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Thursday, 4 April 1968

Mr HULME (Petrie) (Postmaster-General) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill, Mr Speaker, is to bring into line with present day conditions certain provisions of the Post and Telegraph Act. This Act, which was framed in 1901, has, of course, been amended from time to time. The Bill I am now introducing is a continuation of this process. It covers several general areas, ranging from important to routine.

An important amendment deals with the carriage of mails by sea. A weakness in the Act was highlighted recently when a vessel departed from an Australian port leaving behind quite substantial quantities of mail. This was Christmas mail destined for the United Kingdom and Europe and the ship concerned was the last to leave Australia in time to allow delivery of the mail before Christmas. The present Part II of the Act lays down broad conditions relevant at the turn of the century for the carriage of mails by sea. These conditions are quite inappropriate now, as the incident 1 have mentioned demonstrates. The new Part II retains the Post Office authority to require a vessel to carry mail.

Legislative provision that outgoing vessels must accept any mails tendered is based on the traditional concept that ships are obliged to carry mail if required to do so by governments. Legislation of this nature was being applied by the Australian States well before Federation. The New South Wales Postage Act 1867 and the Victorian Post Office Act 1883, for example, contained these provisions. This is in line with British and New Zealand practices. The statutory provision has remained unchanged in Britain since at least the British Post Office Act of 1908, and similar legislation also exists in New Zealand. In future, except where its safety is involved, authority is given to detain a ship for 24 hours where there is reason to suspect that it may depart without the mail. A penalty of up to $1,000 is proposed for an offence against the new provisions.

The new Part II removes also a number of outdated provisions which, if applied rigorously, would hamper the movement of mails. An example is that special lockers be available on vessels for storage of mail. This is no longer practicable in view of the huge consignments of mail made today, many of which run into thousands of bags at individual ports. Similarly, the requirement that a ship's master offload the mails before reporting to Customs is out of date. Today, customs officers board vessels before they enter port.

It is proposed also in the amendments. Mr Speaker, to recognise the carriage of mail by aircraft. With the growth of airmail carriage and international airports within Australia for which mail is being made up by overseas administrations, provision is being made to ensure delivery of mail at the appropriate airport at which the international aircraft lands. However, no provision is being made in regard to the outward carriage of mail. External airmail carriage is a highly competitive business. It is arranged by way of agreements, not only between the international operators - government and private - and the Post Office, but also within the framework of the much broader inter-governmental agreements which may give the right to uplift mails and cargo from Australia.

I turn now to damage done to departmental plant by other authorities or people. Currently, this is costing the Post Office about $3m a year. I am referring particularly to cases where road making equipment and the like damages departmental cables. At present, it is difficult to recover costs because there is no statutory liability unless the damage result's from wilful, negligent or unlawful activity. The new section 139b introduces a statutory provision making any person who does work which damages Post Office property liable to pay compensation. This statutory liability is qualified, however, if the person has notified the Department that work is being done and has permitted a departmental officer to be in attendance while it is carried out. It has been framed to encourage co-operation between persons undertaking works which could affect departmental plant and the Post Office.

The Act at present provides that, where it is necessary for a telegraph line to be realigned or removed to allow for activities such as road widening, the cost shall be borne by the local authority concerned. But, in fact, Mr Speaker, many major road making project's today are undertaken by authorities which are not under any statutory obligation to meet costs incurred by the Post Office for plant realignment. Section 139c makes provision for these costs to be met by the authority concerned.

Opportunity has been taken to amend the definition of a telegraph line to ensure recognition of other important items of departmental plant. This includes items such as cable ducts and manholes which are integral parts of a telegraph line. Also, the Bill reduces from 18 to 16 feet the minimum height at which telegraph lines may be erected above public thoroughfares. This will save construction costs and the height of a line will still be above the maximum height of 14 feet 6 inches for motor vehicles.

Finally, Mr Speaker, the Bill makes two other changes. Section 97 is amended to permit the imposition of fines up to$200 or imprisonment up to 12 months for offences against regulations. These provisions are intended to curb the incidence of obscene telephone calls and to enable the commitment of offenders to an institution for treatment. Also amended are the titles of the State Directors, in the interests of uniformity with other Commonwealth legislation, to Director of Posts and Telegraphs. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.

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