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Thursday, 11 July 1946

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member has his own methods, and they are not the usual methods of honorable members generally. I paid what I considered to be an adequate tribute to the company for the handling of this section of its business. I know that it has done a fine piece of work for Australia in respect of not only its overseas services, but also its Australian manufacturing interests. It may be said to the credit of the company that it has never had an industrial dispute among its employees, but, has maintained the happiest relations with them. Altogether it employs about 5,000 people, and I think the number was as high as 7,000 during the war. These men and women have rendered good service to their country and to the company that employed them. If there is any feeling at all that 'the tribute has not been adequate, I add that the Government is highly appreciative of the services of the company and its employees.

The honorable member for Wentwortb also said that no other British country had yet ratified the proposal in the over-all agreement recommended at the conference on telecommunications in 1945, and he asked why Australia should be the first to ratify it. He argued that we should proceed slowlyin the work of ratification. My reply is that all of the British Commonwealth governments concerned have approved of the form of the over-all agreement, and have indicated their in1 .eli tion to proceed to a full implementation of the plan for the nationalization of the oversells telecommunications, services.

Mr Harrison - But the plan has not yet been ratified by the various governments.

Mr CALWELL - The governments concerned are parties to the agreement and have signed it. What the honorable gentleman complains about is that they have not submitted ratifying legislation to the parliaments of their respective countries.

Mr Harrison - Until the parliaments have passed the necessary legislation, the agreement will not be ratified.

Mr CALWELL - A bill relating to the matter is now before the Parliament ' of Great Britain, and I take it that the honorable member regards that .as an important body in the consideration of the scheme. Great Britain, like Australia, has a good Labour government, and will proceed with the work of ratification at the earliest possible moment. The High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Australia, as a former Minister for Information in the Government of Great Britain, was interested in the preparation of the plan for the ratification of the scheme.

Mr Harrison - I mentioned that. My argument still stands.

Mr CALWELL - It stands alone, like a shag on a rock. The third point taken by the honorable member was that the Government should consider the operation of the services through the medium of the Postmaster-General's Department rather than by setting up a commission. The honorable member said that the scheme should be debated in a non-party atmosphere, but before he concluded his remarks he descended to gross personalities. He alleged that the idea of the Government in proposing to set up a commission, was to find an opportunity to give jobs to its supporters. He instanced the appointment of the former honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) as chairman of the National Airlines Commission. That, of course, was most unfair and grossly improper. The former honorable member for

Henty was selected on his merits to be chairman of the Commonwealth Airlines Commission, and if success in business is to be regarded as the criterion of a man's capacity to manage a big business organization, the honorable member for Henty is much better fitted for the position than is any honorable member opposite. The honorable member for Henty. is one of Australians true patriots. He has been actuated, not by base personal motives, but by a desire to serve his country. He has been prepared, even at the cost of injuring his business, to put the nation's interest first, and that is more than can be said of many of his critics.

The honorable member should understand that it is fundamental to the plan agreed upon at the London conference that the organization to be set out in each Empire country should be a separate entity ; that is, either a public corporation or' company wholly owned by the Government; or, in the event of this proving to be impracticable in any country, and if the organization is a part of a government department, it should take the form of a separate undertaking. The reason for these arrangements is that the plan agreed upon is Empire-wide, and that under such a plan the government 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. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition seems to imagine that this is to be a purely Australian concern with no Empire associations.

The honorable member further argued that an arrangement by which the PostmasterGeneral's Department would undertake the operation of overseas telecommunication services would enable many miles of telegraph lines now used by cable and wireless companies to be released for the use of the department. I point out that special telegraph channels for the handling of overseas traffic would still he needed even were the department to assume the operation of overseas tele- communication services. Thus, there would not be anything like the saving in the use of telegraph lines which the honorable member envisages.

The honorable member also asked how the interests of the cable staff employed in foreign countries by Cable and Wireless Limited were to be protected. This is a matter for determination by the British Government, which will acquire the assets of Cable and Wireless Limited. Under the London conference plan, the British Government has agreed to protect the interests of the employees, and there is no reason to doubt that it will do so.

