10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have to inform the Senate that I have received from Senator Sir Henry Barwell a letter dated 22nd March, 1928, resigning his place as a Senator for the State of South Australia, on account of his impending departure for Great Britain.
I have also to inform the Senate that, pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution, I notified the Governor of South Australia of the vacancy caused in the representation of that State in the Senate by the resignation of Senator Sir Henry Barwell, and that I have received from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral a certificate of the appointment of Albert William Robinson as a Senator to fill such vacancy.
Certificate laid on the table and read by the Clerk.
Senator Robinson made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.
The following papers were presented -
Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act - Regu lations amended - Statutory Rules 1928, No. 29.
Land Tax Assessment Act - List of Applications for Relief from Taxation during the year 1927.
Public Service Act- Appointment- Department of Markets - C. E. Andrew.
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1928, No. 27- No. 28.
Commonwealth Film Censorship - Report for year 1927.
Assent to the following bills re ported : -
Customs Tariff Bill.
Customs Tariff Validation Bill.
Excise Tariff Bill.
Financial Agreement Bill.
Defence Equipment Bill.
Radium Appropriation Bill.
Petroleum Prospecting Bill.
Parliamentary Allowances Bill.
[3.8]. - I lay on the table of the Senate the tenders received for the purchase of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and move -
That the paper be printed.
I take this course to enable me to give the Senate information concerning the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, which was completed by the signing of the contract between the parties on Saturday last. Honorable senators have already had an opportunity to discuss the advisability of selling the. steamers, and I do not propose to touch upon that phase of the question to-day. I assume that all honorable senators are well acquainted with the fact that the Commonwealth Government has invited tenders on two occasions’ for the purchase of. the Line. On the first occasion no tenders were received. On the second occasion three tenders were submitted and that of the White Star Line was subsequently accepted. It is with that company that the contract has been signed. When the Line was offered for sale on the last occasion the only absolute condition laid down was that the vessels should be retained on the British register, but the Commonwealth Government indicated that it would require the purchasers to maintain a service equivalent to that which was being given by the “Bay” and “Dale” steamers, and that preference would be given to any tenderer who submitted proposals to safeguard shippers to and from Australia arid’ made definite proposals for ?be extension of the service available over and above that given by the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. There were two other tenders besides- that which was submitted by the “White Star Line. The original offer of the White Star Line was ?1,850,000, but owing to circumstances to which I shall allude presently, that amount was subsequently increased to ?1,900,000.
Sir James Connolly’, of 30 Cadogansquare, London, submitted an offer of ?1,575,000 on behalf of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Company of 1928,. a company which it is contemplated would have been formed for the acquisition of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, had that tender been accepted. The third tender was received from Runciman (London) Limited, the offer’ being ?l,000-:000; but by a communication dated 13th April, the amount was increased to ?1,250;000 provided that the ‘Commonwealth Government gave an option o”S the Line to that company for’ a certain- period.
In considering these offers, it has been necessary to bring the position of the Line absolutely up to date. The figures that have been compiled, and which I shall quote, are accurate, although they have not yet been examined by the AuditorGeneral. They are truly indicative of the position up to the 31st March of this year. I do- not propose to give the history of the Australian Commonwealth- Line of Steamers-, because that has- already been discussed iri the Senate, particularly in 1923, when the Line was placed under the control of the Commonwealth Shipping Board, its capital’ value being then written down by approximately ?8,000,000, and again last November, when Parliament reviewed the whole position. The following statement compares the results of the operation of the fleet for the years ended 31st March, 1927, and 1928 :-
I now propose to analyse the three ten=ders that have been received. The first is from the White Star Line. Its original offer was £1,850,000 ; but it has since been increased to £1,900,000. There is a reason for that increase. Under the conditions of tender it was provided that delivery of the ships should be at the first terminal port of call after the contract had been signed. As the fleet is trading between Australia and Great Britain, that meant that half of the vessels would be delivered in Australia and half in Great Britain. The tender of the White Star Line stipulated that, delivery of all ships should be in Great Britain. We cabled to the company pointing out that that . stipulation was a departure from the terms of the invitation to tender, and, if insisted upon, would involve the Commonwealth Government in the repatriation of all of the crews instead of half of them, as contemplated under the original invitation to tender. We indicated that the repatriation of all the crews would mean an increased expenditure on the part of the Commonwealth of £85,000, and the company, in view of that circumstance, agreed to increase its offer from £1,850,000 to £1,900,000. The company also agreed to assist the Commonwealth in repatriating the crews from Great Britain. It undertook to employ as many of the officers and engineers of the Line as practicable, and subsequently, in response to a cable from the Commonwealth Government, agreed to employ the personnel and sea- men who desired to remain on the vessels provided that they were suitable for the work.
