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Wednesday, 14 December 1927

Senator MCLACHLAN (South Australia) (Honorary Minister) . - It is particularly gratifying to me to know that those honorable senators who have contributed to the debate take such a wide interest in this new science. Although the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) indicated his opposition to the agreement he was as loud in his praise of what had been accomplished in Australia as were honorable senators who favor the adoption of the agreement. Recognition of the good work done by the Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited is not confined to members of this chamber. The royal commission paid a high tribute not only to the company but to its managing director and other officers. The commission stated in its i report -

Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited and its managing director and other . officers are entitled to great credit for the establishment of this system, and, although such establishment was not completed until long after the date upon which the company had contracted to have it in operation, the Commonwealth has profited by the delay in that more recently discovered improvements have been incorporated in the scheme.

The company fought against powerful opposition to its proposals, and it was largely due to the technical ability and persistence of its managing director that it ultimately prevailed, and that Australia to-day has the benefit of an up-to-date and extremely rapid means of communication with Great Britain. In addition, the public has received the benefit of reduced rates.

There were one or two matters mentioned during the debate to which I may be allows to refer. I remind Senator Reid that the matters to which he referred are not touched by the agreement which is the subject matter of this bill. The commission made certain recommendations on that subject which yet remain to be dealt with by the Government. . Senator Thomas pressed strongly for a reduction in the terminal charges. I regret that yesterday the honorable senator appeared to think that I was somewhat flippant, but I was under the impression that the honorable senator was endeavouring to probe the depths of my knowledge in view of the fact that I was handling a subject that was somewhat foreign to me. I now understand, however, he was seeking information which I endeavoured to furnish to him to-day by way of interjection while he was speaking. A certain proportion of the charges must go to the British beam service because without its assistance the Australian beam service could not function. The honorable senator visualized business representing 50,000,000 words annually and a revenue of something like £200,000. The present traffic represents about 9,000,000 words a year and costs about £1,500 a week. Any substantial increase in the business will also mean a tremendous increase in expenditure. Although I do not wish to pose as a prophet I believe that if certain experiments which are now being conducted "in Sydney are successful it will be possible to write or dictate a letter in the Hotel Canberra, and by means of the beam system, send a photographic reproduction of it to London within a few seconds. If, as is anticipated, the experiments now being carried out are successful, the beam service will be much more largely availed of for commercial purposes than it is to-day, and the increased business will possibly result in a reduction in charges. Other honorable senators have discussed the value of wireless from the point of view of defence. It is by no means certain that the expert mentioned by Senator Thomas is always right; but unquestionably there will be considerable risk of the beam service being jambed through enemy action in the event of war breaking out. Competent authorities represent, therefore, that it will be necessary to make alternative arrangements to maintain an efficient wireless service. This matter has been engaging attention for some time. I understand that very shortly a conference will be held between expert wireless authorities to consider this problem, and I have no doubt that we shall be able to evolve a scheme which will ensure- the protection of the defence interests in Australia. Senator Millen this afternoon gave the Senate some interesting information concerning recent achievements in wireless. In the course of my travels I have had convincing evidence of its value to ships at sea. On one occasion, when we were enveloped in a heavy fog off the coast of Spain, the ship was stopped suddenly much to the amazement and alarm of the passengers on board, and when the fog lifted slightly we found ourselves face to face with a gigantic rock. The captain of the ship, being unable to fix his location by the ordinary method, obtained it by wireless at a cost of 4s. or 5s. I could not help thinking at the time that the science of wireless had been developed in a most remarkable manner, and I recalled the incident this afternoon when Senator Millen was addressing the Senate. Senator Needham applauds what has been done in the development of this science; but, in his official capacity as Leader of the Opposition, he feels it to be his duty, I take it, to oppose everything that is brought forward by the Government. The honorable gentleman stated that it would be much better if the Commonwealth Government took over control of all wireless services and conducted them as part of the post office. Senator Thomas, who has had some experience as Postmaster-General in a former administration, does not approve of that course. He suggests that wireless should be conducted as a governmental activity, and be controlled in much the same way as the Commonwealth railways are managed.

Senator Needham - The contention of the Opposition is that wireless should be under the sole control of the Government.

