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Thursday, 17 March 1932

Mr MAKIN (Hindmarsh) .- It is rather interesting to find this bill again under the consideration of the House after the perplexing experience the Government has had in seeking to negotiate a clear course on the subject of the control of wireless broadcasting. It appears that at one stage the Minister in charge of the bill threatened to resign from the Cabinet 'if the measure were not proceeded with ; but I suppose that those who sponsored the proposal are now prepared to stand by the bill. I trust that vested interests such as the public press, and the agencies they employ, will be unable to prevent the Government from protecting public interests. The Government should see that it is not stampeded into doing something that will serve sectional rather than public interests. The bill deals almost exclusively with the conduct of national, or A class, broadcasting stations; but I had hoped that a measure of a far more comprehensive character, providing for the control of every phase of wireless broadcasting, would be presented. I consider that it will be essential, in the immediate future, to protect the interests of the people generally in regard to this important public utility. Surely no service is more essential to the community than the provision of means of communication, and, therefore, there should be no division of authority in the control of broadcasting. The time has come when it may be necessary to review the association of the Commonwealth Government with Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited.

We need a scheme of direct national control, with a common policy. It would be inimicable to the public interest if the management of wireless were divorced from the Postmaster-General's Department. Many technical and other services are required in connexion with broadcasting, and public facilities should not be subject to any control or direction from outside interests. Honorable members recognize the efficiency with which broadcasting is controlled in the United Kingdom. Under the British system, public interests are conserved, and the full requirements of the nation are met. The British Broadcasting Corporation works under charter, and is subject to the supervision of the PostmasterGeneral. The British authorities would not think of depriving the responsible members of the British Cabinet of a voice in laying down the lines of policy which govern the administration of broadcasting in Great Britain. [Quorumformed.] The method of supervision employed in Great Britain over broadcasting has been adopted with modifications in most European countries. I ask the Government, therefore, not to remove from the bill those provisions giving the Postmaster-General's Department a measure of control over this service. Rumours have been current that the Government proposes to shelve the bill for the time being, and to effect important alterations in it before bringing it down again. Newspaper reports have appeared to the same effect, and their probability has been strengthened by the fact that several meetings of Government supporters have been called, and threats of ministerial resignations have been made. All this indicates that pressure is being brought, to bear on members and Ministers, which may result in the fundamental principles of the measure being abandoned.

Mr. -Stacey.- 'That is only conjecture.

Mr MAKIN - The honorable member will not deny that there has been a series of party meetings to discuss this matter. I do not usually give ready credence to what I read in the press. I recognize that it is an unreliable medium of information; but press statements to the effect -that the Government proposes to recast the bill are supported by what has taken place in this House. This measure has been criticized because it provides for a degree of ministerial control; for what is generally called political control. I believe that there should always be a measure of government control over essential public services. In other words, I believe in the nationalization of public utilities. Government supporters believe in the right of private enterprise to exploit all avenues of profit, whether public or private. They believe that the whole field of enterprise should be left open for exploitation by private persons. They are entitled to hold that opinion, no doubt, but it is not my opinion. Those who are so apprehensive regarding political control ought to remember that private enterprise has not such a wonderfully good record that we should unhesitatingly entrust it with the control of such an important service as broadcasting. I direct the attention of honorable members to the long list of bankruptcies which have been dealt with by the courts recently. No doubt honorable members will say that these business failures have been due to the depression, accentuated by government interference in industry. I am certain that when the history, of this economic crisis comes to be written, it will be demonstrated that private enterprise ha3 failed lamentably to meet the situation. The failures of governments will sink into insignificance compared with the proved ineptitude of private enterprise. When private enterprise fails to do its job, it never hesitates to seek the assistance, by way of bounty or subsidy, of a benevolent government.

Mr E J HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has himself supported the payment of bounties.

Mr MAKIN - That is true, but I believe it would be better, and cheaper in the long run, for governments to assume the direction of those industries which have failed under private enterprise.

Mr E J HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has not investigated conditions in New South Wales where the policy he advocates is, being carried out.

Mr MAKIN - I am glad that Sew South Wales is notthe Commonwealth, although it is an important part of it. There may have been certain abuses of government control in that State, but the whole system should not be condemned because of that. Even the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison ) would not be prepared to hand over the post office to private enterprise.

Mr Paterson - The draft bill prepeared for the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green), when he was Postmaster-General did not contain so many ministerial leading strings as this one does.

Mr MAKIN - The bill has not been changed in essentials. Honorable members who so strongly condemn Government supervision of broadcasting or other services demonstrate a woeful lack of confidence in the ability of members of this House to see that public services are properly carried out.

Mr E J HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They fear what might be done by another party later on.

Mr MAKIN - If the honorable member were a citizen of the United States of America, I could understand his fears, because in that, country a change of government is generally followed by a sweeping change in the personnel of the Public Service. In Australia, however, a change of government need not, and does not, cause any change of departmental heads. There is therefore noneed to fear that the public interest will be imperilled by permitting a Public Service department to control broadcasting. It is one of our proud boasts that our Public Service is absolutely loyal to the government of the day, and we should be prepared to acknowledge that in the collective wisdom which is represented by that Service there is the ability to guide the destinies of an important community service such as this. I am confident that no man in Australia is better able to control broadcasting than the Director of Posts" and Telegraphs. I know that his administration has been challenged on the floor of this House, but the accusations do not, in my opinion, detract from his qualifications. In point of fact, the criticism is centred chiefly about the salary that he is paid. Possessing, as he does, the necessary technical and administrative qualifications for the task, it would be wrong for the Government not to use the services of Mr. Brown to control wireless broadcasting in the Commonwealth. Certainly we cannot afford to allow this essential service to become a private monopoly.

Mr Maxwell - Does the honorable member think that there is any necessity to establish a commission at all? Would it not be akin to a fifth wheel in a coach ?

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