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Thursday, 11 July 1946

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - I ask the Minister to return to the bill.

Mr CALWELL - I do not like being asked to return to the. bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I am being subjected to interjections. I propose to reply to them if I think that they are germane to the subject under discussion. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) said that he had been informed that £1,400,000 had been agreed to as compensation to be paid by the Government to the shareholders in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. He went on to say that, in his opinion, that sum was altogether too high.

Mr Fadden - I said that it may be too high.

Mr CALWELL - The right honorable gentleman then said that the Government should appoint an expert panel of accountants to make an investigation. .

Mr Fadden - I did not refer to accountants; I said that a panel of experts should be appointed. They need not necessarily be accountants.

Mr CALWELL - I am glad to have the right honorable gentleman's observation that accountants are not necessarily experts.

Mr Fadden - I would not have a panel consisting only of accountants, to do this work.

Mr CALWELL - The right honorable gentleman said that £750,000 would be adequate compensation. Obviously, lie has received information from some one who has had access to confidential documents. The use made of information thus obtained is, to say the least, highly improper.

Mr Fadden - The information I obtained was given to me by -an exmember of this House.

Mr CALWELL - I have not said that the right honorable gentleman had no right to use the information; I shall use inf ormation that comes into my possession if by so doing I can serve the interests of the country. I said that the use of the information was, to say the least, highly, improper.' I did not criticize the 'right honorable gentleman for using it. The nian who gave it to him was guilty of a misuse of information. Finality has not yet been reached with the company, but negotiations for an agreement are proceeding. . The Government is of the opinion that it is better to reach an agreement by negotiation, if that can be done, rather than that it should provide a feast for lawyers such as the honorable member for Warringah. That certainly would be a misuse of public funds. If we are to pay compensation in 'the way indicated by the Prime Minister, who is also Treasurer, honorable members can rest assured that neither too much nor too little will be paid. The figure which will ultimately be arrived at will probably be less than if a case were allowed to drag through the law courts of this country, until finally a number of judges in either Australia or Great Britain decided the issue, without knowing as much about the operations of the company as do the people who are at present conducting the negotiations. I point out that,_ in addition to the purchase of the physical assets of the company, the Government must have regard to the loss of profits resulting from the termination of the agreement. The company has always maintained that it has valuable interminable rights. Whether it has them or not, the fact remains that it makes that claim. Such ii claim cannot be dismissed in the flippant way that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) would dismiss it.

Mr Conelan - Whatever rights the company claims to have were given to it by non-Labour governments.

Mr CALWELL - That is so. It must not be forgotten that in acquiring the telecommunications assets and services of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, the Commonwealth will acquire also .the revenue benefits arising out of the conduct of such services solely by a government authority. That revenue is considerable. Indeed, trade rivals of Amalgamated -Wireless (Australasia) Limited say that that company has been able to compete successfully in its manufacturing sphere of activities because of the diversion thereto, as subsidies, of profits from the telecommunications section; Adequate and reasonable compensation must be paid to the private shareholders of the company for the loss of their rights. No good purpose would be served by the appointment of a panel of experts, as the Government has confidence in its present advisers. Whatever the final compensation figure arrived at may. be, honorable members may rest assured that it will be fair to the company as well as to the taxpayers. I doubt whether experts equal in ability and knowledge to the two gentlemen who are conducting the . negotiations could be found. Although they have been named by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), I repeat that the task has been entrusted to the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. McFarlane, and the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. Fanning.

The -honorable member for Barker said that the charges imposed by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited for ship to ship and ship to shore communications are high compared with those in other British countries. The reply to that observation is that the rates for this class of traffic are determined by the agreement entered into between the administrations of the countries concerned, the shipping companies, and the bodies operating the coastal radio stations. The charges made by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited are in accordance with that agreement. In some British countries the rates are higher than those charged by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited in the Australian and New Zealand zones. In respect of British ships operating beyond those zones', Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited has offered to reduce the rates to the lower level obtain-' ing here, but with the exception of one company, the authorities controlling such ships have not so far accepted the offer. The details are shown in a statement which, with the consent of the House, I shall incorporate in Hansard -


Note. - In Great Britain, the charges imposed for messages to ships at sea vary from 6½d. to1 is. (sterling) per word, according to classification of ship and nationality, and according to the coast station through which the message is transmitted. Particulars regarding the corresponding charges levied in New Zealand are not readily available but information in this respect will be obtained later if so desired.

The other points raised by the honorable member for Barker were equally interesting, but not very convincing. He said that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited had certain monopolies over patents which he questioned its right to possess. The reply to that observation is that as between the Commonwealth and the company the matter of patent rights was covered by Part II. of the Wireless Agreement 1927. That part of the agreement was completely determined on 1st March, 1934, by processes therein provided. Since that date the company's claims to those rights have ceased to exist. The honorable member is just twelve years out of date, but that is nothing exceptional for him. When I asked him why, when he was PostmasterGeneral, he did not rectify some of the things about which he now complains, the honorable gentleman replied that he was in office for only five months. The average member of the Australian Labour party would not need five months in which to rectify something which he believed tobe wrong. The honorable member apparentlynot only wasted the whole of the five months he was in office, because he did nothing to remedy the things he complains about to-day, but he also did not even attempt to find out what the position was because he has referred to something which, on the evidence, ceased to exist about twelve years ago.

