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Wednesday, 20 August 1902

Mr BATCHELOR (South Australia) - In his speech last night, the honorable member for Parramatta claimed that nothing tangible in the way of reform had yet resulted from the transfer of the Post and Telegraph department to the Commonwealth. Every one, I think, must admit the accuracy of that statement. The Government, however,' can fairly claim that this Bill affords the first opportunity which has presented itself of showing that, they desire some tangible reform to accrue from the federalizing of the post-offices. I notice that in his Budget the South Australian Treasurer claims that the only result of federation, so far as the administration of the post-offices of that State is concerned, has been to increase the expenditure by £20,000.

Sir Edward Braddon - And to reduce the revenue.

Mr BATCHELOR - I do not think it is claimed that the revenue has been reduced, but the South Australian Treasurer distinctly stated that last year an additional £20,000 was expended in the conduct of the Postal department of that State. I should like the Minister in charge of this Bill, in his reply, to inform me what foundation there is for that assertion. I am inclined to believe that the South Australian Treasurer is including in his estimate additional- expenditure which was incurred by that State, and "not by the Federal Government. So far as South Australia is concerned, I agree that no advantage is likely to be gained by that State for a great many years from federalizing the Postal department. Almost to a man and woman, South Australia was against the proposal tq federate the postal services, in the belief that no advantageswould result from such a course of action, and certainly up to the present time thatprediction has been verified. I admit thatin this Bill a very fair attempt is made to provide the community with a cheaper service.. The two main principles of the measure areuniform telegraph rates and uniform postal charges upon newspapers. Of course, noattempt is made to bring about uniform, postal rates, because the action of Victoria in adopting the penny postage system before - the other States were ripe for it precludes the possibility of anything like uniformity being established in this connexion. With the principle of uniformity every one must agree, seeing that the postal services are nowfederated. The only point which arises is whether this is the right time to effect uniformity, seeing that any such action would', place some of the States in a serious financial difficulty. I admit that from the very inception of federation that trouble has hampered the Postmaster-General. It is veryeasy to talk about reforms which would be to. the advantage of Australia as a whole, but, unfortunately, owing to the financial clauses of the Constitution there is no possibility of effecting them without disaster tosome of the States. The reduced telegraph rates proposed under this Bill will involve South Australia in an annual loss of £26,000. That is a somewhat serious matter for that State in the present circumstances.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How does the honorable member get an estimate of that kind 1

Mr BATCHELOR - It is not my estimate, but the estimate of the local authorities. That is expected to be the lossincurred by the reduction of the Inter-State, telegraphic rates. The business between. South Australia and Western Australia, for instance, is very considerable, themessages from New South Wales and Victoria to Western Australia passing through that State.

Mr Fowler - The South Australian, public are crying out for a reduction.

Mr BATCHELOR - The Australian public are always crying out to get everything ascheaply as possible. I am merely mentioning the fact that, so far as the South Australian revenue is concerned, there will at first be a considerable fallingoff, though ultimately, I believe, the increased business will more than compensate. Unfortunately, however, for some of the States, the first loss happens to come at a time when there is serious difficulty in making both ends meet.

Mr.V. L. Solomon. - The charge for addresses on Western Australian traffic will largely make up the loss on any reduction on the rates.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then there is practically no reduction in the rates.

Mr BATCHELOR - I admit that there may not be such a great reduction in revenue as appears on the surface. We know, how- ever, that people who do an extensive telegraph business will register addresses, so that two or three words may probably cover the address at either end.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That only applies to business traffic, and not to general traffic.

Mr BATCHELOR - But we are speaking of the traffic between Western Australia and South Australia, most of which is that of business firms, the general or casual traffic not being very great.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - In that I think the honorable member is wrong. There is a large amount of casual traffic, consisting of messages which pass between men in Western Australia and their families in the different States. This applies more to Western Australia than to any other State.

Mr BATCHELOR - I am talking about the bulk of the traffic, which, as in other States, is undoubtedly connected with business. It is of no use our blinking the fact that there must be an immediate loss, though I believe therewill not be a loss for long. I know that, personally, for one telegram I send at 2s., I should send ten at1s., and I believe the same might be said of a great manypeople. That would lead to a much larger revenue than is received at present ; but it happens that during the coming year, and probably for the next few years, most of the States, and certainly South Australia, will have the greatest difficulty in making ends meet. Direct taxation is all that is now left to the States, and in South Australia1s.1½d. in the£l has been imposed on all incomes over £800 a year, and the income which is exempt from taxation has been placed as low as £120.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member knows what happens when people cannot pay their way.

