Amalgamated Wireless and Marconi, acting much on a par with the methods of American finance, lodged an injunction against the Commonwealth. So far as one can ‘learn, the Marconi and Amalgamated Wireless interests had not the slightest tittle of evidence to prove that they were entitled to an injunction. The wheel of political fortune turned. The Labour party went out, and the Liberal party came in. While Marconi and Amalgamated Wireless could not “ put any jokes over “ the Labour Government, they certainly could and did “ put the joke over” the incoming Liberal Government. Simultaneously with the. coming into power of the latter Administration, Amalgamated Wireless and the Marconi people stepped forward to secure some spoils. So far as; one can ascertain from all known sources, they had no case; but that did mob prevent them from entering into an agreement. I think it was Sir, Joseph Cook who conducted the negotiations on behalf of the Commonwealth, with the understanding that each of the parties should bear their own costs. But the point is that the Commonwealth paid £5,000 for certain patents. After the injunction had been lodged the Government instructed a Mr. Swinburne to investigate the patents. I refer now to the Father Shaw patents; and he reported that there was absolutely no infringement whatever.. Probably at that time no greater expert in wireless matters could have been consulted than Mr. Swinburne; and he reported that the Shaw patents were actually 33 per cent. more effective than the others which were in dispute.
On 26th May, 1914, Mr. Fisk- the same Mr. Fisk who has now “sold a pup “ to thiscountry, much to the edifi cation ‘ ofthe Marconi interests, and of the shareholders in Amalgamated Wireless, and of men like Mr. H. R. Denison, who is another of those gentlemen whose name honorable members will find in the shareholders’ lists- of all the banks and insurance companies, ferries, and wharfs-
– Wool tops, &c.
– Just so; a member, in fact, of the inner financial gang. This same Mr. Fisk, I repeat, . approached the Government in reference to bringing about a settlement. For the sum of £5,000 the Commonwealth Government were to be given certain patent rights. Two monthsprior to that settlement having been offered and accepted, Amalgamated Wireless held certain rights so far as the Goldsmith patents were concerned, and when the agreement was entered into between theGovernment and the Marconi and Amalgamated Wireless people it was understood, without its being set down on paper, that the Goldsmith patents were to be transferred, too. That just shows that the cunning of the Amalgamated Wireless and Marconi interests was the same in those days - eight years ago - as to-day. The Government knew; the Solicitoir-General’s office knew ; every one interested knew, that the company held the Goldsmith patents in, March, 1914. But, on 26th May of that year, when the agreement was entered into, no Goldsmith patents were held by the company. It had transferred them to a German firm; namely, the Telefunken. It was actually not until after war had broken out that the people of Australia knew that those patents had been sold by the Marconi and Amalgamated Wireless concerns to the Telefunken Company. And, so far as one can learn, no transfer took place; which makes one think that the roguery of 1914 and the cunning trickery of 1922 have been carried out in exactly the same way by exactly the same people. If there is one thing that should have prevented the Government in these latter days from entering into an agreement with the Marconi and Amalgamated Wireless crowd, it was that demonstration of their trickery in 1914. The company carried out what was quite a spieler’s trick - although one might meet with much cleverer spielers on a racecourse. That was to transfer all the patent rights they possessed. Then, knowing that they had transferred the Goldsmith patent rights, these people were ‘’ on velvet.” The Commonwealth Government paid £5,000 for patents which, were useless, and the people of Australia became £5,009 the poorer because of that successful example of cunning. The whole of the patents which were in any way useful were to expire, anyhow, three months after the agreement had been entered into.
– What did the Commonwealth Government get out of the fact that these people had entered an action against them for which there was no basis?
– The Government were just as nice in those days as they are at present. They did everything that was desired of them by Amalgamated Wireless, just as they have been doing during the past few months. The only difference in the whole of the two sets of circumstances is in respect of the time, the one incident having to do with the year 1914, and the other, with 1922. The influences which were at work in 1914 are those which have been at work in this present year; and they have operated in each instance upon the same Government.
Later, the Amalgamated Wireless people again controlled those patents which they had sold in 1914. They bought them during the war. Sir Joseph Cook had been recommended to buy the patents, which were on the open market. The Commonwealth was then spending huge sumson wireless. However, the Government of the day refused to buy, so Amalgamated Wireless came into their own, and again controlled those patents which the Government in 1914 had thought they were purchasing. The company misled the Government in 1914; they “ sold them a pup.” They have misled us to-day, and have sold us a bigger “ pup.” In 1914 the “ pup “ cost us £5,000. To-day it will cost us half-a-million sterling, or more. So much for that!
– Was Sir Thomas’ Hughes chairman of the company in those days 1
– I do not know. The share list of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, with which Mr. Fisk in a momentary lapse kindly supplied us, is something to conjure with. We find in that list of shareholders the names of the Adelaide Steam-ship Company Limited, the Australian Steam-ships
Proprietary Limited, the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company Limited, and Mr. Bartholomew and his friends and relations.
– Are not most of the shareholders- Australian citizens?
– The capital of the Adelaide Steam-ship Company is not wholly Australian, nor is that of the Marconi English Company, which is on the list of shareholders. We have also in the share list the names of the Marconi International Marine Communication Company, which holds 16,000 shares, and the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Limited, which is the holder of 33,000 shares. These companies have different names, but their address is the same - “ Strand, London, W.C.” I find also in this share list Burns, Philp, and Company Limited set down as the holders of 1,142 shares. The capital of that company cannot be said to be wholly Australian. Members of the Fairfax family, owners of the Sydney Morning Herald, are shareholders, while Anthony Hordern is the holder of 3,826 shares, Lebbeus Hordern holds 1,481 shares, and Samuel Hordern 3,456 shares. Huddart Parker, Limited is another shareholder of the company, and last, but by no means least, we have the name of Sir Thomas Hughes given as the holder of 571 shares.
The Parliamentary Committee examined certain experts in Australia, and obtained sufficient evidence to show that it was highly improbable that effective communication could be established, by wireless over a distance of more than 2,500 or 3,000 miles. I am given to understand that the Committee, not content with this information, sent cable messages to America and England, asking for further information which might assist its members to arrive at certain conclusions. The High Commissioner was communicated with, and asked to supply certain particulars which’, according to the notes of evidence, were of a technical character. The inquiry made through the High Commissioner’s Office by the Parliamentary Committee would go through the hands of Mr. Shepherd, Secretary to the High Commissioner, who is also a shareholder in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited.
– Is his name on the share list?
– It is.
– Has the honorable member a complete list of ‘ shareholders ?
– J[ may be doing the company an injustice, but I am doubtful whether it is a complete list of shareholders with which we have been -supplied. I have no desire to reflect in any way on Mr. Shepherd, .but I consider it is highly dangerous to permit public servants, who may be called upon at any ‘ time to make inquiries of this character, to have financial interests in . a company of this kind. A public servant so situated might be called upon to obtain information which might make or break a company in which he had a personal interest. In this instance, Mr. Shepherd, a shareholder in the company, was asked by the Parliamentary Committee to procure certain information, and practically the only source in London from which he could obtain it was the Marconi companies, which hold a very large number of shares in the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. Everything, of course, may be perfectly fair and above board so far as those companies are concerned.’ Mr. Shepherd, I believe, does his work honestly and well, but public servants are expected to protect the interests of the Commonwealth even at the sacrifice of their own, and should not have any financial association with a company of this kind. Any information that came from England would be of a character calculated to lead the Committee to believe that the agreement was a desirable one from the point of view of the Commonwealth.
I am not satisfied with the agreement, nor is my party satisfied with it. I venture to say that a majority of the supporters of the Government do not approve of it. Judging bv their interjections and general demeanour, it seems to me that’ this agreement is altogether too hot for the supporters of the Government to carry. Apparently it is not too hot for the Prime Minister. Nothing is too hot or too heavy for him. When he addressed himself to this question yesterday he spoke as he might have done at an Empire dinner in London. He referred in glowing terms to what might be achieved as the result of this enterprise. I am satisfied that even if a distance of 24,000 miles instead of 12,000 miles separated us from the . Old Country, the fight honorable gentleman would he prepared to tell the House that neither atmospheric nor any other conditions would prevent us from having, by means of wireless, direct communication with England for twenty hours out of every twenty-four hours. The Prime Minister came here, I have no doubt, primed with information supplied by Mr. Fisk and a few others who are behind this scheme. I am convinced that . he did not consult his colleagues in regard to it. We have had evidence of a complete lack of communication between the Prime Minister and his colleagues with respect to this question. On Friday last the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) made a certain .statement with regard to the chairman of the company, whereas yesterday the Prime Minister made an absolutely different statement on the subject. He told us that he had already informed the company that the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as seventh director was not acceptable to the Government. The Treasurer, however, knew nothing of this on Friday last, and I do not believe that any other member of the Government was aware of it. If that be so, a most extraordinary state of affairs is revealed. It is remarkable that’ one man - the Leader of the Government - should be able to do these things ‘and “ get away “ with them. During the last five ‘years the Prime Minister has “got away” with a good many things in this country, but not one of them is a3 questionable as the matter at present under review. It will probably be found that those who contributed to the honorarium which the right honorable gentleman received not long sincefrom a number of grateful residents of Australia and other parts of the British Empire, are connected with such enterprises as the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited,’ the Marconi Companies, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the Sydney Ferries Limited, variousgas and electric lighting companies, and’ other financial and commercial institutions.
Exception was taken last night by thehonorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) to a statement made by thehonorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) , to the effect that Mr. G. Mason Allard was chairman of directors of Messrs. Beard, Watson and Company Limited,’ Sydney. In support of hisstatement the honorable member for-
Bourke quoted from the Australian Investment Digest, of October, 1921. The honorable member for Parramatta said his statement was wrong, and quoted from the Australian Joint Stock Company’s Tear-Book, for 1913-14, which set out that at that time Mr. H. B. Allard was chairman of directors of Messrs. Beard, Watson and Company Limited. The Australian Investment Digest which superseded the Australian, Joint Stock Company’s Tear-Boole, shows that in October, 1921 - seven years later - Mr. G. Mason Allard was chairman of directors of the firm. It is set out in the Digest that the firm .of Messrs, Beard, Watson and Company Limited was registered in New South Wales, on the 3rd August, 1901- to acquire businesses carried on at Sydney by W. H. Beard, J. H. Watson, and Jas. Kebblewhite under tlie style of Beard, Watson and Co. The company was reconstructed in September, 1920, under the above name.
That probably explains the change of chairman. It is set out further in this publication that the directors are -
I think that is sufficient evidence of the accuracy of the statement made by the honorable member for. Bourke that Mr. G. M. Allard, who has been appointed as a representative of the Commonwealth on the Board is associated in business with Mr. C. P. Bartholomew, who is also a member of the Board, and that any vote given by Mr. Allard as a director of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited would probably be in the interests not of the Commonwealth but of Messrs. Beard, Watson and Company. I venture to say that the 10,860 shares held by Mr. Bartholomew are owned, not by him, but by Messrs. Beard, Watson and Company. Mr. Allard would in that “case be part owner of those shares, and would not be likely as director of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited to give a vote calculated to decrease his own personal dividends.
– But the honorable mem ber has no foundation for these statements.
– I have given the names of the directors of Messrs. Beard, Watson and Company, and have shown that Mr. C. P. Bartholomew, a member of . that firm, is set down as the holder of 10,860 shares. I have no evidence that these shares are held by Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company.
Mr.- Bowden. - The probability is that their articles of association would not permit them to hold them.
– I am, however, of opinion that the shares held by Mr. P. Bartholomew are Beard, Watson, and Company’s, and therefore they are jointly owned by Mr: George Mason Allard, who with Mr. John Stinson, a good National supporter, and Sir William Vicars, one of the heads of the National party in New South Wales, has been placed on the directorate of the new Amalgamated Wireless Company, not in order to protect the interests of the Commonwealth, but so that he and his two co-directors may protect the financial interests of their own friends. I trust that the amendment will be carried.
.- I was a member of the Wireless Committee which sat for some time and took a good deal of trouble to draw up the agreement between the Government and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. We had to deal with highly technical subjects, and in this connexion we were very much indebted to Senator John D. Millen, who acted as secretary to the Committee, and to Mr. Malone, a Government officer. In fact, we could not very well have done without the services of those gentlemen, and we were extremely fortunate in having them to advise us in regard to the technical side of the question. The agreement, as submitted to the Committee, did not find acceptance from any member of the Committee. We turned it into one that could almost be termed a new agreement. I was very much surprised at the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) when he said that the agreement meant that the Commonwealth was to undertake a huge experiment. The Commonwealth was certainly to undertake a huge experiment under the terms of the old agreement, and, furthermore, was committed to the Marconi people to the extent that a contract was to be actually let to them for the erection of a high-power station in Australia at a cost of about £600-000.
– Contingent on their entering into this agreement.
– That is so. But we did not know what the Commonwealth was to get. The Committee had one special object in view, and that was to see that the Commonwealth would not be called upon to carry out what we regarded as an experiment by entering into an agreement with the company for the maintenance of commercial wireless communication over 12,000 miles, whereas the longest stage operating was about 4,500. We said to Amalgamated Wireless Limited, “You claim that you have the goods ; we say that you must deliver them.” Thereupon we drew up clause 12 in the following terms: -
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 paragraphsf and g of clause 5 of this agreement. The agreement shall contain guarantees of such a nature and to such an amount as are approved by the Commonwealth representatives on the Board of Directors for the provision of a direct commercial wireless service between Australia and the stations in the United Kingdom and Canada.
The agreement referred to is the very essence of the whole business. The success or failure of the new company depends on the contract to be approved of by the directors appointed by the Commonwealth Government, in whom are vested even greater powers than those possessed by the other four directors. They have full power to say whether the agreement referred to in clause 12 is acceptable to the Commonwealth Government or not. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Wise) says that many honorable members have swallowed the statements made by Mr. Fisk.but I can assure the House that the Committee looked upon that gentleman’s statements with a good deal of suspicion. That was one of their reasons for stipulating in clause 12 that these people must put up a monetary consideration to prove that they could do what they claimed to be able to do. We stipulated that they must provide commercial communication which we described in a sub-clause in the following terms: -
For the purposes of this agreement, the Commercial Wireless Service means a service capable, as regards plant, apparatus and personnel, of maintaining communication throughout 800 days of every year on the minimum basis of twenty words per minute each way for twelvehours per day.
The point is that if they cannot give this service they are not to get £500,000 from the Commonwealth Government. Possibly they may be able to provide a service worth £100,000. If that is so the Commonwealth Government will pay them £100,000.
– But how much will they be paid before it is ascertained that we are getting a satisfactory service.
– Provision is made for an absolute test, and for a monetary consideration acceptable to the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors.
– And the guarantee has to be given within six months or an extended time.
– It is for the Commonwealth directors to say what the monetary consideration shall be and what the time shall be. Members of the Committee were not experts, and therefore they placed upon the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors the responsibility of saying what a satisfactory commercial wireless service should be. However, the Committee were competent to draw up the agreement which the Government accepted, and which has been signed by Amalgamated Wireless Limited, and the least the Government could have done was to have asked the members of that Committee who should be the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors. It is extremely unfortunate that Sir Thomas Hughes should be chairman of the company. In the first place the Committee set out to secure effective guarantees. Its next object was to secure the appointment of an independent chairman. It took us a long time to come to a conclusion, but we all understood that we were to secure the appointment of an independent chairman. Four of the members of the Committee were lawyers and the Solicitor-General (Sir Robert Garran) looked over the agreement afterwards and finalized: it. We all thought that the chairman would be an independent person. But now the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) and the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) point out thatwe could not have an independent chairman appointed, hecause it was open for any individual to make himself “independent.”
– I did not make that statement.
– The honorable member said that if the word ‘ ‘ independent ‘ ‘ had been inserted in the agreement it would not have made one iota of difference.
– In the case of Sir Thomas Hughes.
– Yes, because he resigned from the position he previously held and submitted himself as an independent man. I hope that the Government will not stand by the selection. It is true that the three representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors will have greater powers than those possessed by the other four directors in connexion with the agreement referred to in clause 12.
– But who are the three representatives of the Commonwealth?
– I know nothing of them, but I have not the slighest doubt that they are men of high standing. If what the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) says be true, that two of the directors are partners, one of them having been appointed to represent the0 Commonwealth Government and the other having been chosen to represent the Amalgamated Wireless Limited, it seems to me that the position is positively bad. I hope that the Government will have learned a lesson, and that they will see that the agreement specified in clause 12 will safeguard the Commonwealth, which the Committee appointed by this Parliament, tried its best to do. The Government are not to be called .upon to undertake an experiment, because the Committee has provided that the other party is to put up monetary guarantees. The original agreement specified that the Marconi Company were to erect a high-power station at a cost of £600,000. Under the present agreement, as drawn up by the Committee, open tenders are to be called for the erection of this station. They are not to be submitted by one firm only. It will be the fault of the Government and of its representatives on the board of directors if that provision in the agreement is not carried out.
.- I wish to say a few words with reference to the controversy concerning the relative positions of Mr. Horace Bateley Allard and Mr. George Mason Allard as ‘chairman of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company Limited. I have made a close investigation and find that the only connexion Mr. Horace Bateley -Allard has with the company now is that the firm of Messrs. H. B. Allard, Way and Hardy are auditors to the firm of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company Limited. Although Mr. Horace Bateley Allard “was chairman of the firm of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company Limited for many years, a reconstruction has taken place, and within the last year or two Mr. George Mason Allard has taken his place. Therefore, at the present time, Mr. George Mason Allard is chairman of the firm of Messrs. Beard, Watson, and Company Limited, and the statement to that effect made last night by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) was accurate. I regret that I challenged its accuracy, and I take the earliest opportunity to let the House know the exact position.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
.- When I think of the history of the wireless agreement, I am perplexed at the attitude of honorable members opposite. In the first place, the agreement was on the table of this House for about two months, and when the House finally considered it it was decided to refer it to a Committee, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was authorized to act upon the advice of that Committee. As we have heard, the Committee examined the original agreement, made very material alterations in it, and sent it back to the Prime Minister in an amended form. The matters raised by the Committee and in dispute between them and the Amalgamated Wireless Limited were all settled, as th’e Committee thought, in favour of the Commonwealth. The question of taking over the Commonwealth’s existing radio plant and personnel was agreed to. The suggestion that guarantees should be put up by any company undertaking any contract in connexion with the plant or other requisities to Garry out the agreement was also agreed to. The question of the election of the board of directors, and, consequently, the control in the board of directors of the company was compromised. We must always remember that so far as the company is concerned the control in shareholders’ meeting is always with the Government. Control on the board of directors was asked for by Amalgamated Wireless, and, after thorough consideration, the clause which has been so often referred to was agreed to, namely, that there should be nominated three directors by and to represent the Commonwealth, and three to be elected by and to represent Amalgamated “Wireless; the seventh director was to be elected by the six, or, in the event of a disagreement, an arbitrator was to be appointed. If the agreement, as drawn up now, had been brought down to this House for sanction, I believe that not only honorable members on this side, but honorable members opposite, would, have agreed to it.
– Knowing all we know about the thing?
– The suggestion is that before execution the .agreement should have been brought here, but if it had been, none of these things would have cropped up. We could not have known what has happened in the interim, because it would not have happened; we should have had this agreement before us as it left the Committee.
– These administrative shortcomings- have nothing to do with the agreement?
– Nothing at all; we should have had this agreement as the Committee finalized it. They sent it to the Prime Minister, saying it was all right. If this agreement had been referred to us here, and members of the Committee from all sides had got up and said they had given careful attention to it and believed it was all right, we should have taken their word, as the Prime Minister did when he executed it. The objections that are now being made arise from what occurred subsequently to the agreement having been entered into.
– Would not the objection to Mr. Allard have arisen?
– No ; because Mr. Allard would not have been appointed. If the agreement had come to us direct from the Committee no appointment would have been made under it, and the names of Mr. Allard and other gentlemen would not have been before us.
– You suggest that, the Government would not have put these appointments before the House?
– That is another question; the amendment we are dealing with is to the effect that the agreement ought to have been put before the House. If the agreement had come here direct all these things would not have happened, and we should not be in our present position. We might have had another motion disapproving of the appointments, but that is another question. This is why I think the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) is not accurate when he says that the amendment provides a way out of the difficulty. To my mind, the amendment certainly does not do that, because the agreement is signed; if the amendment means anything, it means repudiation of an agreement already executed by the Commonwealth.
– If we wished to repudiate, we would throw the whole thing out and have done with it.
– That is quite another matter. I do not think that under ordinary circumstances this House, if it had had the agreement before it would have repudiated it; it is only in the light of events which followed the execution of the agreement that the amendment has been brought forward.
