7th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
-I ask the Minister for Defence, without notice, whether it is a fact that the publication known as Stead’s War Facts has been prohibited ?
– Yes, it is a fact.
– Arising out of the answer to my question, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that this publication was completed about six months ago, and has been distributed?
– I am not aware of when it. was published or distributed, but recently it was - brought under the notice of the Department. I may say that it was brought under the notice of the Department by the Government of one of our Allies.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he give the names of the papers in Australia that are charging £1 5 s. per inch for advertising the Seventh War Loan?
– The newspapers are the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
Bill read a third time.
Debateresumed from 17th October (vide page, 7013), on motion by Senator
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), in moving the second reading of this Bill, did not attempt any very elaborate explanation of its probable effect in reducing the postal facilities of the Commonwealth. He said it was merely a formal war measure, introduced for the purpose of raising additional revenue. If it be necessary to impose further taxation for that purpose, there are many other avenues that might be exploited before it should become necessary to interfere with the postal facilities of the people. This Bill really proposes the imposition of a 50 per cent. tax on the people in outside districts who write letters to friends at the Front. I believe that Mr. Watt claimed that the Bill would not do that, but I find that it will do so. The poorer classes of the people will have to pay under this Bill a 50 per cent. tax on their letters, whilst tho telegrams and lettergrams of the business community are to be allowed to escape additional taxation. I do not think that is fair. Some other and better means might have been resorted to for the purpose of raising necessary war revenue.
I do not believe that the anticipations of the Government as to the amount of additional revenue that will be raised by the proposed additional postage of id. on letters- will be realized. The Government’ propose only a 30 per cent, increase on the income tax, but they are,’ under this Bill, proposing a 50 per cent, increase in the postage rate on the poor man’s letters. The taxation of the incomes of the rich would be a better source’ to which to look for revenue for war purposes. The Government do not propose to impose any increased land taxation, because, as the Minister explained in another place, that would hurt capital. The Government forget that capital is useless without labour, and it is very unfair to - impose additional - taxation on those who supply labour, whilst the owners of land are permitted to escape taxation. I heard recently a Taxation Commissioner in one of the States say that he could find a great deal of additional revenue under the land tax if the present exemption of £5,000 in value were lowered. . The Government do not propose to interfere with lhat exemption,, but if they reduced the value of land exempt from land tax to £3,000 they would derive four times the revenue they are likely to secure from this miserable additional taxation of the people’s letters. I am myself in favour of the £5,000 exemption from land tax, but the Government are not in favour of. it. I remember that they fought the paTty on this side very hard when the land tax was imposed and that exemption was provided for. They “ contended at that time- that the exemption was unjust. If they are still of that opinion, they have the opportunity and the power now to lower the exemption.
I believe there should be a straight-out war tax on everything consumed in the country, and that we should not allow one section of the community to escape taxation whilst others have to pay it. When tho unfortunate coal miner, who cuts 8 or 10 tons of coal a day, comes out of the mine at night, and wants a “ pint “ - which I say he thoroughly ‘ deserves, though I do not take liquor myself - every time he lifts his hand to -his mouth he has to pay l$d. to the revenue. Every time the man who drinks whisky puts his hand up to his mouth he must pay 2d. to the revenue. The Government have stated that they cannot, do without the revenue derived from the taxation of whisky and beer. The taxation they propose always bears . most heavily- upon the poorer classes of the community. The producers of wealth in this community have to pay everything, whilst tho dealers in their produce pay nothing. The people in the bush will, under this measure, be penalized to tho extent of an additional 50 per cent, on the postage on their letters, whilst, at the same time, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) is doing his best to render the postal service inefficient by cutting down the necessary expenditure for the delivery of mails throughout the country. This is an injustice to the people living in outside districts.
I find that in this Bill there is no provision made that it is to operate only during -the war and fox six months thereafter, though such a provision has appeared in all the war measures previously introduced. I want to know why it does not appear in this Bill.. It is clear that the intention is that the additional Jd. postage proposed shall not be removed for many years-. I am not very much opposed to that myself, hut the Government1, in the circumstances, should say straight out that this is not a war measure, and that it is their intention to increase the postage rates in the way proposed, if not far all, time, then for many years to come. The Bill can be best considered in Committee, and I inform the Government that when it reaches that stage it is my intention, when we .come to deal with clause 3, to move that the words “ for delivery therein” he left out, with a view to inserting the words “letters addressed to members of the Australian Imperial Force shall be exempt from taxation.” I intend to test, the feeling of honorable senators on that point.
.- I give my very hearty support to this Bill. In my opinion it has not been introduced soon enough. If honorable senators will consider What has been done in other parts of the world, they will be disposed to agree with me. In Great Britain, in the very early stages of the war, additions were made to the postage rates. In 1915, Mr. McKenna, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, abolished £d. postage in the United Kingdom. In 1917, Mr. Bonar Law raised the letter rate to l£d., and the rate on postcards to Id. Last November, in the United States of America, the rate on first class mail matter was increased from 2 .cents to 3 cents per oz., and the rate on postcards from 1 cent to 2 cents. As long ago as 1915, in Canada, 2 cents additional stamp duties were placed on letters and postcards. In 1915, also, in New Zealand, the postage rates were raised, and Trance revised her postage system very early in the war. I see no reason, then, why there should be any opposition at all to a Bill of this kind. Australia is the last country within the Empire and amongst the Allies to propose an increase of postage rates.