Mr Spender Mr. Spender interjecting ,

Mr CALWELL - If the honorable member would go back to his home, as is his wont after 24 hours in Canberra, we might be able to make some progress. He is so rarely present more than once a week during the sittings of the Parliament that we have come to call him " Once-a-week Percy ". The honorable member for Barker said that as the PostmasterGeneral's Department already handles 91 per cent. of the telecommunications, he sees no reason for setting up another body for the controlling of telecommunications. His argument is on a par with that of the Deputy Leader of the party to which he ostensibly belongs.

Mr Archie Cameron - Temporarily belongs !

Mr CALWELL - I accept the correction, which is indicative of the honorable member's mind on all questions. And the fact that he is even temporarily under the deputy leadership of the honorable member for Wentworth is also merely an accidental circumstance. The plan for co-ordinating overseas telecommunications throughout the British Commonwealth and Empire, as recommended by the London Telecommunications Conference of 1945, was accepted in principle by all thegovernments of the British Commonwealth, not only those that had the advantage of an up-to-date, progressive Labour outlook, but even by those that were somewhat backward in their outlook. It is fundamental to that plan that the organization to be set up should be a separate entity, that is, either a public corporation or a wholly governmentowned company, or, in the event of that proving impracticable in any country, and if the organization is part of a government 'department, it should take the form of a separate undertaking. I have already said that in' respect of the observations of the honorable member for Wentworth, and I feel impelled to repeat the statement in order to make the position clear in relation to the observations of the honorable member for Barker. The reason for this arrangement is that the plan agreed upon is Empire-wide, and that under such plan the governmnent bodies in each Empire country will contribute on an agreed basis towards the expenses of a central board to be established in London, and towards the maintenance of the extensive submarine cable system. We cannot look at this merely as a problem associated with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, Cable and Wireless limited and the Australian PostmasterGeneral's Department. A general rule should be laid down, claimed the honorable member for Barker - who, by the way, observes no rules at all in respect of anything - that an activity of this kind should either be a 100 per cent, government undertaking or left wholly to private enterprise. The honorable gentleman is certainly an extremist ; he goes the limit whichever way he decides. There is a happy medium in all things, a,nd this (Government commends itself to the Australian people because it is always able to discover the happy medium, not only in respect of a matter such as is covered by this bill, but also in all other matters/ Overseas telecommunications ais provided for in the bill will be a 100 per cent, government undertaking. The Government's interest in the manufacturing activities of the company is not covered by a provision in the bill as it now stands, but by an agreement that may be made under clauses 23, 49a and 52 of the bill as they will be amended later. Some of those who at present are employed in cable and wireless services are fearful of their fate under the new arrangement, said the honorable member for Barker. The honorable gentleman went further and said that I had given no clear statement of what the Government proposes to do with these employees. Suitable provision has, however, been made in clause 18 (.11 ) of the bill' for the .protection of the interests of the cable and radio employees. Following the implementation of that provision, the Government intends to set up a committee to give consideration to all matters affecting all employees concerned in the transfer of the telecommunication services. That committee will consist of representatives of the two companies, Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and Cable and Wireless Limited and of the Government, and whatever is decided upon will no doubt be given effect immediately and without difficulty.

Mr Francis - The Government is throwing Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited to the wolves. '

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member may conduct himself in wolfish fashion if lie likes, but he has yet to learn that the Government cannot put anything into this bill to cover the quantum of compensation which Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and Cable and Wireless Limited are to pay to their employees as a whole or to any of them individually. The framing of provisions defining the rights of employees would, in the opinion of the legal advisers of the Government, be beyond the capacity of the Parliamentary Drafts]nan, and even if they could be framed, their, inclusion in the bill may even be beyond the right of the Parliament. What the Government has decided to do - and I am sure the honorable member for Warringah will appreciate this - is to set up an ad hoc committee to determine these matters.

Mr Spender - What specific obligation is imposed upon the Commonwealth or the commission under clause IS (10), to which the Minister has referred ?

Mr CALWELL - At the moment I am replying generally to honorable members, and at the committee stage I shall take the opportunity if necessary to define more clearly the obligations of the company and the Government. On behalf of the Government I give the general assurance, which the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) desired, that the interests of the employees will be fully protected. That -undertaking will be honoured by this Government both before and after the next general elections. . The honorable member for Barker said that unless his memory was seriously at fault - I do not know why he raised the issue against himself because honorable members on this. side pf the chamber very often find him at fault in his feats of memory - Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited had been subsidized from time to time, in respect of its communication services, by grants by the Commonwealth Government. He asked for an investigation of departmental files in respect of dealings with the company, and said that the revelations thus made would show the company in a very bad light.

