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Thursday, 27 November 1941

Senator ASHLEY (New South WalesPostmasterGeneral) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time, f should have been far happier had this been an occasion on which I had the privilege of informing honorable senators of proposals for reducing postal and telephone rates. That, however, is an event to which I look forward in the future. In order to assist in meeting the huge expenditure with which the Com monwealth is confronted in carrying on the war activities of the nation, the Government has examined ways and means by which the postal department might be utilized for raising additional revenues. I shall now proceed to outline in detail the conclusions reached, which were referred to briefly in the speech delivered by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) when introducing the Estimates and Budget Papers. In normal circumstances the Government would hesitate to approve of postal charges being increased merely for the purpose of securing additional revenue; but these are not normal times, and it is considered that there is full justification for the proposals which I shall proceed to explain. Honorable senators will be interested to learn that in the United Kingdom and other Empire countries war-time increases have already been imposed in respect of charges for certain postal services with the object of securing additional revenues. The nature of the increases proposed in this bill are such that the public generally will be obliged to meet them only to the degree that they use the services provided by the postal department. The average man who writes only a few letters and has little occasion to make telephone calls will not be greatly affected by these increases, but businesses will, of course, be obliged to face a larger expenditure, according to the use they make of the services provided. The proposed increases relate only to postage and telephone charges. It is not intended to vary the telegraph tariffs or the broadcast listener's licence-fee. The Government has decided that a war postage tax of id. for each postal article, both domestic and overseas, would form an equitable basis- for the provision of additional revenue. In this connexion it is interesting to recall that, during the last war, a postage tax which was introduced in October, 1918, was applied to all postal articles other than parcels, payment being made by means of ordinary postage stamps affixed to the articles. In regard to the domestic service, it is provided in this bill that, in the case of postal articles posted in the Commonwealth for delivery therein, a war postage charge of £d. for each postal article shall be imposed, irrespective of weight, with the following exceptions: -

(a)   Articles of all classes posted by or to members of the Commonwealth Military Forces: It is intended that transmission of such mail matter shall continue at the specially reduced rates of postage which at present apply, and that the war postage tax shall not be imposed.

(b)   Newspapers and periodicals posted at bulk rates of postage: It is intended in respect of such articles that the war postage charge of½d. will be payable on each unit of weight, for example, on each 20 oz. for newspapers and each 16 oz. for periodicals, calculated on the aggregate weight of the postings made at the one time.

(c)   Parcels transmitted by parcels post: Only a comparatively small amount of additional revenue would be secured from the application of the tax to parcels and, in view of the competition from other parcels carrying concerns, it is conceivable that the traffic would be detrimentally affected by the imposition of the -½d. tax, especially as the rates of postage on parcels are now higher than they were during the last war. This follows the course adopted in 1918 when the war postage tax was not applied to parcels.

Coincident with the imposition of a war postage charge on domestic mail matter a. similar charge will be made on postal articles addressed to places beyond the Commonwealth, with the following exceptions : -

(a)   Postal articles addressed to exmembers of the Commonwealth or Empire Forces abroad;

(b)   parcels; and

(c)   air mail articles addressed to other countries on which the present charge is higher than the charge for domestic air mail articles.

The rates of postage on parcels posted for delivery abroad are fixed by agreement with the countries concerned, and can not be altered without negotiations which may extend over a long period.

I have no pleasure in announcing these increases. I do not believe that a public utility, such as the Postal Department, which makes such large surpluses each year, should increase its rates ; but such an imposition is necessary in order to supplement the revenues in these difficult times. During the last war an additional postage of id. was imposed on all articles. The then Government regarded the increase as an equitable impost. Later, during the depression, a further impost of½d. for each article was imposed, bringing the postage rate up to 2d. The Government now proposes to add a further½d. for the purpose of raising additional revenue for the prosecution of the war. If increases of the postage rates were justified in 1918, and during the depression, surely the small increase proposed in this billis justified when the Government is called on to meet commitments unprecedented in the history of this country. I trust that the bill will be given a speedy passage.

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