10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Granting of Leases
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice - .
– The answers are -
Public Service Uniforms
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
I will have inquiries made and furnish the honorable senator with a reply as soon as possible.
Report of Ms. Hill
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
Will the Minister lay on the table of the Senate the report of Mr. Thos.Hill on the result of his inquiries re road construction in America; and if so, when?
– It is not proposed to lay the report on the table of the Senate, but additional copies will be made available to each senator in the course of a few days.
Alleged Statement by Sir Newton Moose.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.It is not considered that Sir Newton Moore’s remarks were intended to be taken seriously.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act relating to the rights of officers.
In committee (Consideration resumed from 10th May, vide page 4712).
First schedule -
Scale and Conditions of Compensation.
Provided that as respects the weekly payments during total incapacity of an employee who is under 21 years of age at the date of the injury, and whose weekly pay is less than 30s., one hundred per centum shall be substituted for two-thirds of his weekly pay, but the weekly payment shall in no case exceed one pound; and
Upon which Senator Needham had moved, by way of amendment -
That after the words “ three pounds “, clause 1, sub-clause (b ) , the words “ ten shillings “ be inserted.
– Yesterday I submitted an amendment to increase the amount of weekly compensation payable to partially or totally incapacitated employees from £3 to £3 10s. a week. That would bring our legislation into line with that in operation in Queensland and Western Australia, and the extra 10s. a week would be of considerable assistance to a man who had a family to sustain. Senator Herbert Hays said that a single man should not be placed in the same category as a married man, and that he preferred an amendment of the schedule in the nature of additional allowance being made for each child. I had in my possession an amendment which I had not circulated to that effect, but I did not refer to it as I was then dealing only with an increase in the weekly payments. I do not subscribe to the doctrine that a differentiation should be made between single and married men.
– Not in matters of compensation ?
– No differentiation is made between single and married men in the awards of industrial courts.
– The honorable senator supports a differentiation in other directions.
– In compensation matters I do not, and I never shall, because I consider that single men should receive the same as married men. Our industrial courts, when determining the wages of married and single men, do not differentiate, and rightly so, too, because the single man, in common with the married man, has only his labour to offer for the remuneration which he receives. The work of the single man is of equal value to that of the married man, and many single men also have heavy responsibilities. In these circumstances, I cannot see why a single man who sustains injury in the course of his employment should not receive the same compensation as is paid to a married man. If the committee will increase the maximum amount of weekly compensation to the extent I suggest, and also provide an additional amount for each child, I shall support such a proposal. The consideration of the first schedule was postponed yesterday to give the Minister (Senator McLachlan) an opportunity to reconsider the matter, and, doubtless, he has now some information to give to the committee.
– I do not think it has ever been suggested that in cases of partial or total incapacity the compensation paid should be equivalent to the wage which an employee receives. Relief afforded by charitable institutions is not granted on that basis, and I do not think that any Parliament would attempt to bring compensation up to the level of the standard wage. The Leader of the Opposition did not indicate yesterday that he intended to move an amendment in the direction he now suggests ; but endeavoured to show that we should increase the amount of weekly compensation payable from £3 to £3 10s. a week, regardless of the circumstances of the person to whom it was to be allotted. I stated yesterday that I could not support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition to increase the amount from £3 to £3 10s.; but said that it would be equitable if, in addition to a weekly payment of £3, an extra amount were paid by way of child allowance according to the responsibilities of the incapacitated worker. It is only right that single men should receive the same amount of compensation as married men, and no differentiation is proposed in that respect. Additional assistance should be given in the direction of child endowment; but it is obvious that if single men were paid less wages than married men the former would have preference in the matter of employment. The schedule should be amended so that additional compensation may be paid according to the family responsibilities of the incapacitated worker, and not in the direction suggested by the Leader of the Opposition.
– I intimated to the committee yesterday that I would examine the position in regard to child endowment, which was first raised by Senator Robinson and later by Senator Herbert Hays, with a view to ascertaining whether all Commonwealth employees were covered by paragraph c. I then indicated that I would probably move an amendment to that paragraph which would make it perfectly clear that all employees of the Commonwealth would be placed in the same category, as suggested by Senator Herbert Hays, and that child endow ment should be paid at the rate of 5s. a week for each child, in addition to the £3 a week provided for in paragraph b. In the Western Australian act to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, the maximum amount payable is £3 10s. a week; but that amount is not increased by any payment in respect of child endowment. The maximum, therefore, received by employees under the Western Australian act is £3 10s., irrespective of whether employees have or have not dependent children. We propose to leave the maximum amount payable at £3 a week; but, in addition, to provide for the payment of 5s. a week in respect of each child dependent upon the employee until he or she reaches the age of fourteen, which will harmonize with the age fixed in other legislation. It is proposed to allow paragraph b to stand in its present form and to amend paragraph c in the direction I have indicated.
– I move -
That sub-clause (c) of clause 1 be left out with a view to . insert in lieu thereof the following new paragraph: - “(c) Where total incapacity for work results from the injury, there shall be added to any amount payable . under the foregoing provisions of this schedule an amount of five shillings per week in respect of each child totally or mainly dependent upon the employee at the time of the injury who is under the age of fourteen years, and the payment of that amount shall be continued during such incapacity until the child in respect of whom the payment is received attains the age of fourteen years:
Provided that no payment shall be made under this sub-paragraph in respect of any children of the employee in respect of whom he is receiving any payment by way of child endowment independently of this act.”
The proviso is rendered necessary by the fact that in certain branches of the Public Service child endowment is paid even though a man, on account of injury, may not be actively engaged in his work. He is still an employee of the public service, and is paid accordingly. I commend this amendment to honorable senators because it clears up the position. It is evident that as the clause previously stood, employees governed by State awards, casual employees, and others of that kind, might not be able to receive the benefits of the child endowment provision. By this amendment, it is made clear that every employee entitled to compensation shall receive, in addition, 5s. a week in respect of each child up to the age of 14 years.
– I am very glad that the Minister in charge of the bill has been moved by the efforts of the members of the Opposition to liberalize the measure. If it had not been for the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition, the bill would have gone through in the form in which it was introduced.