Mr Archie Cameron - I think they would.

M r. CALWELL.- The honorable member's memory is badly at fault. Such moneys as have been paid to the company have been paid in accordance with the 1922 and 1927 agreements which are binding upon the Government. For instance, the 1922 agreement exempted th<' company from payment of terminal charges to the Commonwealth, but this provision was altered later and the company was required to pay those charges. In addition, the company was required to pay to the Commonwealth 30 per cent, of the revenue it re'ceived from its coastal and island services. Thus, instead of receiving a subsidy, the company was required to make a contribution from its revenue to the Government. In order to compensate the company to some degree for the loss incurred on its coastal and island traffic, and in consideration of the company discharging certain obligations of the Commonwealth in respect, of safety of life at sea. the Commonwealth agreed to pay £45,000 per annum. But the Commonwealth would have been obliged to pay that amount to any instrumentality for sending messages from 'the shore to vessels at sea. However, this payment by the Commonwealth is more than balanced by the revenue received by the Commonwealth. If there is anything wrong with the agreement, the honorable member for Barker has been long enough n member of tha Parliament to raise his voice in the councils of the various parties to which he has given his doubtful allegiance, and in the various governments in which he has served with considerable notoriety, .with a view to effecting any remedy he desired. However, he comes now, in 1946, like an 'avenging angel with a fiery sword, and says that he is going to have something fixed up. There is nothing to fix up now. because the case put up by the honorable member is based on shifting sands: The amounts paid by the company for the year ended the 30th June, 1945, totalled £101,417, consisting of £91,874 in respect of terminal charges for beam service, £3,S00 in respect of terminal charges for. coastal and island radio services, and £c>,743, representing 30 per cent, of revenue from its coastal and island radio services. Allowing for a contra amount of £45,000 paid to the company by the Commonwealth, the balance in favour of the Commonwealth was £56,417. That was the position in a typical year, but in other years the balance in favour of the Commonwealth was greater. Therefore, instead of all the dreadful revelations regarding payments by the Commonwealth to the company year afteryear, which the honorable member said! the files would disclose, the fact is that last year the Commonwealth received from the company £56,417.

Mr Fadden - Did not the company receive services for that amount?

Mr CALWELL - The right honorable gentleman, as a brilliant accountant, should know that the Commonwealth never pays anything without getting service for its outlay.

Mr Fadden - The company got value for that amount.

Mr CALWELL - The argument is not, whether the company received value. The honorable member for Barker said that the Commonwealth was paying out a lot of money to the company which it ought not to be paying out - that the Commonwealth was subsidizing the company. The truth of the matter, as I have shown, is that the company is making very heavy payments to the Commonwealth. No subsidy is paid to the company. The aspect of service does not arise. I have no doubt, however, that the company has provided very good service for the money that it has received, and that the Commonwealth has not paid more for that than was fair and equitable.

The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), the honorable member for Bourke * (Mr. Bryson), the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) spoke in support of the bill, and I -compliment them upon their statesmanlike utterances. The honorable member for Bourke urged an extension of the system of competitive examination to all employees rather than limiting ' such examinations to clerical employees only. He also suggested the establishment of , a promotion appeals board by the commission as is provided for in the Commonwealth Bank Act.' The conditions of employment of technical and other em'ployees, except .clerical employees, will call for the laying down of certain qualifications. It may be considered that the commission should make any necessary detailed arrangements in this connexion by the issue of regulations under the act rather than by specific provision in the act itself. In respect of the promotions appeals board it may be "preferable, if an appeal board is to be set up by the commission to determine questions relating to promotions, that the matter be dealt with by the issue of regulations under the act- and not by special provision in the act itself. However, I am impressed by the remarks of the honorable gentleman, and I have referred the matters he raised to the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) with a view to determining whether any amendments should be made to clause 18 of the bill to cover the points at issue, or whether it would be preferable to deal with these matters by way of regulations issued under the act." If it is found desirable, certain provisions in this respect will be included in the bill at a later stage. I shall, ask the Postmaster-General to make such amendments in the Senate.

I come now to the speech of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who, among Opposi-tion members, at least knows something about the measure. He has played a very important role in guiding, the relations of the Commonwealth Government with the various telecommunication companies which have operated in Australia. He urged that provision should be made in sub-clauses 10 and 11 of clause 18 for the transfer to the service of the commission of telecommunication employees of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited to the maximum extent possible. I have already stated that it is the intention of the Government to set up an ad hoc committee consisting of representatives of the company, the Treasury, the commission and the employees to deal with all matters concerning pensions, furlough, superannuation and like rights, and to consider the matter of compensation to any employees who may be prejudicially affected by the- change-over. The conditions relating to the employees in the reconstructed manufacturing company will be a responsibility of the company, but discussions are proceeding with a view to their interests being fully protected as far as it is practicable to do so: The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) dealt largely with the situation at Gibraltar. That matter has been taken in hand by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), who has already issued a statement.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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