1st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I lay upon the table-
Report on the pearl shelling industry at Fort Darwin, the Northern Territory, and I may mention that the maps which accompany this report will be printed and circulated early next week.
The Clerk laid on the table
Regulations for naval and military forces of the Commonwealth.
KIRWAN (for Mr. Mahon) asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Debate resumed from 19th August(vide page 15172), on motion by Sir Philip Fysh -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I think that the principle underlying the Bill is one which will meet with the approval of most honorable members. It is only fair and reasonable that the services rendered by the Post and Telegraph department should be charged for, but the actual rates to be levied for these services are matters of detail which will have to be considered when we are dealing with the schedule. I think that the limit of twelve words for telegraphic messages might very well’ be increased. At the same time I recognise that as we increase the number of words we shall dislocate the financial calculations upon which the Postmaster-General has based the schedule. I wish particularly to refer to clause 5, which provides that in future all the Commonwealth and States departments and the representatives of His Majesty shall be charged for the services rendered in their behalf. I understand that this is a clear and proper basis upon which to proceed, but I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will be in a position to grant that exemption which was practically promised to the Queensland Government. Under the Bill as it at present stands, the various meteorological departments throughout the Commonwealth would be debited with the cost of transmission of weather telegrams. The accuracy of the forecasts issued by the meteorologists depends upon their ability to obtain from the most distant stations simultaneous reports of atmospheric and other conditions. If all these messages are to be charged for, the efficiency of the departments may be impaired owing to the desire of the States Treasurers to cut down the cost of the services to the lowest possible amount. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be able to fulfil its promise to grant free telegraphic communication to the Queensland “Weather Bureau, for some considerable period, if not until we establish a Federal Meteorological department’. The Queensland Meteorological department was retrenched when the State Government found it necessary to review its financial position. Although Mr. Wragge -was retrenched, the State Government desired that his department should be continued, and that he should still issue his forecasts and make his climatological observations as before. They would not, however, cany on the bureau as a State department. They agreed to subsidize Mr. Wragge to the extent of £700 per annum, giving him> £200 per annum for his forecasts from day to day, and £500 for his climatological observations throughout the State. In order to enable him to carry on his department, Mr. “Wragge made arrangements with other State Governments, and secured from ]STew South Wales a subsidy of £200. The Tasmanian Government have also promised to make a concession, but the matter is still under consideration. What I particularly desire is that the Government shall hold itself free to make concessions in regard to weather telegrams, not only to ordinary State departments, but to meteorological departments subsidized by the States. If this is done the Queensland Weather Bureau may still be carried on. I find that, on the 6th June last, the Premier of Queensland telegraphed to the Acting Prime Minister as follows :-
Thanks for your telegram of yesterday re weather bureau. May I take it that when the Postal Kates Bill comes before, the House your Government will urge the granting of free telegrams to the bureau ? 43 c 2
On the 1 1th June the Acting Prime Minister replied as follows : -
With reference to your telegram regarding weather telegrams, the Ministry are willing to ask the House to continue the existing concession in regard to them until the establishment of a Federal Meteorological Bureau or a fixed future dace.
It would be a great pity if the Bill were passed in such a form as to prevent the Government from continuing this concession. I am not saying one word against the value of the forecasts issued by the various State meteorologists. J recognise that each of these gentlemen is doing excellent work in his particular State, but the forecasts of the Queensland Weather Bureau have been of infinite value to those connected with shipping in all the States, and also tothose engaged in commercial, farming, and mining pursuits. The forecasts issued in Queensland with special reference to the danger of floods have resulted in the saving of very large sums of money. In the case of mines so situated that they are subject to inundation, the warnings issued by theMr. Wragge have proved of the utmost value, and similarly his forecasts have enabled commercial men having warehouses on low-lying grounds to remove their goods in anticipation of the rising of the flood waters. The farmers throughout Queensland rely absolutely on the forecasts issued by Mr. Wragge, which have been verified and shown . to be correct to the’ extent of 90 per cent. The storm signals issued by Mr. Wragge at various places along the coast of Queensland have proved most useful to those engaged in shipping, and if the meteorological department were taken over by the Federal Government this system could be instituted right round the coast. The value of the Queensland service has not been confined to that State, but has been specially recognised in Tasmania. I noticethat a correspondence has recently been conducted through the columns of theHobart Mercury. On 9th August Mr. Harold S. Wright, a farmer, wrote of the forecasts as follows : -
Apart from their undoubted value to sailors, and ships, I have much pleasure in testifying to their great value to me as a tiller of the soil, as I have been able to so arrange my work as to escape the effects of wind or rain.
On 13th August another farmer, referring to a letter by Mr. Wragge, says : -
I cun fully bear out what he says. To place the whole thing in a nutshell, I will give just one instance of my experience in reference thereto. Last season I was proposing to cut my crop of barley when the Mercury arrived containing a forecast ‘that a storm was approaching, mid would affect Tasmania in about four days. Through this I decided to wait, although at that time the weather was seasonable, and there was no sign of any break to the casual observer. A little after the time stated in the forecast the storm made its appearance, and lusted a considerable time, for in waiting for it to come and pass away, it was fourteen days before I cut the barley. I am pleased to say that I then harvested it without a shower, consequently I was enabled to submit a bright sample, and obtain a satisfactory price. I am of opinion that these forecasts should be continued, and if it must be done by private subscription, I shall willingly give my share.
These forecasts are of great practical value to the whole of1 the Commonwealth. It would be a great pity indeed if the passage of the Bill, in its present form, resulted in the closing of this very useful department. The honorable and learned member for Brisbane was instrumental in establishing the Queensland Weather Bureau in 1887, and I am sure that had he been present this afternoon he would have been able to put the case for that department in a very strong light indeed. I trust that the House will give this matter its earnest consideration and that in the interests of Australia it will do what he can for the maintenance of that department.
– It seems, to me that there is a very striking likeness “between this Bill and the Indian rupee. The face value of the latter is far in excess of its actual value, and the same remark is applicable to this measure. It has been represented that it offers to the people a concession in the matter of postal and telegraph rates, but when closely analyzed it becomes apparent that it will certainly involve some of the States in an increased expenditure. I cannot quite understand why the Bill could not have been a permissive one. In considering the relationship which exists between the States and tHe Commonwealth, we frequently hear it stated that the Commonwealth is going to lose or gain so much. As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth neither gains nor loses anything. The actual revenue derived from the Postal department in each State is credited to that State, and the expenditure for the services rendered is debited against.- it. Thus, until the period has expired during which the bookkeeping clauses remain operative, the States either lose or gain the balance. Therefore, until another three years have elapsed the Commonwealth will be neither a loser nor a gainer in this connexion. In confirmation of my contention that additional expenditure will be thrown upon the people of Tasmania, I will put a case with which the Minister in charge of this Bill is perfectly familiar. I will assume that the honorable gentleman is living in Davey-street Hobart, and that I am journeying northward, and leave the train at Deloraine. If, under present conditions, I wished to send a message of ten words to his residence; the charge would be ls., but in future it will be ls. 3d., because I shall have to address him as “ Sir . P. O. Fysh. Davey-street, Hobart,” and to sign it “ William Hartnoll, Deloraine,” both address and signature being charged for. Even in that case I should have omitted a portion of the address, namely, “ The Honorable,” and the letters “K.C.M.G.,” and, having done so, strained relations might ensue between the honorable gentleman and myself. I am aware that at present if one is sending a telegram or cable which he wishes to bring within a certain number of words, it is not necessary to sign it. The telegraph officials will accept the signature of the sender upon the back of the message, and, of course, from the nature of it the receiver will be able to gather by whom it was despatched. But in very many’ cases an imperfect address and signature will necessitate the repetition of a wire, thusimposing a double charge upon the sender. Having entered into federal union, surely the people of Australia have a right to expect the utmost liberality on the part of those framing their laws. When we see - as we do in this particular instance - that the Bill, whilst making concessions to some of the States, will press heavily upon others, is it not wise for us to make such an alteration in its schedule as will result in the abolition of existing anomalies 1 The honorable member for Parramatta, with whose observations I very largely agree, has clearly voiced the opinion that the proposed reduction in the weight of newspapers will press very unfairly upon the large class of journals which it is desirable should pass into circulation amongst the people. I might instance the Australasian, the Leader, the Sydney Mail, and the many weekly newspapers of the other States - all journals of a very high class indeed, and from the perusal of which the people have derived a large amount of enjoyment. To double the charge upon these newspapers must be regarded as a retrograde step. If we retain the 10-oz. maximum at present operating, I am quite sure that the Bill will receive far more general acceptation at the hands of the people than will otherwise be the case. As the honorable member for Parramatta pointed out, there ought, in all fairness, to be a limit to the number of words contained in any telegraphic address. He thinks that eight words ought to be ample in the case of any person transacting ordinary business, and that if that limit is exceeded it is only reasonable that the persons interested should pay. I do not think it is necessary to detain the House at any length, because the whole substance of the Bill is contained in the schedules, and the measure is really one for consideration in committee. I shall join with other honorable members in liberalizing as far as possible its general provisions.
– In his speech last night, the honorable member for Parramatta claimed that nothing tangible in the way of reform had yet resulted from the transfer of the Post and Telegraph department to the Commonwealth. Every one, I think, must admit the accuracy of that statement. The Government, however,’ can fairly claim that this Bill affords the first opportunity which has presented itself of showing that, they desire some tangible reform to accrue from the federalizing of the post-offices. I notice that in his Budget the South Australian Treasurer claims that the only result of federation, so far as the administration of the post-offices of that State is concerned, has been to increase the expenditure by £20,000.
– And to reduce the revenue.
– I do not think it is claimed that the revenue has been reduced, but the South Australian Treasurer distinctly stated that last year an additional £20,000 was expended in the conduct of the Postal department of that State. I should like the Minister in charge of this Bill, in his reply, to inform me what foundation there is for that assertion. I am inclined to believe that the South Australian Treasurer is including in his estimate additional- expenditure which was incurred by that State, and “not by the Federal Government. So far as South Australia is concerned, I agree that no advantage is likely to be gained by that State for a great many years from federalizing the Postal department. Almost to a man and woman, South Australia was against the proposal tq federate the postal services, in the belief that no advantageswould result from such a course of action, and certainly up to the present time thatprediction has been verified. I admit thatin this Bill a very fair attempt is made to provide the community with a cheaper service.. The two main principles of the measure areuniform telegraph rates and uniform postal charges upon newspapers. Of course, noattempt is made to bring about uniform, postal rates, because the action of Victoria in adopting the penny postage system before - the other States were ripe for it precludes the possibility of anything like uniformity being established in this connexion. With the principle of uniformity every one must agree, seeing that the postal services are nowfederated. The only point which arises is whether this is the right time to effect uniformity, seeing that any such action would’, place some of the States in a serious financial difficulty. I admit that from the very inception of federation that trouble has hampered the Postmaster-General. It is veryeasy to talk about reforms which would be to. the advantage of Australia as a whole, but, unfortunately, owing to the financial clauses of the Constitution there is no possibility of effecting them without disaster tosome of the States. The reduced telegraph rates proposed under this Bill will involve South Australia in an annual loss of £26,000. That is a somewhat serious matter for that State in the present circumstances.
– How does the honorable member get an estimate of that kind 1
– It is not my estimate, but the estimate of the local authorities. That is expected to be the lossincurred by the reduction of the Inter-State, telegraphic rates. The business between. South Australia and Western Australia, for instance, is very considerable, themessages from New South Wales and Victoria to Western Australia passing through that State.
– The South Australian, public are crying out for a reduction.
– The Australian public are always crying out to get everything ascheaply as possible. I am merely mentioning the fact that, so far as the South Australian revenue is concerned, there will at first be a considerable fallingoff, though ultimately, I believe, the increased business will more than compensate. Unfortunately, however, for some of the States, the first loss happens to come at a time when there is serious difficulty in making both ends meet.
Mr.V. L. Solomon. - The charge for addresses on Western Australian traffic will largely make up the loss on any reduction on the rates.
– Then there is practically no reduction in the rates.
– I admit that there may not be such a great reduction in revenue as appears on the surface. We know, how- ever, that people who do an extensive telegraph business will register addresses, so that two or three words may probably cover the address at either end.
– That only applies to business traffic, and not to general traffic.
– But we are speaking of the traffic between Western Australia and South Australia, most of which is that of business firms, the general or casual traffic not being very great.
– In that I think the honorable member is wrong. There is a large amount of casual traffic, consisting of messages which pass between men in Western Australia and their families in the different States. This applies more to Western Australia than to any other State.
– I am talking about the bulk of the traffic, which, as in other States, is undoubtedly connected with business. It is of no use our blinking the fact that there must be an immediate loss, though I believe therewill not be a loss for long. I know that, personally, for one telegram I send at 2s., I should send ten at1s., and I believe the same might be said of a great manypeople. That would lead to a much larger revenue than is received at present ; but it happens that during the coming year, and probably for the next few years, most of the States, and certainly South Australia, will have the greatest difficulty in making ends meet. Direct taxation is all that is now left to the States, and in South Australia1s.1½d. in the£l has been imposed on all incomes over £800 a year, and the income which is exempt from taxation has been placed as low as £120.
– The honorable member knows what happens when people cannot pay their way.
– I do not quite see what the honorable member is driving at.
– “ Needs must “ when a certain gentleman drives-
– Our business is to see to the interests of the States, and not place them in a position in which they cannot pay their way. The Commonwealth has absorbed the main sources of revenue, and in South Australia the already heavy direct taxation has been increased by the addition of¼d. in the £1 all round on the land tax. In that State taxation has been increased in many ways never attempted or thought of in other States. The argument that any deficiency may be made up by move direct taxation does not apply with such force to South Australia as to any other State of the Commonwealth, or possibly to any colony inthe Empire. That is my difficulty in regard to the Bill. I admit the soundness of the principles of the measure, and that the sooner they are carried into effect the better it will be for the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole, though ther esults may be most disastrous to the revenue of particular States. We are “between the devil and the deep sea.” We have to face the difficulty of squaring our duty to the Commonwealth with our duty to the States. There is one other point to which I desire to refer, if the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. V. L. Solomon, does not desire to deal with it.
Mr.V. L. Solomon. - I know the point to which the honorable member refers, but I do not think there is much in it.
– The point is whether the rate on the PortDarwin line will be affected by this Bill - whether the rate will come down to 9d. for twelve words. The rate for international telegrams is fixed by agreement at 4d. per word, and if the Bill applies to the Darwin line that rate will not be paid by persons who send cable messages. Some arrangement will doubtless be made by which messages will be transmitted at 9d. to Port Darwin, and then sent on for the usual charges of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company.
– I have looked carefully into the agreement, and I do not think the Bill will affect the rate on the Port Darwin line. The same rate will be paid from Port Darwin as from Adelaide.
– That is in the agreement.
– I have not seen the agreement during the last few months, and therefore I am not sure on the point.
– The honorable member for Parramatta and myself carefully went into the question this morning.
– Then I need not dwell further on the point.
– There will be trouble over the matter all the same, because people will not consent for long to pay the higher rate.
– The Port Darwin line is some 2,000 miles long, and costs a great deal more for maintenance than any other line in the Commonwealth. It traverses an uninhabited country, and the expense of transmission and other necessary work is, of course, very heavy as compared with that connected with other lines in Australia.
– Surely the expense is equally high on the Western Australian line?
– In Western Australia the expense is not nearly so high as that which has to be met in the Northern Territory. The Port Darwin line is a single line, running through a country where, but for the operators, there would be practically no population.
– The line ought to be federalized at once.
– The honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, advocates a railway to Port Darwin.
– There is no hiding the fact that I do advocate such a line. Until communication is established there can be no development.
– The country is a desert when the honorable member is discussing telegraphic rates, but otherwise, it “ blooms as the rose.”
– That is not a fair remark. I never heard anybody talk about the country along the Port Darwin telegraph line “ blooming as the rose ; “ but at the same time it is not a desert. What I say is that the country is uninhabited and undeveloped owing to the want of communication. Unfortunately it does not appear that there is to be an early opportunity for this Commonwealth to acquire the Northern Territory owing to what I think is a most ill-advised action on the part of the South Australian authorities. I know I should be trespassing if I went into that question, but honorable members must recognise that there is a considerable difference between the Port Darwin line and any other line in the Commonwealth. The Port Darwin line was built at a time when South Australia contained a mere handful of people, and the cost has been an enormous burden on the people of that State for a great many years. No doubt the line now pays expenses, and returns a profit, but up to the present day it has not repaid . the people of South Australia. The line belongs to the Commonwealth, but South Australia is responsible for the interest.
– In fact, the people of South Australia are perfect martyrs to the Commonwealth idea.
– The honorable member for Parramatta is always picturing the people of South Australia as greedy capitalists or monopolists, who suck the lifeblood of New South Wales.
– No, no !
– As a matter of fact, the mean lies between the two extremes.
– The people of South Australia, by the construction of that line, did more to advance Australia than has been done by any other national work.
– There is no doubt about that. I did not mention it, because it is obvious. South Australia, by her patriotic act in shoulderingthat burden, did more for the advancement of Australia than any other action which has taken place in our history. But why should she be called upon to continue to bear it? We ask that it may be federalized, and divided amongst the States.
– And the line, too.
– I do not know how a line can be federalized under the present financial scheme of the Commonwealth. Honorable members talk of the extreme rates which South Australia is charging, but I would ask them to remember that the rate has been reduced from 7d., two years ago, to 5d., and that next year it will be 4d. While honorable members are right in wishing to push forward postal reforms, we must not forget the financial positions of the respective States. I regard the proposal to make newspapers pay postage in all the States as a fair one. I do not know why newspapers should be carried through the post free. ‘ For many years South Australia has been charging postage on newspapers, and it has been cheerfully paid by all concerned. I shall support the second reading of the Bill.