– Give us some credit.
– I give credit where it is due. The credit is due to the Opposition for moving the Government to see the justice of the claims we were making on behalf, of those toiling in the hard, work-a-day world. We endeavoured to get the weekly compensation payment increased from £3 to £3 10s., and we also pointed out that the amount was altogether inadequate for partially incapacitated men who had families to support. When honorable senators supporting the Government asked the Minister in charge of the bill whether it contained a provision for the payment of child endowment to all Commonwealth employees injured while in the discharge of their duties, the Minister replied that it did. But when we on this side pointed out that that was not so the Minister apparently made further inquiries, and learned that what we said was correct. Naturally, it would be very unfair for married men permanently employed in the service to be paid the amount specified in the bill, and also to receive the child endowment allowance, while other married men in the service, but not permanently employed, were denied the endowment. That was what we pointed out to the Minister, and it was because of this that the Senate adjourned so early last night, in order to give the members of the Government an opportunity to consider the matter. I am satisfied that the Government would not have heeded this aspect of the matter at all had it not been for the representations of the members of the Opposition. I am glad that the alteration is to be made. It shows that our efforts have not been in vain, and that the Government in this case recognize that the Opposition is doing its work, and doing it well.
– In order that my honorable friends opposite may not labour under any misapprehension, I wish to inform the Senate that the officers of the department believed that the position was amply covered by paragraph (c) as it stood. However, the Government desired that there should be no room for doubt, and wished to make it clear that all men employed in the service should be eligible to receive the benefits of child endowment. It was our desire that all employees should be on an even footing, and that was why this alteration was decided upon.
– I am glad that the Minister has made this explanation, because I do not believe that any action taken by the Opposition was responsible for the amendment proposed by the Government. It is doubtful whether the bill will go any further now than it did before, but this alteration will make the intentions of the Government perfectly clear on the particular point involved. There is one matter, however, upon which I am still in some doubt. I am not quite clear as to what the provision exactly does. I understand that it stipulates that where no payment is being made out of the Public Service child endowment fund, there shall be a payment of 53. in respect of each individual child under this legislation. Supposing, however, the child endowment under the Public Service Regulations should be less than 5s. a week, would the payment under the Compensation Act be made up to 5s. a week ? It is possible that child endowment payments might be less than 5s. a week.
– They are not less. The rate now is 5s. a week.
– It is now, but it is possible that in the future payments under the child endowment scheme might be less than 5s. a week. I think that there would be some injustice involved in giving to those not participating in the ordinary Public Service endowment fund, a payment of 5s. a week, under thi3 measure, in respect of each child, and paying less than 5s. a week to those, in receipt of the endowment. I suggest that the wording of the paragraph should be such as to make perfectly clear what is “meant.
– We did not contemplate a situation arising in which the child endowment payment would be less than 5s. a week, because, at the present time, the amount is 5s. It is possible, however, that it might be reduced, and if it were I doubt whether the clause, as it at present stands, would enable a man coming under the endowment scheme to receive the full 5s. a week in respect of his children.
– Could it be called child endowment if it was reduced below 5s. a week?
– My friend opposite can settle that question to his own satisfaction, and in his own way, but we call it child endowment, and I recognize that the provision might operate in the direction of preventing a man receiving the full 5s. a week under the scheme. I shall endeavour to redraft the clause to make it clear that not less than 5s. a week ‘shall be paid.
– I regard this amendment as an improvement to the bill, and I welcome it accordingly. I reiterate the statement of Senator Findley that the Opposition is entitled to some credit for having this amendment brought forward. The Honorary Minister was emphatic in his statement in reply to questions that all employees of the Commonwealth Government were in receipt of child endowment, but when he was faced with a rebuttal from this side of the chamber, he qualified his statement by saying that he was not sure. Every employee of the Commonwealth Government is not in receipt of child endowment. That is an incontestable fact. The amendment now before the chamber stipulates that any employee of the Commonwealth Government who sustains injury because of his or her employment, shall receive, in addition to a maximum of £3 a. week, a sum of 5s. a week for each child up to a specified age. On the question of age I am going to ask the Government to reconsider its own amendment. In the original paragraph (c) of the first schedule, it- is laid down that the child endowment of 5s. a week shall be paid during the period of incapacity in respect of every child up to the age of 16 years. The amendment of the measure, while providing for the payment of the child endowment to every employee of the Commonwealth Government, applies only to children under fourteen years of age, instead of sixteen years, as at present. Surely it is not contended that a boy or a girl sixteen years of age can maintain himself or herself. A child that age is mainly dependent on its parents. I have in my mind a youth sixteen years of age, who has just commenced to serve his apprenticeship to a trade.
– In many cases apprenticeship begins at fourteen years of age.
– That is so ; but in some trades apprenticeship cannot commence until a youth is sixteen years of age. The lad I have in mind receives 15s. a week, which is not sufficient to support him. Senator Greene raised another point.
– A remote possibility.
– I agree. Surely no one would have the hardihood to attempt to reduce the child endowment below 5s. a week. I hope, however, that the Minister will agree to make the age sixteen years.
Senator MCLACHLAN (South Australia - Honorary Minister [11.33]. - My amendment provides for childendowment in terms of the Public Service Regulations of the Commonwealth. By an inadvertence the bill as originally drafted stipulated sixteen years, it being thought at the time that child endowment was paid in respect of children sixteen years of age. Investigation this morning, however, showed that it applies only to children up to fourteen years of age. Accordingly, the paragraph has been made to harmonize with the Public Service Regulations. Should the unlikely happen, and the child endowment be reduced below 5s., the legislation with which we are now dealing, would probably have to be amended. Similarly, if the child endowment were increased, an alteration of this legislation would probably be justified. I ask honorable senators to agree to the amendment as submitted. These problematical situations can be met when they arise. I regret that I cannot accept the suggestion that the age be increased to sixteen years; the paragraph must be in harmony . with the existing regulations.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move-
That the words “ not to exceed “ clause 1, sub-clause (b) be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “not to be less than. “
– I cannot accept the honorable senator’s amendment seeing that the committee has already dealt with paragraph (b).
