1st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ the administration of the Customs Act.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– I was under the impression that the questions of which I have given notice would have been answered before I was calledupon to move the adjournment of the House.
– As a matter of convenience; I shall be glad to answer the questions now.
– I should be happy to facilitate the business of the House, but I am afraid that I could not permit that to be done, because it would be improper to anticipate answers which should be given at a later period. Perhaps, however, the Minister for Trade and Customs could suggest some way in which the desired end might be attained.
– With the permission of the House, and believing that certain matters are of interest, I should like to make a statement which, although it will not be put in the form of an answer to a question, will at the same time convey information to honorable members. In the first place, I may say that it is not known that any such standard for tea as thatprescribed by the Customs Act is adopted by any other Customs authority in any part of the British Empire or in America. It is, however, the standard which has been in force in Queensland for years, and it is also the standard which was recommended last September by the analysts of all the States, and by Mr. Hake, for adoption by the Federal Government. It is also the standard recommended by the Society of Public Analysts of Great Britain, which includes the analysts appointed under the health laws. In one or two details the standard suggested by the public analysts in New South Wales and Tasmania was more severe than that adopted. I received a protest, dated 30th January last, from persons engaged in the tea trade in Victoria, against the adoption of an artificial standard for tea, based upon a chemical analysis. This led to an inquiry, which disclosed what appeared to be a necessity for further action in regard to. tea which had been imported. No formal reply was sent to that protest, but the substance of what was being done was mentioned to the head of one of the subscribing firms. Tea has been stopped at various times as being prohibited. Various requests to re-ship were received, but were not acknowledged, pending inquiry, until 4th April, when the matter was referred to the Crown law officers. Summonses have been taken out against certain firms in connexion with tea stopped in January last. The quantities and values of these parcels were probably as has. been represented, viz., (a) six half-chests, three chests; (6) ten half -chests ; (c) seventeen halfchests, five chests; (d) two half -chests; (e) 42 half -chests ; (f) three half-chests ; (17) eleven . half-chests ; and the value would probably be £150, or £200. No doubt a number of the firms who have been proceeded against import tea in very large quantities. I consider that a reasonable time, as required by the Customs Act, was allowed for communicating the tea standard to shippers in India. Upon the question whether we should withdraw the prosecutions instituted,, and allow the tea to be re-shipped, we consider that matters of this kind generaly require investigation by the courts, and we shall give no promise whatever.
– What time was allowed for notifying shippers of tea in India and the East 1
– One month from the date on which the Act came into operation.
– It is with great regret that i feel it my duty to move the adjournment, in order to express my dissatisfaction at the action of the Minister for Trade and Customs in regard to the particular cases which have been referred to, and generally in the administration of the Customs Ace. I quite recognise the difficulties with which the Minister has had to contend in bringing about a uniformity of customs administration in the six States. I also appreciate the fact that the Minister has been closely engaged in piloting the Tariff through the House, and that Parliament has been in continuous session since May, 1901. Those who are interested in the Customs Act are by no means dissatisfied with the Act itself, and I am not complaining of the stringency of its provisions, but my remarks are entirely directed against the methods of administration. The Minister, with every desire to discharge what is really a giant task, has, to my mind, proceeded upon lines that have proved harassing to merchants, and which cannot possibly assist him in bringing about a satisfactory state of affairs so far as the revenue is concerned. Furthermore, his treatment of the officers of his department has been harassing in the extreme. There is a general feeling of discontent among the members of the staff, and there is certainly the very strongest possible feeling of irritation amongst those outside the department who are interested in customs work. The greatest difficulties are experienced by merchants who transact business with other States. The regulations with reference to entries, and the particulars which have to be supplied with regard to goods which have to be sent from State to State, involve the greatest trouble and inconvenience. I have here a letter from a gentleman who expresses a view -which is shared very generally in mercantile circles. He says -
The difficulties in supplying particulars to satisfy the Customs are so great in the InterState trade that I have been compelled to notify Tasmanian clients that I must refuse their orders until there is some alteration in the present system of export Inter-State entries. I trust a remedy will come soon.
– Does not the honorable member think it would be fairer to confine the debate to the matter referred to in the questions of which he has given notice ? How is it possible for me upon a motion of adjournment to discuss the various details of administration in my department ? sir malcolm Mceacharn.- i do not propose to deal with more than one or two cases byond those mentioned in the questions I had placed on the notice-paper. At the same time I did not undertake to limit myself to the matters which are before the House. In the cases referred to in the questions on the notice-paper, I shall be able to show that the Minister did not act even in accordance with the law. There are hundreds and hundreds of cases which might be referred to by myself or by other honorable members, who have been the recipients of numberless complaints. It could be shown that it is impossible to obtain replies to letters addressed to the Customs authorities, and that the state of affairs in the department must be utterly unsatisfactory. If, however, the Minister is not prepared to deal with other matters than those mentioned in my questions, I do not wish to take any unfair advantage of him by extending the scope of my remarks..
I find that in my absence from the Commonwealth the Honorable member for Wentworth raised the question of the administration of the Customs Act. He used very forcible language, and it was hoped by the members of the commercial community that’ results more favorable to merchants would followfrom his representations. The Minister communicated with the various chambers of commerce, and he has received replies from them, but the impression that the position of affairs would be improved very soon vanished. The Minister may say that he is bound to administer the Customs in accordance with the law, but I think we can have too much law and too little common sense. It was not intended when the Act was passed that every person who made a mistake, whether with fraudulent intent or not, should be hauled to court. I do not propose to refer to any case in which any question of fraud is involved, but to restrict my remarks to instances in which delays have occurred, and in which insufficient time has been allowed to merchants to convey the necessary advices to shippers when new regulations had been brought into force. The Minister will be upheld by honorable members in prosecuting all persons who may reasonably be suspected of fraudulent intent, but some leniency should be shown in cases where simple errors are made. I think I shall be able to show that the Minister himself did not contemplate that prosecutions should take place in all cases where errors were committed. The Tariff has not yet been adopted by Parliament, and many changes have beenmade during its discussion. It is only right, therefore, that merchants should be allowed to correct errors in cases whereno fraud could possibly be suggested. In connexion with the Customs staff, I am informed that that tried and trusted officer, the Comptroller-General, has been placed in a most undignified position. Not withstanding all his experience, he has had a minute sent to him directing him not to deal with any case involving a larger sum than £1.
– Rubbish !
– I am very glad to hear that that is not correct. At any rate I am correct in stating that the powers of the officials generally have been curtailed to the extent that the Minister insists upon every matter even of the slightest detail being brought before him.
Under such circumstances, we cannot possibly expect that business will proceed as it would if satisfaction existed amongst the officers of the department. As evidencing the fact that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction amongst the officers, I desire to quote from a speech by the honorable member for Bland, which is reported in Hansard of 3rd July last.
– The honorable member cannot quote from the Hansard report of the current session.
– The substance of the remarks of the honorable member for Bland is. that it was about time that the Customs officers organized a union and came out upon strike. He said that the Minister was treating the officers in the Sydney Custom-house in an absolutely outrageous fashion. I can also cite one instance in which I personally brought under the notice of the Minister the fact that a firm with which I am connected, and for which some eighteen or twenty bonds have to be signed in various parts of the Commonwealth, asked that one bond should be substituted. The Minister consulted the Act and thought he would be able to arrange that one bond should suffice for each State. Surely that is a matter which he could have settled without any difficulty or delay. Yet three or four weeks have now elapsed without any definite reply to the request being forthcoming. Instead of deciding questions of this sort himself, I complain that the right honorable gentleman considers it necessary to refer them to the Crown Solicitor. Indeed, every matter apparently goes before that officer. I can also quote another instance in which a merchant wished to pass a sight entry, because his invoices were not to hand, but the Minister evidently had no power to deal even with that trivial matter.
– The honorable member has got hold of some one who has been “ stuffing “ him.
– I do not think so. The Minister is like a general who has to face a large engagement, and who, in the midst of the fight, wishes to lead every regiment into action and at the same time to attend to the canteen. I have in my possession numerous letters testifying to the delay which has occurred in replying to correspondence.
These show that sometimes letters remain unanswered for several months. I am sure that the Minister will admit that in all the interviews which I have had with him, I have not shown the slightest desire to hamper him in any way. Whenever I have approached him it has been in the most friendly spirit. In connexion with the prosecution of tea merchants, the small quantities upon which the prosecutions were based - one being as low as two half chests - are worthy of notice. I would further point out that the shipments were made between the 4th November and the 8th December, and none of them arrived here later than 27th December. Some of the tea was condemned on the 31st December, and the balance in January. In some instances, letters were written during January, to which no replies were received until the summonses had been issued. Is that a fair way in which to treat reputable firms who are so largely engaged in this business 1 Again, a protest was entered against the standard prescribed, but I am informed that no attention was paid to it. At any rate no formal acknowledgment was forthcoming, and no intimation was given that any satisfaction would result in that connexion. But the main point which I desire to make is that a reasonable time, as required by the Act,
Was not allowed merchants to convey notice of the contents of the regulations to the shippers of tea in distant parts. In this connexion it is necessary for honorable members to recollect the dates. On the 11th October, the regulations were laid upon the table. They were to come into operation upon the 1st November. The first mail which left Melbourne after the 11th October was despatched on the 16th October. The earliest date at which that mail could arrive in Calcutta would be the 10th November. Some of the consignments of tea which have been condemned were shipped upon the 4th November, others on the 9th November, and still others on the 18th -November. I do not deny that these regulations were not forwarded to the shippers before the sale of the tea was prohibited. . To that extent the merchants are to blame. But I contend that it was unreasonable to give them such a short notice. Three shipments were made on the 18th November, one upon the 30th, another on the 7 th December, and still another on the 8th December.
– Did they ship tea which was not fit for human consumption 1
– The honorable member will get his opportunity of speaking later on. Upon the 1 1 th July the Minister stated, according to Ilansard, page 2445, after I had pointed out the possibility of people being prosecuted without having any knowledge whatever of their responsibilities, that he quite agreed with me that it would be a mistake on the part of the collector to take any proceedings whatever in a case in which there was manifestly an error. Doubtless honorable members will recollect that when the Customs Bill was under con- sideration, considerable discussion took place regarding the period when the regulations should come into force. The leader of the Opposition pointed out that it was absurd that the regulations should come into operation on the day they were laid upon the table of the House. I moved an amendment providing that 21 days should elapse, on account of the large extent of territory within the Commonwealth and the time which would be occupied in communicating with Thursday Island and other parts of Australia. On that occasion the honorable member for Gippsland said it was monstrous that a person in a distant part of the continent should be liable to penalties for noncompliance with regulations having the force of law before it was possible for him to reoeive any intimation of their existence. He added - “ Surely if we expect people to respect the law, we should make it possiblefor them to do so.” He stated that in several instances he had voted against his better feelings, and that he objected to theaction of the Minister on that particular occasion. Again, on page 2746 of Hansard, I find-
– I must ask the honorable member not to road from Hansard The standing orders prohibit it, and I cannot allow it.
– If I give the gist of the remarks, I presume I shall be in order.
– If I permit the honorable member to hold Hansard in his hand, and to all intents and purposes to quote from it, I cannot refuse to allow any other honorable member to adopt the same course upon a future occasion, and I cannot do that.
– On the occasion in question, the Minister himself stated that he recognised the distances with which we now had to deal, and that that matter would be taken into consideration by him. I contend that it is unjust to bring to the police court, in the arbitrary manner adopted by the Minister, merchants of high repute who imported tea which was shipped in November, when it was utterly impossible for the shippers to be aware of the existence of these regulations. The earliest date upon which the information contained in the regulations could reach the shippers of tea was the 10th November or 12th November, and the bulk of the consignments had been previously shipped. Moreover, these regulations would have to be forwarded to the tea plantations, and their contents would have to become known to tea shippers generally. I consider that I am amply justified in raising the question that they have not been given a reasonable notice. I am aware that time was extended to goods shipped up to the 4th November. But under the Victorian Customs Act the regulations were not to come into force for six months, and when the Minister himself stated that consideration would have to be given to distant territory, surely he ought not to have “taken the arbitrary action of which he has been guilt)’, further, it is a moot point whether the tea which has been condemned has been rightly condemned. I am under the impression that it has not. Indeed, I received an analysis to-day, and another yesterday, showing that whereas the standard requires that the total aqueous tea extract should be 30 per cent., it actually ranged up to 50 per cent. In one case the total ash is within the limit fixed by the standard, and in the other case it is 8-73 as against 8 ; and the certificate states that the tea is free from adulteration and really good. These facts will of course be elicited before the court, but I mention them now because I feel that, before placing these merchants in such an invidious position, the Minister ought to have taken extra trouble to obtain outside analysis, in view of the fact that doubts had been expressed, not only by myself, but by others. As I am limited to half-an-hour, I shall not be able to quote statements sent to the Minister by various chambers of commerce.
– Does the honorable member not know that inquiries have been made in the case of every complaint ?
– Then there is the matter of the stoppage of InterState, goods. Apart from any question of duty or fraud, a man in the State happened to ship some pills from America which are made, up here, and were described as of Victorian manufacture. The total difference made to the revenue of Tasmania was 2s., and yet the whole shipment was stopped.
– Any one under the circumstances can get goods by depositing the duty.
– That may be so now, perhaps.
– It has been so for months past.
– I believe the goods to which I refer have not yet been released.
– That is not my fault.
– There is another matter in which the Minister has acted in an arbitrary manner. Goods carried on deck may have to be jettisoned, and this fact is not known to the merchant. As a rule, the entries are ready as soon as a ship comes in, and although the goods may have been jettisoned the Minister refuses to refund the duty.
– I have not had before me a single case in which goods have been jettisoned, and a claim made for a refund.
– I . placed the information before the Minister myself. Though all these delays occur, the Minister is prompt enough in catching any one whom he thinks he can bring before the police court. The Socotra is a ship which brought doors ready made up. The Minister, or some one else, heard that this shipment of doors were branded with a crown, and, because of that, assumed them to be, prisonmade. A statutory declaration was made by the merchants, and information from the Consul-General for the United States was given to the Minister that prison labour was not employed ; but these goods were delayed from the 17th until the 25th of June, the Minister, in the meantime, telegraphing to San Francisco in order to ascertain whether or not they were prison-made. Surely the Minister should accept the statutory declaration of responsible people, without troubling to telegraph in a matter of the kind 1
– Is a Crown the mark of prison-made goods in America 1
– No ; America is not i monarchy. But I do not think that the Minister will gainsay what I have stated. As to seized tobacco, the regulations are so severe that it has really to be destroyed. Those to whom such tobacco has been consigned are desirous that it shall be turned into sheepwash, but under the regulations, vitriol or some liquid of the kind is poured over it, in order to render it absolutely useless. I am told that these regulations were prepared without consulting responsible officers in the Customs department.That may or may not be true, but, at any rate, that is my information.
– I must say that the honorable member has been informed of a good many extraordinary things.
– There are a great many cases to which I could refer ; but the Minister himself must know the strong feeling of widespread dissatisfaction that exists. Letters are coming to members of this House; but when complaints of the kind are handed over to the Minister in order to prevent the questions being raised in the House, nothing more is heard of them. At any rate, that is my experience, and I think it is the experience of a great many honorable members.
– In relation to what ?
– The Minister has received from me several letters, to which no replies in any shape or form have been made.
– I suppose that the matters have been attended to.
– The whole commercial community feel very strongly on this matter, and unless I can see some change in the administration of the Customs department it will be utterly impossible for me to remain a supporter of the Government. I know that the step I contemplate is very important ; but I have not arrived at my decision without a considerable amount of thought. So far as my election pledges and my convictions, as expressed on the platform, are concerned, they are unaltered. I shall be loyal to the pledges I have given ; but this is a matter of such great interest, not only to merchants, but to their employes, and it affects so nearly the respectability of mercantile men, that I shall feel bound when occasion arises on any motion of want of confidence, to vote against the Government in consequence of the action of the Minister for Trade and Customs. Personally I feel very sorry, indeed, at having to take such a step. Thisis purely a political matter between the Minister for Trade and Customs and myself. My relations with the other Ministers have been most pleasant, and personally I wish to thank the Acting Prime Minister for the courtesy he has displayed, and the kindly way in which he received me when I told him the course I should be compelled to adopt.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I am just about to finish. I felt that under the circumstances I should be wanting in my duty tomy constituents, and to my own conscience, if I did not take the course I have indicated, and did not express myself as strongly as I have done.
– The Government have no objection to the honorable member for Melbourne occupying longer time if he so desires.
– If permission be given by the House, the honorable member for Melbourne may, of course, continue.
– I shall not make any conditions, but as this is a dispute in regard to shipments of tea-
– The question is the general administration of the department.
– The question between myself and the honorable member for Melbourne relates to shipments of tea, and I suggest that the discussion be confined to that question, with which I have come prepared to deal.
– I may point out that the notice handed to me by the honorable member for Melbourne shows that the motion for adjournment was moved to consider the administration of the Customs Act, and that, of course, affords a much wider scope than the question mentioned by the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– I should like to speak at this stage, because it is only fair that the Ministershould have the opportunity of replying to everything that is said with regard to the administration of his department. We ought to deal with the great mercantile community of Australia in the same spirit of justice and equity that we should deal with any other class. I know, of course, that there may be a certain amount of feeling in dealing with those who appear to break the law, and who, from their position, influence, and wealth ought to be the last to commit such offences. But the mercantile community of Australia in the different States and under different Tariffs, have, so far as the great majority are concerned, done their best to uphold the Customs department in carrying out the law.
– Hear, hear !
– If we had not had customs duties of a similar character in the several States, it mighthave been said that we had to exercise a stringency previously unknown. But there have been very similar customs duties in different States of Australia, and Tariffs have been introduced, and Tariffs have been altered. But I venture to say, from my own experience, that there has never been such an outcry from the mercantile community with regard to the administration of the Customs department in any State, at any time, as that we have heard during the last twelve months.
– It is time there was an alteration in many of the States.
