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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr PEARCE (Capricornia) .- 1 wish to discuss two subjects which are covered by the group of estimates now under consideration. The first relates to the Postmaster-General's Department. I want to take a somewhat unusual course - at least, it appears to be unusual this evening - and congratulate the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) on the work he has done since he took over his portfolio. He has experienced a rather difficult period, but 1 am sure that the time immediately ahead will be a time of great advancement for the postal services. Perhaps that will be some encouragement to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. H. V. Johnson). I want to congratulate the Minister particularly upon the recognition he has already given to Australia's amateur radio broadcasters, or hams as they are called. He has extended them considerable sympathy and has recognized their problems and difficulties. His sympathetic consideration of their problems is a very fine tribute to them. The Minister has allowed them to continue with television experiments, and to extend their work with mobile equipment, and has tried to get the co-operation of the public and the State governments in a campaign to have suppressors fitted to appliances and machinery to prevent interference to radio and television broadcasts. This will be of considerable help to ham radio operators in Australia, and they thank the Postmaster-General for his sympathy and understanding. 1 feel that we pay too little tribute to Australia's amateur radio operators. Although their work may be classed as a hobby, and a very interesting one, which keeps them deeply engrossed, we should, nevertheless, acknowledge the vital part they play. We too often pass lightly over the valuable work done by them, particularly in time of emergency. Disastrous though the recent floods have been, they would have been much worse had it not been for the work of the amateur radio operators, who struggled against great obstacles to maintain vital communications between the flooded areas and other parts of the country. Fine work was done not only by the operators in the devastated areas, but also by those in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and elsewhere who picked up messages and transmitted them by telephone to the authorities. It is on record that many of the operators of amateur radio stations gave up their normal work, at considerable personal expense, and devoted themselves solely to the task they felt they had to do for their fellow men in time of disaster.

We have the comforting assurance that they .are ready to serve the community at all times should cyclones, fires, floods, or disaster in any other form occur.

I do not think the Government can properly measure the valuable service that Australia's radio hams have given the country by promoting international goodwill. Their operations are not confined to Australia. Their transmissions go far abroad and carry messages of goodwill from Australia wherever, they are received. Australia's amateur broadcasters are doing a splendid job for their country in spreading, the spirit of understanding, friendship and comradeship among the fraternity of ham operators throughout the world, and this work must pay Australia great dividends in the long run. We are indebted to our amateur broadcasters for their work in war-time also. It is greatly to the credit of the hams who were operating just prior to World War II. that, on the outbreak of war, those in the military age-group whowere fit joined up in a body and served in the signals branches of the three services. Amateur operators are ready reserve again if a war emergency arises. If we could measure completely the value of the work done by Australia's ham radiobroadcasters, I think we could say that the experience gained by them in signals work, radar, electronics, and the manufacture of radio equipment, is so important that without it Australia's defence programme would be six months behind the present stage. I think the valuable work these men ate doing in pursuing their hobby deservesdue recognition from the Government. There are many ways in which it could give them perhaps greater recognition than they have received in the past.

Earlier, I mentioned that the PostmasterGeneral had given a sympathetic hearing torepresentations for the more extensive fitting of suppressors to household appliances and motor cars to prevent radiointerference. I mentioned this matter in relation to television on a previous occasion. Interference can cause great distortion of the image on a television screen. Also,, if appliances such as electric razors and washing machines are not fitted with suppressors they might, because of the low power on which hams are forced to operate in Australia, cause interference with their signals. Even an electric razor being medi in one house can put the ham, who is operating in an adjoining house, off the air until the fellow using the razor has finished shaving. I ask the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) to endeavour to persuade the State governments to enforce the fitting of suppressors to all householdelectric appliances and motor cars, and also to inform the general public of the interference that can be caused, not only to television, but also to ham operators, by the use of faulty electrical equipment.

Mr Wheeler - What cost is involved in the fitting of suppressors?