The honorable member for Darling criticised the share list of Amalgamated Wireless, pointing out that there were on it large shipping companies, newspaper proprietors, and great financial people, not only in New South Wales, but in the other States. But I ask, ‘ who is more likely to take up shares for the encouragement of wireless than men who are dependent on it - men who are looking to it to help them in their own business and in the advance of their own particular interests? If this wireless agreement,, as it proposes to do, is going to reduce cable rates and the cost of press messages, is it not to the interests of newspapers to encourage it? I see nothing wrong or subtle in such support. As to the shipping, all the great companies desire an effective system of wireless in connexion with their own vessels, for this is very vital in the interests of passengers, crews and the ships themselves. These are the very people whom I should expect to see encouraging a company of this sort, which proposes to establish high-power stations.
– They require some kind of guarantees when they are putting in their money.
– They are taking a risk, because they expect to get service, and it is a service which goes direct to the shipping and to newspapers.
The personnel of the appointments has been criticised, and it has been suggested that men in the employ of the Commonwealth ought to have been selected. But I remind honorable members that the whole cry has been that we should get the assistance of business men; and if we get business men of importance who can successfully conduct business affairs, we get men who are interested not only in one industrial concern but in many. The very fact that they are interested in other enterprises shows that they have experience and ought to be able to conduct the affairs of the Commonwealth in a satisfactory way. I do not know anything about Mr. Mason Allard except as an accountant; but I do know Mr. Stinson and Sir William Vicars. So far as these two are concerned, I believe that they will give the Commonwealth good service, for they are as good men as could have been selected. When Sir Robert Gibson, of Melbourne, is mentioned as against them, I see no difference, so far as a selection is concerned, between that gentleman’s position in this city, and the position that Sir William Vicars holds in Sydney. I cannot see why these men who have proved their worth should be objected to.
Like other honorable members, I have been astonished at one or two things in connexion with this business. I have been astonished at the action of Sir Thomas Hughes, who has a reputation, and a high reputation, as one of the most honest, straightforward men in the business life of Sydney. ‘It has come as a tremendous shock to me to see him lend himself to such a thing as this.
– What is the meaning of all these astonishing things?
– I can only say that it has caused perturbation in my own minds; and it casts such a suspicion over the business that in my opinion we shall have to watch very carefully and closely the whole of the transactions. There is no doubt that, so far as Sydney is concerned, Sir Thomas Hughes is one of the most prominentmen interested in wireless, and it was because of that he was elected as director of Amalgamated Wireless. But if the Amalgamated Wireless were going to “ play the game “ in an ordinary straightforward business manner, one of the first men they would have nominated as one of the three directors to be selected by them would have been Sir Thomas Hughes. There is no doubt he would have been the first chosen, but, knowing his strength in the community, and knowing his intimate knowledge of wireless, those interested apparently held him back to be put forward ultimately as the seventh director. I consider this is a breach of the clause of the agreement. How a man of the standing of Mr. Consett Stephen could construe that clause of the agreement as giving him an absolutely free hand I do not know. He apparently took the view that his only duty as arbitrator was to select the best available man for the position irrespective of the question as to whether or not such a man had any connexion with either the Commonwealth or the Amalgamated Wireless. It is a narrow interpretation such as I should not expect from, a man of Mr. Stephen’s ability and reputation. The very wording of the clause ought to have put him on his guard. We know that representatives of the Commonwealth, particularly Mr. Stinson, put the case most strongly that the seventh man ought to he an independent man; but, in spite of that, the arbitrator made what I consider an extraordinary appointment. As I have already said, it has caused great perturbation, not only in my own mind, but, as I can see, in the minds of other honor able members. If the business of the company is going to be conducted in this way - like American “big business,’ as honorable members opposite have said-
– British “ big business,” too!
– British “big business,” too, if the honorable member likes. If the business of the company is going to be conducted in this way, I am sorry that my vote had anything to do with our going into this matter at all. I supported the agreement as much as anything because I knew personally some of the men concerned, and I believed them to be honest, straightforward men. How Sir Thomas Hughes is coming out of this without a decrease of his reputation I do not know.
– Is it too late to draw out if wehave made a mistake?
– I think so. I am not prepared to suggest that the Commonwealth should repudiate its contracts.
– Even if we think it is a bad agreement?
– Yes. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) has pointed out that clause 12 gives us what we require.
– Does it?
– Does the honorable member not think that it does? However, it is provided in the agreement that in any contract the representatives of the Commonwealth shall get sufficient guarantees for the carrying of it out, and that the contract shall be for the effective working of the plant, apparatus, and personnel - the whole thing- and if the plant does not do its job, they may refuse to proceed.
– They can hang up the work?
– If they like; they can make a contract if they choose.
– If they do not get those guarantees they may terminate the contract.
– That is so ; if within six months the guarantees are not given, and the contract is not entered into, the whole thing can be cancelled.
– As a matter of equity we cannot ask for unreasonable guarantees.
– No ; but we can ask for guarantees ‘ that are reasonable. We do not want any unreasonable guarantee. If we ask for a reasonable guarantee that the work shall be done, and it is not done, the guarantee can be forfeited, and there is provision under that clause to terminate the whole transaction. I think we can rely upon that clause to get us out of any difficulty in which we might find ourselves. There has been some reference to the manner in which the Amalgamated Wireless Company treated the Commonwealth in 1914. Some honorable members on this side were hot in Parliament in 1914, but many honorable members opposite were, and we heard nothing of that treatment until this debate commenced.
– The Labour party was not in power when that happened.
– But if the facts were within the knowledge of honorable members, why did they not give them to the House in December last, when the original agreement was before us, in order to show that we could not trust Amalgamated Wireless Limited.
– The Prime Minister knows more about that company than does any one else, yet he entered into the agreement.
– If there is anything in the criticism honorable members have voiced regarding what happened in 1914, they should have given the facts to the House last December.
.-I have listened carefully and attentively to the speeches on this amendment, and the more I have heard the more satisfied 1 have been that honorable members on this side were right last session when they refused to trust the Prime Minister. It is well known that, having returned from the Imperial Conference towards the end of the year, he attempted, in the dying hours of the session, to rush a wireless agreement through the House. Honorable members on this side of the House objected.
– Not only honorable members on that side of the House.
– Three members of the Country party supported us, and we succeeded in delaying the adoption of the agreement until it was further investigated. I am satisfied there is a great deal more underlying this proposal than many honorable members realize. It is called a “ wireless “ proposition, but there has been a lot of wire-pulling taking place- for some time, and it did not commence at the Imperial Conference. The honorable member for Nepean (Mr. Bowden) said that we should have reminded the House of what occurred in 1914. Nobody knew more about the occurrences of 1914 than did the present Prime Minister. He knew that when the late Charles Frazer was PostmasterGeneral in the Labour Administration, the Government, at the instigation of the wireless expert, decided to establish a Commonwealth wireless system. They immediately found themselves opposed by the Telefunken and Marconi companies, who sought an order of the Court to restrain the Commonwealth from proceeding with its scheme. As the Court would be influenced only by expert evidence, the Government imported the best wireless expert obtainable in the world, Mr. Swinburne, at a cost of, approximately, £3,500. Mr. Swinburne reported to the Government that the system which they were proposing to adopt was the best in the world at that time, and that it did not infringe any of the patent rights of the Marconi and Telefunken companies. Then the socalled Amalgamated Wireless Company - really Marconi and Telefunken - became scared, and on 26th May, 1914, just prior to the outbreak of war, wrote a letter to the Government offering to withdraw the legal proceedings if theCommonwealth would pay them £5,000, each side to pay its own legal costs: The company also offered to sell certain patent rights to the Government, including the Goldsmith rights, which at that time were considered the most efficient in the world for long distances. The Postmaster-General at that time was the Honorable Agar Wynne, and the Government accepted the company’s offer. A sum of £5,000 was paid to the company, and the Commonwealth was to receive certain patent rights; but, upon investigation, it was discovered that these German Jews, who were behind the company then as they are behind the Marconi Company to-day, had sold the Government a right that would expire within two months of the sale, and could then be used by anybody for nothing. Two months before the outbreak of war these so-called patriots transferred to the Germans the only patent rights they possessed which were of any value. Those are the people whom we are asked to trust to-day; they are the same old gang of German Jews. That, briefly, is the history of their early connexion with wireless in this country, and the efforts made by certain Australians to establish an independent system controlled by the Commonwealth. If, knowing the past history of the wireless negotiations, honorable members are still prepared to allow the Government to escape censure for their action in connexion with the present agreement, they must answer to their constituents. Per sonally, I believe this to be a most “ fishy “ ‘transaction. From the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) we heard not one word of criticism of the Government, but he calmly admitted to us, the custodians of the rights of the people, that George Mason Allard, who has been appointed to represent the Commonwealth on the wireless directorate, is a partner with Charles Bartholomew, one of the representatives of the company. I have never heard of anything more scandalous. What is the use of making a fuss about the independence of the chairman? Already the company has a majority on the directorate. If Charles Bartholomew, who is a partner with George Mason Allard in the firm of Beard, Watson, and Company, is appointed to represent the company, and . Allard sits on the same board as the nominee of the Government, the Wireless Company will have in those men two representatives, for we may be sure that Allard will not vote against the interests of his own partner. Of the original 200,000 shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited the Marconi Company held 60,000. In order to increase the private capital to £500,000, as required by this agreement, an additional 300,000 shares have been issued. Were any applications invited in Australia for those shares? Was the issue advertised in the press, and was the Australian investing public asked to contribute capital to the company? No.
– Mr. Shepherd, Secretary to the High Commissioner’s Office, has fifty shares.
– No doubt that was a sort of bonus to Mr. Shepherd, although he might have held those shares for a long time. The Marconi Company have 60,000 of the original 200,000 shares, and according to the share list just issued the company has,so far as we can discover, another 100,000 shares of the new issue. We were told that this was to be an Australian enterprise of which we might all be proud, and why is it that Australian investors were never invited to take shares? Instead of that, a little game has been played by the German Jews - Godfrey Isaacs and Mossey Myers, who, after all, are the Marconi Company. This little gang of German Jew financiers controlling the Marconi Company have managed to secure the good services of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. This is a matter to which the
House should give more consideration than is being given in connexion with this amendment. ,
– But the Government have the numbers.
– They may have, but when the people understand that upon the wireless directorate there are two partners representing opposite interests, they will insist upon knowing from honorable members opposite why they voted to cover up this transaction by the Government. Practically every transaction with which the Government have been connected since the £25,000 bribe was given to the Prime Minister has been “ fishy.” We heard the, honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister) supporting the Go’vernment in the disposal of the Woollen Mills at Geelong, although they were making a profit for the Commonwealth. It is all right to allow private enterprise to take charge of a paying concern, but in connexion with wireless, because there may be a shadow of a chance of losing money, private enterprise is not to be trusted. Private enterprise asks the Government in this matter to find £500,000 of the people’s money, so that it may be utilized for the benefit of a few speculators. The whole transaction is shady, and investigation should not stop with the discussion of the amendment. The criticism should not be confined to the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as seventh director, but should extend over the whole history ,of the company since 1914. The Government might, at any rate, plead that Sir Thomas Hughes was appointed by an arbitrator, but no arbitrator appointed George Mason Allard. Knowing the business relationships of Allard with Bartholomew, the Government deliberately nominated the former to be their representative, allowing him to sit upon the board with his partner representing the opposite interests. It was only by accident that we heard that Sir Thomas Hughes had been appointed to the directorate. There was no protest from the Government against his appointment until the information regarding it was elicited in another place. A most serious charge has been established against the Government, and I cannot conceive of any honorable member voting with them on this amendment.
.- Much has been said concerning the fact that honorable members have not had the matter of the wireless agreement properly placed before them. But when it came under the attention of the House at the fag-end of last session, some honorable members, at any rate, entered an earnest and, indeed, a violent protest. I shall show, by reading excerpts from the Hansard records of December last, that there were some honorable members who warned the House of the true position. One said -
I oppose this agreement because I believe it is unfair to ask the people of Australia to become shareholders in a company under conditions that a mav would never think of advising a member of the ordinary public to accept.
The honorable member proceeded -
Honorable members seem to be anxious to come to a vote on this question but we are being compelled by the procedure adopted to do what we do not want to do. It is not fair for the Government at the last moment of the session to attempt to force such an important matter through the House simply because honorable members want to get away from their labours as quickly as possible. ‘ What are we here for? We are here to protect the interests of the public, and why should the Government be allowed to make this proposition which is not a proper business proposition - no one would so describe it - and, because it is the fag end of the session, tell honorable members that they are expected to say nothing ?
Then the proposition to appoint a Committee was mooted, and the following objection was made to the appointment of such a body: -
It may be that the Committee will not fairly represent the opinion of Parliament, even if it is composed of members of several parties; and unless we are given full and fair opportunity for discussion of its decision, we have no right to go into recess.
Yet honorable members have been informed, during the course of the present debate, that the House accepted the position, not knowing what it was doing. I say honorable members were warned. I admit that the House had not reasonable time in which to deal with so important a project; hut the scheme was placed before the House, and the House was undoubtedly blind to its’ duty.
– Whom has the honorable member been quoting?
– The honorable member for Robertson. The House, I repeat, was blind to its duty in this as in other matters. But the present crisis has at least thrown into high relief the condition into which we are drifting. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) advanced the wireless proposition; and, in some way or other, he persuaded the House to swallow it. Surely it is time that we, as the representatives of the people, not only awakened to the dangers of such a state of affairs, but took drastic action to remedy it! The Prime Minister yesterday quoted the words of the Leader of the Country party, the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), and interpreted them to mean that he had spoken in favour of the agreement. But, in reading the Hansard report, the right honorable gentleman forgot, or omitted, to tell the House what were the last few words employed. The honorable member said, in conclusion -
I should be sorry to he the cause of any long delay in the settlement of this matter, but, in my opinion, it requires more investigation.
– But the honorable member for Cowper only wanted to investigate the bona fides of the company. I invite the honorable member to read his leader’s remarks prior to those words he has just quoted.
– The honorable member for Cowper said, “ but, in my opinion, it requires more investigation.”
– Yes, investigation of the company’s bona fides. The honorable member for Cowper made that clear. He did.not go as far as the honorable member for Robertson, nor did he take the same stand.
– That is so. I, and one or two other members of the Country party, said definitely that we were bitterly opposed to the agreement. But the leader of our party had perceived the danger, to a certain extent, at any rate, when he made those remarks-
– It is of no use for the honorable member to try to save his leader. The honorable member for Cowper swallowed the proposition holus bolus. The honorable member for Robertson did not.
– I can scarcely see justification for the honorable member’s criticism of my Leader, seeing that the honorable member said the matter required further investigation. The trouble is that the House did not insist upon further investigation; and now we are told we are bound hand and foot, because a majority of honorable members servilely followed the Prime Minister, and had not the courage to insist upon an inquiry-
– The honorable member should not forget that the Leader of his party voted against the suggested inquiry. He was obviously not leading the honorable member for Robertson on that occasion.
– I wish to deal now with the work of the Committee. Honorable members are informed that its task was carried out excellently. The Committee certainly improved what was originally an extremely bad agreement. But, here, honorable members see merely another evidence of the manner in which this House has permitted matters to drift. Could any one have conceived that, prior to the appointment of the Parliamentary Wireless Committee, this Parliament would have reached such a stage in its affairs that a Minister of the Crown would be permitted to continue to act as the chairman of an investigating Committee, after he had been promoted to the Ministry? I can only say that the whole of the facts constitute a highly improper situation. I was extremely sorry to see the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) continue to occupy such an invidious post. The Treasurer, with his traditions and training should have seen at a glance in what an anomalous position he had been placed. Had he not been associated* with such men as have been around him he would have perceived immediately that it was time for him to get out and have no further association with the inquiry.
It has been said that honorable members in this corner have been spending their time in traducing Australia, and that we must flow take our courage in both hands and make an effort to vindicate ourselves. I ought not to have to say that we ardently believe in our country. Our trouble is that the country is not getting a fair run. We have no faith in the man who is at present at the head of affairs. Here is the justification of our lack of faith: We do not want to decry Australia. I defy honorable members to find any group of men possessed of a firmer faith or a higher belief in this country than that of the Country party. We know our country well. We have traversed it up and down, and back and forward, and we know the hearts of its people. But we know that those hearts are being broken because of such things as this agreement, things which are brought down here and forced upon a servile House, things for which the people must eventually pay.
.- The debate has disclosed a number of features which no honorable member had previously dreamed of. If the Government will take advice, I would urge them to get out” of the arrangement on the best possible terms. In the best interests of the country they should approach the Amalgamated Wireless Company and see if they cannot come to some businesslike arrangement for the termination of the contract entered into. One thing has struck me forcibly during the debate. I cannot think that Mr. Consett Stephen, when asked to act as arbitrator, did not have all the facts before him. But, if he did possess all the facts, I cannot conceive how h - a lawyer - could have appointed an individual who was interested in Amalgamated Wireless to be the seventh director. I may be doing Mr. Stephen an injustice; I hope that I am not. But I feel satisfied in my own mind that, when asked to act as arbitrator, his attention was ‘drawn to the alterations made in the agreement. In the original draft before this House, which was not accepted, provision was made that foursevenths of the directors should be representatives of Amalgamated Wireless, and that three should be the nominees of the Commonwealth. Nearly the whole of the old agreement is to be found in the present agreement; but, in the altered personnel of the directorate, there may be seen one of the main changes. Special provision was made that there should be six directors, three appointed from each side, and the seventh to be selected by those six. But, in the event of disagreement, the six directors were to appoint an independent arbitrator, who was to select the seventh man. Mr. Stephen must have known those facts. And if he did, then in appointing Sir Thomas Hughes he must have known also that he was simply putting the whole situation back into its original unsatisfactory state. The Go vernment are now in duty bound to try to get out of the arrangement on the best possible terms.
– Where are the honorable member’s suspicions directed? To the arbitrator, or to the Government?
– I say that the arbitrator must have known the facts. If he had them before him, I cannot conceive how he could have selected a gentleman who had been directly interested in the affairs of the company. Mr. Brennan. - Can the honorable member tell mo whether Sir Thomas Hughes was put forward by the representatives of the company or of the Commonwealth as a suitable person to be chosen as seventh director? Or can he tell me who was the other person whom the arbitrator had to consider together with Sir Thomas Hughes?
– I cannot say of my own knowledge that that gentleman was put forward by any one, or by either party. But it is clear that the Commonwealth could have had no voice in suggesting him to Mr. Stephen0; otherwise the Government would not now say that they cannot accept him.
– I do not think that is conclusive. That is just the point that I was wondering about.
– I do not think that the - Government put Sir Thomas Hughes forward, whoever may have suggested him to Mr. Consett Stephen. Anyhow, if I can see an opportunity to bring about the cancellation of his appointment, I shall certainly make use of it.
As for the agreement itself, there is one point on which the Committee is to be commended. It has safeguarded the interests of the Commonwealth as fully as was possible. I refer to the fact that the agreement provides that the company shall, within six months, proceed to do certain things and give certain guarantees regarding the despatch of messages, and the like. If the company does not satisfy the Government upon those points within the period specified it wall be open for the Commonwealth authorities to cancel the agreement. The Committee is to be commended for having included that safeguard. But if the company can carry out its specified undertakings it must, of course, be allowed to go ahead. At any rate, as matters stand, we are bound in a contract. If, as many honorable members have advised, the Government were to cancel the agreement and repudiate the whole business, the Commonwealth would not be in as good a position as if the Government were first to try to employ fair and business-like methods. It will be time enough to repudiate the agreement when the company has refused to “let us out” on proper terms. However, I am quite satisfied with the assurance of the Government that they will not go on with the agreement while Sir Thomas Hughes remains in the position of seventh director. We are safeguarded in that respect, and I therefore know no reason why I should vote for the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Batman. ‘ I think that ‘the Government, if possible, should withdraw from the agreement, but I have not yet come to a decision as to whether, in the event of fresh steps being taken in connexion with longdistance wireless telegraphy, operations should bo conducted by the Government or left to private enterprise under Government supervision. Apparently very little is known in Australia about longdistance wireless. I was under the impression that certain people whom I consulted on this subject in December last knew more about it than they seem to know to-day, otherwise I should not have taken their advice and have voted as I did when the agreement was before us at that time. I sincerely hope that in the event of the Government being able to withdraw from this agreement, no further step will be taken by them in. connexion with an enterprise of this kind without first obtaining the advice of the best available experts. Money so spent would mean in the long run a material saving to the Commonwealth.
When this matter was before the House in December last I was assured, not only by certain persons outside, from whom I made inquiries, but by an honorable. member of this House, that long-distance wireless was reliable and effective. I voted for the reference of the agreement to a Parliamentary Committee, subject to the condition that, if the Committee approved of it, the Prime Minister should be empowered to execute it, because of the plea of the right honorable gentleman himself that it was a matter of great urgency, and that he did not want it to be held up until the next session of the Parliament. It was because of the plea of urgency, and the fact that I was assured that long-distance wireless was effective, that I voted as I did. The Committee was by no means satisfied, as the result of its investigations, that long-distance wireless was not reliable, and we have no positive assurance to the contrary. If the company cannot, within six months, do what is required of it by the agree- . ment, then the ‘agreement will go by the board.
