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Thursday, 27 September 1906

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honor- ary Minister) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time. I do not anticipate any difficulty in disposing of this Bill before 10.30 p.m., and so -enabling the order of the day for the second reading of the Bounties Bill, which has been postponed in order to give this priority being dealt with. The Bill has been in the hands of honorable senators for some time. It is very small, so far as its dimensions are concerned, but so far as the State of Tasmania is concerned, it is of no little importance. Shortly stated, the object of the Bill is to bring Tasmania, in the matter of telegraphic communication throughout the Commonwealth into line with each of the other States composing the Union. Honorable senators, and especially those who occupied seats in this Chamber during the first Parliament must by this time be cognisant of the awkward position in which Tasmania has heretofore been placed in the matter of telegraphic communication, not only with the outside world, but with the other States of Australia. At the time Federation was established the cost of telegraphing from Tasmania to Victoria was 2s. for ten words, with address and signature free; 2s. 6d. to New South Wales, 3s. to Queensland and South Australia and, if my memory serves me rightly, 4s. to Western Australia. Of course, corresponding charges were made for messages from those States to Tasmania. Early in the first Federal Parliament a proposal was introduced to reduce these rates. At that time it was proposed to establish what was known as the shilling telegram throughout the Commonwealth, and provision was made accordingly. But so far as Tasmania was concerned, the difficulty that presented itself to the Government of the day lay in the existence of the cable which connected Tasmania with the mainland. Senator Drake, as PostmasterGeneral, on one occasion in connexion with a motion which I had before the Senate referred to that cable as an intrusion on the part of private ownership into the public ownership of the telegraphy of the Commonwealth. The owners of that cable acquired rights from the Government of Tasmania as far back as 1868. They then acquired the exclusive right to submarine telegraphic communication for some twenty or twenty-one years, upon terms and conditions set out in an agreement. Before the expiry of their rights under that agreement, they entered into another for a corresponding period, but in the renewed agreement they gave to the Tasmanian Government the right to fix through telegraphic charges from Tasmania to Victoria, subject to the condition that the Tasmanian Government, no matter what rates they might impose for their telegraphic charges, should guarantee them a message receipts revenue amounting to £5,600 per year. I have already said that at the time Federation was established the cost of a telegram from Tasmania to Victoria was 2s. for every ten words, with address and signature free. Of that sum 6d. went to the Government of Tasmania, 6d. to the Government of Victoria, and the remaining is. to the Cable Company. If the telegram were sent from Tasmania to New South Wales the cost to the sender was 2s. 6d., and of this sum each of the three States - Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales - received 6d., and the Cable Company received is. Since the inauguration of the Commonwealth, and the establishment of what is known as the uniform telegraphic charge throughout the Commonwealth of is. for sixteen words, inclusive of address and signature, there has been, so far as Tasmania is concerned, superadded an extra charge of Jd. per word to pay cable charges. That is practically one-half of what is was before. At the time this alteration was made,- the company were receiving a revenue considerably in excess of the £5,600 a year. It was contemplated at the time the charge of Jd. per word was imposed as a special toll on telegrams to and from Tasmania, it would result in the company receiving something less than £5,600 a vear, and there would be a consequent obligation upon Tasmania to make good the Cable Company's revenue up to that amount. But I understand that the Cable Company has every year since realized at least the revenue of ,£5,600 guaranteed under their agreement with the Government of Tasmania. At the present the position is this : A citizen of the Commonwealth, or any one who happens to be in the Commonwealth, can send a telegram from Melbourne to the remotest part of Western Australia, or the most distant part of the Northern Territory or of Queensland for is. for sixteen words, inclusive of address and signature. Such a telegram might have to pass through the hands of a large number of officers, and to travel thousands of miles, and yet, if a person desired to send it from the nearest part of Victoria to the nearest part of Tasmania, there would be an extra charge of \A. per word to be paid to the Cable Company. Honorable senators will see that that must necessarily tend, in comparison with the communication between the other States, to considerably reduce the volume of communication with Tasmania. In other words, it is a charge which keeps Tasmania commercially, socially, and politically separated from her neighbours to an extent to» which it is not desirable that any one State of the Union should be severed from her sister States. We propose in this Bill to abolish this special charge of Jd. per word from the 1st October next. I point out to honorable senators that every one on this side of Bass Straits in the Commonwealth who isin the habit of communicating with Tasmania by means of the telegraphs will benefit to just the same extent as any Tasmanian who wishes to correspond by telegraph with people in the other States. Thecost to the Commonwealth will be £^5,600 per annum, and that will be allocated in something like the following proportions: - New South Wales will pay £2,061, Victoria £1,684, Queensland £730, South. Australia £523, Western Australia £352,. and Tasmania £250. When I say that the cost to the Commonwealth will be £5,600' per annum, I mention the extreme figure, because, even though this Bill be carried, there will still be some special charges in connexion with cable communication with Tasmania. At present, so far as privatetelegrams are concerned between residentsof the other States and Tasmania, and' vice versa, there is, as I have said, in addition to the ordinary Commonwealth charge, a charge of Jd. per word. Oppress messages between the mainland and< Tasmania, there is super-added to the ordinary press telegraphic charges for InterState messages a is. cable charge for thefirst 100 words, and 6d. for each additional fifty words. These additional: charges will be abolished if we pass thisBill. I think I can say that, in consequence, the press of the one ocean Stateof the Commonwealth will be able to securea greater amount of information respecting political doings in the sister - States and in the Seat of Government for the time being of the Commonwealth. That advantage would not be confined toTasmania, it would be reciprocal. The Bill deals with Commonwealth telegraphicrates only, and, therefore, the charges inrespect of international telegrams are not affected. So far, we have only legislated' in regard to. the charges on telegraphicmessages within the Commonwealth, and" this Bill does not propose to go any further. In regard to international telegrams threepence per word is charged over the cable on ordinary and Government telegrams, and ijd. per word on press telegrams. Those charges are inclusive in respect of all telegrams from Europe, Even with the abolition of the charge in respect of Inter-State telegraphy, there would still be a little revenue derivable by the cable company from other international messages. So far as press cable messages are. concerned, the through charge to Tasmania is the same as to Victoria, but when they come from the East, say, from Manila or Hong Kong, the international rale of ijd. per word would apply, and so with private messages.

