2nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
; Report (No. 7) presented by Sir JohnQuick, read by the Clerk, and agreed. to.
-r-On Tuesday, when the Defence Estimates were under discussion, I referred to a matter affecting the making- of a special grant to the Borough of Queenscliff for a road used by the Ordnance Department, and the Prime Minister promised to give me an answer on the subject to-day.
– I am sorry that in the multiplicity of my duties I have overlooked the matter,’ but I have not changed my mind with regard to what I consider the fairness of the claim.. I will go through the papers, and deal with the matter. At the most it is a very small thing, and I hope to be able to satisfy the honorable and learned member.
– Are the arrangements with Messrs. Burris, Philp, and Company, with reference to the proposed South Pacific mail service, likely to be completed at an early date? Is the service to commence on the 1 st January next?
– The .Government have refrained from committing the Commonwealth to the proposed service until the money required for if has been voted by Parliament: The amount is included in the Estimates of the Department of External Affairs, so that the expenditure has not yet been finally agreed to, even by this House. However, everything is (‘ready for concluding the arrangements directly Parliament has voted the necessary money. I cannot say at what date the service will begin, because we shall have .to come to an agreement with the company on that point after the money lias been voted.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral give some . information about the appointment of Mr. Woodrow, late postmaster at Bunbury, to a position on the inspectorial staff?
- Mr. Woodrow was appointed acting-inspector for three months, on the recommendation of the Deputy Postmaster-General -in Western Australia, who considered, him the best man available at the time.
– ‘.Does the appointment give him a right to a permanent appointment later on?
– He is the best man we have got over .there.
– When will the full text of the judgment of the High Court in the recent income-tax case be available to honorable members?
– I gave instructions for’ a copy of the report to be obtained, but we have not yet received it. I do not know the reason of the delay, but it does not He with me. I will address to the Associate to the Chief Justice an urgent request for a copy.
– Will the judgment be printed and circulated amongst honorable members of both Houses?
– There will be no objection to having it printed and distributed to honorable members.
– Has the.. PostmasterGeneral yet received the information for which I asked some time ago regarding the revenue and expenditure of the Queensland Post and Telegraph Department, prior to and subsequent to Federation? Unless that information is obtained before the PostmasterGeneral’s estimates have been dealt with, it will be comparatively valueless.
– I have asked for the information to be obtained, but I have found it difficult to get accurate figures. I hope to place some particulars on the subject before honorable members to-night.
– Has the Prime Minister yet obtained an opinion concerning the representation of Queensland in this House, about which I asked him the other day ?
– The Minister of Home Affairs has furnished me with the papers, and I have passed them on to the AttorneyGeneral, with previous opinions given on the subject, inviting him to give his opinion.
– I desire to read some extracts from a letter upon which I intend to ask the Minister of Home Affairs a question. The writer says -
You may remember the last time I called on you I said persons registered for temporary employment were not called in their turn, and you doubted it. I wish now to mention two cases. A man named Millard, a returned soldier, had six months in the G.P.O. and re-registered in July, three months later than I, and he is now at the top of the list, or in the Department again, while I stand number 66.
The writer goes on to refer to another case, and he says -
I asked at the Registrar’s office if a man was called as he stood on the register, and was told the Department reserved to itself the right to call on any man, irrespective of numbers.
Is it the practice of the Department to choose persons for temporary employment, irrespective of their position on the register, or are such persons taken in order?
– I know nothing of the particular cases to which the honorable and learned member alludes, but with regard to the general question, it is the practice of the Department to take applicants in their order on the register; of course, having regard to their qualifications and experience, and the nature of the work in which they are to be employed.
– I wish to know, for the information of honorable members generally, ‘ under what authority, standing order, or accepted practice, the very valuable paper issued by the honorable member for Kooyong on the subject of the consolidation of the debts of the States, was printed andmade a paper of the House. I should like to know what the practice is in these matters.
– There is no authority or practice warranting the distribution, as a paper of the House, of any paper prepared by an honorable member, unless it has been laid upon the table, and the printing of it has been authorized by the Printing Committee. Reference was made to this matter a week or ten days ago, when the honorable member for Kooyong stated that he himself was responsible for the cost of printing the document.
– That is so.
– It has since been laid upon the table by the Treasurer, and made a document of the House.
– I desire to ask you; Mr. Speaker; whether, in view’ of the information you have given to. the honorable member for South Sydney, it will be permissible for honorable members to issue papers without the sanction of the House, and subsequently have them presented as official papers?
– Since I gave the in- . formation asked for a few minutes ago, I have learned that the Printing Committee have not authorized the printing of the paper in question. If I am correctly informed upon that point, the answer given by the honorable member for Kooyong would cover the whole case. No practice has been established which would justify the course indicated by the honorable member’s question.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the statement of the Honorable Angus Gibson, a member of the Legislative Council of Queensland, published in to-day’s Argus, commenting on the delay of the Ministry in declaring their policy in regard to the sugar bounties, and suggesting that something should be done to quicken the perception <5f those who have the destiny of Queensland in their hands? Will he take the subject into consideration, and make a statement in regard to it before the session closes ?
– I have read the paragraph referred to, though my attention has not been officially directed to it. According .to my recollection, the statement was to the effect mentioned by the honorable member. It does not, however, require any observations from a member of the Legislative Council of Queensland .to quicken our sense of our responsibility, or to strengthen our desire to come to a decision on this matter as soon as possible, because we know its great urgency in the interests of the people of Queensland, and of Australia generally.
– Has the Minister of Trade and Customs communicated with the Customs’ officer at Wentworth in reference to the amount of duty paid there under protest on a portable engine? If so, has he received any reply, and what is the nature of it?
– I gave instructions for inquiries to be made into that, and two or three other matters which were referred to ‘during the discussion of the Estimates of the Department, but I have not yet received replies. When I receive a reply, I will let the honorable member know.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether he has received any communication from the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies, with reference to the tenders for the carriage of the English mails, containing any explanation either with reference to their refraining from tendering, or having asked for an increased amount. If so, will he present the papers to the House for the information of honorable -members?
– I have not received any official document containing information such as that indicated. I understand, however, that a letter was sent to the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, when he was Prime Minister, and was supplemented afterwards by a memorandum stating that the Orient Company was not being conducted at a profit, and that, therefore, it was necessary for them to ask for an increased price for the carriage of the mails. The Peninsular and Oriental Company did not tender.
– Will the tender of the Orient Company be presented to the House ?
– I have no objection to lay the papers on the table. I propose, to give honorable members some information with regard to the mail contracts this evening.
– I understand- that three requests have been made for an extension of the period over which bounties are to be paid for the production of sugar by means of white labour; further, that the first application was for an extension of three years, the next for five years, and the third for ten years. I wish to know whether any of these requests was accompanied by a suggestion that the excise duty should be maintained or increased?
– I am sorry to say that in the absence of the papers I am unable to give a definite reply. I shall call for the papers, and if the honorable and learned member repeats his question to-morrow, I shall be glad to answer it.
– I desire to ask the Minister of Home Affairs whether it is the intention of the Electoral Department to arrange for holding Revision Courts as soon as the compilation of the rolls is completed, or whether it is proposed to wait until the rolls are printed, in anticipation of a redistribution of seats.
– I think the honorable member will see that, unless we were compelled to do so, owing to the prospect of an election in the near future, it would be absolutely undesirable to revise and print the rolls upon the present distribution of seats, and afterwards proceed with a redistribution of the seats, if the lists showed that to be required.
– How could the Department ascertain that a redistribution was necessary, unless Revision ‘ Courts were held?
– The lists will be checked as far as possible with the old rolls and ‘the information in the Department, and I have no doubt that they will be sufficiently accurate - as the lists- collected on the former occasion were considered - to guide us approximately, at any rate, as to the number of electors within each electorate. Therefore, it would be undesirable to incur the very heavy expense of printing the rolls, which would prove to be wasteful, if a redistribution afterwards had to take place.
– I desire to ask the Minister of Home Affairs a* question, which arises out of the answer given to the honorable member for Yarra. Is it the intention of .the Minister to take steps for a redistribution of seats in the various States, and, if so, how soon?
– If, when the canvass made by the police is complete in all’ the States, it is found that the discrepancies in the numbers of electors are far larger than are sanctioned by the Act, it will be the duty of the Ministry, in my opinion, to take steps to appoint Commissioners in the States where the discrepancies occur, in order that a scheme of redistribution may be prepared and placed before Parliament at the earliest date possible in the following session.
– I desire to ask the Minister whether, in view of the fact that no rolls are to be printed, any provision will be made to enable electors to ascertain whether or not their names are on .the roll. Mistakes are frequently made in the process of collecting the roll, and I wish to know how these are to be made known to the electors.
– I may point out to the honorable member that, unless an election were anticipated at an early date, even the Revision Courts would afford no guarantee that the rolls were complete.
– But in the ordinary course, the rolls are posted up for the scrutiny of electors.
– We know how careless electors are about ascertaining whether or hot their names are on the roll when they do not anticipate’ an election. I would point out also that when the previous distribution was made, the canvass made by the police was considered to afford a sufficient basis for that work. Furthermore, the general experience shows that when a canvass is carefully made. - as in the present instance - it results in the collection of a more complete roll than can be secured by any other method. Therefore, I think the lists will afford a sufficient indication of the numbers of electors iri each division.
– I did not quite catch one of the replies made by the Minister. I should like to know whether it is the policy of the Department not to hold Revision Courts at fixed periods each year? I mention this in view’ of the necessity of having some means whereby electors who object to certain names remaining on the roll can state their case before the tribunal provided for under the Act.
– I expressed no intention to ignore the necessity for holding Revision Courts, as provided for under the Act. Revision Courts will have to be held from time to time ; but first of all, I think it is desirable, especially on the plea of economy, to define the electorates for which the rolls have to be prepared, and for which the Revision Courts will have to be held. The object of the questions which have been addressed to me has been to ascertain whether there is to be a revision held in connexion with the rolls for the present divisions, prior to the printing of the rolls for the whole of the Commonwealth, or whether an attempt will first be made to re-distribute the seats.
– I am sorry to have to press for a reply to my question. I wish to know what provision is being made to enable electors to ascertain whether or not their names are on the roll - whether they have been struck off, as has frequently happened ?
– I thought I had made very clear my present intentions in the matter. Electors can at any time go to the electoral officers and ascertain if their names are on the lists.
– I desire to ask a question with regard to one point upon which the Minister has furnished only a partial reply. When I was Minister of Home Affairs, the great difficulty experienced in the Department arose from the fact that electors would not take the trouble to ascertain whether their names were on the roll. It was found desirable to issue provisional lists, which were made as complete as possible, and displayed at every post-office or other public office in the Com. mon wealth. By this means a great many names which otherwise would have been omitted from the rolls, were included. I desire to ask whether some such course will be taken upon the present occasion ?
– When the lists are completed, every means will be adopted to ascertain whether they include the whole of the electors. In view of the fact that the seats in certain States are likely to be re-distributed, the printing of the rolls at present would involve a waste of money. Any course that has been found of assistance in the past in completing the rolls will be again followed.
– The Minister of Home Affairs has suggested that a redistribution of seats may be necessary in some cases. I desire to ask him whether, in the event of its being found that Queensland is entitled to an extra member, it will not be found necessary to have a redistribution of seats through the Commonwealth.
– I think I have already informed the honorable member, in reply to a question on a previous occasion, that that matter would be inquired into. The honorable member has also been informed that the Prime Minister has referred the question to the AttorneyGeneral. Undoubtedly that is one of the questions involved in the redistribution, and before any action is taken it will have to be considered.
– I desire to ask the Minister whether the police have not, in many cases, reported that certain electors have “ left the district,” and that the Electoral Registrar has returned such electors as having “ left the division.” In a great number of cases, the electors so dealt with have not left the division, but have simply left the police district in which they were formerly residing. A number of cases of this kind have come under my notice. I desire to know whether the Minister is aware of this, and whether he will take steps to have the lists checked again, with a view to insuring that no names shall be improperly omitted.
– I am not aware of any such’ cases as those indicated by the honorable member. At the same time I am prepared to believe that some errors have been made in the collections. If the honorable member will bring under my notice the particular cases to which he alludes, I shall have inquiries made.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether - if a settlement has been arrived at in regard to a refund of the duty which was paid by Mr. Sandford in respect of old rails or old iron - he has any objection to laying the papers upon the table of the House? I do not ask this question in any spirit of antagonism - I merely desire that all the facts in regard to what has taken place shall be made known.
– Does not that matter come within the purview of the Customs Department ?
– There will be no objection to laying the papers upon the table of the House.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows : - 1 and 2. When the salaries of telegraphic linemen in Western Australia were originally fixed, they were made to include the cost of travelling, and no allowance, therefore, was made by the State. The salaries of telephone linemen were not fixed upon the same basis, and in isolated instances where they travel an allowance is made. The Public Service Commissioner is considering, notwithstanding the arrangement referred to, whether actual expenses should not be allowed to the telegraphic linemen when absent from home at night.
– I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable, in the interests of the aged poor, that the Government should, without unnecessary delay, formulate a national scheme for the payment of old-age pensions, and that this motion, when carried, be an instruction to the Attorney-General to draft the necessary measure.
– I rise to a point of order. I desire to know whether the honorable member is in order in discussing a question which at the present time is under consideration by a Select Committee.
– There is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent our discussing a question, even though it may be under consideration in some other form by a Committee of the House.
– I do not imagine that it requires any lengthy argument to induce honorable mem- bers to support this motion, because they are already convinced of the desirableness of establishing a real system of old-age pensions. I doubt if there is one honorable member in this Chamber who is not absolutely in favour of this proposition. The question which we have to consider is chiefly one of Ways and means. How are we to raise the necessary money for the payment of old-age pensions? As honorable members are aware, under our Constitution the Commonwealth is empowered to retain only one-fourth of the total Customs revenue collected in the different States. The balance of three-fourths must be returned to them. This is a question which has puzzled the profoundest economic thinkers of England. The greatest statesmen of. the world are now endeavouring to find a solution of this problem.
– Who are they ?
– The Right Honorable Joseph Chamberlain is one of them. He has absolutely declared that he is unable to solve the problem. Similarly the great Commission, of which Lord Rothschild was a member, failed to find any solution of it. Notwithstanding that in proportion to its population there are more poor people in England than there are in any other country upon earth, up to the present time no relief to them has been forthcoming concept by way of charity. Our desire in this Commonwealth is to destroy the whole semblance of charity. Charity and pauperism must be absolutely abolished, and an old-age pension must be regarded in the nature of a salary for past services rendered to the people of Australia.
– There is a way of providing the necessary funds, but honorable members will not adopt it.
– I quite agree that if at the present time we attempted to impose direct taxation upon land there would be riots in Australia. Already some persons are talking of rebellion, in consequence of a recent decision by the High Court. I suppose it is because we have not a Jeff Davis or a Bob Tombs here. I hold that it. is for the statesmen of the Commonwealth - and in this Parliament we have some statesmen - to discover a solution of this great problem. The subject of oldnge pensions is not a new one. Such a system has obtained in Denmark for many years. . There, the highest pension paid to any single individual is£16 16s. per annum. I confess that I do not approve of the Danish system, because its operation is limited to the “ deserving poor.” Now I wish to know who constitute the “ deserving poor “ ?
– Neither the honorable member nor myself would come within that category.
– Is the honorable member a member of the Select Committee which is now inquiring into the question of old-age pensions?
– I am.
– It is a most unheardof thing for any honorable member to discuss a question which is under consideration by a Select Committee.
– In Denmark a sharpline of demarcation is drawn between the “ deserving” and the “ undeserving ‘ ‘ poor. I hold that there is no poor man upon this earth who is “ undeserving.” If he be poor, it is not because he loves to be poor, but because he has not been able to establish some monopoly to make him rich. That is one point which I specially wish to combat. It is the purest moonshine to talk about granting pensions only to the good man who has walked the path of Canaan all his life. It is not because an individual has walked along the opposite path that he is poor ? What is poverty ? In my opinion poverty is the social . and physical condition of individuals engendered by insufficient means of support, which must be supplied either by charity or by force in violation of law. One honorable member interjected just now that some men drink too much beer. If an individual does that, is he not one of the best contributors to the revenue of the Commonwealth ?
– The honorable member will lose a good many votes if he takes up that position.
– In discussing the question of the rights of the people, we. must not consider ourselves. Whether I, am returned to this House or not, will not make the slightest difference to me. If we establish a system of old-age pensions I shall be all right. But I wish to define the meaning of “deserving” and “undeserving.” Let me take the case of a man who has been unfortunate all his life.I hold that drink isa disease. Indeed, all vices are diseases, and the diseased man inocculates others. The State should establish hospitals for the cure of these diseases, and when men commit crimes they should be placed in these institutions, and treated by. the best physicians until they are cured. If drink be a disease, why should the man who all his life has made his mouth a funnel, and his stomach a receptacle for liquor, and who has thereby contributed to the revenue of this country, be deprived in his old age of a pension ? If there is one individual more than another who is entitled to an old-age pension it is the unfortunate man who, throughout his life, has made a beer barrel or swill tub of himself. That is why I claim that the State ought to take over the whole of the liquor traffic, as it has done in South Carolina and Russia. We should make it a State institution, and out of the profits derived from it we should be able to save from starvation in their old age those who have sacrificed themselves upon the altar of their country. My objection to the Danish system is that it provides pensions only for the deserving men and women. I do not wish anybody to understand that I desire the people of the Commonwealth to be other than good, honest, and sober citizens. But we have a duty to perform. We owe an obligation to our fellow men. It was laid down 2,000 years ago by the greatest moral teacher who ever appeared -upon this planet that the strong should bear the burdens of the weak. That is the duty of the Commonwealth. The individual who drinks to excess, or who destroys his constitution by any vice, is not a responsible agent, and it is the duty of the State to come to ‘his aid. In France a system obtains which is known as the “hospice.” There, homes have teen established in various country villages to which the poor are sent from all parts of France. In these institutions they are well cared for in their old age. Of course they are confined to a greater or less extent. They do not possess the liberty which is enjoyed in Australia by recipients of old-age pensions. They are under comparatively- little restraint, however, and their prospects are indeed bright, cheerful, and hopeful. If the old people are able-bodied they are compelled to work in the gardens. Should they fall ill, they are placed in the hospitals, where their needs are well attended to. In fact, these homes are conducted very much upon the lines of the State farm ‘system, which obtains in Some of the American States. Unfortunately, in America thev allow a contractor to take charge of the State farm, and while his treatment of the- old people is more or less kind and sympathetic, the fact remains that he has to make some little profit out of the undertaking. The average American does not like to do much unless he can secure a profit from his labour, and these contracts must give some return. The old-age institutions of New York are situate on Blackwell’s Island, where there is also a prison. The occupants of the homes are fairly well -cared for, but the objectionable feature of their treatment is that they are deprived of their liberty. In Germany they provide for the aged poor by means of an insurance system, and the employe’ and the employer must contribute a certain propotion to the insurance fund. That system, however, would not be suitable to Australia, because we have not a military police force. If an employé in Germany fails to give his usual contribution to the fund he may be followed by the police, arrested, taken before a Court, and compelled to pay. In a British community such a thing would not be tolerated.
– A small sum could be deducted from a man’s weekly .wages.