– What about the £50,000 that the Commonwealth has already paid “ into it?
– I cannot say whether there will be any means of recovering the money so paid. I am not going to blame any one for the position I took up and the vote that I gave when the agreement was before us in December last. The vote that I shall cast to-day will be consistent with that then given by me. The object of the honorable member for Batman’s amendment is to turn the Government out of office.
– Not at all.
– Does it not amount to a motion of censure?
– It simply asks the honorable member to turn to the job he was sent here to do.
– The carrying of the amendment would not get us anywhere unless it be to the country. It would not affect the position of the Commonwealth Government under the agreement which has been entered into. It has no application to the position with which we are confronted. I do not think that, in submitting his amendment, the honorable member had any knowledge of many facts which have been disclosed in the course of the debate upon it. He did not know that Sir Thomas Hughes had been appointed as a seventh- director, nor do I think he knew anything as to two members of the one firm having been appointed as directors, one to represent the Commonwealth and the other to represent the interests of private shareholders. Had he been cognisant of such matters he would have introduced them into his very entertaining and interesting, if not convincing, speech. Having regard to the disclosures that have been made during this debate I have come to the conclusion that it would be wise for the Government to get rid of the agreement. The amendment, however, has no bearing on that point. It would lead us nowhere, and in view of the position that I took up when the original agreement was before us, it would be inconsistent for me to support it. 1
– I fail to appreciate the reason for all the fuss that has been made about the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes as seventh -director of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. We aTe told that his appointment means, in effect, that there will be on the Board four representatives of private shareholders, and only three representatives of the Commonwealth. To my mind the appointment means only that there will be seven instead of ‘six directors. Even the most ardent supporters of the Government will admit that the three directors appointed to represent the Commonwealth are just as suitable, from the point of view i of the Marconi crowd, as are the men. who have been selected by those people. The complaints that have been made in regard to the selection of Sir Thomas Hughes are quite beside the mark, because he will be no more able to beat the remaining six directors than “ Sir “ Thomas Walsh would be. Strong man though he, is, Thomas Walsh could not beat the six any more than Sir Thomas Hughes could do.
I marvel at the impudence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in committing the Commonwealth to an agreement of this sort. If, while he was Leader of the Labour Government, he had made such an agreement, and had endeavoured to put into good positions men sharing his political beliefs, there would have been a howl from Dan to Beersheba. It would have been said by honorable members opposite that he was handing over the country to a band of agitators. Yet, as the Leader of a Conservative Government, he has the impertinence- to enter into an agreement providing for the appointment of seven directors from the Conservative section of the community, and to empower them to spend £500,000 of public money. I am by no means exaggerating the position when I make this statement. When a Queensland Labour
Administration had the courage to appoint a Labour man as Chief Justice of that State the whole of the legal fraternity rose in pious horror; yet we are expected to accept without protest the appointment of Conservatives to all sorts of positions. When Dr. Jensen was appointed by a Labour Government as Government Geologist for the Northern Territory, there was a howl of indignation from the Conservative party. His qualifications were not disputed; they were of the highest order. The sole ground of, complaint was that he was a Labour man. In this case we have £500,000 of public money handed over to a private company presided over by seven Conservatives. The time will come when even the . Prime Minister’s supporters will tire of such impudence. I hope that honorable members will cease to complain further about the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes, because, while his appointment to the Board «of Directors of. this company will strengthen “Fat” and the exploiters of Australia generally, we know that there are six other directors of the same class.
The real gravamen of the charge made against the Government is not that Sir Thomas Hughes has been wrongly appointed, but that we have been sold something that is worthless. Not one honorable member who has spoken during this debate has said that wireless telegraphy is effective over a distance of 12,000 miles. The Government have put £500,000 into such a project at a time when we are told on all sides that we should economize. The Government are not prepared to increase invalid and old-age pensions. They tell us that the country cannot afford to increase them; but at the same time they are ready to spend £500,000 in bolstering up a big financial concern that can well afford to pay its own way. The Government are going to sell the Commonwealth Woollen Mills at Geelong - a socialistic concern that has proved a success - and are putting £500,000 into something which looks like a failure. They cannot afford to increase the invalid and old-age pensions, but they have agreed to give £500,000 to “ Uncle Three-Balls.’’ I can only say of those who are prepared to continue to support a Government which does such a thing that they have more pluck than I have. When the Prime Minister returned from the Old Country last year he told us that by means of wireless we were going to be kept in direct touch with Britain every hour and every minute of the day, so that in time of trouble we would have a quick and effective means of communication with the centre of the Empire. There is no proof, however, that wireless is effective over a greater distance than 4,000 miles, and this company will not be penalized if it fails to carry out its part of the contract. We are told that we are bound hand and foot by the agreement. No one will’ charge me with having joined in the howl for economy. What some people speak of as economy would, to my mind, lead only to inefficiency, and such men as Ashworth, Knight, and Twigg-Patterson would do well to focus their attention on expenditure of this kind, and to call upon the country to deal with those who are responsible for it. Then they might justify their existence by pointing to an economy which is essential. We know now from the expert evidence submitted to the Wireless Committee that wireless communication has not a greater range than 4,500 miles, except under very favorable circumstances, or, perhaps, by accident.
– Have they ever tried wireless beyond 4,500 miles?
– The other night a message from Berlin was picked up at Perth; but the honorable member knows that it was a freak. On two occasions a friend of mine has picked up messages from America with a primitive wireless receiving plant. We were told that the system was so perfect that Australia was in communication with Great Britain every hour of the day. In my innocence I thought that if any one knew anything about wireless the Marconi crowd should. I thought that if they made a statement that they could communicate over 12,000 miles it could be done.
– If they do not they are paid proportionately.
– But our system will be valueless if it does not have a range of 12.000 miles.
– No authority can say to-day that a range of 12,000 miles is not possible; because there is no highpower station at this end to receive messages from that distance. °
– If the . honorable member went into a grocer’s .shop in ol der to buy a tin of fish would he buy if the grocer, said, “ I do not say that it is good, but no one can say that it is bad.” The only course the honorable member could pursue would be to believe that the fish was bad until it was proved to be good. We have no proof that we can have direct wireless communication over a distance of 12,000 miles. The incidents referred to in the debates this session are the strongest proof of the failure of the present social system. Here we have a body of men with all the money of the world at their command, men associated with a financial circle in Europe which could find £500,000,009 if necessary, coming out here to the people of Australia and “ taking us down.” I I do not say that the Government are ‘ ‘ in the show” in “ taking us down,” but through this bargain of theirs they have clearly shown their unfitness to occupy the position they hold to-day. We are bolstering up a huge financial concern, and yet Ave cannot afford to keep paying woollen mills running. If this is “good business “ I do not know what “ bad business “is. ‘ The case in which the Marconi Company sued the Federal Government must still be fresh in the minds of honorable members. In 1911, a young man named Balsillie came like a flash on the scene ; he was a genius, although something subsequently went wrong with him ; he had brains in plenty, but evidently he lacked balance. At any rate, the highest expert of the day decided that his ideas were . sufficiently unique to warrant patenting on their own. They were no infringement on the Telefunken? or Marconi systems. At that time the Telefunken and Marconi crowds were quarrelling with one another; they were sueing one another ; like Kilkenny cats they were cutting one another’s throats, each claiming that the other was trespassing on its own particular field of profiteering. The moment, however, they found that there was another Richmond in the field in the shape of an official of the Commonwealth Government, who had ‘ perfected a system likely to compete against theirs, they ceased rowing among themselves, and jointly sued the Commonwealth , Government. If we have purchased to-day at a cost of £500,000 something that is useless to us, it is only another reason for watching the Government closely. The Nauru agreement was a foolish one.
It has made superphosphates £1 dearer than they should have been. The AngloPersian Oil agreement is another serious matter. Where are we to finish? It is time the Country party listened to what honorable members of the Opposition place before the House, and ceased shaking their heads, and thinking that nothing good can come out of Nazareth. If they had been doing their duty, none of these agreements would have eventuated. Therefore, they must be prepared to accept their share of whatever blame falls upon the Government in connexion with this wireless agreement.
.^-1 had not intended saying anything in this debate, but after listening to a speech last night, I felt that I must make a few observations. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Wise) left no doubt in the minds of those who were listening to him last night as to his opinion of the wireless agreement. It was thoroughly bad, according to his view. Indeed, ihe suggested that we were giving away £500,000. He went on, to regret that, in the earlier stages - I presume when the matter was under discussion by Cabinet - he was not a free man, so that he might’ have denounced the agreement on the floor of the House. May I suggest to the honorable member that there was no compulsion on him to remain in the Cabinet under those conditions; that hi9 duty to the country was that he should at once have taken the opportunity of speaking as a. free man on the floor of the House about this agreement into which Parliament was about to be dragged? The honorable member, however, preferred to stick to his portfolio, and let Parliament take the chance of finding out subsequently that the proposal was a thoroughly bad one.
– That is right. Kick every one but yourself, who deserves it most.
– I wonder .if there are any members in the Cabinet, even now, who occupy the same position as the honorable member for Gippsland occupied until he was kicked out. I am inclinedto think that there are other members in the Cabinet who believe that this wireless agreement is thoroughly vicious, and yet they keep perfectly quiet about it, preferring to continue drawing their Ministerial salaries. It is a very bad commentary on parliamentary govern ment, and on our political institutions that such a state of affairs should exist, and the sooner we can get away from it ihe better for the country.
– The green monster of jealousy again ! The man who was always left out by all his parties!
– The honorable member for Gippsland . is retailing what is known by my friends to be an absolute lie.
– Order !
– It is known to them to be an absolute untruth. I could have been in a Cabinet long before the honorable member, or any of my maligners
– I ask the honorable member to cease these personal references.
Mi”. Wise. - -The honorable member could not speak without them.
– I have hurt the honorable member for Gippsland badly; my observations are justified in view of the speech he made last night.
– It is not the first time the honorable member has done it.
– I am sorry that the honorable member is annoyed.
– I am not annoyed. I expected this from the honorable member.
– The honorable member shows pretty plainly that he is annoyed, and I suggest to him that his annoyance is of no consequence to me. I intend to have my say in this House on these matters whether the honorable member or any other person is annoyed or not.
– I expected this. It is a change to hear the honorable member’s views on me, instead of on his own colleagues._
– The honorable member for Gippsland, after having condemned the agreement, suggested that the Primp Minister was not to be blamed. If the Prime Minister is not to bc blamed, I do not know who is. The honorable member for Gippsland evidently regards the Prime Minister as sacrosanct. I do not. I think it is my duty as a member of this Parliament to speak quite plainly and openly when I find the Prime Minister making mistakes. The honorable member for Gippsland evidently does not adopt that course, but it puts him in a rather humiliating position when we find that’ after he has been kicked out of the
Cabinet he should turn round and indicate to his Leader that he is still his faithful henchman. Probably, the honorable member for Gippsland, having been elevated by him to the only distinction he has achieved in Parliament, hopes, on some future occasion, by his adulation of the Prime Minister, to get back again to a similar position.
– That remark is not worthy of the honorable member for Perth.
– When an exMinister stands up in this House and says that lie does not believe in a particular agreement, and that he kept silent in order to remain in his Ministerial position, it is something very serious indeed, showing that we have fallen very far in our representative institutions below the ideal of parliamentary government. As regards the suggestion that the Prime Minister is not responsible for the position in which we find ourselves to-day, let me just read what he said in this House on 5th October, 1921, when he was discussing this particular matter. During the course of his speech, he said -
We sholl have to discuss these matters as definite proposals, but honorable members must have time to consider them
A little further on he said -
There are one hundred reasons why we should not do anything hurriedly in the matter of wireless communication.
A hundred reasons’ I want to know from the honorable member for Gippsland, or from any one else, where the Prime Minister carried out his promises to give Parliament an opportunity of considering the proposals. Is it not true that these proposals were brought down in the last hours of last session, and only by a mere chance were delayed?
– The actual proposals were tabled here in October.
– But no opportunity was given at that time to discuss them.
– Honorable members had all the opportunity they wanted to look into them.
– Hear, hear!’
– But no opportunity was given until the last hours of last session to discuss them, and it was only by mere chance that they were delayed through the appointment of a Committee to consider the agreement. Does the Minister at the table who inter rupts me. suggest that the bringing down of these proposals in the last hours of last session was a mere accident, and that it was not done intentionally and deliberately in order to prevent Parliament from discussing the proposals?
– I say that the honorable member has no justification for making such a statement.
– In view of the importance of the proposal, and of the pledges of the Prime Minister, there was something radically wrong when we did not get an opportunity to discuss it.
– It was because the House talked too much!
– I wish to find out, if I can, whether it was the Cabinet that arranged the terms of this agreement. I should like to know whether or not the agreement was practically made by the Prime Minister himself and the other parties before the Cabinet was even brought into the matter at all. I am inclined to think from the silence of honorable members . who are members of the Cabinet that that is the position.
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– Well, when I find the position as indicated by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Wise), and when I know also that there are other members of the Cabinet opposed to the agreement, it is strange that, in spite of the opposition of the Cabinet, events have reached their present development.
– When did the honorable member vote on the question ?
– He never voted; he was not here, but was neglecting his duty !
– I shall tell the House the position I take up before I sit down.
– What position did you take up then - not now?
– I am anxious also for some information regarding another phase of tlie matter; I wish to know whether the Prime Minister, in making this agreement, consulted any of his experts before he came to a decision. I say again that the Prime Minister did not consult even a single expert in regard to the proposals. In view of the circumstances the House ought to hesitate before it commits itself to a scheme which has been condemned by practically every honorable member who has spoken since the debate commenced. It is somewhat significant that one man, who- is specially qualified to give an opinion in regard to this matter, declares that the best thing we can do with the agreement is to tear it up. Senator John D. Millen, in the Senate last night, is reported to have so spoken. Although we have had much, criticism from the Opposition, and some of it very able and effective, still to my mind the most damning part of the indictment is to be found in the hesitating and qualified attempts to defend it by members sitting directly behind the Government. I have not yet heard a single attempt to defend this agreement without making very substantial qualifications! regarding it. I am only saying what is in the minds of ninetenths of the honorable members when I declare that the whole business from beginning to end reeks with suggestions of the worst possible kind. I shall have nothing whatever to do with the matter. I am not going to vote for the amendment, because, in my opinion, it does not improve our position in the very least.
– We do not want your vote !
– I know. If I had a chance of doing what Senator John D. Millen, has suggested, and tearing up the agreement, I would do it; but as I cannot do that, I shall have nothing whatever to do with the business. I shall not vote at all.
.- Like the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews), I am wondering what all the trouble is about. I am especially surprised at the complaints of honorable members opposite, who do not seem to like “ big business “ running the country.
– They do not like being found, out!
– When something does leak out, and. when it is too “ raw,” or somebody upsets a little scheme through being too inexperienced-
– There is a difference between? “big business” and roguery.
– The honorable member, as an expert, is certainly able to give the House the benefit of his experience regarding that. Honorable members opposite, who are still innocent enough to believe there is a Democracy in Australia, and that a democratic Government is in existence - who do not believe in a dictatorship; but support the dictatorship of capital in Australia by their votes and their solid support of the representatives of capital - are very much concerned. Of course, it is rather awkward for those honorable members, seeing that we are in the last session of this Parliament. The public have swallowed a lot of things quite as bad as this without making very much fuss, but there is always a danger that unexpectedly the crowd may wake up over some more or less unimportant matter, and those honorable members may be made the scapegoats. Therefore, I suppose there is some justification for at least giving the public the impression that they are dissatisfied with the actions of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, though not sufficiently dissatisfied to hold the Government responsible for its stupidity, or worse. The remarkable part of the disclosures, so far as the debate has gone, is that on the last occasion when this question was mentioned in the House, the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) was full of determination to see the business through. He told us that Sir Thomas Hughes had been appointed, though he (Mr. Bruce) could not understand how, and so forth, but in any case, he said, there were insuperable obstacles - to use his own language - in the road of remedying the position. The Treasurer conveyed the impression that the Government were going to stand by the agreement, that there was to be no surrender ; if any mistakes had been made by the Government the Government would stand by them, and there was an end of the matter. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Massy Greene) came along to the rescue, and adopted a somewhat more moderate attitude, and now we find that the Prime Minister, having counted heads, and knowing that he is perfectly assured of a majority-
– Chapman. - Are you sure it is all right?
– Whenever the Prime Minister takes things easy it is “ all right.”
– The weather is very bad oustide, you know!
– That is indicated by honorable members who have spoken, and also by honorable members who have refrained from taking any part in the debate. Those who have spoken have tried to camouflage the issue, in order to distract the attention of members and of the public from the sins of the Government, and have attempted to place the responsibility
On the shoulders either of the Committee, which investigated the proposed agreement, or on the arbitrator appointed. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), in his very eloquent speech last evening, gave the House much food for thought, and caused considerable unrest on the Government benches by the disclosures that he made. I wish the honorable member had had sufficient time to follow up the line he was pursuing, for the public might then have been able to understand the apologies made by honorable members opposite for the position in which the Government have placed the country ; we should have understood why these attacks are made on the Committee appointed by the Government, and the frantic attempts to direct suspicion towards Mr. Consett Stephen instead of to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
– No one had any suspicion of Mr. Stephen.
– The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) when speaking, said distinctly that he was decidedly suspicious, that he fully believed all the facts were placed before the arbitrator, and that he had complete faith in the Government. If the honorable member is suspicious, of whom is he suspicious?
– I said it was a suspicious circumstance that Mr. Stephen should appoint an interested man if he had all the facts and circumstances before him.
– The honorable member had complete faith that all the facts were placed before the arbitrator, and yet he is suspicious. The interested attempts made by honorable members opposite to throw suspicion on the arbitrator and the Committee are evidence to my mind that they are particularly anxious to direct attention away from the Government. The Committee took evidence, and the report presented shows that the Amalgamated Wireless Company, to say the least, gave them very little assistance. It is stated in the notes of evidence^ -
None of the witnesses was able to indicate a system operating commercial wireless telegraphy in any part of the world over a dis tance equal to that proposed to be covered by the direct service suggested by either of the proponents.
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.
The’ notes also state that Mr. Fisk was unable to adequately reply to the opinions expressed by certain noted physicists and wireless ‘ technicians “ that some really effective anti-atmospheric eliminating invention was still urgently required to remove the most serious limitations to longdistance telegraphy. There was no guarantee that a. service would be given after the Commonwealth had handed over £500,000 to the company to experiment and play with. Mr. Fisk could give no details of his estimate of £600,000 as the cost of the station. According to the statement issued by the Committee -
He could not produce any specifications or plans of the proposed Australian station, because he did not have any in his possession. He was unable to inform the Committee how the sum of £600,000 was made up.
Why? Because when the Committee asked foi* guarantees, and he asked for time to apply to hi9 directors, he had to cable to the Marconi Company in London. Yet he said that Amalgamated Wireless Limited is essentially an Australian company, and that the ownership of Australian patent rights of all the world’s leading wireless systems by. an Australian national company is the only successful method of securing uninterrupted development of wireless telegraphy ‘in Australia. The company is so much Australian that when Mr. Fisk waa asked to get information he had to cable to the London directors, who fixed the terms and conditions upon which the contract was to be completed. In pursuance of the endeavours of honorable members opposite to throw dust in the eyes of the public and confuse the issue, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) tried to convey the impression that the only member of the Committee who furnished a minority report had done something improper. The House and 1 the people were asked to believe that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) was one of a sub-Committee of three who went exhaustively into the agreement, and that he was equally responsible with the other two members for whatever was done by the subCommittee. On reading the report of the Committee, I find that the honorable member for Batman was not on the subCommittee which redrafted the agreement. The report states -
A sub-Committee, consisting of Senators Millen and Drake-Brockman, was appointed to redraft the agreement for subsequent consideration by the Committee.
The honorable member for Batman was not appointed to the sub-Committee until about the middle of March, because the report states-
The Committee again met on the loth March, 1922. The Amalgamated Company’s reply to the Committee’s modifications of its draft agreement was received.
The honorable member for Batman was on the sub-Committee for only one day, and this is what he and his colleagues were appointed to do -
A sub-Committee (Senators Millen and Drake-Brockman and Mr. Brennan) was appointed to consider in detail the alterations proposed by the Amalgamated Wireless Company Limited, and also to consider in detail a new” agreement submitted by Mr. Snoaden.
The honorable member for Fawkner tried to lead the country to believe that the honorable member for Batman was responsible for the alterations in the new agreement, which a. sub-Committee consisting of Senators John D. Millen and Drake-Brockman drew up.
– He has to take his share of responsibility.
– Only for the work whic’h was given to the sub-Committee of which he was a member, namely, to consider the- alterations proposed by the Amalgamated Wireless Company and the scheme submitted by Mr. Snoaden. of the Radio Company. The Committee, as a whole, did what the House authorized it to do.
