House of Representatives
4 June 1902

1st Parliament · 1st Session



Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

page 13269

PERSONAL EXPLANATION

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:
WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I desire to make a personal explanation on behalf of the honorable and learned member for Parkes. It will be within the knowledge of honorable members that last Thursday night a letter, signed by Mr. E. W. O’Sullivan, Secretary for PublicWorks, New South Wales, and published in the current issue of the Melbourne Herald, was read by the honorable member for Maranoa. That letter reflected strongly upon the honorable and learned member for Parkes, and in his opinion, and, I think, in the opinion of other honorable members, went beyond the bounds of reasonable criticism. I will now, with the permission of the House, read a letter which the honorable and learned member for Parkes has since addressed to the Honorable. E. W. O’Sullivan, and thelatter’s reply, which contains an ample apology for his indiscretion. The letters are published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 3rd June. They are as follow : -

The Honorable E.W. O’Sullivan, M.L.A., Minister for Public Works.

Dear Sir, - In your letter to the Melbourne Evening Herald of yesterday, ou the subject of my administration of the Public Works department of New South Wales, you have thought fit to make a number of statements in regard to my notions in the capacity of Minister.

Many of those statements in regard to railways and other works carried out under me come within the category of “ fair comment,” to which I cannot object, though I may hereafter have occasion to refer to them. But there are, in the same letter, three references to the purchase of Darling Island, to which I shall now draw your attention.

You state : -

That “Mr. Bruce Smith was the Minister for Public Works who bought Darling Island at a cost of £135,000.”

That “that transaction has cost the country over £50,000, so much money thrown away by Mr. Bruce Smith to oblige his friends on the syndicate.”

That “Mr. Bruce Smith has inflicted a loss of £57,000 per year, to say nothing of £50,000- odd we hare lost on the Sailing Island transaction, owing to. his tender regard for the position of the syndicate referred to.”

I need scarcely point out to you that in the second and third of these extracts you impute that I entered into a transaction for the purchase of property in question, in order to benefit a syndicate composed of my friends, and that in doing so I made u sacrifice of the public moneys. It amounts to a distinct and unmistakable chargo of political dishonesty and corruption, and nas already been so interpreted by readers of your letter.

There is not, as you must bc aware, a particle of truth in the statement, or in the interpretation which it carries with it ; and I have, therefore, to ask you to at once withdraw the charge, unconditionally, or justify it before the public ; and I am writing this letter, without the intervention of others, so that if, on reflection, you prefer the former course, you may take it at the earliest opportunity, and so enable me to remove immediately whatever reflections your statements have oust oil my character as a public man ; for if they were true I should be quite unfit to take any further part in the politics of my country, or indeed to fill any position of trust among my fellowmen.

I leave town this evening for my home in the country ; but I shall expect your answer by noon on ‘Monday. - Yours, Sc., (Signed) BRUCE SMITH. 30th May, 1902.

Mr. O’sullivan writes :

Sir, - When a man has discovered that lie has made a mistake, the wisest and most manly course is to admit it.

A few days ago I stated in a letter to your journal that Mr. Bruce Smith, M.H.B., when Minister for Works in this State, had purchased Barling Island in order to oblige a syndicate of his friends. By this .remark I meant nothing more than that Mr. Bruce Smith hud made an error of judgment in making the purchase, lt seems, however, that my words have been interpreted to indicate something altogether foreign to the character of Mr. Bruce Smith. I have no hesitation, therefore, in withdrawing the statement unconditionally, and expressing my regret for having caused misconception and annoyance by the use of the words referred to. I am convinced that this is the right course to take, because a perusal of the papers, Ac., in connexion with thu case shows that Mr. Bruce Smith was acting in the public interest when the purchase of Darling Island was made by the Government of which he (Mr. Bruce Smith) was a member. - Yours, 4c, (Signed) E. W. O’SULLIVAN.

Mr PAGE:
MARANOA, QUEENSLAND

– I wish to say that I read Mr. O’Sullivan’s letter in the Melbourne Herald, and, as the honorable and learned member for Parkes had only the evening before attacked that gentleman for hia Administration, I thought it light to bring it under the attention of honorable members. After tho letter which Mr. O’sullivan has now published, I wish to explain that I have no ill-will towards the honorable and learned member, and that I unreservedly withdraw anything I said or did in the matter which may give him offence.

EXPENDITURE.: COMMONWEALTH OFFICES.

Mr POYNTON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

– The following paragraph appears in this morning’s Melbourne Aye -

Sir William Lyne’s “ room or rooms “ is a large building iu Macquarie street, Sydney, for which the Commonwealth has to pay ?600 a year rental ; ?1,200 has been spent oat of this year’s Estimates in alterations to the building, including, 1 believe, the provision of a lift to elevate “ tired “ Ministers to the drawing-room floor, and ?076 in furniture, while further money appears to have, been spent on the. building out of the June, 190], Estimates.

When compared with the fact that tho offices in Spring-street, Melbourne, that accommodate the whole working staff of Mr. Deakin’s, Mr. Barton’s, Sir William Lyne’s, and Sir John Forrest’s’ departments; are estimated to cost in annual rental ?750, including alterations, ami their furnishing ?1,100, it must be evident that the expenditure in Sydney has been extravagant in the extreme, if it were merely intended to provide three. rooms in which two Ministers and an honorary Minister might “ write their letters during recess.”

I wish to know from the Minister for Home Affairs if that statement is true, and, if it is not wholly true, how rauch of it is true. I also ask him if he will furnish the House with a detailed account of the expenditure upon the furniture and fittings of the room or rooms referred to.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:
Minister for Home Affairs · HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES · Protectionist

– I am not in the habit of answering conundrums, and I shall not answer the paragraph which the honorable and learned member has read, except in another way. With regard to the honorable gentleman’s second question, the Committee of Supply has had the fullest information in regard to the matter, because all the papers were before honorable memhers

THE DROUGHT.

Mr BROWN:
CANOBOLAS, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I wish to know from the Minister representing the Prime Minister if he has any further information to impart to the House as the outcome of his communications to the State Premiers on the question of united action to meet the conditions arising from the drought ?

Mr DEAKIN:
Attorney-General · BALLAARAT, VICTORIA · Protectionist

– I have not received any further communications from the State Premiers, though I have obtained more returns from the Customs authorities.

Mr BROWN:

– Has the Ministry yet come to any decision as to what action, if any, they will take in the direction of attempting to mitigate the effects of the drought 1

Mr DEAKIN:

– Representations upon the subject are to be made by a deputation this afternoon, and some returns which have been received have yet to be classified, but I hope that to-morrow morning the Cabinet will be in a position to come to a final determination in the matter.

page 13271

CUSTOM-HOUSE HOURS

Mr HUGHES:
WEST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I wish to know from the

Minister for Trade and Customs why the reversion to the hours previously worked in theSydney Customs-house has not been made, as the Minister promised it would be. The officers are still commencing work at 8.30 a.m.

Mr KINGSTON:
Minister for Trade and Customs · SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · Protectionist

-I am very much surprised at what the honorable gentleman tells me. Instructions on the subject have been given more than once, and I shall now take further steps in the matter. The ComptrollerGeneral is leaving for Sydney by this afternoon’s train to investigate generally matters connected with New South Wales work.

page 13271

ORDER OF BUSINESS

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:
WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Now that we are nearing the end of the session, perhaps the Minister representing the Prime Minister will shortly give us an idea of what is to be the future order of business ?

Mr DEAKIN:
Protectionist

– The order of business depends upon the progress made with the Estimates ; but, generally speaking, we intend to adhere to the order on the notice-paper. I understand that one or two honorable members may find it inconvenient to be present during the secondreading debate on the Bonus Bill, if it is much further delayed, and, therefore, to meet their convenience, we may ask honorable members to proceed with that measure after the Estimates have been passed.

Mr McDonald:

– Will the Bonus Bill be taken before the Electoral Bill?

Mr DEAKIN:

– Yes.

Mr McDonald:

– Then we shall be a long time getting to the Electoral Bill.

page 13271

QUESTION

REFUNDS TO STATES

Mr POYNTON:

– I wish to know from the Treasurer if it is a fact that South Australia has received no refund of revenue from the Commonwealth for the month of May?

Sir GEORGE TURNER:
Treasurer · BALACLAVA, VICTORIA · Protectionist

– There was some doubt as to whether the revenue received during June would meet the heavy demands which have to be met this month, and therefore I intimated to the various States that I should not be able to pay over the refunds of revenue to them as usual on the last day of May. However, further information has now come to my hands, and instructions were therefore given yesterday to pay over the balances for May to the States..

page 13271

QUESTION

MILITARY CLOTHING

Sir LANGDON BONYTHON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA

– In view of the altered circumstances brought about by the establishment of the Common wealth, I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence what system the department of Defence intends to follow in calling for tenders for military and volunteer clothing - the manufacture of the cloth as well as the making of the clothing?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:
Protectionist

– The course adopted will be such that tenderers in every State will have an opportunity of competing. Already, in connexion with some supplies required in South Australia, tenders have been invited in all the States, and the lowest tenderer will, under all conditions, be accepted. In every case we shall take care to see that we obtain the. best articles possible at a reasonable price. In South Australia recently certain goods were supplied locally at prices which were twice as high as those at which they could be obtained elsewhere; but in the future I shall see that that does not take place.

Mr MAUGER:
MELBOURNE PORTS, VICTORIA

– Will the Minister take care that the conditions as to wages and hours are such that no sweating will be permitted in connexion with the carrying out of these contracts ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:

– I can assure the honorable member that if I can hear of any sweating by any tenderer, he shall secure no further contracts.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– I should like to know if the Minister could give the House particulars in proof of his assertion that goods have been purchased in’ South Australia for public purposes at prices twice as high as those for which they could have been obtained elsewhere?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:

– I shall be very glad to do so. The case to which I refer was in connexion with the supplies for the last contingent that was sent to South

Africa. The matter was not referred to the military authorities at head - quarters, or the prices would not have been paid. I have the full list, showing the comparative prices paid in other States.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– Will the Minister lay it on the table?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:

– I shall lay it either on the table of the Mouse or upon the Library table, and if I can obtain it within the next half-hour I shall show it to the honorable member.

page 13272

QUESTION

PURCHASE OF MILITARY HORSES

Mr PAGE:

-Will the Acting Minister for Defence cause inquiries to be made into the purchase of tick-infested horses in Queensland for the use of the contingent despatched to South Africa before the last one? I desire to know the price per head paid for the horses, and if it is true that, on being found to be tick-infested, the horses were sold by the military authorities for 25s. per head, and repurchased for £14 or £15 per head by the same officer who sold them.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:
Protectionist

– I have heard it stated that certain horses were purchased in Queensland for military purposes, but were not allowed to cross the border, in consequence of their being tick-infested. They were afterwards taken to Brisbane and sold at 25s. per head, and repurchased again for the use of another contingent for a considerable sum of money.

Mr Page:

– Who sold them?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:

– The man who bought them for 25s. per head, I suppose. That is the statement that has been made to me, and I am taking steps to verify it. I do not know that I can do anything, but it seemsvery unfair to the Imperial Government that these horses should have been sold and then repurchased. Those in authority, if they knew what was taking place, were very negligent, and are open to grave censure. I am speaking now from a statement that has not been verified. I am, however, taking steps in that direction.

page 13272

QUESTION

STATE MILITARY DISPLAYS

Mr O’MALLEY:
TASMANIA, TASMANIA

ask asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -

Whether the Commonwealth has to pay for the military display at the opening of any of the State Parliaments, or the military displays attendant on the return of military officers from South Africa ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:
Protectionist

– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -

In connexion with the opening of the State Parliaments, the costs of guards of honour are paid for out of the DefenceVotes, and such charges are debited to the respective States as being expenditure incurred for maintenance as at the time of transfer. With regard to military displays on the return of troops from South Africa, the Commonwealth has incurred no expenditure, an arrangement having been made by Sir John Forrest that in the case of State contingents - i.e., contingents raised prior to transfer - no expenditure should be taken over by the Commonwealth Government; and all arrangements for the reception of members of such contingents have been accordingly made by the State Governments. In the case of the troops raised by the Commonwealth, whatever arrangements it may be considered advisable to make for their reception will be made by the Commonwealth Government.

page 13272

QUESTION

FEDERAL AGENT IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Mr MAHON:
COOLGARDIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -

  1. Whether the Government has received any communication respecting the proposed appointment of a federal agent inWestern Australia. 2.I f so, from whom has such communication emanated.
  2. Has any person been suggested or recommended, officially or otherwise, for the position of federal agent.
  3. Does the Government consider such an appointment necessary or desirable ; and, if so, for what reasons.
Mr DEAKIN:
Protectionist

– On the 25th October, 1901, a telegram was received from the Premier of Western Australia, suggesting that the subject should be discussed at the then forthcoming conference between Federal and State Ministers. The matter, however, was not formally discussed at that conference. No person has been suggested or recommended officially or otherwise for the position. During his visit to Victoria, about two months ago, Mr. Leake, the Premier of Western Australia, and, I believe, also Mr. Kingsmill, the Minister of Railways of that State, referred in conversation, in a general way, to the services that such an officer might render in regard to small items of expenditure. The question was also dealt with at the recent Premiers’ conference in Sydney, and a resolution was carried there and forwarded to the Government. I cannot say that the Government yet consider that an appointment is necessary, the duties of such an officer having been only very generally indicated.

page 13273

LOAN BILL

Motion (by Sir G gouge Turner) proposed -

That leave” be given to brim; in a Bill to authorize the borrowing of money on the public credit of (lie Commonwealth.

Mr CROUCH:
Corio

– I am glad to take the first opportunity of protesting against any loans being raised by the Commonwealth.

Mr Watson:

– Is this the time to discuss the matter?.

Mr CROUCH:

– I do not know that it is, but it is just .as well that the Treasurer should know at the earliest possible stage that a large number of Government- supporters do not believe in money being borrowed by the Commonwealth in order to carry out public works of any description. The States of Australia have already borrowed £220,000,000, and the interest tax upon the people in respect of this enormous sum, which already assumes sufficiently large proportions to be a large loan in itself, is crushing our producing and commercial industrial resources. These loans will have to be repaid eventually, and the Commonwealth will be making a very grave mistake if it attempts to float any loans, whether internally or externally. I only regret that I did not know this motion was coming on to-day, so that I might have had the facts and figures ready. It might be said that this protest should have been entered when a motion was submitted in favour of the introduction of an Inscribed Stock Bill, but as the Commonwealth has the right under the Constitution to take over certain inscribed stock, such a Bill may be necessary for that purpose. Now, however, that the Government are proposing to increase the already enormous indebtedness of the people of the Commonwealth, I raise my most emphatic protest.

