13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– The report of the
Auditor-General for the year ended the 30th June, 1931, contains this passage -
The action of the Government in authorising the grant of 100 per cent. life pension to a” proved “ tubercular member who hasnever been an inmate of a tuberculosis curative establishment, and irrespective of the degree of incapacity, was therefore without statutory authority. Legal enactment is necessary to remedy the omission. It is to be noted that the member’s dependants benefited proportionately.
The fact that this special grant of pension was merely a direction of the Cabinet only recentlycame under my notice, and I must express astonishment that the want of parliamentary authority for the payment has not been questioned by the commission.
Iask the Treasurer whether he has considered this comment, and, if so, whether he proposes to take whatever steps are necessary to legalize the payment?
– In view of the decline in the price of gold, is the Treasurer prepared to consider the shipping abroad of the gold at present held as a reserve against the note issue in order to create credits to meet short-dated loans overseas ?
– Such a course has been suggested to the Ministry on more than one occasion, and if the necessity arises, will be considered.
– Have representations been made to the Minister for Trade and Customs regarding the shortage of asparagus in Australia? If such a shortage is found to exist, will the Minister relax, at least temporarily, the restriction upon importation?
– A substantial proportion of last season’s crop of asparagus failed; as a. result, this article of diet in going out of consumption to an extent that appears likely to prejudice the demand for Australian asparagus in the future. Because of those facts I propose to allow importation equal to 25 per cent. of the normal importation prior to the prohibition by my predecessor.
Hotels and Transport
– Some weeks ago I asked whether the Minister for Home Affairs was prepared to make available to honorable members reports made by departmental officers, at the direction of the previous Government, on hotels and transport in the Federal Capital Territory. I again ask the Minister whether the reports are available.
– The reports to which the honorable member refers are so voluminous that I have not had time to study them. The cost of printing them would not be justified, but ifthe honorable member desires to peruse them he may do so.
Telephonic Communication with Mainland.
– Having regard tothe isolation of Tasmania and its woefully inadequate means of communication with the mainland, will the Prime Minister give early consideration to the recommendation of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee that that State should be linked with the mainland by telephone?
– I have not had time to investigate the matter, but I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member have a reply.
– With a view to simplifying the present complicated and costly system of collecting sales taxation, will the Treasurer give consideration to an alteration to provide that an amount equal to the present revenue from that source be collected in lump sums’ from manufacturers and through the Customs Department ?
– In the preparation of the budget for the next financial year, all existing forms of taxation will have to be reviewed. The suggestion of the honorable member will be considered then.
– Has the Treasurer yet considered the granting of relief from the super tax on property income imposed by the Scullin Government?
– No ; because there is no immediate prospect of granting relief, much as the Government desires to do so.
– The Premier of New South Wales claims that his State is unable to pay the amount of interest which the Commonwealth paid on behalf of the State to overseas bondholders. I ask the Treasurer how that statement can be reconciled with the fact that the people of New South Wales paid £1,400,000 into the State Government lotteries during the last twelve months?
– Before I could answer that question, it would be necessary for me to look into the matter to see what relation there is between the two amounts.
– Has the Minister in charge of War Service Homes received a request from the United War Service Homes Purchasers Association, of Melbourne, to defer the amendment of the War Service Homes Bill until the association has had an opportunity of submitting recommendations?
– No such communication has yet been received.
– When the Government was choosing the personnel of the committee to inquire into war service homes, did it consult only the federal executive of the Returned Soldiers Association, or were the State branches of that association asked to submit names?
– The procedure adopted by previous governments was followed on this occasion. The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League was asked to submit a panel of names from which the Government would select a person to represent the soldiers on the committee. The panel was submitted by the federal executive of the association after it had consulted the various State branches.
– -In view of the fact that notices of eviction have been served on returned soldiers occupying settlement blocks, will the Prime Minister take steps to ensure that no injustice is done to any returned man?
– This is really a matter which concerns my colleague, the Minister for Repatriation, but I understand that every precaution is being taken to prevent injustice being done to returned soldiers.
– Is the Minister for Customs aware that under the Canadian customs laws, if a producer of goods other than agricultural products increases the price of those goods in consequence of the imposition of any duty, the Governor in Council may cancel or reduce such a duty? In view of the grave charges which have been made recently regarding restraint of trade by certain manufacturers, acting under the shelter of high duties and embargoes, will the Minister recommend that the Commonwealth Customs Act be amended to give the Governor-General in Council the same power as is provided for in the Canadian customs laws?
– I shall be pleased to give consideration to the honorable member’s request.
Federal Capital TERRITORY
– Instructions were issued to the police by the last Government that the pensions of returned soldiers residing in the Territory were to be taken into consideration when issuing food relief. Have those instructions been withdrawn?
– The matter has not cropped up since I have been in charge of the department, but I shall look into it.
– Has the Prime Minister or his Government received a request from the Government of South Australia, or from any parties interested in mining and prospecting for copper in South
Australia, for a subsidy or other form of financial assistance?
– The Government received a request for a subsidy from the Moonta Mining Sydnicate, with which, although the matter received consideration, it was found impossible to comply.
– In view of the comparatively small number of new telephone connexions, and the tens of thousands of cancellations, with the consequent loss of hundreds of thousands of call fees, will the Postmaster-General consider the advisability of reducing telephone rentals in order to prevent further cancellations, and to encourage new subscribers?
– That matter is under consideration, but I do not at the moment hold out any hope of a reduction in telephone charges.
– Is the Assistant Treasurer able to say whether any progress has yet been made by the Taxation Department towards settling the dispute which has arisen regarding the position of country storekeepers who sell rock salt for the use of stock? Will he investigate the complaint of the storekeepers that their declarations will not be accepted by the department for sales tax purposes, although the declarations of city storekeepers are accepted?
– Representations in regard to this matter have come under my notice, and they are at the moment being investigated by the taxation authorities, but I have not yet received their report.
– Where the failure to past a medical test is the sole bar to a returned soldier being made a permanent officer in the Public Service, will the Minister consider the making of a suitable amendment to the Public Service Act to meet the cases of such men?
– I shall have the matter investigated.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs given consideration to the constitutionality of the Sugar Agreement? Is he satisfied that the agreement does not violate section 99 of the Constitution? If he has not yet considered the matter, will he do so as soon as possible?
– The point raised by the honorable member concerns the AttorneyGeneral rather than myself, and I shall be pleased to bring it under his notice.
– Will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of recommending to the Standing Orders Committee the urgent necessity for amending the Standing Orders, particularly the provision dealing with divisions, with a viewto obviating the gross waste of time for which at present two or three enthusiastic members are responsible?
– I must admit to a great deal of sympathy with the request of the honorable member, and I shall have the matter investigated.
– When the Prime Minister is considering possible amendments to the Standing Orders for the purpose of preventing the wasting of time, will he take steps to prevent time being wasted on useless discussions after which no vote is taken, such as occurred recently in regard to the tobacco duties?
– I shall be glad to do whatever may be possible to save the time of the House.
– Has the Government arrived at a decision regarding the suggestion that a representative of the primary industries should be in attendance at Ottawa to act in an advisory capacity to the Australia delegates at the conference ?
– Last week I was asked a question on this subject, and the reply that I then gave still stands. No decision has been arrived at as to whether the delegation should be accompanied by an economic adviser. We are in touch with the various industries i« Australia in connexion with matters that we wish Great Britain to deal with, and we are also considering what concessions we may be able to offer that country in respect of its entry into our markets. Until we have gone further with these investigations, we do not consider it advisable to make any final decision.
– In view of the Prime Minister’s desire for expedition in the passing of legislation, will the Prime Minister, in future, when the drafting of bills is being discussed by his Cabinet, consider the advisability of having the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Holman) present at the Cabinet meeting to act in an advisory capacity?
Question not answered.
– I have received from the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this afternoon for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The land administration of the Northern Territory.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– I approach this subject of the administration of land in the Northern Territory with a certain amount of diffidence, but the duty devolves upon all public men to guard jealously the honour of public institutions.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order !
– There has been a call for order from the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I would remind the honorable member that it is definitely out of order for him to make any such remark, and I hope that he will not repeat it.
– The law should not only be fair but also, in all circumsta.nces appear so to the public. Public confidence is essential for good government in this country. One of the most important functions of a government is the administration of land. The administra tion of land in the Northern Territory was definitely placed under the control of a commission appointed by the Bruce-Page Government, with a view to assist in the development of that huge country. That body, in its administration, has been found wanting. Gross irregularities, forgery, and even lying, have been resorted to by the commission and its officers. I admit that that is strong language, but before I conclude, the House will have little difficulty in agreeing with me. By the courtesy of the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Parkhill), the files in connexion with land administration in the territory were placed at my disposal. They were reasonably complete, with the exception of a number of important documents and correspondence which, had they been available, would have thrown much light on this subject. I feel confident also that if the Minister decides to sift my complaint, and refers to the correspondence which is not on the files, he will find that it has a considerable bearing on the case that I am endeavouring to make out on behalf of the residents of the Northern Territory.
– Where can that correspondence be obtained?
– I suggest that it can be obtained from the officers of the department. This is official correspondence which passed between the Administrator of the Northern Territory and the officers of the department in Canberra. The territory is undoubtedly good cattle country, and recently the eyes of those who are interested in cattle-raising all over Australia have been focussed on that territory for the purpose of finding a solution of the cattle-raising problem. Because of that, attention has been drawn to shady dealings in connexion with the administration of the Land Board. The residents of the territory have asked me to ventilate their grievances. My charge is that the North Australia Commission has been guilty of mulcting the taxpayers, charging illegal travelling expenses, making illegal surveys, entering into irregular land dealings, and condoning lying and deceit. That is strong language, but a disclosure of the facts that I have prepared from the files and other documents at my disposal will justify my statement.
It is as well to understand from the outset that when the North Australia Commission was appointed it was given a definite function. Its activities were confined by the geographical boundaries of the Northern Territory, and no act of Parliament gives the members of the commission the right to go into ona of the States to perform surveying duties. It can be established that members of this commission, with the object, I suggest, of pleasing private enterprise, travelled some thousands of miles or more to carry out surveys in Western Australia. The officials who made the surveys were allowed travelling expenses of 25s. a day in the territory, and 30s. a day outside. The question was raised whether the members of the commission were acting within their powers in going outside the geographical boundaries of the territory to. perform private surveys, but, ultimately, the firm for which the work was done was charged £20. In view of the allowances paid, and the cost incurred for motor fuel and oil over a distance of some 1,000 miles, the Government lost badly on the transaction. And that does not take into account the impropriety of the procedure.
– What was the pastoral company concerned?
– Vestys. I shall give some illustrations to prove that the commission has been recreant to its trust in the matter of land transactions. I make the charge that blocks 140 and 142 were being dummied, and that one of the commissioners had an interest in them. A person named Gaden,. an ex-Queensland cattle man, who is well known to many honorable members, visited the Territory to inquire the value that was put upon those blocks. He called upon the Lands Department, and asked the names of the owners of the blocks, which were not being worked. The chief clerk informed Gaden that, although the names of tha owners were known, all efforts on the part of the department to. trace the persons concerned had proved futile, and correspondence addressed to. them had been returned through the dead-letter office marked “unknown Gaden pursued his inquiries through private channels, and then returned to the department and asked why these blocks, which comprised some of the best land available, had not been forfeited because of non-payment of rents. The department refused to confirm his statement that the rents had not been paid, stating that such matters had to be treated as confidential between the department and the lessee. Gaden became rather incensed, and said to the chief clerk, “Why all this humbug? Ex-Commissioner Easton is the owner of the land “. The chief clerk asked Gaden if he was prepared to repeat that statement in the presence of a Crown lawofficer. Gaden agreed to do so, was taken before a Crown Law officer, and asserted that the block in question belonged to ex-Commissioner Easton. That declaration is not now on the office files, but I can vouch that it was made. Gaden then said to the chief clerk, “You cannot get into touch with the owner, but I will show you that I can “. He sent a wire to Easton, who, after retiring from the position of commissioner, had gone to Perth, Western Australia, asking him what price he wanted for the blocks. To that wire he received an immediate reply, over the name “RBennett”. The signature was mutilated in transit to Burnett, and the addresswas given as 53 Bruce-street, Nedlands, Perth. The services of the Commonwealth investigating officers were called upon, and it was proved that the addresswas a false one, the dwelling at 53 Brucestreet being occupied by a Mr. Prank Olivent. It will be noted that the address given on the application for the leasewas 38 Princess-road, Claremont, which was also proved to be false. The departmental files are full of letters that have been returned from the dead-letter officemarked “ unknown “. The investigation officer reports that confidential inquirieswere made, and that Mr. Davidson, of the Pensions branch, who had lived next door to 3S Princess-street for 29 years, had not heard of Mr. Robert Bennett having lived in that locality. Theinvestigation officer also took a transfer copy of the writing on thewire that was sent to Gaden, and it is declared by government officials’ in Darwin that it is identical with the hand writing of ex-Commissioner EastonI understand that Easton has since ad- nutted to the investigating officer that it is his writing. His action, of course, constitutes an offence against the postal regulations
Gaden was subsequently advised, in an under-handed manner, that he could purchase the blocks for £950, provided that he paid the arrears of rent. He indicated that he was willing to pay the purchase price asked, but refused to pay the arrears of rent, which ran into hundreds of pounds. Investigations reveal that a number of mysterious persons, with fictitious addresses, have taken up blocks in the Northern Territory, have made a first payment, and have then allowed the rents to accrue, in some cases to hundreds of pounds. Later they have sold their blocks, adding the rent arrears to the purchasing price that they asked. Investigations have also proved that the signature of “Bennett”’ on the application for the blocks is a forgery. That is a very definite statement, but I am able to prove that Bennett was not in Australia at the time that the application was made. The alleged signature of Bennett was witnessed by the man who is now Surveyor-General of the Northern Territory. When the transaction was later subjected to investigation, the Administrator sent for that gentleman, and asked bini, what sort of a man was Bennett, whose signature he had witnessed, as the department could not trace him, and there were prospective buyers for the blocks. The Surveyor-General replied that he remembered Bennett as a rough sort of bushman. Later, the Surveyor-General was again questioned about Bennett, and asked why he had declared that that person was “ a rough sort of bushman “ when, in reality, he was a surveyor who had worked with both the SurveyorGeneral and ex-Commissioner Easton. Seeing that ,the game was up, the SurveyorGeneral admitted to the Administrator that he had lied on the previous occasion. Those facts are known to the department, but the correspondence concerning them was not. on the files placed at my disposal.
I arn willing to take an oath that the facts which I have just related are true. These are nice carryings on for a public officer in such a high position ! Why did this man lie? Obviously, it was because he had something to hide. What had he to hide? I suggest that he desired to hide the fact that he had witnessed a forged signature, which he knew to be forged. He knew very well that the whole transaction was crooked, and that information about it must be suppressed.
At the time when this application was approved by the North Australia Commission, another application was under consideration for the same area, which was in conformity with the necessary regulations, and was accompanied by a draft cheque for £17 10s., intended to cover the first instalment. This application was refused by the commission on the ground that the applicant failed to add exchange to his cheque.
On the 1st September, 1927, the Home Affairs Department was advised that as Smith had refused to pay exchange on his cheque, and had withdrawn his application, the block was granted to Mr. Siddons on the 12th August, 1927.
I suggest that the information conveyed to the Home Affairs Department by the North Australia Commission was totally incorrect. I assert that Smith did not withdraw his application. (Leave to continue given.] The files definitely prove that the application was not withdrawn, because although the telegram to which I have already referred was sent to the Home Affairs Department on the 1st September, 1927, Smith was notified two weeks later by the commission that his application was unsuccessful. Why should the commission advise him that his application was unsuccessful if he had withdrawn it? After a number of letters had been sent to the Home Affairs Department by Smith, inquiring why his application had been rejected, he received a letter from the department informing him that the block had been granted to a prior applicant. This is additional evidence that Smith did not withdraw his application. Smith is prepared to’ swear that he did not do so.
Why all this double dealing and deception? The reason is obvious. The blocks were granted to Siddons and Bennett, and later Siddons transferred his interest to Bennett by wire. This permitted Siddons to evade the payment of stamp duties. The lease instruments were not drawn at that time. The Home Affairs Department could not get Bennett’s address, and telegraphed the commission on the 24th July, 1929, to supply it for insertion in t be documents.
– I regret to have to interrupt the honorable member, but it is impossible for me to hear his speech on account of the conversation that is going on outside the chamber.
– I remind honorable members and visitors in the galleries that absolute silence is required of them while an honorable member is addressing the chamber.
– I assert that this Bonnett was a fictitious person. Every effort made to obtain his address has proved futile. But, sufficient delay occurred while attempts were being made to find out where he was supposed to live to enable the person who had been granted the lease to effect a sale of the property. The names of the buyers only will appear on the deed. The procedure seems to have been that when blocks were granted to applicants, the initial expenses were paid, and then arrears were allowed to accumulate until the land was sold to some adjacent occupier, whose .name appeared on the lease instrument as the purchaser. This practice afforded complete cover to the persons who desired their names to remain unknown to the public.
On the 26th July, two days after the commission had received the telegram from the Home Affairs Department, a reply was received from the commission to the effect that Siddons had telegraphed M3 desire to transfer the land to Bennett, and to defer preparation of the instruments. It will bc noted that even then Bennett’s address was not given. I then looked for the telegram from Siddons conveying that request to the commission, and found that on the 13th August, or three weeks after the commission had said that Siddons had wired, he did telegraph the La-nd Department at Darwin as follows : -
Please transfer my interest pastoral leases 141, 142 to Robt. Bennett; transfer posted.
The document duly arrived. Although Siddons was in Wyndham, Western Australia, and Bennett in the Straits Settlements, the Surveyor-General witnessed their signature in Darwin on the 30th October, 1929 ! Who actually signed for Bennett? Somebody must have done so. and the Surveyor-General must have witnessed the signature.
– That is a serious reflection upon a public officer.
– The facts are indisputable.
– The statements of the honorable member should be probed, and if they are substantiated, the officer concerned should be suitably dealt with.
– I am quite certain that my statements would be substantiated by any inquiry. The signature on this instrument is a particularly clumsy forgery for a man of the calibre of this so-called surveyor, who might reasonably be expected to write a fair hand. The signature was started in a backhand, but concluded in a loose forehand style. It must have been forged, for the simple reason that this alleged Bennett was not in Australia at the time he was supposed to have signed the instrument. On the 2Sth November, 1929, the North Australia Commission transferred the lease after stating that a.u inquiry had been made into the matter. If the inquiry made in this case is a sample of the inquiries generally made by the North Australia Commission, it is no wonder that the commission cost the Commonwealth more than £100,000.