– In view of your ruling, Mr. Chairman, I shall, later, move for the re-committal of the first schedule in order to enable me to move the amendment I have indicated.
. - Yesterday I gave Senator Needham the assurance that I would not oppose the recommittal of the bill to enable him to move in a certain direction. I see no reason why the bill should not be recommitted to enable him to move the amendment to paragraph (b) that he has indicated to-day.
First Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Second Schedule -
– I move -
That the Second Schedule be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following schedule -
Yesterday, in my second-reading speech, I dealt fully with this matter, so that it is not necessary to repeat my remarks at this stage. I agree that the schedule to the bill is an advance on the existing legislation, but it is not so liberal as is the legislation of some of the States. The amended schedule I have submitted is much more comprehensive.
– Its only advantage seems to be that it increases the compensation for certain injuries by £50.
– In some instances the amount is increased by £150. The honorable senator will see that for the first six injuries set out in the schedule I have proposed the compensation shall be £750.
– Those injuries amount to total incapacity.
– Some such injuries are not included in the second schedule to the bill. A comparison of the schedules will show that the one which I am submitting is more comprehensive in scope than the
Government’s proposal, and provides for certain specified injuries on a more liberal scale.
– I indicated yesterday that the schedule was prepared after the most careful investigation of the provisions made in the various State acts. The reason for the omission -of the first half-dozen items in the schedule submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) is that the Government considers that cases of total incapacity should be compensated for by weekly payments. A man who loses both eyes certainly is totally incapacitated, as is also a man who suffers the total loss of his mental powers. Under the Government’s proposal for weekly payments there is no limit to the time during which compensation shall be payable. I think we may therefore ignore that portion of the honorable senator’s schedule for the time being because, as I have stated, we are providing for such cases on a more generous scale. It is true that some States provide larger sums than we have set down in the schedule. It is equally true that for certain cases the provision made by the States is less than is contemplated under this measure. I stated yesterday that officers of the department had fixed compensation to be provided for injuries in certain categories by taking the mean of the amounts provided under the State laws. I recognize that this is and always will be a highly controversial matter. It has been suggested by some that the loss of the fourth finger is more important than the loss of the index finger. This is a matter for experts to determine. The schedule having been prepared as the result of the best surgical advice, it may be said to represent the last word in the matter. The Commonwealth cannot constantly be setting the pace for the various States. Under Senator Needham’s amendment the compensation payable for the loss of either arm at or above the elbow is £600. Under the bill the amount is fixed at £550. The various State laws make slightly different provision for this kind of injury. Victoria pays £420 for the loss of a right arm and £390 for the loss of a left arm; Queensland pays £525 and £487 10s. respectively; South Australia pays £490 and £455, and Western Australia pays up to £600 allocated thus- £475 for the loss of arm at the shoulder, £400 at the elbow, and £350 for amputation at the wrist. The amounts should really be matters for the decision of the Commissioner. It is impossible for the committee to fix with any degree of rigidity and in considerable detail a schedule to provide for all categories of injury, for which the Commonwealth is liable to pay compensation. The Government has done what it believes to be right in the light of existing legislation in the various States, and on the advice of the best surgical opinion. The mere fact that in some States a particular injury is regarded more seriously than in another is not an argument why the committee should alter the schedule. I agree that there is room for a difference of opinion in this matter, but we have to decide upon some line of demarcation, and I suggest that we have done the fair thing in providing for the average of the compensation paid by the States.
– In most cases the compensation paid under this bill is higher than in the States.
– That is so. In only’ a few instances is it slightly lower. Since the Commonwealth is making ample provision for the first half-dozen cases included in Senator Needham’s amendment, the honorable senator would be well advised not to press it. Whether the schedule to the bill is absolutely perfect remains to be seen ; but it can always be amended if necessary. I can assure honorable senators that it is the result of careful thought and investigation, and represents what the Government believes to be a fair thing as between the Commonwealth and its employees.
– The amended schedule submitted by Senator Needham increases the total amount payable in cases of total incapacity to £750 and provides for certain classes of injury not mentioned in the schedule to the bill. I would agree to the inclusion of those cases but for the fact that there is provision in the first schedule for cases of total incapacity. A person 30 injured will be entitled to specified weekly payments.
– And without any limit in point of time.
– I can imagine certain totally incapacitated public servants preferring to draw a lump sum in lieu of the weekly payments. Does the bill contain provision under which they may be bought out by the payment of a lump sum?
– The Government considers it desirable that totally incapacitated persons should receive weekly payments. There is, therefore, no provision under which they may be bought out.
– This provision for a lump sum payment is contained in most of the State acts.
– And very often it is used unwisely.
– Possibly the Leader of the Senate is right. Since the Go-‘ vernment has decided that weekly payments shall be made to totally incapacitated persons, I can see no advantage in Senator Needham’s amendment. His schedule increases the total amount payable in certain cases to £750; but, as the Senate has decided that the amount shall not be increased, the honorable senator would be well advised not to press his amendment. As far as I can see, there is no danger of an injustice being done to any one under this schedule to the bill.
Question - That the schedule proposed to be left out (Senator Needham’s amendment) be left out - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the negative.
Second schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
That clause 11 be reconsidered.
Clause 11. (Compensation for certain, injuries.)
– I move -
That the following new sub-clauses be added -
an employee is suffering from any of the diseases mentioned in the first column of the Third Schedule to this Act and is thereby totally or partially incapacitated for work : or
the death of an employee is caused by any of the diseases mentioned in the first column of the Third Schedule to this Act, and the disease is or was due to the nature of his employment, the employee, or in the case of death his dependants, shall be entitled to compensation is accordance with this Act as if the disease were a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment within the meaning of section nine, and the provisions of this Act shall apply thereto accordingly, subject, however, to the provisions of this section.
If it is proved that the employee has at the time of entering the employment of the Commonwealth wilfully and falsely represented himself in writing as not having previously suffered from the disease, compensation shall not be payable.
An employee or dependant claiming under this section shall satisfy the Commissioner that the employee was employed in a process mentioned in the second column of the Third Schedule to this Act and that the disease contracted is the disease or one of the diseases in the first column set opposite the description of the process.