Mr. HIGGINS (Northern Melbourne).I do not think this is a proper time to discuss the proposal, but I would suggest to the Treasurer that it is inexpedient that we should be asked to deal with a Loan Appropriation Bill before we have had an opportunity of discussing the proposed Loan Bill.

Sir George Turner:

– That is not intended. It is only proposed to take the Loan Appropriation Bill through the formal stages, in order to enable me to circulate and explain it at the earliest opportunity.

Mr O’MALLEY:
Tasmania

– - I desire to enter my protest against the floating of any loans by the Commonwealth. The money will not be required for reproductive works.

Sir George Turner:

– The honorable member has not seen the Bill yet.

Mr O’MALLEY:

– But But I know what it means. The Government wish to follow out the old custom of floating loans and passing the burden on to posterity. In every other country the people are endeavouring to pay off their debts, ‘whilst we are endeavouring to increase ours. I not only protest against the present proposal, but I shall fight against it and divide the House, not only once, but dozens of times, in order to defeat the measure.

Sir William Lyne:

– How are we to carry out defence works ‘<

Mr O’MALLEY:

– Why Why do not the Government introduce some system for issuing Government paper money, or for taking over that money which is now lying idle in the banks. If they are not sufficiently intellectual to evolve a scheme for themselves why do they not adopt the Canadian system ? In Canada, which is one of the most conservative countries in the world, the Government have adopted a scheme whereby the reserves which had been lying idle in the bank are now being turned to useful ac count. The Government should take steps to bring our banking reserves into circulation. They will have my opposition to the floating of any loans.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill presented by Sir -Georgi.’. Turner, and read a first time.

page 13273

LOAN APPROPRIATION BILL

In Committee :

Sir GEORGE TURNER:
. Treasurer · Balaclava · Protectionist

– I move -

That it is expedient that an appropriation o£ moneys be made for the purposes of u Bill for an Act to authorize the expenditure of certain moneys.

This is a formal resolution which is intended to enable me to move the first reading of a Bill for the application of the loan it is proposed to raise, and to have it circulated amongst honorable members.

Mr. HIGGINS (Northern Melbourne).I understand that the adoption of the resolution does not commit us to the spending of this money ‘I

Sir George Turner:

– No ; it simply enables me to introduce the Bill.

Mr GLYNN:
South Australia

– The resolution does seem to commit us to the Victorian practice in connexion with this matter. I understand that the practice of this State is to float a Loan Bill, and afterwards to pass special bills appropriating the moneys. In the Bill for the inscription of stock provision is made for the adoption of the Victorian practice rather than that of some of the other States. For instance, in South Australia the Bill relating to a loan is also the Bill which specifies the objects or appropriates the money. It seems to me that before we have assented to the Victorian practice we are asked to act upon it. What we are invited to do is a little irregular, because we are adopting the method prescribed by the Inscription of Stock Bill, which is not the universal method, and to which this committee have not yet assented.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:
Wentworth

– I understand that the Treasurer intends postponing his explanation of this Bill till copies of it are in the hands of honorable members. It is therefore impossible for us to discuss it at the present stage. Of course, if any honorable member thinks that we ought not to borrow under any circumstances, now is the time for him to declare himself. I hope that any one who entertains that very profound opinion will have the manliness to state it at the present juncture. In some respects it is a pity that we have to begin borrowing at this early stage of our national history.

Mir. Watson. - We have a surplus of £700,000, and why should we borrow?

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– I understand that the money is to be borrowed locally. Under the circumstances I can only hope that the Commonwealth credit will prove itself equal to the occasion. It would be very awkward indeed if we did not secure as good a rate as is obtained by the States, or as we might secure upon the other side of the world. The placing of the first Commonwealthloan upon the market is a very serious undertaking, and I earnestly hope that it will meet with success.

Mr CROUCH:
Corio

-As the acting leaderof the Opposition has taunted some honorable members upon this side of the Chamber by referring to the profundity of those who hold that loans should not befloated at present, I wish to repeat my objection to the Government proposal. Nobody will allege that the Commonwealth should not borrow under any circumstances. I quite understand that in times of great national peril, it might be necessary to overstep ordinary financial methods.

Mr Deakin:

– That would be a very bad time to borrow.

Mr CROUCH:

– It would be a bad time to borrow, but it might be necessary to do so in such an emergency. But only in war times do we want war loans, and no one would surely propose such a loan in times of peace. I hold that the very fact of this committee giving the Treasurer leave to introduce a Loan Bill commits us to the system of borrowing. It stamps the approval of the House upon the fact that borrowing is necessary, and really constitutes an instruction to the Treasurer to bring in a Bill for that purpose. It is a great pity that the right honorable gentleman has brought this matter forward without making any explanation as to the necessity for the Commonwealth borrowing at the present stage.

Mr Higgins:

– The present is not the proper time to make an explanation.

Mr CROUCH:

– We are told that the present is not the proper time to discuss the matter, but I think that it is. The adoption of the proposed resolution implies that this committee considers the flotation of a loan necessary. I do not believe that a loan is necessary. What is the use of our paying money to the States with one hand, and borrowing from the public with the other?

Sir William McMillan:

– We must pay money to the States.

Mr CROUCH:

– If the States must have money let them borrow it. Do not let us pay out with one hand and borrow with the other. That is a svstem of financing which I cannot approve. It was never intended that we should have recourse to borrowing in order to keep the States solvent. Yet that is the financial procedure which our cautious Treasurer has chosen to adopt. I am exceedingly sorry that hehas introduced this financial project. The return of money to the States, when the Commonwealth has to borrow, constitutes financial juggling, which this committee should not approve. I protest against giving the Treasurer leave to introduce a Bill to borrow money at this stage for any purpose whatever, and certainly not for the purposes proposed.

Mr McCAY:
Corinella

– If I understand the matter aright, the resolution affirms the expediency of making an appropriation for a Bill for an Act to authorize the expenditure of certain moneys.

Sir George Turner:

– It is a Loan Application Bill.

Mr McCAY:

– My point is that the adoption of a resolution to authorize the expenditure of certain moneys cannot possibly commit any honorable member to the flotation of a loan. It seems to me, however, that the very amount which it is suggested we should borrow is a sufficient indication that no necessity exists for raising the proposed loan. A man carrying on an immense business does not usually go round borrowing £5 notes. The amount proposed is so small as to render the wisdom of borrowing very dubious. At the present time, however, we cannot be regarded as committing ourselves to anything.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– I am quite in agreement with those who protest against the initiation of a system of borrowing until the absolute necessity for so doing has been proved, and I do not think that such necessity is likely to be made out upon the present occasion. At the same time, I would urge honorable members who entertain similar views not to precipitate a division at this stage, because until the Treasurer has had an opportunity of explaining the Bill, some honorable members may be placed in a false position. It would be much better to defer the debate upon this matter until the second reading of the Loan Bill is under discussion.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - When I spoke previously I did not mean to say anything offensive to any honorable member. As, however, I may possibly be absent when the second reading of this Bill is moved, I desire to say that the only question which we have to decide is : “ Are the departments which we have taken Over from the States such as require loan moneys for their administration?” I think that they are, beyond all doubt. I do not mean to suggest that a loan is necessary now, because we have no details before us, but in carrying on the transferred departments, there is no doubt that we must raise loans. Therefore it seems to me that the attitude of the committee should be that if loans come naturally under the recognition of the Commonwealth, we must wait till the Treasurer, in his second-reading speech, justifies this loan, which I hope he will do, and at the same time gives a full explanation of the finances affected by it. There is not much use in discussing the matter at this stage.

Mr O’MALLEY:
Tasmania

– - I rise to address the committee a second time, because of the declaration of the acting leader of the Opposition that any honorable member who opposes the principle of borrowing should declare himself now, or for ever afterwards hold his peace. I do not desire to hold my peace for ever, especially upon this question. I simply wish to reiterate that I intend to oppose the flotation of loans. As the honorable member for Bland, who is the leader of the democratic party, has stated, we are entitled, under the Braddon blot, to retain one-quarter of the receipts from Customs. Now, as the Commonwealth will have a surplus of over £700,000, why should we not utilize £500,000 of it instead of borrowing and being compelled to pay brokerage 1 If the Commonwealth is to continue the bogus system of finance which has been carried on by the States, let it borrow £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 and do something with it. To commence borrowing small amounts is very bad business for the Government to embark upon. If we borrow money, and have to pay big interest upon it, a protest will go up against the Commonwealth, which will be heard all over Australia. People will declare that we are simply perpetuating the old rotten system of finance that was carried on in America until the resumption laws were adopted there, and a proper method of finance was initiated. For a few years the Bank of England held that its system was perfect, but after a few Americans had forged some millions of pounds’ worth of notes, people began to see that it was by no means perfect.

Mr McCOLL:
Echuca

– I hope that we shall proceed very slowly in the matter of borrowing. The experience of the States ought to constitute a sufficient warning to us, as to how we should proceed with this business. Speaking of Victoria, I may say that the Government have not the same control of loan moneys as they hav: of revenue. Somehow or other it gets into the hands of officials, who squander it almost as they please. In this connexion I may mention that Victoria has repaid in interest to the lenders more than the total amount of their loans. I am riot opposed to borrowing for reproductive works, but I hold that we should raise loans only for works which are absolutely indispensable. I merely desire to express my views upon this matter at this early stage of the proceedings.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported and adopted.

Bill presented (by Sir George Turner), and read a first time.

page 13276

SUPPLY

In Committee -

Consideration resumed from 3rd June (vide page 13229).

Department of the Postmaster-General.

Division 130 (Central Staff), £5,360

Sir PHILIP FYSH:
Minister (without portfolio) · Tasmania · Free Trade

– In asking the attention of honorable members to the Estimates of the Postmaster-General’s department, I desire to offer a few observations. Of the total Estimates of £4,300,000 for the year, £2,300,000 seems a large sum to ask for the department of the PostmasterGeneral. This, however, is a reproductive department ; and the total expenditure in the various States during the last financial year was within £47,000 of the sum now asked for. The increase arises from several causes, but largely from the fact that all the officers transferred to the Commonwealth have received’ the increments to which they are entitled under the various resolutions, regulations, or Statutes of the States. The Victorian public servants who have been transferred have had their salaries written up in accordance with the Victorian Act–

Mr Watson:

– Not the latest Victorian Act.

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– I am informed that the increments have been allowed under the latest regulations.

Mr Watson:

– What about the Victorian Act of 27th December, 1900?

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– I am informed by the Postmaster-General that the salaries of the transferred officers have been increased to the sums to which they would have been entitled had they remained State officers. In the case of New South Wales I find that, in this connexion, the Estimates have been loaded to the extent of £16,000. Then a large expenditure is necessary in order to meet the seriously increased cost of the inland mails. The sum involved under that heading is about £10,700, and the increase has arisen in consequence of the higher contracts rendered necessary by the drought and the advanced cost of fodder. There are other increases which vary in connexion with the different States. Some States have heretofore charged against the department all the expenditure which could possibly be charged, while other States have not taken that course. We have now appearing on the Estimates the exchange oh money orders as between the various States, and also the cost of water and sewerage services. The Attorney-General has already explained that certain portions of claims made by municipalities for services rendered must be paid for by the Commonwealth, and this has swollen the Estimates to the extent of £4,400. The cost of extra officers - I mean officials in the various head offices, and postmasters and postmistresses - amounts to £16,400. This item is accounted for by the increase in the number of officers from 12,000 to 12,400 in the current year, and it may be presumed that the department will continue to grow. No doubt demands for extended telegraph communication and new post-offices will be made from time to time, and although the department is intended to be reproductive, the aim of Ministers is not to make it reproductive in the same sense as is the English Postal department, the administration of which results in an annual profit of £2,000,000 to £3,000,000. The desire of the Commonwealth Government is to extend the services of the department as the increased revenue will permit of it - not too fast, but when the increased revenue is almost equal to the expenditure incurred. These items I have mentioned come to more than the £47,000 extra expenditure, but the total is reduced by contingencies and non-recurrent votes, which, however, are less during the current year than they were in the State departments in the previousyear. We may presume, that £47,000 roughly represents the increase of the Estimates for the closing year. When the Estimates for next year are before us, I am afraid the Treasurer will find it necessary to increase the vote for the inland mails, owing to further difficulties which have arisen with the contractors, who contend that they cannot carry on the services for the amounts stipulated.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Does the Minister think that £10,400 will cover all the extra cost?

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– The amount named will, I think, be sufficient for the current year.

Sir George Turner:

– There will probably be a saving on that amount.

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– But at present it is necessary to pass the Estimates as they stand ; and I hope I have given sufficient justification for the comparatively small increase. I have said that the department is reproductive. There is an expenditure of £2,339,000, but we have a revenue of £2,306,000; so that the primary loss, to which other items have to be added, is only some £33,000 per annum. The Postal departments of the States have, for some years past, shown a total loss of about £200,000 per annum, but it must be remembered that they varied in their methods of stating the accounts. Some States charged against the department portions of the capital invested, while other States did not do so; and, therefore, we have to an extent been misled in speaking of the loss incurred prior to federation. Out of the total amount of £10,000,000, which it is estimated will be required for the purchase of public buildings used in transferred services, fully £8,000,000 will be necessary for the service of the Postal and Telegraph department. Taking the interest on that amount at 3½ per cent., we arrive at a further loss of £280,000 ; but that isnot all. Other items have to be considered, and the PostmasterGeneral desires me to call attention to the fact that there is likely to arise a further loss of about £35,000 in connexion with the much-discussed question of the minimumsalary of £110 for officers who have been three years in the service and have reached the age of 21 years. Then, in consequence of the decision not to carry “ Tattersall’s “ letters, it is estimated that the revenue will suffer to the extent of £40,000 to £60,000 per annum.

Mr Page:

– What is the exact position now in connexion with “Tattersall’s?”

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– I cannot tell the honorable member what the exact position is now. Week by week the department are stopping “Tattersall’s” letters, and I presume that no money orders are now issued in this connexion.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– What revenue was received from “Tattersall’s” previously?

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– If Tasmania received a revenue of £16,000 from the postal and money order business alone, it may be presumed that the revenue received throughout the States was not less than £40,000 to £60,000 per annum. I call the attention of honorable members to these figures because I want them to remember, in connexion with another Bill which will shortly be brought before them, that the postal department will have a great deal of lee-way to pick up. The PostmasterGeneral hopes to be able to place, as a per contra account against this very large deficiency, new revenue to the extent of £100,000 a year obtained by the cessation of the franking system.

Mr Watson:

– There will also be the revenue derived from the postage upon newspapers.

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– That revenue will all be given back to the publicby the proposed concession in regard to telegraph rates. The Postmaster-General is, however, desirous of increasing the revenue by other methods. Regulations in regard to the collect-parcels post have already been placed before honorable members. That system has been in vogue in New South Wales and Queensland in the past, and it is now to be applied to the whole Commonwealth. The Postmaster-General also hopes to be able to establish an express post with boy messengers, such as they have in places like London, Manchester, Liverpool, and New York.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The honorable gentleman pointed out that £280,000 has to be added for interest, andhe said that some of the States already allow for interest.

