Opposition likely to e-mail taxation proposal

ONCE upon a time, when I was a young man, it was my practice to descend the stairs early in the morning to pick up the milk from the doorstep, and collect the newspaper and the mail from the postbox.

Today I have to lug the milk from the supermarket. The newspaper is thrown from a moving van and has to be retrieved from half way up a tree, or from under the car, depending on whether or not it is raining. But what infuriates me is that, although I live in the western suburbs, the morning mail is delivered more often than not in the early afternoon. On Mondays, or after any public holiday, it is even later. When I taxed the mailmen I was told “that is in line with our benchmark, and you must remember we have to deliver a lot more items these days”.

So I was as affronted as no doubt you were to learn that the Australian Postal Service wants the Government to impose a levy of 5 cents on every e-mail received. The surcharge would be billed to Internet service providers, who would be appointed unpaid tax collectors in the recent tradition, and pass the cost on to subscribers.

Since the average person receives about 10 e-mails a day, that would tot up to $180 a year. Some screwy parliamentarians are even advocating an extra $20 to $40 slug on top of the suggested payments.

The money would go directly to the Post Office, which is whining that losing revenue at the rate of $230 million a year is because of the proliferation of electronic commerce.

That is as preposterous as pony trap manufacturers demanding compensation following the introduction of the motor car, as ludicrous as passenger liners requesting a levy on air travellers. If the APS had noticed the arrival of the new economy, it might have prevailed upon its masters to sanction a state-run Internet service, which no doubt would have become the biggest in the land.

In common with every other attempt to regulate the Internet, this scheme has a large hole in it. It would be possible for people so inclined to go offshore and get themselves a free Hotmail service from the great and good Microsoft.

A Bill numbered 602P permitting the zany proposal is at an early stage in the legislative pipeline. Given that almost half the Australian population is now on-line, should the Government introduce this law it can confidently look forward to 20 years in Opposition.

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