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Monday, 5 June 1939

Mr GREEN (Kalgoorlie) .- Of late I have repeatedly asked in this House for information regarding the salary and expenses paid to Sir Ernest Fisk, managing director of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. The Commonwealth Government holds a controlling interest in this company. Under an agreement dated the 28th March, 1922, the Commonwealth paid £375,000 15s. for a controlling interest in the company, this representing a payment pf 15s. a share on 500,001 shares, out of a total of 1,000,000 shares. The only condition on which the Government permitted private enterprise to carry on the business of wireless communication, which should have been a public utility like telephones and telegraphs, was that the Government itself should have a controlling interest in the enterprise. It was believed by the Parliament of the day that it would exercise control over the activities of the company, and, with that idea, two members of the board were nominated by the Government, the right honorable William Morris Hughes, who is still on the board, and Mr. F. Strahan, secretary to the Prime Minister's Department, who was appointed at a later date. Although I asked my first question on the 19th May, the reply was not received until just recently. I do not blame the Prime Minister for that, because I know that the company was bluffing him as long as it could. Notwithstanding the fact that the Commonwealth holds more than half the shares, the company stated that at a meeting of directors, it would be decided whether or not information regarding (the salary and expenses paid to Sir Ernest Fisk would be made known to this Parliament. The meeting of the board was held on the 29th May, and the reply furnished to me by the Prime Minister stated -

The majority of the board of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is Unwilling that details of that kind should become a matter of public knowledge.

Why this hush-hush policy? .What is there to hide? The statement continued -

The company is incorporated in the State of New South Wales, and the Companies Act of 1936 of that State, though it provides that accounts of public companies have to contain certain particulars, including the total amount paid to the directors as remuneration for their services, expressly excludes from this provision the remuneration paid to a managing director of a company. I am, however, able to say that the amount paid to Sir Ernest Fisk has been communicated confidentially to me, and that, in my opinion, having regard to the nature of the business of the company, and the work done by Sir Ernest Fisk, it is not unreasonable.

No mention is made of expenses in that reply. It is in the interests of the Prime Minister himself that the total amount paid to this officer should be revealed to this Parliament. This is more than a public company, because the Commonwealth has a controlling interest in it. We should never have allowed wireless to become the preserve of a company. I am not suggesting that that point is relevant to this matter, but I mention it because this gentleman is continually booming himself in the press. This company has undertaken the manufacture of receiving sets, although, I feel sure, it was never contemplated by the Government of the day that the company should operate in that sphere. Furthermore, it has been due to representations made by this company and others that a high import duty has been placed upon wireless valves which makes it impossible to import a wireless set from any country, although it may be much more modern than any set made by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. Whilst I do not make any imputation against the Prime Minister, I suggest that there is something sinister in the general attitude of this company towards this Parliament. When I was PostmasterGeneral I tried to secure information of this kind from the company, and I was treated more cavalierly than has been the case on this occasion. Senator Gibson, also, when he was PostmasterGeneral before myself, attempted to get this information, and was treated iti ' similar fashion. In fact, the attitude of the company towards Ministers became a joke in the Public Service. The salary of each public servant is published in the Estimates; but, apparently, that gentleman is immune from any such disclosure. It it any wonder that he does himself pretty well? Mr. Strahan, if he knows, cannot give us this information, whilst the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Hughes) is as dumb as an oyster on the matter. Is it not possible to force this company to disclose to the Auditor-General what this man receives? The Auditor-General's report dealing with this matter simply reveals that, according ito a public statement issued by the company - that, I point out, it is obliged to issue in order to be listed on the stock exchange - the Commonwealth Government has put so much money into the company, but apart from this gentleman's share of dividends it is impossible to say what he receives. I am sure that his salary is twice that paid to the Director of Posts and Telegraphs, although the latter is charged with a far greater responsibility. Recently this gentleman returned from a trip to the Old Country by the Orient liner Orcades., on which he took one of two special suites for which accommodation he must have paid at least £1,000. The Government has a right to know whether such expense was met by his company. The Prime Minister should stand up to this gentleman, and direct the Government's representatives on the board, whose hands, I am aware, are now tied in the matter, to make known to the Government how much this man is drawing, not only in salary but also by way of the princely expenses which, i am sure, he allows himself.

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