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– I only suggested that prior to the Commonwealth taking over the control of the Postal department the accounts were dealt with in a variety of ways. In the Estimates now before the committee there is no mention of interest. The £33,000 shown as a loss is altogether irrespective of about £280,000, which is. the amount of interest calculated at 3½ per cent. on the £8,000,000 capital employed.

Sir George Turner:

– The States authorities used to show this interest only in their balance-sheets. They never provided for it. in their Estimates.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:
Wentworth

– While the administration of the Postal departments of the States was looked upon as a very easy business, it calls for the highest ability now that the States. departments have been amalgamated. There is a danger, too, that, with central administration, the requirements of some of the States may be dealt with without a clear and adequate knowledge of their conditions. There can be, for instance, no comparison in postal matters between the conditions of States like New South Wales and Victoria, and any so-called economy, but real parsimony, which would interfere with the invaluable network of communication which is extended over the sparsely populated districts of the former State would be most insane folly. Therefore in the Postal department, above all others, while we must retain the central administration for certain purposes, we must also depend largely upon local administration. I have had a great deal of trouble in dealing with many small petty-fogging matters which have been brought before me by constituents, and it seems to me very foolish that we should have to refer to the central administration in regard to such matters. Larger powers ought to be given to the administration in each of the States, where there is probably a very able permanent head. There is a danger that under a system of extreme centralization sufficient power and authority may not be given to those permanent heads to deal with matters of a local character. I. know that there must be great difficulty in the initiation of a new administration, and every consideration should therefore be shown to the Government. But the complaint has been made by the people of New South Wales that certain drastic economy which has been introduced has led to the closingof post-offices which had become al most necessary to the trading public. I daresay that under State administration there was a great deal of extravagance, and possibly in some cases, offices overlapped each other. Then, too, it has happened that the positions of offices have occasionally been badly chosen, so that, although one office might serve if properly placed, the closing of either of two existing offices would create inconvenience. For instance, there is a post-office at the bottom of King-street, Sydney, and there was another at the corner of Sussex and Druitt streets. The latter office was closed, although it was situated in the very heart of the produce centre of Sydney, and the people of the neighbourhood are therefore compelled to go a considerable distance to get to the nearest post-office available to them. No doubt a mistake was made in the first choosing of a site for a post-office in the district; but it does not follow that, because two offices are too many, a district is not seriously inconvencienced by the closing of either of them. That case proves the difficulty of administering a department from the central office, unless that office is assisted by a large amount of local knowledge. In my opinion, the department should be administered very largely by the permanent heads in each State.

Sir George Turner:

– All these things are done under the advice of the officers who have been administering the department in the various States for years past.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– There were deputations about the matter to which I refer, and about other matters, but the representations made seem to have had very little effect, because of the importance of the central office. AVhile there may have been great extravagance, and perhaps, mismanagement, in the past, we must not work the Postal department upon absolutely commercial lines. As a business man, I believe in every tub being on its own bottom, but I think the community as a whole would be willing to make up any deficiency which might be caused by increasing the communication with distant parts of Australia. No doubt the department may ultimately be made to pay its way, although the adoption of penny postage, which may sooner or later become a popular cry, may make the time a far distant one. This Parliament has been in session so long that executive work has no doubt been tremendously interfered with. It is deplorable that the fi rst session should have exceeded a period of six months. But, whether the fault belongs to the House or to the Government, we must make great allowance because of it for any defects in administration. Had it been a shorter session, Ministers would have had a reasonable chance to visit the departmental offices in the various States, and to put their administration upon a sound basis. In any case, it must be remembered that, instead of the Postal department being a minor department, as it was under State administration, it is now a department which requires the greatest ability to administer it without creating friction, and to conserve the interests of the various. States.

Mr HUGHES:
West Sydney

– The post-office at the corner of Sussex and Druitt streets, to which the honorable mem- j ber for Wentworth has referred, is situated in the district which I represent. It was , closed in a rather extraordinary manner, so that the people in the district had no opportunity to protest against the action of the department. I understand, from what Mr. Dalgarno told me, that Mr. Scott was driven round in a buggy to a number of the offices in the west and east of Sydney, and covered the whole of the metropolitan area in four or five hours.’ If the department is to be administered from head-quarters, some better method of obtaining information than that will have to be adopted. If, on the other hand, it is said that the local authori-1 ties still have supreme control in these matters, I ask why an office which remained , open for so many years under State ad- ; ministration was closed soon after the j administration of the Postal department was transferred to the Commonwealth. The infor- j mation obtained by Mr. Scott could only be of i the slightest and most unreliable character. This determination could not have been i arrived at as the result of an inspection of the books, because the post-office was paying well, and there was no more reason for closing it than for .shutting up the POStoffice in King-street. The Druitt-street Post-office is much farther away from the Haymarket than is the branch in Kingstreet from the General Post-office, and - any argument that might apply to the closing up of the Druitt-street” Post-office would have more force in regard to the King-street branch. I understood that post-offices were intended to serve the interests of the public, but if they are to be maintained only in such places as suit the convenience of the travelling head of the department, it would be wise perhaps to supply him -with a motor-car or a balloon, so that he might occupy less time in travelling, and have a longer period in which to contemplate the effect of his lofty gyrations. I asked a question some time ago as to the leave and overtime pay that was due to telegraph operators. It appears that operators and others who work on Sundays are either paid extra or else have an equivalent allowed in leave. In some cases the arrears of leave amount to quite 50 or 60 days. I understand that some attempt has been made to remedy the grievances which have arisen in this way, but I should like to have an official notification upon the subject. The letter-carriers in New South Wales have been entitled to leave in consideration of overtime work on Saturday afternoons, or of double duty performed when the staff has been shorthanded. In some cases, however, arrears of leave have been allowed to mount up, and some communications on the subject have passed between the local authorities and the Letter Carriers’ Association. The association having been asked by the Deputy Postmaster-General in Sydney to furnish particulars of the alleged irregularities, the following statement has been supplied : -

Rozelle. - Some of the letter-carriers have not received a day off since 25th November. 1001.

Waverley, Randwick and Bondi. - The lettercarriers receive a day oft’ every 17 days, except when the relieving letter-carrier is on annual leave or sick lea-a They then have to forego their day’s -leave and receive no recompense for the days lost.

Leichhardt. - The letter-earners have not been receiving; their day’s leave regularly. They have lost three and four days’ leave each during the past four monnths

Manly. - The letter-carriers received a day per fortnight regularly, until a week prior to 25th December, MOI. .Now they only receive half adar per fortnight.

Bm wood. - The letter-carriers have to forego their leave when the relieving letter-carrier is on sick leave or annual leave. No recompense for the days lost.

Petersham. - One letter-carrier has not had u day’s leave for two months, owing to the resignation of letter-carrier H. Freeman. Two. lettercarriers have not had their leave for a month, owing to the relieving letter-carrier doing duty for one on sick leave.

Concord. - When the’ relieving letter-carrier is on sick leave or annual leave, the letter-earners of this office have to forego their days. Ko recompense received.

Summer Hill. - One letter-currier has not received a day’s leave since 7th August, I ‘JOI.

Mosman. - One letter-carrier has not received a day’s lea ve since 2nd February, 1902.

Greenwich. - The letter-carrier has not received a day’s leave for live years.

Watson’s Bay. - The letter-currier has not received a day’s leave for nine years.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– Are the men entitled to leave ? I am informed that all the local regulations have been respected.

Mr HUGHES:

– There is no question as to the men being entitled to the leave, because, in his letter, the Deputy PostmasterGeneral says -

Referring to your communication of the 18th ult., bringing under notice that the letter-carriers in a number of the suburban post-offices are often debarred from receiving a day’s leave each fortnight in lieu of working on Saturday afternoons, and at some offices the letter carrier does not receive snub leave at all, I have to inform you that this department is not aware of such cases, and it will be necessary for you to furnish instances in which the leave mentioned is not regularly received, &c. , before the matter can receive consideration.

Unless the Government intend to continue the present practice, and to establish a record in this matter, as they have done in many others, some attention should be given to the representations immediately. One of the effects of the centralization of the postal administration has been to increase the amount of .red tape to a most irritating extent. The head office of the postal administration is just across the road from Parliament House, and one would imagine that nothing would be more simple than to transmit a communication from one side of the road to the other ; but’ nothing is more difficult. One could communicate with ex-President Kruger or with the King of the Cannibal Islands with as much ease as with the head of the Postal department. Any one can see the head of the department, but it is quite a different matter to secure satisfaction. Either the central control should be complete and efficient, or the decision of local matters should be left to the local authorities. .For instance, what can Mr. Scott or anybody else in the head office know at one and the same time about local affairs in New South Wales and Western Australia? If letter-carrier No. 112 in Western Australia wants a day’sleave, what can Mr. Scott know about the circumstances of the case ? Yet he affects to know everything about it.

Sir George Turner:

– Does the honorable member say that a letter-carrier in Western Australia has to apply to the Secretary of the Postal department for a day’s leave ‘(

Mr HUGHES:

– Apparently he cannot secure it from the local authorities, if one may judge from the list I have read. It is, apparently, necessary, when a man in Western Australia wants a day’s leave, to write over to Mr. Scott, who has to communicate with Perth, and then some reply has to be sent back again ; and so the thing goes on. This would be all very well in a comic opera, but it has no place in a public department such as the Post-office, in which we might reasonably expect to find business methods followed. As the result of a deputation which waited upon me some ‘ little time ago, I wrote to the department asking that residential accommodation should be provided for the postmaster at Ultimo, Sydney, who has a large and populous district to attend to, and who also acts as electoral registrar. When he goes away at a reasonable hour at night, no one is left to cany on his electoral work, and it would be of great advantage to the residents if he were permitted to live on the premises. Another matter which was brought before me, also as the result of a deputation, was the fact that the people in Chippendale, a large and growing district, require a post-office. Owing to the department requiring the post-office to be placed in one part of the district, and the residents desiring that it should be fixed in another, the department have been content to do nothing. I do not wish to unduly hurry the department, but as it is eighteen months ago since the matter was first mentioned, and the claims of the residents to a post-office are well recognised, i 1 hope the Minister will very soon take action. In the Post-office department there are many cases of gross injustice, in which men of mature age are receiving only £70 or £S0 a year. As it is provided in the Public Service Act that such men shall receive at least £1 1.0 per year, I should like to know when it is proposed to give effect to the Act. The department have so far made no move in this direction. I understand that those who are entitled to increased pay have to satisfy the Public Service Commissioner of that fact, and some action should be taken immediately by the department to facilitate the change.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– The commissioner now has full power, and is taking up his duties very rapid 1)’.

Mr HUGHES:

– But all the necessary machinery for complying with the requirements of the Act should be set in motion at’ once, or else the Public Service Act will become mildewed with age before these unfortunate public servants receive any increase of pay.

Mr MAHON:
Coolgardie

– I do not propose to discuss the administration of the Post-office in regard to any of the States except Western Australia, because I recognise that it is necessary, in the face of the great change in management, to make allowances for many delays and disappointments. At the same time I think the Government should have taken- steps before now to investigate the condition of affairs in the Post and Telegraph department of Western Australia. They must have heard that that service does not give satisfaction to the outside public, whilst producing grave discontent to the officials themselves. ‘ I could understand a department being conducted in such a way as to satisfy either the public or the officials. But when a department pleases neither the public nor the unfortunate officials it is prima facie evidence that something is very wrong with the head of it. 1 do not think that Ministers can be ignorant of the fact that the head of the department in Western Australia - if my information is correct - has been practically insubordinate to his own Minister and has actually refused to carry out his instructions. For example, his Minister instructed him not to transfer officers to out - stations without the approval of the head office in Melbourne, and yet he continues to transfer officials.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– Was not that rectified by the Postmaster-General 1

Mr MAHON:

– I believe that one case was rectified, but another has not yet been remedied. I know of a young man who, after spending about five years at Coolgardie, and enduring all the hardships of the early days there, has been transferred to a God-forsaken place like Eucla, where he never sees a soul from year’s end to year’s end. He can obtain no satisfaction. The Government should have instituted an investigation into the affairs of this department in Western Australia, such as I urged them to undertake months ago. I am satisfied that if justice were done,’ the man at the head of the Postal department in Perth would have been suspended long since. I feel sure that if Ministers were not overburdened with work that result would have followed before now. This is no new matter. The officer at the head of the department in Perth is. accustomed to rule with all the authority of a despot. He will not consider the convenience of the public, nor the services and sufferings of the unfortunate employes. When I mentioned a few nights since that the condition of the department was so bad that it had resulted in a strike of telegraph operators at Coolgardie, the Treasurer suggested that that must have been a long time ago. But although that strike took place as far back as 1S95, the dissatisfaction of the employes to-day is almost as serious as it was then, and the same aggravated reasons exist for it. When that strike was being settled this gentleman gave a solemn undertaking to the employes who took part in it that none of them would suffer if they returned to work. His manner of keeping that promise was to scatter the unfortunate operators over the whole of Western Australia. One was sent up to the north-west coast, and others to outlying stations in remote places, the result being that every one of them suffered for the part which they took in the strike. To show the autocratic nature of this gentleman, and the way in which he has been accustomed to rule the department, I will read extracts from the report of a Royal commission composed of five .Members of Parliament which sat in 1S97. I shall read some recommendations of that commission, which took most voluminous evidence. Despite the fact that those recommendations were made and supported by a considerable majority in the State Parliament, a great many of the reforms urged in the report were never adopted until the Western Australian representatives came to this House. Some of them have since been carried out as the result of questions which I put to the Minister. The Royal, commission to which I refer gave all the witnesses to understand that they were at liberty to communicate with the Chairman without in any way prejudicing their position in the service. But what happened? Only two men who were adverse to the policy and methods of the department gave evidence before that commission, and one of them was almost immediately dismissed upon a trumped-up charge ; whilst the other, who held a very good position in the Perth office, was shortly afterwards transferred to » Coolgardie. Up till that time the latter had received the highest increases of any man in the department, but since then he has received the lowest increments, simply because he gave evidence in opposition to the system which is carried on by the Perth Deputy Postmaster-General. I would further point out that during the administration of this gentleman the department lost by one embezzler in Coolgardie nearly £8,000. What is to be thought of a department which is managed in such a way that a junior employe can continue embezzling money year after year until he has succeeded in getting away with nearly £8,000 before the department discovers his defalcations.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– - How is the auditing done there?