I think one of the most wonderful , advances in civilization to-day, as compared with the state of affairs that existed twenty-five or fifty years ago, is the fact that up till now it has been possible, in Australia, in recent years, for Id. to send a letter from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Leeuwin, or for a distance of 300 or 400 miles, from any railway station, by coach. The present postage rates in Australia must be admitted to be_ very low. We are faced with the necessity of raising additional revenue for war purposes. I believe that in the next financial year our burdens will have to be increased, and unless we try to place them fairly all round, we shall not be properly facing the obligation we have to meet in connexion with the reasonable and commonsense conduct of the war. Therefore, I give this Bill my hearty support. Some matters have, however, cropped up in connexion with the Bill that have caused some trepidation to many proprietors of smaller newspapers. While there may be no objection to the imposition of an extra £d. all round, there have been whispers in some quarters that, in addition to the imposition of this additional rate, the PostmasterGeneral has in mind the de registration of some of the smaller fortnightly and monthly papers. Whether this can be done by regulation or not I do not know, but I believe it can be done. I would, therefore, ask the Leader of the Senate (Senator Millen) to give us an assurance -that there will be no interference with the present postal system, and no attempt by the Postmaster-General to alter the method by which newspapers are now assessed. Many smaller newspapers at present take advantage of the bulk newspaper postal rates, and if they are de-registered they will have to pay Id. postage on each copy. This would be a disadvantage to country people, who largely subscribe to this class of newspaper, and I would like to have an assurance that such action will not be taken. If the Minister can give that assurance, I see no need whatever to criticise the proposals of the Government in the direction of additional postal taxation.
– The Government have been exceedingly ill-advised in asking this Chamber to indorse a proposal to impose additional postage rates on letters or newspapers. This measure is one which we are assured is for war purposes only; but, as a matter of fact, the money will be swept into the Consolidated Revenue, so it does not really matter, as far as I can see, whether it is to be regarded as a measure for additional postage rates for ordinary revenue purposes or one for war revenue purposes. The whole idea is entirely wrong.
It is surprising how these erroneous views with regard to national taxation arepersisted in. To-day we have on. the Ministerial benches Senator Millen and Senator Pearce, both of whom in their more youthful days had, and even now, when with clear brains they are capable of lucid thinking, have, no hesitation at all in taking advantage of every opportunity of pointing out to benighted citizens that the proper way of securing national revenue was by a straight-out. land tax without any exemptions or graduations of any kind. Upon this matter Senator Pearce was particularly strong on more than one occasion, and, as we ali know, there were few men who could speak more eloquently upon this subject than the present Minister for Defence. Unfortunately, however, for many years both he and his Ministerial colleague have smothered up their views on this particular question, and they are now ready to give support to any system of taxation that will have the effect of producing revenue and saving the owners of the Commonwealth from taxation. Every one was delighted when penny postage was established.
– Well, there may have been a few inconsequential, inconsiderate people who opposed the abolition of the 2d. postal rate, but, in. effect, they did’ not count. The people of Australia, with the exception of these few benighted citizens, acclaimed the establishment of penny postage, not only throughout the Commonwealth, but also with Great Britain; but to-day,’ unfortunately, the Government appear to be determined, not to impose taxation upon the wealthy people, who can well afford to bear it, but to place additional burdens on the shoulders cf those least able to stand it. It is not quite clear to me whether this tax will apply to letters posted for delivery abroad or not, but perhaps the Minister, in his reply, may be able to dispel any doubt I may have on this point. I disagree entirely with the statement made by Senator McDougall that income taxation is the proper source of revenue. A tax on income is a direct penalty upon industry, though it is a magnificent method of raising revenue, because the more a man works and the more income’ he receives, the more he is fined by the Government.
The present proposal is an exceedingly crude method of raising revenue, and I doubt if it will produce more than £250,000 a year, whereas if the Government could muster up sufficient courage to impose a straight-out land tax of say in the s£l - and even small owners would sacrcely object to that - they would derive more revenue than from this scheme to increase the postage rates on letters, letter cards, newspapers, and so on. The tax, in my opinion, is directed mainly against country people and country newspapers. A large proportion of the daily newspapers are delivered without going through the post, but papers despatched to the country must necessarily be posted, and no doubt the proprietors of those papers will be obliged, in their own defence, to pass this additional taxation on. Therefore, it would be a direct tax upon our primary producers, and as such should not receive the assent of this Chamber. The country newspapers have been hit heavily enough already, but apparently the Government are determined to still further restrict their operations, because I understand that in the near future regulations will be issued dealing with the control of the Paper Pool, which will operate to the disadvantage of the country press.
– It will not restrict them; it will help them.
– I understand they did not desire to have this Paper Pool imposed upon them. It is merely a Government device, and it is doubtful if it will be any more successful than most of the other pools that have been established. Some time ago we had the spectacle of the Government fixing the price of meat.
– Order ! I have allowed the honorable senator considerable latitude, but he cannot deal with matters that have no relation to the Bill before the Senate.
– I admit that I was drawn somewhat off the trend of my argument, and I was just .about to say that when the Government fixed the price of meat they fixed it at 2d. higher than people were paying prior to their interference.
