8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon.. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) -whether he has any announcement to make concerning the policy of the Government regarding the rate of pension to be paid to the blind pensioners?
– Yes. The Government have arrived at a decision on the question, and the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) is now fixing up the details. I hope to be in a position to make a definite announcement on the subject tomorrow.
The following paper was presented: -
Public Service Act. - Appointments of H. Morrell, J. Sutherland, F. Considine, B. A. Newton, and A. J. Allen, Department of Trade and Customs.
Shortagein South Australia
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and. Customs, upon notice -
– The answersare - .
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Pending the consideration by the House of Representatives of the Tariff and other matters necessarily initiated in that Chamber, will the Government introduce into the Senate a Bill to unify and codify the law relating to bankruptcy throughout the Commonwealth?
SenatorRUSSELL. - A Bankruptcy Bill, which was prepared a ‘ considerable time ago, is under revision, and ‘the question of introducing the measure will be considered at the earliest opportunity.
asked the Minis ter representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with’ amendments.
Debate resumed from 29th September (vide page 5065), on motion by Senator Russell -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– In beginning the debate on the motion for the second reading of this Bill, I am rather sorry to have to strike perhaps a jarring note; hut, as the measure involves an addition of nearly £1,000,000 to the taxation of this country, I feel that the Minister (Senator Russell), in moving the second reading of the measure, might well have made a more lengthy and less perfunctory statement concerning it. He practically asked that we should pass this Bill, definitely increasing the postage on ordinary letters from1d. to 2d., because, as I understood him, the price of galvanized iron has gone up a little.
– I beg the honorable senator’s pardon. I spoke of galvanized iron wire.
– I understood the Minister to say that galvanized iron, wire, and one or two other things have gone up a little in price, and, consequently, it is necessary that we should do away with penny postage, and substitute for it a twopenny rate. I rather think that the time has gone by for a discussion on the advantage of penny postage. There have been discussions in times past, not only in this country, but in many other countries, as to the advantage or disadvantage of penny postage, hut I think that the battle has been definitely won for penny postage. It is admittedly of great benefit to the people, and, in my opinion, no substantial argument can be urged against it. I am aware that some persons argue that it does not pay. Some years ago, when this question was being discussed, the argument was advanced that if we substituted penny postage for the twopenny rate- then in force, the alteration would involve a tremendous loss of revenue. It was natural to assume that in the first twelve months after the introduction of penny postage some. loss of revenue would be sustained; but the statistics of all countries go to show how very soon the adoption of penny -postage has paid for itself. In 1899-1900, the last year of twopenny postage in Victoria, Victoria showed a total revenue from that source of £425,000. One penny postage was then adopted, and ten years afterwards - that is, in 1909-10 - the receipts from that source were £561,000.
– There was a great increase of population, of course.
– I admit that there was an increase in population, and we have also to take into consideration the fact that the business of a Postal Department generally grows year by year, as the children leavethe schools, and more’ people begin- to Tead and write, and com-‘ merce and . trade increase. Still the figures’ show that penny postage brought in not only all that was being earned by twopenny postage, but a certain amount extra.
– That does not prove anything unless you ‘tell us how much extra it cost to do the business.
– I was simply showing that, so far as the revenue is concerned, any falling off is very quickly made up. I have not the exact figures as to the expenditure, hut the difference is very little, because ‘the letter-carriers are able to handle the extra number of letters, and very -few more sorters are required.
– The Minister’s argument was that the postage rate had to be increased on account of the extra cost; but you say the extra cost is very little.
– Perhaps I misunderstood the honorable senator. I thought he was referring to the difference in cost between a penny and a twopenny postage system. I did not think he meant the extra cost of the whole Department over what it was some years ago.
– You cannot quote figures like that unless you give the debit and credit.
SenatorTHOMAS. - I could answer the honorable senator better if I knew exactly what information he wanted. I can assure him that the cost of handling the £561,000 business in 1910 was very little more than the cost of handling the £425,000 business in 1900.
-The honorable senator thinks so.
– I will show the honorable senator why I know. I had the pleasure of introducing penny postage in the other House, and I was looking over, a few minutes ago, the remarks I made on that occasion. I saw the exact figures there as to cost, and I noticed that the difference was very small. However, that can be very easily demonstrated..
We in Australia went in for penny postage in 1911-12. Some people predicted a large loss; but the figures are rather interesting. Through the appointment of Mr. Triggs and Mr. Haldane, in 1911-12, we are in a position to know exactly whether the Postal Branch, the Telephone Branch, or the Telegraph
Branch pays. Previous to their appointment, and the adoption of the new system of accounts, we found great difficulty in ascertaining whether the branches were showing a profit or a loss. The first year of the complete operation of penny postage was 1912-13, when the Postal Branch showed a credit balance of £23,132. It is very fine to know that, so far as Australia is concerned, the letter-carrying branch of the Department paid under1d. postage in the first year of its operation. In that year the whole Department went behind to the extent of £407,000 ; but that was because the Telegraph Branch lost £164,000, and the Telephone Branch £221,000. There was a loss in that year on penny postage in South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and, I think, Tasmania; but there was a profit of from £20,000 to £30,000 in New South Wales, and in Victoria of over £100,000, with the result that, taking Australia as a whole, penny postage paid in that year. In 1913-14 the profit on penny postage was again £24,000; but the loss on the telegraphs and telephones were still very heavy, and the completeloss on the whole Department was about £500,000. In 1914- 15, when the war started, the conditions were very different, and the Postal Branch showed a loss of £71,000. In 1915- 16 there was, however, a profit of £42,000. In 1916-17 there was a very large loss of £168,000 ; but the then PostmasterGeneral, in his report, showed that the reasons were the payment of an extra sum to the United Kingdom for heavy adjustments, and the payment of a good deal of extra money to the railways. In the next year, 1917-1S, the Postal Branch made a profit of £237,000, which the then Postmaster-General explained by showing that the Department paid in the previous year to the railways more than it ought to have paid, and by an adjustment had to pay that year a great deal less.. It would be right and fair., therefore, to put the two years, 1916-17 and 1917-1S, together. Even then, the Postal Branch would come out about £70,000 to the good. The profit in 1918-19 on penny postage was £239,000, and with telegraph and telephone services the full profit was £524,000.I do not think we have the figures yet for 1920.
– They are only estimates.
– During .the last two years a good profit has been .made on penny postage, and, in addition, the halfpenny increase, imposed as a wartime tax., resulted last year in an amount of no less than £.750,000 being handed over to the Treasury.
There is ‘another matter which I think should be emphasized, and which I raised <on more tha-n one occasion in. the House of Representatives, namely, the subsidy of £170,000 per year paid to the Orient Steamship Company for the maintenance of the mail service between Australia and Great Britain. It is very unfair that the whole of this amount should be charged up against the Postal Department of .the ‘Commonwealth, because, under the terms of the contract, the Orient Company have to give other services, such as the maintenance of refrigerating chambers, and they have to ,go on to Sydney, whereas for the mail: service alone they need not now come past Fremantle. Some other Department, probably Customs, ought to pay a portion of this subsidy. I .am ‘also strongly opposed to the practice of making the Postal Department ‘a ‘tax-collector. The people must expect to pay for all services rendered; and, .1 think, now that we are not under war conditions, it is unfair to use the Post Office as .a tax-gathering institution.
I have shown that during the last year or two the operations of the Postal Department have been ‘successful. I am prepared to admit that the , profits in 1917-18 and 1919 were not quite legitimate, because in the Telephone Branch especially the Postmaster-General was unable to obtain the material necessary for the development and extension of service. It is only fair, therefore, that w.e should take these facts into consideration. I differ from my honorable friend, Senator Pratten, in regard to the complaint that the ex-Postmaster-General was unable to get from the Treasury the money required for the development of departmental services. Whilst the war. was on, everything was in the melting-pot, and the Postal Department had to be starved in order that there might be ample money for the prosecution of the war. I would raise no particular objection if, during war time, ihe activities of the Department were not extended as in normal -times, because during that period matters of greater importance had to take precedence. Although some of the profit may not be regarded .as quite legitimate, in view of -the fact that part of the services have been starved, owing, as I have shown, to war conditions, still the Post Office has paid without the services being unduly cut down’ or the efficiency of the Department impaired. I recognise, of course, that one of the most difficult problems is the country mail services, in connexion with which the ex-Postmaster-General was bitterly, -assailed, chiefly by country members, because he was obliged to cut down some of the country mail! contracts. But there ace two sides to this question. We .are all anxious that the country should be opened .up by the establishment of mail facilities, but, unfortunately, during all drought .periods the Postmaster-General finds it extremely difficult to get men to carry . on the services, and has to pay a good -deal more for the handling of less mail matter.- Taking all these facts into consideration, -‘and in spite of the difficulties in regard to the country mail services to which I have referred, .the penny postage throughout Australia has been profitable. That being so, it seems unwise now to .abandon it, because I am .afraid that if we adopt the twopenny postage rate we shall have it for a good, many years, probably for the lifetime of some of us. I understood the Vice-President of’ the Executive Council (Senator Russell) to state, during his second-reading speech, that the Government hoped to raise an additional £1,000,000 by the increased rates. It is rather unfortunate that we should be asked to discuss the second reading of this or any other Bill before we have had an opportunity of perusing the Minister’s .second-reading speech in Hamsard..
– I agree , with the honorable senator, but it is difficult to do that in all cases.
– I do not think so. I have noticed in another place that after the second reading of a Bill has been moved by a Minister several days elapse before its discussion . is continued.
– But they do not suspend the Standing Orders to enable the Bill to pass through its remaining stages without delay.
– Perhaps not, and it is to be regretted that we do that so frequently. I understood the Minister to say that the Government hope to raise an additional £1.,000,000 by the additional charges to be imposed.
– Practically £1,250,000 from all sources.
– That is worse than I anticipated. If we allow £250,000 for the extra charge of 3d. on telegrams, and another’ £250,000- for the increased telephone’ rates, it is- fair to- assume that approximately £1,000,000 will be raised by the Postal. Branch.
– It. is anticipated that £792,000 will be raised by the Postal Branch,, and that- the total amount, will be £1,233,000-.
– I believe those are the figures.. I have no objection to the increased charges if the Minister can demonstrate that they are necessary to balance accounts; but unless such is the case it is a retrograde step to take.
– It is not only to balance accounts, as we ‘have to make up arrears.
-I admit that arrears have to be made up, but the Department cannot spend more than a certain amount- in any one year. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) stated that the Government were prepared to spend an additional £500,000 oil equipment to overtake arrears of work which have accumulated during the war period. One honorable senator in this chamber complained that that amount waa insufficient; but I am prepared to definitely state that that is all the Department can spend in the time. The profit of the Department for the year 191S-19 was £52.4,000-,. but that is an artificial profit, as £250,000 ought to have been spent on works. If we make a profit of £524,000 on the present rates - even if we should spend £500,000 next year to catch up arrears - we- would still be able to balance our ledger.
– We have to- make extensions, as well as to overtake arrears.
– Exactly, as the population: is increasing.
– Our borrowing powers are not increasing.
– Perhaps not; but I presume that certain, economies are to be effected. The Postal Department has been somewhat conservative in some’ directions) particularly in the use of motor cars; as, in many instances- ‘these could have been used instead of horse-drawn vehicles in connexion with some of our mail services’. We are informed that Great Britain,New Zealand and Canada have reverted to two-penny postage; but that is no reason why we should adopt a similar policy. In Great Britain the Postal Department has for some years been revenue producing, and it. is now the intention to hand over £11,000,000 after meeting, the cost of administration. If. the British. Postal Department is to become a tax. collector, that is no reason why the Government should attempt to utilize, the Postal Department of the Commonwealth for a similar purpose. A reasonable rate of postage assists commercial and social life, and by increasing the rate we are handicapping people to an unreasonable extent. It has been said by some that additional postage does, not affect the poor, but only those more favorably situated.
– It is just the reverse.
-Absolutely,. because the rich man is not affected.
– He can pass it on.
– Of course he can, and immediately we commence to utilize our Postal Department as a taxing medium, it. enables- business people, not only to pass on the extra impost, but an additional 10 or. 12½ per cent. When the Bill is in Committee it is my intention to move to strike out the two-penny rate for letters, with a view to. placing letter postage on the old basis. I supported the lid. rate somewhat reluctantlv. but that was for war purposes. I believe the additional½d. rate returned to the Treasurer approximately £750,000-,. and I now understand that the receipts from the proposed increases will go to the Postal Department.
– The War-time Act will be repealed.
– Yes, and the re: ceipts from two-penny postage will go to the Postal Department.
I come now to the telephone rates: These, I understand, are to be raised a farthing per call in respect of all telephones connected with exchanges which possess more than 600 subscribers. We have- been told that this represents a great concession to country residents. The Government affirm that they do not wish to penalize people who live in rural areas more than is absolutely necessary, and therefore they intend exempting them from the payment of the extra farthing which is to be charged upon all originating telephone calls. But they stipulate that this concession can be made only in the case of exchanges which possess more than 600 subscribers. Only last Monday and Tuesday I was in the Blue Mountains, New South “Wales. It is a delightful spot where one can live under almost ideal conditions. At Katoomba, where there is a telephone exchange with less than 600 subscribers, one can get into communication with quite a number of adjacent places, including Wentworth Falls and Medlow. Now, the majority of the tourists who visit those centres are fairly well-to-do. Yet they are not to be charged the farthing extra upon the telephone calls which they make. I can go to the Golf Club at Wentworth Falls - a nice residential club - and there I can get into communication with Melbourne or Sydney. But, under this Bill, I shall not be called upon to pay an additional farthing “per ring, because there are not 600 subscribers connected with the exchange there. Surely that is something in the nature of an anomaly!1 Under this measure the pioneer, who goes into the backblocks of Australia to blaze a track, will be required to pay 2d. postage upon each letter that he writes. It would be far better to allow his letters to be carried for Id. each, and to require him to pay the extra id. upon his telephone calls. After all, the moment one can use a telephone he is in touch with civilization. It is not the cost of the calls which prevents country settlers from having the telephone -connected with their farms - it is the expenditure upon the poles.
– Will not the extra revenue derived from the telephone calls enable us to ease down the cost of the postage ?
– The extra charge of a farthing per call will produce very little revenue. It would be far better to permit people to have their letters carTied for Id. instead of charging them 2d. postage upon them, than to abandon the proposed extra farthing upon their telephone calls. At this juncture I may perhaps be pardoned for reading a brief extract from a speech made upon this question by the present Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) a few years ago.
– Is this ancient or modern history?
– Modern. Upon 8th November, 1910, when I introduced the Bill to give effect to penny postage throughout the Commonwealth, Sir Joseph Cook, who was then Leader of the Opposition, gave me his hearty support. In the course of his speech and in answer to an interjection by me he said -
I am Socialist enough to support everything that helps to develop social intercourse, the increased facilities of which are one of the chief benefits of our civilization. I very much regret the step taken in regard to the telephones
He was then referring to the Government proposal to charge a half-penny per originating call. He went on to say -
The inventor of the instrument intended it to be not merely a convenience for the transaction of business but something much more - an aid to the expansion of the social intercourse upon which we so much pride ourselves. Whosoever succeeds the present PostmasterGeneral will, I hope, restore the telephone to its proper use as an aid to social intercourse instead of regarding it merely as a convenience for business men.
At that time he was of opinion that the telephone rate which was then proposed was too high.
– But from 1910 to 1920 is a long way.
– I quite admit that. I do not object very much to the imposition of the proposed additional farthing per call, and I am glad to know that the telephone rates at present are sufficient to enable that branch of the Postal Department to pay its way. I have always argued that it should be so. I am prepared to allow every person who uses the telephone - even those connected with exchanges having less than 600 subscribers - to contribute the additional farthing per call which is now proposed, so long as we have penny postage throughout the Commonwealth. The adoption of the latter system would create more satisfaction than will the present proposals of the Government.