– It must be pleasant to the Minister in charge of the Bill to hear an honorable member complain that the rates for which it provides are too low. I do not think many honorable members have that complaint to make. The honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, tells us that his State will lose a considerable sum, at any rate in the first year, by the proposed reduction in telegraph rates, but, if I may be permitted to quote the honorableand learned member for Werriwa, I wish to say to him that the money will still be in the country, so that the South Australian Government will only have to tax its people to get it back. I am certain that lower rates will mean an increase in business which will prevent any loss of revenue, at any rate, after the first few years. My complaint is that the rates are too high. The rates for telegrams will be practically the* same .as those now prevailing in Victoria, except that both the address and signature will be charged for in addition to the actual message, which, of course, in most cases will mean a substantial increase in the cost. I regret that provision has not been made for universal penny postage throughout the Commonwealth. Our experience of the penny postage system in Victoria showed that the immediate loss was not so great as was expected, while the increase in busi- ness has been such that the probability is that the deficit will disappear in the course of a few years. With regard to the newspaper rates, I think that the charge should be Id. for 20 ozs. on the aggregate weight where a number are contained within one wrapper, and ½d. for every 10 ozs. instead of every S ozs. where the newspapers are posted separately. Most of our weekly newspapers weigh more than 8 ozs., and I do not see why, because their publishers give their readers more information and better paper than other publishers do, we should compel them to pay double postage. The honorable member for Parramatta stated that he believes it to be a fact that trains are run in Victoria to facilitate the distribution of newspapers, and that practically no charge is made for the service, so that the conditions here are almost the same as those prevailing in New South Wales ; but I have lived all my life in this State, and I never heard of a train being run for the advantage of the newspaper proprietors. Our country trains are despatched early in the morning for the convenience of the Postal department and of passengers, and while newspapers are sent by them in bulk to the various agencies, the railway authorities are paid for the carriage. However, as the various matters to which attention has been directed can be dealt with only in committee, I think “the debate at this stage should not be unduly prolonged, and, therefore, I shall not detain the House further.
– I congratulate the Government upon the concise measure which they have introduced. I am glad that it is intended to require all Government departments to pay for the letters’ and telegraphic messages sent by. them. I am also glad that there is to be uniformity pf rates throughout the Commonwealth. That will get rid of some anomalies which have been a source of great annoyance and vexation in the past. Hitherto it has been the practice in some States to charge 6d. for every ten words, and Id. for every additional word, and in the case of Inter-State telegrams to charge ls. for ten words, and 2d. for every additional word, the result being that messages which would otherwise be sent as one telegram are often sent as two, and the department is put to the cost of transmitting the address and signature twice. The commercial community have tried in the past to have this anomaly rectified, but without avail. The Minister, tells us that the adoption of therates provided for in the Bill will mean a loss of revenue amounting to about £4-5,000, of which £35,000 is accounted for by the alteration in the town and suburban State rates, and £10,000 in making the Inter.State rates uniform. TheGovernmentpropose to make up these losses by imposing postage upon newspapers, from which they expect to receive £35,000, and by sundry small savings, amounting to £10,000. In Western Australia, Tasmania, and New South Wales newspapers .have hitherto been carried through the post free, whereas in
Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia the charge has been id. per 10 ozs. The rate proposed now is½d. per8 ozs. The Minister in charge of the Bill stated that the rates for which it provides will compare favorably with those of any other country, but I would remind him that in America the rate is 1 cent, or about Ad., per lb.
– There is a great loss there.
– America does not run anything at a loss. In my opinion, the newspaper rate should be id. per 10 ozs. I find that the Town and Country Journal usually weighs about8¾ ozs., the Sydney Mail 9½ ozs., and the Australasian from 9 to 9¾ ozs. Therefore none of those papers could be posted at the id. rate, though the Leader, which weighs about 7½ ozs., and many others, would come within it. It is true that there is a parcels rate of1d. per lb., but many of the people in the bush depend almost entirely upon the newspapers which I have named for their information and recreation, and, therefore, I do not think they should be asked to pay a higher rate than½d. In committee I intend to move that the rate be altered from id. per 8 ozs. to½d. per 10 ozs. I was very glad to hear the honorable member forDarling Downs refer to the great value of the services rendered by Mr. Clement Wragge. Notwithstanding the abuse to which that gentleman has been subjected on several occasions, he has performed work which has been of great benefit to the community generally. His forecasts have been in the main correct. I can mention one case within my own experience which will bear out what I say. The firm of which I am a member were engaged in conveying cattle from Gladstone, in Queensland, to New Caledonia. We had arranged to ship 6,000 head, and the first steamer left with 370. She encountered a very severe gale, and lost fully half the cattle. I then communicated with Mr. Wragge, and asked if he would notify us as to weather probabilities, and I never despatched a steamer without receiving some advice from him. The result was that I never lost a single head afterwards. That is an instance which might be followed up by many others which have fallen within the experience of business men. Mr. Wragge’s forecasts have been of use not only to passengers, but to those interested in the despatch of steamers, and they have also been much appreciated by fishermen. In every direction the forecasts have proved advantageous. I have already stated that I am glad that the Government intend to bring about uniformity in the rates charged in the various States, but I think they have adopted a very unwise course in their method of attempting to make up for the loss of revenue that they expect to ensue. Hitherto city and suburban telegrams have been despatched for 6d., but the Government propose to increase the rate to 9d., by charging for the address. The rates within the States are also to be raised, and I think we should consider very seriously the wisdom of increasing the charges to those who make the most use of the telegraph services. The telegrams despatched from one part of the State to another are certainly very much more numerous than those sent from State to State, and apparently the Government are increasing the charges to those who send telegrams within the State in order to permit of their reducing the charges for InterState messages. The alterations in the rates will represent an additional cost to the members of the Melbourne Stock Exchange alone amounting to £1,800 per annum. The Government would act wisely in abandoning their proposal to increase the charge for city and suburban messages, because they would derive much more revenue from a sixpenny telegraph rate.
– It would cost more to carry on the service.
– It is a most unfortunate feature of our public departments that the expenditure seems to increase in proportion to the growth of the revenue. The same thing has happened in connexion with the tramway system in Sydney, the expenditure having enormously increased as the receipts have grown. I should like to direct attention to the experience gained in New Zealand. The Age of a few days ago contained a paragraph in which it was stated -
New Zealand believes in cheap rates - uni versal penny post, sixpenny telegrams, £5 telephones and the like ; and, notwithstanding this, works more profitably than Australia does.
A tabulated statement which follows these remarks shows that in 1895-6 the number of telegrams despatched was 1,899,632, and the total revenue derived £92,289. The volume of business had increased in 1901-2 to 3,850,391 telegrams, and the revenue had grown to £141,581. I grant that in New Zealand they make a charge for the ad-‘ dress, as is proposed by the Government. At the same time their minimum is 6d., and they have a much smaller population than we have to work upon. Their experience is sufficient to show that the Government should be careful before they increase the charges made to those who give them by far the largest proportion of their business. I should like to refer to the experience of Japan, which has the cheapest telegraph service in the world. The public are entitled to send messages containing fifteen words in Japanese characters for 20 sen, the equivalent of 5d. They are charged 5 sen for five extra words - that is to say, a halfpenny per word.
– But what salaries do they pay their employes ? sir malcolm mceacharn.- i ad mit that the salaries are ridiculously low, but the cheapness of the service is not due to that fact, but to the way in which the people have been encouraged to utilize the telegraph service instead of engaging in written correspondence. The difficulties of communication by mail are considerable in many parts of the country, whereas the telegraph lines penetrate everywhere. According to the latest returns furnished by Coghlan, we have within the Commonwealth 44,244 miles of telegraph line, and on the average we send 2-2 messages per head of the population per annum. In Japan they have 59,413 miles of telegraph line, and they despatched 14,500,000 telegrams in 1899, of which 98 per cent, were sent by natives.
– The proportion of messages per head of population would be much lower than in our case.
– I grant that, but it must be remembered that by far the larger proportion of the Japanese are agriculturists, who never think of anything beyond their own villages, and the use of the telegraph system would be restricted to a comparatively small section of the people. The point is, that where the rates are low the public will use the telegraph wires instead of writing. As a business man I should always prefer to send a telegram if I had not a shorthand writer to take down that which I desired to communicate by writing. Commercial men generally are gradually getting out of the habit of writing letters. In Japan 30 years ago the natives used to hack down the telegraph poles, and if they had to pass under a telegraph wire they would hold up their fans or umbrellas in order to ward off the diabolical influence which was supposed to be associated with the line. So that in a comparatively short period the people have passed from a state of superstition into one in which they show the highest appreciation of the telegraph service. I cannot say what amount of revenue is derived by the Japanese Government, but I know that every State department in that country is worked at a profit. I hope that when the Bill reaches the committee stage an alteration will be made in the provisions with reference to the postage upon newspapers, and also with regard to the charges for town and suburban telegrams.
– I am pleased that the Government intend to make a charge for services rendered by the Post and Telegraph department to every other department of the States or Commonwealth. This’ will enable us to check the extent to which the services of the Post and Telegraph departments are availed of, and to avoid the repetition of recent scandals. . I propose to ask the committee to extend the concession of free postage to the blind. I have had this matter brought under my notice by the Society for the Advancement of the Blind, and I hope that honorable members generally will recognise that blind people, who are entirely dependent upon others, and are generally very poor, have a strong claim upon our consideration. I trust that the Government will agree to the amendment of which I have given notice, or that they will at least be prepared to make some concession. I propose that all Braille and Moon postal articles should be conveyed by the Government free of charge. In Victoria there is a magazine published in the interests of the blind. Prior to federation this was carried through the post at a charge of Id. per copy, but under the new regulations issued by the Federal Government a charge of 6d. per copy was imposed. The Minister subsequently reduced this, and whilst we are thankful for that concession, I think we might go still further in the direction of relieving from taxation those afflicted persons, who represent about 1 per cent, only of the community. This would involve a loss of only £100 per annum to the whole of the
Commonwealth, and no one could reasonably object to make such a concession. The objection urged against this magazine was that it was not registered as a newspaper. As a result it had to pay a postage of 6d. Only five copies of it are printed monthly, and all the work is done voluntarily.
– Is it printed ?
– I am not sure that we could call it printing, but I have in my possession some copies of the English publication which I shall be glad to show to honorable members when the Bill reaches the committee stage. In Victoria, prior to the introduction of the penny post, the Postal department carried all Braille letters at half price. Most of those letters emanated from persons who were learning the Braille system. They sent their lessons through the post to their teacher, who corrected them and returned them to the student. All these letters must be enclosed in a roll, so that fraud is impossible. There is no need to apprehend that the rolls will be used for other than a legitimate purpose, because they can be very easily examined by the postal officials. In Canada, the Postal department carries all Braille matter free, and I think we shall be following a good example of another British Federation if we adopt a similar practice here. By so doing we shall be rendering a service to a class which is entirely dependent upon others, whilst the revenue will not suffer to any appreciable extent. It was only last December that the honorary editor of Odds and Ends, Dr. McBurney, wrote a letter to the Age pointing out how the cost of transmitting that publication by post had been increased since the transfer of the Postal department to the Commonwealth. I do not seek for the small concession which I have outlined in the interests of Victoria only. I urge it on behalf of the blind of all the States. Some honorable members contend that no charge should be made for the addresses and signatures to telegrams. I differ from that view, and in this connexion I may mention that recently I had a case brought under my notice in which the address and signature to a telegram contained 23 words, whilst the text of the message contained only seventeen words.
– Let us limit the number of words which can be despatched free.
– That, I think, would be very difficult. I am prepared to support the Bill as it stands, provided the Government will grant the slight concession for which I have asked.
– The appeal which the honorable member has made to representatives of Tasmania to support him in his desire to secure the free transmission by post of the literature of the blind is welcomed by me. Indeed, I intend to support any reasonable amendment which will have the effect of imparting liberality to the Bill and of encouraging the people to make use of the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services. In this measure honorable members do not see all the failures of administration which have occurred in those services. The greatest blunders have been made in connexion with the telephone service, the use of which by the public has been discouraged to an extent which has had evil results upon the revenue. It seems to me that Ministers have proceeded upon the principle of securing the minimum of revenue with the maximum of public inconvenience. In Tasmania my statement has been proved by hard facts and figures. Until the postal and telegraphic “services were federalized, Tasmania was deriving an annual profit from them of £15,000.
– Through “ Tattersall ! “
– No ; “ Tattersall “ is not responsible for all that diminution of revenue. I repeat that prior to federation the Tasmanian Postal and Telegraphic department was being worked at a profit of about £15,000 annually, whereas the latest returns show? that the revenue is now £5,000 less than the expenditure. There is thus a total difference of £20,000 annually.
– How does the right honorable member account for it?
– By the exorbitant charges, which to my knowledge have repelled the people from using the telephones.
– What nonsense ! The regulations have not yet been two months in existence.
– Thepeople have been discontinuing the use of the telephone service for more than two months.
– That has not yet affected the revenue.
– Has it not affected the revenue during the past two months 1 The same objection applies with equal force to the charges made in connexion -with the telegraphic service. To my mind those charges are calculated to deter the public from using the telegraphs, thus diminishing the revenue derivable from that source. In committee I hope that such reductions will be carried as will bring all these services within the x-each of the whole of the public.
– I feel that the details of this Bill can be better debated in committee ; but at the same time I should like to make one or two observations regarding its leading features. Like the- honorable member for Melbourne, I am very anxious to see the principle of uniformity pervading all Commonwealth legislation. But I fail to discover in this Bill that uniformity which he so highly lauded. In the first place, an unwarrantable distinction is made between the town and the country in regard to every item . contained in the schedules. In my opinion the extra charge which it is proposed to levy upon certain weekly newspapers is absolutely without justification. It is unfair that those resident in the scattered rural districts should be penalized to the extent anticipated by those responsible for the framing of these schedules, who desire to make a distinction between newspapers weighing 10 oz. and those which weigh only 8 oz. Of course, it has been argued that only the proprietors of three journals will be affected by the reduction. But I would point out that it is not the proprietors, but the recipients, of newspapers who pay the postage upon them. In the centres of population residents have their newspapers delivered at their doors, but country residents have to obtain them i through the post. Many of the latter also labour under the further disadvantage of being compelled to send very many miles in order that they may receive their newspapers from the local post-office In such i circumstances it would be wiser to reduce the postage upon newspapers than to increase it as is proposed under this Bill. In the matter of telegrams, a distinction is again made between town and country, to the disadvantage of the latter. If we are to consider the commercial relationship which exists between the town and country, and to levy charges not only according to the ability of the people to bear them, but according to the value of the service rendered, the rate should be greater in the former than in the latter case, because in the country often an additional amount is charged in the shape of porterage. Under any circumstances the same rapidity of delivery is not experienced in the country, and for this some compensation should be offered. Some honorable members have alluded to the Stock Exchange. In this connexion, I would point out that the proposals of the Government will work unfairly to the exchanges of the metropolitan area as well as to those in the country districts. It has been found desirable to encourage the country exchanges, and, as far as possible, the decentralization of business in the matter of the transfer of shares. But under this Bill country exchanges will not occupy the same position that is occupied by the metropolitan. They are to be charged 50 per cent, more for sending their telegrams. This will seriously militate against the well-being of country exchanges, and any one familar with a mining district will admit that these institutions have been of great advantage to those districts. Concerning the proposal to exact payment for addresses I may say that, having been in the old country I have grown accustomed to using a very short form of address, and I do not altogether agree with those who claim that for the transmission of addresses no charge whatever should be made. At the same time, I believe that the allowance should be more liberal. In a telegraphic message it is not requisite to give all the initials and titles of the receiver. It is only necessary to insert sufficient words to insure the delivery of the wire to the proper person. I am quite satisfied that the department will find it to its advantage to make some more liberal concession than is at present proposed. In very many instances the curtailment of the address, especially at the inception of the practice, will add to the expense of delivery. It will be necessary to employ a very much larger distributing staff than heretofore. Then it has been found in every civilized country that the greater the facilities given for the interchange of ideas, of news, and commodities, the greaterthe prosperity of the country. That is particularly noticeable in those trading concerns which can be managed by the Government at a profit. We have two examples to prove the truth of what I say. In Sydney for a considerable number of years, the rate for telephones has been reduced, with the result that there has been an enormous accession of business, and great profit has been made out of that branch of the Postal department. In Melbourne, reductions have been resisted time after time, and I am sorry to say in most cases successfully resisted, with the result that the use of the telephone is not anything like so general as it is in Sydney, and the amount of profit made is not nearly as great in this city as in the sister capital. We have in Melbourne a system of tramways of which we are very proud, but for some extraordinary reason the directors of the Tramway Company have refused over and over again to comply with the public demand for a reduction in their fares. The result has been the introduction of a means of locomotion which has been discarded in Sydney. We now have a number of Sydney buses running in Melbourne. They have been brought over here’with Sydney horses and drivers, and are running in our streets, where we hoped we should never see such a means of locomotion used again. Their introduction is not because our tramway system cannot carry the number of passengers desiring to travel, but simply because of the exorbitant demand made for short distance journeys ; and unless the Tramway Company reduces its charges it will find itself placed at a considerable disadvantage with respect to revenue now that the buses have “started running. Exactly the same sort of thing will happen, I am convinced, in regard to the proposals of the Government. -We shall have the people reducing their use of telegrams and resorting to the method which from the departmental point of view is expensive and less revenue-producing, of posting letters. This will mean a loss to the department, as well as a loss to the community generally, because it will make our means of communication so much the less rapid. I sincerely trust that when the Bill gets into committee such modifications will be secured in it as will give us the uniformity I desire to see attained, and that we shall see a more liberal allowance made for the benefit of persons who send and receive telegrams. With regard to the remarks made as to Mr. Wragge, I wish to say that as a resident of the country in Victoria, I am sure that the people in our rural districts feel under a deep debt of gratitude to that gentleman for the most complete and useful information which he gives them concerning the probable changes in the weather. It is the fashion amongst some people to scoff at anything like scientific knowledge, but although we may not agree with the methods adopted by Mr. Wragge in disseminating his knowledge, and although we may be apt to feel that he might have treated some of the members of this House better, by not referring to storms and depressions under their names, yet we must admit that that gentleman has conferred considerable benefits upon the community. The honorable member for Melbourne has asked for better treatment to be meted out to Mr. Wragge on the grounds of the assistance rendered by him in connexion with maritime work, and I am also sure that people engaged in rural industries and country pursuits feel, and have often expressed, their keen appreciation of the very valuable information which from time to time he has given them through the medium of .the observatory at Brisbane.