– Then why is the honorable member growling ?
– The fault of which I complain is that of the Government. The Committee did not appoint the Commonwealth’s representatives. on the Board of Directors. The Committee had nothing to do with the selection of the arbitrator who appointed Sir Thomas Hughes as the seventh director. The Committee made several vital alterations for the better safeguarding of the Commonwealth’s interests, as honorable members will see if they contrast the original agreement submitted by the Prime Minister with that which was subsequently signed. The latter is about three times as large as the original one, and contains many additional precautions and safeguards. The responsibility of the Committee ceased when they reported to the Government by order of the House; then the responsibility of the Government commenced.
– The Government had instructions from the House to carry out the proposals of the Committee.
– The Government had no instructions to do what they did. They had an instruction from the House to accept or reject the report of the Committee.
– The resolution of the House meant that if the report of the Committee was favorable the Prime Minister could proceed with tha agreement.
– The honorable member admitted that he did not know what he was voting upon when the matter was before us last session.
– I gave reasons why I voted as I did.
– The honorable member explained that some honorable member opposite told him something, and he voted accordingly without knowing how he was voting.
– I did not say that.
– I realize that the position in which the honorable member finds himself is not nice. In a couple of months the honorable member will have to go before the electors of Tasmania and justify his attitude, and he realizes what a ridiculous figure he will cut when he tells them that he registered a vote without knowing what it was for, that he condemned the Government for their action, and then voted for them, and that if elected he will do the same thing again.
– If the honorable member’s statement were true, perhaps I would be in a difficulty, but he is misrepresenting what I said.
– I may be wrong as to the date of the election.
– I had a better opinion of the honorable member’s fairness. I did think he had some sense of decency.
– No doubt the honorable m ember feels annoyed at the attitude he finds himself obliged to take up, and he is venting his spleen upon me.
– I ask honorable members to cease these personal reflections.
– I have no desire to reflect on the honorable member personally, but I thought it was permissible under the Standing Orders to point out an honorable member’s inconsistency in not making his votes coincide with his words. However, I know that honorable members are seeking by interjections to protect the Government from any criticism. Throughout this debate they have kicked up a considerable amount of dust in regard to the arbitrator and the Committee, but it will be our duty to point out to the people that the actions of the Committee and the arbitrator are not involved, and that the real issue is the responsibility of the Government to the people. If the Commonwealth is involved in a loss of £500,000 or more it will be due to the incapacity and stupidity, or connivance, of the Government. The facts pointed out by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) last night showed clearly that it was immaterial whether or not Sir Thomas Hughes was left on the Board. Why was any question raised as to his appointment ? It was an open secret that the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes was known a month before it was made public.
– The arbitrator’s report was not then to hand.
Mr.CONSIDlNE.- Nevertheless, the appointment was known. The Prime Minister had unofficial knowledge before he was notified officially. His own statement shows that he made representations to the effect that Sir Thomas Hughes would not be acceptable before he had been officially made aware of the fact of that gentleman’s selection by the arbitrator. Will the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) say that the fact of Sir Thomas Hughes’ selection was not known weeks before Senator John D. Millen sought certain information in another place?
– Yes, I will say so.
– The Minister must be driven to considerable lengths to talk in that strain.
– I merely happen to know the facts.
– Will the Minister tell me what was the date of the appointment?
– I cannot give the actual date of the arbitrator’s decision, but I can say that it was long after Parliament met.
– I have not said that the appointment was made before Parliament met. I said that, before the appointment was made public, the Government knew of the arbitrator’s choice.
– Oh, no!
– Before this matter came before Parliament, was any protest made by the Government against the selection of Sir Thomas Hughes?
– The Prime Minister said so.
– As I said on Friday, there were three stages. There was the stage before the directors had met; then there was the stage after they had met, when the arbitration of Mr. Stephen was proceeding; and then there was the stage when the official notification was given to the Government.
– Anyhow, there is not any difference between the Government and the company, so far as their nominees were concerned.
– By whom was Sir Thomas Hughes nominated, by the representatives of the Commonwealth or by those of the company?
– The honorable member ought to be able to answer that for himself.
– Honorable members may ask - not that it will matter, however - who was the other nominee. I do not know that there was any other ; but it is unfortunate for the company that, owing to their lack of perspicacity, they insisted upon Sir Thomas Hughes being selected to occupy the position of seventh director when it is now obvious that Amalgamated Wireless would have been quite safe in any case. Their interests would have been conserved even had not Sir Thomas Hughes been chosen by the arbitrator. The Government are now endeavouring, under cover of the fuss aroused by the appointment, to divert attention from the fact that Amalgamated Wireless would have been in complete control no matter whether Sir Thomas Hughes or some other nominee had been selected.
– Perhaps the honorable member would ask the Minister for Defence whether any other person was put forward ?
– Perhaps if honorable members knew who the other candidate was, they might be glad that Sir Thomas Hughes received the favour of Mr.Consett Stephen.
– I do not care who was the other man - if there was another. Whoever he was, Amalgamated Wireless would have seen to it that he suited Amalgamated Wireless.
The Government, and those who support the Government, are looking after the interests of “ big business.” As the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) pointed out last night, this company is only an offshoot of one of the biggest international plunder gangs’ in existence. The old International Munitions Combine was a plaything compared with it. This Marconi combination, with its international ramifications, is an altogether sinister thing by comparison. It is not to be wondered at that it has such power in Australia, seeing that it has been able to control events even at the heart of the Empire, and actually at the international gathering recently held at Genoa. The Marconi interests have constituted the power behind that great Italian financial house, theBanca Italiana di Sconto.
– It sounds like “ steakadaoyst.”
– Yes; the Marconi people swallowed the oyster in other parts of the world, and the same gang’s deputies are now bolting both oyster and shell here, in far-away Australia. This Banca Italiana di Sconto - known as the Marconi Bank for the reason that Senator Marconi himself was at its head - recently failed because it had invested enormous funds in the greatest metallurgical and shipbuilding concern in Italy, namely, Gio Ansaldo and Company, of Genoa. And it was because of the failure of that firm that its Marconi interests, bringing to bear the power and weight of their British affiliations, secured the holding of the International Conference at Genoa. The honorable member for Bourke referred to the Marconi influence in the Lloyd George Cabinet. It was Mr. Lloyd George, friend of Godfrey Isaacs, managing director of the Marconi Wireless Company, who proposed the holding of the Conference at Genoa. The same identities control the Australian wireless business as those who controlled the calling together of the International gathering in Italy. They are those same individuals who raidedand robbed the British public during the war. They are the same as those who formed the British Cellulose Company - better known as the “Dope Corporation.” This is how they saved the Empire: They secured a Government contract for cellulose, which is used in the treatment of aeroplane wings. They floated a company, and put down 6d. per share.. Under the stimulation of Government patronage they boomed those 6d. shares to £14 10s. each, and cleared up £2,300,000.
– It is not much consolation to honorable members to be given that information now.
– It is said that experience teaches, and that fools will not learn in any other school.
– We should have been “ put wise “ when the shares were still going for 6d. each.
– The fact is that it does not matter how much the Marconi people may get out of wireless in Australia, or through any of their kindred shows. So long as the Prime Minister says “It is right,” his colleague in the Ministry, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Poynton), will say, “Yes, of course, it is right.” This discussion, if it does not do anything else, should impress on the country the fact that it does not matter what political crimes may be committed, what smellful contracts may be entered into, or how the name of democracy and the term “ constitutional government “ may be uttered to tickle the ears of the multitude; the Government will continue to do the business of the big interests. In the course of a few months an election campaign will be launched, and the Government will be telling the people about the horrors of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They will be painting woeful pictures of conditions existing in those countries where the working class have established a real working-class government. And all the while they will be slavishly following the dictates of organized business in this country. The Government always have the numbers when big business talks.
When the whips are cracked, those behind the Government fall in solidly and stick closely together. They are warned that if they do not, their campaign funds will dry up.
– Order !
– They realize that they must support the Government because “ big business “ has demanded right of way. May I be permitted to cite as an example the case of the late representative of Flinders-lane, the present Treasurer (Mr. Bruce). One cannot help feeling amused at the Treasurer’s violent indignation that Amalgamated Wireless should have attempted to foist upon the Commonwealth a gentleman who was so recently connected with the company itself. I wonder how that argument would apply personally to the Treasurer. His dissociation from certain big business interests occurred only a little while ago. If the argument is to hold in respect of the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes in connexion with a Commonwealth interest in which a matter of only £500,000 is involved, it should be applicable also, but with vastly added force, to the appointment of the Treasurer.
– Did the honorable member resign from his union when he entered this House?
– No, I am still paying - not receiving. I do not ask that the Treasurer should sever his connexion with the Employers’ Union. That, of course, would be unreasonable.
– Order ! The honorable member is going outside the scope of the amendment.
– No, sir; I am pointing out reasons why the amendment should be agreed to. I am commenting on the Treasurer’s criticism of Sir Thomas Hughes for having accepted this appointment, in view of has recent connexion with the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. If that was a good argument to employ against the appointment of ‘Sir Thomas Hughes, it should apply with equal force to the appointment of the honorable member for Flinders to the office of Treasurer in the Government which made this agreement.
– That is a very far-fetched argument.
– I anticipated that the honorable member would have much difficulty in following it.
– Just as great a difficulty as I have in regarding the honorable member for Barrier as a wage slave.
– I may be a wage slave, but I have a free mentality. Unlike the honorable gentleman, I am not a wage slave with a “ bosses’ “ mentality.
The position is that the Ministry have the numbers; they know that they will have the support of a sufficient number of members of the Country party to insure” them a majority. That being so, the Prime Minister can afford to treat the House and the country with the greatest disdain. He does not worry; he has no reason to do so. He knows that all the big business interests, the press, and also, with very few exceptions, the politicians on his side of the House, will stand behind him when an appeal to the country comes. He knows, too, that the people who have put up with all the outrages on public decency that have been committed by his Ministry will continue to vote for him, irrespective of any criticism that may be levelled from this side of the House. The Government rely on the power of the purse and the press, together with their own scandalous misrepresentation, of facts, ‘to return them once more.
.- I have to confess to a feeling of considerable disappointment with the agreement that has been entered into. I voted last December for a reference of the draft agreement to a Parliamentary Committee, with the full knowledge that all parties in this House would be represented on that Committee; that it would have full power to make a thorough investigation of the facts, and that if it reported that the agreement was unsatisfactory, from the point of view of the Commonwealth, the Government, in accordance with the direction of the House, would have to abide by that decision. 1 am not going to say that the agreement, as referred to the Committee, was a bad one. As amended by the Committee it is certainly more in the interests of the people; but, while that is so, and notwithstanding that the Committee, with the exception of the honorable member for Batman, approved of the scheme as amended, it seems to me that facts which have since been brought to light make it a very “ fishy “ one. I accept the statement of the Prime Minister in regard to the appointment of .Sir Thomas Hughes as the seventh director, but I think it is fortunate that, as the result of the action taken by the honorable member for Batman, the whole matter has been fully discussed in this House. Any proposal to expend public money, whether the sum involved is £500,000, as in this instance, or far less, should be carefully considered by the Parliament. As a layman, I see nothing in the agreement to prevent the Government taking the action demanded of them in regard to the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes. The statement made by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) as to the appointment of Mr. Allard as a director was not only sensational, but revealed a most unsatisfactory position of affairs. I cannot believe that the Government, had it been seized of the facts, would have consented to Mr. Allard’s appointment to the Board. We are going to give the Government the benefit of the doubt so far as Mr. Allard’s appointment is concerned ; but the information which has been afforded the House as a result of this debate goes to show how necessary it is that the fullest inquiries should be made by the Government before, making any such appointment. I am inclined to think that the Government did not know that Mr. Allard had been associated with the Wireless Company, and was not aware that he was in partnership with a gentleman who had been selected to represent private shareholders on the Board. I believe that they were guided” by Mr. Fisk in the appointments they made. No doubt they sought expert advice, and asked Mr. Fisk and others associated with wireless telegraphy for information for their guidance. In all probability Mr. Fisk told them that Mr. Allard knew a good deal about wireless, but was in no way associated with the company. If such a statement were made to them they would feel justified in appointing Mr. Allard as a director. Later on, however, the Government discovered that he was in partnership with another gentleman, holding, in his own name, some 10,000 or 11,000 shares, who was also a member of the Board.
– He is not in partnership with the gentleman referred to.
– I am simply taking the statement made by the honorable member for Bourke.
– The honorable member must have an opinion of his own. He ought not to do everything that the Government tell him to do.
– I do not. The honorable member has to do what he is told by his party to do; but I do not belong to any party machine, and, as a matter of fact, have voted more frequently against the Government than he has voted against the party which secured his return to this House. Unlike the honorable member. I represent not a section, but the whole of the people of the Commonwealth. Paragraph iii. of clause 3 of the agreement provides that - so long as the Commonwealth or its nominees continue to hold a majority in number and value of the shares there shall be seven directors of the company, of whom three shall be nominated by arid 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 -
Each party to the agreement is to be represented by three directors. That is the all-important point - mid 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 the period by the unanimous vote of the other directors. ‘ The Board of Directors so constituted shall appoint its own chairman.
There the intention of both parties that each should have three representatives on the Board, and that the seventh member should be an independent man, is clearly shown. In clause 20 we have the further provision that -
In the ‘ event of any disagreement between the Commonwealth and the company as to the meaning of any clause hereof or touching any matter arising out of the same or connected therewith, the matter in dispute shall be referred to one arbitrator mutually selected, or failing mutual selection, shall be determined by arbitration under the Arbitration Act 1915 of the State of Victoria or any amendment thereof for the time being in force.
Any matter arising out of this agreement has, in the circumstances named, to be referred to the arbitrator. I hold the view that the arbitrator, in selecting Sir Thomas Hughes, did not act in accordance with the terms of the agreement. The agreement clearly implies that the seventh director shall be an independent man. In the Earl of Halsbury ‘s Loads of England, one’ of the greatest authorities on questions of this kind, it is set out very distinctly that -
Where there exists a real common intention between the parties to a transaction, but mistake occurs in the expression of that intention, the Court may correct the mistake in order to give effect to the real intention. To justify the Court in so doing, it must appear that there has been a mistake common to both the contracting parties, and that the agreement purports to have been expressed in a deed or instrument in a manner contrary to the intention of both.
In this case we have a mistake common to both parties. The Government and Amalgamated Wireless have both signed the agreement that there shall be three directors from each side, and any Court would hold that the appointment of a seventh director was to be arrived at by mutual consent. The arbitrator has not carried out the desire which is so expressed in the agreement. I venture to say that I am not far wrong in this view. Where two lawyers are fighting on behalf of clients they each tell their clients that they have every chance of winning, but one must lose, and it is the Judge who decides the winner. I claim that the Government has a very clear line of action to pursue. Lord Halsbury’s opinion continues -
The relie’f given may be either by way of rectification or rescission as the case may require, for in such cases the difference is only one of degree, A deed poll may also be rectified on proof that it is not in accordance with the intention of the person who executed it.
Equity will also interfere where by mutual mistake a document has been signed which operates in law contrary to the express intention and agreement of both parties. There is no distinction in principle between a mistake as to the legal effect of tlie words used, and a mistake in the words themselves, and, therefore, if a solicitor in drawing a deed, through error, either inserts or omits terms contrary to the intention of the parties, or uses words capable of a meaning different from that which the parties intended, relief will bo granted. So it appears that equity would also relieve if a solicitor innocently misled parties as to the legal effect of a document, and they were induced to sign it under a misapprehension of its meaning.
The principle upon which the Court acts in correcting deeds or instruments is that the parties are to be placed in the same position as that in which they would have stood if the error to be corrected had not been committed. Thus in a proper case the Court will rectify a deed of settlement, an appointment, a lease, a bond, a bill of exchange, a schedule of quantities annexed to a contract to execute works for a gross sum purporting to show how the gross sum is made up, a policy of insurance, and a declaration of shipment under a policy of murine insurance, even after a loss had become known.
Thus the Court will rectify any appointment made contrary to the spirit of an agreement. There are hundreds of cases in support of this decision, dating as far back as 1838. Lord Halsbury’s opinion, which would be accepted in any Court of law, indicates the road this Government can take. I believe that Ministers are in favour of settling the matter in a fair and equitable way. A great deal has been said about the capabilities of Sir Thomas Hughes. If that gentleman stands on the pinnacle of fame he is said by some to occupy, if he is a publicspirited man who has the interests of the Commonwealth at heart, I cannot understand why he has not resigned before this. Tlie agreement in question is about as loose a document as any one could draft. I should think that in a matter involving the expenditure of £500,000 it would have been made, if not exactly watertight, at least something which would not leave loop-holes for a company whose earlier litigation against the Commonwealth, according to some honorable members, has been surrounded by incidents not altogether palatable. Senator John D. Millen, who was a member of the Wireless Committee, is a man who thoroughly understands wireless, and his advice was accepted by other members of the Committee. He signed the agreement thinking that it was a good one, so far as such documents went, but yesterday, in another place, he said that the agreement should be torn up. He said that the correspondence that passed between the Government and Amalgamated Wireless Limited prior to the drawing up of the agreement amounted to an almost distinct understanding that the chairman of the proposed Board of Directors should be an independent man. He also said that the appointment of Mr. Allard and other matters had utterly destroyed the value of the agreement from the Commonwealth point of view.
I have read through this agreement, and I can see nothing in it as to what happens should one of the Commonwealth directors die or be laid aside by illness. Has the Commonwealth power to appoint a deputy director?
– I presume that in the case of a director dying under the ordinary company law the remaining directors would appoint some one in his place.
– With all due deference to the Minister for Defence we have been presuming too much. I should like to have an assurance that no money will be spent in connexion with this agreement until the House has the opportunity of considering, irrespective of party lines, the subsequent agreement and seeing that it is in conformity with the spirit of the document referred by this Parliament to the Wireless Committee. I think it can be shown that no provision has been made to meet the emergency of the death or absence through illness of a director. If one of the representatives of the Commonwealth on the Board should be absent from any cause, can the Commonwealth appoint a deputy so that its two other representatives may not be out-voted? I am afraid thare is no law to cover the case of a director, who, through ill-health, is absent from ji meeting at which the Board of Directors may decide by a majority vote to spend another £500,000. I shall not accept this agreement as it stands, or the appointment of the chairman, unless the agreement is so amended that it will meet the interests of the whole community.
– Then the honorable member should give his vote to bring the agreement back to the House.
– I shall vote to make the agreement an effective one. There is no doubt we are becoming too extravagant in our expenditure, and we should take every possible opportunity to reduce it in order to lighten the burden on the community. It may be said by certain honorable members that this cry for economy is purely Victorian, but a similar cry is heard in every part of the world to-day, and I am doubtful whether the Commonwealth Parliament has done its duty in this regard. We find deputations to a Minister from one section of the people for a post-office, or some other public utility, and the application opposed by some other section, though probably the latter the following week may prefer a request for further expenditure in its own interests. Australia compares favorably with other countries; but we are a mere handful of people, and in order to insure progress and prosperity we must somehow or other increase production. Immigrants mean life or death to a community like our own, and the subject deserves all the consideration that Parliament can give to it. We may, however, have immigration run mad, and it first behoves us to see that all our own people who desire to go on the laud are accommodated. It has been stated by responsible Ministers that every block of available land could be occupied by the people of this country, and, that being so, it would be worse than futile to bring large numbers of people from overseas to hang around our cities. On this point, I can only say that in my own constituency there is too much unemployment, and this problem ought certainly to be solved before we ,add to the number of idle hands.
I must again protest against this wireless agreement, but I am prepared at this juncture to accept the assurance of the Government that the appointment of the seventh director will not be sanctioned. Before any more money is spent under the agreement, the whole matter ought to be discussed and decided by Parliament. Wireless is essential in peace as much as in war; but we cannot hand over to a private firm millions of money unless we have some control over the expenditure. It is true that there is the power of veto, but it is also true that there was a thorough understanding between the parties that there should he only three representatives for each side on the directorate, and that understanding has been violated. The legal opinion I have already quoted leaves a clear line of action open to the Government.
Sitting suspended from 6.S0 to 8 p.m.
– There is one point in connexion- with the directorate which I should like to emphasize, and that is that the agreement makes no provision for the course to be followed if a director is unable to attend a meeting owing to illness. The Company Law does allow an absent shareholder to vote at a meeting by proxy, but no such provision is made for an absent director. It seems to me that it is necessary to insert in the articles of the company some such provision, otherwise, owing to the illness of a director, the Commonwealth representatives might he out-voted on a matter involving a large sum of money. I notice also that there is no provision in the agreement for a quorum, and that is another omission which helps me to the conclusion that the agreement is as loosely drawn as it could be. I suggest that those who prepare the articles of the company should make them more complete than this agreement has been made, and that no matter what number is fixed as a quorum, it must include the three representatives of the Commonwealth. An .honorable member suggests by interjection that I want the earth; I certainly want all I can get for the people, and I shall not vote for any further agreement that does not provide’ that the quorum shall include full representation of the Commonwealth. I have given the House the benefit of my legal knowledge. One honorable member suggests that a little knowledge is dangerous, but lawyers inside and outside the House endeavour to convince rival parties that they can win if they go to law. Obviously both cannot win, and some of our most eminent lawyers find their opinions declared wrong by the Court. This wire-‘ less project, involving such a large sum of public money, is of vital importance to the community, and I think the time has arrived when the Government should get out of all trading concerns and throw the responsibility of trading on the shoulders of private people.