The Governor-General may, by regulation published in the Gazette, declare that any other disease or disease and process shall be included in the Third Schedule to this Act.
Every such regulation shall on the expiration of three months from the date of such publication, or while in force, have the same effect as if the disease or disease and process named therein were inserted in the said Schedule and this section of this Act shall be read and construed accordingly.
If my amendment is agreed to it is my intention to move to insert the following new schedule: -
The only argument the ‘Minister has advanced in opposition to my proposal is that Commonwealth employees are not engaged in occupations in which the diseases included in this proposed new schedule can be contracted. I think the Minister is mistaken. Anthrax may easily be contracted by quarantine inspectors in the examination of stock. Zymotic diseases may be contracted by medical officers, nurses, orderlies, or other persons employed in hospitals or quarantine stations, and poisoning by benzol, carbon-monoxide, or nitrous fumes, may be incurred by employees engaged in the manufacture of munitions. In the Federal Capital Territory we have men engaged in the construction of sewers. That is a class of mining work.
– Is not a person suffering from poisoning by carbondioxide already provided for under the bill?
– No, because the bill makes no mention of occupational diseases. It is my desire to bring the measure into line with other workmen’s compensation acts in Australia. No one can say that Commonwealth employees will not be liable to contract any of the diseases I have mentioned in the different callings they are following; and knowing of this danger and that it is provided for in all modern workmen’s compensation laws, I ask the Minister and the Committee to accept an amendment which will make the required provision in our legislation.
– This measure is to provide compensation for Commonwealth employees alone. The subject of occupational diseases was brought under the notice of the Senate in 1926, when the present Leader of the Opposition, who was then occupying a similar position, brought in a bill to amend the Workmen’s Compensation Act on practically the same lines as he has submitted to-day. The matter was investigated by officers of the Department of Health to see if there was any need for provision to be made in the direction he then suggested, and in a most exhaustive report which was furnished, it was stated that -
Provision in the bill for certain occupational diseases is of little moment, because there are practically no Commonwealth employees subject to such diseases. The only branch where such disease might occur is the serum laboratory, and the only instance which appears to have arisen is in connexion with some cases of pneumonic influenza during the 1919 epidemic.
– What of the Quarantine Department?
– No case of occupational disease has occurred in that department. I have also discussed the subject with the Minister for Health, (Sir Neville Howse) who is of the opinion that there is no justification for the inclusion of a schedule such as the Leader of the Opposition suggests. There is no occasion for providing for cases which are not likely to arise, and even if they did, I think it would be found that the Commonwealth would treat its employees generously as it has done in other instances where there is no legislation to protect them. I ask honorable senators not to load the measure with matter which may be of little or no use. Consideration was given to the subject of occupational diseases before the bill was introduced, because the Government had in mind the efforts made by the Leader of the Opposition in 1926, to incorporate a similar amendment in our legislation. In view of the information which the Government has received, I ask the committee to reject the amendments
– The amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) goes far beyond the necessities of the case ; but there are one or two occupations which occur to me, and which I do not think the bill covers. I refer more particularly to the veterinary officers engaged in the meat inspection department,, who may come in contact with carcassesaffected by anthrax, and who may possibly die as the result of contracting that: disease. So far as I can see, no provision! is made in the bill for cases of that character, which, of course, are unlikely, but still may arise.
– Could the disease be contracted by handling carcasses or only when handling skin or wool?
– It may be contracted from the carcass, wool or hair of an animal. A person, for instance, may contract anthrax from a shaving brush, the bristles of which may have been through a number .of disinfecting processes. That is a specific instance which occurs to me.
– Is anthrax likely to be contracted by meat inspectors ?
– I am not sure, but it is quite possible that in the performance of their duties they may contract this virulent disease, and the Commonwealth might lose a number of its employees.- I trust that such circumstances will not arise ; but, so far as I can see, the bill makes no provision in that direction. Personally, I shall be satisfied if the Minister will give an assurancethat this aspect of the matter will be carefully considered before the bill is debated in another place, and that if necessary the Government will frame an amendment to cover it.
– I am in sympathy with the object of the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham), which I shall support if he calls for a division. The number of employees who are not covered by the bill may be small, but all should be protected. It is easy for employees engaged in sewer, work to suffer as a result of their employment. Accidents sometimes occur as a result of the accumulation of carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, the former often caused by fire in ill-ventilated places and being especially fatal to human life. As an old miner, I can appreciate the sad experience of many families “when the breadwinner has been smitten down by miners’ phthisis. I recall the disaster which occurred a few years ago at the Mount Lyell mine, where an accumulation of carbon monoxide was ^responsible for the death of 40 or 50 men. Something of a similar nature might possibly happen to men engaged in sewer work in the Federal Capital Territory.
– The Government has nothing to do with those men; they are controlled by an ordinance.
– That may be so, but the Commonwealth has some responsibility.
– The responsibility attaches to the Federal Capital Commission.
– Employees in munition factories, who have to handle nitric acid, are also susceptible to certain diseases. I agree with Senator Greene, and if the Government will promise to look into the matter and endeavour to overcome the difficulties and dangers which, although they may be few, are still likely to arise, I shall not offer any opposition, but if the Leader of the Opposition presses his amendment to a division, I shall support him, because it involves a principle embodied in most Workmen’s Compensation legislation.
– By way of interjection, the Minister (Senator McLachlan) said that the Government has nothing to do with men employed in the Federal Capital Territory. I differ from him in that respect, because I notice that the definition clause provides that “ Commonwealth “ includes any territory which is part of the Commonwealth. Is not the Federal Capital Territory part of the Commonwealth ?
– We have delegated the power of legislation in respect of the Territory to another body.
– That may be so, but we have not altogether shed our responsibilities. Those employees are paid by the Commonwealth through the Commission, and the bill is to provide compensation for Commonwealth employees. There are Commonwealth employees in several branches of Commonwealth activities who are liable to contract occupational diseases, and who should be covered by an amendment such as I have proposed. Although Senator Greene said that the cases may be few, provision should, nevertheless, be made for them.