The newspaper proprietors of Australia, numbering, I think, over 1,000, are doing valuable work. We have to rely upon them absolutely for all the information we obtain from other parts of the world, and yet we are seriously asked’ to take advantage of the war to impose upon them and upon their customers this additional and vexatious taxation. To my mind, it is an entirely wrong method of doing business, and one which should not receive the approval of this Chamber. For my part, I intend to oppose it to the very best of my ability. Since the outbreak of the war many people in Australia have been in a position to extract from the rest of the community practically any price they liked for the commodities they supply. The cost of many articles has gone up 300, 400, and 500 per cent., and though the Government pretended by means of the war-time profits taxation to call upon them to pay something of that excessive amount into the Consolidated Revenue, so far they have not been very successful. At all events, it is quite certain that the public have to pay exorbitant prices, and, so far as we can ascertain, this condition of things will continue. In my opinion, it would have been very much better if the Government, in their desire for. additional revenue, instead of increasing the postal- rates, had sought to impose additional penalties on these people. I have not definite information on the point, but I understand the Government intend to seriously handicap the established fortnightly and monthly newspapers. On several occasions different Postmasters-General have sought to curtail the rights of newspaper proprietors so far as postal facilities are concerned by endeavouring to secure their de-registration so as to bring them under the provision of’ the Act relating to printed matter, and compel them to pay heavy rates of postage. There is nothing of- that sort in this Bill ; but I would like to have’ an assurance from the Minister that they do not intend to do anything in this direction. This measure is quit© bad enough. It is quite uncalled for and will, I hope, be rejected by the Senate. I shall oppose it at every stage.
– As I am entirely” in support of the Bill I rise only with the object of amplifying the remarks made by Senator Pratten on the question of the probable de-registration of fortnightly and monthly periodicals. The Pastoralists’ Review, for example, is of the greatest educational value to persons on the land. Similarly, the Sugar Journal is highly esteemed by all who are engaged in the sugar industry. It would be a great blow to these journals if they were deregistered. Not merely would, they be obliged to pay full rates of postage, but their prestige would suffer very materially. I hope, therefore, that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) will caution our poetical friend in another place that the Bill . will meet with a great deal of opposition if these fortnightly and monthly journals are to be deregistered. At the present time they are performing splendid educational work throughout the Commonwealth, and anything which is calculated to harm them will be immediately resented by a great number of people.
– May I inform the honorable senator that this Bill does not touch the question of registration, and that no alteration can be made in that connexion except by Act of Parliament?
– I am very glad to have that assurance. I shall not endeavour to convert Senator Grant, who has expressed his own views in regard to the imposition of a land tax, but shall reserve my remarks under that heading for a future occasion. ‘
.- We have listened to some very extraordinary doctrines on the principles of taxation from our honorable friends opposite. I was extremely amused when Senator McDougall pointed out that the Government could have obtained the revenue which will be derived under this Bill from a reduction in the exemption allowed in respect of land tax. . But no sooner had he made that declaration than the spectre of certain angry electors confronted him, and. he hastened to assure us that he himself was not in favour of any such proposal. Now I submit that before any honorable senator offers an alternative to the proposal of the Government it should be an alternative which he himself is prepared to support.” We should not be in any better position if we adopted Senator McDougall’s proposal - from the stand-point of his opposition to it - than we are now.
– Accept my suggestion.
– When the honorable senator has convinced his own political organization that his views are sound he will have a better chance of getting them accepted here.
– I did that -on one occasion, you know.
– For a few hours.
– It. was a glorious time, was it not?
– Nobody pretends to like this Bill. Nobody likes any taxation measure. But taxation is a matter of necessity. I am as heartily in accord with the advantages conferred by cheap postage as is any honorable senator. But revenue has to be raised, and this Bill is intended to help to fill up the gap which the war has created in the Treasury, and it must be regarded from that stand-point alone. Senators Pratten and Fairbairn have referred to a matter which has caused some little anxiety in the minds of other honorable senators and of a section of the community out- side - I allude to the possible deprivation of the rights which are at present enjoyed by certain journals. But I would point out that those rights are protected by section 29 of the principal Act, and that the journals which enjoy them caunot ‘be deprived of them unless Parliament first revokes that section. I mention the matter so that honorable senators wiE be in a better position to ventilate their’ views upon it should any amendment he submitted in that direction.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 -
After section six of the principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ 6a. In addition to the rates of postage prescribed by Parts I. and II. of the first schedule to this Act, there shall be payable for the newspapers and postal articles set out in the first column of Part III. of that schedule and posted within the Commonwealth for delivery therein, the rates of war’ postage as set out in the second column of that part.”
– I move-
That the words “ for delivery therein “ be left out.
I do so with a view to moving later for the insertion of the words, “Letters addressed to members of the Australian Imperial Force shall be exempt.”
– They are exempt.
– It has been stated in another place that they are not. We all know that the Government cannot fix the postal rates which operate outside the Commonwealth. They are prescribed by another authority. The regulation under which letters for places outside the Commonwealth are delivered to-day is such that letters posted to members of the Australian Imperial Force will be required to bear this increased tax. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) has definitely said that that is so. It is manifestly unfair that this tax should be placed upon persons whose relatives are fighting at the Front. I know a lady who has three sons serving abroad, to whom she writes regularly every week. Other members of the family also correspond with them at frequent intervals. Are they to be taxed 50 per cent, under this Bill?
– I intend to support the amendment. Notwithstanding the assurance of the Government that it is not intended to impose extra taxation on correspondence addressed to members of the Australian Imperial Force, I think it is desirable that the matter should, be placed beyond doubt. I do not suppose that Ministers will go so fat as to seek to penalize persons with relatives at the Front by insisting upon this extra postage applying to correspondence addressed to them. But surely the enhanced, prices which *the dependants of our soldiers overseas have to pay for the necessaries of life should be more than sufficient to induce the Government to make it perfectly clear that this increased postage rate shall not apply to letters addressed . to members of the Australian Imperial Force.
– I desire to point out that, under Part II. of the principal Act, this clause will also apply to magazine’s posted to members of the Australian Imperial Force. Now, we all know what a benefit these publications confer upon our soldiers whilst they are resting, and we are aware of the efforts that are constantly being made by the Red Cross organizations to collect them.