Mr MAHON:

– I should prefer the honorable gentleman to ask the postal officials that question. I believe that there was some system of auditing the accounts, but it is evident that it must have been a very loose one. Although the Deputy Postmaster-General at Perth had had experience of the Bertoli ffrauds in Coolgardie, yet owing to the fact that he would not supply proper safe accommodation in the head office at Perth the paymaster there actually lost nearly £1 ,000. He went out to lunch, leaving the money in his office. While he was absent, some person who knew his habits, and had provided himself with a key, slipped in and extracted £932. I have said that the condition of this department is bad. I propose now to read the testimony of an officer of the department who knew a good deal about its inside working. Writing to me some time ago, of the period from 1S95 upwards, he says -

To say that the administration in those days was bad, .is putting it mildly. There was no check on telegraphic receipts, so that a dishonest postmaster could pocket whatever he liked. In 18!l7, Bertoli, an officer at Coolgardie, on a small salary, embezzled £8,000 of the departments cash. The fraud was discovered by chance and not “by an examination. Bertoli’s extravagant expenditure was the talk of Coolgardie, out it never occurred to his superiors to inquire where the money came from. Had the eastern system of accounts prevailed, his peculations would have been discovered almost instantly. The rottenness of his alleged system was made known to Mr. Sholl by an officer named Stewart, who had been in the department in New South Wales. At the very time that Bertoli was stealing the funds, Stewart warned Sholl against allowing large sums to stand to the credit of the postmaster at Coolgardie and other gold-fields towns, where embezzlements also occurred. Though Stewart had a failing, he was an able man. His advice was continually sought by Sholl in preference to that of the inspectors. The disorganization of the department impelled him to the use of strong language, and Mr. Sholl, who received his reports direct, actually withheld them from the record room, and consequently from the Minister. One instance of the system then prevailing is worthy of mention. Up to the end of 15!)7, if a person, say, at Perth, applied for a money order at Kalgoorlie for 5s., the cash would be enclosed with the departmental advice list and sent on to Kalgoorlie. Thus thousands of pounds sterling were always floating about, and as the population was also floating, a great deal of the cash must have missed its rightful owners.

That is an instance of the methods pursued. I promised the committee to read some of the recommendations made by the Royal commission to which I have referred.

Sir George Turner:

– Most of those recommendations have been carried out by the present Postmaster-General.

Mr MAHON:

– Some of them have been, adopted, but not all. But even if they had been carried out in their entirety I have a right to call attention to the fact that the Commonwealth is paying a man in a high position whom we regard as incompetent, or something worse. He is the man responsible for the maladministration of the post, and he may repeat it in the future. First of all, the commission point out a most serious thing, namely, that robbery f from the Postoffice was frequently condoned. Paragraph 4S of the report in question states -

Crimes committed against a great public department like the Post and Telegraph department are serious, and offenders should be prosecuted according to the law. This has been the exception rather than the rule in regard to misdemeanours committed in the past by Post-office officials ; most of the offences having been condoned on the offenders or their friends making good any deficiencies which may. have occurred, the only punishment meted out in the majority of cases being dismissal from the service.

The Government should consider whether they cau safely leave the administration of a great department of State in the hands of a gentleman accustomed to the compounding of felonies. We find also from the report of the commission that he surrounds himself with officers who are either incompetent or have very little to do. At the time of which I am speaking the Deputy Postmaster-General kept a chief clerk, whose work was done by another officer. On this point the Royal commission reported -

The chief clerk stated, in evidence, he was not fully employed, as the Postmaster-General had taken the work out of his hands, and did not utilize his services to the extent he might. He also Slid that on his return to duty, after twelve months’ leave of absence, he found a number of officers doing the work he was performing prior to going on his holiday. The evidence shows that the chief clerk has now duties allotted to him that can easily be carried out by a” subordinate officer.

Yet the chief clerk continued to draw his high salary for some time afterwards. One might expect that the advice of a Royal commission would have been taken to heart by the Deputy Postmaster-G eneral. At any

Rite, it should have induced him to take proper precautions for the conservation of public moneys. The Royal commission, speaking of the embezzlements, reported -

Our investigations show tha tat the time referred to there was really no proper system of inspection in the department, neither was there a proper system of checking the accounts of the district officers.

Hence the embezzlements. The administration was faulty, and offered temptations to the officers at every point. As to the robbery of £922 from the Telegraph branch in December, 1897, the Commissioners state -

We cannot help thinking that if ordinary precautions had been employed the moment the robbery was reported, and every employe pub through a strict inquiry, the mystery might have been solved, or some clue obtained which could have been successfully followed up.

But nothing was done; there was the usual “masterly inactivity.” I believe that the State Government subsequently compelled the unfortunate officer, from whose room the money was taken, to make a refund. In the following paragraph, the Royal commission referred co a very important matter -

The salaries paid in the post and Telegraph department are, as a general rule, on too low a scale to insure the proper class of officers being retained, and this is particularly noticeable in the case of subordinate officials engaged in work of a responsible character. It appears to us also that too much attention is paid to length of service, as compared with an officer’s ability, and the character of the work he is engaged in. In other words, there is nob a proper system of classification of duties as well as of officials. The anomalies in salaries paid for services rendered are often striking.

It is doubtful whether there has been any improvement in the salaries, except, of course, that some officers have obtained small yearly increments. The higher officials are well looked after, both in regard to salary and allowances. The Royal commission, in their report, dwelt on the necessity of transferring officers who for a long time have been stationed in unhealthy or tropical latitudes. On this the report is -

Officers who have been stationed in tropical or out-of-the-way places, where the conditions of living have a tendency to injuriously affect the health, should have the privilege, after a certain period of service, of being transferred to stations further south. This is a matter that should receive prompt attention.

But it has not received “prompt “attention. I have already given an illustration of how much attention was paid to this recommendation in the case of a young fellow who, stationed at Coolgardie for several years, had undergone all the hardships of goldfields life. He. was transferred, not to Perth or Fremantle, or to some other habitable place, but to Eucla, where, perhaps for a whole year, he may not see a strange face. Another example of extraordinarymanagement is given in the fact that although there is an excellent Government Printingoffice in Perth, the Deputy PostmasterGeneral had all the postage stamps and postcards printed in England. The Royal commission drew attention to this matter -

Postage stamps and post-cards are printed in England at a cost, of about £2,000 a year. The dies and plates are the property of this Government. The other Australian colonies print their own stamps and’ post-cards, and the accountant gave evidence that if this colony would follow suit there would be a considerable saving in this respect.

There was also the recommendation of the Royal commission that private letter-boxes should be provided at the General Postoffice accessible to holders at any hour of the day or night. The Treasurer is in error if he thinks that all the recommendations of the Royal commission have been carried out. This is one that has not yet been adopted.

Sir George Turner:

– I only followed what the honorable member said, namely, that a large number of the recommendations had been carried out on his bringingthem before the Postmaster-General.

Mr MAHON:

– In regard to the inland parcels post, the speedier payment of money orders, and a few little things of that kind, the recommendations have been adopted. Under the old system, if a person desired to telegraph £5 from Broken Hill to Kalgoorlie, the message went toSydney, thence to Perth, and later on toits destination-; so that a message from the payer to the payee arrived from 24 to- 48 hours before the money became available. The Treasurer ought to understand that there is great complaint about the system of accounts in the post-office of Western Australia. I do not profess to understand the matter fully, but I believe there is a great deal of duplication of work in the money order branch. In the eastern States I understand the same form is used for an Inter-State as for a foreign money order ; but in Western Australia there are about half-a-dozen different forms for State, foreign, and Inter-State orders. An officer in this department lias to balance his accounts twice a day, once about 2 o’clock before the banks close, and a second time at the close of the day. The administration of the Western Australian Telegraph department was the scandal of the civilized world in the olden times, by which I mean the boom times, when there was considerable speculation on the Stock Exchange. Even at the present moment there are great delays, in illustration of which I may read an amusing newspaper extract -

A case heard in the Menzies local court, last week, hinged partly upon the times at which certain telegrams were despatched and received. This led to various experiences with the telegraph office being related. The plaintiff in the case related that a telegram for him had been despatched from Henries at 10.55 a.m. on a certain day, and that it took five horns to reach Kookynie.

That is, the telegram was about five hours in going 34 miles. “Oh.” said the police magistrate, “that was quick work. When I was at Mulwarrie the other day, I sent a wire to Menzies, and it was received the next day, two and a half hours after I had arrived.”

Mr. Hill : I sent a wire from Mulwarrie to advise my return to Menzies, and I beat it easily on the road.

This did not occur in 1895 or 1896, but in the present year.

Mr. Maxwell ; I can relate a similar experience. I sent. a wire to Perth the other day to say that I would be down, and after I reached Perth the wire was delivered to me at my office. This recalls an incident in 1896, whan an hotelkeeper at Albany sent some billiard cues to a friend in Norseman. They were despatched to Esperance by the 4-knot per horn: steamer, then by horse team to Norseman. A telegram was sent from Albany ou the day the steamer left, advising the despatch of the cues. The message arrived at Norseman the day after the goods. In the same year a resident of Albany was in Adelaide, and he sent a telegram to his wife advising his return by the first boat. When he reached home the message had not arrived. About a mouth afterwards the man died. Judge the surprise of the wife when she got the telegram five months afterwards, stating that her husband was returning by the first boat.

In conclusion, I say that the time has come when both in the interests of the public and for the welfare of the public servants, it is imperatively necessary that this department in Western Australia should be reorganized.

Mr TUDOR:
Yarra

– I have from time to time brought under the notice of the Treasurer the treatment which the Victorian transferred officers are receiving from the Government. About twelve months ago, when we vere considering a temporary Supply Bill, I mentioned this matter, which lias been repeatedly referred to by the honorable member for Bourke, the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, and others, and we have been promised from time to time by the Treasurer, that effect would be given to this clause. An officer was sent from Victoria to obtain information as to the .remuneration given for corresponding work in’ other parts of the Commonwealth, artel although his report was submitted about six months ago, and questions in regard to it have been asked since, I have not been able to obtain any satisfactory information. We were told yesterday by the Attorney-General that this matter is in the hands of the Public Service Commissioner. Transferred officers who were entitled to increases .ranging from £80 to £300 obtained them at once, but that has not been the case with men whose increases represent only a few shillings a week. “I am aware of the fact that when this matter is settled, all arrears will be paid up, but I am afraid that some of the unfortunate men may be dead before the Public Service Commissioner has an opportunity of deciding as to the value of the work. By permission of the Government I have seen the report to which I have alluded, and I cannot understand why it was not laid on the table long ago. As the document was prepared by a public officer for the use of the Commonwealth, every honorable member is entitled to peruse it, and it should have been laid on the table df the House. There may be vagueness in regard to certain matters in the report, but other matters are made absolutely clear. Some officers received their increases nearly eighteen months ago, and it is about time the remainder received some consideration especially those officers about whom the report is clear. The report further shows that the Melbourne letter-carriers work much longer hours than the letter-carriers in any of the other States, including New South Wales, and that their pay is less than that of the letter-carriers in the other States. Then, again, the minimum pay given to instrument fitters in some of the States is higher than the maximum pay given in Victoria. There are similar discrepancies in regard to the postal assistants.

Sir George Turner:

– Victorian postal assistants do not occupy the same position as the postal assistants in Queensland.

Mr TUDOR:

– The Victorian Act fixes the maximum pay of postal assistants at £156 per annum, while, according to the information in my possession, the postal, assistants in Queensland may receive as much as £230 per annum.

Sir George Turner:

– They are a different class of men from the Victorian postal assistants.

Mr TUDOR:

– I know the postal assistants in Queensland and New South Wales are in the Clerical Division, and are put in charge of post-offices. The postal assistants in Victoria who are getting £90 or £100 a year are sometimes put in the same position, although they have not passed the necessary clerical examination, and Mr. Cerrutty’s report says that the work is practically the same. If they do that work, their case should be looked into, and they should receive the benefits which the Act intended to give them. I trust that the Minister will do what he can to afford thelong-deferred justice which is due to these men. If it was right that the officers should receive increases, surely the men should do so too. In regard to the preparation of the Estimates, I wish to point out that the divisions dealing with the Victorian department are delightfully vague. The New South Wales Estimates show exactly how many clerks, letter-carriers, sorters,&c., are employed, and what salary each receives, whereas in the Victorian Estimates they are all bunched together, and we have items like these - 41clerks, £1 1,857;….. 63 clerks, £11, 923; …… 1 22 female assistants, at from £40 to £110, £9,719 ; 183 operators at from £40 to £200,£33,669.

The same thing is done in regard to lettercarriers and sorters.

Sir George Turner:

– These Estimates had to be prepared when not very much time was available, and we had, therefore, to continue the system which has previously been in vogue in each State. In future, no doubt, there will be more uniformity, and we hope to ultimately obtain absolute uniformity.

Mr TUDOR:

– If the New South Wales system were adopted in regard to the Victorian Estimates, it would be of much assistance to representatives of Victorian constituencies. There are several other discrepancies to which I wish to drawattention. For instance, on page 114, wo have the item -

One hundred and fourteen sorters, at from £11 10s. per month to75s. per week - maximum per annum,£156.

If my arithmetic is correct, 75s. per week is equivalent to £195 per annum.

Sir George Turner:

– The maximum set down is the maximum allowed under the existing regulations, and, no doubt, some of the men were appointed under the old regulations, which provided for a higher maximum.

Mr TUDOR:

– Then the Estimates are misleading to that extent. I find that there are letter-carriers receiving 57s. per week, or£148 per annum, when the maximum of their grade is set down at £132 per annum. I find, too, ridiculous items such as these -

One messenger at from £84 to £120 ; maximum, £120; . . . one stamp impresser and machine man, at from £148 to £204 ; maximum, £160.

Why is not the actual salary given in these cases? The honorable member for Coolgardie complained about the way in which the Western Australian Postal department is managed, but, judging from the manner in which the Victorian Estimates have been prepared, the Victorian department is still worse managed, as the Western Australian salaries are set forth clearly, and it can be seen how much each officer receives. Last week the honorable member for Parramatta stated that there are more men employed in the New South Wales department than in the Victorian department, but I was not prepared to find that there are more than twice as many men employed in New South Wales as in Victoria, the total number employed in New South Wales being 5,436, and in Victoria 2,594. The fact that the territory of New South Wales is so much larger than that of Victoria hardly accounts for this difference, because a similar comparison does not hold good in regard to the Queensland and Victorian departments. I find, too, that with regard to letter-sorters, Victoria appears to have 271, made up of two batches of 114 and 157, whereas half that number would appear sufficient, having regard to the relative proportions of the two services in other grades. I should like some explanation from the Minister in regard to that matter. I cannot understand the provision made on page 110 of the Estimates for increases of salary to deserving officers in New South Wales, who do not come under the increment regulations in accordance with the practice at the time of transfer, and no similar provision is made for officers in this and other States. How is it that these officers have been selected for special preference over the officers in Victoria ?

Sir George Turner:

– Because a certain practice was adopted in New South Wales and not in the other States. The conditions in Victoria and New South Wales are entirely different.