– i thank the honorable member ; that is the key-note of the feeling now. If any meaning is to be attached to the interjection, and to a certain amount of the administration of the Minister, it is that for years, past there has been a secret system by which the Customs have been swindled, and the various States deprived of revenue. There is no burking the question, if the Minister’s contention be correct, that by various Treasurers or Ministers of Customs leniency has “been shown to wealthy people. Absolutely fraudulent practices have been either overlooked or dealt with by insignificant fines, and the time has now arrived when, in the interests of the Commonwealth, that state of affairs must come to an end.
– There have been too many private settlements.
– That is the atmosphere with which we have to deal, and the atmosphere may be so thick that it is impossible to do justice and equity to the mercantile community. But I take it that it is one of the salient or chief maxims of taxation that when we are taking money out of the pockets of the people the administration should be fair, and with as little trouble as possible caused to the people affected. I believe a great deal of the trouble has arisen from a wrong conception, or from what I might more properly describe as a want of the true conception of the position as a matter of administration. I do not want to reflect on the Minister for Trade and Customs. I am sure that, personally, we are the best of friends ; but I consider that, in some respects, it is a calamity that bis great position, which involves so much that is essential to the best interests of the country at this particular crisis, is not occupied by a man of large mercantile experience, even though that man might not possess half the ability and genius of the right honorable gentleman. Let us look at the position which has faced the Minister. I ask honorable members to consider the position of the different States at the time of the introduction of the uniform Tariff in October last. In one of the States - a State containing 37 per cent, of the population of the whole Commonwealth: - there was then in force probably the freest and simplest Tariff in the world. Surely in dealing with a uniform Tariff which had become necessary by reason of the adoption of federation, it was not necessary to consider that half the mercantile community of that free-trade State were rogues ? Another reason why the administration of the uniform Tariff has been a matter of great difficulty is this : Previously in at least four of the States - in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia/ - the whole of the import trade was centred practically in one port. The administration of the Customs laws of those States was therefore very simple, because you had the Minister and his staff of officers at that port, anddecisions of a’ uniform character were easily obtainable. But the federal Tariff, when introduced, applied to all the ports of Australia, and although no doubt it was necessary to secure uniformity of administration, it was, to my mind, equally necessary to give the fullest power of action to the officials at the head of the department in each port. A third difficulty arose in this way : The Federal duties were collectable immediately upon the announcement of the Tariff in October, but during its subsequent consideration by a committeeof this House, alterations were made in it. from day to day, and a great many of the errors which have been committed arose, not out of any desire to defraud, but because of the uncertainty created by those alterations. After having been considered in committee, the Tariff was recommitted, for a second consideration, and was again for a. period subject to continual alteration. Under all these circumstances the greatest consideration should have been shown to merchants. But, instead of that being done, merchants were brought before the police courts in the various States to answer charges in regard to which the officers of the Customs department did not understand the exact intention of the Legislature. Parliament is also to blame in this matter, because of the bad classification which has been adopted in the Tariff. As the Tariff is arranged, no, department can administer it, and no mercantile community can comply with its conditions without committing errors. The Tariff is divided into divisions, and each division is subdivided into items imposing duties upon certain lines ; but attached to these items are hundreds of. exemptions. Furthermore, in some cases it has happened that while an article is made free if imported for one purpose it is dutiable if imported for other purposes. Under these circumstances it will be only after a great deal of experience of the working of the Tariff that any one will know exactly what is bo bo done in each case. I do not intend to bring forward a number of specific complaints, but I would point out that dissatisfaction has been created in the case of firms which are above suspicion, and that instead of the administration of the Customs department having been such as would draw the forces of the commercial world to its assistance, the Minister has forced them into a position of antagonism. I am sure that honorable members, whether free-traders or protectionists, desire to see the administration of the Customs department carried on with the utmost smoothness and fairness ; and we wish to protect the revenue. I have had some experience in commerce in both Sydney and Melbourne. Years ago there was an association in Victoria, in close touch with the Customs authorities, to prevent fraudulent importers from bringing in goods without the payment of the legal duties. No doubt that association was formed for the protection of honest importers, but I refer to it to show that if the Customs department is fairly and equitably administered, the great bulk of the importing community will assist it in the prevention of fraud, because it is essential to honest commercial dealing that fraudulent importers should not be able to evade the payment of duties to the prejudice of those who respect the law. In that you have a great conservative, and what I might term a police like, factor. There is in the Customs Act a section which I am surprised was passed by this House, and which provides that the slightest clerical error may be regarded as a fraud. It was explained during the consideration of the measure here that so stringent a provision would not be enforced in cases of pure clerical error, but I am not talking at random when I say that the section has been enforced in hundreds of cases of clerical errors, and that under it men have been dragged before the police courts without rhyme or reason. It may be said that the department must not make a distinction between one firm and another. But in the administration of Customs Acts there must be distinctions. Where a firm has had a clean record for 20 years, its books having always been open to the department, and its employes always ready to assist the officials of the department in the proper administration of the law, consideration should be given to those factswhen a clerical error comes to be made. I do not say that any distinction should be made when the perpetration of a fraud is discovered.
-The time allowed tothe honorable member by the standing order has expired.
– With the permission of honorable members I should like to be allowed another five minutes.
– Is it the pleasure of the House that further time be granted to the honorable member for Wentworth 1
Honorable Members. - Hear ! hear !
– My re-, marks have been very scattered because my time has been limited. This is probablythe first occasion on which the present. Minister has been in charge of what I may call a business department, and I would point out to him that he cannot control such a department upon the same lines as those upon which he might control the AttorneyGeneral’s department in South Australia. In no business in the world, whether carried on by the State or by a private individual, can error be avoided, and curiously enough, mere clerical errors often have the appearance of palpable- fraud. That being so, the Minister should not have taken up the position which he has adopted. He says, “ I am not going to parley with any of these people. Let the law take its course. If they have offended against the law, let them go before the courts of justice.” No business in the world could stand that ordeal. I know some of the opinions of the Minister as to what is the right method of administering the Customs department, because I have had opportunities to speak with him on the subject. One of his ideas was that to obtain uniform decisions upon certain matters, it was necessary during the first twelve months that every case should be. referred to Melbourne. The right honorable gentleman, not knowing anything of mercantile affairs, did not take cognisance of the fact that mercantile conditions are continually changing, and that under the Commonwealth Tariff, above every other that I have ever known, questions of interpretation must arise continuously. There is no way of administering the department, except under the circumstances, by giving the largest powers to the responsible officials in each State, so that cases may be dealt with immediately, without the necessity for reference to Melbourne. The lack of courtesy in delaying to reply to letters for weeks and weeks has been such as would have broken down any private business. Then, again, all sorts of complaints have arisen in regard to errors made in connexion with InterState certificates, where there can be no question of fraud. No doubt the various States Governments are interested to a trifling extent in connection with the InterState certificates, but their interest is very small indeed. I admit that every representation which I have made to the Minister has been courteously received, and quickly dealt with, but I wish to mention a glaring case, in which quite opposite treatment has been received. On the 5th June last a certain firm sold to a Queensland firm about 20 boxes of butter which , had been imported from New Zealand, and had passed through several hands. Of course, the import duty had been paid ; but some mistake was made in connexion with the Inter-State certificate, and on the 20th June a letter was received from the Collector of Customs in Sydney - not in the standanddeliver style - but saying that he would “ be glad to receive an immediate explanation from you regarding this matter.”
– That is the form always used.
– On the 23rd June, three days afterwards, the firm wrote a letter explaining the whole case, apologizing for the mistake, and offering to rectify it in any way that might be suggested. To that letter they received no word of reply until the 23rd August - two months later - when, on a Saturday, they received a summons to appear at the police court on the following Wednesday.
– Did the Minister proceed in that case?
– No; I asked him to stay proceedings.
– There was too short a time for the preparation of the defence, and, therefore, I consented to the adjournment of the case for a fortnight.
– That is only one case among hundreds. No doubt the honorable member for Melbourne and others in similar positions are able to obtain interviews with the Minister ; but there are hundreds of merchants who cannot do so, and who are, therefore, absolutely at the mercy of the officials of the department. The principle upon which the department has acted, and which the Minister has enunciated in this House, is - “ Let the law take its course. We are not going to interfere.”
– A very good principle.
– It is impossible to administer a department like the Customs department in that way.
– Would the honorable member have these cases tried in the Minister’s office ?
– I do not want that. But when there has been a palpable error, or where the mistake is in an Inter-State certificate, and could not under any circumstances benefit those responsible for it, surely some reasonable treatment should be given to the offenders. What is the contention in regard to mistakes in Inter-State certificates ? It is not that the individuals responsible are committing fraud to benefit themselves, but that, if mistakes are permitted, the States may be mulcted of a certain amount of revenue. Surely in these cases the rigid practice of the department regarding the prosecution of those who commit trifling breaches of the Customs Act should be relaxed. Owing to the alterations which have been made in the Tariff from time to time, and owing also to the want of proper classification of the items, we have created difficulties which have made it almost impossible to prevent errors, and as a matter of common sense and business experience these errors ought not to be dealt with by the department as if they were made with fraudulent intent in every case. On the other hand, every facility should be given to members of the commercial community, nine-tenths of whom wish to facilitate the operations of the Customs department.
– I think the thanks of the community are due to the honorable member for Melbourne for bringing forward his motion, because he has demonstrated that those who stated, when the Tariff was under consideration, that the abolition of the tea duty would result in the poisoning of the people were not correct in their prophecy. Prom the statement now put before us, the public will be able to see that every precaution is still being taken to insure that the grades of tea imported here are of proper quality, and are not likely to inflict any injury upon consumers.
– The contention is that the prohibited samples of tea are fit for consumption,
– That is a matter for competent authorities to settle ; but I am glad that publicity is to be given to the fact that the Customs Act itself contains the necessary provision in this regard, and that we have a Minister who is not amenable to influence or representation from outsiders, and who is prepared to administer the Act in its integrity. I have stated before that in my opinion the Minister is going rather far with regard to the interpretation of some of the provisions and the multiplication of the various forms with which it is necessary to comply before entries can be passed for the interchange of goods between State and State.
– There is too much red tape.
– That may be so. But so far as the specific charges brought forward to-day are concerned, I desire to give the fullest possible support to the Minister. The experience of New South Wales has been just what might have been expected, because for many years Ministers were allowed to settle in their offices cases arising out of breaches of the Customs Act. We have on various occasions heard rumours regarding successful attempts to defraud the revenue on the part of different firms, who, when their cases were brought to light, were simply asked to make good the deficiency involved, nothing further being heard of the matter. The honorable member for Wentworth said that no doubt those who supported the Minister were of opinion that the large majority of commercial- men were given to practices of this kind. I do not, however, say that any large number of the men engaged in commerce in any of the States would descend to anything of the sort, and it is just because I believe that it is the insignificant minority who would be guilty of fraud that I consider it necessary that their proceedings should always be brought into the -light of day, and that the Minister should be placed above any influences that might help them to get the better of their competitors in trade. The honorable member for Wentworth must remember one case which occurred in New South Wales, in which it was shown that a brewing firm had for years defrauded the excise branch of the Customs department of thousands of pounds. That fraud was discovered through information given by a discharged employe. The case was settled by the Minister, and the public did not know until years afterwards - certainly it was months afterwards - that the firm concerned had committed any fraud, or had been allowed to settle their case on the payment of the amount of which the revenue had been defrauded. The honorable member for West Sydney, who was then a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, brought the matter up in that Chamber, and it was proved beyond doubt that the persons concerned should have been in gaol ; but because of the system which had grown up under which Ministers continually settled cases of this kind, without reference to the courts, the offenders escaped on the mere restitution - which any common thief would be glad to make - of the money of which they had defrauded the- State. So long as any Minister agrees to consider these cases in camera, so long will such abuses be possible. I do not care how virtuous a Minister may be ; it is impossible for him not to make’ mistakes occasionally against the interests of the public.
– The honorable member is dealing with matters of fraud. I was referring to an entirely different class of case.
– It is extremely difficult for a non-judicial person to .decide whether merely pure inadvertence or direct fraud is involved in a mistake, and all such questions should be decided by a magistrate or judge in open court, in the full view of the public, and under circumstances in which every consideration can be given, and the person prosecuted may get his deserts.
– The Act prevents magistrates from deciding upon what they regard as the merits of the case.
– That is an argument for an alteration of the law. I believe that some justification has been shown for such an alteration, and I should be quite prepared to support a proposal in that direction. After having assisted to pass the Customs Act, we have no right to shunt all the responsibility on to the Minister.
– But what assurances were given ?
– That the law would be carried out. In cases where it is shown that the mistake made was due to mere inadvertence, the magistrate should have power to either dismiss the information, to inflict a nominal fine, or to find that the mistake was the result of inadvertence. It would, however, be dangerous to give the Minister this discretion.
– That is left to the Minister now.
– I understand the charge against the Minister is that he does not use any discretion, but forces all cases into court.
– Does the honorable member know that the Customs officials refuse to tell those who desire to pass entries whether an article is dutiable or not?
– When we are told what is in a package, we say whether it is dutiable or not.
– I know that a certain amount of justifiable dissatisfaction exists in Sydney with regard to the details which are asked for, and the method in which they have to be supplied, and I have not been slow to condemn the Minister for the complicated method in which he is working the department, but that is altogether apart from the question raised by the honorable member for Melbourne. The honorable member’s quotation from my remarks on a former occasion were also inappropriate to the matter in hand. I was then referring to the fact that the Minister was sweating the employes in the Sydney Custom-house by compelling the members of the clerical and outside staffs to work overtime without remuneration, and at a pressure which was not conducive to good work. That matter was totally distinct from that now raised by the honorable member for Melbourne.
– The honorable member contended that the Minister was treating the officials outrageously.
– But that had no reference to merchants being proceeded against for erroneous entries. The complaint made by the honorable member is that the Minister has refused to settle certain cases out of court.
– Where no fraud is involved.
– In my view it would be most unwise to allow any Minister to be the judge as to whether mistakes were made by inadvertence or design. I trust that whilst the Minister maysee his way clear to relax some of the regulations which undoubtedly hamper commercial men, particularly in regard to Inter-State exchanges, I hope that he will allow no criticism, such as has just been levelled at him, to induce him to deviate for one moment from the straight course of insisting that all cases of error, whether intentional or not, shall be sent to the public courts for judgment as to whether they are venial offences or otherwise.
– I should like to know whether the honorable member for Bland, who applies such a rigid codeto the Customs Act, would also be willing to apply it to every department of the Commonwealth, or the State - say, for instance, to the administration of the income tax or the land tax ?
– I would.
– Then we should never have our law courts empty. They would flourish, and the development of the country would be arrested.
– I could mention a good many cases of fraud in connexion with the land tax.
– I am quite aware that frauds are committed under the land tax, and also under the Customs Act, and I should be the last to excuse such offences against the law, or to prevent the most drastic steps being taken regarding them. If, however, every case of error, even though manifestly free from fraudulent intent, is to be taken into court, we shall work untold injury to our great trading and industrial institutions. I know nothing about the cases mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne, and I shall not express any opinion regarding them. I know from experience that it is very dangerous to take proceedings upon the extract strength of tea analyses. If, however, tea is not according to standard, proceedings should . be taken against the importers unless there are some circumstances, such as have been mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne, which ought to relieve them from responsibility at this early stage of the administration of the new regulations. I wish to confine my remarks to the administration of the Customs department. To me that administration appears to be defective from several causes. First, it is defective because of the provisions contained in our Constitution relating to the bookkeeping system between the different States - for which the Minister is not responsible - and the necessity which consequently exists for the supply of the most trivial particulars in connexion with Inter-State transactions. Those provisions must create difficulty and leave a great opening for error. Then we have the Tariff itself, for the framing of which the Minister is, to some extent, blameworthy. Time after time it was pointed out to him that the line of demarcation between the scheduled items was not sufficiently distinct, and that difficulties would ‘therefore be created in interpretation and administration. Further, we have enacted such peculiar provisions in regard to the collection of duties, that, in particular instances, I defy any honorable member, even after the most elaborate research, to determine what duty should be paid. In some cases - as was pointed out by the acting leader of the Opposition - the duty chargeable upon certain articles depends upon the use to which they are to be put. Let us take wheels for trucks as an example. A man may import 100 of these. If they are used in connexion with coal skips they are not dutiable, but if they are used for other mining purposes they are dutiable. How can an importer determine the use to which they are to be put ? He imports them for sale. Can anyone decide under what duty those goods should be entered? Who can say what is the ultimate use to which they will be put f The importer may sell some which will be used for one purpose, and others which will be used for another. That is merely an illustration of the difficulty which exists, and which is equally applicable to a good many items on the Tariff. In every instance I objected to the duty chargeable upon any article being made dependent upon the use to which it was to be put.
– I must ask the honorable member not to discuss the Tariff.
– I am merely pointing out that the peculiar way in which the Tariff has been framed is responsible for some of the difficulties which are experienced in its administration. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister. He has told us that he accepted his present office without having had the benefit of any previous experience.
– I do not hestitate to say that the honorable member has always shown his sympathy.