– I do not think, sir, that in your occupancy of your office you have heard more objections ‘ urged ‘ against a Bill than have been advanced with reference to the measure now under consideration. The right honorable member for’ Tasmania, Sir Edward Braddon, described it in a phrase, when he said that it was a measure to provide the minimum amount of revenue with the maximum of inconvenience. It seems to me that the Postmaster - General, who belongs to what is alleged to be a progressive Ministry, has in this instance placed finance before facility. But even by so doing his scheme does not make for successful finance. Protests have been made by representatives from many of the States - from Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia. I have not yet heard a Queensland or a Western Australian representative speak, but I presume that the “even tenor” will not be broken by remarks favorable to the measure from an honorable member from those States. The most favorable thing that the Government can urge in favour of their Bill is summed up in the blessed word “ uniformity.” Today we have had placed in our hands a comparative statement concerning the measure similar, to the comparative statement presented to us in regard to the Tariff. The treatment meted out to the various States is most marked, as will be seen by an examination of this statement. I find, for instance, that one of the postal facilities previously provided by New South Wales was free. There was a charge of d. in Victoria, of £d. in Queensland, and of £d. in South Australia, but the facility was free in Western Australia and Tasmania. So it is right through the piece. We find that the uniformity to be secured is not at the expense of the States that have previously had high charges, and have imposed a high system of taxation upon the people; but where facilities have been free, and taxation has been removed from the people to a great extent, this Government, under the plea of uniformity and conformity, introduces a new system in accordance with which taxation will be levied. It is, indeed, remarkable to observe how New South Wales is treated in connexion with the postal and telegraphic services. New South Wales, on this matter, as on others, has grave complaints to make against the legislation proposed by the Government on account of the uniformity sought to be secured at the expense of its people. Of course, if the Government look upon the postal service purely as a money-making concern, we shall have to debate the question on commercial lines, and probably shall be prepared to rely considerably on those representatives who, like the honorable member for Melbourne, have had commercial experience. But, in my view, the postal service was never intended to be a money-making concern. It was intended to provide facilities for bringing the country into proximity with the cities, and for giving the inhabitants of the rural districts, as far as possible, some of the facilities of city life, not only in regard to mercantile concerns, but also in respect to mental activities.
– An increase in the price would decrease the revenue.
– Quite so ; we have found, from our experience in connexion with other Governmental concerns, that an increase in facilities and a cheapening of cost has increased revenue. When the railway services have reduced fares or freight rates the result has not been to diminish revenue, or to be a charge upon the State, but to increase revenue and to make the railways more payable. The same remark applies to our tramways. Where fares have been reduced, and further facilities have ‘been given to the public to use that means ‘of locomotion, the public have availed themselves of it, with the result that the country has been recompensed by the receipt of sums of money far in excess of those expected. So it will be in the case of our postal services. As far as concerns the usefulness of the Queensland meteorologist, Mr. Wragge, I should like to say that while we admire his accuracy and his powers of prediction, I do not think we are under a compliment to him. He was an official of the Queeusland Government, paid for the services he rendered. We may admire his ability without thinking that we are under any compliment to him. I can quite sympathize with those who consider that the Commonwealth Government should consider the advisability of an arrangement to retain his services. I was pleased to hear the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne on this subject. The electorate I represent is brought immediately into contact with the shipping community, and I can appreciate his points. But if honorable members are prepared to retain the facilities afforded by Mr. Wragge for the shipping community, so the commercial and trading classes may now ask for further facilities on behalf of the general public instead of their charges being increased for the postal and telegraphic facilities afforded to them. I believe that New South Wales is the only State in the union that has returned to the Commonwealth’ Treasury a revenue greater than the expenditure that has been incurred in this respect. That State has returned over and above the expenditure between £50,000 and £60,000. Notwithstanding that, however, an attempt is now being made to place upon her people higher taxation by means of increased telegraphic charges and postal rates.
– Three States returned a profit.
– But the interest is not included.
– Certainly the interest of New South Wales is not taken into consideration. Her interests are neglected. That is a very apt interjection, and I am pleas. :d the honorable member for Dan,1ing Downs has seized the opportunity to point out more emphatically than I can “ that the interests of New South Wales have suffered in consequence not only of this Bill, but of previous Bills. This is a purely technical measure; and honorable members have intimated their intention of waiting until the committee stage before dealing with the provisions. I do not pretend to thoroughly understand the Bill ; but the honorable gentleman who represents the Postmaster-General is apparently prepared to allow his own State, and also New South Wales, to suffer in order to obtain uniformity. I do not intend to vote for a measure which is intended to make the Post-office a money-making concern. My opinion is that we ought to reduce the post and telegraph charges, and also the rents of telephones, to a minimum. When the telephone rents were reduced in New South Wales, the service increased a hundred-fold ; and a similar result would follow throughout the Commonwealth. Experience has shown that as services of the kind are cheapened they expand and become more and more revenue producing. To New South Wales the proposed uniformity simply means increase of taxation. The Victorian people, through the astuteness of their representatives, managed, at the period of transition, to obtain the benefits of penny postage, from which New South Wales is o now debarred. That advantage is enjoyed by the people of Victoria not at their own expense, but at the expense of the people of the Commonwealth.
– That is not so.
– There is Commonwealth control, and the expenditure comes out of a common fund. I agree with the opinion that the cry of uniformity is always against the State which has supplied so much for the purpose of financing the federal union, and now that State cannot get the postal facilities which it should enjoy. In committee my only object will be to give increased facilities to the public, leaving the revenue aspect of the question out of consideration.
– I should have preferred to deal with this measure in committee, but probably an expression of general opinion may save time by enabling us to more rapidly arrive at decisions in committee. In many respects the measure is one which it would have been better to delay. Although it gives us a modicum of reform’ in certain directions, the attempt to secure uniformity, and that real reform which is demanded right through the service, is almost premature. It would have been better to leave the matter alone until we could approach it with a fuller knowledge and a freer hand. Until the bookkeeping sections cease to operate we cannot deal with the question of post and telegraph rates in the manner we would like. For instance, until we are able to have a federal postage stamp, we. cannot very well carry out the ideas of most honorable members. As regards seeming uniformity of rates, the Bill fails lamentably. The chief blot is the effort to preserve State distinctions, when we ought to be most willing and anxious to abolish them. A telegram from Sydney to Bourke, covering a distance, I suppose, of some 500 miles, will, according to the Bill, be carried at a lower rate than will a telegram across the river from Wodonga to Albury. The proposal is to give uniform rates within the State and uniform Inter-State rates; but parts of one State are nearer to parts of another State than parts of one State are to part? of the same State, and it would have been far better to adopt a zone system, and charge according to distance. The lower rate will be charged, it may be, for distances over 1,000 miles within a State, whereas, as I have said, the higher rate will be charged for a message which is merely sent across the river from Victoria to New South Wales. A similar, though not such a glaring, defect was pointed out by the honorable member for Laanecoorie. A lower rate is proposed for metropolitan centres than for provincial towns, though, in the latter, telegraphic communication is of equal importance. In Ballarat and similar places the metropolitan rate will not be allowed, while Sydney, Melbourne, and other capital cities will have all the advantages of cheap telegraphic communication. I have advocated all through that the Commonwealth would do right to charge postage on newspapers sent hy the mails. The Government are acting wisely in proposing a uniform postage of id. per paper ; but I believe that in committee an amendment will be proposed to so increase the maximum weight as to include all publications. Many of the newspapers most desired by country subscribers exceed 8 ozs. in weight r and in my opinion the maximum ought to be extended to 12 ozs. or even to 16 ozs. The mails were established for the conveyance of letters, and the fact that they are established makes it possible for us to carry newspapers relatively verycheaply.
– Why does the carriage of newspapers “ not amount to the same expense 1
– Simply because we must have mails for the conveyance of letters, which are the primary consideration. The post-office existed in the first instance for the carriage and delivery of letters, and the newspapers can, therefore, be carried at a cheaper rate. I have always advocated that the post-office should be conducted on commercial lines. That is not the opinion of the honorable member for Dalley, but say that we can conduct the post-office on commercial lines without desiring to make revenue or profit. Private firms and railways carry certain goods at lower rates than other goods, simply because they know they would not get the former if the lower rates were not charged.
– Did the honorable member ever find anybody who could explain those classification sheets 1
– The honorable member is quite correct in saying that no nian could understand some of the distinctions which are made. But it would be very easy to draw a distinction between a letter and a printed periodical ; and that is the distinction I wish to see drawn. Although I have advocated that the postoffice should be conducted on commercial lines, I have never yet urged that there should be a revenue or profit. My object is to give the greatest facilities to the people at the lowest possible cost - that we should have constantly increasing facilities whilst making the department pay. In my opinion we, in some respects, prevent the department paying by charging too much ; and the alteration in regard to the charges for telegrams is a movement in the wrong direction. Too much is asked for the despatch of messages, and the result may be that the department will not pay so well in the future as in the past. In regard to newspapers, we have no right to yield to the persuasive arguments which have been placed before us in favour of exempting newspaper proprietors from payment for services rendered. These arguments do not seem to meet the case in any respect. We have in previous measures, to which I may not now refer, shown to newspaper proprietors a leniency which to me was somewhat of a surprise. We have refused to tax them, as we have in many cases taxed people engaged in other industries. But here we are dealing with the question of doing certain work for newspaper proprietors, which otherwise they would have to do for themselves ; and in the interests of the general community we are’ perfectly prepared to do that work at the lowest possible cost compatible with recouping the post-office. That cost I would estimate after excluding the cost of instituting the post-office in the first instance ; and to my mind one halfpenny is the lowest charge we can make. It is the least valuable coin in circulation amongst us, and I regard it as a fair charge on the proprietors of the great journals. As I say, however, the Government would act wisely if they extended the maximum weight to even 16 ozs., so as to include the large and important weekly newspapers which circulate throughout the’ country. As to bundles of newspapers sent to various parts of the country for distribution through agents, I regard the proposed charge of Id. per lb. as very excessive. If it had been left open to newspaper proprietors, as it might have been, to send their newspapers as ordinary goods instead of sending them through the post, there is no doubt they would have0 availed themselves of the opportunity, and have thus enjoyed a much cheaper carriage than is provided for in the Bill. We might very well make the rate such that it would be to the best interests of the proprietors to send the whole of their newspapers in bulk in charge of the postal authorities. We must not forget that there is not only the duty of carrying these goods, but also the duty of delivering or putting them out of the train, and, consequently, there should be some reasonable charge. If we adopted a scale such as has been in force in some of the States, charging so much for every 7 lbs. per 100 miles, we should meet the necessities of the case, and get all the returns we have a right to expect from this source. It seems to me that the Government have also blundered in connexion “with the telegraph rates which they have adopted. A communication which I have received from the stock exchanges of Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide shows that the rates provided for in the Bill will cause the general public who use this means of communication to pay more on the whole than they are now paying. Therefore, although the Government have put forward these rates as a sort of concession, they are no concession at] all, and I believe that their effect as time goes on will be to diminish, rather than to increase, the receipts from telegrams. In some cases the charges seem to be abnormally high, and they are, on the whole, inequitable, having regard to the distances to which they apply. I think, too, that the Government have made a mistake, for the reasons advanced by other speakers, in charging for the transmission of addresses and signatures. -If the senders of messages cut down their addresses to a minimum length, as they will if the addresses are charged for, the department will be put to a large additional expense in delivering the messages. Then, again, the charge for messages is one which will fall most heavily upon the poorer classes of the community. Whereas “ Wood Jones, Melbourne,” is an address which would find a firm doing business here under the designation of Messrs. Wood and Jones, an obscure individual could not be found unless his name were given in full, together with the street and the number of the house in which he was living. I think that we shall do well to retain the system which has hitherto prevailed throughout these States, in Canada, the United States, and, I believe, in New Zealand, and allow addresses and signatures to be transmitted free of cost, though the number of words allowed in the message might be reduced to eight. There can be no doubt that the more we reduce charges of this kind, within reason, the more the facilities we provide will be used, and the greater will be the increase of revenue. With regard to the proposal that meteorological reports should be transmitted free of charge, I agree with what many honorable members have said. I think that the transmission of telegrams to and from Mr. Wragge and other observers free of charge might be provided for temporarily until the Commonwealth meteorological staff is provided for. Meteorology has been laughed at by some people, and has hitherto not been very successful, either here or in other parts of the world ; but it is becoming a recognised science, and will have a much better chance of success when the observations are conducted by Commonwealth officials, acting in conjunction and in cooperation, than under the present system, under which the various observers act without cooperation, and under no general control. The Government might make some interim arrangement with the Queensland Government for the retention of Mr. Wragge. 43 d
– The honorable member may not discuss that matter on the second reading of this Bill.
– I would point out that clause 5, which deals with messages sent on behalf of the King, or of the Government of the Commonwealth, or of any of the States, would seem to give me the right to discuss the advisability of transmitting meteorological information by telegraph free.
– The honorable member is at liberty to discuss the question whether meteorological information should be telegraphed free of charge, but not whether the Commonwealth should establish a meteorological department.
– Then I shall not proceed further than to say that I think an interim arrangement might be made/and that we might consider the question again when we have .a Commonwealth staff of observers, acting in co-operation and under one control. I am sorry for some reasons that the Bill has been brought forward this session. So many other matters have been left unsettled - the administration of the Defence department for instance - that this measure might well have been left over until we are in a position to deal more drastically with the whole subject. But I suppose the Government had a good purpose in view in bringing forward the measure, and I shall support the second reading in the hope that in committee the schedules may be so amended as to liberalize the measure, and, b7 making it more equitable, bring about an increase in revenue by a larger use of the facilities offered by the department.
– I realize that it is very desirable to have uniformity in connexion with the administration of the Post and Telegraph department. The differences which have hitherto existed in the several’ States have led to great inequalities, and one of the benefits we were promised from federation was the removal of those anomalies. It was contended that, with a uniform and centralized administration of the Post and Telegraph offices of the States, we should obtain greater efficiency, less cost, a better service, and lower rates to the general public. I do not know how far that consummation has been realized in the other States ; but, so far as New South Wales is concerned, the proposals now advanced by the Government are of a retrogressive nature. The people of New South Wales, instead of obtaining the liberal concessions to which they looked forward, are being asked to forego advantages which they gained many years ago. The rates provided for in the Bil], instead of encouraging the use of postal and telegraphic facilties in the transmission of business and social correspondence, will rather discourage their use. At present the telegraphic rate in New South Wales within the metropolitan area, and within a certain distance of many of the large- towns, is 6d. for 10 words, and ls. for 10 words to any other place within the State, addresses and signatures not being charged for. The Bill provides, however, for the charging of 6d., 9d., and ls. as minimum rates ; every word contained in the addresses and signatures to be counted and paid for. In a communication which I have received from the Sydney Stock Exchange, and which contains information compiled as the result of conferences between the various Stock Exchanges and the Legal Managers’ Association of Victoria, it is pointed out that the rates proposed in the Bill increase the charges imposed upon the general public. It states, as the result of calculations made, that the proposed charge for names and addresses will involve a general increase of something like 60 per cent, on ordinary messages. In making this calculation, it is assumed that in the case of a telegram in which names and addresses are charged for, there will be four words other than those used for this particular purpose, as compared with twelve words used under the existing system, under which names and addresses are sent free. I think it is conclusively proved that the proposal, instead of being a reduction on the cost of general messages to the public, will involve an increased charge of from 50 to 70 per cent. The reasonable suggestion is made that the present practice of sending names and addresses free should not be departed from, but that a limit should be made to the number of words transmitted free in this way. The limit suggested by bodies who, I presume are competent to arrive at a reasonably accurate opinion,. is eight words. I think the postal authorities, if they desire to maintain anything like the existing facilities given for the transmission of information by telegraph, will be well advised if they adopt this suggestion. One of the advantages expected from federal control of the Post and Telegraph departments pf the States was the establishment of uniformity throughout the Commonwealth. But this Bill does not by any means establish uniformity. In the circular to which I have referred it is pointed out that a message of twelve words, including names and addresses as proposed, may be sent from Albury, on the Victorian border of New South Wales, to Jennings on the Queensland border, a distance of something like’ 876 miles, for the Inter-State charge of 9d., but if the Albury resident desires to send the same message to Wodonga, a distance of 3£ miles, he has to pay ls., because it happens to be on the Victorian side of the border. This is what is called uniformity.
– An amendment is suggested by the Minister to meet that.