Mr TUDOR:

– Altogether about £1 2,000 is set apart for increments to officers in New South Wales, but no provision of a similar character is made for increments to Victorian officers. I hope that in cases where it is found that Victorian officers are justly entitled to increases they will not be overlooked, because- no provision is made for them upon the present Estimates.

Sir George Turner:

– No. Provision will be made upon* the next Estimates, and the money will be paid to them. There will be no difficulty in regard to that.

Mr TUDOR:

– I see that provision is made for £120 to defray the expense of employing a motor cycle for clearing letterpillars in Sydney, .whereas- in Victoria bicycles are hired for the purpose.

Sir George Turner:

– The employment of the motor cycle in Sydney was purely an experiment, and I do not know whether it proved satisfactory.

Mr TUDOR:

– I have previously referred to the fact that certain officers in Victoria have not received the increases to which they are entitled. I find that the Chief Inspector, the Accountant Controller of Stamps, and a number of others have their increments ranging from £11 to £23 per annum provided for, whereas the men who ‘are in the lower grades of the service have not received theirs.

Sir George Turner:

– The circumstances are altogether different. The increases in one case are fixed by the Act, and in the other they still have to be fixed.

Mr TUDOR:

– It was very unfortunate that it was not specified in the Act that no officer should receive any increase under Act 1921 of Victoria until all had been provided for. Then the higher officers would have worked all the harder to secure the increments for the men.

Sir George Turner:

– That is not fair to the officers, who have nothing whatever to do with the increments to the men.

Mr TUDOR:

– Still they might have exerted some pressure upon Ministers. In South Australia a number of men, who have been employed as line repairers for years, are still classified as temporary officers, whereas men who occupy somewhat higher positions have been converted from temporary into permanent officers. It seems singular that in every case where an advantage has been conferred, it has been derived by the officers in the higher grades. With regard to the charwomen who are employed in cleaning the General Postoffice, I understand that lately two women who were temporarily employed have been dispensed with, and that another has retired. The staff has not been restored to its full strength, and now 21 women are required not only to do the work previously performed by 24, but a great deal of additional labour. I find that in Sydney eighteen charwomen at £1 per week and six men at £2 per week are employed, in addition to three caretakers and assistants, in cleaning the General Post-office. I do not know that the floor space is very much larger there than in Melbourne, but even with this large staff it has been found necessary since the outbreak of the plague in Sydney to appoint extra cleaners. It would, therefore, appear that the women employed in Melbourne are being sweated. Many of them have been employed for a number of years, and they are still classified as temporary employes, although they have the same right to be placed on the permanent list as have officers holding higher positions in the service. I hope the Minister will see that these women obtain thenrights, and that they will receive’ fair remuneration for the hard work which they perform. The letter-carriers in Victoria who do relieving work were entitled for a number of years to ls. 6d. per day, as a relieving allowance, but at the time of the depression this was reduced to ls. per day. According to the terms of the Constitution Act, all public servants taken over from the States are entitled to their existing and accruing rights, and the letter-carriers accordingly applied in October last to have the ls. 6d. per day restored to them. They found, however, that even the ls. allowance had been struck off, and that they had been denied all rights in this direction. If the terms of the Constitution are not to be ignored, the men are entitled to at least the ls. per day allowed to them at the time of the transfer of the department. When the Public Service Bill was before us we were informed that those men who were temporarily employed would have the preference in regard to any permanent appointments. At the Melbourne Post-office, however, attempts are being made to introduce military men who are not returned soldiers, but men who have been connected with the local defence forces - to the exclusion of temporary employes who have been working satisfactorily for eighteen months or more. Recently four or five military men have been tried as carpenters at the Post-office.

Sir George Turner:

– The Victorian Discipline Act gives the soldiers certain prior rights to appointments in the public service.

Mr TUDOR:

– I understood that the Public Service Act recognises no such claim, and as the Constitution Act provides that where State Acts come into conflict with those passed by this Parliament, the latter are to prevail, the Victorian Act should have no force in regard to these appointments.

Sir George Turner:

– Have the appointments been made since the Public Service Act became law?

Mr TUDOR:

– One case happened two or three weeks ago. It is not fair that those who have been working satisfactorily as temporary hands should be displaced by military men, and I trust that the grievance which now exists will be remedied.

Mr GLYNN:
South Australia

– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General a question regarding the employes in the Post and Telegraph departmentinSou th Australia who areentitled to receive increases of salary dating from January, 1901. I made an inquiry of the AttorneyGeneral, who replied that where the increases were statutory they were paid, but that those provided for on the Estimates could not be paid until the passing of the Estimates and the Appropriation Bill.

Sir George Turner:

– I have given instructions to provide for all of them in the June payments. All increments will be paid with the June salaries.

Mr GLYNN:

– Then I have nothing further to say in reference to that matter. There is another subject, however, to which I should like to direct attention. Some three or four years ago, in consequence of certain representations which were made to me, I suggested that the charges made for the use of telephones in South Australia should be reduced.

Sir George Turner:

– What are the charges there?

Mr GLYNN:

– I believe, but am not sure, that £10 is charged for the use of an instrument. But the point that I wish to make is that if a merchant has a telephone in his place of business, and desires to have his private residence connected with the Exchange, no reduction is made to him unless his residence is within a mile of the General Post-office. A mile is a very short limit, and I think it is a little too much to demand the same pricefor telephonic communication to a man’s private residence as he is charged for a wire to his place of business. The limit prescribed is too short and might very well be extended. Perhaps the matter of a reduction in price might also be considered by the Government. There seems to be more justification for a reduction now than there was three or four years ago, because I find from the Treasurer’s statement in connexion with the Loan Bill that the accommodation in Adelaide has scarcely been adequate to the increase of subscribers, and it is therefore proposed to provide an additional switchboard. I suppose that if a reduction had been made there would have been such an increase in the number of subscribers that the department would not have been able to accommodate them. That difficulty, however, is about to be removed, so that the case for a reduction is much better now than it was three or four years ago. I am sorry to hear from the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral that, owing to the stoppage of communications addressed to “ Tattersall “ we are losing about £45,000 annually.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– Between £40,000 and £60,000.

Mr GLYNN:

– It seems to me a most fatuous policy to have enforced the section in the Post and Telegraph Act relating to “Tattersall” so soon.

Mr Mauger:

– Is not that an indication of the very great hold this vice had upon the people?

Mr GLYNN:

– I do not think so. We may all desire to moralize people, but the question is whether our method is likely to be successful. I am informed that “Tattersall” is in full swing at the present time, though not through the medium of the Post-office. If that be so, then owing to the extraordinary proclamation issued by the PostmasterGeneral, despite the assurance of the Prime Minister, that the Government would not act precipitately, we are losing a substantial amount of revenue. I am not advocating the continuance of “Tattersall,” but it seems to me a fatuous policy to throw away about £45,000 a year when the consultations are in full swing at the present time through private agents.

Mr SPENCE:
Darling

– We have heard a statement from the Minister representing the Postmaster-General in reference to certain new regulations for the carriage of parcels. I think that the Government proposal is one which will be of great advantage to residents in the country districts. At the same time, I should like to know whether any provision has been made to cover the extra cost which will be involved in the carriage of these additional mails t I wish to enter m)- protest against the system, which appears to be a growing one, of compelling private individuals to subsidize mail contracts. Some time ago, when I endeavoured to obtain a return of the mail services supported by private individuals, I ascertained that no record was kept of them. The practice adopted is as follows : An application is made by a country district for a mail service, and an inspector is. sent to investigate the claim. Probably he reports that the department might reasonably set .apart an expenditure of £30 or SiO a year in this connexion. Accordingly the people interested are informed that if they can get their mails carried for the amount mentioned the Government will provide them with a service ; but, if not, they will have to make up the deficiency themselves. As a result, a few persons usually become responsible for the additional cost, whilst others along the route get their mails carried without contributing anything. I object to this principle altogether. I hold that the Commonwealth should provide for the carriage of mails, and not levy any tax upon, private individuals. If any place is entitled to consideration in this connexion, it is certainly the back country, where people receive their mails only once a week, or possibly once a fortnight. If a loss occurs, through the carriage of mails in remote country districts, it should be made good out of the profits accruing from services in more densely populated centres. Only recently I learned that the mails in a certain district had been discontinued upon the ground that they did not pay. I protest against such a plea being put forward as justification for the action taken.. I understand that new regulation’s are to be enforced in regard to the establishment of telephonic communication. The Government propose to ask the people interested to find the money necessary for the purpose, which money is to be held by them for three years, as a guarantee that the department will not suffer loss. To my mind that is asking altogether too much. The old system was infinitely better. The excuse urged by the department in Sydney against the extension of telephonic communication induces me to say that some system should be devised to expedite ordinary routine work. I know of the case of a man who recently desired to have his establishment connected by telephone. The work merely necessitated! the putting of a wire across one street, at ( a cost of about 30s., but he could not get it done. In my own district, an application was made to connect the hospital with the telephone service, but the institution is still waiting for the necessary funds to enable this to be done. If we defeat the Loan Bill, I suppose it will have to wait for ever. I hold that officers in the States ought to be vested with authority to keep these works going. Certainly they ought not to be discontinued suddenly because of the accomplishment of federation. As we have made some very good departures recently in our legislation, particularly in regard to the prohibition of the employment of black labour upon our mail steamers, I think it would be wise to stipulate in future contracts the number of hours which the drivers of mails should be employed. I know that in the back country there are men working 70 -hours a week. All the mail coaches which run from Bourke leave the post-office about eight o’clock at night. The drivers have frequently to work for thirteen hours at a stretch, in all sorts of weather, and at the present time they are forced to carry water as well as feed for their horses. It is unfair and unreasonable to work men 60 or 70 hours a week, and I urge the Minister to see that in future contracts there is a stipulation against these excessive hours. These men have no remedy unless they leave their work, and we know that men will sometimes cling to a situation under very uncomfortable conditions. There is another grievance which has existed for a long time in connexion with the method adopted when men are employed on relieving work. The department always takes care under such circumstances to pay a low rate of wages ; and in Victoria I know a telegraph messenger who has been employed for the last nine or ten months as a letter-carrier, though not at letter-carriers’ wages. Labour unions insist that whatever wage is fixed for a particular line of work, that wage must be paid to the person who performs it. The Commonwealth Government, however, act in the opposite way, and always pay the lower rate of wage. I know of another case, in the Telegraph department, of a man who was paid 7s. 6d. per day for work the proper salary for which is £220 a year. This temporary officer was an experienced man, and had all the responsibility of the more highly paid officer. This is simply a system of sweating, which should certainly be abolished now that we have established a minimum wage in the public service. It cannot take nine or ten months to find a man fitted for the position of lettercarrier, and the only inference that can be drawn is that the department, in the case to which I have referred, desired to make a profit by sweating some smart boy capable of doing the work. It must not be forgotten that this boy is all the time losing his chances of acquiring technical knowledge in the Telegraph department. When similar cases are multiplied throughout the Commonwealth, it is seen that the sweating which was going on when the departments were taken over has not yet ceased. There are a number of other matters to which I could refer, but I propose to reserve them until to-morrow, when a deputation is to wait on the Postmaster-General.

Mr MAUGER:
Melbourne Ports

– I should like to emphasize the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra as to the treatment of the Victorian tranferred public servants. The present position is unsatisfactory to the officers and to the Government, and the sooner there is a settlement of the ‘question the better it will be for everybody. In another branch of the service, I should like to know why men who do the same class of work, should be paid ls. per day less in one department than in another. I refer to the shipwrights who are at present engaged in making telegraph poles. In the Victorian Assembly, a promise was made that these men should be paid the same wage as men similarly employed in the Railway department, namely, 8s. per day ; and that promise was kept. Since then, however, there has- been a general increase in wages, and the railwaymen now get 9s., though the post-office shipwrights remain at the lower rate.

Surely 9s. a da.y is not an unreasonable wage for shipwrights, especially when they are only casually employed. I cannot understand why the Postal department should ask men to work for less, than would be paid by outside, employers. There are only a few men interested, but they have a right to fair consideration. In connexion with Sunday work, I should like it known that in the post-office there are a number of men who work for seven days a week for 52 weeks in the year, and are not allowed anything like an equivalent for the extra work. No extra pay is permitted, but time off is allowed. That time off, however, is not at all commensurate with the 52 days’ extra work.

Sir George Turner:

– What is the class of men ?

Mr MAUGER:

– Telephone exchange attendants, telegraph operators, clerks and messengers, to the number of 32 ; mail branch porters, drivers, >fcc.,. to the number of eight ; and five instrument fitters.

Sir George Turner:

– Does the honorable member say that these men are employed on every Sunday throughout the )’ear ?

Mr MAUGER:

– I am quoting from a return furnished by the Victorian Government, showing the number of public servants who work seven days a week. I know that somebody must work on Sunday, but I urge that these men should be allowed time off on some other day, say the Monday or the Tuesday. I can corroborate what the honorable member for Darling has said about the shameful way in which coachdrivers are sweated by mail contractors.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– A great number of the drivers own the coaches.

Mr MAUGER:

– I know the small man presents a difficulty, and in such cases the Government have no control. But when contracts are being let, some provision should be made for the protection of the drivers. I have known a coachman in Victoria to work day by da)r, year in and year but, without the slightest respite, for 15s. a week with board and lodging. These men lead wretched lives, as do the men on the boats which carry the mails in Northern Queensland. I suggest that when contracts are let, inquiry should be made as to the number of hours worked, and the conditions under which the employes live. Contractors ought to be compelled to treat their men like human beings and not like beasts of burden.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I do not intend to take up much time, but there are several matters which require ventilation. A few weeks ago I directed the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that a circular had been issued by the Postmaster-General intimating that allowances which have hitherto been paid to postmasters for acting as wardens’ clerks, reading the water gauge, and similar little duties, would in the future be paid - not to the officers themselves, but to the Commonwealth Government. These allowances may appear small to a man with a large salary, but they are of some importance to those whose remuneration does not exceed £100 or £150 a year. I had hoped that in view of the reply I received from the Prime Minister on the occasion to which I have referred, there would have been some provision on the Supplementary Estimates to recoup these officers, because it would be cruel to withdraw the allowances without giving some increase in salary.

