Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Member for Wentworth

There it is in Hansard.

Interjector - Would the honorable member be prepared to sell the Post Office?
Member for Wentworth - No.

The Member for Wentworth though is not the current one, but indeed the Member for Wentworth in 1946, Eric Harrison. By then he was a former Post-Master General, and was then the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. The occasion was the debate on the Overseas Telecommunications Bill 1946.

The record of the debate in both chambers is well worth a read in the light of my comments earlier today. There were a couple of opposition members concerned about socialisation, but their bigger concerns were over whether overseas telecommunications should be in a Commission rather than in the Post Office with the rest of communications, and over the payment to be made to the private owners of the wireless connections.

It seems mighty strange in hindsight that it was Liberal members urging the combination into one Department and opposing a Commission structure.

The identity of the company from whom the assets were bought also provides an interesting tale on the concept of life being better under a private sector firm - because that company was Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia), better known as AWA. In its later life AWA was famous for going broke on the back of unwise foreign exchange transactions reflecting some of the weaknesses in the governance model of corporations. It then crafted a living repairing gaming terminals, a business they have grown and are now selling their brand for Big W stores "home brand" TVs and other electronics.

I've also finally got around to putting together some of the information from the 1910 Royal Commission. As also noted earlier the UK only finally moved to full public ownership of telecommunications in 1912, and the US debate on the matter started in 1913. Yet there was very little reference to it all in the Royal Commission.

The report at paragraph 16 merely noted;

During his examination the Permanent Head showed that he had no personal knowledge of post and telegraph systems in other countries, other than that acquired by reading the British Post Office Reports. He also referred to a modern economic writer on the British telegraphs and telephones. The conclusions of this writer have, in the opinion of your Commissioners, no relevance to the Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Department, as his object was to establish a case against Government ownership.

The comment appears to be to Robert Townley Scott's reference in his opening statement referring to the Hugo Meter's The British state telegraphs : a study of the problem of a large body of civil servants in a democracy. Meyer also wrote Public ownership and the telephone in Great Britain : restriction of the industry by the state and the municipalities. These are in their own right interesting an interesting read, but had little impact.

The committee seems to have only asked two others about the question of ownership, one of who was Alexander Graham Bell. Bell gave his evidence in August 1910 after the Committee report had basically been written. His only observation on Government ownership was that it might impede innovation, and recommended the establishment of a Laboratory. The history of the Labs at the PMG and Telecom is an interesting one in its own right. Suffice to note here that after privatisation TRL was closed.

More interestingly Bell talked about the importance of twisted copper pair over single wire (with earth return). Equally interesting is the discussion on efficiency of exchanges, and the desire to get more than one service over a pair of wires.

I kind of reckon based on his evidence in 1910 that Bell today would be backing the NBN.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

No comments: