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Thursday, 30 November 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I move -

That leave he given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Post and Telegraph Act 1901.

In moving for leave to introduce this Bill, I may say that I did not expect the Government to give the evening to private members' business, and consequently, even if my motion be carried, I have not the Bill ready to present to the Senate. But as the opportunities for submitting such a motion cannot occur very frequently during the remainder of this session, I take advantage of this occasion to ask permission to introduce this Bill. If it is granted I shall have the Bill prepared and bring it before the Senate later. I intend to be quite open and fair in the matter, and I say at once that my object is to amend section 57 of the principal Act for the purpose of depriving the Deputy PostmasterGeneral and his officers of what I consider the dangerous power which they at present possess to open and interfere with private correspondence. We are all aware that the Parliament of Tasmania has legalized the carrying on of certain sweeps, and the departmental prohibition of correspondence addressed to a certain institution in Tasmania has been the cause of very considerable inconvenience to many business people. Postal notes taken out, for instance, in New South Wales, are returned to the people who took themout, and they are put to very great trouble in cashing them, as they are frequently made payable to certain banking institutions. I have publicly stated that, in my opinion, it. is not the dutyof the authorities of the Post and Telegraph Department to interfere in any way with private, correspondence going through the Post Office. I draw a line distinctly between interference with correspondence passing thorough the- Post Office and addressed to business institution's, and interference with the circulationthrough the Post Office of pernicious literature, for instance; The Bill "I propose to introduce will be framed with; theobjectoftaking out of thehandsofthePostmasterGeneral andhis officersthe power they now exerciseofopeningandinterferingwith correspondence chieflydirectedtocertain persons who are conducting "a business legally in Tasmania atthepresent time. I want the Senate to express the opinion that the business of the Postand Telegraph Department shall not be, so conducted that letters properly stamped may be opened or interfered with in any way. I presume that there may be some opposition to what I propose on. the ground that the interference of whichIcomplain has been permitted under the law with the object of preserving the morality of the community. I may say- in reply that if we are going to strain the powers of the postal authorities to enable them in this very doubtful way to improve the morality of the people, it may be contended that we should refuse to permit certain persons , to travel on the Commonwealth railways when we have constructed them. I venture to say that the Governments of the various States are quite as much interested in the morality of the people as is the Commonwealth Government. Yet we find that they give the people every possible facility to attend race meetings.

Senator Lynch - They advertise them.

Senator GARDINER - They advertise them by advertising cheap fares on the railways to the race-courses, and they afford every possible facility for people to attend race meetings.

SenatorO'Keefe. - And members of Parliament lend their countenance by going to the races themselves.

Senator GARDINER - If members of Parliament did not do so they would cease to be representative men. If I am asked what the result of this postal interference on behalf of the morality of the people has been, I should say that it has been nil. Glancing through a newspaper recently I found that Tattersall's Sweeps on the last Melbourne Cup, including special No. 1, and special No. 2, were all -filled. It is possible that the Ministercalled upon to, administer the Post -and Telegraph Departmentmay under the existing law have toadminister a provision in this respect with which he does, not agree. I feel sure, however, that the Postmaster-General who preceded the present occupant of the office, believed that in interfering in that direction he was conserving themorality of the people by preventing persons investing in Tattersall's Sweeps. I believe that that gentleman conscientiously felt that to be his duty. I do not know anything of the views in this connexion of the present occupant of the office nor do I desire to know anything of them. am asking. the Senate to. give me permission to introduce a Billto provide that the PostmasterGeneraland his officers shallno , longer have the right to open any sealed correspondence of the character to which I have referred. I do not wish to take from them the right to prevent the circulation of pernicious literature. Ishould, like, however, to ask those who claim that they ought to have the right to interfere in this way in the interests of the morality of the people, how they can justify the circulation through the Post Office. of newspapers which certainly no member of the Senate would give to any member of his family to read? I feel that I shall have no difficulty in obtaining leave to introduce the Bill to which I have referred, in order that its merits may be discussed on the second reading. I wish the Senate to decide that the Post and Telegraph Department in this matter shall be conducted on the same lines as a private business.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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