– Does that mean that the Commonwealth loses £35,000 in connexion with the repatriation of these nien ?
– No. The Commonwealth gained that amount. The company has also given an undertaking that there shall be no general increase of freights without reference to a committee, to be appointed in Australia comprising representatives of such bodies as the Export Control Boards and the Australian shippers.
The second condition was that tenders must be submitted by natural-born British subjects or from companies that will give an assurance that they will remain under British control. The White Star Company has a capital of £9,000,000, £5,000,000 of which is represented by preference shares, practically all of which are held by British subjects. As honorable senators will see by reference to the paper I have laid on the table, the Government has had the shipping register searched to ascertain by whom the shares in the company are held. Ordinary shares, representing £4,000,000 are held by Britishers. £1,000 each being held by Lord Abercorn, Lord Kylsant, Mr. Sanderson, and Mr. Clark. The Union Castle Company, Elder Dempster and Company, and the Royal Mail Company, each hold 1,000,000, and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, and the Nelson Company, approximately 500,000 each. All these are British companies. The Government is, therefore, satisfied that the White Star Company complies with the condition laid down that the ships shall be sold only to a British company.
As regards the price at which the vessels have been sold, it is difficult to make comparisons. It must be remembered that ships, have a limited life, and that the rate of depreciation increases
With the life of the ship. : There is greater depreciation in connexion” with p ship ten years old than with one only five years old.
– There is also obsolescence.
– That is so. The only record of comparative sales which the Shipping Board was able to obtain relates to two Italian vessels that were sold recently, and the Ormuz, one of the vessels of the Orient line. The gross tonnage of the Ormuz is given as 14,588, and the net tonnage as 8,082. The figures for the “ Bay “ steamers are 13,856 tons gross, and 8,415 tons net. The passenger carrying capacity of the Ormuz is 1,181 persons, as against a passenger carrying capacity of 738 in the case of the “ Bay “ steamers. The speed of the Ormuz when fully laden is from fifteen knots to fifteen and a half knots an hour, and that of the “ Bay “ steamers fifteen knots. The Commonwealth steamers were built in 1921-22 and the Ormuz in 1914; so the Orient Company’s vessel is considerably older. The price received for that vessel was £257,500, but it included brokerage, which is a fairly heavy charge, whereas the Commonwealth vessels are being sold free of brokerage. The two Italian ships which have been sold recently are much smaller. Their gross tonnage is 9,700, and their net tonnage 5,900 ; but their passenger carrying capacity is high. Both have accommodation for 1,265 passengers, as against 738 in the case of the “Bay” steamers. Their speed also is greater, being fifteen to sixteen knots an hour, against the fifteen ‘ knots of the Commonwealth vessels. These Italian vessels were built in 1914 and 1915 and were sold in December last for £175,000 each.
As the particulars of the other tenders are set out in the paper which has been laid on the table, I do not propose to analyse them in detail. One was from Runciman (London) Ltd., and the other from Sir James Connolly, who was representing a company to be formed. It is sufficient to say that in both cases the price submitted was not anything like as good as that of the White Star Company and the terms were not as favorable. Moreover, in the case of both tenders, there was to be no deposit, and the conditions were so onerous that no Government could accept them.
We have been told that one of the objections to the sale of the ships, and it is one that was urged when this matter was discussed in the Senate, is that they have been of immense advantage to Australia’s interstate trade. There have been one or two instances where the Line has been of assistance in that direction; but they do not offer a solution of the problem presented to us.
– What amount of interstate trade have the ships been handling?