Mr PEARCE - I understand that a suppressor can be fitted to any electrical appliance for about 2s., so that no great outlay of cash would be involved. There is one other matter that causes me some concern in regard to ham operators; that is, the restriction placed on the power under which they may operate in Australia. In New Zealand, hams are allowed to operate up to a maximum wattage of 250, whilst in America, the limit is 1,000 watts. But here in Australia, we keep them down to 100 watts. As Australia is a large country, I think that consideration should be given to increasing the maximum wattage at which hams can operate at least to the limit of 250 watts that is observed in New Zealand. By the use of additional power, the hams could get their signals through more clearly than under the present limit of 100 watts.

There is one other way in which we could help them, and it would not cost anything, at all. We could allow them complete freedom in the importation of equipment that has been developed as a result of experiments overseas,, particularly in the United States of America, which seems to lead the world in the radio field. It would be very little for us to do for a band of devoted people who have served Australia well, and who are ready to serve again, if need be, should we experience either external or internal trouble, to give them ready access to import licences to enable them to bring into this country, duty free, any material that they need for experimental purposes, and to exempt from sales tax any such material that is manufactured in Australia.

As I mentioned earlier, the radio operators circulate throughout the world. They plan to meet, probably in Geneva* in 1959. That may sound a long way off, but it is sot so far ahead in terms of planning, and when they meet they will discuss their problems and establish standards to operate until the next conference is held, probably four or five years later. I think that it is essential for Australia to be well represented at the proposed conference. However, at the moment, it appears that it will be left to the Wireless Institute of Australia to provide the necessary money to send its representatives to the conference. As we subsidize rifle clubs, because of their defence, value to the community,, I think that it would not be unreasonable for us to say to the institute,. " If you pick the men you want to go to the conference, we will pay their fares, or subsidize by 50 per cent, the cost involved ", so that Australia can be adequately represented. I am sure that such a gesture by the Government would pay valuable dividends in the long run. Before hastening to the next subject to which I want to address myself, 1 should like to emphasize that we cannot pay too high a tribute to these men who are serving Australia so well to-day, and who have done a grand job for us in times of emergency and peril. By helping them in the way I have suggested we would, at least to a small degree,, compensate them for their good work.

The other matter that I want to bring before the committee concerns the bounty that is payable under the Sulphuric Acid Bounty Act. With all the goodwill in the world, the Government placed that measure on the statute-book as an incentive to Australian acid manufacturers to use indigenous material, such as iron pyrites, for the manufacture of sulphuric acid. I notice that £512,471 was expended on such, bounties during the last financial year, and this year it is estimated that £450,000 will be so expended. It is a matter of regret to me that, despite this incentive, the great sulphuric acid manufacturers of Australia are not fully using pyrites, and the producers of pyrites, including Mount Morgan Mines Limited and the Lake George Mining Company at Captains Flat have not benefited because the Government has been longwinded in adopting a practical solution to the problem. Officers of the Department of Defence Production have visited various parts of Australia to see whether an improvement can be effected. I do not believe that Australia can afford to spend millions of pounds on the importation of sulphur for the manufacture of sulphuric acid when there are indigenous materials at hand that could be utilized by the sulphuric acid manufacturers without incurring undue cost. 1 urge the Government to turn its mind expeditiously to this subject. I think that a limitation should be placed on the importation of sulphur, and the money thus saved should be used to import other commodities that we need. It would mean a great deal to the mining companies themselves if the Government could say to them quickly - and I am told, he gives twice who gives quickly - " In order to save dollars, indigenous materials should be used for the manufacture of sulphuric acid ". I point out that it is necessary for mining companies to plan a long way ahead. 'The life of the great mine that is operated by Mount Morgan Limited might be reduced by 50 years if the abundant supply of pyrites that is available is not used. On the other hand, the reverse would be the case if the pyrites were used; the mine would have another 50 years of profitable and effective life, to the benefit of the people of the district. I ask the Minister at the table (Mr. Davidson; to express my strong conviction in this matter to the Government. I hope that something will be done speedily to encourage the pyrites mining industry, because it is important to the welfare of the nation.

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