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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 861

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - 1 move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Pursuant to the statement made by me on 21 August last, it is proposed to transfer certain publications from category A to category B and from category B to category C, and that the concessions to printed matter are to be gradually withdrawn. This Bill gives effect to these proposals. It is evident that the subsidy to registered newspapers and other publications is not a burden which can be carried by the postal service when it is expected to operate as a government business undertaking. Neither is it appropriate or necessary for the Government to subsidise daily newspapers, commercial magazines and professional and employer associations when there are so many other demands upon the Budget. The financial and service difficulties of the postal service have deep causes about which the Government is looking to the Commission of Inquiry for analysis and recommendation*.

This Bill also deals with some other matters which have been of concern. Three of the matters are quite minor but will be of great assistance to the Post Office. One amendment will allow postmasters to witness the declaration of secrecy which persons must take before commencing employment in the Post Office. Previously a Justice of the Peace was required, and this often created difficulties in more remote areas. Another amendment will permit the payment of rewards of up to $100 in any one case for information leading to the apprehension of persons wilfully damaging departmental property. Vandalism is currently costing my Department substantial sums each year and in the case of public telephones, which are a prime target, there is also a severe and aggravating disruption to service. The third minor amendment, in fact, is designed to ensure that public telephones are included in the provisions of section 130 which makes it an offence to wilfully damage departmental property.

For some time now my Department has been allowing selected large users of the postal ser vice to make postings in advance of payment, although the Act makes no provision for such action. The Auditor-General's Office readily accepts that the extension of credit is normal business practice and raises no objection on that score but it has asked that the practice be given legal authorisation. Section 13 of the Post and Telegraph Act lays down that the Department, generally, is to be free from the payment of tolls or duties in respect of piers, wharves, ferries, roads and similar places where a toll or charge might be levied. On this authority the Department has for many years resisted harbour authority attempts to charge for the use of their facilities in the handling of mails across wharves. These days, however, the quantities of mail handled are very considerable and there can be no doubt that the Department is making a great deal of use of wharf facilities free of charge while private persons making the same use of the facilities would be required to pay substantial sums of money. It has therefore been agreed that, while it is not competent for a State to tax the Commonwealth, there is no reason why the Postmaster-General should not pay, by way of compensation, for the actual services provided and facilities used in the handling and conveyance of mails at wharves or on ferries. In this way the harbour authorities can receive proper recompense while the Post Offices's general immunity from duties and tolls will be preserved. In preparation for the eventual granting of independence to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, the Bill provides that the Territory shall be treated as a foreign country for the purposes of the exchange of mails.

Finally, the Bill grants certain powers to postal investigation officers. This matter has been the subject of consultation with the Attorney-General's Department and has given concern to my Department for a good many years. In 4 States, postal investigation officers have been granted some police powers under relevant State legislation - in the remaining 2 States no appropriate legislation exists - but advice has been given that, in any case, at common law, no person whether he be a police constable or merely a private individual can, in general, detain any other person against his will. Nor can any person search another without the latter's consent. Any power of detention or search must be conferred by statute so that it follows that State police have no general power to detain or search and neither do investigation officers who hold State appointments as special constables. Against this background we have a situation where investigation officers could well lay themselves open to charges of unlawful arrest and assault merely by carrying out their duties.

To overcome this problem it is not proposed that any general power of detention and search be granted. Rather the legislation proposes that the power of detention and search be granted in respect of offences against 4 sections of the Post and Telegraph Act only. These sections all deal with theft, illegal opening or otherwise tampering with mail and these offences are of a type where evidence of the commission of the offence is likely to be secreted on the person of the offender. If any form of detection is to be effective, immediate detention and search is essential. The powers are to be given only to those officers whose duties require them and then only on written authorisation from the Postmaster-General. I commend the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Peacock) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.

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