10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers
Mr. MACKAY, as chairman, presented the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, together with minutes of evidence, relating to the proposed erection of postal workshops at Sydenham, New South Wales.
– The report has appeared in some of the metropolitan newspapers that the Government has decided to effect substantial reductions in the loan expenditure for the current financial year. Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether that report is correct? If it is, will he indicate the Government’s intentions?
– The. Loan Council will reassemble . at Canberra on the 17th of December. The loan requirements of the Commonwealth and the- States have been already considered by the council, but obviously it will be necessary to reduce our borrowings owing to the condition of the markets in which the money would probably ‘be sought. The Government has been considering what reductions of Commonwealth loan expenditure aro possible without serious dislocation of the works programme,’ so that at the meeting of the Council the Commonwealth representatives may submit modified proposals that can be co-ordinated with reductions by the different States.
– In view of the grave concern expressed by public servants regarding the likely effect of the proposed economies, will the Prime Minister indicate what votes will bc most affected?
– The proposed reduction will affect only the loan expenditure and not the revenue estimates recently approved by this House. The nature and the extent of the reduction, if any, will depend upon the decisions of the Loan Council.
– Has the Prime Minister noticed the most recent figures published by the Commonwealth Statistician with regard to arrivals in Australia? During the ten months- ended the 31st October, the migration statistics were - British 28,000; Greeks 1,017; Italians., 5467; Jugo Slavs, 892; Maltese 301; other Europeans, 2904. Of the total, only 73 per cent, -were British. Is the Prime Minister aware that a large number of foreigners are out of work in Australia? If so, what steps are being taken by the Government to stay this alarming influx, especially at a time when so many Australians are unemployed?
– The Government is watching very closely immigration statistics, especially in regard to foreigners. In the course of discussions in this House on the subject, the Government’s policy has been fully stated. The Subject has been discussed by the Government with the consular representatives of the countries concerned, particularly Italy, from which most of the foreign immigrants are coming. The Italian Government has taken very definite steps to prevent a large exodus of its people, but that policy came into operation only in September of the present year, and the Commonwealth Government is watching very closely its effect. I assure the honorable member that every possible endeavour is being made to prevent an undue influx of other than British subjects.
– A question asked by the honorable member for Batman yesterday, and based upon chapter and verse of the Bible, cast aspersions on the Federal Capital. I ask the Minister for Home and’ Territories if the sentiments expressed by visitors to. this new city beneath the Southern Cross are not better described in the words of the Queen of Sheba, who, when comparing what had been told with what she actually beheld of the glories of King Solomon’s court, said, “ Behold, the half. . . was not told mp..”
– Order ! Questions should relate to the administration of departments or public affairs of which Ministers are in charge or with which they are concerned.
– I submit,’ sir, that my question is in order, as it relates to the Federal Capital, which is under the control of the Minister for Home and Territories.
Mr. MANN.Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to an article published in the Melbourne Herald of yesterday, headed, “ America strikes Tariff Trouble,” in which it is pointed out that the United States Government has experienced considerable difficulty in its negotiations with European states owing to the restrictions it has placed upon international trade by its tariff.
– I have not seen the article to which the honorable member refers.
– In view of the increased traffic on roads leading to the Federal Capital Territory, will the Minister for Works and Railways consider the advisability of paying a special subsidy to adjoining municipalities and shires for the construction and maintenance of such roads?
– If the New South Wales Government will include them among the arterial, trunk, or developmental roads to be constructed out of the Commonwealth grant they will undoubtedly be considered.
– Is the Postmaster-General aware of the intense dissatisfaction existing in border districts on account of the differing rates charged for telegrams? For instance, between Albury and Wodonga the charge is ls. 4d. for sixteen words, and between Albury and Broken Hill, which are hun,dreds of miles apart, only ls. Will the Minister take steps to correct such anomalies?
– Interstate telegrams are charged for at higher .rates than are telegrams within a State. The anomalies in connexion with the border traffic constitute a very difficult problem ‘ to which the department has given consideration for a long time. With a telephone system which does not extend over a wide area zoning is possible, but it is very hard to apply that system to telegrams. The department is making investigations in America into the operation of the zoning system there, but it is obvious that wherever the boundary to a zone is placed, anomalies will arise.
– la the. PostmasterGeneral aware that the cost of a telegram from Adelaide to Darwin is ls., and from Adelaide to Melbourne, ls. 4d.t I sent telegrams to both places and naturally supposed that the cost of a telegram to Darwin would be at least as much as that of a telegram to Melbourne, but the clerk informed me that I had placed 4d. too much on the Northern Territory telegram.
– For postal and telegraphic purposes the Northern Territory is part of the State of South Australia. Therefore the honorable member’s telegram to Darwin would be regarded as intra-state and not interstate.
– Lettergrams may not be despatched from Canberra. Will the Postmaster-General take prompt steps to remedy that disability?
– Lettergrams can be sent from Canberra, but only to stations which have an all-night service, as lettergrams must be lodged after 7 p.m.
– Are the services of Dr. Tillyard, the recently appointed Commonwealth Entomologist,, available to people living in the rural districts who need advice in regard to the eradication of insect pests?
– I am not certain when Dr. Tillyard will commence his duties in Australia. If the honorable member has any entomological problems that he wants to be considered by Dr. Tillyard, I advise him to communicate with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and he will be advised as to what action can be taken.
– Has the Roads Conference between the Commonwealth and State authorities, which has just concluded, given consideration to the proposed road between Canberra, Tumut and Albury, this being recognized as the main direct route to the south; if so, when does the Minister for “Works and Railways consider that a start will be made with its construction?
– That proposed road was not discussed by the conference, nor were any State propositions discussed as a whole. This road cannot be dealt with by the Commonwealth authorities until it has been recommended by the State authorities to the Federal Minister for approval. That has not yet been done. Kew South Wales has only just come into the Federal-aid roads agreement, and the scheme for the first five years has not yet been fully completed.
Certificates of Airworthiness
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice, With reference to the amount of £23,000 spent on the furnishings of residences for the Governor-General and the Prime Minister -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow :- 1 and 2. Public tenders were not invited for the furniture but quotations were obtained.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he make available to honorable members the table of figures prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician on the cost of living in various countries for the years 1914 to 1927 inclusive.
– The information requested by the honorable member is contained in the attached copy of letter dated 19th November, furnished at my request by the Commonwealth Statistician and Actuary.
Concerning our conversations at Canberra last week, I have looked into the question of the variations in cost of living in various countries during and since the war, and have compiled the following table in respect of Great Britain, United States of America, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Kingdom for the years 1914 to 1926 inclusive, are furnished in the following table: -
Yours faithfully, (Sgd.) Chas. H. Wickens,
Commonwealth Statistician and Actuary.
Mr.FENTON asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What amount of bounty has been paid on pig iron, rails and other merchant iron since the commencement of the Iron and Steel Products Bounty Act, to what firms was the bounty paid, and how much was paid to each firm ?
– The information is being obtained.
National Memorial- Rating.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– I shall make a statement in regard to this matter within a few days.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Whether he will give an assurance that the civic rates to be charged to lessees in the Federal Capital Territory will be announced before the adjournment of the House for Christmas ; if not, what is the ‘ reason for delay?
– I regret that I am unable to give the assurance desired by the honorable member. The Federal Capital Commission is still collecting the data necessary to enable it to fix rates in the Territory.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained and the honorable member will be informed as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Whether his advice was sought concerning the wireless receiving set to be installed at Parliament House; if so, why did he not recommend that the set be purchased from Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, in which the Commonwealth has a controlling interest?
– The position in regard to this matter is as follows : -
Having learned that the House Committee contemplated purchasing an article, some of the parts of which were of foreign manufacture, I drew attention to the policy of the Government that Australian-made articles should be used wherever possible. My advice in connexion with the choice of a set was sought, but owing to the pressure of my parliamentary and departmental duties it has been impossible for me to inspect the various types of sets under consideration. If the committee is prepared to defer the installation until after Parliament rises, I shall be pleased to render what assistance I can during the recess.
– On the 7th December the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) asked the following questions: -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: - 1. - (a) The services of three returned soldiers temporarily employed as store assistants at the Ordnance Depot, Seymour, were dispensed with: two on 19th October, and one on 30th November.
There was no connexion between the two administrative actions mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b).
Certain works which might otherwise be done with civilian labour are undertaken by soldiers as a necessary portion of their training for war. Such work forms a very small percentage of the total required by the department each year and saves expenditure for training possibly on non-productive work which would otherwise be necessary. It is not proposed to discontinue such work.