Coming to the telegraph rates, I see very little objection to the Government increasing them. Hitherto, we have had wonderfully cheap telegrams throughout Australia.. But, instead of an additional 3d. upon 6d., 9d. and ls. telegrams, I would have preferred a charge of ls. all round. People in our cities would then have been required to pay ls. for telegrams instead of 6d., those within a State would have been obliged to pay ls. per telegram instead of 9d. , and Inter-State messages would have had to pay ls. instead of ls. 3d. This flat rate would slightly penalize the residents of our cities, but it would greatly benefit country residents. To my mind it would be a better system. The anomalies which are so apparent in the Department today would not be so great if a flat rate were charged upon all telegrams. At the present time a person who is resident on the border of New South Wales can send a telegram from Lismore to Broken Hill for 9cL, but as soon as the rate proposed to be charged under this Bill becomes operative, he will be required to pay ls. But if a man sends a telegram from Albury to Wodonga, he has to pay ls., instead of 9d. That is one of the anomalies arising under ‘the existing system which is brought under the notice particularly of persons residing near the border of a State. I would have preferred a flat rate of ls. all round. Although this would be to the disadvantage of those living in cities, it would benefit the residents of the country districts. I am most strongly opposed to the proposal to re-introduce two penny postage, and I shall be very glad if I can receive support from’ honorable senators in an effort, when we get into Committee, to reduce the proposed two- penny rate to one penny.
.- I regard the introduction of this Bill as the inevitable. In common with Senator Thomas, I should prefer the cheapest possible postage rate for the conveyance of the people’s correspondence. We have, however, to consider that since penny postage was introduced the cost of all materials required by the Post and Telegraph Department has been increased by several hundred per cent. We have to bear in mind, also, that the employees of the Commonwealth have had their wages considerably increased, and we have to face further increases in the remuneration paid to some persons that are already overdue. In view of these facts, it is clear that we must pay more for our postage. After all, the service is very cheap. When we come to realize that two persons, one living in Tasmania and the other at Port Darwin, by using the lightest class of stationery, may carry on a considerable correspondence for the sum of 4d., it must be admitted that the cost of the service rendered by the Post Office is very reasonable. We have “post offices established in convenient situations, and we can write voluminous letters, which are promptly . delivered to our correspondents; and it must be admitted that, to have our letters transmitted to any part of Australia for a charge of 2d., is a very reasonable service indeed.
– Yes; but if it may be done for Id., why pay 2d.?
– Just so; but I agree with the Government that if we are to pay adequate salaries to those employed by the Postal Department, we must, in some way, increase the postal rates, in view of the inflated prices of all materials required by the Department.
– The average wage of a postal employee in .1914 was £132; and it is now £192.
– I can assure Senator Thomas that postal officials in country districts in Tasmania are not adequately paid at the present time. They may be adequately paid for the services they render, but they have to be on duty for long hours to render, it may be, a very small service indeed.
– They have not to be on duty all the time.
– They are not compelled by the regulations to be on duty all the time; but in the country districts men cannot go away from their offices a distance of 10, 20, or 30 miles for any purpose, and be sure of being back on duty at a given time. As a consequence, they are kept at their posts, although they are not required by regulation to be on duty all the time.
– To whom is the honorable senator referring?
– To those in charge of country post offices.
– 4Not official post offices ?
– Does the honorable senator know that the pay of those persons has nothing: to do withthe revenue?
– I know that quite well, but I say that the service rendered by the Postal Department should be paid for , at a rate- which will enable the Commonwealth to offer these people more equitable remuneration than they now (receive-.
What I ‘am chiefly concerned about’ is whether the calculations of the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) as tothe increased revenue to be derived from the higher rates proposed have been based on the business* done by the Department in pre-war days. If they are, the right honorable gentleman may find that he will not realize the £792,000 which he anticipates from the postal rates proposed. There can be no doubt that large numbers of people will be reluctant to write as many letters when the postage rate is 2d. as they wrote when, the postage rate was1d.. There will, in all probability,, be a diminution in, the volume of business done by the Postal Department which may involve a material reduction in the anticipated revenue. The Treasurer estimates that he will receive from the increased postage rates additional revenue to the extent of £7.92,000, and from the increased postal and telegraph rates combined, additional revenue to the extent of £1,233,000. I do not suppose that the increased rates to be charged on telegrams will make a very great difference in the number of telegraphic messages despatched’, but I have very little doubt that with, the increased postage rates proposed there will be a considerable decrease in the number of letters posted. So the question tha’t exercises my mind is whether the increased revenue anticipated by the Treasurer will be realized.
I am particularly interested in the postal facilities given to the people in the country districts. One thing which should’ concern legislators in Australia is the’ necessity for- making country life’ more attractive than it has been in the past, and one way in which this can be done is by establishing an extensive and convenient post and telegraph service. The postage of books- to the country- is- a matter of considerable importance- to< country people-, and we should give it serious consideration. Where it is possible to differentiate between the service rendered to city people and that rendered to country people, we should differentiate in favour of country people.
There is one other- matter which I wish to bring under the notice of honorable senators and the Government; and for which I ask their favorable consideration. I- refer to the correspondence of friendly societies. They have to send out very large numbers of circulars every quarter, and the war tax on their correspondence was a very severe handicap to them. When we come to consider the value of friendly societies to the nation we should make some special effort to give them special consideration.
Visit to Europe
– I think this is a favorable opportunity to submit . a request, not on my own behalf or on behalf of the Government, but, I feel sure I may say, on behalf of honorable senators generally, for the suspension of the sitting for an hour to enable honorable senators to pay one of the greatest compliments that has ever, been paid to a member of this- Chamber,, namely, to suspend public business1 for the purpose of wishing, bon voyage to one of their colleagues. I submit that request, to you, sir, as I believe the. unanimous wish of the Senate.
Honorable Senators. - Hear; hear!
– In accordance with what I understand to be the- unanimous- desire of honorable senators, that they should be afforded an opportunity of wishing bon voyage to their colleague,, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), who hasfor some time been Leader of the Senate; I propose to suspend the sitting for one. hour, and will resume the chair at 5 o’clock.
Sitting suspended from4 to 5 p.m.
– I appeal to honorable senators to give special consideration, to the friendly societies of Australia by allowing their correspondence to be carried at the penny rate. The figures showing the work . being accomplished by, and the importance of, the friendly societies, . as . furnished by Knibbs for the year 1917, are interesting. There were in Australia in that year 5,018 lodges, with a benefit membership of 478,535. The number of members receiving sick pay, excluding New South Wales, for which the Statist apparently has no figures, was 49,947, while funeral allowances numbering 6,026 were made to the widows of deceased members. The amount of sick pay was £490,743, while the lodges expended £479,844 on medical attendance to members.
– That is one of the best forms of co-operation.
– Yes. The funeral allowances amounted to £23,100; the cost of administration was £233,713; and other expenses in connexion with the running -of -the different lodges amounted to £203,536, making a total yearly expenditure . among the members of the friendly societies . of Australia of £1,625,052. We . all realize the great ‘service tihese organizations are rendering to . the people of . the Commonwealth.
– Ithink nearly all the State Governments exempt from stamp duty any receipts . given in connexion with friendly society work.
– I believe that is so. No more deserving case for special consideration in the interests of Australia can be shown than that for carrying the official letters of the friendly societies at half rates. I shall move in Committee to . amend the schedule to provide that letters from any registered friendly benefit society, bearing the official1 stamp -of the society, shall be carried for one penny. I hope the Government will agree to the amendment, and that the Senate will unanimously assist these bodies.- I know of no way in which the Government can better increase the social good order of the people than by encouraging that self-help and social cooperation among the people which is so manifest in the working of the friendly societies.
– They always charge 3d. for sending out a notice to a member.
– I have’ not paid the charge in my own lodge. If it is imposed, it is an additional charge on the member himself. Probably the societies have been forced into that position owing to the . considerable -losses they have sustained through the late war, which hit them very severely. Although the additional postage may seem small, it has been a considerable handicap upon their operations. A lodge with a thousand members has to send out notices every, quarter, besides summonses to special meetings.
– They do not charge for those. They only charge for notices regarding arrears of subscriptions.
– That is ‘only a penalty on members for neglecting to pay their contributions. The quarterly notices are for the most part formal, printed matter; but they contain a few written words in addition, and that fact compels the lodge to ‘.pay the ordinary postage, which is decidedly unfair, apart from the fact that the lodges ought to have special . consideration. The one object I have is to obtain special consideration for the friendly societies. I agree with Senator Thomas that tha Post and Telegraph Department ought not to be a revenue-collecting institution, and that whatever surplus is obtained should be expended, as I believe is the policy of the present Government, in giving better facilities, particularly to- the country -districts. I shall always be glad to see that policy put . into very practical operation. I hope that before the Bill reaches Committee honorable ‘senators will give consideration to the justice of. the amendment I have suggested, and; that I shall receive their whole-hearted support.
.- I have been looking into the Treasurer’s Budget statement with regard to the proposal to increase the postage rates to the people of Australia. The following paragraph reads extraordinarily as a justification of the proposed increase : -
The necessity for raising extra revenue suggests a review of the charges made for services rendered to the public, particularly by the Post Office Department, and new rates are proposed which have a better relation to the increased cost of supplying those services. Increased charges for these public utilities are general, and even world-wide. Railway, freights, for instance, have increased considerably, amounting to over 50 per cent, in some cases.
The comparison of the -operations of the various Railway Departments of Australia with those of the Commonwealth
Post and Telegraph Department is entirely misleading, because every State has found it absolutely essential during the past few years to increase freights and fares in order to meet the extra expenditure incurred by its Railway Department, but that is not the case with the Postal Department of the Commonwealth, which has been an exceptionally good paying proposition during the last couple of years. Consequently, the comparison made by the Treasurer is apt to be misleading, inasmuch as it conveys to the ordinary reader the impression that the Post and Telegraph Department has been run at a loss, because every one knows that the various Railway Departments have been compelled for their own preservation to increase fares and freights in order to make ends meet.
Senator Thomas gave some interesting figures as to the revenue of the Post Office during recent years. The total net profit on the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services for the year 1918 reached the large amount of £387,382, while for the year 1919-20 it is estimated that £23S,000 profit will be made out of the Postal Department alone. Consequently, honorable senators are justified in dismissing altogether from their minds the idea that the proposed increases are essential in order that the Department may be made to pay.
– And I think those figures do not include the extra halfpenny, which went direct to the Treasury as a war tax.
– That is so. Iu addition to a net profit of £23S,000 on the postal services of Australia, the large sum of £745,962 was paid to the Treasury as a war tax on postage stamps. As a commercial concern, therefore, the Post and Telegraph Department has established a magnificent record. If we accept that statement as being reasonably accurate, it is essential for us to try to ascertain what has actuated the Government in proposing to impose this additional burden upon the whole community.
I may be pardoned for referring to the fact that on one page of the Treasurer’s statement we find a proposal to relieve a certain section of the people of a very large amount of taxation in the form of the entertainments tax. On the other hand, for a service which is of general utility in. the development of Australia, we are faced with a proposal to impose a very heavy additional burden upon the whole of the people of the Commonwealth. It is just as well to make these comparisons, because, after all, if the Commonwealth finds it needs additional revenue - and there is not the slightest doubt that it does - surely the time is not opportune for the removal of a species of taxation which has been very productive of revenue, and has not been at all a burden upon the people who have paid it. I emphasize the fact that it is proposed on the one hand to- relieve one section of the community of some of the taxation imposed either during war time or just prior to the war, and on the other hand to place a heavy additional burden upon the whole community for a service which plays a very important part in the development of the resources of the Commonwealth.
– Should not taxation be general, rather than particular, as to the various sections of the community?
– I believe in every unit being compelled to bear his fair share of taxation, but at the same time it is a generally accepted policy that it is justifiable to impose special taxation on certain sections of the community.
– Taxes upon luxuries.
– Do not misunderstand me. I agree that taxes on luxuries should not be wiped out.
– I have been forced to the conclusion that the only reason for the introduction of this additional taxation is to raise additional revenue. The Minister (Senator Russell) stated that the additional cost of material, quoting particularly galvanized iron wire, must of necessity involve the raising of additional revenue by some means or other. I am not satisfied that there is any justification for the proposed increase in the postage rates, on a statement that material to-day is costing more than in prewar times. The figures quoted with regard to the revenue of the Post Office refer to the working results during the war period, when the cost of material was very much heavier than previously.
– But the Department was starved during the war.
– And we are. told that everything is to be cheaper now, because we have a scientific Protectionist Tariff in operation.
– Let us hope that material -will become cheaper. I do not want honorable senators to have the impression that I am denouncing the Bill. I am not doing that. I think, however, that I am justified in suggesting that, in view of the very heavy burden on the community as a whole, we should view this matter with a desire to make the tax as equitable as possible.
It has been suggested by one honorable senator that the Telephone and Telegraph Branches can well do with the extra revenue, and that the users will not mind the additional charges.; but Senator Thomas has protested strongly against any interference with the penny postage. When penny postage Avas introduced in Australia it was watched very closely indeed by those interested in the welfare of the Commonwealth, because it was looked upon as an innovation, and although it had been tried with success in the Mother Country, it was anticipated by a great many that it would not be so successful in a sparsely-populated country like Australia. We all know now that the predictions of failure were not justified, and that in the course of a few years it was demonstrated that penny postage was a commercial success.
– Within two years of its introduction.
– It was a success within two or three years at all events. For this reason I am sorry the Treasurer has found it necessary to impose this additional tax upon the community. But ns I have always contended that the basis of good government is sound finance, it is absolutely imperative that money shall be obtained for carrying on the ~ functions of the Commonwealth Government. Until I can suggest some other means by which this additional revenue may be obtained, I would not be doing my duty to the electors of the Commonwealth who sent me here if I opposed the proposal to raise additional revenue for the needs of the Government. But
I regret very much that the Treasurer has not given any indication that, with this very large amount of additional revenue, expected from the increases in the rates, any special provision is to be. made to extend the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic facilities to those people upon whom we depend so largely for the development of our resources. I mean the out-back settlers.
– That has been done as regards the telephone services. It has been made quite clear that the claims of the country are to be considered.
– Yes, by charging more for telegrams.
– I have not seen any proposal to give out-back settlers improved facilities without a guarantee that the Department shall be protected against loss. In the policy speech attention is drawn to the fact that it is essential in the interests of the Commonwealth that there shall be a fuller development of our rural resources by the settlement of a large population on our waste lands. If the Treasurer receives the additional revenue that is anticipated from an increase in the post and telegraph rates, surely it is reasonable to suggest that improved services shall be given to country areas. I know of many settlers who have been denied these facilities, and I have in mind one man who came from Victoria, and settled in the northern district of Tasmania 25 miles back from the coast line. He has been there for twelve years, has reared a family, and at present his district has no postal or telephonic facilities whatever. A few years ago a telephone was installed there, but when it was found that the revenue was not sufficient it was discontinued. My point is, that if the Department can show a profit - and during the last two years it has shown a substantial profit - on the present rate of postage, the profit will be greater as a result of the increased rates to be charged, and portion of this profit, at all events, should be devoted, to the extension of postal, telephonic, and telegraphic facilities to those settlers who, we profess to believe, are the saviours of the Commonwealth - the men who will go into the out-back country, face all the hardships to be encountered there, and make homes for themselves. They should have every reasonable protection for their wives and children, and this can only be secured to them by providing them with the facilities referred to.
I do not want to say any more at the present time. I trust that the suggestion made by Senator Earle will be favorably considered, and that the concessions asked for- will be granted to friendly societies throughout the Commonwealth. I have been connected with friendly societies ever since I was old enough to join one. They have done a. splendid work, and it is only reasonable to ask that this additional rate of postage should not be imposed upon their postage matter.
– If you open the door in that- way many similar requests will be made.
– It will not be opening the door. The work of the friendly societies has been recognised by every civilized community.
– What about other charitable institutions ?
– If the honorable senator desires to have concessions granted to them, he can make the suggestion.
– Why not grant concessions to life insurance companies also?
– Because, as a rule, friendly societies are composed almost entirely of men who are wage-earners, and at present they have as much as they can do to make ends meet.
– Make it penny postage all round throughout the Commonwealth
– I cannot see my way clear to support universal penny postage in view of the fact that a short time ago it was found necessary, for revenue purposes, to impose a surcharge of £d. upon the ordinary letter rate, and I have already pointed out that I have a strong objection to any remission of taxation unless it can be shown that we can balance expenditure with revenue. I am not sure that we can ou the figures at our disposal, and that is why I commented on the proposal to remit the entertainments tax.
– This increase in the postal rate will hamper commerce.
