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Thursday, 3 December 1914

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - This clause deals almost entirely with the Atlantic trade, but as there were fourteen maritime nations represented at the International Conference, the Government have come to the conclusion that it will not overload the Bill to include it, and it is less trouble to put it in than to adopt the roundabout method of informing the fourteen different Powers of exceptions which we have made to the findings of the Conference. If we have erred at all, it is on the side of brevity and common sense.

SenatorFINDLEY (Victoria) [5.25].- The principal Act provides that all vessels trading on the Australian coast, and carrying crews and passengers to the number of fifty, shall be equipped with wireless telegraphy. I wish to point out that we have in operation here a wireless system, which, in my own opinion and in that of others more competent to express a judgment on this matter, is the most efficient in the world. A short time ago an action was instituted against the Commonwealth by certain wireless companies, which alleged that the Commonwealth system infringed their patent rights.

Senator de Largie - Who instituted those proceedings?

SenatorFINDLEY. - The Marconi and Telefunken companies. The Fisher Government were in power at the time, and the plaintiffs claimed £50,000 by way of damages. The Ministry felt that they were on perfectly safe ground, and declined to listen to the claim. In other words, they decided to contest the action. A little later the Fisher Government were displaced, and the Cook Ministry came into office. Shortly after we were informed that a compromise had been effected in respect of the claims of the companies in question. A paragraph in the press intimated that these companies had been paid £5,000 in full satisfaction of their claims, and that the Commonwealth had been able to obtain from them some small advantage. In connexion with this compromise I have been informed that certain privileges were granted to the companies in the matter of equipping vessels trading around our coast with wireless installations. Seeing that we have in Australia the finest wireless system in the world, and that there appears to be no doubt as to our constitutional powers in the matter, it would be an extraordinary thing if these private companies were permitted to transact all the business that is to be done :n the direction of equipping coastal vessels with wireless installations. We have the constitutional power to install the Commonwealth system on those vessels, and I trust that the present opportunity will not be lost by the Government. I hope that they will give my remarks the consideration which they merit. My suggestion opens up avenues of revenue which will be closed unless the Government take early steps to prevent certain interested persons getting a monopoly of the business of fitting Australian coastal vessels with wireless telegraphy.

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