– On the 15th November, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following questions: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 2nd December the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) asked the following questions : -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 2nd December, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) asked the following questions : -
Australian Association of British Manufacturers secured an adjournment to enable them to secure evidence from England, which could not reach Australia until the middle of December, and, if so, in view of the fact that the British manufacturers had the same opportunity as the Australian manufacturers of preparing their case, will he urge the Tariff Board that in view of the alarming increase in hat importations and the large number of persons thrown out of employment in the hat industry, the inquiry be immediately finalized. ?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following informtion : -
In committee (Consideration resumed from Sth December, vide page 2924) -
Clause 2 (Approval of Agreement).
.- This clause embodies the principle involved in the bill, but I donot desire to take advantage of that fact to make what, on another occasion, the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was good enough to describe as a second reading speech. He paid us the compliment of replying last night on the second reading debate, and for reasons which were satisfactory to him, though, I think, not convincing to the House or to the country, said that he felt that there was little to answer, and he disposed of the subject in a short address. I have no objection to him putting that view before honorable members, but I propose to ask the committee to divide upon the principle which is involved in this bill. Last night a great deal of time was consumed by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) and the Prime Minister telling honorable members that I have an incurable animus against anything that the Government may do to advance wireless in Australia.
– I think that after yesterday’s debate the honorable member must be cured.
– The PostmasterGeneral made the same charge in 1926, and when I challenged him, he immediately withdrew the imputation. Now he says that my opinion has changed. Previous speeches made as recently as 1926 show that I have always had abundant faith in the development of wireless, and that I have always desired, as every member of this committee must also desire, to encourage and promote this development in the confident beliefthat wireless is bound to exercise a profound and important effect not only on the advancement of the Commonwealth but also on international relations. For reasons of safety as well as to subserve a great national enterprise, nobody can afford to take a narrow or parochial view of the science of wireless, and I should be the last to do so, but the honorable gentlemen seem to confuse two dissimilar things. They confuse the great science of wireless, and its unlimited possibilities and romantic implications, with the pettifogging claims of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited, which has been set up in Australia by the Marconi Trust. This company, having small capital, at the beginning was regarded apparently by that trust as being sufficient to deal with this outpost of the British Empire. That is its attitude towards the Amalgamated Wireless and 1 have endeavoured to define my attitude towards the Trust.
– I hope the honorable member will come back to the terms of the agreement. That is the only matter that can be discussed under this clause.
– The clause, I understand, covers all the terms of the agreement. The agreement is in the schedule of the bill; but it is referered to in clause 2, and is thereby approved. However, I do not intend to make a second-reading speech at this stage. I merely shall emphasize the big matter of principle involved, from the point of view of the Opposition. We have a great respect for great things, for the sun and the moon and the stars, but we have no respect for a person who comes along with a tin lantern and pretends that he represents either the sun or the moon or the stars, and we do do let the suggestion go that this company, through its managing director, is in some way identical with the science of wireless. It is perhaps absurd to compare the infinitely little with the infinitely great in that way, but hearing these persistent apologists one might suppose that this company, to which the Government has now harnessed itself, which has been condemned by an independent tribunal set up by ‘ the Government, is to be credited with all the developments in wireless that hoye occurred during the last six years.
– The honorable member is not confining himself to the clause under discussion.
– I am discussing the principle of the agreement, and if, Mr. Chairman, .you think that I should not do so, I shall refrain from arguing the matter further, because I have said practically all that I want to say at this stage on that aspect of the case. By clause 2, under which we are invited to ratify the agreement, we are again en.dorsing our intimate association with the conduct of a company which, in every material respect, has been condemned by a royal commission, and it conies very ill from this Government, which is supposed to be the patron and protector of private enterprise, that it should’ give these fresh facilities to a company which, over a period of years, has done so much to shackle and. hinder the development of private enterprise, so far as wireless is concerned. In giving over this great service which is yet, in spite of all its developments, only in its infancy, to a private company, we are surrendering something which should belong to the Commonwealth. As the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) reminded us yesterday, we are doing this today, when wireless is only in process of development or, at least, when its development has by no means reached its fullest possibilities. It will be infinitely difficult for the Commonwealth to resume control of wireless when the ramifications of this business are greater and more intricate than they are to-day. Now is the time to take control; it would have been much better still to have done so six years ago. I propose, with the approval of my leader and party, to vote against this clause. When I have spoken in this Parliament on this bill, I have not been airing only my own views. I was on the committee ,which some years ago considered the original agreement, and was thus able to obtain information not available at the time to others. I speak for the moment as the representative of the Labour party, and the Labour party is not negligible. It claims to speak for half the people of the Commonwealth at least. To-day I am presenting the views of half the population of Australia and probably more, in view of the report of the royal commission. The Leader of the Opposition has tale, ‘ the same course; so has the honorable member for Hindmarsh and the honorable member for Maribyrnong. But why should I particularize? There are many other honorable members who represent the views of the Opposition anc! those of the majority of the people. My alleged imperfections and inconsistencies are irrelevant. The principle remain:, and on that I ask the committee to vote.
.– I regard this as a most important clause because it provides for entering into an agreement with Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited, and at this stage we have to lodge our emphatic protest against it. I endorse every word that has fallen from the lips of the honorable member for Batman in regard to this agreement. It is not the first time we have taken exception to such agreements. We have opposed these agreements from their inception. This is the third in five or six years, and, in all probability, we shall have another presented before very long. So far as the Opposition is concerned, we think that everything possible should be done to ensure that the country shall avail itself of the benefits to be derived from wireless. We recognize that it is one of the greatest scientific developments which has taken place during the last half century. We believe that wireless is in its initial stages, and this is the proper time for the Government to take control of it. We should consider seriously whether we should be tinkering with an agreement with a private company in regard to the control of this science, or whether the Government should assume control of wireless for the benefit of the country as a whole. Wireless will play an important part in the development of the Empire, and this is, therefore, a matter of national importance. I cannot understand why we should enter into agreements with Amalgamated Wireless instead of taking control ourselves. It would not be so bad if the Government controlled the company, but the company will appoint its own directors,’ and we shall have no control, although we hold the bulk of the company’s capital. This seems to be on a different footing from any other company. Notwithstanding all we know of the importance of wireless, we are agreeing to play second fiddle to a company whose sole object is to make profit. The report of the commission shows that, so far as this company is concerned, the interests of the Commonwealth are only a secondary consideration. During the time this agreement has been in operation, those controlling the company have “ pushed their own barrows “ with the idea of making as much as possible out of the people of the Commonwealth. This enterprise should be controlled by the nation as a whole, and no private individual should be allowed to operate it at the expense of the Commonwealth. It is not proper to allow a private company to have full control of wireless, for that is what the present proposal amounts to. I can understand the attitude of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) in defending this company, because he is a director of it, and in defending the agreement, because it is his baby ; but there is no getting away from the fact that in matters connected with wireless this company will practically control the Commonwealth, and it is using the Commonwealth to run the business in its own interest. We consider this to be the vital clause of the bill, and we intend to vote against it.
.- I am not surprised at the action taken by the Government in this matter, because we know that this Government exists for the purpose of preventing national services being used in the public interest, and handing them over for the benefit of private enterprise. This is one of the most destructive policies that could be pursued. I have been led to believe, as a result of my own experience and that of others, that one should never accept a long agreement. Such an agreement is sure to be full of complications which afford opportunities for the lawyers to pick holes in it, and to discover all sorts of legal shortcomings. Therefore,” I distrust this lengthy agreement which we have entered into with Amalgamated Wireless^ What is wireless ? It is one of the most important scientific developments of the age, and is of vital importance in the development of the Empire. We have, as yet, very little knowledge of the real nature of this science; it is really in its infancy. Private persons have obtained control of - the invention for their own personal gain. They do not worry about benefitting the nation; their first concern is how much are they going to get out of it. This is a matter of such great national importance that the Government should assume control of it, as it has taken control of the railways and postal services, and as it should have taken control of the shipping services, concerning which the importance of guarding the people’s interests are just as great as in the case to transport by land. Can any one say that an enterprise of such national importance as this should not be in the hands of those who control the nation’s destiny! The matter will not bear half an hour’s investigation. 1 shall be compelled to tell my constituents that this Government intends to use force majeure, to exercise its majority to the fullest extent, merely to conserve the interests of a few individuals who have been fortunate enough to invest in this venture. As a consequence those speculators will in future be able to sit back and live a life of luxurious ease, chuckling at the asinine people of Australia who have acted as their tools. For the present I have to accept the inevitable as numbers are against my party. I am opposed to the government allowing this public utility to be taken from its control, and placed in the hands of selfseeking speculators. Tory governments in England have brought nothing but suffering and misery to my fellow creatures, and I trust that the day is not far distant when, by the accession to power of the Labour Party, the government of this country will be placed on an infinitely higher pedestal. Then we shall be able to introduce humanitarian legislation which will benefit mankind. Until that day I must resign myself to the inevitable, and submit to the “ iniquities perpetrated by the present government on the country I love - Australia.