The document which granted the application for transfer was signed by all the commissioners. On it is a minute, placed there on the 4th June, 1931,. a few days before the commission was dissolved, and signed by ex-commissioner Easton, which read as follows: -
Mrs. Bohning informed me that this poison (meaning Bennett) is not her son, and that she did not know him.
Why should all this side-tracking and obvious deception have occurred? To properly understand that minute, it is necessary to know that the Mrs. Bohning referred to is a resident of the Northern Territory, who was married twice and whose children by her first marriage were named Bennett.
Investigations have established the fact that Easton knew a Bennett in Western Australia, having surveyed with him in that State years before. The minute is, therefore, only so much “ eyewash “ written with the object of allaying suspicion. Although an address was given on the lease instruments of Bennett’s land, when the deeds were forwarded to that address, they were returned through the Dead Letter Office. The investigator’s letter, dated 17th November, 1931, will establish the fact that a Mr. Davidson, of the Pensions Branch, had lived for 29 years in the next house to that on this property, but had never heard of a Mr. Bennett. The other addresses given also proved to be false. Yet they were satisfactory to the North Australia Commission !
It is more than a coincidence that the owners of blocks 140, 142, 165 and 164 were Western Australian people, and that their first rent payments were all made by a Mr. S. C. Fisher, of the Perpetual Executors Trustee Agency, Perth. Of course, it is possible these persons carried on legitimate business; but after they had paid the initial charges, they dropped out of the picture. The rents were allowed to accumulate until a sale was effected, and then they got away. In all cases, the lease instruments were delayed, and were not drawn in the names of the original applicants ; but when they sold the blocks, the names of the purchasers were submitted, and appeared on the original documents. In the correspondence from the Administrator, it will be seen that these persons at no time attempted to occupy the land that they were holding.
When a person obtains a cattle-grazing licence in the territory, it gives him a prior right to the land when it is thrown open for leasing. Messrs. Ayliffe and Hamilton held grazing licences Nos. 11 and 12, and it was understood that they would obtain the lease of their land, but such was not the case. Although they were applicants for the lease, their request was turned down, because of a defect in their application form, which was accompanied by the necessary cheque. But, lo and behold, the block was given to a Mr. Grainger, another Western Australian, who had the same address as the other mysterious persons, namely, the Perpetual Executive Trustee Agency, Perth. The latter’s application was granted, although it was received in the form of a telegram from this mysterious source. The act definitely precludes the Land Board from accenting such an application, yet it did not question the regu larity of an application by wire, and it turned down the application of bona fide settlers. Messrs. Ayliffe and Hamilton will probably leave the Northern Territory, and feel disgusted over the treatment they received. I have reams of correspondence which definitely identifies the group of individuals to whom I have referred with purchases and sales of laud which has never been occupied by them.
A request was made by the Administrator of the Northern Territory that the department should take advantage of the presence in Sydney of the Chief Clerk of the Lands Department in the territory, who had made a study of Northern Territory matters, and would be able to give material assistance in getting to the bottom of what I suggest is very underhand work. But this suggestion was not adopted. It is not an easy matter to tackle a heap of files without being familiar with the details of the matters dealt with in them, and when an officer who knew all the details was available in Sydney, his services might well have been enlisted. A further request was made by the Administrator that the Investigation Branch of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department might look into this matter, and a reply, dated the 17th November, 1931, was received as follows : -
I acknowledge receipt of your telegram in State Government code under date of the 11th November, 1031, and your lettergram of the 14th November, .1931. I confirm my lettergram of the 13th November, 1931. On receipt of the first wire, confidential inquiry was made with a view to locating any Robert Bennett at 38 Princess-road, Claremont. Mr. Davidson, of the Pensions Branch, has resided at .KI Princess-road, Claremont, for the past 29 years, and says that he has not heard of any person named Robert Bennett residing next door to him. The householder at 38 Princess-road is a Mr. Leslie. It was ascertained that “ Bert “ Bennett, brother of Dr. Bennett, dentist, at one time lived with people named McKenzie, in Princess-road. Claremont, but a guarded inquiry from Doctor Bennett indicated that his brother does not hold any pastoral leases in the Northern Territory. The electoral habitation index showed the householder at 53 Bruce-street, Nedlands, to be Frank Olivent. As has been discovered, the signature of the wire of the loth August had been mutilated in transmission, and there was actually only one person named Bennett concerned with the transmission, consequently, the element of suspicion thereby lessened, and it was thought that direct inquiries should be made at 53 Bruce-street, Nedlands. Mr. Olivent, who for some years past has been in the employ of Messrs. Robertson Bros., the well-known estate agents of this city, was interviewed by Inquiry Officer Bennetts, of this branch, and later by myself. Mr. Olivent states that a man called at his private residence one evening and said he had been told that he, Olivent, was a land salesman, and would he assist in the sale of pastoral leases at Darwin. Olivent said he thought there was an opportunity for some business and agreed to do what he could in the matter. The inquirer gave the name of Robert Bennett. . . .
The inquirer was Mr. Easton, and he gave the name of Bennett, knowing that Bennett was not in the country. Accompanying that communication was a tracing, and according to a statement made by the Administrator the tracing showed that the telegram of the 5th August was addressed to “ John Gaden, Darwin “. The Administrator further stated that the back of the telegram was endorsed, “R. Bennett. 53 Bruce-street, Nedlands,” the address and the endorsement being undoubtedly in Mr. Easton’s handwriting.
– The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- Although I know very little of the circumstances of the case presented by the honorable member for Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), the matter evidently warrants investigation by the Government. When the method of distributing the last unemployment relief grant was questioned in this House, the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Parkhill) was horrified at the suggestion that more money was being spent in one electorate than in another, and he demanded an inquiry into the matter. The honorable member for the Northern Territory has made some startling charges against men holding public offices. There must have been extraordinarily weak administration of the affairs of the Northern Territory if men were allowed to take up land at ls. a square mile, with no resumptions for fifteen years, and no stocking conditions.
– There are stocking conditions.
– Then returns would be necessary, and the department should be able to trace this Mr. Bennett. The North Australia Commission, which cost this country about £100,000, should have seen that the stocking conditions were observed. Some time ago, a man wrote to me, and said he would like to take up laud in the Northern Territory. I got into touch with the Home Affairs Department, which communicated with the commission. A reply was received from the commission saying that it had interviewed the managers of Alexander’s, and another station in the territory, to see if they were agreeable to give this man a piece of land. Later he wrote to me again on the same subject. To-day the Northern Territory has a population of about 1,000 whites and the administration of it costs the Commonwealth £100,000 a year ; yet people who want to go into the Territory to develop it are debarred from doing so. Gaden has spent his whole life in the pastoral industry, and when last I met him, he was managing a station for Kidman in the Gulf country. He was thrifty, and having saved a little capital he desired to start on his own account in an industry which he perfectly understood. Being unable to get suitable land in Queensland, he decided to settle in the great undeveloped Northern Territory, of whose potentialities we hear so much from politicians. Notwithstanding the expanse of vacant land there, Gaden, according to the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), had to pay £950 to a set of crooks in the employment of the Commonwealth. Gaden was then asked to pay the rent owing to the Crown. Surely somebody in authority at Darwin must have known the former leaseholders; when the application for the lease was granted rent for the first year must have been paid, and when the second year’s rent was not forthcoming, the Government officers failed miserably if they neglected to ascertain the reason, and whether the stocking conditions had been carried out. The honorable member for the Northern Territory has told us that the applicants had paid the first year’s rent, and then for two or three years “ eaglehawked “ for a buyer, probably circulating optimistic reports regarding the extension of the north-south railway or the construction of one towards Camooweal. Eventually they caught Gaden, and enjoyed their rake-off. I have travelled across the Barkly Tablelands down to Lake Nash, and along that portion of the Territory which adjoins my electorate. Cotton and Company, the owners of Barkly Downs, have hawked their leases for years in the endeavour to get English investors interested in cattle, sheep, or cotton cultivation. The best of the pastoral land in the Territory is held in big leases. This House should demand that the allegations made by the honorable member for the Northern Territory be immediately investigated by an officer who has no association with the departmental heads at Darwin, and if the charges are proved, the offender should be brought to account.
-The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) informed me of his intention to raise this subject, and as the proceedings to which he objects occurred prior to the present Government’s assumption of office, I have investigated his complaint with the utmost care and impartiality, and I have also made available to him all the information in the possession of the department.
– I dispute that.
– All the official documents on the departmental files have been placed at the honorable member’s disposal. The North Australia Commission was disbanded in June, 1931, and the proceedings of which complaint is made happened prior to that date.
– Is the surveyor who has been mentioned still in the employ of the Government ?
– He was one of the commissioners, and at the last general election was a candidate for the Northern Territory seat. Section 16, sub-section 4, of the Northern Australia Act 1926, which was repealed last June by the previous Government, provided that -
In addition to the powers specified in Bubsection (1) of this section, the powers of the commission shall include the administration throughout the Territory of Crown lands in accordance with ordinances made, or to be made, in pursuance of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1010, or in pursuance of this act.
In accordance with those powers, applications were invited by the North Aus tralia Commission in the Commonwealth Gazette of the 12th March, 1927, for pastoral leases of fifteen blocks, numbered from 1 to 15, situated in the Barkly Tablelands Land District and east of Newcastle Waters. Applications were advertised to close on the 28th May, 1927. Eight applications were received for blocks 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 15. They were dealt with by the full commission at Darwin on the 15th July, 1927, and were granted as follow : Blocks 1 and 2, H. M. Bathern; blocks 6 and 10, H. H. and R. A. Hope; block 9, J. Lewis and Co.; blocks 11 and 15, Rochdale Pastoral Co.; block 12, W. G. Hutchins. Regarding the granting of blocks 6 and 10 to H. H. and R. A. Hope, a perusal of the Darwin office file reveals the fact that on 27th April, 1927, C. Fisher, of 8 Fairfield-street, Mount Hawthorn, Western Australia, telegraphed to the commissi an £143 in respect of Hope and Hope’s applications for blocks 6 and 10, and asked that the receipt be forwarded to him. On the following day, a telegram, signed Nacom, and initialed W.R.E. - Mr. Easton - was sent to Fisher acknowledging receipt of the amount, and intimating that a formal receipt was being posted direct to Fisher. On the 23rd July, 1927, a letter purporting to be signed by the secretary of the North Australia Commission, was addressed to Fisher, and, after referring to his telegram of the 27th April, stated - “ I have to inform you that both the blocks applied for have been granted subject to applications being lodged on the proper form “. Two forms of application for a pastoral lease were enclosed, with a request that they be completed and returned to the Darwin office as early as possible. Regarding the acceptance by the commission of this telegraphed application, it may here be mentioned that regulation 7 under the 1924-1925 Crown Lands Ordinance, specifically stated - “ The board shall not accept any application for a lease which is made by telegraph”, and regulations passed under the Crown Lands Ordinance 1927-1928, which repealed the previous ordinance, carried forward that intention. Regulation 9, expressly provided - “ The commission shall not accept any application for a lease which is made by telegraph “. Notwithstanding the specific intention of the regulations, the applications of Hope and Hope for blocks 6 and 10, as telegraphed by fisher, were accepted by the commission and granted. Further, it is clear that in order to regularize the transaction, formal applications were to be lodged subsequently. The Darwin office files disclose that on the 22nd July, 1927, Fisher telegraphed to the North Australia Commission as follows: “Please withdraw applications Hope and Hope, blocks 6 and 10. They cannot carry on “. This telegram was referred to Mr. Easton, presumably by the secretary of the North Australia Commission; and, on the 25th July, a refund voucher in favour of C. Fisher for £143 was passed by the commission. This completed the transaction so far as Hope and Hope’s application was concerned.
The Crown Lands Regulations provide that -
Any land notified in the Gazelle us available for leasing and not allotted by the board shall remain open for leasing unless withdrawn or again advertised by notice in the Gazelle setting out any altered conditions of occupancy.
In consequence of this provision, the unallotted blocks, Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13 and 14, remained open for application by the first applicant. As Hope and Hope’s applications for blocks 6 and 10 had been withdrawn, these blocks also were available for application.
On the 5th August, 1927, C. R. Smith, of Sapphire, via Inverell, New South Wales, who was in Darwin at the time, lodged an application for a lease of block 10, together with a cheque for £71 10s., being the prescribed deposit of the first year’s rent and fee. On receiving this application, the commission requested payment of an additional 14s. 6d., being exchange on cheque drawn on the Rural Bank of New South Wales, Inverell. Mr. Smith objected to this extra payment, and withdrew his application, subsequently stopping payment of his cheque.
– I dispute that.
– lt is a matter of fact that can be investigated later. Then under covering letter dated the 24th August, 1927, Mr. Smith resubmitted his application to the department in Melbourne, and lodged a bank draft for £71 10s. This application was received in the department on the 29th August, 1927,. and particulars of the application were lettergrammed on the 30th August, 1927, to the commission at Darwin. In reply, a lettergram dated the 1st September, 1927, was received as follows: -
Yours the 30th re Chisholm Smith’s application block 10 East Newcastle Waters applicant lodged application together rent and fees fifth August but did not include exchange 14s. Od. When asked for exchange withdraw application same day. Block was applied for by Siddins twelfth August and approved. Sgd. Nacom.
It will be noted that Bennett’s name is not mentioned in this communication. This omission, however, is immaterial, as the department had been advised previously of Siddins and Bennett’s applications. In view of this, Smith was advised on the 15th September, 1927, that his application was unsuccessful, and his deposit was refunded.
Having regard to the statement in the lettergram that block 10 had been granted to one Siddins as the prior applicant, a further perusal of the Darwin office files discloses the following: -
On the 12th August, 1927, applications were lodged for blocks (t and 10 in the names of Oswald Threlkeld Siddins, of Wyndham, and Robert Bennett, of Claremont, Perth, pastoralists, as joint tenants. The required deposits amounting to £143 were lodged with the applications.
These applications were declared only by O. T. Siddins, and Bennett’s signature does not appear on them. On the 17th August, 1927, the commission advised the department by telegram that O. T. Siddins and R. Bennett had been protected for blocks 6 and 1.0. This protection was confirmed by the department on the 24th August, 1927. Following this action an extract from the minutes of a meeting held by the commission, sitting as the Land Board, on the 29th August, 1927, shows that the applications of Siddins and Bennett for blocks 6 and 10, had been approved on that date, anc! approval was notified in the Gazette of the 8th September, 1927. In a letter dated the 12th September, 1927, Messrs. O. T. Siddins and R. Bennett, Wyndham, Western Australia, were advised that their applications, for pastoral leases of blocks 6 and 10 had been approved, and that the lease indentures would be prepared and forwarded for signature. Under date the 28th June, 1929, a telegram sent from Wyndham, Western Australia, and addressed “Easton, Lands Department, Darwin, stated - “Wrote you relinquishing country early June, regards. Sgd. Siddins.” On the 26th July, 1929, the department requested Darwin to advise the full names, addresses and occupations of 0. T. Siddins and R. H. Bennett, lessees of blocks 6 and 10, for insertion in lease indentures’. That covers the point made by the honorable member, for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan). There was no purchase of stock, because the leases were never completed by them.
A reply was sent to the department on the same date, namely, the 26th July, 1929, by lettergram, signed Nacom, and initialed W.R.E., standing for Easton, in which it was stated -
Yours re Siddins-Bennett lessees blocks 6, 10 East Newcastle Waters. As former has telegraphed his desire, transfer to letter please defer preparation indentures until transfer received when will advise further.
The statement regarding the proposed transfer of Siddin’s interest to Bennett conflicts with the contents . of the personal telegram of the 28th June, 1929, from Siddins to Easton as quoted previously. On the 26th August, 1929, the department repeated the request contained in its telegram of the 23rd July, 1929, for particulars of the lessees. Replying on the 31st August, 1929, the North Australia Commission advised -
Pastoral leases 140 and 142, Siddins and Bennett, see reply 20th July (before quoted), position unchanged. Awaiting arrival mail due 26th September, West Australia steamer Koolinda.
The next paper on the Darwin office file, No. 142, purports to be an application by O. T. Siddins, of Wyndham, for permission to transfer pastoral leases 140 and 142, blocks 6 and 10, to Robert Bennett, of Claremont, Western Australia. No consideration money was mentioned. The form of application was signed “ O. T. Siddins “, and this signature was witnessed by F. P. Shepherd, present chief surveyor and member of the Land Board. This form also includes a declaration of acceptance of the leases signed by R. Bennett. This signature was also witnessed by E. P. Shepherd. The date on the form is 30th October, 1929. A minute dated 11th November, 1929, is attached to this application, signed “W. R. Easton”, recommending its approval to the commission. The chairman, by minute, dated 12th November, 1929, concurred in the proposed transfer if rents were paid. A further minute by the chief clerk, dated 12th November, 1929, states “ Rents paid in full to 30th June, 1930, and partly on account of year ending 30th June, 1931 “. The transfer was confirmed by the full commission on 28th November, 1929. Following the confirmation of the transfer, the lease indentures were prepared in the name of Robert Bennett, of 38 Princessroad, Claremont, in the State of Western Australia, pastoralist, this address being inserted by the Darwin authorities, and were forwarded by the Darwin office under covering memorandum, dated 8th October, 1930, to Mr. Bennett at the address mentioned, with a request that he should sign the documents and return them to the Darwin office as soon as possible. The letter and lease instruments were subsequently returned from the dead letter office, Perth, on the 12th December, 1930, marked “Unclaimed, not at 38 Princess-street, Claremont “. Requests for the payment of the overdue rents were also returned unclaimed from that address.
From about December, 1930, until June, 1931, nothing further appears to have been done in the matter. On the 15th June, 1931, a Mr. J. Gaden, of Queensland, arrived in Darwin, and made inquiries at the Lands Office regarding the holder of pastoral leases Nos. 140 and 142. Gaden stated that he met Easton at Adelaide River on the 14th June - the North Australia Commission had been disbanded on the 11th June - and inquired of him the address of the owner of the leases. Gaden stated that Easton replied that he could not remember, but would find out from Mr. Surveyor Shepherd. Later, Gaden made further statements to the Administrator at Darwin which implied that Easton was interested in the ownership of the leases, and produced a telegram dated 5th August, 1931, sent to him at Darwin from one, R. Burnett - presumably Bennett - 53 Bruce-street, Nedlands, Perth, which stated, “Understand you wish purchase my leases near Newcastle “. The Administrator then caused confidential inquiries to be made in Perth regarding the person who purported to send the telegram, and whether he was the actual owner of the leases, and was domiciled at the address given, having regard to the fact that the lease indentures had been returned to Darwin unclaimed from quite a different address. This investigation disclosed a number of suspicious circumstances. In view of the evidence produced, that trading at a substantial profit to the nominal holder of the leases had been attempted, the then Minister, when his attention was directed to the matter by the Administrator, directed the forfeiture of the leases. This action was taken on the 18th December, 1931, and the forfeiture appeared in Gazette No. 2, of the 7th January, 1932. [Leave to continue given.]