– The position has not altered so far as I am aware since 1926; but possibly some inquiry should be made as suggested by Senator Greene, concerning officers in the meat inspection branch and in the serum laboratories. Meat inspectors are in most cases fairly highly paid public servants, who receive the benefits of other legislation. I shall, however, ask the Minister for Health (Sir Neville Howse) to have inquiries made regarding the possibility of officers contracting anthrax and other such diseases, and also if there are any other occupational diseases which should be covered. I indicated during my second-reading speech that employees of the Federal Capital Commission are controlled by an ordinance, as is the practice in other territories under Commonwealth control, where ordinances take the place of legislation. I assure honorable senators that we shall have the matter investigated by officers of the Health Department to see whether there is occasion for any amendment of the measure - not to the full extent asked for by the Leader of the Opposition, but in respect to such employees as quarantine, laboratory, and munition workers. If there is any change in the position, it will be dealt with when the measure is passing through another place. In the meantime, I ask the honorable senator to withdraw his amendment. If he will not do that, I must ask honorable senators to oppose it, and accept my assurance that, if necessary, the matter will be dealt with in another place.
Question - That the words proposed to be added (Senator Needham’s amend- ment) be so added - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill reported with an amendment.
Debate resumed from 10th May (vida page 4717) on motion by Senator McLachlan -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– When I was speaking on this bill last evening I pointed out to the Senate the very great difference between its provisions and those of the act which it proposes to amend. The act sets out that the Deputy Postmaster-General may call on the proprietor, printer, or publisher of any publication, a copy of which contains indecent or obscene matter, to show cause why such publication should not be removed from the register; and if such cause is not shown, he may remove it accordingly. But the provisions in this bill go much further and are drastic and dangerous in the extreme. Under them the Postmaster-General would have power to -de-register any newspaper in Australia. He is clothed with despotic power - power too great, and too dangerous, to be permitted in any democratic community. For instance, it is laid down here that any journal which contains “offensive” matter may be de-registered. Last night I put a hypothetical case before the Senate, and in -order that honorable senators may follow my argument, I propose to re-state it.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - The honorable senator will not be in order in re-stating his case. He may not use language in putting a hypothetical ease which he would not be permitted to use in a direct statement.
– Do you rule, sir, that I may not in this chamber use the language employed by Sir Neville Howse at a recent meeting in Sydney? His words were published in all the leading newspapers throughout Australia, and they could not be understood to be anything other than offensive if we are to accept the ordinary meaning of words. Under the provisions of this bill, a newspaper publishing an article containing the words used by Sir Neville Howse at that meeting could be de-registered on the authority of the Postmaster-General. If a paper, by means of good business methods and the excellence of its news service, had built up a wide circulation and secured large advertising space, it could, if it published something that, in the opinion of the Postmaster-General, was offensive according. to the meaning of this bill, be de-registered, and once it was de-registered the proprietor would have no redress as far as this bill goes.
– He would always have the right of appeal to the courts.
– He would have no such right under this bill. The Minister has intimated that an amendment will be submitted later giving a proprietor who might be dealt with in that way power to appeal to a court, but as the bill stands at present there is no such provision.
Sitting suspended from 1$).£5 to 2.15 p.m.
– It would be well for honorable senators to consider carefully the serious nature of the provisions in this bill relating to newspapers containing articles which, in the opinion of the Minister, are offensive. A dictionary definition of the word “ offensive “ is “ anything that is hurtful, harmful, or injurious, or of a nature to give offence; displeasing, annoying, or insulting.” Bearing in mind that definition, honorable senators will see that any newspaper containing an article which, in the opinion of the Postmaster-General is harmful to his administration, or the administration of the Government generally, may be regarded as ‘offensive and thus be liable to deregistration. Under this provision, a newspaper could be ‘debarred from criticizing in any way the administration of the Government.
– Probably the Labour party would regard as offensive any article which referred to it as the “ Red “ party.
– I am dealing with this matter not from a party standpoint, but in the interests of the community generally. The Government that is in power to-day may be in opposition to-morrow. Free and candid criticism by the press makes for good government. The readers of newspapers do npt want insipid, indigestible matter served up to them, but meaty articles, both appetising and stimulating.
Honorable senators who support this bill will be . guilty of assisting to place on the statute-book a measure inimical to the best interests of the people of Australia. The .proposed new section 29b also refers to articles which ar.e regarded, by the PostmasterGeneral as libellous. Honorable senators are well aware that even the most reputable journals in Australia, which have been in existence . for many years, have at times been successfully- sued for libel. Under this bill a Postmaster-General with little or no legal training, or knowledge of the law of libel, is to judge whether an article is libellous.
– Could he not obtain legal advice in the matter?
– Assuming that he could do so, are we to understand that yet another board is to be set. up for the purpose of perusing the columns of all newspapers with a view to ascertaining whether they contain articles which might be regarded as offensive or libellous so that they can be deregistered? Are the big daily newspapers of Australia, .some of which have been guilty of publishing libellous statements, to be liable to deregistration almost at the whim of the Postmaster-General ? Under this bill there is no appeal from the decision of the Postmaster-General; his decision is to have the effect of law.
– The right of appeal is to be conceded.
– No provision for appeal is contained in the bill. It would appear that so soon as the PostmasterGeneral decides that a certain publication contains offensive or libellous articles, it will be deregistered and will not be permitted to go through the post until the appeal is heard and determined by the court. If honorable senators will reflect . on the millions of pounds invested in the printing industry in Australia, they will realize how serious will be the position if this bill becomes law. I never expected to see so drastic a measure introduced into an Australian Parliament. Yet, honorable senators opposite were prepared to accept the Minister’s assurance that the bill contained no new principle. I agree with the writer of an article in the Sunday Times, published in Sydney, wherein he states that -
A trammelled press is of as much use as are smelling salts to a corpse, and that this bill is the most iniquitous attempt ever made outside Russia in recent years to muzzle the watch-dog of the people - a free press.
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that this bill is an attempt on the part of the Government to muzzle the press of Australia. .
– What has Beckett’s Budget to say about the bill?
– This provision will apply not only to that publication, but also to every newspaper in Australia. Should an article in any newspaper published in Australia be regarded by the Postmaster-General as offensive or libellous, the journal may be de-registered, and its publication stopped.