.- The reasons for my opposition to this agreement were comprehensively dealt with in the speech of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and I shall not reiterate the argument of the honorable member. His address was so logical that it must have commended itself to honorable members of this chamber, lt certainly did to those who sit on this side. I regret very much that the agreement does not contain a provision to check the campaign of vilification directed against. Australia, and broadcast overseas. During my recent travels abroad I found that the chief items of news relating to Australia dealt either with droughts, strikes, or other calamitous happenings. Such news gives people overseas an entirely erroneous idea of Australia. At one time I thought that the publicity department of this government might have been responsible for some of that propaganda; but I was forced to believe that not even this government, steeped as it is in party political feeling, would go so far as to endeavour to ruin the good name of Australia. The impression abroad is that it is not safe to invest capital in Australia, and that the people of this country are nothing short of revolutionaries. We have organized labour in Australia to an extent that is unknown elsewhere, and because of that we have not nearly so many disputes as occur elsewhere, and particularly in ‘ the United States of America. Yet I have never seen the news broadcast that the United States of America is a hotbed of turbulence and unrest. During nine months of 1926, according to statistics supplied by the American Year-Book, there were 658 strikes in the United States of America. In 1925 there were 1,012 industrial disputes, affecting 500,000 employees. A recent strike in New York, in connexion with cloak-makers, lasted for nineteen weeks and caused a wages loss of £6,000,000. Not even an .echo of that strike reached Australia. In Lowell, Massachusettes, a strike connected with the cotton-weaving industry lasted for eighteen months, and it was found impossible for the employers to get to grips with the workers because of the lack of provision for any industrial arbitration. That news was not broadcast.
– The honorable member must not accuse the Government of disseminating that sort of information.
– Had the honorable gentleman listened he would have heard me say that I investigated the matter, and that I came to the conclusion that the Government was not responsible for such information being broadcast. I urge that this agreement should contain a provision by. which any poisonous propaganda detrimental to the good name of Australia could be controlled. As one closely concerned with the welfare of Australia, I voice a protest against those people in Sydney who possess alien minds.
– Why specify Sydney?
– Because the messages are dated from Sydney. Those people should not be permitted to use this wonderful invention to defame the good name of Australia. It is true that, because of the existing position of political parties in Australia, the National party endeavours, in order to prevent Labour from attaining power, to point out that Australia would be inabsolute danger if Labour came into office; that the forces of industrial unrest would be unloosed if that happened.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bayley).Order ! The honorable member is spending too much time on his illustrations instead of dealing with the points at issue.
– So long as I can drive the facts home, my point will not be lost. Whilst such propaganda may be useful for political purposes at home it is doing Australia great harm abroad, and should be checked.
.- L protest against the acceptance of this agreement. I deprecate in particular the assertions of certain honorable members opposite, who claim to represent country interests. Wireless is essential to keep those in our outback areas in contact with the cities. The royal commission on wireless recommended that wireless activities should be co-ordinated with the Postmaster-General’s Department in order to provide an efficient service. The Government has failed to realise its duty in that regard, and Tasmanian representatives in particular should voice a protest against the apathy of the Government. That State sadly lacks adequate means of communication with the mainland. The royal commission stated that wireless so far at least as our land and coastal stations are concerned should be regarded as a public utility, and administered and controlled by the Postmaster-General’s Department. The Government should give effect to that recommendation and endeavour to provide a better service for those in our remote districts. There is every reason why the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should retain control of our coastal and laud stations. The protest of the honorable member for Batman against their transfer was thoroughly justified, and is supported by every honorable member of the Opposition. This great convenience to the general public should be under public control and not under that of a private company which is seeking to make profits out of it for the benefit of the few to the prejudice of the community. We have been keenly disappointed that honorable members opposite who represent country divisions, have not shown more regard for their constituents, and we trust that even at this late hour they may use their influence to cause the Government to take full control of the service.
.- The foundation of the strength of Amalgamated Wireless appears to be the possession of certain alleged patent rights. These. and these only, so far as I can see, place the company in the strategical position that has enabled it almost to force the Government to make successive agreements with it. The Prime Minister has not discussed satisfactorily the nature or value of these rights, but appears to be quite prepared to allow the company to continue making its exactions. The Government is even aiding the company to continue the coer- civetactics which it has adopted in the past and by force majeure oblige all radio usersto contribute to its profits, for clause C of the agreement sets out that-
The company shall make its Australian patent rights available free of charge during the currency of this part to -
Provided, however, that if the Commonwealth and the company agree upon a form of licence agreement to be submitted for signature to the aforesaid users (other than broadcast listeners), then those users (other than broadcast listeners) shall be entitled to benefit under this clause only while agreeing to be bound by such licence agreement.
It is pertinent to ask what kind of a licence agreement the Commonwealth and the company will adopt. In the light of what has happened it is not difficult for us to assume that it may be detrimental to radio manufacturers, dealers, and users. This matter is one of intense interest to the company, but it may be regarded as of only secondary importance by the representatives of the Government in the negotiations that may occur. The Prime Minister has said that the Government has representatives on the board of directors whose duty it is to see that the public interests are protected, but our experience in the1 past does not justify us in expecting very much from them. I am afraid that this agreement is far too favorable to the company. It was stated during the debate on the second reading of tlie bill that the patent rights of the company were put down in the first place at a value of £93,000, and, apparently, they are still taken to be of that value, although some of them have expired. The revenue derived by the company from users of equipment covered by the patents has exceeded £40,000 per annum. The Prime Minister has told us that the company has generously agreed to reduce its claim to 3s. per annum in respect of each licence that is issued, winch will mean that it will still obtain about £38,000 per annum under this heading and this amount will doubtless increase each year. Is there any justification for that? The Prime Minister has not dealt with that point.
– The amount which the company will receive in that connexion will increase considerably as the years go on.
– That is so, for this is an enduring agreement. It is even conceivable that before very long the company may receive in annual fees an amount equal to the full value of its patents. That single phase of the subject requires far more consideration than it appears to have had from the Government. “We have been informed that the company has made a generous arrangement with the Government respecting the transfer of land and coastal stations and terminal charges; but the severe criticism of the proposed agreement in this regard by the honorable member for Batman, in his comprehensive and informative second reading speech, showed clearly that this is not so. I regret that the Prime Minister, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) and the right honorable member for North
Sydney (Mr. Hughes) all failed to reply to the specific charges made by the honorable member for Batman. The right honorable member for North Sydney, in particular, contented himself with raising bogeys and knocking them down. He said “Look at the disability under which this country would suffer if in a time of war or other emergency it had to depend upon cable communications with oversea countries! We should be regarded as being utterly conservative were we to fail to recognize the enormous development that has taken place in radio science.” No honorable member on this side desires to interfere with progress in wireless matters. The right honorable member suggested that the Labour party did not desire to promote radio development in Australia; but that is a serious misrepresentation of the position and of the speech of the honorable member for Batman. The Prime Minister voiced in eloquent terms, his faith in the future development of this marvellous science. I think we all realize that undreamed of possibilities are before it, not only in the transmission of messages, but in wireless television and wireless telephony. In these circumstances, it is surely unwise for us to allow wireless to become a monopoly in the hands of private enterprise. It may be found in a few years that this was a golden opportunity to place the science upon a proper footing in Australia, and. to acquire complete control of it for the benefit of the nation. The royal commission has indicated that it. is practicable for the Government to assume sole control of the service, and it seems to me that this would .be a favorable opportunity for it to do so. In a few years’ time it may cost the nation an enormous sum to obtain control. Consequently, we should think well before we take the step now proposed. A service of this character is indispensable to the nation, and it should be under public control. The right honorable member for North Sydney suggested that private enterprise was necessary as an incentive to develop wireless, but I submit that human ingenuity and inventiveness can be displayed just as effectively under public as under private ownership. The developments that have occurred in our postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services, which are government-owned, and which every nation in the world realizes should be government-owned, have proved this. I ask the Prime Minister to consider this point before forcing us to give a private company the power to coerce thousands of radio-users in a way that is quite unjustifiable.
– Upon the subject of patent royalties the royal commission reported.
In the meantime, the Parliament of the Dominion of New Zealand has passed legislation which was apparently intended to invite Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited to a contest on the question of the validity of the patents used in broadcasting stations. Evidence has been given that radio dealers in New Zealand are in some instances carrying on the sale of goods employing patents of which Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited claims to be the owner without any attempt on the part of that company to protect its rights. If Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited were in a position to commence litigation against residents of the Commonwealth in respect of infringements of its patent rights, it is difficult to understand why it was not equally prepared to defend its rights in New Zealand.
The Dominion Government has come to the rescue of its people, but the Commonwealth Government supinely allows this company to batten on the Australian community. Before any agreement was signed the company should have been required to establish its legal rights to the ‘ patents it claims to own, and also to prove the value of them. I do not believe that they are worth £93,000; that is the company’s valuation. If they were thoroughly investigated they would be found to be worth not more than £50,000. The Postmaster-General’s Department is absolutely ignorant of the value of the patents, yet if we are to be called upon to pay £40,000, on the basis of the present number of licences, it is clear that within a couple of years it will be receiving annually the full amount of its own valuation of its patents.
– Some of the patents have expired.
– That is so, and I understand that, according to the patent law, after the expiration of fifteen years, the Government or anybody else may manufacture ‘any of the articles in respect of which the patent rights are claimed by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited. The committee is asked to walk blindfolded into this arrangement. Nobody can say what will be the development of wireless within the next two years. A newspaper reports that wireless is being used at Sheffield in the manufacture of high quality steel, -and chemists are at work investigating its further possibilities. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro spoke last night on the success of Australians in wireless science. I am proud to know that in telephonic and wireless communication Australians have invented apparatus that is superior to anything that Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited has given to this country. God speed them. I, at any rate am not prepared to bind the people of the Commonwealth to this company which, in a couple of years, may be extracting from them £90,000 a year in royalties. The royal commission seriously questioned the title of this company to these patents, and when a judicial body has expressed doubts and BUSpicions, this committee should act warily.
.- I cannot understand the motive of the Government in pressing this agreement through Parliament. It is certainly not in the interests of Australia. The Government is prepared to give to Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited an amount of from £70,000 to £80,000 a year.
– Of which the Commonwealth will receive half.
– Yes; but of which the company will provide nothing. The company has had years in which to prove the validity of its claims to patent royalties, and has failed to do so. It has not been game to test its claims in New Zealand.
– Why should it? It is for other people to test them.
– At any rate, I understand the people of New Zealand are not paying royalties to the company.
– A patent is valid until it is proved invalid.
– The company is powerless in New Zealand because the Government there is ready to protect the rights of the people. The Commonwealth Government is not so prepared and the company is taking toll of our citizens. The Commonwealth is represented on the directorate by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and Senator Millen. We receive no report of their activities. All we know is that each draws £300 a year.
– Mr Hughes is not a representative of the Government. He is the seventh member.
– If he does not represent the Government, whom does he represent? Does he represent the electors of Worth Sydney, or W. M. Hughes?
– He appointed himself.
– That is not so. He was chosen by the other six directors.
– Is he a shareholder in AmalgamatedWireless Australasia Limited? If the statement of the PostmasterGeneral is correct, that the right honorable member does not represent the Government, it is clear that although the Commonwealth provides the majority of the capital, it has a minority of the representation on the directorate. Probably that accounts for the manner in which Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited is able to manipulate affairs. Ministers claim to be business men, yet they provide the majority of the money for this company and allow the minority of the shareholders to dictate its policy. I strongly protest against an agreement which places a valuable public utility and all the holders of wireless licences under a private company which will have power to take heavy toll of the Australian people. Can we imagine the British Government allowing a private company to control the coastal wireless stations? Because of Australia’s isolation wireless stations are essential to its safety, and in time of war must be controlled by the Government. The attitude of the Ministry towards this company is most suspicious; I am not prepared to say more than that. The PostmasterGeneral, who, as a private member, was always condemning “ big business,” and threatening them with dire consequences if he and his Country party colleagues should ever get into power, is to-day the champion of vested interests and prepared to barter away the rights and privileges of the people.
Question - That the clause be agreed to. - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
.- There are one or two points in the schedule to which I desire to direct attention. Sub-clause 2 of clause 5 of the schedule reads: -
At any time after the expiration of four years from the commencement of this Parliament, either party to this agreement may give to the other party twelve months notice of its intention to determine this agreement.
That seems to be a roundabout way of declaring that this agreement is to subsist for at least four years. I should like it to be read in conjunction with clause 11 of the agreement relating to the actions that are being taken in the defence of patent claims by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited. That clause represents an endeavour, although a feeble one, to compel this company to speed up in the assertion and definition of its patent rights. It must have a definition of its rights and a decision as to its claims by the court, not merely by consent of the defendant, within twelve months of the date of this agreement. If no decision be made within twelve months then the company is under a rather quaint obligation to institute proceedings against the Government of New Zealand. I have already pointed out that that Government is apparently not half so chicken-hearted as this Government regarding the company’s nebulous claims to patent rights. Apparently the Government of New Zealand by public declaration through its legislation says - “We do not believe in or admit your claims; if you have claims, assert them and maintain them in the courts of the country. That, I venture to say, is the courageous and only proper policy for this Government to follow. Supposing that no satisfactory decision is given regarding the actions in Australia, and action is successfully taken against the Government of New Zealand, then, of course, this part of the agreement will continue. That will amount, in the view of the Government to a formal establishment of the rights of the company. In passing, may I say that I cannot see how any particular claim or action is going to prove more than a particular point, or determine in a general way the complete claims of the company to these patent rights. One does not know the direction that an action may take, nor in advance what may be proved in respect of any of these actions.
– It may be held that the company has no rightsin New Zealand, but has rights in Australia.
– That may be so, and the decisions may. relate to one particular aspect of the case. It may be partial as to time or area, or anything else. One cannot tell. Sub-clause 4 of clause 11 of the agreement reads -
If the company -
fails in the court of final resort, in the actions referred to in sub-clause (1) of this clause; or
fails, in the court of final resort, in the action or actions for infringement (if any) which it takes in New Zealand - this part of this agreement shall cease and determine as from the date of such failure.
I think that the Prime Minister, probably through a verbal inaccuracy, declared that the whole agreement would come to an end under such circumstances.
– Not the first part.
