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Wednesday, 10 July 1946

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) . - I support the bill, and I am pleased to note from the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) that it is commended in other quarters. I congratulate the Minister on the very painstaking way in which he dealt with the measure during his second-reading speech, and for the manner in which he explained its complicated machinery to the House. The bill must indeed be an importantdocument to have caused the Deputy Leader of the Opposition temporarily to turn Socialist and admit that he is prepared to accept this form of socialization. But I am sure that this defection from the well-known principles held by honorable members opposite will end rapidly when other measures of a similar kind are presented for consideration. This rather complicated proposal has very important features from the viewpoint of, not only the average honorable member, but also the average Australian. The Minister has traversed the series of complicated negotiations that took place in order that this measure may run, as it were, in tandem with similar legislation in other parts of the world and vest in the Government of the country control of telecommunications both in peace and war. Control of this kind is particularly important in the interests of Australia and of the Empire as a whole. In the change-over there must of necessity be vast movements of equipment and of those who operate it. The vesting of control of telecommunications in a commission seems to be a reasonable solution of the difficulties presented by the proposal. The establishment of such a control cannot be challenged even though the proposal will inevitably bring about, some displacement of the industry and those engaged in it. In this connexion the position of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited must be given very close consideration. As has been mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, we have to consider the important part played by that organization in the past, particularly during the war period. I accept, as indeed may the people of Australia,, the Minister's assurances, that adequate and reasonable compensation will be paid to existing organizations which will be displaced by the. commission. . Just compensation, -however, is not the only matter which should be considered. lt might be a graceful gesture on the pa rt of , the Government to make provision for a- special payment to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited in appreciation of its splendid war effort. I am particularly interested in the continued welfare of the company, because its largest factory in New South Wales is adjacent to my . electorate, being situated in the electorate of my colleague, the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly). The experiments and research undertaken by the company in order to bring telecommunication services up to the highest level of efficiency have been admirably successful. On a recent visit to the company's factory I noticed many highly skilled technicians, who, a few years before the Avar, had been working in more or less unskilled avocations. As the result . of intensive research in the company's laboratories it was able to provide the most efficient wireless equipment for the troops in the South West Pacific during the Avar. As the result of the skill and ingenuity of its technicians the company was able to produce completely waterproof wireless equipment which played an important part in the amphibious landing iti New Guinea. During tests this equipment submerged in water for twelve hours, and 30 seconds after being withdrawn from the water it waS found to be completely and efficiently operative. I am gratified to know that laboratory experiments of this kind will continue and that research, which is. the. essence of progress, will not bc interfered with. An aspect of this proposal which . touches very closely honorable members on this side of the House, and honorable members opposite also, is the displacement of personnel that will be brought about by the change over -to Government control. I am glad to have the assurances' of the Minister that no employee

Will be victimized in the process. Whilst a considerable number of those ]low engaged in the industry will be absorbed in the commission's activites' and by other activities of the company, provision should be made for other avenues of employment to he. found for those not so absorbed. Special consideration might well he given to those older men who have served telecommunications loyally in the past, particularly the former members of the Pacific Cable. Corps, who to-day are the forgotten men of the telecommunications, system. I remind honorable members that in the past, sometime before the commencement of the war just ended, and just after the 1914-18 Avar, these men represented the field force of the old Pacific Cable Board, a partially'- Government-owned institution. They were trained at Southport, Queensland, in the old system of cable-telegraphy. They worked in isolated outposts and gave splendid service. Possibly not more than half a dozen or a dozen of them are alive to-day. I trust that in considering the ramifications of this bill the Minister will not overlook their claims for consideration.

Another point which is, perhaps, more vital than either of the two I have mentioned, and which was dealt with briefly by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, is that Ave must have control of telecommunications so that in time of war our defence secrets shall not have to he passed through the open channels of communication, and thus be in danger of being picked up hy fifth-columnists and members of organized associations of various kinds hostile to this country and to" the Empire. I agree with' that view. That is one of the major reasons why all 'the governments within the. Empire should' solve' without delay the difficulty of open communications during Avar-time. This bill sets the scheme in" motion, and", as the 'Minister-inf ormed us in. his- secondreading speech", it will be followed by other' legislation in other parts of_ the world ' to- effect the same purpose. But one begins to think of other dangerous material which passes over our telecommunications, and wonders what will happen eventually to it. What control. - I detest the word " control "-can be exercised over the exchange of cables between, countries ? Suppose the Government is faced with a position such as that which occurred recently in connexion with the "Gibraltar affray", as we have come to know it. Since last week-end, beam and cable messages reaching this country reported a fracas in Gibraltar, in which the flower of Australian manhood who had served in World War II., including winners of the Victoria Cross. Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal, were alleged to have been involved in a savage assault on the police of Gibraltar, It was said that there was a drunken 'brawl, and that Australians had, without provocation, so far as could be seen in the cabled report, attacked the Gibraltar police and instituted a veritable reign of terror on The Rock.

Asa former Australian serviceman and journalist, I should not let the Gibraltar affair ' pass without strong comment. First, as an ex-serviceman, I do not believe that Australian soldiers are capable of committing brutal and savage assaults. I do not believe that the picked men who formed our Victory Contingent would molest pedestrians. Certainly, our men got mixed up in a brawl, but strangers in a strange place must always stick together. That is the inevitability of the matter. I should like to know who started the trouble. The cables do not tell us. But I shall show honorable members in a few words just how telecommunications are endangered when rumours of this nature, unsubstantiated or. ex parte statements, are made to the dismay of the whole of Australia. I do not care very much what the newspapers print about the matter, because the trouble has not yet been sufficiently investigated. I believe that an inquiry will prove that somebody tried to " put something over " our boys, and they resented it. Then the "somebody." called the police, who wanted to arrest 'some of our men -without bothering tb find out the rights and wrong3 of the matter. Knowing the Australian ser viceman's love of fair play and his esprit de corps, I can understand that those would provide the ingredients of trouble. If some of our boys were being hauled off to the local calaboose, and their mates felt the injustice of it, I can imagine the call that would be made for a task force to release them. I think that the party of Australians were well outnumbered, and a " free-for-all " in those circumstances could hardly be called a " brutal and savage assault ". However, the incident has been lavishly featured in all parts of the world by the. anti-British and anti-Australian press.

