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Thursday, 31 July 1902

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have ] rather a serious grievance, -which I brought under the notice of the Government before without effect, and which, I think, ought to be redressed at once. I offer j no apology for again occupying the time of the House on the subject. Unfortunately, the Postmaster-General does not occupy a seat in this House, where he could be interrogated. All information, in reply to our inquiries, has to filter through another Minister ; we have to wait some days before we get a reply to an inquiry, and very often it is of a very unsatisfactory nature. The time has arrived, I think, when some alteration ought to be made in the allotment of portfolios. The Postmaster- General should be in attendance in this Chamber to reply to our questions. Some time ago I brought under the notice of the Government the question of the rates for press telegrams. I then expressed the hope that the Government would see the fairness of the suggestion I made, and at once remedy the grievance I complained of, and the view I took was shared, I believe, by a large majority of honorable members. Although the matter was pressed on the notice of the Government by honorable members on this side, by the leader of the labour party, and by others, and the Government promised to give consideration to the suggestion I made, still the grievance exists, as I find from reference to the recent regulations issued by the Postmaster-General. It is very difficult to secure a copy of the regulations. At the General Post-office in Sydney, I was told that as they are printed at the Government Printing-office, in Melbourne, they could be procured from only that place. Some provision ought to be made to enable persons in the various States to procure the regulations without being called upon to send to Melbourne for them. I believe that the regulations were in force for some days before a copy of them was obtainable. On page 259 of the Gazette I find this regulation : -

Commonwealth press telegrams shall mean fcl lose relating to Parliamentary and Executive proceedings of the Commonwealth, or parliamentary papers and Bills ; or summaries thereof, without notes, comments ; or information given by Commonwealth Ministers for publication.

The interpretation of press telegrams is still the same as that which I gave some weeks ago. During the last few weeks, in response to an invitation, the leader of the Opposition visited various districts in Victoria, and delivered several addresses. Honorable members opposite may differ from my right honorable and learned friend's views on fiscal matters, but we all agree that, no matter what opinions a nian may hold, he has a perfect right to. express them, and that no distinction should be drawn between the speeches of the leader of the Opposition, the leader of the labour party, or any other member of the House, and those delivered by Ministers. All the telegraphic reports of my right honorable and learned friend's speeches inVictoria to the various States were charged at the rate of 3s. per 100 words. But a Ministerial comment on his deliverances at one meeting was telegraphed to the various States at the rate of1s. per 100 words. Is that fair or just?

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - Has the honorable member verified that ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is correct according to the regulations. I know that the reports of my honorable and learned friend's speeches were charged for at the rate of 3s. per 100 words, and I am told that comments of Ministers on one speech of his - as they are on any federal or other matter - were wired to the various States at the rate of only1s. per 100 words.

Sir William Lyne - Have any of the Ministers commented on those speeches ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think my honorable friend will find that they have. A reference appeared in one of the newspapers to certain comments made in Melbourne. 1 think my honorable friend will find that he commented on one speech.

Sir William Lyne - No; I have that to do vet.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My honorable friend will not deny that any Ministerial comment on. any speech relating to federal matters is telegraphed to the other States at the rate of1s. per 100 words, and that if any other honorable member speaks on a question of policy or criticises the action of the Government, a telegraphed report to the other States from Victoria, is charged at the rate of 3s. per 1 00 words. It is a most unfair regulation. The people of the Commonwealth have a right to know the opinions of, not only Ministers, but every member of this Parliament. Another unfair regulation is in force. Some weeks ago the Minister for Home Affairs delivered, in Sydney, a speech on some question, and the telegraped reports to the other States were charged for at the rate of 3s. per 100 words. Of course, the proprietors of the newspapers wished to know the reason why the charge was made, and a letter from the Postal department explained that it was made because the speech was delivered in Sydney instead of Melbourne, and that if it had been delivered in Melbourne the reports would have been sent to the other States at the rate of1s. per 100 words. I have the official reply to the effect. The Government are deliberately endeavouring to prevent free criticism of their actions. If they are not afraid of criticism, why do they not give the same consideration to the utterances of private members as to their own utterances ? No doubt some honorable members will say that the utterances of Ministers are more important. That is a matter of opinion. Take the case of the Customs department. I could cite innumerable instances where persons have been harassed, or seriously inconvenienced, by the maladministration of affairs in that department. If an honorable member were to be interviewed on the subject of that maladministration, the report would be transmitted to the other States at the rate of 3s. per 100 words. But if the Minister for Trade and Customs chose to reply, the representatives of the Inter-State press could wire his criticisms at the rate of1s. per 100 words. Is that fair?