– I think that he will find in his speech that he has made it appear that the whole of the. agreement will come to an end, and I assume that that is not intended. The agreement speaks for itself. What will be our position if this part comes to an end and the agreement, as a whole, continues. It will mean that everything that has been said and held proved by this royal commission as against the company is true, namely, that its exactions by way of royalties are unjust, extortionate, and excessive; that its dealings with the trade and industries have been of a disingenious, if not absolutely dishonest, character, and that wherever the interests of the Government have clashed with the commercial interests of the company, the latter have been allowed to prevail. All these will have been proved; but, in addition all these exactions in respect of patent royalties will have been unjustly if not illegally made. In that event, and in view of the hundreds of thousands of pounds that this company has levied upon industries in any way related to wireless, what will be the action of the Government? Its attitude will be not to make any redress or refunds to those who have been wronged and have suffered the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds; but to continue the agreement, as if nothing had happened, except that part II. will cease to operate. It is true that, in the event of such a decision, the company will not be able to levy these royalties in the future, because that will presumably have been declared illegal and because traders will take no notice of its claims. But what about the past? Is there to be no restitution or compensation? Are we, as a Commonwealth, to be a party to these unjust and illegal extortions which will have been proved to have been made by this company, in association with us, upon the people of this country? There is no provision in this agreement, so far as I know, for any redress. We are simply to drop this part of the agreement and to continue to operate the remainder smilingly for four years in association with this company. Does the right honorable gentleman intend that? Did he realize that that was the effect of this agreement? Will he 3ay to-day that nothing will be done to make amends to those who have been wronged; that we are to continue this agreement, dropping out the part which has been rendered nugatory by the decisions of some tribunal in New Zealand or Australia? May I comment on the method that has been adopted by the company in this matter? This company has instituted various actions against persons and companies in Australia. It is recognized that some of the defendants might consent to judgment. Of course, for the very same reason that others have not availed themselves of the existing law of this country to challenge these patents, because it is a very serious thing to institute proceedings against- a company which is buttressed by half a million pounds from the Commonwealth Government. People are very reluctant to take action when the company has declared that they are infringing its patents, and that they shall pay so much for the use of those patents. The company fixes the price, and there is no appeal against it.- The managing director of this company, when interrogated on this point, admitted that he extracts the very limit for the use of the patents. He says that this is the power given by law to the holder of a patent, and that he can put his own price on it. That is the spirit of private enterprise. Then follow the comments made in this report. I do not desire to quote at length the scathing animadversions on the managing director regarding his duplicity over the terms of the licences. Where any one has had the courage not to submit, the company has itself not had the courage to back up its claim by an action until it has been practically compelled to do so. Then, when it has the matter in court, it proceeds as leisurely as it can, and I happen to know that there are methods by which cases in the higher courts may be slackened and delayed. That is the method which has been adopted by this company-. At first there is bluff, and if that does not succeed, and the company, by reason of public attention being focussed on the matter, is at last forced to take action, it lets the matter lie in the court as long as possible, rather than force a decision. I want to know from the Prime Minister what his attitude is in regard to this agreement, in the event of the company failing, either in Australia or elsewhere, in the actions contemplated. That brings us to the method of payment for the stations which the company has taken over from the Government, the coastal and land stations, which were the exclusive property of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is a curious phrase, “Taken over.” I sometimes wonder who owns these stations now. Does the Commonwealth still own them, though they have been taken over by the company, or is it not a fact that the company is the owner of the stations, and of all the plant associated with them? The original agreement was that it should take over, within one month after the signing of the agreement, the existing Commonwealth radio stations, except certain of them which were used exclusively for defence purposes, but including those of Papua, New Guinea, Flinders > and King Islands, and also, if required by the Minister of Home and Territories, the station on Willis Islets, and to operate and reorganize the services provided by those stations in such a way as to provide a service at least equivalent to that previously provided by . the Commonwealth Radio Service. That was what the company was asked to do, to reorganize and operate them, and to give at least as good a service as had been .given before That service was supposed, from the Commonwealth point of view, to have been, costly and ineffective under our control, and one would have supposed that when the representatives of acute business got possession as partners with the Government, the losses would have been not only gradually, but rapidly diminished under its intensely keen management. There does not appear, however, to have been any particular change or diminution of the losses on these stations. We undertook to bear the losses, and to collect the revenue, the point being that the losses amounted to a sum estimated as in the vicinity of £50,000 a year, although’ the Prime Minister himself now says that, for a number of years preceding the agreement, they have amounted to only £34,000. But at all events, the the losses were much higher than the revenue. There was a substantial loss upon the working, . but at least we did collect the revenue, and we undertook to bear the losses for three years to enable this company to take possession, and to enable it to apply its astuteness and acumen to the working of the stations. As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said, this was a profitable company; it was a paying proposition, this Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Company, to which we married ourselves in 1922. The agreement was for a period of three years, but the first thing the company did in 1924 was to get an extension of that three years period to four years, during which we were to bear the losses. We were still, however, to draw the revenue.” Now, I wish to ask the Prime Minister why he, who takes the responsibility of his Treasurer, and for the finances of the Commonwealth, now proposes, in 1927, to give away this revenue, less ,30 per cent., and to give a subsidy of £45,000 for the working of these stations which were to be put in business trim, and to return a profit after three years. Now, after the expiration of five years, instead of the business being a paying one, it is actually going back. We are handing out a subsidy of £45,000, and handing over the revenue also, except for a 30 per cent, deduction. This, it is said, is justified on the ground of business. I am not now discussing the greater principles which were debated here this morning. I am assuming that the Prime Minister views the matter purely from the business side, that there is no romance in it, and that it is not a question of supporting some academic theory. I am assuming that it is a matter of profit and loss, and that the Government cannot afford to waste money in developing any abstract methods of wireless control. I ask the Prime Minister to apply that principle to this clause, and tell .the committee how he justifies this enormous payment to Amalgamated Wireless. This is a company which has great revenue flowing into it from traders who deal in its patents. It is a company which sells everything it has to sell at the top of the market, and which follows up its sales by levying an extra toll by way of royalties out of all proportion to the price of the article sold. How is it that the company which makes these profits pays no dividend, and submits no report to the Auditor-General or to Parliament regarding its financial position? We have the news from time to time filtering through to Parliament that the managing director of the company is touring the world like a veritable lord, at the expense, at least indirectly, of the Commonwealth taxpayers. But no figures are submitted for investigation and analysis. Last night the right honorable gentleman said that on previous occasions I had given him quite a lot to reply to, but yesterday, he would have us believe, I let him down very lightly. On a previous occasion, however, he informed me that what I said was arrant nonsense, and surely what I said yesterday could not have been less than arrant nonsense. My consolation is that the Prime Minister is never personally offensive so long as he has got a- better answer, and, therefore, when he accuses me of utterng arrant nonsense it is obvious he has no better reply to my argument. Is it arrant nonsense to say that this company, which has such buoyant revenues, and which levies with such keen business acumen such a heavy toll on the wireless industry, is financially like the Commonwealth itself under the management of this Government slipping back. Surely we are entitled at this stage to know a little more about the affairs of this company. Does the Prime Minister, as the representative of business - I always like to keep that in front of the public mind - approve of this change in regard to the payment that was to be made for the coastal stations, the payment of £56,000 which should have gone as part of the capital paid by the original Amalgamated Wireless into the new company, and which should have been made long ago? Does he approve of the re-arrangement that is provided for in this agreement? The £56,000 is no longer to he paid direct by the original company or by the private shareholders into the new company. In effect, it is not to be paid at all. It is to be set off against the ‘payments which are to be made by the Commonwealth Government to the company. A new and happy arrangement for the debtor has been come to. The debtor owes £56,000. The Government says, “Instead of you paying that £56,000, as you are entitled to do, we .propose to create an artificial set-off. We do not propose to explain how we are to do it, but, as we are to pay you £45,000 - which we do not owe you - that may be regarded as a set-off against the £56,000.”
These are the main points upon which I would like a little more information. First, as to the termination of this part of the agreement in the event of the company failing in its litigation; next, how the Prime Minister justifies the payment of the £45,000, together with the bulk of the revenues of the land and coastal stations, and the extended terms that are to be given to the company, and, thirdly, how it is that this company, iri all the circumstances, is not, at the expiration of five years, able to meet its obligations without coming to the Commonwealth Government for further subsidies.
.- The subject of patent rights has agitated the minds of all in Australia associated with wireless. It has been a constant source of irritation and difficulty to traders and manufacturers, and even to those interested only in broadcasting. Last evening I instanced a case which was startling. It had reference to the transmitter placed in station 5CL Adelaide. Had such matters not been controlled by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited, that station could have purchased its transmitter from another source for £6,000, instead of £8,000. It made a request to be granted a licence for an “ A “ station. That licence was refused until such time as the station obtained its equipment. When it purchased the transmitter, it Avas found that only five patents were registered on its panels,, whereas Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited charged on 100 patent, rights. That is outrageous, and constitutes an absolute scandal. Not content, with charging an additional £2,000 for the transmitter, the company also madea claim for a share in the gross revenueof the station. It is beyond my comprehension that the Government should countenance that sort of thing. Thecompany is using the influence which it wields through the protection afforded to it by the Government. The Government should make the company prove itsbona fides as to its patent rights, and noagreement should have been entered into until that was done. The claims madeby Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited upon radio dealers are astounding. That company requires an application form to be filled in by every dealer having business with it, stating that he will not institute any action against or associate himself with any one desirous of impeaching Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited in regard to its patent claims.
– I think that the honorable member, in fairness, should tell the committee that that is the regular form of patent licence issued by every holder of a patent.
– I do not admit that, and, in any case, it does not exonerate the company for its action in placing dealers, who desire to further radio interests in Australia, in an invidious position. The royal commission on wireless stated that a number of the patent rights claimed by this company have expired, and that the company no longer has any claim to them.
– Usually somebody tests such things.
– How can dealers with limited capital institute an action against an octopus with huge capital, and with the prestige granted to it by association with this Government? I strongly object to the claims made by this company on radio dealers and the public, for it is on the public that the burden ultimately falls. The Government should not enter into any form of partnership with the company until it has justified its claims. After reading the recommendations and observations of the royal commission on wireless, I feel doubtful as to the standing of the company and the justness of its claims for tribute. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give some satisfactory assurance as to its standing.