– That is so, but if an employe in Germany fails to pay his usual contribution he may be followed and arrested. They have also an elaborate system by which a man out of employment may be traced to any part of the country and forced to pay. I do not think that the German system would work in Australia. I have made a careful examination of the various systems in operation in the world, and have come to the conclusion that the best two are those of New South Wales and New Zealand. They are the most up-to-date to which we can point. I am sorry that in the matter of the care of the aged poor the United States of America are thousands of years, behind. I regret to confess that under the trust system in vogue there, a man is of no use after reaching the age of forty-five years. He is thrust aside, just as old machinery on the mining field is discarded. Thar practice must prevail wherever capital dominates the country. Where capital aand labour are not equal, there is always the I danger of the capitalistic power doing as it pleases. I shall not further discuss the American system, because I do not Mink much of it : but I would remind the House that even in Iceland the aged poor aTe cared for. The people there are numbered ve. ry y vear, and a” the noor are distributed among the homes of the rich, who have to contribute towards their maintenance. That is a better state of affairs than prevails even in Great Britain, for there we have in force no system of caring for the poor. In Holland, the municipalities look after the aged and destitute, and no one can starve. There is also a system in force in Sweden, while in Austria, under Joseph II., a system of old-age pensions was established under which no man who has lived in the country up to the age of sixty years incurs any risk of starving. The one ‘country which boasts of its civilization - the mother of the English-speaking race, and the mother of Parliaments - has yet failed to do anything for her aged poor. A great many conferences on the subject have been held in England, and I have before me the report of Lord Rothschild’s Committee. Three schemes were submitted to its consideration - Hardy’s, Booth’s, and Chamberlain’s schemes - and the Committee reported -
The Committee also reported that -
They had gone through the evidence, and report of the previous Royal Commission on the aged poor, and had examined and considered more than a hundred schemes, but had been reluctantly forced to the conclusion that any one of them would certainly injure rather than serve the best interests of the industrial population. A plan originating from the Committee itself was that any person aged sixty-five who had an income of as. 6d. a week -
This has always been the curse of good old England. The people of Great Britain always start on the dollar. In this respect they are as bad as the Americans - but less than 5s. should have it made up to 5s., partly by the State and partly out of the rates. But it was estimated that this munificent assistance alone would swallow up ^3,250,000 yearly, without allowing anything for the necessarily heavy expense of distribution ; and it is urged that such a plan would encourage thrift -
What a remarkable hold the word “thrift “ has upon our people. They even dream of it at night - up to saving enough to produce 2s. 6d. per week, but discourage it beyond that point.
It will thus be seen that our good friends in great old England, which has bossed the earth for 1,000 years, talk about a man’s thrift to the extent of 2s. 6d. per week. A poor man in Australasia would think nothing of giving a half-crown to a beggar at his door, and yet we have this talk about discouraging thrift. The average worker, who has but a limited degree of employment, and has a large family to support, cannot make provision for his old age. It is absurd to suggest that’ he can. Working men cannot follow,, their usual employment on a wet, or a bad day. The clerk, the boss, and the manager are paid by the week, the month, or the year, but the one man who is paid by the hour is the labourer - the pick and shovel hand - and whenever there is a storm he has to knock off work and go home without pay. I do not think the average labourer in Australasia earns more than £60 a year. The men employed at the Mount Lyell mine for a while were better treated than are most working men, but I know that whenever a storm occurs they have to knock off work. Can any honorable member tell me how a poor man earning 5s., 6s., or 7s. per day, and having eight or ten mouths to fill, can make provision for his old age when we are starving on £400 a year? It is ridiculous to think that he can.
– Hear, hear.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member say “ Hear, hear.” I believe that if it were necessary he would contribute half his income to an old-age pension system. A few days ago the Select Committee on Old-age Pensions took the evidence of Mr. McLean, the Government statistician of Victoria, and I intended to submit the details of it to the House, but found that it was not available. It seems that we are dependent upon the Victorian Government for a copy of *a certain report used by him, and I did not feel like prostrating myself in this twentieth century to anybody in order to obtain one. I intend, however, to place before the House, some interesting figures compiled by Mr. Johnston, the Government statistician of Tasmania. Throughout the Commonwealth Federal Convention Mr. Johnston and Mr. Coghlan were often quoted, and were recognised as two of the ablest statisticians in Australasia. If my memory serves me right, Mr. McLean stated that the old-age pension system of Victoria involves an annual expenditure of ^205,150 13s. 7d., while that of New South Wales is- responsible for an annual expenditure of .£512,045, making a total for the two States of .-£717,195 13s. 7d. It is estimated by Mr. Johnston that the number of persons over sixty-five years of age in the different States is as follow : - New South Wales, 48,207 ; Victoria, 66,303 ; Queensland, 13,335 i South Australia, 15,034; Western Australia, 3,851; and Tasmania, 7,207. Mr. Johnston estimates that a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions, based on the New Zealand Act, would cost .£1,045,950 per annum. Under the Victorian Act rife annual expenditure would be £566,751 ; while under the New South Wales Act it would be £1,520,200. The total number of persons in all the Commonwealth who are eligible to accept pensions, according to Mr. Johnston, is 153,937- Mr. Johnston says that a Commonwealth pension would cost £1.045,950 a year. The States Governments of New South Wales and Victoria are now paying £717,195 a year, and, deducting that amount, it leaves £328,755 to meet the requirements of the other States.
– But if the New Zealand system were followed, some pensions which are now paid in New South Wales would not be granted.
– Some of them would be lower. I am putting forward only a tentative proposition, to show what can be done. We must be very careful as to what we do under the Braddon blot provision, because if we impose Customs taxation, three-fourths of the revenue collected under it must be ‘returned to the States. Vow, although I am a strong believer in a progressive or graduated land tax, with an exemption of £2,000, I know that it is not popular.
– Then the honorable member is not a democrat.
– I am a democrat, and I was probably the only man who fought the last election on democratic lines. At the same time, I do not wish to force my views down other people’s throats. I desire to arrive at my goal by the easiest route. I suggest that the Prime Minister should enter into negotiations with the Premiers of the States, with a view to procuring the passing of States Acts authorizing the Commonwealth Treasurer to retain the full amount of revenue raised by special Customs taxation for the purpose of providing for Commonwealth old-age pensions. If that were done. I should be willing to vote for the impostion of duties on tea and kerosene, which would provide a large part of the money required.
– It would be better to go on to the race-courses and football fields, and into the theatres.
– I would also impose a tax of 6d. a quart on champagne, so that, without hurting the revenue, the rich man would be compelled to contribute to the pension fund, without knowing that he was doing so. I would also slightly increase the dutv on silks. Pitt once said, “ Tax them indirectly, and they will pay,” and England never produced a . greater statesman than he.
– Why not place a tax on Tattersalls sweeps?
– We have no power over them.
– Has. the honorable member estimated what a tax of 6d. a quart on champagne would produce?
– Would it not be a. class tax?
– No, because it would not apply specifically to any class. The rich man is not forced to drink champagne; he may, drink beer. Every one would contribute to the revenue by means of the duties on tea and kerosene. Then, if a Commonwealth tobacco industry is started, the £600,000 a year profits which will be derived from it will enable us to reduce our special taxation, if we desire to do so. Do honorable members think that America, in Paving £40,000.000 a year to her old soldiers, is losing by it? The nation is getting richer every year. One never loses when he does justice. One loses only when he does injustice.
– The American war pensions constitute the biggest fraud in the United States.
– I saw it stated the other day in an American newspaper that the people of that country will not hear of the establishment of old-age pensions until the last soldier on the pension ‘list has died off, and that then national old-age pensions will be provided. Your children, Mr. Speaker, will live to see America paying the biggest pensions in the world.
– What pension does the honorable member propose that the Commonwealth should pav?
– I suggest that the New Zealand rates should be adopted. Victoria has not an old-age pen- sion system. I am not a proud man - I do not know what pride means ; but I would rather bury myself than draw the charity or pauper’s dole that Victoria gives in the name of an old-age pension. There are men in the destitute asylums of Australia who have been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. In the Adelaide Destitute Asylum, I understand, there is a man who, thirty years ago, was a squatter in South Australia, and could write his cheque for £100,000. Bad times and bad seasons broke him up.
– And bad management, perhaps.
– Very few Scotchmen are bad managers. When the honorable member for Fremantle, who presided over an old-age pensions commission, speaks on the subject, he will surprise honorable members. There are similar cases in New South Wales and in Tasmania. I have lent money to men who, when I came to Australia fifteen or sixteen years ago, could write their cheques for thousands of pounds. One such man died recently without enough to bury him. I mention these cases to show that old-age pensions are needed, not only for working men, but for men who have failed in the struggle for existence, or have been crushed out by monopolies. I am sincere in this matter. This is what Mr. Johnston says on the subject -
To illustrate the financial aspect of the question ot “ Old-Age Pensions,” so far as the Commonwealth Treasurer and Commonwealth Taxpayer are concerned, I have prepared a table for you, showing : -
The cost of the New South Wales scheme.
The cost of the Victorian scheme.
The cost of the New Zealand scheme.
From the experience of these States, as revealed in their latest statistics, valuable information is afforded as a guide to what may be expected to be the cost to the Commonwealth Treasurer, accordingly as the method adopted follows one or other of the three States referred to. Thus, if the method adopted followed that of New South Wales, I estimate that the immediate cost to the Commonwealth would be about £1,520,000 yearly ; if by Victorian method, which can only be regarded as an extension of the common “ out of door relief “ system, the cost annually would be about£566,751 ; by the New Zealand provision, the cost would be, approximately, £1,045,950. I am inclined to think the latter the more practicable form to both the pensioner of sixty-five years of age, and over, and to the general taxpayer. The Victorian restrictions make its pension provision too much of the nature of a charitable dole. I am strongly of opinion that an “ old-age pension “ scheme should be free from the taint of a charity. It should be regarded as a tontine system of insurance for old age. It is found to be the general experience that about 139 to158 per cent. of the total population would require to be supported by a pension after the age of sixty-five years. I have therefore made a calculation that all persons who have for the period of twenty-five years contributed to taxation for poor rates, a sum equal to1s.10d. per annum are fairly entitled to obtain a pension at the age of sixty-five, provided that their total income does not exceed with a pension the sum of £52 per annum, and that the maximum pension for one person, as in New South Wales, does not exceed £26 per annum. The expectation of life for a person sixty-five years old may be taken roundly as eleven years.
– What about aged couples?
– The New Zealand scheme provides for those. Mr. Johnston continues -
A sum of 15.32 pence per nead per year, paid as a tax for twenty-five years, should also, on the Tontine system, secure for the needy survivors a pension equal to that provided by New Zealand. These calculations of mine were based upon assuming interest at 3 per cent. It might be well to establish a special reserve fund for this purpose, to which annually would be credited the1s.10d. or1s. 5d. tax or premium per head, levied by way of charge on Customs and Excise.
– That is an insurance system.
– Yes ; Mr. Johnston is a man of many parts, and is giving us the benefit of his ideas. He continues -
This method would lift the pension scheme into a bond fide insurance, not tinged with the “ charity “ aspect, which would touch the tender susceptibilities of the better class of people.
I hope those figures and observations may be of service to you when touching upon this very important matter.
I have read this letter in order to show honorable members that there are other ‘ways of settling this question. I desire to read a few remarks uttered by Mr. Seddon, whom I regard as the greatest statesman in the Southern Hemisphere, so far as the old-age question is concerned. He has solved the problem. He says -
I said I should refer to what has been done in Victoria. The evidence tendered before that Committee enabled it to come to conclusions which, in effect, are as follows : -
Many who have borne the heat and burden of the day have to face want - more the result of want and insufficient remuneration than thriftlessness.
He there refers to the old-age pension system in Victoria, which is a charitable dole. The Commission in Victoria years ago recommended the payment of a reasonable and substantial old-age pension; but, unfortunately, matters were allowed to drift, and eventually Members of Parliament failed to take a sufficiently broad view of the question. It is a great mistake to say that any man is independent. No matter how much money he may be worth, no man can be independent. We are all interdependent. A man may have the wealth of a Rockefeller, and yet be dependent upon others to wait upon him. If they refused to render him that service he might as well be without a dollar. I would sooner be without a dollar and have the good-will of my fellow-men than possess the millions of Rockefeller, together with his reputation, conscience, and digestion. We all depend on each other. Interdependence promotes broadmindedness and universal toleration. A man may live in a palace, be an imposing abstraction, and contemplate his majestic greatness, but after all is said and done he is the same as the rest of us. When Pope said -
The proper study of mankind is man, his thoughts were the same as those which, thousands of years before, found expression in the Greek adage, “ Man, know thyself.” When we study ourselves and understand our own idiosyncrasies we have become acquainted with the whole human family. We have secured the master key that unlocks the treasury of human sympathy. When we read a book and laugh we know that the writer also laughed. When our eyes fill with tears we know that the tears of the author blotched the pages of his manuscript as he wrote. When Victor Hugo declared that there was not’ a single crime in the calendar that he might not have committed at some time, and when Rousseau elaborated in book form the records of his crimes, his follies, and “his vices, they illustrated the emphasis which the great Creator laid upon the mighty mysteries of the human brotherhood. In this great Commonwealth there are thousands of men, women, and children who never get enough to eat, who never have sufficient warmth, shelter, and raiment. Children by the thousand perish every year for want of proper nourishment and fresh air. Women are working daily in filthy sweating shops, or are driven by merciless poverty to the dark caverns of vice and immorality. We see men and women toiling morning, noon, and night, performing their heavy tasks, never laying on one side their terrible vokes and never far away from- the yawning pit of hopeless poverty. When we see all these things we must recognise that it is time that we woke up. and made provision for those who retire from the struggle for life, bent, and spent, only to totter, all broken in heart, mind and body, into the rubbish heap of Christian civilization - the pauper’s grave. Is it not time we came to their rescue? I trust that honorable members will awake- to a full realization of the responsibilities that rest on them.
– I have great pleasure in seconding the motion. The honorable member has treated us to a very able speech, and has concluded with an eloquent peroration such as we do not often have the pleasure of listening to. I judge from some of the interjections made during the honorable member’s opening remarks that some honorable members think that this question should not be brought before us at the present time. I hold a different view, and I hope that some practical result will be brought about. I have no doubt that the House will agree to the motion, because the necessity of making provision for the aged poor has been a plank in the platform of every Government which has held office in the Commonwealth.
– Who suggested that the matter should not come before us?
– I understood the honorable member to suggest that the motion was a little out of order, because the question of providing for old-age pensions had been, referred to a Select Committee.
– I said that it was unusual to discuss a matter in the House whilst it was under reference to a Select Committee.
– Perhaps it may be somewhat unusual, but the motion conveys an instruction to the Government to take certain steps in Advance. I think that the Government would be justified in entering into negotiations with the Governments of the two larger States of the Commonwealth, which already have old-age pension schemes in operation, in order to see how far arrangements could be made for the transfer of their administration to the Commonwealth. That is to say. thev should hand over some portion of their revenue to meet the demands of a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme, in which thev - equally with the other States - are interested. If we could obtain the consent of these two States to such a proposal, the additional sum required to cover the cost of such a system would be very materially lessened. In New South Wales the pension paid is a somewhat liberal one, and one which I should be inclined to favour. What we have to establish is the fact that it is within the ability of the Commonwealth to finance a system of old-age pensions. From that stand-point the honorable member for Darwin was justified in declaring that such a scheme would not involve the extravagant expenditure which is sometimes suggested. I am aware that in New South Wales and Victoria some of our most enterprising citizens have been disqualified from receiving an old-age pension because they have not continuously lived in either of those States for a sufficient length of time. I am not aware of the numerical strength of that class, but I claim that it represents a sufficient number to justify the statement that the matter is one of urgency. I am aware that some time ago the New South Wales Government communicated with the Victorian Government upon the subject, with a view to entering into an arrangement to deal with cases of that description. But owing to the reluctance of Victoria to incur any further liabilities, nothing tangible has resulted. Although the Government of this State have since had a surplus at their disposal, no provision has been made by them for granting this class of individuals a reasonable old-age allowance. I hold that the Commonwealth can deal with this matter in a better way than can the States. Although I am aware that honorable members are unanimously in favour of this motion, I wish it to be clearly understood that the allowance made should be distinctly in the nature of a pension, so that its recipients mayfeel that they are under no obligation to any one. We ought to pay pensions to our poor in the’ same way that we grant them to our Judges upon retirement from the Bench. The recipients should be made to feel that they have earned the pension by their contributions to the revenue. In spite of the unsettled conditions which are incidental to the development of new countries, Australians have shown that they are not a people who neglect to exercise what is known as “thrift.” Take the case of the friendly societies movement as an example. I find that there are 137 societies registered in the Commonwealth, with a membership roll of 270,825. Their accumulated funds amount to £2,800,000. Then, again, I find that, as regards life assurance, there are 414,296 policies in force, covering a risk of £108,123,705. It is evident, therefore, .that the masses of the people cannot be charged with neglecting to provide for contingencies in the shape of sickness, accident, or death. The above figures exclude the very large sum which is paid by various organizations into accident funds. In New South Wales the Miners’ Association alone has contributed £70,000 in this way. I entirely agree with ‘the honorable member for Darwin that there are no undeserving individuals in the community. We have to accept human nature as we find it. Whilst we may regret that a person should give way to influences which lower his character and reduce his stamina, the fact remains that every person is entitled to live under reasonably comfortable conditions. According to Coghlan, there are 14,000 persons in our hospitals for insane, and nearly an equal number in our benevolent asylums. The total annual provision made by Australians towards the support of the helpless and indigent, represents us. 6d. per head of its population. Consequently, we cannot be charged with having neglected to adopt humanitarian measures. In this Parliament we are called upon to devise the best method of consolidating some of these forms of relief, thereby easing the claims which are at present made on benevolent asylums, hospitals, and various other charitable institutions. I maintain that we can provide those who have attained a certain age with a pension, without materially adding to the burden which is at present borne by the community. The honorable member for Darwin spoke of some deserving individuals, who at one time were exceedingly wealthy, but for whose future some provision now requires to be made. I would remind honorable members that at the time of the bank crisis, many were ruined who had never anticipated the possibility of such a calamity. Many individuals who are poor to-day have been very wealthy. They had supposed themselves to be independent for the remainder of their lives. In new countries, however, the conditions which have produced these results always exist. The wealthy incur the risk of becoming poor, and the poor have an opportunity of becoming rich. I wish to consider this question purely from the stand-point of those who have built up the Commonwealth. and assisted in its development. My idea is that every person at sixty-five years of age -if not earlier - should be granted a pension. I think there is a good deal in what was said by Hobson in his Psychology of Jingoism -
In every nation which has proceeded far in modern industrialism, the prevalence of neurotic diseases attests the general nervous strain to which the population is subjected.
Under the extreme pressure of life to-day, decay and loss of power occur earlier than they would under normal conditions, so that sixty-five years of age may possibly be too high a limit to fix. However, it is not necessary to discuss the details to-day. I rose chiefly to emphasize the need which exists for making this question a live one. It is one of the leading planks in the platform of the Labour Party. I believe that there is work for the Government to perform during the coming recess. Let them enter into communication with the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria, with a view to ascertain if they cannot secure the consent of those States to deal with this matter early next session.
– The last speaker has expressed the hope that the Government would realize the necessity of dealing with this matter at an early date. I would point out that they have already evidenced their appreciation of its importance by assenting to the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into it, and that Committee, I understand, will shortly be converted into a Royal Commission. For four years the honorable member for Darwin has had this motion upon the business paper, and under ordinary circumstances I should be the last to postpone a vote being taken upon it. But, -in my judgment, to press this matter to a division upon the present occasion would be a distinct insult to the Select Committee which is at present inquiring into the subject.
– The Committee has been appointed to obtain the necessary information.
– The honorable member for Darwin has himself supplied the House with much information on the subject. I should like to remind honorable members that this is not a novel proposal. As far back as 1772 a Bill was passed by the House of Commons to provide for the assistance of the frugal and industrious in their old age. That measure was supported by Mr. Burke, Mr. Pryde, founder of the Equitable Society, and others,, but unfortunately it was rejected by the House of Lords. The honorable member for Darwin has clearly shown that we have dealt with the matter in a practical way in Australasia. The old-age pension system of New South Wales has been in force for about six years, and under it the State pays away nearly £600,000 per annum. I agree with the honorable member that the payment of a Commonwealth pension should not be confined to the necessitous poor, but that it should’ be a State pension in the true sense of the word. It is certainly undesirable that we should adopt the Victorian system, and pay out what maybe called a pauper’s dole. It has been said that old-age pensions should be paid only to the deserving poor, but I certainly do not like the use of the adjective. Many persons who are not considered to be deserving have contributed more to the revenue than have those who are admittedly worthy to receive assistance in their old age. By indulging in one or other of the vices of humanity, they have largely increased the revenue of the country.
