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Thursday, 3 December 1914

Senator LONG (Tasmania) .- I move -

1.   That, in the opinion of this Senate, it is desirable that the Commonwealth Government should exercise complete and exclusive control over wireless telegraphy on land and sea areas under its jurisdiction, and that in the adoption of this scheme the Australian system of wireless, which has been by experts pronounced to be the most effective known, should be the sole system installed.

2.   That the manufacture of telephonic material, wireless plants, parts, and instruments, should be undertaken by the Government.

3.   That the above resolutions be transmitted to the House of Representatives requesting their concurrence therein.

Radio or wireless telegraphy should be just as exclusive a Commonwealth monopoly or Commonwealth service as any other branch of our postal or telegraphic system. There are no insuperable difficulties in the way of carrying this policy to a successful issue, because works have been established at considerable expense in certain States thoroughly capable of undertaking the manufacture of wireless plants and everything connected with them, and also all our requirements for telephonic services. We have at present ample wireless stations so far as the coastal service and connexions with our Dependencies are concerned; but there is no reason why wireless telegraphy should not be developed to a much greater extent inland than it is at present. If it were, it is no idle statement to make that the very heavy expenditure which this Parliament is called upon to meet annually for telegraphic poles, wire, and other incidentals connected with the construction and maintenance of telegraph lines, would be considerably reduced. When the Commonwealth Navigation Act comes into operation it will be compulsory for every ship trading in Australian waters under our jurisdiction to be equipped with a wireless plant. There is every prospect of an important industry being established in this direction if the Government undertakes the manufacture, construction, and installation of these very necessary wireless plants on the different ships trading in our waters. At present there are over 500 ships trading in Australian waters that are without anything in the nature of wireless equipment. The present wireless companies operating in Australia, who claim to have a monopoly, charge about £250 a year rental for each plant installed on the ships that are today equipped with wireless. We cam therefore estimate what revenue would be likely to accrue to the Commonwealth Government if they undertook this work, even if they charged the shipping companies a much lower rental. There has been established for some time in Australia a factory specially equipped for the construction of wireless material. This factory, I am glad to say, received considerable encouragement from the Labour Government when they were in office from 1910 to 1913. It was in consequence of the support received from the Labour Government, and the activity displayed by that Government in linking Australia up with a chain of wireless stations, that those interested were induced to import special machinery at a high cost to equip their works thoroughly, so as to undertake the manufacture of wireless plant and material ; but when the Labour Government were superseded by the late Cook Ministry, strange to say, every effort was made to boycott the works.

I make bold to say that during the regime of the late Cook Government that factory, with its 250 skilled, capable young Australian workmen, did not receive sixpennyworth of Government work. Not only did the late Cook Government not encourage this fine Australian industry, but they did all they could to place obstacles in its way, and to assist its competitors, known as the Amalgamated Wireless - a combination of the German Telefunken and the Marconi companies. The Australian interests of these companies were combined for the purpose of defeating the Commonwealth system - an Australian invention that was assigned to the Federal Government without any cost to the country - and I regret to say that this movement in a great measure succeeded. When the war broke out on the 5th August of this year there was a considerable demand for wireless plants, and the then Minister of Defence purchased a number of them from the German company, while hundreds of young Australians capable of manufacturing them were walking the streets of Sydney looking for work.

Senator Lynch - Were any tenders called?

Senator LONG - No tenders were called for the supply of that material, although the urgency of the requirements may have justified this; but there were complete wireless plants in that factory that had been manufactured by Australian workmen. These were allowed to remain there, and while the bailiffs were practically in the premises, many big orders were given to the Amalgamated Wireless Company by the late Government. That is a bold statement to make, and our friends opposite can try to refute it if they have the courage to bring forward their facts.

Senator de Largie - It is disgraceful.

Senator LONG - It is disgraceful when we remember that a number of people in Australia put a lot of money into this very fine industry, and imported machinery to the value of almost '£80,000. The late Government apparently went to a lot of trouble to crush this good Australian industry, while in different parts of Australia they were talking about the glories of this Commonwealth, free, fair, Federal, and just. If Australian industries had to depend for their existence upon the support of Governments led by

Mr. JosephCook or the representatives of his party in this Chamber, they would have mighty poor prospects. I have included in the motion a provision that any system of wireless telegraphy installed should be a Commonwealth system. Honorable senators, before committing Parliament to the adoption of any system, would of course require to know what the Commonwealth system, which is a purely Australian invention, had to recommend it. On this point, the opinion of Mr. Swinburne, admittedly the greatest living expert on radio-telegraphy, should be not only valuable, but conclusive. He was brought out to Australia to adjudicate in a dispute that was going on at the time between the Marconi and Telefunken people and those connected with the Australian invention. The former applied to the High Court for an injunction for alleged infringement, and the Judge rightly asked for scientific guidance in an investigation into the infringement of so highly technical a patent.

Senator Lynch - Did both companies consider that there was an infringement of their patents?

