Opinion Number. 25



Key Legislation

CONSTITUTION, ss. 69, 85 (iv)

  1. The first question is whether at the approaching Telegraph Conference the States of the Commonwealth are entitled to separate representation, or whether the Commonwealth should be represented as a whole.

    Article 16 of the International Telegraphic Convention of St Petersburg(1) declares that:

    These Conferences are composed of delegates representing the Administrations of the Contracting States. In the deliberations each Administration has a right to one vote, subject to the provision that when there are different Administrations of the same Government . . . each of the different Administrations shall have a special and distinct representation.

    The Australian colonies adhered to the Convention individually. There has been no express adherence by the Commonwealth. As neither the United States or Canada appear to belong to the Convention there are no precedents for Federal action unless Brazil, the Argentine and Switzerland be considered to furnish parallels.

    Up to the transfer of the Post and Telegraph Departments to the Commonwealth on 1 March, the Administrations of the States were separate; but upon that date they became one Administration so far as the Post Office is concerned. I am of opinion that the States are not entitled to be represented, and that the Commonwealth will only be entitled to be represented upon adhering on its own account, and will then only be entitled to one vote.

    Although the Commonwealth has not expressly adhered to the Convention, yet pending adherence it inherits the adherence of each State, which was a 'current obligation of the State in respect to the department transferred'.

  2. Is the Department still entitled to charge 'transit rates' from one State to another?

    Article 10 of the Convention is as follows:

    The High Contracting Parties declare their adoption of the following bases for the formation of International Tariffs:

    The charge for all messages exchanged by the same route, between the Offices of any two of the Contracting States, shall be uniform. In applying this principle, however, a European State may be subdivided into at most two large territorial divisions.

    The total charge is made up from State to State, under agreement between the terminal and intermediate Governments. The charges composing the tariffs applicable to correspondence exchanged between contracting States may, at any time, be modified by mutual agreement.

    The franc is the monetary unit used as the basis of international tariffs.

    Regulation 25 declares that for traffic under the extra-European regime the tariff is fixed in conformity with Table B. This table specifies the terminal and transit rates for each of the Australian colonies.

    Until the Commonwealth adheres to the Convention on its own account, I am of opinion that it is bound, by the inherited adherences of the States, only to the extent and in the manner that the States were bound; and that until it adheres in its own name it may therefore continue to charge the transit and terminal rates prescribed by the Regulations. After adherence it would seem that the provisions of the Convention require that the transit rates should be discontinued, unless in the meantime provision has been made by Regulation for the division of the Commonwealth into districts, in the way provided for in the case of European States by Article 10 of the Convention. I see nothing in the Convention to prevent this course being taken.

  3. Is the Eastern Extension Company, whilst adhering to the Convention, bound by the obligation of Article 10 to impose uniform rates to and from all the States of the Commonwealth?

    Under agreement with the four contracting States-New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania-the Company now charges a uniform rate for telegrams between Europe and those States. With Victoria, since the termination of the agreements recited in the agreements of 14 April 1900 and 16 January 1901, the Company apparently has no agreement as to rates; and it has entered into no agreement with Queensland. The Company has fixed, for telegrams between those two States and Europe, the charges specified in Table B of the Schedule to the agreements of 1900 and 1901.

    Whilst the Company, by adhering to the Convention, obtains the advantages derived thereby, it is bound, under Regulation 86 (2), by all the obligatory clauses of the Convention and of the Regulations. Apparently on adherence by the Commonwealth under Article 18, the Company will be bound under Article 10 to make a uniform charge to and from the Commonwealth as one administration, unless regulations are made dividing the Commonwealth into territorial divisions in which case the charges must be uniform to and from each division.

[Vol. 1, p. 142]

(1) Dated 22 July 1875.