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Wednesday, 5 September 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I understand, from the remarks of Senator Pearce, that he, and probably others, are satisfied with Senator Keating's explanation that this sum is required for the purposes of experiment.

Senator Pearce - With the undertaking that it will not involve any contract.

Senator MILLEN - There are certain facts which render it necessary that the Government should offer a further explanation. In the first place, Senator Playford said that it is required for experiments, and he pointed, out that it was undesirable that the Postmaster-General should enter into an arrangement and then come to Parliament for the money, because it might not approve of his action.

Senator Playford - No. I did not say that.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator read a minute by the PostmasterGeneral which clearly affirmed that the money is required for the purchase of an instalment, and not for the purpose of experiments. Then Senator Keating said that it is required for the purpose of experiments.

Senator McGregor - They cannot experiment without an instalment of some kind.

Senator MILLEN - That is all very well; but I take it that when the PostmasterGeneral, through his colleague, tells us in a mintue that the money is required for the purpose of an instalment, it means something more than experiments. Senator Keating: practically admitted that? when later on he interjected, " We want certain installations for the purpose of communicating with shipping." There appears to be, not a difference of opinion, but a difference as to facts. Is this money required to demonstrate whether a system is workable, or which of two systems is the better, or is it required for the purchase of a system straight out, to be installed as the minute of the Postmaster-General would suggest? The Committee has a right to know which of the two purposes the money is to be devoted to.

Senator Guthrie - It might be required for making experiments, and also for doing useful work

Senator MILLEN - I can quite understand that if honorable senators make up their minds to vote any sum which the Government like to ask it does not matter whether they are furnished with any reasons for giving that vote or not. But seeing that we have these contradictory opinions from the Ministers, we ought not to vote the item. Would any honorable senator, if he were running a business or on the directorate of a company, hand over to the manager a cheque for ,£i 0,000 when all he could get out of the man was contradictory statements? If there is one obligation resting upon a House of Parliament, it is to keep a careful watch over the expenditure of public money, and in no sense to be niggardly where an expenditure is required. On that point I join issue with Senator Stewart. I am in no sense opposed to the adoption of any improved methods of communication between the States or between the States and other portions of the world. It is no sign of progress, as the honorable senator would suggest, to recklessly vote money without knowing the purpose for which it is required, and the connexion in which it is to be expended. I intend to support the amendment, unless the Government furnish a clearer statement as to their intention. If they can show that thev contemplate purchasing a system to be installed anywhere, I shall not object to the item, though I think it is insufficient for the purpose. One Minister says that the £10,000 is required for the purpose of making experiments.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Hear, hear.

Senator MILLEN - I take it from that remark that Senator Smith believes that the sum will be sufficient for that purpose. If he holds that belief, I should like him to hear the minute of the PostmasterGeneral, in which there is a distinct affirmation that it is required for the purpose of an instalment.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Where is the instalment to be made?

Senator MILLEN - No one knows.

Senator Staniforth Smith - What are they going to purchase an instalment for?

Senator MILLEN - I want to elicit some information on that point.

Senator Keating - The minute of the Postmaster-General contains no statement to that effect, and every word of it is absolutely consistent with everything I said.

Senator MILLEN - Would the Minister mind reading the first paragraph of the minute ?

Senator Keating - It is as follows : -

This amount has been placed on the Estimates as a first instalment of the cost of introducing the wireless telegraph system into the Commonwealth.

That is exactly what I said.

Senator MILLEN - Is that the first minute written ?

Senator Keating - Yes, as the honorable senator can see for himself. It is exactly in consonance with what I said.

Senator MILLEN - The minute bears out the construction I put upon it, and I shall leave it to honorable senators to say whether it bears out the statement of Senator Keating, that the money is required for experiments when we know what the word ordinarily means, or the statement of Senator Playford that it is required as a first instalment for the purchase of a system.

Senator Playford - I never said that. I read the minute, whatever it says.