Mr BATCHELOR - I do not quite see what the honorable member is driving at.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - " Needs must " when a certain gentleman drives-

Mr BATCHELOR - Our business is to see to the interests of the States, and not place them in a position in which they cannot pay their way. The Commonwealth has absorbed the main sources of revenue, and in South Australia the already heavy direct taxation has been increased by the addition of¼d. in the £1 all round on the land tax. In that State taxation has been increased in many ways never attempted or thought of in other States. The argument that any deficiency may be made up by move direct taxation does not apply with such force to South Australia as to any other State of the Commonwealth, or possibly to any colony inthe Empire. That is my difficulty in regard to the Bill. I admit the soundness of the principles of the measure, and that the sooner they are carried into effect the better it will be for the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole, though ther esults may be most disastrous to the revenue of particular States. We are "between the devil and the deep sea." We have to face the difficulty of squaring our duty to the Commonwealth with our duty to the States. There is one other point to which I desire to refer, if the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. V. L. Solomon, does not desire to deal with it.

Mr.V. L. Solomon. - I know the point to which the honorable member refers, but I do not think there is much in it.

Mr BATCHELOR - The point is whether the rate on the PortDarwin line will be affected by this Bill - whether the rate will come down to 9d. for twelve words. The rate for international telegrams is fixed by agreement at 4d. per word, and if the Bill applies to the Darwin line that rate will not be paid by persons who send cable messages. Some arrangement will doubtless be made by which messages will be transmitted at 9d. to Port Darwin, and then sent on for the usual charges of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have looked carefully into the agreement, and I do not think the Bill will affect the rate on the Port Darwin line. The same rate will be paid from Port Darwin as from Adelaide.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is in the agreement.

Mr BATCHELOR - I have not seen the agreement during the last few months, and therefore I am not sure on the point.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member for Parramatta and myself carefully went into the question this morning.

Mr BATCHELOR - Then I need not dwell further on the point.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There will be trouble over the matter all the same, because people will not consent for long to pay the higher rate.

Mr BATCHELOR - The Port Darwin line is some 2,000 miles long, and costs a great deal more for maintenance than any other line in the Commonwealth. It traverses an uninhabited country, and the expense of transmission and other necessary work is, of course, very heavy as compared with that connected with other lines in Australia.

Mr Fowler - Surely the expense is equally high on the Western Australian line?

Mr BATCHELOR - In Western Australia the expense is not nearly so high as that which has to be met in the Northern Territory. The Port Darwin line is a single line, running through a country where, but for the operators, there would be practically no population.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The line ought to be federalized at once.

Mr Kirwan - The honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, advocates a railway to Port Darwin.

Mr BATCHELOR - There is no hiding the fact that I do advocate such a line. Until communication is established there can be no development.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The country is a desert when the honorable member is discussing telegraphic rates, but otherwise, it " blooms as the rose."

Mr BATCHELOR - That is not a fair remark. I never heard anybody talk about the country along the Port Darwin telegraph line " blooming as the rose ; " but at the same time it is not a desert. What I say is that the country is uninhabited and undeveloped owing to the want of communication. Unfortunately it does not appear that there is to be an early opportunity for this Commonwealth to acquire the Northern Territory owing to what I think is a most ill-advised action on the part of the South Australian authorities. I know I should be trespassing if I went into that question, but honorable members must recognise that there is a considerable difference between the Port Darwin line and any other line in the Commonwealth. The Port Darwin line was built at a time when South Australia contained a mere handful of people, and the cost has been an enormous burden on the people of that State for a great many years. No doubt the line now pays expenses, and returns a profit, but up to the present day it has not repaid . the people of South Australia. The line belongs to the Commonwealth, but South Australia is responsible for the interest.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In fact, the people of South Australia are perfect martyrs to the Commonwealth idea.

Mr BATCHELOR - The honorable member for Parramatta is always picturing the people of South Australia as greedy capitalists or monopolists, who suck the lifeblood of New South Wales.


Mr BATCHELOR - As a matter of fact, the mean lies between the two extremes.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The people of South Australia, by the construction of that line, did more to advance Australia than has been done by any other national work.

Mr BATCHELOR - There is no doubt about that. I did not mention it, because it is obvious. South Australia, by her patriotic act in shoulderingthat burden, did more for the advancement of Australia than any other action which has taken place in our history. But why should she be called upon to continue to bear it? We ask that it may be federalized, and divided amongst the States.


Mr BATCHELOR - I do not know how a line can be federalized under the present financial scheme of the Commonwealth. Honorable members talk of the extreme rates which South Australia is charging, but I would ask them to remember that the rate has been reduced from 7d., two years ago, to 5d., and that next year it will be 4d. While honorable members are right in wishing to push forward postal reforms, we must not forget the financial positions of the respective States. I regard the proposal to make newspapers pay postage in all the States as a fair one. I do not know why newspapers should be carried through the post free. ' For many years South Australia has been charging postage on newspapers, and it has been cheerfully paid by all concerned. I shall support the second reading of the Bill.

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