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Tuesday, 29 July 1930

Senator BARNES(Victoria - Assistant

Minister) [11.10]. - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill, one of the fiscal measures of the Government, seeks toalter the postal rates. Honorable senators are aware of the need to raise additional revenue, to meet the exceptional demands upon the finances of the country. The Government desires that the impost shall fall equitably upon the whole of the people. It is not a popular proceeding to increase taxation but the country's straitened economic circumstances render the. step vitally necessary, and I am confident thatthe people generally desire to assist in pulling Australia out of the financial morass into which we have fallen. No one desires that the burden should fall upon any particular class of the community alone. Everybody is expected to shoulder his share.

In ordinary times the postal service would not be used for the production of additional revenue required forother purposes, and the Government hopes that the necessity which compels it to introduce this measure will not be of long duration.Clauses 1 to 6 make drafting amendments which give a more precise definition of the intention of the act, also greater clarity. Clause 7 is declaratory in respect of the existing practice with regard to fees prescribed for special services, such as the express delivery of mail matter, air mails, &c. The charges have been made in the past, and it is desirable to remove a doubt which has been expressed as to their validity. The material part of the bill is the increase in postal charges. These are set out in the schedule, and are expected to increase the revenue by approximately £1,000,000! It was proposed to increase the bulk rate for newspapers to l½d. per 10 ounces. The existing rate is l½d. per 20 ounces. The Government has given further consideration to that part of the hill, and I propose to move, when we reach the committee stage, an amendment that will retain the existing rates for bulk postage. Very strong representations have been made to the Government in the matter, and upon mature consideration, it was recognized that the old rates are more equitable than those proposed in the bill.

The bulk rate system of charges which is in operation with respect to newspapers is an appropriate system of charges for periodicals when posted by the proprietors of the periodicals or by newsagents. It is therefore proposed to introduce it. The old rate was Id. per 8 oz. per copy. The new bulk rate suggested is 2d. per 16 oz. of aggregate weight, and will, like newspapers, be independent of the number of individually addressed packages posted in the one consignment.

This arrangement will be in the interests of the proprietors of these publications, as, under it, the postage will not be greater than at present, although it will be slightly higher than the bulk rate of postage on newspapers.

With respect to letters and postcards, it is proposed to increase the charges by id. per oz. and £d. per card respectively.

With respect to second class mail matter the charges for printed papers, catalogues and unregistered books are proposed to be raised from Id. per 4 oz. to Id. per 2 oz., which is the present rate for commercial papers, patterns, &c.

At the present time, although there is a separate rate for catalogues, the postage is the same as that charged for other printed matter, and if one is increased so should the other be.

Third class mail matter includes books written by Australian authors in Australia, and newspapers,' magazines and other periodicals wholly set up and printed in Australia. These publications will bear an inscription printed at the time of issue, indicating eligibility for transmission by post at third class rates. It will be seen that this designation will be of great advantage to the general public. They will be able to see at a glance the class in which the mail matter is placed, without the necessity of going right through the list to ascertain the rate of postage. The proposed increases in this class of mail are as follow: - Books, magazines, &c, from Id. per 8 oz. to Id. per 6 oz. ; newspapers from Id. per 10 oz. to Id. per 6 oz. These increases apply in respect of individual postings, as distinguished from bulk postings by newspaper proprietors and newsvendors. It will be noted that additional postage will be payable only when the publication is between 6 and 8 oz. in weight, or, of course, between 12 and 16 oz. The old rate applied to each paper or magazine posted, but the new rate will be reckoned on the aggregate weight, which will be of considerable benefit when a package contains two or more publications.

Honorable senators will be relieved to hear that the rate of postage in respect of Hansard will not be increased.

I direct the attention of all honorable senators to the improvement that is being made in the classification of mail matter. I think I can safely state that at the present time, apart from the letter rate, 95 per cent, of the people of Australia are unfamiliar with the prescribed rates of postage. Under the proposed new system there is very little for the people to learn and remember, and that little is easily comprehended.

As to the increased charges, I assure honorable senators that the distribution of the burden has been very carefully considered. Equity has been done to all classes, and for that reason I suggest to any honorable senator who may desire an amendment in respect of any special item that such a course will cause some other section of the community to bear more than its fair share. As I said in my opening remarks, in view of the necessity for raising additional revenue, there does not appear to be anything controversial in the measure. The Government confidently submits it to the favorable consideration of the Senate^ and believes that it will have a speedy passage.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE (Westtern Australia) [11.21] . - I do not propose to ask for the adjournment of the debate on this bill, because all honorable senators are familiar with the subject with which it deals. Nor shall I occupy much time in deploring the necessity for its introduction. It is generally agreed that it is undesirable for the post office to be used as a taxing machine; but possibly the existing conditions may justify abnormal action on the part of the Government.

I wish to refer to a matter of which this measure furnishes an illustration. The Government has indicated its intention to increase considerably the burden of taxation, and this is an instalment of its proposals. It is estimated that these proposed increases in the postal rates will be the means of raising an additional £1,000,000 a year. That is a severe strain to place upon the community for this particular service. It is obvious that the number of newspapers, catalogues, letters and other articles that pass through the post office will, as a result, be considerably reduced. During the last eleven months, no fewer than 37,000 telephones have been disconnected, because, on account of the existing depression, many of those who formerly found themselves in a position to afford the enjoyment of this service, have been compelled to deprive themselves of it. In the same period, the number of additions to the service have totalled 11,000 compared with a demand of 40,000 in normal times. Because of the decrease in the quantity of mail matter that has to be handled, and the telephone service that has to be rendered, there ought to be a corresponding reduction in the expenditure of the post office. Yet the Government not only does not propose to reduce expenditure, but actually intends to increase it this year by £560,000 compared with last year and £900,000 compared with 1928-29.