– I have tried to do so, and the Minister ‘ has extended every courtesy to me, so much so that if this matter had not been brought up, and I had not felt in duty bound to voice the numerous representations which have been made to me, I should not have raised it at the present time. I should have been content to remain silent in the hope that the Customs administration would improve, and that complaints would be prevented. But at the present time it appears to me there is infinitely too much delay in obtaining decisions. If the business of Australia is to be effectively carried on - and it is to the interest of every one that it should be - prompt decisions must be given. But we cannot have promptitude in decisions if matters have to be referred from the uttermost ends of Australia to Melbourne, and although the Minister hopes that some day these references will cease, they have not ceased up to the present, and have been the means of creating enormous dissatisfaction. Then again the right honorable gentleman takes so much work upon himself that he cannot possibly deal with it. I might mention one case in which only a decision was asked for. The importer was ready to pay the duty immediately that decision was given, but it took five or six months to obtain it. I say that the Minister cannot successfully undertake all the work which he attempts to perform. Moreover his action involves the degradation of his high officers in the other States, who with their large experience, ought to be prepared to give decisions upon matters which are brought under their notice. It is highly desirable - even if in some cases errors may at first be committed - that prompt decisions should be available rather than that trade should be dislocated, and goods detained whilst a reference is beingmade to the central authority in Melbourne. Regarding the prosecutions which have taken place, I am sure that no one desires any back-door settlement of fraudulent cases. When the drastic provisions in the Customs Act were under consideration, objection was taken to them. What was the reply given ? It was stated that it was necessary to have very drastic provisions in a Customs Act. So it is; but it was intended that the powers conferred by those provisions should be exercised with discretion. My complaint is that no discretion is being exercised. The Minister regards everybody with a strong suspicion. He even regards himself with suspicion, fearing that he may be led away by some chance circumstance, some friendship, some belief in honesty to do wrong when he ought to do right. Consequently he says to the importers, “ Go to the courts.” What does that mean? It means the reverse of what is involved in any ordinary appeal to the courts, because under the English law a man is presumed to be innocent until he has been proved guilty ; but under the law that the right honorable gentleman administers, he is presumed to be guilty until he has established his innocence. Even after he has proved his innocence he is liable to a fine, and to the reflection upon his good name which the fine involves, because very often people do not distinguish between a penalty imposed for guilt or merely on account of error. The prosecution of a man in South Australia the other day in connexion with the importation of a small quantity of mustard oil seems to me a most astounding one. Why should such a case go into court? The value’ of the whole of the goods was only 2s. Sd. In that case the goods were declared on the package to have been manufactured by prison labour. The person who imported them for his own use knew nothing about that. The goods, of course, should be forfeited, but why should he be dragged into court, and his good name affected, because of such a simple error? In conclusion, I desire to point out the complaint of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce in connexion with Customs administration, as expressed by the president. I think that honorable members will consider that the address of the president of that chamber, in alluding to these matters, is essentially well balanced. He speaks in most kindly tones of the Minister, which is evidence that credit is given where it is due. He says-
I say unhesitatingly that if the electors throughout the Commonwealth had had the faintest suspicion that intercolonial free-trade could possibly involve business in such utter chaos, federation would have been rejected by every State. We find but little fault with the Customs Act itself. It is clear, concise, and comprehensive, and reflects great credit on the draughtsman. It is recognised that laws relating to taxation should include stringent provisions and penalties for the prevention and punishment of fraud, and the commercial community are equally interested with the Government in the prompt detection and punishment of any fraudulent practices on the revenue. It is not the law.. but its administration, that is agitating the minds of the people in this State, and I am sure if the Minister were only aware of the strained feeling of disappointment with the administration he would more fully appreciate the continued appeal of a commercial community for more reasonable treatment, not in their interests only, but also in the interests of the good name and reputation of the Government. A continuance of the present policy cannot possibly bc attended with any beneficial results, and can only tend to alienate the sympathies of an important section of the community, to whose enterprise and industry Australia owes no small share of its prosperity. Whilst fully appreciating and recognising the high motives which appear to be guiding the Minister for Trade and Customs in his strict interpretation and severe administration of the law, it is felt that had he been familiar with the practical side of the question, less friction and misunderstanding would have resulted, and less necessity for legal procedure. Whilst the law affords the administration wide and arbitrary powers, which are wise and necessary when special occasion arises, it was never contemplated by the Legislature that they were intended to comprehend by punishments and penalties the pardonable errors and omissions which, in spite of all human care and provision, are inevitable. Hitherto, in British communities at least, an absolute interpretation of the law, according to its strict letter, has been reserved to the courts, whilst the principles of equity have guided the practice in administration. It is obvious that the law cannot provide for every possible contingency, any more than it can be said, that its provisions are each capable of literal interpretation and enforcement. To presume so, suggests a perfection in law-makers which has no existence in fact. It is surely therefore not unreasonable to ask and expect that equity should guide the hand of administration, so that the law may be construed, not according to the strict letter, but rather in a reasonable and just spirit, with due regardto the individual, us well us to the Commonwealth. The constant prosecutions for isolated, and very often trifling, errors and omissions in entries and declarations ; the discredit attaching to firms whose names have never previously been before the court ; the anxieties and fears of importers, agents, and employés, have reached such a pitch of tension as almost to provoke the errors which the means adopted are supposed to remedy. The trading community generally desire to observeall the proper demands of the department which the law provides, and they also desire that when there is evidence of gross carelessness or intentional evasion, due punishment should follow, but they earnestly and strongly protest against the present unnecessary severity in administration for which, so far as they are aware, there is no justification or precedent. It is with a sincere desire to aid the Minister that I thus publicly refer to the true cause of much of the present discontent, and I venture to hope that my remarks may be accepted in the spirit that prompts them, and be the means of inducing the Minister to somewhat relax his present harsh and cruel system of administration, and so relieve us of a position which has become utterly intolerable.
It is in that spirit, and that spirit only, that I approach this matter, and I say that if the Minister will allow that common sense which he usually exercises to guide him in the administration of our customs law, he will benefit not only the people of Australia, but the whole of the mercantile community.
– Whilst I agree with the motion submitted, I cannot say that I support it upon the grounds which have been urged by the honorable member for Melbourne. Until he recants his former views, I hope that he will not cross over to the opposition side of the chamber. We do not want him until his ideas undergo a change.
– The Opposition will not get me upon those terms.
– When the honorable member referred to the lack of sound administration in the department, I was in thorough accord with him. It was really alarming to hear the Minister cheered on the Government side of the House, as if it was thought he had to send on to the court in every case. The Minister need not and does not do so in every case, but has the power to determine the course to be taken. So far back as 16th July last year I drew attention to the stringency of the provisions of the Customs Bill, which was then before the House. I knew the bungle the Minister would make, having in a short time summed up his character. I objected to this power being bestowed, and said that if the administration were intrusted to the Minister’s hands there would bound to be confusion in the mercantile world. Trouble must arise when the Minister is a legal man without requisite commercial knowledge, or that large acquaintance of the world which the study of outside affairs alone can give ; and I do not suppose there is a man either inside or outside the House who would undertake to say that the administration has been successful. Under the Customs Act in its present form, it does not matter how innocent an error may have been, a man who is brought before the court must be convicted, and if there be two such convictions, a third offence, however inadvertently committed, may be punished with imprisonment for not less than six months, or more than two years. It is not left within the power of the magistrate or the judge, even in the case of the most trivial offence, to decide that no penalty shall be inflicted. On the 16th J uly last year I asked whether, in the case of mere error or inadvertence, the Minister had power to stop any action, and the Minister replied in the affirmative. That is the correct view, and it is possible that power may have been exercised so seldom, in the case of innocent men at least, that it is not worth mentioning. On the same occasion the Minister said that there was no compulsion to sue any one, and that no one would be sued unless, it was felt that such a course ought to be taken. The Minister will not try to decide these matters as an administrator. He is perpetually troubling himself with petty details which entail on himself extremely hard work, without producing any good result. If the town clerk of Melbourne, who is paid about £2,000 a year for looking after the administration of the interests of the citizens, were to occupy himself in removing orange-peer from the pavements, he would be in a position exactly analogous to that taken up. by the Minister for Trade and Customs. The details occupy him so much that there is no time to deal with large matters, and the result is a state of affairs which has caused complaint in every part of Australia. From Brisbane the other day a man, through his solicitors, forwarded £120 to the Customs department, and it is perfectly easy to see, on reading between the lines, that that man was one who had gained some advantage in consequence of a slight error in the entries, but an error which, in consequence of the character of the administration, he was afraid to acknowledge. Some five months ago a merchant in Sydney made a small error of the kind, and though be would have been perfectly willing to pay the duty, he was advised by his solicitor to say nothing about the matter, or otherwise he would be convicted. I was consulted, and I informed the man’s solicitor that my opinions could be found in my speeches of five or six months previously, and that I must decline now to advise in the case. Every one will agree with the Minister in endeavouring to prevent fraud, but his administration is certainly responsible for the present position. I wonder the honorable member for Melbourne brought the question forward, seeing that large importers rather like these hindrances, which are too expensive for smaller men to bear, but that is probably the reason why the Minister imposes these disabilities, as they wipe out the smaller men, and lessen competition. But consequences of that kind would do a great wrong to the great bulk of the traders who carry on their business legitimately. The administration all through has been a disgrace to a civilized community. As to tea, it is clear that the Minister, with his remarkable knowledge of chemistry is going to tell us that the stoppage is in the interests of the public health - that the tea is the sweepings of the gutter, and that he deserves credit for preventing its distribution. If the tea is really bad, there is no credit in stopping it, though discredit would attach to the Minister if he did not stop it according to law. I do not think that the Minister is able to give us the information, but we might as well at this juncture recognise exactly what tea is. It is one of the commonest and hardiest of plants, which will flourish in any temperate climate. Tea will grow in England and is grown in Australia, the common camellia which we see growing in the open air being a plant of the same order. The Minister ought, I think, to give us some information about tea, in relation to the alkaloid theine, and also to the tannin in it.
– The question is the administration of the Customs Act.
– I hope the Minister will give us that information for the benefit of the people. But the Minister’s time is taken too much up in dealing with the dismissal and appointment of message boys that ho has no opportunity for dealing with trade matters involving thousands and thousands of pounds. While I do not welcome to this side the honorable member for Melbourne, until, he is prepared to embrace our ideas, I am glad that even outsiders are beginning to recognise that the administration of the department is bad. I do not think I shall actively support the motion for the adjournment of the House ; my inclination is to walk out rather than vote.
– Instead of condemnation being heaped on the honorable member for Melbourne, he ought to be praised for bringing this question up ; and I hope the discussion will cause the Minister for Trade and Customs to discontinue, if it be possible, dragging insignificant cases into court. If I were not well acquainted with the Minister, as an old supporter, and if I did not know him to be a sterling, honest man, I should believe that this was a case of one lawyer making’ litigation for a lot of his brethren out of work. But I do not believe anything of the kind, and I am sorry the honorable member for Werriwa has introduced personal matters into the discussion. We do not want to have personal matters introduced into this Chamber. We are here to represent the people, and to defend their interests, and while it may be necessary to condemn a policy, I do not think we should deal personally with the individual responsible for it. The acting leader of the Opposition said that the Minister for Trade and Customs ought to be a commercial man, but I do riot ‘think that that statement will bear investigation. The Judges in our courts are not men with commercial experience, but great commercial cases are decided by them.
– They do not deal with matters of administration.
– They have power to send those appearing before them to gaol if need be.
– They deal with the cases brought before them on the evidence submitted.
– In the same way, the cases arising out of the administration of the Customs department must be dealt with upon the evidence submitted. The Minister should weigh this evidence carefully, and consider whether a wrongful act was done for the purpose of defrauding the revenue. He should remember that the mistake may be due to the fault of a clerk, and all the circumstances surrounding the case should be fully considered. But honest merchants should be thankful when unscrupulous and dishonest traders are punished, and should be ready to help the Minister to brand as dishonest those who attempt to defraud the revenue.
– That has always been the case.
– I do not like to hear of people being dragged into the courts unnecessarily for what are merely mistakes. Mistakes are constantly being made in mercantile dealings, but one man writes to another to call on him, and they are rectified in a few minutes. The curse of every British community is that people think that crime will be prevented by dragging persons into court, and imprisoning, branding, or hanging them. Nothing of the sort. Terrible punishments never prevent crime.
Mr. KINGSTON (South AustraliaMinister for Trade and Customs). - I recognise the generous tone of the debate, and I am not disposed to take exception to the observations of the honorable member for Melbourne, who, believing that he had a right to protest, has protested in what he considers to be the most effectual and proper way. I trust that further consideration will lead him to the conclusion that his protest was, perhaps, under the circumstances, a little extreme ; but I may assure him that, as he has the satisfaction of knowing that he has done what he believes to be right, we are animated by the same feeling, and have come to the same conclusion. We think that the private settlement in the Minister’s office of cases of the kind to which reference has been made this afternoon, is highly undesirable. I do not hesitate to say, from my knowledge of the records of Victoria, officially acquired, that the system of private settlement which existed here, but nowhere else, though adopted for a good purpose, was pushed to an extreme, and should not be revived. The opinion of the House in this matter was well indicated when we were dealing with the Customs Bill. Honorable members then showed that they desired nothing of the sort, and that private inquiries are abhorrent to them. If a breach of the law for which a penalty should be exacted has been committed, let that penalty be exacted in the light of day. Let it be known why those who have offended are to be penalized. Let the case be made public, so that every one may know all the circumstances connected with it, instead of having a vague paragraph in a corner of a newspaper which may mean this, that, or the other thing. Why should a practice be conceded to the mercantile community which is not extended to the members of any other section who offend against the law? I am sure that there is a general feeling that a return to any system such as I refer to should not be permitted, and we are doing what we can to give effect to what we believe is the wish of Parliament in this matter, and accords with the sense of justice in the community.
– Would not the Minister permit a Customs official to allow the rectification of a clerical error?
– We are not laying down the rule that persons must be prosecuted and penalized for the smallest clerical error, such as might take place in an arithmetical calculation ; but in collecting duties, as I have stated in communications with chambers of commerce and other bodies interested, we have a right to know from the importers what is the nature of the goods they are importing, and what is the value of those goods. As a general rule, where that information is stated honestly, there is an indication of an honest intention, and with proper vigilance on the part of the Customs officials neither the honest merchants nor the revenue will suffer, even if there be slight mistakes, which do not amount to a false declaration, in reply to either of the questions I have named. Our wish in this matter is to obtain the security of the revenue, so that the Government may get what it ought to get. It would be monstrous if, when the States and the Commonwealth have some difficulty in procuring the revenue necessary to make ends meet - I am speaking figuratively - those who owe money to the Government should by various means escape the payment of it, and that therefore additional taxation must be exacted from those who already have sufficient to bear, or retrenchment practised in connexion with the public service and in other directions. We should make our debtors pay the money they owe us before placing additional burdens upon the taxpayers. I have the assurance from my officers that the revenue is coming in very well indeed under existing circumstances. I may be taking to the department credit which does not belong to it when I say that the exactitude with which the Customs laws have been administered has led to that state of affairs in no small degree, but I believe it to be so, and that hundreds and thousands of pounds are now being received which otherwise would not have been obtained. That fact may explain, to a considerable extent, the large returns which we ax-e getting from a Tariff whose duties have been considerably reduced, even to exemption, during their consideration by this Chamber. I acknowledge the valuable assistance which I have received from the representatives of the commercial community. Reference has been made to chambers of commerce, and I am happy to think that my relations with them have been so satisfactory. We believe in administering the law, so that the honest traders, who constitute the great majority of the commercial community, will be protected against the unscrupulous minority, who have recourse to little frauds which, when they are bowled out, they try to excuse as mere clerical errors. It is to the interests of the revenue, in justice to the taxpayer, and the whole community, and for the protection of the great majority of our traders, that the law should be stringently administered. We welcome a debate of this sort. We have taken any amount of trouble in connexion with the administration of the department. I do not think any one will say that any one of the Ministers has in the slightest degree shrunk from the work entailed upon him by the duties of his office. If there is one thing which has pleased me recently, it is the opinion of the Board of Customs in England upon the Customs Act which was passed by this Parliament last year. The Board speak of that Act in the highest terms, and I am delighted that my department was able to contribute to its successful enactment. Having a measure which is so highly praised by such a high authority, we should spare no pains to secure its best administration. We wish to bring about justice of the most evenhanded description, and to assist honest traders in every way possible. The difficulties which at present exist are no doubt of the most troublesome character, but we are getting over them, and I hope that shortly we shall successfully surmount them all. I have not hesitated, although I knew that I might expect rather sharp replies from some quarters, to place myself in direct communication with chambers of commerce, chambers of manufactures, and other commercial representative bodies, for the purpose of exchanging views upon the subject of administration. I have asked these bodies - “ What have you to complain of ? What have you to suggest ? “ so that I may look into their suggestions most carefully, and, where necessary, apply what remedies are possible.
– Has the right honorable gentleman learnt anything ?
– I hope so. I am disposed to think that I know a great deal more about Customs matters now than I knew two years ago. I should be sorry if it were not so. I am only too ready to drink deeply at the well of commercial truth and knowledge, and to use the information I obtain for the benefit of the public and to the advantage of the. department over which I have the honour to preside. I have received a number of replies, but I have not had time to go through them all. I know what hard work is. I have never shirked it, but I have never had harder labour to perform than during the past eighteen months.
– The right honorable gentleman deserves it. Some people think he should get ten years’ hard labour.
– I am only too glad to have the opportunity to perform this work, and I hope that the result may be for the good of all. It was a trouble to pilot a Tariff through a State House. I sat beside Senator Playford when he piloted a Tariff through the South Australian Parliament, and I thought it hard work. But we have had to deal, not only with a uniform Tariff affecting all the States, but to pass in addition the Customs Act, which has been so highly spoken of, and other machinery Bills, such as those dealing with beer excise, distillation, and excise generally, and also to frame regulations. Some of my officers, .1 think, were not sorry when the work which had to be done in connexion with the machinery measures ceased. It imposed upon them a strain which I regretted, but which was absolutely unavoidable. But what is the position today? One of the most distinguished public servants in Victoria - the Comptroller of Customs - has been told -by his medical adviser that it is absolutely necessary, on account of the mental strain to which he has been subjected, to ask for a lengthy period of leave. I have gladly granted him that leave, but I regret the circumstances which have made it necessary. The Victorian Collector, who for a time took his place, had to retire to a sick bed, from which, I am glad to say, he is at last able to rise. Two other officers under me have been almost similarly afflicted. Honorable members complain of delays because this and that little note has not been promptly answered, but all our time has been required for the performance of more substantial and necessary work. I venture to think that those who complain are a little exacting. I do not hesitate to tell honorable members that I could not have done what I am doing now if my health had not been better this year than it was last. When I have seen my officers, those who were my right hand, as it were, dropping round me, I have sometimes wondered when my turn would come ; but until my time does come, I shall do the work which I am given an opportunity to do. I was really interested to hear some of the extraordinary charges brought against me, and I intend, in due course, to demolish the whole of the complaints. Regarding what was said ‘ by my friend the honorable member for Melbourne - we are still friends, although there has been a difference -of opinion between us - to the effect that I had laid down the rule, that Dr. Wollaston should deal with no matter involving an amount of more than £1, all I need say is, that the idea is preposterous, and that I never dreamt of doing anything of the sort.
– I said that it was stated that the Minister had done so.
– Exactly, and I want to know where these statements come from. That is why I want the Chambers of Commerce to give me particulars of the charges and complaints which they have to make against me. Amongst other things, they said that I directed that passengers’ effects were not to be allowed to enter free of duty on any account.
– I did not mention that.
– No ; but the statement was contained in an official letter, and was in direct contradiction to a circular which was issued long ago. However, I shall deal with the Chambers of Commerce direct by letter. The honorable member for
Melbourne also stated that I would not permit a sight entry to be passed without my direction. If that were so, I should be an abominable tyrant. It is said that I am an autocrat and a despot, and I have had many other similar names applied to me, but there is no truth in the statement to which I have referred. The Act provides that -
If the owner cannot immediately supply the full particulars for making an entry, and shall make a declaration to that effect before the collector, he may make a sight entry.
That is a provision within the four corners of the Act, and beyond that it is. not necessary for me to go. The honorable member for Melbourne has also made a statement with regard to a little matter which has happened between us. He asked me to consolidate certain bonds. We had not been in the habit of consolidating bonds throughout the whole of the States, nor did we think it would be a good thing to do so as regards the whole of the Commonwealth. But what I assented to was that the bonds, as regards each particular State, should be consolidated, and the matter has gone on to the Crown Solicitor, in order that he may see that the bond is in proper form. What could I do more than that ? Am I to draft these legal documents - am I to settle them myself ?
– The Minister is fond of doing so.
– So I am, and it is a pity that I have not time to do so to ci greater extent. Is it, however, right that I should be impeached after having agreed to the honorable member’s request, and sent the papers through the proper channel for settlement 1 I recognise the difficulties of interpretation, and the inconvenience which often arises through the necessity for reference to head-quarters. But this is the way in which I look at the matter. Would honorable members prefer to have a uniform Tariff uniformly administered, or a uniform Tariff administered’ at the sweet will and pleasure of the various Collectors of Customs in all the States ? A uniform Tariff would not be worth sixpence, unless it were uniformly administered. The most serious charge made against me is that in some cases one rule is being applied in Victoria, and another in New South Wales - and when that happens, I blush. The only way of obviating this is to make the collectors report to me for the purpose of obtaining a decision that will enable a uniform practice to be followed. It is not desirable that we should go on in a miserable happy-go-lucky style, because unless the Tariff is uniformly administered it will not be worth the paper it is written on. At this moment we have in course of preparation - and hope that it will be completed simultaneously with the passing of the Tariff - a Tariff Guide, in which all the articles we can think of will be mentioned and classified alphabetically, so that they may be referred to without the slightest difficulty. Against each of these articles there will be an official interpretation as to the heading of the Tariff to which it belongs, and the duty payable upon it. I believe that we shall do well to issue a work of this kind, and when we do so, I hope that all the grumbling will disappear and that one wave of exultation will pass over the commercial community. I hope that this Guide will enable merchants to easily comply with the regulations to which they have hitherto found it difficult to conform. The book will be a handy and very desirable supplement to the legislation to which this House has devoted so many long days during this year and a portion of last year. A great deal has been said with reference to tea. I like tea, and I like to have it pure, and the public have a right to pure and good tea. In view of the provisions contained in the Act regarding the importation of tea, I should not be worthy of my position if I failed to strictly administer the law, and to haul before the courts those who infringe upon the right of the public to have good tea, and not Indian mud, charged for as if it were tea. I found some little time ago that different systems of administration were adopted in the various States in regard to tea - that one expert would pass tea as all right, whilst the expert in another State would reverse hisdecision. This was not satisfactory, and such a condition of affairs could not be allowed to exist in a united Australia. One flag, one tea standard. On the 26th September, I wrote a memorandum - I was, apparently, annoyed at the time -as follows : -
These constant variations between State experts are alarming and distressing.
Let all the papers from Queensland be obtained at once. Wire for them.
– Is Mr. Hake the expert of the department?
– He has advised, and he is a very good expert, too. I wrote further -
I asked the Comptroller of Customs, after consultation with the experts, to report to me as to what should be the standard for tea. I found, amongst other things, that the standard for tea, which was afterwards prescribed under the Act, had been in force in Queensland for seven or eight years.
– That does not make it right.
– No ; but there is a good deal of evidence in its favour. The regulation reads as follows -
No teas imported into Queensland will be allowed to go into consumption which contain less than 30 per cent. of extract, 3 per cent. of soluble ash, calculated on the dry tea, 212° Fahrenheit, or more than 8 per cent. of total ash.
All the experts of Australia united in recommending the present standard, or something a little higher, and we adopted it on the recommendation of Mr. Blackett and of Mr. Hake.
– Will the Minister give us the figures for the “ extract “?
– I do not wish to debate the matter too closely. There is a case before the court now, and I am rather sorry that I should have been called upon to discuss this matter before it has been dealt with judicially. All I desire to do is to describe the circumstances that led us to adopt the present standard. It is lower than that which the Tasmanian and Western Australian experts suggested, and the circumstance which turned the scale and removed any doubt that I might have had in my mind was the fact that it was recommended by the British Society of Analysts, which includes amongst its members the official analysts to the health authorities of Great Britain. We took every trouble to arrive at a fair conclusion, and there was no alteration suggested until we stopped some tea from passing into consumption. Then those who were interested in the tea began to make complaints. They wrote to me - not directly, but through a meeting - with the evident intention of bringing about a stoppage of the proceedings.
– Was that in Victoria?
– Yes. The meeting was held in Victoria.
– No proceedings had been taken in Victoria at that time.
– I wrote a memorandum as follows : -
Have the provisions of section 64 been complied with ? I wish a return of all the eases showing dates of shipment and of analysis, also results, and particularly if declared unwholesome, or unfit for human use, exhausted, or adulterated.
I was away from Melbourne shortly after this time ; but the return was furnished, and when I read it I was angry, although I venture to consider that I retained full power to enable me to arrive at a judicial conclusion as to what should be done. I am not going to read the names of those concerned, but I intend to read someof theofficial reports which attracted my attention; they include cases besides those now under prosecution. Honorable members are aware that in this connexion the Act prescribes the process which shall be adopted. When tea is imported it is examined by the Customs tea expert. If he is dissatisfied with its quality, he sends it on to the analyst for report. I will read to honorable members some of the reports by the expert and others by the analyst. The first is one by the expert, who gives the following as his reason for sending the tea in question to the analyst - “ Being mixed with substances other than tea.” In reference to this case the analyst reports - “ Total ash exceeds 8 per cent. Unfit for human use according to regulation, section 54.” In the case of the second consignment, the reports from both the expert and the analyst are identical with those which I have just read. In the third instance, the reason given by the expert is “Decay having set in,” and the report of the analyst reads - “ Contains rotten and decayed leaves. Complies with regulation, section 54.” Concerning the fourth case, the expert’s report is - “Being mixed with substances other than tea,” and the analyst states - “Exhausted tea, total ash, 8.12 per cent.; insoluble ash, 4.48 per cent.; soluble ash, 3.64 per cent.; extract ash, 41.10 per cent. Does not comply with standard under regulation, section 54, and therefore unfit for human use.” In regard to another consignment, the report of the expert is - “ Rotten and decayed leaf.” Concerning this case, the report of the analyst is - “ Exhausted tea, not fit for human food. It contains old and decayed leaf, nauseous, and without aroma.” In another case the expert reports - “ Rotten and decayed leaf,” and the analyst states - “ Exhausted tea by decay and rottenness; gives a nauseous liquor and bad odour.” In still another instance the expert’s report is - “ Being mixed with substances other than tea,” and concerning it the analyst states - “ Contains magnetic oxide of iron and mineral matter, sand, &c. Very much mixed with other substances. Extract above 30 per cent. Not fit for human food.” When I saw reports of this kind, covering two full pages, I do not hesitate to say that I was angry.
– Are those all Victorian cases?
– They seem to be.
– Has no trouble been experienced in the other States?
– There have been some cases in the other States.
– Of the same sort?
– They are not so bad, it seems to me, as are the Victorian cases to which I have referred. Evidently some of the merchants who imported these teas were getting rotten and decayed stuff instead of pure and wholesome tea. Do honorable members know what is said in regard to some of this condemned tea? It is urged that the foreign substance is only mud, and in this connexion I say, let those responsible for it get rid of the mud before they bring the tea here. I have had a picture painted to me of a man standing over this tea fanning it. When he fans the tea in one direction, he leaves the rocks which it contains behind. It appears to me that this tea was intended to be subjected to a sort of dry-blowing process. When I read these reports I sat down and penned the following : -
I am disappointed to note that sections 51 and 54 have not, in some States, been more strictly enforced. No laxity in future to be permitted on any account.
I did not care who the persons involved were, and I added -
The papers in all eases np to date to be laid before the Crown Solicitor, wit,ji a view to prosecutions in all clear cases of shipments later than one month after the coming into force of the Customs Act 1901.
The matter went before the Crown Solicitor. He came to the conclusion that in those cases in which prosecutions have since taken place the law should be set in motion. I would be the last person to prevent him from taking action in this connexion. Only two days ago I had an interview with the Crown Solicitor, and I then put the question to him - “Are the cases clear?” and I received a reply from him in writing that they are. Under such circumstances, what is the duty of any man who desires to retain the respect of this House ? It is said ti nit I am blamable in that I allowed only a month in which persons might become acquainted with the law. But I do not feel that I was called upon to allow a longer period. The shipments of tea, in many of the cases to which reference has been made, come not from Calcutta, but from Colombo, which is much nearer to Australia than is Calcutta. Surely tea merchants, who boast large businesses, ought to study the provisions of the law in respect of their importations. If they fail to do so, let them stand the consequences, but let the public, at all hazards, be protected.
Question resolved in the negative.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– This is a matter which the Acting Minister for Defence is investigating, and, therefore, I shall be glad if the honorable and learned member will allow his questions to stand over until next Tuesday, by which time we hope to be in possession of full information.
asked the Acting Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable and learned member’s questions I desire to state : -
asked the Minister ‘ representing the Postmaster - General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Mr. Hipsley, from ?60 to ?100 from19th August, 1895. ?100 to ?125, as junior testing officer, from 1st January, 1899. ?125 to ? 140 f rom 1st July,1900. ?140 to ?150 from 1st January, 1901.
Mr. Davies, from ?39 to ?52 from 1st April, 1895. ?52 to ?70 from 1st July, 1896. ?70 to ?100, as junior testing officer, from 1st January, 1899. ?100 to ?115 from 1st July, 1900. ?115 to ?140 from 1st January, 1901. ?140 to ?150 from 1st January, 1902.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 21st August, vide page 15225) :
– I move-
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ The rates for the conveyance of letters posted within the Commonwealth shall be as set out in the Third Schedule to this Act.”
This clause, if carried with the schedule, will have far-reaching and important effects. Irrespective of what the postal rate on letters shall be, a great many honorable members agree that this Bill should deal with the matter of letter postage. The Bill fixes post and telegraph rates, and rates for newspapers, but makes no reference to letters ; and I think that in reference to the latter, some uniform system ought to be applied throughout the Commonwealth. If the schedule be agreed to, the clause will introduce into the Commonwealth the system of penny postage. I understand that the objections to that system are mainly financial ; and I propose to show that where it has been established within the British Empire, and in other countries, it has never been productive of the heavy loss here anticipated, any deficiencies being of a temporary character. In regard to the Commonwealth, I believe that any estimate so far made as to the likely loss is considerably beyond what would prove to be the case. Penny postage was introduced into Great Britain in 1840, and the increase in the postal business was very considerable, the number of letters in one year increasing from 82,000,000 to 169,000,000. But with that increase in the volume of business, there was a very considerable decrease in the revenue. The latter was very alarming, but it was notsufficient to frighten the postal authorities, and results have shown that they acted wisely. In the first year the revenue fell from ?1,600,000 to about ?500,000 ; but the decrease in the rate was considerably greater than that which would be experienced in connexion with penny postage in the Commonwealth. Prior to 1840, the lowest rate in the British Isles was 2d., and that was applicable only to places within eight miles of each other, being virtually a suburban rate. The rate to other parts of Great Britain was 4d., so that the introduction of penny postage meant a “ considerable drop. In the Commonwealth, however, penny postage is very common. It is already established in Victoria, and in a modified form is in existence in almost every State. Penny postage prevails in the big cities and suburbs of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia; and the change I propose is not very radical. I may be told that it is hardly fair to draw an analogy between the system in its operation in the British
Isles, and the system in its operation in the Commonwealth - that the British Isles are a thickly populated country, of short distances, whereas the Commonwealth is a country of great distances and sparse settlement. It must be remembered, however, that the British Isles of 40 years ago were very different from the British Isles of to-day. There is more analogy between the British Isles of 40 years ago and the Commonwealth of to-day, than there is between the British Isles of to-day and the Commonwealth of to-day. Sixty years ago distance was not annihilated to the extent it has been since, and journeys which now occupy a few hours then took many days ; so that, in the matter of expensive communication, the analogy between the British Isles of that day and the Commonwealth of to-day is not very remote. Then we have an example in the sister Federation of Canada, where a penny postage was introduced in 1898. According to the Statistical Year Book of the Dominion, the number of letters posted in 1897 was 123,000,000; in 1898 it was 134,000.000; in 1899 it was 150,000,000; in 1900 it was 178,000,000; and in 1901 it was 191,000,000. The number of letters per head posted in Canada prior to the introduction of penny postage was 24-8, and in the following year it was 28-59 ; in 1900 it was 33-50, and in 1901 it was 35-57. The Deputy PostmasterGeneral of Canada, in a report dated Ottawa, June 30th, 1899, gives some information as to the operation of the penny postage in the year 1898-9. The report states : -
On December 2.5th, 1898, as a result of the conference of representatives of various portions of the British Empire, held in London, beginning on Jane 25th, 1898, to deal with the subject of reduced postage within the Empire, the rate for letter postage between Canada and the mother country and various other portions of the Empire was reduced from 5 cents to 2 cents per half ounce. This important change has been marked by a- greatly increased correspondence between Canada and the United Kingdom.
That report was written six months after the establishment of penny postage, and, therefore, does not go into the details of the financial aspect. The report further refers to domestic penny postage, that is, penny postage within the Dominion of Canada.
On 1st January, 1899, the letter rate within Canada was reduced from 3 to 2 cents per oz. This change has been accompanied by such a marked and continuous increase in the number of domestic letters being transmitted through the mails as to warrant the conclusion that the loss of revenue consequent on such reduction will soon be overcome.
In the report for the year .1899-1900, when the penny postage system had been in operation for more than twelve months, the Deputy Postmaster of Canada says -
In the matter of postal revenue, it is to be remembered that the year in question was the first during the whole of which the reduction of domestic postage from 3 cents to 2 cents per oz. and ‘.of the inter-imperial postage from 5 cents to 2 cents per half oz. had effect, the higher rates having prevailed during the first half of the year ended June 30, 1899. Comparing the revenue from the sale of postage stamps, post cards, &c. , it is found that the revenue for the year ended June 30, 1900, falls short by something less than 53,000 dollars, the total amount derived from the same source in the previous year indicating what other figures equally show, a marked increase in the number of letters posted. The total net revenue of the Post-office from all sources, except that from the Yukon and Atlin districts, exceeded that of the previous year 03’ §1,053-25, and the total gross revenue exceeded that of the previous year by $20,391-09. On the other hand, the expenditure of the department, omitting from the comparison the special expenses incurred in the Yukon and Atlin districts, exceeded that of the previous year by §63,797-33, the excess being distributed somewhat evenly over the larger items of Postoffice expenditure. It appears, therefore, that a considerably larger volume of postal business, sufficient to nearly balance the loss arising during the first half of the year, as compared with the corresponding period of the previous year, from the reduction of postage, was handled at an increased expense of slightly over lj per cent.
Therefore the loss through the adoption of the penny postage system in Canada was, roughly speaking, about .-610,000. But we have another example which in some respects is still more valuable - that of New Zealand. New Zealand adopted the universal penny postage system in March 1901 ; but it is a curious thing that whilst, until very lately, a person residing there could post letters to distant countries, such as Chili, and most of the South American States, Italy, Canada, and any part of the British Isles, the postage to Australia was 2d., and, even now, although letters can be sent from New Zealand to Australia for Id. the postage from Australia to New Zealand is 2d. Surely an arrangement like that is not likely to promote friendly feeling and advantageous commercial relations between the Commonwealth and New Zealand. The latest ! report of the New Zealand Post and Telegraph department shows that the loss
I through the adoption of the system i has been much less than was anticipated.
Prior to the adoption of the system it was estimated that the loss would be something like £80,000 a year, but during the first twelve months which followed its introduction it was not more than 35,000. The report states -
The results of the year ure probably the most noteworthy in the history of the department. Notwithstanding the introduction of penny postage, the gross revenue, which might have been expected to show a serious drop, is only less by 615,262 than for the previous year. The postal receipts, instead of being much below those of 1900, as might have been anticipated, have reached within £35,76.1 of the 1900 figures. . . . That the penny post, which involved the handling of close upon 13,000,000 additional letters, has been successfully introduced and carried on, while the increased expenditure for postal Salaries is only £6,468, may fairly be credited to careful management. As, however, the reserve capacity of the postal Staff at many of the second and third-clars offices is probably near exhaustion, further increase in the volume of work will prove to be more costly in proportion than that already overtaken, and an increased expenditure on that account may be looked for……
The loss on the penny post for the first year has been below anticipations.- Instead of a loss of £80,000, as originally estimated, the actual loss may be put down at about £34,000. The enormous increase of mail matter for the year, including nearly 13,000,000 additional letters dealt with, mainly the result of the penny post, was unprecedented, but it was handled without hitch of any kind……. The one defect in the original scheme, owing to the inability of Australia to respond to the invitation of this colony to enter either into a reciprocal agreement or one under which our letters prepaid at Id. might be accepted and delivered without surcharge, was removed by the adoption, at the suggestion of the Postmaster-General, of the latter arrangement as from the 28th April last. It is hoped that the time is near when the Commonwealth will be in a position to enter into a fully reciprocal agreement.
I think that that wish will be echoed by the people of Australia. It is stated in the newspapers to-day that the loss which would be incurred by the Commonwealth, through the adoption of the universal penny postage system here, would amount to something like £300,000 ; but I shonld like to know how that extraordinary estimate is made up. The loss which has occurred in Victoria is not, proportionately, anything like so great. The Treasurer, when asked by the honorable member for North Sydney a short time ago what was the revenue of the Post and Telegraph department of Victoria for the twelve months immediately prior to federation, said that it was approximately £600,000, and that the revenue of the department for the twelve months ended 30th June last was 588,198, a difference of £11,802, which must be taken to be the actual diminution of revenue caused by the adoption of the penny postage system. If the loss had been anything like so great as some people would have us believe, the difference between the returns would be much greater.
– Does the honorable member allow for the general progress of the community.
– I have simply taken the difference between the revenue for the year immediate^ prior to the adoption of the system, and that for the year subsequent to its adoption. The New Zealand loss is calculated in exactly the same way.
– But while the difference in revenue is, as the honorable member has shown, £11,802 the Treasurer has stated that the actual loss caused by the Victorian State legislation was £50,000.
– An increase in the quantity of mail matter must necessitate an increase in the number of men.employed.
– I do not think that the change of system in Victoria necessitated any great increase in the number of men employed. I would point out that the loss in Victoria has probably been greater than the loss in the other States would be, because, whereas Victoria formerly had a general rate of 2d., most of the other States have penny rates within their metropolitan areas, and in many country centres as well. According to a statement prepared by the secretary to the central administration of the Postal department of the Commonwealth, there has been a deficit of £46,243 in the administration of that department ; but in the case of Victoria there is a credit balance of £14,389, in the case of New South Wales a credit balance of about £50,000, and in the case of South Australia a credit balance of about £23,000. Those credit balances would, I am sure be more than sufficient to cover any loss which might be occasioned by the adoption of penny postage. Debit balances occurred in Queensland, Western Austalia, and Tasmania. Western Australia had a debit balance of £31,000, but that State is in such a goodnancial position otherwise that it could well afford to meet a larger loss in order to secure the benefits of penny postage. In Queensland there is the large debit of £101,803, whilst Tasmania has a deficiency of £5,804. If, however, we are to wait until all the States show a credit balance in connexion with the Postal department, I am afraid that we may have to defer the reform for a very long time. Owing to the great extent of the Commonwealth, and the varying conditions which prevail in the States, it will be difficult to fix upon any particular time at which all the States will be in a position to show a credit balance. 1 In view of the slight loss occasioned in those countries where penny postage has already been established, and bearing in mind, also, that the.loss incurred has been much less than was first estimated, and has proved to be of a merely temporary character, honorable members must come to the conclusion that the time has arrived when we should extend this additional facility to the public. Federation has conferred no direct benefits upon the general public beyond the establishment of InterState free-trade, but the introduction of the penny postage would extend an advantage which would be generally appreciated as one resulting from the national union.
– I indicated my view upon this question very clearly a few nights ago, and I intend to support the honorable member in his proposal to establish a penny postage system throughout Australia. I think that the present is an appropriate time to make this change, and I fear that if we abstain from introducing the reform now, a full decade will pass before we shall have another favorable opportunity. It is urged on behalf of the postal authorities that the department is making a loss, and that the ledger should be made to balance before an)’ reform, such as that now suggested, is introduced. In reply to that statement, I would point out that although Canada makes a loss upon her postal service at present, her deficiency has been smaller since the introduction of penny postage. There has always been a large loss upon the postal service of the Dominion, which is apparently not run with the idea of making a profit, or of even balancing the ledger. Therefore, the objection raised by the postal authorities loses . all point. It does not necessarily follow that the introduction of the penny postage system will make it more difficult to balance the’ ledger than if matters are allowed to remain as at present. All the information available points to the fact that the introduction of the penny postage system would not involve any great loss. The experience of Victoria, perhaps, affords a better guide than that of Canada. It is shown that the first year’s operations, after the penny postage was introduced in Victoria, resulted in a loss of only £11,000, plus a small increase in the cost of working.
– There was a difference between’ revenue and expenditure, of £11,000, but the total loss incurred by the introduction of the penny postage system was £50,000.
– If the difference was made up by the receipts from telegrams, we shall have an excellent reason for reducing the telegraphic rates. At present Australia is the only country in the Empire which has not adopted the penny postage system, and we should not hesitate to make the proposed change in order to bring our arrangements into line with those of Great Britain and her dependencies. The only argument advanced against the introduction of an international penny postage was the fact that we levied a 2d. rate upon letters posted within our own borders. It was argued that if we carried letters from London into the interior parts of Australia for Id., the public would have a right to complain of the charge of 2d. upon letters conveyed from one part of Australia to another. We should do our best at the first opportunity to remove this obstacle in the way of the establishment of an international penny post. England has the penny postage system, and India, Canada, Cape Colony, Ceylon, Gibraltar, Jamaica, Natal, the Orange River Colony, and the Transvaal all enjoy the advantages of this great concession to the general public. New Zealand. led the way in this direction. Notwithstanding that she loses a little in consequence of the introduction of penny postage she has so liberalized her postal conditions all round, that- she makes a handsome profit out of the service. Our Post-office department will gain in many directions by the proposed reduction. I find that in Canada, since the introduction of penny postage, there has been a marked decrease in the number of postcards despatched. Many people who can send a letter at the cost of a penny discontinue the use of post-cards, even though their cost is reduced to a halfpenny. There has also been the notable increase of 25 petcent, in the number of registered letters.
It is in these directions that the revenue is compensated by the increase of facilities extended to the public. If the Victorian returns were examined in the same way, it would probably be found that the actual loss resulting from the introduction of penny postage has been very small indeed. Even if there has been a small loss, I still contend that this would be the most opportune time for conferring some tangible benefit upon the people of the union - a benefit which was distinctly promised to them prior to the inauguration of our federation. The chief aim of the PostmasterGeneral seems to be to square off his balancesheet, but the only result of his operations is to hamper and restrict the trading community. Now is the time to bring our postal system into line with those of countries whose official records show careers of great distinction and success. We need not fear the initial loss. If there be any, it will be rapidly made up to us. I do not believe that there is any analogy between Victoria and New South Wales, and I cannot believe that any loss whatever will be incurred in New South Wales by reason of the proposed change. Fully half the letters posted in New South Wales are forwarded in the city and suburbs at the penny rate. This practice did not prevail in Victoria prior to the introduction of the general penny postage in that State. In addition to the suburban penny postage system, we have all over the country thirteen-mile radii within which penny-postage rates prevail. In one instance, within my own electorate, letters can be sent 30 miles on the railway line to places within the thirteen-mile radius. The penny rate applies to a large number of our country towns, and it would be a good thing for us to abolish all irritating boundaries which now lead to a good deal of trouble. The loss involved would be very small indeed. In some of the other States the penny postage is charged within certain areas. If that be the case we shall be able to adjust matters very much more easily than have the people of Victoria. I cannot reconcile myself to the belief that in ‘making the change the Commonwealth would suffer an)’ loss worth considering. I know the nature of the Estimates which are compiled in the Postal department. They constitute the veriest guess-work, and surely we are just as well able to guess as are the officers of that’ department. I will undertake to say that there is not an official in the whole postal service of Australia who, if asked the basis upon which this calculation was made, could give a satisfactory answer. He would have to confess that it was based upon mere guess-work. One of the ablest officers in the department used frankly to make that avowal. Therefore I disregard these Estimates, which are of a conservative character - as perhaps they ought to be, seeing that they emanate only from officials who are not responsible. I hold that in this matter the Ministry should accept all responsibility. These Estimates are intended rather to guide than to control a Minister. Wherever the latter sees good commercial and substantial reasons for departing from them - reasons which affect our relations with the whole Empire - he ought to set them completely aside and exercise his own common sense. Every one of the Estimates which have been made regarding the loss which would accrue consequent upon the adoption of the penny postage system has been woefully belied by the operation of that system. It was so in Canada and New Zealand. In no case has the decreased revenue, which it was predicted would result from the proposed change, been realized. Notwithstanding the lugubrious-looking Estimates which the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral has in his possession, and which I apprehend he will shortly submit to the committee as the opinion of experts, I hold that we ought to make the change, believing that we are as well able to guess the. probable postal revenue as are the officials of that department, who know nothing about the commercial operations of the country. I trust that the committee will agree to the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. Now is the time when we ought to make the innovation. It is an innovation which will be fraught with the greatest good to Australia. It would constitute a Commonwealth gift to the people, which they would highly appreciate, and would represent the only material advantage which so far has accrued to them from the federation of these States.-
– Before any other honorable member commits himself to this proposal, I think that it is my duty to call attention to the figures supplied to me by the Postal department, and to allow the committee to judge whether they arc conservative - as the honorable member for Parramatta suggests - or whether the officers who have been so long associated with the department are capable of arriving at something like an accurate conclusion. But before I deal with those figures, and correct any misapprehension which may have resulted from the fact that the adoption of the penny postage system in Victoria caused a loss of only £11,000, I should like to follow the arguments adduced b)’ the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. To me it is apparent that some members of the committee intend to take advantage of this important proposal only to indulge in an academic discussion. The question of penny postage has been “ in the air “ for many years, and we have all followed with a lively interest the work of Mr. Henniker Heaton in securing the adoption of the system between Great Britain and many of her dependencies. So far, we have not been able to adopt that system here, although we may have been jealous of the privileges enjoyed by others. But, looking at this question from a practical stand-point, I fear that we cannot follow the lead of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, who assumes that because the results of Rowland Hill’s penny postage system, which dates from 1S40, were to confer enormous benefits upon Great Britain, to secure to her people rapid communication, and a largely increased revenue, the same results would accrue here. We have to bear in mind that the period which has elapsed since 1840, and which covers the reign of our late Queen, was one which marked the greatest measure of progress that has yet been experienced by any nation. When Rowland Hill ultimately induced the British Parliament to agree to the penny postage system, the volume of the trade of Great Britain was less than £200,000,000 - something like the trade which has already been established in Australia. But since that time the trade of Great Britain has increased until it has now reached the annual value of £700,000,000. That fact of itself is sufficient to show that large and important developments must have taken place - developments which are not due to penny postage, but from which the postal system has secured very important advantages. In Australia, however, we have to deal with a different state of affairs. In this connexion I find that New Zealand waited until the end pf 1900 when she had the large surplus of £85,000 before she adopted this system. Similarly if New South Wales at the present moment occupied the position which she held prior to federation, the argument of the honorable member for Parramatta would be a sound one. But it has already been pointed out by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that whilst last year New South Wales derived a profit from her postal department of £80,000, Queensland had a deficiency of £102,000, Western Australia of £30,000, and Tasmania of £6,000. I am not sure whether the surplus in New Zealand covered interest upon the cost of the construction of the lines there, but I am inclined to think that it did not. At any rate that colony had a surplus revenue of £85,000 before it adopted the penny postage system. But in the very first year of the operation of that system, I understand that the surplus was reduced by £30,000 or £40,000.
– Was that entirely due to the adoption of ‘ the penny postage 1
– I am disposed to think that there may have been other circumstances which contributed to that result, and therefore I propose to compare the conditions of that colony with those which obtained in Victoria. That brings me to the question of estimates made by responsible officers. We have heard from the honorable member for Parramatta that those gentlemen very properly take a conservative view in this connexion. Fortunately, I am able to meet his contention. I hope to be able to put before the committee figures which, irrespective of whether or not they are conservative have certainly been borne out by actual experience in Victoria. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie declared that the result of the operation of the penny postage system in Victoria was a loss of about £11,000 a year despite the prediction that it would total £50,000. But we must not gauge the system in that way. I have in my hand a report which has been specially prepared by the accountant in the Melbourne General Post-office in anticipation of this matter being brought before the committee. From it I gather that the loss which it was predicted that Victoria would sustain by reason of the introduction of penny postage was variously stated at from £40,000 to £80,000. The Treasurer has informed me that he estimated it at £50,000, which was evidently the calculation made by the officers of the department. What is the experience of the actual working of the system ? For the year ended March, 1901, the net receipts from the Victorian Postal department were 688,290, whilst for th succeeding twelve months they were £640,179 - a deficiency of 48,111. Some honorable members appear to think that this sum of £48,000 would confer upon the public an opportunity of obtaining cheaper telegrams, without sustaining further loss. But it so happens that the extra amount received from stamps for telegraphic purposes during the period mentioned, was only £2,000. Were it not for that additional sum, there would have been a total loss of £50,111. That is the actual experience of Victoria.
– How is the loss made up?
– This report does not go into that question. It simply states what the revenue was under the higher postage rate, and what it has been under the lower rate.
– How is the loss reduced to 11,000?
– That is a matter upon which I have no information. My purpose was to .obtain figures which would fairly represent the difference between the revenue received by Victoria under the lower and the higher rates. As a business man I think that was the proper course to take. Surely this is not a question of the conservative reports of officers or of any man’s opinion. The £11,000 is only the difference between the actual revenue and the expenditure for the year in the Post and Telegraph department. In placing the comparison before me, the officer made the significant remark that during all this period the Postal service was largely inflated by reason of the Royal visit. Although the honorable member for Parramatta has described this as a conservative estimate, it turns out to be a reasonable estimate.
– Does the officer say anything about the-drought ?
– He has prepared an estimate for the case.
– That is not the way in which officers prepare estimates.
This estimate was prepared for the honorable member for Indi, who had some doubt as to the difference in the revenue from the two sources, and I think it is as reliable a return as the committee could possibly have.
– Is the inference that the cost to New South Wales will be £40,000?
– The cost to Victoria will be about £50,000, and it seems to me that the loss to New South Wales will be larger. It appears as simple as a ruleofthree sum. If we are all equally businesslike and enterprising, and New South Wales has a greater population by 200,000, the loss to that State must be proportionately larger.
– The conditions are not the same.
– Whether or not the conditions be the same, we find in connexion with the Post and Telegraph service, a great average of circumstances. I am not here to deprecate what may have been a proper course for New South Wales’ when she was- solus. I am here to speak of Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania - none of which States at the present time can afford the luxury of testing the system. The question was discussed at the conference of Deputy PostmastersGeneral held in Sydney about a year ago, and the report then issued bears the name of Sir Charles Todd and other permanent heads, whose experience and long service should inspire confidence. Ministers call for reports from the permanent heads of departments, and then form their own estimates ; and I invite the committee to take that course in connexion with the report of the Deputy Postmasters-General.
– Penny postage has always been established’, in spite of the officials.
– No doubt, supply might sometimes create demand ; and, in course of time, though it must be a very long time, we might overtake the present revenue with the lower rate. The PostmasterGeneral’s department, on the question of penny postage throughout Australia, arrived at a conclusion somewhat different from that I should have expected. Associated with the question was that of universal penny postage, but they gave their first attention to the system as applied to the Commonwealth, and estimated that its adoption would mean a loss to New South
Wales of £83,000 ; to Victoria, a loss of £55,000, or as nearly as possible what the actual loss proved ; to Queensland, a loss of £58,886 ; to South Australia, a loss of £40,000; to Western Australia, a loss of £34,200; and to Tasmania, a loss of £24,500.
– It is absolutely impossible there should bo such big losses in New South Wales and Victoria.
– Of course, much may depend on the proportionate number of letters which are at present carried at the lower rate in the cities and suburbs.
– Did the Deputy PostmastersGeneral furnish any data on which their report was based?
– Then their estimates are mere guesses.
– The total estimated loss is £295, 586, though I am glad to say that the adoption of universal penny postage throughout the British Empire would mean an additional loss of only £20,924. If the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is agreed to, it will at once necessitate the adoption of the system in connexion with the rest of the Empire ; because, if we can afford to lose £295,000, we can afford to lose the additional £21,000. New Zealand and many of the States, in which there were surpluses, might, when standing alone, adopt penny postage ; but the position in the Commonwealth is different. We have to bear in mind not what can be afforded by Victoria or New South Wales, but what can be afforded during the bookkeeping period by the smaller States, which represent nearly onethird of the population. By the adoption of penny postage, we should place Tasmania in the unhappy position of losing £25,000, and cause a deficiency under this head of £58,000 in Queensland. I presume that the clause means the adoption of the schedule, and I am afraid that that would cause distrust and distress in many of the States. I trust the committee will very seriously consider the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie before they agree to it. Penny postage will probably remain “in the air” until the bookkeeping period is over, and the PostmasterGeneral has ascertained the effects of his presentproposals. To adopt the system now would be to some extent taking a “ leap in the dark.” The Bill, as it stands, gives cheaper telegrams at a loss of £48,000 a year, and we ought to know the effect of the measure before we commit the Treasurer to the serious further losses which I have indicated.
– I am glad the honorable member for Kalgoorlie has submitted the proposed new clause. The Minister has hardly done justice to the suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta, that New South Wales will not lose so much as has been estimated. The Minister contends that because New South Wales has a population greater than that of Victoria by 200,000, the loss of the former State will, therefore, be proportionately larger. It is apparently forgotten by the Minister that at the present time the bulk of the letters, which are posted in the towns and suburbs, are carried at the penny rate within a radius of 13 miles. Under these circumstances, surely the loss cannot be so great as has been contemplated. The honorable member for Parramatta is an ex - Postmaster - General of New South Wales, and is, perhaps, better able to judge of the effects than are officials, whose reports are always against progress in postal matters. The same official opposition was experienced in Victoria, and will always be experienced until a Minister orparliament is prepared to adopt a reform. I shall support the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, for the same reasons as those for which I shall support the adoption of uniform telegraph rates for the whole Commonwealth. I think that we should wipe out the State divisions in regard to matters like this, and treat the Commonwealth as a whole. The State divisions should no longer be allowed to operate as barriers between one part of the Commonwealth and another, nor should the conditions in one part of Australia in respect to matters under the control of the Commonwealth be different from the conditions in another part of Australia. I do not think it is right, for instance, that if a man goes from Victoria, where there is a penny rate for letters throughout the State, to New South Wales, he should be compelled to pay a twopenny rate there, and thus be made to feel that in one part of the Commonwealth he is not receiving the same privileges as he enjoyed in another part. Every individual in the Commonwealth should be treated alike by the Commonwealth departments, and for that reason
I should like to see uniform postage and telegraph rates. Moreover, Iwant to see a uniform postage rate enforced throughout theEmpire. I think that a mistake has been made in allowing New Zealand letters to be sent to Australia for a postage of1d., while a postage of 2d. is charged upon letters sent from Australia to New Zealand.
– It was a matter of compact. There was a give-and-take element in the arrangement.
– In my opinion, New Zealand has obtained all the advantages of the arrangement.
– New Zealand gave us certain advantages in connexion with terminal telegraph rates.
– In any case, I think it is a great pity that such an anomaly should exist, and I feel that the Postmaster-General has not acted wisely in the matter. I would point out that a man in the permanent military forces, or a sailor in the Imperial Navy stationed anywhere in Australia, can send his letters throughout Australia and to any part of the world for a postage of1d. No inconvenience has been caused by that arrangement, and I fail to see why this special rate which is allowed to part of our population should not be extended to the whole of the community. But the chief reason why I favour a uniform penny postage for the Commonwealth is this : - There has been a great outcry against federation, because people cannot at once see all the advantages which we hope will come from it. Of course, they are benefiting at the present time by the removal of the Inter-State customs duties, and are receiving other indirect benefits which they do not recognise very readily ; but I feel that it would be to the advantage of federation to stimulate the feeling of unity by bringing into prominence an immediate and visible benefit which the people will see is to be attributed to our union. If we introduced a uniform penny postage for the Commonwealth, men would at once recognise it as a benefit derived from federation. It is what a man sees that he appreciates, and he thinks most of the advantages which he can grasp for himself. Such tangible benefits are worth much more, to his mind, than intangible benefits which may accrue five years hence. For this reason, therefore, I think that a large sum of money, and even as large an amount as the estimate of loss which has been framed by the Minister, might well be expended in extending the penny postage system to the whole Commonwealth.
– Although I have every desire to facilitate communication between the various parts of the Commonwealth, it seems to me that in the present state of our finances, and of the finances of the States, we must consider first how the adoption of the penny postage system would affect the Treasury. I am not concerned as to whether the Estimates of the Postmaster-General are or are not absolutely correct. If the probable loss was set down at £150,000, which is only half the amount estimated, I should still be of the opinion that it is undesirable to make a change. I think that we cannot get away from the position that if the postal service is carried on at a loss ; that is to say, if its total revenue is less than its total expenditure, the deficit must be made up by the contributions of the whole community. That means that those who write few letters must contribute to make good the loss caused by conferring a benefit upon those who write many letters. In this way the farmer, the miner, and the producer generally will be called Upon to pay for advantages conferred upon those engaged in distributing and exchanging businesses. The people who perhaps write one lettera week will have to pay for benefits conferred upon the large financial and mercantile institutions, and upon all whose correspondence is large. The actual result of adopting penny postage is to a certain extent a matter of guess-work, but we cannot shut our eyes to the data at our disposal, and assume that it will be something quite different from a reasonable estimate based upon that data. If we halve our postage rates, we decrease our revenue by one-half, and at the same time, by adding to the mail matter to be carried, probably increase our expenditure.
– In adopting a uniform penny postage for the Commonwealth, we should not have to halve the existing rates.
– I am aware that there is already a penny postage throughout Victoria, but the adoption of that system has resulted in a loss to the State, which it is no more able than any other to bear. In New South Wales there is both a penny rate and a twopenny rate, but it is the letters which now pay the twopenny rate whose transmission is the most expensive. I do not know of any Inter-State correspondence upon -which the rate is less than 2d., and that correspondence is very large. On the other hand, it cannot be thought that the people who now pay 2d. upon their correspondence would send two letters for every one they send now if the postage were reduced to Id., and surely no one suffers from the existence Of the twopenny rate. In my opinion, it is our duty not to increase the cost of federation by making this change. The honor-
Able and learned member for Corio spoke of the blessings which the people would pour down upon our heads if we gave them this tangible benefit. No doubt the adoption of uniform penny postage would be a very easy way of obtaining that blessing ; but, in my opinion, we are not justified in adding to the burdens of the community by adopting a rate which will not pay expenses. It cannot be said that there is any urgent public demand for this change. But even if there were, I think that when the public realized that there would be a loss, which would have to be made up by increasing the burdens of the taxpayers, the majority who would not benefit very largely, would be opposed to the change. Since the Government consider that the adoption of the system would mean a very large loss, the responsibility for which they are not anxious to undertake, I think that they should refuse to allow the matter to be taken out of their hands. Parliament will be acting in opposition to all principles of economy if it sanctions this arrangement. I would not sanction the adoption of the penny postage system anywhere, unless it was probable that the revenue of the postal department would within a reasonable time meet its expenditure.
– The honorable and learned member for Corinella Stated that he had not heard of any agitation in Victoria in favour of the establishment of penny postage, but that is hardly to be wondered at, seeing that the people of that State already have the advantage of the system. It is in other parts of the Commonwealth where the people do not enjoy this privilege, that the agitation for Mie extension of the penny postage system has occurred. When federation was being advocated, the people of the Commonwealth as a whole were led to believe that the establishment of uniform penny postage throughout the States was one of the benefits which would probably follow the union, and/many candidates pledged themselves to support the system. In New Zealand where the penny postage system has been successfully introduced, the population is something under 800,000, and as the total number of persons in the Commonwealth is something like 4,000,000, we surely should be able to adopt penny postage without incurring any serious loss. I cannot understand the statement of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, that only £21,000 would be lost if the postage upon letters for parts beyond the Commonwealth were reduced to Id. The present rate of foreign postage is 2½d. per oz., and the reduction to Id. would involve a loss of 3-5ths of the present revenue in respect to letters for parts abroad. In view of the facts that we have to pay no subsidy for the conveyance of inland letters and that the relative reduction would not be so great as in the case of oversea letters, I cannot understand why there should be such an enormous difference in the estimated losses.
– It must be recollected that we at present lose very largely upon the carriage of sea-borne letters.
– Even allowing for that, I cannot help thinking, that some mistake has been made by the postal authorities. In Western Australia we have enjoyed the privilege of the penny post within municipal bounds, but in cases where letters are sent from one municipality to another, the full rate of 2d. per £oz. has to be paid. Honorable members will at once see the anomaly of charging 2d. for a letter carried a few hundred yards, and only 2£d. for despatching a letter to the furthest corner of the earth. The introduction of the penny postage system would confer a benefit upon a very large number of people in all the States. So far as Western Australia is concerned, the boon has long been asked for. It was understood that under federation the conditions in regard to postal and other matters would be made as uniform as possible in the various States, and we should remove all distinctions as soon as possible. I pledged myself to support the penny postage system, and I intend to do all in my power to carry out my promise.
– I regret that I cannot support the honorable member for Kalgoorlie in his proposal. I feel indebted to him for the research he has displayed, and also to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General for the figures he has supplied. The conclusion I draw from the figures furnished to us is that this is not an opportune time for the establishment of the penny postage system. We ought to wait until the expiration of the bookkeeping period before we tiy an experiment which may involve the States in considerable loss for several years to come. According to the statistics furnished by the honorable member for- Kalgoorlie, every country in which this so-called reform of penny postage has been introduced has sustained an immediate, if temporary, loss. I do not know for how many years the returns showed a loss in England, but we have it on the testimony of the honorable member that there was a loss of 66 per cent, of the postal revenue in England upon the reduction of the general rate from 4d. to Id. We also have his testimony that there was a loss of £35,000 in New Zealand, plus £6,400 increased expenditure, consequent upon the reduction of the postage to Id. If we compare the population of New Zealand with that of the whole of the Commonwealth, and adopt that as a guide in estimating the probable loss that would be incurred by us, I think that the figuresgiven by the Minister representing the the Postmaster- General must stand fully justified. I do not think that during the bookkeeping period - which will necessarily be a time of great anxiety for the State Treasurers - we should try experiments which would have the effect of adding to the unjustifiable discontent which already exists with regard to federation. There is no reason why we should do anything which would have the effect of involving the State Treasurers in a certain loss upon the Postal department. We are not called upon to reform everything within the first year or two. Our principal concern should be to unify the methods of administration, and to carry out certain reforms of urgent necessity. We are not required to go through the 39 articles which prescribe the subjects with which we are entitled to deal. We ought to wait and see what the financial effects of federation will be. The States Treasurers cannot even gauge the receipts from Customs, and they should not have to face a certain loss of postal revenue. 43 y 2
Canada lost the comparatively small sum of £10,000 during the first year after the introduction of the penny postage, but according to recent telegrams there has been a great increase of prosperity in the Dominion, and it may be assumed that the increase* in the postal revenue is due to some extent to the general development of trade and industry, and the accumulation of wealth in that country. Moreover, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie did not make any allowance in his calculations for the increase of population in Canada since 1898, when the penny postage system was inaugurated. There is no blinking the facts mentioned by the Minister. The experiment of penny postage has been tried in Victoria, and a loss of £48,000 has been incurred, and additional expense amounting to £1,800 has been involved, so that the total loss may be stated at over £50,000. It may very fairly be assumed that if the advantages of penny postage were extended throughout the Commonwealth the loss would be not less than £250,000 - the experts say that it would amount to £298,000. South Australia cannot afford to lose her proportion of that amount. At the present time the postal service shows a profit oB £23,000, but that would be converted into a loss of £24,000, making a total deficiency as compared with the present revenue of upwards of £40,000. The compensation for this loss would not be a remission of taxation for the benefit of the general taxpayer. We should simply surrender a charge made upon those who use the postoffice. We should really be reducing that which was paid as fair consideration for services rendered, not in the interests of the whole community, but for the benefit of those who use the post-office. There is a fair distinction to be made between a socalled reform of this kind, and one which would relieve the public generally from the burdens of taxation. I decline to recognise this proposal as a genuine reform. It would be a reform if it led to better results from the post-office, or if it enabled us to confer further advantages upon the public without incurring heavy loss. I cannot regard as a genuine reform any change that would result in a certain loss for at least five or six years. The introduction of the penny postage was a reform in England, because it was justified by results after a few years, and because a surplus had previously been derived from the working of the post-office.
The authorities simply released the profits which they had been making iri order to cover a temporary shinkage in the revenue, due to a change of policy which was expected to bring about a still greater accession of revenue in the immediate future. I trust that the consideration of this matter will be deferred until the bookkeping period has expired, when the loss can be borne by Australia. It cannot be so borne at present. Some of the States can afford the loss at this juncture, but others cannot. The proper time to try an experiment of this sort is at the end of five years, when the State Treasurers will accurately know the amount which they can rely upon the Federal Treasurer returning to them, and when any loss resulting from a change which is applicable to the whole Commonwealth will be borne by the Federation.
– There is no doubt that during the federal elections the Government did extend to the people of the Commonwealth the hope that they would achieve the great reform of penny postage. At the same time it cannot be denied that the bookkeeping system, which is embodied in the Constitution, implies a certain responsibility upon each of the States. To compare New Zealand, which contains a population of 800,000, with Australia, which has a population of 4,000,000, is scarcely fair. We should compare New Zealand with each of the States separately. To my mind there is no doubt that the adoption of the penny postage system would result in a considerable loss to Queensland and Tasmania. If I were to consider the interests of New South Wales alone, I should vote for the proposal, because with the enormous increase in its Customs revenue that State could afford to adopt the penny postage system. At the same time, while it is well that this subject should be ventilated, and that a distinct declaration of the policy of the Government should be obtained before the closing of the present Parliament, it might perhaps be wise if the honorable member for Kalgoorlie were satisfied with having raised the question. So long as the bookkeeping system is in vogue the Executive of the Commonwealth must consult the interests of the smaller States. It-would be very unfair if to a certain extent we forced on each State its own particular expenditure, and then tried to preach uniformity of system and great Commonwealth improvements. It would be like trapping the States into a certain condition of affairs, and then ignoring that condition in our own legislative actions. If Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania intimated to us that they would be willing to bear any loss consequent upon the adoption of this system, undoubtedly it would be the duty of the Government to introduce it. In this connexion, I was very much struck by a remark of the honorable member for Parramatta. He said that if we could establish penny postage throughout Australia, we should be giving the people the first real tangible benefit which they have received from federation. At the same time we have to consider the smaller States, which agreed to the bookkeeping period on the understanding that administration and legislation would be carried out on the basis of that system.
– I am sorry to have to. oppose this motion. There is no doubt that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is absolutely sincere in his desire to bring about what he regards as a reform, but what I believe would constitute a retrograde step. The penny postage system would doubtless be of great advantage to wealthy offices. I know that the institution with which I am associated would benefit very materially. But how would that assist the west coast miner of Tasmania 1
– That is the man upon whom the present twopenny rate falls more than it does upon big offices.
– No. The average miner writes only about two letters a year. I want to see a scheme for the payment of old-age pensions adopted, and I am anxious to get an opportunity for the discussion of the motion relating to that matter, which has stood upon the business-paper for so long. But if the Commonwealth is going to sacrifice about £300,000 a year by the adoption of a penny-postage system, where is the money to come from to pay those pensions ‘f No individual suffers because of the postage which he is required to pay upon his correspondence, seeing that it is a voluntary contribution. Nobody need write letters if he has no desire to do so. If friends are really anxious to obtain replies to their letters they can easily send stamped envelopes for the purpose. All these reforms must come about in their natural order. It is preposterous to compare a young country like Australia with England, where 500,000 poor people recently partook of the dinner provided for them by the King.
– What about the United States.
– The United States obtained most of her unfortunate people from England. In the latter country old-age pensions could have been provided with the interest “which is payable upon the moneys spent in conquering the Boers, although some apparently have not sufficient intelligence to appreciate that fact. In my opinion the adoption of the penny-postage system would mean the sacrifice of the multitude for the ideal benefit of the rich few.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).There has been an ad misericordiam appeal made in connexion with this discussion, and now we are told that the whole question resolves itself into whether the poor should bear the burden of the rich few. That is an appeal which ought not to have been made in connexion with a proposal of this kind, because it is absolutely absurd on its face. I claim that the man in an office can better afford to pay 2d. upon his correspondence than can the poor miner, of whom the honorable member for Tasmania has spoken. Indeed, the men in the offices to whom he has referred, do not pay anything - they make other people pay for them. I venture to say that the poor miner is the individual above all others who would benefit most from the adoption of a system of penny postage. The honorable and learned member for Corinella has pointed out that if a loss occurred through the introduction of that system it would have to be paid. But if a loss did occur, even if it totalled the sum predicted, I venture to say that the miner would not be called upon to pay 3d. a year more than he does at present. We have been told by one Minister that the loss sustained by Victoria consequent upon the introduction of penny postage was £11,000 per annum. Now, however, the Minister representing the Postmaster-General comes down with a brand-new estimate which has been furnished to him by his officers. I say that that estimate has been supplied for the express purpose of defeating . this proposal. The figures in Canada show that when the penny-postage system upon letters was introduced in that country there was a corresponding increase in the number of registered letters passing through the post. There may be even an increase with a decreased postage rate, because letter writing often leads to the sending of telegrams. I challenge the Minister to give any data on which the estimates haVe been prepared. I have controlled the Postal department, arid I know that when I have asked on what data similar reports have been made, I have always been told : “ Oh, they are only estimates.” We here in Parliament are just as well able as are the officials to guess the results of a reform like that now proposed. In New South Wales one-half of the business is at present done at the penny rate, and the estimated loss was £83,000 ; and, in Victoria, where there was no penny rate, the loss was estimated at £53,000.” Is that not absurd 1 The estimates carry their own refutation ; and I decline to regard them as of the slightest value.
– At the time the estimate was made, letters left open were carried at the penny rate in Victoria.
– Not letters.
– Letters, and open envelopes containing even promissory notes, were sent in tens of thousands at the penny rate.
– We are now talking of closed letters, and I remind the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that even a newspaper, which is three or four times the weight and size of a letter, is carried at a less rate than is the latter. Canada, and not New Zealand, presents a case similar to our own. But even in New Zealand, where the change was complete and not partial, the loss has not been a great one. In Canada the loss for the first year was only £10,000, but now the revenue is greater than ever it was before the reform. In the Commonwealth the loss for the first year would be very small, and within a few years the letter postage would pay us handsomely, as it does to-day. Last year’s operations in Victoria represent a time which, according to the Treasurer, was one of stress and commercial depression such as had never before been experienced in the State. And in New South Wales we are suffering depression such as we have not felt for very many years, and yet during the whole time our revenue is expanding. Are we not to count on continued expansion of the revenue? No argument has been advanced to make us hesitate to adopt the reform, and any temporary loss in connexion with it is not worth considering side by side with the enormous advantages which would be gained. As to what I consider the rather silly appeal made on behalf of the miners, I contend that they will benefit more than those interested’ in big offices. We all know . that those in the big offices, unlike the miner, can pass the postage on to some one else; and, therefore, the reduction would mean so much money left in the miners’ pockets. If I thought that the reform would benefit only those interested in the big offices, I should take no further trouble in the matter; but my concern is for the man in the back country, who feels, in this connexion, a disability simply because he is compelled to live there, away from the communal advantages of civilization. It is because I believe that the man in the back country will primarily, and to a greater extent than any one else, benefit by a reduction in the charge for postage that I shall vote for the new clause.
– I am very sorry to be obliged to vote against the proposal of my colleague, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. I have no doubt that penny postage is a popular cry, and that in my own electorate such a reform is possibly waited with a certain amount of impatience. But that does not influence me against my better judgment, and cause me to vote for a proposal which I regard as premature. I cannot follow the honorable member for. Parramatta when he urges that a twopenny postage is a tax on the miner, to whom the reduction would be an advantage. I cannot conceive that there is any considerable proportion of the people of Australia who would write more letters if the reduction were made, and I feel quite sure that if we institute the system of penny postage at the present juncture we must, as a necessary corollary, demand from the mass of the people more in the way of indirect taxation than the reform would give them. I can speak with some knowledge of the miner and his circumstances, seeing that I spent many years on the western gold-fields ; and, in my opinion, what is wanted is not so much penny postage as increased postal facilities. The miner would be much better pleased to continue to pay 2d. for his letters than to be deprived of extensions and improvements, which are being asked on all sides on behalf of those people in the back-blocks, in regard to whom the honorable member for Parramatta is so anxious. I have several requests before the Postal department as to the extension and improvement of postal facilities in my own electorate, and if we resort to the alleged reform, those extensions will receive a set back for many years.