– Most of the magazines go forward in bulk, I think.
– I am desirous of imposing effective safeguards. I am sure it is not the intention of the Committee to raise revenue upon articles posted to our men at the Front. Personally, I would rather levy a tax of .2d. upon our own letters and newspapers than impose a tax of even ¼d. on the letters and newspapers forwarded to our soldiers.
.- I am not at all sympathetic with the cheap philanthropy of the Acting Leader of the Opposition -(Senator McDougall). I think we should view this matter from the stand-point of payment for services rendered. I should like to seize this opportunity to direct the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen)” to the question of surcharges which will arise when this measure becomes operatire. *I would respectfully suggest that the Postmaster-General should not be too precipitate in taking action for the collection of surcharges, particularly on country letters. If he is, before the residents of the interior are aware that the Bill is in operation, not only will they be called upon to put an extra £d. stamp on their letters, but the recipients may also be obliged to pay a similar amount. I therefore suggest that this aspect of .the matter should be brought under the attention of the Post.masterGeneral . (Mr. Webster), and that the Bill should not be proclaimed until everybody has had a fair opportunity of becoming acquainted with its provisions.
– I am unable to accept the amendment of Senator McDougall. The Bill merely proposes to levy an additional tax on letters and newspapers posted in the Commonwealth for delivery within the Commonwealth. Senator McDougall has been quite frank in regard to his amendment. He is seeking to secure the deletion of certain words in order that the Bill shall apply to letters and newspapers posted for delivery beyond the Commonwealth. Then he proposes the insertion of words, which will have the effect of exempting from taxation correspondence and newspapers addressed to members of the Australian Imperial Force.
– That is not the object of the amendment.
– I thought Senator McDougall nodded his assent to my statement of the case, and I much prefer Senator McDougall, as an authority on his own amendment, to Senator Grant. By section 14 of the principal Act power is . given to the Governor-General in Council to make arrangements with the authorities of other countries “ with regard to the distribution of postal matter and the rates to be fixed” in regard thereto.” It is essential that that authority, should be given to the Executive, because it would be most difficult for -a Parliament to negotiate with a variety of Governments scattered all over. the world. The Government propose to “take action under that section in order to levy this; tax in respect of letters and papers going’ beyond Australia. It will not operate on’ parcels going beyond Australia. That being so, Senator McDougall’s object to that extent will be met without his amendment, but he wishes to go further by exempting letters addressed to the members of the Australian Imperial Force. The Government do not see their way to accept that proposal. There is an appeal to sentiment underlying it, for everyone would naturally endeavour to facilitate the transport of letters and other comforts to the soldiers abroad, but when the honorable senator considers the extent to which the finances call for money, and how heavily the direct taxes have been increased, he will see that this addition which it is proposed to place, not on the soldier, but on those who write to him, is not an undue burden. I would remind the Committee how heavily the direct taxes have been; multiplied since the war started. There was no Commonwealth income tax when war broke out. It began with a fairly substantial introductory effort. It was increased by 25 per cent, in 1916, and it is now to be increased by 30 per cent. This represents a fairly substantial move in the upward direction. The land tax has already been increased by approximately 40 per cent. It is not possible to state the increase more definitely, because there was a difference in the method of assessing and collecting the tax. Another increase of 20 per cent, is now before Parliament. In view of those facts, no one can fairly regard this comparatively slight and very general additional tax as oppressive on any particular section of the community.
– And . the probate duties have been increased.
– The honorable senator is quite right. I can fairly claim that the Bill justifies the Government’s contention that in levying this additional burden of taxation it has sought to distribute it fairly throughout the various sections of the community according to their capacity to pay and their fair obligations to the country as a whole. For those reasons I am unable to accept the amendment.
.- The Minister (Senator Millen) has made it perfectly clear that what I said was absolutely correct. I am pleased to have his assurance that letters to the members of the Australian Imperial Force will he taxed unless my amendment is agreed to by the Committee. The words I have indicated must be left out to give me an opportunity to insert others.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out be left out (Senator McDougall’s amendment)- put. The Committee divided -
Ayes … . . 4
Noes … … 17
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 -
After Part II. of the First Schedule to the principal Act the following Part is inserted: -
– I moveThat the words “½d. per 20 ozs. on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted by any one person at any one time” be left out.
The effect of the amendment would be to exempt newspapers from the operation of the additional tax. We should be exceedingly careful in taxing what is un doubtedly the best means of spreading information throughout the country. It is no doubt true that many newspapers week after week circulate statements that are not quite correct, or that are sometimes misleading, damaging to one party or another, or erroneous, but, on the whole, they circulate a vast amount of reliable andup-to-date information, without which the people would be unable to communicate with one another or ascertain what is passing in the world around them. Take a paper like the Worker, for instance, which in bygone days has been the means of consolidating and building up a magnificent party in Australia. Take the Standard, run by Mr. A. G. Huie, in Sydney, the organ of the Single Tax party there. It has done probably more than any other organ to inculcate correct ideas on the question of national, State, and municipal taxation, and done it very well. Under this proposal, the Government intends to swoop down on these newspapers, and tax them an additional 20 per cent.
– What is the Standard’s circulation?
– I could not say, but I hope it is fairly extensive. It certainly deserves to be. There are a great many weekly newspapers, and many monthly newspapers in the Commonwealth, and, taking them by and large, they are the best existing means of conveying information to the people. The Government might well abandon this proposal, and let them enjoy the same freedom as they have had for many years past.
