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Wednesday, 27 August 1902

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I indicated my view upon this question very clearly a few nights ago, and I intend to support the honorable member in his proposal to establish a penny postage system throughout Australia. I think that the present is an appropriate time to make this change, and I fear that if we abstain from introducing the reform now, a full decade will pass before we shall have another favorable opportunity. It is urged on behalf of the postal authorities that the department is making a loss, and that the ledger should be made to balance before an}' reform, such as that now suggested, is introduced. In reply to that statement, I would point out that although Canada makes a loss upon her postal service at present, her deficiency has been smaller since the introduction of penny postage. There has always been a large loss upon the postal service of the Dominion, which is apparently not run with the idea of making a profit, or of even balancing the ledger. Therefore, the objection raised by the postal authorities loses . all point. It does not necessarily follow that the introduction of the penny postage system will make it more difficult to balance the' ledger than if matters are allowed to remain as at present. All the information available points to the fact that the introduction of the penny postage system would not involve any great loss. The experience of Victoria, perhaps, affords a better guide than that of Canada. It is shown that the first year's operations, after the penny postage was introduced in Victoria, resulted in a loss of only £11,000, plus a small increase in the cost of working.

Sir Philip Fysh - There was a difference between' revenue and expenditure, of £11,000, but the total loss incurred by the introduction of the penny postage system was £50,000.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the difference was made up by the receipts from telegrams, we shall have an excellent reason for reducing the telegraphic rates. At present Australia is the only country in the Empire which has not adopted the penny postage system, and we should not hesitate to make the proposed change in order to bring our arrangements into line with those of Great Britain and her dependencies. The only argument advanced against the introduction of an international penny postage was the fact that we levied a 2d. rate upon letters posted within our own borders. It was argued that if we carried letters from London into the interior parts of Australia for Id., the public would have a right to complain of the charge of 2d. upon letters conveyed from one part of Australia to another. We should do our best at the first opportunity to remove this obstacle in the way of the establishment of an international penny post. England has the penny postage system, and India, Canada, Cape Colony, Ceylon, Gibraltar, Jamaica, Natal, the Orange River Colony, and the Transvaal all enjoy the advantages of this great concession to the general public. New Zealand. led the way in this direction. Notwithstanding that she loses a little in consequence of the introduction of penny postage she has so liberalized her postal conditions all round, that- she makes a handsome profit out of the service. Our Post-office department will gain in many directions by the proposed reduction. I find that in Canada, since the introduction of penny postage, there has been a marked decrease in the number of postcards despatched. Many people who can send a letter at the cost of a penny discontinue the use of post-cards, even though their cost is reduced to a halfpenny. There has also been the notable increase of 25 petcent, in the number of registered letters.

It is in these directions that the revenue is compensated by the increase of facilities extended to the public. If the Victorian returns were examined in the same way, it would probably be found that the actual loss resulting from the introduction of penny postage has been very small indeed. Even if there has been a small loss, I still contend that this would be the most opportune time for conferring some tangible benefit upon the people of the union - a benefit which was distinctly promised to them prior to the inauguration of our federation. The chief aim of the PostmasterGeneral seems to be to square off his balancesheet, but the only result of his operations is to hamper and restrict the trading community. Now is the time to bring our postal system into line with those of countries whose official records show careers of great distinction and success. We need not fear the initial loss. If there be any, it will be rapidly made up to us. I do not believe that there is any analogy between Victoria and New South Wales, and I cannot believe that any loss whatever will be incurred in New South Wales by reason of the proposed change. Fully half the letters posted in New South Wales are forwarded in the city and suburbs at the penny rate. This practice did not prevail in Victoria prior to the introduction of the general penny postage in that State. In addition to the suburban penny postage system, we have all over the country thirteen-mile radii within which penny-postage rates prevail. In one instance, within my own electorate, letters can be sent 30 miles on the railway line to places within the thirteen-mile radius. The penny rate applies to a large number of our country towns, and it would be a good thing for us to abolish all irritating boundaries which now lead to a good deal of trouble. The loss involved would be very small indeed. In some of the other States the penny postage is charged within certain areas. If that be the case we shall be able to adjust matters very much more easily than have the people of Victoria. I cannot reconcile myself to the belief that in 'making the change the Commonwealth would suffer an}' loss worth considering. I know the nature of the Estimates which are compiled in the Postal department. They constitute the veriest guess-work, and surely we are just as well able to guess as are the officers of that' department. I will undertake to say that there is not an official in the whole postal service of Australia who, if asked the basis upon which this calculation was made, could give a satisfactory answer. He would have to confess that it was based upon mere guess-work. One of the ablest officers in the department used frankly to make that avowal. Therefore I disregard these Estimates, which are of a conservative character - as perhaps they ought to be, seeing that they emanate only from officials who are not responsible. I hold that in this matter the Ministry should accept all responsibility. These Estimates are intended rather to guide than to control a Minister. Wherever the latter sees good commercial and substantial reasons for departing from them - reasons which affect our relations with the whole Empire - he ought to set them completely aside and exercise his own common sense. Every one of the Estimates which have been made regarding the loss which would accrue consequent upon the adoption of the penny postage system has been woefully belied by the operation of that system. It was so in Canada and New Zealand. In no case has the decreased revenue, which it was predicted would result from the proposed change, been realized. Notwithstanding the lugubrious-looking Estimates which the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral has in his possession, and which I apprehend he will shortly submit to the committee as the opinion of experts, I hold that we ought to make the change, believing that we are as well able to guess the. probable postal revenue as are the officials of that department, who know nothing about the commercial operations of the country. I trust that the committee will agree to the proposal of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. Now is the time when we ought to make the innovation. It is an innovation which will be fraught with the greatest good to Australia. It would constitute a Commonwealth gift to the people, which they would highly appreciate, and would represent the only material advantage which so far has accrued to them from the federation of these States.-

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