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Thursday, 11 July 1946

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - It is most unusual for any

Minister, except in time of war, to ask the Parliament for money for an undisclosed purpose. In accordance with the custom ' of the Parliament of Great Britain, it is laid clown that a Minister, on the recommendation of the GovernorGeneral, shall ask the Parliament to approve the appropriation of certain moneys, and the Governor-General's message recommending the appropriation must state the purpose for which the money is required. Neither in the clause which we are debating nor in any statement by the Minister has that been disclosed. It is competent for the committee to accept air assurance by the Minister, but no statement by him can bind the Government. The Crown is bound only by what is contained in the legislation, itself.

The clause contains two different statements. From that read by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), it is clear that, if we agree to the clause in its present form, the Commonwealth will be entitled to hand over to an unknown commission - we do not know the name of even one person who will be a member, of it - the sum of £3,000^000. In addition, the commission may be paid such other sums as from time to time are appropriated by the Parliament for the purpose. There is no limit whatever to these other sums. If a purchase of assets is made on behalf of the Government, a certain., sum of money must be paid and must come back to the Government as its share of the venture. Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is not a private concern, and, according to what we have heard in the last 24 hours, the_ whole transaction depends on what the private shareholders are prepared to accept. If the Minister's last statement be correct,

Ave are forced to the conclusion that, a part is greater than the whole. In other words, the minority shareholders are to have certain rights under the bill, but the Government has no rights whatsoever.

The total capital of the' company is under £1,000,000. A double acquisition is to be made, partly the assets of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and partly those of Cable and Wireless Limited, but at no stage of the proceedings, either in the House or in committee, ha3 any Minister ventured to forecast, even in the most shadowy terms, what the cost will be to the Government of these two ventures. The representatives of the taxpayers are entitled to know the mind of the Goevrnment on this matter. The assets of Cable and Wireless Limited must have a known value to the Government, and that might be some guide. Similarly the value of the assets of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited must be known. Only a portion of them are required solely for government purposes, but in respect of capital, more than half of that company is owned by the Commonwealth already. For a portion of the company's assets the Government is asking the Parliament to provide £3,000,000, an unknown fraction of which would be devoted to the purchase of certain of the company's assets and the assets of Cable and Wireless Limited. This clause must be read in conjunction with clause 32, which provides that moneys and investments may be lodged with the Commonwealth Bank or such other bank as the Minister _ approves. .1 know of no government instrumentality which has the right to do other than comply with the provisions of the Constitution, which require all public moneys to be paid into Consolidated Revenue. For that reason the Postmaster-General must pay all moneys received by his department into the Treasury, and he can only function, as far as expenditure goes, on the money voted to him by the Parliament from year to year.

The Minister has declared that the Government intends to have Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, carried on as a manufa'cturing concern, and that the Government will retain an interest in the undertaking;

Mr Calwell - In the manufacturing part only.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - If that be correct, we still require from the Minister an explanation as to what. the Government proposes to do regarding patents, franchises and commercial wireless assets of the company. Will the Government take a part in conducting those activities, or does it intend to farm them out? The Minister says it is necessary that government capital should be re tained to carry the company over a critical period. Only last year, banking legislation was enacted under which the Commonwealth Bank could lend as much money as it wished to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. From the taxpayers' point of view, the Government's connexion with an undertaking which is a delicious hybrid of no particular value is an entirely different proposition from the Commonwealth Bank financing the company in the customary way and taking the usual risks.

Mr Falstein - The latter part of the clause contains a complete answer to the honorable member, as it provides that the Treasurer may advance to the commission such amounts as are, in the opinion of the Minister required by the commission, and the commission may accept those advances,' but shall not. otherwise borrow moneys. The advance will come from Consolidated Revenue.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - This Parliament has no power to instruct the Commonwealth Bank what it shall do. We are still entitled to some explanation from the Government as to what is behind this measure. So far we are still in a fog as thick as any experienced in Canberra during' the present parliamentary ' sittings Nothing that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has said has thrown ohe ray of light on the subject of the real charges to which the community will be committed, if this hill is passed in its present form.

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