1st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. CLARKE asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Is he aware that a considerable sum of money isowing by the Postmaster-General’s department to thecontractorsforthe supply of telegraph poles and that the amounts owingcannot be paidowing, it is alleged, to the Treasurer’s advance vote being exhausted?
If the reason given is correct, will he take steps to insure the payments of the amounts involved ?
Sir GEORGE TURNER.- I intend to make inquiries into this matter. It is a fact that the Treasurer’s advance vote is, unfortunately, practically exhausted, some very heavy claims having been made upon it ; but whenever a department makes application to me for small amounts for wages and small contracts I endeavour, by some means, to make arrangements to meet them. The Postal department recently applied for a sum of £2,000 in connexion with this matter.
FREE TRAVELLING : POSTAL DEPARTMENT.
Mr. CLARKE asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Has a suggestion reached the Department of the Postmaster-General to insert a clause in future mail contracts providing that all postal officials when travelling on duty shall be carried free?
By whom was such suggestion (if received) made ?
If received, has such proposal been carefully considerd ?
Has such a provision been recently intro duced into mail contracts of the State of Queensland ?
Sir PHILIP FYSH. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
1 . No such suggestion has reached the depart ment of the Postmaster-General. 2 and 3. Replies included in the answer to
In Committee (Consideration resumed from27th August, vide page 15495) :
– I have given notice of an amendment to omit all the words after “ telegrams “ in the heading of this schedule down to the word “ shilling,” with a view to insert in lieu, thereof, the words, “ per word, exclusive of eight words for address and signature, one penny ; minimum charge for message, 9d.” It has, however, been suggested to me that the moving of that amendment would prevent other honorable members from moving amendments which they wish to bring forward, and, therefore, I move now -
Thatthe words “town and suburban, within prescribed limits “ be omitted.
That amendment will raise the question whether a special rate should be given to the town and suburban areas, and later on if it is carried, I shall move the omission of the word “ other “ upon which the question of the general rate to be charged can be discussed. I do not wish to resurrect all the arguments which have been used on thissubject in second reading speeches. I think it has been conclusively shown that there are no strong reasons why a distinction should be made between the town and suburban areas and the country, in the matter of telegraph rates. Those who reside in town and suburban areas have many advantages which country residents do not possess. They have a delivery of letters two or three times daily, a telephone service, and many other means of communication arising out of their closeness to each other.
That being so, I do not see why they should bespecially favoured in thematter of telegraph rates. If the town and suburban telegraph rate is lowered, a larger staff of operators and messengers will be needed for the transmission of the messages, and not only will the revenue from telegrams suffer, but the receipts from the postal and telephone services are also likely to diminish. I shall altogether oppose the adoption of a sixpenny rate for telegrams, and I think there are strong reasons why whateverrate is given to the town and suburban areas should be extended at least some distance into the country.
– I must again ask the attention of honorable members to the fact that the department is proposing to make concessions in this direction which are estimated at some £40,000 a year. It is, moreover, proposing to give to the community a cheaper telegraphic system than exists anywhere else in the known world. In making that statement I am quoting the words of Mr. Sassoun, who is associated with Mr. Sandford Fleming in electrical business. Honorable members may be of the opinion that the telegraphic systems of the United States and of Canada are cheap systems ; but Mr. Sandford Fleming, in speaking on the subject to a body of scientists specially interested in this matter, drew attention to the fact that the rates charged in those countries are practically twice as high as the rates charged elsewhere. There is in America a 50-cent. rate for telegrams sent from one town to another, but if a telegram is transmitted from Boston to San Francisco, the rate charged is 1 dollar. As a matter of fact, the proposals of the PostmasterGeneral are rather ahead of the times, because, whereas he proposes to give it minimum rate of½d. a word, and a maximum rate of1d. a word, the rate from London to different parts of the continent varies from 2d. a word to Paris, a distance of 287 miles, to 5½d. a word to St. Petersburg, a distance of 1,774 miles. The Postmaster-General wishes to continue to the town and suburban districts of five of the States the privilege of a special rate which they have hitherto enjoyed, and to extend that privilege to the town and suburban residents of Victoria, where, hitherto, there has been a uniform rate of 9d. throughout the State. In all the States but one there has hitherto been a town and suburban rate of 6d. a telegram for a limited number of words, with a charge of1d. a word for telegrams transmitted throughout the whole State, of 2d. a word for telegrams sent through two States, and of 3d. a word for telegrams sent through three States. In putting forward the proposals in the Bill, the Postmaster-General not only desires to legislate in a federal spirit for a federated community, but he evidently had in his mind the statement made by Mr. Sandford Fleming, that a feature of peculiar importance in the British telegraph service is the adoption of a uniform charge for all distances. The proposal of the honorable member for Grampians would give a uniform rate of1d. throughout the Commonwealth, but it would do away with the cheaper suburban rate. In considering whether he should adopt the zone system in regard to telegraph rates, the Postmaster-General was confronted with the provisions of section 99 of the Constitution, the correct interpretation of which is a matter worthy of the consideration of our legal friends, as to whether, in legislating for the Commonwealth, we are bound to regard every individual as entitled to the same privileges.
– What about the postage rates?
– Undoubtedly the rates are incongruous, but they exist under State laws. Directly the PostmasterGeneral comes to deal with the varying rates of postage, he must adopt the principle of an amendment, which was moved last evening by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, that they should be uniform.
– Then a distinction ought not to be made between a man who sends a long telegram, and a man who sends a short one.
– The logic of that remark does not appeal to my mind. I do not propose to discuss the provision in section 99 of the Constitution Act. I merely call the attention of honorable members to the position, because it has occurred tome that if we cannot immediately adopt the letter, we must progress towards the spirit of the section, which says -
The Commonwealth shall not by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof .
– How would the honorable gentleman apply that principle of equality to States which are unequal in their natural conditions ?
– I am not going to deal with that point. I have not risen to make a learned disquisition on the law of that section, but I think that when we come to deal with the question of zones, we shall simplify the discussion, and get out of a great deal of difficulty, if we remember its existence, and the comments of the learned gentlemen who compiled the Annotated Constitution, in which they most distinctly lay down in connexion with services rendered - they even use the term ‘‘postal services,” I believe - that it would be a preference. With respect to the question whether the PostmasterGeneral is giving a cheaper service, I desire to make a few observations. The department has estimated the value of the reductions in the rates which are made by this Bill, at about £40,000 per annum. On a previous occasion I told honorable members that the Postmaster-General in consenting to give up that amount of revenue expects to receive a similar amount, or a little more, from the postage on newspapers Last evening the expectation of that in creased revenue was materially affected by the amendments carried in regard to the weight of newspapers. The department will lose a considerable sum by those altera tions.
– I do not think it will lose £100.
– Surely if the PostmasterGeneral proposes to carry 10 ozs. of newspaper for Id., and he is made to carry 20 ozs. for that rate, it is very certain that on ti le aggregate of 6,000 tons of newspapers which ave carried over our railways, and a large proportion of which goes on to the postal carts, he must be a considerable loser.
– The rate will not operate on all that matter.
– It will operate very largely. However, I wish to limit my observations to the question immediately before the committee. I desire to call attention to a statement ‘which has been rather forcefully obtruded upon honorable members, namely, that the schedule gives no advantages to the people - that instead of the 6d. suburban rate being maintained, it is being increased to 9d. I find that, whether the message be confined to twelve words or to 24 words, and even taking into consideration the charge for the address, Victoria gains considerably under the schedule. If I take the rate between New South Wales or Victoria and South Australia, I find that in every respect, excepting the twelve words, there is an all-round reduction - that whereas the rates are from 2s. to 3s., they will be from ls..6d. to 2s. So far as New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia are concerned, the rates which are at present from 3s. to 4s. 6d. will be reduced to ls. 6d., with a maximum of 2s. It will be a great disappointment I hold, to the people of the five States who have a suburban rate if it is discontinued. It is the cheapest service so far as the department is concerned. More profit is made on the suburban business than on any other ; the cost of construction is limited to a few miles instead of extending to hundreds of miles, while the cost of maintenance is proportionately less. Therefore, we may presume that, with a rate of Id. per word, the profit is greater over the short distance than over the long distance.
– Has the honorable gentleman any official statement to that effect ?
– No ; but I have been associated with a Postal department for a great many years, and in Tasmania we always considered that a- greater profit was made on the short mileage than on the long mileage. I think it will be found that the suburban rates on the mainland pay better than do the rates for long distances. A very large proportion, of the population of these States live within the operation of the suburban rates, and to rob the five States of the advantages which they have because Victoria has not enjoyed them is wrong. I believe that they would prefer to extend to Victoria the advantages which they enjoy. I hope that the suburban rate will be continued.
– Will the honorable gentleman, before he resumes his seat, indicate what his attitude is with regard to charging for the address and the sender’s name 1
– The PostmasterGeneral lays great stress on the advisability of enabling him to charge for the address and the sender’s name. It has been stated by the honorable member for Parramatta that a return of the number of telegrams sent out of the Sydney office on a given day shows that about 90 per cent, averaged from five to fifteen words. My honorable colleague urges the advisability of malting the proposed charge, because he has valued the services to be rendered at over £95,000 per annum, and although I have heard the honorable member for Parramatta challenge the accuracy of that statement on. one or two occasions, it is indorsed by the Deputy Postmasters-General, who, being practical men, are in a position te support their statements. If it is seriously proposed to deprive the Postmaster-General of his right to make this charge, I must ask honorable members to consider at what cost it is to be done, and to give a reason why it should be done, seeing that in other important countries a charge is made. In New South Wales and Canada, the address is not charged for in connexion with a certain class of their business, but, as I said before, their rates are certainly twice those which are payable elsewhere.
– Does the 6d. suburban rate pay in Sydney, where the address is not charged for 1
– I am not in a. position to say. The department cannot afford t’o give way in every direction, and I must ask the committee to consider whether it is advisable to adopt a uniform rate of Id. per word for the Commonwealth, and to enable the Postmaster-General to make good some portion of the loss which it will entail by making a charge for the address, and the name of the sender. We cannot carry telegrams all over the Commonwealth at the rate of1d. per word, if we do not charge for the address and the sender’s name, which are estimated at seven words, except at a very serious loss to the revenue. I hope that the committee will support the provision for a charge to be made.
– If we are to have long second reading speeches on every point which is raised, we shall not conclude the consideration of this Bill to-day.I should like the debate to be confined to the simple point - are we to have differential rates within one State - which is raised by the amendment of the honorable member for Grampians to strike out the words, “ town and suburban within prescribed limits”? I think that we should not sanction the introduction of differential rates. I fail to see why the rate for Melbourne and suburbs should be different from that for Gisborne, Kyneton, Bendigo, Ballarat, or Castlemaine. I am not familiar with the working of the department, but I imagine that it costs no more to send a telegram from Melbourne to Ballarat or Bendigo than to Caulfield or Williamstown, which are within the metropolitan radius. Residents in the cities enjoy many more conveniences than are at the command of people who live in the remote districts. In many cases heavy porterage has to be paid upon country messages, and it is wrong to penalize those who are far removed from the populous centres by making them pay an extra charge for their telegrams. Whatever rate is fixed should be uniform throughout the States. We cannot afford to throw away revenue, and if the reduction of the telegraph rates would involve any loss I should be in favour of retaining those now in existence, at any rate until the bookkeeping period has expired.
– I am always happy to shorten debate as much as possible, but I regard this as one of the most important and practical questions that we have been called upon to discuss. The Bill will be farreaching in its consequences, and our decision will probably hold good for a very long period. The figures furnished by the Government with regard to many matters connected with the postal system show the necessity for employing some reliable statistical authority. I do not for one moment doubt the bona fides of the Minister, but I do not believe in the figures he has presented to us. I am sorry that I cannot agree with the proposal that a uniform rate should be charged throughout the States. So many attempts have been made to curtail the rights and privileges which have hitherto been enjoyed by the public that people are beginning to ask whether the objects with which the Commonwealth was established were not entirely misunderstood. The Government proposals with regard to city and suburban telegrams would have the effect of increasing the rates from 6d. to 9d. per message, and I shall be no party to making any such change. Uniformity is very desirable within reasonable bounds, but we must not lose sight of the special considerations which should operate in this case. I am willing to support the honorable member for the Grampians in securing a uniform rate for all messages throughout the Commonwealth, beyond those despatched within city and suburban areas. The question for us to consider is whether the rates now proposed, including the eight words allowed for the names and addresses, are reasonable, in view of the financial necessities of the department. In dealing with this matter for the whole of the Commonwealth, we should not lay too much stress upon the necessity for immediate payment. If we believe that an. arrangement extending generous terms to the public would pay within a reasonable period we should be prepared to face an immediate loss. That should be the guiding policy in the administration of all the great public departments. I should cordially support a proposal to make a uniform charge of 9d. per message throughout Australia, apart from a special charge of 6d. per message for telegrams despatched within city and suburban areas. In each case eight words should be allowed for the names and addresses.
– Would a charge of 9d. be sufficient for messages despatched from one end of Australia to the other?
– I do not know that 9d. telegrams would pay at once, but I believe that ultimately the revenue would be increased. None of us can say with authority that a 9d. or a10d. or a1s. rate would involve a loss, and wecanonly arrive at the truth by experience after a reasonable trial. The statistics presented to us cannot be absolutely relied on. I make full allowance for the difficulties of the situation, because I have stated on previous occasions that no Treasurer could possibly forecast the financial position of theCommonwealth during the next two or three years. At the same time, we should be prepared to make reasonable concessions, and to deal with the Commonwealth departments from a national stand-point, in order that the public may derive substantial advantages from the change of administration. It is a matter for consideration whether eight words would be sufficient to allow for names and addresses. In England, they obviate a great deal of difficulty by ‘ charging for the addresses, and they adopt a system under which persons can register their addresses at a small fee, and thus reduce the directions on the telegrams to a minimum number of words. I know, however, that an many parts of Australia the addresses have to be given at some length in order to insure the delivery of the message to the proper person. We should be very careful not to make innovations which will have -the effect of restricting the privileges thitherto enjoyed by the public. I should “be inclined to adhere to the present system >rather than take drastic steps which would -operate to the disadvantage of those who mow make use of the public services. The tendency of all progressive movements in these days is to annihilate space so far as correspondence and communication is con- cerned, and the volume of business in our public departments and our revenue will increase in proportion to the liberality of the terms extended to the public. I understand, of course, that there are certain .limits beyond which we cannot go if -we -desire our public departments to be conducted upon a paying basis, but it will be better to err on the side of liberality at the outset, and retrace our steps afterwards if i necessary.
– The- .amendment of which I have given notice provides for the omission of the whole of the words in the body of the schedule, including those comprehended in the amendment now before us, and the substitution of an entirely new form. The honorable member for Grampians has submitted the straight-out issue whether there should be any distinction made between town and suburban and country telegrams. I am strongly of opinion that it is unfair to differentiate between the two classes of messages, because any such distinction must perpetuate that centralizing policy which has been one of the greatest curses £>( Australia. I recognise that the claim I put forward by residents in the metropolitan areas has a certain amount of force. The claim is, that they are really wholesale customers, but I would point out that they cannot really be regarded as wholesale customers, because the individual units who use the telegraph lines must be taken into account. It simply means that the scattered populations - those who from the very fact of their being separated should have greater consideration - are made to suffer. I think that is very unfair. I am glad to say that we have not had this differential rate in Victoria, and when we last reduced the cost of postage we again refused to have a differential rate. Victoria is one of the most evenly settled States in the group. As it has been found in Victoria inadvisable to make this distinction, how much greater will be the ill results following from such a distinction in States that are not so closely. settled? I would urge honorable members to see that every part of every State in the Commonwealth has the same privilege extended to it, and that no part is called upon by reason of the disadvantages from which it suffers to pay a greater penalty than the people in those parts who enjoy greater benefits. The honorable member far Echuca has pointed out that in the country at present those who use the telegraph wires are placed at a distinct disadvantage, not only with regard to the want of facilities in being compelled to travel very many miles to use the telegraph, and in being compelled also to wait a considerable time before receiving replies to their messages, but also in having to pay a large amount in porterage. If they do not pay porterage, we have in Victoria a system by means of which telegrams can be sent to the receiver by post; but that means delay and probable additional expense. Is it a fair thing that those who live in areas which are more centralized should have the privilege’ of a reduction, such as is proposed by the Government, of per cent, over those who are residing in the country ? That is the question we have to settle. Are we to have a differential rate, or - as we say that all men are equal before the law, and as duties of customs that are imposed are levied equally in every instance - are we going to say that those who use the post-office are to. be charged in accordance with the benefit which they receive. The benefit to a man in the country is not one whit greater than to the man in the town. The benefit is equal, and the expense is very nearly equal ; at any rate, there is very little difference indeed. Therefore, we should not make this difference in the payments. Some honorable members may ask whether I should be in favour of all men paying the same for travelling on the railway lines without regard to distance. There the benefit which is conferred upon the passenger bears a strict relation to the amount which he pays, and to the cost of conveyance. But with regard to telegraphs there is very little difference, or none whatever. Under the circumstances, I hope to see the cost reduced. I do not want to ‘ see the amount which the Government proposes charged at all j but, if it is to be charged, let it be paid by all, and not by a section.
– I do not think we are proceeding in the right way with regard to this question. First of all, the committee should have decided whether the names and addresses are to be paid for. The Victorian rate will be an ‘ increase upon the New South Wales rate, and that is what we want to avoid.
– I shall vote for sixpenny telegrams without names and addresses being charged for.
– If we decide that whatever rate is fixed shall be uniform, we shall be committed to a higher uniform rate, instead of to a lower one.
– The question now is whether we shall have differential rates Or not.
– The question we have to decide is whether we shall retain the words “ town and suburban.” If the honorable member for Parramatta wants sixpenny telegrams, he should propose a charge of Sixpence within a certain radius of a postoffice.
– I appreciate that point, and I also want to abolish these distinctions if I can get a uniform lower rate. But I do not want to abolish them if we are to have a uniform higher rate. If I could .not get a sixpenny rate for the States, I should prefer to have a sixpenny rate for the cities, and ninepence for the country, rather than a ninepenny rate all through. The honorable member for Grampians, on the other hand, is, I understand, in favour of a ninepenny rate all through. I do not think there should be a uniform rate throughout the
Commonwealth. We have not got to that point yet. We are pushing the federal idea to an absurd extreme if we urge that. What we want is a zone rate.
– The honorable member favours penny postage for thewhole Commonwealth.
– And I should bein favour of a uniform telegraph rate if I thought it would pay.. That is the distinction between postal and telegraphic rates. The honorable member can at’ present send a letter to Queensland for 2d., but he cannot send a telegram, to Queensland at the same rate as that forwhich he can send a telegram in his own. State. The telegraph rates vary for purely financial reasons. The distinction is preserved everywhere. In Canada and all over the world there is no uniformity as between, postage and telegraph rates. For the present, at any rate, ls. for Inter-State telegraph messages is little enough. A shilling for 3,000 miles ought to satisfy the greatest stickler for economy or for facilities. My idea is that there should be a zone within which the 6d. rate would operate, names, and addresses being not charged for ; anr* that there should be another rate of ‘ ls. for the rest of the Commonwealth. I would make the zone 600 miles in extent.
– That would coverNew South Wales, but what about Queensland ‘!
– The zone should* be 600 miles from any post-office in theCommonwealth ; therefore it would operate as well in Queensland as anywhere else.. Any man ‘in Queensland would be able to go to a telegraph-office, say, in thecentre of that State, and could send a 6d. telegram to Brisbane or to the northern portion of the State within 600 miles. The zone rate would operate all over Australia, without respect to borders. But the proposal of the honorable member would operate only within the State, and he would still charge for names and addresses, which is the most vicious element in the whole position. It really means that a proposal for 6d. telegrams is a proposal for 9d. telegrams. If the Minister will take the schedule as it stands, and will leave out the proposal to charge for names and addresses, I shall be prepared to support him right through. It is the proposal to charge for names and addresses that I most strongly object to. Let the Government agree to. make names and addresses free, plus the rates proposed in the schedule, and I will support them, although I admit that theirs is not a strictly federal proposal.
– Do I understand that the honorable member wants telegrams sent from Adelaide to Melbourne for 6d. ?
– Tes, if the distance is within 600 miles.
– Does he want 6d. telegrams for the whole continent ?
– Oh, no. If a man wanted to telegraph from Adelaide to Sydney he would have to pay ls. My proposal means the complete obliteration of the borders. I candidly believe that such a system would bring in quite as much revenue as would the rates which the Government propose. The more telegraph facilities are given to the people the better the service will pay ultimately, and the’ cheaper the telegrams are made the greater will be the number sent over the wires, and ultimately the better the revenue will be.
– If the committee will extend to me their indulgence for a few moments, and the Chairman allows me a little latitude, I will venture to suggest what I hope will prove to be a compromise satisfactory to all concerned. I begin by accepting the proposition laid down by the honorable member for Parramatta, that this schedule should contain no increases on any existing rates within the Commonwealth. In every case what is proposed should either be the existing rate or a lower rate. “What I think honorable members have had in view - those at all events, who represent five States, where a distinction has existed between metropolitan and country rates - what the great bulk of the committee have had in view - has been a 6d. town message, a 9d. State message, and a ls. Commonwealth or Inter-State message. The zone proposal of the honorable member for Parramatta has much to recommend it, and will probably be adopted eventually. But while the bookkeeping system obtains - while we have to reckon the receipts in each State - we are not taking an anti-federal course in maintaining the present system. We are only adopting the most convenient method of enabling the telegraph revenue to be allocated. The zone system would mean the division of every Inter-State message into fractions, in order to enable the proper amount to be credited to each State, whereas the present system enables the collections to be at once credited to the proper States. If we commenced with a blank sheet, no one would favour the present system ; but, under existing circumstances, having regard to the bookkeeping system, it appears to be a very desirable method to retain for the next few years. If honorable members will permit me to trespass for a moment, I will make a remark or two on the subject of charging for names and addresses. It has been the custom throughout Australia to enable names and addresses to be telegraphed free, and that privilege, as honorable members are aware, has, in some instances, been abused. At all events, it is desirable, while making allowance for proper provision for names and addresses to be telegraphed, to avoid the free use which has been made of the telegraph lines in that respect.
– If there are two few words in the name and address it may mean more expense to the department.
– That is so, but if a reasonable margin be allowed - and I think that six words is reasonable - and if we allow a message to be sent at a fixed rate with that number of words free for the name and address, increasing the charge if more words are used for that purpose, it will rest with the person sending the message whether he uses the full number of six words for the name and address, or whether he puts the name and address into fewer words and gets the benefit .of the extra words in the body of his telegram.
– Would names beginning with “ Mac” and “ O “ be counted as two words ?
– Not in any Englishspeaking country. The proposals which I venture to submit to the committee, not as retaining all that the Government would desire in the way of financial gain, but as representing, apparently, the views of a majority. The proposals are as follow : - City and suburban telegrams, including address and signature, not exceeding sixteen words, 6d.j each additional word, up to twenty words, ld.j and each additional word thereafter, ½d. Messages within the States, exclusive of the city and suburban area, including the address and signature, not exceeding fifteen words, 9d.; each additional word up to twenty-four words, Id. ; and each additional^ word thereafter fd.
We propose further that Inter-State messages, including the address and signature, not exceeding sixteen words shall be charged ls., and each additional word 2d.
– Why not make it sixteen words all round 1!
– I have no objection to adopting that course.
– Would it not be better to make one charge for all words in excess of sixteen words ?
– Why not follow the alternative proposal outlined by the experts ?
– As a matter of fact the recommendation of the experts was that each additional word should be charged Id. That would mean that for the city and suburban area a telegram containing sixteen words would be charged 6d., whilst for every additional word Id. would be the rate. Within the States 9d. would be charged for sixteen words, and Id. for every additional word, whilst Inter-State messages would cost ls., and Id. for every additional word. After all perhaps it would be an advantage to have only two rates. Under such a system city messages containing twenty words would pay a little more - but these are not very numerous - whilst the Inter-State messages would pay Id. instead of 2d. for each word in excess of sixteen and up to 24 words.
Mr. SKENE (Grampians). - As the discussion has become general, I think it is only right that I should give the committee some fuller reasons for moving this amendment. I fully recognise that whilst our present financial relations with the States continue, the question of revenue is one of the very greatest importance. I attach no importance whatever to the estimate which the Minister has placed before us in regard to addresses and signatures. Last night the honorable member for Parramatta and the honorable and learned member for Corinella stigmatized some of the estimates which he gave as mere guesswork. I am disposed to go further, and say, in the language of the poet Gordon, that it is not only guesswork, but a blank enigma. No one can possibly say what the result of these charges will be. Therefore I think that the estimate of the Attorney-General ought to be completely eliminated from the consideration of this question. The Government, moreover, have entirely given away any argument in favour of an additional rate which may be based either on long distance or upon the cost of transmission. The question of long distance involves the cost of construction and maintenance of the lines, and the charge for transmission involves the passing of the same telegram through several different offices. The Minister representing the Postmaster-General has declared that the public could send an Inter-State message from Cape-Leuwin or Cape Howe to Thursday Island. He might have gone further, and stated that they could send a telegram from Brisbane to Cape Leuwin. Upon the ground of distance, there is no justification whatever for an extra charge upon Inter-State messages. The only reason which can possibly be urged is that some messages pass from within the boundaries of one State to those of another. The Minister has also put it that it might be held to be unconstitutional to adopt the zone system. But I look at that matter from an entirely different stand-point. I think that the system, as proposed by the Ministry, would be unconstitutional. They propose to introduce a zone of 25 miles upon the boundaries of the different States.
– I understand that they have now dropped that.
– If their proposal does not constitute a preference as between one part of a State and another, I do not know what does. If an individual trading between Moama and Melbourne, and another trading between Deniliquin and Melbourne are to be charged different rates, the former 9d., and the latter ls., I hold that a distinct preference is made in favour of one part of a State as against another. I have looked up probably the best constitutional authority to be had - I refer to Messrs. Quick and Garran’s Annotated Constitution - and their view upon what constitutes a preference as set out upon page 877 of their work is as follows : -
A preference is a discrimination considered in relation to the person or State hi whose favour such a discrimination is…… In the case of the Commonwealth every preference whatever is forbidden by the Constitution itself, irrespective of injustice or unreasonableness.
I hold that under the Constitution the Commonwealth is prohibited from giving, any part of a State a preference. Of course, I do not pretend to be able to construe the Constitution as well as could a lawyer, but to my mind, if the extract which I have quoted is not in accordance with its letter, it is certainly in accordance with its spirit. It is not within the province of this Legislature to make laws which give an advantage to one person over another. The rate which is now proposed in the Bill for State messages is 9d. Under that proposal a telegram can be sent in South Australia from Adelaide to Port Darwin - a distance of about 2,000 miles - but in no part of Victoria can a message be sent a quarter of that distance. Thus a distinct preference is given to one State as against another. To my mind there is no justification whatever for this distinction. On the one hand, a message can be transmitted for 2,000 miles in South Australia for 9d., whilst a similar telegram between Moama and Echuca - a distance of only one mile - would be charged1s. The zone system at least has the advantage that some reason can be assigned for the extra charge. We cannot split upa penny for a postage stamp into a number of parts as a pound can be apportioned in connexion with railway travelling ; neither can 9d. for a telegram be subdivided into a great many parts. We must take a certain area in which a minimum charge is made. The rate charged for telegrams in Sydney, for the metropolitan area is6d., and for the country1s. It seems to me that fact indicates that Sydney has controlled the destinies of New South Wales very much as Melbourne has dominated those of Victoria. Under my proposal, the 6d. rate in Sydney would be very much equalized by the fact that most of the country messages would be charged a lower rate than they are at present. Similarly the InterState messages would cost less. Of course, I admit that the long-distance lines in South Australia and Western Australia are to a large extent national lines. I am not objecting to the rate charged in South Australia. I only use it to point the argument, that if the people of one State can send a telegram 2,000 miles for 9d., there is no reason whatever why the Commonwealth should not adopt the same course irrespective of State boundaries. The bulk of the Inter-State telegrams simply cross the border line, and if the argument of the honorable member for Parramatta, that a 6d. rate within the metropolitan area will produce more revenue is sound, it is fair to assume that a reduction in the Inter-State charge will also be productive of a similar result. Trade advantages are generally with the large towns. To my mind, the charge in the town districts might well be so levelled up as to bring about a uniform rate. My contention is that a uniform rate would be more in consonance with the federal spirit; that it would facilitate and simplify the administration of the department; and that it would, perhaps, effect some saving in that direction. The 9d. rate - eliminating, of course, the proposed charge for name, address, and signature - should bea uniform one, and the people of Sydney should consider the advantage which they would obtain from the extension of the rate to country districts. I believe that the proposal which I have made for a uniform rate would, if adopted, return just as much, if not more, revenue than would the proposal made by the Government.
– I welcome the announcement made by the AttorneyGeneral that the Government are prepared to accept a modified scheme. I agree with the honorable member for Parramatta that one of the principal grounds of complaint against the scheme embodied in the Bill was the charge proposed to be made for names, addresses, and signatures, because that charge would have involved a very heavy burden upon persons using the service. In a circular issued by the Victorian Storekeepers’ and Traders’ Association, it is stated that -
Telegrams, if sent according to the proposed new rates in the schedule, would cost the sender at least 50 per cent. more than is charged at present.
– That is in regard to 9d. telegrams.
– Yes. The trading community of Victoria make decided complaints, in which the Stock Exchange joins very seriously, against the proposal. In a circular issued by the Stock Exchange of Melbourne, it is said -
Our principal objection to the Bill is the new departure charging for name, address, and signature, introduced by the Postmaster-General on the plea that this is the practice in every civilized country outside of Australia. In making this assertion the Postmaster-General evidently overlooked the United States and Canada, where name, address, and signature are free.
Particulars are furnished showing that if a charge were made for names, addresses, and signatures, the business done in the telegraph office at the Melbourne Stock Exchange would involve an extra charge of over £1,800 per annum. I am glad that the Minister has seen his way clear to propose an amended scheme, in which he has abandoned the contemplated charge. At the same time I am sorry that he is unable to go a little further, and provide for 6d. telegrams over wider areas than those of city and suburbs. Like the honorable member for Echuca and the honorable member for Laanecoorie, I fail to see why cities such as Melbourne, Sydney, or any other Australian capital, should be particularly favoured by the special application of the system to them. It is said that most of these metropolitan centres have hitherto enjoyed the system, and that it would be very hard to deprive them of it. But the value of the system in city and suburbs has been of late years considerably reduced by the extension of the telephone service. When Gd. telegrams for cities and suburbs were first introduced, there was no telephonic system such as now exists in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and the other metropolitan cities of the Commonwealth and the extension of the telephone service has largely dispensed with the necessity of resorting to the popular and cheap system of Gd. telegrams in these places. It is stated in a circular issued by the Victorian Shopkeepers’ Association that the telephone is now so largely used in cities and suburbs that telegrams are rarely thought of by business people, so that the great stress laid by the honorable member for Parramatta upon the Gd. telegram system as a kind of rightful inheritance of Sydney and other capitals, is not altogether justified. The time has arrived when we should allow telegrams to be sent at this cheap rate over wider areas than those suggested. The only question is as to the principle upon which the system should bc extended. It should be possible to devise a method to extend it, first of all to telegrams sent to any address within a State. That is what, I understand, the honorable member for Laanecoorie suggests. To a large extent, however, that would involve an inequality in the privileges enjoyed by the people of the various States. For instance, residents of Queensland would be able to send sixpenny telegrams over much wider areas than would be possible to the people of Victoria.
– In Western Australia people would be able to send telegrams over distances twenty times as great as would be possible to the residents of Tasmania.
– Exactly. Therefore a State could hardly be taken as a fair measure. If it were decided to adopt the sixpenny telegram system, it would be only fit and proper to consider the zone system suggested by the honorable member for Parramatta.
– The same trouble would occur under that system.
– I do not thinkthat the discrimination would be so glaring.
– But the bookkeeping period is fatal to the adoption of that system.
– Of course. I am not quite satisfied that the time has arrived when we could adopt it ; but, ideally and logically, I think it would be a desirable system.
– The honorable member for Parramatta allows that the time has not yet arrived for its adoption.
– That is so. I do not think that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Grampians, that we should have one uniform system, could be vindicated either on commercial or logical grounds. We should charge for telegrams, according to the value of the services rendered. It is urged that a telegram can be sent over a distance of 1,000 miles at nogreater expense than is involved in sending a message over .a distance of 100 miles. But in dealing with a revenue-earning and servicerendering department such as this, we have to consider the amount of capital which has been sunk to enable it to render those services.
– If we do that we shall never have a Gd. rate for the country.
– We might have a rough and ready line of demarcation in regard to the value of the services rendered, without insisting upon any mathematical accuracy. At the same time I do not think the time has arrived for that. I have been principally interested in endeavouring to secure the abolition of the proposal that a charge should be made for names, addresses, and signatures. [ am glad that that proposal has been thrown aside. My next object will be to secure the concession of Gd. telegrams, either within a State or under some zone system ; but as the time is not yet ripe for that, I do not see my way clear to unduly press it. I hope the time will arrive when the department will be conducted upon such lines, and when our federal development will have arrived at such a stage as to enable us to give more liberal concessions in this direction.
– I am very glad that the Ministry have made an amended proposal, because I am always anxious, especially in regard to postal matters, to follow the recommendations of the department, seeing that private members necessarily suffer from a want of accurate information upon the question. I was in somewhat of a difficulty in regard to the proposals in the Bill, because they do not appear to be in accordance with the recommendations of the experts. They are certainly not in accordance with the two recommendations contained in the report whichI obtained from the Minister, and therefore I should have had considerable difficulty in accepting them. The proposition now made comes very near to an alternative proposal made by the experts. It is more protective for the revenue, and therefore I approve of it, although it is not quite so liberal. The alternative suggestion now made is that a charge of 6d. shall be made for a telegram containing sixteen words in cities and suburbs ; 9d. for other telegrams transmitted to any address within a State, and 1s. for Inter-State telegrams, with a charge of1d. per word for every word in excess of sixteen. That proposal allows six words for the name and address as against the estimate of five given by the experts. The recommendation of the experts was that Inter-State telegrams should be transmitted for 6d. each. Their alternate suggestion was that a charge of 6d. should be made for city and suburban telegrams, and 9d. for any other telegram sent to any address within a State, with a charge of1d. for every additional word over fif teen. They also proposed a 6d. rate for Inter-State telegrams up to fifteen words, with a further charge of1d. for every additional word.
– Did they actually propose a lower rate for Inter-State messages than that for State messages ?
– I think the honorable and learned member will find the statement to which I have referred in the second alternative suggestion made by the experts. The Ministerial proposal that a charge of1s. shall be made for Inter-State telegrams is certainly far more protective to the revenue. I contend it should be so for the reason that the loss will be far greater to South Australia than to any other State. In South Australia we obtain a far greater proportion of our postal and telegraphic revenue from the transmission of telegrams than from other branches of the service.When we were consideringthematter at theConvention in 1897, figures were produced showing that in 1896 South Australia obtained £89,000 from the telegraph service, as against £91,000 obtained by Victoria from the same source. Having regard to the smaller population in South Australia, the returns for that State are much larger.
– I find that the experts recommended that a charge should be made for names and addresses in Inter-State messages. That would have made the InterState rate higher than that proposed for messages within a State.
– A charge was to be made for names and addresses in all cases.
– Not in the case of city and suburban messages.
– I did not notice that. The Government propose1s. telegrams, allowing six words for the name and address, to that it really amounts to a proposition so transmit a ten-words message for1s. That is half the rate at present charged on telegrams between South Australia and Victoria, andI believe it to be a fair concession. We cannot expect to keep up the rate of 2s., nor can messages be sent for as low a sum as has been suggested, seeing that that course would mean a loss of some £20,000 in South Australia. The estimated loss for the whole Commonwealth will be £90,000, and, considering that the telegraph service produces more in proportion in South Australia than in any other State, the South Australian share of the loss would not be a tenth ; but, if addresses were free, to probably £20,000. I am glad, therefore, that an alternative suggestion has been made which very nearly represents what is a fair charge for all the States.
– I am glad the Minister has agreed to allow six words for the names and addresses. I had given notice of an amendment suggesting that the number of words allowed for the names and addresses should be eight, leaving ten for the message. I feel, however, that the Minister has met the position very fairly, though at the same time, if any amendment, which I think an improvement, be proposed, I shall hold myself free to vote for it. I consider that the lower the charge for messages, the greater the revenue is likely to be. I cannot, however, support a very large reduction because I think it would take some time to make up the revenue. At the same time, I feel that the proposal now before us is a step in the right direction. There will be a large increase in the number of Inter-State messages, and of messages in the cities and suburbs. Personally I have the same complaint to make against telephones that I have to make in regard to the delivery of telegrams. Many of us know that it is better to walk home than to send a telegraph message there, and much loss of time and inconvenience is caused by delay at the telephone. No satisfaction will be given until some money has been spent on establishing the metallic return system. I do not blame the officers of the department ; I blame the fact that the money is not forthcoming to bring the service up to date, and I hope the matter will be taken into consideration as soon as possible.
– I am glad some concession has been, made by the Minister, though I cannot regard it as of any advantage to the ordinary man in Victoria, who will have to pay higher rates than previously. I usually .receive about four telegrams a week, and I find that the average address and signature consists of nine words, though I am willing to accept eight as sufficient. An address is necessary to the signature also in many cases.
– I ask the honorable member not to discuss that question at present, because it is not before the committee.
– I understand that there is to be some alternative proposal, and I want to show why the amendment of the honorable member for Grampians should be accepted in preference to that proposal. An allowance of sixteen words for 6d. would be of no advantage in Victoria. Are country towns like Bacchus Marsh subject to the city and suburban rates ?
– The charge in Victoria now is 9d. for nine words, and, allowing ten words or eight words for the address and signature, that means nineteen words or Seventeen words as the present message allowance. Under the alternative scheme, a country resident of Victoria will be allowed only sixteen words for 9d.
– Is all legislation to be based on Victorian usage 1
– I do not say that it should, but I quote Victorian rates and places because I am better acquainted with their details, and I do not want men in Victoria to feel that the Commonwealth scheme is placing them under a disadvantage. Nor do I want any part of the Commonwealth to suffer diminution of its privileges through this Bill. The Victorian country resident gets no advantage from the city rate, and the State rate places him at a disadvantage. It is proposed that Inter-State charge shall be ls. for sixteen words.
– I must ask the honorable and learned member not to continue to discuss the rates ; they are not now before the committee.
– I submit with all respect that’ the Acting Prime Minister, in his responsible position, urged the proposed rates as arguments against the suggestion of the honorable member for Grampians, and that therefore I have a perfect right to discuss this matter, and I intend to do so, unless I am otherwise stopped. I have only one other, but very necessary, reference to make to the rates. It has been suggested, as an amendment, that the charge for an Inter-State message of sixteen words shall be 9d. At the present time a person in any part of Victoria can telegraph to New South Wales ten words for ls., which means twenty words or eighteen words, allowing ten words or eight words for the address and signature. The Government proposal is sixteen words to New South Wales for ls. - another disadvantage. In view of these facts, the suggested amendment of the honorable member for Grampians should be supported as the only fair solution of the difficulty.
– I am prepared to accept the amended proposition of the Government as representing a practical reduction throughout the service. We ought not, however, to go too far in this matter of reductions. I am prepared to give the public all the benefit which the service will permit, but we must not lose sight of the fact that there is an absolute loss at the present time on the Post and Telegraph department throughout the Commonwealth. We have not during the present discussion taken into consideration the important factor of the interest charges on the cost of postal and telegraphic construction throughout the Common-wealth, -which represent, about a quarter of a million sterling. That is practically a subsidy contributed by the general taxpayer for the benefit of those who use the post and telegraph service, and we are making reductions which, in some instances, amount to 33 per cent. The question arises whether the increased business will be sufficient to return the necessary revenue ; and past experience goes to prove that no such result will follow, and that consequently there is possibility of further loss. There is no possibility of introducing the zone system at the present time j and we must accept the situation. The honorable and learned member for Corio has pointed out that the country residents of Victoria will suffer a loss. on the charges for Inter-State telegrams to NewSouth Wales ; but it must not be forgotten that on the other hand a decided reduction is made in the cost of telegrams to South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania. There will also be a gain in connexion with town messages ; and, under the circumstances, I am prepared to accept the amendment proposed by. the Government.
– I am sorry that the feeling of the committee seems to be against the proposal of the honorable member for Grampians. At any rate, the representatives of one State, which at present has the advantage of sixpenny telegrams within a certain radius, are very strongly against that proposal. I am afraid that if we permit differential telegraphic rates, the result may be that when ‘at some future time it is sought to adopt a uniform tariff, we shall find very strong protests made on behalf of what I may call vested interests. We may find the residents of towns, which have the advantage of lower rates, contending that if there is to be a uniform tariff throughout the Commonwealth it must bc that to which they have been accustomed. When it is remembered that beyond a certain distance, from the centre of a city, a charge of 9d. is proposed to be made for a telegram, and a charge of ls. for sending the same telegram into another State, no matter what the distance may be, how can it be said that the charge is being made in accordance with the services “rendered 1
Again, while it is proposed to send a telegram 5 miles for 9d, the same telegram can be sent 300 miles for the same amount. I think for the reasons I have given that the committee should support the amendment proposed by the honorable member f or Grampians.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the schedule - put. The committee divided.
In Division :
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– The committee having disposed of that matter, the time has come when I may bring definitely before honorable members the amendments which have already been suggested in the second schedule. Honorable members will see that there is no occasion to alter all the headings of the columns in the schedule. I move -
Thatall the words in PartI, from the words “per word” down to and including the words “ one shilling “ be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof, under the heading, “Town and suburban within prescribed limits,” the words “ including address and signature, not exceeding l6 words,6d. each additional word,1d. ; “ under the heading, “Other places within the State,” the words “ including address and signature, not exceeding . 16 words,9d.; each additional word,1d. ; “ and under the heading, “InterState, i.e., from any one State to any other State,” the words “including address and signature, not exceeding16 words,1s.; each additional word,1d.”
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I strongly urge the committee to accept these proposals of the Government. They are essentially in the nature of a compromise. In some respects they involve a compromise in all the States, and in other respects they will mean concessions to all the States. For instance, in New SouthWales we make some little concession in regard to our town rate, and in the case of Victoria some little concession is made in regard to the country rate. In actual operation these concessions will probably not be found to mean substantial monetary concessions, but, perhaps, the elimination of a word or two from the address or message. With regard to all the other States, there isa gain in the caseof country messages. In Victoria there is a corresponding gain in the case of city messages. Of course the proposal involves an unequal rate in Victoria for the first time, but in that respect Victoria has stood alone amongst the States. There are concessions and advantages to be gained by every Stateunder the proposalof the Government. It is a compromise, and I believe that under all the circumstances it is as good a compromise as can possibly be devised.
– I have been surprised to hear that the honorable member for Parramatta, who has shown himself to be so strongly in favour of uniformity, making a’ plea for the introduction of a system which will destroy uniformity in the only State in which it exists in connexion with this matter, while it will perpetuate the lack of uniformity in the other States.
– It is only for the bookkeeping period.
– I cannot help looking upon this proposal as a most severe blow at country industries. I honestly feel that an unfair advantage has been taken of the fact that a very large number of country members are not present on this occasion. I think that honorable members from the other States do not appreciate how unfairly this proposal will operate. The honorable member for Parramatta was at first under the impression that, under the proposal of the Government, an advantage will be given to the country, but he now finds that the country will suffer.
– No ; the country will not be charged any more than heretofore.
– The honorable and learned gentleman was not here when the matter was debated ; otherwise he would have known that it was proved conclusively that, under the Government proposal, the privilege at present enjoyed by country people in the State of Victoria is to be curtailed to the extent of at least two words in every message. I cannot look upon this as other than an attempt on the part of members representing great centres of population to benefit the people of those centres at the expense of the people of the country districts. At the present time no charge is made for addresses and signatures, but an additional charge is made for every wordin themessageexceedingten. The Government propose to limit the number of words allowed for the address and the signature to eight, and I think that the limit should be at least ten, but I would be willing to accept nine as a compromise.
– Seven is nearer the mark.
– Then why do the Government propose eight. While it is easy to abbreviate addresses for city and suburban telegrams, where people are easily found, it is not possible to do so for country telegrams. Let me give a case in point. It seems to me that if a man were telegraphing to the country to accept an offer of employment there, a reasonable message would be - “ Accept terms ; leaving by first train tomorrow” - seven words. If that telegram were addressed to a contractor in Maryborough, the address would be something like this - “ James Watson, Contractor, William-street, Maryborough, Victoria “ - another seven words, without the name and address of the sender. I do not wish to be accused of taking parochial or provincial views in this matter, and I have referred to the conditions existing in Victoria because I am better acquainted with it than with the other States, and the proposal of the Government takes away from those living in our country districts a benefit which they have hitherto enjoyed. With regard to the proposal to apply a special rate to town and suburban areas, I asked the Minister representing the Postmaster - General what constituted a town, and he told me that a definition would be prescribed by regulation. Since then he has informed me that a town is any settlement which has suburbs - a most remarkable definition.
– I gave the honorable member two or three examples, such as Bendigo and Ballarat.
– The honorable gentleman also mentioned Kyneton as an example. I urged that if the special rate for towns was agreed to, the areas to which it should apply should be determined on a population basis. The honorable gentleman told me that Kyneton had not sufficient population within its own boundaries to justify the extension of the privilege to it, but that when its suburbs were taken into account it would be ‘ qualified to benefit by the special rate.
– What is a suburb ?
– A suburb, according to the derivation of the word, and in its usual acceptation, is an addition to a city ; but there are suburbs in Melbourne which are themselves cities. The only right basis to go upon in this matter is the population basis. If we adopt’ any other, there will be endless trouble. I shall, however, oppose the proposals of the Government, because I regard them as unfair to those who live in the country districts.
– I intend to move the insertion of the word “ eighteen.” That, I think, will get over -the difficulty which has been raised by the honorable member for Laanecoorie.
– The honorable member can do that when the amendment now before the committee, which provides for the creation of a blank, has been disposed of. _
– I am somewhat surprised at the readiness with which the proposals of the Government have been accepted, especially by country representatives. In speaking upon this subject, I am speaking in the interests not merely of the residents o the country districts of Victoria, but of the residents of the country districts in all parts of Australia. We are told that we must agree to special town and suburban rates in Victoria, because the other five States are at present enjoying those rates, but that a uniform rate of 6d. throughout the States cannot be adopted because it would not pay. I should like to know if the sixpenny rate for town and suburban areas pays. If it does, there could not be much loss in extending it to the country districts, but if it does not pay, it is a gross injustice to charge the country districts 50 per cent, more to make up whatever loss is incurred. The residents in country districts are subject to quite enough disadvantages at present in their remoteness from centres of population, their - want of facilities for intercourse, the distance which they have to go to get to post-offices, and the porterage which they have to pay on telegrams, without having to pay an additional 50 per cent, for their messages. If a difference must be made between the town and suburban and country rates, cannot a smaller difference than 50 per cent, be adopted ? Would not a difference of 20 per cent, be sufficient to cover the extra cost of transmission ? In my opinion, the people in the country should be put on the same level as those in the towns. I think that, like the acting leader of the Opposition, we are all doubting Thomases in regard to the accuracy of the estimate which places the loss of the department at £40,000. That estimate is mere guesswork, because it cannot be satisfactorily foretold what result will come from our new conditions. But let us err on the safe side. If it be thought desirable, however, to run the risk of loss, let us run that risk in respect to both town and country telegrams. Then if, after two or three years’ experience of the rates adopted, the Government show that they cannot be made to pay, Parliament can be asked to increase them.
– Did not the honorable member say this morning that he would make the rates as high as possible ?
– I do not want to see a loss in the working of the department, but I contend that whatever rates are adopted they should be uniform. Those who are prepared to vote for the Government proposals en bloc are putting an extra burden upon the people of the country, on whose behalf so much is said, and for whom so little is done. I shall vote against those proposals.
Mr. SALMON (Laanecoorie). - The amendment which the honorable member for Melbourne intends to move will not remove the grievance to which he has called attention. I desire to obtain some concession for country residents. If I fail to secure the approval of the committee to the amendment of which I have given notice, I should like to see the zone system established, so that it might operate from centres fixed upon according to population. I should not be in favor of making every small telegraph office a centre, but perhaps the zone system might be applied to townships having 1,000 inhabitants and upwards.
– That would still give a preference to the large centres of population.
– No doubt it would, but,as I have before stated, my first object is to secure a uniform rate. If it could be managed, I should be pleased to see a uniform rate adopted for telegrams, including Inter-State messages, from one end of Australia to the other. I had to vote against a uniform system of postage, because the information supplied to us showed that it would involve a very heavy loss ; but we cannot obtain satisfactory returns with reference to telegrams. We are told that 6d. telegrams would not pay, and no doubt the revenue would suffer at the outset; but by the time that the bookkeeping period was at an end, the revenue would recover. I believe, moreover, that an Inter-State rateof1s. per message would show payable results, even before the end of the bookkeeping period. I join with the honorable member for Echuca in protesting against country residents, and those who do business with the country, being penalized to the extent of 50 per cent. over the rates charged for telegrams in the city and suburbs. The merchants in the cities would gain more in proportion than would the actual residents in the country by a reduction in the rate for country telegrams, because the additional facilities provided would be availed of to the greatest extent by business men.
– It is the business people in the city who make the telegraph service pay.
– I admit that the residents in the large centres of population are the biggest customers of the Telegraph department, but they are not contract cus tomers, and they send their telegrams for purely business reasons, and with a view to make a profit out of them.
– Why does the honorable member gird at business men ?
– I am not girding at business men. I am speaking more particularly about the special advantages enjoyed by the people who are gathered together in the large centres of population. This section of the community has not had more consideration than it deserved, but the advantages conferred have been altogether out of proportion to those extended to country residents. It cannot be urged that ninepenny telegrams have not proved payable in Victoria, and any loss that occurs must be attributed to the sixpenny rate. It would almost seem that the Government were anxious to recoup any losses involved by the sixpenny telegrams out of the profits made upon the higher-priced messages sent through the country. We are not asking that one section of the community should be benefited at the expense of another, but simply that fair and equitable treatment shall be extended to the people who live in the country. Those who are scattered throughout the sparsely-populated districts are especially deserving of consideration at the present time, because, owing to a series of unfortunate seasons, they are less able than formerly to bear the burden of taxation.
– Does the honorable member say that the addition of two words makes all the difference to the country people ?
– No, I do not; but I contend that an unfair distinction is being made. Rather than adopt the change now proposed, I should prefer a uniform rate of 9d. for both town and country.
– That is all that the honorable member wants.
– No. On the contrary, I shall vote for a uniform rate of 6d. if the honorable member is prepared to propose it. I should, however, prefer a 9d. rate rather than that an invidious and unfair distinction should be made to the disadvantage of residents in the country. I cannot understand why honorable members, who represent country districts in Victoria and other States, are so blind to the interests of their constituents that they are prepared to sacrifice them and to submit to their being called upon to pay more than their fair share of any losses that may be incurred.
– I should like some explanation from the Minister as to the extent to -which the sixpenny telegram system is to be applied. Is it intended that sixpenny telegrams shall be enjoyed exclusively by residents in the metropolitan centres’?
– Then I should like to know to what extent the cheap rates are to be applied in the country districts. I am as much interested as are my honorable friends who have just spoken, in obtaining concessions for residents “in the country. I pledged myself to support the zone system, but 1 find that that cannot be applied at present. There are a large number of towns throughout Victoria, New South Wales, and other States to which the sixpenny telegram system might he applied. For instance, there are such places as Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, and Launceston, and many others might be also suggested. The power to make regulations prescribing the limits within which the rates for town and suburban telegrams shall have effect is vested in the Governor-General in Council ; but I think it would be advisable to include in the Bill some provision which would indicate the limits within which these powers are to be exercised. If the sixpenny telegram system is to be applied to all cities, towns, and boroughs, with fairly populous surroundings, and a sufficient number of telegraph stations to justify special arrangements, a valuable concession would be made, but T should not vote in favour of the system being restricted to metropolitan centres only.
– It is not intended to limit the town and suburban rates to metropolitan centres only. It is proposed to embrace every township which is associated with what may properly be termed suburbs - places in which those engaged in business and trade reside beyond the boundaries of the town itself. Every such place will be entitled to consideration. It is impossible to fix an exact limit as to distance, because everything, will depend upon the circumstances of the town and its surroundings.
– The matter should be dealt with on the basis’ of revenue, and not of distance.
– The revenue is not the only consideration. The idea is that the system should be applied to townships having suburbs in direct communication, and where a community of interest exists between the residents in the town and the immediate surroundings. This would be partly determined by the existence of telegraph stations, because a sixpenny telegram system could not be applied to places where there is only one station.
An Honorable Member. - Would the system be applied to the area embraced within a 10 miles radius of. the townships %
– In some instances undoubtedly. I am told that in New South Wales a very large number of towns are brought within the operation of the sixpenny telegram system. Thirteen miles happens to be the radius adopted there. It is not proposed to adopt any absolutely fixed rules, but to study the general circumstances of the settlements.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).If the Minister will permit me, I might explain that in New South Wales they have adopted a 13 miles radius, but within that radius there, must be collected an annual revenue of £2,500 per annum.
– That would be prohibitive.
– It would not be so prohibitive as the honorable and learned member seems to think. These radii are dotted all over New South Wales, and nearly the whole of the State is embraced by them. No difficulty is experienced in the application of the sixpenny telegram system. It would be unfair to take any particular centre without considering its immediate surroundings. The township forming the centre might return a revenue of only £1,000 per annum, and the business transacted in the area embraced within the 13 miles radius outside of the township might not yield an income of more than £500 per annum. On the other hand, the centre might have only £500 of revenue, while the rest of the area made up the £2,500. Therefore, the Attorney-General must see that he had better proceed upon the basis of revenue, rather than upon that of area, unless every post-office bo made the centre of a zone.
– Nothing that I have said excludes such a case as that to which the honorable member has referred. The officials tell me that the difficulty is that they wish, from the practical basis which has been established in New South Wales,’ together with a study of the natural conditions of the other States, to fix upon the areas within which there exists a natural community of interest sufficient to justify the Postmaster-General in considering them as centres to which this system should be applied. But there need not be the same anxiety in this respect, because a list of these centres will be published, and it will be open to this House from time to time to review and criticise it. Parliament will have the power of seeing that all places which ought properly to enjoy this privilege do so. There is no doubt that centres of the size of Bendigo will be included. I am told that in New South “Wales the system is applied to very much smaller townships. The system is by no means limited to the metropolis. The intention is that it shall apply to numerous areas throughout the country.
– I regret that I cannot follow the proposal of the Government to make distinctions between certain favoured localities and the rest of the States. It appears to me that that proposal is in. keeping with almost every other move we have made in the direction of discouraging people from becoming producers, and of driving them as far as possible into the favoured centres of population. Why should we make this distinction ? So far as the working of the lines is concerned, it is just as cheap to send a message from Melbourne to Ballarat as it is to transmit one from Parliament House to the General Post-office. Of course, there is a difference in the first cost of the construction of the lines, but are we to levy blackmail for all time upon country residents, simply because they have had sufficient enterprise to settle there ? It is exceedingly unwise for us to endeavour by every means in our power to put burdens upon the country people. No doubt, before long the telegraph wires in the city will have to be placed underground, and that work will cost just as much as would the construction of a long line in the country. Yet it is proposed that city residents should be able to transmit messages over short lines for 6d., whilst the producer in the country is to be charged 9d. for a similar privilege. I would further point out that in connexion with railways country residents are more heavily taxed than are the inhabitants of the city. If a man in the country sends a truck of stock or produce to the city, he has to pay freight ; and similarly if he obtains a truck of goods in return, he has again to pay the cost of carriage. The city resident does not contribute anything in that respect. He does not pay for the transit of produce from the country.
– He has to pay it indirectly when he purchases his meat.
– The honorable member is wrong. Cattle from the furthest end of the States are sold in competition with stock which have never been trucked at all. The man who sells his produce does not get a farthing more for it, because of the amount of carriage which he has had to pay upon it. I see no justification whatever for the proposal, and I hope that the Government will not persist in it. If a sixpenny rate all round will not pay, I trust that some intermediate charge will be adopted which will enable the same principle to be applied alike to town and country.
– The reply of the Attorney-General to the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has emphasized the wisdom contained in my proposal to omit the words “ town and suburban.” Had that proposal been adopted, no difficulty could have arisen. The Attorney, General spoke of “ townships and their suburbs,” but I do not know of any suburbs in Victoria outside of Melbourne, Ballarat, Bendigo, and Geelong. I am sorry that the honorable member for Parramatta has left the Chamber. He has argued that the adoption of a lower rate will produce a larger revenue in the towns than will a higher rate. Yet, in an amendment of which he has given notice, he proposes that a sixpenny rate shall apply within a radius of 600 miles. Does he say that the revenue within that radius is likely to be increased by theadoption of a sixpenny telegraph rate? Six hundred miles represents double the distance between Melbourne and the boundary of New South Wales. Ifwe are to accept his authority that the lower rate will produce a larger revenue in the towns, it is fair toassume that it will also produce similar results in the more thickly populated districts. I feel so much the injustice which it is proposed to inflict upon the country districts in connexion with this matter, that, if a proposal were made for the adoption of a sixpenny State rate, I should support it. There is not the shadow of an argument in favour of considerations of distance. The Minister representing the Postmaster-General has declared that town messages return a greater profit than do country messages. He admitted that he had no official authority for his statement, the accuracy of which I very much doubt. Under the circumstances, I fail to see how the honorable member for Parramatta . can consistently argue against the extension of a sixpenny rate to the whole of a State.
– I never have argued against it.
– Then I hope that when a proposal is submitted in favour of a sixpenny State rate, the honorable member will support it.
– My interests are very largely centred in the country districts. For many years I have been more intimately associated with the agricultural industry of Tasmania than with, any other. Therefore I am not likely to do anything which would in any way prejudice the interests of the producers. The reason why I draw a distinction between the city and suburban rates, and those applicable to the States, is that within the metropolitan area a very large expenditure upon the construction of telegraph lines has been incurred. It is purely from a revenue point of view that I recognise that a distinction should be made. Seeing that this large expenditure has been incurred, it would be useless to impose a rate which would prevent people within the metropolitan area from taking advantage of the conveniences afforded them. If the rate be made too high, merchants will employ a boy on a bicycle, and run their messages from one centre to another within a small area, and the Common wealth will” be depleted of a very considerable amount of revenue. It is purely from a commercial stand-point, and in order to guard the revenue of the Commonwealth, that I in this instance support the Government in what I regard as a very clean-cut proposal, which is easily understood, and which, in many cases, will give country residents a great concession. When’ we consider that in the future we> shall be able, at a charge of ls., to send a telegram from Melbourne to Thursday Island, a distance of something like 5,000 miles, surely we may regard that as a step in the direction of extreme liberality. If we closely analyze the proposal of the Government, we find that the advantages are largely in favour of the domestic sender as compared with commercial senders. Those engaged in commercial pursuits have perforce to send much longer telegrams than are usual in domestic life. There may be a little bit of jugglery, seeing that the original proposal was f d. for every additional word, and that it is now Id., and in a lengthy telegram it will be found, in many instances, that the charge is as much, or considerably more, than under the original proposal. But taking it all round, I regard the compromise as very reasonable, and one that ought to be generally accepted by the committee.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).- I should like to reply to some statements made by the honorable members for Gippsland, Echuca, and Laanecoorie concerning the great disadvantages under which country residents are supposed to labour. I know well the general disadvantages which attach to country life ; and I am as keenly anxious as any honorable member to place country residents on an equality with those in the towns. We are considering this proposal on the basis of services rendered; and I contend that it is not proposed to give to the city anything which is not also given to the country. It is proposed to make city and suburban areas in both town and country.
– How does the honorable member define a suburb 1
– The fairest way is to define it on a revenue-producing basis. I do not believe in giving big towns any advantage over small towns ; and it is in that connexion that my suggestion wil operate. If a number of country places can be formed into a certain area they are as much entitled to concessions as are the great towns, and I see no difficulty in the matter. I take it that if the city man wants to telegraph to the country he must pay 9d., and so with the country man who wants to telegraph to the town. It is a reciprocal arrangement; and in the country, over- a given area, the same advantages will be enjoyed as in the cities and suburbs. If it were intended to make the country resident pay 9d. for every telegram he despatched, it would be a different matter. Personally, I should like to see a uniform rate of 6d., but that is not the desire of the honorable member for Echuca.
– The honorable member has no right to say that.
– The honorable member for Echuca said he wanted the rate to be as high as possible so long as it was uniform.
– The honorable member is saying what is untrue.
– The honorable member said that he wanted the highest rate he could get, having regard to the revenue. Of course, we cannot get a uniform rate of 9d., and the honorable member does not want a uniform rate of 6d.
– That is not correct.
– Did-the honorable member this morning not advocate a uniform rate of 9d. ?
– I did not. I said I would sooner have a rate of 9d. than see any loss.
– That is practically what I say - the honorable member wants to level up the rates to a uniform basis. Our object, on the other hand, is to have the rates as low as possible.
– I am not with the last speaker in his description of those honorable members who desire a uniform rate for Victoria; but I am a country member and have to look after country interests. We ought to have a local rate such as is proposed ; but it would be absurd, when all the other States have town- and suburban rates, to attempt to raise the rate to 9d. My desire is to give equal treatment to the town and country, and I suggest that after the word “ suburban “ the words “or within twenty miles from the sending station “ be inserted. This would give the advantage of the sixpenny rate to country towns which are in proximity to each other. It would make the population of each area in the Commonwealth receive similar and equal treatment to those living in another equal area.
– That is the proposal of the Government, except as to fixing the limit.
– The Government have not yet even suggested it. We heard from the honorable member for Parramatta the other night that in New South Wales there is a local postage rate operating within a radius of thirteen -miles, and the same principle could be applied to the telegraphic service. This would leave the six penny rate in Sydney, Brisbane, and other large centres, and, at the same time, would give an equal privilege to country residents. If the Minister reserves the power to define what is a town, he will be pestered by deputations, which will want every small centre declared a “ town,” and so constant political pressure will be put on him, and he will thereby create’ a great deal of trouble for himself. There are business men in small centres who are as much entitled to consideration as are business men in the cities. The honorable member for Wentworth, when the honorable member for Laanecoorie was speaking, interjected that itis the business men who make the telegraph service pay ; and I think that is correct. In Bacchus Marsh, which I can take as a fair example of an Australian country town, there are 500 or 600 people, and 30 or 40 shops ; and the business men there should have equal rights with the business men in Prahran, Collins-street, or South Melbourne. The same remark may be made of many Gippsland centres which could not possibly be described as towns with suburbs, but which should have the advantage of a system such as I have suggested, and which I trust the Government will grant.
– In default of a uniform rate for the whole of each State, which I should much prefer, I think there is a great deal of force in the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Corio. If that suggestion were adopted the administration would be relieved of a great deal of pressure, and from possible charges of unjust discrimination. If. it be left to the Minister to define towns, varying reports will be made by the officers of the Postal department as to the paying or non-paying character of the proposals made, and endless trouble will be created. I venture to say that there is not a township in Australia that would not ask, and properly ask, to be regarded as a centre in this connexion. The Minister will find it very difficult indeed to draw a distinction between granting a privilege to all and granting it to none except cities. If he granted it only to .the latter, all the alleged equality of treatment for the country would disappear altogether. I therefore trust that the Minister will accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Corio, which, while it does not go as far as I should like, will meet the difficulty. When the Postal Bill was under consideration, a considerable number of members, including myself, objected to the postal and telegraph rates being left a matter for regulation. The House was then practically unanimous in saying that an important question of the kind should be determined by Parliament, and not by an administration for whom the only punishment would be ejectment from office - a punishment which might be entirely disproportionate. The proposal before us is merely another phase of the same question. We are asked not only to leave the rates to be determined by regulation, but, worse than that, to be determined in individual instances. A regulation has at least the appearance of generality, but we are now asked to go further in a wrong direction. If the House previously would not permit the administration, by regulation, to determine postal and telegraph rates, we ought to be consistent, and again refuse the power. The suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Corio is consistent with what has already been determined by the House in the Postal Bill, and it ought to be accepted by the Government. I am sure that every honorable member who opposes a uniform rate for town and country alike will agree that the honorable and learned member for Coriohas suggested a sensible way of settling the matter.
Amendment (by Mr. Crouch) proposed -
That the amendment be amended by the insertion after the word “suburban” of the words “or within 20 miles from the sending station.”
Sir JOHN QUICK (Bendigo).- I think that the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corio is worthy of consideration. It will be an unfortunate thing if in our legislation we make a discrimination between town and suburban areas and country areas. Any discrimination that is made should be based upon distance, so that it may not appear that special concessions are being granted to aggregations of population. I agree with the honorable and learned member for Corinella that the Executive will be given an almost insoluble problem to determine if they have to decide in what cases the sixpenny rate shall apply, and in what cases it shall not apply. There is no statutory definition of a town or a suburb, and therefore the application of town and suburban rates would depend upon the personal view of the Minister at the head of the department, which, of course, would be subject to the representations made to him, and the information at his disposal. It would be a graceful concession to country views and interests if a discrimination based upon distance were substituted for the discrimination now provided for.
– It is very difficult to obtain data which would enable us to say with confidence what the exact financial effect of these proposals would be. We can estimate that effect only from the experience which has been gained in New South Wales, where a thirteen-mile limit has been in operation. Both the other proposals which have been submitted by the Government mean an immense reduction in the telegraphic rates at present prevailing throughout the Commonwealth. We have reduced the maximum Inter-State rate from 4s. to1s. That is a reduction which will operate largely in the interests of the country districts, by cheapening their communication with the centres of population which they supply, and with which they do business. But in order that it may not be felt that the various parts of the Commonwealth are not sharing alike in the advantages which are being given, we are ready to accept, though with some hesitancy, the proposal of the honorable and learned member forCorio, if he will agree to the reduction of the distance from twenty miles to fifteen miles.
– I understand that the Sydney suburban radius within which the sixpenny rate applies is fifteen miles.
– No ; thirteen miles.
– Then I will accept the compromise offered by the AttorneyGeneral.
Amendment of the amendment amended accordingly.
Mr. McCOLL (Echuca). - I do not intend to oppose the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corio, but I do not wish honorable members to think that I intend to abandon my proposal for the adoption of a uniform rate of 6d. I intend to move the amendment of which I have given notice, and to press it to a division.
Mr. SKENE (Grampians). - I am surprised to hear the Acting Prime Miniter say that the reduction of the Inter-State rates is chiefly ofadvantage to the country districts.
– It is of advantage to the whole community, including the residents in the country districts.
– The honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. Hartnoll, also took the view that the reduction in the Inter-State rates will chiefly benefit the residents in the country districts ; but the fact is, that in. many places country residents will have to pay the maximum rate of1s. for the transmission of telegrams for distances not much further than from one end of Bourkestreet to the other.
– That is because of the bookkeeping sections of the Constitution.
– With regard to the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corio, I think that, as we cannot arrange for the application of a suburban rate to the smaller country towns, it is reasonable that we should agree upon a rate which will be applicable to the small townships which are in business communication withsome larger centre. Throughout Victoria there are towns which may be regarded pretty well as county towns. Market days are observed there, stock sales are held there, and they are general centres for business. It would be of great advantage to give the people residing in the smaller townships around these larger towns the advantage of cheap rates, so far as their telegraphic communication with the larger towns is concerned ; but I think that, to be of any advantage, the radius provided for in the amendment should be increased from 15 to 25 miles. That extension is certainly necessary to cover the cases which I have in my mind in which I think the convenience should apply.
– I am of opinion that the distance should be increased to 25 miles. This is a matter of importance to the electors on the West Coast, because it is 21 miles from Strahan to Zeehan, and 25 miles from Zeehan to Queenstown. Why should a discrimination be made between the citizens of the Commonwealth in violation of the provisions of the Constitution ?
Mr. SALMON (Laanecoorie). - It seems to me that the Government are offering a concession which is practically worth nothing. The 15-mile radius which they are willing to concede is practically no more than the suburban limitation. Towns like Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine, and Maryborough, get no additional advantage from the adoption of the 15-mile radius. I am in favour of a uniform rate. The benefit intended to be conferred upon residents in the country by fixing the radius at 15 miles is quite illusory.
– It will represent a very real concession to residents in the country districts.
– I do not think so. I feel bound to do what I can to prevent the country residents from being subjected to an unfair charge.
– No new charges are being made, but the Government proposals represent a very great reduction.
– If a 25-mile radius were decided upon it might confer some benefit upon residents in the country, but the. limit now suggested would be of no use. I would urge the Acting Prime Minister to consent to make the further concession suggested.
– I cannot possibly do so.
– I think that the Government are treating the country members in a very generous spirit. A 15- miles radius would not suit everybody, nor would even one of 25 miles, but if residents in the country are able to send telegrams for a distance of 14¾ miles from any given centre at sixpenny rates, they will be placed in a position of far greater advantage than at present.
Mr.WINTER COOKE (Wannon).- In order to show that some benefit has been conferred upon the residents in the country districts of New South Wales by the adoption of the sixpenny telegram system within a 13 miles radius of certain centres there, I might point out that something like 300 places outside of Sydney are benefited. Although I should personally prefer to see an extension of the radius I think we might fairly accept the proposal of the Government.
Amendment of the amendment agreed to.
Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN (Melbourne). - I move -
That the amendment be amended by the omission of the figures “ 16,” with a view to insert in lieu thereof the figures “ 18.”
I had intended to withdraw my amendment in order to enable the honorable member for Echuca to propose the adoption of a uniform rate of 6d., which I was prepared to support. I think, however, that the Government have met the committee very fairly, and that it would be unjust to press them any further in that direction.
Question - That the figures “ 16,” proposed to be omitted, stand part of the proposed amendment - put. The committee divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of the amendment negatived.
Mr. McCOLL (Echuca). - I move-
That the amendment be amended by the omission of the word “ninepence,” with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “sixpence.”
I thoroughly agree with the view taken by the honorable member for Laanecoorie that the Government proposals, in their present form, will confer very slight, if any, benefits upon the country residents. The sixpenny telegram system could not be applied with any advantage, except in places where there are several telegraph stations within 15 miles of the centre selected for the operation of the system. That happens in very few cases. If we are to make any reductions they should apply all round, and the rate adopted should be uniform throughout the State.
Question - That the word “ninepence” proposed to be omitted stand part of the proposed amendment - put. The committee divided.
Majority … … 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of the amendment negatived
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Sir Philipfysh) pro posed -
That the following words be inserted after the table of rates in Part I. : - “On telegrams from and to Tasmania the charges to be those mentioned above, with cable charges added.”
Mr. McCOLL (Echuca). -I should like some explanation as to what this extra charge means. In the past there has been no such charge made in connexion with the Tasmanian cable.
Mr. HARTNOLL (Tasmania). - We have in the Constitution what is familiarly known as the “Braddon blot.” In connexion with this Bill it is proposed to repeat that mistake and to have a “Fysh blot.” The Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral has told the committee that the Eastern Extension Company is guaranteed £5,600 per year by the Tasmanian Government, but that statement is scarcely correct. It is jointly guaranteed by the Tasmanian and Victorian Governments.
State in his financial statement would have to show a loss, and it is in order that a loss may not have to beshown that I now appeal to honorable members to go as far as possible in the direction of remedying an absolute defect in the present arrangement.
– Every member of the Chamber would, I think, be very glad to pass the Bill in such a shape as to allow the people of Tasmania to send telegrams to the mainland at the same rate as that for which they can. be sent similar distances in other parts of the continent. So far as I understand the situation, the trouble is that, if we pass such a proposition, Tasmania will, under the bookkeeping sections, have to make good any deficiency. I should be quite willing for the Commonwealth to shoulder the responsibility if the bookkeeping sections would allow it. I hada long chat some time ago with Mr. Bird, the Treasurer of Tasmania, and he took a very strong position againstthe suggestion to charge the uniform rate on telegrams. He said that the finances of Tasmania were in such a condition, notwithstanding the measure of prosperity alluded to by the honorable member who last spoke, that they could not stand an additional charge of £5,000, or maybe a little more, which it was anticipated would result in a reduction of the rate to 1s. Therefore I take it that the appeal is made on behalf of the people of Tasmania to continue the present rate, or something approximating to it, until the bookkeeping period is exhausted. We shall then be able to adopt a uniform scale, and the Commonwealth will have to shoulder any loss which may result. A matter of £4,000 or £5,000 to the Commonwealth as a whole would be nothing if the Constitution would allow the loss to be shared amongst the rest of the States. To Tasmania such a loss is somewhat important, and, from all the estimates we have had so far, it is not likely that the reduced rate will result in an increase of business sufficient to make up for the loss which seems to stare Tasmania in the face. If honorable members who represent Tasmania are satisfied that the people of that State are willing to shoulder the responsibility, I shall vote for the lower rate. I, for one, shall follow the votes of the honorable members for Tasmania.
– I may remind the committee that the whole question was recently considered at the conference of Premiers in Sydney, where a resolution was unanimously carried that the responsibility of Tasmania in this matter should, as new expenditure, be shouldered by the Commonwealth, and shared amongst the different States. In order to give effect to the resolution, the Commonwealth Government placed themselves in communication with the States Governments ; but by that time three of the States had changed their minds. The agreement made at the Premiers’ conference was conditional on all the States coming in, and as three States declined, there was nothing for it but to ask Tasmania to leave the original proposal in the Bill, in order that the whole cost might not fall on that State.
– Which were the three States?
– Their names were published, and I have sent the correspondence to the Premier of Tasmania. Under the circumstances, there is no choice but to either letTasmania pay the whole, or make the provision now proposed.
Mr. O’MALLEY (Tasmania).- The members for Tasmania cannot possibly take the responsibility of agreeing to that State bearing the whole loss. The Attorney-General speaks as though the Commonwealth were a confederacy, and not a federation.
– It is a financial confederacy until the bookkeeping period expires.
– Then we have a sort of improvised J eff Davis show.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. SALMON (Laanecoorie). - I move -
That the following words be added to the schedule : - “Telegrams of public interest giving notice of bush fires or floods affecting or likely to affect largo tracts of country, to be free.”
I gave notice of this amendment at the request of the honorable member forRiverina, who takes a great interest in the question. It has been the custom in, at any rate, one of the other States to give every facility for sending word of these great national disasters to people unaffected at the time, but who may be affected, thus enabling them to make provision. The cost would be very small - I trust nothing at all - and the Government may see their way to accept the amendment.
– I cannot accept amy amendment which will continue the practice of franking either postal communications . or telegraph messages. We have already decided, by clause 5, that even Government correspondence must pay the rates prescribed, in order that the department may be able to show what it earns. If a concession be allowed to any body of individuals, in respect of matters local or otherwise, each State which is interested must make provision for paying the department for the concession. The Postmaster-General is not in a position to advise me that any exceptions can be made.
Mr. SALMON (Laanecoorie). - I am rather surprised at the attitude assumed by the Government, seeing that they agreed to an amendment providing for a substantial reduction on the rate for the carriage of materials for the blind. My amendment involves very small expense, and cannot be regarded as a breach of the rule, such disasters being, not of State, but of national concern. The object is to prevent local d isasters becoming national.
Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN (Melbourne). - Can the Minister inform me exactly what the rate in the future will be to Tasmania?
– I believe the rate will be½d. instead of1d. as heretofore ; but the matter is not absolutely settled. The rate will be agreed to by the Treasurer of Tasmania, but I believe that will be the result.
– In regard to the second part of the schedule, I think there should be the same comparative liberality or generosity that has been extended to the first part. This second part might be a little simplified by reducing the number of lines in it from three to four. The charge of 6d. for a press message not exceeding 25 words is very fair, and the same may be said of the charge of 9d. for messages exceeding 25 words, but not exceeding 50 words ; but I think the next line might be omitted. It is a bad principle, in my opinion, to differentiate between telegrams for ordinary purposes, and press telegrams connected with the Commonwealth. Such differentiation must lead to a great deal of difficulty, and I do not know of any principle of equity on which it can be defended. We are dealing with the Commonwealth as a whole, and it looks like making a close preserve for ourselves when we create special terms for telegrams relating to Commonwealth affairs. The special charges are confined to Executive matters and debates in the House, but the next proposal will be to extend them to speeches made by Federal members outside, and to all matters connected with the Federal Government. The best plan would be to reduce the rates as far as the department can see its way to allow it, and, in order to avoid complications, to apply the same rates all round. My proposal is that for Inter-State telegrams of all kinds, the charge for 25 words should be 9d., which is 50 per cent. more that the charge within a State ; and that for a message of more than 25 words, and not exceeding 50 words, the charge shall be1s. and for every additional 50 words, 9d. That would make the rates for messages within a State, not exceeding 25 words, 6d., and from one State to another, 9d. ; for messages exceeding 25 words, but not exceeding 50 words, within a State, 9d., and throughout the Commonwealth,1s.; while for every additional 50 words, or portion of 50 words, the rate would be 6d. within a State, and 9d. throughout the Commonwealth. It seems to me that that would be a better arrangement than the attempt which is made in the schedule to differentiate between telegrams conveying Commonwealth intelligence and other telegrams.
– The newspaper proprietors have not complained of the charge of 1 s. 6d. per 100 words within a State.
– I think that to reduce the rate would lead to an acceleration of communication. This
Parliament can sit only in one State, but the people of the whole Commonwealth should be informed of its proceedings as quickly as possible. To that end, I think it is better to lower the telegraphic rates all round to a reasonable extent than to make the distinction provided for in the schedule. It does not seem to me that it is fair that the rate throughout the Commonwealth should be double the rate within a State. In my opinion a difference of 50 per cent. would be sufficient. In the next rate, I propose an addition of 33 per cent. Then I propose that the rate for an additional 50 words shall be 6d. within a State, and 33 per cent. more throughout the Commonwealth ; so that whereas the charge for telegrams relating to Commonwealth parliamentary and executive proceedings is 6d. for every additional 50 words, I propose to make it 9d.
– I wish first of all to call the attention of the committee to the fact that the Bill before us was very much liberalized by the Senate. The PostmasterGeneral originally proposed that the rate for every additional 50 words within a State should be 9d., but the Bill now makes it 6d. I intend to go still further, however, and to reduce the charge for every additional 50 words for transmission throughout the Commonwealth from1s. 6d. to1s. Those are lower rates than have been imposed throughout the States hitherto. Seeing that, under the rates now proposed by the Government, enough words to fill a whole column of the Argus can be telegraphed for about 10s. 6d., the charges are surely cheap enough. In view of the concessions made in dealing with other parts of the Bill, I cannot accede to the proposal of the honorable member for Wentworth, and must ask the committee to support this schedule as it stands, with the amendment of which I have given notice.
Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - My point is that it would be better to get rid of the distinction between telegrams giving Commonwealth intelligence and other telegrams, and to do that I suggest the reduction of the ordinary rates. Of course, if the Government will not agree to a reduction of rates, I do not wish to compel the newspapers to pay more for the transmission of Commonwealth intelligence.
-I hope that the proposals of the Government, rather than those of the honorable member for
Wentworth, will be accepted. Under the latter the charge for the first 100 words of a messagetransmitted within a State would be1s. 3d., instead of1s. 6d., as provided for in the Bill, while there would be a corresponding reduction in the case of messages for transmission beyond the borders of a State. But the proposal of the Minister to reduce the rate for every additional 50 words for transmission beyond the borders of a State from1s. 6d. to1s. brings all the rates into conformity. It brings the charge for every additional 50 words for transmission beyond a State into conformity with the charge for the transmission of an additional 50 words within a State, and also into conformity with the charge for messages relating to Commonwealth parliamentary and executive proceedings for transmission beyond a State. Therefore I think that, on the whole, the proposals of the Government are fairer than those of the honorable member for Wentworth. I do not agree with him that we have no right to allow messages relating to the proceedings of the Federal Parliament to be transmitted at a lower rate than is charged for the transmission of ordinary news.
– I did not say that we had no right to do so, but I think that we should get rid of the distinction.
– I took down the honorable member’s words in shorthand as he uttered them, and he said - “We have no right to make this a close preserve for ourselves.”
– What I meant to convey was that it is not politic to do so, not that we have no power to do so.
– My contention is that we not merely have the right, but that it is our duty to do so. Surely information concerning the proceedings of this Parliament is of far. more importance to the people of Western Australia, or of Queensland, and of other remote parts of the continent, than news respecting a football match or a race meeting.
– Sometimes the report of a football match would be much more interesting.
– I do not deny that reports of football matches and race meetings may of ten be of great interest to the people of the Commonwealth, but they cannot be of so much importance to them as reports of the proceedings of this Parliament. The property and even the lives of the people are affected by our decisions here, and it is proper that we should give facilities for making these decisions known. But the proposals of the honorable member for Wentworth virtually amount to the contention that news concerning football matches, race meetings, and other trifling incidents of passing interest, that are of no real moment, are as important as information respecting the proceedings of this Parliament, and should be sent at the same rates. In my opinion, we did wisely when we decided that reports of the proceedings of this Parliament, and of the Commonwealth Executive should be telegraphed at lower rates than those charged for the transmission of general news. If the proposals of the honorable member for Wentworth be accepted, it will be necessary to recast the whole of the second part of the schedule, and I do not think that that is advisable.
Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN (Melbourne). - I think that the proposal of the Minister is rather better than that of the honorable member forWentworth. Under the Minister’s proposals, the charge for 200 words would be 2s., while under the proposals of the honorable member for Wentworth it would be 2s. 3d. I think, however, that there should be some reduction in the charge for Inter-State messages. If a reduction is made for messages within a State, there should be also a reduction for InterState messages. In my opinion, the amendment of which the Minister has given notice will not meet the case. I think that it is as necessary that the people of Queensland, and of other distant places, should be given cheap telegraph rates as it is that the rates within the States should be low.
Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - The schedule,is it stands, is rather ridiculous in this respect : The charge for messages within a State is 9d. for 25 words and not exceeding 50 words, but for 50 words and not exceeding 100 words, it is 1s. 6d., or twice as much, so that there is no concession there, because of the longer message. Then for Commonwealth telegrams, the charge is1s. for 25 words,1s. 6d. for a message not exceeding 100 words, and 3s. for a message exceeding 100 words.
– For messages over 100 words, there is a very big concession.
– But I think that there should be an intermediate concession. I do not know that it matters very much in practical press work, but it seems to me that the 3s. rate might be reduced.
– At the rates now proposed a full column of news could be telegraphed for 13s.
– Of course, the real point, so far as the newspaper proprietors are concerned, is the reduction of the rates for messages containing more than 100 words. At the same time, there are many short, pithy telegrams of less than 100 words, and I think that in. view of the rates charged for telegrams up to 50 words, it would be fair to reduce the charges for messages exceeding 50 words, but not exceeding 100 words to 2s. 6d.
– The departmental experts do not regard the present press rates as payable.
– I think that the rates proposed are fairly reasonable.
Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- At the present time, if a press correspondent wishes to send 100 words from Melbourne to Western Australia he has to pay 4s. 6d., and a similar amount is charged for every subsequent 100 words. Thus, a message containing 200 words would cost 9s. Under the Government proposals a message of 200 words could be sent from Melbourne to Western Australia for 5s. I answer the question of the honorable member for Wentworth by saying that this must be regarded as a very satisfactory reduction so far as the more remote parts of the continent are concerned.. I would not presume to speak for the Sydney newspaper proprietors.
– The present charges for press telegrams to Western Australia are extremely high.
– The same rate applies to press messages despatched from Melbourne to Queensland. I think that the Government have offered very fair terms. The committee should remember that this department is not paying expenses, and the mail services hitherto existing in remote portions of Australia are for this reason being curtailed. If these rates are reduced the size of the departmental deficit will form an excuse for the further curtailment of the facilities given and so badly required in the far interior of the continent. I for one will never be a party to a policy which will have that result, and which will also form a pretext for reducing the wages of the servants of the Commonwealth.
– I understand that the Government propose that the Inter-State messages shall be transmitted at the following rates : - 25 words for1s., 50 words for1s. 6d., 100 words for 3s., and 150 words for 4s. The honorable member forWentworth proposes that 25 words shall be transmitted for 9d., 50 words for1s., 100 words for1s. 9d., and 150 words for 2s. 6d., and it seems to me that these latter rates would be very advantageous to the newspaper proprietors.
– Our proposals represent a great reduction upon existing rates, but if the suggestions of the honorable member forWentworth were carried out the difference would be immense.
Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN (Melbourne). - I think that the Government might adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for Wentworth, that the rate for messages of over 50 and not exceeding 100 words should be reduced from 3s. to 2s. 6d. Most of these press messages are sent during the night, and I would point out that in Canada it is the practice to transmit press messages at night at half -rates.
Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - Although the Government have made considerable reductions in the rates charged for Inter-State press telegrams, I think that, as a matter of symmetry, they should reduce the 3s. rate for messages not exceeding 100 words to 2s. 3d.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta). - There is no reason why we should charge 100 per cent. more for 100- word messages than for telegrams containing 50 words. In every other kind of business a reduction is made upon taking a quantity.
– The Government propose to make a considerable reduction upon the charges for messages containing over 100 words.
– Yes ; but the reductions should be made upon the same scale right through. The public point of view is the only one from which we can consider this question. It would be of the utmost advantage to facilitate in every possible way thetransmission of news from the seat of the Federal Government to all parts of the Commonwealth. The general public know too little of what is happening in the Federal Parliament, and of what is being done by the administration, and I think that the suggestion of the honorable member for Wentworth might very well be conceded.
Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - I move -
That the words “one shilling and sixpence,” column 2 of Part II. , be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “one shilling and threepence”; also that the words “three shillings,” column 3, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ two and threepence.”
The effect of these amendments will be to reduce the rate for telegrams exceeding 50, but not exceeding 100 words, transmitted within any State, from1s. 6d. to1s. 3d., and to decrease the charge for Inter-State messages of similar length from 3s. to 2s. 3d.
Mr. WATSON (Bland).- I do not think there is any justification for the great reduction proposed by the acting leader of the Opposition. There is no doubt that the proposal of the Government as. amended is an extremely liberal one, as compared with the rate which has been charged upon Inter-State messages in the past. A material reduction lias been made in the charges for the transmission of press messages.
– The charges have not been reduced to the same extent as they have in connexion with private telegrams.
– The fact that we have been a little too liberal in regard to ordinary messages, is no reason why we should continue to make concessions which have not been asked for. I think that the press will be thoroughly satisfied with a reasonable reduction, and certainly such a reduction has been made. I would further remind honorable members that last year the Postal department showed an apparent loss of £46,000, and an actual loss very considerably in excess of that amount, because the balance-sheet did not cover interest upon the capital invested. If experience shows that the adoption of the lower rate results in an increase of business, we can then make a further reduction should it be deemed desirable to adopt that course. In the meantime, the concession which has been made in the Bill constitutes, I think, the utmost which we should risk in the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole.
Mr. FOWLER (Perth).- I think that the Government proposals as amended are fairly satisfactory. Although the reduction which has been made in- connexion with the transmission of press telegrams is not equal to that made upon private messages, the fact must not be overlooked that hitherto the press have enjoyed a considerable advantage as compared with ‘private citizens.
Mr. L. E. GROOM (Darling Downs).I desire to ask the Attorney-General if it is not possible to extend the definition at the top of the third column of part 2 of this schedule, which applies to press telegrams “ relating to Parliamentary and Executive proceedings of the Commonwealth.” If a vote be taken upon the proposal of the acting leader of the Opposition, will that definition be considered to have been agreed to by the committee 1
– I think that it would.
– I hope that the honorable and learned member will not press this suggestion. The definition is a fairly general one, and if it be found necessary to extend it hereafter that course can be adopted at an)’ moment.
– Under that definition press telegrams at the reduced rate would be restricted to Parliamentary debates and Executive proceedings. It would not cover the publication of statistical information, reports of deputations, Customs prosecutions, or important trials before the High Court, all of which are matters of general interest. I think that the definition ought to be extended by adding the words “and Commonwealth affairs.” That would .cover anything relating to the official proceedings of the Commonwealth.
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).I trust that the Government will accept the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs. It is perfectly absurd that a rate of ls. per 100 words should be charged only upon .telegrams relating to parliamentary and Executive proceedings. In this connexion I would point out that Executive acts may at any time call for the issue of a manifesto by the leader of the Opposition or the leader of the labor party. Indeed they might necessitate comment on the part of any private member. Yet whilst the reports of Government proceedings would be telegraphed to the newspapers at the rate of ls. per 100 words, a charge of ls. 6d. per 100 words would be levied upon the criticism of a private member. The latter should have equal rights with members of the Executive in this respect.
– Private members have.
– They have not, although I admit that some of the privileges enjoyed by Ministers have recently been swept away. Some of the regulations issued by the Executive have a’ very important bearing upon the customs and postal departments. Take for instance, the regulations issued the other day in connexion with the Post and Telegraph Act. If any honorable member had thought it necessary to comment upon them, or to show reasons why they should not come-, into force, the press would have been charged double rates for the transmission.. of his views.
– So they would for anyMinisterial defence of- them.
– It seems to methat it is most unfair to discriminate between the character of the matter transmitted. The only equitable method which can be adopted is to allow all press telegrams to be despatched at a uniform rate. I feel strongly upon this matter, and I am sorry that the Government have broken the arrangement which was entered into with this’ side of the House. The House met at eleven o’clock this morning so that honorable members from other States might be enabled to return home this afternoon.
– We have kept our promise. The understanding was that the Bill should., be passed.
– We have been, caught napping once, and we shall be very wary in future.
Sir WILLIAM MCMILLAN (Wentworth). - No doubt there is a great deal in the contention of the honorable member for Macquarie. It frequently happens that election speeches and addresses delivered upon the public platform are just as important as are Executive proceedings. It is of no use to press the matter now, if the Government do not intend to take it into consideration. We must keep within the terms prescribed by the Government, or make them as extensive as possible, so as to include everything connected with the Federal Government, Parliament, or Ministers in any part of Australia. This is a difficult matter, but it is one which can be revived in the future.
Sir MALCOLM MCEACHARN (Melbourne). - A little time ago we had a long discussion about placing the town and the country on the same footing, arid I regard the proposal before us as involving an analogous question. Why should there be this great difference made between one State and the rest of the States 1 I do not say that all the States can be put on exactly the same footing, but it is only reasonable that the charge should be altered from 3s. to 3s. 3d.
– That is another point.
– There are many matters of even greater importance than the proceedings of the Commonwealth Parliament or Ministers, and all press telegrams should be treated alike. I have not been spoken to on this question by any one, so that no pressure has been exercised on me. The proposal of the honorable member for Wentworth is one which the Government should take into consideration.
Mr. WATSON (Bland). - I trust the ‘Government will consider the advisability of altering the definition of the Commonwealth or Parliamentary news which may be sent at the reduced rate. It will be difficult to prevent news of every description, without reference to its source, from going through if the definition be widened. It would be well if any news concerning the Commonwealth or the Commonwealth Parliament could be sent as cheaply as possible to every part of Australia. People in distant States are, in this connexion, at a considerable disadvantage, because, in addition to Parliamentary proceedings, there is much other news of interest and importance. The Government ought to. endeavour to make a definition which will be sufficiently wide, but which will not allow the transmission of news having no relation to Commonwealth affairs at the ^cheaper rate.
Mr. FOWLER (Perth).- There is a distinct hardship in the definition we are asked to adopt.
– The insertion of the word “ political “ would meet the case.
– I do not care what words are used, so long as greater facilities are afforded for sending important information from the seat of Government to places like Western Australia. There are many matters in connexion with my own State which I should like to see reported in the Western Australian newspapers, but their publication is prevented by the prohibitive telegraph rates. For instance, the report on the immigration of Italians is of great interest to the people of Western Australia, and yet, under present arrangements, they must wait until it can be sent by post. A considerable part of the work of a member of Parliament is done outside the Chamber, but there is no possibility of letting my electors know what is going on unless I take improper advantage of the concession afforded to members in respect of their own telegrams. That improper advantage I do not take, and, as a result, only the most meagre and late reports appear in the metropolitan newspapers pf Western Australia. I do not blame the newspapers, which are not so wealthy as to be able to afford 4s. 6d. per 100 words for news of the kind. I do not think there would be any great loss of revenue if the concession were made a little more liberal, and in view of the importance of giving the people as much information as is available, I hope the Government will expand the definition.
– I am willing to expand the heading of the third column of the schedule in order to embrace practically all facts and matters relating to the Commonwealth. I move -
That the heading to the third column be omitted, and the following inserted in lieu thereof : - ‘ ‘ Relating to Parliamentary, Executive, departmental, and other Commonwealth proceedings as may be prescribed.”
Parliament has control over the regulations, and will thus be placed in a position to say what news shall be included.
– I understand that if any injustice be done it may be brought under the notice of the Government and the regulations altered.
– I am prepared to accept the amendment proposed by the Acting Prime Minister.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Sir Philip Fysh) agreed to-
That the following words be added to the’ schedule : - “ On telegrams from and to Tasmania the charges to be those mentioned above, with cable charges added.”
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Resolved (on motion by Sir Philip Fysh) -
That the standing orders be suspended so as to allow the Bill to be passed through its remaining stages this day.
Bill read a third time.
Resolved (motion by Mr. Deakin) -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday next.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
. Should the Customs Tariff Bill be sent from the Senate, the consideration of the message of that Chamber will be the first business. Should the Customs Tariff Bill not arrive, we shall take the Bonus Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.57 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 August 1902, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020828_reps_1_12/>.