– Does the Administrator say that the signature on the telegram is in the handwriting of Bennett ?
– The file does not disclose that.
– It is on the file ; I have seen it.
– If it is there I have missed it. When I took over the control of the Home Affairs Department, this matter came before me for further consideration, and I have directed that steps be taken to recover the outstanding rent. The Darwin authorities were instructed to forward, for the information of my department, all relevant papers affecting this matter. The papers arrived only recently at the department, and so far a close investigation of all the circumstances has not been possible. In view of the serious charges of the honorable member for Northern Territory, I assure honorable members that a most searching investigation will be made, and I have no doubt that the additional information supplied by him will facilitate the department in its inquiry.
– Is Mr. Shepherd still in the employ of the Government?
– He should be interrogated.
– He is the officer who certified to the signatures of Siddins and Bennett, who, it is alleged, do not exist. Chief Surveyor Shepherd is still at Darwin. Pull inquiries will he made from him.
– Did the Administrator or the Surveyor-General give to the department a statement in agreement with that of the honorable member for Northern Territory?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.That does not appear on the file.
– I can vouch for that. The information was given to me by one of the officials of the department.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.I have given the honorable member all the official information available to me. It has been suggested that Mr. Piggott, the chief clerk at Darwin, who is now on leave, should be asked to come to Canberra to give further information on this subject. I have not taken that course, because I naturally assumed that that officer would have sent to the department all the information in his possession. But in view of the statement of the honorable member for Northern Territory I shall ask Mr. Piggott to make himself available so that full information may be obtained from him. These circumstances arose before this Government took office. I make no reflection whatever on my predecessor, because the correspondence dates back to 1927.
– Will the Minister communicate with the Administrator of the Territory to ascertain whether it is a fact that the present Surveyor-General lied and tried to deceive him as to the identity of one of the men. to whom I have referred ?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.I have carefully noted the statement of the honorable member, and his charges will be closely investigated. The Commission went out of existence on the 11th June last, and apparently nothing has transpired since then to which any objection can be taken.
.- Honorable members are indebted not only to the honorable member for Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) for his disclosures, but also to the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) for his lucid statement in reply. The circumstances referred to are obviously of long standing, since they date back to 1927. At no time during my term of office as Minister for Home Affairs was this matter brought under my notice, not even on the18th December last. At that time I was away at Broken Hill, and the Minister temporarily in charge of the department dealt with the case that had been submitted to the department.
– That Minister, whoever he was, did the right thing.
– That is so. I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister that a searching inquiry will be made into the allegations of the honorable member for Northern Territory. As his predecessor in office, I shall be only too pleased to assist him if it is within my power to do so.
Question resolved in the negative.
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime. Minister, upon notice -
Is there any truth in the statement that the Government intends making available £1,000,000 to the States for unemployment, on the same conditions under which the previous Government made money available?
– I have no knowledge of the statement to which the honorable member refers.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
” ON SERVICE “ STAMPS.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for’ Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On the 9th March, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy) asked me the following question, upon notice: -
What sums of money have been expended in each State during the last seven years on wireless broadcasting equipment?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: -
This expenditure covers the period from the taking over of the stations in 1929 to December, 1931.
– On the 9 th March, the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey) asked the following questions,upon notice: -
With reference to the land in the catchment area along theUriarra-Brindabella road, in the neighbourhood of Condor Creek, in the Federal Capital Territory, will he state -
i ) What amount has been spent in the last twelve months on (a) clearing and (b) fencing?
What area has been cleared and what length of fencing has been erected?
What is the object of this expenditure, and is it proposed that it should continue?
I now desire to advise him as follows: -
(a)£ 1,636; (b) £1,066.
– I move
That general business be postponed until after Government business.
If the motion is agreed to, all notices of motion under the names of private members will be disposed of for the time being. Although the Government is taking this course, it will provide an opportunity at a later stage for private members’ business to be discussed.
– Not immediately. Private members’ business will be dealt with as soon as convenient.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That a joint select committee be appointed for the purpose of completing and presenting to Parliament a report of the inquiry previously conducted by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts into -
In June last the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts decided to conduct an inquiry into parliamentary control and procedure in relation to the public finances of the Commonwealth. In the course of the inquiry, the committee sought the aid of prominent financial experts, most of whom spent a considerable time in research, and in the preparation of information for the use of the committee. At the time of the dissolution of the Parliament last year, the committee had made considerable progress with its report, and with a little more time at its disposal would have been able to complete it. That report would have been of real value to this Parliament and the Government. The proposal now is to appoint those members of the committee who still remain in this chamber and in the other chamber, as a joint select committee for the purpose of completing the report.
– Who are they?
– The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy), the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner), the Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis), Senator O’Halloran, Senator Hoare, and Senator J. R. Hayes. The Assistant Minister, of course, will not be appointed to the new committee. If new members were placed on the select committee, much time would need to be spent in the collection of evidence and statistics. We are anxious that there should be no delay in presenting the report to Parliament.
– Will the members of the committee be paid at the rate applying to the original committee?
– The members have been approached, and are all prepared to act in an honorary capacity. No expense will be involved except in respect of printing. If this motion is carried, a similar motion will need to be passed by the Senate. I am informed by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis) that all the evidence has been collected, and that the new committee will need only to prepare the report. In fact, a great deal of progress has already been made in its preparation.
– I do not wish tocast any reflection on the members of the previous committee who still remain in this chamber, but the inference of the Prime Minister that those honorable members, if appointed to the new committee, will express the same opinions as they expressed when they were members of the original committee, is, I think, rather far-fetched. Many changes, particularly in political opinion, have taken place since the Public Accounts Committee functioned, and it is only logical to assume that the members of that committee who have changed their political party now hold opinions entirely different from those which they expressed previously. That has already been amply demonstrated, and needs no amplification by me. For instance, the political opinions of the honorable member for Bass have undergone a considerable change.
– The honorable member for Bass belonged to the official Opposition when the inquiry began, so that his opinions have not since changed.
– I submit that the honorable member for Bass has changed his opinions with regard to many matters since the inquiry began.
– The subject on which the committee is to report relates to procedure in finance rather than to politics.
– That is all very well for the honorable member for Angas, who takes a “ broad national view “ of everything, and who can find comfort in any circumstances by sailing under that flag. The mere collection of evidence by a committee is only of secondary importance. The important factor is the determination that will be embodied in the committee’s report. I consider that human nature is swayed by political convictions. That can be proved even in regard to the findings of judicial tribunals. If the personnel of this committee is allowed to remain as suggested, its findings will be lopsided, and I advise the Government, if it really desires the conclusions of the committee to be received with general respect, to see that all sides of political opinion are represented.
– The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is adopting the wrong attitude. This inquiry proceeded during the life of the last Parliament, and it was nearing completion when the general election occurred. The committee’s investigations mostly concerned matters of procedure, which are of an entirely non-party character. The Government proposes to use the services of those honorable members now in the House who were previously on the committee, so that they may complete their report with practically no additional expense to the country, except that of printing.
– I understand the proposal to be as stated by the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Archdale Parkhill). I think it a proper thing for the Government to have the report of this committee placed before Parliament. It would be inadvisable to appoint new members to the committee as they would have to hear witnesses if their conclusions were to be satisfactory. The matter is non-political, and concerns the presentation of accounts to Parliament.
I point out that the finding of the committee will not constitute the last word on the subject. The Government may adopt or reject its recommendation, which then is subject “to the determination of Parliament. Even if there was a party aspect to the matter, I submit that the remaining five members of the committee are fairly representative. I have heard from these gentlemen that they have a very valuable report to present. I hope that that is so, as I know how important is the control of finance and the proper presentation of financial statements. I support the motion.
.- I also support the motion, as I feel that the time and expense spent in taking evidence on this subject should not be lost to Parliament. I regret that we have not with us Mr. Coleman, who was the member for Reid and acted as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee when this inquiry was made. Mr. Coleman has a very sound knowledge of the matters which engaged the attention of the Public Accounts Committee, and, although I know that he cannot be included as a member of the new body, I suggest to the Government and to the committee itself the advisability of coopting his services when it is preparing its report. I am anxious that the work that was begun by the committee should be concluded and made available to the House as early as possible. I am aware that in the past there has been a certain amount of wastage and a lot of unnecessary printing in the preparation of estimates and budget papers. Tables have been repeated in our budget papers which are already available to honorable members, and entries are made unnecessarily, involving unnecessary clerical work auditing and the like. It is because I should like to have that wasteful procedure eliminated that I am in favour of the early completion of this report.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it had agreed to the amendments made by the House of Representatives in this bill.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair - proposed.
.- I take this opportunity of directing the attention of the Government to the fact that, owing to its recent pronouncement in connexion with the tobacco industry, certain tobacco companies in Australia have definitely stated that they no longer intend to purchase Australian-grown leaf. I shall substantiate my assertion. I received a letter this morning from the secretary of the Tobacco Growers Association at Balingup, Western Australia, which reads -
Balingup, 2nd March, 1932.
Mr. J. H. Prowse, M.H.R.
Dear sir, - I am writing you, re reduction of duty on foreign tobacco leaf. I assume that you were in favour of the increased duty when it was imposed, as an article written by yourself appeared in the West Australian and South-West papers on the subject of tobacco-growing, and I believe that article induced a good many people to try their luck, believing that they would get the benefit of the protection imposed by the duty of 5s. 2d. per lb., and I wish to suggest that should it not be possible to have the present duty retained, the Government might be induced to defer the alteration until this year’s crop had been harvested and disposed of ; that would be keeping faith with the growers, and we would know just where we stood for the next year’s crop. I might mention that in this district last year there were five men employed in growing tobacco, and this year the number is 80, and the increase for next year would be still greater.
This is the important point to which I desire to draw attention -
One of the largest growers here sent a sample of tobacco leaf to Melbourne. I am enclosing the reply that he received, it makes interesting reading just at the present time.
No doubt you have also heard from Manjimup, and I know you will do your best for us in this matter.
The letter referred to is dated the 19th February, and is from Godfrey Phillips (Australia) Proprietary Limited, and reads -
Dear sir, - We wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 10th February, contents of which havebeennoted, also for the sample of tobacco leaf which you forwarded to us under separate cover.
Whilst thanking you for sending us the leaf in question, we would advise that at the present time we are not interested in the purchase of Australian-grown leaf, therefore we are returning same to you by to-day’s mail,
Godfrey Phillips (Australia)proprie- tarylimited.
It has come to my knowledge from an authoritative source that a week before the schedule was tabled, it was stated at Inglewood, Queensland, by a director of a tobacco manufacturing company, that the duty on tobacco leaf was to be reduced to 3s. per lb. The date of the letter from the Godfrey Phillips organization coincides with that statement at Inglewood, which indicates that the precipitate action of the Government has most adversely affected this important industry. This Government has seen fit to interfere with the duties that were introduced by the previous Government, when the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) was a member of it. That action has led to the tobacco company refusing to buy the Australian-grown leaf. I have given the Government definite proof that this is so.
– Was that letter written before the amended tariff schedule was tabled?
– Yes, a week earlier; and the announcement was made at Inglewood in Queensland, at the same time. The paramount importance of this subject is shown by the fact that even in a small district such as that to which I have referred, there are 80 tobacco-growers this year where there were only five last year. I trust that the Prime Minister will instruct any investigating body to take a broad view of this whole subject, and particularly to consider the probable effects an the growers of the action of the tobacco companies.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Lyons) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That order of the day No. 2 be postponed until after consideration of order of the day No. 3 (Government business).
– I protest against this sudden change in the order of business.
– The business to be dealt with is of minor importance and should take only a few minutes.
– The Government may think that it is a minor matter; but other honorable members may think differently. My party has not been consulted in regard to this proposed change. We have prepared ourselves to deal with the business in the order in which it appears on the business-paper, and consequently we should be consulted before any alteration is requested. If the order of business can be changed at the slightest whim of the Government, honorable members who may have spent a considerable time in preparing themselves to discuss certain subjects, may be out of the House at the time such subjects are brought forward. This would not be fair. The five members of my party may be particularly interested in special items, but may by reason of the chopping and changing in the order of business, lose their opportunity to speak. The Government has already taken action of this kind three or four times; and we shall continue to protest against it. Yesterday, when the Postmaster-General (Mr. Fenton) desired a re-arrangement of the business to enable him to move the motion for the second reading of the bill dealing with wireless broadcasting at a particular time, he consulted us in the party room, and we offered no objection to the alteration. But I shall continue to protest against the practice of the Prime Minister in coming into the House at any time, and moving for an alteration of the order of business without any consultation with honorable members. We are entitled to the same courtesy as was extended to us yesterday by the Postmaster-General.
.- If the Government had proposed, without notice, an alteration in the notice-paper which might seriously interfere with any arrangements that honorable members might have made, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) would have some justification for protesting, but we are being asked to deal with a minor amendment, which should occupy us for only two or three minutes. I understand that a technical amendment was made in another place to one clause of the Financial Agreements (Commonwealth Liability) Bill, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) desires that we should consider it at this point. I do not know why the honorable gentleman desires this alteration in the order of business, but from my two years’ experience as Prime Minister, I assume that it is because he desires to get away for a little while to do some of the work which is waiting for him.
– We also have work to do.
– That is so, but that work is neither so great in volume nor so important in character as that which, awaits the attention of a Prime Minister.
– It is just as important to us.
– If any serious alteration had been proposed, the honorable member would have legitimate ground for complaint, but the amendment which the Government desires us to deal with is purely technical. To divide the House on a question of this kind would be both captious and churlish.
. -In spite of what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has said, I also protest against the proposal of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to alter the order of business. The honorable members who sit in this corner have already been ignored several times when changes have been proposed in the business-paper. The Leader of the Opposition has doubtless been consulted, but we have not been consulted.
– I made it my business to ask the Prime Minister what was the order in which he desired to deal with the business. The honorable member for Hunter or his leader could have done the same.
– The trouble is that we are not being given reasonable opportunities to place our grievances before the Government. Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to answer our questions on the important subject of unemployment. He is forcing us to speak on the motion for the adjournment of the House whenever we have any requests to place before him or other Ministers. The fact is that the real opposition to the Government is coming from the honorable members of this party. Probably, the Leader of the Opposition was consulted by the Prime Minister in order that the Government may continue to be assured of his support.
– The honorable member should talk sense.
– The official Opposition is really supporting the Government in most of the matters that come before the House, and the real opposition is coming from this party. We, in this corner, are a separate party and entirely distinct from the official Opposition, and should be consulted when changes of this kind are desired. I protest against this proposed alteration of the business-paper.
– I am sorry that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has spoken with some heat on this motion, for the proposed alteration in the order of business is, after all, very small. I desire honorable members to deal now with this amendment from another place in order, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) said, that I may be able to leave the chamber for a little while to do some other urgent work that is awaiting me. If the order of business, as printed on the businesspaper, were adhered to, the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis) would now be moving the motion for the second reading of the War Service Homes Bill. His speech on that subject will probably take 25 minutes. It will be seen, therefore, that the order of business will be interfered with only to the extent of about 25 minutes if my motion is agreed to. I have no desire whatever to be discourteous to the honorable member for West Sydney. He, and every other honorable member of the House, is entitled to courtesy from the Prime Minister. The honorable gentleman mentioned that yesterday, when the Postmaster-General (Mr. Fenton) desired a slight alteration in the order of business he consulted the various parties. The honorable gentleman did so at my suggestion. I do not intend to make any distinctions whatever in my treatment of honorable members of this
House, and I again assure the honorable member for West Sydney that I had no desire to he discourteous to him in any way.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendment) :
Clause 4 - (4.) The Commonwealth shall be entitled to recover from a State by suit in the High Court, any moneys (due and payable and unpaid by the State by virtue of the Financial Agreements or this Act) for which the Commonwealth has become liable by virtue of the Financial Agreements or this Act, or which the Commonwealth has paid in pursuance of those Agreements or this Act.
Senate’s amendment. - Before “The”, first occurring, sub-clause 4, insert “ In addition to and without prejudice to any other remedy or relief.”
– I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
The object of the amendment is merely to make sure that the provision of the remedy in this sub-clause shall not exclude any other remedy which the Commonwealth may have for the recovery of amounts due to it.
– It has been said that this is a minor amendment, but only honorable gentlemen who are biased and prejudiced against a certain State government could make such a statement. Apparently, any and every remedy which can be applied is to be used against the New South Wales Government in certain circumstances. Even armed force may be used.
– Surely the honorable member must realize that “ remedy “ means “legal remedy.”
– After judicial action has been taken, and legal remedies applied, it seems to me that the way is being left open for any other remedy to be applied to ensure that the New South Wales Government shall be crushed.
– Hear hear !
– I would expect to hear such an interjection from the honorable member. I marvel at the Government having the hardihood to say that this amendment is a matter of no consequence. The Government, of course, is prepared to go to any extent in its dealings with New South Wales. 1 wonder that it bothers about the courts or this Parliament at all. Probably, if the opportunity presents itself, the Government will adjourn this Parliament indefinitely, and establish a form of dictatorship suggested by Campbell and some of his friends. The procedure provided for under this amendment is. to say the least of it, unexpected, and I shall take every means inmy power to prevent the Government from adopting any course it cares to take.
.- The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has evidently misunderstood the whole purport of the amendment. If it had the effect which the honorable member suggests that it has, I would do my utmost to defeat it. If the Government were to be permitted to employ any remedy it chose for the recovery of moneys due by a State, it would be inconsistent on my part, having regard tomy attitude to the Financial Agreements Enforcement Bill, to support it; but all that the amendment means is that the remedy provided under the Financial Agreements (Commonwealth Liability) Bill, under which the Commonwealth assumes responsibility for interest that a State does not pay, shall not he affected by any other legislation. The amendment is quite legitimate, and may be considered entirely apart from the extreme powers taken under the Financial Agreements Enforcement Bill. The committee is not asked to give the Government power to take any remedy that it may be inclined to adopt. The bill under consideration provides for a sound and judicial method, and I support it.
Question - That the amendment be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 51
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Resolution reported ; report adopted.
– I have much pleasure in moving -
That the bill be now read a second time.
By this measure it is proposed to amend three sections of the War Service Homes Act. Several of the amendments are more or less formal in character, but the proposed amendment of section 36 is of a more important nature. Most honorable members are aware that the War Service Homes Commission has provided homes without requiring the payment of a deposit; in thousands of cases the only deposit requested has been a minimum sum of £10. Such a payment would not provide the margin of security required by a private individual; but the commission felt that it was interpreting the wish of the Government of the day in making homes available to returned soldiers on the best terms possible. Owing to the difficult economic circumstances that have prevailed for some time, a number of purchasers have found themselves unable to meet their obligations, and notwithstanding the sympathy and helpful treatment which has been extended by the Government, some purchasers have vacated the homes provided for them. On the cancellation of the contracts, the commission has acted under regulation 17, and has required payment of the instalments outstanding at the time of the cancellation.
Regulation 17 reads -
The power to cancel a contract of sale on non-payment of instalments is contained in section 36 of the act, which provides -
If at any time any instalment or money payable in respect of any contract of sale or advance under this act, or any part of such instalment or money, is unpaid for three calendar months next after the time appointed for the payment thereof, then, although no legal demand has been made for payment, the commissioner may enter upon and take possession of the land or land and dwelling-house with respect to which the contract of sale was entered into or the advance was made, and may-
Regulation 17 was considered by the Full Court of Victoria to exceed the powers given under paragraph a of subsection 1 of section 36 -
All contracts which have been entered into contain a clause setting out that they are subject to the acts and regulations, but recently theFull Court of Victoria held that regulation 17 was ultra vires. The purpose of the amendment, therefore, is to overcome this defect, and also to validate the action taken since the commencement of the act under section 36 and regulation 17. It does not extend in any way the powers which the commission believed it had, nor does it increase the obligations which applicants assumed when they entered into the contract of sale and purchase. Power similar to that conferred by this amendment is held directly or indirectly by all State housing authorities. The amendment has been drafted in such a way as not to deprive the applicant who contested the regulations of the benefit of the judgment he obtained.
– Is the Minister referring to Davies ?
– Yes. Approximately £10,000 has been collected under regulation 17, and £28,000 is still owing by expurchasers. Applications have been made to the War Service Homes Commissioner for a refund of moneys paid under this regulation, and a validation of such payments by the passing of this amendment is imperative for the protection of the revenue.
At the present time the commission may enter upon a property and carry out the necessary repairs where the purchaser or borrower has failed to do so. Section 31 makes it appear that when the commission enters upon a property in this way, it takes legal possession under the contract or mortgage. This was not intended, and to overcome the difficulty an amendment is proposed.
Every purchaser and borrower under section 31 is required to maintain his property in good order and repair, in order that the security for the loan granted by the commission shall not depreciate. Legal opinion recently obtained discloses that the commission cannot enforce this condition, which is included in every contract and mortgage, unless the purchaser or borrower is actually in possession of the home. If the House accepts the amendment proposed, the commission will be able to carry out necessary repairs to a property of which it is in possession with the object of effecting a re-sale. This power, I understand, is held by housing authorities operating in the Commonwealth, and is very necessary.Honorable members will agree that generally a better sale price, pro rata, can be obtained for a home in good order than for one which requires repairs and renovations. At the present time the property market is so glutted that unless houses are offered in good repair a sale is almost impossible. In some instances the result of making available for inspection a home which is out of repair is to lose a prospective purchaser. The higher the price at which a war service home can be sold, the greater the advantage to the borrower, whose equity is thereby increased accordingly.
– Does not the commission exercise supervision of the houses while the purchasers are in possession ?
– It has power to require an occupier to keep his house in good order and repair, but if he does not do so, and for any reason vacates the home, the commission has no power to effect the necessary repairs. The amendment is definitely in the interests of the soldier occupant. Honorable members may be assured that, if it is accepted, only those works regarded as essential to preserve the security, or to place the property in a reasonable condition for re-sale, will be undertaken.
The act does not give to the commission specific authority to let a property of which it is in possession. The commission endeavours to effect a re-sale, but if a purchaser is not readily available a tenant is placed in the property with the. object of keeping down the accruing liabilities. This action is taken in the interests of the purchaser or borrower concerned. The commission should be empowered to let a house, and the amendment will give it the legal authority to do so.
From time to time the commission has to issue notices to purchasers or borrowers, principally in connexion with the collection of arrears of instalments. Section 43 makes no provision for the service of notices when the purchaser or borrower is deceased; the bill proposes to remove this defect and prescribes the manner in which all notices shall be issued. The amendment, therefore, may be regarded as containing the machinery necessary for the proper administration of the act.
The proposed alterations are designed only to ensure to the commission the right’ to let unoccupied houses, to enable him to serve notices where the purchaser or borrower is deceased, and to restore to him certain other powers he was always understood to possess. No additional obligation is thrown upon the occupiers of war service homes.
– Where the decline in property values has deprived a soldier of his equity, will the Government credit him with any improvements he has effected?
– If the improvements effected by the borrower have increased the value of the home, he will get the benefit of a higher price when the property is sold.
– That has not been so in the past. Will the soldier be credited in future with the increased value given by his improvements when he is dispossessed of his home?
– The value of a property can be determined only by the demand for homes ; any additional value resulting from the improvements will be reflected in the sale price.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Riley) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 9th March (vide page 84.7), on motion by Mr. Fenton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Postmaster-General was generous enough to admit that this bill follows very closely the draft which I was about to present to Parliament prior to the general election. A.s a matter of fact I had actually circulated the draft to party leaders when the unfortunate and entirely unexpected dissolution of Parliament took place last year. I do not propose to deal with the history of broadcasting, which was outlined in a. very interesting manner by the Minister who introduced the bill. A few years ago broadcasting, being a much less important service than it is today, was entirely controlled by private concerns with a few A class stations. Subsequently the Bruce-Page Government arranged to take over from private companies ‘ the then existing stations, and planned to carry out with the abundant funds then at its disposal, an extensive programme of development, which included the establishment of national service stations in different parts of the Commonwealth, particularly the more remote centres. The financial depression caused the Scullin Government to abandon that programme with the exception of certain works definitely planned for immediate undertaking. It was intended to establish up-to-date broadcasting stations in all the capitals; money was provided for the purpose, and tenders were called for the necessary plant. The fifth of the series was the Crystal Brook station in South Australia, and the sixth was the station at Perth. Unfortunately, work on the Perth station was stopped. The order for the plant was cancelled, and the station has not yet been completed. When the decision to cease work on the stations was reached, the Crystal Brook station was so far advanced that it was decided to complete it. The fact that the Perth station remains unfinished has caused a good deal of feeling in Western Australia. Indeed, perhaps as much as anything, it has rankled in the minds of those who talk of secession. Many persons there believe that they are not getting from the Commonwealth the deal to which they are entitled.
The Scullin Government decided that the plant for tlie Perth broadcasting station, instead, of being imported, should be manufactured by the electrical engineers attached to the Postmaster-General’s Department. We made arrangements for the purchase of land on which to place the station, and, as always is the case when sites are being selected, a good deal of trouble was encountered. This was brought about because various technical factors had to be taken into consideration. Apparently, the present Government does not propose to continue the work begun by the last Government. The Minister has said that as soon as funds are available, work will be resumed, but I can assure him that money has been definitely set aside for this purpose.
– Is the policy of manufacturing wireless plant in the department’s workshops being continued?
– I trust so; it was begun., and I hope that it will be continued. Following on the taking over of the private stations, tenders were called for the supply of programmes for a period of three years, the successful tenderer being the Australian Broadcasting Company. It was arranged that this company should receive 12s. from every licence-fee of 24s., 9s. was to go to the Government, and 3s. was to be paid as royalty on the patent rights held, or said to be held, by the Amalgamated Wireless Company. Our Government decided not to renew its con- tract with the Australian Broadcasting Company; but that is not to say that we were dissatisfied with the services rendered. We desired to establish a national system of broadcast control somewhat on the British system. Since I have been in a position to know anything of the matter, I have always maintained that the services provided by the Australian Broadcasting Company were distinctly good. Mi-. Doyle, the chief executive officer of that company, managed it in a highly capable way, and with a large amount of public spirit. It has been said that the proportion of the fees which went to this company appeared to be rather high. I agree with that, and, at the present time, it would amount to £201,500 a year. It has to be remembered, however, that the artists employed by the company received considerably more than half the revenue which went to the company.
Moreover, the company paid to our old friends, the Performing Right Association - concerning whom we all get a little impatient - more than £30,000 a year.
– Is not the Australian Broadcasting Company interested in. the Performing Right Association?
– No ; the Australian Broadcasting Company, as such, is not, but one of the members of the company has an interest in the Performing Right Association. Mr. Doyle, who is the most active spirit in the company, and carries most of the work on his shoulders, approached Mr. Albert, and through him was successful in obtaining a reduction of the fees payable to the Performing Right Association. However, even yet we are not satisfied with the charges made by the association, but we cannot have them reduced by a wave of the hand.
– Could it not be done by legislation?
– As the PostmasterGeneral has pointed out, it is largely a legal matter. Both in Australia and New Zealand, attempts have been made to fight the association, but so far with little success. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) stated by interjection that in Great Britain the performing right fees sire only one-fifth of what they are here.
– I have been since informed by Mr. Edwards, the secretary of the Performing Right Association, that what I said ‘was inaccurate. I shall endeavour to ascertain the facts later.
– The fees charged here seem to be unduly high. This is an international matter, and one difficult to deal with. There is a great deal to be said on behalf of the artists all over the world who copyright their music, and are as much entitled to derive royalties from their work as is an inventor whose idea is covered by a patent. Of course, just how much of the performing right fees goes to the artists has never been made clear.
The fact that the contract with the Australian Broadcasting Company terminated on the 30th June, required our Government to decide upon its future policy for the control of broadcasting.
We had to decide whether we should renew the contract; whether we should call for fresh tenders, or whether it would be better to inaugurate a policy of national broadcasting. Many persons who are not Labour sympathizers, believe that broadcasting is a matter which lends itself peculiarly to some system of national control. It is a great utility, and an important form of entertainment, which enters into the lives of the most remote dwellers in the backblocks, and for that reason should not be made a means of private profit. Our Government, therefore, decided to institute a system of national control.
Frequent complaints have been made regarding the quality of the programmes put on the air by the Australian Broadcasting Company. I am sure, however, that if the honorable members who have voiced that complaint visited one of the company’s studios, and saw there the great number of artists, both Australian and British, they would realize that it was better for us to encourage this system of entertainment than to treat the public to the “ canned “ efforts of foreign artists.
– What sort of artists are employed by the company? Perhaps, the public would be better off without their services.
– Until our local artists are tried out, no one can know what possible genius is in our midst. I have also visited the B-class studios, and can understand why it is said that these stations provide better music than the A-class stations. It is very easily done. At one station I visited there was a local quartette of no great ability, which had volunteered its services, regarding it as an honour to be put on the air. There was also a local comedian who did his turn, after which the operator put on a musical record from the score of “Viennese Nights”. The rest of the evening was taken up with gramophone records. It was rather painful to have to listen to it at close range, but I was told in a town a few miles away that it was a splendid programme. The difference between the B and A class stations is that the one provides chiefly “ canned “ music, while the other provides an opportunity for the development of local talent. Clause 25 of this bill makes provision for the establishment of a national orchestra. That is a most important undertaking, and in itself is a strong argument in favour of inaugurating a system of national broadcasting control.
Some honor able members favour the idea of having the broadcasting stations placed directly under the control of the officers of the postal department. If I could see that the suggestion was practicable, I should endorse it, more particularly if the commission included the present director of postal services. Every one who knows him will agree that he would be in every way suitable for the position. But it would be impossible to attach to this gentleman, in addition to his ordinary duties which he is carrying out with outstanding success, the onerous duties which will be undertaken by the chairman of this commission.
– The ex-member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) is not of that opinion.
– He is turning in his political grave.
- Mr. Eldridge acted according to his convictions, but I think that he would have taken a different attitude had he known the Director-General of Postal Services as well as I do. National broadcasting should be under the control, not of the Postal Department, but of a commission. The bill provides for the appointment of five commissioners - a chairman, a vice-chairman, and three commissioners. The Scullin Government proposed to pay the chairman £1,500per annum, the vice-chairman £500 per annum, and the other commissioners £300 per annum. This bill provides a salary of £500 per annum for the chairman, £400 per annum for the vice-chairman, and £300 per annum for the other commissioners. The Scullin Government had in mind the appointment of a commissioner who would devote the whole of his time to national broad casting, giving service for service sake, and in addition be in direct liaison with the other members of the commission. We could not expect a chairman, at a salary of £500 per annum, to devote his whole time to this work. We have a great task before us. The whole of the twelve national service stations throughout Australia have to be staffed. I do not know whether the existing staff will be taken over, but the new staff must be au fait with the technical side as well as the business side of broadcasting, otherwise there is likely to be a breakdown in the service. There is no doubt that many newspapers in this country, which have vested interests behind them, will be only too eager to criticize this national broadcasting scheme, and, therefore, we should appoint as chairman of the commission, the best man available irrespective of party. The appointment of the general manager rests with the commission, [t is, therefore, essential that we should appoint commissioners who are keen judges of men, and able to gauge their ability and capacity. The general managership is the base on which the edifice of broadcasting will rest. The Postmaster-General is to control the activities of the commission. It will not be able to acquire property which exceeds a value of £5,000, without the consent of the Minister. The commission must also provide studios, offices and other accommodation. Probably the existing studios will be taken over at a fair value. The bill provides that the commission shall not, without the permission of the Minister, transmit or receive for transmission any message the transmission of which would contravene the Post and Telegraph Act or the Wireless Telegraphy Act. The need for that provision is evident, because, if the commission were given a free hand it could seriously interfere with the revenues of the Postal Department, at the same time depriving of employment many highly-skilled postal officers. Clause 22 provides that the commission shall not broadcast advertisements in general. That provision will be welcomed by the great newspapers of Australia. Sub-clause 2 of that clause provides that nothing shall prevent the commission from broadcasting, if it thinks fit, sponsored programmes. That is a wise provision. Easy money is at present being made by some of the B class stations in the capital cities, from the broadcasting of sponsored programmes by the Shell Oil Company, and other firms. In these cases the only advertisement used is announced at the beginning of the programme.
– The words- “ Shell Oil “ are mentioned about every two minutes.
– The Minister has evidently not listened to sponsored programmes. The B class stations, in their programmes intersperse items with advertisements relating to sox, cough cure, lip sticks, and other things, the broadcasting of which would demean a national service. Therefore, the bill restricts the national service stations’ to advertising in the form of sponsored programmes. It is not right that the B class stations situated in thickly populated centres should be able to take the cream of the funds available for advertisement purposes, at the same time lowering the standard of their programmes. It has been complained that there are too many weather reports from the national service. As a matter of fact it is most essential that the people in the country should have the latest meteorological information. The B class stations suit the people who prefer modern syncopated music, such as the “ Kentucky Bunny Hug “ or items like the “ Two Black Crows “. A national service station must aim at a high standard. Clause 24 is designed to give encouragement to the development of local talent. Clause 25 provides that the commission shall endeavour to encourage the rendition of orchestra], choral and band music of high quality. If by means of this legislation we establish an orchestra such as that brought into being by the British Broadcasting Company, we shall have more than justified this innovation. When the Scullin Government was considering legislation similar to this, it was approached by persons of musical and artistic attainments who asked that their interests should be represented on the commission. This Government proposes to overcome that difficulty by providing that the commission may appoint committees to advise it on all matters in connexion with the provision or rendition of broadcasting programmes. That will enable persons of talent and special knowledge to co-operate with the commission in an. effort to improve the standard of the national broadcasting service. The bill provides that debentures may be issued, (he amount being limited to £50,000 at any one time. The hill has been tightened up by placing upon the commission the obligation to refer certain matters to the Minister. I trust that the Government will exercise proper control of national broadcasting without hampering tie commission with red tape, which, of course, is not actually used in the Public Service. The man outside the Service always considers that he can do a better job than the man inside it. In fact there are thousands of people outside this House who believe that they could represent the Federal constituencies much better than we do; but I am sure no honorable member will agree with this opinion. Another important provision gives power to the Minister to prohibit the commission from broadcasting any matter.
If that power is used wisely it will he beneficial; if unwisely used, it will prove disastrous.
I am almost entirely in agreement with the bill, but I should like to be quite sure what will be the duties of the Commissioners. I hope that those selected will be of undoubted integrity, and that they will be people who have not been too prominently associated with Nationalist politics.
The Governnent cannot hope that this bill will pass through both Houses, and particularly the Senate, without being subjected to a storm of criticism. I predict that the storm centre will be the sponsored programmes. Other issues may be introduced merely as decoys. I hope that the Government will not submit to dictation in this matter. Our metropolitan B class stations are strongly entrenched. One has only to be a Minister i.n control of broadcasting to know that. Immediately a change of policy is indicated, the Minister is inundated with suggestions from interested parties. I hope that the Government will not give way to this class which already holds special privileges.
– All B class stations are not controlled by vested interests.
– I know that the Sydney Trades Hall has no vested interests; it is stony broke. And that is more or less the position of the Melbourne Trades Hall.
– There are other B class stations which are not associated with vested interests.
– I am aware of that, and I shall not quarrel with the honorable member on that issue. He must know that some B class stations are controlled by newspaper combines, which use them to broadcast only one political opinion. I had hoped that the air would be free to all, and that at election time every party would be given an opportunity to express its opinions over the air. Unfortunately that has not been our experience. Certain newspaper combines are endeavouring to obtain a monopoly of B class stations, and I sound the note of war.ning that sooner or later some government will have to tackle the very difficult, but necessary task of dealing with, the problem of metropolitan B class stations. Nothing short of a complete national scheme will do. In Great Britain there are no B class stations; there broadcasting has been brought under national control. For reasons, which I cannot at present traverse, that cannot yet be done in Australia. I admit that country B class stations are performing a useful service, in many cases at a loss to those concerned. My objection is against the operation of chains of newspapers such as that which is obtaining such a stranglehold over the eastern part of Victoria, and disseminating its propaganda through the stations that it controls. There are also other big corporations that are acquiring interests in B class stations by lending money to those who now own them, and shortly a monopoly will come into existence which will be detrimental to the welfare of Australia.
I am pleased that the bill has been introduced. I hope that a national orchestra may be established, and that the operation of the measure may bring into being a national broadcasting service, whose standard will equal that of the existing service. I wish the bill a speedy passage, and express the hope that there may be no alteration in the matters to which I have drawn attention after it leaves this House.
– All will agree with the last speaker that the subject-matter of this bill is of vital importance to the people of Australia. It would be almost impossible to exaggerate the value of broadcastingor to set limits to. its- sphere of influence. In. one or other of its many forms, wireless has revolutionized the world, and will continue to do so. It has banished isolation and annihilated distance, and by bringing more closely together the nations of the world, and removing misunderstanding, between their peoples, it has made the first substantial step towards world peace. It has done incalculable service to the Empire. Associated with the Beam service, it has made Empire government, at. last possible. Our voice can now be heard in every other dominion, and we, in turn, can hear theirs.
In introducing the measure, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Fenton) indulged in what he seemed to regard as an eulogistic fantasy of the future of broadcasting. Yet his remarks fell far short of the prosaic facts; the influence of broadcasting can hardly be expressed in words. It has permeated’ every phase of human activity, national, social and economic, and has opened to us almost unlimited vistas. Australia is a democracy. Whether it be well or ill governed must depend entirely upon the character of its people, and broadcasting furnishes the most potent and flexible agency for their education in every avenue of human activity. In the arts, in music, in science, in general knowledge, its influence is far-reaching. When we consider our difficulties as a democracy, difficulties aggravated by our isolated position,, we must welcome the advent of broadcasting. Therefore, in considering a measure for the better utilization of this incalculable boon, we must determine whether the machinery proposed to be set up is likely to function for benefiting the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) spoke almost unreservedly in favour of the bill. We are to conclude, therefore, that he regards this machinery as satisfactory. But, curiously enough, it is his opinion - unshared, I fear, by our people of Australia - that the existing system of broadcasting control in Australia is also satisfactory. Surely the answer to those who contend that the existing system is satisfactory is that the measure before us has been introduced t® put am end to it. My remarks, of course. are confined: to the control of the A class stations.
This bill purports to provide for a governing council on the lines; of the British Broadcasting Corporation. I wish that I could think that it did so-. Here and there one can see some superficial! resemblance to the British Broadcasting Corporation ; but, in essence, wehave in it only on exceptionally paleshadow of that corporation. I agree with the Minister that the British Broadcasting Corporation has been an unqualified’ success. It weald be difficult to exaggerate tha influence for good that that corporation has had upon the people of Great Britain. There was never a time in the history of the Mother Country or of the world when it was so desirable that there should be such a convenient, flexible instrumentality for informing and moulding public opinion.
The underlying principle in the control of wireless by the British Broadcasting Corporation is complete independence of outside control. Wireless in Great Britain is not the plaything of any political party. It is not controlled by any chain of newspapers, such as that referred to by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green); it is not subjected to the influence of capitalistic interests. The initial step taken in Great Britain to control wireless was one natural to a people gifted with a genius for self-government. The importance of broadcasting was clearly recognized ; the best men available for its control were sought, and it is now generally admitted that those selected were men of great ability and ripe judgment. In Sir John Reith, an ideal man for the position of chairman, was found.. Having found the- man, the Government placed full authority in his hands.
– And a full pay envelope, not a mere £500 a year !
– What the British people did in regard to wireless, we have done in regard to other things. We have realized, in other connexions, that if we want the best service, we must be prepared to pay for it. Britain paid for the best type of man, and she has got it. Surely, it cannot be supposed that this supremely important agency for the moulding of the character of the people, the educating of public opinion, the elevation of the taste of the community, and the recreating of spiritual impulses, can be entrusted to a board of men who give to it only their spare time. I believe that I am re-echoing the opinion of the great majority of our people when I say that we are profoundly disappointed with the proposals of the Government. It must be apparentthat the success of thenew era of wireless on which we are said to be entering depends almost wholly on the personnel of this commission.Can any one imagine that a mere change from Mr. Stuart Doyle, actingas Mr. Stuart Doyle, to Mr. Stuart Doyle, acting as chairman of a broadcasting commission, is likely to have a miraculous effect? There is no virtue in a commission qua commission. We must get the right man for this important position. The right man was secured in England. It was not known at the time that he was the right man, but he has certainly proved himself to he so. No one in Britain to-day would dream of going back to the unco-ordinated, unsystematized method of conducting broadcasting which was in operation prior to the creation of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
This bill stands condemned because it proposes to place broadcasting in the hands of men who, ex hypothesi, are mediocrities. Only mediocrities could be obtained for ‘the salaries proposed. I say deliberately that the influence of this broadcasting commission upon the community will rank in importance with that of our education department,, and our universities. Broadcasting will be more potent in reaching out to the distant parts of this great country, and in exerting an influence for good or for evil, than any other agency, including our educational system and ouruniversities.
– Nonsense !
– No one will deny that as an educational factor broadcasting supplements the activities of our education departments. Yet is it proposed that this supremely important work shall be placed in the hands of a committee of five persons whose combined salarieswill amount to only £1,800 a year. The hon- orable member for Kalgoorlie gave us an apt illustration when he asked whether people outside could do our job better than we could do it ourselves. If that question were submitted to us for discussion, we should witness a demonstration of unanimity the like of which had not previouslybeen manifested in this Parliament. If it is worth £800 a year, or £1,000 a year, to represent one constituency in this Parliament, can it be supposed that £500 a year is an adequate remuneration for theman in whose hands will be placed the great instrument of wireless, which can do so much for the welfare of the nation?
– It is only about the salary of a union secretary.
– When I was a union secretary, I did not receive even that amount. I am profoundly disappointed with this bill. We were given to understand that the measure would be modelled on the British system of control. But it would be a mockery to compare the commission which the Government proposes to set up with the British Broadcasting Corporation. Our commissioners are to be paid a beggarly pittance.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie gave the case away when he said that the Postmaster-General’s Department would really control wireless. It is perfectly natural that a person with my history should favour government control of important public utilities; but political control of broadcasting would be disastrous.
– That is not proposed.
– It is not proposed in so many words, but that is what the bill does. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Fen ton) is in office to-day, because the party with which he is connected was returned to power with an overwhelming majority; but surely the honorable gentleman’s memory will carry him back two years and compel him to think of the uncertainties of political life. Political control of wireless means controlby Mr. Fenton to-day and by Mr. Green tomorrow.
– That is notthe object of thebill.
– But it will be the effect of it.
– Either of us would do thework well.
– That is not the point. We have to face the fact that our appro- val of this bill will mean the political control of wireless. What we want is a commission entirely independent of political control. We want an independent control. This bill proposes to place the control of this vitally important agency for the moulding of public opinion and the advancement of general knowledge in the hands of five persons, none of whom may possess the qualifications necessary to discharge the highly important duties which will devolve upon them.
Let us look at what this commission will have to do. In the first place, it will have to control revenues amounting to £400,000 per annum.
Mr.Fenton. - Only half that amount of revenue will be available to the commission.
– It is vitally important to the Treasury, not only that the existing revenue shall be maintained, but that an increased revenue shall be earned through this agency. If the revenue is to be increased, the commission will be required to provide attractive programmes, and to demonstrate the utility of broadcasting. It will have to earn the revenue before it can spend it; and to earn it, it will have to provide good programmes.
– The general manager and his staff will do that.
– Then why have a commission ?
– There is something Gilbertian about this whole proposal. A chairman is to be appointed at £500 a year, a vice-chairman at £400 a year, and three other commissioners at £300 a year each ; but on the Minister’s own confession, they will not draw up the programmes. They will merely appoint a general manager, whose salary will, no doubt, be greatly in excess of the remuneration of the five of them.
– Amalgamated Wireless Limited is operating under this plan today.
– That has nothing whatever to do with the subject.
– The Commonwealth Bank is managed by a Board of Directors.
– The Governor of the bank is really the manager of it. I shall not be a party to the adoption of a policy which deliberately vests control of this great agency in the hands of mediocrities. Men of first-class ability are wanted for this commission. The Postmaster-General has suggested that the general manager will draw up the programmes.
– I did nothing of the kind.
– That was my understanding of the statements made by the honorable gentleman in his speech, and in his interjection a few minutes ago.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.
– The Minister, by way of interjection, said that the commission would not draw up the programmes. Therefore, as broadcasting will be successful or unsuccessful according as programmes are suited to the tastes of the people and the circumstances of this country, it follows that the commission is not to do the very thing for which the control of broadcasting is desirable and necessary. I shall, however, point to some of the clauses of this bill which seem to be in conflict with what the Minister has said. I direct his attention to clause 16, which contains these words -
The commission shall undertake the provision and rendition of adequate and comprehensive programmes for broadcasing.
I do not know what interpretation the honorable gentleman places upon those words, which seem to me to be unambiguous and free from possibility of misunderstanding. To the ordinary man, they mean that the commission is to draw up the programme, yet the Minister says that it is not to do so. Clause 24 states -
The commission shall, as far as possible, give encouragement to the development of local talent and endeavour to obviate restriction of the utilization of the services of persons who, in the opinion of the commission, are competent to make useful contributions to broadcasting programmes.
There it would appear that the commission is given authority to deal with matters directly incidental to the drawing up of programmes. The Minister, however, says that the commission is not given such authority, and when we inquire “then who is?” he replies “the general manager.” Whenever he gets into difficulties he falls back upon the general manager. This person who, in the beginning, was an obscure and vague outline, now takes the very centre of the stage, and on him is directed the full force of the spot light. Thus a bill to create a commission we find to be only an instrument for appointing a general manager. That was not the presentation of the case by the Minister in his secondreading speech. We were under the impression that the commission, although inadequately paid, was to render in its spare time invaluable services to the community. By its wise and far-seeing control of broadcasting, it was to make possible the Utopian condition which the Minister spoke of last evening.
As the honorable gentleman introduced this measure to substitute for the present control of broadcasting, a system which in its very nature is intended to cure the defects from which the present system suffers, we are at a loss to understand what it is that the honorable gentleman has in his mind. His continuous references to the “British Broadcasting Corporation seem to be so much beating the air. As I pointed out, there is nothing in this measure which is analogous to the system under which the British Broadcasting Corporation operates. That is an independent authority free from all political control. The party that supports the present Government was returned, I thought, to encourage private enterprise. I may be wrong, of course, but I was certainly under that impression. Yet political control is the very basis of this measure. That may be an excellent thing, but it is capable of tremendous possibilities.
– Political control is neither an excellent thing, nor the basis of the bill. Even the British Broadcasting Corporation bus its programmes director.
– The Minister has evidently not read the bill; but that is easily understood, because we gathered from the remarks of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) that this measure was evidently prepared under the direction of the PostmasterGeneral in the last Government. I call attention to sub-clause 1 of clause 5, winch states -
For the purposes of this act, there shall be a commission, to be known as the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which shall be charged with the general administration of this act, subject to such directions (if any) as are from time to time given by the Minister.
Have those words any meaning? Perhaps they were not included in the text of the measure drafted by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie ; but the sub-clause certainly gives the Minister power to direct the policy of the commission. The Minister tells us that the commission really has no authority at all, and, consequently, can have no policy; it is the general manager who exercises the authority. When we come to the general manager we find that the Minister can direct him as to what he shall do. If that is not meant by the words that 1 have quoted, what do they mean?
We find in the bill the term “ sponsored programme “. This is a new phrase possessing the mellifluous fullness of that blessed word Mesopotamia. What is a sponsored programme? I speak subject to correction, as one must necessarily do in a case like thi3 where the words in a bill mean nothing. A sponsored programme is one for which somebody is responsible. Suppose that a big advertiser wishes to direct the attention of the public to his goods by means of wireless broadcasting. He can make arrangements with an A class station, and the sponsored programme gives him an obvious advantage. He can make arrangements for a programme of good quality, and can then put his advertisements across on the air. Nobody would go to a B class station if he could obtain the use of an A class station for the same price. I thought that the B class station, being run by private enterprise, was, so to speak, sacrosanct from the iconoclastic hands of the Minister. But that is not so. We shall be told, of course, that this sponsored programme will be as rare as a white crow. Under clause 5, of course, that is for the Minister to determine. If the present Government should ever go out of office - and we pray that it may never do that; but if, in the fullness of time, it should cease to exist and another should sit in its place, that other government would determine all the uses to which broadcasting may be put in this country. When we consider clause 5 under which the Minister may direct the commission, and that this’ commission is composed of mediocrities - persons, at any rate, who are to do in their spare time what is required of them - or, if you like, geniuses who in the abundance of their knowledge and energy will be able in their spare time by a mere wave of the hand to do all which ordinary men could hardly do in a full day, we are filled with apprehension. The commissioners are to be mere puppets; their control is illusory. They are all to be subject, of course, to the general manager, who in turn is to We subject to the Minister. That appears to me to make it perfectly plain, first of all, that this commission is not to control broadcasting, but is to be controlled by the Postmaster-General’s Department, not habitually, but when the Minister deems it necessary. So long as these commissioners - men of straw - do as the department wishes, there will be no direction ; but if they do not, then the Minister will “ direct “ them just what they should do. If this is not political control, what is? We hear strange rumours in the land. To-day we were told that Mr. Lang contemplates secession, but yesterday we were informed that he contemplated coming into this House, and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) is believed to be ready, like another John the Baptist, to prepare the way for him. Therefore, we must look forward to the time when Mr. Lang, exercising that potent influence in federal politics that be certainly exerts in the politics of New South Wales, will be sitting in this chamber, and will be able to wield the control contemplated under clause 5. That does not appeal to me. I am entirely opposed to the political control of broadcasting, and I want to see a commission established which will be entirely independent of such control, so that no political party will -be able to use this great public instrumentality for its own purposes. We all, I think, want that. We desire, too, a commission which will command respect, and be composed of men possessing qualities which will ensure that broadcasting shall be used for, not only the entertainment, but also the education of the people. Broadcasting will have a potent influence on speech. That is most desirable, because slipshod speech connotes slipshod thinking. It will, I hope, educate the people to an appreciation of the higher classes of music, and instruct them in literature, science, and general knowledge. It will lend itself to the advancement of industry by disseminating far and wide those processes which from time to time science and expert knowledge are placing at the disposal of our producers, so that all sections will have the advantage of up-to-date information, and expert advice upon matters of first importance to them. But if broadcasting is to do this great and necessary work its control must be vested in a commission composed of men of vision and knowledge. The British Broadcasting Company has achieved wonderful things, but particularly has it exercised a potent influence in raising the musical taste of the people. We want a national orchestra in Australia. It should have been established long ago ; when it is, it will have a direct and powerful influence on the character and spiritual life of our people. We want to encourage native-born talent in drama and music, both vocal and instrumental. To do all these things we must have a comprehensive policy attuned to the circumstances of this country and suited to the times in which we live. We cannot have that unless control of this service is vested in men of the highest capacity ; indeed the very institution itself will depend in the last analysis on the character of the men who control it, and it is most unfortunate that the Government has not made provision for the creation of an independent board of commissioners vested with complete control. The salary and tenure of the commissioners should be such as would attract the most able men in the country. This Parliament should place beyond the power of any government the utilization of broadcasting for partisan purposes. I am the last to suggest that the views of political parties should not reach the people by air, but the manner in which this should be done should be determined, not by political partisans, but by an entirely independent body. While the B class stations continue to operate there will be no need for any special provision for political propaganda through the A class stations.
I am profoundly disappointed with this measure. I cannot conceive that it will create those conditions which are desirable in the control of broadcasting. The bill is vitiated by cardinal defects, and the Government would be wise to amend it radically on the lines I have indicated. But particularly this House should not be asked to vest the control of broadcasting in a commission which the Minister has declared will have no authority to control programmes, but will be limited to the appointment of a general manager of whom we know nothing, and who, in his turn, will be subject to the direction of the Postal Department, thus making the commission in substance, if not in name, a politically controlled organization.
.- As Postmaster-General I was associated with the inauguration of wireless broadcasting in Australia at a time when the science was comparatively new, and was in operation in very few countries. Such blunders as occurred in the first few years were only to be expected of a huge service that was to serve 3,000,000 listeners. Whatever control we may institute now will be subjected to criticism by millions of people in Australia, and it will be impossible to satisfy the wishes and tastes of everybody. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has stated that the scheme propounded by the Government bears not the faintest resemblance to the British Broadcasting Corporation. We cannot expect that it will do so for many years. If the twelve national broadcasting stations in Australia were situated in Victoria, broadcasting only within that State, and enjoyed an annual revenue of £2,000,000, the people of Victoria could have a service almost equal to that in the United Kingdom. But Australia’s twelve stations are separated by thousands of miles, and are endeavouring to serve, amongst others, outback communities nearly 3,000 miles distant from them.
The main purpose of this bill is to transfer wire-less broadcasting from private control to a board, and I agree with the right honorable member for North
Sydney that that body should be free of political control. I had seven years experience of administration of the Postal Department, and I know the trouble that broadcasting involves. Broadcasting should be as free from political control as the Commonwealth Bank. is. If we keep the broadcasting board as independent as the Commonwealth Bank Board, it will be able to function for the benefit of all sections throughout Australia. In transferring from private control to a public board, the Government proposes that the profits earned by the service shall be paid into a fund,, which, I hope, will be ear-marked for use by the board in the extension of its operations. Scores of people in Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and even Tasmania cannot receive wireless programmes to-day. What the profits of the system will be we cannot estimate. The balance-sheets of the private companies for the last two years show that they lost £4,000 in one year, and made £6,000 in another year, but we do not know what their overhead charges were, and what payments were made to directors and staff. Prom every listener’s fee 12s. is to be paid to the board for broadcasting purposes, and I am sure that these payments will accumulate a large fund, to be used, I trust, to establish new stations in distant centres for the service of people who receive only a weekly or fortnightly mail.- Because of the curtailment of train services during the last three years, wireless is the only means by which the country people can obtain daily news of the outside world. The district in which I live is fairly advanced, and had enjoyed a daily mail for 52 years, but now on three days of the week we have to rely on wireless news. I trust that the new service will he operated in such a manner as to relieve- this isolation of the men outback.
The bill proposes that the chairman of the board shall receive a salary of £500, the deputy chairman ‘£400, and tlie other members £300 each. The right honorable member for North Sydney has found fault with this remuneration as inadequate. I remind him that the directors will n&t be full-time servants of the Commonwealth, hut will attend meetings of the board when required, as the directors of the Commonwealth Bank do. Sir
Robert Gibson, who is practically the financial adviser of Australia, receives only £800 a year. The function of the board will be to prescribe the lines on which the system shall be operated, and upon the manager, a full-time officer, will devolve the responsibility of carrying out that policy. If the Government is wise in its choice of directors, the scheme will operate successfully, and I hope that no man will be chosen who has a bias towards any particular broadcasting section. The directors should be business men, who will regard the wireless system as a commercial undertaking, intended to give service throughout the length and breadth of Australia. Doubtless in time television will be in operation. The Postmaster-General predicted that in the near future people will be able to see from their own firesides horse-racing, and other public events. The day is not far distant when a page of a newspaper will be transmitted, and persons in the Northern Territory will, by merely operating a switch, be able to read the news of the day published in Melbourne or Sydney. The general manager will require to have special organizing ability, and some understanding of public opinion. One section of the public wants to hear on Saturday afternoons nothing but horse-racing, which to another considerable section is abhorrent. Any mau who endeavours to satisfy both sections must fail.