Senator Herbert Hays - Does that include additional mail subsidies?

Senator SIRGEORGE PEARCE.That is the general expenditure of the post office, apart from loan expenditure. No business man would conduct his business on those lines; if he found that his sales were decreasing, he would lower his expenditure. The post office is a business concern, and should be run on business lines. This year the expenditure should be decreased, not increased.

I am pleased to learn that the Government has decided to delete the provision in the bill that proposes to increase the bulk rates on newspapers, and I congratulate it upon its decision. The proposed rates would have been a heavy burden on country newspapers, and would have put many of them out of business.

Another matter to which I wish to refer is the rate on second-class mail matter. On this subject I have received the following circular letter from the New South Wales Master Printers and Connected

Trades Association, dated the 25th July. 1930 : -

In respect to the second-class postal matter included in these rates which are increased 100 per cent., my Association telegraphed the Postmaster-General, the Hon. J. A. Lyons, as follows: - " The New South Wales Master Printers Association view with alarm the proposed increase of postal rates on second-class postal matter, thereby restricting the printing of catalogues and/or reducing the number of pages of those issued. The condition of the industry regarding unemployment is the worst on record, and an imposition of further rates can have but one effect, of accentuating the trouble now prevailing. Whilst fully realizing the present economic stress we earnestly urge that this increased rate may be omitted from the new postal rates. ( Signed ) Sinclair, Secretary."

The writer quotes the reply that he received from the Postmaster-General, acknowledging the receipt of his letter, but pleading the present unfortunate financial situation as a justification for the proposed increase, and stating that the increase should be regarded as a temporary one. The circular then goes on to say-

The matter is of such vital importance to the printing industry that it is felt that the Government have not fully realized the present condition and the effect this new tax will have in bringing about unemployment in this key industry, employing 13,180 workers, as stated by the Government Statistician, for 1927/28 in New South Wales alone.

If proof was needed as to the present amount of unemployment in the industry, 'the following extract from a Sydney leading newspaper should be convincing evidence of our claim that the conditions prevailing are the worst in the history of the trade : - "A special meeting of Unionists in the printing industry was held at the Trades Hall yesterday to hear recommendations by the executive of the Union to obtain funds for the relief for out of work members. . " The President of the Union, Mr. Pillans, and the Secretary, Mr. Wilson, addressed the meeting. It was stated that the relief fund was exhausted and the Executive had decided to take a ballot on the proposal that all workers in the Trade earning under £7 per week should pay1s. a week and all earning over that amount 2s. a week until the end of this year. " Last week the amount paid for relief was £250; for the last six months the Union had paid out nearly £5,000."

As an example we have posted you under separate cover acatalogue issued by Messrs. David Jones' Ltd., Sydney. This firm posts 70.000 of these catalogues twice each year, put owing to the increased postal rates have decided to discontinue doing so. Many other ofthese vast Emporiums throughout Australia have expressed themselves in a similar manner, that the increased postal rates make the issue prohibitive.

 

This class of work means an enormous a mount to printers, and the withdrawal of catalogue work can have but the effect of a considerable addition to the number of unemployed in the industry. The cost of this catalogue annually to Messrs. David Jones Ltd. is approximately £12,000, which shows the amount of labour employed in its production, and if all the emporiums adopted this attitude the amount would be colossal. The ' position of the Senate in budget matters;-

I particularly draw the attention of the Assistant Minister to this passage in the letter- is fully appreciated and realized, but we pray that at least a strong recommendation be made by the Senate in returning the bill to the House of Representatives to reconsider the clauses re second class postal matter, or inserting a special clause for bona fide catalogues at the prevailing rate of 4 oz.1d.

Thanking you in anticipation of your support.

The letter is signed by Mr. H. A. Sinclair, the secretary of the New South Wales Master Printers and Connected Trades Association. An increase of 100 per cent. in the postal charges on this perfectly legitimate class of mail matter is too great. These catalogues are recognized as most useful for the carrying on of the commerce of the country, andI am afraid that the Government, with its other taxation proposals, including the sales tax and primage duties, is hitting commerce very hard indeed. In the circumstances it might very well make concessions with regard to this class of mail matter. When the bill is in committee I shall submit an amendment to this end. These catalogues, which, are issued by many of the big commercial houses in the capital cities of the Commonwealth, are a great convenience to people who live in the back country, and their continued publication should be encouraged. We are informed that if the Government per sists with the proposal to levy the increased charge on this class of mail matter, the issue of these business catalogues will be altogether discontinued. If, as the outcome of the Government's action, the printing of these catalogues is discontinued, the result will be an increase in unemployment and added inconvenience to that section of the community to whom these publications are so useful. I recognize the need for additional revenue, and I suggest that the Minister might accept a compromise by making the charge1d. for 3 oz. instead of, as proposed,1d. for 2 oz. The new charge will then be somewhat heavier than the old rate, but it will probably afford some relief, and possibly the firms concerned will not discontinue the issue of these catalogues. I am sure the Minister does not wish to see an increase in unemployment. He knows also that persons employed in the printing industry are in a particularly difficult positon during periods of unemployment, because in a sense they are specialists, and not inured to heavy manual labour, so they are not provided for in the class of relief works usually undertaken by governments during periods of industrial depression. I hope the Minister will give consideration to the suggestion made, and see whether the Government cannot reduce the proposed charges somewhat so as to meet the needs of the commercial community.







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