– Does the honorable member say that they should therefore receive a higher pension?
– I do not say anything of the kind. Personally, I should like to draw the pension and become old afterwards; but in this matter we have not to study our own desires. I trust that the Government will never- agree to the adoption of the German system of providing for the aged poor. Under that scheme, the employers, employes, and the State contribute to a general insurance fund ; but, notwithstanding the despotic power exercised over the people it has not proved satisfactory. I feel confident that it could never be brought into successful operation in Australia. Here, many of our labourers are only intermittently employed, and it would be impossible for them, as well as for many of our female workers, to contribute out of their small weekly wage to such a fund. The investigations made years ago by Mr. Chamberlain, Earl Stanhope, and Mr. John Morley, showed that such a scheme would be impracticable It was calculated by Mr. Booth that State pensions for the necessitous poor of Great Britain would involve an annual expenditure of something like £18,000,000, and he suggested that £24,000,000 per annum, or £6,000,000 more than would be necessary for this purpose, might be raised by means of certain increases in the Income Tax. The honorable member for Darwin has suggested a means of raising the funds necessary for a Commonwealth system, and I have no doubt that the House will give his proposal serious consideration. It may be true that the system in operation in New South Wales is open to abuse, but to my mind, the only ground on which it can be justly attacked is that its administration is too costly. If the States systems were consolidated, the cost of administration would be materially reduced, and I think that the Commonwealth might wisely deal with the whole question. I should not like to see the House go to a vote on this motion this afternoon, because several of the members of the Select Committee on Old-age Pensions are absent, and to pass it would be to deliberately insult them.
– Another five minutes.
– I have known the honorable member to occupy far more time in dealing with questions in which he w-is interested than I have occupied in discussing the motion before the Chair. This is a matter in which I have always taken a deep interest, and surely I am not to be blamed for devoting special attention to it this afternoon. The Chairman of the Select Committee on old-age pensions, who has made this subject a life-long study, is absent, owing to ill-health, and I should not like him to learn to-morrow when he opens his newspaper that we have taken the matter out of the hands of the Committee by passing this motion. The honorable member for Gwydir poses as a philosopher when it suits him to do so, but there are occasions when he loses his head, just as does any other honorable member. I think that the honorable member for Darwin has made out an excellent case for the establishment of a Commonwealth system. Every one admits the necessity for such a scheme, but we have to consider, among other things, at what age a person should be entitled to receive a pension, and to what class of persons the pension should be confined. I was a member of a Select Committee appointed by the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, which dealt with this question some years ago, and which recommended a tax on amusements to provide the necessary funds.
– Is this the way in which the Government are showing that they favour the establishment of a Commonwealth system?
– The Government have shown that they are anxious to assist the movement by agreeing to the appointment of a Select Committee, and I have only to repeat that to pass this motion this afternoon would be to insult members of that body.
Debate interrupted under standing order ug.
– I move-
That the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill calls into exercise the powers conferred by section 51, paragraph xiv., of the Constitution, which provides that -
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to. . . .
Insurance other than State insurance ; also State insurance extending beyond the limits of the State concerned.
The measure purports to deal only with part of the law relating to life assurance. Life assurance generally has been dealt with by the legislation of the States, but the particular measure which I am submitting for the consideration of the House deals with a branch of life assurance which has not been regulated by any State Act. It deals with what is known as industrial’ life assurance, a class of assurance which is used almost entirely by the working classes, under which lives are assured for small amounts, the premiums being paid at weekly intervals to collectors, who go round from place to place to get the money. It is a form of assurance which has been brought into existence solely by the needs of the workers-. The Bill does not deal with all the branches of industrial life assurance”, but only with the assurance of the lives of children under the age of ten years. This class of business is, in Australia, not subject to any legal regulation, except for a regulation governing the action of Friendly Societies, to which I shall presently refer. In agreeing to the second reading, of the Bill, honorable members will be affirming the desirability of limiting the sum for which the lives of children under the age of ten years may be assured. This kind” of assurance is being successfully undertaken by several companies in Australia, most of the business being done by the Citizens’ Life .Assurance Company, but the Australian. Mutual Provident Society intends to take up the work, and desires the passage of the Bill, and the other societiesto which the measure has been submitted, and to which it will apply, also approve of the measure. The general practice is for persons of the poorer classes to insure the lives of their children for amounts of £7, £8, an(3 upwards, so that if the children die at an early, age, they will be able to provide for their burial. These insurances are prompted by motives which honorable members must applaud, since they spring from feelings of self-respect and honest pride. The average cost of a funeral is, I am informed, in Sydney about £4 10s., and in Melbourne, £5, and there are also incidental expenses for medicine, mourning, and so on. It has been felt, however, that if persons could assure the lives of children for unlimited amounts, assurances might be. taken out for improper purposes. The Pill provides a safeguard against that. It is based on English experience, and I think that I shall be able to show that the limitations which it imposes completely prevent anything improper from being done. Industrial life assurance originated- in England in 1854, when the Prudential Company took the matter in hand. In 1875 it spread to the United States, and in 1887 was established in Australia. The manner in which it has since1 extended, and the fact that it has been adopted by the leading nations of the world, shows that it meets a natural want, and the legislation of other places is a recognition of the fact that the business is a legitimate one. The number of policies in force in Great Britain and Ireland, according to the latest returns furnished by the Board of Trade is 22,518.046, covering assurances on lives of all ages, from that of the young child up to the person of seventy years. These policies are held by persons belonging to the working classes, and equal in number more than one-third of the population of Great Britain and Ireland, and they represent a value of £221,137,641. The United States, in adopting the system, followed the English example, and one large company took over from Great Britain about 2,000 officers, with their wives and families, in order to more nearly follow English methods. These are the latest official figures relating to that country : The .policies in force number T.4,603,426, and represent a value of £395,564,925. In Australia, the policies, number 312,143, and represent a value of .-£6.7 12,597- The “policies which coyer children in the United Kingdom number 4,000,000. Those figures relate, I think, to 1896. In the United States such policies number 2,500,000, and in Australia the number of policies exceeds 70,000, of which 50,000 are held by the Citizens’ Life Assurance Company.
– Do those figures relate to policies on the lives of children under the age of ten ?
– Yes. I may add that the American, as well as the English figures, are somewhat antiquated, though they are the latest I could procure. The Australian figures are from official returns, and could’, I think, be verified by reference to Cogh lan. The question of allowing assurances to be effected on the lives of children has been before the British public for a great many years. So far back as 1829 a Friendly Society’s Act was in force, which prevented minors from becoming members of such societies. In 1846, however, another Act was passed, limiting membership and insurance to those over the age of six years. The subject was investigated in 1849 by a Select Committee, and in 1850 it was enacted that friendly societies might assure children under the age of ten years for limited amounts, the payment to be made only to undertakers. That Act was repealed in 1855, when the British Parliament allowed the assurance to be increased to £6 for children up to the age of five years, and to £10 for children up to the age of ten years. In 1.875, assurance was again permitted, but it was enacted that the money should be paid to parents or personal representatives of parents only. In 1896 the matter was again the subject of legislation, and the law was re-enacted in the Friendly Societies Act of that year. Honorable members will see that the principle of permitting money to be paid upon the death of children, even from the time of birth up to the age of ten year.s, has become firmly embedded in the legislation of the United Kingdom. Therefore, we have a very safe precedent to proceed upon. We find, further, that the principle has been affirmed by the Parliaments of the States. In New South Wales and Queensland legislation,’ based upon principles the same as those in the Friendly Societies Act of i8g6, has been adopted, and I believe that a similar statute is in force in Western Australia. In Tasmania and Victoria, -money is permitted to be paid upon the death of children under ten years of age,’ but the principle of paying the undertaker is adhered to.- The question- of - permitting assurance companies- tq undertake ‘this business has from time to time been brought before Select Committees of the British Parliament, and has also been the subject of specific legislation. In 1890 or 1891 a Bill was introduced and referred to a Select Committee. The object of that measure was to accomplish the end held in view in connexion with the Bill now before us, namely, to limit the amount of money that might be paid over upon the death of a child. A Committee of the House of Lords sat. and investigated the whole question, and in 1 891 reported that the Bill should not be proceeded with: However, in 1896, an Act was passed, practically without any debate, whereby the principle was affirmed that assurance companies which undertook this particular class of business should be limited as to the amounts to be paid over.
– What is the reason for imposing limitations?
– I presume that their object was to prevent the possibility of parents, custodians, or guardians of children having a motive for their destruction. A good deal of evidence was adduced upon that point, and the argument based upon the presumption that the motive referred to might be brought into play was answered. I think it can be shown conclusively that no such evil existed in England. I do not believe that any such thing exists here. It was, however, regarded as a proper thing to limit the amount, in order to safeguard the lives of children. If the amount be limited there cannot be any motive for the destruction of child life. To prohibit the assurance of the lives of children, because such a motive might exist in some cases, would be nomore justifiable than to prohibit fire assurance because one or two cases of arson were recorded. At the same time, it is advisable to legislate to prevent persons from taking improper advantage of the system of assuring children’s lives.
– Can the honorable and learned member tell us anything with regard to the average amount for which children are now assured by the companies undertaking this particular class of business in Australia?
– There are 70,000 policies in existence, and they vary in amount according to the age of the child. An ascending scale, applying to each year of life, is adopted.
– The average amounts for which children’s lives are assured are less than those mentioned in the Bill.
– I have here a table showing the claims paid upon policies, as follows : -
These figures do not indicate the average amount for which the children’s lives are assured.
– No, but they are very useful as a guide.
– Yes ; they show that the companies are not assuring the lives for such large amounts as would furnish a motive for improper acts towards the children assured. The provisions of the Bill are as follow : - Clause 2 permits life assurance companies to contract to pay, upon the death of any child between the ages specified in the schedule, the amounts which are set out in the schedule. A limit is placed upon these amounts. At present the companies can insure the lives of children for an unlimited amount.
– Does the honorable and learned memberknowof any cases in which the lives of children have been assured for excessive amounts?
– No; so far as I am aware, there are no cases of that kind in Australia.
– I know of one case in which a child is insured for £2,000.
– Probably in that case the parent has an insurable interest in the life of the child. That would not be an instance of industrial assurance. Clause 2 is a permissive one, which allows contracts to be entered into for the assurance of children up to the amounts mentioned in the schedule.
– How would that clause affect provisions under a will in which a parent determines that his child shall be insured for a large amount ?
– The clause does not affect the cases of persons having an insurable interest in the life of a child. Following the English precedent, the case of a person having an insurable interest in the life of a child would notbe affected by the Bill. That is the general policy of the British law, and also of the laws of several other countries. The English Friendly Societies Act specially provides in section 67 -
Nothing in this Act respecting payments on the death of children shall apply to insuranceson the lives of children of any age, where the person insuring has an interest in the life of the person insured.
That is to say, it preserves the common law of England in reference to. the insurance of children.
– That would apply to the case of a parent. What would happen in the case of an executor?
– If there is an insurable interest it is preserved. The Bill follows the lines of the English legislation, by providing that the money can be paid only to a parent of the child, or to the person, representative of the parent, and that no money can be paid over except upon the production by the parent or his personal representative, of a certificate of death issued by the Registrar of Deaths in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. The provisions dealing with the issue of the certificate follow in detail the provisions of the English law. It is required that, upon the death of a child, the parent or his representative shall go to the Registrar and inform him of the amount for which the child is assured, and the company with which the assurance has been effected. Then the Registrar, upon issuing the certificate, has to indorse the amount of the assurance upon it. The Registrar is not to be permitted to issue certificates for amounts exceeding those mentioned in the schedule. No matter how many policies may have been issued, the total amount of the assurance cannot exceed the amount mentioned in the schedule. Then the duty is also cast upon the Registrar to decline to issue a certificate until he is absolutely satisfied as to the cause of death. He must require the production of the certificate of a coroner, or of the registered medical practitioner who attended the child during its illness, or a certificate indicating the probable cause of death, under the hand of a registered medical practitioner. Failing these he must have other satisfactory evidence.
– To what other satisfactory evidence does the honorable and learned member refer?
– Perhaps such evidence as might be produced in the case of accident, in connexion with which there might not have been an official inquiry. Before the Registrar is allowed to issue a certificate, he must have satisfactory evidence of death.”
– Perhaps that evidence might take the form of a certificate, given by a Justice of the Peace.
– I may tell the honorable member that this particular provision has stood the test of British experience for some years. This clause is simply a reenactment of the provision in the British law. I would remind the honorable member that, in the case of poor people, the obligation to obtain a medical certificate would probably involve extra expense. The Bill makes it penal for assurance companies to pay over moneys otherwise than as provided in the Bill, and provides for the punishment of persons presenting false certificates of death, or producing certificates other than those provided for. Other clauses relate to the facilities which are to be afforded for proceeding against the companies. Contracts made by persons who have insurable interests are exempted from the operation of the Bill, as also are contracts for the payment of a stipulated sum, by way of advancement, upon a child reaching a certain age, or contingent upon certain events. In the latter class of cases, if death takes place before the child reaches the stipulated age, the assurer can claim payment of only the premiums, plus interest.
– Does the honorable and learned member say that this Bill has the approval of the societies carrying on this class of business?
– Yes; it has been approved by the Australian Mutual Provident Society, and also by the other leading societies of Australia.
– By the Citizens’ Life Assurance Society?
– Yes. The Legislatures which have dealt with this subject have based their tables upon the experience gained in the carrying on of the business of industrial assurance. The Bill, I think, will commend itself . to honorable members, and I shall, therefore, content myself by moving its second reading.
Mr. REID (East Sydney- Minister of
External Affairs). - I very cordially support this measure. I suppose the fact that I am a director in one of the leading life assurance societies will not disqualify me from taking a part in these proceedings, because, as honorable members are aware, those societies which are not of a proprietary character exist only for the benefit of the persons assured in them. This particular branch of assurance is not in a satisfactory state in Australia at the present time. It is practised to some extent, but there is no legal basis for it. The experience in the mother country, and in America, has been productive of so much good, and the volume of assurance business has grown so enormously, that I think we may safely support this measure. The very fact that business has so rapidly increased, shows that it supplies a public want, and I imagine that it will be under right auspices if it be placed under the direction of the great assurance societies in our midst. More than one of the leading assurance companies have approached me with a request that I should use my influence to get this Bill passed as speedily as possible. I had no hesitation whatever in giving that undertaking. In supporting the Bill, I must express the hope that the House will be able to see its way to place it upon the statute-book this session.
– What is the reason for it?
– It is intended to add a useful feature to the scope of assurance operations - a feature which will be of service to the general community, and especially to the poorer classes.
– As honorable members are aware, I have taken a very great interest in the Question of State life assurance, and it might, therefore, be supposed that I am an opponent of this measure. But, as I have stated upon more than one occasion, it seems to me that the State cannot very well undertake industrial life assurance as generally conducted at present. However, we are not called upon to discuss that issue in connexion with this Bill. As the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs has very properly pointed out, at the present time there are no regulations affecting industrial life assurance, and therefore I welcome a proposal, which, though it does not absolutely prevent assurances being effected upon the lives of children, surrounds the practice with wholesome conditions under Act of Par liament. Under these circumstances, I am a supporter of the Bill, and I trust that it may shortly become law.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).When I asked what was the reason for the introduction of this Bill, I was ignorant of the motive of its author. There is nothing upon the surface of the measure to indicate the evil it proposes to cure. If the only reason for its introduction be that which has been furnished by the honorable and learned member, I think that his statement in reply to an interjection by the honorable member for Bourke absolutely cuts the ground from under his feet. If, as is affirmed, the average of the assurances now in force is less than that contemplated by this Bill, there is no need for its introduction.
– There might be individual instances in which the amount of the assurances effected is very much higher.
– That may be so. Any man who is acting as the guardian of a child would very naturally desire to assure its life for as large a sum as he could afford in order to provide for its future.
– The Bill does not affect that.
– I am glad to have that assurance. If the Bill merely contemplates validating the business which is now being done, and placing proposals of that character upon a better footing, it constitutes a useful piece of legislation, which we might very well accept.
– I congratulate the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs upon having introduced this Bill to the notice of the House, and I congratulate honorable members generally upon having some practical work to which they can turn their attention. I am aware that the best way in which we can assist in passing this measure is by refraining from too much talk, because, unless it be passed through all its stages before half-past six o’clock I understand that it will probably have to stand over until next session. The first object of the Bill is to place the question of child assurance upon a sounder footing. At the present time various companies undertake this class of assurance, but in doing so they incur a certain risk, because there is a doubt as to whether the contracts are valid. This Bill will validate them, and will limit the assurance of children to sound assurance societies. Probably honorable members are aware that in America assurance has frequently been undertaken by» companies which were in anything but a stable financial position, with the result that many families have been ruined. This measure will remedy abuses of that sort. It constitutes a move iti the right direction, because it will be the pennies of the poor which will be paid under its operation. The measure also limits the amount of the assurance which may be effected. Whilst that amount is lower than that which is fixed in the Bill at the present time, companies are not prevented from incurring larger risks if they choose to do so. This Bill will prevent that. I have no doubt that industrial assurance will be the assurance of the future. The days of large assurances are past. I trust that before long the whole question of assurance will be taken over by the Commonwealth. Certainly, this House should encourage the system of life assurance, which probably exercises one of the most beneficent influences of modern times. I hope that the Bill will be passed through all its stages tonight.
– I merely wish to say that this measure will command my support. I thoroughly approve of its main principles. At the same time, if I had my way, I should prohibit the assurance of any child under six years of age. It is all very well to declare that assurance should be encouraged, and that the pennies of the poor are of importance, but, in my judgment, the lives of the children of the Commonwealth are of very much greater importance. There is no doubt that in the old country infanticide is exceedingly common, and that it is encouraged by the system of infantile assurance.
– Undoubtedly it is.
– I am very glad to have the support of another member of the medical profession, who, doubtless, speaks from experience. To my mind, this is a very serious matter. Having lived for some years in the slums of one of the largest cities in the old country, I have seen a good deal of sickness amongst infants, and I have also witnessed the results of effecting assurances upon the lives of children. The reason why we should be so careful in allowing the lives of children to be assured is that infanticide is exceedingly difficult to prove. There are so many ways in which children of tender years can be murdered by inhuman parents that it is our duty to guard their lives by every means in our power. In England children are frequently taken to the hospitals dead, and a story is told by the mothers that they have been overlain during the night. But what is easier than for a depraved woman to put her hand over a child’s mouth and to stop its breathing ? Another means of destroying infantile life which is often adopted is to give the child a little piece of chamois leather to suck. It is first dipped in water, and sweetened with sugar. When the child has sucked this into its windpipe and has ceased to breathe, the piece of leather is withdrawn. Still another way in which it is possible for children to be killed is by wilful neglect on the part of their parents.
– Is it not rather dangerous to publish widely these methods of inflicting fatal injuries upon children? I question the wisdom of it.
– I remember one case in England in which a child, suffering from measles, was brought to a hospital in the depth of winter. The boy was sent home, and its mother was instructed that he was to be kept in a warm room. Unfortunately the lad died. Upon visiting the house the following day, I was surprised to see a very merry feast, in the form of a wake, in progress. A handsome coffin had been provided, with a silver plate upon it, and the house was full of drunken people. This feast was being paid for out of the assurance money received . upon the life of the child. That happened in Liverpool. During the week another child belonging to the same parent was taken ill. The mother was instructed to take very great care of it. But on again visiting the house I found the child sitting upon the doorstep in a foot of snow. Two days afterwards it died. Such facts point to the necessity for a Bill of this description. There is just one other point to which I should like to direct attention. The Bill provides that the proof of death shall be either the certificate of the coroner or that of a medical man, or “ other satisfactory evidence.” In my opinion the words “other satisfactory evidence “ cover a very wide area. In Australia cases are very common in t which deaths are entered by the Registrar as uncertified deaths. I know of one instance in which a man was treated by an unqualified practitioner. When he died, no certificate of death was forthcoming. The practitioner, however, had a cousin who was a justice of the peace, and the latter came along and declared that everything was all right. Consequently the man was buried, and no trouble occurred. I fail to see the necessity for assuring the lives of childrenbelow five or six years of age. In the event of a child under the control of the State dying, I would point out that very complete proof of the cause of death is required. In my judgment, similar proof should be forthcoming in cases of children upon whose lives assurances have been effected. I am only sorry that a more experienced and abler member than I am is not prepared to take up the cudgels on behalf of these children. There are honorable members who are more competent to deal with the question than I am, and I should certainly like to hear them address themselves to it.
