Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 8 March 1928

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I move -

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the rate paid to the Amalgamated Wireless Company for messages from Australia to England, in plain language and not marked "urgent," should not exceed a penny a word.

Honorable senators may remember that just prior to the Christmas adjournment I submitted a proposal that the charge for sending wireless messages from Australia to Great Britain should not exceed one penny a word. During the recess I have had an opportunity to obtain further information on the subject, and I think I am now in a position to submit a proposal that is within the range of practical politics. My purpose is plainly indicated in the motion. I desire that messages couched in plain language be charged not more than one penny a word. If messages are marked " Urgent," or are sent in code - Governments and business firms may, for the sake of secrecy, if for no other reason, send wireless message in code- I think there ought to be an extra charge. I leave that matter, however, absolutely in the hands of the Government department concerned, or Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. I am solely concerned in presenting a case for a maximum charge of one penny a word for messages sent in plain language. I do not propose, at this stage at any rate, to interfere with the terminal charges over which Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. has no control. Later on, perhaps, if my motion -is agreed to and the Government is prepared to ask the wireless people to send plain messages to Great Britain at one penny a word, the terminal rates, which I confess are a puzzle to me, may be reviewed. In any case, the charge of one penny a word for messages would be imposed by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. The terminal charges are a separate matter altogether.

During the recess I was fortunate enough to come across a pamphlet I have had in my possession for the last nineteen years. It is a verbatim report issued by the Town and Country JJournal of a most interesting discussion that took place at the Colonial Institute in London on the 2nd April, 1909. Sir Henniker Heaton gave an address on Penny Telegrams and Cablegrams throughout the' Empire. The gathering was a distinguished one, representative of all parts of the Empire. Lord Jersey, who had been Governor of New South Wales, presided. Among those present was Mr. Neilson, the representative of the Eastern Extension Cable Company, who, needless to say, did not agree with the arguments advanced by Sir Henniker- Heaton, and pointed out that to bring down the charge for cablegrams throughout the Empire to one penny, a word would necessitate the installation of so many cables to make the scheme a paying proposition, that there would not be enough gutta percha in the world to provide them. Whether he was correct or not in that statement I do not know,- but it is an indication of the tremendous advances science has made in the last twenty years, when wc find now that it is not necessary to have a single ounce of gutta percha to send all the messages that would be required to make a service between England and Australia pay at a penny a word. That meeting in London, with one accord, agreed to the suggestion " that very free, cheap, swift and accurate communication was essential, not only in the interests of trade, but also for the continued consolidation of the Empire."

I am well aware that some honorable senators are greatly influenced by the opinions of business men, and that they regard any one who is not a business man as a visionary or dreamer. It is, therefore, necessary to support one's statements by the views of business men. One of the ablest and most distinguished business men Great Britain has produced in recent years is Lord Leverhulme. He was not present at the gathering in London, but in a letter which he sent Sir Henniker Heaton, Lord Leverhulme, then Mr. W. Lever, said -

On universal penny a word telegrams I am in hearty accord with you, and wish you every success.

And then he went on to say, what to my mind was rather important -

I fail to see why you should advocate the purchase of existing cables and telegraph lines. Every year cables can be laid and made to work cheaply. Why should a mass of practically obsolete cables, with all the difficulties of dealing with the 10 per cent, dividend be purchased, when 'the Government could lay their lines and leave the existing private enterprise to compete with them?

That statement was rather good, coming as it did from one of the most prominent and successful business men the British Empire has produced in modern times. Another letter, which was read at the meeting, came from Lord Curzon, who later became one of our great pro-consuls, and was Viceroy of India. He wrote -

Cheap telegrams will be found to bc the most economical and also the most enduring of the bonds of Empire.

That is a statement to which I can subscribe fully. The last great war taught us many tragic lessons, but no greater lesson than the urgent need of consolidating this great Empire of ours. I think that all honorable senators will agree that very cheap, accurate, and swift communication between Australia and the Motherland is desirable; but the question is whether it is financially practicable.