– I have always contended that the better service we can provide in the Commonwealth the greater will be the tendency to develop our natural resources; but I cannot forget that for some time we have been paying the l£d. letter rate and have become accustomed to it, so it would be better, in the present financial situation of the Commonwealth, to continue the 6ame rate of postage instead of reducing it.
– Ask the Government if they will accept 1½d. as a compromise.
– I should like to see it kept at 1½d., and I think we can very well carry on at that rate. I do not see why the Treasurer should not be able to obtain, from some other source, the amount of revenue represented by the difference between the 1½d. and the 2d. letter rate. I hope that some proposal will be made to relieve, first, friendly societies from the burden to. be placed on them with the rest of the community, and if an attempt is made to maintain the ltd. letter rate, I shall support it.
– I have recognised that it was inevitable that we should have to deal, at this juncture, if not earlier, with a readjustment of the postal, telephonic, and telegraphic rates, and that the principal reason for this re-adjustment would be found in revenue requirements. It is true, as has been pointed out by the Minister (Senator Russell) and other honorable senators, that the cost of providing all these services has gone up to the Commonwealth.’ Material has appreciated in cost, and officers of the Departments concerned have received very substantial increases in their salaries. But against that we have the growing population of the Commonwealth, we have the increase in commerce, and the increase in social intercourse. To some extent these should insure increases in revenue to meet the increased cost in materials and salaries.
– The increase in population is very slight.
– It may be, but to some extent it should, with the other factors, make up for the difference in cost of administration.
I am a little disappointed at the way in which the Government have tackled this problem. Like Senator Thomas, I think there is no necessity for re-introducing twopenny postage. It is a retrograde step, in taking which the Government have been animated by considerations which, I think, have long since been dissipated from the Australian mind. We are going back to a stage beyond even that at which we were at the inception of .Federation, because then at least in every capital city, and in many of the large towns in each of the States, except, perhaps, in South- Australia, there was penny postage. We are going back to a stage which is practically outside the recollection of most of us.
– There has been a war since then.
– I know that, and I shall deal with that aspect of the question later.
– There are increased costs.
– Yes ; and increasing revenue; but as far as each of the individual States were concerned we had a measure of penny postage, under which we federated, and we had only to extend to the rural districts what the cities and some country towns enjoyed. It took time to establish penny postage iu Australia. I am, and always nave been, a strong supporter of penny postage, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman), who happened to be my colleague when Minister in charge of the Department at one time, was also an enthusiastic advocate. One of the reasons why I support penny postage is because the benefits are felt more by the people in the country than by those in the cities. It was in their interests, mainly, that I advocated and supported it, and I see now, with the proposed re-establishment of twopenny postage, that hardship will fall, not upon those in the cities’, but, almost wholly, upon those in the country districts.
– At the time of which the honorable senator is speaking there was a charge of 3s. or 4s. for -a telegraphic communication consisting of twelve words.
– Our telegraphic rates are the lowest in the world.
– That was prior to Federation, but we established a uniform system of charges very early in the history of the Commonwealth and before we adopted penny postage. It is clear to any observer that twopenny postage will bear more heavily upon the residents in the country tuan upon those in the city.
– How does the honorable senator support that argument? Do not the city people write as many letters as those iu the country?
– If an analysis were made of the letters that go from the city post-offices it would be found, in nearly every instance, that the revenue derived was obtained largely from commercial correspondence, and not from letters exchanged socially between individuals. There are thousands of that nature, of course, but the great bulk of letters go from the business houses of all kinds in the city. Nearly every business house takes into consideration its postal expenditure for the year, and regards. it as an item to be met, and adjusts its prices accordingly.
A newspaper is supplied to a city resident at a lower rate than it is supplied to a person in the country. One has merely to look at the newspapers to see the subscription rates on papers forwarded from the city to the country by post. There is an extra charge on papers forwarded to the country subscriber through the medium of the post-office. The newspaper proprietors do not bear that additional charge.
– The charge for a newspaper is the same in the country as it is in the city.
– It is if it goes through the hands of an agent, but if it is sent through the post and addressed to an individual, the addressee has to pay the postage. The same applies in connexion with goods sold in the city to country purchasers. Any honorable senator who takes up a newspaper and peruses the commercial advertisements will find that business houses selling suits of clothes, boots, or other articles pf every day necessity, charge a certain rate; but there is another price if they are forwarded “ post free,” which means that the purchaser has to pay the postage. It is the people in the country who have to pay. Then, again, we find that if we peruse the rates set out in the schedule there is a specially low tariff for circulars. Do country people send out circulars? There is another specially low tariff for samples. Do country people send out samples? There is another specially low tariff for goods classified as merchandise. Do country people send out merchandise ? There is also a special tariff for mercantile papers. Is that likely to be of any advantage to country people? What is the result? If we averaged the number of postal articles that a business house in every capital city sends through the post every year it would be found that the cost per postal article would be less than1d. If we were to average what the commercial houses pay on circulars, samples, catalogues, merchandise, and mercantile papers we would find that the city house is practically getting1d. postage, and perhaps less than1d. On the other hand, the residents in the country who use the Post Office will be involved, in every instance, to the extent of a minimum charge of 2d. If a country resident purchases magazines or books from a city establishment he has to pav postage, and, generally speaking, the additional charge falls very heavily upon the people in the country. Twopenny postage for½ oz. thus falls primarily and mainly upon country residents, whereas the city business men do not have to pay, on an average, more than1d. per ounce on their total postage.
– But country business men would have the same advantage.
– Of course, but they are not nearly so numerous. The country business man has to put up a very hard fight to keep his business in his own district, and the Government by this means are helping the big city houses to smother the country commercial man. I think honorable senators will see that, by imposing these extra rates, we are once again (giving an advantage to the city over the country, and not promoting that settlement in rural areas which I think all of us honestly and sincerely wish to see.
I have already said that I regard this as a retrograde step. It has been stated that postal rates have been raised in other countries. So they have. Is that any justification for these proposals, particularly when Australia already pays a maximum rate for a minimum weight ? We have the lightest weight for that given rate of any important civilized country. What are the rates in Great Britain ? From the information I have received it would appear that, since the war, the inland charge for letters is l½d. for 4 ounces, with an extra½d. for every additional 2 ounces. In the United States of America the postage to be paid on letters to the British Empire - which, pf course, includes the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand - by firms competing with Australian firms is 2 cents for every 1 ounce, and every fraction of 1 ounce. For other countries it is 5 cents for 1 ounce and 3 cents for every additional ounce. Their rate of postage to us is one-half of what we are to be charged when communicating with! them. The Canadian rate is 2 cents for 1 ounce, and is the same as the United States of America, or one-half of what ours was. We are now proposing 2d. per ½ ounce within Australia, whereas in Canada it is1d. per ounce. In the United States of America it is1d. per 1 ounce, and in the United Kingdom it is l½d. for 4 ounces, and only½d. for each’ additional 2 ounces. Will it be said that we are imposing a fair charge upon the public when we are proposing to raise the postage from l½d. per½ ounce - ½d. of which was a special war tax - to 2d.- per½ ounce? We have the lowest maximum weight for the minimum charge of any country with which we can reasonably invite a comparison.
– What is the minimum charge in Great Britain?
– It was1d., but since the war it has been l½d. for 4 ounces, inland.
– Is the honorable senator quite sure that they are the rates being charged to-day ?
– Yes. I understand that previously the inland rate was 1d. for 4 ounces, but now it is l½d. New Zealand has also imposed an additional ½d. I have been supplied with the maximum weight for the minimum charge in New Zealand, which seems to’ be rather high. It is certainly no less than any of those I have mentioned.
– Is 4 ounces the maximum weight for letters in Great Britain ?
– That is the maximum inland weight, and the rate is
– Four ounces is exceptionally heavy for a letter.
– That is the information with which I have been supplied. Our half an ounce is the lowest maximum in any country with, which a comparison can be reasonably made. I am led to refer to this ‘ matter because there are more individuals using the Post Office as a means of communication than there are who use the other facilities referred to in the Bill. Senator Earle said that no great hardship would be imposed upon an individual, using light paper, who wished to correspond from, say, Tasmania to Port Darwin, if the rate is fixed at 2d. per½. ounce. That may be so; but” it is a matter that is relative and needs comparison with other countries.
We have to recollect that nearly every individual at some time or other writes letters. There are, however, comparatively few who use the telegraphic and telephonic system, so we ought to be sensible of the fact that in disturbing the postal rates we touch almost every individual in the community. There are many who cannot afford to communicate by telegram or telephone, and we should be chary in taking away from them the illiberal enough rights and privileges which they now enjoy. Like Senator Thomas, I do not look upon the Post Office as a tax-collecting machine, but as an instrument of government for rendering a service to the community as a whole. The Department, of course, is justified in obtaining an adequate return for the services provided. If the Government take a more liberal view of the situation they could secure the additional revenue without imposing upon every ordinary letter-, writer a minimum charge of 2d.
Reference has been made to the telegraphic rates, and I agree with Senator Fairbairn that we have probably the lowest rates in the world. I do not. say that the charge for transmitting a telegram, say, from Melbourne to Geelong or to Ballarat is lower than the charge would be for a similar message for a similar distance in some other part of the world. But when we consider the distance that a telegram may have to travel, and the number of times that it may have to be repeated, we must recognise that our telegraphic charges are the lowest in the world. In this Bill, instead of charging1s. for Inter-State messages of sixteen words, and1d. for each additional word, it is proposed to make the charge1s. 3d. for sixteen words, with1d. for each additional word. Senator
Thomas has suggested that a flat rate of 1s. should be levied upon these telegrams, and that the rate for inland, city, and suburban messages should be the same. Personally, I am of opinion that, instead of charging1s. 3d. for Inter-State messages of sixteen words, the rate should be increased to1s. 4d. That would be the equivalent of1d. a word, whereas under this proposal the charge for a telegram of sixty words will be 4s. l1d. The latter charge irresistibly reminds one of prices at a cheap sales shop in a minor suburb. For a telegram of twenty-four words, the charge under this Bill will be 1s. l1d. Why not make it1d. per word? It would be very much more convenient for the public. Instead of providing that 1s. 3d. shall be charged upon messages containing sixteen words, why should wo not say that Inter-State telegrams shall be paid for at the rate of1d. per word, with a minimum of1s.? That would be better for the officer who is charged with receiving the revenue, and better for the senders of the telegrams.
– Did the honorable senator suggest a minimum charge of1s.?
– Yes. That would not inflict any great hardship upon the senders of telegrams.
– The honorable senator is referring to Intor-State messages ?
– That would involve a loss of revenue to the Department.
– I think not.
– Obviously. I have just received a telegram which does not contain twelve words, and under the Government proposals the minimum charge for that message would be1s. 3d.
– If my suggestion were adopted, the honorable senator would be able to send only twelve words for1s., including his address, and signature. I do not think the Department would sustain any loss if the minimum charge for telegrams were1s., at1d. per word.
– That would be a much simpler method.
– Most certainly. If I require any justification for my suggestion, it is to be found in that portion of the Bill which relates to lettergrams. Upon these, it is proposed to charge½d. per word, with a minimum of thirty words. Why not make the charge for a telegram just double that? Let us, if necessary, fix a minimum of sixteen words, and make the rate ls. 4d.
– Why not fix a charge of1d., with a minimum of fifteen words ?
– Yes. Then the cost of a lettergram and its minimum would be exactly half that of a telegram. It would be very much better for the (postal officials, for the public, and for those who are responsible for auditing the accounts of the Department.
I am sorry that, by reason of the suspension of the Standing Orders, we are not in a position to prepare and circulate proposed amendments.
– Can we amend a money Bill?
– We may request amendments in it.
– This is a Bill which the Senate may amend.
– In any case, one is not afforded an opportunity of circulating amendments which might commend themselves to honorable senators if the latter had them in print and had leisure to consider them.
I come now to the postage upon newspapers. In the print which has been circulated with the Bill, and which shows the amendments it is proposed to make in the present Act, I find the following: -
On all newspapers printed and published in Australia posted for delivery within the Commonwealth (without condition as to the number contained in each addressed wrapper) by-
The proprietors thereof to bona fide subscribers and to news vendors and agent3 for bona fide trade requirements ;
News vendors and agents to bond fide subscribers, and to other news vendors and agents for bonâ fide trade requirements; and
News vendors and agents for return to the publishing office.
One penny and a halfpenny per twenty ounces on the aggregate weight of newspapers posted by any one person at any one time.
That is an increase of½d. upon the original provision. But a proviso is added which, in my opinion, should be excised.
Provided that the minimum amount of postage payable on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted shall be one shilling.
That means that the news agent or the news vendor will get no concession whatever if he posts less than twelve newspapers. If an ordinary individual posts a number of newspapers, he will be required to pay1d. each upon them; they need not even be Australian newspapers. But if a news agent seuds out to a station only four or five newspapers, and Aus-‘ tralian ones at that, he will be required to pay upon them a minimum charge of ls. We are thus singling him out for exceptional treatment by requiring him to pay in postage upon Australian newspapers more than will be paid by the ordinary citizen on even foreign newspapers.
– He is not called upon to pay more. He may post them separately.
– In the course of his business he may not be able to post them separately.
– Obviously he would do so.
– No. In order to post them separately he might have to entirely change his business methods and his customers. He may, for example, require to send six newspapers to one person, seven to another, and nine to another.
– In New Zealand and England people are not allowed to post newspapers in bulk.
– But we ought not to make concessions with one hand and take them away with the other. The small country town news vendor is very often obliged to send out four or five newspapers to a station, and upon these he will be required under this Bill to pay a minimum of ls. Why not give him the advantage of the l½d. charge for 20 oz. ? He will be well known to the local postal authorities - just as well known to them as are, say, Messrs. Gordon and Gotch in Melbourne.
I hope that when the Bill reaches Committee honorable senators will have particular regard to the requirements of residents outside of our cities. They are the people in this community to whom the post-office means the most. To them the daily mail - or it may even be the weekly, bi-weekly, or tri-weekly mail - is an event of very great importance. In our cities the ordinary delivery of letter§ is the most casual thing in the world. Very often we do not know whether it has taken place or not. We attach very little importance to it. But, in the rural parts of the Commonwealth, it is the event of the day or of the week or other period. We ought, therefore, to see that these people get the benefit of a reduction in our postal rates wherever that is possible. If Senator Thomas moves to reduce the postage upon letters to Id., I shall support him. I do not know whether the requirements of the revenue may not justify the retention for a time of the 1-Jd. rate. If so, I shall support any attempt which may be made to maintain the existing postal charge.
– I wish, very briefly, to support the views that have been expressed by Senators Thomas and Keating. The latter, I think, has very clearly proved that the proposed increase in our postal rates will penalize the settlers in the country - the very people whom we wish to encourage. Hitherto, the legislation which has been enacted in Australia has resulted in driving ‘people to our cities. This Bill represents still another pinprick to the outback settler. Let us contrast his position with that of the dweller in one of our cities. I hold in my hand a telegram which I have just received, and in which I am urged to support the modest request that the residents of a particular locality shall get their mail once a fortnight. A* the Pre” sent time they get it once a month. The telegram reads -
A largely signed petition from Territory residents sent to Federal Government praying for fortnightly mail service between Camooweal and Boorooloola. Can you use influence to assist us?
These poor unfortunate people outback, who are engaged in opening up the country, will be satisfied if they get their mail once a fortnight, whereas city dwellers have their newspapers thrown into their front gardens every morning and afternoon, and if they want the Midnight Sim, and choose to stay up for it, they may get that also. We should do everything in our power to make the lives of the people who live in the country as comfortable as possible. Theyshould get their newspapers and letters at as low a rate a6 possible. After all, country residents use the post-office far more than does any other section of the community. The circulars and letters which are sent out by city business firms are not addressed to people who live within the . metropolitan area. To communicate with these people, business firms use the telephone. But they send out their (circulars and Setters -to the producers in the country. Take, as an example, the firm with which I am associated.. I suppose that we receive 500 letters per day, and not 2 per ‘ cent, of them are of other than a business character.
– But the honorable senator’s firm is directly bound up with country interests.
– We do not wish to drive people into our cities.
– What percentage of those would be ordinary social letters?