Sir George Turner:

– W’hat is’ the object of the new arrangement 1 The Commonwealth will only have to pay the money back to the States.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– 1 do not know the reason for the circular ; but it indicates that, almost at once, these allowances, which vary from £.10 to £15 a year, are to be paid to the Commonwealth, and not to the officers.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– The circular was a mistake ; it has not been supported.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– It shows how difficult it is for honorable members to understand what is going on, when a circular is issued to the State offices withdrawing the allowances, and we are told that it was issued without authority, and in mistake. Although I brought the matter up on two occasions, this is .the first time that I have had that information given to me.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– Things are in statu quo. The circular has been withdrawn.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I wish now to draw the attention of honorable members to another matter which is of importance to the whole Commonwealth. It is o.ne to which I have already directed attention. As representatives of the people we must all be regarded as equals, and should be given the same opportunities for criticism in regard to public affairs, whether we happen to occupy a seat on the Treasury benches, to be the leader of the Opposition, “the leader of the labour party, or only private members of the House. As a matter . of fact, however, while a Minister can give public expression to his views in Melbourne in regard to political matters, by delivering a speech on a public platform, or by giving an interview to a reporter, and have them telegraphed throughout the Commonwealth at the rate of ls. per 100 words, the rate charged, for telegraphing a similar expression of opinion on the part of any other member would be 3s. per 100 words. In this connexion I wish to read a letter which has been sent by the Postal department, in reference to a speech delivered by Sir William Lyne in Sydney. It is as follows : -

Referring to your communication of the 10th ult., respecting the “full rates” charge made for a press message sent from your office to the Adelaide Advertiser, containing a speech made by Sir William Lyne at Sydney, I have the honour to inform 3’ou’ that the secretary, PostmasterGeneral’s department, Melbourne, advises that speeches made by Ministers do not necessarily come within the definition of “information given by Commonwealth Ministers for publication.” and that it was not intended that the reduced rate for Commonwealth press telegrams was to apply to anything transpiring outside Melbourne as the temporary seat of government for the Federal Parliament and Executive.

I think that the arrangement therein set out is contrary to the public interest.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– What does the honorable member suggest ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I think that press telegrams in regard to these matters should be treated in the same way as telegrams sent to places within the States themselves. A speech made by a member of the -New South Wales. Parliament could be telegraphed to any part of New South Wales at the rate of ls. per 100 words, but a speech cannot be telegraphed throughout the Commonwealth at that rate unless it is a speech of a Commonwealth Minister, and delivered in Melbourne.

Mr A McLEAN:
GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA · PROT

– Does the lower rate apply only to speeches delivered in Parliament %

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– No. If a Commonwealth Minister speaks in the Town-hall, Melbourne, or affords an interview to a press reporter in Melbourne, his remarks may be telegraphed throughout Australia at the rate of ls. per 100 words, but no other honorable member’s views, delivered under the same circumstances, could be telegraphed throughout the Commonwealth at that rate, while if a Minister went to Sydney, or to any other State, and delivered a speech, or was interviewed, a charge of 3s. per 100 words would be made for telegraphing a report of it throughout the Commonwealth.

Mr Macdonald-Paterson:

– If a Minister made a speech at the Town-hall, and I followed him, would not the two speeches be transmitted throughout the Commonwealth at the same rate ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– No. The Minister’s speech would be telegraphed at the rate of ls. per 10t) words, and the honorable member’s speech, although of equal interest to the honorable member’s constituents in Queensland, would becharged at the rate of 3s. per 100 words. The effect of this difference in rates is that the newspapers in the various States give more space to the utterances of Ministers than to the utterances of private members. I have brought the matter under the notice of the Government upon several occasions, and if something is not done, I shall give honorable gentlemen another opportunity of expressing their opinions upon the subject. Speeches can be telegraphed anywhere throughout a State at the rate of ls. per 100 words, anc] I think they should be telegraphed throughout the Commonwealth at the same rate.

Mr Watson:

– But the cost would be much more, because the message would have to go through more offices.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– There would not be a great difference in cost. Furthermore, as I pointed out on a former occasion, while the ordinary rate from Melbourne to Sydney as 3s. per 1 00 words, if I send atelegram to Wodonga, and have it repeated from there to Sydney, the rate is only 2s. per 100 words, although the work of the departmental officers is doubled. The Government have shown a niggardly spirit in connexion with the repairs to postoffices in New South Wales. The revenue from the Post and Telegraph department in that State amounts, according to the estimate of the Postmaster-General, to £868,000 per annum ; but the expenditure provided for is only £787,000. I believe there will be a surplus of fully £90,000, and in view of this the Government might display a little more liberality in supplying’ that accommodation which is necessary for the public convenience.

Sir George Turner:

– In 1900 the State allowed £2,000 for repairs, and in the following year they appropriated £4,000 ; whilst this year we are allowing £9,000.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The State Government showed a niggardly spirit probably in view of the transfer of the department to the Commonwealth.

Sir George Turner:

– No doubt; but we cannot remedy that all at once.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The Government have not shown much desire to deal liberally with the question of repairs to post-offices, and I hope that they will not allow their properties to fall into such a state of disrepair that in the end it will cost very much more to restore them to good condition. I do not think that proper attention is given to the telephone service, or that proper facilities are offered to the public. The charges now made for telephones are exhorbitant, and the present system is not in keeping with the advanced spirit of the times. Instead of adopting the bureau system of communication and charging so much for the use of the telephone for a few minutes, the department should extend to a number of large towns in the country the system now in vogue between Sydney and Parramatta.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– The towns must not be too far distant from Svdney.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The Minister has told us that the service between Sydney and Bathurst does not pay, but if he gives me permission I can concert the deficiency into a surplus. I will secure for him a guarantee of a sufficient number of subscribers to cover the interest on the capital outlay, and the working expenses of the service. It is because the department do , not adopt the proper system that the service beween Bathurst and Sydney does not pay. There need be no difficulty regarding the monopoly of the. telephone, because exactly the same regulations as are in force between Sydney and Parramatta can be adopted.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– It could not be done without having a separate line.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I do not believe that a separate line would be required. The department are afraid that if they extend the suburban system to Bathurst, they will have to make the same concession to Newcastle, where they now charge bureau rates, and derive a considerable amount of revenue.

Mr Watson:

– They are afraid of the loss of revenue from telegrams.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Yes; and they prefer to incur a loss in connexion with the present system rather than to run any risks that may attach to a change such as is suggested.

Mr Watkins:

– They charge 50 per cent, more for the use of the telephone between Newcastle and Sydney than is paid by those who use the telephone between Ballarat and Melbourne.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– That is not fair. If the public prefer to use the telephone instead of sending telegrams, they should have every facility offered to them at reasonable rates. Even though it were necessary to erect a special wire between Bathurst and Sydney, the cost would be a comparatively small matter, because _ the poles, which represent the greater part of the expense of constructing a line, are already in position. If the suggestion I now make were adopted, the convenience extended to Bathurst might also be enjoyed by the people of Penrith, Blackheath, Lithgow, and other places along the’ line. The department ought to make more use of the telephone system, and it will be useless for them to attempt to block the development of the service, because they think- it will interfere with their telegraphic business. The main consideration should be the convenience of the public, and that can best be studied by offering more facilities for telephone communication. I remember that when the telephone service was first started at Bathurst only 22 subscribers could be secured, but when the value of the system was realized the number rapidly increased, and now there are fully 130 persons connected with the exchange. In the same way, as soon as the people realize the benefits to be derived from a system of telephone communication between Sydney and Bathurst, such as is now provided between Sydney and Parramatta, there will be no difficulty whatever in securing a sufficient number of subscribers, not only to pay the interest on the capital outlay, but also to defray the cost of maintenance and to leave a fair profit.

Sir George Turner:

– Is not the Bathurst line the only long-distance telephone service in New South Wales upon which a loss is incurred ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The only other long-distance service is between Newcastle and Sydney, but the two cases are not on all-fours, because Newcastle is a city with a large population, and is also an important shipping and business centre. I cannot understand the, reason for delay in dealing with this important matter. What is applicable to Bathurst will apply with equal force to other country towns. The Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral . referred in tones of regret to the additional £35,000 which the department will have to expend in consequence of the adoption by this Parliament of the minimum wage provision in the case of adults who have been three years in the service. I regard that provision, however, as one of the best of our legislative acts. We have no right to countenance a sweating system in any Commonwealth department. It is our duty to adequately remunerate our employes for their services. Some very hard cases indeed were brought under my notice - -cases in which married men engaged in the postal service were receiving less than £90 per year. I remember one young man asking me to intercede with the PostmasterGeneral with a view to getting him an increase of salary. He was 26 years of age, a married man, and was in receipt of the munificent salary of £85 annually. This Parliament does not require the Government to secure a surplus by sweating men in that fashion. I wish, also, to enter my protest against the action of the Government in delaying the submission of the Estimates to’ the House till this late period of the session. Any criticism in which we may now indulge will be absolutely resultless, seeing that the financial year has only about a month to run, and that nearly all the money has been expended. We have no command over the public purse, although we are expressly sent’ here to control expenditure. I hope that we shall not experience a repetition of this state of affairs next year

Sir George Turner:

– This is an exceptional session. It will not occur again.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Immediately Parliament opened the Government should have submitted their financial proposals. I hope that the Minister representing the Postmaster-General will give these- matters careful consideration. He has pointed out that the postal revenue and expenditure almost balance. But no allowance has been made for interest on the capital expended. He states that about £8,000,000 will have to be devoted to the purchase of postal buildings in the various States. Interest will have to be provided upon that amount, and we ought to know as early as possible what are the intentions of the Government in this connexion. I have deemed it my duty to criticise the Estimates, because I feel that strong steps ought to be taken in connexion with the matters to which I have referred.

Mr. RONALD (Southern Melbourne).A number of anomalies and cases of maladministration have been referred to by honorable members. I should like to point out that the postal authorities are acting in defiance of the law in continuing the old barbarous system of sanitation at the postoffices within the metropolitan area. I am told that provision has been made for establishing the sewerage system at the offices of the department in the various suburbs, but there has been much delay which, in the case of a private individual, would not be allowed. I should like to emphasize what has been said in regard to the increments of the transferred public servants in the Postal department. This question has been a prominent feature of the discussions in the Chamber, and we have been assured that some decision would be arrived at. The right of these public servants to the increments has been tacitly admitted, but no steps have been taken towards their payment ; and it is a bad thing for the Federal ‘Government to break faith with any class. The matter of the employment of charwomen at the General Post-office ought certainly to possess some interest for the Minister in charge of .the department. No class of people, however insignificant or weak, should be neglected ; and it must be remembered that these women now have votes and can assert their rights as citizens. Up to February last 24 women were employed cleaning the General Post-office in Melbourne. That number was reduced to 21, and the services of these three have now been dispensed with. No effort has been made to replace the .discharged women j though the absence of three from a staff of 24 must make a perceptible difference in the work. It is said that many of these women are old, and that so large a number would not be required if younger women were employed. But these women have served the department well for ma,ny years, and we have not yet resorted to a system of pole-axing the old. These women should not be overworked ; and I am assured that there is ample room for the full staff of 24. I hope expedition will be used in adopting the sewerage system for the metropolitan offices, and that the other matters to which I have referred will receive early attention. The honorable member for Macquarie has made some very sensible suggestions in regard to the telephone service. Telephones are very often used for frivolous purposes, and the attendants are kept employed on Sundays for long hours serving no particular purpose. In the interests of the subscribers there ought to be a limit to the use of the instruments, ladies, who have nothing else to do, monopolizing them for mere gossip.

Sir LANGDON BONYTHON:
South Australia

– Is there any truth in the report that it is proposed to appoint an electrician having jurisdiction throughout the Commonwealth 1 An appointment of the kind would be a mistake, and a waste of public money. On page 101 of the Estimates there is what appears to be a statement of ordinary expenditure ; but if it be ordinary expenditure, how is it that there are such large increases in the cases of Queensland and Western Australia ?

Sir George Turner:

– These States have very large areas, and additional accommodation is necessary. The extra price of forage has to be considered.

Sir LANGDON BONYTHON:

– Does that explanation apply to ordinary expenditure ? If this expenditure had included new or special expenditure, I could have understood the explanation. Much the same conditions must prevail throughout the States. Why should there be these large increases in some States in this particular year ?

Sir George Turner:

– They are accounted for in Queensland by the extra cost of forage, and by the new districts which have to be opened up in large centres.

Sir LANGDON BONYTHON:

– Then how is it that in the case of New South Wales there is actually a decrease of £994 i

Mr WILKS:
Dalley

– I am astonished that no reply should be given by the Minister to the last question asked’ by the honorable member for South Australia, Sir Langdon Bonython. The position in regard to these Estimates is a peculiar one.

Although the Postmaster-General’s department is not surrounded by any glamour in the eyes of the people of the Commonwealth, it is one of the most useful, and certainly the most expensive, of the Commonwealth departments. A department whose annual expenditure is something like £2,400,000, is one which warrants close attention and criticism, and, under ordinary circumstances, possibly revision and reduction in regard to details. But, inasmuch as we are now dealing with the Estimates when the votes to which they apply have been nearly exhausted, there is no opportunity to do effective work in that direction. Seeing that the session has been such a prolonged one, I think that it might be well, in the interests of the Commonwealth, to continue in session a few months longer, and, before we prorogue, deal with the Estimates for the next financial year. It is only by dealing with Estimates before the money is expended that this House can exercise the control of the public purse, which is among the highest powers it or any other House of Parliament possesses. The people, too, are fast awakening to the fact that the expenditure of this and the State Governments must be closely watched. I wish to emphasize the matter to which the honorable member for Macquarie refers, which is of graver importance than may appear on the surface. That honorable gentleman was informed by the postal authorities in Melbourne that it is not intended that the reduced rate in regard to Commonwealth press telegrams shall apply to anything transpiring out of Melbourne. That means that the people of other parts of the Commonwealth, the citizens of that great metropolis, Sydney, or of the other State capitals, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, and Perth, are to be practically debarred the pleasure of hearing the public utterances of Commonwealth Ministers. While Ministerial utterances in Melbourne can be transmitted by telegraph throughout the Commonwealth at the rate of ls. per 100 words, the charge for telegraphing speeches delivered in any other part of the Commonwealth is 3s. per 100 words. In my opinion there should be a I standard rate applying to the whole Commonwealth. We do not wish Melbourne to become the phonograph or the whispering gallery of the Commonwealth. The Minister representing the Postmaster-General might desire to make a declaration of policy in Hobart as a compliment to the people of his State, and his remarks should be telegraphed from that city to other parts of the Commonwealth at the same rate as would be charged if he spoke in Melbourne. The Minister for Trade and Customs, too, might well desire to address his constituents in South Australia, and at the same time speak to. the larger, public of the Commonwealth, but, inasmuch as the press would have to pay 3s. instead of ls. per 100 words for telegraphing his remarks throughout the Commonwealth, he would probably find it more advantageous to speak in the whispering gallery of Melbourne, because it would secure greater publicity for what he had to say. Thus his constituents who have trusted him for so many years will be debarred from hearing his melodious utterances. This is a centralization at the temporary seat of government of political thought and action which should not be permitted. The question is one which affects not only Ministers of to-day but all future Ministers, and concerns, the elector residing near the Gulf of Carpentaria, as well as the elector residing in Victoria. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will put an end to this antifederal arrangement, and thus prevent the growth of a feeling of jealousy against Melbourne. A salient point in connexion with these Estimates to which I wish to draw attention is the fact that it is only in regard to the expenditure in Now South Wales, the mother State, and the most populous State in the Union, whos’e demands are growing more rapidly than those of any other State, that there has been a decrease. While the postal expenditure of New South Wales has been reduced by about £1,000, the expenditure of the other States has been increased by £42,500. At the same time New South Wales is the only State whose postal revenue exceeds her expenditure, her estimated revenue being £868,000 per annum - the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral says that that amount will be exceeded - and her expenditure only £787,000. Therefore there is a profit of £80,000 per annum in the working of the New South