Surrounded as I am by business men, I must not be too visionary. In this connexion I must cover again some of the ground I traversed in the speech I made in the Senate just prior to the adjournment. The figures I shall quote will be based on the supposition that the Beam wireless system will work eighteen hours a day, thus allowing six hours a day for fading. By the way, I think we have a right to be told by the directors of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited how the Beam system is The people of the Commonwealth own the majority of the shares in the company. Senators, therefore, are just as entitled to the fullest information in regard to the failures and triumphs of the Beam wireless system, as they are to a knowledge of what is happening to the telegraph system controlled by ' the Postmaster-General.

I have never associated myself in thought or in word with any criticism that affects the manager of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. If Mr. Fisk has any fault at all it is that he is too mindful of the interests of his company and business men, of course, would not object to him on that score. If the charge for Beam wireless messages were fixed at one penny a word, does any one doubt that messages representing 50,000,000 words a year would be received for transmission? That traffic would return £204,000 a year. According to the Postmaster-General, £120,000 his been spent on a Beam wireless plant that is capable of sending 86,000,000 words a year to Great Britain. The expenses incidental to the Beam service amount to £80,000 a year, or £1,500 a week. Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, controls other things beside the Beam service, but to-night I am not concerned with them. If the company cannot make ends meet by charging a penny a word for plain messages from. Australia to Great Britain, we have a right to learn from its directors why it cannot do so. Let us contrast what is done in

Australia on' our land lines. Messages are sent' over our land lines at one penny a word, but a large portion of the work is done for about three farthings a word. A great number of the telegraphic messages despatched cost a trifle over one halfpenny a word, whilst the department despatches no less than 15,600,000 words free of cost. We are losing on our telegraph service about £300,000 a . year, but if £65,000 - representing Id. a word - were credited to the work which is now done free of cost the loss would be reduced to £235,000. If the department charged, a flat rate of one penny a word the deficiency would be wiped out, provided, of course, the same volume of business was offering. It also costs £300,000 a year to deliver telegrams. This has to be paid for out of the rates received for the despatch of messages. I am not suggesting that the Amalgamated Wireless should, from the rates now charged, meet the cost of delivering the messages it receives.

Senator McLachlan - It does so now.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If it does it is very unfair when it has to' pay terminal charges. It is an easy matter for the company to deliver messages in the capital cities, but additional expense would be incurred in delivering a message at, say, Bathurst. As the company is paying terminal charges it should have its messages delivered. It costs the Telegraph Department over £300,000 a year to deliver messages, and if it were relieved of this liability our telegraph service, even 'at the present rates of Id., fd., and -£d. a word would be able to pay its way. It costs £65 a mile for supplying and erecting telegraph poles, and if the cost of wiring is added the cost is equivalent to £70 a mile.

Senator Herbert Hays - Does that include the cost of constructing trunk lines?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, that' is the average cost per mile. Last year £236,000 was paid for renewing telegraphpoles which had become damaged by age, white ants, storms, or other causes. No such costs are incurred in connexion with an aerial service between Australia and Great Britain dr elsewhere.

Senator Needham - Does the £70 a mile include maintenance?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that it covers only construction. The aerial roadway is the free air we breathe, and Providence expects of us that we shall use it only in the interests of mankind. The improved telephone services and postal facilities are seriously cutting into the revenue ' of the Telegraph ' Department. In order to assist primary producers, the Government is erecting telephone lines throughout country districts to a greater extent than ever, and I think it was during the Hughes administration that a loan of £8,000,000 was raised to extend our telephonic, and other services of the Postal Department, more particularly in country districts. Every telephone service provided in the country affects the revenue of the Telegraph Department. In the service between Australia and Great Britain the submarine cable companies are the only competitors of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. It costs approximately £300 a mile to lay a submarine cable, and consequently if a rate of Id. a word were charged for wireless messages between Australia and Great Britain the cable companies could not show a profit. If cheap communication will be the means of bringing the people of the Empire together, creating greater cordiality and extending business, it should be provided. It is infinitely preferable that such a service should be provided at cost price rather than that the company should be paying a dividend of, say, 10 per cent. Perhaps I may be pardoned for referring to a personal incident of which I was reminded to-day when I met Sir William Mcpherson. While I was Postmaster-General a deputation, consisting of Sir William McPherson, Mr. Henry Berry, and other prominent business men of Melbourne, waited upon me, when the toll telephonic system was being introduced, and suggested that the department should not expect to make a profit from the service which they said was a public utility. They were of the opinion that it should be made to pay its way ; but should not be expected to show a profit. I told the deputation that I did not believe in the service being made a tax collecting machine. I am still of that opinion, and I think I am right in saying that we should not look for a profit on beam wireless. Under the present agreement with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Commonwealth the company holds 499,999 shares, and the Government, as the representative of the people, 500,001 shares. I think it is unreasonable that practically onehalf of the shares in the company controlling the Beam service should be in the hands of private enterprise. Senator J. D. Millen and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) are two of the Commonwealth's representatives on the board. If the Senate were asked to-day to select a representative on the directorate of that company, I should unhesitatingly support Senator Millen, who is not only a distinguished member of this chamber, but also possesses externsive scientific knowledge which fully qualifies him for such a position. If I were a member of another place I should undoubtedly support the appointment of Mr. Hughes, to whom we really owe the existence of the Beam service. But why are Senator Millen and the right honorable member for North Sydney on the directorate of the company? Are they there to watch the financial aspect of the company's operations? They were not appointed for that purpose. I contend that the other directors can do that better than they can, because they have long been closely associated with business, and in looking after the interests of their section of the shareholders would be safeguarding ours.