– The bill says nothing about stopping publication.
– It amounts almost to the same thing. It is true that the bill does not specifically state that publication will be stopped ; but the withdrawal of postal privileges and facilities previously enjoyed by the journal, would have a very damaging effect.
– Only a small proportion of the people get their newspapers through the post.
– I agree that many thousands of newspapers are forwarded in bulk by rail, and not through the post office; but many of them are afterwards taken from the railway station in mail vans or coaches which are under contract to the Postal Department. Those newspapers would, I believe, bc also affected by this legislation.
– No instance of the Postmaster-General exercising the power contained in the original act has yet occurred.
– The power previously vested in the Postmaster-General was that he could call upon the proprietors of journals containing what he regarded as indecent or obscene articles to show cause why they should not be prevented from passing through the post. If the Postmaster-General was not satisfied with the explanation given he had power to stop the passing of an issue through the Post Office, but not to deregister the publication. Those provisions applied only to indecent or obscene articles. The provisions of this bill are of a drag-net character; they are so drastic that it will be almost impossible for any journal strictly to comply with them. For the reasons that I have advanced, I shall oppose the bill, and I hope that honorable senators, realizing the dangerous nature of its provisions, will not agree to it in its present form.
– I. think Senator Findley has unduly stressed the danger of doing what the Government proposes, particularly in view of the fact that the right of appeal to a court is to be given so that in the event of de-registration being wrongly ordered by the Postmaster-General the wrong may be righted on appeal. “While I feel confident that, on the whole,’ the provisions to which Senator Findley has taken exception will not cause any of the untoward eventualities mentioned by him, I am inclined to agree with him that they go considerably further than the necessities of the case require. On my present information, at all events, it appears to me that the inclusion of the words “offensive and libellous”, are unnecessary. I agree that there may be good reason for tightening up the law in many respects. A case that came before the courts recently was not decided in accordance with general expectations. I should prefer the Minister to give definite illustrations of the. need for the inclusion of the words “ offensive and libellous.” We may assume that these provisions will apply only to newspapers which habitually publish matter that might come within this definition, and that de-registration by the PostmasterGeneral will not be applied in the case of a newspaper publishing offensive matter say, only once. The law, I take it, will only be applied to newspapers continuously offending in this direction. I should l be prepared to agree to the inclusion of the words “ profane “ and “ blasphemous “, and I should have no objection to the words, “ immoral “ or “seditious. “ However, my principal object in rising to take part in the debate was to direct attention to the classification of newspapers. I am afraid that, in this respect, the bill will do more harm than good. The Government proposes to take a large number of periodicals out of the definition of newspapers, and to increase the bulk postage rate on them from 1½d. to 2£d. for 20 ounces. Is it worth while, for the trifling increase in revenue that will be obtained by this change to upset existing arrangements? I doubt if it is. Furthermore, the alteration will do a distinct injustice to a certain section of the community. There are a number of useful publications, some of which Senator Findley referred to yesterday, which are issued monthly. These will be unfairly penalized by the new classification. There are, for example, a number of publications dealing with wireless. The Listener-in is published once a week, and the Radio, containing the same class of matter, is published once a month. The first-named is classified as a newspaper, the bulk postage on which is l$d. for 20 ounces, while Radio, being classed as a periodical, will pay bulk postage at the rate of 2£d. for 20 ounces. This is not an isolated instance. There are many other publications of a similar nature, some published weekly and some monthly, and the same differentiation is made between them as regards postage. It seems anomalous that while the weekly publications impose the bigger burden on the Postal Department, they enjoy the lower rate of postage. If the new classification really accomplished something worth while, one might even put up with that manifest injustice; but seeing that it does not, I suggest that the Postmaster-General should consider whether it is really worth while disturbing the present arrangements, seeing that the proposed alteration will give a certain section of the community, represented by the newspapers referred to, a definite grievance. Many church papers, I understand, will not fall within the definition of newspapers, and I believe that the Postmaster-General desires to exclude from that definition many others which at present come within it. All honorable senators are aware that the churches, depending a3 they do for their finance upon voluntary contributions from parishioners, experience ‘ considerable difficulty in connexion with the publication of their papers. I think, therefore, that the Postmaster-General might very well provide for their inclusion in the definition of newspapers. To the department this is a small matter, but to the churches it represents a considerable sum in the aggregate. The churches are purely voluntary organizations, and are deserving of all the assistance which the Government can give to them. While I appreciate fully what the Government is endeavouring to do in the way of tightening up the present law as regards certain aspects of the social life of the people, I appeal to the Ministry to do what is possible to assist the churches in. the way I have indicated.
, - There have been several very cogent and well-expressed views in opposition to certain portions of the bill; but, in my opinion, they are not sufficient to justify its rejection on the second reading. I am in thorough accord with certain of the objections that have been stated; but I do not propose, for that reason, to take any action to jeopardize the passage of the measure. Up to the present we have not had much information as to the necessity for the measure itself; but it has been brought before us, and I presume that the underlying principle in these hard times is a pecuniary one. I assume that the Postmaster-General considers it necessary to do what is possible to improve the finances of his department, and on the principle that “ every mickle makes a muckle,” he is giving attention to very small, and, indeed, extremely insignificant details, including even church publications. The principal objection, and it was well taken by Senator Findley up to a certain point, is in regard to the power of the PostmasterGeneral to de-register certain publications adjudged by the Postmaster-General to be guilty of publishing matter described by a long string of adjectives; but not, apparently, of the class which honorable senators have in mind. After all, adjectives are not in every case definite, and they are open to varying interpretations or misinterpretations. Some adjectives may be described not only as indefinite, but as contingent. One of these, the adjective “libellous,” has been objected to by Senator Findley. A statement published by a newspaper is libellous only when it nas been proved to be so, and the authority to determine its character is not the Postmaster-General, but a court of law. Any paper adjudged guilty of publishing libellous statements is usually penalized not by deregistration, but by being required to hand over a stated sum in coin of the realm both as damages and costs. I think we could very well leave it at that. We ought not to throw on the Postmaster-General the onus of deciding whether statements in newspapers, that it is his pleasure and profit to carry, are libellous.