Mr Kingston - Does the honorable member mean to say that the Post-office franks my utterances cheaper than those of other honorable members ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It does. I do not know why my right honorable friend should have that distinction, but it is so ; and it is a matter that ought to be remedied at once. Then , there is another regulation providing that if a telegram happens to be sent from Melbourne to a newspaper in some other part of Australia at press rates, and the message happens to be crowded out- if the newspaper editor cannot see his way clear to publish it owing to lack of space - it must be charged for at ordinary rates. A strict watch is kept at the Post-office, and the department reckons that such telegrams ought to be treated as private messages.

Mr Mahon - That is ridiculous.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am only I showing the ridiculous nature of the alterations in the regulations. An alteration has also been made in regard to trunk telephone lines, fixing the maximum distance for ordinary telephone communications at 10 miles. The matter is one that does not concern my district, but it does concern some places which have been entitled to lower rates for many years. People at these places, under the new regulations, will not he able to communicate as freely as they could do before. They will be charged at the rate of 6d. per five minutes conversation if the wire is under 25 miles in length.

Mr Hughes - Does that apply to private subscribers?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; if this regulation is carried out the department will fix the limit at 10 miles, and for all wires above that distance trunk line rates will be charged. That is to say, private subscribers will be unable to communicate as freely as they have hitherto done, and will be charged at the rate of 6d. per five minutes' conversation. Many other alterations have been made in connexion with the Post-office regulations which should claim the attention of Ministers. I hope that now that the subject has been brought under their notice they will realize that a gross injustice has been perpetrated to honorable members, whether they sit upon one side of the House or the other, in regard to press messages, and that the grievance will be remedied. I do not think any one can defend a regulation which compels the press to pay 3s. per 100 words for telegraphing speeches delivered by private members, whilst the utterances of Ministers are sent over the same lines at the rate of1s per 100 words. If that is done what will happen ? Take the case of a speech delivered by the honorable member for Bland, or any other honorable member, in Melbourne. A telegraped report of that speech will charged for at the rate of 3s. per 100 words. But in order to get over the difficulty, and to secure a reduction, what might be done is this : A newspaper reporter could send the telegram to Wodonga, and then have it telegraphed from Wodonga to Sydney. By adopting this plan, he would get the message sent for 2s. per 100 words - a reduction of1s. per 100 words ; whereas by sending the message direct from Melbourne to Sydney, his office would have to pay 3s. per 100 words. What sense is there in a regulation of that kind?

Mr Brown - What about speeches delivered in this Chamber?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The regulation does not refer to speeches delivered in this Chamber, but only to those made outside. Suppose that when the recess takes place a speech is delivered in Melbourne by a Minister, or he gives official utterance to certain views, that message will be telegraphed for1s. per 100 words. But if the honorable member for Canobolas, or any other honorable member, was interviewed by the press as to his views upon the Ministerial manifesto, that utterance, if telegraphed, would have to be paid for at the rate of 3s. per 100 words. I hold that that is not fair to honorable members, nor is it fair to Australia. If Ministers submit proposals, or make official utterances, and if any other honorable member likes to criticise them, the same rates should be charged for telegraphing the opinions of the private member with respect to the Ministerial utterances as are charged for the transmission of the statements of Ministers themselves. It is all very well for Ministers to adopt this practice now they are in office. They can sit comfortably in their chairs and say to themselves - "We know very well that whatever wesay there will be very little chance of speeches delivered by certain honorable members beingtransmitted to theother States, because the newspapers will have to pay three times the amount for transmitting them that they have to pay for telegraphing our utterances." But Ministers should remember that they will not always be in office. I hope, for the good of the Commonwealth, that they will not be. Therefore, they should endeavour to deal fairly in respect to this matter, so that no undue preference is given to Ministers compared with ordinary Members of Parliament. I trust that the Government will give careful consideration to the matter. I have brought it under their notice before to-day, and they promised an inquiry ; but the practice has continued. I do not wish to takeup the time of the House unnecessarily, but I thought it my duty on grievance day to bring the matter under the notice of the Government. I did not want to move the adjournment of the House, because it would delay business. But grievance day has been set apart for such purposes as this, and I make no apology for again bringing the matter forward. I hope that the Government will pay attention to my complaint, and that an alteration will be made, so that . private members may be placed on an equal footing with the members of the Federal Government.

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