– There would not be 1 per cent, of them ordinary social letters. They are letters to people living in the country, giving them information about markets, to enable them to sell their products to the best advantage. The people living in towns have a theatre next door, and I notice that the Government propose to abolish the entertainments tax. They have theatres, a doctor in the next street, chemists, football matches, races, and ice. In towns one has only to turn a tap and water will run out of it. In my election campaign in this little State of Victoria I found a woman in the Mallee trying to rear a family in a hut made of old -bags. I asked her how far it was to the nearest doctor, and she said that she had never seen a doctor. It was 50 miles from her place to the nearest doctor or chemist, and her children never saw fresh meat, fresh fruit, or milk. We want people to settle and develop the back country, and we should remember that the settlers on the land are producing 76 per cent, of the total wealth produced by the Commonwealth.
– As they are doing such useful work they should be subsidized. They will not thank us for the reduction of merely a penny in the postage they are asked to pay on a letter.
– The Minister overlooks the fact that by reducing the postage rate they may be encouraged to take more newspapers. They are the people who should be supplied with news at reasonable rates, and not the people of the cities, who have all the comforts to which I have referred at less cost, including the remission of the taxation on picture show tickets. “We should do all that we possibly can to encourage the people who are developing the country districts, and we should especially endeavour to supply them with better and cheaper mail, telephone, and telegraphic services.
I notice that in this Bill it is proposed that persons living 15 miles from a city, people who have telephones, and who can get on a tram or an electric train, and may enjoy all the advantages and conveniences to which I have referred, are to be charged only 9d. for a telegram, whilst people living further out, who are the backbone of the country, are to be charged ls. It may, perhaps, not be very much advantage to people to be able to send a telegram, judging from an experience I had on Tuesday last. I sent’ a telegram from Mortlake to Geelong. It was lodged at 12.40, and though I was not flying, but motoring, I reached Geelong half-an-hour before my telegram. That is a statement of fact, but I do not desire to make disparaging remarks about the telegraphic service generally.
– That is an exception; the rule is generally pretty good.
– I support Senators Thomas and Seating in asking the Government to make the postage rate on ordinary letters1½d. instead of 2d. I do so because I think we should do all that we can to make the lives of settlers on the land more comfortable and attractive than they are at present, and because in this State of Victoria we have the horrible anomaly that 52 per cent, of its population resides in Melbourne. I do not see why people living over 15 miles from the city should be penalized by being charged more for sending a telegram than people living inside that distance. It does not cost any more to send a message along 16 or 17 miles of wire than to send it along 14 miles.
– I am supporting the increased rates proposed by this Bill, for the very reasons which have been given by Senators J. F. Guthrie, Keating, and others for their opposition to them. I should not readily support an increase in the postage rate if I thought for a moment that these increases in postal, telephone, and telegraph rates would not benefit the residents of country districts, whom we are all so anxious to help. Honorable senators should not confine their attention to the postage rate and ignore the telephone and telegraph rates. We would be very foolish to go back to the1d. rate on letters, but whether the rate should be increased to 2d. is another matter. I made some investigation of postal rates as a member of a Royal Commission, that presented a very comprehensive report on the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. At the time of the inquiry by that Commission, and as the result of evidence I heard throughout the Commonwealth, I was against any reduction of the postage to 1d., because I recognised, and I think rightly, that any reduction of the revenue from the Postal Department involved a curtailment of the facilities which it could extend to people living in country districts. It is a simple matter to make a success of penny postage within the limited area of a city. When people live close to each other, and letters have to be carried but short distances, mail matter can be handled much more cheaply than it can in more sparsely populated areas. To institute a comparison in this matter between the Commonwealth and a small country like Great Britain or any other densely populated country, is to ignore one of the most important factors which govern the whole business. If I were a postal dictator, I would undertake to run the Postal Department of Great Britain on a penny postage before I would undertake to run the postal business of the Commonwealth on a twopenny postage, because of the enormous distances which mails have to be carried in this country as compared with the Old Country. Honorable senators know that such enterprises as Cobb and Company for the carriage of mails are practically unknown in the Old Country. In the Commonwealth we have to continue that expensive means of carrying mail matter.
I recognise that Senator J. F. Guthrie and other honorable senators who have spoken on this Bill are very anxious to help the . people living in the country districts, but in my opinion they make a grievous mistake . when they propose to take a course of action which must result in the curtailment of revenue from the Postal Department. How can they expect, with a reduced revenue from the Department, that it will be in a position to increase the postal, telephonic, and telegraphic facilities given to country people ? I do not often get the opportunity to visit Western Australia, but when I am there I put in very little time in Perth or the other cities. I live most of my time there in the country, and from my experience of country people I am sure that they would gladly pay increased rates if they could secure the facilities they desire. If there is one public service more than another in connexion with which it may be said that we starve the people, it is the telephone service. There are few countries in the world in which the telephone is so little used as in Australia. We are an up-to-date people in many things, but in the extended use of the telephone we are a very backward people. In the country districts I know of nothing that is so much appreciated in a home as the telephone. If the woman of the house is able to ring up a neighbour on. the telephone and exchange conversation with her, honorable senators will agree that that must have a wonderful effect in making her more satisfied with her comparatively isolated condition of life. The extension of telephonic facilities to country districts must tend greatly to satisfy the social craving of people in those districts, and we could not do better in their interests than to assist in securing for them telephone facilities. This Bill puts it within our power to minimize the loneliness of life in the bush by putting a telephone into the home of every resident of the country.
Our telephone system is, perhaps, one of the cheapest in the world.
– And the worst.
– No, it is not.
– I was referring to Sydney. It is pretty good here, but it is awful in Sydney.
– Complaints about telephone systems are heard in every country in the world. They are not perfect anywhere, but I believe that our telephone system is as good as that of most countries. We cannot look forward with any hope of securing better postal, telephonic, and telegraphic facilities for the. country unless . we derive an adequate revenue from the operations of this -Department. I know that on several occasions the Department has been asked to extend the telephone system to the place where I live when in Western Australia, but the answer has always been that they have not the revenue to enable them to do so. The people of the district are compelled to make use of the railway telephone, which belongs to the State, and is but a poor substitute for a Commonwealth system. The railway officials do their own business over their telephone lines, and the local residents must take advantage of opportunities when the telephone is not in use by railway officials, and at unusual hours, and on Sundays all telephonic communication is hung up. If women are suddenly taken ill doctors cannot be communicated with. Men engaged in the bush in dangerous callings, such as clearing, are often the victims of accidents, and it is impossible to readily summon assistance for them. lt is because of the lack of revenue that we have not our own telephone service established in these places, and we cannot expect to have them established unless more revenue is derived from the Department. I hope in the circumstances that honorable senators will not support any proposal in the nature of cheeseparing, but that they will agree to the proposed increased rates, in order to enable country services to be established wherever possible.
Senator Keating has quoted some figures with respect to postal rates which must be very old. I think the honorable senator will find that in the United Kingdom there has been an increase in the rates he quoted. The PostmasterGeneral would scarcely quote figures in this connexion about which he was not sure. So far as I know the figures which the Minister quoted are correct, and he has referred to the fact that there has been an increase in the postage rates of the United Kingdom from1½d. to 2d.
The rate in South Africa has been increased from Id. to l£d., and in New Zealand from 1½d. to 2d., although New Zealand, is a smaller country than ours by far. Our telephone rates are ridiculously small compared with those of other countries. Honorable senators will find that country people are quite prepared to pay as much for their telephones as the people of other countries do, provided that they are given the facilities. They do not want telephones at j£4 and £5 a year. They are prepared to pay double that amount if we will actually give them a telephone service. We have a very cheap rate for the carriage of newspapers, I suppose the cheapest in the world. Therefore, taking the whole of our charges in connexion with the Department, our rates compare more than favorably with those of most other countries. I do not agree with Senator Thomas that this is a new method of taxation. I look on it as a fair charge for services rendered to the community. Whilst we cannot in every instance insist that every service shall pay just whatever it costs, if we so manage that the Department as a whole pays its way as nearly as possible, I think we shall be going on safe and proper lines. There are many services that we cannot expect to pay. For instance, in some places outback it costs 2s. 6d., and sometimes as much as 3s. or 4s. to carry a letter. We can, however, make the Department as a whole pay, and that is the proper system which we should strive to establish. To call these increases in rates “ more taxation “ is to use language very loosely. In a small State like Victoria, which had Id. postage before Federation, it may be possible to make it pay, or approximately pay.
– New South Wales is not’ a small State.
– It is not, but it is much more thickly populated than any of the others, with the exception of Victoria. It may be possible to make Id. postage pay in Victoria, but I am sure it could not be made to pay in Western Australia, Queensland or South Australia, which have enormous areas. It is not possible to make a comparison between the cost of running the Department in States like those, and in a State like Victoria. We must do something to assist the Department to get out of the condition that it has been in for so long. We hear constant complaints, and never seem to get satisfaction from it. The primary reason is that there is not sufficient revenue coming, in to work the Department as it should be worked. Let us endeavour to get sufficient revenue, and when that revenue is secured we can insist on services such as we have never been able to have in the past. We know that the price of everything has gone up. We cannot expect rates ever to get back to the modest figures of the past. Not only wire, but every kind of material used in the Department - and it uses many different kinds - have undoubtedly increased considerably in price, and the average wage in the Postal Department has gone up nearly £60 per annum. That being so, there is only one thing for us to do, and that is to increase the rates. When they are increased we can surely expect a much better service than we have had in the past. If we cannot get it then, the fault must be looked for in the management of the Department. It will not be possible for a Postmaster-General to say then, as Postmaster-Generals have invariably said in the past, “ I am sorry I cannot comply with your request. I recognise the claim you have for a telephone service or a better postal service, but the funds of the Department are in such a state that I cannot recommend it.” It is time we tried to get enough money into the Department to ‘ make it pay, and to give those facilities which we have all acknowledged should be given. Unless we agree to a proposition of this kind when it is before us we sb.all be only beating the air when we ask later on for greater facilities, because we shall have refused to provide the money necessary to carry them out.
Senator PRATTEN (New South Wales) T6.22]. - I should not have intervened in the debate except for the purpose of putting one or two new points of view.
Senator Thomas, Senator Keating, and I think Senator Payne, pleaded for the retention of the postal rate on letters at the present figure of 1½d.
– I said Id.
– Then I will take the plea of Senator Keating, the effect of which would be to reduce the anticipated revenue during the present financial year by some hundreds of thousands of pounds. The amount of money allocated from revenue, and required for the increased salaries and services of the Department this year in all its branches, is close upon £1,500,000. Many appeals have been made in this Chamber to put the services of the Department in a state of reasonable business efficiency. ‘During the war years a continuing pressure wa3 imposed upon the ex-Postmaster-General (Mr.- Webster) to pare down his estimates and expenses until they were actually cut to the bone. I believe that during the last year of his postal administration Mr. Webster showed a business profit from the Post and Telegraph Department of about £500,000. That was calmly appropriated by the Treasurer of the day, and went to pay for something else. It was probably allocated towards war services.
– Was it not appropriated to make up for many of the deficits that the Department had shown in past years?
– It is likely that the late Treasurer (Mr. Watt) thought that if he appropriated the £500,000 profit made by the Department then administered by Mr. William Webster, he would be able to show £500,000 more towards the cost of the war, and, consequently, make a better Budget, and, perhaps, dodge further taxation to that extent. What happened? The whole of the services were cut to the bone. Economies were made here, and cuts were made there, until the services almost reached the point of confusion. Certainly the officers were unable to carry on .the services efficiently, partly because many of the expert officials went to the war, and partly because of the shortage of money. The Department during the last two or three years in almost all its branches has been a by-word to the community. The public have lost their old feeling of certainty of letter deliveries or ordinary telegraphic deliveries. They have given up hope. Speaking from the standpoint of my own State, the Sydney telephone services have arrived almost at a state of chaos owing to the shortage of money to buy material when it could have been bought.
– Like every other member of this Parliament, I received a pamphlet from Mr. Webster stating that when he went around Australia he found that people complained very little. _ Senator PRATTEN. - When the officials themselves apologize for the state of the Sydney telephone service, we know that there is a great deal wrong. Some of my personal experiences in connexion with telegrams and letters through the post-office in this Parliament are among the worst I have come across in my ‘business experience.
In. this debate appeals have been made to the Government to reduce the revenue of the country during the current financial year by some hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is a little late in the day to do that. The time to do it was when the -Bills came before the Senate, by which we incurred statutory obligations for the expenditure of money. Only a month or two ago the Senate, in spite of the protests of some of us, passed a vote for £500,000 for the purpose of helping soldiers to form co-operative societies in the country. One honorable senator appeals for increased allowances to old-age pensioners, another for an increase of the maternity bonus and a third for an extra payment to the blind.” All these things, if indorsed by Parliament, make n sum total of statutory obligations that we have to meet by additional revenue. I have spent some time in analyzing what the Budget means. So far as I can make out, our statutory obligations, including £90,000 to Tasmania, the .per capita grant to the States, the cost of running the Po3t and Telegraph Department, including the £1,500,000 increase over the cost last year, old-age pensions, interest, Northern Territory Redemption Fund. and many other items, commit us to an expenditure of £91,665,000. To meet this we have total receipts, from taxation and loans, of £98,S64,000.
– At the dinner adjournment I was pointing out that the statutory obligations that have been specifically passed by this Senate in connexion with our national finance were within £7,000,000 of the total estimated expenditure from both revenue and war loans. The Post Office, I think, has been very liberally dealt with by the Government in the Estimates that will reach us from another place in due course. I think that yesterday we passed a sum of about £900,000 on account of the ensuing financial year. As compared with last year, this is nearly six times the amount for the particular items specified. It must not be forgotten, either, that wages have been considerably increased, and that the cost of administration of the Post Office is, 4 so far as I can gather by a cursory glance at the figures that have been presented to us, £600,000 more this year than ever before. According to the Estimates, the 2d. postage rate will “bring in £750,000 extra, and the difference between this sum and the £1,000,000 extra which it is expected the Post Office receipts will aggregate is made up by additional charges for telegrams and telephones. The financial position of a Government is not exactly the same as that of an ordinary trading institution. We have to make our income equal our expenditure, but an ordinary trading concern fits its expenditure to its income, or, in other word6, cuts its coat according to its cloth. I do not want to repeat myself, but I wish to emphasize the fact that time and time again objections have been made by the economists in this chamber to what is sometimes regarded as extravagant expenditure, yet, in spite of this, we have passed Bill after Bill imposing additional expenditure on the Government, and now “ the chickens are coming home to roost.” We have to get the money. The question is, how best to get it. I see that the entertaining Melbourne press have coined a phrase indicating that this financial statement of the Treasurer is a “ knock-out Budget.” It certainly is, so far as the entertainments tax is concerned, and I do not altogether agree with its policy in that respect. I would be quite prepared to support the weighty arguments that have been adduced in this chamber in favour of keeping tEe postage at its present rates, if there were any reasonable expectation of raising money in some other direction. I had in mind even a proposal to knock out the proposed remission of the entertainments tax, in order to keep the postage rates on letters where it is, but I am in this difficulty : The rejection of the Bill to remit portion of the entertainments tax would only give us about £250,000 per year, and I am a bit doubtful as to the constitutional position of the Senate. We cannot impose taxation, and the rejection by the Senate of the Bill to which I refer would, in effect, be increasing taxation.
– We cannot amend any proposed law so as to increase any burden or charge upon the people.
– No ; but the Entertainments Tax Bill is for the purpose of reducing taxation, and I am not sure whether, constitutionally, we can deal with it at all.
But to come back to the point, I believe that if the rejection, of that measure would give us additional revenue aggregating anything like the loss of anticipated revenue from the reduction of the present postage rates, the temper of the Senate would be to keep the postage rates at its present level and make the people who go to picture shows pay.
– Then you are dealing with postage as a taxation measure, and you are making the Post Office a tax collector.
– I am in this difficulty : The statutory obligations of this Parliament so far amount to £91,000,000, and the total revenueloans and all- will be only £98,000,000. By keeping postage at its present rates we are going to lose, according to the Budget Estimates, approximately £750,000, and as one of the representatives of New South’ Wales I am not going to risk further inefficiency in the Post Office. We have had quite enough of that already. The war is over. It is nearly two years since the armistice was signed. The skilled employees of the Department are, I hope, back at their jobs; and. if we give the Postmaster-General sufficient money to carry on we have a right to expect efficiency in the Department. If we do not get it we can then properly blame those who are responsible.