– I desire to know whether the Government are going to accept that amendment 1
– The Government propose the amendment.
– When the Bill was introduced this was not one of the matters which appealed very strongly to the Government, and I am, therefore, glad to learn from the interjection of the Minister that this anomaly is likely to be removed from the Bill in committee. There is next to be considered the question of newspaper postage. I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that many honorable members of this House are opposed to the free transmission of newspapers through the post. I desire to say that I thoroughly disagree with that attitude, and I am not under the heels of any newspaper nor am I interested in any newspaper. I have had the advantage, or disadvantage, of living in the way-back parts of New South Wales, and I know what a great boon a newspaper is to residents of those districts. To miners, farmers, settlers, or graziers who are engaged in fighting the difficulties of settlement and production in the interior, and whose advantages and privileges, as compared with their more favoured city brethren, are very limited, the weekly advent of the newspaper is the one great boon to which they look forward. It is upon these people that the proposed tax will fall most heavily, assuming that it will be passed on by thenewspaper proprietors to their customers. This postage upon newspapers will not to any perceptible extent affect newspaper readers in large centres of population. The large city newspapers are not distributed through the post as are country newspapers. They are chiefly distributed direct from the office by news boys and by news agents in the suburbs, and they do not pass through the hands of the Postal department at all. As far as country centres are concerned, these large newspapers sire sent in bulk parcels to agents, and cheap rates are proposed for such parcels. On this account residents of cities and towns will be enabled to obtain literature of this kind at a reasonably cheap rate. Where the postal distribution really takes place is in the more remote settlements to which I have referred, and, as I have said, it is upon the people in those districts that this increased taxation will fall most heavily. I submit that if there is any section of the community that deserves special consideration it is those: engaged in pioneer work. I disagree with those who hold that newspapers should be considered as ordinary merchandise, and that, therefore, the postal facilities which their proprietors have hitherto enjoyed in some States should be denied them. I contend that newspapers and magazines are important educational factors, and in the interests of the dissemination of useful information and the promotion of education in our communities, every facility should be given for the distribution of- this literature through the post-office. I know it has been objected that there is an undesirable class of newspaper, which, instead of having an elevating influence upon the community, has a tendency in the opposite direction. It is also objected that newspaper proprietors conduct their newspapers for personal gain, and not for the purpose of educating and elevating the general community. I think that our newspapers will compare favorably with those of other countries, and they certainly compare very favorably with the yellow journalism of America. There may be here and there an odd newspaper which does not come up to the general high standard obtaining in Australia, but the whole of our newspapers should not be judged by the short-comings of one or two. The objection which has been made in New South Wales to the free postage of newspapers which has obtained there for so long arises from two causes.
43 D 2
First of all, because of an abuse which has grown up through some business firms withdrawing advertisements in the ordinary newspapers which previously formed their vehicle of communication with their customers, and establishing so-called newspapers of their own. They have certainly published a great deal of useful information in these advertising circulars, most of them catering for the requirements of the farmer and settler. Many of these private advertising circulars have conveyed valuable information of this kind, but that has been necessary in order to make them readable. The publication of these circulars has been adopted for advertising purposes, and it has been considered an abuse. On the other hand the proprietors of country newspapers, feeling the pressure of competition with the big Sydney weeklies and dailies, think rightly or wrongly that the imposition of postage upon . newspapers will have the effect of lessening competition in their interests, and that they will thus beable to secure a circle of readers which at present they do not possess. I think the advertising abuse can readily be remedied by proper administration. The department has the right to say what papers shall be registered for transmission as newspapers. It can readily be seen whether a publication is run on the lines of an ordinary newspaper, or is merely a private advertising medium, and by disallowing registration, the abuse can easily be removed. On the other hand, I do not think that the imposition of postage upon newspapers will relieve country newspaperproprietors in any way. Very great improvement has been made in the means of producing newspapers, but the cost of theimproved machinery practically restricts its use to large publishing concerns. Its use, however, enables them to produce a newspaper so cheaply, that even with postage added, they will be able to compete as successfully as at present with country newspapers. On the question of the extent to which the community may be benefited by the distribution of information of this character, I may say that I have here a compilation of statistics by Mr. Coghlan, of New South Wales, for the years 1861 to 1890. This shows that, in 1861, the number of letters and post-cards transmitted through the post in New South Wales was 4,369,463, compared with 6,109,926 in Victoria. In 1S71, 7,000,000 letters passed through the post ia New South Wales, as against 1 1,000,000 in Victoria. In 1 890, however, New South Wales had achieved the premier position, the figures being, New South Wales, 79,602,694, Victoria, 79,391,192. The returns regarding newspapers show that in 1861, 3,3S4,246 were transmitted by post in New South Wales, as compared with 4,277,179 in Victoria. In 1900, however, there was a wide disparity between the figures for the two States, and the positions were reversed. The number of newspapers sent through the post in New South Wales was 51,500,930 as compared with 25,465,266 in Victoria. This difference was due, not to the fact that the people of Victoria were less -educated or less enlightened than those in New South Wales, or to the absence of postal facilities in the former State, but to the exemption of newspapers from postage in New South Wales. The general tendency of the distribution of such an enormous amount of literature through the post must be educational, and in the best interests of the community generally. My own feeling is that the distribution of newspapers should be encouraged rather than otherwise, and that we should not aim at a repetition in New South Wales of the experience gained in Victoria. Within three of the States newspapers are transmitted free at the present time, and we find also that in the United States, and in Canada, a similar privilege is extended. Thus the most progressive and go-a-head communities have considered it wise to allow the free transmission of newspapers through the post, and yet the Government, in the name of progress, are proposing to go back to the old method. If we are to impose postage upon newspapers, we should endeavour to make the rates as reasonable as possible. It is pro- posed to reduce the 10 ozs. maximum, now provided for in Victoria, to 8 ozs., and I understand that this change will press very heavily upon a number of very excellent publications, including the Australasian, the Leader, the Weekly Times, the Sydney Mail, the Town and Country Journal, and other similar newspapers published in the various capitals. All these would exceed the 8 oz. limit, and either the size of the publications would have to be reduced, probably to the loss -of readers, .or the public would be called upon to pay the extra charge. It would be preferable -to transmit newspapers weighing Jess than 6 ozs. for £d., and to charge -d. upon newspapers weighing from 6 ozs. to 12 ozs. It would be desirable also to make liberal provision for transmitting bulk parcels through the post. I regret very much that, in framing this measure, the Government have not kept themselves more in touch with the methods adopted in the more progressive. States, but have rather turned to those in vogue in the more backward of our communities. There is much force in the contention that by unduly increasing charges, and by withdrawing facilities hitherto enjoyed by the public, we shall decrease rather, than increase the revenue of the Postal and Telegraph department. We know that mail contracts must be maintained, and that the staffs of the department must also be kept up to a high degree of efficiency, and if the increase of the rates results in a falling-off in the revenue, it will not be practicable to make any corresponding reduction in the working expenses. It will be found that the best results have been obtained by the progressive and liberal administration of postal and telegraphic affairs. New South Wales has afforded greater postal and telegraphic facilities than most of the States, and yet during the year just closed she showed the largest surplus of earnings over expenditure. For the period during which the Postal and Telegraphic department has been under Federal control, Victoria shows a credit balance of £14,000, New South Wales £49,000, and South Australia £33,000. Queensland shows a debit balance of £101,000, Western Australia of £31,000, and Tasmania df £5,000. So far as Queensland is concerned, it is only fair to state that the expenditure of five quarters has been included, as against the revenue of four.
– That applies to the whole of the States, and not to Queensland only.
– I am glad to receive that assurance, because it shows that the allowance which I was disposed to make in connexion with the Queensland returns was an excessive one. I think it can reasonably be claimed that the three States which provide the public with the least postal facilities are Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania. Yet instead of the earnings of the department in those States exceeding the expenditure, as they should do if the policy adopted were a sound one, the reverse is the case, thus confirming my contention that a reduction in the facilities offered to the public must lead to a debit instead of a credit balance. If the federal authorities wish to conduct the Postal department upon profitable lines, they must adopt a more enlightened policy. They must cater for the requirements of the community, and look to the increased business done to make the expenditure and revenue balance, instead of adopting the “ penny wise and pound foolish “ method of raising the charges to the people. It must be remembered that the Post and Telegraph department exists for the benefit of the community, and whilst I do not go to the extent of saying that it should render all service free of charge, I hold that there is a point between excessive and reasonable charges, at which it can be made revenueproducing. The provisions of this Bill do not indicate that the authorities fully realize where that point is. I trust that in committee the measure will be greatly improved.
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).In view of the general desire that the Bill should reach the committee stage as soon as possible, I do not propose to occupy much time in discussing it now. But I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without directing attention to some of the statements made by the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, In speaking of the charges levied for the conveyance of newspapers over the railways of the various States, the honorable gentleman left the House under a very wrong impression. He attempted to make it appear that in this connexion New South Wales was being accorded the same treatment as Western Australia and Tasmania. Now, it is well known that in New South Wales the goods trains which were referred to by the Minister, and which carry the Sydney newspapers to the country, are run by the Railway Commissioners. For this service a certain sum was annually paid by the Postal department to the railways, but that sum also covered the cost of the carriage of newspapers by other trains. It did not cover the carriage of the morning newspapers only. The arrangement referred to was made by the Premier of New South Wales, the late Sir Henry Parkes, fully twenty years ago. In 1878 that gentleman arranged for the carriage of newspapers upon the railways of New South Wales, but it was not until many years afterwards that the system of running early goods trains to various parts of the State was adopted. Sir Henry Parkes very properly pointed out that the arrangement which was then arrived at effected a saving to the Postal department, inasmuch as by allowing the newspapers in packets to be sent direct to the Redfern railway station, the department were relieved of all responsibility. It had not to go to the expense of providing sorters, as it would if the papers were sent through the post-office. Consequently it was regarded -by the Government of the day as a very fair arrangement; and it has continued until within the past twelve months. An endeavour has been made to show that special trains have been run by the Railway department of New South Wales for the convenience of metropolitan newspapers. But as a matter of fact the early morning trains in question are run at a profit. I have in my hand a printed return signed by the Chief Traffic Manager of New South Wales, which shows “that the train running upon the western line earns 14s. Id. per mile, that on the southern line Ils. 10d., and that on the south-coast line 3s. 10d., an average of about 10s. per mile. That is nearly three times the amount required to cover working expenses. In the face of these facts, I cannot understand how it can be urged that these trains are run at the expense of the country and to oblige the newspapers. Moreover, the train which traverses my district is a great convenience to passengers. If I were living at Katoomba, Mount Victoria, or Blackheath, and wished to travel to Bathurst I should be compelled to wait until the afternoon but for this particular train, which thus saves me four or five hours. There is absolutely no justification for the statement that these early goods trains do not pay when the Chief Traffic Manager, Mr. Harper, certifies that they do. In New South Wales two charges were made in this connexion - one a lump sum for the carriage of postal matter, and a special charge for all newspapers carried by the railways.
– That is quite a different question.
– That may be the honorable member’s opinion. There were two separate services. In Tasmania, according to the reply of Mr. Bird, a lump sum is charged for the carnage of newspapers by post, as well as upon the railways
The same condition applies to Western Australia. I blame the Government for having withdrawn from New South Wales, where, according to my honorable friend, the Postal department pays well, a privilege which is allowed to remain operative in the two States which I have mentioned.
– Could we prevent the Railway department of Tasmania from carrying newspapers, even if we wished to do so ?
– My honorable friend knows full well that under federation it was understood that no alteration would be made in the practice of the various States until we had an uniform postal rate.
– Does the honorable member see any way by which we could say to the Tasmanian Government that the railways of that State should not carry newspapers free 1
– Evidently the Tasmanian Government realize their responsibility in this matter, because the arrangement made by them was to convey newspapers, not only by post, but also upon the railways, free of charge. ,
– The department puts a different complexion on it.
– No ; Mr. Bird admits that in his telegram to my honorable friend, because he points out that it is proposed to make a charge when the Postal Rates Bill comas into operation. That shows that he relies on the understanding arrived at with the Postal department that until a law comes into existence he should continue to carry newspapers not only on the railways, but also through the post-office. A similar arrangement previously existed in New South Wales, the only difference being that in New South Wales, instead of a lump sum being paid, as was the case in Tasmania, the amount for the carriage of newspapers through the post-office and the amount for their carriage upon the railways were separated. I do not know what arrangement is made with regard to Western Australia, but I do know that in that State newspapers are carried free. It is a strange thing that an exception has been made of New South Wales - that while the privilege has continued in force in Western Australia and Tasmania, New South Wales has been picked out as the only State where the privilege has been withdrawn. I am sure that the House does not require the Government to do anything unfair to any State, and certainly the matter requires a little explanation. The honorable gentleman representing the Government made a statement a few days ago which seemed to indicate that he thought I was advocating the cause of some particular newspaper. But I have simply argued the matter out in a general way, showing that a great injustice has been done to New South Wales by withdrawing a privilege that has previously been enjoyed there.
– Why should New South Wales have a privilege which the other States have not ?
– What I have referred to was the law in New South Wales, and the understanding was that the law should be recognised and adhered to until a uniform Postal Act came into existence. I should not object if the Government had waited until they introduced this Bill and it had been passed into law. My objection is that while the policy of New South Wales has been to carry newspapers free on the railways and through the post, the Government by an administrative act have cancelled that’ arrangement before their measure became law.
– How does that affect the Bill before the House ? The honorable member is criticising an act of administ ration, not a principle of the Bill.
– I take it that I am perfectly in order in doing so. My honorable friend, the Minister, in moving the second reading, made reference to some remarks of mine regarding the carriage of newspapers, .and I am justified in replying to him.
– How long has payment been insisted upon in New South Wales ?
– I think about twelve months.
– The State Government paid the money up to a certain time, after which the Commonwealth Government refused to pay it.
– It is about twelve months since the Commonwealth Government notified that they would not consent to the payment of this money any longer, and that if the newspaper proprietors wished to avail .themselves of the privilege of having their publications carried free in that State they would have to make some arrangement with the
State Government. I cannot understand how it is that the Government took no active steps to ask the House to deal with this Bill before. It must be nearly twelve months since the measure was introduced in the Senate.
– It was passed by the Senate in December.
– The measure has been dangled before the eyes of honorable members since that time, but no attempt has been made to deal with it. I also complain of the way in which press telegrams have been dealt with. I believe the administrative act to which reference has previously been made is still in operation, and that no alteration has been made in the practice. I hope we shall be able to deal with the matter in this Bill. A most extraordinary state of affairs exists at present, under which press telegrams concerning statements made by Ministers are charged for at a lower rate than messages concerning statements by members of the Opposition. I will do the Acting Prime Minister the justice to say that when I brought this matter up some time ago he admitted the fairness of my criticism. But the old arrangement has been in force ever since, and the Government have made no serious effort to regulate it. Press telegrams concerning matters affecting the Government, or views expressed by Ministers, can be sent throughout Australia at the rate of ls. per 100 words, but if a member of the Opposition thinks it necessary in the interests of the public to criticise Ministers, the rate charged for telegraphing such matter is 3s. per 100 words. I want to know how the Bill will affect that state of things, and whether, by means of an administrative act, the Government will continue to make a difference in the charge for these telegrams. Will statements by Ministers still be sent foils, per 100 words, whilst statements by, say, the leader of the Opposition, will be charged for at three times that amount ?
– Perhaps they are three times as valuable !
– It may be so ; but I want to give an opportunity to the people of the Commonwealth to measure the value of our criticisms. It is just as necessary for the people to know of the views held in reference to the action of Ministers as it is for them to read the views of the
Ministers themselves. I contend that telegrams referring to political, social, and’ financial matters intended for publication in the press should all go at the same rate. No distinction should be made in regard to any matter that is intended for publication. But newspapers ought to be fair and honest in their news columns. I do not care whether a newspaper represents free-trade or protection, its news ought to be truthful, but we as an Opposition have not experienced fair treatment in that respect in Victoria. So long as the public have an opportunity of knowing the facts, we have no right to complain of criticism, which occasionally does a man good. While I advocate the same rates for all matter, whether political or social, intended for publication, I am also prepared to vote for the free carriage of newspapers.
– All over Australia?
– Yes. The dissemination of newspapers throughout the Commonwealth has a splendid educational effect on the people, enabling them to understand public questions and to vote intelligently. It has been said that the free carriage of newspapers would involve a great loss ; but that has not been the result in New South Wales.
– Very nearly.
– According to the Treasurer, New South Wales is a State in which the Postal department - in spite of the free carriage of newspapers combined with a reduction in the postal and telegraph rates, and better wages for postal servants - shows a substantial surplus of something like £50,000. That is pretty clear evidence that the facilities afforded to the people of New South Wales have had good results, and I “fail to see why the privilege of free newspaper carriage should be withdrawn. Similar results might be obtained throughout the Commonwealth, and it would be far more satisfactory if the Postmaster-General were to adopt that policy. I shall give my support to the free carriage of newspapers, and, failing that, I shall endeavour to secure a substantial reduction in the rates. I shall also endeavour to bring about a reduction in the telegraphic rates, in order to make them more in accord with those which have proved so successful in New South Wales. The- Government have delayed this matter too long, and, without the authority of Parliament, have acted unjustly to New
South Wales. I believe that if the Government were successful in their present proposals a serious injury would be inflicted on the people of the Commonwealth.