Senator MILLEN - In reply to an interjection, the honorable senator said that it was a first instalment. I was not paying any attention to his remarks until I heard that statement, and then I at once wanted to know how much it would commit the Commonwealth to. We have the Minister's frank statement, made when a number of honorable senators were not here, that the reason' why the Government came down for the money in this way, 'rather than make an arrangement to purchase a system first, and come down here afterwards, was that if they did Parliament might not approve of the arrangement, and that therefore they wanted to get the money before thev stated what they were going to do. It was the most brutally- candid statement I have heard in or out of the Parliament.

Senator Playford - And the honorable senator proposes to take advantage of it.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator would hold me guilty of a dereliction of dutv if, knowing what he proposes to do, I allowed the matter to pass without notice. The minute reads as follows: -

This amount has been placed on the Estimates as a first instalment of the cost of introducing the wireless telegraph system into the Commonwealth. It has not yet been determined in which part of the Commonwealth the system will first bc introduced, but full inquiries will be made into a number of proposals which have been submitted to the Department, and when a decision has been arrived at tenders will be invited to instal the system.

Is there anything about an experiment in the minute? Is it going to take .£10,000 to make the inquiries as to which system would be the best one to adopt?

Senator Findley - Is it not clear that the ,£.10,000 will be utilized on experiments after the tenders have been received ?

Senator MILLEN - Any one who could read that into the minute could read anything into it. There is not a single word about experiments in the minute, but there is a great deal about making inquiries.

Senator Guthrie - For the introduction of a system.

Senator MILLEN - That confirms the remark made by Senator Playford that the purpose of the vote is to enable the PostmasterGeneral, without unfolding his proposal to Parliament, to commit the Commonwealth to the purchase of a system. He could come down afterwards, and sayto the Parliament " Whether you like my system or not, I have committed the Commonwealth to it." We know that the representatives of the rival companies are not only desirous of giving information, but have sent representatives here for that purpose. One of them has already gone to the expense of installing a system at Queenscliff, and I venture to say that the others would be only too anxious to do the same thing. A sum of ,£10,000 is not required to invite the representative of the Marconi system to demonstrate what it can do. He has already done that. He is here waiting to do business with the Commonwealth. Again, is ,£10,000 needed for the purpose of ^inviting tenders ? I suppose that a sum of ,£100 would pay for all the advertisements and cablegrams necessary for the purpose of inviting tenders throughout the world. The purpose for which the money is required is admitted in the first paragraph of the minute.

This sum has been placed on the Estimates as a first instalment of the cost of introducing the wireless telegraph system into the Commonwealth.

Before we authorize the Postmaster-General - for so he could accept the voting of this sum - to enter into any contract he likes, and so commit the Commonwealth to an expensive scheme, he ought to outline his proposal. The Minister of Defence has candidly admitted that the reason why the item is asked for in this way is that if the Postmaster-General were to adopt the ordinary course of entering into an arrangement with a company for the purchase of an installation, subject to the approval of Parliament, it might be disapproved of. Therefore, from the Ministerial point of view, it is safer to get an instalment, to deposit the money as it were, to make the bargain, and then to come down and tell Parliament that, whether it likes it or not, it will have to complete the bargain or forfeit the £10,000.

Senator Playford - They would have to come to Parliament for a further instalment.

Senator MILLEN - But in the meanwhile the first instalment will have been expended.

Senator Playford - Surely the Honorable member can trust the Government to spend £[10,000 !

Senator MILLEN - To purchase an installation?

Senator Playford - Not necessarilyone, but three or four.

Senator MILLEN - Is that an experiment, as Senator Keating said ?

Senator Playford - It is partly for an experiment and it is partly for the other purpose.

Senator MILLEN - I leave the two Ministers to adjust their differences. If we are to have a monopoly of this system, it will be found that any arrangement which the Postmaster-General may make will be, not for the purchase of one set of plant, but for the Australian rights to the system. Senator Playford has just interjected that the money is required for the two purposes. If the Ministers do not know what it is really required for, that shows that it is all the more necessary for the Committee to insist upon being furnished with explicit information.

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