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Friday, 20 October 1905

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) - The Senate will recollect that 1 protested as strongly as I could against the word " Minister " being left in Senator Pearce's proposal. I pointed out that it would have the effect of making the Minister a Judge in a matter of considerable intricacy and importance, and one having to do with our everyday politics. I shall vote for the recommittal of the clause, and shall make the best effort I can to substitute for the Minister a Judge, or some other fit person, if the person carrying out the functions specified in Senator Pearce's proposal is to be allowed to act in an arbitrary manner. The clause involves very delicate and intricate considerations. When the hour of adjournment arrived on the occasion of the first discussion, I certainly understood that the Minister in charge of the Bill would make himself conversant with the terms and conditions of the combination amongst the newspaper proprietors.

Senator Keating - The honorable senator thought that I would do so ?

Senator DOBSON - I thought that the Minister would have taken that course.

Senator Keating - I do not know anything about the combination.

Senator DOBSON - We can hardly give an intelligent and just vote until we have the information. Certain correspondence, which was read in this Chamber, points to the conclusion that the combination has on one occasion, if not on two, acted in rather a harsh and unfair manner; and the real facts are important to us in deciding on the right course to adopt. I am not convinced that the vote I gave on the last occasion was wrong, but, as the question is so intricate and complicated, I see no harm in affording opportunity for further discussion. We are getting at the facts piecemeal, and, according to the letters which have been read to us, this combination may act in restraint of trade, which, as the Minister in charge of the Bill and Senator Symon know, is illegal. If the combination admit some to membership and exclude others, and sell to newspapers cable news which they refuse to other newspapers, or to persons wishing to start newspapers, they may bring themselves within the doctrine which I have indicated, and lay themselves open to a charge of boycotting. I do not say that the combination does behave in that way ; I am merely pointing out that the case involves many intricate and complicated legal questions. I am pleased to know that this Bill will be sent to another place, where there are a number of lawyers, and acute, intelligent men, who will give it full consideration.

Senator Pearce - Is that not a reflection on the Senate?

Senator DOBSON - The membership of another place is double that of the Senate, and includes, as does the membership of the Senate, able lawyers; and there will be further time for consideration and discussion. Then the combination may, to a slight extent, act in restraint of the dissemination of knowledge and education. In some of the back-blocks, not reached by the Melbourne, Age, the Melbourne Argues, the Australasian, or similar journals, the small, local newspaper may be unable to afford the price asked for cable messages, or may be refused any supply ; and, under the circumstances, the people resident there remain absolutely ignorant of the events of the world. There may, however, be something to be said for the idea of Senator Smith, who desires the Government to be the means of supplying cable news. I am not, however, a nationalist with respect to either land or news ; and of two evils, I regard the proposal contained in this clause as the lesser. If it can be shown that the combination has been judged harshly, I shall be prepared to reconsider my vote, but I am not prepared to do so now, because it appears to me that two or three very important principles may be infringed by the combination. Senator Symon, if one' may judge from the strong language he used, forgets that this Bill confers protection on newspaper proprietors, including the members of this combine - that, in fact, the present protection to newspapers is extended and defined. In conferring this protection, we stipulate that on certain fair terms other newspaper proprietors may be allowed to participate in the cable news, to which this Bill attaches copyright for a certain period. The Commonwealth Government grant an enormous subsidy to the Pacific Cable Board, and extend certain concessions to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company ; and while it is perfectly true that any person may use the cables, I aim not at all sure that, when we protect members of this combination by this Bill, we are not justified in laying down conditions with the object of preventing injustice.

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