– I presume that the Minister in charge of the Bill will reply to the speeches that have been made, and I should like to know why the measure contains no reference to the postal rates on letters. I know that this is a matter which may be dealt with by regulation, but the question of penny postage has excited a considerable amount of attention all over the Commonwealth and in Great Britain, and ought to be dealt with in the Bill. At any rate, we ought to have some explanation why the penny postage system has not been proposed. The experience of the system in Victoria leads one to suppose that it would not be productive of the great loss which is generally anticipated. The returns lately issued of the revenue and expenditure of the Postal department in the various States show that, notwithstanding the penny postage, Victoria is to the good to the extent of £14,389.
– What does the honorable member mean by “ to the good”?
– I mean that the revenue exceeded the expenditure by that amount, notwithstanding the fact that there has been penny postage for the past year.
– Howmuch has Victoria lost by penny postage ?
– I am told that the loss is something like £12,000, which is not nearly so much as was generally anticipated ; and if the loss to the Commonwealth were in the same proportion, it would not be more than £40,000. But we must not forget that the experience elsewhere has been a considerable increase of business under penny postage, and it is doubtful whether, in the final result, there would be any loss. At any rate, I think the Minister might give reasons why the Government have not proposed to introduce the system. One representative of Victoria has advocated the zone system. That system, inmy opinion, is very objectionable from several points of view, producing, as it would, a far more complicated system of bookkeeping than that proposed by the Government. A zone system might be very suitable, perhaps, in a country of small area like Victoria, but it would not be successful in the Commonwealth generally. Australia is a country of great distances, and it is often remarked that one of the great evils under which we suffer is that such huge numbers of people are congregated in the big cities. The zone system would to a certain extent handicap people who live in the interior. Those people might not regard cheaper telegrams as a verygreat boon, but whatever little can be done ought to be done in order to improve their position, so that they may not be placed at a disadvantage as compared with the residents of the towns. In favour of the zone system it has been urged that the proposals of the Government tend to perpetuate the lines of distinction between the various States. But so long as we have federation we cannot altogether eliminate these differences or distinctions ; if they were to be altogether eliminated, there would be not a federation, but a unification, of Australia. That is altogether foreign to the intentions of those who voted for the Federal Constitution. There is something to be said in favour of not perpetuating these differences more than can be helped, but the zone system will not do away with the parochial difficulty. I should like to see the telegraph rates made uniform for the whole Commonwealth, and I shall therefore have much pleasure in supporting the suggested amendment of the honorable member for Grampians. There is an objection to the zone system similar to that which has been raised against the proposals of the Government. It has been pointed out that whereas a person may send a telegram any distance within the State for a certain charge, he cannot send it a mile or more, without paying a higher charge, if it is addressed to some one in another State. In the same way, under the zone system, while all telegrams sent from one place to another within a zone would be charged the same rate, telegrams from one zone to another, although sent, perhaps, very short distances, would be charged higher rates.
- In reply. It will be apparent to every one that if I madeanyattempt to deal new withthemany subjects to which honorable members have drawn attention during the past two days, my reply would be a record speech, at least so far as length is concerned. Moreover, as in committee I shall have to deal with all these subjects as they arise, I do not wish to make statements now which I shall be obliged to repeat then. Therefore, I hope that honorable members will not think me discourteous in not occupying the time which would be necessary to enable me to reply at length now.I shall be happy, as we come to deal with the various clauses and schedules of the Bill, to give honorable members all the information they desire in regard to the matters affected, and such other information as I may have which may prove useful to us in arriving at proper conclusions.
– But what about the penny postage system ?
– In moving the second reading, I purposely avoided any reference to the subject of postage, because it is not dealt with in the Bill.
Mr.Kirwan.- Why not?
– The subject is so full of importance and of interest, that I should have liked to be able to introduce a Bill initiating such an enterprising system as that of universal penny postage, or even a uniform penny postage system for Australia. Honorable members are wrong in assuming that the PostmasterGeneral can deal with the rates of postage by regulation. It is specially required by the Post and Telegraph Act that alterations of the postal rates must be made by Act of Parliament, and I hope that within a year or two a measure may be introduced which will deal with this subject.
– The department must continue to enforce the existing rates.
– That is so. Before we make so radical a change as an alteration of the postal rates, we must ascertain the effect of the Bill with which we are now dealing. It must be remembered that Queensland has a deficiency of £102,000, that Tasmania, which four years ago had a surplus of £14,000, has a deficiency of £6,000, and that Western Australia has a deficiency ; and before introducing changes in the postal rates, which may still further diminish the State revenues, we should ascertain the result of this Bill.
– Has the Minister any idea what the loss through a penny postage system would be?
– I think that the loss in Victoria has been about £100,000.
– The Victorian Treasurer says £80,000.
-To alter the Tasmanian postage rates to1d. would mean a loss of £20,000, and as Tasmania contains about one-twentieth of the total population of the Commonwealth, honorable members can ascertain for themselves what is likely to be the loss in other States if their present postage rate is reduced from 2d. to1d. We are not yet in a position to provide for a uniform Australian rate of 1d., and universal penny postage would cost the Commonwealth £200,000 a year. I am obliged to the honorable member for Parramatta, and to other honorable members who have addressed themselves to the motion, for their very generous treatment of the Bill. I can see that there are many points upon which we are seriously at issue, but the debate has been conducted with that amenity which I trust will always exist in this House ; at any rate, when I have the honour to be in charge of the business before it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clause 1 (Short title).
– While congratulating the Minister upon the concise manner in which he outlined the provisions of the Bill, I think we were entitled to hear from him, when he spoke in reply, answers to the many questions which were raised by the speeches of other honorable members. Before the Federal Constitution was accepted by the people of Australia, it was urged that all anomalies-
– The honorable member must confine himself to the clause.
– I wish only to say that in my opinion the Minister should have given us more explicit information in regard to postal rates. The rates charged upon newspapers at the present time are such-
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to refer to that matter when we come to the schedule.
Clause verbally amended and agreed to.
Clauses 2 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (Rates to be paid on Government correspondence).
Mr. L. E. GROOM (Darling Downs).I move -
That the following words be added : - “ Subject to such regulations as the Governor-General may prescribe, telegrams may be transmitted without charge on behalf of the meteorological department of, or subsidized by, a State, until the establishment of a Commonwealth meteorological department.”
I have framed my amendment in general terms, so that all the States may be on the same footing : I do not ask for a special concession for Queensland. At the present time valuable meteorological observations and inquiries are being undertaken by each of the States, but, owing to the financial condition of Queensland, the meteorological department there is in danger of being disbanded. All I ask is that the States shall be treated alike in this matter, so that the existing service may be continued until the Commonwealth establishes a meteorological department of its own.
– The Government do not propose to offer any objection to this amendment. Indeed, they may be said to have invited it, because honorable members will recollect, that when the Acting Prime Minister was waited upon with respect to the continuance of the privileges hitherto enjoyed by the meteorological departments of the States, he arranged that until some further provision was made whereby the Commonwealth could take up the matter, and establish a meteorological department of its own, the existing arrangements should continue. We have up to the present had a continuance of the previously existing practice, and have sent weather telegrams free. This amendment will only be putting the seal upon what has been done up to the present time.
Mr. WINTER COOKE (Wannon).I should like to understand if it is proposed that departments receiving and despatching weather telegrams in any of the States, whether technically termed meteorological departments or not, shall receive the benefit of this amendment. I understand that in Queensland there is a distinct department of meteorology, and if it is not at present a Government department it is subsidized by the State. In other States meteorological information is published, though possibly not by departments technically termed meteorological departments. They, however, furnish information quite as valuable as that which comes from Brisbane. I have very often been disappointed with Mr. Wragge’s prognostications. He recently informed us that a cyclonic disturbance, which he named “Conroy,” would visit Victoria, but that disturbance never reached us here, unless it be in this House. I doubt very much whether the Commonwealth derives the very great advantage spoken of here from the information supplied by Mr. Wragge. Other departments, which arc not called meteorological departments, but which give the same kind of information, should be placed upon the same footing as the department in Queensland.
– The proposal is that the department in each State, whatever it may be called, which undertakes the work of collecting the data upon which weather forecasts are made, is to have its telegrams transmitted free until the Commonwealth establishes its own meteorological bureau. Every State is put on the same basis j no concession is made to one more than to another, and no new concession is made. The reason for this proposal is that, as the committee is aware, it has been the practice in every State since there has been a meteorological service established - and I think that means, practically, during the life of each State - to allow it free telegrams. Unless this amendment were carried, this measure would create as entire a change in that respect as it does in regard to ordinary departmental telegrams j they would have to pay, although, up to the present time, they have never been charged for their telegrams. The proposal is simply to continue the existing state of things in each State until the Commonwealth takes over the service, or establishes its own meteorological department. Then, like every other department of the Commonwealth, it will be charged the cost of its telegrams, although that will mean only the transference of money from one pocket to another. In the meantime this proposal is approved by the Government, because it continues the existing state of things pending the establishment of a federal department, in order that the public shall not be deprived of any advantage which may be derived from the forecasts which have hitherto been obtained from their own or any other State meteorologist.
– It is now proposed that the Commonwealth shall do work valued at something like £15,000 for the benefit of an irresponsible person in Queensland, because the meteorological department of that State is practically abolished.
– It is subsidized by the Government.
- Mr. Wragge poses as 1 a scientific person, so far as the public are concerned, but it is posing pure and simple. I can point to a good many bushrnen who are able to say that not 75 per cent., but more nearly 90 per cent. of their weather prophecies within the last year have been proved correct. What they have done has been simply to say of every day that it will be dry, and certainly more than 90 per cent. of their statements regarding the drought have been absolutely correct. The question before us now is whether we are prepared to spend £15,000 a year upon telegrams transmitted toMr. Wragge alone ?
– No. The amount has now been cut down to between £4,000 and £5,000.
– Is not that a big subsidy to give to any private individual? If honorable members think it worth while to give £5,000 in this way, that is quite another matter, but we ought to consider whether the services rendered are worth that expenditure.
Mr.J oseph Cook. - You cannot call this a subsidy to an individual, surely ? Does Mr. Wragge get the money ?
– No; but it costs this amount to run his establishment, and I do not see that we should be called upon to incur an expenditure of £5,000 for sending telegrams to an irresponsible individual.
– He has saved the States tens of thousands of pounds.
– I suppose the honorable member means that he has done so in prophesying storms. He belongs to the race of prophets, and just about as much credence ought to be placed in any statement he makes as is placed generally in prophecies. I honour the scientific man who collects facts and draws proper deductions from them, but I object to the man who tries to excite the fears of the ignorant. I do not object to a man trying to give natural explanations of scientific data, but when he belongs to the advertising school, and tries to gull the public, I say at once that either he does not understand his subject, or that he is making an improper use of the facts before him, and in either case he is not to be trusted, I say this without any feeling against this particular man in Queensland. I do not happen to know him, and I have never seen him. I speak as I do because I have known instances in which credence has been given to his statements because the Government imprimatur has, as it were, been put upon them. A short time ago - about four months ago - he made some statements to the effect that certain weather would prevail in the north-eastern district of New South Wales, and a wheat farmer there, cultivating about 1,200 acres, decided not to plough and plant his ground. He only sowed about 50 acres of it, and yet the only showers that fell in the whole of the district fell on his land. When Mr. Wragge, later on, said that a storm was coming along, this man took him at his word, and it did not come ; so that he lost in both ways. When I asked him how he could possibly attach credence to such statements, his answer was that he did not think the Government would appoint a man to the position who did not understand his business.
– Was that prediction made since the disaster at Martinique ?
– I understand that Signor Presa made a forecast, and gave the beautiful explanation that the eruption which recently occurred at Martinique had disarranged the whole of his calculations. In the same paper he pointed out how very, very much more accurate he had been than Mr. Wragge. I could not help recognising the fact that these two weather prophets were falling out between themselves.
– Is it possible to foretell these things?
– As the honorable member asks me, I say it is not possible. We can calculate the force of certain winds, and say that in seven or eight days we may get some storm which is coming across from the West to the Bast of Australia. But it is because Mr. Wragge professes to be able to say whether there will be rain with the storm that I call the man a fraud. It is quite possible that he may be correct in a statement that a wind storm is approaching, but the moment he professes to locate it at Mount Erebus or Mount Terror or somewhere in the South Antarctic, I treat him in a different light, because it is impossible for him to know if there is such a storm there or not, seeing that there is no meteorological station there from which he can get the information. I point out that if he can get a revelation from those outside places, the telegraph can be of no use to him, and he may just as easily get a revelation from places very much nearer home. I should not care if Mr. Wragge were to assume the same position as any other prophet, but I do not think that he should be “ hall marked “ by the Government, and thus facilitated in misleading the people into the belief that meteorology is a more exact science than it is. All true scientists like their proofs to be irrefutable, aiia that is why the meteorologists in most of the States are very careful regarding the statements they make. Mr. Wragge, however, departs from this wholesome rule, and we should therefore pause before we offer him any encouragement. I should not begrudge the expense that is contemplated if Mr. Wragge gave reliable forecasts, but he has endeavoured to make the people believe that certain events can be foretold which are beyond all human ken. The Australasian some short time ago published a tabulated statement, in which it was clearly shown that M r. Wragge’s forecasts had been to a large .extent unreliable. That gentleman has been in the habit of misleading the public by naming one storm, and then, after the first storm had passed over without bringing rain, claiming .a subsequent disturbance as that which he had originally forecasted.
– Can the honorable member show that Mr. Wragge has done that?
– Yes. Only last week one of the usual cyclonic storms was forecasted by Mr. Wragge, and passed over without bringing rain. A storm which followed it, however, deposited some rain” at Albany, and Mr. Wragge immediately claimed this as the result of the storm which he had named in the first instance. It would be a pity to devote a large sum of money to the promulgation of unjustifiable forecasts, and it is principally on this ground that I oppose the amendment. If Mr. Wragge confined himself strictly to the statement of what he knew - and I presume he ought to know something - I should have no objection, but he goes entirely beyond the range of recognised scientific limits in his weather prophecies. He- forecasts a storm .in the Tasman Sea, and warns intending passengers by steamer against the approaching disturbance. If ships pass through without meeting bad weather in the locality indicated, he says that they have missed the disturbance, but if they meet with rough seas he claims that these were produced by the storm predicted. There are no meteorological stations or means of taking observations at many of the points from which Mr. Wragge frequently declares that storms are approaching, and therefore he has no means of obtaining information by the ordinary means available to scientific men. If he obtains his knowledge by revelation, he should be under no necessity to ask for the assistance of the Telegraph department, but, on the other hand, should have ready to his hand a means of making large sums of money with the greatest ease. I object to the Government seal being placed upon anything unless it is sound and certain. Until I found that a number of persons were inclined to treat Mr. Wragge’s forecasts seriously, .1 did not think of questioning his position, but I should not think of extending any help to Mr. Wragge in carrying on his present kind of quackery. It is pure charlatanism. He is drawing upon his imagination instead of confining himself to proper scientific methods.
– I rise to a point of order. My amendment does not in any way refer to individuals, and as a personal attack is being made by the honorable and learned member for Werriwa, I consider that he is acting unfairly.
– I cannot rule the honorable member out of order. The matter is purely one of taste.
– I am sorry that the honorable and learned member has taken objection to my remarks. We are all seeking to get at the truth. I do not believe in Hottentot or any other kind of rain gods. Some little time ago Mr. Wragge displayed his ignorance of a common scientific fact by sending a letter to Sir Charles Todd4 the Government Astronomer of South Australia, complaining that telegrams from Cocos Island were not delivered to him in Brisbane at twelve o’clock daily.’ Owing to the difference in longitude between Cocos Island and Brisbane, it is only 9 a.m. at Cocos Island when it is 12.30 p.m. at Brisbane. Mr. Wragge thought that he was allowing for an interval of 3£ hours between the time when the observation was taken and that at which he desired to receive the telegram. That gentleman is at perfect liberty to. hold whatever views he chooses upon meteorology, but he must not be allowed to disseminate them at the expense of the Commonwealth. My chief objection to the amendment is that it proposes to sanction the expenditure of £14,000 or £15,000 annually to maintain a weather bureau which is most unsatisfactory.
– No, £4,000.
– I am quoting figures that were given in a report. Mr.W ragge has not been able to forecast even one of the big storms which have occurred in various parts of the Commonwealth, leaving nothing but desolation in their tracks. Take the cyclone which was experienced at Nyngan a few years ago as an instance in point. With meteorological stations scattered all through that district, Mr. Wragge quite omitted to predict the disturbance. Near Condobolin, a little time ago, I saw a track a quarter of a mile wide in which every tree had been laid bare, and in which there was not a trunk standing over 10 or 15 feet high left standing. Had a disturbance of that sort passed over a city it would have completely annihilated it. Mr. Wragge also forgot to predict that storm. Apparently he prefers to deal with disturbances in areas whereno meteorological stations exist so that his prophecies cannot be checked. But wheneverone of the regular storms comes along, he says - “As we predicted,” &c. It would be just as reasonable for any ordinary individual to say - “ About such and such a date the monsoons will commence to blow, and thereafter for four months will continue to blow steadily.” Nobody would regard that as a very wonderful statement. The meteorological bureau in America, which is second only to that of England, never attempts to excite the fears of those without knowledge, as does Mr. Wragge. It contents itself with stating the general direction and force of the wind. It never puts forward statements that people who contemplate taking an ocean trip should beware of storms without some data to go upon. Very frequently passengers by sea are alarmed by Mr. Wragge’s predictions.
– Has the honorable and learned member met any of those people ?
– I have been assured by shipping masters that sometimes his prophecies have caused people to cancel their passages, although the ship by which they intended to travel has completed the voyage under perfectly peaceful and serene conditions.
– Does the weather bureau of the United States issue forecasts?
– Of course it does.
– Upon the average, how many of them are accurate ?