.- I could understand our agreeing to give this sum of money to Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited for their patent rights if there was no question as to the validity of such rights. But we know that, in New Zealand, the rights of the company have been successfully challenged, and that the company has not had the courage to test the matter in the law courts in New Zealand. We are entitled to a full explanation from the Prime Minister as to why this money is being paid to the company, if it fails to justify its claims. We are anxiously waiting a reply to the very able statement made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) on the second reading of the bill, which has been so effectivly evaded by the Prime Minister. When the right honorable gentleman is replying, I should like him to tell the committee why we receive no report from the company. Why are none of its activities disclosed to the people who furnish its revenue? What is the position of the right honorable member for North. Sydney and the £300 a year that he is drawing? What is the position of Senator Millen, who receives £300 a year as a member of the directorate, who received about £1,500 from the National- Insurance Commission
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bayley).Order! That has very little to do with the wireless agreement.
– I shall not pursue the matter except to mention the £1,000 a year which Senator Millen receives as senator. I understand that Sir Robert Garran is another member of the directorate.
– Who are the other Government members ?
– Sir William Vicars and SirGeorge Mason Allard.
– Not the right honorable member for North Sydney?
– No. He is the seventh member.
– I understand that, in order to prevent the Government having a majority on the directorate, the honorable member for North Sydney appointed himself as the seventh member. I am very anxious to know what these people are doing for their money. Are they taking any active part in the management of the affairs of thecompany? If the right honorable member for North Sydney, as stated by the Prime Minister, is not representing the country on the directorate, who is he representing? He draws his salary, and it is a nice Christmas box for a gentleman who represents no interests at all. It is one of the legacies which the right honorable gentleman left to himself while he was Prime Minister.
– He was not appointed while he was Prime Minister.
– Then how did he appoint himself?
– He did not do so.
– He does not represent the people nor the Government, and has no shares in the company. What is his standing?
– I shall reply first to the remarks of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath). I understand that the statement has been made that the original agreement contemplated that the private shareholders would have a majority of directors against the Government. That provision appeared only in the draft agreement that was laid upon the table of the House. It was never ratified. The committee upon which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and myself sat altered it to provide that three directors should be appointed to represent the private shareholders, three to represent the Commonwealth, and another, who should not necessarily be the chairman, should be mutually agreed upon by the directors representing the Government and private shareholders. Difficulties arose, and in order to solve them and at the same time secure an. appointment acceptable to all parties, the right honorable member for North Sydney, while he was Prime Minister, became the seventh director and chairman. After he resigned from the Prime Ministership the directors representing the Government and the private shareholders asked him to continue as the seventh director, and he did so. The present chairman of directors is Sir George Mason Allard, one of the Government directors. It has been suggested that the directors of this company have a very pleasant position, and draw their remuneration for doing next to ^nothing, and that, therefore, the position would be attractive to anybody. I understand that their remuneration is about £300 per annum each. Compared with the fees paid to directors of other large companies, that is probably lower than the average; but these gentlemen have as difficult a task to perform as any which I have known in my experience of directorates. There may be a great difference of opinion as to the best method of controlling wireless in Australia, but I appeal to honorable members to recognize that the reputation of the gentlemen who represent the Commonwealth Government on the board of directors of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited stands as high as that of any men in Australia. If, in dealing with a wide question of policy, we descend to a personal criticism of individuals, we shall make it very difficult for the Commonwealth to obtain the services of thoroughly qualified men of high standing and experience to undertake service for the Government.
– We have not been very hard upon the directors.
– I agree that the remarks have not been severe, but I feel sure that honorable members who have made certain references to these directors have not quite appreciated the position.
– We should hear from them now and again.
– I point out to the honorable member that Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited is an ordinary registered company, which, in common with all such organizations, prepares and publishes a report, balance-sheet, and profit and loss account annually. These are available for inspection in the ordinary way. If honorable members have found it difficult to obtain copies, and had asked me to do so for them, I should have been glad to do it.
– The company never calls a meeting of shareholders.
– A meeting of shareholders was held last month.
– I should like to have attended it.
– I am afraid that the fact that the honorable member has been elected as the representative in this Parliament of the division of Maribyrnong would not entitle him to attend the meeting of this company as a shareholder, nor is the general taxpayer qualified to attend.
– Who can attend as representing the Commonwealth interests ?
– Our directors may attend, and I do not think that any exception would be taken to members of the Government being present.
– In those circumstances, is it not obvious that the private shareholders control the situation?
– Not at all. In the overwhelming majority of cases very few shareholders attend the annual meetings of their companies. They only attend when a special and interesting question is to be brought up for consideration. It is well known that no such question may be introduced at the annual meeting of the company unless due notice has been given of it. What counts at these meetings is the number of votes that any individual or group of individuals is entitled to cast, and all questions of importance are determined by the proxies put in by the largest group of shareholders. In these circumstances it can hardly be argued that the Government has been under any disadvantage in respect of attendance at meetings of shareholders. The managing director of the company has been attacked. May I remind the honorable member for Batman of the following remarks which he made recently.
Of course one does not feel proud if he has exceeded the point on the personal side, perhaps In the heat of the debate, but, in the main, in matters of substance and principle’, I feel that nothing has come out before this commission and nothing follows from the fact that the beam system is now an accomplished fact to make me modify the general principles which I have endeavoured to lay down, and by which I stand so far as the broad matter of international service is concerned.
I invite the honorable member to read the Hansard report of his criticisms of the managing director of this company, and also the observations contained in the report of the royal commission respecting that gentleman. The honorable member has made it clear that he does not believe in descending to personal criticisms of gentlemen who hold important public positions, and, on reconsidering this matter, I think that he will agree that he has been somewhat unjust to the managing director of this company.
The Government has been blamed for making what has been termed an unbusiness-like arrangement in respect to our coastal stations. The original agreement with Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited provided for the reconstruction of these stations with a view to working them in co-operation with the stations in Great Britain, but serious delays have occurred in establishing the wireless service with the United Kingdom. I shall not at the moment make any reference to Canada and other countries. It has been said that this company has not provided the services which it undertook to provide; but very little regard has been paid to the fundamental changes which have occurred in wireless methods in the last few years. The first big change was from the high-power to the beam station. It was contemplated in the first instance that we would incur an expenditure of nearly £500,000 in establishing a high-power station; but it appeared later that because of the development of the beam system we should be able to meet our requirements better by the expenditure of approximately £100,000. The Government gave the company an extension of time in which to reorganize the service. It has been shown beyond question that the delay was well warranted. We have to-day at one-fifth of the cost a service which is ten times as effective as the service which was contemplated in the original agreement. Consequently the criticism to which Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited has been subjected for the delay that had occurred in carrying out its undertakings may be satisfactorily and amply explained.
The arrangement which has been made with regard to royalties and the liability of the company to pay terminal charges has also been criticized. There was a question under the 1924 agreement as to whether the company was liable to pay terminal charges; but under the new arrangement it will pay terminal charges to the Postmaster-General’s Department amounting to about £45,000 per annum, and the figure will expand, as the wireless service inevitably absorbs a greater proportion of the present oversea traffic and develops other business which hitherto has not existed. The honorable member for Batman referred in tones of almost contempt to the lack of business ability of the Government in respect of the arrangement that has been made for the payment of the assets of the coastal stations. He said that under the original agreement the payment of the assets valuation of the coastal stations was to be paid for by the Government not contributing its last instalment of capital when the company saw fit to call it up. He went on to say that that should have meant that the money was paid long ago. He is under a misapprehension, for the money has not yet been called up, and the Government has not had an opportunity to deduct it from the amount of its liability to the company.
– It is time that it was called up.
– I ca»n imagine the spirited criticism in which the honorable member would indulge if this company called up capital of which it had no need. If we accepted that view, apparently we should never have been called on for our last money, and we should never get payment out of the company for the coastal stations. The honorable member cannot have it both ways. We have entered into an arrangement which he has referred to as infinitely worse than the one I have just indicated. It is that we get our payment straight away out of the moneys due to the Government by the company, no matter what the source of those moneys. If there is any sum due by the Government to the company we can deduct this £56,000 before we pay it over. I leave it to the committee to choose between the lack of business acumen that the honorable member has attributed to the Government and the business acumen that he professes to have in advocating the old system as against the arrangement into which the Government has now entered.
The other matter raised has regard to the termination of the agreement.
– What about the revenue from the coastal stations?
– The Government willreceive 30 per cent, of those revenues.
– Amounting to about £10,000 per annum.