Senator Needham - Is the honorable senator in favour of the Government assuming complete control over wireless?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, that is what I am leading up to. Our representatives on the directorate are there to safeguard the interests of the Australian public. What are their interests? Are they anxious that the company should pay a dividend or provide a service at the lowest possible cost? I think it is their duty to see that a service is provided at a low price. I have no hesitation in saying that, sooner or later, the Beam wireless service must be taken over by the Government. I read recently, with very much interest in a book written by Mr. J. A. Spender, who, as honorable senators are aware, was for many years editor-in-chief of the Westminster Gazette, the statement that for over a year he wrote a weekly letter on European politics which was published in the New York Tribune, and that although he wrote these letters in a Kentish village they appeared without fail in the New York Tribune on the following day. This means, of course, that they were sent to America by cable or by wireless. I could not help thinking what an advantage it would be to us as an Empire, if, when important questions affecting Great Britain and Australia were under consideration, a leading article published in Australia appeared next day in the Manchester Guardian, or a contribution from some responsible authority in Great Britain was published the same day in the Sydney Morning Herald. A leading article of about 1,200 words would, at a penny a word, cost only about £5. The Government has at present a wonderful opportunity to render a valuable service to the community in this way.

As honorable senators are aware, I have taken a great interest in the development of wireless for some time, and everything appearing in our newspapers concerning wireless and cable communications is of interest to me. At present a controversy is proceeding in Great Britain between the wireless companies and the cable companies who are considering amalgamation, not for the benefit of the Empire, or in the interests of the people, but so that they may be able to make increased dividends for themselves. Wireless is the most wonderful discovery of the age, and I object to it being made the battledore and shuttlecock of the stock exchanges, or being used. merely for the benefit of the wealthier sections of the community. I wish to see it used in the interests of the people generally.

Senator Thompson - Without that incentive, it will not be possible to accomplish anything.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I stand by what the late Lord Leverhulme said on this subject. If we had a Id. a word wireless system in operation .we should not now have this controversy between the wireless and cable companies in Great Britain. "We should be in the full enjoyment of one of the greatest gifts that scientists have given to the world. I quoted just now, though briefly, the views of the late Viscount Curzon. He declared -

I should like to see a low rate everywhere, but first I should like to see it between all parts of the British Empire. Let us talk first - as all families begin by doing - to our own children.

The late Lord Tennyson, a former GovernorGeneral of Australia, stated -

A universal Id. a word telegram between all parts of the Empire would be an unspeakable boon. Work for that.