– I question the profit.
– I have no doubt the Postmaster-General will also try to make that good. But if the honorable senator descends to that view of the subject, he might contend that the PostmasterGeneral is not likely to deregister newspapers and thereby diminish the volume of his postal trade. The word “ offensive “ is again a contingent adjective. It must first of all be decided to whom a statement is offensive, and the decision does not rightly come within the jurisdiction of the Postmaster-General. In these circumstances I see a great deal of reason in the objections which have been raised, and I hope that this necklace of adjectives will be robbed of a few of its links before the bill gets through the committee. I object also, to a clause .of the bill which tends to restrict the distribution of newspapers. I suppose that the greater proportion of the newspapers that reach the settlers of Western Australia are carried by post. So far postal matters and honorable senators’ opinions thereon have been on a purely city basis. I now draw attention to the greater needs of settlers, especially those in remote parts - a class of people who have a greater value per individual to the community at large than those who dwell in cities. It is most important that every facility should be given even, if necessary, at some pecuniary loss, to provide settlers with up-to-date information of what is happening in the world, not to whet their curiosity but to let them know how best they can dispose of the products they are sending -to the markets of the world. I endorse the remarks of Senator Greene in regard to church periodicals and those published by societies of people banded together for the purpose of disseminating knowledge and cultivating the arts and sciences. Such periodicals should receive most generous consideration. The objections I have raised may be grave, but they are not sufficient to justify my opposition to the second reading. I look forward to the progress of the bill through committee with a certain amount of hope that the demands now made by Senator McLachlan on behalf of the PostmasterGeneral will be considerably modified.
.- The only matter of importance that has struck me in connexion with this bill is that which has been brought under the notice of honorable senators by Senator Thomas - that at present, under the bulk system of postage, as many as 80 separate copies of a publication may be posted for the total cost of11/2d. It is ridiculous to expect the postal department to carry so many periodicals for that small amount, but it does not seem that any material advantage would be gained by increasing the rate to 21/2d. It seems hardly worth while amending the bill to do so. There is, possibly, as much work entailed in handling small publications as there is in sorting and delivering larger and bulkier periodicals, and I suggest that a more equitable basis of charging postage would be to fix the rate at so much per dozen.
– It is rather late in the day for honorable senators to criticize the use of the words “ offensive “ and *’ libellous “, because those words have been in use in the principal act for a considerable time. For instance, section 43 provides: -
The Postmaster-General or any deputy Postmaster-General may at any time cause any postal article having anything profane blasphemous indecent obscene offensive or libellous written or drawn on the outside thereof or any obscene enclosure in any postal article to be destroyed.
The power to destroy publications is greater than the power of deregistration which is now proposed to be given. Again, section 107 provides -
Any person who knowingly sends or attempts to send by post any postal article which - (a)…..
encloses an indecent or obscene print painting photograph lithograph engraving book card or article; or
has thereon or therein or on the envelope or cover thereof any words marks or designs of an indecent obscene blasphemous libellous or grossly offensive character, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding One hundred pounds or to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a termnot exceeding two years.
I admit that the use of the word “ offensive “ lends itself to some of the criticism which has been offered, but I do not think that the word “libellous” should have been interpreted as it has been by honorable senators.
– What does it mean?
– I would suggest that it means something in the nature of criminal libel, whereas the honorable senator seems to think that it may be made to cover accounts of some of the squalid rows that from time to time occur in certain political circles. It refers to something in the nature of a criminal libel that will be prosecuted in the criminal and not in the civil court. The proposed provision in regard to deregistration is built upon the power the PostmasterGeneral already has to destroy certain postal matter.
– In the one case he has power to destroy one issue of a newspaper, but now it is proposed to give him power to destroy the business of a newspaper.
– The business of a de-registered newspaper need not necessarily be destroyed. The proprietor has every opportunity to appeal from the decision of the Postmaster-General, and when an appeal is lodged the newspaper may continue to be carried pending the decision of the tribunal which hears the appeal. I have known of cases in which the Postmaster-General has taken action and an appeal has been lodged. In the meanwhile the newspaper has continued. I have no desire to be too rigid in my adherence to the language used in the bill. The powers of the department certainly need tightening up, but if honorable senators think that the language used ought to be modified I shall be quite easy on the matter. The chief reasons actuating the department in submitting this amendment of the act are met by the other and perhaps more appropriate language used in the clause.
Although it is not the desire of the Government to interfere with the rates which have been in operation for some time, it is absolutely necessary that there should be a re-classification under which newspapers are more clearly defined. Senator Findley referred to one publication - the Pastoral Review - which is registered as a newspaper.
– Yes, and has been for 50 years.
-Possibly so; but I do not think any honorable senator will contend that that publication is a newspaper. Although it is not the desire of the department to impose a heavy burden upon publishers who have enjoyed the low rates which have been in operation in the past or to prejudice them in respect of contracts into which they have entered, its work has become so heavy and unremunerative that an alteration is necessary. I cannot favorably consider Senator Thomas’ suggestion that we should make an all-round increase in the rates, as the dominant feature of postal legislation throughout the Empire is to transmit daily and weekly newspapers at low rates which are not applicable to magazines or periodicals. It is not a pleasant duty for me to assist in placing further burdens upon publishers of excellent magazines produced in Australia - copies, of which have been courteously supplied to me during the last, few weeks - who claim they will suffer in consequence of the high rates of postage proposed. I have already shown honorable senators that the increased rate is only small; but it is essential to draw a real distinction between newspapers and magazines, hitherto registered’ as newspapers, but which are really periodicals.