Senator McLACHLAN - And yet in the same breath the honorable senator complains that the Government has not given effect to the findings of the commission. I direct his attention to certain paragraphs in the commission's report, which state emphatically that Government control should be adopted only as a last resort; that the company which has been functioning so successfully as a privately controlled concern should be allowed to continue. I indicated yesterday that the commission had expressed this view, and yet my honorable friend continues to urge that the beam service should be taken over by the Government, and at the same time declares that the Government is not giving effect to tha commission's report. I say that in this respect we are. On page 14 of its report the commission discusses several remedies that have been suggested, and states: -

Fifthly, the position of the Commonwealth as owner of patents in its relation with the various inventors in other parts of the world would be doubtful.

Another remedy suggested was that the Commonwealth should utilize the right or power referred to in clause 21 of the agreement of 28th March, 1922, between the Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited and the Commonwealth of Australia, which is in the following terms : -

Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to prejudice or limit in any way any right or power to the Commonwealth to acquire on just terms compulsorily or otherwise any share or interest of any person in the company.

This is a means which the Commonwealth may be ultimately driven to adopt; but should not, in our opinion, be availed of except as a last resort.

On the question of the nationalization of the beam service the commission states on page 21 of its report -

Nationalization of the beam service has been suggested. This would, if practicable, be a solution of some part of the problem, but would not do justice to the persons who are jointly interested with the Commonwealth in this venture. Further, it would deprive the service of the initiative which private enterprise enjoys. The beam service has only recently been established and there are already indications of further improvements being possible and the public should be in a position to immediately command the use of these improvements.

Let me turn now for a moment to the charge of the Leader of the Opposition, that the Government is not giving effect to the findings of the commission. One does not take these things verbatim et liberatim, and accept everything that a royal commission suggests. On page VIII. the commission makes the following recommendations: -

1.   That the charges made by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited on broadcasting companies are excessive, and that they should bc reduced to a royalty of 2s. on each listener's licence.

2.   That the charges made by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited on radio dealers arc also excessive and detrimental to the development of wireless services within the Commonwealth, and that they should be reduced to a royalty of 5s. on each valve-holder, such royalty to include one valve for each valveholder.

For the 3s. paid by each listener-in as a portion of the licence fee, persons using wireless equipment receive far more concessions than the company is receiving from the 250,000 listeners-in. The Government has, therefore, done much better than the royal commission suggested. In the matter of patent royalties, the commission recommended -

That the attitude of the company with regard to claims for royalties on separate valves should be immediately defined, and the claims against traders should be abandoned so far as transactions on or previous to the date of publication to this report, are concerned.

Effect has been given to that recommendation. The rights of the company in that respect cannot be interfered with after the expiration of the agreement. The commission further recommends that, failing compliance with four paragraphs of its report, the Commonwealth should take steps to acquire the shares privately held in the company on just terms to the private shareholders. If these conditions, to three of which I have referred, are not complied with, the commission suggests that the Commonwealth should acquire the interest of the public in the company. The conditions, however, have been complied with. I deprecate the attacks which have been made upon Amalgamated "Wireless Australasia Limited, in which the Government and the people of Australia hold 80 per cent. of the shares. We have been told by Senator Needham that it is a foreign company masquerading as an Australian concern; but there is no occasion for it to masquerade as an Australian company when 80 per cent. of the shares are held by Australians. This institution, which is really an arm of government, may prove of national, as well as commercial and social benefit to Australia, and the people should give it their support. With reference to the £56,500 due to the Government by the company for coastal stations, I may say that no moneys will be paid to the company until that amount has been settled. During the second-reading debate, Senator Payne said that he proposed to move an amendment to clause 6 of the agreement, which would have the effect of in some way limiting the 'operation of the company in the event of some improved wireless system being discovered in the future. When the honorable senator brought this matter under my notice yesterday, I suggested that we should meet new difficulties as they arose, and that we could not depart from the terms of the agreement entered into between the company and the Commonwealth. I informed the honorable senator that I could not accept such an amendment, and I understand that it is not now his intention to move it. I am glad the bill has received such a favorable reception, and ask honorable senators to support the second reading.

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