Queenslander (Brisbane), Saturday 12 December 1896, page 1110
Newspaper Postage. Raising the Rates. The Departmental Statement
As the Southern newspapers are making a great outcry about the action Queensland has taken to alter the rate of postage on newspapers transmitted by post between this and the other colonies from the beginning facts as gathered from official sources.
It is scarcely necessary to say that laws and regulations on postal, as in connection with other, matters are only binding in the countries in which they are made, hence the interchange of correspondence, &c, by post, when international, must be a matter of arrangement between the countries concerned, and postal conferences, whether restricted to these colonies, as those, are which meet annually in one or the other of the principal cities of Australasia, or those of the Universal Postal Union, whose representatives comprise all the countries of the world, are found necessary in order to insure agreement on all important points affecting the postal exchange between the colonies or countries concerned.
In any mutual arrangement as to rates, definitions become most important. If newspapers are to be exchanged at rates agreed upon, newspapers must necessarily be described, otherwise what is called a newspaper in one country may be called a book in another, and unless books and newspapers are carried at the same rate, there must be trouble between the exchanging countries whose definitions differ, therefore both definitions and rates must be agreed upon. The trouble arose in the first instance from the differing definitions with respect to newspapers obtaining in Victoria and Queensland. In the annual report of the Queensland Post and Telegraph Department for 1884 attention was directed to the difference between the postal laws and regulations In force in the colonies, more particularly in Victoria, as compared with Queensland, and in the report for 1885 the matter was more fully dealt with, and it was stated, as an example of the anomalous state of matters in this respect, that a copy of the "Chemist and Druggist of Australia," a monthly periodical, printed and published in London, had been received by post from Melbourne as a newspaper having a Victorian stamp of the value of 0.5d. affixed, although the weight was 22oz. The postage from London to Brisbane would have been 2s., that is 4d. for each 4os. and this was the correct postage which should have been charged between Victoria and this colony; while, if posted in Queensland for delivery within the colony, the postage would have been 11d., or 1d. for every 2oz. Other magazines had been received prepaid as newspapers at 0.5d. each —namely, the "Revue de Deux Mondes," published in Paris, weighing 12oz.; "Harper's Monthly," published in London, weighing about 12oz.; "The Nineteenth Century," published in London, weighing about 10oz.; "The Contemporary Review." published In London, weighing about lloz.; and "Once a Month," published in Melbourne, and registered there as a newspaper. These are referred to as marked abuses of the practice obtaining in Victoria of classing magazines as newspapers to enable them to be- sent at a low rate of postage, and as illustrating the necessity for a strict adherence to the definition of newspapers. The matter, it was stated, had been the subject of correspondence between the two colonies, and Victoria had written that "the rates for periodicals and publications were altered to those in the present Act just before the measure was passed, and consequently no opportunity was afforded for consultation with other Governments in the matter, and that these alterations were effected through the action of a private member, and were not Government proposals," and, further, "the rates are now fixed by law in this colony (Victoria), and cannot be altered without fresh legislation, even if it were considered desirable to make a change." The matter was again referred to in the report for 1886, and voluminous extracts from the official correspondence quoted. Victoria stated that their Act, while it gave power to the Governor-in-Council to alter the rates of postage on the different classes of mail matter described by the Act, gave no authority to alter the definition of a newspaper, which term has been legally interpreted here In Victoria to mean any periodical, wherever published, issued at quarterly or less extended intervals. The correspondence was too voluminous to be quoted in extenso, but it is very instructive reading in the light of recent events, and of the remonstrance of the Melbourne "Argus" as to the alleged action of the Queensland representatives at the conference.
In Sydney in 1888 the heads of the Postal Departments stated in their report:—"We are aware that great public inconvenience is felt through the different treatment of intercolonial newspapers. In Victoria periodicals coming under the definition of newspapers, and published in Victoria or elsewhere at intervals of three months, thus including magazines and reviews, regarded elsewhere as books, are passed at newspaper rates, whilst in other colonies one month is the limit. The colony despatching these newspapers expects the receiving colony to deliver them without charge, thus affording persons in Victoria greater advantages than those in the other colonies. A newspaper of unlimited weight is sent from New South Wales free of postage, and such newspaper is delivered free in Victoria and South Australia or elsewhere, although those colonies make a charge on newspapers posted within their own territory. Some time since it was decided in Victoria to send bulk newspapers to other colonies at 1d. per lb., whilst 4d. per lb. was charged in the others. Booksellers in New South Wales and South Australia complained of lobs of custom, as persons could procure their newspapers cheaper from Victoria, the result being that those colonies had to reduce their rates to those of Victoria, whereupon a similar complaint came from the booksellers of Queensland; but the latter colony, instead of reducing, determined to charge all such packets on delivery. Newspapers published in New South Wales, and in accordance with the definition of the New South Wales Postal Law, are charged on delivery in Queensland, if such publications would not be considered newspapers under the law of that colony. It is contended that these matters show the desirableness, in the public interest, of the observance of mutuality amongst the colonies —that is to say, the desirableness of one common definition of newspapers between the colonies, also a common agreement as to limitation of weight and rate of postage. It has been found that the liberal definition of a newspaper in some of the colonies has led to great abuse, articles being sent as newspapers which should really be paid for as books, and suggested that in any amended laws or regulations which may be prepared the definition of the London Post Office as given in the Postal Guide, for July, 1887, be adopted.