– I shall give the Senate the information. In this regard I may mention that a gentleman writing in the press over the nom de plume of “ Traveller,” said that the coastal passengers carried by the vessels of the Commonwealth Line represented 50 per cent, of the total passenger trade in Australia, and that if the first class passengers were excluded the “Bay” liners carried 80 per cent, of the total interstate passenger traffic. The Government statistician, after examining the figures, reported that the interstate arrivals and departures by sea in and from each State and in and from the Northern Territory for 1926’, totalled 362,148. Those are the latest figures available and the statistics so far to hand for 1927 indicate a similar position. Of those passengers the “Bay” liners carried 12,350 or 3.4 per cent, of the total number. We have also been informed that the “Bay” liners were carrying a good deal of the interstate freight. The actual position is that for the year 1927 the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers carried 4,283 tons of- coastal freight, made up as follows: - General cargo 1,085 tons, meat 1,590 tons, butter 1,513 tons, flour 50 tons, and fruit 45 tons. On the other hand, for the last five years the total tonnages’’ carried by coastal vessels were as follows: -
These figures show that the interstate tonnage carried by the “Bay” steamers represented a percentage of only 0.6. There have been occasions when licences to engage in the coastal trade have been given to the ships of overseas companies. During the last two years 174 of such licenses have been issued, when the cargoes carried, consisting principally of meat, totalled 13,398 tons. The figures I have given show that whatever other argument may be used against the sale of the Line, it cannot be said that in disposing of it we are aiming a fatal blow at the Australian coastal service.
I have briefly outlined the main factors in connexion with the sale, and have now only to refer to one or two points. One is the attitude of certain industrial unions, which have threatened that when the sale is accomplished, they will declare “ black “ the ships of the White Star Line, and will endeavour to hold up shipping services of Australia as a reprisal - against the people for the action of the Government. In this connexion I direct the attention of honorable senators to a statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. To that I have nothing to add, except to say that I am sure that a great majority of honorable senators, in fact the whole of the Senate, will not allow Parliament to be dragooned by a threat such as that which I have mentioned.
In view of the sale of the Line, it became necessary for the Government to review the position of the Cockatoo Island dockyard. It is now proposed to call for tenders to lease that dockyard. I do not intend to-day to go into the conditions of the lease, because they will be advertised, and honorable senators will then have an opportunity to see exactly what is contemplated; but it is proposed to invite applications for a lease of the Cockatoo Island dockyard under conditions that will enable the Government to retain it as an efficient dockyard for defence purposes. To sum up, the result of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers is that the Commonwealth cuts a loss of over £500,000 per annum, and retains the services of the Line for the Australian overseas trade. There is also a possibility that if the conditions are favorable, the operations of the Line will be extended and larger vessels will be employed in the Australian trade. Any one familiar with the history of the Line, and who studies the particulars which I have submitted, will agree with me when I say that the Commonwealth has made a good bargain.
Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.
Report of ROYAL Commission - Government’s Proposals.
– I lay on the table the report of the Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia, and move -
That the paper be printed.
The subject of this report is most important and the investigations of the commission have been exhaustive and thorough. The censorship of films is controlled by the Department of Trade and Customs by reason of its powers to deal with the importation and exportation of all commodities, amongst which, of course, picture films are included. For many years there has been a growing feeling in the Commonwealth that complete film control is an important social and moral necessity, and although control nas been rigidly exercised by the Commonwealth Censorship within its powers, these powers have been found lacking in some very important aspects. There has been a general desire amongst the members of the legislature that an extended area of control should be exercised by the Commonwealth, and last year the Government considered that the time was ripe for the creation of some body that would be able to conduct an investigation into the whole subject. Consequently, a select committee appointed by Parliament commenced this investigation in April last year, and was subsequently created a royal commission armed with the necessary powers to investigate thoroughly all questions and matters raised in connexion with the industry.