.- The debate on this amendment has been most extraordinary; like the Biblical cloud, at first no bigger than a man’s hand, it has overcast the whole political situation. One of the most useless as well as the most . aggravating things that can be said to any one is “I told you so.” It is not a very sporting attitude to take up, but I am bound to say, in order to make my position plain, that what I said when the original agreement was before us I say now - I am uncompromisingly against the whole project. The debate has been peculiarly interesting and extraordinary for two reasons: Firstly, we heard the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), a little earlier in the session, make a very interesting speech on the subject of arbitration. Personally, I think the case he made out for the nonacceptance or breach of an arbitration award was wrong, but the extraordinary feature of this debate is that from the Prime Minister downward, honorable members, on both sides, have as a matter of course accepted and advocated a distinct breach of arbitration. The Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) yesterday announced to the House the very successful result of arbitration in regard to the claim made by a shipbuilding firm against the Commonwealth. I congratulate the Minister on that result. But are we, after accepting with delight yesterday the fruits of one arbitration, to deliberately advocate a breach of arbitration in regard to another matter? The second extraordinary feature has been the marked readiness for repudiation shown by honorable members on both sides. From the Prime Minister downward, there has been the most simple and straightforward advocacy of repudiation in its most direct form unless the Commonwealth can get its own way. Most honorable members, in excusing their vote of last session for the reference of the agreement to the Committee, wish to treat the agreement, signed on behalf of the Commonwealth by “ W. M. Hughes,” as nothing more or less than a scrap of paper. That is a most inconsistent attitude. I do not believe in repudiation in regard to leaseholds nor in anything else. When the Prime Minister submitted to the House the original agreement, which is admitted by everybody to be most unsuitable and, in fact, impossible, he concluded his speech with these words : :’ I ask honorable members to take their courage in both hands and to’ have a little faith in the future of this country.” There is a saying that persons of a certain class will rush in where angels fear to tread. Far be it from me to apply-that saying to the Prime Minister; I have too high an opinion of his talents and ability. But I think I am entitled to say, and I hope the Leader of the House will take note of this, that because one is not willing to agree hurriedly to the expenditure of large sums pf money for this or amy other project, because one is not willing to risk the public funds recklessly, either in a spirit of enthusiasm or in any other circumstances, it does not follow that one is less a believer in his country. I hope that when the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) next accuses members of the
Country party of not having that confidence in the country which he thinks we should have because we do not accept rashly unwise propositions, some little mental or wine-less thought will come to remind him of the attitude which, some of ns took up when this project came before us last session. I have no wish to make party capital- out of the subject. The Government have got into a deep hole, and I wish them to get out of it as quickly as possible. I, personally, was opposed to the scheme at first, as I am now, and I would do anything to get the Commonwealth out of it in an honorable way, but as that does not seem practicable it seems to me that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Batman offers the best alternative. It proposes that the Government shall instruct the Commonwealth representatives on the directorate not to make any fresh agreement that may be proposed in the coursE of- the transactions of the company without submitting it to the House. .
– Is that not repudiation ?
– I see no repudiation in that.
– It is a breach of the agreement.
– I can discern no breach of agreement. The amendment says in effect that we, representing half the shareholders in the company, instruct our representatives that they shall not approve of any agreement until we have held a general meeting to consider it. Such a procedure is provided for in the agreement. The agreement does not enable us to do as I desire to do, cancel the whole agreement, but as far as we can modify it honorably, I believe the course suggested by the honorable member for Batman is right, and I shall certainly support it.
– Is not that amendment moved with the object of rendering the agreement null and void ?
– I do not think it would necesarily do so; and I personally am not supporting it in that spirit. It has been said that the amendment is tantamount to a. motion of want of confidence, or that it will be so treated by the Government. The honorable member for Batman, when he moved the amendment, distinctly said that he was not moving it as a motion of want of confidence. The amendment says - but we desire to advise His Excellency that the agreement mentioned in clause 12 of the contract made between Amalgamated Wireless Limited and tlie Commonwealth should, before acceptance by the Commonwealth representatives on the Board of Directors, be agreed to by this House.
I can see no words there which may be interpreted to represent a motion of want of confidence. The Government may treat it as such, if they like, but, if they do, that is their own. funeral.
. -The subject under debate has been almost talked to a frazzle; and, in offering a little further criticism, I feel that I may only be reiterating what has been already said. At the same time, I desire to make a few observations. This wireless business . represents one of the greatest mistakes, and will stand on record eventually as one of the gravest scandals in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament. In the first place, the Commonwealth Government have made a present of £500,000 to a company of a very doubtful character. The whole of the associations of this dubious company are wrapped in mystery. We are informed that it is well known as “ Amalgamated Wireless.” After being told that it. is purely an Australian concern, and that its personnel and its shareholders generally are honest and reliable persons in whom the Government can place faith, we find that it is merely an off-shoot of a big international concern. We learn that it is nothing like what it was represented to be when the Government were inveigled into accepting a lopsided agreement. The Government have the larger portion of the capital vested in the company, and there was to have been provision for Government control on the directorate, but the Government nominees on the Board are persons associated with the promoters of the old’ company, which was dissolved, but which really re-formed itself. These Government nominees are not in. a position to give an impartial deal in behalf of the people of Australia. It is astonishing that Sir Thomas Hughes, above all others, should have received the appointment to the position of seventh director, which, I understand, carries with it the chairmanship of directors. I wish to know when the board of directors met, and whom the Government representatives and the company’s representatives nominated for the consideration of the arbitrator. That information should have been supplied to the House in an open way immediately upon the announcement! of the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes. The Government should cancel the agreement. Even if I were nOt against the principle of the private and the semi-private control of means cf public communication, I would still say that the agreement is so rotten that it should be cancelled without hesitation. I am all the more emphatically of opinion that it should- be cancelled, seeing that I am altogether opposed to the principle of allowing private interests to even participate in the control of means of communication either in Australia or between Australia and other countries. The Government made a present of £500,000 to what is practically a foreign company, principally financed, as it is from overseas, and, to a large extent, from countries which were recently considered to be enemy countries.
One thing of which. I am proud is that no member of the Labour party can be held blameworthy for the present position. No responsibility rests 111)on the shoulders of the Opposition. When this matter was first raised in the House it was not, and was not treated as, a party one. I regard honorable members in the Corner as the most conservative end of the Nationalist party. There are, in fact, only two parties in this House. One is the Labour party, and the other is the anti-Labour party. So much for my opinion of the stand taken by the so-called Country party. One hears various legal luminaries, strewn so profusely about the benches of the House, asking what are the Government going to do about the agreement. Bad as the Government are, I do not believe that they expected to find themselves absolutely helpless upon the directorate. But the company was “too many” for them. The company comprises a shrewd gang of speculators, operating throughout the world. When these people can get hold of a Government so remiss as to furnish a good opportunity for the “ raking off “ of easy profits, they naturally go “ all they know “ for their objective. There is only one way out of the business; that is for the Government to revoke the agreement. Before I would allow £500,000 of the people’s money to get into the hands of the company, and before I would concede the loss of control upon the directorate, I would revoke the whole business and take all responsibility. That is my advice to the Government. And then I would suggest that they should take up the matter of wireless communication afresh. If they can find £500,000, they ought to be able to find £1,000,000 with which to make a Government monopoly of wireless communication. As the methods of radio-telegraphy become perfected, the system should prove to be one of the greatest paying propositions in the world. I believe that what induced the Government to enter into negotiations was their belief in the encouragement of private enterprise. At all costs, they must have private enterprise dabbling in Government services. It is hard to find words severe enough to condemn them. Wireless is in the experimental stage. From what I can gather from world publications on this subject there is no record of messages having been transmitted direct over a. distance of 12,000 miles. There must be intermediate stations from 2,000 to 3,000 miles apart. In the circumstances, therefore, this must be a risky experiment. If the agreement is proceeded with the result from a . party point of view will be excellent, so far as the Labour party is concerned. That is one reason why I think it probable that some members of the Country party will vote against it. I should not like to be a member of the party or the Government responsible for giving effect to such an agreement. With the exception of the Labour party and the party in the far left hand corner, known now as the “ Pussy party “ - which, by the way, is not present to-night - every one in the House is responsible for what I would describe as this outrage on the rights of the people and the public funds of the Commonweal th .
– As a member of the Cabinet when the draft agreement was laid on the table of the House, and as one who later on, as a member of the House, voted for its submission to a Parliamentary Committee, I am prepared to take my full share of responsibility for it. I voted for the reference of the draft agreement to the Parliamentary Committee knowing that under the terms of the resolution that Committee would have power to alter it and! to make recommendations, and that if it approved of the scheme the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) would be able to give effect to it. The Committee held a number of sittings, and from the limited notes that have been put before us of the evidence it took I am satisfied that it did excellent work. I regret that a verbatim report of the evidence given before the Committee was not taken and published. We should then have been able to refer to a printed report of the evidence just as we may refer to-day to the reports of the debates which took place in the House of Commons, and the controversy between experts in connexion with the laying down of the Atlantic cable. The objections taken to that scheme were precisely the same as those which are levelled to-day at this agreement. It was said that the Atlantic cable would not work effectively, and that it was farcical to attempt such an experiment. If a full statement of the evidence given before the Parliamentary Committee were available to us we should probably find that the views of the experts, who were examined, were differentaltogether from those which some of the lay members of the House are inclined to attribute to them. Notes of the evidence have been prepared for us by Senator John D. Millen, a very able member of the Committee, but I should have preferred a detailed report.
I take my full share of the responsibility for the agreement as first submitted to the House, and as amended by the Committee, for the reason that we were given every opportunity to peruse the proposed agreement and to protest against it. If we were opposed to it we had every opportunity last December to voice our objections to it. I gave very careful consideration to the scheme, not only because of the occupation that I followed before I entered this House, but also because of my experience in the Old Country in 1911, which clearly demonstrated to me the absolute necessity for improving our means of communication with the old world in order that the people there might know more about Australia. In my opinion the adoption of the wireless system will mean an enormous improvement in the dissemination of news of Australia in the Old Country. A careful examination of the agreement satisfied me that under it the Commonwealth would not give away anything. The Commonwealth Government agreed to put into the undertaking one pound more than did the private shareholders, and it did so for the same reason that influenced
Disraeli to secure for the United Kingdom a majority interest in the Suez Canal. The object of the Government was to secure a controlling interest in the company. The ordinary shareholders, on the other hand, were prepared to take the risk of putting their money into the project.
Mi-. Prowse - The ordinary shareholders, ‘ perhaps, were induced to put their money into the enterprise because the Government were foolish enough to do so.
– I do not regard every man, whether he has money or not, as being dishonorable. I have found the majority of the men in all walks of life with whom I have had dealings to be straight and above board. I fail to see why honorable members on this side of the House should be subjected to such bitter criticism by honorable members of the Opposition, while they remain members of their respective unions and still occupy a seat in this House advocating certain privileges to unionists. I do not say honorable members opposite should withdraw from their unions when they enter Parliament, but I do say they should be logical and fair in their criticism. The finding of the Committee and the criticism to. which the Government have been subjected demonstrate how unpleasant it would be for any member of the House who took part in any shady transaction, or joined with others in an enterprise that was not clear and above board. I am pleased to observe that the share-list in this company does not contain the name of a member of this Parliament.
– A lot of us would like to have our names on the share list.
– I do not know that I should like to be a shareholder, since grave responsibilities may attach to membership of the company.
Who will say that this long-distance wireless scheme is not likely to be a success ? I do not think any honorable member will say that if the necessary highpower stations are erected here the scheme will not prove effective. I propose to state briefly to the House what has been my experience. I am sure honorable members will pardon me for appearing somewhat personal. I have sat in a telegraph, office when twenty sounders have been working, and have had no difficulty in reading the messages coming in. on a particular instrument. To the layman the sounders appear to produce a mere jumble of sounds, but to the expert operator every one of them makes a distinctly different sound. The operators are able not only to read the messages as they are received by these twenty sounders, but to type them, notwithstanding the noise made hy the typewriters. My experience convinces me that the atmospheric electricity of which we hear so much will not prove an insurmountable difficulty in the way of direct wireless communication, with the Old Country. Tho atmospherics to which reference is so often made consist of lightning storms of high potential current which give out a different wave, and hence produce a different sound on the receiver from that of the current sent out by wireless. They have many million volts of pressure in excess of those of the machine that produces the current used in wireless. I have listened to messages being received in a little station which we had in the Navy Office as well as at the station in the Domain. It is open to any honorable member to go to-morrow to the Wireless Station in the Domain and there to hear a station in France calling New York. One can- hear long-distance messages, and simultaneously the sounds caused by atmospherics. The noise occasioned by atmospherics may be described as a scratching one, while the sound sent out by a machine consists of * the uniform dot and dash. An expert operator is able to disregard altogether the sounds made by atmospherics.
The reason why no expert in this country will give sworn evidence before a Committee1 that direct wireless telegraphy over a distance of 12,000 miles is possible is that there are no facilities here for working over such a distance. All the high-power stations are on the other side of the world, but our small stations in Australia are constantly picking up messages sent out from them. They take them without difficulty because a very high potential or high-pressure wave is sent out, and goes on expanding and expanding until it eventually reaches this country. If we had a very high-power station here - one timed in unison with a high-power station in the Old Country - I have no doubt that we should be able to send messages direct just as we pick up such messages from the other side of tlie world to-day. In the early stages of wireless, I worked under an engineer who was experimenting with the system. In those days, we had the old coherer, which was thought to represent the last thing in wireless. It was composed of a fewsteel filings so placed in a glass tube that when a current was sent out the steel filings were caused to take up a certain position. The tapper separated the filings, and the operator thus got the dot and dash sound. All that has been changed, and, as> the result of the invention of the valve system, our receiving stations will receive messages sent over very long distances such as those to which I have referred. Honorable members no doubt read recently of the wreck of the sailing ship- France. The message of distress that she sent out was picked up at Pennant Hill station, notwithstanding that the vessel must have had on board a very low-pressure current machine. He would be a bold man. who would say that this, schema will not be effective.
– All the witnesses before the Parliamentary Committee said that it would not be effective.
– That opinion is based on the limited experience we have of the working of the system here. We have not in Australia a high-power station tuned in unison with high-power stations in other parts of the world.
– The Committee was told by Mr. Fisk that the possibility of sending a message direct over a distance of 12,000 miles had not been demonstrated - that it was all a matter of experiment.
– No ; he said it could be done.
– The exPostm aster-General (Mr. Wise) has referred to this1 question, and I have the same expert knowledge that he has. Messages sent out from high-power Telefunken stations in Germany during the war were repeatedly picked up by our station in Western Australia for the reason that we had installed there the Telefunken system, the only station we have in Australia which is in unison with the high-power stations on the other side of the world, but still not powerful enough to permit messages to be despatched. Now let us see the high minimum the Committee have fixed, twenty words per minute. Is there a submarine cable doing twenty words per minute? I venture to say that no long submarine cable is doing more than fourteen words per minute. “When submarine cable apparatus was first installed, the operator worked in a dark room, and a shadow passed over a board backwards and forwards, a long shadow for the dash and a short shadow for the dot. That system was followed for a considerable time, and even now messages have to be transmitted slowly because a high voltage cannot be sent through tlie cable. Otherwise the cable would act as a condenser and set up an opposition current. An even worse feature would be the leakage caused by a high voltage. In these circumstances the pressure employed on the Atlantic cable is exceedingly low. One would imagine from the remarks of honorable members that cables never get out of order, and work smoothly twenty-four hours each day. I have known of cables to be out of working order for hours. Take the line between Melbourne and Hobart, which is partly cable - across Bass Straits. There may be fine weather between Melbourne and Flinders, but the weather in Tasmania may be moist, with a big leakage causing the greatest difficulty to the operators in the adjustment of the instruments. The cable is by no means a perfect system. When the telephone was first invented it was simply a machine that would enable a person to communicate between one end and the other of a building. That was because a sufficiently high pressure of current could not be secured to give the high-power waves which convey the vibrations that impinge on the receiver. That difficulty was overcome by the invention of the induction coil, a purely mechanical device by means of which a low-pressure current is passed through coils of thick wire, which induces a. current in many turns of thin wire. This thin wire is connected with the telephone line. A person who speaks on the transmitter of a telephone causes little carbons inside the transmitter to vibrate, making the make and break. These waves pass along the line and impinge on the receiver at the other end, which works in unison with the transmitter. I give this illustration to show that an improved wireless receiver may be invented when the long-distance stations are erected. Is it claimed that with wireless messages being sent around the globe nightly, from the sea and elsewhere, wireless telegraphy is still in its experimental stage ? Is there any man courageous enough to say that, as the long-distance system is still in its experimental stage, the Government should not take the risk? We want to establish this means of communication. It will be most valuable to us, particularly if the estimated cost of messages be correct. Even if the Commonwealth is called upon to put up a big sum. of money, the return to the people of this Commonwealth through speedy communication with the other side of the world, and the speedy means of learning the variation in market prices, will be worth millions of pounds. I have gone carefully into the agreement as a layman, and I am prepared to accept the statements of the honorable members for Fawkner (Mr. Max-well) and Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), who were members of the Committee, that the company will not get £500,000 until the scheme is practically a going concern. To hear honorable members opposite, one would imagine that the Government would hand money over to the company straight away. It is not proposed to do so. The company’s money will be in the concern just as much as the Commonwealth’s will be. Members of the Committee have told us that the .Commonwealth Government are safeguarded. I am of opinion that they are. The ready manner in which the Government were prepared to right the complaint in regard to the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes is sufficient for me. As soon as they heard that the appointment had been made a Minister rose in his place and said he did not agree with it.
– After the matter had been brought up in the House.
– If the Leader of the Opposition has Ministerial responsibility some day, he will find that he will not have time to read every sentence of every agreement. Only those who have been behind the scenes know the work that Ministers are called upon to perform, and one can hardly hold a Minister personally responsible, particularly iri a case such as this, when we hear one say that the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes came to him as a shock, that Cabinet had no knowledge of it, and immediately it learned of it set about rectifying the trouble. Who brought the knowledge of it under the notice of Cabinet? It was a member of the National party, a gentleman sitting in another place. His action showed that the party has nothing to hide. We, as a party, have nothing to fear. I do not mind standing before my electors and telling them the facts of this case. I will tell them that the wireless system established by the party behind which I sat for so long was a huge failure, and that I do not feel inclined to allow the Government to take it on again. We put up stations all round Australia which are useless because they are established in places where there is no need for them. The system was certainly valuable for short distances, but is not equal to the demand to-day. Even honorable members opposite have admitted that the companies concerned in this agreement possess all the patent rights. They will also, admit that we cannot put up a plant which is patented by the companies. I would not be a party to any proposal to utilize other people’s patent rights. Inventors are of fttimes the humblest of men, and should be protected. By the agreement before us the Commonwealth Government secure all the patent rights of a concern which is working world-wide. All vessels are equipped with this patented apparatus which the Australian Government has no right to use. We would have no possible chance of setting up in opposition to the company. Under the agreement, however, we get a controlling influence by paying our fair share, which we should do. I have nothing to fear from the electors. I find that they do not try to twist matters on to one. They do not “ pitch “ little stories in sundry places about men’s characters. They know well that honorable members would not be influenced in the way some people have indicated as being possible. In mv opinion, there is not a man in this House the Wireless Company or any other company would dare approach. Mr. Fisk never approached me. I do not think I have had more than two words with him at any time. Honorable members are level-headed; they are not at all likely to be influenced by button-holers. What chance would a button-holer have with the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine), or any other honorable member? Any one who wanted to get a certain thing carried out would not attempt to button-hole an honorable member with that object in view. From what I know of honorable members of this House, they are clean and above-board; and I would like to see any one dare approach them offering them “boodle” for anything they do here. There is not an honorable member who would accept a gift. If he did, every other honorable member would rise to denounce him and would refuse to sit with him here. I believe that this agreement was entered into with one object in view, namely, to give Australia that direct wireless communication which will be of such great benefit to the country. Direct communication will prove to be much superior to the relay system. Where were the relay stations to be? In India, Egypt, and so on. Under that system, however, if one station should break down, the whole of the service, would be upset. That was its weakness. With a high-power station here, we shall have communication far and near when we get it to work, which I have no doubt we shall do. Scientists can do much if they are given the time. The other day I heard of an industry which proposed to expend an enormous sum of money in Australia, but something cropped up which might have caused a failure and heavy loss. However, the people concerned said to a scientific man, “ Here is £20,000, overcome that difficulty.” That man went to work, and for a few pounds’ expenditure succeeded in overcoming the difficulty, with the result that the industry has been a great success. It will be the same with wireless. Scientists are careful men. They will not commit themselves in giving evidence. They know that their reputations are at stake, and that they must live up to what they say. Had the evidence they could have given been taken, we should, I think, have heard from ‘these scientists statements that would (have led us to believe that, when this scheme is established, it will be an assured success.