– The amendment requires very little debating. The Government propose to levy a½d. war tax on papers and letters passing through the post. Senator Grant proposes to exempt newspapers entirely from the operation of the Bill. It is impossible to accept that amendment.
.- While I do not think there should be exemptions in a Bill of this kind, I cannot help thinking of a class of newspaper circulating very largely in the country districts, which is the news purveyor and teacher of the people away back. With the increased- price and scarcity of paper they are having a very hard time of it, and an increase of 50 per cent. in the charge for their transmission would press very heavily on them. Throughout the States there is a large number of publications of this class, and I am afraid that this impost - small as it may seem to us - will cause many of them to succumb. That means that the tax will entirely take away the livelihood of those connected with them. Something could be done, perhaps, by way of regulation, which would ease what will otherwise become a real hardship.
– I am in some sympathy with the remarks of Senator Senior. If one were able to differentiate between newspapers circulated exclusively in the country and those having a city and suburban circulation, I should have been inclined to urge some small amendment of the first portion of the schedule. However, there is considerable difficulty in making any differentiation; and, in view of the statements of the Minister (‘Senator Millen), that no attempt will be made in the direction of a drag-netting of revenue by deregistration of certain newspapers published at intervals longer than a week, I shall support the clause as it stands. We must have revenue. This is a war tax, and all sections of the people should help to pay war taxation. After all, the tax is only $A. upon bundles of newspapers, instead of upon individual papers. True, there will be a shortage of news paper; and it is equally true that the cost of paper has advanced considerably. But the very shortage of paper, ,and the diminution in the size of many, publications will reduce the taxation.
– I support the amendment. I have received communications, from a number of newspaper publishers, not all of whom are Labour supporters, but are the proprietors of newspapers such as the Land’ and the Stock and Station Journal.
– ‘But those parties have communicated with the honorable senator, fearing that the Government intended to interfere with their classification.
– They have pointed out that the extra postage will practically ruin them. All the revenue which the Government may receive from this taxation will not balance the harm done if these journals, so useful and educational in a country such as ours, have to close down. Taxation that will interfere with, and cause the closing of an avenue of education, should not be imposed at the present time. The whole of the revenue to be received will be comparatively very small - not worth talking about when dealing in millions, as Australia is to-day. I shall not vote for the imposition of a tax that will be so harmful as this threatens to become.
– Will the matter of 5s. per 1,000 newspapers close them up?
– The proprietors say so. The heavy cost of newspaper production to-day does not give much margin of profit. Many offices are being carried on practically at a loss; the publishers are awaiting the time when paper will become cheaper. They will have to cease activities if this tax is placed on top of their present burdens.
– Another matter Which has been overlooked is, that many newspapers enter into contracts with their subscribers to deliver months hence. The Government, without giving any warning of their proposals, will be levying a tax which the newspaper proprietors can have no chance of passing on. Later, if the tax comes into operation, customers, no doubt, will have to pay whatever extra postage may be demanded1. Meanwhile, the cost will fall on the newspaper proprietors. I have been repeatedly assured that, owing to the shortage of paper and the difficulty of securing all supplies for the production of newspapers, the outgoings are so heavy that many publishers feel inclined to cease publication. Tha additional postage taxation will1, in some cases, involve the extinction of useful newspapers. It is all very well for some proprietors, having unlimited supplies of cash at their disposal, and who would like to see only one newspaper in the Commonwealth ; but we need a few more newspapers than one, and this proposal of the Government will seriously handicap the smaller productions.
.- There is a class of newspaper seat out by weight, which, apparently, is not protected under the Bill. As an example, I cite the publication of one of the Returned Soldiers Leagues, in Brisbane, known as the National Leader. This paper is sent out to subscribers in single wrappers, but it is taken to the post-office in bundles, which are weighed, and charged for in. bulk form.
– The existing practice in that regard will not be altered.
– Will it not mean that, instead of the £d. being charged upon bundles of papers in their individual wrappers, the additional id. will have to be affixed to each?
– That will not be the case.
– Although I shall not support the amendment, I would like to see the Government make some exemption in respect of newspapers having only a small circulation. I do not think the larger papers will be hard hit; but there are some, having a circulation of about 2,000, which will be heavily imposed upon. The circulation of the National Leader, for instance, is not very extensive, and its publishers are struggling along, probably without making any profit. Will the Government exempt from the provisions of the Bill those newspapers which are run by legitimate . soldiers’ organizations? Probably there are only three in Australia.
– Do you want them subsidized?
– I do not regard my suggestion as meaning a subsidy. We continually hear the sentiment expressed that we should do all we can for the soldier. I ask the Government, therefore, if they can see their way clear to grant the exemption I have indicated. So far as I can recall, the only soldiers’ papers in Australia which would be subject to the proposed tax are the National Leader, the Soldier, and the Nation.