The first news to reach Australia of Friday night's affray left Gibraltar on Sunday. The expressions " Australians' disgraceful behaviour " and " brutal and savage - assaults by Australian servicemen " are those of Reuter's correspondent. The whole of the report, which painted the Australians as a mob of hooligans who, apparently, left the ship with the firm intention of getting drunk and wrecking the town, and which in not one place mentioned the possibility of provocation or any other extenuating circumstance, is the opinion of Reuter's correspondent. I emphasize that" point. Telecommunications are endangered in that way just as . they are in war-time. According to the correspondent, our men were involved in. a disgraceful and heartbreaking incident. They have not had an opportunity to defend themselves. Even the Government has not yet received an adequate reply from the officer commanding those troops. I am sure that he will present to us a more balanced story than the one which has been published. But the correspondent's story is the important matter. We must understand that this news having been sent to all parts of the world, it cannot easily be overtaken by a refutation.

Mr Archie Cameron - Does the honorable member mean that under the proposed control of telecommunications, the correspondent would not have been permitted to send the story?

Mr HAYLEN - Nothing of the sort. The "honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie' Cameron) should * noi. ' draw that inference from my remarks. What I arn trying to point out, ami I am sure the honorable member would not desire me to do anything else, is that the use of telecommunications to spread a story which can never be overtaken by a contradiction is a savage and cruel thing. We must "apply ourselves to the ethics of the position, but I suppose that the only thing that the honorable member for Barker can understand is the closing down of a broadcasting station. The slower and more tortuous, but nevertheless more democratic way of ethics is the real solution of this problem.

Before I leave this subject, I desire to" emphasize the danger inherent in telecommunications. When the cable from. Renter's correspondent reached Australia, experienced journalists throughout the country would have remarked. "We must verify this information". But before that could be done, in at least two. newspapers, there was a Sunday morning " scare ". Our men, about whom we had been filled with pride, and whose deportment in London had been praised, were reported as figuring in a vulgar brawl. Some newspapers did not even seek to discover- the cause of it. That is the danger of telecommunications. The Sydney Daily Mirror set out to discover the facts and its banner head-line on Monday read, "No Gibraltar Riots". During the war newspapers lathered the troops with their oily praise, because they were a good source of advertisement; now, the whole Victory contingent has been libelled, and some newspapers did not attempt to ascertain whether the story was in accordance with the facts. Would not any Australian worthy of the name say, " This is a serious matter. It is a reflection on my country and on the flower of Australian servicemen. We must check back on the contents' of this cable, with a view to ascertaining the full facts ". But so debased and debauched have the sub-editors and others associated with a certain section of the press become, that they regarded this cable as a "good story". They were not concerned as to whether it defamed Australia; They were not limited to the busy men at the subeditor's desks, who pardoned for saying, " Here is a good story. :> We shall '.run it ' for what it L;>worth, and see what' happens in later cables ". The Fairfaxes and Packers, in editorials, described the troops as an " unruly mob which terrorized Gibraltar ".

This matter is most serious. I have used this opportunity to direct attention to it because it involves our overseas communications. To the honorable member for Barker I say that the censorship of communications is furthermost from my mind"; but in establishing the commission, power must be given to control all the canards and libels which, .after they are released, can never be overtaken. The public are not interested in subsequent apologies. The drama of the first story is the thing which attracts the people. There is a technique in journalism with which some newspapers are fully familiar. They know that after they have printed a story any subsequent apologies are read by only a small percentage of the people who had previously read the libel. T again emphasize the danger to the teleinternational communications system of leaving it open, to people who, in their hearts, have a feeling of savagery towards Australia. God knows that it is difficult enough to get the rest of the world interested in Australia. Some Australians are disposed to worry about what people in other countries think of them. When anything happens here, the first reaction of the newspapers is : " What will the world think of us?" I can answer that question. The world is not thinking about us at all, except when we have a bushfire, earthquake or something equally disastrous. Then it is featured by the press throughout the English-speaking world, as has been this story about the conduct of the Australian contingent at. Gibraltar. Because sections of the press have built up a bad psychology, the Australian serviceman is featured as a basher and a bully.

We have made a dramatic forward move in our communications system, which will- play an important part in our future life. We have decided to place this system under' a form of control which will be adequate, sincere, and Australian in outlook. We have decided to safeguard the people whom this legislation will displace from their jobs, and we have also considered the position of others who were remotely connected with the undertaking some- years ago; I hope that the Minister will see' that they too are brought under his protecting mantle. The bill is evidence of the honest application that will be made by this Government to other huge problems which, like telecommunication, are related to national defence. The subject is so important that one could talk at great length about it, but it is so involved that to do so would perhaps be only boring. The measure has many aspects which require careful consideration, and I hope that, in the committee stages, we shall discuss them fully but without heat. Finally, I say that, if we cannot do anything to control messages transmitted over the telecommunications system, we can «at least draw world-wide attention to the ethics involved and have a gentlemen's agreement with other nations that telecommunications shall not be used to sabotage Australia or to defame Australia's fighting men.

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