The Government has carefully examined the report and recommendations of the commission, and on its behalf I desire to inform the Senate of the policy that it is proposed to adopt in connexion with them. The commission’s report contains many suggestions which the Government think should be carried out. In particular the recommendation that there should be uniformity throughout the Commonwealth in regard to the laws dealing with the motion picture industry is cordially endorsed. This suggestion is considered to form the essential basis of effective control of the industry, and to be the real key to the complete solution of. present difficulties. The permanent strengthening of the censorship is adopted as a policy, the nomination of a woman on the censorship is agreed to, and the commission’s suggestions regarding the fostering of the picture industry in Australia will be probed and developed. On many other points, too, the commission has made suggestions which may be successfully worked out later. As already mentioned, the fundamental fact is that the Commonwealth’s power of control over the industry at present is limited to importation and exportation only. The two questions for consideration, therefore, are -
The State of Victoria has,by legislation, already authorized an agreement with the Commonwealth to empower the Commonwealth Censor to act as censor for Victoria, and it appears quite possible that all the States would agree to a Commonwealth control. Uniformity of control has much to be said in its favour from every point of view, and the following recommendation of the commission has been adopted by the Government: -
That . . . the Commonwealth Government request the States to meet them in conference for the purpose of arriving at an agreement whereby the States would enact legislation under section 51, paragraph xxxvii, of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, and would give the Commonwealth power to control the motion picture industry as indicatedin this report (page 26, paragraph 208 (2) ).
As honorable senators are aware, section 51, paragraph xxxvii, provides that the Parliament of the Commonwealth may make laws with respect to matters referred to the Parliament of the Commonwealth by the Parliament or Parliaments of any State or States, but so that the law shall extend only to States by whose Parliaments the matter is referred or which afterwards adopt the law.
Referring to the commission’s recommendations as summarized on page 28 of the report, the following actionwill be taken by the Government: -
RecommendationsNos. 1 to 4 deal with the existing censorship. Present arrangements, owing to the growth of the work and of responsibility, were some time ago found to be inadequate, and consequently somewhat unsatisfactory. The leakages referred to by the royal commission were entirely due to the shortage of staff. In reviewing the position some three months ago the Minister for Trade and Customs found that it called for immediate action, and additional responsible help for the Sydney censor was secured. The new arrangement in Sydney, controlled by Mr. W. C. O’Reilly, with the assistance of Colonel Hurley, is working most satisfactorily to all parties concerned, and the previous complaints of delays and overwork have ceased. A further strengthening of the censorship is suggested by the royal commission, and the Government favours the commission’s recommendation of a censorship of three persons, one to be a woman. The censorship in Sydney will, therefore, be added to at an early date by the appointment of an additional censor from among suitable, capable, and experienced women applicants, completing the censorship of three persons now decided upon.
Recommendation 5 is to the effect that the Censorship Board shall have added powers, but obviously this question, must await common action by the States and the Commonwealth.
Recommendation 6. - More commo dious premises in Sydney have been considered very necessary for some time past, and action will be taken by the Government to provide additional amounts on the coming estimates for the purpose of carrying but the suggestions made by the commission, thereby giving greater facilities for efficient and effective administration. As a corollary of the foregoing action it is proposed to close the Melbourne office and concentrate censorship in Sydney, which is the port of entry for 98 per cent. of the films imported. This proposal will effect some saving and obviate duplication, which will offset to an extent the additional expenditure on larger premises in Sydney. It will also result in a much greater convenience to the trade.
Recommendation 7 relates to the creation of a Censorship Board of Appeal. This the Government agrees to and it will in due course appoint such a board, the members of which will be remunerated by fees. It is considered by the Government that the board should consist of three persons and not five as suggested by the commission, as the latter number may prove unwieldy and unnecessary. The Government will also, in this case, provide that one of the members of the board of appeal shall be a woman, and the creation of the board will be proceeded with by regulation pending the larger question of joint Commonwealth and State control being settled. It is obvious that the duties of this board of appeal will supersede for the present the functions of the Chief Censor now located in Melbourne, but with the developments and work hoped for regarding film production in Australia, and uniform control throughout the Cornwealth the duties of the members of the board of appeal will be important and far reaching. The period of appointment which the Government proposes is up to three years for each member of the board of appeal, retirement if possible to be in rotation. The Government agrees with the commission’s conclusions that there should be no trade representa. tion on the censorship or the board of appeal to be created in connexion therewith.
Recommendation 10 deals with the powers of the Censorship Appeal Board. It is clear that for the present the board will deal principally with appeals from the censorship, and also developments of recommendations 20, 21 and £2 regarding awards of merit. The other suggested functions must, of course, await concerted action by the Commonwealth and States.
With regard to the marking of films, as suggested in- recommendation 11, the marking of films imported may be insisted upon under an amendment of the Commerce Act which the Government proposes to introduce in connexion with other matters. Some of the films imported into the Commonwealth are now marked with the country of origin, but to insist upon the country of origin being exhibited compulsorily will require wider powers from the States.
Recommendation 12 refers to control over importers. This suggestion cannot be completely adopted without additional powers being obtained. The Government agrees with the desirability of keeping in check those few traders who have in the past imported films without regard to the standard of censorship set up. It is doubtful whether the Commonwealth has, as yet, any power over the compulsory registration of film importers.
Recommendations 13, 14 and 15, regarding the distribution of films, and recommendations 16, 17, 18 and 19 regarding exhibitors and the exhibition of films, must await the result of the con.ference with the States. Recommendations 20, 21, and 22 refer to film production in Australia and the Government agrees with them in principle. Careful consideration will be given to the best means of giving effect to the recommendations submitted and any other methods by which film production in Australia can be stimulated.
Recommendations 23 to 32 deal with the qUota system. This formed the subject of legislation in Great Britain and also in the State of Victoria. The Government accepts these recommendations in principle, but the detailed developments of any definite scheme must await the acquisition of wider powers by the Commonwealth.
Recommendation 33 regarding the film and native races will be taken up at once by the Government, and it will also take such action as may be possible within its existing powers pending the co-operation of the States. Instructions will be given to the administrators of the various Territories of the Commonwealth in the direction suggested. It may be some time before the effect of the action taken is discernible, Owing to the number of films still available for exhibition which have been passed by the censorship.
Recommendations 34, 35 and 36 refer to children in connexion with the exhibition of picture films. One of the most frequent causes of complaint regarding the character of certain pictures which are shown on the screen is their unsuitability for the child-mind and their detrimental effect upon the young people of the community. While the compulsory enforcement of the recommendations of the commission requires wider powers than the Commonwealth at present possesses,, an instalment of reform will be inaugurated at the earliest possible date by classifying films in the manner suggested by the commission. This, with the co-operation of the distributors and exhibitors, will be a valuable guide to parents and those in loco parentis as to what films are suitable for universal exhibition.
The Government is also in accord with recommendation 37 on the subject of educational films, and proposes instructing the censorship to give assistance to educational authorities in the various States desiring it. Recommendation 38 refers to taxation. This matter is awaiting the conclusion of judicial proceedings.
Recommendation 39 and 40 have reference to British films. The question of British agencies in Australia has been dealt with at length in the annual reports of the censorship, and has had wide publicity. The result of this has been the establishment in the Commonwealth of at least two British agencies for the distribution of British films. There is no official censorship in Great Britain, and it is difficult to make . effective representations to any voluntary censorship established there regarding the general question of the standard of British films, but the Government proposes to make representations on this matter to the British Government.
Recommendations 41 and 42 refer to customs duties. The Government approves of the proposal that the present duty of 1 1/2d. per lineal foot under the general tariff be increased to 2d. per lineal foot, and a proposal to that end has been submitted to Parliament. British films will still remain free, and it is hoped that additional incentive will thus be given to the importation and exhibition of suitable British films. The additional revenue from this increased duty will provide the funds necessary to carry out the recommendations made for improving administration by obtaining more suitable premises, increasing the staff and for stimulating the production of Australian pictures. Recommendations 43 and 44, suggest that reciprocal tariff preference be sought in Great Britain and other parts of the Empire. With this the Government agrees. A little has been attempted in this direction already, and the Government will take further steps to endeavour to carry out the suggestion made.
The recommendations 45, 46 and 47 concerning the “ Know your Own Country “ series will be brought under the notice of the Development and Migration Commission for consideration. The Govern- ment entirely agrees with the proposals! contained in recommendations 48, 49 and 50, and they have been referred to in the suggestions for a Commonwealth and. States conference. The Government proposes to take practical and immediate steps to open up negotiations with the States, and the chairman of the commission. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks), has been invited by the Government to assist in carrying through these negotiations. The numerous amendements of existing regulations will be found and the gazettal of new regulations necessary for the immediate adoption of the proposals of the Government pending negotiations with the States will be made in due course. These will be laid upon the table of the Senate in the usual way. Should the successful co-operation of the States be achieved, consideration will be given to legislation on the whole subject.
Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives and (on motion by Senator McLachlan) read a first time.
ORDER or Business - Answers to Questions: Pacific Cable Board and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited: Balance-Sheets.
