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Wednesday, 10 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is going beyond the scope of the bill.

Mr WHITE - One must ask whether this proposal is being made for the benefit of communications or whether it is not the Government's traditional policy. I do not know whether you were here, Mr. Speaker, but the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) went to great detail about something that happened at Gibraltar last week. Hesuggested that that sort of news should not be transmitted. He said all news transmitted to and from Australia, should be authentic, sincere and Australian.. I agree, but that cannot be achieved without some form of censorship. The honorable member baulked at the word " censorship ", but there must be 'control. The honorable gentleman skated beautifully over that detail. No doubt he delights the Minister for Immigration and his colleague, the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron), who would exercise the control. The honorable member hinted that press messages should be scrutinized.

Mr Haylen - I did nothing of the sort.

Mr WHITE - The honorable member did. I was present throughout, his speech. He said he was a. former journalist and that, he knew, all about the newspapers. It does not matter what the newspapers report, because their opinions differ, but we have a public that should be able to discriminate. This is not Russia, Germany, or Italy, but if we had the world that these people are looking for, where " every message was scrutinized by the Minister or one of his minions, we should be moving towards a socialistic state. In that domain the Communist can live. There is good in this proposal, but it must be carefully watched by those who value individual freedom, the freedom of the press, and who think private enterprise should flourish side by side with government enterprise. The Government should not be allowed to usurp everything.

Mr Calwell - The honorable member wanted to sell our postal organization.

Mr WHITE - The Minister makes wild statements from time to time. I do not believe that he prepared the speech which he read because it is too temperate. The. biggest organization involved in this amalgamation is Cable and Wireless Limited, a. British corporation. Every one who has travelled knows how efficient it is. Like the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, it has conducted extensive" research. It was to the forefront in the development of radar. It operated a television service in 1938, and Baird, whose death was recently reported, invented and made great improvements in television under the auspices of this private company, which has been sponsored by the British Government for many years.

At the seventeenth annual meeting of Cable and Wireless (Holding) Limited held in London on the 26th June, 1946, the chairman, Sir. Edward Wilshaw, said -

This great communications company which lias been built up over a period of 80 years has established itself throughout the world, has shown unquestioned efficiency and enterprise in serving the community, in the Empire in particular and the world in general and has become the largest communications system in the world and the envy of others. What then is the reason why it is to be disintegrated and its control passed to the hands of the respective governments? The answer to this question, we are told, is that some of the Dominions desire more control. We do not cavil, at that and we believe the situation could have been met where there is such demand by other means, without jeopardizing the system as a whole. With its long and successful experience, one would have thought the company might have been invited to make suggestions to this end.

Here are some of the services that it carried out during the war of which 1 am sure honorable members availed themselves, as did their relatives : -

The company was required to set aside half the profits over 4 per cent, for the further reduction of rates and it has, in fact, reduced very substantially rates all over the world and particularly within the Empire without waiting for the accumulation of a surplus over 4 per cent. It has introduced .many cheaper classes of messages including social messages and has reduced the Empire press rate to a penny a word. We do not' desire unduly to emphasize actions taken by the company during the war purely on grounds of humanity. Namely, free messages monthly between parents and children overseas separated by evacuation; free messages for prisoners of war and for those engaged in battle on the seas. But these are some of the things which we have been proud to do for the benefit of the community. I venture to think it might, have been very difficult for governments to do these things without parliamentary authority and consequent delay.

That is a record of which any company can be proud. That is the principal com'pany involved in this proposed agreement. Where we have such high efficiency we should consider very carefully to what degree we should place power entirely in the hands of the Government. There is a tendency - and I do not say this in any party-political sense - that when organizations fall into the hands of the Government, efficiency deteriorates and service becomes indifferent.

Mr Calwell - That is nonsense!

Mr WHITE - As an instance of inefficiency on the part of a government department I refer the Minister to the archaic train service between Goulburn and Canberra, which, with its 50 years old engines and its out of date rolling stock, would not do justice to Patagonia. We should hesitate before too readily giving full powers to the Government. I believe in government control in tried instances, hut not the general control envisaged by those who would socialize everything until every member of the community became the servant of the State. The Government should seriously consider whether it will be able to maintain the efficiency of our telecommunications service. Sir Edward Wilshaw went on to say -

We consider the scheme which was' envisaged for its administration under the new conditions is quite impracticable, but it has been indicated recently that the Government has not finally made up its mind as to the future administration of the undertaking when it does take over.

And this in my opinion is the crUX of the quotation -

The request and the pressure for public ownership emanated originally in and from Australia, and we do not think from information we have that the Dominions, as a whole, were dissatisfied with the present set-up.

So the pressure for the socialization of the service came from Australia, and the British Government, always courteous, always ready to listen to the Dominions' viewpoint, probably gave undue weight to the representations of the socialist negotiators who represented this country.

The Minister for Immigration-, is fond of telling us of the efficiency of the PostmasterGeneral's Department. Yet today the postage charged for sending overseas a food parcel weighing 7 lb. is 3s. 7d. If a parcel happens to weigh a few ounces over the 7 lb. - and many housewives find it difficult to keep to the exact weight - the charge is raised to os. 10d., or the equivalent of no less than £60 a ton, which in some cases would be considerably more than the value of the goods despatched. If. such a charge were levied by private enterprise, the Prices Commissioner would very quickly intervene. Socialists who so fanatically believe that excellent results freely follow from government control should scrutinize these things. Let us not take it for granted that because the Government has unlimited funds it must be capable. of conducting the telecommunications service efficiently. I sound a note of warning about this proposal to sabotage a great Australian company, Amalgamated . Wireless (Australasia) Limited. The Minister has said that this proposal will not. prevent the company from continuing operations under a different set-up. I only hope that he is right. I cannot understand, however, how ' the Government can grant it the preference suggested by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly).

Mr Calwell - Why not?

Mr WHITE - If the Government has evolved a scheme under which such preference can be extended let us hear it. It is tragic that a great Australian company with such a splendid record over the last two decades is now to be put out of a'ction. The service rendered by the company in the past has been excellent because it has had behind it a combination of the resources of the Commonwealth and the initiative of private enterprise. We have had socialization of banking, and interstate air-lines, and now we are to have socialization of communications. What next is earmarked for government control? On the question of charges, Sir Edward -Wilshaw said -

When I remind you that our standard revenue fixed by the Government is only £1,200,000 a year and that in pre-war years our profits ran around that figure of £1,200,000, then it must be assumed that had this happened in pre-war days, this action would have put us in the red to the extent of £1,300,000 a year. If this be so, we can only assume' that it is not intended to run the communications system in future on any economic basis, but to dip into the pockets of the taxpayers and even the taxpayer who does not use the service, in order to balance the budget.

So the Government is to bind itself to certain rates5; it will not concern itself whether they will be profitable or not, because it will have the means at its disposal to extract from the pockets of the taxpayers of this, the highest-taxed country in the world, any sums needed to meet deficiencies as they arise. We have to watch these experiments with great caution. We cannot do otherwise than subscribe to the agreement because it has been assented to by other Empire countries; but let us at least ensure that the rates fixed are fair and reasonable, that the service provided is efficient, and that the commercial, broadcasting and patent-holding rights of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited are preserved. Only if these" matters are given due consideration and trained personnel are taken over, may our telecommunications service be above the standard of the services usually provided by government departments. I ask the Minister to bring my remarks to the attention of his colleague, the Postmaster-General.

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