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Wednesday, 1 November 1905

Senator BEST (Victoria) - I agree with Senator Pulsford that we are called upon to consider this proposal from two standi points: first as to whether the agreement isdesirable* and, secondly, the incidence of the payment of the subsidy. I am in full accord with the patriotic ideas expressed by Senator Pulsford and Senator Macfar- lane. From the Empire stand-point I am. anxious to encourage and cement the closest relationships between Australia and otherBritish communities. Therefore I feel that we must be prepared - to makesacrifices which, we hope, will ultimately result in material commercial advantage. The incidence pf the payment of the subsidy is a matter to which the Senate requires to give the closest consideration. I agree with Senator Clemons that practically we are only justified in dealing with this contract as a mail contract. We have to observe that vast and serious alterations are going to take place, and we must be prepared, I admit, to meet all the obligations which, from the financial and trade stand-points, are imposed upon us by the Constitution. If the alterations be serious, that imposes upon us the additional' responsibility of careful consideration. According to the figures which have beensubmitted, New South Wales has hithertopaid to this service £13,000, and isnow required to pay £9,650 ; Victoria has hitherto paid £744, and is now required to pay £[8,000; Queensland' has hitherto paid £10,227, and isnow required to pay £3,457 ; South Australia has hitherto paid ,£64, and is now required to pay £2,470; Western Australia is called upon to pay £1,606 ; and Tasmania, which has hitherto paid £109, isnow called upon to pay £1,194. If it is clear that, according to the terms of the Constitution, the several States are obliged to bear this altered incidence of the subsidy, then undoubtedly we must accept the situation. When any objection has been taken to the form of the motion it has beensaid, by the representatives of Queensland,, and, I think, by one or two representatives of New South Wales, that an un-Federal spirit is being exhibited. I trust that they will permit a statement of the various aspects of the proposal from which the representatives of other States are called upon toview it. Prior to Federation, New South Wales and Queensland, conceiving that it would be to their mutual advantage, undertook the responsibility of initiating a direct service with Canada. That was done primarily in the interest of those States. Whenthe Post and Telegraph Department was transferred, the Commonwealth, had to take over all existing contracts. It is quite true that, within the last year or two, :Some alteration has been made in this particular contract, and the proportion of benefit derived therefrom has been varied to some extent. The official figures for each State are as follow : - New South Wales, letters, 59 per cent.,- other articles, 61 per cent. ; Victoria, letters, 22 per cent., other articles, 28 per cent. ; Queensland, letters, 1.2 per cent., other articles, 7 per cent. ; South Australia, letters,. 3 per cent, Other articles, 1.50 per cent. ; and Tasmania, letters, 4. per cent, other articles, 2 per cent. No figures for Western Australia are given in the return. I do not hesitate to say that quite apart from- the constitutional aspect, it would be reason - able to urge that the States should bear the onus of this subsidy in proportion to the benefits they derive. But the only true test, I submit, is to regard this contract from the mail stand-point. If it were permitted by the Constitution, I should be prepared to agree to the payment by each State of the proportion of the cost indicated in the figures I have quoted; but my view is that it was contemplated that, at the time of .transfer, existing services should henceforth be known as transferred services, and the cost of them debited to the particular States. So long as the various existing contracts which had been entered into by the several States- were continued, the cost was to be proportionately borne by them as at the time of the creation of the Federal body. The question, therefore, is whether under the Constitution they should be treated as " transferred " or as>" new " expenditure. If it be "new" expenditure, it is obvious that it must be debited on a per capita basis.

Senator Walker - Is it not a new contract ?

Senator BEST - No. It is simply proposed to extend existing conditions for a period of fifteen months, in order that in the meantime some permanent arrangement may be made. If it be a new contract, the expenditure must be charged on a per capita basis ; but if it is a renewal, or mere extension of an old contract, the expenditure must be debited on, the original basis.

Senator Millen - Then, if a contract has once been made, it must always exist.

Senator BEST - My argument does not mean anything of the kind. When we say that a contract, instead of expiring on a particular day, shall be continued to a later date, that is a mere extension, and is therefore subject to the provision in the Constitution.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - Who is making the extension - New South Wales and Queensland or the Commonwealth?

Senator BEST - Let me, in reply, ask the honorable and learned senator who made the extension in i 903 ? To quote his words, as nearly as I can remember them, Sir Edmund Barton said, " The onus is thrown upon us to act for the several States in regard to existing contracts. As New South Wales and Queensland get the bulk of the benefits from the Vancouver mail service, it is desirable that the contract now about to expire should be extended." In this matter we are acting, not for the Commonwealth, but for the original contracting States. If it can1 be proved that this is a new contract, the position will be different. But, in my opinion, this is merely a temporary expedient for the purpose of enabling the Commonwealth and the several States to ultimately come to a more satisfactory arrangement. To show that I am not viewing this proposal merely from the stand-point that the alteration would be somewhat disadvantageous to my State, let me point out that when a like proposal was considered in another place, in 1903, it was admitted by all the constitutional authorities that, it was not a new contract, but an extension of the existing contract. Sir Edmund Barton, who was a recognised constitutional authority, and had a special interest in New South Wales, admitted at once that it was " transferred," and not "new," expenditure. In 1903 the contract was renewed.

Senator Millen - By whom?

Senator BEST - It was renewed by the Commonwealth, for and on behalf of New South Wales and Queensland. Sir Edmund Barton gave it as his reason for renewing the contract that; the bulk of the advantage would gp to those States.

Senator Dobson - Have not Sir George Turner and other authorities- altered their opinion?

Senator BEST - I did not quote Sir George Turner, and I do mot know exactly what his opinion on the subject is ; but I quoted a -high constitutional authority whose prejudices would naturally lead him- to favour New South Wales.

Senator Millen - The people of New South Wales did not think so.

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