I Wales department, and at the same time a saving of £1,000 per annum in her expenditure. In Victoria the revenue practically balances the expenditure, the receipts of the department there being £545,000, and the expenditure £544,900, while the expenditure has been increased by £7,000 per annum

Similarly the expenditure of the other States has been increased, but I have not time to go through the figures in detail. I wish now to say something in regard to what I consider the bad treatment of New South Wales in regard to postal facilities. I find that the officer in charge of stores in New South Wales receives £300, although the stores under his control are more valuable than those under the control of any similar officer in any of the other States, while the Victorian officer receives £431 per annum. The officer in charge of stores in Queensland receives £300, his salary having formerly been £250 per annum. I find by reference to the report of the Victorian Public Service Board for 1900 that the officer in charge of stores received a salary of £350 per annum. Upon the transfer of the department to the Commonwealth, that salary was raised to £421 per annum, at which amount it now stands. This is only one case of many, and it is not to be wondered at that dissatisfaction should exist in the New South Wales service under these circumstances ? In all the Postal services the same salaries should be paid for services of a similar character, and there should be general uniformity of practice. Referring next to a lower grade of officers, I wish to point out that in the New South Wales service there are 143 letter sorters, whilst Victoria has 114. This latter number includes ten additional men who have been taken on since the transfer to the Commonwealth, whereas in New South Wales the number remains as before. The discrepancy in regard to salaries is greater. In Victoria the minimum wage paid to sorters is £130 per annum, and the maximum £3 15s. per week. In New South Wales, 68 sorters out of 143 receive less than the minimum salary paid in “Victoria, whilst not even the overseer is paid so much as £3 15s. per week. The State which provides the most revenue and the largest profit should receive more consideration than has hitherto been paid to it, and the officers should be placed upon at least as good a footing as that occupied by employes in Victoria. The disparity in the treatment accorded to the “ men in the New South Wales and Victorian services justifies the dissatisfaction which prevails throughout New South Wales. and gives colour to the impression that Victoria is endeavouring to dominate the whole of the Commonwealth Administration. I trust that the next Estimates will be introduced at an earlier stage of the financial year, so that we may have an opportunity of passing them in review with some practical result.

Mr KIRWAN:
Kalgoorlie

– I hardly think that this is an occasion upon which we should enter into details in connexion with the Post and Telegraph department, but there are one or two questions of administration and of policy to which I should like to refer. In the first place, I indorse all that has been said by the honorable member for Coolgardie with reference to the administration of the Post and Telegraph department of Western Australia, which has for many years past caused universal dissatisfaction. Every one blames the present head of the department as the cause of all the trouble. This gentleman was in the same position in the old days before the discovery of gold, when the population of the State was only 40,000 or 50,000, and he has never seemed to fully realize the great change that has taken place since gold was discovered, and the population has increased to nearly 200,000. He continued to manage the affairs of the department in the same way as fifteen or twenty years before. At the time of the federal referendum he adopted the extraordinary course of issuing a circular to the officers of the department expressing a desire that they should not vote for federation. In that circular he said that the only man in the service whom federation could benefit was himself. He seemed to believe that under federation he would have even more autocratic powers than those previously exercised by him and he acted under that delusion until he was checked by the Postmaster-General. When the strike that occurred in 1895 was settled, one of the conditions was that the interests of the officials who took part in the trouble should not be in any way prejudiced, but I shall show from a letter written by the Deputy Postmaster-General that that stipulation has been disregarded by him. In a letter written by him, after he had become an officer of the Commonwealth, to the postmaster at Coolgardie, in reference to an official who desired to be promoted to a vacant position, he said, referring to this official -

His name appears as one of those connected with the strike in 1895. If he failed me then, what guarantee have I that lie will not do soagain ?

That is the way in which the present Deputy Postmaster-General has kept the terms of an amicable settlement arrived at with . the employes of the department in Coolgardie. I trust that the Public Service Commissioner, or whoever has control of the actions of this gentleman, will make the fullest inquiry. I am told on good authority that he would have been dispensed with long ago, but for the fact that he is entitled to a pension. W e should effect a saving of public money in the end if we pensioned him off, and appointed a live, active man in his place. Until some change is made in that direction, there is absolutely no hope of giving satisfaction in the administration of the Post and Telegraph department of Western Australia. I sincerely trust that as a matter of policy the Post and Telegraph department in Western Australia will not be conducted upon purely commercial lines. In such large and sparsely-populated territories as are to be found in most of the States a certain number of postal services must be maintained at a direct loss. Some of these services form the only links which connect the people in the, outlying districts with civilization, and if they are stopped a large area of country, in which men now carry on mining and other operations, must be abandoned. Therefore, although the services may involve a direct cash loss to the Commonwealth Government, the indirect gain is considerable. The idea of the Commonwealth Government is that where services of this kind are carried on, the States should defray some portion of the loss involved in their maintenance.

Sir George Turner:

– The States ought to contribute.

Mr KIRWAN:

– In a speech delivered by the Postmaster-General I. noticed that the idea was expressed by him that any loss upon these services should be made up by the States.

Sir George Turner:

– The States would pay the money and then get it back.

Mr KIRWAN:

– During the bookkeeping period that would be so. It would pay the Commonwealth to maintain these small services even if they cost five times as much as they do. If by their maintenance the country is kept open to the prospector, and only one valuable goldfield - such as Kalgoorlie, or the Boulder - is discovered, the Commonwealth will be recouped a hundredfold. I hope that the two matters which I have mentioned will receive due consideration. I have not the slightest hesitation in affirming - and I believe that nine people out of ten in Western Australia share my opinion - that the public will never be satisfied with the administration of the Postal department in that State so long as the services of the present Deputy Postmaster-General are retained.

Mr WATKINS:
Newcastle

– I recognise that in connexion with the administration of this department the’ Minister has had a great deal of work. Following up the question which was raised by the honorable member for Macquarie, I wish to institute a comparison between the different rates charged upon telephonic lines in the various States. Looking at the reports before me, I find that between Melbourne and Ballarat, a distance of 75 miles, there are two services. I understand that the rate charged upon these lines is ls. 6d. for five mintues’ conversation ; whereas between Sydney and Newcastle, a distance of 102 miles, it is 2s. 6d. for three minutes’ conversation. There is thus a vast difference between the rate charged upon lines of somewhat similar length. The revenue from the Ballarat lines about meets the expenditure, whereas during the first year in which the Newcastle line was established, namely, 1898, it realized a profit of £200. In 1899 the income from the latter jumped from £779 to £1,143, thus yielding a profit of £569. The loss upon the telegraph service during the first year was £351, but in 1 899 it was only £292. Deducting this loss I find that there was a total increase in the revenue of £126. Last year the revenue from the telephone line, so far as the Newcastle end is concerned, was -approximated £900, or only £200 short of the total receipts for the year previous. It seems to me that if the charge levied in one State is ls. 6d. for five minutes’ conversation, it is but fair that other States should be similarly treated. If ls. 6d. is too low a rate, then -a margin should be struck which will permit of the lines being made reproductive. I notice that the number of messages transmitted daily between Newcastle and Sydney is in excess of the number transmitted between any other two Australian cities. A second service to Newcastle is urgently required. It frequently happens that business men have to wait half-an-hour before they can get access to the single line which at present exists. If a second service were established it seems to me that move business would be done, because the-inconvenience of waiting would be obviated. Up till a month ago the charge levied upon the Newcastle line was 3s. for three minutes’ conversation. If the line between Melbourne and Ballarat is paying, it necessarily follows that the charge levied upon the Newcastle line is excessive. I think that we should have uniformity in this connexion.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– The latest regulations made the rates uniform over all telephone lines, and reduced the charges.

Mr WATKINS:

– If that be so, no objection can be taken. I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of the fact that the line to Newcastle is a profitable one, and that the establishment of a second service would result in an increased re’venue.

Mr MCDONALD:
Kennedy

– There are one or two matters to which I should like to direct attention. Some little time ago a deputation waited upon the PostmasterGeneral and urged upon him the necessity for providing an extra mail service to the northern portion of Queensland. The whole of the representatives of that State were present at the deputation, but they received no definite assurance from the Minister that anything would be done in the matter, save that a report would be obtained as to the cost which the proposal involved. I do not know whether that report has yet been secured, but I wish .to point out that at the present time the northern portion of Queensland receives only one mail a week. It is quite true that three boats run weekly, but, despite this fact, there is practically only one mail service a week. For example, a mail leaves Brisbane upon Friday night, which catches the Barcoo at Gladstone on Saturday at noon. On Monday morning it reaches Townsville and Charters Towers, where it is delivered about two or three o’clock in the afternoon. Of course, there is a boat leaving Brisbane on Saturday, but although it leaves that city only a few hours later than the train, its mails are not received in Northern Queensland till four or fivedays have elapsed. Another boat which leaves on the Monday arrives ‘ in Townsville, weather and other circumstances permitting, on the Friday night, and the letters are delivered on the Saturday. Oftener than otherwise, however, this boat does not arrive till Saturday morning, with the result that the mail does not reach Charters Towers until Saturday night by the seven o’clock or the eleven o’clock train, too late for delivery that day. The mail is delivered on Mondays, when the letters, which have been posted five days later, are also delivered about five hours afterwards. It will be seen that there is really only one mail per week to serve two large centres with a population of about 45,000, who are deserving of much better treatment. Some years ago the late Mr. T. J. Byrnes, when Premier of Queensland, decided that the Government should buy a fast steamer and have the mails conveyed twice a week from Gladstone to Townsville, but, unfortunately, that gentleman’s death caused the project to be put aside. The present Premier, Mr. Philp, contends that an extra mail is not required ; but he was a member of the Byrnes Government when it was decided to build a fast steamer. . Mr. Philp’s real reason for opposing the running of the two mails is the extra expense at the present time. That I could understand as an argument against the project just now, but I cannot understand it as an argument why these two centres should be content with one mail a week. All the western country would be served by the extra mail, together with places like Mackay, Bowen, Cairns, and Cooktown. The whole of the north of Queensland, with a population of some hundred thousand, would be benefited ; and we ought to try to bring those large centres as close to one another as possible. I understand that the subsidy asked for by the present steam-ship companies, who have a monopoly on the coast, is out of all proportion to the work done. For a long time the people of Hughenden have been promised additions to their post-office, which at present consists of a room 6 feet by 8 feet, in which all the business has to be transacted. I understand that the department approve of the work, but there is a desire that the expenditure should be met out of loan money, of which there is at present none available. The cost would not be more than £130 or £150, yet the Government allow that objection to stand in the way. I should also like to urge the construction of a telegraph line from Richmond along the Flinders. There is a stretch of nearly 200 miles of country, thickly populated with selectors and squatters, and during the drought such a line might have been the means of saving a large amount of stock, to the benefit of the Commonwealth generally. I believe that the Government want a guarantee of £2,000 before proceeding with the work, but it is ridiculous to expect the selectors to fall in with those terms, when there is always the possibility that they may have to sell out or remove to other districts. I am rather pleased than otherwise that Cobb and Co. stopped the running of the mails recently. That action brought most forcibly before the Government the fact that it is not wise to allow any particular firm to have a monopoly of the carriage of mails. For years past in Queensland, the labour party have urged the necessity of breaking down this monopoly ; but the Government, through some influence or other, have always been anxious to give the contract to this firm, who have been allowed to group a number of services together, and, tender for them as a whole. That may have proved some slight saving to the Government, but, on the whole, it is not calculated to improve the mail services. There are a number of contractors who would undertake a single service, but who are not prepared to tender for a large number ; and the result is that they have been squeezed out by Cobb and Co., I understand that the grouping of services will not be permitted in the future ; and on that decision I congratulate the department. ‘ I realize, like every one else, that the drought has been of such an exceptional character that it would not perhaps be wise to incur a big expenditure for mail services at the present time ; but I hope every inquiry will be made as to the probable cost of running a steamer twice a week_ from _ Gladstone to Townsville. I venture to think that such an undertaking would prove profitable to the department and of great benefit to the community.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– One part of the speech of the Minister, in introducing these Estimates, ought to be borne in mind as bearing on the general financial aspect of the postal administration. Metropolitan newspaper proprietors are making demands, which are outrageous in their effrontery, for the carriage of their commodities through the post at less than nominal rates. One reason put forward by these gentlemen for granting them consideration which is not asked for by others, is that the Post-office is. doing so well that the country can afford to make a loss in connexion with the carriage of newspapers. I dare say honorable members will more fully appreciate the figures which have been quoted when they appear in print to-morrow; but judging from what the Minister said, there seems to be a likelihood of a large loss in the department after allowing for interest on the cost of resumption.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– Yes.

Mr WATSON:

– That emphasizes the necessity of, to a greater extent, putting the department on a commercial basis, consistently always with giving proper services to the interior districts, where mail communication is about the only luxury the people -at present possess. There is another matter which demands the serious attention of the Government. In the suggested loan Estimates there are considerable items of expenditure nearly fill connected with electrical work, the amount being between £600,000 and £700,000. I dare say that of that sum, over half-a-million is connected with work which involves highly technical knowledge for its properaccomplishment. Of the chief electricians outside New South Wales I know nothing, and I have no word of criticism to offer regarding their qualifications. I am not even in a position to offer an opinion as to the qualification of Mr. Nelson, the Chief Electrician of New South Wales ; but a report has been laid before the House by the Treasurer.

Sir George Turner:

– That is only an extract ; copies of. the full report will be laid before honorable members.

Mr WATSON:

– That I understand is a report signed by the Chief Electricians of the States, including Mr. Nelson, of New South Wales. That report contains the greatest condemnation of the work of Mr. Nelson and those associated with him that it is possible to have in a public document. Those responsible for it state that a switchboard, which cost between £20,000 and £30,000 eighteen months ago, is now out of date, and must be replaced by another which will cost £30,000.

Sir George Turner:

– Was not the mistake occasioned by the fact that the contractor was ordered to provide a board for a certain amount, and the Government would not provide any more money ?