Senator LONG - When it was discovered that the Commonwealth Government were likely to adopt, and did adopt, the new invention, the German firm and the Marconi people, who were then at each other's throats for infringement, combined their Australian interests in order to fight the new system, and, if possible, crush it out of existence. Mr. Swinburne, who received a fee of about 3,000 guineas for coming out here, reported that there was not the semblance of an infringement by the Commonwealth system on any other system, and voluntarily added that the Commonwealth system was 33 per cent, more effective than any other known system. I am sure" his statement is a sufficient recommendation for the system I am advocating. When his recommendation was made available, of course litigation ceased. In the meantime, the Labour Government went out of office, and a new Government came in. A few months afterwards it was announced that the Commonwealth Government and the Marconi people had come to an amicable agreement, the Cook Government having decided to purchase the Australian rights of the Marconi, which, by this time, included the Australian rights of the Tele- funken, for £5,000, each side to pay its own costs in the litigation. This was a beautiful arrangement, seeing that, in the case that was then going on, the combination that was trying to crush the Australian system out of existence was already " well walloped." It had no chance of winning, yet the Cook Government agreed to purchase its Australian rights for £5,000, although those rights absolutely expired at the end of the present year. The unfortunate part of the whole business is that, owing to the fact that no judicial decision was obtained in respect of the threatened litigation, the Commonwealth wireless system occupies very much the same position to-day that it occupied previous to the attack made upon it by the Marconi combination. If an attempt be made to instal it upon any ship trading round our coast, the Combine will at once threaten the shipping company concerned with an injunction, and the company, not wishing to face litigation, will, consequently, decline to proceed further with it. It will thus be seen that it would have been much better had a definite decision been obtained from the High Court as to the alleged infringement of the Marconi patents by the Commonwealth. From the very beginning of that litigation until its termination, Sir William Irvine held a retaining fee as counsel for the Marconi Company.

Senator de Largie - Ho ought to be impeached.

Senator LONG - No doubt attempts will be made to whitewash his conduct. But nothing can justify the legal adviser of the Government in accepting a retainer from a financial corporation whose interests are in direct conflict with those of the Commonwealth.

Senator Lynch - He would probably tell us that no mau cm serve two masters.

Senator LONG - Probably. I think I have said sufficient to convince honorable senators that my proposal would bo a very good one for the Commonwealth to adopt. I believe, too, that they are of opinion that a scheme which is purely an Australian scheme is well suited to our requirements. When I add that everything connected with wireless plants, from the most sensitive instruments down to the most unimportant piece of machinery, can he manufactured in the Commonwealth, it will bc recognised that it is time the Government established a factory of this kind on their own account. Of course, it may be urged that we have already established a number of wireless stations, and that, consequently, we are not likely to require much in the way of plant in the future. But I would point out that there is considerable wear and tear, particularly on the motors and oilengines, which form part of any wireless equipment, and that these could well be manufactured by the Government. It is equally important that the Commonwealth should undertake the manufacture of the whole of its telephonic requirements and material. There is no reason why it should not have done this long ago. There is no reason why it should import any of its telephonic requirements, either metallic or wood, or why it should import the ebonite which is used in connexion with that service. Seeing that all these things can be produced in Australia, we ought not to hesitate to undertake their construction, and to make their manufacture a Commonwealth monopoly.

Senator Lynch - 'The insulators, I believe, are imported.

Senator LONG - No. I am glad to say that we are manufacturing the biggest portion of our requirements in that direction, and that the local product is equal to the best imported. The great majority of the telephonic instruments used in Australia are branded " Ericson," and it is interesting to know that nearly every part of those instruments is made in Germany, whence they are sent to Sweden, where they are assembled. Subsequently they are forwarded to Australia as a Swedish production. The whole of these articles might with advantage be manufactured in the Commonwealth, which would thus provide work for many capable Australians. I am extremely anxious that we should do nothing in the way of rendering assistance to Germany - the country with which we are now at war, and whose action has threatened the very existence of civilization. I am sure that those honorable senators who, like myself, have visited the very fine wireless works at Randwick, in New South Wales, and who have heard the explanations of the experts employed there, must be satisfied that everything connected with our telephonic requirements could easily be supplied by that factory. As a matter of fact, there is an Australian firm to-day which is undertaking with marked success the manufacture of ebonite. There is no doubt that we have in this country a variety of woods which are thoroughly suited to the manufacture of telephone boxes. When we recollect that we are importing a large number of these boxes, and that they cost about 7s. 6d. each, we can easily understand what a saving the Government would effect by undertaking their manufacture locally. I am assured that the Ministry do not view this motion with any degree of hostility, and consequently I have no wish to labour it. I merely desire to add that we already have in our midst' a thoroughly equipped factory, manned by a skilled staff, which is capable of manufacturing the different materials of which I have spoken and of thus affording employment to a number of skilled men who were formerly engaged there, but who have now been out of work for some months. The Ministry have now an opportunity of seeing that these men, who have lost their employment by reason of the inaction and indifference of the Cook Administration, are again provided with an opportunity of earning a livelihood. I submit the motion in the full confidence that honorable senators will recognise its importance, and that the Government will, without delay, undertake the establishment of a fine Australian industry, which will employ many thousands of good Australian workmen.

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