The point has been stressed that the proposed amendments to the act will bear harshly on the proprietors of journals which, in consequence of the amendments, will lose their classification as newspapers. It is necessary, in the firstplace, to point out that the publications in question are not newspapers in the generally accepted sense of the word, and it is only the wide definition of a newspaper contained in the present act, and a very liberal interpretation of that definition, which has enabled them to secure registration as newspapers. The proposed amendments to the act will place these publications in a class to which they properly belong, and in which they would be included by any of the other large postal’ administrations of the world, which extend concessionary rates of postage to newspapers. Their removal from the newspaper class will not deprive them of the advantages of a bulk rate of postage. They will continue to enjoy this concession, and although their new rate of postage will be higher than the present rate, the increase, under the circumstances which exist, is not excessive and will not, it is claimed, be sufficient to cover the loss the department at present sustains on this class of mail matter. In no other country in ‘the world except the United States do publications coming within the proposed definition of a periodical enjoy the advantages of a bulk rate of postage. The publisher has to pay postage at the same rate as the general public, and in most countries, in comparison with publishers in Australia, he is placed under two disadvantages, firstly, that he has no concession in regard to postage, and, secondly, that he has to pay separate postage on each separate package instead of the postage being calculated on the total weight of the consignment of journals posted at the one time. To show conclusively how reasonable are the proposed new rates, I give the following comparisons of the rates of postage which apply in the countries mentioned to periodical publications which do not comply with the definition of a newspaper -
Australia (proposed rate). - 21/2d. per 20 oz. calculated on the aggregate weight of the copies posted at the one time.
Great Britain. -1/2d. per 2 oz. per packet.
New Zealand. -1d. per 8 oz. per packet.
Canada. -1/2d. per 2 oz. per packet.
South Africa. -1/2d. per 2 oz. per packet.
In the United States of America publications such as those in question are charged postage on the basis of a separate rate for the ordinary letter press and a separate rate for the advertising matter contained in the publication - the former is at the rate of3/4d. per1b., and the latter ranges from1d. to per1b., according to the distance the publication is conveyed. There is no doubt that on the average this rate is considerably in excess of the proposed new rate for periodicals, as the latter is only 2d. per lb., irrespective of the distance the publication has to be conveyed. Certain publications issued weekly in Great Britain and registered as newspapers in that country, are of a similar character to certain publications issued monthly in Australia. The latter under the proposed amendments to the act will be classified as periodicals, and in consequence postings by the publishers will be subject to postage at the rate of 21/2d. per 20 oz. In the circumstances, it is pertinent to point out that even under the increased rate publishers of such publications in Australia will still enjoy a lower rate of postage than do their contemporaries in Great Britain, as the rate in Australia will be 21/2d. per 20 oz. calculated on the aggregate weight of the publications posted at the one time, while in Great Britain the rate is1d. per 6 oz., calculated on each posted copy . of the publication. There is ample justification for the proposed amendments to the act. The publications in question are not newspapers in the generally accepted sense of the term, and their transmission at the most unremunerative rate of postage prescribed for newspapers imposes a serious financial burden on the department. The packages of these publications, whether they contain one or more copies, have each to be separately sorted for despatch and delivery in the same manner as a letter or a packet, and the return received in postage is quite insufficient in many cases to even cover the cost of conveyance from the posting to the delivering point, irrespective of the additional heavy cost incurred in connexion with the treatment of the packages during transmission through the post. It is necessary also to point out that while the postage on certain periodicals will be increased, the postage on periodicals which are now transmitted at magazine rates will, so far as the publishers are concerned, be considerably reduced. At present the postage on the latter is at the rate of1d. per 8 oz. on each copy posted, whereas under the new conditions the postage would be 21/2d. per 20 oz. on the aggregate weight of the number posted at the one time. For example, the postage on twenty copies of a publication weighing 9 oz. is at present 3s. 4d., but under the new rate it would be 1s. 101/2d.
– Then the revenue received from some publications will not be as great?
– No. The size of certain publications has reached such dimensions as to place a heavy burden upon the department.
– It- will mean a loss of revenue.
– On magazines ; but an advantage will be gained in other directions. The department now desires to place the whole matter on a proper basis without doing an injustice to the publishers of periodicals and magazines.
Representations on behalf of publishers have been made in this chamber, by letter and telegram, and will later be made by a deputation, and these, as well as the point raised by Senator Foll, which has been under the consideration of the. department, will receive attention before the more important clauses of the bill are considered in committee.
– Do I understand that under the new rates the department will handle the same volume of business; but will actually be losing money.
– It will receive less revenue on some postal articles, and more on others. I am informed that comparatively few journals are transmitted at magazine rates owing chiefly to the fact that a large number are registered as newspapers; but I shall give honorable senators more information on that and other matters at a later stage. I endeavored to answer by interjection a statement to the effect that if this measure is passed it will interfere with a number of contracts into which the publishers of certain journals have entered. Honorable senators have noticed that this bill is not to come into operation until a date to be fixed by proclamation. I am assured by the department that the rearrangement of its affairs consequent upon the re-classification of newspapers and magazines will take a time sufficiently long to enable all current contracts to expire, and publishers, if they see fit, will be able to re-adjust their prices to meet the added postal charges provided for in this measure. As for church periodicals, that aspect of the matter can, I think, be better discussed in Committee. I can assure Senator Greene that no hardship will be imposed by the increase in the rates. The increases, in view of the weight of matter which can be carried, are really infinitesmal. The total amount of the increases are, I have been informed, in the vicinity of one- fortieth of a penny for each article posted. I ask the Senate to agree to the second reading so that we may go into committee, report progress, and obtain the opinion of those in the trade before the Senate meets again.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . . . 13
The following papers were presented : -
Audit Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1928, No. 38.
Public Service Act - Regulations amended -Statutory Rules 1928, No. 37.
[3.22]. - I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
When we re-assemble we shall have the Dried Fruits Export Bill and the Wine Bounty Bill for consideration, besides the Post and Telegraph Bill, which we have just been considering.
– I should like to obtain some further information about the Post and Telegraph Bill. I understood from the Minister that a deputation would wait on the Government, and that the bill would not be proceeded with until that deputation had been received. If that is so, will the Minister inform the Senate when and where the deputation will be heard, and when the bill will again come before the Senate ?
Senator McLACHLAN (South Australia - Honorary Minister [3.24]. - A definite date has not been fixed, but the deputation will probably be received by the Postmaster-General on Monday or Tuesday of next week, so that the necessary information will be available when we re-assemble on Wednesday.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 11 May 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1928/19280511_senate_10_118/>.