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Wednesday, 30 October 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - - The statements made here this afternoon are sufficiently serious to causethose who supported this Bill last week to re-adjust their position somewhat. I supported the Bill, having satisfied myself, in the absence of such information as has now been disclosed, that it was reasonably safe. I understood from the Minister that recent reports had been obtained from the New Zealand postal authorities as to the practical working of the machine, and I relied to a considerable extent upon them.

Senator Findley - I said that the latest report I had was dated 1910.

Senator MILLEN - If that be so, I must have misunderstood. the Minister. He certainly read one or two reports that were up to date from business people, and I was also under the impression that he stated that up-to-date reports had been obtained from the authorities iri New Zealand. If that is not so, I venture to suggest to the Minister, particularly in view of the statements made to-day, that the correct course for him to follow is to adjourn the debate, and not to proceed' further with the Bill until he obtains information. from New ZealandHe ought not to force men like myself, who believe in the principle of the- measure, to vote against it. It is impossible to turn, a deaf ear to the very definite statements made by Senator Ready.

Senator Henderson - And to the dea- nite evidence produced by Senator Lynch.

Senator MILLEN - I do not attach so much importance to that little evidence of somebody's ingenuity in engraving, because anyone who knows anything of engraving will be aware that it is possibleto have upon a die a private mark not visible to a. casual examination and not easily detected under the microscope.

Senator Rae - Does the honorable senator suppose that it would be the common practice to put each letter stamped by the machine under the microscope?

Senator MILLEN - No; and nobody suggested that ; but if fraud were suspected it would be a serious reflection upon the business capacity of those who control the Post and Telegraph Department if they did not resort to a systematic and continuous examination of the stamps used. That is one check. Another would be, not an examination of every letter, but an examination of a certain percentage, to see whether fraud was perpetrated ; just as an ordinary man of business, who is in the habit of receiving goods, examines them from time to time. We are asked now to -sanction a Bill which is to authorize the introduction of these stamping machines, and, at the last moment, things are disclosed which should cause us to desire to obtain the very latest reports obtainable from the New Zealand Government.

Senator Clemons - The disclosure we have is that the Government have had no report from New Zealand since 1910.

SenatorMILLEN. - Before we proceed further, a cablegram-should be sent to the New Zealand authorities to ask them what has been their experience up to date, and whether they still indorse the recommendation of this stamping machine as supplied to us two and a half years ago. Surely it is not asking too much to request that the Government should stay their hand in relation to this Bill until a communication can be received from New Zealand. The Minister must see that good reason for delay is disclosed by the evidence produced this afternoon. I may make another suggestion. The Minister informed the Senate on Friday that it was the intention of the Government to appoint aCommittee to inquire into the rival claims ofdifferent stamping machines. I am not so much concerned with that, but I do think that that Committee might be set to work before Parliament is asked to pass this Bill. The Committee should press its inquiries to a conclusion with regard to the New Zealand experience before the Senate is asked to go any further in the matter. I suggest, therefore, the advisableness of postponing this Bill until the Minister is in a position to give us up-to-date information from New. Zealand as to what has been the experience there.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [3.40].- I was not present on Friday when the Becond reading of this Bill was debated. My objection to it is so very radical that I should like to go a step further than Senator Millen has done, and appeal to the Minister to withdraw it altogether. I doubt whether he would be able to' obtain a report which would be sufficiently satisfactory to justify the Senate in passing a Billof this description. The only object of a change in relation to the stamping of postal matter is to substitute an impressed stamp for an adhesive stamp. The intention really is to bring in a sort of fad, or fanciful method of dealing with what we are accustomed to deal with in a very ordinary and satisfactory way; in a way, moreover, which prevents any possibility of defrauding the revenue of the Post and Telegraph Department. We are all aware that the objection to adhesive stamps is to the licking process, of which so much fun has recently been made in England . in connexion with Mr. LloydGeorge's insurance scheme. . The objection that most people have to adhesive stamps is that they have to be wetted.

Senator Givens - Why, then, use envelopes ?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That in itself would be no reason for introducing a machine which, whatever may be said about it, can be counterfeited or imitated by some other machine. We must all admit that that is so, quite apart from the evidence brought before us to-day.

Senator Shannon - Is it not quite possible to counterfeit an adhesive stamp?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - It is much less likely that an adhesive stamp would be imitated than a stamp of this kind.

Senator McGregor - It would be much more profitable to counterfeit an adhesive stamp. What profit would there be in imitating a stamp like this, when the person who copied it could not stamp other people's letters?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Why not?

Senator McGregor - Because there would have to be two in the fraud for that to be done.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - You could not have a conspiracy without at least two.

Senator Millen - The worst that could be said about the machine is that it would be likely to create more clients for the lawyers.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That is so.

Senator Guthrie - The Commonwealth Government lost £60,000 of Customs revenue through the use of a fraudulent stamp.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Quite so. Senator Givens took a very wide range in his remarks. I have no objection to facilitate - as he seemed to have - the operations of trade.

Senator Givens - I do not take any objection on that ground. I said that it would only convenience a few big firms.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - So far as it would be a convenience, it would be a very good thing, but I see no need for it. What possible need is there for a stamping machine of this kind? We have got on very well for a long time with the ordinary methods of stamping.

Senator Barker - You would not say that that was a sound argument.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Yes. It was said on the other side that in introducing facilities for putting stamps on you were also introducing possible facilities for fraud.

Senator Barker - An impressed stamp is used in the Post Office now

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That is a very different thing from this. This machine is like a rubber stamp which is handed about, and any person requiring it is enabled to put the stamp on the face of a postal article. The impressed stamp Senator Barker was talking about is a different thing altogether. It is like an ordinary stamp, although it may be part of the envelope. This machine is simply something in the nature of a rubber stamp, a more finished article, and more scientifically got up and made, and having, as Senator Millen has said, a private mark uponit. But as Senator Rae has put it very sensibly, it might be impossible to check fraud even by a microscopical examination of each impression, and if you did detect it, what is the penalty? Clause 3, proposed new section 102a, provides - (1.) Any person who, without lawful authority or excuse (the burden of proof whereof shall be on the person charged) -

(a)   makes or causes or procures to be made ; or

(b)   aids or assists in making ; or

(c)   uses, or knowingly has in his custody or possession, any instrument capable of making an impression, stamp, or mark, resembling (or apparently intended to resemble or pass for) the impression, stamp, or mark, made by any Post Office date stamp shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding Fifty pounds.

Senator Needham - Increase the penalty.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - What is the need of the machine at all ?

Senator Millen - It would be a very great convenience at the public counters at the telegraph offices.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - But this Bill has been introduced with a view to bringing these machines into general use. I think what Senator Millen has said is quite true, that at the telegraph offices it would be an advantage to have some machine by which stamps could be impressed at the moment, but it would be a machine held in the custody of the Department, and the stamps would be ofa particular design. What I would suggest to my honorable friends is - to go a little further than Senator Millen's suggestion - that as we are getting on towards the end of the session, and if we received a report from New Zealand it would have to be further investigated, and, further, as there is no crying need or immediate necessity for the machine at present, the third reading of the Bill should not be pressed. If the Bill were removed from the paper, and the Government made this a matter of further investigation, they might render a valuable service to the country.

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