– I do not like to interrupt the apparent concensus of opinion in favour of the Bill, and do not intend to delay its passing into Committee, but there are one or two points to which I think it desirable to direct attention. I regret that, in addition to sending copies of the Bill to the life assurance companies, the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs did not send one to the Law Institute, because it seems to me that in certain respects the Bill might be dangerous to particular interests. Its value, to my mind, is rendered nugatory by clause 5, which provides that it shall not apply to any insurable interest. At the present time a life assurance company need not pay moneys due under a policy, unless that policy expresses an insurable interest, so that the Bill really provides that a life assurance company shall not pay what at present it need not pay. There is always an implied insurable interest in every life assurance company’s policy.
– Do not some of the companies issue an unchallengeable policy ?
– I do not think so; I believe that my statement of the law is absolutely correct.
– But at present a parent would have an insurable interest in his child’s life.
– That is so.
– This is a limitation.
– No; clause 5 provides that-
Nothing in this Act shall apply -
To any insurance on the life of a child of any age when the person insuring has an interest in the life of the person insured.
– But it qualifies the case of the parent
– I do not think it does. A parent has an insurable interest in the life of his child which he supports.
– He may have, notwithstanding this Bill.
– Quite so. I think it will be admitted that not only the parent but a relative of a child has an insurable interest in its life.
– So that clause 5 would exclude all the cases mentioned by the honorable member for Hunter.
– The cases mentioned by the honorable member would not come within the scope of this measure. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs has not put before the House anything to show that an interest which is not excluded from this Bill would be affected by its operation. There are cases in which it is highly probable that the Bill would do some harm, particularly if we so amend it as to provide, as the honorable member for Hunter suggested, that no child under the age of six shall be assured.
– No one would . think of doing that.
– I believe not. Every legal member will know that in many cases, as soon as a child is born, its life is assured in order that certain interests that depend upon it may be protected. I know of one case in which the life of a child, four years of age, was assured for£2,000. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs states that there is nothing in the Bill to stop that practice. Persons interested in common with a child in an interest under a will, would have an insurable interest in the life of that child, and I venture to say that as clause 5 excludes what are insurable interests, the Bill would not meet such cases. It would certainly cover cases mentioned by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs; but not those which it is really designed to meet. The only good feature of the Bill is the provision contained in clause 3, that -
A life assurance company shall not pay any sum on the death of a child under ten years of age except to the parent of the child or to the personal representative of the parent.
That may prove a wise provision. Certainly the money payable under a policy of assurance on the life of a child should be paid only to the parent, or the personal representative of the parent. The Bill has met with the approval of the life assurance companies - and I believe that all the life assurance companies in Australia are respectable - but even if it were not passed, they could carry out the very object at which it aims. As I have already said, no company need pay any money due under a policy unless there is an insurable interest in it, and that is excluded from the Bill.
– Should we not make the practice legal ?
– It is legal, as it is. If the Bill is supposed to be a recital of the common law with regard to this question, well and good, but when the common law right exists without question, it seems to me unnecessary to encumber our Statutebook in this way. I shall certainly listen with a good deal of interest to the statement of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs as to the reasons which have induced him to fix upon the amounts named in the schedule.
– I am sorry that I did not hear the speech delivered by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs in moving the second reading of this Bill, as I should like to know what reasons there are for proposing to place it on the Statute-book of the Commonwealth! I can quite understand the passing of such legislation in England - although I do not know whether it was necessary - in view of the fact that several years ago serious allegations were made as to the extent to which infanticide was practised in some of the manufacturing towns there, with a view to obtaining the petty sums recoverable upon the death of children whose lives were assured. Surely no one believes that our civilization has sunk to that brutal level to which the reports of Select Committees or Royal Commissions in England have attested? If it has not, why should we place a sort of defamation of our own character upon the statute-book ? The statute-book of a country to a great extent reflects the moral state of its people. Are we merely to copy English legislation where English conditions do not apply ? Any one reading the history of our legislation would at once come to the conclusion that there must have been some necessity for the passing of such a measure as this in Australia. Does any one really think that infanticide is practised to such a degree in Australia that parents will assure their children’s lives and get rid of them for the sake of obtaining a paltry £5 or ;£io?
– The custodian of a child might do so.
– But the custodian of a child could not assure his life. A parent has an insurable interest in his -child’s life, and, although it is almost inconceivable, a stranger may have an interest in certain circumstances in the life of a child1 - theoretically he may have a pecuniary interest in it. There may be- a child’s life upon the determination of which a certain remainder will vest, and the person concerned would have an insurable interest in it, and very properly might assure it. There might be a life estate terminable with the death of a child, and the person concerned would assure its life in order to cover the loss of income consequent upon its death. Such cases may occur in Australia, but I am sure that they are exceedingly rare. When they do arise there is certainly no incitement to infanticide. There can be nothing of the kind in such cases, and there is no harm in allowing the assurances to be made. But do honorable members seriously think that our people have sunk to the brutal level of civilization which prevails - according to this, legislation, if required there - in a few towns in England, where parents have been accused by the reports of Select Committees or Royal Commissions of having, for the sake of obtaining a paltry sum of £5, violated the primary instincts of nature, and put an end to the lives of children? If they do, they must have a better knowledge of the facts than I have. I have never had my attention directed to anything showing that infanticide is practised in Australia. I have heard of allegations of ante-natal, but not of post-natal, cases.
– Does not the honorable and learned member know that some persons subject children to treatment which is worse than death?
– Surely we should not pass such a Bill as this to meet very exceptional cases? It would be taken to indicate the ruling state of society, and I object to placing on our Statute-book a libellous statement as to the position of affairs in Australia. On turning to the Statute-book of England, we find that there are various provisions to prevent parents giving way to unnatural instincts. The English laws with regard to the em- ployment of children in theatres, circuses, and other places are far more drastic than they are in the Australian States. When a Bill modelled on the Act of 1895, as regards the protection of children against their guardians, was introduced in the South Australian Parliament - for reasons similar to those given for the introduction of this Bill -I opposed it. We are not here to copy the legislation of another country without respect to the conditions under which that legislation was passed.
– Are not some of our laws far more stringent than are those of Great Britain?
– Where circumstances justify it, they may be.
– What about capital punishment for rape ?
– That is merely a survival of the old idea that if a man violated the law, he should be, so to speak, knocked on the head. At the beginning of the last century, according to Allison, there were 609 offences on the capital list. A child of thirteen was hanged for pilfering a few shillings, or for taking something from a provision stall to minister to the ordinary animal wants of nature. Those were times when the Draconianism of our civil law was most marked. There are relics of the old severity of the criminal law still in Australia. I believe that under the Victorian law rape is a capital offence, and that arson in certain circumstances is also a capital offence in this State, as well as in New South, Wales. But it is not in South Australia, nor in some of the other States, whose laws more closely approximate to what legislation now-a-days ought to be. I do not wish to oppose the passing of this Bill, but I am sorry that it has been introduced. It can do no harm, if we allowed insurances on children’s lives at all, to place a law on the statute-book, except that in the eyes of students of our , legislation - and there are persons outside Australia who study our institutions - it will suggest that it was passed because similar conditions to those which justified the passing of like legislation in England existed in Australia. In these circumstances, I regret that some honorable members think that necessity exists for the passing of such a scare measure.
Mr.HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh). - I wish to say a word or two in reply to the remarks made by the honorable and learned member for Angas. From my own experience of what has taken place in South Australia, I agree with the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs that the Bill is highly necessary. I have known infant life to be sacrificed in a wholesale way in that State. I saw no less than four funerals of children leave the one house within six weeks, and on making inquiries, was satisfied that it was a case of baby-farming. Whether, the lives of these children were assured I do not know ; but I communicated my suspicions to the police, and asked them to make inquiries.
– A baby-farmer cannot assure the life of a child in her care.
– No; but the life of a child handed over to a baby-farmer might be “assured by the parents in the interests of the baby-farmer herself. A parent might say to such a person, “ I can only afford to give you £5 to take this child. I do not care what you do with it, and in order that you may be able to earn a few pounds more, I will assure its life.” In the case to which I have referred, I complained to the police, but was informed that I should have to lay a specific charge. For several reasons I did not care to do that, not being in a position to give direct evidence about what had taken place, though I had enough evidence to satisfy myself and others. I therefore took the only course open to me, which was to get an article inserted in one of the Adelaide newspapers, and send it to the parties concerned, with the result that they removed from the State. This is only one case of three which have come under my notice in which I was satisfied that infant life was being sacrificed. We ought to do everything in our power to safeguard child life, and the Bill is an effort in that direction, which I shall support.
– I agree with the suggestion of the honorable member for Hunter that, in dealing with matters of this kind, we should be extremely cautious. I think that there is more ground for the suspicions which have been stated by him in regard to the sacrifice of infant life than some other honorable members are inclined to credit, and I therefore suggest to the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs that only the lives of children over five years and under ten should be allowed to be assured.
– Such a provision would destroy most of the value of the Bill.
– Whilst we must give every encouragement to poorpeople to make provision for the expense of burying children who die young, we mustbe careful not to allow a system to grow up which may provide an incentive to persons to dispose of their children in a manner which is not uncommon in the older countries of the world, and is not unknown in Australia.
– It is becoming more known here every day.
– At the present time we find that not only working class parents whose employment is irregular and whose wages are small, but other parents’, are unwilling to take upon themselves the burden of rearing large families, and the honorable member for Angas has referred to the frequency of ante-natal infanticide, which is well known to honorable members who have studied this question. It becomes, therefore, all the more important that we should not pass legislation which, by allowing the assurance of the lives of children under the age of five years, might provide an incentive for their destruction. As the honorable member for Hunter has pointed out, it is so easy to dispose of children of tender years, that those who are ill-disposed are greatly tempted to destroy them. When children arrive at the age of five years they near the time when they will be of use to their parents, and consequently become a prospective asset to their families. We should do nothing to encourage the destruction of children, which is so prevalent in other countries where population is congested, and should do all we can to encourage our population to undertake the responsibility of parentage. I trust, therefore, that in Committee the honorable member for Darling Downs will accept an amendment which will make it illegal to assure the life of a child who is under the age of five years.
– I have not considered the scope of this Bill, but it seems to me that if we are going to interfere at all in regard to child assurance, we should interfere in the direction of preventing persons from assuring children of tender age. Child life assurance is to a great extent a swindle. The parents of the children assured as a rule get nothing from the assurance.
– The forfeits are very numerous.
– I know of a number of cases in which parents have assured three or four of their children, and have paid the premiums for a time, but in the end have found the payments to be such a drag upon them that they have been compelled to let their policies go. I am inclined to allow persons to assure the lives of their children for endowment policies, but certainly not for the payment of the sum assured at death. The number of parents who get an advan-. tage from the present system of child assurance is very small compared with the number who get no advantage from it.
– Parents have the remedy in their own hands.
– If the honorable member knows anything about assurance canvassers, he knows that there are few women who can resist their appeals. If the parents went to the offices themselves, and took out the assurances, it would be a different matter. Honorable members know how, in their own cases, if they wish to take out assurances on their lives, they are pestered’ by agents who tell them all sorts of things. Assurance agents do not tell the truth. They make representations which are absolutely false.
– That is a serious charge.
– Yes ; but what I am saying is a fact. I tried a bit of canvassing myself once, but I had to throw it up. It was altogether beyond my powers. I know how poor people are “ got at “ by life assurance canvassers, and if , I did anything it would be in the direction of protecting parents from them. We should not allow personsto assure the lives of children of tender age for sums payable at death, though I see no objection to endowment assurances.
– I indorse every remark which has been made by the honorable member for Hunter. His statements are absolutely accurate. I do not go so far as to say that the lives of children under six years of age should not be assured, though I would do so if the Cbmmonwealth were as wise as (certain European countries are, and was ready to bury its own citizens, removing the reproach which the present system of pauper burial puts upon Victoria, and, I think, the other States as well. I hope that the wisdom of the Federal Parliament will ultimately remove that disgrace upon our civilization as the Federal Parliament of Switzerland has removed it from the twenty-two cantons, and the two halfcantons of that little country. I thank the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs for introducing the Bill, and if amendments are introduced in Committee for its improvement, I shall be only too pleased to give them my support. Honorable members must know that greater profits are made by the life assurance societies from the assurance of child life than from the assurance of adult lives. The payments being smaller, and having to be collected at more frequent intervals, the companies insist upon larger returns. To show how great are the profits of life assurance companies, I might mention that when I was a member of the State Parliament of Victoria, I obtained a return which showed that, whereas between 1884 and 1903 the officers ot our Railways Depart ment paid £295,000 to various assurance companies, those companies returned only £64,000 in the way of pensions, or compensation for accidents or death, so that they made a profit of £231,000. I hope that the statesmen of Australia will in time provide a national system of life assurance similar to that in force in New Zealand. If that were done, it would remove from the Commonwealth the stigma which now attaches to it for allowing human beings fashioned in God’s likeness to be buried as paupers. I would not go as far as the honorable member for Hunter in preventing the assurance of children of tender age, because I know what a serious thing the expense of a funeral is in the homes of the poor. The parents who assure are informed by the canvassers that their children, if they live, will be paid so much on reaching the age of eighteen or twenty -one, while if they die there will be a few pounds in the house with which to bury them decently.
– Then, how many defaulters there .are !
– I know that there are a great many. That is what makes the profits of the companies so large. If the Federal . Parliament established a national system of life assurance, those who are unable to keep up their premiums could have returned to them a fair proportion of what they had already paid in. I shall support the Bill, and in Committee will vote for amendments which I think will improve it. I hope that the honorable ‘and learned member for Darling Downs will not regard such action on my part as prompted by anything but the desire to make the measure a better one.
– I should not have risen but for .the remarks of the honorable member for New England in regard to life assurance canvassers. I think that life assurance canvassers have been a great blessing to Australia, and have done good work in bringing peace and comfort to many thousands of orphans throughout the length and breadth of the land. I trust that the honorable member’s remarks will not be taken seriously. I believe that, as a whole, life assurance canvassers are as truthful as any other canvassers who are anxious to do business. I shall support the Bill, because I think it will have a beneficial effect upon the community generally.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs).- I do not desire to reply at length, but it may facilitate matters if I refer to one or two points which have been mentioned by honorable members. Some honorable members would prevent the Bill from operating in the case of children under the age of six years. In my opinion, if that restriction were made it would undermine the whole foundation of industrial assurance. Industrial assurance after all means family assurance - the assurance of ‘every single member of the household, so that full security may be felt that on the death of any member of the family, they will riot be subjected to the indignity of a pauper funeral. That is the foundation and merit of” the whole system. It insures that every member of the family shall exercise thrift. Their lives are assured up to the age of ten years under (the industrial system, and after that time they naturally merge into the system of life assurance under ordinary conditions. It is desirable to impress upon our young people the great benefits of life assurance, so that they may apply the principle right through life. The honorable member for Hunter has mentioned one or two instances in which the lives of children have been sacrificed for the pecuniary benefit to their parents. Not- : withstanding the one or two individual instances of this kind which are often quoted, but which .are very rarely, if ever, proved, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Imperial Parliament has passed legislation to sanction the class of business which this Bill is intended to regulate.
– It is very difficult to prove criminality in such cases.
– I think that I shall be able to satisfy the honorable member that there is no .real cause for alarm. I can quote figures which will show that the mor tality amongst children whose lives are assured is lower than that amongst those whose lives are not assured.
– That follows from the fact that the children are examined before they are assured.
– No, they are not.
– The honorable and learned) member must recollect that the policies are not granted by the assurance companies for the purpose of encouraging infanticide, but that the whole business is conducted on thoroughly sound lines.
– The assurance companies do not care how the policies are taken out.
– Yes, they do. Instructions are given to their agents to exercise the greatest possible care before they accept proposals for assurance. The English mortality tables show the following results : -
The results of the experience gained in the United States are as follow : -
– The honorable and learned member does not assume that the fact that the child’s life is assured protects it?
– No. I am arguing upon the question of motive, in order to show that among children whose lives are assured the rate of mortality is lower than among children whose Jives are not assured.
– The companies test their health at the time of assurance.
– The Australian experi ence shows the following results : -
At the present time the friendly societies throughout the Commonwealth are in a position to assure the lives of children, and I am asking that the insurance companies should be placed upon the same footing in that’ respect. My desire is to place the whole business upon a sound basis, and’ to subject it to proper regulation. I shall answer any other objections that may have been raised whilst the Bill is passing through the Committee stage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
A life assurance company may contract to pay on the death of a child between the respective ages mentioned in the schedule hereto any sum of money, which, added to any amount payable on the death of that child by any other life assurance company or by any friendly society, does not exceed the amount specified in such schedule as payable on the death of the child between such ages.
– I understand that some limitation is to be imposed in the schedule. So far as I can see, the Bill does not provide against the lives of children being assured for almost any amount up to £10,000.
– This clause permits a contract to be made, and subsequent sections provide that assurances shall be paid only as specified in the schedule. Other sections provide that the Registrar shall not certify for an amount exceeding that for which a child may be assured under the Bill. A later clause makes it an offence for an assurance company to pay over money otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of the Bill.
– I should like to know whether, in the event of our striking out the first two lines of the schedule, it will be necessary to amend this clause ? Should we not expose ourselves to the risk of permitting a parent to insure the lives of infants up to the age of two years for any amount?
– I should like to suggest to the honorable and learned member that as a matter of drafting this clause is unnecessary. As the law stands at present, there is nothing to prevent assurance companies from assuring the lives of children for any amount. It appears to me that the clause pretends to confer authority -which falls short of the actual existing power of the companies.
– There is “ nothing to prevent them from assuring, but there is no law to compel them to pay on their contracts.
– Even so, the clause neither limits the amount to be paid,’ nor validates the contract.
– At the present time some doubt exists as to whether contracts entered into by assurance companies upon the lives of children are valid.
– It has not actually been held that claims under such contracts are not enforceable.
– No; but a doubt exists as to whether they can be enforced. This Bill will remove that doubt. It provides that -
A life assurance company may contract to pay on the death of a child between the respective ages mentioned in the schedule any sum of money which, added to any amount payable on the death of that child, or by any other life assurance company, or by any friendly society, does not exceed the amount specified in such schedule as payable on the death of the child between such ages.
The Bill is of a permissive character, and will enable assurance societies to enter into contracts under certain conditions.
– I am sorry that I have not had time to carefully study this Bill, with a view to ascertaining the effect of its provisions. I understand, however, that its aim is to permit of assurances being effected by parents upon the lives of children up to a certain age. At the present time a doubt exists as to whether a parent possesses an insurable interest in a child’s life, owing to the potentiality of the child, should it live. Does the Bill remove that doubt? It seems to me that it is only by reading clause 3, in conjunction with clause 2, that we discover by implication that a parent may assure a child’s life up to the limit mentioned in the schedule. In my opinion, it is a pity to put legislation upon the statute-book which can only accomplish its object by a loose reading of several clauses. What we ought to do is to enact that a parent may have an insurable interest in a child’s life up to a certain date, but that that interest must have relation only to the child’s burial. Apart from that provision, I regard the principle of assuring the lives of children as a most pernicious one. In England that principle is allowed to cover only the expenses of burial, and’ the limit is fixed at £5 or £10.
– I ask the honorable and learned member to permit the clause to pass in its present form, and to allow me an opportunity to consider his objection. I would point out that a parent has not, by virtue of his relationship, only an insurable interest in the life of a child. Porter says -
Where a father effected an insurance for his own benefit, but in the name and on the life of his son, in which he had no insurable interest on the death of the son it was held that, as between the company and the father, the policy was void, but as between the father and the son’s estate the father was entitled to the money for his own benefit.