The honorable member said that a government institution was not so well suited to carry out research and developmental work as were private undertakings. The answer to that is to be found in the record of the PostmasterGeneral's Department, which maintains one of the finest research laboratories in the country. No private enterprise could succeed in research as does the postal department.

Mr White - Cable and Wireless Limited, in England, has also done much research work.

Mr CALWELL - That is a very big organization, but it has been in financial difficulties for many years, because it is not able to compete with new methods of overseas communications. Even though wireless communication offers an alternative method to communication by cable, the Government of Great Britain found it necessary for many reasons, including the need for secrecy during the war, to keep the cables in operation, and therefore subsidized the company so that it might carry on. It would have been foolish for Empire governments to take over wireless communications without also taking over the cables. It will be the responsibility of the governments of the countries concerned to undertake research work to ensure that advantage is taken of all developments in the science of communication, in respect of both radio and undersea cables. There is in Melbourne a very fine laboratory associated with the Postmaster-General's Department. There is in Sydney another very fine research centre, although a smaller one, associated with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and the Government has no desire to close it down. There cannot be too many of these laboratories. We learned that during the war. We experienced great difficulty because at first we did not have enough research laboratories and worse still, not enough trained research workers. Nothing, will be done to disperse the research workers associated with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, or to lessen the efficiency of its laboratories.

Hie Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) allowed his imagination to run riot when he attacked the efficiency of the postal department. He argued that the war-time surcharge on telephone and postal services should be reduced, although he admitted that he himself imposed it.

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was not PostmasterGeneral at that time.

Mr CALWELL - Well, the surcharge was imposed by the Government of which the honorable member became a member. The reason for the imposition of the surcharge still exists. It was imposed for war purposes, and the war is not yet over for at least 100,000 men who are still in uniform. The transition from war to peace is still in process, and that is the most difficult and most dangerous stage of all. We have not yet returned to the halcyon days of peace. Postal" and telephone charges are bound up with national finances. When it is possible to reduce the charges they will' be reduced.

Mr Spender - That means that this Government will never reduce them.

Mr CALWELL - The honorable mem- 4 her for Warringah may have his suspicions, but they prove nothing. . He was a member of more than one government which" succeeded in doing just nothing. As a matter of fact, the Opposition is where it is to-day because it did nothing about defence, and it was the honorable member himself who confessed that one division of Japanese troops could have overrun Australia.

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This is supposed to be a non-party measure!

Mr CALWELL - If honorable members opposite insist upon introducing politics they cannot complain if they gel. hurt. The honorable member for Wentworth said that the Government ought not to retain its interest in the manufacturing business of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited.

Mr Archie Cameron - Hear, hear !

Mr CALWELL - The irrepressible tory from Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) approves, and the equally antideluvian tory from Balaclava (Mr. White) echoes that approval. It is illuminating to hear the 'members of the newly-formed Liberal party endorsing such tory views. This Government does not subscribe to them. Asa matter of fact, there are good reasons why, in this instance, the Government should retain its interests in the business activities of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. The Commonwealth has participated in those activities over the last 24 years, and there is no good reason why it should now vary an arrangement which has worked so successfully. '

Mr Fadden - Does the Government expect to make a reasonable profit out of the business activities of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited?

Mr CALWELL - Yes. In any case, since the Government is taking away the major part of the company's business, it is morally bound to help the shareholders to preserve their interest in the restricted sphere in which the company will in future be operating. During the period of the company's reconstruction it would be unfair for the Commonwealth' to withdraw its financial investment in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. The company will be faced with many problems in re-arranging its organization, and the withdrawal of the Commonwealth's financial investment at such a juncture would place it in an unfortunate position. The Government does not desire that such a position should arise, and therefore it proposes to help the company by allowing its investment to remain. Some honorable members opposite hold a different view; they believe that the best way to help the company would be for the Government to withdraw its money.

Mr White - I thought that the Minister and his colleagues were not interested in the profit motive.

Mr CALWELL - We are interested in maintaining a strong organization to conduct communications.

Mr Spender - The Government intends to leave its investments in the com pany .because it does not want to hand the money over to any private organization.

Mr CALWELL - The opinion of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) on this or any other matter does not count.

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