.- I did not intend to speak on this amendment. I have been waiting in the chamber two days to speak on a different subject, and I do not now propose to address my remarks to the amendment more than to say that, having endeavoured to fairly weigh the evidence brought forward on both sides, I am of opinion that the whole transaction is “fishy” in the extreme, and therefore I shall vote for the amendment.
The subject to which I propose to address my remarks is very different from that covered by the amendment, but I have been led to believe that possibly I may be excluded from making the remarks I wish to make if I do not take this opportunity of doing so. Consequently, I propose to avail myself of it. Possibly, after the heat and stress of debate in the House during the last twenty-four hours, the subject may seem somewhat dry. but I make no apology for introducing it, seeing that it concerns so many thousands of farmers in this State, and, to a large extent, consumers as well. I propose, in the first instance, to address myself to paragraph 19 in the GovernorGeneral’s message -
My Ministers, recognising the great value of the primary industries to Australia and the rapidity of their expansion, have taken definite action to open up new markets and further exploit old ones.- To this end they have in every way in their power assisted the producers to place their goods upon the world’s market by co-operative effort.
My Government proposes to continue its support of voluntary movements for the collective marketing of primary products upon the same broad principles upon which was based the assistance given by the Government last year to the wheat, fruit, and dairy farmers. 1 take it that that is an open declaration on behalf of the Government, and, if so, it is one with which I am quite in agreement. I am pleased to note that the Government not only propose to do something for the wheat-farmers, but also to help the soft fruit-growers and dairymen. There is no doubt that both these latter industries are deserving of every help m the handling and marketing of the produce that the Government is able to give.
– Is that the reason you are voting against the Government?
– I should be a traitor to my constituents if I did not vote as my conscience directs. Even if the Governnent offered to do anything in return for my vote for the wireless1 agreement T would not give it. I am not going to reflect on the Government, our friends opposite, or any individual. I shall not indulge in any way in recriminations such as we have heard during the lastfew days, but will confine myself to my immediate subject.
I ask the indulgence of the House, because, as I say, it is a very dry subject, on which, possibly, some honorable members are fully informed, but on the other hand, I may be able to give them some interesting facts. During the present year we have had three separate Pools in the various States. We have had a voluntary Pool in Victoria with a State guarantee, a voluntary Pool in South Australia and New South Wales under a Federal Government guarantee, and a compulsory Pool iu Western Australia under a State guarantee. We are asking that the pooling system shall be continued, in every State.
– When are we going to clean up the old Pools?
– My desire, just now, isto give the House and the country some information, and I shall deal with the old Pools, the South African contract, and other subjects presently. The wheat-growers in each State, through their representatives and organizations, have made a definite pronouncement in favour of a continuance of the voluntary Pool, going right away from the old compulsory system. We made an effort fairly” early last year to get Pools established, but it was some considerable time before they were got going. In Victoria, the Pool was in operation before that in New South Wales or South Australia, with the result that these latter States were severely handicapped. We desire an early pronouncement from the Government as to what they propose to do. Certain statements have been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who, I regret to see, is not present, for which reason, I desire to get my remarks into Hansard for his perusal.
– The honorable member was not present yesterday when the Prime Minister made an announcement.
– I was here yesterday, but in the usual babble when questions arebeing asked, I did not catch what was . paid.
– You were not here when tlie Prime Minister made the announcement. You asked me to get him to make an announcement, and this is the way you treat him!
– I rather resent what the honorable member says, and I submit that he is quite out of order. I am not attacking the Government, but simply desire to put forward a proposition. The farmers of this country are represented by the Federal Farmers Organization, which consists of the organized farmers of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia. We recently met in conference at Adelaide, and adopted certain resolutions which I desire to place on record as follow : -
Time is pressing, and the weeks go by. I think I am right in saying there is a staff of experts in each State; we have all the machinery necessary for Pool continuance, but it will be a very hard matter to keep these staffs together unless we have a pronouncement at a very early date that the Pool is to be continued.
– The announcement was made yesterday.
– The Prime Minister said the Pool would be conducted just as it was in South Australia an-d New South Wales, and available for every State.
– My desire is that the Prime Minister shall make an announcement. I cannot say whether he will be satisfied with the scheme I put forward to-night, but I am speaking for the organized farmers of five States.
– ‘The Prime Minister said the scheme would have to be satisfactory to the Commonwealth Bank, and that it .would not be political.
Several honorable members interjecting.
– I desire to inform honorable members that my throat is not in good condition, and I do not propose to unnecessarily inflame it further by repeatedly calling for order. Honorable members know the rules, which I ask them to observe. One interjection is immediately followed by a chorus of others from different parts of the chamber, and I ask honorable members to cease making them. I cannot permit such gross breaches of order to be indulged in, and if they are continued the standing order will have to be enforced by other means.
– Negotiations have been going on between the Federal Farmers Organization, the co-operative companies, and the Commonwealth Bank for some time. What the Prime Minister has stated here is that he proposes to finance, or, at least, to guarantee the financing of the Pool by the Commonwealth Government, and we desire to know what the first advance is likely to be. We have been to the Bank, and we know what it is prepared to do for us, but if the Prime Minister is ready to get behind the Bank, the first advance will probably be a little higher than that the Bank would give on. its own initiative.
– The conditions will be the same as last year.
– To-day the following telegram was received from Western Australia by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) : -
To-day’s press report, Prime Minister’s statement merely indicates Government agree assist voluntary Pools lines similar last yeal-. Does this mean we may take it for granted three shillings net first advance will be made available? Wish commence canvassing next Monday. Please reply to-day. Murray.
It i3 necessary that we should know what the amount of the first advance is- to be, because if it is a very small one it will prove the best possible way to kill the
Pool. We do not wish to put the Government in a position where it will take any risk, but if the first advance-
– If it is not worth 3s., it is not worth anything!
– If it is not worth 3s., plus Sd. for handling charges, we shall see every wheat-grower off the land.
I propose to show some of the benefits which have accrued to Victoria during the six years of the pooling period, including the war years. While the returns have been what I may call satisfactory, they possibly might have been even more so. We all understand that during the earlier years of pooling we were handling enormous quantities under war conditions, and we then had not the experience we have to-day in that work; and I wish to show, for the benefit of the House and of the farmers of Australia, more particularly those of Victoria, just exactly what happened in those years. I desire that the figures I am about to quote shall be placed on permanent record, because I think that in years to come they will be read and much appreciated by those who have access to them. The following figures deal with the intake and out-turn of the seasons 1915-16 to 1920-21 of Victorian Pools. In the year 1919-20 there was a drought and the crop was very small. Over the five pools we gained 1,343,832 bushels. On account of the mouse and weevil plagues there was ai loss of 1,245,836 bushels on the 1916-17 Pool, which I think could hardly have been prevented in the circumstances, but there was a net gain over the whole six years of 97,996. bushels. The approximate financial statement of these operations is as follows: -
Honorable members will notice that up to and including 1919-20 the totals were decreasing owing to the facts that during those years our man power had been considerably reduced by the war, and the production was reduced by drought, but in the following year there was a substantial increase.
– In speaking of “ advances” does the honorable member mean advances by the Government?
– A certain amount was advanced by the Government in the first instance, and subsequently dividends were paid from time to time. My figures include both. There was an annual distribution to the wheat-growers of Victoria, and those who handled the wheat, of a little over £10,000,000. Honorable members will realize that this is an industry which must be considered and conserved at all costs. The average advance actually paid over the whole six years was 5s. per bushel net after deducting rail freights and handling charges, and the average expenses, including rail freight, were 8471 per bushel. Having regard to the fact that the average rail freight in Victoria is approximately 4d., and the fact that during the war period wheat had to be held over lengthy periods, and high interest charges accumulated, I think we can say with great satisfaction that, the total handling charge of 8-Jd. including rail freights was very reasonable indeed. In addition to the receipts I have mentioned there is still a small amount to be distributed in the form of further dividends.
The present Pool in Victoria has received 32,000,000 bushels equal to 80 per cent, of a total crop available for home consumption and export of 40,000,000 bushels. Up to date the sales have realized approximately 5s. 4d. per bushel net f.o.b. I believe that but for the Pool in Victoria during the last year,. and I think this statement would apply to other States also, it is highly probable that’ the price received by the farmers would have been at least ls. per bushel below that which they will receive through the Pool. I mention this fact in proof of the benefits of the collective handling and marketing of wheat. Consider the immense advantage this must be to the man on the land; it enables him to pay his debts, and to keep other industries going.
– Is Government assistance necessary?
– I shall come to that. The benefit of the Pool in this State during the last year has been equal at least to ls. a bushel over 40,000,000 bushels. So far as I am aware the Commonwealth Government has never lost the price of even a penny stamp in .connexion with these Pools; neither has the Victorian Government, which also has given considerable help to the various pooling schemes.
– How did the price of the grain sold outside the Pool compare with the price of that sold through the Pool.
– We have ‘always to remember that the Pool made the price; it kept the speculator up to the mark, and if he would not pay something like the marker price, he received no wheat. The private speculator bought a very small proportion of the wheat, and he had to pay approximately the market price on the day of purchase.
– Does the honorable member know the names of the speculators who bought the inferior wheat that was sent to South Africa?
– I shall deal with that transaction later, but not with the speculators. The Prime Minister may make a statement about them at a later date, but I assure the honorable member that most of the men who bought the wheat and1 flour that went to South Africa “ have not a feather to fly with.” Although through the medium of the Pool the Victorian growers will probably have returned to them about £2,000,000 more than they would have received if their wheat had been sold in the open market without the . aid of the Pool, the consumer has not been asked to pay more than he probably would have had to pay had there been no Pool. Of the total wheat harvest of Victoria, 75 per cent, went overseas, so that of the gain of £5,000,000, about £1,500,000 came from overseas. Honorable members may think that the local consumer had to pay too much for his wheat. But whilst in the early part of the year the price of wheat would have been low, as soon as the grain passed into the possession of the speculators, and the market advanced, the local consumer would not have received his wheat any cheaper than he did receive it through the Pool, if, indeed, he would have received it as cheaply. On this subject there has been a good deal of press controversy, and honorable members will realize how very difficult it is for a man occupying, as I do, the position of trustee for the time of the growers whom I represent, to give balance-sheets and statements from time to time. The Victorian Wheat-growers Corporation has been told that it was charging the local consumer a higher price than was justified. I have never tried publicly to exonerate the Corporation, but the members of it have always felt that we could establish a good case for the price we fixed. Until recently we kept the price for local consumption as near as possible to London parity, but the time arrived when, for certain reasons, we had to raise the local price above London parity. I shall state those reasons directly, and ask honorable members to pass judgment as to whether or not we were justified in the course we followed. Local consumption in Victoria requires approximately 9,000,000 bushels per annum. Purchases from the corporation to the 30th June of this year amounted to 5,695,700 bushels. Millers are holding in stock on account of the corporation, under contract to purchase, up to the 15th December, 1922, a further quantity amounting to 3,334,000 bushels. The total already purchased and to be purchased under the above contracts by the millers from the corporation is 9,029,700 bushels. Our estimate of home consumption requirements for Victoria is 9,000,000 bushels, while the amount of wheat actually used has amounted to 9,029,700 bushels.
The position of the corporation stocks is as follows: - In country mills under contract to purchase, 3,334,000 bushels; other stocks held by the corporation, 3,300,000 bushels; making a total of 4,634,000 bushels. Exports of flour from the 1st January to 30th June, 1922, according to Customs returns, amounted to the equivalent of 3,700,000 bushels, as against 2,250,753 bushels for the same period of last year. Under the voluntary pooling system millers and others were free to purchase all the wheat they could get in open competition with the voluntary Pool in every State where such a Pool exists. Millers have been absolutely free to purchase any quantities on the open market. The quantities so purchased are not known to the corporation; but, if the Statist’s estimate of the harvest was correct, the maximum quantity that the millers could have received on the open market was 4,475,000 bushels. According to the figures emanating from the Millowners’ Association, which appeared in the press recently, the millers must have purchased not less than 6,000,000 bushels. If that estimate is correct, they must be holding a considerable portion at present. The full quantities nominated by country millers at the commencement of the season, and, in some cases, increased later, have been retained by the corporation and purchased from time to time as approved by the contract. When stocks held by the corporation were* approaching a low level, metropolitan millers were informed, and given an opportunity to consider the position, and of purchasing, at the current price, whatever further stocks they required. During this period of consideration, amounting to four weeks, the corporation refrained from chartering and of making any further f.o.b. sales, so that the stocks available should not be depleted.
– What does the honorable member mean by the nominations of the millers?
– We entered into an agreement with the country millers. The contract provided that they could, purchase on the open market as much as they required. And, if they decided to take a certain quantity from the Pool, they could do so on the understanding that whatever quantity a miller took would have to be paid for at the end of three four-monthly periods starting on the 15th April, the second payment on the 15th August, and the last payment on the 15th December. For instance, a miller would negotiate for the corporation to supply him with 90,000 bags. He is supposed to use, during the first of the three four-monthly periods, 30,0^0 bags. During that term, whatever he uses has to be paid for from week to week as he uses it. But, in the event of his not using up the whole by the end of that four-monthly period, he must pay for the quota remaining on the basis of the market price ruling at that date.
Another important factor to be considered by the corporation was that the crop prospects covering large areas in many parts of Victoria and New South Wales were anything but promising. Insufficient rains had fallen in Victoria, and what was practically a drought existed in the western part of New South Wales and the wheat areas of Queensland. It has been only during the last three weeks that the fear of drought conditions has been removed.
I want to explain now why the local price was slightly above parity, and I wish to offer a justification for- that condition. While these negotiations were in progress, it was not known what stocks were held by millers or merchants, and it was thought that there might not even be sufficient for local requirements. Profitable business was lost to the corporation during this period. The purchase by metropolitan millers meant, of course, that they had to take the risk of market fluctuations. And, naturally, they desired the corporation to hold stocks available for them to buy as they required them. But this meant that the risk of the market would fall entirely on the farmers, together with delay in realization, interest charges, and storage and carrying costs. Various conferences took place between the millers and the corporation. The necessity of conserving stocks for local consumption was fully placed before them, especially in view of the expressed intention of certain mills to continue export business whenever obtainable. The millers were informed that as soon as the Government were satisfied that local supplies would be safeguarded the corporation would review the position. That .has now been done. The corporation was afraid when it found that its stocks had got low, that if the market price was reduced to enable millers to do profitable export business at a certain time, those millers would continue their export business, with the result that our local consumers would be left high and dry. I suppose that in that event wo would have been taxed with leaving the country without the necessary supplies of flour. We protected the consumers by holding up several million bushels in the first instance; and now, since the millers have bought portions of those supplies, we are down, to an amount, which can be exported in the shape of flour or wheat, totalling 1,300,000 bushels. But we have not been satisfied that the stocks which the millers said they held were really held. We have been strongly of opinion that the amount of wheat which they said they held was not in the country, and we informed the Premier of Victoria of our views upon that matter. We told Mr. Lawson that we were willing to reduce the price for local consumption to about parity at the earliest possible moment at which he could get a guarantee from the millers that they would not over-export, and leave us short for home consumption. The Premier set about taking a census, and he subsequently informed the corporation that he was satisfied that sufficient wheat would be retained for local consumption, and that, in fact, the millers had guaranteed accordingly. We received that notification on Monday afternoon last, and at 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning the price of wheat was reduced 3d. per bushel. That is our justification for keeping the market for a short period above what could have been said to have been reasonable world parity. While our price is 5s. Sd., the price in New South Wales is 5s. 9d., and in South Australia also 5s. 9d. a bushel. I would point out, further, that, if there had not been any Pool, and if other interests had been holding the stocks of wheat “which we hold to-day, the local price, in all probability, would have been well up to 6s. per bushel.
With respect to South African complaints, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was in London in July, 1921, serious statements were made to him by General Smuts regarding the quality of certain wheat and flour exported from Australia during the preceding year. At that time Australia was short of wheat, and, owing to the fact that the succeeding season was not promising well, export of flour made from f.a.q. wheat had to be very much curtailed. The Board was then made offers for considerable quantities of lower grade wheat of the 1916-17 season, and, in a business-like way, it realized the wheat to the best advantage. It appears, however, that the description given of the product of the wheat to South African merchants was such that they did not realize the nature of the goods they . were procuring. It seems to be unknown, even to South African merchants, that “ B “ grade was a third quality wheat, being lower grade than “ A “ grade, which was lower than f.a.q. The South African merchants would appear to have assumed that “ B “ grade wheat was second quality wheat. In addition, it is practically certain that the flour made from “ B “ grade wheat underwent a marked deterioration from the time of shipment in Australia to the time of discharge in South Africa. I have seen flour made from “ B “ grade wheat, and, while it was slightly dark in colour, it appeared to be wholesome and edible. I have seen and tasted bread made entirely from flour manufactured from “ B “ grade wheat. Had I not been told that its origin was “ B “ grade, I would not have been able to discover any difference except in respect of colour.
– Whose statement is the honorable member giving ?
– My own.
– Is the honorable member reading the case for the Australian Wheat Board ?
– I take full responsibility for the- statement I am making.
– I rise to a point of order. Is tho honorable member in order in reading his speech?
– I am not aware that the honorable member has been reading his speech. It would not be in order for the honorable member to do so, but he may make such quotations as he considers desirable.
– I am quoting, sir, from notes which I have carefully prepared, and by which I stand. It is difficult to carry one’s memory back over a period of several years without falling into error, and I have therefore prepared a statement to which I am referring from time to time.
When, as the result of an interview between the Prime Minister and General Smuts, members of the delegation arrived from South Africa, they were very critically received by the administrative staff of the Board, who considered that if South Africans had any claims they should enforce them by a legal remedy. It soon became evident, however, that the South Africans had a claim which it might be hard to enforce in a Court, although on < the moral side it was undoubtedly strong. The delegation had several interviews with members of the Board, and the Board realized’ that, by reason of the fact that much misconception existed in South Africa as to the nature of the goods merchants there were to receive, the Australian Wheat Board had been most materially assisted in the marketing of goods, in disposing of which they would otherwise have had difficulty. As a matter of fair dealing, the Board felt that it had no option but to make some allowance to the South African merchants, which, while only to a small extent recouping them for their losses, would still leave the Board an excellent return on the wheat it had disposed of.
– The Board did not sell direct.
– No. The strength of the moral claim made by the South Africans is best indicated by the fact that the Western Australian members of the Board, from which State none of the flour complained of had been shipped, feeling that the Board had benefited by the misconception of South African merchants, , agreed that a recompense from funds, which would have to be partially met from Western Australia, was the only equitable way of dealing with the matter. The total claims made amounted . to £518,000, and the amount agreed to be paid was £115,000, of which the Commonwealth Government has accepted the responsibility for £32,500. The Australian Wheat Board will also finance this claim to the extent of £30,000, the Victorian Commission to the extent of £26,250, and the South Australian Wheat Harvest Board to the same extent, making a total of £115,000.
I wish to make it clear that the amount paid by the Australian Wheat Board, the Commonwealth Government, and the two States concerned was in respect of flour only, and in no way concerned wheat, although lit will be found by honorable members that, in the final settlement, we get a clearance from any claims that might eventually be made in regard to second or third grade wheat exported to South Africa. An honorable member, when dealing last week with the quantity of second-grade wheat exported to South Africa, said we were not justified in sending such wheat out of the country. At the time we were sending it to Japan and South Africa the people of those countries were very glad to get it at almost any price. Having regard to the fact that we had several million bushels of second grade quality for which we could find no market at home, surely we did the right thing in disposing of it in the best market. We sold it to Japan and South Africa, but there was no misrepresentation whatever on the part of the Board. We took up the moral ground, however, that the Board might have gained .by a. misconception on the part of South African buyers on the one hand, and that to some extent we might have gained by misrepresentation on this side, although we do not admit that any misrepresentation took place. If misrepresentation was indulged in by merchants in this country, I can only say that they have suffered bitterly for it, because I think there are very few of them who to-day are not ruined men. If they were guilty of misrepresentation, the chances are they are suffering for it today.
– Does the honorable member say that the wheat sent to South Africa was sold direct by the Board, and not by speculators ?
– The wheat was not sold by the Board direct.
– Then how did the Board benefit by the misrepresentation of merchants here, or misconception on the * part of South African buyers?
– The Board did not sell any of this second or third grade wheat or flour direct to South Africa.
