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Thursday, 28 August 1902

Sir PHILIP FYSH (Tasmania) (Ministerwithout portfolio) - I must again ask the attention of honorable members to the fact that the department is proposing to make concessions in this direction which are estimated at some £40,000 a year. It is, moreover, proposing to give to the community a cheaper telegraphic system than exists anywhere else in the known world. In making that statement I am quoting the words of Mr. Sassoun, who is associated with Mr. Sandford Fleming in electrical business. Honorable members may be of the opinion that the telegraphic systems of the United States and of Canada are cheap systems ; but Mr. Sandford Fleming, in speaking on the subject to a body of scientists specially interested in this matter, drew attention to the fact that the rates charged in those countries are practically twice as high as the rates charged elsewhere. There is in America a 50-cent. rate for telegrams sent from one town to another, but if a telegram is transmitted from Boston to San Francisco, the rate charged is 1 dollar. As a matter of fact, the proposals of the PostmasterGeneral are rather ahead of the times, because, whereas he proposes to give it minimum rate of½d. a word, and a maximum rate of1d. a word, the rate from London to different parts of the continent varies from 2d. a word to Paris, a distance of 287 miles, to 5½d. a word to St. Petersburg, a distance of 1,774 miles. The Postmaster-General wishes to continue to the town and suburban districts of five of the States the privilege of a special rate which they have hitherto enjoyed, and to extend that privilege to the town and suburban residents of Victoria, where, hitherto, there has been a uniform rate of 9d. throughout the State. In all the States but one there has hitherto been a town and suburban rate of 6d. a telegram for a limited number of words, with a charge of1d. a word for telegrams transmitted throughout the whole State, of 2d. a word for telegrams sent through two States, and of 3d. a word for telegrams sent through three States. In putting forward the proposals in the Bill, the Postmaster-General not only desires to legislate in a federal spirit for a federated community, but he evidently had in his mind the statement made by Mr. Sandford Fleming, that a feature of peculiar importance in the British telegraph service is the adoption of a uniform charge for all distances. The proposal of the honorable member for Grampians would give a uniform rate of1d. throughout the Commonwealth, but it would do away with the cheaper suburban rate. In considering whether he should adopt the zone system in regard to telegraph rates, the Postmaster-General was confronted with the provisions of section 99 of the Constitution, the correct interpretation of which is a matter worthy of the consideration of our legal friends, as to whether, in legislating for the Commonwealth, we are bound to regard every individual as entitled to the same privileges.

Sir William McMillan - What about the postage rates?

Sir PHILIP FYSH - Undoubtedly the rates are incongruous, but they exist under State laws. Directly the PostmasterGeneral comes to deal with the varying rates of postage, he must adopt the principle of an amendment, which was moved last evening by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, that they should be uniform.

Mr Glynn - Then a distinction ought not to be made between a man who sends a long telegram, and a man who sends a short one.

Sir PHILIP FYSH - The logic of that remark does not appeal to my mind. I do not propose to discuss the provision in section 99 of the Constitution Act. I merely call the attention of honorable members to the position, because it has occurred tome that if we cannot immediately adopt the letter, we must progress towards the spirit of the section, which says -

The Commonwealth shall not by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof .

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How would the honorable gentleman apply that principle of equality to States which are unequal in their natural conditions ?

Sir PHILIP FYSH - I am not going to deal with that point. I have not risen to make a learned disquisition on the law of that section, but I think that when we come to deal with the question of zones, we shall simplify the discussion, and get out of a great deal of difficulty, if we remember its existence, and the comments of the learned gentlemen who compiled the Annotated Constitution, in which they most distinctly lay down in connexion with services rendered - they even use the term ''postal services," I believe - that it would be a preference. With respect to the question whether the PostmasterGeneral is giving a cheaper service, I desire to make a few observations. The department has estimated the value of the reductions in the rates which are made by this Bill, at about £40,000 per annum. On a previous occasion I told honorable members that the Postmaster-General in consenting to give up that amount of revenue expects to receive a similar amount, or a little more, from the postage on newspapers Last evening the expectation of that in creased revenue was materially affected by the amendments carried in regard to the weight of newspapers. The department will lose a considerable sum by those altera tions.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think it will lose £100.