– Why 1
– Because there will be no money to carry them out. I believe that in the main the contention of the Minister is correct, namely, that the condition of New Zealand furnishes a better parallel for us than does Canada. As I have said, there are very few people in Australia who refrain from writing a letter now, because the charge is 2d., and who would write more if the postage were Id.
– How is it that in every country where penny postage has been established the letters have increased by tens of millions ?
– Where the size of the community and the closeness of population justify the reform, it can be undertaken with advantage, but under our present circumstances I am very much afraid it may mean a set-back to development of postal facilities in remote parts where those facilities are frequently the only link which binds the people there to civilization. I utterly fail to see how we can expect any advantage from a proposal which gives to the masses penny postage for their comparatively few letters, and which will mean, in order to make up the shortage, the extraction of a ‘ far larger amount in the shape of indirect taxation. Until the bookkeeping period is over at least, this matter ought to remain in abeyance. I am glad that the question has been brought up, and I hope it will be kept before Parliament, so that the reform- may be carried out, when it will mean an actual benefit to the community.
– The honorable member for Perth has anticipated a good deal of what I intended to say. I agree with that honorable member that it would be much better to allow the residents of the back-blocks to pay 2d. for their letters and be provided with adequate postal facilities, than to grant penny postage to settled communities for whom facilities are already provided. No doubt penny postage is a success where the population has been long settled, and the mail routes long established ; but, in a country like Australia, where new farming and mining settlements are continually being opened up, extended postal facilities must be provided ; otherwise the settlers will be dissociated from the life of the community. I, like the honorable member for Bourke, have preferred several requests to the. Postal department, and have received the answer that they would be willing to carry out the desires of my constituents, as represented by me, if they had the necessary funds at their disposal. At the present time there is a loss of something like £100,000 a year upon the working of the Postal department in Queensland, and if it is found impossible to provide postal and telegraphic facilities for many new settlements under present conditions, the difficulty will be increased if, by the adoption of the penny postage system, the loss is allowed to mount up to £150,000. It may be said that the administration of the Queensland Postal department has been somewhat loose in the past ; but honorable gentlemen must remember that the distances to be traversed in Queensland are much longer than the distances to be traversed in Victoria, because Queensland covers a much larger area than Victoria, and its settlement is much more scattered. Thousands of miles of wire are stretched across’ Queensland to complete the telegraphic system of Australia, and all this adds to the cost of working the department there. But in new countries like Western Australia and Queensland, where settlement is proceeding apace, new communities are being created almost every day. To many persons living out in the back country, a fortnightly mail service would be a luxury. It would be cheaper for them to pay 2d., or even ls. in postage upon their letters, if they could get a post-office established near at hand, than to have to take a day’s journey, and perhaps a still longer journey to get to a post-office, as they must at present. It would be much more in the interests of the Commonwealth, as a whole, to provide some sort of postal convenience for those who are settled out on our waste lands, than to add to the facilities possessed by those who are already well served. While I am in sympathy with the amendment, I believe that this is an inopportune time to make any induction in rates. Most of the States Governments anticipate larger deficits during the current year than they had last year, and as the adoption of a uniform penny postage for the Commonwealth would result in a still further loss in administration, I think it would be calamitous to adopt it at the present moment ; and that its adoption” would bring federation into greater disrepute than even some of its erstwhile friends wish for. J do not think that we can have absolute uniformity until the bookkeeping period is ended. While each State has to make good any loss upon the working of the Commonwealth department within its borders, it would be unjust to, by reducing her postage rates to make them uniform with those of Victoria, compel Queensland to make good a loss of £150,000 a year. We, who know that State, believe that in a very few years she will take her place pretty well in the front in Commonwealth affairs, because her resources are as great as those of any other part of Australia. Although we are suffering at the present time, we are not pessimistic in regard to the future. When the right time comes, we shall be glad to adopt penny postage ; but we do not wish to prematurely adopt a system which will either increase our own debt, or compel New South Wales or other parts of the Commonwealth to take some of our burdens. I hope, in the interests of the State revenue of Queensland, and of those who are engaged in developing our back country, and now suffer so severely from the want of proper postal conveniences, that the amendment will not be carried.
– The difference between the proposal of the Government and that of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, is, I take it, that the Government, in aiming at uniformity, wish to level up the postal rates of the Commonwealth to a uniform rate of 2d., while the honorable member wishes to level them down to a uniform rate of Id. The advisability of reducing postage rates is a subject which has been very often debated. The ideal which all postal reformers have had in view has been, not the levelling up, but the levelling down of rates. It is contended, and I believe rightly, that by levelling down you give compensating advantages which tend, not only to prevent permanent loss to the Postal department, but to transform any immediate loss to a still greater gain than would have been obtained by the retention of the original rates. The general tendency during the administration of the Postal departments by the States was, not to restrict postal facilities and increase charges, but rather to give greater postal facilities and to reduce charges. Victoria, for instance, reduced her State rate from 2d. to Id., and although there has been a loss consequent upon that reduction, it must be remembered that the new system has scarcely had a fair trial yet. It was introduced when the State was, if I may use the term, suffering a recovery from a very severe commercial depression, which affected its resources as severely as those of any other part of the Commonwealth. While there is not a penny postage system throughout New South Wales, that State was progressing in the direction of the adoption of such a system, and a great deal of the correspondence transmitted through her post-offices is carried for a postage of Id. The metropolitan and suburban area, comprising all the country within 15 miles, or more, of -the General Post-office, enjoys the advantages of penny postage, so far as the transmission of letters within that area is concerned, while many populous country centres enjoy a similar privilege, and others can be established by proclamation. I am very strongly in sympathy with the scheme foreshadowed by the honorable member for Parramatta. He has practical knowledge of this subject, as the result of his experience while Postmaster-General of New South Wales for a number of years, and he did yeoman service in the direction of extending and popularizing her post and telegraph system. I agree with him that it is desirable in the interests of federation, in order to show to the people some tangible benefit accruing from the union, that a uniform penny postage should be adopted. The Government policy of levelling up rates, if agreed to, will deprive the population of the more wealthy and progressive States of benefits which they have hitherto enjoyed, and place them back in the position which they occupied many years hence. The Government are regarding the proposal from a penny-wise pound-foolish .standpoint. If the facilities extended to the public are curtailed and the charges are increased the volume of business transacted by the Postal department will become smaller. At the same time it will be necessary to ‘ maintain a full staff of postal officials and to carry on the mail services in all parts of the country as at present. Therefore, if the volume of postal business is reduced a serious loss must result. Experience in New’ South Wales has shown that the greater the facilities offered to the public, the larger the volume of business, and the greater the revenue derived by the department. “ I do not think it is unreasonable to claim that in postal and telegraph matters New South Wales is ahead of all the other States. In making a comparison between Victoria and New South Wales, it must be remembered that the latter State has the larger area and the more sparsely settled population, and that the earning possibilities of the postal service are therefore smaller in comparison. These remarks apply with even greater force to the case of Queensland. Still, the return of the postal earnings in New South Wales shows to the best advantage, and the receipts in New South Wales represent one-half the total earnings of the Postal department of the Commonwealth. Coghlan shows that during a series of years there was a steady increase in the volume of the postal business throughout ‘the Commonwealth in keeping with the additional facilities that were given from time to time. From 1861 to 1871 the increase amounted to 12,000,000 letters : between 1871 and 1881, to 46,000,000; between 18S1 and 1891, to 96,000,000; and between 1891 and 1900 - a period of very serious depression - to 57,000,000. A comparison between the figures for New South Wales and Victoria discloses that in 1891 New South Wales showed an increase over Victoria representing 2 -56 per cent, per head of the population. After this, the penny-postage system was extended throughout Victoria, and, as a result, her postal business in 1900 exceeded that of New South Wales to the extent of 7 - 7 7 per cent, per head of the population. This tends to prove that by extending the facilities afforded by the Postal department the volume of business is increased. By offering additional facilities to the public we should be able to so increase the business of the department as to establish it on a self-supporting basis, and we should be well advised to adopt the penny-postage system with this object in view. The loss estimated by the Minister is £395,000 per annum, but the accuracy of that calculation is seriously questioned by the honorable member for Parramatta, who thinks it should be considerably less. All progressive communities have shown a disposition to reduce charges and increase facilities, and we should make a bold step forward in the path of progress by extending to all parts of the Commonwealth the privileges which have been hitherto enjoyed by only a small section of our people. I admit that there is some force in the contention put forward by the representatives of Queensland, that that State will probably incur considerable loss through the proposed change. Queensland has a very large territory, and a widely scattered population, and the postal services there are necessarily expensive in comparison with those of the more thickly populated States. At the same time I do not think that the loss caused by the extension of the pennypostage system will be very serious, or that it will extend over a very long period. In Queensland the deficiency amounted last year to more than £100,000. Iam prepared to take the responsibility of giving the system of penny postage atrial. Inotice that it works with advantage in those States which have adopted it either partially or wholly, and I believe that its introduction would confer a great boon upon the people of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. O’Malley, claims that the introduction of the system would be antagonistic to a democracy, and in the interests of a few wealthy merchants. Apparently he will have to go to school to learn more about democracy. His statements were well answered by the honorable member for Parramatta, who showed conclusively that postal and other charges are passed on by the richer to the poorer classes of the community.
– I am strongly in favour of the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, and I fail to see any justification for the prediction that its adoption will result in a large loss of revenue. In New South Wales the system operates over a very large area. It applies to the city and suburbs, and to other large centres of population.
– Why are the small populations excluded from its benefits ?
– I say that they ought to enjoy the same privileges. If penny postage is a right thing, the principle ought to be extended. I deny that if we offer the public increased postal facilities, we shall sustain a serious loss of revenue. In this connexion I would point out that, although the privilege of penny postage has been extended to many of the large centres in New South Wales, and despite the fact that the telegraph rates in many of those centres have been reduced, and that the people, as a whole, have enjoyed the advantage of free newspaper postage, the finances of that State are in a better condition than are those of any other. Until quite recently Victoria charged 2d. postage upon all letters, 9d. for every telegram, and postage upon newspapers. Yet that State is not in anything like so good a position as is New South Wales, clearly showing that instead of reduced postal rates resulting in a loss of revenue, the reverse is the case. If the penny postage system be adopted, I am satisfied that its operation will not result in the loss which has been predicted. Therefore, I cordially support the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.
– I think that this proposal is rather premature. In Victoriathe operation of the system of penny postage is providing us with an excellent object lesson. The people of Australia do not expect this Parliament to accomplish everything during its first session. In my opinion, this Bill confers wonderful concessions upon the people as compared with the former State rates. There is an old saying that it is well to be just before being generous, and although it is very nice to indulge in platitudes concerning the advantages which the working man would derive from the adoption of penny postage, it seems to me that such suggestions are really the veriest clap-trap. The working man does not write letters from the mere love of it, and he will not engage in more correspondence than he does at present simply because he can send a letter for 1d. I would further point out that every £1 of loss sustained by the revenue consequent upon the adoption of this proposal will have to be exacted four times over through the Customs. Already we have taxed the food and wearing apparel of the people, and now it is proposed that commercial men shall be given the great boon of penny postage.
Mr.J oseph Cook. - Does not the honorable member think that they pass on the tax ?
– The honorable member knows very well that they do not. If there is a shortage in the Postal revenue as a result of the introduction of the proposed system, it will have to be made up from customs duties. The people are much more concerned about getting their food and apparel at a cheaper rate than they are about penny postage. It will be quite time enough for us to try the proposed experiment in two or three years’ time. In the meantime let us watch the result of the operation of the system in Victoria. I am satisfied that the adoption of penny postage would mean a considerable loss to South Australia, where a twopenny rate is charged, even in connexion with the metropolitan and suburban areas. I am convinced that the State which I have the honour to represent does not desire this system, and I will not support it until I know more of its financial results.
– Originally it was my intention to support this proposal, but certain information which I have gathered during the course of the debate has caused me to alter my opinion. Under the circumstances, I cannot see my way to vote for penny postage, although I am a strong believer in the advisability of cheapening means of communication in every possible way. This, however, is scarcely the time when we can afford to do that. If the Commonwealth as a whole had to bear any loss resulting from the adoption of the system - and I am Satisfied that there would be a loss - I should be prepared to support the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. But for four years to come that loss will fall upon the separate States, and, necessarily, those States which are the least able to bear it will have to pay the greater proportion of it. In Victoria, we introduced the penny postage system under favorable conditions, and the result was a large increase in the number of letters forwarded by the department. But experience has also shown that the officers of the department really had some knowledge of the business which they were conducting. It was felt in the Victorian Parliament that the estimate of a loss of £55,000 for the first year was outrageous, but, after twelve months, the total loss was ascertained to be £50,000 ; and, under the circumstances, the estimates of the officers should be treated with great respect. There are several points to which I should like to allude, but at this late hour I refrain from doing so. I regret very much that I cannot support the new clause, but I trust the financial position of the States, at no distant date, will warrant our extending the boon of penny postage to the Commonwealth.
SirLANGDON BONYTHON (South Australia). - I listened with great interest to the speech of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, who certainly made out a good case, and has my entire sympathy. On the present occasion, however, my vote will not be controlled by sympathy, but by financial considerations. The effect of the Bill, supposing it be passed as introduced by the Government, will be a substantial loss in revenue so far as South Australia is concerned, and under the circumstances I shall at the present time have to oppose penny postage throughout the Commonwealth.I sincerely hope, however, that the day is not far distant when that reform may be adopted.
– Several honorable members oppose the motion owing to the financial conditions which prevail in their own States. I wish they would carry the principle a little further. While they do not propose to diminish taxation in their own States, they are willing to increase taxation in at least three of the States. All newspapers under the Bill have to pay postage, and that means increased taxation in New South Wales, Tasmania, and Western Australia. I am not arguing whether it is right or wrong to charge postage rates on newspapers ; but such a charge in New SouthWales means increasing taxation in one direction without giving corresponding advantages.
M r. Sawers. - Is it taxation?
– Perhaps it ought to be called payment for services rendered, but the term “ taxation” has been used throughout the discussion, and the Bill proposes to increase the demands made on the people.
– The new postal rates will be an advantage in Western Australia.
– Unless there is better administration than we have had under the present Postmaster-General it will not really matter whether the rates are high or low. If it be a sound argument that we ought not to reduce the postage, because it will diminish taxation, surely we ought not under the Bill to increase taxation in certain of the States. If penny postage were adopted, it would be possible to tell the people of New South Wales, on whom the heavier burden would fall, that they were left much in.the same position that they occupied before. Increased postal facilities are part of the educational advantages which ought to be given to the people, and the expense of these facilities ought not to be counted as a mere matter of loss, in view of the resultant gain to the community. Every argument used against the proposed new clause is an argument in favour of postponing the Bill until the expiration of the bookkeeping period. I support the new clause in order that some of the advantages which arise from federation may be given to States on which, under the Bill, we propose to impose disadvantages.
– I regret very much that I do not feel disposed to support the new amendment. I should like to see penny postage throughout the continent, but I cannot understand how the States can afford it. Queensland is at present suffering terribly from drought, and great contraction of business, and in connexion with postage that State has the enormous deficit of £101,000. That deficit arises from the payments under a large number of mail contracts, which have to be carried cut, no matter what number of letters are conveyed ; and the taxation of the people is not added to as it would be if, in the case of insufficient postage, the cost had to be met out of the general revenue. It would be a blow to Queensland to subject her to more loss of revenue, and for that reason I cannot support the new clause.
Question - That the proposed new clause stand part of the Bill - put. The committee divided.
Majority … … 23
Question so resolvedin the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Mr. BROWN (Canobolas). - I move-
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ The rate for bulk parcels of newspapers of more than 1 lb. each, such parcel posted by the publisher for carriage to post towns only, within a radius of 20 miles from the nearest railway station or port, or such other distances as the Governor-General may from time to time determine, and not for delivery by letter-carriers, shall be as set out on the first schedule of this Act.”
In my opinion, it is necessary to insert some such provision as that in the Bill, to provide for the distribution of newspapers to the various agents in and about the place at which they are published.
Honorable Members. - No. Divide.
Question - That the proposed new clause stand part of the . Bill - put. The committee divided.
Majority … … 28
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
– I move-
That the following new clause be inserted -
Newspapers and periodicals published within the Commonwealth shall be allowed free transmission through the post subject to the following conditions : -
Provided that not more than one copy of each such newspaper or periodical shall be so transmitted to each regular subscriber.
This will permit of the free postage of newspapers in country districts within a radius of 30 miles from the centres in which they are published, under certain conditions which are set forth: This provision is adopted to some extent from the Canadian legislation, and the concession asked for is a very small one. I am not advocating the interests of the newspaper proprietors so much as those of the subscribers, because I know the eagerness with which the newspapers are looked for in outlying districts. At the same time the country newspaper proprietors are very severely handicapped as compared with their more wealthy competitors in the large cities, and they are deserving of every consideration.
– I am opposed to this proposed new clause. I was under the impression that I was voting against this clause when the last division took place.I had intended to support the proposal which has just been disposed of. I am quite in favour of extending every facility for the carriage of newspapers in bulk, but I do not thinkthat they should be delivered to subscribers free of any charge for postage.
Proposed new clause negatived.
On all newspapers posted (without condition as to the number contained in each addressed wrapper), by registered newspaper proprietors, or by newsvendors, or returned by an agent or newsvendor to the publishing office - One penny per lb. , on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted by any one person atany one time.
On all other newspapers posted within the Commonwealth for transmission therein, for each newspaper - One halfpenny per eight ounces, or fraction of eight ounces, avoirdupois weight.
Amendment (by Sir Philip Fysh) agreed to-
That the words, “ for delivery within the Commonwealth,” be inserted after the word “ posted,” line 1.