– The company will pa$? not only on the revenue from the coastal stations as they are, but on the basis of the traffic that would have, gone through those stations as they were at the time of the original agreement. As the position develops and the stations are brought up to a higher state of efficiency, the revenue should be an expanding amount, which would be a set-off against the £45,000. A point in favour of the Government is that as the revenues expand, it will be relieved with regard to its payments. The amount that the company has to pay under the terminal charges should also be an expanding figure in the Government’s favour as the existing traffic grows and new traffic develops.
The honorable member for Batman referred’, to the fact that “ part I. of the agreement is for a period of five years, or certainly four years, either party having the right to determine it. Does he suggest that, in the event of the company not succeeding in any court action it might take in Australia, it would be proved to be without conscience and without decency, and everything that the honorable member had said against it would be substantiated? That is going a very long way. The company has a great number of patents, and it believes that they are good. They have been registered Under, and are protected by, the law of this country. Everybody must agree that they must be accepted as good until they have been proved to be otherwise. The company has a perfectly respectable board, which I remind the House again, believes that it holds patent rights for which it is entitled to charge. Suppose the court decided that the patents were not necessary and vital to wireless broadcasting, as the company has maintained they are. That would be very unfortunate for the company, ‘ and for the Government’s investment in it; but would it prove that everbody associated with the company is a scoundrel, as was suggested by the honorable member opposite? He said that if a decision went against the company the agreement made no provision for restitution or redress to the unfortunate tens of thousands of people all over Australia who might have paid something on account of the patent rights of the company. I can imagine that argument being advanced by a person of no legal training, whose desire was to make a sentimental appeal, but not by a lawyer, whose case should be logical. The argument put forward by the honorable member is almost paralyzing. The position is that the company has registered patents in Australia, and the law has given them protection. Thousands of other patentees would, I think, be a little startled if we accepted the theory that, if they had levied royalties on the patents granted to them by law, and, after a long time, those patents were successfully challenged, they should be ordered to make restitution to the persons on whom they had levied the charges. That would be an amazing position.
– The honorable member for Batman was not speaking qua lawyer ; but as a member of the Opposition.
– That is so. But, leaving the legal aspect of the matter, let us consider the parliamentary view, and ask whether there appears to be any justification for allowing the company to go on collecting the royalty charges until such time as the court declares that it has no right to them. We can only be guided by what has already happened. I think that we have became rater confused, because a great number of persons suddenly decided that they would not pay royalties to the company. To a great extent the fact that the Government was a large shareholder in the company gave encouragement to that attitude. Those from whom the royalties had been collected said to one another, “If there is trouble about this, we can do something politically. The Government could not allow us to be pressed for these royalties.” That, unfortunately, is the opinion that has been created with regard to the patents. The honorable member asked, “ Why does not the company immediately go into the courts?” But what would be the criticism of honorable members opposite , if the company had begun to institute actions and serve writs upon every small radio dealer throughout Australia? The honoralbe member for Batman would have said that this strong, domineering company was trying to force everybody into the law courts. As the company has not adopted that attitude, the accusation is made against it that it does not believe in its own patents. Why should it not believe in them? Why should it be afraid to take action in the courts ? In my secondreading speech I named a few of the companies that were paying for the patent rights of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited.
– Which are they?
– The Western Electric Company, the British General Electric Company, Metropolitan- Vickers Limited, the Australian General Electric Company, and others. I have never yet understood that the honorable member has challenged the company upon holding the present and future patent rights of the Marconi Company. In Great Britain, the British General Electric Company, one of the strongest, largest and bestorganized industries in the whole of Great Britain, pays patent royalties to the Marconi Company, whose patents Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited hold in Australia.
– But they are shareholders !
– What on earth has that to do with the matter ? What reason can the honorable member for Maribyrnong have for that interjection other than to suggest that, because the British General Electric Company is a shareholder in the Marconi Company, it is prepared to pay royalties to theia, although it knows that the patents are not valid.
– They are all in the pool.
– I thought that the honorable member for Maribyrnong would have realized how perfectly fatuous was his suggestion, and would have been sorry he had made it. How can anybody have any respect for the intelligence of an honorable member who says “ They are all in the pool. They will pay royalties to one another.” Can we in Australia say that Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited has no patent rights, when so many people are prepared to pay them royalties? Is the company merely a gang of thieves who are trying to rob the unfortunate people of Australia, whom they have not a scintilla of right to charge. The Government cannot accept that view; but it says that it is desirable in the interests of the company to have the whole situation clarified. We have agreed to pay this 3s. ; but action has to be taken in Australia; or, if the defendants consent to judgment, Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited must take action in New Zealand, and establish its rights there. Honorable members have asked why the company did not adopt that course . long ago. At first blush that sounded like a good argument; but why should the company go to New Zealand and start an action there that would involve it in much expenditure, and probably result in an appeal to the Privy Council? Broadcasting in New Zealand began only a few months ago, and the company has never had a great deal at stake there. The Government does not propose to make an arrangement with the company that, should it be proved that its patents are not valid, restitution should be made to those from whom royalties have been collected, as the honorable member for Batman suggested. Such a course would be utterly impracticable. We must accept the patents that are registered and protected under the Australian law. They must be recognized until they are proved to be unsound. If they can be proved to be so, then anything to which the Government has agreed falls to the ground. Part 1 of the agreement deals with the subject of broadcasting and broadcasting patents. Only in one instance does it go outside that field. (
Other parts of the agreement deal with communications overseas, and I have not heard it denied that in the beam system Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited has something that is very valuable. If that had been denied the answer would be that the British Government would not be paying to the Marconi Company as royalties upon the patents employed, per cent, of its revenue from beam wireless. If legal action should establish that Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited has no patent rights, the first part of the agreement will fall to the ground, but the balance of it will continue until determined at the desire of the parties at any time after the expiration of four years. Unfortunately this subject is always surrounded by an atmosphere of suspicion ; we are for ever hearing the suggestion that something very improper is taking place. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has been the chief .offender in this respect, but other honorable members of the Opposition have rallied to his support. In consequence, there has never been a true presentation of the case in regard to this company, upon the directorate of which the Commonwealth has its own representatives, who stand as high in the estimation of the Australian people as do any other public men. There is no justificaton for the way in which this matter has been dealt with in Parliament. I have nothing to say against those honorable members who do not believe in private enterprise or in the association of governments with private enterprise, and are convinced that every big enterprise should ‘be operated by the Government. I can appreciate their attitude, and I am prepared to maintain my views against theirs; but I cannot understand the attitude of the members of the Opposition towards a company in which the Commonwealth is the largest shareholder, and which, undoubtedly, has done valuable work for Australia. Largely owing to the persistence and perseverance of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited, Australia leads the world in regard to wireless long-distance communication, and I remind honorable members that the royal commission paid a generous tribute to the initiative and enterprise shown by the company and its managing director.
.- The Prime Minister has stated that I, as a lawyer, propounded a most extraordinary view of what should happen in the event of the courts in either Australia or New Zealand determining that the claims made by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited for royalties are not well founded. He stated that applications have been made for these patents; they have been registered, and the company, acting upon its strict legal rights, has levied royalties upon certain interests in Australia; therefore, the right honorable gentleman thinks it is a most extraordinary suggestion to be made by a lawyer that if the court should decide that those rights are not in law well founded, compensation should be paid to the various interests concerned, which, if the law had been defined earlier, would not have been required to pay to Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited many thousands of pounds. May I remind the right honorable gentleman that there are in this case other issues besides the distinctly legal points he has endeavoured to argue. Nothing said by me or by other honorable members on this side regarding Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited has been half so condemnatory or damning as was said by the impartial tribunal appointed by the Government. Not as a lawyer, but as a member of this Parliament, representing the interests of the taxpayer, and standing for a high standard of business and trading morality I put to the right honorable gentleman this question: The royal commission held that the company has levied upon traders in this community imposts which are. extortionate and unjust, has demanded 12s. 6d. for a valve socket when at most it was entitled to only 5s., has demanded 5s. per listener-in against broadcasting when, it should not have demanded more than 2s., and in various ways has exacted from the people of the Commonwealth hundreds of thousands of pounds to which it has no moral claim. If the court should decide that the company has no legal claim to these amounts* is the Government prepared to make any recompense to the people who have been wronged? His answer was: “No. The legal technicalities of the case enable mc to say that they have no right to redress.” Is he not prepared to give effect to the representations of the commission appointed by his own Government? Does he impugn the honour and impartiality of its members in respect of the findings they have made? They have heard evidence throughout the length and breadth of Australia, and have declared that this company is the best-hated firm to be found in any part of the Commonwealth.