– Give them enough money to carry on in the first instance, then.
– Did the honorable senator say that the Budget gives the Post Office £600,000 more than last year?
– No ; I said that it gives a sum total, so far as I can gather, of £900,000 more to carry on with, but that it will also cost about £600,000 more for administration, so that the total increase, apart from capital cost, will be in the region of £1,500,000!
There is another phase to this question, and that is its inter-Imperial uniform postage aspect. The British Government recently imposed twopenny postage for the United Kingdom, and by imposing a similar postage rate in Australia we shall come into line with the British and New Zealand Governments - with the 2d. interImperial rate and a 2½d. rate for outside countries.
– That is not the. New Zealand rate. -
– I understand the New Zealand Government are raising their rates.
-They are raising it ½d. for 4 ounces - not as in Australia, to 2d. per½oz. letter.
– I am not dealing with the question of weights, but with the question of an inter-Imperial postage rate. According to the latest British Budget, the postage rate on letters, irrespective of weights, has been increased from l½d. to 2d., and I understand the New Zealand Government are doing the same, so that if we bring our rates up to 2d. we shall have inter-Imperial unity.
– What advantage is that?
– I do not say it is any advantage. I am merely referring to it as one phase of this question.
– Then, to be logical, you should carry the argument further and apply it to the income tax as well.
– I do not think my honorable friend has any precedent for that observation, whereas we have a precedent in connexion with the postage rates.
– Then let us make a precedent.
– I am not at all averse to the Senate as now constituted - we have a better Senate than there has been for many years - setting up such a precedent, and, if necessary, I am prepared to help my honorable friend.
But, in connexion with this postage rate, my difficulty is that of finance. I listened with a good deal of sympathy to the argument that any increases in the postage rate on newspapers would penalize the people in the country more than the people in the town, and I am reminded that we are continually calling out to our people, “ Produce, produce. Go on the land, young man.” We ought to be practical in our legislation. If it were not for the spectre of finance, I would vote for a proposition to keep letter postage where it is, and if, as a result, we lost about £750,000 of anticipated revenue, to be logical we should have to reject the Bill that is coming before us for the remission of part of the entertainments tax.
– I am putting the position before the Senate as it appears to me. I believe that if there is anything the matter with the Budget, it is that it does not impose enough taxation. On several occasions in this phamber I have expressed regret that, in former years, Governments have not faced this question of taxation in a satisfactory manner. I believe that had the Government desired to impose taxation in war time the people would have been less, critical than now. Although we are not approximating to the healthy finance of the Mother Country, we are doing much better now than ever before, and, in my opinion, this Budget goes a long way towards placing Australian finances on a reasonable basis.
– Leaving out the Budget, what are you going to do about this Bill?
– I must ask the honorable senator not to be led by interjections into a discussion of the Budget.
– Yes, Mr. Presi-. dent. But this question of Post Office revenue is so inextricably mixed up with the Budget that I cannot help myself. In the Budget there are the figures relating to the Post Office, approximating £10,000,000 out of a total of £90,000,000 ; and running through the whole of the Budget there are frequent references to the Post Office, or matters in connexion with it. I sit down in a difficulty about this matter. My difficulty is that, even if we do continue the imposition of the entertainments tax as it stands to-day, and keep the postage at lid. per letter, we shall be £500,000 short in our anticipated revenue.
. - I have looked very carefully into this proposal, but, perhaps, not as closely as has Senator Pratten. If I understand this matter aright, the halfpenny increased postage which was imposed as a war tax will now be transferred to the Postal Department, so that the Postmaster-General will receive an increase in revenue as far as postal work is concerned. It would appear, therefore, that the Department will be receiving an increase of 100 per cent, in one jump - the Department will benefit by 100 per cent., but the public will not be charged to that extent. The additional revenue will go towards meeting the difficulties with which, the Department has had to contend. There are also to he increased rates on telegrams, and for the use of the telephone. The increase iu the telegraphic rates, as honorable senators will have noticed, is 50 per cent, in the metropolitan area, per cent, within a State, and, approximately, 25 per cent, on Inter-State messages. The increased income is very extensive, and I think Senator Pratten, if he goes into the question more closely, will find that it is very much higher than he has anticipated. lt appears to me that if we allow the postal rate to remain as it is, and impose additional charges on telegrams and telephones, we shall be giving the Department considerable assistance and easing its responsibility to a large extent. As has already been pointed out by honorable senators, the increased postage on letter-matter affects more particularly those who are living in the backblocks, and persons living in Melbourne or in any other capital city of the Commonwealth are apt to forget that the proposed alterations will affect residents in every part of Australia. Senator Pratten said we are continually urging men to go on the land, but at every turn we are making it more difficult for them to make rural life profitable and pleasant. Personally, I think that, for the present year at any rate - seeing that the Post Office is to receive, approximately, £745,000, which in the past has been a war tax - we should allow the rate on letters to remain unaltered. It roust be remembered that the sixpenny telegrams are not of any great advantage in a city such as Melbourne, because the telephone is utilized to a great extent as a means of communication. Tn imposing an extra 3d. on telegrams there will not be any great gain in the metropolitan area, and instead of the ninepenny State telegram it would be better to have that rate uniform with the Inter-State rate, which is ls.
There is also “another phase of this question that must not be overlooked. It must be remembered that taxation must be considered as distinct from revenue, and we ought to keep the Postal Department out of the question, and not look upon the Postmaster-General as a tax gatherer. Taxes are gathered through the medium of the Customs House, and the Land and Income Tax, and other Departments, and it should be our endeavour to’ keep taxation within those boundaries, and not allow it to enter the Postal Department, because by doing so we are hampering that free interchange which is a great benefit to the community. It is not my intention at this juncture to discuss the question of penny postage, because I believe that can be left until our indebtedness is much less than it is to-day. I believe that the change that has been foreshadowed will be the means of meeting the requirements of the Postal Department, and give it sufficient funds, at any rate for twelve months, to develop and proceed with work as soon as the necessary material arrives. It has been suggested that the Postmaster-General needs more revenue, because higher salaries will have to be paid. If that were brought forward as a special reason for the increased rates there may have been some justification, but that has not been mentioned by the Minister. He has stated that the additional rates are to be charged because the cost of certain telephonic and telegraphic material has increased.
– I should think that the question of wages was not such an important factor as that of material.
– I. do not think so, because it has to be remembered that the cost of telegraphic and telephonic instruments has increased considerably.
– There is no reserve stock in the country. That has to be built -up.
– That is so. The honorable senator must remember that this is not put forward as an emergency measure, and the argument he is advancing is purely an emergency one. Taking the figures generally, and knowing what has been the result in the past, we shall be limiting our income if we further increase the postage rates, and we shall also be limiting the usefulness of the Post Office if we place a further encumbrance upon newspapers. In one way it may be beneficial, as it will enable some post offices to overtake arrears of work which at present are a long way behind.
– That i3 due to inefficiency.
– That argument does not enter the question, as ,it is one of finance, and not efficiency. It is a well-known fact that much of the printed matter that goes forward to post-offices is left for a convenient time before it is sorted and delivered. I have been told that some newspapers are almost dead and forgotten before they are delivered from the offices. The Government would be well advised if they accepted the suggestion which has been put forward by certain honorable senators, and allowed the postage rate to remain as at present. If the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) should find that the amount at his disposal is insufficient, Parliament will have an opportunity of considering an application for additional money. I do not wish to hinder the passage of the Bill, but I think there is a strong feeling amongst honorable senators that the postage Tate of 1-Jd. is sufficient for the present, because, with the additional revenue to be derived from increased telegraphic and telephonic rates, the Postmaster-General should be able to place his Department on a satisfactory basis, and at the same time render an efficient service.
– It is not my intention to speak at length in reply to the speeches that have been delivered on the second reading; but there are one or two important matters to which I wish to refer.
Reference has been made to the rates of postage in Great Britain and other countries. Prior to the war Great Britain received £6,000,000 a year from the Postal Department, and this year she has increased her rates by 33 . per cent. I regret that the figures given by Senator
Keating’ were not up to date; but I realize that he submitted them with the best intentions. There are later rates than those which he quoted, and although I have not details of them I am in a position to say that they are higher.
– They may be contained in the last British Budget, but they were not in force when the last English mail left.
– The outstanding increase in this proposal is the basic letter rate, which is increased by 33^ per cent., because the present postage is lid per oz. There are no further increases proposed in regard to newspapers, as it has always been the policy to make them available to the people of the Commonwealth at the very lowest price. In New Zealand the newspaper rates have increased by 100 per cent., and in Canada by 300 per cent., during the past two years.
– But they take 4 ozs. where we take only a half-ounce.
– I am not dealing with letter matter, but with newspapers. The policy of the Government has been to extend and cheapen facilities for the dissemination of newspapers through the medium of the Post Office, We propose to increase the charges by 3d. in the case of telegraphic messages containing sixteen words. In the United Kingdom the rates have recently been increased from 9d. for twelve words and id. for each additional word, to ls. for twelve words and Id. for each additional word, which represents an increase of - 33^ per cent, on the initial rate, and 100 per cent, on the rate for extra words.
– I think that it is Id. per word extra which is” charged there.
– When ‘ we consider the short circuits which obtain in Great Britain, and remember the magnificent distances which have to be covered in Australia, we must recognise that our rates do not compare unfavorably with those of the Mother Country. In South Africa, the rates were recently increased by approximately 334 per cent., the maximum number of words for the initial charge being twelve as compared with sixteen words in the Commonwealth.
– Do the twelve words include the address of the sender 1
– That is a mere detail, but I think that they do. In New Zealand the rates have been increased from” 8d. for twelve words and A. for each additional word, to ls. for twelve words and Id. for each additional word, an increase of 50 per cent, on the initial charge, and 100 per cent, on the secondary rate. It is estimated that the new rates on ordinary telegrams win bring in about 25 per cent, increase in revenue, and a proportionate increase in the rates for press messages is also proposed.
The policy of Australia has not been to regard the Post and Telegraph Department as altogether a commercial concern, because we recognise the national importance of developing our back country by granting every possible facility to settlers. But if honorable senators imagine that they are going to promote settlement by means of penny postage alone, they are sadly mistaken. That is too small a matter to affect settlement to any great extent.
– It all helps.
– But penny postage throughout the Commonwealth would assist the promotion of settlement much less than will the granting of adequate postal facilities. Hitherto we have had to tell our people that we could not grant them such facilities. There are members of this Chamber who cannot get the use of telephones to-day because the exchanges are full. Quite recently, a gentleman in Sydney wrote to me complaining that he could not get the telephone connected with his place of business.
– For want of the necessary money on the part of the Department ?
– For want of material.
– If the Department has the money, it has not the instruments which are required.
– We have to recover from these set-backs. I am doubtful whether we could have provided the money which was required even had the material been available. I believe that extended postal facilities are more essential in Australia to-day than is the adoption of penny postage. When our large warehouses send out circulars to farmers and others, we ought to remember that it is the consumer who has to pay the postage upon them, because the charge is always passed on to him.
– So that he gets hit .. both ways.
– Every tax of which I have any knowledge is passed on to the consumer. What is the use of the Government saying to the settlers in our back country, “We cannot supply you with a telephone, because we have no> money, but if we had Ave should supply the telephone to you at a cheap rate”? From my experience of the Postal Department, it is not the cost of which complaint is made; it is the lack of material.
– The lack of efficiency.
– Not altogether. I believe that the staff of the Postal Department has done the very best that was possible with the money which was at its command. I have heard complaints which, when investigated, showed that it was impossible for the officers of that Department to take the necessary action because of .the lack of necessary materials.
No provision has been made in our Loan Act for the Post Office, and consequently we shall require to borrow £4,500,000 for the ordinary works of that DepartmentThe Post Office occupies an entirely different position from that which is occupied by a naval depot or an ammunition works for defence purposes, because it is, to some extent, a commercial concern. Although the Government have not at- tempted to extort, through the medium of the Post Office, the last penny from the community, it was never intended that the Department should be a charitable institution. The various services connected with it ought not to be run for profit, but they ought not to be maintained at a loss. They should be made to pay.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council is upon our side.
– I am not. No provision has been made anywhere, save in this Bill, for the raising of money for the extension of postal facilities. Of course, we ought not to borrow for works which are of a temporary character. We are, however, justified in borrowing for works of a permanent character. Senator Pratten (pointed out, and I agree with him, that it would have been better for this country had we imposed more taxation to provide for our war expenditure.
We cannot develop Australia unless we nave the requisitemoney with which to do it, and if this Bill does not provide the revenue which we require for extended postal facilities, no other provision has been made to obtain it.
– Has not provision been made for a considerable extension of postal facilities to out-back settlers this year?
– As far as possible that has been done.
– If the Government secure the adoption of twopenny postage, will they give the country districts better mail and telephonic services ?
– Yes, that is our intention. Of course, no matter what money may be available for the purpose, we cannot carry out that particular job expeditiously, because all material needs to be ordered twelve months ahead.
– Was not the original trouble lack of money when the material was available?
– The material was never available, nomatter what money the Government may have had. .
– The facts are familiar to honorable senators. The Government attempted to battle along during the war period as best they could, leaving the Post Office in its present inefficient state. We now desire to bring it up to date. The telephone service in Melbourne is so backward that I unsuccessfully endeavoured, upon eight or nine occasions to-day, to get into communication with the Central Wheat Board. I wasted an hour and a half in my efforts.
SenatorKeating. - Experience should have taught the honorable gentleman that it would have been quicker to walk down to the office of the Wheat Board.
– Unfortunately, the Senate would not adjourn in order to permit me to do so. Wherever one goes he finds that the telephone service is in a bad condition owing to the lack of requisite material. We have endeavoured to avoid the imposition of additional taxation as far as possible; but to keep back the development of the country by withholding adequate postal facilities would be a suicidal policy. For other works, which are equally important, we shall need to borrow £5,000,000 next year, not because we desire to rush works ahead, but because we are behind in most of these, undertakings. Upon one job, which was started before the war, we are losing money very heavily, simply because it has not been completed.
– The Government should not have scrapped the entertainments tax.
– It has not been scrapped altogether. If we imagine that we can reform the world by collecting £24.0,000 annually from the women and children who attend our picture shows, God help us! Surely this Parliament has a bigger soul than that. The proposition with which I am now dealing is a much, larger one, because a quick, reliable and efficient postal service is absolutely necessary for Australia during the period, of post-war reconstruction. I ask honorable senators to agree to the second reading of the measure, and to afford the Government an opportunity to make the Post Office self-supporting.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 -
Part I. of the First Schedule to the principal Act is omitted, and the following Part inserted in its stead: - “ Part I. - Newspapers.
On all newspapers, printed and published in Australia, posted for delivery within the Commonwealth (without condition as to the number contained in each addressed wrapper)
One penny and a halfpenny per twenty ounces on the aggregate weight of newspapers posted by any one person at any one time: Provided that the minimum amount of postage payable on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted shall be One shilling.
. I intimated, during the discussion upon the motion for the second reading of the Bill, my intention to ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) to consider the advisableness of striking out the proviso which appears in the second column of this clause. The rate of1½d. under this clause re presents a rise of½d. on the existing rates, but I draw particular attention to the proviso : -
Provided that the minimum amount of postage payable on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted shall be one shilling.
– What does that mean ?
– It means that if a news agent sends out to a sub-agent in a little country town .five or six copies of a particular newspaper which is not ordered so freely, say, as The Bulletin or the Sporting Judge, he has to pay at least ls. in postage on that small parcel.
– The newspaper proprie-tor will pay that.
– No. The subagent in his turn distributes those five or six papers to customers who come to his place.
– The original agent could send them to any address he liked.