– I have a great respect for members of the fourth estate. This is a debate that will probably be read keenly throughout Australia by newspaper proprietors. When it was mooted, a month or two ago, that the Government proposed to raise revenue through the Post Office by imposing war taxation on all postal matter, it was thought that the intention was to abolish the rate whereby newspapers can be cheaply posted in bulk, and to impose a ½d. postage tax as well as a id. war tax. There was justifiable alarm and agitation, since it would mean, practically,, ruin to many smaller newspapers circulating in country districts. The Bill does not provide for that, however. The Government has merely placed an additional ½d. war postage on bundles of newspapers, to whomsoever addressed and wherever addressed, which do not exceed 20 ounces in weight. The average weight of a newspaper is probably not more .than 3 or 4 ounces, unless it is enlarged by advertisements, which, of course, are highly payable. Consequently the proposal now is, in effect, to impose a id. additional war tax upon an average of every five newspapers posted. This means lOd. per 100, or 8s. 4d. per 1,000, in lieu of the proposal feared by the newspaper publishers, amounting to id. upon each paper, which” would mean £2 ls. 8d. per 1,000. T am informed that the present proposal, so far as the majority of newspaper proprietors are concerned, has been, received with reasonable satisfaction. A month or two ago it was thought that included in these proposals would he a provision to deregister all newspapers registered at the Post Office for conveyance through the post as newspapers published at longer intervals than a week. This also was objected to, and rightly so. In the course of the debate, the Minister (Senator Millen) gave us his assurance that there would be no alteration made, so far as the postage on these newspapers is concerned; and that if any alteration is proposed, it will first come before Parliament, and may be fully discussed. Consequently, the objections which were at first rightly taken to what were thought to be the proposals of the Government are without effect, because those proposals . are not included in this Bill. I support the schedule as proposed, for the reason that I do not see how we can reasonably make any exemptions in connexion with a war tax intended to cover the length and breadth of Australia.
– We have had the assurance of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) that the postage on newspapers is net going to be interfered with, but I direct attention to the fact that the schedule provides that papers posted without” conditions as to the number contained in each addressed wrapper by registered newspaper proprietors or by news ven-dors, or returned by an agent or news vendor to the publishing office, shall bear a war postage rate of Jd. per 20 ozs. on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted by any one person at any one time. The present rate of postage on newspapers for 20 ozs. is Id., and after the passing of this Bill it will be ltd In the circumstances, I cannot understand the contention of Senators Millen and Pratten that these newspapers are not to be interfered with. Since I last addressed honorable senators, the following telegram has been handed to me, which has been received from the proprietors of a number of newspapers published in Sydney: -
We respectfully proto-t against proposed increase bulk newspaper rate as imposing serious burden upon subscription papers. Is it equitable to penalize subscription papers who use postal service as almost their entire’ means of distribution for raising of war revenue that should be equally borne by all classes of papers? Loss of revenue through curtailment of paper supplies has” already caused serious tax upon this class of publication.
This telegram is. signed on behalf of the following journals: - Land, Worker, Farmer and Settler, Stock and Station Journal, Bulletin, Sunday Times, and Truth. The proprietors of these journals realize that they are going to be hit by the taxation imposed by this measure, and I should like the Minister for Repatriation, to show me how they are to escape its effects. These people know as well as I and other honorable senators do, that it is proposed under this Bill to impose a war tax of 50 per cent, on papers posted in bulk.
– I am somewhat disappointed that the Government, when they were dealing with these postage rates, were not courageous enough to deal more definitely with the postage on newspapers. They still propose to allow newspapers to go through the post-office at a rate of Id. for 20 ozs. That is to say, that any number of papers posted in bulk up to 20 ozs. may be sent to any part of Australia at present for Id. This means, in the case of some of the smaller newspapers,” that any number up to fifty, and even up to eighty, newspapers can be put into one package with different addresses on each, and for Id. can be sent to any part of Australia. It is true that the big metropolitan newspapers, in the case of their Saturday issues, may each weigh 5 or 6 ozs., but there are only three or four such newspapers published in Australia. Some of our newspapers are so light that it takes eighty of them to weigh 20 ozs. I know that the newspaper postage presented to the Post and Telegraph Department a difficult problem in the past. One reason for this was that when Federation was brought about, there was free postage of newspapers in New South Wales and in Queensland, and so a sort of compromise ‘had to be made. I think that the time has come when we might say that a postage rate of Id. shall be charged on every newspaper posted in the Commonwealth. That . is so in New Zealand, and also in England.
– But our conditions are different from the conditions in those countries.
– The difference in conditions is to our disadvantage, because we have to carry newspapers all over a continent. In England and New Zealand a postage rate of Id. is charged to carry a newspaper over a country no bigger than Victoria; whereas, here, we have so far been prepared to say that as many as eighty newspapers may be sent to any part of this continent for Id*.
– It is because Australia is a continent that better facilities should be given for the distribution of newspapers.
– That is one way of looking at it, but in my opinion it is not unreasonable to ask that there should be a postage rate of Id. on every newspaper. If that course were adopted, it would be much easier to decide what a newspaper is. I am sure that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Webster), when he is not composing poetry, has some of his time taken up ‘ in deciding what a newspaper is. Some little leaflet is started for one purpose or another, and in order to secure a cheap postage rate it is registered as a newspaper. The postal authorities are very anxious that they should not have to register every publication as a newspaper because of the low postage rate of Id. on 20 ounces. If a postage rate of Id. were charged upon every copy of a pamphlet, or poem, or issue of a newspaper, the Department could raise no objection. I am not opposing the schedule rate proposed in this Bill, but I should have been better pleased if the Government had taken advantage of the present favorable opportunity to do what I have suggested.
I do not for a moment think that the Post Office should be a tax-collector. I think it is reasonable to contend that the Post Office should pay, but I do not think we are entitled to expect that it should be a tax-gatherer.
– Then why did the honorable senator vote for the reduction which brought about penny postage?
– For the very reason that I am setting forth now - that I do not believe that the Post Office should be regarded as a tax-gatherer. I think that penny postage pays. “We are now in a time of war and difficulty, and things are different from what they are in times of peace, and I should like to have seen in this Bill some provision to secure that its operation should continue only for a certain limited time. I should like to have seen a clause providing that six months after the declaration of peace the operation of the measure should cease. I repeat my expression of regret that, for the sake of the Post Office itself, the Government did not take advantage of the present opportunity to rise to the occasion and deal with the postage on newspapers in the way I have suggested.