– No; the commission reported that somebody else had said that.
– Yes ; its own representative. At any rate the commission declared that the company had made unjust imposts upon traders. To that the. right honorable gentleman can make no reply. I ask him to say what will follow, if it is determined that the company has not only morally wronged the traders of the community but also has acted contrary to the law - when the last defence of the company has been broken down by the decision of the court, what will be the attitude of the Government which is wedded to it, is trading with it, and will share with it the plunder obtained from industry and enterprise? The Prime Minister’s answer to that question is to be found in this agreement. It is that in such an event the first part of the agreement will fall to the ground ; but in other respects therelations of the Government and the company will continue as if nothing had happened. There will be mo restitution and no apology. I remind the right honorable gentleman that this is an issue to be determined not only in the courts, according to the academics of the law, but also on the floor of the House an accordance with the requirements of public morality. I challenge the right (honorable gentleman to say that anything I have put forward is inconsistent either with the strictly legal position or with fair dealing between the Commonwealth and others.
Question - That the schedule be agreed to - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
Ordered - That the message be taken into consideration forthwith.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendment).
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
In committee (Consideration resumed from 8th December, vide page 2878),.
Postponed clause 17 ‘ (Valuation Board).
– This clause was postponed to enable a discussion to take place between the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), the Taxation Department and the Government. That discussion has taken place, and it has transpired that, if the amendment proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were inserted in the act it might leave loopholes in it, which would lead to a serious loss of revenue. Under those circumstances the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has agreed to withdraw his amendment; the Government undertaking, if further legislation dealing with land taxation is introduced during the next few months, it will give careful review to the discretionary powers of the Commissioner of Taxation.
.- I moved my amendment to affirm a principle; but after conferring with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), the Commissioner of Taxation and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), I find that, if inserted in the bill, its effect would be more far-reaching than I anticipated. In view of the Treasurer’s assurance to consider the whole position when further land tax legislation is before the House, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That the bill be recommitted for the reconsideration of clause 21.
In committee (Recommital).
Clause 21 (Date of payment of tax).
Section forty-nine of the principal act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: -
– It will be remembered that yesterday the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes) moved to insert a new sub-section, which was accepted by the committee. Since then the amendment has been discussed by the Government and the honorable member for Boothby, and carefully examined by the Taxation Department and the legal officers of the Crown. Another amendment has been framed which I shall move if the honorable metnbor for Boothby is willing to accept it in lieu of his amendment.
– I have read and considered the suggested amendment, and it meets with my approval.
– I move-
That sub-section (3) be omitted and the following inserted in lieu thereof : - “ (3) Whenever land tax has been paid, whether upon an original assessment or upon an alteration or addition thereto, and an onjection or appeal against the assessment, alteration or addition has been lodged by the taxpayer within the prescribed time, the amount of tax in dispute shall be refunded to the taxpayer at the expiration of six months from the date of payment if the matter has not then been finally determined, and shall not be repayable (whether under any alteration of the assessment or otherwise) until the matter has been finally determined :
Provided that in any case in which on the application of a taxpayer the determination of an objection or the hearing of an appeal hasbeen postponed the said period of six months shall be extended by the addition oi the oeriodt of the postponement.”
The first part of the amendment is practically the same as that which was moved by the honorable member for Boothby; but the proviso has been added for the purpose of protecting the revenue when delay is the fault of the taxpayer, and not of the Taxation Department.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with a further amendment; report, by leave, adopted.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page), by leave, proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– I expected the Treasurer to make some reference to clause 9, which relates to taxation exemptions. As this clause has not been amended in another place, and no explanation given, I should like the Treasurer to make a statement to the House.
– The bill is just passing through its final stages in this House, and, therefore, has not yet reached another place. I promise the honorable member that, prior to its introduction there, the Government will take every opportunity to obtain the necessary information.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) .
Senate’s verbal amendments agreed to. Resolution reported; report adopted.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) .
– Imove -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Maternity Allowance Act 1910-26.
As the bill consists of only two clauses, perhaps it will suit the conveniences of honorable members if I explain its purport at this juncture. In amending the Maternity Allowance Act last year to permit Asiatic mothers, such as Syrians, living in. the Commonwealth to receive maternity allowances an anomaly was created. A woman born in Australia, who marries an alien takes the nationality of her husband, and under the existing act is not entitled to a maternity allowance. The object of the bill is to remove that anomaly.
Standing Orders suspended and resolution adopted.
That Br. Earle Page and Mr. Bruce do prepare and bring in a bill to carryout the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page and passed through all its stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to.
That the House at its rising adjourn until Monday next at 3 p.m.
The following papers were presented.
Papua Act - Ordinance of 1927 - No. 9 - Supplementary Appropriation (No. 2), 1926-27; together with Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure (No. 2), for the year ending 30th June, 1927.
Science and Industry Research Act - First Annual Report of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for period 13th April, 1926, to 30th June, 1927.
Strangers in Parliament House - Order of Business.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
Will the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) indicate the order in which business is to be taken next week.
.- Mr. Speaker, I wish to draw your attention to a matter of great importance. When we left Melbourne, it was hoped that the presence of professional political punters at tariff time, which was characteristic of the Melbourne House, would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, like the blowflies about which we have heard so much in Canberra, these parasites are thicker than ever about this new House. They swarm in the King’s Hall, sneak down the corridors, and it is rumoured, even attempt to invade the rooms of the Ministers. These gentlemen who prate patriotism and are so glib to brand all who are not prepared to sell Australia to them as the friends of foreign traders - the term foreign for their purposes including our own kith and kin in Great Britain and Ireland - are almost beneath contempt. I would not utter this protest were it not that their actions tend to bring our Parliamentary institutions into disrepute. They savour of Tammany Hall. I as one who is concerned with the true development of this great free land of ours, hurl back the insult in the faces of these people, whose patriotism is measured by the gold they can pilfer under the cloak of a prohibitive tariff to fill their pockets. They come to us in sheep’s clothing, but within they are ravening wolves. I notice that one who was always on the mat in Melbourne has migrated to Canberra, and I might describe him in dinkum Australian as “the bloke with the tooth-brush mo.” I would like to see a dumping duty brought down, and give some one the duty of dumping these gentlemen in the Molonglo. When the Tariff Board was appointed, means were provided to enable those interested in tariff matters to place their cases before a body which would report to the Minister, and through him, to the Cabinet and Parliament. We know the improper use to which the Temple was put in the time of our Lord. I am reminded of His action on the occasion when He upset the tables of the money changers, and cast out those who sold doves. There is no need for this lobbying. It is disgraceful, and I appeal to you, sir, to do all in your power to remove these nuisances.
– Instructions regarding the admittance of strangers to Parliament House have been given, and those instructions, to my knowledge, have been carried out by the staff entrusted with such duties. Persons coming to this city are entitled, as a matter of courtesy, to visit the, building, and ample provision is made for them to attend and listen to the debates. In addition to that, those who wish to interview members of this House are naturally given every facility for doing so, though it rests with the members themselves whether they see the visitors or not. The instruction has been given that no strangers are to be allowed in the corridors. That instruction is being carried out; if not, I shall be pleased to hear of any specific instances in which it has been disobeyed. I understand that the honorable member is complaining that persons are improperly coming into this building. If that is so I shall be glad if he would give me names, and action will be taken to prevent the recurrence of what is objected to, but I cannot prevent honorable members from having interviews with people if they wish to do so. Moreover, as honorable members are doing their business here, facilities must be provided for interviews if required. I have not heard that the lobbies are being put to improper uses. I made inquiries this morning, and as the result of those inquiries, I believe that the instructions issued are being carried out.
– It is proposed next week to proceed with the consideration of amendments to bills returned from the Senate. There is an amendment to the Commonwealth Bank Bill, and there may be others concerning which the Senate will ask for consideration of requests for amendments. Also, it is proposed to take the bill ratifying the agreement between the War Service Homes Department and the State Savings Bank of Victoria. That is the only new business coming on, although it may be necessary next week to make second-reading speeches . on the Bounties Bill, and perhaps another measure. As soon as that is done, it is proposed to bring on the individual items of the tariff.
– Will the Bounties Bill come after the individual items?
– I do not know whether it will come before or after, but the intention is to put the Bounties Bill through this session. It is proposed to bring the tariff items on, and to give the House an opportunity of discussing them before we rise.
Question resolved in the affirmative;.
House adjourned at 1.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 December 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1927/19271209_reps_10_117/>.