– Every one knows that, but the news agent cannot take from the sub-agent his particular customers. This “proviso simply plays into the hands of the big publishing houses and the newspaper proprietors. A newspaper published in Sydney or Melbourne is sent to Hobart and Launceston. The Launceston agent may take 300, of which he distributes 200 in Launceston. Of the remaining 100 he perhaps sends twenty to Longford, seven to some other town, and six to some other store or shop. On each of those parcels, even if it only contains five or six papers, the minimum postage is ls. The Minister suggests that the Launceston agent can send them to the individual subscribers,, but he does not know them, and, moreover, the local sub-agent hands them to’ his customers when they come to his store, where they probably buy other goods, and perhaps pay for the papers as they get them. This clause will drive those individual subscribers, unless they are numerous enough to justify the payment of ls. postage, into having either to cease to subscribe, or to send to Launceston or Melbourne to have the papers sent to them direct, because the Launceston agent would get nothing out of sending those few copies through the post separately. Even if they were American or other foreign papers, they could be sent individually to these people in the country towns at the rate of Id. each, but as the clause stands, the subagent cannot get a small parcel of Australian papers sent to him except on pay ment of a rninimum charge of ls. Let us strike out this proviso. What is the advantage of it? It will only congest the circulation of the papers into the larger areas of population.
– A firm like Gordon and Gotch receives books or papers bv post from other countries by the hundreds and thousands, and distributes them. Don’t you think we finish our job when we deliver them to Gordon and Gotch? Must we provide them with a cheap system to distribute them to other people ?
– I am not asking for anything of the kind. This proviso applies to newspapers printed and published in the Commonwealth and sent to bond fide subscribers through bond fide agents for distribution. The Government have taken upon themselves responsibility in this clause for that system. What the Minister does not see is that there are bond fide agents in certain localities who have to supply only five or six subscribers with copies of a paper. Why should those subscribers be denied the benefit of these rates simply because of the paucity of their numbers? The large distributors get the benefit of the bulk postage, but it is denied by this proviso to the smaller distributors in the country towns’, although they are still bond fide newsagents. If the proviso is passed, it will be a genuine grievance to local distributors and subscribers in small localities. They will say, “What else can you expect? It is Melbourne all the time. That is all that the Federal Parliament will look to when it is making provision for anything of this kind.” Let us not have that reproach added to us in this case. Let the Government carry out the spirit of the bulk concession, so far as every bond fide distributor is concerned, whether he is a big Melbourne magnate or a small sub-agent in a remote portion of the ‘Commonwealth.
– There seems to be some misunderstanding. The services rendered in the two cases are entirely different. Waggon-loads of newspapers, which ultimately go to different districts, are sent down every night to the post-office and the railway station, but the sender gets the benefit of the bulk postage, even though he is despatching 500 single newspapers to 500 single individuals in 500 different towns. If the minimum charge is reducedbelow1s., we may find that the Post Office is giving too great a service for the money. At present, all the sender has to do is to cart his own mail to the post-office. Is it worth extending the concession any further? There is a difference between the retailer and the wholesaler, because the bigger the business, and the more it is handled in bulk, the cheaper can the handling be done.
– I am simply asking you to stick to the present system and be satisfied with the increase of 50 per cent.
– This proviso is probably introduced because of abusesof the present system. Nothing has been more abused than the definition of a newspaper in order to get the concession of bulk carriage through the post.
– No justification of that sort has ever been put forward for this proviso.
– I think the ls. minimum will get over the difficulty. The point does not seem very important, but iti may be necessary for the practical working of the Department. The clause is not introduced to assist private individuals to push some little newspaper for a special cause. The idea is to give the benefit of cheap postage on newspapers, particularly the big papers, to the general public. We do not want to penalize smaller papers unduly, but we should not give them special privileges.
SenatorKeating. - I am asking that the existing law shall remain. It probably would have remained if the country postmasters instead of Melbourne officials had had a say in it.
– The clause is recommended by the Postmaster-General, who probably made full inquiries beforehand. The Department wants it- to insure the successful working of the concession.
– If a newsvendor in Melbourne sends parcels addressed to Bendigo, Ballarat, and Castlemaine, is the postage taken on the aggregate?
– Yes. I am assured by the officers of the Department that no mistake has been made in this clause.
– Senator Keating has made out a good case, although when he began I was not altogether with him. I am not very favorable, -and ueve’r have been, to this part of the Bill. The newspaper rates under this clause are altogether too low. People try to register ali sorts of prints as newspapers, and it is very difficult to decide what a newspaper is. Some of them are so light that eighty copies will not make up 20 oz. For1d., eighty of those so-called newspapers can be posted at the Melbourne General Post Office and sent to any place, in Australia. I would rather see the principle established of every separate newspaper having to pay ½d. postage, but the Government have not proposed that. They are continuing the system of allowing newspapers to go through in bulk. The reason that was done under Federal control was this: When Federation was established all newspapers in New South Wales were sent through the Post Office free.
– And in Tasmania. .
-brockman. - Also in Western Australia.
– In Victoria the rate was½d. for every newspaper. After Federation the representatives of New South Wales, and probably also of Western Australia, endeavoured to secure free distribution of newspapers throughout the Commonwealth, but a difficulty arose as to the definition of a newspaper.
– That is simple enough. A newspaper is any publication that abuses members of Parliament.
– If the honorable senator can discover a definition that will satisfy the Postmaster-General the Minister will be very pleased indeed. The clause as it stands will penalize the country newspaper, but will not affect big city newspapers like the Melbourne Argus, the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Daily Telegraph, because, as a rule, they are all 4 or 5 ounces in weight, and could easily make up the bulk weight required to take advantage of the bulk rate. The small country newspaper, on the other hand, is, as a rule, so light that a very large number would have to be posted to come under the bulk rate, and in many cases it would be necessary to pay the minimum charge of ls.
– A country newspaper printed in the country will have the advantage of the bulk rate, because th’e whole of the papers may be sent in to the office in one bundle.
- Senator Keating’s contention is quite right. I have here a paper printed in, Broken Hill, lt probably does not weigh more than £ ounce, and I should say that, in order to come under this provision, the publisher would have to post over forty or pav a minimum charge of ls. The clause will not prevent the bogus newspaper from being distributed in bulk through the Post Office if a sufficient number of them are posted- at one time. The only way to prevent the bogus newspaper from taking advantage of this provision would be to charge ½d. upon every newspaper, as is done in New Zealand and England. If the Government intend to penalize the small country newspaper in this way I shall be in favour- of knocking out the provision altogether and putting all newspapers on the same level.
– As I understand the provision, it is the intention to help the country newspaper proprietor in the distribution of his paper. Senator Thomas contends that we are giving him a concession at the expense of the general taxpayer, and yet in the same breath he says we are going to confer benefits on the big city newspapers.
– That is just what the Government are doing.
– We have handled newspaper mail matter in this way for many years, and we know what it costs. If now we introduce a new system we may do an injury to those we intend to benefit, for we will not know if it is going to be more economical or if it will help the small country newspaper.
– This proviso, which I desire to have eliminated, is the innovation.
– I am afraid, then, that neither Senator Keating nor Senator Thomas was very successful in demonstrating this fact, for, while I was able- to follow Senator Keating’s argument, I came to the conclusion, after listening to Senator Thomas, that there was a good deal of confusion about the matter.
– I should like to put the case of newspapers printed in a country district and distributed, over an area of 150 miles, in a number of small towns.
– In that case the newspapers would be all taken in one bundle to the Post Office, and would come under the bulk newspaper rate.
– Even if they were despatched to different towns by train or coach?
– As the proviso is worded it appears to mean that in this secondary distribution the newspapers would have to pay the minimum charge of ls., as they would not come within the provisions of the TBill.
– If there is any doubt about the interpretation of the clause I will give it further consideration. There seems to’ be some confusion about the everyday practice of the Postal Department in regard to the bulk handling of newspapers, and in order to satisfy honorable senators I should like to withdraw the clause temporarily. I am against the introduction of any pin-pricks in legislation.
Clause 6 -
Part II. of the First Schedule to the Principal Act is repealed, and the following part inserted in its stead : -
.- I consider this is the most important clause in the whole measure inasmuch as it provides for the imposition of 2d. postage on all letters up to ounce.
– I have an amendment at the top of the schedule which will come before that of the honorable senator.
– I am not moving an amendment. A short time ago I asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) if the additional provision out of revenue, which is being made for the PostmasterGeneral to enable him to successfully conduct his Department, included provision for the expansion of our postal arrangements in order that the settlers, many miles out from the ordinary centres of civilization, might have improved postal facilities. I understand, from the Minister’s reply, that it was intended to extend the services and show more consideration to those who are experiencing considerable hardship in developing our rural areas.
– That is the object.
– If that is so, it is interesting to note that the Postal Department is to receive an additional amount, according to the Estimates, of £7,976,603. The total cost of the Department for 1920-21 has considerably increased when compared with the preceding year. The amount includes a certain sum from loan funds.
– Salaries have gone up by over £1,000,000.
– The ordinary votes and appropriations provided that the Postmaster-General should receive an additional £750,000. If the PostmasterGeneral is to receive rthat additional amount for the working of his Department, would he not, if the proposed rate were allowed to . remain at1½d., receive £750,000 or a little more by being able to retain what has in the past been a½d. war-time tax? If the rate to be imposed after the 1st October were l½d. for every½ oz. of letter matter the additional½d. would give the PostmasterGreneral an extra £750,000 in revenue. I desire to be quite fair in this matter, and it is necessary to turn to the total expenditure proposed in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department this year. A very large expenditure from revenue is to be incurred on new works, buildings, and sites, and, for the first time in some years, the amount to be provided for this purpose is greatly in excess of what it has been in previous years.
-brockman. - That is sound finance.
– Not necessarily. Cannot the honorable senator see that if we accept that statement as indicative of sound finance we are asking the present taxpayers to bear the whole of the burden of improving our postal arrangements and buildings which will benefit, not only those who are contributing to the cost of government to-day, but also those who will benefit in years to come.
– They will have their own burdens to carry.
– We have piled up obligations in the past, especially during the last four years.
– And there are sixteen arbitration cases to be heard.
– I desire to compare the amount proposed to be expended from loan money with that to be expended from revenue during the current financial year. I am not referring to the cost involved in the maintenance and upkeep of existing buildings, but providing new works and buildings. It is proposed to spend £1,074,000 from revenue, whilst the amount to be spent from loan funds is only £53,000. Surely it is out of all proportion to suggest that we should spend double the amount from revenue for permanent additions to our postal buildings to what we are spending from loan money, particularly at a time when the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) admits that there is great difficulty in raising revenue to meet the expenditure that is arising from day to day.
– What does the honorable senator consider permanent additions ?
– I should say that new buildings are not going to be erected with money belonging to the people if they are likely to last only for a year or two. What is the usual practice in regard to the erection of any asset such as a building likely to last for a number of years ?
– There must be a certain amount available for upkeep.
– I am not referring to that; such expenditure must be met from revenue. Surely when we are financially embarrassed, and when the Government are asking us to carry a heavy burden of debt, we should not be compelled to authorize the construction of new works out of revenue.
– Is the honorable senator in favour of borrowing more?
– And adding to our burden.
– This is sound finance.
– The honorable senator has not studied the question from the stand-point of sound finance. I am not anxious to add to our burdens, but to reduce them as much >as possible consistently with efficiency and safety.
– Do you believe in paying by promissory notes?
– No; but by seeing that we have a satisfactory sinking fund from which we can liquidate our liabilities in a certain number of years.
– The ‘honorable senator is condemning the principle that has been adopted in Great Britain.
– I am expressing my own ideas.
– They are contrary to the accepted principles of sound finance.
– I do not agree with the honorable senator. The money for the upkeep of buildings must be provided out of revenue, but new works of a permanent character should be paid for from loan money, so that not only the taxpayers of to-day, but those who follow us, will bear their share of the benefits that are to be conferred: on the community.
– “Where are we to borrow the money?
– From whom did we get £25,000,000 recently?
– It took ns all our time.
– Not at all, it came in quite freely, and it must be admitted that Australia has never asked for money in vain. Can any honorable senator refer to an appeal that has not been satisfactorily responded to ? I am not advocating that the whole of this expenditure should be defrayed from loan money, but we are being asked this year to provide twothirds of the total amount to be spent on new works and buildings out of revenue.
– A” good idea, too.
– It would be a splendid idea if we were assured of a surplus at the end of our financial year, and we were not imposing additional taxation on the people who bear their burdens cheerfully and with a good heart. But we know very well that the time must come when we shall reach the limit of our powers in regard to taxation. Unless it is imperative for the safety of the nation, no Parliament has a right to impose additional taxes.
– The Government have tried their best to keep them down.
– Does this clause affect the point raised by the honorable senator ?
– The clause embodies a proposal to increase the rate of postage on letters, and I am endeavouring to show a way in which that additional impost may to some extent be avoided. I believe that by retaining the current rate of lid. we could meet the needs of the Department .with the additional revenue provided in the Estimates for the PostmasterGeneral. I trust honorable senators will hesitate before approving of the proposal in this clause. I believe Senator Keating said it was a retrograde step, and so it is. We should endeavour to popularize the Postal Service as much as possible, but if the measure is passed in its present form it will mean that the business of the Department will be reduced. I believe that the present rate, with the addition I ‘ have mentioned, will enable the Postmaster-General to carry on his Department successfully, and at a profit.
– I am in favour of that.
– That being so, there is no need to labour the question, and I trust that honorable senators will support me in this matter.
.- As indicated in my second-reading speech, I desire to make provision for preferential treatment to friendly societies. I therefore move -
That the following words he inserted: - “ Letters from a registered friendly benefit society bearing the official stamp of such society . . Id. per i oz.”
That is merely a description of mail matter, and I do not think it necessary for me to repeat the arguments I advanced in my second-reading speech.
– Why give friendly societies preferential treatment over any other organization or society?
– I am under the impression that I pointed out that friendly societies are national benefactors, and are organizations which benefit particularly the working people of this country.
– The honorable senator does not call himself a working man.
– Wot in comparison with the honorable senator.
– But I understood the honorable senator to say that he had benefited by friendly societies.
– The honorable senator does not call himself a working man?
– I do not understand the honorable senator’s point. I desire to grant preferential treatment to friendly societies.
– That, would be a dangerous precedent to establish.
– Why grant preferential treatment to friendly, societies ?
– Because, more than any other co-operative body of which I have any knowledge, they incur a greater expenditure upon mail matter. Their quarterly notices to members alone throughout Australia number 478,000, and in addition they send out circulars relating to the holding of special meetings. These things make a considerable inroad upon their finances.
– The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Association ought to be given preference.
– I have no objection to the inclusion of that Association, which is one that is well worthy of consideration.
– Does the honorable senator intend to limit his’ proposal to secular friendly societies?
– I do not intend to particularize. I have had personal experience of the good work which is accomplished by friendly societies, and I say unhesitatingly that they have saved the Government thousands of pounds by looking after numbers of people who were not able to look after themselves. The more we encourage these organizations the more we shall relieve our selves of responsibility in that regard. My object is to exempt from full postage official letters bearing the stamp of these organizations.
– Where would that proposal lead to ?
– Honorable senators appear to be very suspicious.
– We have had quite as much experience of friendly societies as has the honorable senator.
– And has that experience led Senator Henderson to believe that these societies are dishonest, because that is what he is insinuating ?
– Why should we give preferential treatment to them as against the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Association ?
– If the honorable senator wishes to oppose this proposition let him take the responsibility of doing so. If he desires to include within the ambit of my amendment the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Association, I shall support him in attaining his object by voting that the correspondence bearing the official stamp of that organization shall be carried for Id.
– Every honorable senator sympathizes with friendly societies and appreciates the valuable work which they perform. Personally, I have been a member of the Australian Natives Association for about twenty-five years, though I have never had a sixpence out of it. But I object to the amendment, because I believe that the Post Office ought to be run upon commercial lines, so as to enable it to pay for itself. The amendment is designed to confer a special privilege upon friendly societies, if we are going to grant that privilege because those organizations look after the welfare of the poor, there are other societies which are entitled to much more consideration. In this connexion I may instance the Ladies Benevolent Society and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Further. I doubt very much whether it is within the power of this Parliament to subsidize any organization which is assocated with any religion. If that were done, there would be a tendency to develop rivalry, and consequently we had better leave the thing alone. Membership of friendly societies to-day is practically confined to the steady, thrifty working men, with families, who wish to provide an insurance against sickness and old age. If we wish to devote money to charity, there are other bodies which are doing better work in the way of looking after those who are unable to look after themselves, than are friendly societies. I say that, although I am a full member of a friendly- society, and intend to remain one, because I recognise that I may not always be a member of this Parliament or a Minister of -the Crown, and that some day it may be necessary for me to get back into harness. Men join these societies chiefly as a matter of insurance against the future. But what about the working man who is insured in a State or other accident insurance company today ? Why not give him the advantage of special postage rates?