Clauses 17 and 18 empower the commission to distribute certain publications. That is essential, and I hope that the programmes issued by the organization will state in detail the times at which the various items will be broadcast. Persons who do not subscribe to the magazines published by the broadcasting companies to-day have to rely on the newspaper advertisements, which state merely that between stated hours certain items will be broadcast. A farmer cannot afford to sit at his receiving set for several hours to get the weather forecast or the market reports. The right honorable member who referred to the sponsored programmes provided for in clause 22, seems to think that they were some form of advertising stunt. I take it that sponsored programmes are those provided by business firms at their
Ifr. Gibson. own cost, the firms being permitted only to state that they are responsible for the programmes. Unless steps are taken to control the activities of B class stations, it would be possible for one of them to secure for, say, £3,000 the exclusive right to broadcast, a test cricket match between English and Australian elevens, and the A class stations could not then broadcast a word about it except as a news item. The B class stations would also obtain control of broadcasting from all the racecourses in the country. The right to broadcast the results from Flemington might be acquired by one company for £3,000 or £4,000, and all other stations would be excluded. This sort of thing must be guarded against, and the provision with regard to sponsored programmes is designed to that end. No detailed advertising would be permitted, but merely a statement that the programme was provided by a certain company.
Only a year or two ago, the United States of America, which has no national broadcasting system, had altogether 700 broadcasting stations. They got into such a mess that it was found necessary to cancel the licences of 400 stations. Even now the service there is not so good as is provided in Australia. I agree with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green), that the position in regard to B class stations is unsatisfactory. Some time ago licences were granted to 46 B class stations, and no other person or company may now receive a licence, because no wave length can be allotted. That is not fair. It is not right that the first 46 applicants should have the exclusive right to operate B class stations. I have nothing against these stations ; many of them are excellent; but no government should give a few licence-holders a monopoly of this service. Some of them are making so much money that they do not know what to do with it, while others, situated in country districts where they can obtain little or no advertising, are not doing well. Many of the B class stations provide good programmes, but. their power is so weak that they cannot be heard in country districts during the day time, though at night they can be picked up well. The licences granted to B class stations are limited to three years, and it might be a good idea to call fresh applications every three years. Considerable revenue might accrue to the department in this way. It is not fair that two or three newspapers which, in the early stages of broadcasting, acquired licences to operate B class stations, should have a monopoly of this work to the exclusion of all others.
The news service provided at present over the wireless is not so satisfactory as it might be. The newspapers are merely giving to the people over the air what they put on their posters as an inducement to the public to buy their papers. It is very nearly as sketchy and limited as that. A good news service should be provided for the benefit of the thousands of licence-holders in country districts, many of whom receive their mail only once a week. The commission ought to be able to take steps to improve the news service. If the newspapers are not prepared to give a better service, the commission might establish its own news service for the benefit of licence-holders.
I do not think that the present licencefee of 24s. is too much. That fee is divided into three parts; 12s. is to go to the broadcasting division, and I feel sure that the commission ought to be able to carry on with that and have something over. Out of the 12s. which the commission is to receive, it must pay performing right fees. What that will come to nobody seems to know. To the ordinary person, the charge made by the Performing Eight Association seems preposterous, and I trust that the Government will take action to limit the charges which this association may make in respect of rights which, in many instances, it may not, perhaps, possess.
The post office receives 9s. out of each licence-fee, in return for which it provides technical services involving sometimes considerable sacrifice. The department must supply telephone facilities all over Australia for relaying purpose. Programmes broadcast in Victoria may be relayed to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, and even Perth. These relays sometimes involve t he use of 3,000 miles of wire. Over such long distances a complicated system is employed, comprising the use of valves and repeaters at various points along the line. Large staffs are also required, and while the broadcast is in progress, the telephone lines are not available for ordinary purposes, and the department loses revenue in consequence.
The remaining 3s. of the licence-fee goes to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited.
– What for?
– It is very hard to say. During the last four years, this company has received £52,000 a year.
– Did not the company buy the patent rights in the first instance for £4:0,0001
– I do not know what it paid for them, but I know that those patent rights are valued in the company’s own books at £90,000. An agreement was entered into between the Government and the Amalgamated Wireless Company in 1927 in respect to royalties for patent rights, and one clause of that agreement is as follows : -
The company agrees to prosecute as expeditiously as possible to judgment the actions which have already been instituted by it in Australia for infringement of patent rights, which actions it is agreed are for infringement of patent rights substantially important in connexion with wireless broadcasting.
The action which was pending at that time was against David Jones and Company of Sydney. The company lost that case, which was to test the validity of certain patents. Therefore, that action did not assist the company to establish its claim to draw royalties. I admit that it lost the case on a technical point, but, nevertheless, it lost. The company was then supposed to take action against the Government of New Zealand, which had put itself in the place of its people, and said that if the company was going to sue anybody in New Zealand, it must site the Government. The company then proceeded against Myers’ Emporium in Melbourne. This firm said that it was not going to defend the action. It took the “view that it did not matter to it whether it won or lost the case, as the Government had entered into an arrangement with the Amalgamated Wireless Company to pay royalites in respect of all patent rights. The Amalgamated Wireless Company was given a verdict by default. The company had already begun an action against the Government of New Zealand, but, in view of the fact that it had won so easily against Myers’, it withdrew the action against New Zealand.
I am anxIous to know whether the patent rights claimed by the Amalgamated Wireless Company really exist. The agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the company was entered into for a term of years, which will expire in November next. The Government has the right to cancel the agreement by giving twelve months’ notice. I should like to know whether the last Government, or the present Government, gave the company the necessary notice to terminate the agreement. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will take steps to determine definitely whether or not the Amalgamated Wireless Company possesses the rights it claims. Already it has received from the Government, in royalties, £165,000, in respect of alleged rights valued at only £90,000. The managing director of the company, Mr. Fisk, in a recent speech reported in the Melbourne Age, claimed that his company was just such another as that in which Disraeli purchased shares on behalf of Great Britain. He compared the action of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who obtained an interest in the Amalgamated Wireless Company on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, with that of Disraeli, who bought for Great Britain a controlling interest in the Suez Canal Company.. Disraeli’s purchase gave Britain control of the waterways of the world; Mr. Hughes’ purchase gave rite Commonwealth an important measure of control over the airways of the world. In this speech, which was a most admirable one from the point of view of Mr. Fisk, he said, “During the past year we have handed over to the Commonwealth £117,000 “, and he led his hearers to believe that the Commonwealth had benefited to this extent at the expense” of the company. But that money represents terminal rates on telegrams and cablegrams which the company was bound to collect just as the cable companies collect rates and hand them to the Government. There is not a shilling of revenue in the whole £117,000 that was earned by Amalgamated Wireless Limited, but that company received £165,000 clear money from the Postmaster-General’s Department for the use of its patent rights.
– Of which half was returned to the Government.
– The licence-fees in Australia provide Amalgamated Wireless Limited with £52,000 per annum, and a glance at the figures prepared by the Auditor-General will show that the Government does not receive half of £52,000, but only £21,000.
– The Government receives half of the profits.
– If Amalgamated Wireless Limited were to close its doors, dismiss all its employees, and allow the post office to pay this money into its banks, the Government would receive £30,000 per annum. That is the difference. The Government is associated with an undertaking that must be making a considerable loss on its manufacturing side. No member of the Government nor anybody on this side of this House stands for government enterprise competing against private enterprise, yet that is exactly what is happening to-day in respect of the operations of the Amalgamated Wireless Limited.
– It is turning out a good article.
– I am saying nothing about that. This company has a monopoly of wireless transmission overseas and a concession in rates of 20 per cent., which enables it to obtain practically the whole of the wireless traffic overseas. It pays nothing for that concession.
– Is the honorable member referring to the Beam system?
– Yes. At one time the British Government operated the Beam system in Great Britain, but when the Imperial Communications Company took over the cables it paid Great Britain £250,000 annually for the right to-operate the Beam system. The Amalgamated Wireless Limited have a similar concession for nothing, and it is the most profitable side of its business. If it were to carry on broadcasting, with its revenue of £60,000, and the profits on the Beam system, the Government, as a partner in the concern, would be on a good wicket, but as the position is to-day, the only inference one can draw is that Amalgamated Wireless Limited is making a huge loss on its manufacturing side, notwithstanding that there is a total embargo on the importation of wireless sets.
– That is not so.
– That is my view. The urgency of this bill must be apparent to every honorable member. The commission is to be appointed to take control of national broadcasting, and to start operations on the 1st July. It has no organization, and has issued no programmes. It has nothing with which to make a start on the 1st July. It is absolutely essential, therefore, to appoint at once a manager and the staff to provide the programmes. The public must be acquainted with the nature of the programmes at least one month before operations commence. It is not an easy task to get together a huge staff at such short notice.
I agree in the main with this bill. Several alterations might be made to it in committee. It is essential to take the control of this undertaking out of the hands of the Minister.
– The British Cabinet has jurisdiction over the British Broadcasting Corporation.
– I believe that the system proposed in Australia is similar to that of Great Britain, except that the commission here will be advised by the Minister, which should not be so.
– The honorable member would be surprised to know the power that the British post office has over the British Broadcasting Corporation.
– I want a control like that which this Government exercises over the Commonwealth Bank Board to be exercised in this instance. That control is negligible. I hope that this undertaking will soon commence operations, and will be successful. I hope that it will stand to the sponsored programmes. That is absolutely essential if we are to safeguard national broadcasting. I feel sure that the commission will be able to get together a. staff which will give to Australia a better service than before. I am not complaining about the present service. We view it from different stand-points. What satisfies one does not satisfy another. I trust that the Government will provide sufficient money to enable the commission so to extend its operations as to enable the whole length and breadth of Australia to be well served by this national broadcasting system.
– I followed closely the opening remarks of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). He went to some pains to stress the value of wireless to mankind. For instance he said it had been responsible for the creation of a measure of peace throughout the world. It would be difficult to substantiate that statement at the moment, because there is more trouble in the world to-day than there has been for many years. No doubt the idea of the right honorable member was that wars between nations had been minimized, because of the fact that they could make contact more readily than before. But that apparently is not having much influence in the East to-day, although there is wireless there as well as in other parts of the world. There is no doubt about the value of wireless in respect of conferences that have taken place between nations, particularly at the International Labour Office. There, because of the system of transmitting a speech to the delegates by means of headphones, they can follow it, although they cannot understand the language. I appreciate the value of that system, because after all, it is not always what one says, but the way in which one says it that has the most effect. I. quite agree that in the discussion of matters in conferences between nations, the broadcasting system to which I have referred has its value. The bill places a great responsibility upon the commission, and with that I agree. The last speaker stressed the point that the members of the commission should have special business training; but I am satisfied that that is not the only qualification that is needed. The men who will be called upon to undertake this work must have vision, must understand art, and be able to create a public taste which will tend to lift the intellectual life of the community to a higher plane. I am given to understand that this has been accomplished in large measure under the system adopted in Great Britain. Therefore, it is clear that, if we are aiming at a high standard, there will be some difficulty in making a choice of the members of the commission. We have heard a good deal about political control, particularly during the last twelve or eighteen months, and I am satisfied that the expression is used largely for the purpose of bolstering up the arguments of the opponents of Labour. I have heard much about the Commonwealth Bank Board, but I have attended a meeting at which members of the Bank Board were present, and one member particularly expressed the opinion in my presence that he would oppose any proposal ‘emanating from the Labour party. The Minister who is in charge of the bill was present at that meeting. He knows exactly what took place.
– I remember that I threatened to expel the both of you from that meeting.
– Usually the Government that appoints a commission is able to have its political opinions reflected in the actions of that body. Every man who if. competent to undertake this work has certain political views, and any decision given by him would be biased by those views, irrespective of what his intention might be. I have no objection to power being placed in the hands of the Minister. I honestly believe that the opinion of the people should be reflected in the operation of a great national institution such as this. The policy of to-day will not be the policy, probably, of three years hence. As the nation develops, so the opinion of the people is reflected in the governments that are elected from time to time, and any national undertakings under governmental control are in that way kept abreast of modern thought and opinion. The last Government exercised political control in respect of broadcasting at the general election. My complaint is that every party, with the exception of the party which I represent, was given an opportunity to use the A class stations in the various States. Certain times were set down for them. Even the leaders of the parties in the States were given an opportunity to broadcast messages to the people. We were deprived of that privilege, but, thanks to the B class stations, we did have an opportunity to get into touch with some of the people. Much has been said about the B class stations being controlled by vested interests.’ It is quite likely that great newspapers are controlling some of these stations. But, if my memory serves me well, when the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) was Postmaster-General in another administration, and had the task of allocating B class licences, he gave the most important one in South Australia to the Advert ker , which is associated with the Melbourne Herald. So tl] r.t the disposal of licences is generally in the hands of the Government.
I shall not support those who condem the part that is played by B class stations. It is my opinion that they are providing better programmes than those supplied by A class stations. I know that from personal experience, as I have a wireless set and prefer the programmes of the B class stations. Incidentally, I interjected when a reference was made to the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. That organization turns out one of the finest sets produced in Australia. lt has done splendid pioneering work, and great credit is clue to it. Whatever losses it may have sustained have been justified by the results obtained. . I believe that nine out of twelve persons who own wireless sets tune in to B class in preference to A class stations.
– How does the honorable member know?
– We all have our friends, and on occasion we visit them. I have formed that opinion from personal observation. B class stations do not receive any licence fees, and have to build up their revenue in other way?. I point out that there are other stations in New South Wales besides SKY which are not run simply for the purpose of making money. Many of those stations have experienced pretty bad times, and the criticism that has been levelled at them is unjustified. I object to any action by the Government that is designed to prevent B class stations from disseminating knowledge in the community. After all, there are other matters besides politics which interest people, and in the majority of cases the A class stations will not broadcast suck subjects. B class stations are doing u great service, and they should have the support of honorable members. Any attempt to curtail the activities of those stations is unwarranted, and I am not disposed to support it. The Labour B class station in New South. Wales has been the means of disseminating opinions supported by a large section in that State, and I should be false to my own convictions and to those who have developed that station if I lent myself to any scheme designed to curtail its activities.
The committee of 2KY appear to be the only people who were prepared to put up any kind of fight against the Performing Bight Association. Por some time they held it at bay, and endeavoured to induce different Federal Governments to relieve broadcasting companies of the excessive burden imposed upon them by the Performing Bight Association-
– What is the basis of the charges made by that organization?
– I have not the figures, but I was expecting to obtain them before this debate came on. Last night the right, honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) intimated that the Performing Bight Association collected five times more in revenue from Australian sources than it did from any other part of the world.
– The honorable member heard what I said this afternoon on the subject. As soon as I obtain the figures E shall supply them to the committee.
– I have not the figures, and I do not wish to misinform honorable members. The other day I met a gentleman in Canberra who made some comment similar to that of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) indicating that the charges of this organization are out of all proportion, and represent a burden that this country should not tolerate.
– Australia is contributing to the Performing Bight Association an amount equal to that contributed by the rest of the British Empire.
– That is most unfair to our people, and the Government should not hesitate to take steps to rectify the position. The management of 2KY made representations to Mr. Brennan when he was Attorney-General in .an endeavour to have something done, but they were unsuccessful in making him realize the seriousness of the position. At that time SKY was not receiving so much from advertising as it is to-day, and it found the burden intolerable. Perhaps it may not be practicable to include in this measure a provision to deal with that matter, but the Government should introduce legislation along those lines as promptly as possible.
I have no objection to the form of control that is specified in the bill. This is a national undertaking, and it should be controlled in the manner that is intended. Strangely enough we never hear any criticism about political control in connexion with the Defence Department. We do not hear anybody suggest that that department should be handed over to a board consisting of munition workers, the representatives of Vickers, or anybody else. Yet that is just as vital a service as any other.
– It is an excellent example of nationalization.
– Exactly. During the war period, particularly iu Great Britain, steps wore taken to co-ordinate the whole of the social services, and place them entirely under the control of the government of the day. That was done, it was said, in the interests of national safety. I do not remember the right honorable member for North Sydney complaining that that action was political control. As a matter of fact, during the war years he was its greatest advocate. Too much capital is made out of the bogy of political control. Certainly the phrase tickles the ears of the supporters of honorable members opposite.
I believe that this measure is necessary, and I and my party will contribute our part to making it successful. I firmly believe that the success of the undertaking depends entirely upon those who will be appointed to control it. If they possess the proper qualifications, and are not obsessed by cold business considerations, it is quite possible that instead of wireless owners tuning in to B class stations in such large numbers, they will listen-in to A class programmes, with the result , that a great many more licences will be issued and much more money will be collected in revenue from this source.
.- This commission is being launched with the good-will of the people of Australia. In deciding its composition there are two alternative methods from which to choose. One is the appointment of a small commission of experts working full time, and the other is the appointment of a commission in the nature of an advisory board with power to appoint a general manager, who wouldconduct and organize the details of the undertaking. The Government has chosen the latter alternative.
It is obvious that efficiency is essential if the scheme is to be a success. The revenue to be derived from broadcasting will depend largely upon the service that is given to the public. It is the opinion of those engaged in the radio business that, provided that they can substantially improve the present standard of the broadcasting service, they will be able to increase the revenue that is obtained from licence-fees most satisfactorily.
The scheme that has been adopted by the Government suggests to me a possible drawback. Up to the present the broadcasting service that has been made available to people in outlying communities, such as that from which I come, has been much inferior to that enjoyed by those who live in the more populous centres. In Western Australia, particularly, we have been singularly unfortunate. There we have no really effective transmitting station, and it seems improbable that we shall have one for at least another twelve months. The drawback that I see to this project is that it provides such small salaries for the commissioners; that those gentlemen will necessarily live in one or another of the large cities on our eastern coast and their vision will be limited to those centres. I wish to make one or two suggestions in connexion with the personnel of the commission. We have been told that a lady member is to be appointed. I hope that the claims of Western Australia will be considered in this regard, for it may be possible to get a lady from that State who, for £300 a year, will give her whole time to this work. It will not be possible to get a competent man to make this a whole-time position for £300 a year.
– It is not meant to be a whole-time job.
– That is so ; and a competent man would not come from a distant State like Western Australia for this remuneration; but a lady might be induced to do so. Unless something like this can be done, the interests of the distant States are likely to be forgotten under the new scheme as they have been under the present one.