Senator Clemons - What is the cause of the exception ?

Senator KEATING - They are through charges from the other end. We have not of course yet dealt with the charges on telegrams going outside the Commonwealth. If the Bill be passed, the amount to be paid to the cable company would be under £5,600 a year. It is of such slight importance that it need hardly be taken into consideration. We in Tasmania have been labouring under a great disadvantage. For some time, we have had a considerable reduction on pre-existing rates. I understand that, by reason of such reduction, there has been an increased volume of traffic. I have not yet been able to ascertain what the exact increase has been. At any rate, it must have been of no small importance, because the estimate of the Department that a charge of one half-penny per word would not yield £5,600 per year has been not only falsified, but that sum has been considerably increased. I believe that the amount received by the company has been nearer £7,000. What I wish to impress upon honorable senators is that when a wire of sixteen words is sent from Victoria to South Australia, or Queensland, or New South Wales, or Western Australia, it goes for is., although it may have to pass through a dozen offices. But if it is sent from Victoria to Tasmania, and has to pass through only two or three offices, the cost to the sender is is. 8d. Of that sum, 6d. goes to Victoria, 6d. to Tasmania, and 8d. to the cable company. For every additional word, one penny halfpenny is charged, of which one half-penny goes to Victoria, Tasmania, and the company respectively. If a citizen "on either side of the Strait could send a telegram of sixteen words for is. instead of is. 8d., perhaps he would be inclined to send twice as many messages. The present rates are such that if reduced by eliminating the cable charge, the traffic must be increased, and every penny of the resultant increase would go into the Consolidated Revenue of the Commonwealth, to be credited to one State or other. It will, therefore, be seen that £5,600 is a very small sum to ask the Commonwealth to pay for doing this act of justice to Tasmania, and bringing her into the same telegraphic relation with the other States as thev now occupy in respect to each other. I believe that very little time indeed would elapse, before the increase in the revenues of the States affected would amount to £5,600, and more, so that practically we should be .getting reduced charges, increased communication, and the amount paid to the cable company would be recouped to the Commonwealth. I feel, from expressions I have heard here on previous occasions when I have spoken on this subject, that I can with the utmost confidence commend the Bill to the kindly reception of honorable senators. I trust, sir, that they will be mindful of your hint, and that we may be able to emulate the example of another place, and, perhaps, get it put through all its stages before half-past ten o'clock.

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