I desire that the Bill shall render it permissible for contracts to be made upon a certain defined basis, and1 that an assurance company shall be liable only for the amounts set out in the schedule. Those amounts can be paid either to the relative or parent or guardian of a child. If it were necessary to establish the fact that a parent has an insurable interest in the life of a child, the operation of the Bill would be confined to cases in which a parent had the child living with him in the same house.
– Does the honorable and learned member wish to make the Bill apply to cases in which the child is not living with the parent ?
– It will apply to cases in which a relative has possession of the child.
– This Bill will not allow a relative to receive the assurance money. If a child’ which was living with its aunt died, and the aunt was not the administratrix, the Bill would not apply?
– No. The money could be paid only to the legal representatives of the child.
Mr. CROUCH (Corio).- I am aware that hard cases make bad laws, and that special cases are responsible for bad legislation. Despite that, however, I wish to relate the facts of a case which came under my notice some time ago. A woman who is the executrix under the will of her late husband, had a child, which was four and a half years of age. Upon its death the sum of £2,000 had to be paid to two sisters of the deceased. Consequently the woman assured the child’s life for that amount.
– In what company?
– I will tell the honorable member privately. Provision had been made that if the child died before attaining the age of twenty-one years the sum of £2,000 had to be paid out of the estate. This Bill, however, would limit the insurable interest of the parent in that child’s life to £8. To my mind the position is one which requires a good deal of consideration. Very often it is necessary to assure the lives of minors up to ten years of age, under wills and in connexion with property. The honorable and learned member proposes to effect a very extraordinary change in the law. I should like him to make provision for special cases which are constantly arising. I do not wish to see this Bill pass in such a form that it will require to be amended next year.
– I am quite in sympathy with the object of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, but I do not place much reliance on the figures which he has quoted. I prefer to base my trust upon my own experience. That experience teaches me that it would be a most dangerous thing to assure the lives of children of tender years. I would suggest that the- following words be added to clause 2 : -
Provided that no assurance shall be made upon the life of any child under the age of two years.
– The schedule is the proper place in which to deal, with that matter. I should npt “care to accept that amendment.
– I prefer that the clause itself should be amended, and, therefore, move -
That the following words be added - “ Provided that it shall be illegal to insure the life of a child under the age of two years.”
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).After the way in which this clause has been discussed by the legal members of the House, I think that the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs will be wise in allowing it to be postponed. It seems to me that he does not fully understand its effect, because the legal members of the House have indicated that his object would not be carried out by the clause. It is just as well that any measure that we pass should be as perfect as possible. If the representative of one industrial assurance company induced a woman, who had an interest under the rules of a friendly society, to assure the lives of her children for a certain sum, and. subsequently the representatives of another company persuaded her to further assure them, she would find on the death of one of these children that she had been paying large premiums for nothing. She would not be able to get anything in excess pf the limit fixed in the schedule. I have had some experience of the statements that are made to induce persons to take out policies on the lives of their children. This kind of life assurance simply means large profits to the companies, and big losses to those who pay the premiums. We are here not to specially protect the interests of companies, but to safeguard the interests of those who assure their lives. If a company makes a contract to pay a certain amount, it should not be allowed to evade its responsibility in this way. A company which has issued a policy and does not pay the amount which, it covers, should be compelled to make a refund of the premiums. We are here not to see that life assurance companies make large profits, but to conserve the public interests. I would advise the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs to act upon’ the. information which he has gained during the debate, and to so recast the clause that it will be as perfect as pos- .sible
– In what way does the honorable member suggest that it should be recast ?
– I am not going to say. The honorable and learned member for Angas has made certain statements in regard to it, while the honorable and learned member for Corio, and the honorable and learned member for Corinella have made wholly different assertions. I shall certainly oppose the . clause as it stands.
– With respect to the point raised by the honorable and learned member for Corio, I may say that the Bill will not alter the existing law relating to assurance. If, as the honorable and learned member assumed, a person had made a contract on the life of an infant - ‘there being an insurable interest - this Bill would not interfere with such a case. The Bill leaves the law exactly as it is with respect to insurable interests. It affects only those cases between the ages of one and ten years, where it may be that the parent has not an insurable interest in the strict legal sense of monetary relations.
– A parent having, an insurable interest-
– Under the law a parent can assure the life of his child only to the extent of his insurable interest. That is the position to-day. If a son has an insurable interest in the life of a parent, he can assure it only to the extent of that insurable interest, and so with - a brother 11 n or sister. The English Act of 1896 leaves the general law relating to life assurance exactly on the same footing as before. The section bearing upon the question is as follows : -
Nothing in this Act respecting payments on the death of children shall apply to insurances on the lives of children of any age, where the person insuring has an interest in the life of the person insured.
By the Act of 1896 regulating these societies, that law is incorporated and made to apply. I desire only to place the Australian law on exactly the same footing as the English law, and would ask the honorable member for Hunter not to press his amendment. Throughout the whole of Australia there is power under the Friendly Societies Acts to assure the lives of children from birth upwards. That is the law in every State of the Union. Select Committees appointed by the British Parliament considered the question from 1849 until a few years ago, and as the result of their investigations the limitations to which the honorable member referred have been repealed by that Parliament. The honorable member wishes to bring into operation a state of law which dates back to 1846. What has happened since then ? At the present time there are over 4,000,000 policies in existence in England which deal with this class of life assurance.Select Committees have investigated the cases to which the honorable member has referred, and have found that there is no evil existing which would justify the limitation which he desires. As a matter of fact, the life assurance companies do not pay policies issued in respect of a child under the age of one year unless those policies have been in existence for three months. I appeal to the honorable member not to ask the Committee to go back to a law which existed in England in the olden days, but to say that we shall adopt that which exists at the present time not only in England and Australia, but in Canada and many of the States of America. This is a matter of purely State concern in the United States and as the result of inquiries made by Select Committees in all the different States of America the local Legislatures have shown their readiness to accept the position by enacting the law practically on the basis which I propose in the schedule. As a matter of fact, the schedules in the United States are higher than they are in England. I have eminent authorities which show that this is a proper system to adopt. In 1889 a Select Committee of the House of Commons reported -
It must be admitted that insurance for burial expenses is highly ‘valued by the working classes for purely legitimate reasons, and that an unnecessary hardship would be inflicted on them if it were prohibited.
The honorable member desires to prohibit that being done. These policies are taken out, almost entirely, by the working classes of Australia, and by imposing such a limitation as is proposed we should cast a slur upon them. My experience is that the wife of a working man is as fond of her children as is any other parent. She is kept more closely in contact with her children than is the wife of a wealthy man. Her little ones are not handed over to the care of a nurse or a governess, but grow up by her side, and she watches over and cares for the infant life day after day. It may sometimes happen that an inhuman monster is heard of ; but I ask the representatives of the working classes to say whether the women of Australia carry on such practices as have been suggested. Because isolated cases of this kind have occurred, are we to prevent the people generally from assuring the lives of their youngest children when they desire to do so, simply from motives of self-respect? I do not wish to force honorable members to a particular conclusion, but this matter deserves the fullest consideration, and I am confident that it will stand the strictest investigation. If the honorable member for Hunter desires that progress be reported at this stage, in order that the question may be fully considered, I shall have no objection to that course being pursued; but I would appeal to him not to press his amendment.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair, and the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply - proposed.
– I had given notice of my intention to move as an amendment on this motion -
That all the words after the word “ that “ be omitted, with a view to the insertion of the following words in place thereof : - “ in the opinion of this House, negotiations should be opened without delay, with the Imperial Government, with a view to, if possible, establishing preference in trade between Great Britain and Australia.”
I regret that the third Thursday ago, when the formal motion to go into Supply was last moved, I was too unwell to leave my bed. I was exceedingly anxious at the time to proceed with my amendment. I could not order whether I should be ill or well on that particular day. It was no fault of mine that the amendment was not then moved. The Prime Minister stated in an interview with the press - I do not think that he has made the statement in this Chamber-that he would accept the amendment of which I gave notice as a motion of want of confidence; but it was not my intention, in giving notice of it, that it should be accepted in that spirit, and the right honorable gentleman was a little anticipatory in making that declaration. He said, too, in the interview to which I allude, that I had brought the question of preferential trade down to the low level of party politics. His supporting organ in Sydney, however - the Daily Telegraph - published a leading article, based on his remarks, in which it is affirmed that if any subject should be treated as a question of party politics, this one should be. If a Government formed in the ordinary way were in power at the present time, the question would be so treated now. It is an acute question of party politics in Great Britain, and is so intimately connected with Tariff reform, and ‘other matters, that I fail to see how it can be looked upon in any other light.
– The main branch of the Opposition refuses to make it a matter of party politics.
– The honorable member appears to know more about the Opposition than those who are intimately connected with it. Before this question is finally settled - and it will have to be settled before very long - it must be brought within the region of party politics. Since I gave notice of my amendment, the honorable and learned member for Ballarat has given notice of a motion which is practically an elaboration of it. I intended to bring the matter up by moving an amendment on the motion to go into Supply, because the Prime Minister refused to give me an opportunity to deal with it, and he had not then stated definitely that he would select any other honorable member to bring it before Parliament. I tHough that too much time had elapsed without its consideration by Parliament, and by the country. The Standing Orders of this House are different from those of the New South Wales Legis 11 n 2 lative Assembly, with which I am better acquainted; and there was no other way to obtain the discussion of this question. I do not know if any definite date has yet been fixed as to when the motion of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat is to be moved, but as I understand that he intends to go on with it to a conclusion, not much would be gained by proceeding with the amendment to-night, because 1 do not wish to speak merely for the sake of making a speech. Unless the Government could be compelled to continue and give time for the full discussion and final settlement of the question, all we could do to-night would be to discuss it, and the discussion would terminate at the usual hour. I have already delivered two very complete lectures upon the subject of preferential trade, and have a third ready, which I shall deliver probably nextweek in Sydney, so that therefore it is unnecessary for me to air my views on the subject to-night. Another reason why I do not wish to deal with the matter is that a large demonstration in regard to it is now taking place at the Town Hall, at which I think several honorable members are present. Therefore, I shall not proceed with the amendment to-night, leaving the notice on the business-paper that I may, if necessary, move it on another occasion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 16th November, vide page 7068) :
Division 184 (Central Staff), £5.447.
– I wish to say a few words in regard to the manner in which the postal officials have been dealt with by the classification of the Public Service Commissioner. The minimum wage provision of the Public Service Act seems to have been enforced with a vengeance with regard to those in the lower grades of the service, many of whom are kept stationary at the minimum, whereas officers of higher grades have in some cases received increases of as much as £^50 and £70 a year. I find, too, that while 129 officers of the general division have lost privileges and extras by the curtailing of tea money, and in other directions, to the extent of £2,200, their increases having amounted to only ,£250, officers receiving much higher salaries have gained in increases almost as much as the others have lost, while those suffering deductions are very small in number. This arrangement is not a fair one, and it ought to be, and no doubt will be, altered when the classification scheme is dealt with by the House. One other matter to which I wish to refer relates to the expenditure by the Commonwealth of revenue for purposes for which the States provided out of loan funds. Out of the sum of £464,577 which is provided for in the Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c, a sum of £155,000 is included in the Postmaster-General’s Department; and a further sum of £117,000 for Postal Buildings, &c, in the Department of Home Affairs. If the old practice had been adopted, this sum of £272,000 would not come out of the yearly revenue ; but from loan funds - a much easier method. I look forward to a time when there will be a medium of exchange which will relieve the States of these heavy annual payments for works, the present system being replaced by a 5 per cent, redemption scheme having a twenty years’ currency. When that happens we shall be able to institute not only a penny postage for the Commonwealth, but a penny postage between the Commonwealth and the old country, while the system would be a much more convenient one to the States than the present one, under which they have to raise in one year the whole of the money expended.
– I desire to bring under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral a matter affecting the conveniences afforded to residents in the country districts. At one time in Tasmania the residents in country districts could post their letters in the trains without having to pay any extra charge. That practice has now been stopped. Recently, at Scottsdale, I saw a gentleman drive up to the railway station, after having travelled a distance of eight or nine miles, and post half-a-dozen letters, upon which he had ro pay additional postage to the extent of id. per letter, because he was too late for the. post, which closed at the post-office an hour beforehand. I think that the present regulation inflicts a great hardship upon persons who live in the country districts. We all profess to desire to encourage settlement, and to do what we. can to assist the struggling farmers who go into the bush to establish homes for themselves. ‘Yet whilst residents in Hie cities have every convenience in the shape of postal facilities, those who live a leng way out in the backblocks have very little or no consideration shown to them. I have made representations upon this subject to some Ministers, and also to the postal authorities, but I have not been able to induce them to make a change, the objection raised being that too great expense would be involved. We should be prepared to incur a little additional outlay in order to provide reasonable facilities for those who are doing the pioneering work in connexion with the settlement of the country. It is very hard indeed that a man should have to pay an additional fee of id. per letter after having travelled in to the railway station from his home, perhaps ten or twelve miles distant, and I trust that the Minister will give this matter’ his most earnest consideration. I thoroughly indorse the remarks made by the honorable member for Gwydir on the subject of telephone exchanges. I think that it is very unfair that high charges should be made for the use of telephones connected with exchanges in the country districts. In Sydney, where over 5,000 subscribers are connected with the exchange, the charge ls £8’ or £9 per annum, according to whether the telephone is used for private or business purposes. In small towns, where the telephone subscribers number 100 or 200, a charge of £6 per annum is made, and I think that this is altogether out of proportion to the small convenience afforded by the telephone as compared with the advantages conferred upon subscribers connected with large exchanges. I hope that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Gwydir will receive the earnest consideration of the Minister, and that we shall soon have a system introduced under which subscribers will be required to pay according to the use to which they put their telephones.
– I desire ‘to bring one or two matters under the notice of’ the Postmaster-General. I understand that six inspectors, all of whom reside in Sydney, are employed in connexion with the Post and Telegraph Department in New South Wales. This matter has previously been brought under notice, and promises have been made by previous Ministers that New South Wales should be divided into districts, and .that the inspectors should reside in the districts in which they had to perform their work. If this change were carried out, it would’ be of great advantage to the districts far removed from the metropolis. Many matters arise which require immediate attention, . and these cannot be properly dealt with under present conditions. The cost of sending an inspector out from Sydney to a place like White Cliffs or Milparinka is excessive, and the delay entailed in travelling precludes the prompt settlement of any difficulty which may demand his attention. I trust that the Postmaster-General will cause inquiries to be made into this matter, and that he will ‘see his way clear to bring about a change which- will confer a great benefit upon those who are living in the outlying portions of New South Wales. I am very glad that no tender has yet been accepted for the conveyance of the English mails. Entirely apart from the White Australia question, I am opposed to the Postal Department granting subsidies to steam-ship companies for- purposes other than those in connexion with the carrying of mails. I understand that subsidies have been granted for various other reasons connected with trade and commerce, and that the Post Office has had to pay the piper. We have been told- that if we do not grant subsidies to the English mail companies, the German and French companies will gradually outstrip them, and probably drive them out of the trade. It may be desirable to pay a substantial subsidy in order to insure the maintenance of a good service between the Commonwealth and the old country, but I object to its being debited to the Post Office. It is unfair that the general public, who pay postage, should be called upon to contribute directly to a subsidy which is paid to the steam-ship companies in order to induce them to provide facilities for the carriage of butter and other produce. If it be necessary to give subsidies in order to induce the steam-ship companies to provide refrigerating chambers, they should be paid by the Customs, or other Departments affected. The Post Office has been unduly weighted in this respect in the past, and in many cases postal and telegraph facilities have been refused on the ground that the Department was not paying. However desirous the Postmaster-General mav be to help the producers, I trust that he will see that his Department is not unduly burdened with charges of the description I have indicated. The honorable member for Gwydir referred to the necessity of improving our. telephone system. Two and a half years ago, when the Post- and Tele graph Bill was under consideration, I suggested that an arrangement should be made by which subscribers would be called upon to pay in proportion to the extent to which they used the telephone. It would be a good thing if we could have a meter or indicator attached to each instrument, which would show the extent to which it was being used, and enable the Department to rate the subscriber accordingly. I find thai the foll system, mentioned by the honorable member for Gwydir, is now being almost universally adopted. Lord Stanley, the Postmaster-General of Great Britain, in a recent official communication, after stating that under a message-rate plan, the London telephone system had rapidly grown to about 70,000 exchange telephones, said -
The proper method of charge for an exchange service is that under which the payments of the subscribers are fixed in proportion to their user. In the United States, where, during the last few years, the telephone exchange system has been largely improved and developed, methods of charge of this kind have been widely adopted, and have proved an effective means of increasing the number of subscribers.
A plan under which subscribers pay in proportion to use was introduced in Manhattan and The Bronx (old New York City) in 1894. There were then less than 10,000 telephones in the city-. In the same area there are now more than 133,000. I desire to direct honorable members’ attention to a statement contained in a book written by Mr. Herbert Lawes Webb, who seems to be an authority upon the telephone service. He is very strongly in favour of the adoption of the toll system. I am very anxious that the telephone shall become so popular that it will be in every house, in just the same way that we find gas and water laid on at present. .1 do not suggest that the Government should popularize the telephone at a loss. Mr. Webb says -
The message rate system of telephone charges is by no means a recent invention. Very early in the days of the telephone industry there were acute observers who saw the evils of the flat rate, and suggested that to base the tariff on the traffic would be the more equitable method of charging. For a good many years there have been telephone systems in America where the charge has been made by the message, and a similar method of charging has for some time been in force in Switzerland, and, partially, in Sweden and in Germany. In this country also, message rates have been introduced during recent years; the States telephone system of Guernsey charges exclusively by the message, and has no flat rate. In the case of Guernsey, the rapid development of a system which has grown in six years from 200 or 300 stations to over 1,200, is chiefly attributable to the adoption of the message rate system of charging. In England the adoption of message rates generally has always been opposed by the large users of the service, who have felt that such a system of rates would cause their telephone service to cost them more than it now does. The conferences of local authorities occasionally held to pass resolutions on the telephone question, invariably advocate flat rates ; the delegates to these conferences are presumably business men who *ise the telephone service largely, and naturally think hat the most desirable arrangement is a low rate for unlimited service. This, however, is a shortsighted view. It is true that under a message rate tariff some very large users would pay more for telephone service than they now pay, but they would get greater facilities, and an improved service, as wilh message rates special arrangements for large users are made, which enable them to get much better results from their telephone service than they get by overworking a single line. On . the other hand, the adoption of message rates, by making a low minimum rate possible, opens the gates to a wide development of the telephone service, and so makes the service much more valuable to the whole community. The best example I can give of the fructifying effects of message rates is from across the Atlantic. Up lo 1894 the telephone tariff in New York was a Hat rate tariff, and in seventeen years the system had slowly grown to about 10,000 stations. In 1894 the first message rate tariff was tentatively adopted. The tariff is now exclusively message rate, and the system has grown in nine years from 10,000 stations to over 100,000. Nine years of message rate development have done ten times as much to popularize the telephone service as seventeen years of flat rates.
The same writer gees on to say -
If the flat rate for telephone service were abolished altogether, and an exclusively message rate tariff adopted, coupled with an efficient service ind a free development of the business, public dissatisfaction with telephone rates would very scon disappear. The fairness of the message rate principle appeals to the common sense of the majority of the telephone users. It would r>ot be practicable, of course, to abolish the flat rates now in force at one swell swoop. That would naturally arouse much resentment. But after a certain date no new flat rate orders would be taken, and as flat rate contracts expired new contracts would be made under message rates. Thus the change would come about gradually and give rise to little friction. With a scientifically arranged message rate tariff, the small user and the large user are both systematically provided for; the small user gets the amount of service he wants at a rate which he can afford to pay, and the large user gets facilities to deal with his telephone traffic in such an effective way that he usually admits that the improvement is well worth the money.