I am glad that provision is being made for the appointment of advisory committees. I hope that the commission will set up such committees in the distant States which it is not able to visit. I trust that the commission will not be overloaded with gentlemen whose commercial interests may influence their decision as commissioners.
I wish to pay a tribute to the excellent work being done by B class stations. In Western Australia we are very much beholden to these stations for the programmes they put on the air, and I hope that more consideration will be given to them than they have had in the past. I am sorry that the advertising field is not being left solely to the B class stations.
The attitude which the commission will adopt towards the Performing Right Association is a matter of great importance. Many complaints have been made about the operations of this association, which, I understand, is a branch of an international organization. It is recognized, of course, that copyright must be protected, and I am not prepared to accept, without investigation, all the allegations that are made against the Performing Right Association. It is alleged, among other things, that the original Performing Right Association obtained a virtual monopoly of copyright of large quantities of music before the value of radio was really understood. We have been told that certain wealthy interests formed themselves into a combination and acquired numerous assignments of rights, and established themselves in an almost unassailable position. It has been said, in defence of this association, that it is simply a co-operative association, and that its profits are distributed among the composers of the music; but we have also been told that the composers merely get the lump sum which is paid for the assignment of rights to the association, and that the profits of the organization are enjoyed solely by the few financial gentlemen who comprise it. These statements should be carefully investigated. It is unfortunately very difficult to ascertain exactly how this association conducts its operations, because it pursues a policy of concealment. It will not declare where it stands or what copyrights it holds. It is alleged, also, that the association unfairly charges for chairs at certain entertainments whether they are occupied or not. Producers pay royalties to composers, and the users claim that when they buy the films they buy the music. Still the association levies further toll on the users and will not indicate the music over which it holds rights. The consequence is that users of music are subjected to a kind of blackmail. They cannot find out what music is copyrighted, yet if they perform certain copyright works in ignorance, they are called upon to pay fees or else a writ is issued against them claiming damages and an injunction. This threat is held over small societies and semi-private organizations, which at times, arrange concerts or entertainments to provide funds to maintain their activities. Sometimes a small charge is made for admission to such performances for the purpose of covering legitimate expenses, and the organizers subsequently find themselves called upon to pay heavy fees. A pianist may play only one copyright piece in an evening, but this is sufficient to involve the organizers of the entertainment in legal proceedings if they do not accede to the demands of the Performing Right Association.
Unfortunately, our Copyright Act does not make registration compulsory. If registration were compulsory, people would know where they stood, and they could, if they desired, avoid the performance of copyright music. I do not think that ‘ the position in this respect should be left where it is. Performers of musa should be able to ascertain where they stand. Copyright is much more serious than patent rights, because copyright exists during the lifetime of the author and for 50 years thereafter. A great deal of ingenuity has been displayed by the Performing Right Association in reconstructing the music of old masters so as to produce what passes for new compositions. Music which has been in more ot less common use for 20 or 30 years is, in some cases, rewritten and slightly altered so that a new copyright may be obtained. The most outstanding example of this kind of thing is in connexion with the composition “Yes, we have no Bananas To-day”, which, we are told, is a patchwork composed almost entirely of bars taken from great compositions. If the Copyright Act were amended to make registration compulsory, there would be some protection for the people.
I realize that the broadcasting commission will not have power to deal directly with the copyright law, but it should be able to make a review of the existing conditions and recommend alterations to the law. We have been told by representatives of the Government that the copyright law must be handled very carefully because of its international complications. On that ground there is a tendency to leave the subject severely alone, but I do not think that the Australian public will be content to allow things to remain where they are. It is true that Australia is a party to the International Copyright Convention, and “has agreed to protect the rights of composers of other countries in consideration of other countries protecting the rights of our composers; but we are not obliged to do this unconditionally. Though we have agreed to give fair and reasonable protection to the copyright compositions which we receive from other countries, we have not consented to submit to exploitation by an organization like the Performing Right Association.
– I am disappointed in this bill, because it contains three serious weaknesses. These are, first, that the commission to be set up is far too weak to deal effectively with the tremendous interests which will be placed under its control; secondly, that the principle of political control in its worst form is being introduced into broadcasting; and thirdly, that no provision is being made for the establishment and control of B class stations. Although these serious defects will not justify rejection of the bill, they will most certainly justify drastic amendments to it in the committee stage. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Fenton) has invited honorable members to make whatever suggestions they please in regard to broadcasting - he is the first Minister of this Government who has shown any anxiety to meet the wishes of honorable members - so I hope that he will carefully consider any amendments that are proposed to the bill. Compared with progressive European countries and the United States of America, Australia is very backward in the use of wireless broadcasting. There are 4,000,000 wireless listeners-in in Great Britain, and these represent about !0 per cent, of the population, while the !550,000 listeners-in in Australia comprise only about 5 per cent, of our population. This disparity casts a reflection upon this Parliament, and upon successive Commonwealth Governments. I do not particularly blame the present Ministry - it has not been long in office - but the last Government, during two years of the most critical period in the history of wireless, took no action to improve broadcasting facilities. I recognize, of course, that that Government was handicapped by the fact that a certain contract was in force; yet it is regrettable that the numerous exPostmastersGeneral, who are now members of this House, made no serious attempt to take advantage of the educational value of broadcasting.
The public of Australia has not been educated to appreciate high-class programmes. Various ballots taken by newspapers show that the most popular items are band music’ and gramophone records, which cannot be called high-class music. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) stated this evening that certain listeners made a practice of ignoring A class stations, and switching over to the B class stations. I put that down to the fact that the majority of those who listen-in to-day are mainly interested in second-class music, since the B class stations chiefly broadcast gramophone records, and poor records at that. In the last ten or twelve years, various federal governments have failed to rise to their responsibilities in using broadcasting facilities for the education of the people. It may be contended that half the population resides in the capital cities, where most of the listeners are to be found. That is true; but it proves the shortcomings of governments. While successive administrations have allowed broadcasting contractors to cater for the needs of the people in capital cities, they have shamefully neglected the claims of country districts. Most country members will agree that it is almost impossible to obtain good wireless reception in rural districts, and this is mainly because there are only three or four relay stations. The educational value of broadcasting being recognized throughout the world, Australia should not have been so backward as it is to-day in taking advantage of the opportunities offered. Evidently, various Commonwealth Governments have not taken the possibilities of broadcasting seriously.
This Parliament now has its first opportunity to deal with this subject, which is of vast importance to the people, and yet we are presented with a weak bill. In many respects it shirks the main issues. In the first place, the commission, which we were told was to be a replica of the British Broadcasting Corporation, is to be the weakest thing imaginable. The Minister has contradicted himself. He said that we were to follow the lines laid down by the British body, and yet the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), who is an ex-Postmaster-General, reiterated the Minister’s statement that we have a long way to go before doing what has been accomplished by the British Commission. If it is desirable that the new system of commission control should resemble the British pattern, we should try to copy it as closely as possible immediately. Why should we remain ten years behind the times? The honorable member for Corangamite remarked that it was practically impossible for us to adopt the British system. Then why does the Minister say that under this measure we are copying Great Britain so far as possible? The Minister referred in his speech to the high capacity of the gentleman in control of the British com- mission; but bow cau we hope to obtain the services of a highly-qualified gentleman to act as chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission when the suggested remuneration is only £500 per annum? This gentleman will be required to control broadcasting for the next five years, during which period enormous developments may take place; even television may be found practicable. The deputy chairman is to receive £400 per annum, and the other members of the commission £300 per annum. It is said that the commission will not have a whole-time job; but I submit that broadcasting is one of the most important enterprises in Australia to-day, and the commission should devote practically the whole of its time to the development of this system in the interests of the people generally. As a result of the new form of control to be introduced, I have no doubt that double the present number of listening-in licences will be taken out, which means that instead of receiving a revenue of £400,000 from this source, we shall get £800,000, and it should not be difficult to increase that revenue to approximately £1,000,000. Then why strangle the commission at its birth by providing a paltry remuneration for its members ?
While I admit that in these difficult times we cannot afford to be extravagant, the Government need not have gone out of its way to remove the possibility of obtaining the services of first class men for this important work. I realize that we shall he fortunate in having the services of Mi-. Brown, the Director of Posts and Telegraphs, who will be in control of the technical side of the undertaking; but the driving force behind the movement will be the chairman of the commission. The manager, of course, will be merely a creature of the board. He may be appointed to-day, and dismissed to-morrow. We shall be very fortunate if we cau find an ideal manager. The Government is, apparently, looking for another Sir Robert Gibson ; but will they be able to obtain the services of a man capable of controlling the broadcasting system for the paltry salary of £500 per year? No doubt 500 or 1,000 men in Australia would consider themselves qualified for appointment as chairman of this commission at the remuneration specified in the bill.
– Does the honorable member know how the time of the commission will be occupied?
– Every phase of wireless broadcasting is placed under the control of the commission, which has power practically to educate the people of Australia in any direction it like3. It can dictate the nature of the programmes to be broadcast, and it can publish literature. It has all the powers and functions of the board of directors of a great business concern, yet we are offering probably the most paltry salaries ever provided under federal legislation. That fact will cause profound disappointment. Because wireless broadcasting is a most fascinating interest, many capable men would be ready to serve on the commission, and sacrifice their other interests to do so; they would be ready to accept appointment for five years and give of their best to Australia. But they will be deterred by the small remuneration proposed, which would compel them to maintain their private interests. Is it sound practice to offer big jobs to men who maj treat them as sidelines, continue their activities as directors of banks and companies, keep their fingers in this or that financial pic, and after a hard day’s work drift along to a meeting of the broadcasting commission ? For the last ten years the Australian people have been disgusted with the broadcasting service, and have looked forward eagerly to a complete reformation of the system. From my own experience, I know that they are concerned not so much with the amount of the fee, as with the value they receive. They are convinced that under the systems of control in operation hitherto they have not received fair value. Now they are thinking of a new wireless service, which will compare with the world’s best, but the feebleness of this bill will dispel a lot of their enthusiasm. The remuneration of the commissioners and the director should be increased.
– What would the honorable member suggest?
– I would- offer to the” chairman not less than £1,000, to the deputy chairman, £750, and to each other commissioner, £500. At present there are 350,000 listeners, but a good service would double that number. Membership of this commission should be a full-time job.
– Eventually the commission will become a mere committee, and the manager will control the whole system.
– That is the danger. I am sorry that this Government, members of which have so often condemned the political control of banking, should have introduced that principle into this bill. The course it is proposing is fraught with the gravest peril. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) looks forward to the time when Mr. Lang will be Leader of the Government in this House, and will relegate other parties to the obscurity which he believes should be their lot. Imagine the propaganda that he will flood into the ears of the people by wireless. Under this bill the commission will be a mere shadow, and the real boss of the wireless system will be the Minister. What possibilities that will open to a strong or audacious man ! Imagine the honorable member for West Sydney in control of broadcasting when a general election was approaching.
– No government has misused the broadcasting service yet.
– But this bill will facilitate misuse of it. Why not lay down definite principles, so that a great educational facility shall not he misused for political purposes? The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) declares that many people prefer to listen-in to the B class stations, because they want to hear Mr. Lang. I assure the House that the majority of people, even those with very definite political views, strongly object to the growing practice of “ jamming the air “ with political harangues. I have heard persons say, “Lang again!” and rush to the wireless cabinet to switch on to another station, and from it, in turn, they hear “the Red Flag.” Let us eliminate entirely ministerial control. I would trust the present PostmasterGeneral to any extent, but we do not know who may succeed him. I certainly would not trust some past Ministers. But why not shut out personal considerations by prescribing that the controlling authority shall be the commission, which shall be independent of ministerial interference? The Commonwealth Bank is free of political control, but wireless is more important to the people than that institution. How few people have access to the Commonwealth Bank in comparison with those who are keenly interested in wireless ! But this bill is establishing a principle by which some future PostmasterGeneral, backed by a government determined to poison the minds of the people with political propaganda, may abuse this great educational service.
The ignoring of the B class stations is a serious omission. We have twelve national broadcasting stations, and the Government proposes to establish eight more. The twenty will provide a very fine service, and will, I believe, double the present number of listeners. Unfortunately, Ministers, in devising this scheme, seem to have based their calculation on the present paltry revenue from 350,000 listeners. Some day these will number 1,000,000. The B class stations have not had a fair deal. They may be regarded as the poor man’s stations, catering, as they do, for people who prefer the cheaper classes of music and entertainment. At present they are dependent entirely on their returns from advertising; but they are entitled to participate in the revenue from listeners’ fees. A class stations cannot be established everywhere ; and, therefore, the number of B class stations must increase, particularly in country districts. In fact, the bill should make definite provision that the increase of A class stations shall be accompanied by an increase of B class stations in a stated proportion; for instance, if eight new A class stations are brought into existence, four more B class stations should be established. This would ensure even development of the two phases of broadcasting; each caters for a different taste, and, therefore, both are essential. It is not fair to exclude the B class stations from government assistance. The listeners now pay a fee of 24s., but they would readily pay 30s. if they were assured of value. Why should Amalgamated Wireless (Aus- tralasia) Limited, the Performing Right Association, and the Government absorb the whole of the revenue, whilst the B class stations, which fill up the chinks in the wireless wall, have to subsist on their advertising revenue? I hope that provision will be made to give them a prescribed share of the fees from listeners.
It is evident that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is to be a big factor in the success of broadcasting. It is the biggest manufacturer of wireless material, and occupies a privileged position, because the Commonwealth Government is the principal shareholder. At present it is receiving £50,000 a year from broadcasting. What service is the company giving in return for this revenue? I am aware that it has certain patent rights, but what is their value? The Government seems to assume that the new system of control must continue the payment of £50,000 a year to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited.
– I merely mentioned how the revenue was distributed at present. The Government will take action in regard to the future distribution.
– Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited cannot prove its title to one-fifth of the total broadcasting revenue; if it can, Parliament is entitled to know what service it is giving in return. Although it practically monopolizes the manufacture of wireless material, it is not producing cheap receiving sets for the people. One of the big influences retarding the development of wireless is the prohibitive cost of receiving sets. This public company is exploiting the people as ruthlessly as any private firm. The Government should investigate its operations with a view to assisting the development of wireless by making cheaper receiving sets available to the poorer people. Then, there is this Performing Right Association, about which I can tell honorable members something. It is paid a proportion of the licence revenue, Suit we should inquire what are the grounds upon which it is entitled to this money. The last balance-sheet issued by the association in Great Britain showed that, out of a total revenue of £60,000 drawn from all part3 of the Empire, Australia contributed no less than £30,000. It looks as if they are “ putting it over “ Australia to some purpose. Some gentlemen associated with this concern are at present in Canberra, and the Government might do well to interview them, to learn just upon what grounds Australia is being bled in this way, and what value the association is giving for the money it receives.
We know that one of the factors necessary for the success of broadcasting in Australia is the establishment of a national orchestra. No provision is made in the bill for this purpose; it is merely provided that the commission may establish an orchestra. But where is the commission to obtain the money? It is not likely to have available £60,000 for this purpose out of the proportion of the licence fees which it will collect. At the present time, we are paying £50,000 a year to the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited - nobody knows what for - and £30,000 a year to the Performing Right Association, a foreign body, and we do not know what that is for either. That makes £80,000 altogether, which is at least £30,000 too much. I suggest that it would be possible for the Government to obtain at least £30,000 of the money necessary for the establishment of a national orchestra from the levies at present paid to the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Performing Right Association, and that without doing any injustice to anybody.
I maintain that the Performing Right Association has no rights in this country at all. We hear a great deal about international copyright. How does it concern us? When did we become a party to a copyright agreement, and in what way are we bound by any agreement? Africa repudiated the claims of the association; so did the Irish Free State; and so did Canada. The Canadian Parliament even passed an act establishing its own performing right association. The members of the Performing Right Association, who are really the publishers of Great Britain, quickly compromised with Canada, and that dominion got out of the matter very cheaply.- The Irish Free State fought the Performing Right Association in the courts, and won, and the association compromised with it also. In New Zealand, very little is paid to the association, and South Africa pays hardly anything. at all. In Australia, however, where we have never contested the claims of this association, we are robbed and exploited to the tune of half the total revenue collected by the association throughout the whole Empire. The Government is making a serious mistake in proceeding with this legislation without testing the alleged rights of the Performing Right Association.
– Is that not one of the first matters which will be attended to by the commission ?
– It will have no power to do so. If the honorable gentleman can show me anywhere in the bill a provision empowering the commission to deal with these matters, I shall withdraw what I have said. Under this measure the Minister is to be the controlling force, and the commission will exercise only nominal control. It will be the Minister’s servant, and I object to that. Why does not the Commonwealth Government challenge the claims of the Performing Right Association? Why are we paying this money? The association cannot enforce similar claims in New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, while even in Great Britain, where there are 4,000,000 listenersin, the association receives less than in Australia where there are only 350,000.
I trust that the Government will reconsider the whole scope of the commission, and take steps to make it a more powerful body. It should try to get an able chairman, and pay him a decent salary. It should be a full-time occupation, not merely a lunch-time job, as it will be under these proposals. The chairman is a man who will make a success or failure of the whole system. I suggest that no political influence should be allowed to obtrude in the making of an appointment, and no suggestion from outside interests should be considered for a moment. I appeal to the Government, before the matter goes too far, to cut out the pernicious system of political control.
The Government should make some provision to safeguard the interest of B class stations. Those stations have been sadly neglected for years past, and they look to this Parliament for justice. Finally, the Government should take an early opportunity of testing the claims of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Performing Right Association, with a view to obtaining relief from their heavy exactions.
– I welcome this bill in that it is a step towards bringing broadcasting control in Australia into line with the excellent system which obtains in Great Britain ; but it is a very small step, ind’eed. This proposal, as I see it, is merely a parody of the British system. The Minister who introduced the bill has interviewed many deputations, more than one of which requested that a select committee be appointed to go into the whole subject before legislation was passed. Having regard to the immense scope of broadcasting, and the great influence it can have upon the education and culture of a community, as was pointed out by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), too much care cannot be exercised in framing measures for its control. We have been told by the Minister that the system proposed to be inaugurated here resembles the British broadcasting system. So far as I can see, the only similarity is that the commission is to have a seal and a charter. Clause 5 of the bill provides that the commission is to be charged with the general administration of the act, subject to the directions, if any, given to it by the Minister. Clause 15 provides that the commission shall appoint a general manager, and such other officers as it thinks fit, but the salaries paid to the general manager and the six next highest officers shall be subject to the decision of the Minister. The Minister said that the general manager would exercise control over programmes. It would be extraordinary, indeed, if the general manager were able to exercise effective control over the programmes broadcast from various stations throughout the whole of the Commonwealth.
– Of course the general manager would have certain officers under him.