[3.48]. - I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Honorable senators are aware that we cleared the notice-paper at the last sitting of the Senate, so there is no more business for to-day. It is hoped tomorrow that we shall be able to proceed with the second reading of the Commonwealth Housing Bill, and one or two other measures, of which notice was given to-day, and, also, if the Senate will agree to the suspension of the Standing Orders to-morrow, to carry those bills up to the second-reading stage. The debates may then be adjourned and resumed when we meet next week.
– I wish briefly to direct the attention of the Government to what I regard as unsatisfactory answers to two or three questions which I have asked. On 28th March, I asked whether in view of the fact that the Commonwealth Bank balancesheets were made available to members of this chamber, it would not be possible also to have the balance-sheets of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Pacific Cable Board sent to honorable senators. The answer I received was that the department of the Postmaster-General had only enough copies for departmental use, but that a copy of the balance-sheet would be made available for perusal in the Library. I can quite understand the department not having a sufficient number of copies to supply all honorable senators with them, but surely the Government could Iia ve suggested to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Pacific “Cable Company that copies of their balance-sheets should be made available to any member of Parliament desiring them. Without being asked to do so, the directors of the Commonwealth Bank forward copies of the half-yearly balancesheet of the bank to every member of Parliament. I do not ask that the same course should be followed in respect to the balance-sheets of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, but I do suggest that any member of Parliament who desires the balancesheets of this company should be regularly supplied with them. Why should it be necessary for an honorable senator to study them in the Library? Why cannot he peruse them comfortably in his own home? The company’s balance-sheet is probably not an elaborate or costly document, and why my request in this regard cannot be met I cannot understand. On the 21st March I asked a question relating to the profit or loss made by the beam service, and was told that the directors of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, in view of the fact that they were competing with business rivals, were not prepared to furnish me with that information. If I were to purchase a share in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, I could go to an annual meeting of the company and get that information.
– The honorable senator might not.
– If I owned 200,000 shares, I could get the information, and as a senator from New South Wales I represent people who own 200,000 shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. I admit that I have not had much to do with companies, but I have yet to learn that a shareholder of a company who asks for information relating to it is not supplied with it. If this information which I seek is available to any shareholder in this company, surely it should likewise be available to those who own practically 200,000 shares in it. Australia owns 500,001 shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and I suppose that the proportion owned by the people of New South Wales is about 200,000. Yet these large shareholders are to be denied an answer to a simple question asking what business is done by the beam service, what it costs to run it, and what profit or loss is made on it. Some time ago I asked a series of questions as an outcome of a statement made by the Prime Minister that it would cost almost a small fortune to have the tenders for the purchase of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers cabled to Australia, and that it would be necessary to await their arrival by post. Among the questions I asked was whether or not it was a fact that the beam service was not working half time for want of traffic. If I were a shareholder in the’ company I could ask that question at a meeting of shareholders and expect an answer. The directors might, please themselves about giving me an answer; but what sort of directors would they be if they said, “ We will not let you know “ when the people of Australia asked them. “ Is ‘ your line working full time, or half time, or quarter time?” When I asked whether the Government was aware that the beam service was not working more than half time for want of traffic the answer the Prime Minister furnished was, “ I am not aware that that is the case.” I want to know if it is not the duty of the Government to know whether or not it is the case. Is the Government so reckless in its expenditure that, notwithstanding the fact that £500,001 of the money of the people of Australia has been put into Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited,, it does not care whether a service conducted by that company is working full time, half time or quarter time? We hear a great deal about the necessity for having business men in Parliament, and particularly in the government of the country. Would business men run their private affairs in such a way that if they were asked whether a company in which they had sunk over half a million pounds was operating a particular service full time, half time or quarter time they would be compelled to reply “We do not know?” No doubt the department of the Prime Minister has a great many things to handle.
– It is the department of the Postmaster-General that deals with wireless.
– If I can get the information I want by submitting my questions to the responsible Minister I shall be perfectly satisfied, but I am rather dissatisfied with the replies that have been given to my questions, and I should like to know whether they cannot be answered in a more satisfactory way.