I hope that the Postmaster-General will take this matter into very serious consideration. I am not asking for a system which is novel. As a matter of fact, it is now being adopted in every place which is possessed of an uptodate telephone service. Iri other respects, too, we are behind the times. For instance, the manner in which subscribers are required to ring up the exchange and to ring off is antiquated. An up-to-date telephone system obviates the necessity for the use of a bell. I shall be very glad if the Minister can see his way clear to adopt the message rate system, and also if he will make inquiries with a view to ascertain whether it is not possible to dispense with the services of operators in the exchange room. From what I have read, I gather that in many places in the United States automatic switch boards are now being used. The Bankers’ Magazine for last month contains a very interesting article, upon this subject. It is written by Mr. G. G. Turri, a patents agent in Victoria. The article in question is headed, “ The World of Invention,” -and in it the writer states -
The automatic switch board, although it does away with manual labour, is no more complicated, and is less liable to get out of order than a manual one. The manual system of telephony is prolific of many annoyances and delays due largely to the carelessness or poor articulation, either of the switch board operator, or the person asking a connexion. These imperfections cannot be remedied in manual practice, and they can only be eliminated by the introduction of a device which places the calling and connecting processes entirely in the hands of a machine. This is just what the new system does ; it instantaneously connects the subscriber with the person desired, and gives to them a secret, or private line, over which to talk. Numerous exchanges now in operation are proof of its complete success.
The writer goes on to say -
The frequent delays and mistakes of common telephony are entirely unknown to the users of automatic. The latter never makes errors, never gossips, is never tired or. sleepy, is not interested in the subscribers affairs, is never impudent or saucy ; and there is a refreshing absence of responses from the central office, such as “What number did you say?” “Talk louder.” “Did you get him?” “Are you through ?” &c, &c. The same number of switches are always at work in an automatic exchange, whether the hour be night or day.. In the common practice the number of operators is increased during the busy hours and decreased when the night comes on, and the volume of business is lax.
Mr. Turri claims that the machine can be applied - not only to the larger cities, but to the smallest village, or even to the squatters’ homestead, the factory, or any other place where a number of telephones have to be in connexion, and where it is desired to work at the very minimum of expense, both for original equipment and for maintenance.
To-day I called upon Mr. Turri, and asked to be informed where any of these switchboards are in use. In reply, he has forwarded me a communication, stating that they are being used by over 51,000 subscribers in twenty-three cities of the United States, varying from villages having no telephones- only, to Chicago, where six months ago over 8,000 subscribers were connected by’ the automatic system. The Postmaster-General should certainly inquire into this matter.
– We have a man over there at the present time making inquiries into the telephone system.
– The trouble is that we do not act upon the reports which are supplied by our officers. We all know that constant applications are being made for the establishment of telephone exchanges in various parts of the Commonwealth. I think it would be wise for the Postmaster-General to secure one of these automatic switchboards, and to instal it in a small country town by way of experiment. In connexion with the Post Office, I should like to see a Committee, consisting of three or four persons outside of the Department, appointed to report to this House every three or six months as to what improvements ought to be introduced’ in regard to telegraphy, telephony, or letter deliveries.
– They are too much the slaves of red tape and sealing-wax in the Post Office.
– We should have a Committee of skil led men appointed for the purpose.
– Why not a Committee of this House?
– There is only one other matter to which I should like to refer, and that is the necessity for the introduction of a Commonwealth stamp. We were told some time ago that the book-keeping provisions of the Constitution interfered with the issue of such a stamp, but surely after nearly four years of Federation we should be able to find some means to overcome the difficulty. When the States entered the Federation it was certainly thought that we should have one stamp common to Australia. Those who live in the capital cities do not realize the inconvenience which the present system entails on travellers and residents in the border towns.
– - A Commonwealth stamp would be a convenience in the matter of the exchange of small sums of monev.
– That is so. The PostmasterGeneral may remain in office for a long time, or for only a short period ; but if he succeeds in providing automatic switchboards, in seeing that the telephones are paid for by those who use them, and in introducing a Commonwealth stamp, I am sure we shall all admit at the end of his term that he has done good service.
– I need hardly say that I have very little fault to find with the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, either by the present Government or by those who have preceded them, since the establishment of the Commonwealth. It is undoubtedly a great socialistic institution. If there is a fault to be found with it, it lies in the circumlocution which obtains throughout the service. There are many complaints from residents of the more remote States of the Commonwealth with regard to the delay which takes place in attending to their requirements. Under the present system, they have first of all to send their request to their representative, who refers it to the Postmaster-General or the Secretary of the Department. It is then . sent on to the Deputy Postmaster-General of the State in question, who refers it to an inspector, and that officer interviews one or two prominent individuals, to whose interest it is perhaps to allow things to remain as they are. He then reports to the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, who in turn reports! to the Secretary of the Department. The Secretary informs the Postmaster-General of the nature of the report, and the PostmasterGeneral, after two or three months have been spent in this way, communicates with the representative of those making the request. By this time the PostmasterGeneral has probably forgotten all about the nature of the request. The public naturally say that when the Department was administered by the States, they could secure more ready attention to their requirements.
– Where did anything of this kind happen ?
– In connexion with a request from Bundamba. I think we have legitimate cause for complaint in this respect. While I recognise that the present Postmaster-General has shown a disposition to cheapen the means of communication by telephone and telegraph, and to facilitate the transmission of mail matter to a greater degree perhaps than have any of his predecessors, I must say that since he has been in office correspondence with the Department has not been attended to as promptly as before. That, at all events, is my experience. I give credit where credit is due, but I have reason to complain when letters sent to the Department three, four, and five weeks ago remain unanswered. I am continually receiving communications from’ settlers’ and farmers’ associations inquiring what has been done in regard to their complaints, but owing to the delay shown by the Department in dealing with correspondence,, I am unable to give them any information. I recognise, of course, that the Minister has been busily engaged in preparing his estimates, but he is not always occupied in that way.
– The matter to which the honorable member refers relates more particularly to the officers of the Department.
– When an honorable member writes to the Minister, he naturally expects to receive a reply.
– Through the Departmental officers.
– There is .too much circumlocution, not only in the Post and Telegraph Department, but in most of the Commonwealth offices. The present state of affairs may be satisfactory to the representatives of New South Wales and Victoria, but it is not to the representatives of the other States. Complaints which, prior to Federation, were attended .to in the course of a few days, are now delayed for months. The people, naturally blame their representatives, and although we are badgering .the Minister and’ the Secretary of the Department to which the business relates, our constituents say, “ It” is your fault.” Too many of these matters are referred to inspectors who have got into the old groove, and are administering .the Departments as they were conducted by the States, and not as they should be conducted by the Commonwealth. It would be wise to make a change in some cases by transferring officers from Queensland to Victoria or New South Wales, and vice versa, and calling upon them to report upon things as they are, and not as they are represented to be by those who have had the ear of the authorities in the past. Many conveniences which might legitimately have been supplied to growing settlements in Queensland, have been denied simply because inspectors have prejudged the requests of the people concerned, and have reported against them. Services which would have been not only a convenience to the people, but a source of revenue to the Department, have been refused in this way. For nearly a fortnight the
Postmaster-General has been endeavouring to obtain information for me with respect to the cost of carrying on this Department in Queensland, prior ,to, and since the establishment of Federation. I desired to deal with the question on these Estimates, but unfortunately the necessary statistics have not come to hand. I know, however, that shortly before Federationthe cost of carrying the mails in Queensland was largely increased. Let me quote an instance to which I have previously referred. The Queensland Railway Department was paid ,£40,000 per annum for carrying the mails up to the end of 1900, but under the Estimates for the following year that payment was increased by £10,000. It was known that the Federation would be established during that year, and that the Post and Telegraph Department would be taken over by the Commonwealth. _ In other words, the State allowed the Railway Department £50,000 for carrying a smaller volume of mail material than it’ had been carrying for many years. As a matter’ of fact, we were then suffering from a period of depression, and the VOl ume of mail matter was not anything like sd large as it had been. But the vote for the carriage of these mails by the railways was increased to £50,000, and that’ has become a charge on the Commonwealth.
– No wonder the Department does not pay.
– That is so. I think this point should be emphasized. The Commonwealth is being decried on all sides, on the- ground of its extravagant expenditure, and I do not think sufficient notice is taken of the fact that we have now to pay for services rendered to the transferred Departments which were previously carried out free of cost by other Departments of the State. I should like the Postmaster-General to tell us, for example, where our mail bags are made, and also where our postage stamps are printed. .In pre-Federation days, the mail bags used by the Queensland Post and Telegraph Department were made by the prisoners at’ St. Helena, and the Department obtained them without cost. Nowadays, however, we have to pay for them. Then, again, the vouchers and returns that are enclosed in the mail bags were also printed by the State Government Printing Office, and no charge was made against- the Department. The Commonwealth, however, has a charge made against the Depal ment 1 in respect of all these services, and the consequence is that the cost of ad- ministering the Department seems to be very much higher than it was before the’ Commonwealth took it over. It is necessary that ‘the public should know this.
– The cost of the mail bags was charged against the Department prior to Federation.
– It was not, nor was any charge made against the Defence Department in respect of the saddles and harness which were made for it by the prisoners at St. Helena. As the honorable member must know, a great deal of the saddlery and harness made by the prisoners was put on the open market to compete with the product of free workers. For all these services the Commonwealth has now to pay, and the same remark applies to the printing of Customs returns, entry forms, and other documents for the Customs Department.
– I think the honorable member has made a mistake. The Department always paid for these services.
– The system of making bookkeeping entries did not obtain until a Board of Commissioners, consisting of Messrs. Mathieson, Johnston, and Gray, was appointed in 1889, and insisted that every service rendered by the Railway Department to other State Departments should be credited to it. In the same way, other Departments began to charge for services rendered by them te the Railway Department of the State, but it was not until the advent of these Commissioners that the practice was initiated. We have to pay for all these services, and the outside public think that because these entries are made against our administration, we are increasing the cost of carrying on the business of the Department. It is not fair that that impression should be left on the public mind. It may be the case in regard to some of the States, but it is certainly not the case in regard to Queensland. Reference has been made to a system of charging special fees for late letters posted on railway stations. That is an especial hardship for country people. Every resident of Victoria enjoys the advantages of the penny postage system within the State, while those living within so many miles of the capitals and chief towns of the other States enjoy a similar privilege within their particular area ; but other country people have to pay 2d. on every letter, and an additional penny for late fee. The Postmaster-General has recently brought experts from Sydney and other places to devise means to more expedi tiously collect the city mails, and forward them by early trains to the country, and, in short, every facility is given to those who live in the city and suburbs. If any should be favoured, however, it is those who are facing the hardships of pioneering life, the people who have denied themselves the pleasures of society, and the conveniences which are to be obtained in large centres of population, in order to develop the back country. We pay officers to travel on the mail trains and sort the let’.ers en route, and I think that it is altogether unjust, when a man, after his day’s work, has ridden several miles to post a letter at a railway station, to charge him an extra penny in addition to a 2d. stamp for the privilege of posting, it on the train. I give the Postmaster-General credit for desiring to improve and cheapen our means of postal communication. Whether his . ideas can be successfully carried into effect remains to be seen; but he is working on the right lines in trying to devise means whereby small centres of population may more readily communicate with larger centres, and thus more easily > find a market for their produce. Only those who have lived in the back country, and have borne the burden and heat of the day there, know how much country people have to put up with, and how entirely they are at the mercy of those in the city. The revelations of the Butter Commission show how- they are exploited by the middlemen. Therefore the Postmaster-General deserves the thanks of honorable members for his attempts to cheapen communication. I hope that he will persist in his attempts to cheapen telephonic communication by running the wires along the fences, or by supporting them, from trees, or by means of wireless communication.- Finally, I wish to say again that I think that there is too much delay on the part of his officers in replying to communications addressed to the Department bv honorable members.
– I have listened with attention to the remarks of the honorable member for Barrier, who takes a great deal of interest in postal matters. In New South Wales we used to call him the local Henniker Heaton. No doubt he is to be complimented upon the attitude which he takes in regard to the Post Office. I doubt, however, that the introduction of the new arrangements which he suggested would of itself overcome all the trouble connected with our present administration. I, like other honorable members, have to complain of the circumlocution and delay which occurs in the Postal Department in connexion with the transmission of ordinary business. It seems to me that the best thing one can do after addressing a letter to the Department is to forget all about it, and then, when the matter is quite forgotten, a reply may come unexpectedly, as a pleasant surprise. The remedy for the present state of affairs is to leavematters of detail to the administrative heads in the various States. Under the present system it is almost impossible to fix the responsibility for delays. The honorable member for Moreton complained that they are the fault ofthe inspectors ; but we are told in the States that the delay is caused by referring matters to Melbourne, while the Central Office blames the States officials. We all know that the Postmaster-General wishes to remedy these matters, and I think he should therefore lay down some definite rule of administration, which will fix the responsibility for delay upon the heads in the various States. A little while ago a case was brought under my notice, in which a postmaster, whose window was broken by a storm, so that the wind was blowing all over the office, had the pane replaced without consulting the Head Office, but he received a fine rap over the knuckles for spending money without referring the matter to Head-Quartets, which means to Melbourne.
– Through the Deputy Postmaster-General for the State.
– Yes. The method is unbusinesslike to the last degree. I do not think that the introduction of automatic machinery would very much alter things in connexion with the Post Office. Our greatest trouble is the wrong attitude of mind assumed by the officials in the Department regarding the business to be transacted. Their chief idea seems to me to be to block rather than to encourage business. The Postal Department, however, is essentially a business concern, and its officers, like other business men, should try to attract rather than to drive away business. At present, if one makes a suggestion to them, it is immediately loaded with objections, some of them absurd in the extreme. I give a case in point. About two years ago I endeavoured to get Seven Hills, a small fruit-growing centre in my electorate, connected by telephone with Parramatta, and to have an automatic telephonic bureau established there. The cost of the work would have been about £90, but at that time the Department in such cases required the local residents to guarantee nearly the whole of the cost. The first estimate which was prepared showed that the probable revenue from the line would come to about 8 or 9 per cent. upon the expenditure, and when I mentioned that fact, the Department had the estimate revised to bring the profit down to 3 or 4 per cent., and finally it showed that there would be a loss on the line. The people of the district, however, would not agree to make the deposit which the Department asked for, and the matter remained in abeyance until the new arrangements came into force, when the Department was asked to carry out the work, those interested consenting to find the cash deposit’ and guarantee asked of them. On this second occasion the Department wished to impose charges which were prohibitive, so that the matter was hung up again. I wished for a charge of 3d. or 6d. per message, but the Department said that the charge would Be 9d. a message, although the district is within the sixpenny telegram area.
– But the 9d. covers a message and a reply, because it permits a conversation.
– I am afraid that a great deal of this blocking of telephone extension is due to the fear of the Department that the telephone will supersede the telegraph and so affect the telegraphic revenue; but if the telephone can beat the telegraph, it should be permitted to do so. It was invented to improve upon the telegraph by giving people better means of communication at less cost. The same spirit’ runs throughout the Department. The officials do not adopt towards these matters the attitude that would be taken in an ordinary business concern. It is no part of the business of the head of the Department to create obstacles the moment a proposal is made. It ought to be his aim to encourage business, rather than to retard it. It has always been my aim to cheapen the facilities offered by the Department, and I was really the first to reduce the charges made to the public. I think we are rather belated in connexion with the provision that is to be made to deal with our English mails upon the poundage system. I am afraid that the Department are very much out in their ideas as to what can be done. I hope that steps have been taken to put the new system to a practical test. The Department should long ago have exploited the possibilities of the poundage system, to such an extent as to enable them to assure the public that a satisfactory: service could be arranged. The moment that the provision prohibiting the employment of black labour on mail steamers was inserted in the Post and Tele graph Act, steps should have been taken to experiment with . the various services upon the poundage system, in order to ascertain what could be done. No doubt all the steamers have definite sailing dates, but they hardly ever abide by them, and if they have any business reasons for doing so, we may rest, assured that they wi” ignore them. If the Department are re lying upon the time-tables, they will find that they are very much out in their calculations. It would have been easy to test the possibilities of the poundage system by sending packets of mail matter by various routes, other than those ordinarily followed. I trust that when the Postmaster-General has time, to look into the Pacific Cable question, he will see if something cannot be done to make better arrangements for facilitating business over that route. I can scarcely believe that, with the resources of three Governments behind the cable, the present loss of £90,000 per annum is unavoidable. It is immediately due to the very ill-judged action that was taken in regard to the cable a few years ago. I then predicted what has now come to pass, and tried to do my best to avert it. I got a. good political pounding for my pains.
– The honorable member wanted to inflict a. still greater loss upon South Australia.
– When we had made up our minds to promote the construction of a competing cable it did not lie with us to assist our rivals to crush us. I have never seen anything so unbusinesslike or so absolutely idiotic as the action of some of the States Governments in connexion with the Pacific Cable. I have repeatedly pointed out that we should never have had the Pacific Cable but for the way we were treated by the Eastern Extension Cable Company. They would make no concessions to us, but the moment arrangements were completed for the construction of the Pacific Cable the Eastern Extension Cable Company rushed in, and by a bribe - for that is what it amounted to - in the shape of reduced rates, they obtained concessions that have enabled them to relegate the Pacific Cable to the background. It was no part of our duty to put this weapon into the hands of our oppo nents to enable them to flog us as they are now doing. We are paying the piper to the extent of £90,000 per annum, and I cannot believe that it is impossible to do anything to reduce this heavy debt. I believe that all the great cable services, such as the Pacific Cable, should be owned by the Governments interested. However patriotic and lenient a private company may be, we should not allow it to hold us at its mercy.
– That is good Socialism.
– It is the kind of Socialism I have advocated for years, and I am very sorry that I did not receive the help I had a right to expect from honorable members of the Labour Party when I was endeavouring to avert the fate that has overtaken the Pacific Cable. I trust that the Postmaster-General will investigate this matter very closely, with a view to increasing the popularity of the line, and enabling it to secure that fair proportion of the traffic to which it is justly entitled.
– I desire to mention one or two matters which have been referred to by honorable members who have preceded me. The honorable and learned member for Wannon, and the honorable member for Corangamite, and other honorable members representing country electorates, have advised the postal authorities to alter their regulations in regard to the construction of telephone lines in country districts to the extent of dispensing with guarantees. It is very strange that those honorable members who are always preaching economy, and complaining that Federation is costing more than was expected, should now seek to pile our expenses. I am quite willing that the question of the construction of telephone lines shall be left entirely in the hands of the Postal Department. Judging from the experience we have had in Victoria, the guarantees relating to the construction of public works are absolutely useless. As soon as the works are constructed, the guarantors snap their fingers at the Government, and refuse to pay. The Victorian Government have had to wipe off large sums- over £1,000,000 in one instance - for which residents in the country districts made them, selves responsible. It would be better to dispense with guarantees altogether, and leave the postal authorities quite untrammelled in the matter. Apparently the authorities hesitate to extend telephone faci- lities in many cases, lest the volume of telegraphic business should be reduced, and loss of revenue result. I thoroughly agree with the honorable member for Parramatta that if the telephone, is likely to supersede the telegraph, by natural means, we should not place obstacles in the way, but rather encourage the extension of the newer system. The honorable and learned member for Wannon asked that the town of Hamilton should be connected with Melbourne by telephone via Ballarat. In view of the fact that the telephone line has been constructed as far as Warrnambool, I do not know that any great harm would be done by extending it to- Hamilton, provided )the postal authorities consider that the amount of business would justify the extension. I do not see, however, that the people of Hamilton have any justification for asking that the telephone line should be constructed, unless they are prepared to give a guarantee.
– They were willing to pay a guarantee, but the. Department ask too much.