– But who are these officers to be? Under the British system, outside officers, free from political control, and possessed of great culture and attainments, are appointed for this purpose; but under our system, the general manager and six executive officers are to have in their hands the control of broadcasting programmes. The general manager win be a man who is at present a member of the civil service, and the six other persons will be appointed by the Government. What a parody this is of the system operating in Great Britain ! A board or commission is much the same as a board of directors, and the members of this board will be paid quite inadequate salaries. It may be possible to obtain the services of suitable men for the remuneration offered. There are, no doubt, leisured persons in Australia possessing the necessary culture who may be prepared to do this national work for small recompense. We should remember, however, that it will not be a full-time job. They will merely attend certain meetings to deal with the business put before them. When a board of directors meet, they deal with the business which has been prepared for them by the secretary; they go through it in a perfunctory way, accepting the recommendations of the executive officers. That is how many companies are run, and yet the directors receive larger fees than it is proposed to pay to members of this commission.
It must be admitted that the programmes broadcast in Australia have not been all they might have been, and there are many reasons for this. The A class stations engage performers who, apparently, made a great impression on the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) ; but in many instances, the stations cannot afford to pay big salaries, and they are trying all the time to dodge paying fees to the Performing Bight Association. The result is that, although occasionally good programmes are broadcast, as a general rule the quality is indifferent. I agree with the right honorable member for East Sydney that the B class stations have given the best service.
– They play a lot of gramophone records.
– That is true, and gramophone music is frequently the best. It is certainly better than the efforts of the “ Wiregrass “ brass band, or of some egregious comedian. When the other stations are not treating their listeners-in to such items as that, they are only too frequently broadcasting the odds at Ascot or the depth of the water in the Murrumbidgee at, say, 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The British Broadcasting Commission is composed of qualified persons who go thoroughly into the matter of programmes. That is the main reason for having a commission, and its work has been an admitted success from an educational and cultural point of view. Much the same sort of thing could be done here. It is surprising, however, that Cabinet should expect much from a commission, consisting of a chairman receiving £500 a year, and a few lesser lights, assisted by a manager and executive. In view of the fact that committees have been appointed to inquire into transport and other important problems confronting this country, surely broadcasting, which is as important, should have been investigated by a select committee. Had that been done, we would not have wasted so much time in this House discussing this legislation. We should have had an immediate and complete change, whereas this legislation is but a step in that direction. About 330,000 licences are issued in Australia, and it is estimated that there are four listeners-in to each licence. Therefore, something like 1,300,000 people, representing one-sixth of our population, are interested in wireless. If we wish to make wireless popular, and to bring civilization and education nearer to the people who are pioneering outback, we should reduce the licence-fees. At present the Postmaster-General charges ls. for collecting fees; 12s. is paid to the companies carrying on broadcasting for the cost of their programmes; 3s. per licence is paid to the Amalgamated Wireless Limited; and 8s. to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for technical services. That is a total of 24s. In Great Britain the cost is about one-third of that amount. Although we have a greater space over which to broadcast, there is no reason why the fees should not be reduced.
The technical control of broadcasting is an important factor. The bill provides for the usual governmental control. The British Broadcasting Corporation has its own technical branch.
I admit that there is one good argument for government control, since it controls trunk line telegraphs for distant broadcasting; yet it is clear that there is lack of co-ordination in respect of the technical side of broadcasting. I do not wish to disparage the eminent engineers employed in the Postmaster-General’s Department; but there is no reason why they should not be transferred to the technical branch of the commission. If that is not to be provided for in the bill, I hope that the commission, when it is appointed, will take early steps to establish its own technical department. In 1927 a royal commission inquired into wireless, and in its report it strongly condemned the conduct of Amalgamated Wireless Limited. If the Government is cognizant of that fact, it should certainly institute an inquiry into patent rights.
– The Government is doing that.
– The following paragraph on this subject appeared in the Argus of the 15th September last: -
For stations 3LO and 2FC Sydney, the Postal Department hired the necessary technical equipment from Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, which owns and operates the stations. There is ample evidence to show that this arrangement has proved cumbersome, uneconomical, and wholly unsatisfactory. The essential components of such a public utility cannot easily be conducted under entirely independent control. A single illustration - an example of which occurs almost daily in one State or other - will serve to show how impracticable effective co-ordination has proved.
I have heard producers of plays who have broadcast them in Melbourne complain that the whole performance had been marred because they were unable to overcome their technical difficulties. The paragraph continues -
A technical mishap or failure may mar a performance upon which several weeks of rehearsal have been spent. Listeners are not slow to express their disappointment to the broadcasting company. The company, however, is powerless to take remedial action. Its manager cannot send for the responsible engineer and make such arrangements as will prevent a recurrence. Instead, he must transmit the complaint to the Postal Department, which, perhaps, has to refer it to Amalgamated Wireless. In a week or so the- company receives a reply from the department that the complaint has been investigated, and, it is hoped, rectified.
The necessary co-ordination is lacking, and without it we cannot have perfect technical transmission and reception. Why does not the Government go the whole hog and let the broadcasting commission be a commission in effect? Let it be free from the influence of any Minister, and let it have its own technical department to deal with inadequacies of transmission.
Reference has been made made to the B class stations. The bill provides for advertising by A class stations. That should not be a government prerogative. If these A class stations are allowed to advertise under government control they will employ advertising agents, who will canvass against the commercial newspapers and advertising journals for advertisements.
– That is not provided for in the bill.
– If that is so, I am satisfied. The B class stations should still be allowed to advertise, in view of the fact that they are largely carried on with revenue from advertisements. In Great Britain the Broadcasting Corporation has arranged for different wave lengths for various items, thus preventing jazz music, sport news, police news, and weather reports from being broadcast consecutively. By that means a person who wishes to listen to a musical programme can do so without switching on to a different station every few minutes. I suggest to the Government that a similar system be adopted here. Free licences should be given to the blind. That suggestion was made in England, but I do not know whether it was carried out.
– Hospitals should be included as well.
– I agree with the honorable member. In most instances, hospital sets have been built by charitable workers.
– Largely by telephone workers within the Public Service.
– And by others outside the service. It is excellent work. I hope, too, that the commission will take cognizance of the valuable wireless service instituted by the Australian Inland Mission. That mission has a transmitting set and is able to transmit news to the big cattle stations in the north of Queensland to whom it has supplied receiving sets and pedal transmitting sets. It is prepared to take any telegraph messages and to transmit them and vice versa. The department derives considerable revenue in that way.
– It is a great convenience.
Mr.WHITE. - It is an immense convenience. In that way the flying doctor is brought to cases of sickness. The service given by that mission has enabled the women and children living within a radius of 400 miles of Cloncurry to live under a mantle of safety. I hope that the Government will agree to the suggestion to assist this mission by granting it £150 and its former subsidy, and, in addition, to place at its disposal the services of the technical staff of the Postmaster-General’s Department. The Performing Eight Association has also been adversely criticized by theRoyal Commission on Wireless, which sat in 1927. That commission stated -
In view of all the circumstances the amount of the licence fees which ultimately reaches the hands of the Australian Performing Eight Association Limited, is, in our opinion, out of proportion to the service rendered, or value given, by the association, or the author whom they represent, and is an advantage that, in the majority of instances, was never contemplated as likely to belong to either the author or composer or the assignee of the copyright.
That commission pointed out that the proportion of total revenue paid by broadcasting stations in Australia was more than double that paid in Great Britain. It is evident that the Australian Performing Right Association Limited is exploiting the people of Australia, and I suggest that action should be taken against it by the broadcasting commission when it is appointed. The Wireless Commission of 1927 dealt also with patent royalties. In its report it submitted the Amalgamated Wireless Limited to trenchant criticism. It said -
From the commencement of our inquiries the demands by Amalgamated Wireless Limited for patent royalties, both on broadcasting stations and on radio traders, were a constant subject of discussion. The evidence disclosed that the operations of this company extended over every field of radio, and in almost every instance has created friction and dissatisfaction. . . As a result of the company’s acts and omissions, the company is regarded with suspicion and its business methods disapproved throughout Australia.
No criticism could be stronger than that. The commission pointed out that the New Zealand Government had issued a cordial invitation to the Amalgamated Wireless Limited to take proceedings against it for refusing their claim for patent rights. The proposed broadcasting commission will be of no use unless it inquires into patent royalties. The commission of 1927 further stated-
The history of the acquisition of these rights by the company would seem to indicate that the £90,000 which it paid in shares for these rights in 1913, was arrived at by compromise, and not on any carefully considered basis of real value.
Another £3,000 was paid for a number of other rights. The wireless commission pointed out that at least 20 of these patents have expired, and that a considerable number of others have no application to wireless receiving sets. In the light of that information, and the immense revenue that Amalgamated Wireless Limited is obtaining from licence fees, I hope that the Government will institute inquiries with a view to limiting the powers of this company. Had a select committee been appointed to inquire into broadcasting, many of these details would have been dealt with. Instead, the Government has introduced a crude bill which might have been framed in one of the departments. If the proposed commission has the right personnel, it is possible that there may be a great improvement in broadcasting throughout Australia. I hope, therefore, that when the bill is in committee the Government will at least accept some of my suggestions.
– Like some of the earlier speakers, I cannot enthusiastically support this bill. Indeed, all it seems to do is to supplant by a so-called commission, the contractors who now provide programmes, although I shall show that the commission, when appointed, will not have as much power and authority as the contractors have at present. The Minister will probably tell us that this bill does not affect B class stations, and while that is generally correct, they are seriously affected by one clause, which provides that the national broadcasting stations may enter into competition with B class stations in respect of sponsored programmes. I see the possibility of this measure being used as a stepping stone to the assumption of direct control of P> class stations. I am prompted in what I say by a very intimate knowledge of what has happened through the operation of analogous legislation in New South Wales. There has been a sequence of transport acts in that State during the past three years, the first few of which were quite innocuous. They were designed to place the control of national transport in the hands of some board or another, and they went from step to step - and some of the steps were Olympian - until to-day we have the existing transport monster in New South Wales. I refer, of course, to the legislation, not r lie Minister. This bill may be the stepping stone, and a little later we may see issued from this chamber a broadcasting co-ordination bill. Some of us who live in New South Wales know what implications are associated with the word “ r-o-ordination.” The proposal that is placed before the House is neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring. It is said to be modelled on the British Broadcasting Corporation. As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and others have said, it falls much below that standard. I was inclined to agree strongly with the criticism that was levelled at the salaries proposed to be paid to the commissioners, bin. after analysing the measure, and realizing the real ambit of the responsibilities of the commissioners, I am inclined to change my opinion, and to think that they will be overpaid. Clause 5, as has been pointed out by the right honorable member for North Sydney and others, in a general way, places the acts of the commission-
– I can assure the honorable member that he need not labour that matter.
– Then I shall pass on to clause 15. As the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) pointed out, there again the Minister possesses a real measure of control as the fixation of the salaries payable, not only to the general manager, but to his first six subordinates, is to be subject to the approval of the Minister. Clause 16 provides that -
This commission is not even to have the right to say whether it shall start at !> or 10 in the morning, without receiving the approval of the Minister.
Section 17 provides that the commission shall have the right to conduct certain subsidiary interests, but it specifies that none of those subsidiary interestsshall be engaged in by the commission without the approval of the Minister. Section 19 stipulates that the commission shall not, without the approval of the Minister, conduct any transaction which exceeds the sum of £5,000. Perhaps not so much exception can be taken to that, because the ultimate financial responsibility that is assumed by the commissionrests upon the Government. However,, as the commission will start off with an annual revenue in excess of £200,000, that limit of £5,000 appears to be a small one.. Sub-section 2 of section 20 sets out that-
The location of any studios to be providedby the commission in pursuance of this section, shall be subject to the approval of tinMinister.
The commission cannot even select its. own studios without ministerial approval. Section 21 is even worse, as it provides that the commission shall not “ without the permission of the Minister, transmit or receive for transmission any message the transmission of which would, without the authority of, or licence granted by, the Minister administering the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-23, or the WirelessTelegraphy Act 1905-19, contravene the provisions of either of those acts “. That is not so hurtful. Section 22 provides that even that modicum of advertising effort which is permitted the commission shall not be indulged in without ministerial approval.
Section 52 provides -
The Minister may, from time to time, by notice in writing, prohibit the commission from broadcasting any matter, or matter of any class or character, specified in the notice, or may require the commission to refrain from broadcasting any such matter.
Some of us know something about the love letters that have been exchanged between a certain Minister of the New
SouthWales State Government and the Railways Commissioner of that State, and we can imagine the nature of some of the epistles that would pass between a Minister of that type and this commission if he ever became established in the Commonwealth Government.
I have pointed out the very small ambit of the responsibilities that rest on this commission. While I believe that we shall experience real difficulty in finding the proper type of men to conduct this work, because of the parsimonious salaries that are offered, I believe that the greatest drawback is that, after all, these commissioners are merely to be rubber stamps. What we need is a real copy of the British system, even if that means the complete subordination of the B class stations, and I speak, perhaps, as one who has the greatest individual interest in B class stations in Australia. Rather than see a half-baked measure of this type, I should prefer the alternative to which I have referred. The second last speaker suggested that B class stations should participate in the licencefees. I say “ amen “ to that, of course, but I do not submit it as a serious proposition. Advertising, however, should be left to B class stations, as that is their only field of revenue.
I am glad that the bill specifically exempts direct advertising from the powers of the commission. But is it fair that this body, which starts off without any capital, except that which is invested by the Treasury, and which is heavily subsidized by the licence-fees that are received, should be allowed to compete even in a measure with the B class stations which have no other source of revenue? It has been pointed out to-night that the revenue of the national stations for the past’ year was in excess of £200,000. I draw attention to the fact that since 1925 licences have increased in number from 61,000 to 341,000, and this during a period of unparalleled depression. One can visualize what will happen in the way of expansion when the full benefit of the recent change of Federal Government is felt. It is not difficult to forecast that within the next three or four years the number of licences will increase to 500,000, and that the revenue of the commission will automatically reach one-third of a million pounds, to say nothing about the additional £50,000 which will go straight into the coffers of the commission should the subsidy of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited be terminated.
I feel that, innocuous and limited as its provisions may be, this is but the beginning of another trading enterprise, and I have seen sufficient of them to make me a very definite opponent of any expansion of that principle. In his speech, the last Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) - and I believe that most of the provisions of this measure were sponsored by him - let the cat out of the bag when he said that it was necessary to provide that national events, such as cricket matches, should be preserved for national stations. There is nothing at present to prevent those stations competing with B class stations in that class of work. Surely they have little complaint, seeing that they are so substantially backed by. the Government, whereas B class stations are entirely dependent on that field of revenue. They should, at least, start equal. A reference was made to the development and encouragement of Australian music. I point out that only recently it was left to a B class station to put over the air the Australian Grand Opera chorus. It is only reasonable to ask that the national station, under whatever control it might be, should, at least, start off without the advantage of both a subsidy and the right of advertising.
Although I am not able, enthusiastically, to acclaim the measure, I hope that in the committee stages some amendments will be accepted by the Minister. The honorable gentleman has already intimated to me and other honorable members that he will do that, and, at that stage, I hope to make some acceptable contributions.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Makin) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– This afternoon in reply to a question by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) I stated that no request had been received from the United War Service Homes Purchasers Association that any amendment of the War Service Homes Act should be held in abeyance until a committee had been appointed to investigate matters relating to War Service Homes. On inquiry I find that the association did submit a request along the lines mentioned by the honorable member. I point out, however, that none of the proposed amendments of the act would, in any way, conflict with any matter which could be considered by the inquiry committee under its terms of reference.
.- The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) made a very misleading statement this afternoon when dealing with the subject of tobacco-growing. He quoted a letter which the Melbourne firm of Godfrey, Phillips (Australia) Proprietary Limited, had written to a farmer in Western Australia, in which the following sentence occurred : - “ We are not interested in the purchase of Australian-grown leaf.” The honorable gentleman made that statement the basis of an attack upon the Government. I would not now take exception to his remarks, but for the fact that such statements are doing a great deal of damage to our tobaccogrowing industry. Similar entirely unwarranted statements have been made in this chamber, and elsewhere, which are seriously undermining the credit of those engaged in growing tobacco. The firm whose letter was quoted by the honorable member has only recently commenced operations in Australia. It is interested chiefly in the manufacture of cigarettes, for which purpose it imports from overseas all the leaf it uses. It has never yet bought a pound of Australiangrown leaf. The honorable gentleman also endeavoured to show that other tobacco manufacturers had already set out to break down the price which will be paid to Australian tobacco-growers for the leaf which they will produce this year. I protest against the making of such statements. Such propaganda is most harmful to the tobacco-growers. If the honorable member were a tobacco- grower himself, and had been ruined, he could scarcely have been louder in his lamentations.
The honorable gentleman also insinuated that, in some mysterious way, the tobacco manufacturers had obtained advance information of the changes which the Government proposed to make in the tobacco duties. Such statements are highly improper, and without any foundation whatever.
I regret that the honorable member is not in his place this evening, for I told him that I proposed to make these observations and corrections. Having made the attack, he should have been here to listen to my reply to it.
.- In making the statement which he did this afternoon, the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) was only doing as he has been requested to do by the tobacco-growers’ associations. The credit of the tobacco producers has been undermined by the action of the Government in reducing the duty on tobacco leaf.
– I warn the honorable member that he must not proceed along those lines.
– It is the action of the Government, and not the actions of the honorable member for Forrest, or any other honorable member, which is undermining the credit of the tobacco-growers. Had the honorable member for Forrest been in his place this evening, he could have justified his statements. I and other honorable members have had similar information supplied to us. There is no doubt that a section of our primary producers is being seriously injured, and the honorable member for Forrest is endeavouring to restore, and not undermine, their credit.
.- Will the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) inform me whether the rumour that the House will rise on Thursday of next week instead of on Friday, is correct? I know that a number of honorable members are interested in an event which will occur in Sydney that weekend; but other honorable members who live in Western Australia and South Australia are more interested in the prospect of returning to their constituencies. If the House rises on Thursday instead of Friday, it will be advantageous to them, for it will make it unnecessary for them to spend a week-end in Melbourne.
.- The Government desires to meet the convenience of honorable members in regard to the day of adjournment next week. If possible, the House will adjourn on Thursday; but that will depend on whether we are able to complete our programme by that date. The event in Sydney to which the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) has referred is of interest, not only to the people of New South Wales, but to the whole of Australia; and if it meets the convenience of honorable members who desire to travel to South Australia and Western Australia for us to adjourn on Thursday, so much the better.
– Will the Prime Minister inform us to-morrow what business he desires dealt with before the adjournment?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.55 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 March 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19320310_reps_13_133/>.