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Tuesday, 16 March 1971

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - The Democratic Labor Party supports the Bill and endorses the principles embodied in the proposed legislation. It will support the amendment to be moved by Senator Willesee on behalf of the Opposition. In relation to the latter I comment again that piecemeal dealing with this principle is regrettable. I reiterate the hope that the whole matter will come under total scrutiny from the Senate. I ask the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) to answer one or two questions about the new terms of capitalisation of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. As I understand the situation, the Commission will be capitalised at $35m. Of that, $ 17.5m will come from the conversion of existing Treasury advances. That will be convened to capital investment by the Australian Government in the Commission. A portion of the additional $ 1 7.5m will be provided from the undistributed profits of the Commission. I ask the Minister: What is the principle behind the method of allocation of the capital contributions and why should the revenue be called on to provide this amount when, after the contribution in capital from the undistributed profits is made, there is still a very substantial residue of profit in the accounts of the Commission? That is how I read the Minister's second reading speech. I think I have assessed it correctly. It would appear to me that, if substantial profits are withheld and if it is decided to put the Commission on a new basis, in large measure those profits should be called upon to provide the bulk of the capitalisation. The revenue should be called on only in the last resort or at least not to the extent of 50 per cent as seems to be contemplated by the legislation. The Minister, in her second reading speech, said:

There is provision in the Bill that the PostmasterGeneral, with concurrence of the Treasurer, may direct the Commission to transfer further amounts to the capital account from retained profits.

I wonder why that is not being done to a greater degree at this time if the power is there to do it in future. It could well be that further capitalisation will be provided from the Treasury from time to time. I think that was also mentioned in the Minister's second reading speech. I think the principle of putting the Commission on the same basis as similar corporations is a salutary one. Strange as it may seem, independent corporations are not subjected to the parliamentary scrutiny to which ordinary departments can be subjected. I know that it is not considered the province of the Parliament to sit in judgment upon or to scrutinise the day to day operations of public corporations. It could well be that corporations of this and other characters could find themselves under the new arc light of scrutiny with the emergence of standing committees of this chamber.

In Great Britain there is a select committee or a standing committee that deals particularly with public corporations. We have no such committee here or in contemplation, but no doubt we have an appropriate committee which could receive references in relation to public corporations and perhaps pertinent to the area of their operation if not to (he type of their structure. I have little doubt that from time to time public corporations will come under the scrutiny of a standing committee of the Senate. It is not improbable that, if a committee had been available for a referral previously, the capital reconstruction which comes in this year 1971 might well have been considered and embarked upon years earlier as the position which is now before us was seen to develop and as heavy accumulation of profits was evident in the accounts of the Commission. I would like the Minister to answer my queries. We support the Bill and we will support the amendment to be moved by Senator Willesee.

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