I claim that wireless messages at Id. a word would do a great deal to help the migration activities of the Commonwealth. The Nationalist party, I believe, endorses this view. As a party, we stand for a policy of migration. The Government appointed a costly commission to inquire into the subject, and make recommendations for the furtherance of its policy. Being interested in migration, I wrote to a number of prominent citizens of the Commonwealth and I propose to quote briefly from the replies which I have received. I regret that I have mislaid a letter from Canon Garland, who, as honorable senators probably are aware, is the migration representative of the Church of England in Queensland. In his letter to me, he declared that at least 1,000 people had come to Australia as the result of his personal activities, and that, therefore, he was entitled to speak of the influence of cheap wireless communication on migration. He stated that nothing was more calculated to ensure the success of migration than cheap communication between Australia and the Motherland. The best migrant is the person nominated, but, at present, owing to the long delay involved in correspondence, it is difficult to interchange views on this important subject between Australia and the Motherland. I wrote, also, to the Rev. W. H. Jones, who occupies in the Methodist Church of Australia much the same position as Canon Garland holds in the Church of England. , Mr. Jones, who has had considerable experience during the last two or three years with migrants, is in favour of cheap wireless communication between Australia and Great Britain. He states -

It seems to me that by cheapening the means of communication we are helping to make such people more contented settlers, and also helping them to feel that, whilst they are separated by many miles, actually they are not so far away because of being able to send and receive messages quickly and cheaply.

Sir RobertAnderson, the president of the New South Wales division of the New Settlers League of Australia, writes as follows : -

I wish you all good luck in your fight for wireless messages at Id. per word. It looks as though the claims made by the wireless experts are sound, that these cheap messages at week-ends or other slack times Wil be possible at that price. I have been president of the Kew South Wales New Settlers' League for nearly three years, and I have seen that the enormous bar to immigration from Britain is isolation that strangers suffer by being cut off from their friends excepting by postal communication, which takes six weeks and lacks any crispness of touch. The present week-end messages, costing 6d. per word by cable or 5d. per word by beam with a minimum of 20 words puts anything like regular communication beyond reach of 90 per cent, of our immigrants. The chance of sending 24 words for 2s., or. better, 12 words for ls., would make an enormous difference; and you can picture the profound relief and satisfaction strangers here would feel with a message 48 hours old reaching them of the well-being and happiness of their loved ones; or, conversely, the thankfulness of the mother in England at having prompt and regular word that " John " was happy and succeeding, 12,000 miles away.

Some time ago I learned that Sir Benjamin Fuller, another keen business man of Sydney- I like to quote the views of business men on this subject - had at a welcome to Mr. Bankes Amery, the British representative of migration in Australia, declared that Id. a word wireless messages would greatly assist the migration activities of the Government. I called on Sir Benjamin subsequently, and questioned him further on the subject. He assured me that he was strongly in favour of the proposal, and hoped that the Government would adopt it. He added that by means of a code, his business messages to Great Britain did not cost him more than about Id. a word, whereas the poor migrant, under the present system, has to pay an excessive rate.

I admit that if my proposal is adopted, the interests of the existing cable companies will be affected. However, I am not anxious to protect the interests of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. Can honorable senators say that that concern has ever been the friend of the British Empire? Are they aware that at one time the company demanded a subsidy of £30,000 a year to establish communication between Australia and the Mother country? Are they aware also that Tasmania had to pay a subsidy of £4,000 a year for the privilege of cable communication between Melbourne and Launceston, and, in addition, had to guarantee a certain volume of business per annum ? When the Pacific Cable Company was established many years ago the Eastern Extension Company made an arrangement with the leading newspapers of Australia under which all press messages had to be transmitted over the Eastern Extension lines. I have always had a friendly feeling for the Pacific Cable Company. Possibly this is because the Government is, to some extent, financially interested in it. The first deputation which I, as a young member of Parliament representing Broken Hill, introduced to Mr. Crick, the then PostmasterGeneral of New. South Wales, made a request that a certain concession which was then asked for by the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, should not be granted if it would place the Pacific Cable Company at a disadvantage. Many years ago, in the House of Representatives - before I was elevated to the Senate - I submitted a motion affirming that the land-line between Vancouver and the Atlantic sea board, which was then in the hands of private enterprise, should be taken over in the interests of the Pacific Cable Company. I urged also that an Atlantic cable should be purchased so that the messages transmitted over the Pacific Cable Company's line should be completely under British control between Australia and London. That course has since been adopted, though I do not claim that it- was the result of my advocacy of it many years ago. I cite the incident merely to show that I have always been a friend of the Pacific Cable Company. But even that concern must not stand in the way of progress. I remember when Mr., afterwards Sir- George, Reid, brought forward a proposal for the electrification of the Sydney tramway system, Sir John See, who strongly opposed the motion, urged that the electrification of the transport system of Sydney would mean the passing of the omnibuses, which were then in use. He argued also that if omnibuses were displaced by electric trams, the primary producers in north-coast districts would lose their market for maize and other products. Recently Mr. Crawford Vaughan, a former Premier of South Australia, informed me that when the late Mr. Price submitted the scheme for the electrification of the Adelaide tramway system, it was opposed in certain quarters on the ground that if the horse-drawn buses were taken off the streets, the orchardists in the hills district would be short of manure for their gardens! Our telephone system, as I said a little while ago. is now entering very seriously into competition with the telegraph department. If the telephone gives an improved service to our people, obviously the telegraphic service will have to be scrapped. I know that some people say it is necessary to retain the cable service for purposes of defence. That is a matter of policy. What I want to know, however, is whether Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited can send messages at Id. a word and make ends meet. If it cannot I wish to know the reason. I am not asking that the wireless service be subsidized, although I do not overlook the fact that a subsidy is paid for the oversea carriage of mails, and the provision of refrigerated space, notwithstanding that the space provided by shipping lines that are not subsidized is five times as great a3 that which is subsidized.