– The matter brought forward by Senator Thomas is of great importance to the Parliament and to the people of the Commonwealth, who are supposed to have a controlling, influence in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. As Senator Thomas has pointed out, the Commonwealth Government has invested over £500,000 of the people’s money in this company. Are we not therefore all shareholders in it, and, as such, entitled to the fullest and latest information in respect to it? As shareholders in the company we want to know if it is being run on business lines and on lines satisfactory to the people of Australia. As representatives of the people honorable senators are entitled to that information. The directors of the Commonwealth Bank, who are anxious to give to the shareholders of the people’s bank the fullest and most complete information, see that each member of Parliament receives a balance-sheet every half-year.
– Very little information can be gleaned from that balancesheet.
– It shows whether the bank is being run profitably or unprofitably.
– That is about all it does.
– It shows what the assets of the bank are, and what increased profits are made by it from time to time. Furthermore, the balance-sheet of the bank is advertised in all the daily newspapers.
asked very pertinent questions in regard to an all-important matter, and the answers given to him were most unsatisfactory. Surely a Government that poses as a business administration will not say that it is businesslike to tell members of Parliament who ask for such information that they arc unable to supply it; but that they can get it by perusing a document in the Library. That is not the way to do business in a businesslike way. ‘ In my opinion we are entitled to get from Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited information such as that supplied to honorable senators by the Commonwealth Bank. If we were private shareholders in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited no one could legally deny us admittance to the shareholders’ meetings that are held from time to time. Any shareholder associated with a company registered under the Companies Act can demand information in respect to the operations of the company, and most companies with which honorable senators are familiar send out reports and balancesheets to their shareholders. It is probable that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited also sends out reports and balance-sheets to its private shareholders. Why cannot members of Parliament get them? We are as much entitled to them as are the private shareholders of the company, since the Commonwealth holds 500,001 shares in the company. If it had not been for the financial assistance afforded by the Commonwealth Government this company would not have been in the position it occupies to-day. I hope that the information which Senator Thomas desires will not be withheld. It is all very well for the Government to say that it is not aware whether certain statements are correct or incorrect. It is the duty of the Minister responsible for wireless to acquaint himself with what is being done and with what is proposed to be done by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and to ascertain whether it is making a profit or a loss. If we could get this information we should know better how we are faring from a shareholders’ point of view. The people of Australia are justly entitled to the fullest and most complete information in regard to the operations of the company.
– The information supplied to me by the PostmasterGeneral in response to the question put by Senator Thomas, was forwarded in the ordinary course of departmental business. His request to-day that the company’s balancesheets should be supplied to members of this Parliament who desire it, is reasonable, and I shall pass it on to the Postmaster-General, who, no doubt, will communicate with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited in the matter.
– The information should be supplied to members of Parliament as of right.
– The honorable senator’s interjection is one of the best arguments in favour of the Government leaving business undertakings to private enterprise.
– Is this private enterprise ?
– I do not think there will be any opposition on the part of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited to supplying copies of its balance-sheet to the representatives of the people in this Parliament who desire them; I understand that the Library already has a copy. I assure Senator Thomas that, so far, there has not been a very wide circulation of the company’s balance-sheets. In his second question, Senator Thomas asked how the beam service was working. If I were a director of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, I should under existing conditions, in the best interests of the shareholders, refuse to divulge the internal affairs of the company to any one.
– I object to the business of this company, in which the Commonwealth is interested, being conducted in the dark.
– So far as my knowledge of company laws goes, I am not aware that any shareholder, other than a director, is entitled to probe into the internal affairs of a company in which he is interested. It would, indeed, be a sorry day for company enterprise if a shareholder of a company, merely to gratify his personal desires, was entitled to obtain full details of its internal workings. I see no objection to honorable senators being supplied with the company’s balance-sheets ; hut that is entirely different from supplying them with information regarding the current transactions of the company. I should be loth to divulge information which might be used against Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. It should be sufficient for honorable senators to know that the Commonwealth Government is represented by capable men on the directorate of the company. I have no recollection of the honorable senator’s question regarding the beam service working only half time.
– I asked the question on the 21st March.
– At that time negotiations of the most delicate character were pending, and it certainly would not have been wise to disclose the information sought. I shall place the honorable senator’s first request before the PostmasterGeneral, and shall also direct his attention to the further request the honorable senator has made to-day; but I hold out no hope that information in relation to the current year’s transactions of the company will he divulged until it;’ balance-sheet is published.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned 4.11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 April 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1928/19280426_senate_10_118/>.