– The bureau does not expect more than 80 per cent. of them to be accurate. But Mr. Wragge’s predictions are rarely correct. Take the storm which he prophesied quite recently. He said that it was coming up from the south, and would bring rain. As a matter of fact, the rain came from the north-west, and yet Mr. Wragge claimed that that was the disturbance which he had predicted. There was absolutely no connexion whatever between the two things. His statement therefore constituted a departure from truth. He endeavoured to mislead the public. If honorable members take the trouble to watch his forecasts for only two or three weeks, they will probably find that he will take credit for foretelling a storm which comesviâ Port Essington, although he had predicted it as coming from Albany. It is the duty of the House to avoid being misled in a matter of this sort. We never find Mr. Baracchi, of Victoria,. Sir Charless Todd, of South Australia, or Mr. Russell, of New South Wales putting forward their predictions in the same ridiculous way as does Mr. Wragge. I say this to their credit. If theydid so I should naturally think that they were straying from the paths of science. I should not care what Mr. Wragge chose to say in his weather forecasts, but for the fact that they seem to bear the imprint of the Government, and are, therefore, likely to impose upon the credulous. I trust that honorable members will support me in the action which I am now taking. I would furtherpoint out that Mr. Wragge has frequently refused to furnish to the meteorologists of the other States information which he has derived from the Queensland Government, and the same sort of treatment should be meted out to him. There is a good tale told to the effect that he went out amongst the blacks under the impression that he might learn from them more of the science of meteorology than was known by the white man. I think it was the veiled prophet of the Khorassan who took advantage of that credulity which is characteristic of most people. He covered himself with a veil, and finally burst out - “ Ye would be dupes, and ye are.” I hope that the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs will understand that personally I do not know Mr. Wragge. I merely know of his forecasts in the newspapers. Having read and studied those forecasts with the slight knowledge which I possess, I was filled with contempt for a man who endeavoured to deceive the public in the way that he does.
– I have listened with a great deal of attention to the honorable and learned member for Werriwa. Upon several occasions I have heard him declare that the Queensland meteorologist, Mr. Wragge] was uncertain in his predictions. If the honorable and learned member were familiar with the progress of science he would’ know that there is -nothing certain in the world except change. He would also know that everything which has a beginning must have an end. It is only a few years since trousers were introduced to the world. Trousers will pass away as they came. He would further know that at one time men were known by their dress, but now they are known by their address. Coming to the question immediately before the Chair, it seems a pity for any, of us to take advantage of our position here to heap coals of fire on any one outside the House who is unable to reply. I- am satisfied that the gentleman to whom the honorable and learned member for Werriwa has referred is a very important man for the Commonwealth of Australia. I am amazed that my honorable and learned friend should oppose the idea of the Commonwealth having such an institution as a weather bureau. In the great country which is now leading the world they have signal stations on every mountain top, and give notice of all the coming storms. By so doing, they save thousands of pounds worth of property. I shall certainly vote for the amendment proposed by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs.
– I cannot indorse the remarks of the honorable and learned member for Werriwa, j_ do not intend to deal with Mr. Wragge’s merits or demerits, but I have no doubt that there are a great number of people in the Commonwealth who believe in his predictions. Quite apart from Mr. Wragge’s personality, there are a great number of people in Australia who depend upon the information given to them by men of science, such as Mr. Wragge appears to be ; and, if Mr. Wragge or any other person sending weather telegrams, does not happen to be competent, it will remain for the Government to see that a competent person is appointed. But if we reject the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Darling Downs, we shall not have the means of including in an Act of Parliament a provision to enable a competent man to send information concerning the weather, which may be of great value to our people, more especially in times of drought. Therefore, apart from the question of whether Mr. Wragge is a desirable person or not, I think that the amendment is a good one, and shall give it my support.
– I agree with the amendment proposed by my honorable and learned colleague, the member for Darling Downs. The honorable and learned member for Werriwa has missed the point altogether, when he talks about charging the Commonwealth with certain sums of money for Mr. Wragge or any other meteorologist. The object of the amendment is to charge the Commonwealth with certain sums which are to be spent for the good of the people. Whatever opinions may be held by honorable members opposite as to the qualifications of Mr. Wragge, there can be no doubt that his predictions are very much depended upon throughout the Commonwealth generally, and particularly throughout the State in which he is best known.
– The Queensland Government is subsidizing him to the extent of £200.
– That is a proof of the reliance placed upon his forecasts by the Government of Queensland.
Mi-. Conroy. - It may be a proof of their belief, but it is no proof of his accuracy..
– As to what the honorable and learned member said with regard to the correctness of Mr. Wragge’s forecasts, I may remark that in the United States of America, the forecasts are on an average correct in about SO per cent, of cases, but it can be proved from the records of Mr. Wragge’s office, and the publications in the daily press of Queensland and A7ictoria, that Mr. Wragge’s forecasts are quite equal in point of correctness with those published in the United States. Indeed, they are as correct as any forecasts issued in any part of the world.
Mi-. O’Malley. - Correctness in 70 per cent, of cases is good.
– Mr. Wragge’s average is 90 per cent.
– Before Mir. Wragge came to the Commonwealth we had none of the outside observation stations such as are now located on the islands off our coasts. We had no intelligence arriving from New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, and other parts of the Pacific. . The information gleaned from these places has been of great advantage, and has enabled meteorologists to forecast approaching storms, and to give reliable information concerning climatic conditions. That Mr. Wragge is regarded as an eminent authority on meteorology is proved by the fact that he was invited to take part in an important conference of scientific men ‘a few years ago in Europe, and he was not the least thought of of the representatives who attended that conference.
– I know different. I know that no scientific man took any notice of him.
-The amendment does not specially single out Mr. Wragge. I do not suppose that he monopolizes all the skill and ability in this particular direction. There never was a good man but there was an equally good one to be found somewhere else, and if Mr. Wragge were to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” I have no doubt that we should be able to find another man to do his work quite as well. But the amendment proposes simply that the Commonwealth shall take some preliminary steps towards establishing a meteorological bureau for the benefit of the people of Australia. How much the information is worth that will be disseminated by means of such a bureau is best known to those who suffer most from periodical droughts and floods such as are commonly experienced in the northern part of this continent. We in Queensland know the value placed upon such information, and upon Mr. Wragge’s forecasts in particular. The way his information is appreciated in other States, is shown by the fact that the newspapers in their meteorological news, publish Mr. Wragge’s forecasts, together with the forecasts of the meteorologists of their own States. As arrangements for gleaning intelligence of a meteorological character are perfected, so will the forecasts be improved in accuracy. Here, in the Southern Hemisphere, we have had to build up a condition of things which has obtained for many yeai-3 in the Northern Hemisphere, where they have had their observation stations for generations past. We have only just commenced to establish them here, and we have a vast expanse of ocean dotted over with islands from which we can glean information. To obtain this information from these places is necessarily more expensive than it is to get information by means of overland wires. I trust the committee will see fit to accept the amendment, and will recognise the value of meteorological information to the Commonwealth generally.
– I do not know why the honorable and learned member for Werriwa should have made his very vicious attack upon Mr. Wragge. I intend to support the amendment if for no other reason than that Mr. Wragge has made weather-forecasting a live science. In doing that he has rendered a valuable service to Australia, quite apart from the accuracy or otherwise of his forecasts. Not only in Australia, but throughout the world, greater attention is being given to this science, and as a result a considerable degree of accuracy is being arrived at. There is a very wide field for experimental work in this direction. Mr. Wragge has taken the subject in hand with great enthusiasm, and I believe he has reaped a considerable amount of knowledge, as the result of which we know considerably more about the science of meteorology than we did when there was no Mr. Wragge to inform us. As the result of this extension of knowledge, I believe that we shall be able to arrive at some fairly accurate method of weatherforecasting, which in itself will be of considerable value to us, and may be of assistance in enabling us to modify our rather unpropitious weather conditions. The amendment is not merely one for supporting Mr. Wragge’s weather department in Queensland, but it will also have an effect with regard to similar departments in other States. Until this particular work is taken over by the Federal Government, we are not likely to arrive at any satisfactory result. It would be a great pity if anything were done just now to kill the movement in Australia, or to hinder its development ; therefore, I intend to support the amendment, and I trust that as a consequence of the attention given to the subject, the Government will see- its way to place the weather department under Federal control, and if possible make it more effective than it is whilst under State control.
– I hope the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs will be carried. Notwithstanding the discourse of the honorable and learned member for “Werriwa, there are still some points which require clearing up before we can accept his meteorological philosophy. The honorable and learned member asked, with some scorn and indignation in his voice and mien, whether in America such a foolish thing was ever done as to predict storms days ahead.
– I meant storms that do not come,
– It is within my own knowledge that twenty years ago the meteorological experts in America used to predict when depressions would arrive in England, and the predictions were published in the newspapers. That is being done at the present time, and the managers of deep and dangerous coal mines in England act on those warnings and look out for exudations of gas and the falling of roofs.
– Depressions are predicted, but not whether there is moisture in them.
– I take that to be a very minor circumstance compared with the prediction of depressions and their locality with any degree of accuracy.
– Not one of the great blizzards in America has been predicted.
– Hundreds of them have been predicted.
– I do not see much difference between the position in America and the position here so far as Mr. Wragge is concerned. At any rate, it is a fact that nearly all the people on the coast believe intensely in Mr. Wragge and follow his directions. If Mr. Wragge’s predictions were not on the whole accurate, they would not be acted on, because it sometimes costs hundreds of pounds to follow his advice. The pecuniary argument appeals to those concerned, and they would soon find out whether Mr. Wragge was the charlatan which the honorable and learned member for Werriwa has described. The honorable and learned member stands alone ; it is a case of Conroy contramundum. I have listened to the honorable and learned member’s remarks with interest ; but, much as I always desire to follow his lead, I shall, with genuine regret, have to vote against him on this occasion. Seriously speaking, the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs is a good one. At any rate, until complete arrangements can be made for the Federal Government to take over all meteorological matters and control them from a given centre, it would be as well to continue the present plan, which has been found of the greatest possible value, not only to people on the coast, but to those whose interests lie in the interior.
– The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs will have my hearty support. I believe it will prove of benefit to the whole of the Commonwealth”. I am sorry an attack has been made on Mr. Wragge. Any one who has any practical knowledge will give that gentleman credit for the highest intelligence and thorough knowledge of his subject. I have listened to Mr. Wragge’s lectures with great pleasure, and I know the effect of his work. As the honorable member for Canobolas says, Mr. Wragge is not only a scientific man but a thorough enthusiast ; it is not a mere question of money with him. If he got £2 a week he would work just as well as though he were receiving £100 a week. Who are the people best able to judge in this matter? Are they Members of Parliament or ordinary civilians in the street ? No ; the best judges are ship-masters, managers of shipping companies, and officers of steamers : and I make bold to say that if a committee of such men were got together they would be unanimously in favour of supporting Mr. Wragge. I recollect that 40 years ago the signals given by Admiral Fitzroy, on the Clyde, were of the greatest benefit, and the same may be said of Mr. Wragge’s predictions. Hundreds of times I have asked shipmasters whether they could depend on Mr. Wragge’s forecasts, and without a single exception the answer has been - “ Almost absolutely.” These shipmasters do not belong to Queensland only, but also .to Melbourne and Sydney ; and in voyaging up and down the coast they have, in addition to” the question of expense of fuel, to consider the safety of their vessels and passengers. I do not disparage the efforts of scientific men in other States, but simply say that I have never met any person connected with shipping who has had a word to say against Mr. Wragge as a meteorologist.
Mr. CONROY (Werriwa).- My suggested amendment was to strike out the words “or subsidized by.”
– The honorable member cannot strike Wragge out.
– I want to prevent any irresponsible person receiving so large a subsidy as the Government would have power to give.
– The clause will be a dead-letter until the Meteorological department is organized.
– But it will be a deadletter after the department is organized. In any case we shall then be dealing with our own department, and arrangements may be made to transmit our telegrams. I see, however, that the feeling of the committee is against me, and I. shall not proceed with my amendment. I think I have done my duty sufficiently in drawing the attention of the outside publicto the fact that all they have to do is to keep Mr. Wragge’s records for two months in order to agree with the position I have taken up.
– There is another desirable amendment which is of quite as much importance to a great number of people as any notifications regarding the weather. Is the present a proper time to move an amendment providing for a free telegraph service in the case of bush fires or any sudden rising of rivers ?
– Would the messages be from a Government officer or a Government department?
– The messages would be sent by anybody.
– Then the honorable member must movea special clause.
Mr. O’MALLEY (Tasmania). - Can an amendment be made enabling a federal member, when transacting public business in his district, to send free messages to Ministers ? This is a matter of cold-blooded business with me. I found the other day, when, in order to save the Commonwealth 700 or £800 ayear, it was necessary to wire pointing out the mistake of the Deputy Postmaster-General of Tasmania in making a telephone line of 2½ miles a trunk line, that I had to pay for the message out of my own pocket. Under such circumstances it is only right that a federal member should have the right, as Tasmanian State members now have, of sending free messages.
– Why not send them collect messages ?
– The senders of collect messages are held responsible for them. To put federal members upon the same terms as State members it is necessary that we should have the right to communicate free of charge with Federal Ministers. Will the Minister agree to consider the matter, with a view to the recommittal of the Bill to make the provision I suggest ?
– I would remind the honorable member that Parliament has only recently passed an Act which takes from members the right to frank letters and telegrams, and a special sum of money has been set apart to pay for letters and telegrams despatched: by members on public business. To do what the honorable member desires would require the repeal of one of the sections of the Post and Telegraph Act. Tasmanian State members can send letters and telegrams free only while Parliament is in session, and they will lose that right directly this Bill passes, unless the State makes a special appropriation to pay for the services rendered by the Postal department. The honorable member must recognise the desirability of securing to each department a valuable return for the services it renders. The railway authorities of the various States charge the Commonwealth for the service they render in carrying federal members.
– Have the States the power to take away our passes if they like?
– I do not think so. I presume that the honorable member will retain his pass so long as he is a member of this House, and will give it back when he ceases to be a member.
– I do not know that I shall. I did not give up my South Australian pass.
– I understand that in Victoria if a person wishes to obtain information regarding the result of a horse race he can, by paying 6d. at the post-office, have a telegram sent to him giving the name of the winner, and I rise to ask that that system may be extended to shipping information. Many of the residents of my electorate are sometimes at a great disadvantage through lack of information regarding the movements of shipping in which they are interested, and it has been suggested to me by one of them, that a person who deposits 6d. at a telegraph office might reasonably be informed of the arrival of a vessel in which he is interested. At the present time persons who wish to meet friends are often called upon to waste a good many hours because they cannot ascertain exactly when the vessel will arrive.
– The)’ can get that information if they ask for it. I get it regularly.
– An ordinary individual cannot obtain it. I think that the arrangement which I have suggested might very well be adopted, and that if adopted it would be a great public convenience.
– I shall take care that the matter is placed before the PostmasterGeneral, who, I think, has power to deal with it by regulation. I am not aware of any important city or district where weather and shipping reports are not posted two or three times a day at the telegraph office or the Customs office, and I will inform the Postmaster-General of the honorable member’s suggestion that this system should be carried a step further.
– Does the Postoffice give private information about the results of a horse-race 1
– I do not know.
Mr. SALMON (Laanecoorie). - I wish to point out to the Minister that in some of the States, municipal officers, health officers, and others are required to send statistical information at one time and another to the Government Statistician for compilation. Is it possible, as the clause stands, to compel them to perform these State obligations at their own cost? Hitherto their communications have been franked through the post and telegraph offices.
Mr. CONROY (Werriwa).- I wish to know from the Minister if it is intended to continue the present system of notifying the public of the arrival and departure of shipping by exhibiting such information at post-offices ?
– I presume so. Marine boards, harbor-masters, and others have this information supplied to them for thenown purposes, and it filters through to the general public.
– But it is essential that it should be made public as early as possible, otherwise it is of little or no use. Who will pay for these telegrams in future 1
– If they are sent by the Postal department there will be no charge ; but if they come from the Customs department it will be merely a matter of bookkeeping.
– It would be most inconvenient to the public if the system were stopped. I hope that the Minister will promise to have it dealt with by regulation, otherwise it may be necessary to amend the Bill.
Mr. E. SOLOMON (Fremantle). - I agree with the honorable member for Laanecoorie that it is necessary to protect municipal officers and other authorities who are required to supply statistical information. At the present time, in some of the States municipal officers are required to pay for the transmission of information which they supply at the request of the State Government. This has always been looked upon as a grievance, and I hope that the Minister will see that it is got rid of. I can also bear out the remarks of the honorable member for Perth as to the inconvenience entailed upon the public through a lack of shipping information. At the present time a free-and-easy system prevails in regard to the posting of shipping notices in Western Australia, especially in regard to arrivals from Colombo, and it is sometimes hours after the information has been received by the department before it is made public. I should like the Minister to consider the suggestion of the honorable member for Perth that private individuals should be supplied with shipping information on payment of a small fee.
– In each of the States the Government Statistician has the right, not only to send, but to receive free of charge, both by post and by telegraph, messages and information relative to the work of his department, and in some instances to use the wires. They have all continued to do that up to the present time. When this Bill comes into operation, although these powers may by enactment cease, it is certain that they must be continued until the Commonwealth itself has a department that will take up the work of the State Statisticians. I do not know when that will be, but it is certain that, in the meantime, the statistical work of the different States must be carried on for the benefit of the Commonwealth.
– But it should not be ab the cost of the municipalities.