It will be seen that at this early date the other colonies, and especially Victoria, were trying to steal a march on Queensland in the matter of newspaper definitions, weights, and rates, and that this colony was even then compelled to resort to stringent measures to protect its own trade in newspapers, periodicals, etc. As might have been expected, the statement quoted from the report of the conference of 1888 led to the submission by the permanent heads in 1890 of a draft Australian Postal Convention, which was approved by the conference, and recommended to be brought into operation on the 1st of January, 1891. This convention, which was agreed to by the representatives of all the colonies, except Western Australia and New Zealand, who were not represented, defined what should be considered to be newspapers, and fixed a rate of postage—namely, 0.5d. per 10oz., and a bulk rate of 1d. per lb. That some such agreement was absolutely required is apparent from the statement signed by the permanent heads of the Postal Departments of New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland, at a meeting in Sydney in February, 1890, as follows : —"We wish to point out the inequitable system which exists in Victoria of permitting four or five weekly numbers of English or foreign periodicals stitched together to go as newspapers for a halfpenny rate of postage, to other colonies, where the charge for each weekly number is 0.5d. or 1d. In like manner Victoria allows quarterly reviews and other publications to pass to other colonies as newspapers at 0.5d. each, in which colonies they are regarded not as newspapers, but as magazines, and therefore subject to the book rate postage of 4d. per lb. Whilst we think the right should be conceded to each Australian office to fix what rates it pleases on inland mail matter for delivery within its own territory, we are strongly of opinion that mail matter for transmission to another colony should be subject to rates and regulations to be mutually agreed upon."
At the conference of 1891 the convention was again considered and adopted without any alteration so far as newspapers were concerned, and the whole of the colonies pledged themselves to introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to its provisions, but Queensland was the only colony to redeem this pledge by passing the Post and Telegraph Act of 1891. Notwithstanding that the action of Victoria in registering magazines as newspapers, and transmitting them at the newspaper rate of postage to the other colonies, was deprecated at almost every conference as being a direct contravention of the agreement entered into by the Australian Convention, and that it has been the subject of continual remonstrance through departmental correspondence, the postal administration of that colony has up to the present time declined to take any action either by legislation or administration to prevent the abuses complained of. It has pleaded the impossibility of doing anything in this direction without legislative authority, but this authority has not been sought with any earnestness, and it has evidently been found a very easy matter to submit to an alleged compulsion which has suited the interests of its constituents and of its revenue; that it was detrimental to the interests and revenue of this colony was evidently not considered to be worth a thought. In the face of all these facts Queensland is now reproached with breaking away from the mutual agreement of the colonies. Nothing is said about the non-observance of the compact train the first in this important respect by Victoria. The representatives of that colony have taken a very prominent part in the conferences at which the convention or agreement was made, and. revised and confirmed from time to time, but they have de facto refused to be bound by it, although apparently it has been their policy to bind as far as possible the other colonies, while reserving a free hand for themselves. Yet much astonishment is now expressed that this colony has at length, after years spent in useless remonstrances, decided to take the only honourable course of action open to it—namely, giving timely notice of its intention to withdraw from certain portions of the agreement which have never been observed by Victoria, and which in consequence of such non-observance have been injurious to the people of this colony.
The "Argus" states that this matter came upon the conference as a great surprise, but as a matter of fact notice was given to all the colonies in September last of the intentions of this colony, and it was at the request of some of the colonies interested, including Victoria, that the matter was referred to the conference for discussion; the conference was therefore not at all surprised, though the "Argus" may have been. There are other reasons justifying the action at length taken by Queensland in this matter. All agreements for the mutual exchange of correspondence between colonies or countries is supposed to be founded on a reciprocal basis; this is especially- the case when, as in this instance, the despatching country does not share the postage with the delivering country, each retaining its own, and paying out of it the cost of transmission as far aa the country of destination, but no part of the cost of circulation or delivery. An arrangement of this character presupposes an equal volume of correspondence each way, but in the case of the newspaper exchange between Queensland and New South Wales, or Victoria, this is not the ease. They circulate and deliver a few pounds of our newspapers, while we have to circulate and deliver, at considerable cost, the tons of newspapers and magazines, miscalled newspapers, which they send here. It can scarcely be argued that it can pay the Post Office of this colony to carry newspapers at a penny per lb. to the remote parts of Queensland, involving carriage by steamer, railway, and coach or horse, and it is held to be unreasonable to expect that tons of papers printed and published in the other colonies are to be thus carried, without this colony receiving any corresponding advantage, while such gratuitous carriage and distribution is actually injurious to the local newspapers, which, as has been already pointed out, contribute to the revenue of the colony in many ways.
The statements as to the proposed rate of 0.5d. per 2oz. being prohibitive are considered to be absurd. It is the rate of the Universal Postal Union, and has not prevented English newspapers from finding their way into France, Belgium, Germany, and the more remote countries of the world and vice versa. If, however, the proposed postal rate is considered too high, it is not absolutely necessary to send the newspapers by post, as the railways undertake to carry newspapers between Sydney and Brisbane for 4s. 7d. per cwt., or about a 0.5d. per lb., and from Melbourne for 8s. 2.5d. per cwt., or less than 1d. per lb. They can therefore be sent in this way for less than the existing bulk rate of 1d. per lb., the discontinuance of which forms the groundwork for all the hard things that are now being said by Southern Journals.
With reference to the refusal of Queensland to continue to receive, circulate, and deliver merchandise sent as packets from the other colonies, it is held that this colony is surely acting quite within its rights in this matter. Dutiable goods are much more easily and correctly dealt with if they are received through one channel, the parcel post, and that it is not desirable with a long border line like that of this colony to allow merchandise to be sent across it at so many points, almost without restriction. It suits the neighbouring colonies doubtless to be able to send goods purchased in a free trade market into this colony at a nominal postage charge of 1d. per 2oz., but the tradespeople of Queensland have also to be considered.
In publishing this statement, which gives the official view of the subject, we reserve to ourselves the right of criticising the new policy of the Postal Department.