– It is quite evident that Senator Thomas’s association with the Post and Telegraph Department has seriously affected his views on the question of taxation. He is a gentleman who thoroughly understands the question of land value taxation, and knows that it is, par excellence, the method which ought to be adopted for the raising of revenue. Yet we hear him to-day not only approving of the proposal submitted by the Government, but going further, and expressing his regret that they have not seen their way clear to introduce a mea-“ sure to impose a tax upon each individual newspaper.
– It is a shameful betrayal of the honorable senator’s past principles.
- Senator Thomas has completely lapsed from grace, along with Senators Millen and Pearce. I cannot say whether Senator de Largie has ever been on the right -track. We have been asked by Senator Thomas to approve of this proposal because .they do this in England. What have we to do with England and Canada in this matter ?
– We have a good deal to do with England just now.
– We have nothing whatever to do with England on the question of taxation. There is no country in the world where taxation is more unfairly imposed than it is in England.
– The honorable senator does not know what he is talking about.
– I do, and I repeat there is no country in the world, where taxation is more unfairly imposed upon the workers than it is in England. Senator Pratten must know that.
– Order ! The honorable senator is not in order in discussing taxation in England on this Bill.
– We were asked by Senator Thomas, without any interruption from the Chair or from any one else, to look to England in this matter.
– The honorable senator is not in order in reflecting on the Chair.
– I regret if any remark I have made should be a reflection upon the Chair, but I should like to say that there is no occasion why we should imitate England, New Zealand, or any other country. This proposal is only common sense. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Millen) will not give any assurance that the Government have not another Bill up their- sleeve. I have good reason to believe that they have, and I think that Senator Pratten, as a member of the Caucus, is aware of this. In the near future, probably when, we re-assemble, this other piece of legislation will be submitted for our consideration. I hope the Committee will agree with the suggestion I have made.
– The amendment moved by Senator McDougall, and supported by Senator Grant, suggests that they have a great deal of sympathy with those magazines which, they pretend to believe, are to be crushed out of existence. I have no feeling against those productions, and from an educational point of view I would, with other honorable senators, do all in my power to support them. But there is one phase of this subject that so far has been) overlooked. These magazines and papers have been reaping enormous profits of late from their advertisements. Most newspapers have raised their rates enormously since the war started, and to that extent they have proved very good profiteers.
– The newspapers will not pay this tax ; they will pass it on to the people.
– They will recoup themselves by increasing the rates on their advertisements. And they might very well do so in regard to some customers, especially drapers, who are always advertising, and who have proved to be the biggest profiteers in the whole community. The amount of profiteering that they have been guilty of is scandalous. The Government should not have allowed it. I suggest to honorable senators opposite that many of the newspapers are reaping a very good harvest in spite of the increased cost of paper. Personally, I believe that every person in the community should contribute something towards the cost of the war, and for this reason I am in favour of the Bill as a war tax.
– But why not put it on all papers?
– It is.
– It is not.
– I cannot see where discrimination is made in newspapers sent through the post. The Post Office is a business Department. It should be treated as such, and not from a sentimental point of view. If it renders the public a service, it should be paid for it on business lines.
Clause agreed to:
. - I move-
That the following new clause be inserted : - “5. This Act shall continue in operation during the continuance of the war and for six months thereafter.”
As I said just now, while I believe in the Post Office being paid for services rendered, I am not in favour of it occupying the position of a tax collector, and I think Senator Grant did me a very grave injustice in this respect.
– Then vote against the Bill.
– I will not do that. I intend to support the Bill because we are at war. I could not vote for any increase in postage rates except for this reason.
– The war and the Caucus.
– I do not know that this matter was brought up in the Caucus of our party. I am in favour of the Bill merely as a war measure. In other circumstances I could not support it.
– But you should not forget that interest will still have to be paid after the war.
– I do not forget that, but I want to see the money raised in some other way than by taxing the people who use our Post Office. We might just as well say that we should raise more revenue by means of our railways - on the east-west railway, for example - because after the war we shall have to pay interest on our debts. As it is war time, and I recognise that the Government must get money, I am prepared to support the measure, but only for the period of the war and for six months afterwards. If the new clause be inserted, the Act will automatically cease six months after the war, and if then the Government desire a renewal they can reintroduce it.
– Do you say that in peace time penny postage paid the cost of handling all letters in Australia?
– That is a perfectly fair question, and I think the reports show that before the war penny postage was very nearly paying in the Commonwealth. I had the pleasure, in another place, of introducing the Bill for penny postage, and I remember that in the first year it was estimated there would be a loss of between £400,000 and £500,000, but that, as has been the experience of every other country in the world, it was expected, as the result of increased business, the deficiency would gradually disappear and the policy be justified. It was being reduced from year to year, and when war broke out the service was very nearly paying. I think the Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster), in another place, said he was hoping that this branch of the Post Office business would be paying this year, though it is likely this might be the result of the tremendous number of letters that are being sent to our soldiers at the Front. I cannot but believe, however, that if war had not broken out penny postage would have been profitable to-day, because Australia was going ahead by leaps and bounds, and the Post Office revenue was increasing steadily. Under ordinary circumstances, I think penny postage will pay, and if we adopt the amendment I have submitted, the Ministry can appeal to Parliament six months after the war is over, and we can then discuss this question of postal rates in time of peace. I know that a Treasurer finds it difficult to give up any source of revenue, and, therefore, I think it advisable that we should insert this provision in the Bill, because, otherwise, I am afraid it will be many years before the additional rates are removed. By the adoption of my amendment, the Act will cease to operate six months after the war, and the Government will have to come to Parliament if they desire a renewal of this measure. We shall then tie able to discuss it on its merits and irrespective of war conditions.