– The, honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), speaking in the House recently, gave us the impression that this inferior wheat waa sold by the Board to speculators in Australia, and that they in turn sold it to South African merchants, with the result that they were “taken down.” Will the honorable member give us the names of the persons who purchased the wheat here, and the names of their agents in South Africa ? Why should this matter be covered up?
– I do not wish to withhold such information, but I am not in a position to give it to-night.
– Then I think it is time that the House took a hand in this matter. The Pool cannot be run in this way.
– The explanation I have given to-night is correct.
– -But the honorable member has not gone far enough.
– From my point of view, the moral responsibility incurred by the Board is due to the fact that this flour was sold, not on sample, but on description. The sales, I repeat, were not made by the Board, although the Board benefited by such sales from time to time.
– I quite understand that, but the honorable member said that the Board had made this payment in respect of flour which had been exported. I am not asking about the wheat that was sold and exported.
– We have not paid, nor do we propose to pay, anything in regard to the wheat sent out.
– But did certain men purchase wheat in Australia, and in turn sell to speculators?
– That is so.
– I want to know who they are. Parliament agreed to give the Board a guarantee, and we are entitled to the fullest information.
– The information for which the honorable member asks will not be withheld. I have no hesitation in saying that it would take a man practically six months to make a careful study of all the papers relating to this matter.
I have been asked a question in regard to the cleaning up of the various Pools - a matter that has agitated the minds of the farmers of not only Victoria, but all the States. One of the metropolitan newspapers in this State has been ungenerous enough to assert that the officers of the Board, or the Board itself, have been holding up the finalization of the Pool so as to maintain their present positions. In reply, I would point out that at the present time the staff of the Australian Wheat Board consists of only three accountants and one lady typist. Our manager has practically returned to the Treasury, and we have vacated some of our rooms. We are doing everything possible to expedite the finalization of the Pools. Accounts covering a large number of shipments have only recently been received from England, and these are now being closely analyzed. Before final distributions can be made, the accounts must be audited, as the States will be responsible for any overpayments. There have been large overpayments in New South Wales. That is the only State, I believe, in which such a thing has occurred. Another reason why we have been unable to finalize all the Pools is that the Board is defendant in a Court case that is being brought by a Japanese buyer of 1916-17 wheat. The enormity of the business transacted can be seen from the fact that the total realizations for all Pools amounted to over £1SO,000,000, of which 98£ per cent, has been paid away to growers or to meet expenses.
– Although nearly all the time taken up by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has been well spent, much of what he has said could have been dealt with at a later stage, when I hope to have the opportunity of speaking upon the question. He barely touched upon the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), except to describe this wireless contract as one of the fishiest matters with which he has ever come in contact. For that reason he proposes to vote for the amendment, as naturally he would be expected to do, after his very mild description of the transaction. The honorable member’s opinion was in contradistinction to the attitude taken up by the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith), who could see nothing wrong with what the honorable member has described as one of the fishiest matters ever brought before this House. The honorable member for Denison does not believe that any honorable member would have anything to do with one of these “ fishy “ transactions. He declared that he did not think that any honorable member would accept a bribe.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member’s memory must be very short, because there has never been greater feeling created in this country than was created by the Prime Minister’s acceptance of £25,000 a little while ago.
– Subscribed by whom?
– So much has occurred, and so much has been agreed to by the Prime Minister since he accepted that £25,000, that a very different complexion is cast on the statement of the honorable member for Denison that there is not an honorable member in this House capable of accepting a monetary consideration for services rendered in return.
– The honorable member would be surprised to know how many poor people subscribed to that gift.
– .Several times we have asked for the publication of the names of the subscribers, and I venture to say that if there is no reason why they should be kept back from the public gaze the Prime Minister would long ago have made them known.
– The honorable member is not in order in referring to that matter.
– I was led away by the honorable member for Denison, who has displayed such innocence in speaking on this question that I thought it would be well to remind him of the little incident which I have mentioned. There are one or two phases of this debate that are highly interesting. The speech of the honorable member for Denison was quite characteristic of those of other honorable members on his side of the chamber. The honorable member, except for saying what I have just referred to, treated us to a very entertaining address upon the technicalities of wireless, but gave us no light upon the situation, and suggested no way in which the Government could extricate itself from the bog in which it finds itself today. He concluded, as every other honorable member on his side has done, after condemning the agreement, and smiting it hip and thigh, by stating that he was prepared to accept the assurances of the Prime Minister. We heard from the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler). what the ex-Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Wise), said about the matter before he was taken into the bath room, as the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) put it last night, and had his throat cut. The honorable member for Gippsland told the House that he had been strongly opposed to having anything to do with the Wireless Company, that he had no faith in the company, that he felt it was putting forward a speculative scheme, that he had been amazed when he saw “honorable members allowing the matter to go last December, that he was not able to give it the attention he desired with his individual mind, and that he could only deal with it with his composite mind, as he was then a member of the Cabinet. I have nothing to add to what the honorable member for Perth has said about the honorable member for Gippsland being a member of. the Ministry. The attitude admitted to have been adopted by the honorable member for Gippsland when he was a member of the Ministry points to the existence of a very low order of things among those who, like himself, accepted a place in the Cabinet, and who, while knowing that this kind of transaction was going on, raised no finger to expose it. Did the honorable member for Gippsland ever mention his attitude in Cabinet? Did he bring the matter before Cabinet ? He has ‘not enlightened us on that point. He has simply said that he was not able to deal with it except with bis composite mind. His attitude to-day is that now he is outside Cabinet he is more strongly opposed to the agreement than he was when he was dealing with it with a composite mind. But yet he concludes by saying that he is prepared to accept the assurances of the Prime Minister and those iu the Cabinet of which he is no longer a member. Other honorable gentlemen who are backing the Government to-day are compelled to deal with the matter with a composite mind just as if they were in the Cabinet itself. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) went outside this House a little while ago to castigate the Government, but they were immediately taken up-stairs asd severely caned. They were told that they were no longer permitted to deal with matters with an individual mind, but must keep their individual opinions for up-stairs; otherwise the “ well would run dry.”
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the amendment.
– There is no getting away from the statement made by the honorable member for Perth concerning the honorable member for Gippsland. It may have appeared to be a personal matter, but the condemnation uttered by the honorable member for
Perth was the only logical interpretation that could be placed on the utterances of the ex-Postmaster-General last night. Let me take the remarks of other honorable members supporting the Government. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) says, “ The thing is wrong from start to finish. We should let the whole thing go.” He is just like a Tas.mania.n senator, who says that even now the whole agreement should be torn up. I wonder what he would do if he were here. He is free to talk as he likes in the Senate, where he is not responsible for keeping the Government in office. Other honorable gentlemen in this Chamber who are behind the Government have spoken just as strongly as Senator John D. Millen has in another place, but they have resumed their seats with the expression on their lips that they are prepared to accept the assurances of the Government. I have spoken about what the honorable member for Perth said concerning the honorable member for Gippsland, but what is the attitude of the honorable member for Perth himself ? He took the ex-Postmaster-General to task for doing a certain thing, and every one naturally had the right to expect that before he sat down he would declare that he would not follow the road taken by the honorable member for Gippsland, and would show his independence in this Chamber. What did he say? He said, “ I believe that this is one of the shadiest pieces of business ever heard of in this House, but I am not going to vote for the amendment. I do not propose to vote at all.” I prefer the attitude taken up by the honorable member for Gippsland, bad as it is. He said, “ I am much more opposed to this agreement now that I am able to deal with it with an individual mind than I was when I could only deal with it with a composite mind ; but, nevertheless, I propose to vote against the amendment.” The honorable member for Perth chastised the exPostmasterGeneral for adopting his attitude, and then said, in effect, “ My attitude is that I propose to run away from the. thing altogether.” Of the two attitudes, both of which are contemptible, I prefer that of the man who stands up and votes.
– The honorable member must not apply the word “ contemptible “ to any member of this House.
– I was applying the term to an attitude. It is well that the statements of honorable members on the Government side should be exposed for what they are. I conclude by referring to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt). That honorable member for a little while left honorable members in some doubt as to how he would vote, but I think I know how the honorable member would like to vote. Honorable members opposite have no misgivings about the result, and it was, I think, the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Richard Foster) who boasted that the Government had the numbers, so we may take it that he knew the honorable member for Balaclava was “in the bag.” That honorable member, however, said that if he were in the Ministry he would have no hesitation in saying that the contract should not be accepted. If there is one man more than another in this House who claims to be independent, it is the honorable member for Balaclava, and he declares that if he were in the Ministry, when, of course, he could only use his composite mind, he would have no hesitation in declaring that the contract should be torn up. He added, however, that he* was prepared to accept the assurance given by the Prime Minister, though if there is one man who should not be prepared to do so it is the honorable member himself. In this, the honorable member for Balaclava has absolutely passed the limit.
I should like to refer to one* statement that was made by the honorable member for Nepean (Mr. Bowden), who said that if this trouble in regard to Sir Thomas Hughes had not arisen, the agreement would have been at once accepted by the House. The honorable member expressed that opinion with assurance; but he must know that honorable members on this side of the House, at all events, never at any stage approved of the agreement. It is remarkable how that, honorable member could “ strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” He made a mouthful about the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes, but said not a word, or very little, about the agreement. The Government owed the duty to the House and the country, not only to tell us all about the agreement, but also who were the representatives of the Government. Those representatives of the Government include Mr. George Mason Allard, who is chairman of directors of Beard, Watson, and Company, and he is associated with Mr. Bartholomew in a private company. What have the Government got to say about that appointment? Bad as the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes is, the appointment of Mr. Allard is infinitely worse, yet we hear not a word about the latter from either the Prime Minister or the Minister for Defence. Will honorable members opposite, who are prepared to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister and the Government, meekly vote against the amendment without raising their voices in protest against the appointment of this gentleman as the representative of the Government while he is a partner in a private business which holds a great number of shares-
– He is not a partner.
– Mr. Allard is chairman of directors of the private company I have mentioned, and he is co-director in this company with another gentleman named Bartholomew, who is also the representative of the Amalgamated Wireless Company.
– He is not a partner.
– Then he is a co-shareholder.
– That is a very different thing.
– What is the good of quibbling in that way, for both are interested in the same company? Mr. Allard is a representative of the Government, and his partner is a representative of the wireless company. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) described the circumstances as “ fishy,” and in my opinion that is a very mild adjective to use. It was, as I say, the duty of the Government to tell us who were the representatives of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Lambert) put a very fair question when he asked the Leader of the House (Mr. Greene) who nominated Sir Thomas Hughes. If he was not nominated by the Government, whom did the Government nominate? There must have been nominees from both sides, otherwise an arbitrator would not have been called in.
– That is obvious.
– Will the honorable gentleman tell us who were the nominees of the Government? Am I right in saying that the company nominated Sir Thomas Hughes and the Government nominated nobody ?
– No, you would not be right.
– Why this mystery and secrecy? I have heard it said that the Government nominated Sir Thomas Hughes, and we may assume that if there was nothing to conceal the Minister for Defence would be candid with the House and with the country. Does the Government suggest that the House has no right to the information? Why this policy of “keep it dark” and “cover it up”? Is there anything to hide. I have heard on good authority that the Government nominated nobody, which was equivalent to giving Sir Thomas Hughes a walk-over, and with an obvious purpose.
– That is not correct.
– Then it is the bounden duty of the Government to give the House the correct information.
– The honorable member’s assertion denies itself because there was arbitration.
– An arbitrator could deal with the matter, although the other side might not have nominated anybody.
– That is so manifestly silly that it does not require an answer.
– The honorable gentleman, on reflection, will see that it is he who is taking the silly view as the company might have nominated more than one, in which case an arbitrator would have had to be called in although there was no Government nominee at all. The honorable gentleman said that he received a shock when he heard of Sir Thomas Hughes’ appointment, but the Prime Minister subsequently came in and said that before Parliament met for this session he had heard about the appointment and had objected to it. How much truth there is in that statement may be gauged from the declaration by the Minister for Defence that he was shocked when he heard of the appointment. I suppose that the honorable gentleman was as much in the dark about the other nominees as he was about that of Sir Thomas Hughes; but if the Prime Minister treats his colleagues in this cavalier way it is marvellous that so many are prepared to accept his assurances and obey his beck and call.
– I have told you halfadozen times that your assumption is wrong.
– Then the onus rests on the Minister to say where it is wrong. This business has created more public comment, and greater feeling in the public mind, than any I have known of for a considerable time, and for that reason alone the Prime Minister ought to be candid with the country . The honorable member for Nepean can see nothing wrong with the agreement, except the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes, but, right from the beginning, what does the agreement purport to do? The agreement provides that the Commonwealth should forthwith, after the expiration of one month from the date of the agreement, apply for, and the company shall allot to the Commonwealth 500,001 shares, for which the Commonwealth shall pay on allotment the sum of 2s. per share. That means a payment of £50,000, and then on the 1st July this year the Commonwealth had to pay 6s. per share. This means that at a time when the company is returning nothing and all the expenses are being met, the Commonwealth has to put up its money while the other parties are not called upon to pay a brass farthing. .
– That is not correct,
– That is according to the agreement. Thus the Commonwealth will be providing money to give a great return to individuals who are asked to contribute very little on their part. Right along the line the Commonwealth gets the worst of the deal; yet we are told that there is nothing wrong about the agreement, except the appointment of one gentleman.
One aspect of the case was overlooked until the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt) called attention to it. Several honorable members, including the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) said that if we accepted the amendment it would not lead us anywhere, because the agreement had been signed, and the result would involve litigation. I am inclined to. think that that honorable member did not closely examine the amendment.
– I did, very carefully.
– I would point out that the amendment applies to clause 12.
– I know.
– That clause 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 paragraphsf and g of clause 5 of this agreement. The agreement shall contain guarantees of such a nature and to such an amount as are approved by the Commonwealth representatives on the Board of Directors for the provision of a direct commercial wireless service between Australia and the stations in the United Kingdom and Canada.
That refers to the agreement to be entered into in order to give an effective service. If this amendment is carried it will, according to my reading, give Parliament a voice in approving or rejecting the agreement yet to be entered into between the representatives of the Government and the company.
– No; the clause refers to the agreement to be entered into between the company and some constructional company that is to erect the highpower station.
– Very well. The honorable member said that the amendment would lead us nowhere, because it could not upset what has been done already, but I say that it will help to make the agreement better and will provide a way out of the existing difficulty for which honorable members opposite must take responsibility.
– It will throw upon the House the responsibility of fixing the guarantees instead of allowing the Commonwealth’s nominees on the Board to do it.
– Does the honorable member suggest that that would not be a desirable thing?
– It would be very undesirable.
– In effect, the honorable member says that this agreement, whether good, bad, or indifferent, cannot be remedied, and that we should not do anything to try to make it better.
– We cannot alter an agreement after it has been made.
– This amendment refers to clause 12, and I say emphatically that if we agree to it it will give Parliament the right of approving or rejecting the agreement yet to he entered into by the representatives of the company and the representatives of the Common weal th .
– No, no. I implore the honorable member to read the clause carefully.
– I have read it.
– Then the honorable member has completely misunderstood it. Ask the honorable member for Batman.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) agrees with me that the further agreement to be entered into between the representatives of the parties under clause 12 will come before this House for approval or rejection if the amendment be agreed to. That is the plain meaning of the clause and the amendment. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt) expressed the same opinion this evening, and the honorable member for Fawkner did hot contradict him.
– I did.
– Any honorable member who desires to make the agreement better than it is has an opportunity to do so by voting for the amendment. It is remarkable that every honorable member on the opposite side who has spoken, with one exception, has condemned the agreement, but each one has said that he will accept the Prime Minister’s assurance, notwithstanding that the transaction has been described by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) as “fishy.” It is to the credit of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) that he is a whole-hearted supporter of the agreement, right or wrong.
– I did not say I supported the agreement, right or wrong.
Mir. PARKER MOLONEY. - The honorable member said that as the agreement has been signed we shall onlyinvolve the Commonwealth in litigation if we try to upset it; therefore, it is better to accept it as it is. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler) described the agreement as criminal, and I suppose that it is fitting that the honorable member for Fawkner, who has a professional reputation as a defender of criminals, should declare himself a staunch defender of it. I think the descriptions given by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler) and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) are appropriate. I could not describe the agreement better, and if honorable members opposite believe what they say - that the agreement is “fishy,” and one of the worst transactions that has ever come before the House - I hope that they will stand up to their opinions and vote for the amendment.
.- This is the fourth week that the House has been in session, and nothing has been done. After reading the GovernorGeneral’s Speech I was very anxious that the Government should proceed as soon as possible with business in order that some of the legislation mentioned therein might be put into operation before the next election. Most honorable members have said or inferred that the final session of a Parliament ‘ simply degenerates into electioneering, and I thought it would be just as well to place the proposals mentioned in the Speech on the statute-book so that they could not be used as election cries. And I would not have spoken in this debate but for the amendment moved by the honorable member for Batman. As a member of the Committee appointed to inquire into the agreement, I do not desire to give a silent vote. Honorable members are well aware of the circumstances under which the Committee was appointed, and it must not be forgotten that no matter how this matter is debated now, nothing can alter what was done by the House on 9th December last. On that day an express motion was passed delegating the powers of this House in connexion with the agreement to the Wireless Committee. Many members contend that the motion was passed not by the House but by a majority of honorable members. Honorable members opposite know quite well that the voice of the majority is the voice of the whole. That is one of the main planks of their platform. The voice of the majority in this House is the voice of the House, and the voice of the majority stated expressly by resolution that the approval or otherwise of the agreement should be left in the hands of the Wireless Committee.
Any honorable member perusing Hansard will see that I voted for the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). I believed that the matter of a wireless agreement should be referred to a Committee, and that the Committee should report it back to the House. I, therefore, supported the honorable gentleman’s amendment. The next motion submitted was that proposed by the Prime Minister, and upon that motion the Wireless Committee was appointed. I voted against that motion. That was the position I took up. I was absolutely against anything in the shape of a hybrid company. I even went so far as to say that I was against having anything to do with any private company in the way proposed. In my view it does not matter what protection is sought by having two or three representatives of the Government on the Board of Directors of such a company. We might have five or six representatives of the Government, and there would still be no safeguard. Any one who knows anything about company law must be aware that directors are expected to have a monetary interest in the company of which they are given control. In addition to a director’s fee they get a return from the company, if its operations are prosperous, in the shape of dividends. But representatives appointed by the Government upon the directorate of a company like this have no monetary interest or are supposed to have no monetary interest in the company. They have only their director’s fee to recompense them for the time they spend on the Board, and in the circumstances they cannot be expected to neglect their own businesses for the purpose of considering the business of the company to which they are appointed as directors. That is one reason why I am totally against having anything to do with these hybrid companies.
The fact still remains that this House has approved of the agreement, and we cannot get away from that. All the debate which has taken place during the last three days should have taken place last year. We know that the House rose on the 10th December last, but most of us thought that it would not rise until the 16th. There was no very ‘ urgent hurry to get away, and another week’s sittings would have made little difference to. honorable members. I live further from the Seat of Government than do most members of this House, and I was naturally anxious to get back to my home. But what was a week ^ extra when, by continuing to sit for that time, we might have given this matter proper consideration last year.
I have learned two things from my experience as a member of the Wireless Committee. It has confirmed me in my view as to the necessity of submitting matters of this kind to a Committee. The responsibility should not be placed upon this House to come to a decision upon such matters without ample time for consideration. It is absolutely necessary that Committees should be appointed to go thoroughly into proposals of this character, and bring back to this House the conclusions to which they have come, and the evidence upon which those conclusions are based. If that course is adopted, the House can properly consider the subject in question and will be in a position, to cast an intelligent vote upon it. I am sure that a majority of honorable members will admit that when this proposal was first brought under the notice of the House most of them were absolutely ignorant of everything- connected with wireless telegraphy. I certainly knew nothing of the subject. We know, too, that every agreement requires very careful consideration. A Committee is required, in dealing with matters of this kind, to obtain information which honorable members, busy as they are, are unable to obtain for themselves. I might say, in language which may be used outside, but which probably would not be allowed here, that much of the talk we have heard during the last three days, has been so much “ tripe.”
– I beg your pardon, sir. I will say that it has been irrelevant. It has not been to the point. Many honorable members have spoken as if the amendment moved by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) was submitted for the purpose of rejecting the agreement. They have spoken as if the agreement was being weighed in the balance in this House now. But under the powers given to the Wireless Committee, if they had recommended the approval of the rottenest agreement that could he submitted the House would still have no power in the matter, because it delegated its power to the Committee.