Sir PHILIP FYSH - Surely if the PostmasterGeneral proposes to carry 10 ozs. of newspaper for Id., and he is made to carry 20 ozs. for that rate, it is very certain that on ti le aggregate of 6,000 tons of newspapers which ave carried over our railways, and a large proportion of which goes on to the postal carts, he must be a considerable loser.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The rate will not operate on all that matter.

Sir PHILIP FYSH - It will operate very largely. However, I wish to limit my observations to the question immediately before the committee. I desire to call attention to a statement 'which has been rather forcefully obtruded upon honorable members, namely, that the schedule gives no advantages to the people - that instead of the 6d. suburban rate being maintained, it is being increased to 9d. I find that, whether the message be confined to twelve words or to 24 words, and even taking into consideration the charge for the address, Victoria gains considerably under the schedule. If I take the rate between New South Wales or Victoria and South Australia, I find that in every respect, excepting the twelve words, there is an all-round reduction - that whereas the rates are from 2s. to 3s., they will be from ls..6d. to 2s. So far as New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia are concerned, the rates which are at present from 3s. to 4s. 6d. will be reduced to ls. 6d., with a maximum of 2s. It will be a great disappointment I hold, to the people of the five States who have a suburban rate if it is discontinued. It is the cheapest service so far as the department is concerned. More profit is made on the suburban business than on any other ; the cost of construction is limited to a few miles instead of extending to hundreds of miles, while the cost of maintenance is proportionately less. Therefore, we may presume that, with a rate of Id. per word, the profit is greater over the short distance than over the long distance.

Mr Skene - Has the honorable gentleman any official statement to that effect ?

Sir PHILIP FYSH - No ; but I have been associated with a Postal department for a great many years, and in Tasmania we always considered that a- greater profit was made on the short mileage than on the long mileage. I think it will be found that the suburban rates on the mainland pay better than do the rates for long distances. A very large proportion, of the population of these States live within the operation of the suburban rates, and to rob the five States of the advantages which they have because Victoria has not enjoyed them is wrong. I believe that they would prefer to extend to Victoria the advantages which they enjoy. I hope that the suburban rate will be continued.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the honorable gentleman, before he resumes his seat, indicate what his attitude is with regard to charging for the address and the sender's name 1

Sir PHILIP FYSH - The PostmasterGeneral lays great stress on the advisability of enabling him to charge for the address and the sender's name. It has been stated by the honorable member for Parramatta that a return of the number of telegrams sent out of the Sydney office on a given day shows that about 90 per cent, averaged from five to fifteen words. My honorable colleague urges the advisability of malting the proposed charge, because he has valued the services to be rendered at over £95,000 per annum, and although I have heard the honorable member for Parramatta challenge the accuracy of that statement on. one or two occasions, it is indorsed by the Deputy Postmasters-General, who, being practical men, are in a position te support their statements. If it is seriously proposed to deprive the Postmaster-General of his right to make this charge, I must ask honorable members to consider at what cost it is to be done, and to give a reason why it should be done, seeing that in other important countries a charge is made. In New South Wales and Canada, the address is not charged for in connexion with a certain class of their business, but, as I said before, their rates are certainly twice those which are payable elsewhere.

Sir William McMillan - Does the 6d. suburban rate pay in Sydney, where the address is not charged for 1

Sir PHILIP FYSH - I am not in a. position to say. The department cannot afford t'o give way in every direction, and I must ask the committee to consider whether it is advisable to adopt a uniform rate of Id. per word for the Commonwealth, and to enable the Postmaster-General to make good some portion of the loss which it will entail by making a charge for the address, and the name of the sender. We cannot carry telegrams all over the Commonwealth at the rate of1d. per word, if we do not charge for the address and the sender's name, which are estimated at seven words, except at a very serious loss to the revenue. I hope that the committee will support the provision for a charge to be made.

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