– No ; but, as at present, at the cost of the different States. I presume, until I am otherwise instructed, that the facilities now enjoyed hy the States Statisticians will be continued until such time as the Commonwealth itself establishes a Statistical department.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 6 (Newspaper rates).
Mr. BROWN (Canobolas).- I have already indicated my views on the subject of the imposition of postage on newspapers. I believe the proposal is a retrogressive one. The great free peoples of America and Canada do not impose postage upon newspapers.
– They do not carry papers free in the States.
– I know that the statement that they are carried free in those countries was made by a deputation that waited upon the Deputy Postmaster-General in Sydney, and the statement appears in the circular which is before me that under certain conditions free postage of newspapers obtains in America and Canada. I point out that there has been free transmission of newspapers through the post in three of the States in the Commonwealth. At one time there was free postage of newspapers in New South Wales, and then a regulation was passed imposing postage. Subsequently it was considered that in the best interests of the community the previous system should be reverted to. That system has now been in operation in New South Wales for a great many years, with the result, as I have previously said, that according to the statistics for 1900, the latest to which I have had access, something like 51,000,000 newspapers were sent through the post-office in New South Wales, as against 25,000,000 newspapers sent through the post-office in Victoria. I hold that it is largely in the interests of the enlightenment of the people that there should be free postage of newspapers, and I therefore propose to vote against this clause.
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).I have considerable sympathy with the views expressed by the honorable member for Canobolas upon this clause. I quite agree that the proposal to impose postage upon newspapers is not a progressive proposal. As I pointed out when speaking upon the second reading of the Bill, the practice of transmitting newspapers through the post free has been of great benefit to the people of the country districts of New South Wales. I can see no reason why the Government should propose to alter the system which has worked so well in the three States in which it has been in force. In New South Wales we have not only free postage of newspapers, but they are carried free on the railways.
– What good has it done ? Mr. SYDNEY SMITH.- It has done a great deal of good, because the newspapers in New South Wales have adopted an enlightened policy, which, if carried out in the Commonwealth, would be greatly to its benefit. The practice adopted in New South Wales has been the means of distributing a large amount of information upon political, financial, and social questions which has been of great advantage to the public, and people pioneering in the interior have obtained from newspapers information in regard to the state of the markets which has been of very great value to them in carrying on their occupations. I do not go so far as to say that the imposition of postage upon newspapers will prevent their publication, but I do think that it is likely to lessen their circulation, and will cause inconvenience to very many. The policy we ought to adopt in the Federal Parliament should be to place within reach of the great bulk of the electors every means of securing information upon political, social, and financial matters. We should hesitate before we withdraw a privilege which has been attended with such good results in the three States which have allowed the free postage of newspapers. I am afraid that in view of the necessities of some of the States some honorable members may hesitate to adopt a proposal which may result in a loss of revenue. It would, I think, be only a temporary shrinkage, and the direct and indirect advantages to be gained by the public from the free postage of newspapers would more than compensate for the small loss of revenue which might result in some of the States.
– Is the honorable member limiting his remarks to the carriage of newspapers free?
– No; I am speaking of the general policy of the Bill. If we go in for a reform, cheapening the rates upon newspapers, telegrams, and packets, it will all be in the way of progress, and will, in my opinion, eventually add to the revenue. It may be urged that if postage is not imposed upon newspapers, the revenue will suffer. I admit that on the face of it it would appear so, but
Mr. Harper, the traffic manager in Sydney, when giving evidence with reference to the conveyance of newspapers upon the railways, said the effect of the distribution of the Sydney newspapers throughout Riverina, had been to largely increase the produce traffic. He explained that the dissemination of the information contained in the newspapers with regard to markets and other business matters in Sydney, showed the people in Riverina that they could do their business in Sydney equally as well as in Melbourne. It was very difficult in the old days to procure a Sydney newspaper in some parts of Riverina, but now the journals published in Sydney are widely distributed.
– For what period have newspapers been transmitted free of postage in New South Wales ?
– For about twenty years.
– Then it has taken a long time for them to influence the carriage of produce.
– But the honorable member must recollect that it is only quite recently that the residents in Riverina have had an opportunity of obtaining the Sydney newspapers as readily as they could secure the Melbourne journals. The morning trains from Melbourne have for many years past conveyed the newspapers fresh from the press into every part of the country, including many parts of Riverina, but for a very long time the New South Wales authorities neglected their’ opportunity of placing the Sydney newspaper proprietors in a similar position of advantage. Now they have trains which run out in the early morning, and which cany large parcels of newspapers into all parts of the country. These trains are justified b)’ the ordinary traffic apart altogether from the carriage of newspapers, and it is shown that the railway authorities would continue to run them independently of any subsidy received from the Postal department. Mr. Harper showed that the average earnings of these trains upon the western line were 14s. 7d. per train mile, and upon the southern line 10s. 7d: per train mile.
– How many newspapers are sent bv train from Sydney ?
– On the basis of the traffic for the week ended 10th February, 1902, the newspaper traffic for the year is represented by 900 tons forwarded by the proprietors of the Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Mail, 900 tons sent by the publishers of the Daily telegraph and World’s News, 700 tons by the Evening News and Town and Country Journal Proprietary, 400 tons by the Australian Star Newspaper Company, 110 tons by the proprietors of the Sunday Times, Referee, and Arrow, and so on. There are altogether about 25 newspapers referred to, and the tonnage carried in each case is given. I believe the charges for this service are. now being adjusted.
– Has any estimate been made of the increased revenue that will result from the postage upon newspapers?
– The old arrangement between the Post and Telegraph department and the Railway department provided for the payment by the former of £2,500 per annum, but I believe that it has been proposed that the 25 newspaper proprietors shall pay the railway authorities £3,000 per annum. A large number of newspapers have been carried for many years free of charge, and this privilege was only withdrawn a few months ago, not with the authority of this Parliament, but as the result of some administrative act. I do not know upon what authority this was done. I understood that the privilege of free newspaper carriage was to be continued until some uniform legislation was passed, but the Government did not wait for that. They permitted five States to carry on under the old arrangements, and singled out New South Wales for the purpose of making a change to the disadvantage of the people. This was done in spite of the fact that New South Wales, notwithstanding all the special facilities given to the public in the form of free carriage of newspapers and cheap postal and telegraphic rates, produced a larger surplus than any other State. I think all these matters should be considered from the federal point of view, and having regard to all the direct and indirect advantages that might result from the adoption of any particular line of policy by this Parliament.
– The honorable member is considering the effect it will have upon the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
– I do not know what will be the effect upon the Sydney Daily Telegraph. The proprietors of large newspapers are very well able to look after themselves. I happen to represent a countryconstituency, and I am viewing this matter from the stand-point of the whole of Australia as well as of my constituents. I fear that the feeling of the committee is against continuing the privilege which we have hitherto enjoyed in New South Wales in connexion with the free carriage of newspapers, but I hope that honorable members will at least endeavour to make the proposals of the Government less oppressive than they would be if they were adopted iri their present form.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 agreed to.
Clause S -
The power of the Governor-General under section 97 of the Post and Telegraph Act .1901 to make regulations shall include the power to make regulations for prescribing the limits within which the rates for town and suburban telegrams and letters shall have effect, and for prescribing charges for the porterage of telegrams.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I move -
That the words “town and suburban, “ line 5, bc omitted.
My object is to eliminate the words which create a distinction between the rates chargeable upon telegrams in town and country. Later on I shall submit an amendment, the adoption of which would obliterate that distinction in all the States, and be the means of giving us a federal instead of a provincial rate, such as is contemplated under this Bill. This is the first opportunity that we have had of deciding whether in connexion with our postal and telegraphic services the same irritating provincial control which has characterized them heretofore is to continue. Honorable members have heard of the inconveniences that will accrue upon the borders of the States if the proposed rates are persevered with. The Government do not purpose removing those border irritations, though the Minister tells us that he has some special proposal to submit regarding them. That special provision is to be made regarding those borders only advertises the fact that the whole Bill is based upon a provincial rather than a federal conception. In their very essence the postal and telegraphic services are federal in character, and, therefore, it is just as well to obliterate from the statutes which regulate them all traces of. provincialism. Before this measure is finally passed I trust that we shall consider the question of what postage system is to be adopted throughout Australia. It is -of no use making two bites at a cherry, as is contemplated by the Government. We may as well deal with the postal service as a whole, and be done with it. We can decide now whether it is wise to adopt the penny postage system just as well as we can at the end of the bookkeeping period. There is no great trouble in determining once and for all what the federal postal rate, as well the federal telegraphic rates, shall be. I move the elimination of the words I have indicated, with a view of deciding whether this Bill shall carry upon its face all the traces of old-time irritation which have been such a source of conflict between the States.
– Does the honorable member propose that we should adopt the zone system 1
– I purpose doing so at a later stage. The time has come when we should obliterate the distinction which has heretofore” obtained between town and country. Some honorable members may say that if that is to be done we shall require to ‘ raise the rates in the city and suburbs, whilst lowering them in the country. I do not suggest anything of the kind. I shall be no party to increasing the present city and suburban rates. Certainly I should never countenance any proposal to raise the Sydney and suburban rate higher than 6d., and my idea is that we ought also to reduce the country rate to the same amount. I think that we should have only two rates throughout the Commonwealth, namely an outer zone rate of ls., and an inner zone rate of 6d. The Minister in charge of this Bill has predicted that if that course were adopted, the Commonwealth would sustain a heavy loss of revenue. The best answer to that argument is to be found in the result of the penny postage experiment in Victoria. People were assured that by the adoption of that system, this State would suffer an annual loss of £70,000, but, as a matter of fact, the loss during the first year in which the department has been under federal control was only £11,000.
– Other circumstances have to be considered.
– But in the working of the post-office we do not look to see which section of it pays. We must have regard to the service as a whole. In Victoria prior to the introduction of penny postage there was no city, and suburban rate. The charge was 2d. all round. It cost 2d. to send a letter across the street, just as it did to send one to lbury. In New South Wales there is a penny rate in the city and suburbs, extending for distance of 13 miles. In the country there are 13- miles radii in which a similar rate operates. Therefore the adoption of the penny postage system would involve other States in a less loss than that in which it has involved Victoria. Indeed, I doubt whether any loss would result to New South Wales from the adoption of universal penny postage. I entertain the same doubt in regard to South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia. The experience of Victoria, where the conditions were so much worse than they are in the other States, leads me to believe that under a system of penny postage there would be such a facilitation of business operations as would more than recoup us the loss sustained in making the change. I wish to prepare the way for the adoption of that system by omitting the words which I have indicated. I believe that New South Wales would welcome the introduction of penny postage. It is quite obvious that there will be no trouble so far as Victoria is concerned, because she already has it. I believe also that there would be no sort of complaint from Western Australia if penny postage were granted. Here are three States which aggregate in population about 2,800,000 out of 3,750,000. These people will raise no sort of objection, no matter what the financial consequences may be, to the institution of penny postage. As to Tasmania, Queensland, and South Australia, my own opinion is - and I base it upon the actual experience of Victoria, which does not furnish nearly so good an example as the other States would do - that there would be no serious loss. Victoria is a small territory; it is more compact than the other States I have mentioned, and there is less need for postage in connexion with their enterprises than there is in States that are more widely scattered as to population and area. All things point to favorable results from such an experiment. Further, the adoption of the system would give the people some tangible benefit as a result of the institution of federal government. They are waiting to be shown some tangible result from this union. I am not indulging in any sort of rhetoric when I say that the feeling of the people up to date is one of disappointment as to the practical advantages of federation. That is the popular sentiment. This Government, which is the custodian for the time being of the federal union, and which owes a responsibility to the country, could not do a better thing than give this tangible result of the benefits of federation, even if it involved a loss. If I were in the Government and had a say in the matter, I should .do it irrespective of what the initial, cost might be, because I think that, if it were done, a benefit such as the reduction of postal and telegraph rates would be to the people would be so great that they would not mind some little temporary dislocation of State finances. But in my judgment there need be no apprehension as to a dislocation of State finances. With a view of paving the way for the bringing down of such a proposal I submit the amendment which I have already indicated.
– It is a great misfortune that, coming here as the representatives of States where we have lived for a long period - having looked forward to federation, whilst apparently knowing very little of it in our hearts - we should be apt to continue that insularity of feeling which we have entertained for so long. Although the honorable member who has just resumed his seat may object to the word insularity, and say that he has been endeavouring to get away from it, and to regard the Commonwealth as a whole, yet it is apparent to me that behind his speech there was a special consideration for the interests of the State from which he comes. To-night we have heard much about New South Wales, and the splendid revenue f rom her postal and telegraphic services. AVe congratulate New South Wales upon possessing that revenue, which I regret that many other States do not also enjoy. I have heard remarks in respect to what a small State like Tasmania might do if she chose, and also with respect to other States in connexion with their post and telegraph business. These remarks were apparently made in the belief that States like Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania can take upon themselves the same responsibilities as the more wealthy States of Victoria and New’ South Wales. and that they ought to be able to indulge in such speculative and progressive notions as those to which the honorable member has referred with so light a heart. I think it my duty under these circumstances to remind the committee that the financial aspect of this matter must not belost sight of. I remember that when I introduced’ the Post and Telegraph Bill last year I pointed out to the House that the purpose of the Postmaster-General was, first, at any rate, to endeavour to secure a revenue which would closely approximate to the expenditure of the country. I pointed out that whereas the total expenditure is about £2,340,000 the revenue is only about £2,300,000, showing an initial loss of £40,000. I do not apologize to honorable members for again reminding them that there isalso interest at the rate of 3 per cent. to be paid on a sum of £8,000,000, the cost of our post-offices and telegraph works throughout Australia. So that altogether we have nearly £300,000 per annum of lee-way which the people of the Commonwealth already have to make up in connexion with the carrying on of these particular services.
– The interest charged is not taken into account in the estimate, is it?
– It is not taken into account in any statement I have seen published, but I have called attention to the fact that the loss that is shown is only a portion of what has to be paid on account of the Post and Telegraph department, and is plus £240,000 of interest upon the cost of construction. Yet, in the face of that fact, a proposal is made to-night that we should abandon the rates already paid by newspapers in three of the States, amounting to £25,000 per annum, and that we should carry for nothing postal matter which has been estimated at about 6,000 tons per annum, represented by newspapers only. It is also necessary to point out that the carriage of this 6,000 tons of mail matter is the cause of the large amount of money that has to be paid to contractors throughout the length and breadth of the country. If we only had to carry mail matter of the letter type, very many of our country mail contracts could be undertaken by a boy on horseback, whereas now there are hardly any services of that character, and year by year the cost of mail contracts is becoming greater, by reason of the greater accommodation given and the larger size of the packages which have to be carried. Not only cannot these mails be carried on horseback, but they cannotbe carried in a one-horse trap. Wehave to employ two and four horse carts by reason very frequently of the enormous amount of mail matter in the form of newspapers and parcels. I know that some of the States are strongly opposed to any change in the postalrates at the present time. They want to be able to pay their way, and do not want to have to come cap in hand to the Commonwealth for assistance. Even the small State of Tasmania has frequently said, through the mouths of her public men, that she is not going to ask the Commonwealth for assistance, but will manage somehow to pay her own way. The Treasurer of Tasmania is making a verybold effort this year to overcome the serious position that faces him by reason of the shortage of his Customs revenue. I must in passing allude to that, only to say that whereas in the year 1900 thesum of £400,000 wasthe revenue Tasmania received from Customs and Excise, £283,000 is the estimate of what will possibly be received from the Commonwealth in 1903. Therefore we have, in the case of Tasmania, a small State with a possible deficiency of nearly £200,000 in her Customs and Excise revenue only. Yet, in face of these facts, honorable members opposite wish to ask the smaller States to undertake extravagances such as the wealthy States of Victoria and New South Wales can perhaps afford. I think I have already stated to the committee that a reduction of the postage to the1d. rate would mean a loss to Tasmania of £20,000 a year. That is the loss estimated by the Deputy Postmaster-General of Tasmania. That estimate has been made within the last few months, and I mention it again now, because I am personally associated with the State of Tasmania. But her case is similar to that of Queensland, where a. deficiency of £102,000 on the postal revenue alone is estimated this year.
– If the Government raise the rate in one case, why do they not lower it in others ?
– We want to get a uniform Commonwealth rate. We are absolutely giving an advantage to Victoria in the matter of telegraph rates. All the States are getting the advantage, and the Commonwealth rate of1s. will ofitself prove of enormous benefit. There have been suburban postage rates in existence for years in all the States except one, and honorable members are now asked to bring Victoria into a line with the other States, rather than expect all the States to come into a line with Victoria.
Mr.Joseph Cook. - Does the honorable member think there is a single Victorian member in this House who would vote for reverting to a 2d. postage rate?
– The words which the honorable member for Parramatta proposes to omit empowers the Post- master-Geueral to prescribe the limits in which town and suburban rates shall prevail for telegrams and letters. Strictly speaking, letters ought not to be dealt with here, but as the Bill is designed to furnish complete regulations for the Postal department, the power is extended so that letters may be included if need arises. I do not think that the postage rate of 2d. will be felt by a large number of mercantile men. Of course, we all appreciate reductions in charges, and doubtless the people of Victoria are well satisfied. But I ask honorable members to consider very seriously before compelling financially weaker States to enter into a new arrangement with the effect of robbing them of their suburban telegraph rate of6d., or prematurely compelling them to adopt a rate of postage in favour of which, I am sure, only a very small minority of the people directly affected would be prepared to vote. At the present time these weaker States are unable to cope with the financial difficulties which have arisen in consequence of federation. It has been said by an honorable member that these financial difficulties ought to be easily overcome, seeing that the Commonwealth Tariff is taking £100,000 a year less than formerly out of the pockets of the people. While I hope the people, as a whole, may realize that advantage, the classes who will do so are not those who will have to “ pay the piper” when the shortage of £200, 000 comes to be made up. In Tasmania there is already a land tax equal to an income tax of10d. in the £1 in addition to a dividend tax of1s. in the £1.