– I move-
That the word “ lb.” be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ twenty ozs.;” and that the word “eight’’ be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ ten.”
It is well known that some magnificent weekly journals, which weigh more than 8 ozs., are published within the Commonwealth. They weigh 10 ozs., and it would not be fair to unduly tax these publications, which are essential to the well-being of the farmers of the community.Under this schedule, if a person desired to post, say, two copies of the Sydney Mail or of the Australasian to a friend, he would be unable to do so for1d.
– The first portion of the schedule is specially intended to deal with bulk parcels posted by newspaper proprietors.
– I wish to provide that if a person desires to post two copies of weekly newspapers such as those I have mentioned, he shall be able to do so for1d. I desire to substitute 20 ozs. for 1 lb., because it will prevent a lot of complication in the future.
– I can assure the honorable member that his proposal, if adopted, will have an effect different from that which he desires. I perfectly understand the object which he has in view, and am sure that it can be accomplished by amending the second portion of this schedule. His desire is that two newspapers contained in one wrapper, and weighing not more than 20 ozs., shall be carried by the Postal department for1d. But I would point out that the first portion of this schedule relates entirely to newspapers posted in bulk by registered newspaper proprietors.
– But the two matters are related.
– I was under that impression at the first glance. But it does not necessarily follow that, because we extend a concession to private individuals who wish to send one or two newspapers through the post, we should adopt the same course in regard to registered newspaper proprietors. The two things do not hang together - the one is not a necessary consequence of the other. The difference in loss to the Postoffice is great. All that the honorable member for Tasmania desires can be accomplished by an amendment of the second portion of the schedule.
– After the debate that has taken place, I certainly think that the Minister might agree to increase the weight limit in connexion with the carriage by the department of newspapers in bulk. It is proposed to charge £d. for 8 ozs. for newspapers posted in the ordinary way, and yet to charge Id. per lb. of 16 ozs. on the aggregate weight of newspapers posted “without condition as to number, by registered newspaper proprietors, or returned by an agent or newsvendor to a publishing office.”
– That is a special arrangement for the benefit of newspaper proprietors.
– I say that the arrangement is not liberal enough, and I do not see why the charge should not be id. per lb.
– There was a similar regulation in each of the States ; but this is more liberal.
– In one State newspapers were carried absolutely free. While ordinary newspapers ought to pay a certain fee, we should do all we possibly can to encourage the distribution of newspapers throughout the Commonwealth. I think we deal very fairly with the country newspapers, but no doubt the great metropolitan journals are eagerly sought for as the literary food of the mass of the people. In order to test the feeling of the committee, I should like to move that the charge be reduced to a halfpenny per lb.
– I ask permission to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Sir William McMillan) proposed -
That the word “ ,, penny, line 5, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “halfpenny.”
– There is one point which I think the committee will appreciate. At the present time newspaper postage prevails in certain States, and neither the people nor the newspaper proprietors in those States raise any objection. But the Bill contains proposed charges which are less liberal than the charges now in existence ; and under the circumstances that is scarcely fair.
– In what respect is the Bill less liberal ?
– At the present time a newspaper weighing 10 ozs. can be sent for a halfpenny, but the Acting Prime Minister seems to distinguish between a single newspaper and newspapers carried in bulk.
– I do.
– I contend that the distinction cannot be drawn. If a single newspaper of 8 ozs. is charged a halfpenny, and papers in bulk are charged Id. per lb., what is the difference ?
– This is a special arrangement for the benefit of newspaper proprietors.
– If no one is taking exception to the existing . arrangement it would be hardly fair for the committee to adopt a less liberal proposal.
– I trust the committee will not adopt the suggestion of the acting leader of the Opposition. The proposal in the Bill seems fairly liberal, and if papers weighing 10 ozs. are carried for a halfpenny, it will follow that ordinary bulk parcels must be carried at the same rate, namely, Id. for 20 ozs. as suggested by the honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. O’Malley. A great deal is said about the immense work newspapers are doing, and I admit’ that they do a great deal in purveying news, although that news is generally coloured by the particular ideas of the proprietors. After all a newspaper is just like any other commercial concern, and the whole basis of the charge imposed on them should be the amount of service rendered. I cannot, therefore, follow the Acting Prime Minister in saying that it is sufficient to charge the big newspapers one halfpenny for each copy of 10 ozs., and to charge the smaller newspapers Id. for a lb. of 1’6 ozs. I admit that the matter of delivery may enter into the service rendered.
– Eight newspapers are got through for the penny.
– And those eight newspapers may be delivered at eight different centres.
– That may be so, but a bulk parcel of eight country newspapers are equivalent to one or two papers of large size. I do not think the committee will be acting wisely or equitably if they decree that the big newspapers in the capital cities shall be carried singly at the charge of Jd. for 10 ozs., while other newspapers are called upon to pay Id. for 16 ozs. I should prefer to see the proposal to charge½d. for single newspapers of 10 ozs. put first, so as to allow a separate decision as to bulk parcels. . Whatever is done I am prepared to vote for a charge of1d. for 20 ozs. all round, rather than for a separate proposal of½d. for 10 ozs., but I should not like to go as far as is proposed by the honorable member for Wentworth. The honorable member for Canobolas, a little earlier, stated that the country newspapers had to submit to a great deal of competition from the metropolitan press, but so far as I can see there are very few country newspaper proprietors who are not prepared to pay a reasonable amount of postage. It is admitted that the service rendered is worth paying for, and any objections raised are not worth a great deal of credence.
– The Acting Prime Minister has omitted to recognise the fact that if an Australasian, for instance, which weighs 10 ozs., is allowed to go through the post for½d., and the charge per lb. is1d.-
– I rise to order, and I only do so that we may not have a second discussion on this question. The point with which honorable members are now dealing will inevitably arise later on, and there is now before the committee a specific amendment to reduce the charge from1d. to½d.
– I may put myself in order by supporting the suggestion of the honorable member for Bland to first deal with the question of single newspapers. On the charge for the single newspaper will depend the charge for the bulk parcel.
– I am unable to see any reason why the two items should not be dealt with separately. Evidently they are inserted here to provide for two separate purposes, the one being solely for the accommodation of newspaper vendors who send their parcels to the railway stations, those stations being recognised as receiving offices, from which the papers can be sent in bulk to the various townships.
– Even if the two are separate, the committee wants the second paragraph to be taken first.
– A suggestion has been made which, it seems to me, is conducive to the despatch of business. Let the Minister take the second paragraph first, and then let us decide upon the weight of the single newspaper, as some honorable members think the one rate ought to affect the other. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say whether he will accept 10 ozs. instead of 8 ozs.
– I am not prepared to accept 10 ozs., but I am prepared to take the second paragraph first. There is a verbal amendment to be made in that paragraph.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Sir Philip Fysh) agreed to-
That the word “ transmission,” line 9, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “delivery.”
– I move-
That the word “ halfpenny,” line 10, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ farthing,” and that the word “eight” be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “six ounces and under.”
The effect of this amendment will be to make the rate for each newspaper¼d. for 6 ozs. I shall propose that the rate be½d. for over 6 ozs. That is only a fair rate, because a good many of our country publications are under 6 ozs. in weight.
– I move-
That the word “eight,” line 11, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ten.”
I think it will be admitted that we want to have as many good magazines as possible circulating throughout the Commonwealth, and do not want to do anything to limit their circulation. The rate proposed by the Government will interfere with the circulation of many excellent publications. I see no object in that.
– Before honorable members vote upon the proposal of the honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. O’Malley, it is just as well that they should understand to what an extent his amendment will affect newspapers that already circulate throughout the Commonwealth. In Victoria there are between 290 and 300 registered newspapers. The average weight of them is 2½ ozs.
Mr.Wilks. - They are all very heavy publications !
– They may be, so far as concerns their matter, but their weight avoirdupois is scarcely ever up to 8 ozs. I see that there is one newspaper which weighs 9 ozs., namely, the Australasian, but the price of that i§ 6d. The Mining Standard weighs 8£ ozs. In the information supplied to me these are the only publications that I can detect the weight of which is above 8 ozs. The amendment therefore . would simply have the effect of giving an advantage to two or three newspapers.
– It puts them all on a level.
– If the Australasian is sent to Brisbane in bulk, it will be carried, under the proposed rates, at an immense advantage, as compared with present rates.
– If we do not reduce the rate, the Australasian will have to be printed on Chinese or Japanese paper.
– I must impress upon the attention of honorable members that there are about 1,300 mail contractors throughout the ‘Commonwealth, and the heavier we make the weight of the newspapers which they have to carry the higher will be their contract rates on the next occasion when tenders are called for.
– The newspapers are carried for ½d. now
– Yes; within a State, but this rate is to be for the whole Commonwealth.
– If the mail contractors have to carry a heavier weight of publications, it can easily be seen how much higher their tenders will be. The proposed reduction amounts to asking the department to carry these newspapers for one-fourth of the return which they would receive under the rate proposed.
Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - I think that, whatever limit of weight we .agree upon, it should include the great weeklies of Australia. They contain every class of news - not the mere gabble of the town, but information of a substantial character., relating to all sorts of subjects ; and they are of great importance to those in the interior. It would be a shaveling policy to exclude some of these papers from the ½d. rate merely because they slightly exceed 8 ozs. in weight.
Sir MALCOLM MCEACHARN (Melbourne!. - I should like to know why the Government propose to reduce the limit of weight from 10 ozs. to S ozs. A return which has been circulated amongst honorable members gives the rates of postage at present levied upon newspapers posted in the respective States for transmission within the
Commonwealth, and I find that in Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia, papers weighing up to 10 ozs. are carried for d. Why should we penalize certain important weeklies ?
– It is not the newspaper proprietors who would be penalized, but the country readers.
– Yes. Those in the bush who depend upon these newspapers for their news will be called upon to pay the postage.
– As honorable members are so much opposed to any reduction in the limit of weight, I will give way.
Amendment agreed to.
Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - I think that the charge for the carriage of newspapers in bulk should not be excessive. It must be remembered that in New South Wales ‘ all newspapers have hitherto been carried free, but in future the Commonwealth will receive £d. from every newspaper that is posted. Newspapers, as literature, are different from ordinary merchandise, and while a certain amount should be paid for their carriage, that amount should not be excessive. . I move -
That the word “ penny,” line 5. be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word. “ halfpenny. :’
– I would point out that, under the proposals of the Government, ten newspapers, each weighing 2 ozs., would be carried for Id. If that is not a reasonable rate, I do not know what is.
Mr. BROWN (Canobolas).- If the newspaper proprietor forwards to a country town as a bulk parcel 200 or 300 copies of an issue, separately addressed to the subscribers in that town, will he have to pay for them at the rate provided for bulk parcels, or at the rate provided for separate papers 1
– They will be paid for as a bulk parcel.
– I understand that the acting leader of the Opposition wishes to reduce the rate for bulk parcels from Id. for 20 ozs. to ½d. for 16 ozs. I am in favour of that proposal.
– The theory held by some honorable members is that newspapers should be carried in just the same way as any other kind of merchandise. I should like to know, in the first place, of any commercial firm that would charge as much for carrying a ton weight 20 miles as for carrying it 3,000 miles. Is that a commercial proposal ?
– Yes. It is done under the zone system on railways on the Continent.
– It is not done here. If newspapers are to be regarded as ordinary merchandise, the rules which ordinarily apply to merchandise should apply to them ; but we are proposing to charge over £9 per ton for carrying them for 30 miles, and then we are prepared to carry them for 3,000 miles for the same amount. Any proposal to apply the same rates as are applied to ordinary merchandise is ridiculous on the face of it. We are doing no such thing. I shall support the proposal of the honorable member for Wentworth. I do not think it is an outrageous proposal even in view of what we have agreed to already in regard to the single newspaper rate. I cannot see that the bulk’ parcel has any necessary relation to the single newspaper, because the bulk parcel of newspapers may mean anything between two and 1,000 newspapers. If we have two newspapers in a parcel, it is a bulk parcel, and the same rate is proposed for two as for 1,000, while an entirely different rate is proposed for one.
– Will the honorable member support the zone system in connexion with this matter ?
– No. I am only showing the absurdity of applying acommercial rate to it. No railway or carrying company will carry goods 3,000 miles for the amount for which they will carry them 3 miles.
Mr. WATSON (Bland).- The honorable member for Parramatta seems’ to be annoyed because some of us, who are not prepared to give the earth to the newspaper proprietors, are prepared to give them some consideration. He thinks that we should carry their merchandise absolutely free, and when we do not carry a counter proposal to the utmost extreme, the honorable member is still dissatisfied. I cannot understand the extent to which the honorable member wishes we should go. *
Sir MALCOLM MCEACHARN (Melbourne). - I point out that the rate charged in every one of the States in the past upon newspapers carried in bulk was Id. per lb.
– We are now reducing the rate to Id. for 20 ozs.- 43 z
– I think the- Ministry are wrong in that, because Id. per lb. is a fair rate. I desire to point out that the New South Wales authorities established a difference between the rates charged upon papers published in Victoria and those published in their own State. They charged ½d. on 2 ozs. for newspapers published in Victoria, and Id. for anything over 2 ozs. and up to 8 ozs. Under the circumstances, the Government are extremely liberal iu proposing a rate of Id. for 20 ozs.
Mr. THOMSON (North Sydney).- In reply to the honorable member for Melbourne, I would point out that we should have got into an absurd position if we had not adopted some concession on the first item in the schedule, if we agree that a single newspaper weighing 10 ozs. should be carried for a halfpenny. Again, the honorable, member’s statement as regards the differentiation of the rates by the .New South Wales authorities is, I think, incorrect to this extent : that the charge was made because Victoria would not reciprocate by agreeing to carry newspapers posted in New South Wales free. If Victoria had been willing to reciprocate, there would have been no differentiation in the rates.
– The Victorian authorities could not carry New South Wales newspapers free, and charge postage upon their own.
– They could, of course, because, if they got the same advantage in New South Wales, where would be the difference? That would surely have been a natural exchange. I can quite understand the policy that would be supported by the Victorian authorities, that they should accept free carriage of newspapers in New South Wales and charge postage upon them in Victoria; but the fair exchange was for New South Wales to treat the Victorian newspapers as they treated their own. They would do unto their neighbour as they did to themselves. It appears, therefore, that the differentiation all came from the other side. I consider this matter upon commercial lines, and I have always, in the New South Wales Parliament, supported the payment of postage by newspapers. The question is what difference should the Commonwealth make as between the delivery of every individual newspaper through the post to the person1 to whom it is addressed, and the receipt and delivery of newspapers in bulk - the receipt from one person or firm, and delivery to one person or firm in bulk.
– The difficulty is that there is a bulk delivery at certain offices, and an individual delivery to the recipients at the bulk rate.
– What we are dealing with now is described in the schedule as the charge to be made upon all newspapers posted for delivery within the Commonwealth - without condition as to the number contained in each addressed wrapper- by registered newspaper proprietors or by newsvendors, or returned by an agent or newsvendor to the publishing office. Newspapers are sent in bulk for delivery by agents. I think that the charge for delivery should be that proposed by the honorable member for Wentworth, and I shall support his amendment.
Mr. BROWN (Canobolas).- The honorable member for Melbourne has led the committee to believe that there is a considerable difference between the treatment meted out to the newspaper proprietors of New South Wales and Victoria. New South Wales has hitherto had free postage.
– New South Wales has had to pay Id per lb. for the carriage of newspapers in bulk in this way.
– Prior to federation, the carriage of parcels in bulk was a matter of arrangement between the Postal department and the railway people. The Federal Postmaster-General, however, has declined to continue that arrangement, and the matter is one of special agreement between the Railways Commissioners and the newspaper proprietors. I have before me a report of the evidence taken on the 2nd July last by a committee now sitting in Sydney to deal with the carriage of newspapers on Government railways. On that occasion, Mr. Harper, Chief Traffic Manager of the New South Wales railways, was examined, and the following question was put to him by the chairman, Mr Dacey -
If the Argus or the Age, published ‘in the adjoining State of Victoria, sent 1 cwt. of papers over here, full rates would be charged?
To this, Mr. Harper replied -
No. In such a case we should charge quarter published rates- that is a matter of Inter-State arrangement. The Victorian authorities charge their reduced rates on all registered newspapers leaving here, and we do the same with all registered newspapers from their State. That does not apply to books and periodicals which are registered outside Australasia.
It will .thus be seen that the daily newspapers published in Melbourne obtain the same concessions on the New South Wales railways as those given to the Sydney dailies on the Victorian lines.
– If the honorable member’s statement be correct, the return from which I have quoted must be wrong.
– I have not had an opportunity of examining that return, but I presume that the Chief Traffic Manager of New South Wales would not give sworn testimony of this character if it were not correct. I ‘ think that the objection raised by the honorable member for Parramatta is a good one, and that it is ridiculous to impose this heavy charge upon newspaper publishers. If it is persisted in it will lead to a repetition of what has occurred in this State. That is to say, fully 75 per cent, of the newspapers in bulk will be dealt with privately. Instead of the department receiving the benefit of this revenue, the money will go into the hands of mail contractors, who will be able to undercut the department if this high rate is adopted. It seems to me that there is a disposition on the part of some honorable members to deal with newspapers as ordinary articles of commerce, so far as their carriage is concerned, and to place prohibitive charges upon them to such an extent that they would not receive the fair play accorded to ordinary merchandise. I think that the desire of some honorable members is to prevent the transmission of newspapers. I am not in sympathy with that desire, and I am prepared to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Wentworth.
Amendment (by Sir Philip Fysh) agreed to.
That the word “lb.” be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ 20 ozs.”
Schedule, as amended, agreed to. Progress reported.
– I move -
That the House at its rising adjourn until eleven o’clock to-morrow.
By meeting at the earlier hour it is hoped we may deal with the remaining schedules of the Post and Telegraph Bates Bill, and thus enable honorable members, who so desire, to return to their homes by the afternoon train. According to present appearances we shall have the Customs Tariff Bill returned from the Senate by the close of this week, for consideration when the House meets next week; and, having regard to the serious issue that lies before us, it is desirable that the consideration of the Post and TelegraphRates Bill should be completed before we adjourn to-morrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.55 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 August 1902, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020827_reps_1_12/>.