Although I was against anything of the sort, -I still say that the agreement is a good agreement. One amateur legal member of this House has said that it is loosely drawn up, but the only looseness in connexion with the matter was the looseness, carelessness, and abandon with which the honorable member exercised his vote on the 9 th December last. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) criticised the manner in which the Wireless Committee conducted its proceedings. He said that there were no minutes and that the evidence was not brought before the House in proper form. Let me tell honorable members that the Wireless Committee was not bound even to keep the notes which have been presented to the House. The reference to it was so broad that it could do exactly as it liked. That again shows the carelessness with which the motion was voted upon last year. It is useless to try and throw blame on the Wireless Committee. The only persons responsible in this matter, if there is anything wrong, are those who voted for the motion to which I have referred on the 9th December last.
I do not intend to go into the details of the agreement, because to do so would be to repeat what other honorable members have said; but I will say that, in my opinion, the Commonwealth is absolutely protected. It is protected under the clause of the agreement which has been mentioned so many times, and which is particularly referred to in the amendment now under consideration. It is protected also because of ordinary business considerations. Any one who lias money at stake in a business concern will do all that k possible to insure that the business shall be carried on at a profit. The men engaged in this business can be trusted to do their best to make it a paying concern, and the Commonwealth being concerned in the business, much as I regret it, will share in its profits.
Many things might be said in support of the agreement from the point of view of the company. I am not an apologist for the company. One thing that might be said from the point of view of outside investors is that they would be fools to permit the Commonwealth to be. represented by a majority of the board of directors when its representatives might be appointed by any Government, and might be men without business or technical experience. Private investors would be fools to risk their money in a business concern controlled by men without business experience. Though the debate which has taken place may be regarded as futile, it should have for us a lesson which we ought not to forget. The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Batman reads - the agreement mentioned in, clause 12 of the contract …. should before acceptance by the Commonwealth representatives on the board of directors be agreed to by this House.
Many opinions have been, expressed, but my opinion, which I think would be supported by any lawyer who went into the matter, is that that amendment represents a direct interference with the contract. The clause which it is proposed to amend reads - ….. 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…..
The amendment would have the effect of altering the clause to read, “ As approved by the Commonwealth Parliament,” instead of, “As approved by the Commonwealth representatives on the board of directors.”
– There is nothing wrong in putting that in.
– Except that it would involve an alteration of the contract. Any contract signed and sealed should be held in the eyes of all men of honour as a sacred thing, like the word of a gentleman. It should not be subjected to any attempt to change it. It is well, of course, that all honorable members are not possessed of the same opinions; but I assert that any member who votes for the amendment will vote for the alteration of the contract and for having the Commonwealth posted before all the world as a defaulter.
I am glad the discussion has arisen, for it shows how necessary it is that all such matters should be thoroughly probed before being resolved in the form of a contract, and how essential it is that all projected agreements, after having’ been considered by any Committee - even though composed of representatives from this Chamber - should be ratified by Parliament itself. I am sorry that the honorable member for Batman has moved his amendment, for, if it were carried, it would have the effect of causing Australia to be pilloried as a defaulter, as a country which pays no respect to the sacred terms of a signed and sealed contract.
– I had hoped that the Government would see their way clear to extend the ordinary courtesy of providing a reply when the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Lambert) sought certain information in the public interest, namely, who were the persons whose names were submitted along with that of Sir Thomas Hughes for the consideration of the arbitrator, Mr. Consett Stephen. There can be no valid reason why this information should be withheld; yet it has been refused. In adopting such a course of action, the Government are not merely flouting the honorable member for West Sydney; they are ignoring the public. The Government are merely the custodians of the people’s rights. The people are entitled to know all that goes on. There is no war now. There is no reason why, when information is sought, it should not be furnished, particularly as practically every honorable member behind the Government has described the Wireless Agreement as fishy, corrupt, rotten, criminal, and altogether unscrupulous. I have read many of the volumes of Hansard produced during the history of the Federal Parliament, but I have failed to find anything approaching the weight of denunciation which has issued from, the supporters of the Government on the present occasion. So long as th« Government refuse to divulge the particulars sought for, members will be lacking in their duty if they allow Ministers to cross a “t” or dot an “i.” Every means must be exhausted for eliciting the necessary particulars. What excuse can there be for withholding the names of the nominees put forward for the consideration of the arbitrator by the Government’s representatives on the directorate 1 Is it because the persons nominated were such that the Government have reason to be ashamed of them? Are they such that the arbitrator had no alternative but to select Sir Thomas Hughes?
– I suggest that the Government’s representatives did not put forward any name.
– What was done 1 Who was nominated ? Were they suitable persons ? The Government should answer. I direct attention to the persistent rumour that four nominees were mentioned for the consideration of the arbitrator, and that three of them were men who were so> unsuitable, who knew so little about wireless, that the only . nominee left for the arbitrator to deal with was Sir Thomas Hughes, the former chairman of Amalgamated Wireless. This debate has proceeded for several days, and has been afforded wide publicity. During that .period the Govern-, ment should have invited a report from the arbitrator, so that honorable members and the pubilc might not form erroneous ideas of Mr. Consett Stephen, and of the part he has played in this altogether doubtful business. However, it is only to be expected that the Government would do what they have done; for this is the culmination of a long series of blunders perpetrated by blunderers and incompetents. The Government have done things, and survived, which would have brought about the sudden death of any other Government. Only the fact of their possession of a servile majority has saved them. Many individual members behind the Government are bombastically independent outside, but are disgustingly servile in Parliament.
– Order! I remind the honorable member that he is using language which is distinctly offensive to other honorable members, and which is certainly not parliamentary.
– I can relate many blunders made by the Government. As long ago as 1920, the AuditorGeneral’s report for that year dealt with the matter of a loss of £326,000 on the sale of eight wooden ships built in America. That was one costly blunder of the Government. Another occurred when they paid the Wallace Power Boat Company £51,839 compensation for practically nothing. The Government were criticised severely upon that matter, as upon others also, by the Auditor-General. There was, for further example, the cancellation of another contract with Hughes, Martin, and Washington Ltd., costing £72,500. I need only draw attention, lastly, to that awful blunder of the Prime Minister respecting the contract entered into with the Imperial Government for the sale of Australian wool. Owing to that muddle, our woolgrowers lost millions of pounds, and the accounts have not yet been finalized.
– Rubbish! I am one of the wool-growers of Australia, and I am delighted with that contract.
– At any rate, the Assistant Minister is complaining today, with everybody else, of the burden of taxation that he has to carry.
– Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the amendment.
– I am referring to one of the blunders perpetrated by the Government, and am connecting it with this culminating blunder of the wireless agreement. All are due to the fact that the Prime Minister has established a dictatorship. One would imagine, listening to honorable members behind the Government and in the Country party corner, that this was the only Government and the only Prime Minister Australia could have. The whole trend of the debate from the time of the introduction of. the original agreement by the Prime Minister proves that this Government are in the habit of bringing matters forward without adequately considering them in Cabinet. The Prime Minister relies on the fact that he has only to crack the party whip over his supporters and they will follow him.
– The honorable member is not speaking to the amendment; he is criticising the actions of the Prime Minister in relation to matters not embraced in the amendment, and he is out of order in doing so.
– The Prime Minister often criticises us; may I not criticise him?
– There seems to be some misapprehension in the minds cf honorable members regarding the limits of speech in this debate. If a member has not previously spoken on the AddressinReply, I shall allow him more latitude than an honorable member who has already spoken. But, as the honorable member had the fullest opportunity in his speech on the Address-in-Reply to criticise the Prime Minister, so long as he kept within the rules of debate, and of which [ think, he did not neglect to take advantage, he is not in order now in criticising the Prime Minister in regard to matters irrelevant to the amendment before the Chair. He must now confine himself strictly to that amendmen t,
– We find ourselves ia the present position because of the haste with which the agreement was brought forward. I wish to show how this Government set out to shield themselves behind the Committee which drafted the agreement. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) stated last December -
The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) says that the Government are prepared to take the responsibility of entering into this particular contract, and,. of course, the Government must accept responsibility for whatever they do. However, the Committee the right honorable gentleman has asked the House to approve of, will also be obliged to accept some responsibility in the matter.
– Certainly.: all such Committees accept responsibility.
– I could understand the Government accepting the responsibility of ignoring the recommendations of the proposed Committee, but when they propose to shelter themselves behind this Committee it is not the proper procedure to follow.
That is exactly what is happening. The Government have departed from proper parliamentary procedure in sheltering behind the Committee. They should have been prepared to draft the agreement themselves and accept the responsibility. There are many things that call for the strictest investigation, and will leave a very bad impression on the minds of the public unless they are cleared up by an investigation into the ramifications of the company, and the influences that have been at work to bring about the consummation of the agreement. It is persistently rumoured, and the statement has appeared in the press, that the old company entered into an agreement with another company to install the necessary plant for £2S4,000. By having a majority on the Board of Directors, the old company will turn the agreement over to the new company at the price of £600,000, and thus rake off over £300,000 for itself. No doubt in these circumstances, as the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) said, the company will consent to an amendment of the agreement. When Tumours are circulated about honorable members on this side the Government take action straight away, even going so far as to expel honorable members on the uncorroborated newspaper statements, but where individuals outside are concerned, as in this case, the matter is treated in quite a different light.
What a magnificent idea the honorable member .for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) has of his duty in this Parliament as the custodian of the people’s purse ! He says that the agreement is right. He is willing that the Government should find halfamillion sterling, and hand the control of the company over to private enterprise. Why not let private enterprise undertake all the functions of Government, and even come into this Parliament? Tinder the agreement, we are asked to hand over the control of wireless telegraphy in Australia to these people, and give them a Government monopoly. Is that right not worth anything in the future? The honorable member for Maranoa, who now says it is right to hand over the control to private enterprise, has somersaulted on the vote that he gave on the 9th December, when he favoured referring the matter to a Parliamentary Committee. There has also been a somersault by the Government themselves, because in one week they want to get rid of all socialistic enterprises, and in the next week they subsidize a company pound for pound, and give it a monopoly of a big public utility. Honorable members on the other side of the chamber say that we cannot get out of the agreement. If we cannot, then let us get rid of the Government who are responsible for the agreement. Are we to continue to keep in office this Government, and to bc treated to more of these things ? I would ask the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), whether, if he were putting £5^0,000 of his own money into this concern, he would agree to what has happened? His well-known. Scotch caution would lead him to say that, if he were paying an equal share, and giving away a monopoly of his business, he would expect a controlling voice. And I say unhesitatingly that one should be more careful with the people’s money than with his own. Parliament has been delegated the duty of looking after the interests of the people, and honorable members should faithfully discharge that trust, because the people cannot do anything to protect themselves in cases such as this. Honorable members on this side have taken exception: not only to Sir Thomas Hughes, whose appointment is only the effect of other happenings, but exception is also taken to Mr. Allard. The Government can remove Mr. Allard, if they so desire. The senses of honorable members opposite seem to have been dulled since last night. They were shocked when the honorable member for Bourke (Mr.. Anstey) stated that Mr. Allard was chairman of directors of Beard, Watson, and Company, and the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) indignantly denied the allegation. He has since admitted that the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) was correct in his statement. If it is right for a man to hold shares in a company that is a shareholder in the new company, and accept a position as director on the Board, why does the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) make it plain that he has resigned from his position in the firm of Paterson, Laing, and Bruce, with which he was connected? Was it not in order to maintain the purity of public life? There is a well established principle, as old as Parliament itself, that a man shall not vote as a custodian of the public funds on a question in which he is financially interested. And yet we find that some members of the board are to deal with half-a-million of public money in respect of matters in which either they “themselves or their partners are interested. They are asked to serve two masters. They are to serve the Government or themselves and their partners. That they cannot do, and give justice to the people of Australia whose interests they are supposed to represent, and, unfortunately, the people of Australia are to suffer. The Opposition wish to know whether the Government intend to remove Mr. Allard from the board, or whether they propose to allow this scandal to continue. Under paragraph v. of clause 3 of the agreement the Government have ample power to remove Mr. Allard from the board of directors, and we want to know why they do not propose to do so. “ It is provided in the paragraph in question that -
The directors nominated by and representing the Commonwealth shall need no other qualification, and shall not be subject to any disqualification or to removal by the company, and shall not be subject to periodical retirement, but shall hold office subject to the pleasure of the Commonwealth, which may from time to time retire them and make new appointments.
It will thus be seen that the Commonwealth Government have power to remove Mr. Allard, or any of their representatives on the Board at any time they please. They have not power, however, to remove Sir Thomas Hughea. They may go to law in the effort to do so, but their attitude in connexion with the Kidman-Mayoh shipping contract suggests that they are not very brave where litigation is concerned.. The same conclusion may be drawn from their action in connexion with the payment of compensation for inferior flour sent to South Africa. There again we have another scandal with which this House must deal if the interests of the taxpayers are to be protected. . We shall give these matters the fullest publicity. We shall see that the public are made aware of all the facts, so that they may be in a position to determine whether the Government should continue to have their confidence.
Mr.Fenton. - Is it suggested that Sir Thomas Hughes is likely to retire as a result of this debate?
– I do not think he will. There are supporters of the Government who have urged that we should repudiate the agreement. That, in my opinion, would be neither wise nor honorable. There should be no talk of repudiation. If some one has to suffer, let it be the Government. They are the responsible parties, and should carry the opprobrium attaching to the execution of the agreement. Are the Government afraid to accept responsibility for it ? Is it for them to seek to throw the responsibility on, the Crown Law officers or the Courts of this country? If the Government attempt to repudiate the agreement, I venture to say that they will find themselves involved in costly litigation, and will be beaten. In refusing to agree to the appointment of Sir Thomas Hughes, they have not a leg to stand on.
– Here we have the opinion of another lawyer !
– I do not claim to be a lawyer, but even lawyers differ, and often with costly results to their clients. There is no excuse for attempting to repudiate the agreement. If it was badly drawn, then the blame should be placed upon the Government. It is upon them alone that the responsibility must rest.
If this scheme were proceeded with, and proved a gigantic success, does any one think that the Prime Minister would say that the credit for it belonged to Parliament? Not at all. In such cirstances, he would say, “ The credit is wholly mine. Alone I did it.” But when transactions of a fishy character are brought to light, he tries to shelter himself behind either a Parliamentary Committee or the House. He cracks the party whip over the backs of his supporters, and they fallin behind him like a team of working bullocks. I would remind those (honorable members who talk one way and vote another that it is by their votes the people will judge them. They may denounce the agreement, but it is by their votes that their attitude with respect to it will be determined. It is with that object in view that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has submitted’ the amendment. We desire to line up honorable members opposite and to show the people of Australia whether or not they stand for this corruption - for these suspicious transactions, and for what have been described by some of them as “ these criminal acts.” No word has been too severe for some of them to use in condemnation of the agreement, yet when we proceed to a division on the amendment we shall find them voting again with the Government.
– But think of the caning which the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) has had!
– We can only assume that the caning which has been administered to the honorable member for Kooyong has been promised every other supporter of the Government who dares to vote against the agreement, and that in fear and trembling they will come to heel. They know that unless they do so the wellsprings from which their campaign funds are drawn will dry up. How independent honorable members opposite are! They condemn the agreement and everything connected with it, and yet when they are asked to follow up their denunciations by voting for this amendment they refuse to do so. Surely, in view of their condemnation of the agreement, they should be prepared to vote against the Government responsible for it, so that we may have a new Administration. What a lot of incompetents they must be if they have to go on standing by the Prime Minister, who in connexion with great matters of public concern in which millions of pounds are involved has shown, again and again, that he has not mastered even the first principles of business practice ! They appear to be afraid to attempt to form a new Administration from amongst themselves. As the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) has pointed out, if the Government were defeated the Labour party could not carry on, so that it would remain for honorable members opposite either to form a new Administration or to face the people of Australia and give an account of their stewardship. They appear to be afraid to do either of these things. Some of them have condemned this agreement in the strongest terms, yet they will vote against the amendment and to uphold this scheme of corruption, and tie suspicious practices connected with what some supporters of the Government have referred to as “this scheme of criminality.” They are voting against the best interests of the people of Australia. If this state of affairs continues Parliament will fall into disrepute, and people lose faith in it as an institution for the safeguarding of their interests. They can come to no other conclusion, so I warn honorable members opposite that their vote on this issue is of supreme significance, because it may help to destroy utterly all faith in the parliamentary machine in Australia.
.- I have sat here for about three days listening to honorable members speaking on this subject, and I want them to listen to me for about three minutes. In the first place I want to hark back to December last when, amongst other measures that were hurried through, there was this wireless agreement. I was persuaded that the life and death of the Commonwealth depended upon the acceptance or rejection of this agreement. Hitherto I have had a great deal of confidence in the astuteness of the right honorable gentleman leading the Government, and I was almost persuaded to accept the agreement, owing to the urgency of the matter, and seeing that the company concerned was a British company, in no way associated with any foreign concern. Nevertheless, I voted that the agreement should be submitted to a Committee for consideration and acceptance. Up to a certain- point that Committee, which was a representative body, did good work. They have reported, in effect, that they have discarded almost in toto the agreement which had been so hurriedly recommended for acceptance. It appears that they handed over their finding as a Committee to a sub-Committee for final drafting, and I understand they did not thoroughly examine the final draft before signing it, and comparing it with their own notes. Quite a number of members of the Committee have intimated that they really thought that provision had been made for an independent chairman. The Government, disappointed apparently that there is no such provision, find that there is no possibility of getting Sir Thomas Hughes out of the position. This is a serious matter, Sir Thomas Hughes having got into his position against the .spirit and intention of the agreement. The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is not . a violation of the agreement. I note that the three directors to represent the Commonwealth are removable at any time at the will of the Government. This is where I see some virtue in the amendment, particularly in view of the fact that the chairman, who is not an independentman, cannot be shifted. If we feel that we are not safe with only those members on the board representing the company, there is in clause 12, which provides that the Government representatives must approve in’ certain contracts, a certain protection. This amendment by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) would enable the House to direct its representatives on such matters. If they do not act on such direction we may take the first opportunity to remove them from office. This is a safeguard which I would not emphasize if Sir Thomas Hughes were not associated with the former company, or if he would relinquish his position and make room for an independent chairman. But he is sitting tight. I am going to sit tight also, and vote for the amendment, so that we may have an opportunity in this House to control those directors appointed on our behalf.
.- I should like the Minister to agree to an adjournment of the debate.
– This is a very important matter, involving £500,000 of public money, and to say the least, it is indecent to rush it through. The trouble we have been landed in is the result of the attitude adopted by the supporters of the Government in their desire to accept every ill-digested scheme that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) chooses to put before the House. The agreement, in the first place, was ill-considered, but honorable members sitting behind the Government were almost falling over themselves in their haste to accept it, with a result that there is every probability of halfamillion of public money being absolutely squandered. The case for delay is very strong. We have only to consider the opinions of the agreement expressed by honorable members who usually support the Government. One honorable member described the agreement as fishy, another described it as being criminal, another said that it was rotten, another said that it was questionable, another alluded to it as a serious matter, another stigmatized it- as being corrupt, still another referred to it as smellful. These are the terms used by honorable members in describing an agreement in which £500,000 of public money is at stake. In view of these serious allegations, and in view of the suspicious circumstances surrounding not only the appointment of the so-called independent chairman, but also that of Mr. George Mason Allard as one of the directors representing the Commonwealth, while Mr. Bartholomew, co-director with Mr. George Mason Allard in a big Sydney business concern, is one of the representatives of the Wireless Amalgamated Limited, the Minister should give me leave to continue my remarks to-morrow, so that I may have the opportunity of placing before honorable members and the country generally other suspicious circumstances that have come under my notice. Will the Minister agree to my request 1
– If the honorable member continue until after midnight he will have the opportunity of speaking tomorrow.
– Very well. I leave the action of the Government in dealing with such a smellful, suspicious agreement to speak for itself to the public of this country.
Question - That the words proposed to be added be so added (Mr. Brennan’s amendment) - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
.- I shall ascertain when it will be convenient for His Excellency the Governor-General to receive the Address-in-Reply, and honorable members will be informed accordingly.
Motion (by Mr.Greene) (by leave) proposed -
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government business shall take precedence on all sitting days except Thursdays, when general business shall take precedence until6.30 p.m.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Greene) (by leave) agreed to-
That on Thursday in each week, unless otherwise ordered, general business shall be called on in the following order: - On one Thursday, Notices of Motion, Orders of the Day; on the alternate Thursday, Orders of the Day, Notices of Motion.
The following paper was presented: -
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act -Re- gulations amended - Statutory Rules 1922, No. 95.
Motion (by Mr. Greene) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to ask the Minister in charge of the House (Mr. Greene) if we can soon deal with notices of motion given by the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Richard Foster) to approve of certain works recommended by the Public Works Committee, so that employment may be found for a number of people.
will submit a statement in connexion with the sugar industry, and will move that the paper be printed, when an adjournment of the debate will be granted if desired. We shall then propose to submit the motion dealing with the redistribution of seats in New South Wales, after which) an adjournment of the debate, if sought, will be granted. We then propose to submit for consideration the Treaties which were agreed to at Washington.
– What do you intend doing in regard to Canberra? You are absolutely side-stepping the question.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.43 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 July 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220720_reps_8_99/>.