– What is the land tax?
– It is½d. in the £1 on the improved value.
– In New South Wales there is a tax of1d. in the £1 on the unimproved value.
– I hope the difficulties which have arisen in Tasmaniamay be taken as an example of those which may arise in other States. A bad harvest in South Australia would place that State in a very unenviableposition, similar to that in which we find Queensland, owing to the drought. There ought to be no interference with the purpose of the Bill, which is to make both ends meet rather than to involve us in any serious further shortage. To the people will be returned all that is realized from the newspaper postage, which in three of the States has hitherto realized £25,000. We propose to get another £40,000 from this source, but that will all go back to the people in the shape of cheaper telegrams.
– At the present rates, 75 per cent. of the newspapers are carried by the railways, and no revenue goes to the Postal department.
– But the revenue will come in presently.
– No ; newspaper proprietors will make contracts with the Railway departments.
– The Postal department seeks no monopoly of the carriage of newspapers. Every newspaper proprietor may make his own arrangement, but the Postal department is not prepared to become a common carrier, and a certain price must be paid on all newspapers which pass through the post-office.
– Then there will not be the extra revenue which is expected from newspaper postage.
– I rely on the estimates given by the Deputy PostmastersGeneral throughout the Commonwealth, and honorable members will be well advised if they do likewise.
– Then honorable members willgo wrong in every case.
-The Treasurer told me only this evening that some time ago he estimated the loss on penny postage at £50,000, taking care to say, however, that that sum was problematical.
– All estimates are pure guesses.
– They are more than guesses.
– It is a leap in the dark.
– I hope that we shall take no leap in the dark. We ought to advance by degrees, and the step the Government now ask honorable members to take ought to be sufficient for the first session of the Federal Parliament. Doubtless we shall feel our legs before another session comes round. At present no State knows its position under the Tariff, and a year or two hence, when we are nearer the expiration of the bookkeeping period, will be a far better time for making any great alteration. In Victoria the present charge for a telegram of twelve words is 9d., and in this eight words are allowed for the address and signature, and four for the text. In all the other States the charge for a similar message is 6d., and as this is the rate proposed under the Bill, there will be a gain to Victoria in this respect. For a message of eighteen words, allowing eight words for the address and signature, the charge at the present time in Victoria is ]0d., and the new rate is 9d., so that here, as in every case of messages up to 24 words, Victoria gains.
The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr. Salmon). - The question before the committee is the amendment of the honorable member for Parramatta.
– I am very sorry to have been drawn by the general remarks of the honorable member for Parramatta into a discursive address, though it was hard to see how the honorable member could be limited in his observations in view of the fact that the clause refers to regulations with respect to town and suburban rates for telegrams and letters. I shall be excused, I hope, for taking this, the first opportunity of raising a warning voice against incurring extra expenditure and reducing revenue. Victoria and New South Wales may be able to afford some reduction, but we ought to have regard to the financial weakness of other States.
– Earlier in the evening I said that the loss on the penny postage in Victoria appeared to be about £12,000, and the “Minister, in replying, pointed out that some authorities had estimated the sum at £100,000, though probably £80,000 would be nearer the mark. We are now told that the Treasurer estimated the loss at £50,000, so that, at any rate, we have here a reduction. On 1 2th August last the honorable member for North Sydney asked the Treasurer “ What was the revenue of the Post and Telegraph department in Victoria for the twelve months immediately prior to federation.” That was the year prior to the introduction of penny postage, and the reply of the Treasurer was “£600,000.” To a second question, as to the revenue for the following year, the Treasurer replied “£588,198.” The difference between the revenue of the Post and Telegraph department of Victoria for the twelve months prior to the introduction of the penny postage system, and that for the twelve months subsequent to the introduction of that system, was only £11,S02. The Federal Government may have introduced some economies in the working of the department in this State, but if the loss occasioned by the introduction of the system had been anything like £100,000, or £S0,000, or even £50,000, the difference between the revenue from the department for the year prior to, and that for the year subsequent to, the introduction of the system would be more than £11,S02.
– Has the honorable member made any allowance for the increased expenditure rendered necessary by the increase in mail matter ?
– I am merely comparing the revenue of the two years. I am not dealing with the expenditure at all. The figures I have quoted show that the loss in Victoria has not been so great that we have any reason to be alarmed at the prospect of making the penny postage system uniform throughout the Commonwealth. I would like to draw the attention of the honorable and learned member for Corinella to a return published in the Melbourne newspapers a few days ago, and supplied by the Secretary to the Post-office. That return shows that for the twelve months ending 30th June last, the revenue from the post and telegraph service in Victoria was £58S,19S, and the expenditure £573,809, leaving a credit balance of £14,3S9. In New South Wales the credit balance was very nearly £50,000, an amount which would more than cover any loss occasioned by the introduction of penny postage, if it were no greater than the loss in Victoria appears to have been. South Australia again had a credit balance of £3S,2p4, which would amply provide for any loss through the adoption of penny postage, especially since the volume of business in that State is not nearly so large as the volume of business in Victoria. In Western Australia,
Queensland, and Tasmania, however, the expenditure upon the Postal department exceeded the revenue from that department. In Western Australia there was a debit balance of £31,000, but it must be remembered that that State last year had a surplus of over £200,000, so that it could easily afford to bear any loss occasioned by the introduction of uniform penny postage. That loss, however, in view of the Victorian experience, and considering the much smaller amount of business transacted in Western Australia, would not amount to more than a few thousand pounds. In Queensland there was a “debit balance of £101,000, and in Tasmania a debit balance of £5,000. In both those States, however, the volume of business is much less than the volume of business in Victoria, and they would be in a very bad way if they could not afford the small amount which might be lost by the introduction of uniform penny postage. I would also point out that the loss in two of the States at least - New South Wales and Western Australia - would not be so great proportionately as the loss in Victoria, because, whereas Victoria had formerly a uniform 2d. postage, in both New South Wales and Western Australian letters posted for transmission within the metropolitan areas, and within certain distances of the larger towns, pay a postage of Id. ; it is only the country, Inter-State, and foreign letters which pay a postage of 2d. I have already given notice of my intention to move the introduction of a new clause and a new schedule to provide for the adoption of uniform penny postage throughout the Commonwealth, and I shall move those amendments at a later stage of the proceedings.
– The committee have to some extent strayed away from the particular issue before the Chair - the proposed omission of the words “ town and suburban,” with a view to deciding whether there should be a discriminating telegraph rate in favour of the metropolitan as compared with country districts. I shall be no party to any rate which will involve the Commonwealth in financial loss in regard to the transmission of telegrams. Although the reduction in the .rates may benefit that section of the community which sends telegrams, it can’ do so, if a financial loss is involved, only at the expense of persons who do not send telegrams ; and the same remark applies to the reduction of postage rates. It is very nice to talk of the great educational value of cheap postage ; but if a financial loss results from the adoption of that system, it will mean that the man in the back blocks who writes a letter once a month, or once a week, will have to bear part of the expense of providing cheap postage for the large commercial institutions which send away thousands of communications in a day. Consequently, I reserve to myself the right to vote only for such rates as seem to me necessary to insure that there will not be a financial loss in connexion with the service, to be borne by the general body of taxpayers. I am opposed to the adoption of rates discriminating between town and country districts. There is quite enough discrimination already. In Victoria, in country districts, a telegram is not delivered to people living more than a mile from the post-office except upon the payment of porterage, and as the average countryman cannot know by mental intuition that a telegram is coming for him, he often hears of it only from some passer-by, who says that “ Jones told him that Brown’s little girl said that she thinks there is a telegram for him at the postoffice.”
– Why are not telegrams sent on, and the porterage charged T
– The charges for porterage are a very serious matter to the people to whom these infrequent telegrams are sent, though the telegrams are often of as much importance to them as any commercial telegram could be. Allowing for porterage, while the person living in a well-settled district would have to pay only 6d. or 9d. for his telegrams, the person living out in the country would have to pay several shillings. A system of discriminating for the benefit of the people living in closely-settled districts, to the disadvantage of people living in sparsely-settled districts, is manifestly wrong. If there is to be discrimination, it should be by means of the zone system. There must be some discrimination according to distance. The Bill provides for Inter-State discrimination which, although f unfederal in spirit, may be required by the exigencies of the situation, and the bookkeeping provisions of the Constitution, though I do not bind myself to support it.
Apart from that, if we are to have discrimination, it should be by means of zones, and not by reason of the accident of the residence of any individual. I do not see why a man who lives at “Lonely Flat,” and desires to send a telegram to “ Lonely Gully,” only 4 or 5 miles away, should have to pay any more for that telegram than the man who sends a telegram from Collins-street to St. Kilda. There is no doubt that these extra advantages given to towns creates a feeling in the minds of those who are not so fortunately placed that they are being treated unfairly, and it is undesirable that we should create any such feeling. I shall vote for the excision of these words, so as to make it clear that any principle of discrimination to be adopted shall hot be a principle of discrimination according to density of population.
– I understand that the honorable member for Parramatta proposes the excision of these words, in order to test a question affecting matters which will subsequently be dealt with in considering the schedule. I should like to ask the Attorney-General whether, as a matter of English and drafting, the excision of these words will make the slightest difference as to the powers which will be given to the Governor-General in Council or the postal authorities in this matter 1 The power given is to make regulations describing the limits within which rates for telegrams and letters shall have effect. Under this general power of prescribing the limits is given the power of prescribing town and suburban rates also.
– That is correct.
– The actual English of it is precisely the same, and, as a matter of drafting, it would probably be more effective without the words than with them.
– It gives greater power. The words “ town and suburban “ are a limitation.
– I think it would be very much better if some honorable member were to move the postponement of clause 8 until the schedules are dealt with.
– That is not necessary, because, if the schedules are altered, we can recommit the Bill in order to alter the clauses.
– What I suggest would save the trouble of recommittal, and I think business would be facilitated if we were to discuss the schedules before dealing with this clause.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta). - I may inform the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, that I had already intimated to the Chairman my intention to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, and to move the postponement of the clause. Perhaps the suggestion of the Attorney-General would meet the case just as well. It will be easy for us to recommit the clause, should any alteration of the schedule make that necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause agreed to.
– I move-
That the following new clause be added to the Bill : - All Braille and Moon postalarticlesshall.be conveyed without charge under departmental regulations.
These articles, such as the magazine I have here, can only be used by the blind. I know that the Government do not care to carry anything free by post, and while, perhaps, it is a bad precedent to establish to carry any mail matter free, still this is an exceptional case, and the percentage of blind persons in the community is a very small one. There are about 4,000 blind persons in the Commonwealth, or about 1 per cent, of the population, and the amount of revenue involved by the passing of this clause would be only about £100. Under the circumstances I do not think the committee will be taking a step which they will have any cause to regret in passing this clause. Dr. McBurney, the honorary editor of Odds and Ends, the magazine published in Victoria for the aid of the blind, wrote to the Age as follows, last year : - ‘
It is to be remembered that this is the only means of communication between the blind of Victoria containing current news affecting the blind, items of interest, reports of the Victorian Association of Braille Writers, the Association for the Advancement of the Blind, general information, correspondence, poetry, articles in shorthand, &c. Although weighing from .12 ozs. to 16 ozs., the whole contents could be printed in two columns of the Age, and the present rate of Id. is quite a tax on the majority of the blind, who almost all belong to the poorer classes, while 6d. to Sd., the proposed rate, would be simply prohibitive. Imagine paying 6d. postage for two columns of the Age. Odds and Ends is copied by hand, in embossed Braille type ; five copies are made, but it circulates amongst 60 or 70 blind readers every month. All the work is done by blind and sighted workers, entirely gratuitously, cost of paper, &c, being covered by subscriptions^
It cannot be registered as a newspaper in the ordinary way, for it is not printed, it is not sold, it is not published for profit. But the Victorian, Tasmanian, and New Zealand authorities, recognising that it is of great value in informing the blind, and brightening their lives, have issued instructions to pass it at newspaper rates.
In. Victoria, prior to federation, the Braille Magazine was carried for Id., but after the Post and Telegraph Bill was carried by this Parliament the postal officials increased the postage rate to 6d., on the ground that it was not a newspaper. The PostmasterGeneral, upon representations made to him by the honorable member for Melbourne, agreed to reduce the rate to Id., and to carry the magazine at that rate for twelve months. But I would sooner see the House decide a matter of this kind, justas this committee has decided that a sum of £5,000 shall be lost to the revenue, in order to forward telegrams for the benefit of meteorological departments. The concession I am asking for on behalf of 4,000 blind persons in the community will involve not more than £100 a year. The Association for the Advancement of the Blind in Victoria, which comprises 130 persons scattered throughout the State, subscribes for three English magazines, copies of which have been lent to me to exhibit to honorable members. Although the postage upon the magazine, Progress, which I have here, is only 2d. from England to Australia, postage upon it from Richmond to Melbourne would be fid. Honorable members will agree that that rate is prohibitive. I would point out that it would be carried free upon the Victorian railways if sent through the Braille “Writers’ Association, but it would probably cost the individual taking it to the rooms of the association as much as the postage. I do not think Ve should put any additional obstacles in the way of persons who already suffer enough through being unable to see. I have said that 130 persons subscribe for three English magazines, but owing to the excessive cost at the present time they are only circulating amongst twenty persons, and it takes about six months for the magazine to go the round of the twenty. A blind person reads the magazine, but he cannot take it to the post to send it on to another, because the postage would be Gd., and he therefore waits until he can take it to the next meeting of the association, when it is transferred to some other person, and unless we make the postage free we are needlessly curtailing the circulation of these magazines. If we desire that the good work which is being carried on by the persons supplying these magazines for the blind shall be encouraged, we can do no less than permit the whole of their matter to go free through the. post. I may say that the PostmasterGeneral, in reply to the deputation that waited upon him, did not say that he was absolutely in favour of allowing these articles to go free through the post, but he did not put any difficulty in the way of the proposal. Under the clause I submit these articles would only be carried post free under departmental regulations, and the department could make such regulations as would safeguard their interests. At the present time the circulation of these magazines is restricted to Melbourne and the suburbs, but I believe that blind persons in the country have at least an equal claim upon our consideration. I trust that the committee will agree to the clause. With regard to letters it might be said that there would be no means of identifying them, and of proving whether they are for the blind or not, but the whole of these articles are carried in rolls, because, if placed in a flat envelope the points of the writing would be flattened and to a large extent thereby spoiled, and it would be nearly impossible for the blind to read it. In Victoria we have an association of Braille writers who have all their literature carried free on the railways. There are also a number of persons who learn Braille solely for the purpose of writing books in order to assist the blind, and most of their correspondence consists of lessons which are sent to their teachers for correction. Fully SO per cent, of the letters sent in Braille consist of these lessons, and I do not think we should charge postage upon such correspondence, and I hope the Government will agree to this proposal.
– It would be impossible to make out a better case than that presented by the honorable member, but if we once, even though for so deserving a cause as that which the honorable member is advocating, opened the gates of concession, on what ground should we be able to close them against other indigent, suffering, and unfortunate people. It is most laudable to assist the blind, but I submit that after all a Postal Rates Bill cannot be the proper place iii which to make provision for even the most charitable enterprise. Although the Government feel every sympathy with the object of the honorable member, I trust that he will not presshis proposal, because to adopt it would involve us in an inconsistency.
– Would the Acting Prime Minister be disposed to treat these Braille publications as magazines ?
– I understood that the Postmaster-General was bound by the Post and Telegraph Act to charge full rates upon this postal matter ; and that it was only as a concession, made after a personal interview with myself, that he agreed to transmit it through the post for twelve months upon the same conditions as before. If the Acting Prime Minister will give an assurance that the Braille publications, which are really magazines, shall be treated as such, the difficulty will be overcome.
– I can give that assurance, and, if I find that there is any difficulty in the way, shall re-submit the matter for further consideration.
– There is no time like the present, and I think that we should extend the consideration asked for to those unfortunate persons who are deprived of their sight. The whole loss involved in making the concessions would be only £100, and surely the Commonwealth can well afford to confer the benefit desired.
– I admit that it is dangerous to mix up charity with business, and that this should be a purely business Bill ; but, at the same time, there are exceptions, and I think that the blind are entitled to special consideration at our hands.We have alreadymade a concession in regard to the transmission of meteorological telegrams, and I think that we might very well go the length suggested by the honorable member for Yarra.
– I would also urge the Government to accede to the request of the honorable member for Yarra. The Acting Prime Minister asks how we could refuse to extend a similar concession to unfortunate people other than the blind, but I regard the loss of sight as the most appalling misfortune that can overtake any human being, and I shall certainly vote in favour of the new clause.
– I hope that the Government will give way in this matter, because people who suffer from blindness are entitled to every possible consideration.
New clause agreed to.
” The Seven Colonies of Australasia.”
Mr. DEAKIN (Ballarat- AttorneyGeneral). - I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
I take this opportunity of reading a telegram which was received to-day from Mr. Coghlan, apparently in reply to an inquiry made last evening by the honorable member for South Sydney with reference to the publication of The Seven Colonies of Australasia. Mr. Coghlan says -
Preparation of Seven Colonies well advanced ; temporary delay owing to non-publication of shipping and trade returns by four States, and of certain census results. These last have been promised almost immediately.
This shows that the delay has not been due to any fault of this Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.42 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 August 1902, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020820_reps_1_11/>.