– What is the extent of the correspondence that is posted by such organizations ?
– About two notices a year to each of their members.
– I do not think so.
– They send out at least one notice every year. Same of the lodges charge for these notices. The only communication that I ever receive from the lodge to which I belong takes the form of a syllabus or of a demand to pay up, perhaps, a month’s arrears. I ask Senator Earle not to press the amendment, because, although we are all in full sympathy with friendly societies, we ought not to discriminate in their favour in the matter of postal rates. I am not a believer in the bestowal of Government benefits at the expense of any Department. When a demand is made that wheat shall be carried at a cheap rate in the interests of the farmers-
– It is never carried at a cheap rate.
– At any rate, any assistance of the description desired by Senator Earle should come from the Treasury, and not from any Department. I hope that the proposal will be rejected.
– There is one point connected with the amendment which, to my mind, makes it quite an impracticable proposal. As honorable senators are doubtless aware, there are some trade unions which com bine with their ordinary duties work of a purely friendly society nature, and work which involves a great deal of notification to their members. Take, for example, the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, which make allowances to their members in the nature of unemployment, sick, and accident pay - work which under ordinary circumstances would be covered by friendly societies. As a result, many of the members of these organizations do not find it necessary to join a friendly society. How does Senator Earle propose to differentiate between these organizations and what are ordinarily known as friendly societies ?
– By using the term “registered friendly societies.”
– Then the honorable senator will not be acting fairly to the men who are deriving through their trade organizations the same benefits that they would obtain if they were members of a friendly society. It must be obvious that the duty of sending out notifications is a big job, evento these organizations. But if we are going to impose upon the postal officials the task of discriminating between notices of an official character and other correspondence, we shall be asking them to do altogether too much. Upon the other hand, if we affirm that the men who belong to trade unions shall not obtain the benefits which Senator Earle would confer upon friendly societies, we shall involve ourselves in a good deal of criticism. I hope that the Committee will not agree to the amendment. Senator Earle has invited us to . oppose it by throwing down the gauntlet. He practically said, “ If you dare to oppose this proposition, you must accept responsibility for your action.”
– I said that in answer to an interjection.
– I do not think any honorable senator would be deterred from performing what he believed to be his public duty, merely because Senator Earle suggested that he would not dare to take a certain course. I do not believe the friendly societies would be very violently perturbed if the Committee rejected the amendment, because it does not come from them in any way, and has not received their indorsement. The difficulties I have indicated make it incumbent on us to negative the amendment, which would lead to all kinds of difficulties and complications in the Postal Service.
– I do not want my attitude to be misunderstood. I did not throw down the gauntlet and challenge honorable senators to reject the amendment at their peril. ‘ The remark I made was in answer to Senator J. F. Guthrie, who rather forcibly asked why I made this suggestion, and left the returned soldiers out. My reply is that if an honorable senator desires to include returned soldiers, I am prepared to support him. The Minister (Senator Russell) suggested that I was asking for a special favour or charities towards the friendly societies, but that argument will hardly stand the test of critical logic. The Government differentiate in their postal charges already in connexion with the carriage of newspapers and other things. The friendly societies post a mass of correspondence in bulk, bearing the official stamp, which, a short time ago, would be carried at the Jd. rate. If it was printed matter, it could go open for Jd., but, because a few words or a few figures are added in ink, the society will be called on to pay 2d. for every notice. Surely what I am asking is no charity. I simply want the Department to act as a business concern, and to carry the correspondence for nearly half a million people at a reduced rate, not only because the friendly societies are a distinct national benefit, but because they are bringing trade to the Department, which no single individual does.
– The same thing applies to every business letter.
– That is quite a different matter. Although some firms may send out large quantities of letters, they do so for trade purposes, and not for any benefit to Australia. The friendly societies are co-operative concerns for the benefit of over 2,000,000 people, including members and their families. I am not asking for a particular charity for these societies. I am only asking the Department to treat them as any business man would treat a special customer. I also advance the argument that they should be treated as special customers by the Commonwealth Government, because they are bestowing a very special benefit upon Australia. I want the support of honorable senators, but I do not seek it in any defiant spirit. I know that every honorable senator has a perfect right to vote against the amendment if he disagrees with it. This is no new matter with me. I have had correspondence with lodge secretaries long before this, and have made a promise that if I had the opportunity I would endeavour to induce Parliament to order that the official correspondence of friendly societies should be carried at a reasonable rate. I am not asking more than that, when I urge that letters, bearing their official stamp, and posted in bulk, shall be carried at the Id. rate.
.- Honorable senators who have interjected rather” freely seem not to recognise the nature of the ordinary correspondence of the friendly societies. “We propose to allow commercial papers to go through at special rates. These would include a typed memorandum from a commercial firm, stating that they had opened up a new fabric, and would be pleased if their customers would inspect it on a certain day. That sort of thing mav go through the post at lid. for 2 ozs., whereas a friendly society’s notification, on a printed form, with figures added in ink, showing that on a certain date a member will be out of compliance, and owe a certain amount, has to pay 2d. per i oz.
– Could they not typewrite the necessary particulars into the notice ?
– No; they must be printed in order to get the concession. It is impossible to print those details.
– If preferential treatment is to be given to any section of the community, the section that should get it is the Re-* turned Sailors and Soldiers Association, which has a membership of over 200,000, whose dependants would bring the number affected up to at least 500,000. The society has to -send circulars to its members. I object to the amendment because it introduces a dangerous precedent, and we do’ not know where it will stop. If we give preference to one society, . any number of others are equally entitled to the same consideration.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Senator Earle’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so- resolved in the negative.
– I move- ‘
That, in the line “ Letters . . . 2d. per ½oz.” the figure “2” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof” 1½
I am rather sorry to have to propose l½d., because I would rather move for 1d. ; but it seems from the debate that we may be able to carry l½d., but not1d. I gather that honorable senators are not anxious that the Department should be what has been termed a tax collector. Those who favour the 2d, rate seem to think that it will bring sufficient revenue into the Department to provide all the money necessary to carry on its various services adequately. Ever since we have been federated, people have beencomplaining of the Post and Telegraph Department, but most of the time the fault has not been the lack of money. I remember the time when the PostmasterGeneral had placed in his hands as much money as he could spend. Honorable senators have given us to understand that, if this money is. available, all the country mail services will be provided, but I may remind them that it is utterly impossible in Australia to deliver letters to everybody. I know it is the proud boast of the Imperial authorities that every house in the United Kingdom is covered by the Post Office. But that has only been the case during the last ten or fifteen years. In a sparsely populated country like Australia, it is impossible to deliver letters to every house. I remember being asked on one occasion to supply a country mail service at a cost of £3,000, when the revenue would be only £3 per year. If we had ever so much money, it would be foolish to grant a. request for a service in those circumstances. Whoever is the head of the Department, he must fix some limit to the expenditure. Some years ago, if out-back settlers wanted a mail service, they could retain the whole of the revenue for themselves, and, in the case of any deficiency they were only called upon to pay one-half. The conditions may be more generous now, but, in any case, some regulation must be provided, and some limit fixed for expenditure on these services. The adoption of the- 2d. postal rate will undoubtedly bring in more money within the next twelve months than it will be possible for the Postal Department to spend.
– You cannot say that with any certainty.
– Those who have had any experience of the Postal Department must know that it is impossible to spend more than a certain amount each year. In any case the greater proportion of the . money will not be spent in the Postal Branch, but in the Telephone Branch. Senator Pratten has pointed out again and again that the Sydney telephone service is not what it ought to be. He says that it has been starved, and we have had statements to the effect that the Postmaster-General intends to spend a good deal of money in the purchase of telephonic material. It would appear, therefore, that most of the money to be expended in the next twelve months will not be in the direction of providing more mail services for the country districts. Undoubtedly the bulk will be spent in the cities. I am not in favour of money earned by the Postal Branch being spent in the Telephone Branch.
– Do you not favour the whole of the Postal Department being regarded as one going concern? Would you differentiate between the Post Office and the Telephone and Telegraph Branches ?
– Undoubtedly I would.
– Then why are they run as one Department?
– Would the honorable senator care to see the country mail services starved in order to provide extra telephones for Sydney?
– The Postmaster-General is trying to put the whole Department on a good business footing.
– I think each Branch should be made to pay. I do not want money earned by the Postal Branch to be diverted to the Telephone Branch. That is one reason why I am asking for the retention of the present rate of postage. I think it will bring in all the revenue required to carry on -the postal side of the Department, and also furnish enough money for country mail services.
– No money will pass over to the Treasury. We have definitely laid down a programme for the expenditure of £3,000,000 on works.
– Does the Minister mean to say that the Department will be able to expend that amount within the next year ?
– I am staggered by the statement) and I have had a little experience of the Department. Does the Minister say that, notwithstanding the difficulty of getting material and labour, the Department expects to spend the bulk of £3,000,000 within the time stated ?
– We believe we can.
– To him that believeth all things are possible. I must say that the Minister has great faith.
– We must not miss any chance of getting in early with our orders for material. You know the Post Office “ moves “ nowadays.
– I am glad to hear it, but I have never been one to run down the Department. I think that many of the complaints about the Post Office are very unfair. But I object to the proposed increase in the letter rate, because I am afraid that if we adopt it we shall never have it knocked off again.
– We knocked it off before.
– Yes, with a great deal of difficulty.
– If 2d. is not enough, we shall increase it.
– I am quite prepared to do that if the 2d. rate is not sufficient, but I think the 1-Jd. rate is quite high enough. Last year there was a profit on the operations of the Department of £500,000, and, in addition, £750,000, the revenue from the £d. war postage tax. If the Minister expects to get through the whole of that revenue in connexion with the programme he has mentioned, all I can say is that he will be spending the money very fast indeed.
– I have great pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by Senator Thomas. If the object of the Bill were to raise revenue for a sinking fund to pay off our debts, I would support it. The Government were returned on a policy of strict economy, but instead qf that the Minister has put forward a programme involving enormous expenditure in this Department, at a time, too, when materials and labour are exceedingly dear.
– Do you not think it is time we had some improved facilities in the country t
– Undoubtedly. But if the rates are maintained as at present, there will be ample to carry out all absolutely necessary works. Further than that we should not go. For these reasons I shall support the amendment.
– I ask Senator Elliott to remember that some little time ago we, in this country, were charged with the responsibility of seeing that he and his comrades at the Front were perfectly equipped for the purpose of winning the . war. It would have been criminal then to have given them anything but the very best. The war has now taken on other phases, and has been transferred to Australia. We are now engaged in a commercial conflict, and our duty is to see that our officials are effective and our Departments efficient. If Australia is going to come out of the present crisis successfully, we must aim at higher standards than ever before. We must have more effective technical training for the members of our Public Service, a better organization of capital, and a more efficient development of our industrial activities. We must have efficiency in the workshops, in the business offices, and in our public Departments. Everything must be brought up to date, otherwise we shall fall behind. If we aim at an up-to-date and efficient Department, we must not be content with fourth or fifth rate telephone or telegraph, services. The amount we are asking for is less than what would have been spent under normal conditions to keep the Department up-to-date, and we have to pick up our arrears as early as possible - in an endeavour to place the work of an important Department on an efficient basis. A small amount has been provided for the Perth Post Office, where business has for some time been proceeding rather slowly. The telephonic material and cables on hand are not altogether suitable for extending certain lines, and it is unreasonable to suggest that expenditure in this direction should be met out of loan and not out of revenue. We have been working on that basis for too long, and it is our endeavour to make a speedy recovery. It is not our intention to erect palatial buildings, but to place the necessary machinery in the hands of the Department to enable its work to proceed as “smoothly and efficiently as possible.
– That is badly needed.
– Of course it is. It is impossible for the Government to carry out its policy if the different Departments are to have only second-class tools of industry. I ask honorable senators not to think that any of this money is going to the Treasurer unless we are confronted with unusual difficulties, and have not sufficient material to enable the work of the Department to proceed expeditiously. It has been said that much of this money will be spent in the cities, but it must be remembered that, in connexion with large public works, a considerable amount has to be eoe tended in the metropolitan area to enable the necessary extension to be made elsewhere. The requisite power and machinery must be provided in the capital cities, and the intention of the Government is to take into due consideration the claims of country towns and rural districts generally. The policy we are at present adopting is not one that I would favour under normal conditions, but we must remember that some taxpayers are at present contributing to the extent of 126. in the £1, and there must be a limitation in’ this regard.
– Is this to relieve men from paying income tax ?
– No, but the only alternative is to borrow money, and the interest on borrowed money has to be met by taxation. It really comes to the same thing. This should be a selfsupporting business, and, personally, I am opposed to purchasing what may be termed ordinary tools of trade out of loan money.
– No one suggested that.
– That is the position, and if we do not get money we shall have to borrow or allow the Postal Department to remain in a state of stagnation. It must be remembered that it is difficult to borrow money at the present time for ordinary ^public works. During the war period the people of the Commonwealth, in a very patriotic spirit, contributed largely to loans raised for the purpose of re-establishing our returned soldiers in civil life; but it would be a difficult matter, at the present time, to- raise large sums of money for public works. I hope it will not be necessary to appeal to the people of Australia for additional money to assist in settling soldiers, but, if that contingency should arise, I hope we will not be in conflict in raising money for different purposes.’ After the most careful investigation we have outlined a policy of public works, and have endeavoured to reduce the expenditure to the lowest possible limit. I ask honorable senators not to treat this as merely a section of the work, but to consider the proposals of the Government as a whole and, if that is done, the Senate will be assisting the Government in meeting the difficulties which confront them. We must have revenue, and if we do not spend this money in the Postal1 Department it will not be thrown away. We are, however, endeavouring to put the Department on a business-like basis in the interests of the community generally. I appeal to honorable senators not to vote for the amendment, but to stand by the Government proposal, which, I believe, will ultimately prove to be in the best interests of the Commonwealth .
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) has endeavoured to put a good ease for the Government. When the war was in progress it was found necessary to impose an additional id. rate as a war tax, #nd that is now to be handed to the PostmasterGeneral and not to the Treasury. The proposition now is that he is to receive double that amount.
– That amount is not equivalent to the increase in wages during the last eighteen months.
– There was a profit of approximately £500,000 out of the Id. rate, not out of the 1½d. rate, so that if £500,000 has been derived during the last year, what amount is to be realized if the present proposal of the Government is adopted? The Id. impost on letters enabled the Postmaster-General to save £500,000 plus, approximately, £750,000 out of the A. tax, and we are now giving to the Postal Department the whole of that plus another £700,000. How will it be possible to carry out the programme outlined by the Minister in1 a period of twelve months ? It is due to the Minister to show clearly that such a programme is in contemplation that the whole of the money will be absorbed. The Minister also suggested that the Department is going to increase its stocks on the; crest of the market.
– How does the honorable senator know that it is the crest of the market?
– There is every indication of that, as prices are already dropping. Motor cars in America have dropped £20 to £30.
– There is every indication of a drop within the next twelve months. There is more likely to be a decrease than an increase.
– But the price of these articles has been increasing for twenty years.
– Take the question of copper, which enters very largely into the matter, and consider the present price and what it will probably be in twelve months’ time. It is likely to drop. The proposition before the Committee does not appear to me to be a sound one, and it would appear on the information that has been given that we shall be giving the Postmaster-General more than he can possibly spend in twelve months. It is not my desire to in any way limit the usefulness of the Postal Department, but I think that as we are urged to exercise economy the action of the Government is extravagant in the extreme.
– I listened to the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) with interest, and also with astonishment. He said, in answer to a statement by Senator Elliott, that that gentleman should remember that during the progress of the war it was necessary that’ the instruments that were used should be both adequate and efficient. I do not think that that has any bearing on the amendment moved by Senator Thomas.
– Yes, it has.