– I am quite prepared to leave it to the Department’ to . decide the question whether a telephone line should be constructed to’ any particular town. Some honorable members would like to see every town and .village connected by telephone, regardless of expense. We have decided against adopting a borrowing policy, and whilst the States are asking us to reduce our expenditure as far as possible in order that we may not impair their finances, I think that all claims for the extension of telephone lines should be very carefully examined by the postal officials. The right honorable member for Swan told us last evening that his colleagues in the Deakin Ministry were upon the wrong track when they- agreed to insert in the Post and Telegraph Bill the clause prohibiting the employment of black labour upon mail steamers. If he does not approve of that provision, why does he not endeavour to induce the Prime Minister, who thinks with him, to -Introduce a Bill to repeal it? He would then see how it would fare at the hands of members of this Parliament. It is- well known to honorable members that the principal reason why the mail companies did not tender, was that they were indisposed to comply with the conditions exacted with regard’ to the carriage of perishable products. The prohibition of the employment of black labour was not the real obstacle, and yet honorable members have gone round the country telling their constituents that the companies would not tender upon the old terms because of the socailistic white-labour condition to which they were to be subjected. I do not know that there is anything socialistic about the prohibition of black labour, in fact, many say that this condition is opposed to Socialism. The reason the shipping companies did not tender for our mail contract was that a provision had been inserted in that contract, relating to the carriage of perishable produce.
– In the last contract for which tenders were called, that provision was eliminated.
– Yes, and the Government received a tender from one company which was quite willing to continue the existing service.
– The amount of its tender was not reduced when that condition was excised from the contract.
– I understood that the company in question did not previously tender. I agree with the honorable mem ber for Barrier, as to the desirableness of establishing the message-rate system in connexion with out telephone service.
– For the cities?
– The poor, unfortunate people in the country cannot obtain anything.
– The poor, unfortunate residents of the country are receiving much better facilities than they previously enjoyed.
– Why, one of my constituents actually erected a telephone line, twenty miles in length, rather than provide the guarantee which was demanded by the Department.
– I am prepared to assist in abolishing the regulations relating to the guarantee. Unfortunately a large number of persons are under the impression that, because the telephone is a Government’ institution, it should be carried to everybody’s door. Would a private company do- what the Postal Department is doing at the present’- time? I. sympathize , with the residents of the back-blocks, but I am thoroughly satisfied that if the Postal Department were conducted by a private company our rural inhabitants would not enjoy the facilities which they do. to-day. In America; for example, do the companies- which con- trol the telephone system provide every little town with a telephone service? Certainly not. I wish now to say a few words in regard to the matter which was brought forward yesterday by the honorable member for Grey. I desire to know what are the intentions of the Postmaster-General in that connexion. As honorable members are aware, Mr. ‘Vines actually sublet a group of forty-three mail contracts in the Ballarat district. -By doing so he broke one of the conditions of his contract. I claim that this Parliament has a right to know the individuals with whom it is dealing, and who are responsible for the carrying of our mails. We do not wish to pay £2,000 or £3,000 annually to a person who does nothing beyond putting his signature to certain contracts. We all know that, after the discussion which took place in this House in reference to the matter - when it was shown that honorable members were unanimously of opinion that the terms of the contract should be adhered to - Mr. Vines was notified by the Postal Department that he must transfer the contracts which he held to the sub-contractors. I think that every honorable member will applaud that decision. Mr. Vines complied with that instruction by handing ‘ over all the contracts with two exceptions. I presume that he thought in regard to Mr. Leviston, “ This is the man who put me away, and I will make him suffer for it.” Consequently he approached him, and stated, “ I am prepared to hand over these contracts to you, and to pay you £108 a year for performing the work, conditionally that you give me . an authority to collect your money monthly from the Department.” This Parliament has no right to tolerate conduct of that character. I trust that the Postmaster-General will let the”” Committee know what his intentions are in this connexion. I desire to’ see justice done to Mr. Leviston. To mv mind, it is very singular that the remainder of the sub-contractors, were so ready to accept the work. Is it possible that they were required to sign agreements authorizing Mr. Vines to collect their money and to deduct from it so much per month? When we have a provision in our contracts prohibiting sub-letting, we ought to see that it is enforced. As the honorable member for Grey has pointed out, Mr. Vines has forwarded a lawyer’s letter to’ Mr. Leviston informing him that he is to be sued for breach of contract. T claim that it is the Postmaster-General who took the con tract away : from Mr. Vines. Why, then, does the latter not proceed against the Department? I believe that upon this matter the Committee will unanimously indorse the views which have been urged >by the honorable member for Grey.
– It seems to me that some representatives of metropolitan constituencies would, if they could have their way, prevent anybody from living in the country. ‘I desire, however, to say a few words on behalf of some of the pioneers of Queensland who have not seen the metropolis during the past twenty years. Surely the least that we can do is to give them a reasonable share of this world’s comforts, if that be possible. Some time ago I saw a paragraph in the newspapers, intimating that the Postmaster-General intended to provide the people of the country with a cheap telephone service by running the wires along fences, and on trees. I trust that he will do no such thing. If we erect a shoddy telephone line, the cost of its maintenance will be enormously increased. Moreover, vhen once a line has been erected, the subscribers will demand an efficient service, which they will be unable to obtain under the system suggested. In my own electorate, at Stonehenge, which is distant from the coast some 700 miles, the residents are anxious to obtain a telephone service. Manyowners of stations along the Barcoo are already connected by telephone with Longreach, the wires running along their own fences. If the Postmaster-General is to dispense with a guarantee from persons resident in the more favoured parts of Australia, the least he can do is to extend the same facilities to the settlers in the far west of Queensland. So far as the working of the service is concerned, some of the criticism which has been levelled this evening against the Department reminds me of the Sundayafternoon and Tuesday-night generals, who were to be met with at the time of the South African war. On almost every street corner in every town of Australia, one could find a man ready to show General White how to get out of Ladysmith. “ Why does he not do this?” or “Why does he not do that?” were the questions that were heard on every side. It is an easy matter to criticise such a great- State Department as this, but the organization and administration necessary to provide for its satisfactory working involve .much care and forethought. We have no difficulty in making suggestions to the Minister as to the way in which the Department should be administered, but it is quite another matter to give effect to them. I believe that an officer of the Department is now touring the world, with a view to obtain the most up-to-date information with regard to the telegraphic and telephonic services of other countries. I am sure that he will return with much information, and that if anything can be done to remove the disadvantages of the present system, he will be able to suggest it. It is amusing to hear complaints that the telephone service is out of date. Only, a few years ago messages, now transmitted by telephone, had to be carried by messengers on foot, and the introduction of Edison’s great invention was loudly praised by those who are now most persistent in their complaints against the service. Because the service is controlled by the Government, many honorable members would doubtless like it to be reconstructed with every fresh discovery that is made ; but the work of reconstruction costs money, which the taxpayers have to find, and unless the service needs revolutionizing, I am sure that the Postmaster-General will pause before launching the Department upon so large an expenditure as that would involve. If anything can be done to enable the people of North-Western Queensland to be brought into closer touch with the doings of the rest of the world, by means of telegraphic or telephonic communication, I am sure that the Postmaster-General will see that it is done. I am satisfied that his sympathies are with . the residents of these remote districts. He knows the disadvantages under which they labour, and I believe that he will endeavour to remove them. Another matter to which I desire to refer is the over-time and tea money allowed in the Queensland service. In division 187 we find the item, “ Over-time and tea money, £4,500.” The increased salaries to be granted to officers under the classification will not become payable until the scheme has been adopted, and I, therefore, think we may reasonably ask. that in the meantime these allowances shall be continued on the old scale. For the most part they are paid to men working over-time in connexion with the delivery of the English mail, and under tha allowance regulations which have been framed as the result of the classification scheme, officers in the General Division of the Department in Queensland, are los- ing £2,200 per annum. I repeat that, pending the passing of the classification, payments should be continued on the old scale. I would ask the PostmasterGeneral whether some concession cannot be granted in respect of the allowances to officers in outlying districts, to cover the increased cost of living there. These officers lead a damnable existence. In some cases they are in charge of telegraphic stations on the Downs where there are no trees, and where for eight months out of the year there is a temperature of .115 degrees in the shade. They rarely have a visitor. They ride back-‘ wards and forwards along the overland telegraph line, and for weeks at a stretch do not see a soul. Under the classification the allowances to these men have been cut down. They do not have a chance to get into touch with civilization, for when they are granted a month or six weeks’ holiday they find it impossible to reach the coast unless they spend six months’ salary by way of fares. They cannot be relieved, because the cost would be enormous. They remain in these positions year in and year out without a murmur, and yet the Public Service Commissioner has cut down their allowances. I should like to send Mr. McLachlan to these distant stations for six months, and learn what allowance he would ask, in respect of the increased cost of living. At Urandangie, on the South Australian border, there is an officer on duty who will remain there until he dies. The men on these stations either end their days by committing suicide or being found dead in the bush. Something ought to be done to improve their lot. I hold that five years’ service in such places should be counted as seven and a half years’ service, and that some system should be adopted that would enable them now and again to get into touch with civilization. At Donaldson - one of the places on the overland line - they had no rain for three years.
– We have had that ex- ‘perience in New South Wales.,
– But in New South Wales it happens perhaps only once in a lifetime. In the Donaldson district, however, it is a more common experience to have twelve months without rain than a wet month. The charges for the carriage of goods to these remote districts are enormous, and honorable members may readily imagine what is the cost of living. Some of the officers, among them being men who receive less than £100 per annum, have had their living allowance reduced by £11 per annum, whereas the postmasters and operators, living at the same hotel, and sitting at the same table, receive an allowance of £30 per annum. These are cases with which I am personally familiar, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will interview the Public Service Commissioner, and endeavour to have the allowances continued on the old scale until the classification has been adopted.
– As the debate proceeds the PostmasterGeneral’s notes must be becoming very voluminous. The matter referred to yesterday by the honorable member for Grey is one that demands something more than passing reference, and I think that we should have some definite statement as to the intention of the Minister in regard to it. The Minister should have taken action yesterday if he were satisfied as to the accuracy of the statements made by the honorable member in regard to Vines’ contract. It appears to me that this man has not only broken the law, but that, after being told that he must transfer his contract, he attempted to unduly punish one of his subcontractors, simply because he would not sign a new agreement, accepting £108 per annum instead of £72, as before, and allowing Vines to pocket the balance of the sum ok j£i6o, for which the contract was let. It is one of the worst cases of which I have heard, and if the statement to be made by the Minister proves unsatisfactory, I shall have something more to say in regard to it. I have waited here hour after hour, for two days, expecting to hear the Minister deal with the question, and I do not think that he should allow it to stand over until, the close of the general debate. It must be dealt with by the House, and we ought to be in possession of all the facts. There may be mitigating circumstances, but I have not heard of any, and if there be none I desire to know what action the Minister has taken since the case was brought under his notice yesterday. The honorable gentleman should at once make a statement on the subject.
– The telephone system in South Australia is fairly satisfactory ; but, judging by a telegram which I have received from Adelaide, the residents of the important suburb of St. Peters have a distinct grievance. It seems that they have no local telephone exchange, and the result is that subscribers have to pay £8 instead of £5 per annum for the service. Some one may say that the explanation of there being no local exchange is that there is not the requisite number of subscribers.’ That is not a fact, for- I learn from this telegram that there are fifty-six. Those who avail themselves of the telephone service at St. Peters would not complain of their having no local exchange - because it is just as simple to communicate with the city exchange as it. would be to ring up a local one - but their grievance is that they have to pay £8 per annum, whereas with a local exchange they would have to pay only £5 a year for the service. I bring the matter under the attention of the Minister in the ‘hope that he will look into it, and that if the grievance be as I have represented and believe it to be, he will do what ought to be done in the circumstances.
– I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that the case of sub-letting by the contractor Vines deserves, not only the serious, but the immediate consideration of the PostmasterGeneral. The case is so serious that it devolves upon the Department to take action to protect the sub-contractor from the contractor, who, I understand, is suing him for breach of a contract which the Department itself insisted should be broken. Some months ago I drew the attention of the PostmasterGeneral of the day to the evils of sub-letting mail contracts, and gave him several instances, but none of such magnitude as the Ballarat case. According to the statement of the honorable member for Grey, a firm styling themselves Cobb and Company, a name very well known in connexion with mail contracting in Australia, have been in the habit of threatening and bringing all kinds of pressure to bear to prevent others from tendering for mail . contracts, subsequently sub-letting these contracts at a profit of thousands of pounds per annum, and rendering no service to the Department themselves. The Minister must agree that whatever the Department pays for services rendered to it should be paid to the individual rendering those services, and to no one else. I join with other honorable members in asking him to take immediate action in this case, and, so far as he can, to apply the regulations of the Department and the law to these individuals who are possessed of plenty of money, as in the past they have been applied to individuals who have not had much money. The honorable member for Yarra to-night spoke as though he thought the guarantees required by the Department in connexion with telephone extensions were never enforced, but, to my knowledge, they have been enforced in several cases in New South Wales, and if enforced in one case should “be enforced in- all, or else abolished altogether. The Committee ought to be informed- by the Minister as to the real position in connexion with the English mail service. The public have been given to understand that the reason why the two companies which have hitherto been performing that service have- not tendered for it again is the requirements of the Postal Act in regard to the employment of white labour. But . it has been stated in this Chamber, in regard to one of the companies, that what really prevented it from lodging a tender was the cost of altering its vessels to comply with the demands of the Department for the provision of better accommodation for the conveyance of frozen produce. The public should be given the fullest information on the subject. In the past we have, been paying the Peninsular and Oriental -Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Steam Navigation Company large sums of .money for the conveyance of our mails to England, and I should . like to know whether those companies have relied entirely upon the subsidies for their profit. As a matter of fact, is it :not the case that their profits have been derived from the conveyance of goods, and especially from the conveyance of passengers, and that the mail subsidies have been a subsidiary ‘ source of revenue? An honorable member told us last night that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company had not tendered for the conveyance of our mails because it is not paying; but if honorable members will refer to the balance-sheet put before its directors at the last meeting in London, they will see that 9 per cent, was earned upon the whole of its paid-up capital.
– Not on the Australian service. That has been carried on temporarily at a loss, in the hope that, later on, it will prove profitable again. All companies occasionally meet with- bad times.
– I take it that the statement to which1 I have referred applies to the whole of the company’s trade ; but no company would carry -on a service at a loss. ‘I am in- agreement with the Department in this matter. I do not think ‘that we should go down on our- knees to any com pany, and ask it to carry our .mails. If my information be correct, these companies will continue to trade to Australia whether they are subsidized by the Australian Government or not. I understand that, under an international agreement, they are bound to take our mails at poundage rates, and deliver them at the ports at which they call, which are the ports at which they called when they were . receiving a subsidy. We should not allow the shipping companies to control our policy in regard to the conveyance of mails. If necessary, Australia could -find sufficient money to provide a service of her own for the conveyance of mails and. the carriage of frozen produce. I h’ope that the Minister will give the Committee as much -information as he can on this subject, so that the public may know the true position of affairs, and may not be misled by statements made for party purposes. I wish now to deal with the living allowances referred to by the honorable member for Maranoa. The Riverina district is in many respects similar to, though smaller- than, the Maranoa district, and many officers who are sent into it have to live under conditions to which no one should be subjected for long periods of years. Yet, when such officers apply to be removed to cooler districts, because “their health is suffering, they are told that they must arrange exchanges with officers in the coastal districts, which means that they must stay where they are, because officers in more favoured districts would be mentally deficient if they agreed to such exchanges. I cannot understand the discrimination which has been made in regard to the granting of living allowances in the back-blocks, where men do not live in the proper sense of the term, but merely exist. In New South Wales, just north of the Victorian border, there are the four townships of Tocumwal, Finley, Berrigan, and Jerilderie, of which the last-named is the most northerly, and the nearest to the State capital, and Tocumwal the most southerly, and furthest from it. But whereas the officers at Jerilderie and Tocumwal receive living allowances, the officers at Finley and Berrigan, the intermediate townships, do not. They are far worse off in many respects than are ‘.those officers who are receiving the living allowance. They have asked for it again and again, and have given : adequate reasons why it should be granted, but so far their .requests have not been complied with. I hope that the1 Minister will inquire into this matter, and satisfy himself that living allowances are granted to all officers who are entitled to them. The living allowances were designed for a specific purpose, and all officers who have to live under similar conditions should be placed upon an equal footing. Some time ago I directed attention to the fact that prior to Federation the States Governments did all they could through the Post and Telegraph Department to aid in the preservation of life and property. In the large pastoral and wheat-growing areas, where the population is sparse, the danger arising from bush fires is very great, and the people have in many cases banded themselves together in fire brigades. Under the States regime telegrams were allowed to be sent free of cost to the officials of the brigades, notifying them of the outbreak of bush fires. Under the Federal Administration, however, the Postal Department appears to be looked upon as a purely commercial institution, which must in all cases exact payment for services rendered. I made representations upon this subject, and I am glad to say that the concession has been restored for the time being. I only mention the matter now in order to impress upon the Minister the necessity for continuing the present arrangement. Where settlers band themselves together at their own cost with a view to prevent the spread of bush fires, which are so destructive to life and property, it seems to me that we may very well consent to allow emergency messages such as I have described to be despatched free of cost. My remarks also apply to messages conveying warnings of floods. It is important that those who live upon rivers, and who require to be forewarned in order to enable them to remove their stock to a place of safety, should be offered every facility. In the days prior to Federation, the Postal Department sent information from postoffice to post-office along the rivers, and gave the settlers timely warning. That practice has now been abandoned, and I trust that the Minister will come to the conclusion that it is desirable to resume it. We should not look upon the Postal Department as one which should be made to pay upon ordinary commercial lines. It is the great socialistic Department of the State, and is designed to promote the convenience and comfort of the people.
– Does not Socialism pay?
– Of course it does. It may not pay in hard cash, but the public are amply compensated for any monetary loss that may be incurred by the immense benefits which are conferred upon the community generally. Settlers in the backblocks are entitled to have their wants attended to as far as may be practicable, and the residents in the large cities can well afford to pay a little for the privilege of assisting their fellow-citizens who are doing the major part of the work connected with the development of this great Commonwealth.
– All these things have to be paid for.
– Did the honorable member make the Post and Telegraph Department pay during his administration in New South Wales?
– The balance-sheets did not disclose that fact.
– The honorable member is entirely wrong. The Department has not paid since it was taken over by the Commonwealth.
– Then the business management of the Department under the Commonwealth has not proved successful, even though charges are being made for services which were formerly rendered free of cost. In connexion with the weather reports which are posted at the metropolitan centres, I think that the Department is displaying a cheeseparing disposition. Recently I made a request that weather reports should be sent in from a certain centre, and I was told that as reports were already being received from two centres on either side of the district referred to, and fifty miles apart, it was not necessary to record the weather experienced in the intervening area. In view of our variable climate, and patchy rainfall, it is ridiculous to assume that the records in that case were sufficient. I think that this matter might be dealt with in a liberal spirit by the Minister, without consulting the States authorities. On looking through the Estimates, I find that very large sums of money are appropriated for the hire of bicycles and typewriting machines. Surely the Department are in a position to purchase the bicycles and typewriters they require, and I hope that a change will be made in this direction. I trust that the Minister will give his attention to the question of sub-letting the mail contracts, which was specially alluded to by the honorable member for Grey. The matter is one of great importance, both from the point of view of the Department, and from that of the general public. The question of facilitating the construction of country telephone lines is one which may well engage attention. I do not refer to lines such as have been mentioned this evening, and which are intended to bring into telephone communication with Melbourne country towns which already enjoy telegraph facilities, so much as to lines which are required to connect outlying localities with the nearest telegraph stations. These telephone lines act as feeders to our telegraph system, and are of great assistance in facilitating the despatch of business. I would direct attention to the fact that there is a want of ‘ uniformity in the arrangements for closing telephone and telegraph offices in New South- Wales. The telegraph offices are kept open until 8 o’clock in the evening, whereas the telephone offices are closed at 6 o’clock. I think that the telephone lines should be kept open until 8 o’clock, so that messages may be forwarded by telephone up to the hour of closing of the telegraph offices. Recently, when the PostmasterGeneral accompanied me on a visit to Koondrook, we found the telephone office closed, and I had to send a special messenger to the nearest telegraph office in order to secure the despatch -of a message to the *Sydney Morning Herald, in time, for publication next morning. The matters to which I have referred may appear very unimportant to some honorable members, but they are of vital concern to residents in the country districts, and I trust that the Minister will do his best to remedy any grievances that may now exist.