– I think Senator Thomas used one word which disposes of his general argument.
– Then I will drop it out.
– The honorable senator said that if the new clause were inserted the Act would automatically cease six months after the war. I invite him to bear in mind, however, that this tax is imposed in consequence of the war, and to that extent it is a war tax. It is, however, different from other war activities in the sense that it is not directly a war operation, such as would be the casting of cannon or the making of rifles, which would automatically cease at the end of the war. This tax is not so much consequent upon the war as upon the expenses occasioned by the war, and I remind the honorable senator that that expense will not cease with peace ‘ or six months after peace is declared. It is impossible to forecast anything, but I think I am on quite safe grounds when I say that the expenditure for twelve months after peace is declared will be greater than the expenditure of to-day. The necessity for this tax, therefore, and the necessity for which it is being imposed, will not disappear with the termination of the war, nor with the expiration of six months after the war. I ask Senator Thomas to recognise that his automatic destruction of the proposal embodied in this Bill would really deprive it of the purpose for which it is introduced, namely, to provide for war expenditure - not for expenditure in war time. The honorable senator has stated that if his proposal be carried, it will be possible to bring forward a measure at a later stage authorizing the continuance of the tax if it should be deemed desirable to continue it. May I remind him that honorable senators will have an opportunity of declining to sanction the continuance of the impost when the Estimates are under consideration. I think, therefore, he may accept the assurance of the Government that this Bill represents one of the means upon which they rely to aid the revenue in meeting the expenses occasioned by the war. Whether we should be able to discontinue the impost six months after the termination of the struggle I cannot say. That is a matter which, at present, is in the lap of the gods. In view of the difficulty of determining the period when we shall beable to discontinue this charge, I ask Senator Thomas to withdraw his amendment.
– I think the Minister for Repatriation knows that I would like to meet his views in regard to this Bill, especially when he puts his case in the nice manner in which he has put it. But I feel strongly upon this matter. I am not wedded to limiting the operation of the Bill to a period of six months after the war so long as a definite period is prescribed for its continuance. I do not mind if the period be increased to nine months, or even twelve months, after the closing of the war. The honorable gentleman has pointed out that this is not a temporary measure,but one which is designed to assist in enabling us to meet the very heavy expenditure that has been occasioned by the terrible conflict which is now raging. I know that the Government are desirous of raking in revenue from every available source, and I am aware that their task is a difficult one. But the Bill will impose a burden upon many persons who think that money ought not to be raised in this way. The Minister has practically declared that the Treasurer regards the Post Office in the light of a tax-collector. Now, I am en tirely opposed to the recognition of that principle. I have always been opposed to the Post Office being run’ as a benevolent institution, and I have always held that the services which it renders should be paid for by the people. Honorable senators will doubtless recollect that some time ago I was subjected to a good deal of odium because I endeavoured to impose adequate telephonic rates with a view to making that branch of the Department pay its way. Similarly I hold that the telegraphic branch should be adequately paid for the services which it renders. But as a matter of fact it is not.
– It is a pity that the honorable senator does not urge the Government to impose a land tax.
– The Post Office should be made to pay for the services which it renders the public. Whilst I favour the imposition of a land tax to pay for free railways, I have never gone to the extent of advocating a land tax to pay for the Post Office; but prices charged by the Postal Department should be commensurate with the services that are rendered by that Department. I know that in England in times past many millions of pounds have been collected from the Postal Department in excess of the cost of conducting that Department. In making his financial statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been in the habit of announcing that there was a surplus of so many millions from the Post Office. But in Australia we have not yet obtained’ a surplus from our Postal Department. The remarks of the Minister for Repatriation clearly show that the Government view this Bill as a means of raising revenue, not merely for the present’ time, but for the period which will follow the termination of the war. I certainly think that when the struggle is over it would be better to raise revenue from the imposition of a land tax than from the Post Office.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Senator MILLEN (New SouthWales-
Minister for Repatriation) [12.55]. - I move -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till Wednesday, the 30th October.
Honorable senators may assume from the submission of this motion that I do not see sufficient work ahead of us to warrant me asking them to attend here next week. But during the interval that will elapse before we meet again, there is every reason tosuppose that the other branch of the Legislature will send up sufficient business to keep us continuously employed thereafter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following paper was presented: -
Commonwealth Railways Act 1917 - By-laws Nos. 6 and 7.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
SenatorPRATTEN (New South Wales) [12.56].- I desire to direct the attention of honorable senators to regulation No. 274 under the War Precautions Act which provides that “ it shall not. be lawful for any Public Department of a State, or any authority constituted under the law of a State, to undertake, without the written consent of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, the construction or erection of any tramway, or tramway building or office.” In my opinion that regulation is calculated to interfere with the sovereign rights of the States, and as this is a State House, the question is one which most certainly ought to engage our attention . At this stage, however, I have no desire to initiate a debate on the matter, and if the Minister for Repatriation will give me his assurance that I shall be afforded an opportunity of discussing it at a later period, I shall be content to reserve my remarks for a future occasion.
– I can give the honorable senator no other assurance than that which is contained in our Standing Orders. In the very Act under which the regulation to which he has called attention, has been passed, provision is made to ventilate the question to which he refers.
– Can I now give notice of my intention to raise the question?
– No. The Minister for Repatriation having replied, the motion for the adjournment of the Senate must be put without further debate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 18 October 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1918/19181018_senate_7_86/>.