– It has no bearing whatever, because the Minister might have pointed out, if he had proceeded with his analogy, that adequacy and efficiency did not march step by step with the expenditure, and that very often appliances for which we paid the most were worthless, and that those for which we paid comparatively little turned out to be the most effective. There is no guarantee that the Postal Department will receive a swollen revenue as the result of increased postage. The figures placed before us are only estimates; and we know from experience in other parts of the world that for every reduction in postage there has been more than a proportionate increase in the use of the Post Office. Early in the evening the Minister referred to a statement I made in connexion with the postal rates in force in Great Britain, and said that my information was not up to date. He stated that the inland postage in the United Kingdom was higher than that I quoted. I happen to have had communications from Great Britain, and I have not seen on any of those communications stamps of a higher denomination than those I have mentioned. Is the Minister prepared to produce stamps of a higher denomination covering the weights I mentioned ?
– If” the honorable senator received such stamps on communications, it must have been two months ago.
– I have received letters within the last month, and there has been no indication of any increase in the rate.
– They must have left Great Britain prior to two months ago.
– I am satisfied that the figures I gave were the latest.
– I have in my hand a communication received yesterday, which bears a 2d. stamp.
– An . extra charge may have . been recently imposed on overseas postage, and I mentioned that when previously speaking. The information I used was the latest available in Australia for those who were searching; but the Minister’s interjection does not get over the difficulty that the maximum weight in Great Britain is much higher than it is here. In Great Britain they carry eight times our maximum weight.
– Does the honorable senator know that the weight to which he refers is correct?
– I know it was, and assume it is. I have since looked up the New Zealand rates, and I find that a 4-oz. letter, which was carried inland ordinarily for1d., is now carried at that . rate plus½d. war charge. Seven letters that would go through the Post Office in Australia, and be charged lid. each, could be placed in the one envelope and sent for lid. in New Zealand.
– The last letter I received from New Zealand did not weigh 2 ozs., and had a 4d. stamp on it.
– I cannot account for that, because it is provided in the Statute, and it is also set out in the last rates books in the Library. In Canada 1 oz.. can be sent for 2 cents, and our inland rates cannot be compared with those of other Dominions or the United Kingdom.
Senator Pratten has referred to the possibility of an overseas Inter-Empire 2d. rate; and if there is such a proposition, Australia will stand up to it. But I draw attention to the fact that what we are providing for is not merely InterEmpire, but also postage within the Commonwealth, which means that the 2d, rate will be charged on a letter sent from one side of the street to the other, from the city to the country, or, what is more important still, from the country to the city. When the proposition of an interEmpire postal rate ‘ confronts us, we can deal with it. But, at the present time, we are dealing with what is of more importance to us from a ‘domestic point of view. The motive behind the amendment of Senator Thomas is one of consideration for the settlers in our country districts, and consequently I have very much pleasure in supporting it. Indeed, had he been prepared to move for a reversion to penny postage, the proposal would have commanded my vote. To me a compromise at lid. is a most reasonable one.
– I should like to know whether the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) can give us any idea of what proportion of the increased revenue derived from the proposed postal rates will be used for improving the conditions of country settlers, by providing them with increased telephonic, telegraphic and mail services. If a large amount is going to be expended in that direction, I shall support the Bill in its present form. But if, as I fear, a considerable portion of it is to be expended in our cities, I shall vote for the amendment.
– Any remarks which I may make upon this amendment will be based entirely upon figures submitted by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) in his Budget papers. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Rus-. sell) stated by way of interjection a short ‘ time ago that the PostmasterGeneral had to incur additional expenditure this year by reason of increases of salaries, which would aggregate more than the amount that he will receive in revenue if he is allowed the extra id. postage upon letters, the revenue from which has hitherto been received by the Treasury. I find from the Budget that the expenditure of the Postal Department last year, amounted to £5,707,399, while the amount under this heading which is actually provided on the Estimates for the current financial year, is £6,352,936. In other words, provision has been made for the PostmasterGeneral to expend £645,537 more than he did last year. How does that compare with the additional revenue which he will receive if he is permitted to retain the war postage of½d. per half ounce? Last year the Treasurer received from this particular source a revenue of £74-5,962, a larger sum than the increased expenditure which will be incurred by the Postmaster-General this year.
– That amount was received from, the war postage rate only.
– Yes. If the PostmasterGeneral receives a larger sum than was derived from the -id. war postage rate, he will have more than sufficient money with which to meet the additional expenditure to which he will be subjected this year.
– He will need it all.
-That may be so. For that reason I intend to support the amendment of Senator Thomas.
– My statement was that the increased revenue derived from war postage was about £750,000, whilst the increased expenditure on account of wages and general charges will amount to a little over a million pounds. I said that the increased wages alone were just about equivalent to the revenue received from the war postage of id. per half ounce.
– So that the id. war postage charge will be absorbed in wages.
– According to the Budget papers, the estimated expenditure for the cm-rent financial year is £6,352,936 as against an actual expenditure last year of £5,707,399. Consequently I hold that the additional expenditure this year will be more than met by the retention, of the ½d. war postage, to which I have referred.
– Then how are we going to provide for additional postal facilities in the country 1
– They will be met later on, by an appropriation from the Loan Fund.
– The expenditure of the Postal Department for last year was £6,649,000, and the estimated expenditure for the current year is £7,976,000.
– That is so. In other words, there will be an increased expenditure this year of £1,300,000. I have previously pointed out that this year it is proposed to take two-thirds of the amount to be expended upon new works and buildings from revenue, and one- third from loan, quite an opposite policy from - that which has been adopted during recent years. If we make provision for wiping off our indebtedness upon these works within a reasonable time we shall be doing our duty to the people of Australia. I believe that, with a small reconstruction, ample revenue will be provided to meet the needs of the Postal Department, even with the reduction in the rate which has been proposed by Senator Thomas.
– I have noted with some satisfaction that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) has been advising honorable senators to study the Budget figures. Had we been permitted to discuss the Budget last night, as I wished to do, this debate would probably have been cut very much shorter. The Budget contains many references to the affairs of the Postal Department.
– And references to the entertainments tax.
– Yes. I have listened carefully to the remarks of Senator Payne, and I see more clearly what I think will be the actual financial position of the Post and Telegraph Department supposing that postage rates remain as they are to-day. The exPostmasterGeneral (Mr. “Webster) was very proud of the fact that the last year of his administration showed a profit of about £526,000. It should be remembered that that was made on the basis of Id. postage, and not on that of lid. postage; and, in addition to the sum of £526,000, there was paid into the Treasury - as an outcome of the imposition of the -id. war tax - a sum approximating £700,000. That ½d. tax was put on expressly for the purposes of the then Treasurer. The postal services actually made, on the basis’ of the lid. postage, during the last year of Mr. “Webster’s administration, the sum of about £1,250,000 in excess of what was spent. The opinion has been expressed in this Chamber that it is not desirable that the postal services should be run at a profit. Had not that profit been squeezed out of the postal services by the then Treasurer, possibly, for the purpose of making his Budget look prettier, and for the elevation of his own prestige-
– Does the honorable senator think there is anything personal about the preparation of the Budget ?
– I am only taking an estimate of the whole position.
– The honorable senator referred to personal prestige.
– I take it that each member of the Ministry wishes to make out the best case possible for his own Department. Mr. Webster made no secret of the fact that he was squeezed beyond endurance by the Treasurer of the day in connexion with the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, and that the present state of chaos in regard to some of the services is not a result of his administration, but is due to the shortsighted policy of the Treasurer. I am not willing to see any Minister sacrificed without the truth being known. If the sum whichI have mentioned as having been squeezed out of the Postal Department had gone back to be spent even in connexion with upkeep, the Department would not have been in the chaos in which it flounders to-day. I do not believe that our post and telegraph services should be run for profit; neither am I a believer in the view that they should be run at a loss. I have pointed out that, on the last year’s figures, the profit will be £500,000. The war tax of id. per letter will revert to the postal services, and will provide them with a profit, for expenditure on much needed work, of about £1,250,000; that is, supposing that the present Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) does not again make a claim. I believe that the services of the Department will cost £500,000 or £600,000 more - largely, as the result of increased salaries and added expenditure upon administration. That will leave about £700,000 for expenditure upon developmental work and repairs.
-For nine months, three months of the year having gone.
– That is so. Senator Thomas, who ought to know what he is talking about, states that the Department cannot spend very much more than that sum in the whole of the twelve months; and I know that, with regard to material which to-day is so short, the officials concerned will not be able to secure supplies for fully twelve months. What, therefore, is to be done with the money? Will not the fact of it being available tend to encourage extravagance? Let us turn attention to the telephone service in Sydney. The patient public have been told that they must wait another year or two before matters can be rectified, for the reason that necessary material cannot be secured.
– The same is said here.
– I hope the officials are wrong, because the patience of the people has become exhausted.
– The honorable senator must not discuss the telephone services.
– My remarks are related each to the other, because I am arguing as to the effect of finance upon the question whether the postal rates shall be raised or not. I will not call it humbug, but it is somewhat insincere for the Government to say, in effect, “ We are going to extract more money from the postal services and make a profit indirectly for’ the purpose of running picture shows free of tax.” I will not stand for that. The sum of . about £270,000 is to be remitted in respect of the entertainments tax. I remember the struggle which occurred in the Senate over the imposition of id. tax on kiddies’ 3d. tickets. I shall be no party to the unnecessary imposition of higher postage rates, in the light of the figures which I have quoted, and which I invite the Minister to controvert. I shall be no party to the increased postal rates and the wasting of £270,000 by partial remissions in connexion with the entertainments tax.
Question - That the figure “ 2 “ proposed to be left out, be left out (Senator Thomas’ amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 agreed to.
– I now invite the Minister to consider the suggestion I made on the second reading to make the price of Inter-State telegrams, in effect,1d. per word. The proposed rate is1s. 3d. for not exceeding sixteen words. Why not make it1s.4d., or make the rate1d. a word, with a minimum of1s., or1d. a word with a minimum of1s. 3d. ? It will then be in harmony with the later provision that lettergrams should be charged½d. per word with a minimum of thirty words, or a minimum charge of1s. 3d. My suggestion will make it very much easier for the sender of the telegram, the clerk, the accountant, and the auditor. A man sending sixty words will know that he must pay 5s., or if sending fifty words, , 4s. 2d., while under the clause as it stands, he will have to pay1s. l1d. for twenty-four words, or 2s. l1d. for thirty-six words. If anything, the alteration will mean an increase of revenue. The Inter-State telegram rate will be exactly double the lettergram rate.
– I do not regard this matter as of very much importance. It is, after all, only a detail, but the Committee has just taken a division in an effort to reduce the charges, and now a proposal is put forward to increase them, even if only slightly. If the Government feels that the problem of the Post Office is so big that it will want more revenue in the immediate future, and if the Committee is inclined to offer the Government an increased rate, I am modest enough to accept the offer. Is it the wish of honorable senators generally that the alteration suggested by Senator Keating should be made?
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
– Then I accept the suggestion.
– Senator Keating’s suggestion will improve the clause, but what objection is there to making the charge1s. all round ?
– I have made a fair compromise, and every honorable senator said, “ Hear, hear ! “
– I simply asked if it would not be better to have a1s. rate all round, instead of 9d. in some cases, and1s. in others. The clause penalizes the man in the country. He. is charged 1s. 3d., while the man in the city who has all the other advantages is charged only 9d. He is given a telephone, and can send a telegram for 9d., whereas in many places in the country, telephones cannot be given, and yet1s. 3d. is charged for telegrams.
– My proposal referred only to the Inter-State rate.
– The charge should be1s. all round, without any differentiation.
– I tried to meet the wishes of the Committee, and the
Committee accepted my offer. I shall go no further.
– I would press the Minister on this point. The Government always profess anxiety to encourage the people in the country, yet in this case they are penalizing any one who lives more than 15 miles out of the city. Surely the Minister can make the same charge to those living within the 15-mile radius as to those living outside it?
– The charge will only be 9d. in country districts between places that are not more than 15 miles apart.
– A person living 20 miles out of Melbourne will have to pay 25 per cent. more than a person living a few miles nearer the city, who is within the 15-mile radius, if he wishes to telegraph for a doctor. If we are to give encouragement to people to go into the country, we must provide them with cheaper telephonic and telegraphic services. I trust that the Government will not pursue a policy of giving preferential treatment to people who live in the capita] cities.
– It is a sound principle to charge more for country telegraphic services. Certainly, it. would not be a sound policy to adopt a uniform rate when we have such long telegraph lines to maintain in districts where population is sparse. It is certain that the Department could not build telegraph lines 100 miles long to serve a few persons, and expect the whole of the capital cost to be carried by an increase in the rates paid by other people. Long country telegraph lines cost not only more for upkeep, but also for original capital expenditure.
– It costs more to carry a letter in the country districts.
– But there are porterage charges on letters. If honorable senators want to establish a flat telegraphic rate, let them take the proper course to do it. I am not altogether in favour of conducting the Post Office on the most approved lines of private enterprise, and although no one is more anxi ous than I am to give wider scope to the control of the Department by other than politicians, my idea is that it should neither make a profit nor provide special concessions to any section of the community - that it should not” be run with a benefit to the Treasury, but with magnificent benefit to the country generally.
– I wish to draw attention to the excessive use Of official telegrams between State and State and capital and capital. I do not know whether the Post Office is paid for these messages, but I assume that each Department bears the cost of the telegrams it despatches, and which my experience goes to show are all sent as urgent. During the war there may have been some excuse for officers in Melbourne to despatch long telegrams, although very often they could just as easily have been put in letter form ; but the result of their action was that year after year the regular and reasonable delivery of ordinary telegrams lodged by business people was considerably interfered with. As a matter of fact, at present, any business man who wishes to be reasonably assured that a telegram he despatches from one capital to another -will reach his client in decent time, has to pay double rates and send it as urgent. The necessity for this arises very largely from the overloading of the lines by official telegrams that could just as well be typed and sent as letters; and I think some regulation should be laid down by which officials may be prevented from adopting the easiest course, namely, that of sending telegrams, which block other messages, instead of letters which could be typed out and despatched iu the ordinary way. lt would give great relief tu the ordinary users of the lines, and to the Post Office itself, if this were done. The delays occasioned during the war through the crude habits of officials who did not know anything about business were certainly horrible.
– Do I understand that the Minister agrees to my suggestion to increase the charge for Inter-State telegrams to ls. 4d. for not exceeding sixteen words?
– I am prepared to accept an amendment in that direction.
– I move-
That in the third column the word “ threepence “ be left out and the word “ fourpence “ inserted in lieu thereof.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to. -
Clause 9 agreed to.
Clause 10 (Letter telegrams and shipping telegrams).
– I would not have been surprised if the Government had omitted all provision for letter telegrams, which I think must be despatched at a considerable loss to the Department. I should like to know whether they pay.I know that when the system was first introduced by the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Agar Wynne), I thought he was taking a foolish step, but since then the concession has been somewhat modified by preventing the lodging of any letter telegram until 7 p.m., and now it is proposed to confine these messages to social matters.
– I understand that, hitherto, these letter telegrams have not paid’ the Department, but that it is anticipated that with the alteration now proposed they will pay.
– They may be a convenience, but they are a concession which the . public have no right to expect.
.- I should like to know if a Bill is to be brought in to deal with the proposed increase in’ telephone rates or whether the ‘Postmaster-General has statutory power to increase the rates.
– That may he done by regulation.
– Then no discussion is permissible on telephonic rates?
– Certainly not. Telephonic communication is not mentioned in the clause, and, therefore, it may not be discussed.
– I only want to point out that telephone rates have been doubled during the last five or six years, and I hope the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) will treat us mercifully.
Clause agreed to.
Postponed clause 5 -
Part I. of the First Schedule to the Principal Act is omitted, and the following Part inserted in its stead : - “Part I. - Newspapers.
On all newspapers, printed and published m Australia, posted for delivery within the Commonwealth (without condition as tothe number contained in each addressed wrapper)
One penny and a. halfpenny per twenty ounces on the aggregate weight of newspapers posted by any one person at any one time: Provided that the minimum amount of postage payable on the aggregate weight of newspapers soposted shall be One shilling.”
SenatorRUSSELL (Victoria - VicePresident of the Executive Council) [11.14]. - When this clause was withdrawn temporarily, I promised to give consideration to the point raised by Senator Keating, and I do not feel inclined to fight any more about it. I am prepared to accept his suggestion, and I move -
That the words “ Provided that the minimum amount of postage payable on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted shall be one shilling.” be left out. .
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Senate adjourned at 11.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 September 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200930_senate_8_93/>.