– I. have, no intention to enter upon any general criticism of the Department. I think that we have reason to congratulate ourselves upon the general excellence of our postal and telegraphic system. We know the Postmaster-General to be a man of very great energy, and to be prompted by an ambition to remedy any abuse which he may know to exist. I am sure that he will do as much as any other Minister has ever tried to do to distinguish himself. The number of suggestions that have been made to him to-night should furnish him with a programme sufficiently comprehensive to engage his attention during the short time that he is likely to occupy his present position. I wish now to refer to the question of the carriage of our mails between Australia and Great Britain. For some time I have been waiting to hear a statement form the PostmasterGeneral as to what steps the Go vernment propose to take in this connexion, after the expiry of the present contract. with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Steam Navigation Company. It is generally understood that resort is to be had to what is known as the poundage system, and I take it that the Government have been endeavouring to devise the very best means of carrying out their obligations to the Commonwealth under that system. Of course it is easy to declare, in a general way, that our mails can be placed on board any steamer which happens to be voyaging to the bid country. But we desire to insure that there shall be some regularity in our mail service, and I believe that we can do so. We have in office a Prime Minister who has openly declared his antagonism to section 16 of the Post and Telegraph Act, to which has been attributed the alteration in our system of mail carriage. Of course the statement has been denied again and again, but nevertheless it continues to be made. Seeing that we have in office a Prime Minister who has openly avowed his hostility to that particular provision, and who has expressed his intention of repealing it as soon as he gets an opportunity to do so, we may be pardoned’ for suspecting that when the Government get away from the restraining influence of this Chamber they may possibly do something which honorable members would strongly condemn them for doing. Consequently, it is all the more necessary that the PostmasterGeneral should give the Committee a clear idea of what the Government propose in connexion with the carriage of our mails oversea. Last night, the right honorable member for Swan delivered one of those breezy utterances to which he so often treats honorable members-. He possesses a happy knack of saying harsh, blunt things in a breezy, pleasant way, and if the reports of his speeches could only convey his accompanying smile they would not appear quite so stern as they do. But as they are published minus the smile, they may convey a different meaning from that which the right honorable member intended.
– What does the honorable member want - a post-office?
– My post.office is all- right. The right honorable member for Swan told us last night that two years ago we could have secured an extension of .the existing mail contract. Personally, I am very glad that no extension under existing conditions was agreed to. From my point of view, it would have been a mistake. There is no doubt that it would have been very much to the advantage of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation and the Orient Steam Navigation companies. As a matter of fact, I believe that they wished to enter into a new contract for a period of seven, if not ten, years.
– If we always looked at the advantage which the “ other fellow “ would get, we should never strike a bargain.
– It is time that Australia began to look to her own interests. We have been the servants of these two companies for many years. While we were unable to resent the conditions which they chose to impose, we were compelled to hold our peace. But I would point out that in the shipping world to-day competition is very much keener than it was ten years ago. The number of vessels available for the carriage of mails has very considerably increased. At the present time there are ships coming to our ports which are in every way equal to those belonging to the companies which have hitherto carried our mails. It was well for Australia that the Deakin Government did not assent to an extension of the existing contract. I have asked the official head of the Postal Department to furnish me with a statement as to what would be the cost of carrying our mails under the poundage system, and he has very courteously supplied me with that information. I hold in my hand a statement showingthe amounts which would be payable (a) at Postal Union rates for the sea conveyance of mail matter from Australia to Europe, including the United Kingdom, via Suez. I may explain that the Postal Union rates refer to the amount which is paid for services rendered by vessels carrying mails under contract with any country which is within the Postal Union. The regulation poundage rates are those prescribed by the Department, which have tobe paid for services rendered by vessels which are not under contract to any country within that Union. I find that under the new system the annual cost to Australia would be as follows : -
Parcels, 76,000 lbs., at 2d. per lb., £633 6s. Other articles, 600,000 lbs., 4 1-3d. per lb., £10,833 6s. 8d. per annum. Total, £27,591 13s. 4d.
The regulation poundage rates are very much less. They run as follow : -
Other articles (including parcels), 676,000 lbs., at 4s. per cwt., £1,207 4s.
Total, , £10,207 4s.
Compared with the sums which we have been paying to the shipping companies under the contract system, these figures seem ridiculously low. If we pay to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, which is contracting with the British Government for the carriage of mails one-half the postal union rates and pay another company at the regulation poundage rates, we shall still be spending less than £20,000 per annum for the carriage of our mail matter.
– How long will it take those vessels to deliver mails in London?
– It will not take them very much longer than it does at the present time. The shipping companies will find it to their advantage to make the voyage home as expeditiously as possible.
– The economical rate of speed for a vessel of 15 knots, is about 12 knots, as a rule.
– I understand that there is a speed at which the lowest consumption of fuel takes place. As against that, however, we have to take into consideration the increased trade which a ship will derive by reaching port a day or two sooner than she otherwise might.
– In taking mails from Australia, will the Peninsular and Oriental Company be bound to land them at Mar seilles, if they are addressed to London?
– We have every right to expect that we shall secure the same regularity in the matter of the conveyance of our mails as we have obtained under the contract system. As evidence of that fact, I have only to mention that the newspapers to-day contain a report to the effect that negotiations are in progress between a committee appointed by the butter exporters, and the representatives of the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies. It appears that the Australian managers of these companies, after conferring with the committee in question, were prepared to recommend the acceptance of a contract which provided for the same weekly service that our exporters are receiving under the present contract. I gather from the statements published in the press, that there is to be no alteration whatever in the time-tables of thesecompanies. The negotiations, I understand, have been temporarily suspended, on account of some revelation which has been made before the Butter Commission. The very fact, however, that the managers of these companies are. prepared to enter into a contract with the butter exporters, and to guarantee them a regular service, is evidence that under the poundage system we shall not have a poorer mail service than we obtain at present. Last night the right honorable member for Swan made two statements which require to be contradicted. He declared that the new system would cost the Commonwealth more than we pay at present. The figures which I have quoted show that we shall save about £50,000 annually upon the existing contract, and I think that is a sufficient reply to the statement that it is going to cost us a lot of money. Then the right honorable member did what I think he ought not to have done. He endeavoured to revive a scare which has been raised again and again, by suggesting that under the poundage system the mail steamers may not call at Fremantle. I am sure that the right honorable member does not wish anything of the kind to happen ; but he knows that some politicians for political purposes have mooted this question again and again. The suggestion was first made when section 16 of the Post and Telegraph Act came into operation. It has been shown repeatedly that the steam-ship companies have not increased their rates in consequence of that provision, and attempts are now being made to make it appear that there is some reason to fear that their vessels may not call at Fremantle because of the adoption of the poundage system. I do not think this Government would favour any steam-ship company which did not equally serve all the ports of the Commonwealth; I feel confident that they would rather give a preference to any line of vessels which would call at the same ports that are touched at now, and, if possible, go further north and make Brisbane a port of call. As long as there is any trade at Fremantle - and there is still an enormous trade to be done there - we shall have the mail steamers calling at that port, and I do not think that the right honorable member should voice the suggestion that there is any fear of their not doing so. Let me repeat, in conclusion, that such an important matter as the question of the oversea mail service should be dealt with before the House goes into recess. If the Minister will tell us that he is still negotiating with any of these companies we shall be prepared not to interrupt his overtures, but if he is not, and the Government have determined what action they will take, they ought to give the Committee the. fullest information. I hope that the Minister will do so when he makes his reply.
– I do not propose to offer anything in the nature of carping criticism with respect to the Post and Telegraph Department. I believe that the Minister has a knowledge of its working, which distinguishes him from several of his predecessors, and enables him to recognise the needs, not only of the large cities, but of the rural districts ; and I desire to bring under his notice some anomalies which should be removed. One of the great complaints in New South Wales with respect to Federation is that since this Department has been under the control of the Commonwealth its treatment of the people generally has not been nearly so liberal as it was when it was administered by the State. This is a Department which more closely touches the community than does any other service, and we were led to expect that some of the principal benefits which the people would derive from Federation would filter through it. The people of New South Wales, however, have been considerably disappointed. Many of the facilities which they enjoyed under the State system were withdrawn by the Commonwealth, on the plea that the Department must be conducted on sound commercial principles. We have to judge by the results whether it is so conducted, and I think it can be shown that the socalled unsound commercial system under which free weather telegrams and other services were rendered to. the people of New South Wales, prior to Federation, gave better results than have been shown by the Department since its transfer to the Commonwealth. If we remove some of the restrictions which have been placed on the extension of postal and telegraphic communication since the establishment of the Commonwealth, we shall confer a real benefit on the community, and lead to increased returns being secured. In some cases advantages have been extended to the people, and have not resulted in the loss to the Department which some of its controlling officers predicted. It was thought that one of the results of placing the Department under central control would be the establishment of a uniform system of penny postage for Australia. So far, however, we have not been able to secure that great boon. Shortly prior to the transfer of the Department to the Commonwealth, the penny postage system “ was introduced in Victoria, and the advantages which have resulted from that reform are so great that it should be extended to the whole of the people of Australia.
– They are losing about £60,000 a year as the result of it.
– In New South Wales there are penny postage zones, which embrace the big cities and towns, but the system does not apply to the whole State. The returns quoted by the Treasurer, in the course of his Budget statement, clearly show that the postal returns of New South Wales are larger than are those of any of the other States, and I think, therefore, that we have some claim for consideration. The finances of the Department are gradually improving, and we have reached the stage at which we should seriously consider the wisdom of giving the Commonwealth the great boon of penny postage, and of bringing it into line in this respect with New Zealand and other parts of the British Empire, including Great Britain itself. All progressive countries are showing a tendency ro cheapen their postal and telegraphic services, and to bring them more fully within the reach of the great masses of the people. The introduction of the penny postage system would be one of the best means of popularizing the Department and extending its sphere of usefulness. Although the introduction of the system in Victoria may have resulted at the outset in a loss, as the honorable member for Grampians has indicated, I am sure that as the reform became known and appreciated, the initial losses would disappear, and that it would be largely instrumental in placing the Department on a paying basis. One of the disadvantages under which New South Wales more particularly labours is the curtailment of postal facilities, so far as Sydney and the outlying rural districts are concerned. Prior to the transfer of the Department to the Commonwealth postal articles might be lodged at the General Post-Office up to nearly 8 p.m. for transmission by the out-going mail for the Western District, but partly as the result of alterations made in the railway time-table, it is now necessary to post them not later than 5.30 p.m. There was a delay of a day, or, at the end of the week, two days, in getting the mail matter out. That state of affairs was remedied, greatly by the strong representations which I made to the present Postmaster-General, and a late bag was made up and placed on board the express which leaves Sydney at 9 o’clock. That arrangement, however, only partially meets the requirements of the west, and there is still ample scope for improvement. I ask the Postmaster-General to ascertain if it is not possible to arrange for the later collection of letters posted in Sydney for transmission to country districts. The Redfern post-office is within half-a-mile of the central railway station ; but a letter must be posted there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to catch any of the mail trains leaving for country districts in the evening. Having found that it was too late to post at Redfern, I have gone to the late post -box at the central station, and, rinding that that was not open, have proceeded another mile to the General Post Office, and there posted in time to catch the mail. The city people suffer a real hardship from the present closing arrangements, which I think could be remedied at small cost. It would be of great advantage, both to cia, merchants and to those in ,the country with whom they do business, if they could post replies to their morning mails by the evening trains. I have been informed by country storekeepers that serious loss was entailed upon them at first by these early clearances, and that they still find them very inconvenient. Although ,the mail train now leaves Sydney for the west at 9 o’clock, whereas it previously left at 8 o’clock, the mails close an hour earlier, instead of an hour later, so that the public gets no advantage from the arrangements, so far as the mail is concerned. Another matter to which I wish to refer to is this: During the recent severe drought, many places which had a mail three times or twice a Week- were reduced to a weekly mail, it being promised that, when the drought was over, the old arrangement should be restored ; but in many cases the reduced service still takes effect. I do not contend that the Department should carry on services at a great loss, but wherever a service will pay, it should endeavour to meet the convenience of the community by expediting the transmission of mails. Very often the possibilities- of a’ district cannot be properly tested until adequate mail facilities have been provided. The granting of these facilities, too, often creates revenue, which is a phase of the question which the Department should* study. It must be remembered that the people in the back country are engaged in pioneering work. They are gradually making the country more habitable, and telephones and telegraphs are necessary to keep them in touch with the more closely settled districts nearer the coast. City people can scarcely appreciate the advantages of these means of communication to isolated districts. Many districts are now endeavouring to have their mail services supplemented with telegraphic or telephonic communication. A number of outlying stations have gone to the cost of connecting themselves by telephone with the nearest telegraph office, which in some instances may be twenty or thirty miles away, and in .this way the revenue from telegrams is being considerably augmented. When the honorable member for Macquarie was PostmasterGeneral in New South Wales, he did a good deal to assist this improvement of communication, and the lessening of facilities under Federal control was felt to be a very real hardship. To show what this hardship is, and how more enlightened methods may be adopted with advantage to both the Department and thf community, I will instance a case. On behalf of the residents of a small settlement in my electorate known as Yeovil, I asked for a statement of the conditions under which the Department will provide telephonic communication. I was told that the Department considered that it would not be revenue-producing, . and that the estimated cost of constructing the line showed that it would be necessary for the residents to place £168 to the credit of the Postmaster-General in the Savings Bank to cover possible losses extending over a period of five years. The people naturally refused to negotiate on such terms, which seemed to me to be ridiculous. I approached the then Postmaster-General with .a view to have the rules revised. They were revised, and twelve months afterwards I re-submitted an application. I was then told that the Department could see its way to construct a telephone line on a guarantee of £52 18s. Here was a difference of £115 between the two estimates. It is now disclosed- that the total’ revenue which is required to place the line upon a paying basis is something like £26 per annum, and that the guarantee will only be. drawn upon, in the event of the revenue in any one year falling below that amount. Those facts indicate how the Deipartment, by prohibitory charges at the out? set, block the extension of postal facilities in the country districts, and they also show how it is that Federation has not been so acceptable to the people as it ought to have been. The Department, by exercising a little common sense, and by dealing with its clients from a commercial stand-point, can Both extend its operations and increase its revenue. Another matter which I should like to bring under the notice of the Post* master-General is in regard to the regulations dealing with postal affairs. In many country towns in New South Wales and other States, newspapers are published. The present regulations require that the telegraph” reports sent to those journals shall be paid for on the delivery of the messages. This causes a considerable amount of inconvenience both to the proprietors and to the postmasters. The old arrange^ ment was that payments were made at stated periods. It appears to me that the Department should arrange to have payments made weekly or monthly. I never heard that serious Josses were incurred under the old arrangement, and certainly the Department is in a position to prevent losses under a reasonable arrangement of this ‘character. I would ask the PostmasterGeneral to consider the advisableness of altering the regulations so as to enable payments to be made on the part of the country newspaper proprietors at stated periods, instead of when the messages come to hand. Another matter relating to postal business is of interest to country districts. It often happens that country postmen, in travelling from one centre to another, have to effect a consider-* able number of intermediate deliveries.’ It is convenient to mail contractors, and to the public, to have their mail matter kept together. The system of private bags, has been introduced, but the charges are so excessive that small settlers cannot afford to pay for them. ‘ The sum of two guineas per annum is charged in many cases for private bags. The Department might reasonably reduce the charge to 10s. per annum. It is for the convenience of mail contractors that’ small bundles o’f letters and other postal matter should te made up for delivery. I have made representations to the Department on the ‘subject, suggesting that 10s. per annum should be the charge made.It would not entail much ‘more work upon’ the Department if the mail-bag- system were extended, or if parcels of letters were tied together with twine. It would increase the revenue, and be of great assistance to the mail contractors, who would thus have their bundles of letters and parcels securely fastened, instead of being loose and apt to get lost. Very often mail matter is overcarried through packets and letters becoming disarranged. If the plan I suggest were adopted, greater facilities would be afforded to wayside settlers, and also to country mail contractors, and’ at no great inconvenience to postmasters. I commend these suggestions to the consideration of the Minister. I hope that he will see his way to adopt such measures as will popularize the Department and make it more profitable.
– There is one matter to which’ I desire to direct the attention of the Minister. Prior to Federation the post-offices of Victoria were opened at 8.30 a.m., whereas at present the public are not admitted until 9 o’clock. It seems ridiculous that the public should have to wait for one hour after the work of the world has started in order to transact business with the Post and Telegraph Department. I brought this matter under the notice of the authorities some little time ago, and I was informed that the Department could not see its way to make any change. No reasons were given upon that occasion, and I should like the Minister to inform honorable members why the present arrangement is adhered to. Unless some : very good reason can be advanced, I hope that the offices will be opened at an earlier hour.
– I wish to impress: upon the Minister the desirability of extending as far as possible postal and tele- ° graphic and telephonic communication in the country districts. I had an opportunity of speaking to the Minister upon this subject very soon after he assumed office, and I gathered from what he said that his sympathies were .very strongly in the direction I have indicated. I trust that he will nowmake a public declaration of his views. The establishment of communication between the more remote country districts and the metropolis is of the very highest importance, and it would not be a mistake for us . to conduct the business of the Postal and Telegraph Department upon purely commercial lines. When we consider the struggles of our settlers and the hardships, they have to endure, owing to their being deprived of the conveniences provided by the State for dwellers’ in the cities and’ towns, we should be impelled to do everything we can to meet their requirements. We should not look necessarily for an immediate return, but should, deal generously with them. It is a difficult matter to decide exactly upon what basis this should be done. I presume that every case will have to be dealt with on its merits. Regard should be paid to the future development of our country districts, and we should not ask for guarantees in cases where the population is more or less scattered, and men are naturally in doubt as to How far the burden’ may fall upon single individuals. I hope that the Minister will see that the Department is conducted upon generous lines, because the welfare of the Commonwealth to a. large extent depends upon early and regular communications reaching those who are dwelling in distant localities, and are helping to develop the country.
– I cordially indorse the remarks made by the honorable member for Grey with regard to the sub-letting of mail contracts. I hope that the Minister will not permit any sweating in connexion with his Department. I think that it is undesirable that one man should be permitted to contract for so many services. I have no personal knowledge of the conditions which prevail in Queensland, but I should think that the remarks which have been made with regard to that State would apply also to other parts of the Commonwealth. Under the State régime sweating of the vilest description was carried on in the Victorian Postal Department. I went’ into figures with one contractor, who used to deliver mails in a most difficult part of the country.. I .visited that district it) the winter time, and I wondered how he had the courage to make his horses face the road. I ascertained that the contractor, who had to use a trap and two horses, was paid at the rate of 4$d. per hour.. I think that the Minister should consider what would be a fair price to pay for the work performed, and not necessarily accept the lowest tender.
– He would land himself in great difficulties if he did.
– I think that we should certainly avoid treating our contractors upon the contemptible lines followed by the Victorian Government. I cordially support the remark of the honorable member for Parramatta with regard to the Pacific Cable. It is highly desirable that our means of communication with the old world should be controlled by the State. If our cables were controlled by a private company it might be possible for an enemy in time of war to “get at” the owners and place us at a great disadvantage ; whereas such a thing could not occur if the cables were under the control of the State. I recently brought under notice the early collection of mails in Melbourne and suburbs. I do not think that we should study the great newspapers in a matter of this kind. The newspapers should be dealt with in exactly the same way as an ordinary private citizen, and I lodge my strongest protest against the early clearing of the postal pillars- to suit their convenience. I consider that the telephone charges in Melbourne are too high.
– May I suggest to the honorable member that when n o’clock arrives, honorable members may suffer’ a great deal of inconvenience in connexion with their trains if the sitting is prolonged. The honorable member can obtain leave to resume his remarks to-morrow.
House adjourned at 113 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 November 1904, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19041117_reps_2_23/>.