Senator McLachlan - Is the honorable senator suggesting that a subsidy should be paid in respect of the wireless service or the cable service?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the Government is willing to pay a subsidy it should be given to the wireless service to enable messages to be sent at the rate of Id. a word. There is as much justification for that as there is for subsidizing the carriage of mails and the provision of refrigerated space. A bounty amounting to £450,000 a year is given to the wine industry in order that the Englishman at Home may purchase his wine at a cheaper price.

Senator McLachlan - And so that the soldier settlers on the Murray will be saved from ruin.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I notice that some persons who are interested in the production of peppermint oil have induced the Tariff Board to recommend that they be granted a subsidy. I do not know whether the Government will grant it ; presumably it will. If that can rightfully be claimed, we have a perfect right to ask for a subsidy for something which will bring us more closely in touch with people who speak our language and whose history and destiny do not differ from ours.

Senator Crawford - No one disputes the right to ask.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When I last brought this matter before the Senate the Minister was good enough to reply to my representations. He had then been informed of a discovery by the use of which a letter written in Australia could be photographed to England. He said that that would result in a greater volume of business being done, with a consequent lowering of charges. A little while ago I spent a week at Wentworth Falls. I stayed at a house in which was a youth, fourteen years of age, with a broken leg. In conversation with him I ascertained that he had read some remarks of mine on wireless that had been published in the National Review. He informed me that there were some, points which he- understood, and others which he did not. I asked him, " What do you understand '' ? He replied, "I understand that if I can sell chocolate bars at Id., when others are charging 6d., I will get all the business. I also understand that if I can get a good A.J.S. motor cycle to-day, there is no -necessity for me to wait five years for a new make of machine." The Minister on the previous occasion to which I have referred, said that an increase in the volume of business done would lead to a reduction of the charges. Has he ever heard of

Henry Ford? That gentleman has exceptional business capacity, and his guiding principle is that if you place an article within the reach of those who want it, you will secure their business.

Senator Crawford - He -seems to have lost all his business.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Any one who can start without capital and make £20,000,000 is a fairly good business man; quite .equal, even, to some of the business men who sit in this chamber ! I wish to know whether the Government intends to reduce charges. Democracy, does not become very enthusiastic over a government which merely appoints royal commissions, and calls together conferences of different interests, however necessary those may be. The people fall behind a a government which does things on a big scale, and makes the waters roar.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Like Mr. Lang did!

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - This Government has the opportunity, by cheapening wireless communication, to annihilate the distance between Australia and the, centre of the Empire, thus conferring an inestimable boon on the people. The Fisher Government lost £400,000 a year by the introduction of penny . postage.

Senator Sir George PEARCE - And an ungrateful country turned it out of office !

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Senator Pearce might tell me whether the present National Government wishes to be less imperialistic than a former Labour government? Eighteen or nineteen years ago the leading men of the day were asking for this concession. It is now possible to grant it. Are the Government prepared to turn the dreams of to-day into the splendid realities of to-morrow? If so, they will support my motion.

Debate (on motion by Senator McLachlan) adjourned.

Suggest corrections