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Friday, 9 August 1901
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Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think it would be a very much better arrangement if the Minister for Defence was in the Senate and the Postmaster-General occupied a seat in this Chamber. I do not urge this in the nature of a complaint, because the treatment which we receive here by those who act for the Postmaster-General is uniformly courteous. But it is always inconvenient to deal indirectly with the Postmaster-General instead of directly. This Bill does not pretend to lay down the policy of the Postoffice with regard to the charges to be levied and other postal conditions. In the very fore-front of this Bill I take exception to clause 2, which seems to give the Government the right to continue the unequal conditions of the Post-office which now obtain in the various States. Some of the States, for instance, have the penny postage system, others have not. Some have postal advantages which others have not. We were constantly told in the contest which preceeded the adoption of the Constitution Act that one of the results of federation would be to level up the conditions of our post and telegraphic services. That was held out as one of the great advantages to be derived from federation. This Bill, on the very face of it, sets out with the distinct object of perpetuating the present inequalities and of carrying on the services as they are now carried on. I cannot help feeling that this is a mistake. If ever there was a time when we ought to make a bold plunge with regard to our post and telegraph rates, it ought to be at the beginning of Inter-State free-trade. I believe that the breaking down of the artificial barriers which at present exist, and the institution of Inter-State free-trade will give such a tremendous fillip to our Inter-State relationships as to make up the margin of loss that would accrue from the adoption of the penny postage system. That has been the casein Canada and in New Zealand. In Canada there was at first a slight loss. In New Zealand there was no loss. The aggregate business there under the lower rates of payment is much greater than it was under the higher. If this is so in New Zealand, where no advantages are to be gained by the breaking down of internal barriers, surely the abolition of those barriers here will give such a fillip to our commerce as to more than recompense us. To me it seems peculiarly appropriate that, with the advent of Inter-State free-trade, we should make this plunge and begin our national life by adopting the penny postage system. In moving the second reading of this Bill, the honorable member for Tasmania, Sir Philip Fysh, gave us some figures which showed that there was a resultant loss at the present time on the operations of this department of about £200,000 per annum. The Postmaster-General, in introducing the Bill to the notice of the Senate, said that the loss was about £119,000. That is a very small item indeed when spread over the whole of the States, and should afford no obstacle to the immediate adoption of the lower uniform rate. I do not pretend to be a lawyer and to interpret the Constitution, but it appears to me that if we are going to continue differential postage rates in the various States we shall come into conflict with section 99 of the Constitution Act. I leave that point, however, for other honorable members to deal with, as I do not pretend to be a lawyer. We are told by the PostmasterGeneral and his representative in this Chamber that the Post-office is going to take away from us some of the privileges which we now enjoy. If that be so, what advantage are we to gain from the accomplishment of federation, so far as the post and telegraph services are concerned ?

Sir Philip Fysh - Take away these privileges from whom ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that the honorable member said the public must concede something. ^

Sir Philip Fysh - Newspapers.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honorable member said that the public must concede something, the press must concede something, and the Government must concede something, all with the object of striking a financial balance at the Post-office, lt appears to me that the present central control is very much more cumbersome than was the State control formerly. I do not believe that this is essential to federation. It indicates rather that there has been a precipitancy in taking over these departments before a better scheme had been, preferred for their more facile working. The Government were so anxious to multiply their functions that, the moment they had the power so to do, they took over this department without waiting to elaborate a plan which would give us a better and not a worse service. The result is that the machine moves very much more slowly than it used to do under State control." As an instance, I may mention a letter which I wrote to the PostmasterGeneral in reference to a certain matter. A fortnight elapsed before I received an acknowledgment of the letter. How long it will take to get the business through I do not pretend to know. But I insist that the advent of federation was supposed to be the * beginning of a new order of things for the more efficient working of the Post-office. If we are to have a more cumbersome scheme, where is the advantage of taking over that department ?

Mr Thomas - What is the advantage of federation?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not say that. I do not think that federation is an inherent disadvantage. The difficulty arises from the too great precipitancy with which the department was transferred. Another illustration is afforded by the fact that when an honorable member wants repairs effected to some local Post-office he is told that there are no funds available. But the Treasurer tells me that there are funds. If there are funds available for this purpose, and if the States do not know that these funds are available, that indicates a want of proper relationship between the State control and the federal control. It is due to a want pf proper and efficient organization of the federal machine. If these difficulties are to be met with on the threshold of federation, I think that we ought to strain a point to give the people some compensating advantages, and it would have been a timely thing at the beginning of our federal existence to have boldly gone in for the penny postage system. Within a measureable distance I think we ought to revert to sixpenny telegrams within the States. .1 take exception also to the attitude of the Postmaster-General, as to his functions, and as to the prime object which the Post-office should have in view. I find from the speech of the Postmaster-General that he lays down this dictum -

The duty I take it of the Postal department is to convey messages, newspapers, and parcels for payment, and I think we will never get upon a sound financial basis until all the revenue that is collected by the Postal department is used exclusively for that purpose and for no other.

I take the strongest possible exception to that dictum. The idea of running a Postoffice is not to make money out of it, but to serve the convenience of the public. If we make money in the process so much the better, but the prime purpose of the Post-office is not that it shall be run merely as a private concern is run, but that it shall serve equally the whole of the people, and be strained to suit the convenience of the public in their social, commercial, private, and domestic life. If we are to run 'the Post-office to make money, the first thing we shall have to do is to cut away all the subsidies which that department now pays for the conveyance of its mails, and the keeping open of its telegraph and cable communication. What does the Post-office get out of the cable communication directly, arguing the matter as one of pounds, shillings, and pence 't For years past we have been paying the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company £32,000 annually for cable communication. Not a penny has come directly to the Post-office in return for that expenditure. The same remark is applicable to the subsidizing of our mail boats. None of these services pay for themselves. If we are to apply the principle of pounds, shillings, and pence to the Post-office, and to lay down the dictum that our duty is to convey messages, parcels, and newspapers only for payment, we shall have to lop off all these subsidies to begin with.

Sir William McMillan - It is possible for the Post-office to be made to pay, and at the same time for it to offer all conveniences to the public.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not arguing the possibility of such a thing. I believe that it is possible to make the Post-office pay. We have merely to regulate our outlay by our income and die thing is done. The man who has the powers which are proposed to be given to the Postmaster-General under this Bill need have no fear of being unable to make the department pay. He has only to lop off the privileges which we now enjoy until the paying point is reached. The Postmaster-General proposes to do that. We were told the other night that the Government were going to take away £80,000 worth of our privileges as a first instalment of this idea of making the Postoffice pay. In this connexion reference has been made to a probable discontinuance of the practice of carrying newspapers and weather telegrams free of charge, and of other privileges which the people as a whole now enjoy. But let it be understood that whatever is thus gained in money will be lost from the point of view of the convenience of the whole community.

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