Mr WATSON:

– I do not remember the circumstances, but, on the face of it, the matter calls for very close inquiry by the Government. It looks as though the department was responsible for at least an error of judgment, involving the country in an absolute loss within two years of between £20,000 and £30,000. The public interests of Australia in connexion with telephones and telegraphs and other electrical undertakings are so enormous that we want men who have graduated elsewhere than in Australia to advise us in regard to our expenditure. In my opinion we should obtain an expert from America or England to inspect our existing electrical appliances. It is evident that the various State officials have not the opportunity to keep themselves up to date in regard to the development of electrical engineering. No other science is progressing with such leaps and bounds, and it is expecting too much from men whose time is taken up with the routine of their everyday work to ask them to keep abreast of, and in touch with, such development. Therefore, I think” that I am justified, in view of the loss to the country, and the inconvenience caused ‘to the thousands of subscribers in larger centres in asking the Government to engage some foreign expert at a large fee to advise them in regard to these undertakings. Only a little while ago, when the Sydney Municipal Council proposed to lay down an electric lighting plant, they brought out Major Cardew, and paid him £1,000 for his advice on the subject, and I think that the money was well spent. In my opinion, it is unwise for us to hand over to officials who may be worthy men, but who are not, and who cannot be expected to be, up to date, such vast sums of money as are contained in these Estimates and in the loan Estimates. I trust that the Government will have an inquiry made into the circumtances under which the Sydney fiasco occurred, and will place the responsibility upon the proper shoulders. If, as appears likely on the face of it, the officers are responsible, they should no longer be retained in their positions, though if the blunder was a Ministerial one we cannot unfortunately punish the offender. At any rate, the departmental officers ought to have advised that the accommodation which the switch-board provides would not be sufficient. Although it has been in position for only about eighteen months, it cannot take more than 200 additional subscribers. But the departmental officers knew that the telephone system had been rapidly increasing in Sydney for years past, hundreds joining every year, and they should have advised against the erection of a switch-board which would be inadequate within a very short time. In my opinion the telephone system should be extended throughout the country to a much greater degree than is now the case. In New South Wales, despite bad management and the mistakes which have been made, the telephones are paying handsomely.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– But the department are interfering with the telephone system in some cases for the sake of the telegraphs. That should not be.

Mr WATSON:

– I am afraid that that is so in some cases, but if we can add to the convenience of the people, we should be prepared to wipe off the money already expended upon telegraphs.

Sir George Turner:

– I do not see why the department should attempt to prevent the construction of telephones, if they will get as much revenue from them as from telegraphs.

Mr WATSON:

– The Government should encourage the use of telephones by increasing telephonic communication, and erecting more trunk lines.

Sir George Turner:

– It all means very heavy expense.

Mr WATSON:

– Yes, but the expense is justifiable if a fair return is obtained. The present permanent head of the Post-office has in a most foolish manner pointed to what he terms the extravagant expenditure in New South Wales, ignoring the fact that the New South Wales postal revenue more than justifies that expenditure. Where the revenue is small, only a small expenditure is, perhaps, justifiable ; but where, by largely increasing the expenditure you can correspondingly increase your revenue, an increase of expenditure is justifiable. Unfortunately, some people will not recognise that. I believe that with an up-to-date telephone system and better management the rates charged to subscribers would be considerably reduced, and that a good profit would still be left to the department. It seems to me that the telephones would pay if business houses in New South Wales were charged less than £9 per annum, and private householders less than £5 per annum.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– There would be an ‘ increase of revenue if ‘a reduction were made.

Mr WATSON:

– I think that there would be an increase in the net return. I have noted with a good deal of interest the fact that nearly all important country towns in New South Wales are now having telephone exchanges installed, notwithstanding the high rates charged to subscribers. I hope to see the time when, not only will every town have its exchange, but residents living at considerable distances round about - perhaps twenty miles 0U - will be able to avail themselves of the conveniences of telephonic communication. Unfortunately the methods of the department are so conservative that little encouragement is given to the people to avail themselves of these facilities. To my mind, it is a pity that the portfolio of Postmaster-General is not held by a Minister who is a member of this House. A large semi-commercial concern like the Postal department should be represented in the House whose members represent, separate constituencies, because it is localities that are chiefly interested in these matters, and we should have an opportunity of speaking directly to the Minister responsible for the control of the department. In the additional Estimates circulated by the Treasurer, I find that £550 has been set down to provide for alterations to the post-office at Young, in New South Wales. I wish to assure the Treasurer that that sum is altogether inadequate for the purpose. Some two years ago the postal authorities in New South Wales agreed that it was necessary, in order to allow the business of the office to be properly conducted, to make certain alterations, and the Government Architect reported that those alterations could not be made for less than £S00. Since then there has been no material change in the price of materials or the cost of labour, and therefore the reduction in the amount set down must mean a reduction in the proposed additional accommodation. I would impress upon the Treasurer, and upon the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, that what we ask for is not a tower, or some ornamental addition, but increased accommodation, which is absolutely required. I trust that before the work is begun, inquiries will be made which will insure that no mistakes will occur which will, compel the re-opening of the matter within a year or two. In conclusion, I wish to say that the amount expended by the Postal department is so large that the most careful administration is required at the hands of both the Minister and his permanent advisers, and for that reason I emphasize the suggestion which I have already made, that expert advice should be obtained in regard to the highly technical services connected with telephonic and telegraphic communication.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– Attention has been directed by several honorable members to the necessity of maintaining mail communication between the sparsely-populated inland districts and the large centres of civilization, and I desire to direct attention to the desirableness of improving the mail facilities between the capitals and our outlying coastal settlements. A few years ago there was direct steam communication between Adelaide and Esperance Bay in Western yA-ustralia, but for some time past the people of Esperance have had to depend for their mails, and also for their stores, upon a small branch service from Albany. This matter has been brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General by honorable members representing Western Australia in both branches of the Legislature. In .January last a special effort was made to induce the PostmasterGeneral to call for tenders for a direct service between Adelaide and Esperance Bay. Such a means of communication would prove of the greatest advantage, not only to the people of Esperance, but to the mercantile communities of the eastern States. But whether it is due to the desire of the mercantile community of Fremantle and Perth to have all the trade pass through their hands or to the fact that the department has been prevented by pressure of work from giving attention to the matter, no service has been established. The business people of the eastern States who have been trading with Esperance Bay for a number of years, and whose capital has been expended in the development of that district, have to submit to their mails and merchandise being carried past that port to Fremantle or Albany and then being brought back again, solely in order to comply with the wishes of a certain section of the W Western Australian mercantile community. This inflicts great hardship upon all concerned. The cost of a mail service between Adelaide and Esperance would not be very great, because no doubt many of the coastal steamers that now trade between the eastern States and Albany and Fremantle -would call in at Esperance Bay both going and coming. I hope that the Government will see their way to deal with this matter at an early date. A proposal for the establishment of a mail service by steamer between Port Darwin and Singapore was favorably considered by the mail authorities of South Australia before the Post and Telegraph department was taken over by the Commonwealth. For many years there was some kind of mail communication between these places by means of a line of steamers subsidized by the South Australian Government for the conveyance of live cattle to Java and Singapore. The subsidy and the service have now been discontinued, and the people of Port Darwin are deprived of facilities for direct trade with London viâ Singapore. All their goods have to pass through the hands of merchants in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, and in many cases their supplies have to be brought back to them after having been carried past their doors and half-way round the continent. This proposed service might readily be extended to Thursday Island, on the one side, and Cambridge Gulf on the other. This would confer immense advantages in the way of mail communication and trade, which have been pointed out to the State authorities. In 1900 the Postmaster-General of South Australia called for tenders, but I have never heard how they were dealt with. The State Government were in full sympathy with the proposal, and, I believe, are still ready to support it. But the postal authorities apparently either have not the time or the inclination to deal with such a very important subject. I hope the matter will be inquired into. Trade between the northern parts of Australia and Singapore was rapidly increasing when the steamer service to which I have referred was discontinued, and I have no doubt that a large trade would soon be developed if a moderate subsidy were offered. We know that the Post and Telegraph services very nearly pay their way, and as the main object of the department should be to serve the requirements of the community, and not to make a profit, I do not think that in asking that additional mail services may be maintained for the benefit of our somewhat distant coastal settlements we are requesting too much. I should like to direct attention to the employment of Chinese and other aliens in the Post and Telegraph department at Port

Darwin. In October last I asked the followingquestion : -

Whether any, and if so, how many, Chinese and other Asiatic aliens have been employed in the Post and Telegraph department in the Northern Territory of South Australia since the department was taken over by the Commonwealth ?

The reply given by the Minister was -

Fifteen Chinese, but no other Asiatics have been employed in the Post and Telegraph department in the Northern Territory of South Australia since it was taken over by the Commonwealth. They were all employed previous to the transfer, and were taken over with the department.

In view of the fact that the Government are administering a very stringent Immigration Restriction Bill and other measures directed against the introduction and employment of coloured labour, I desire to know whether the postal authorities at Port Darwin are continuing to employ Asiatics to the exclusion of Europeans.

Mr Page:

– Where are they employed?

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– I am not aware whether their employment has ceased, but the honorable member will recollect that in October last some surprise was caused when the reply to my question showed that after taking over this department, the Government which professed to be so strong upon the subject of a white Australia had continued to employ Asiatic aliens. I hope that the Minister representing the Postmaster-General will inform the House before the debate upon the Estimates is concluded, whether the services of these Chinese employes have been dispensed with, because there are plenty of youths - the sons of men who have settled in the northern portion of Australia - who experience the greatest difficulty in finding suitable employment, and who would oe only too glad to take their places. I have nothing more to add at the present stage. There are one or two items to which I should like to refer, but I shall have an opportunity of dealing with them when the details of the Estimates are under consideration.

Mr WILKINSON:
Moreton

– Generally when the Estimates of a department are under discussion honorable members take advantage of the opportunity to air their complaints. But I think we should give credit to those administering a department whenever it is due to them, and as a Queenslander I desire to compliment the Government upon their action in regard to the recent Cobb and Co. incident. I think that the thanks of the Commonwealth are due to those administering the department and to the Government for the way in which they withstood the pressure which was brought to bear upon them by the monopoly referred to and by others behind it. Unfortunately, Queensland has of late years been too much in the grasp of two or three monopolists. It is not the first time that pressure has been brought to bear upon the Post and Telegraph department of that State, and I am pleased indeed to find that there was sufficient backbone in the Commonwealth Government to resist that pressure and to bring the Cobb and Co. monopoly to its knees. But I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to one item in the Estimates which seems to me to be grossly unfair. By a certain section of the press, and particularly by the daily newspapers of Queensland, the administration of the Commonwealth is. continually being referred to as expensive. Every opportunity is seized by the Queensland Government, and by the press behind it, to make it appear to the public that that administration is conducted upon very extravagant lines. As a matter of fact - as is shown by the official reports - as soon as Queensland had decided to enter the Federation the expenditure of the various departments which were to be transferred was abnormally inflated. If one examines the reports of the railway commissioner prior to the federal referendum being taken he will find that whereas £40,000 per annum used to be charged by the commissioner for the carriage of mails in that State, as soon as it was clear that the Post and Telegraph department would become a federal institution, this cost was run up to £50,000 - an increase of £10,000. Of course the increase makes no actual difference to Queensland from the point of view of money. It simply means that that State will have to make up the additional £10,000, whilst the receipts from the Railway department will show £10,000 more than -is actually earned. I think honorable members will agree that within two or three years the cost of carrying the mails in that State has not increased to the extent indicated. Nevertheless, the apparent increase makes the administration of the Commonwealth appear expensive - a grossly unfair proceeding. Further, I think I am justified in saying that even when the Railway department received £40, 000 for the carriage of mails in Queensland it was being paid more than enough for the services rendered. In this connexion I have taken the trouble to consult Coghlan’s statistics for the year 1899.

Sir George Turner:

– Would not there be a greater mileage of railways in Queensland now 1

Mr WILKINSON:

– Very little railway construction has been undertaken in Queensland during the past two or three years. I find that in New South Wales there are 2,896 miles of railway; in Victoria, 3,218 miles ; in Queensland, 2,801 miles ; and in South Australia, 1,901 miles. When comparing these figures, honorable members should recollect that in New South Wales and Victoria there are more double lines than exist in the other States, and con-, sequently the railways of the two States mentioned do not cover the same distance that is traversed by the lines of South Australia and Queensland. During 1899 New South Wales carried 76,726,700 letters and post-cards; Victoria, 77,796,600; Queensland, 21,181,300 ; and South Australia, 19,765,400. During the same period New South Wales carried 46,806,600 newspapers, as against 23,614,200 by Victoria, 11,663,300 by Queensland, and 8,937,000 by South Australia. Similarly, New South Wales carried 13,986,600 packets; Victoria, 23,614,200; Queensland, 11,663,300; and South Australia, 1,531,400. When the charges made by the railways in the different States are compared, it will be seen that the Railway department of Queensland is being paid much more relatively for the service which it renders than are the departments of the other States. The Post and Telegraph department in New South Wales pays the Railway department £73,440, whilst the volume of mail matter carried in that State is three and a half times greater than that carried in Queensland. In Victoria, the Railway department is paid £58,810, or only £8,810 more than is charged by the Queensland Railway department, despite the fact that Victoria carries three and a half times the quantity of mail matter. In South Australia, the railways are paid £17,370 for the carriage of mails. What I wish to emphasize is the disproportion which exists between the charges made by the various States. Compared with the services rendered in the other States, the Queensland Railway department is paid far too much. When the Minister replies, I should like to know upon what basis these charges are calculated. It seems to me that Queensland has taken advantage of the transfer of the Post and Telegraph department to increase the expenditure of that branch of the service. The same remark is applicable to other departments. I know that the expenditure of another department was increased by £53,000 immediately upon Queensland entering the Federation.

Sir George Turner:

– That is going on in all the States.

Mr WILKINSON:

– It is represented to the people by the press that the Commonwealth is administered in a most expensive way. We who advocated Federation told the people that union would cheapen the administration of the transferred departments, and now we are made to appear to have had very little knowledge of what was likely to occur. I believe that what we told the people is true ; but the finances have been manipulated in such a way as to make the contrary appear.

Sir George Turner:

– The Post-office will not cost much more with all its extended business than it did last year.

Mr WILKINSON:

– If the additional £10,000 to which I have referred be taken from the increase in Queensland, the increased expenditure there only amounts to about £1,600.

Sir George Turner:

– £50,000 is the amount in both years.

Mr WILKINSON:

– I have not gone into the figures very closely, but it was my impression that too much was being paid to the Railway department of Queensland. I should like to add my testimony as to the advantages that would accrue to the Northern and North-western portions of Queensland by the additional mail service advocated by the honorable member for Kennedy. The extra mail could be provided without any very great cost, and it would confer much benefit on a large number of worthy citizens. As to the telegraphing of reports of speeches by Ministers of the Crown, and by Members of Parliament,I hold that there should be no distinction in the matter of charges. It is admitted that the utterances of Ministers are of far more importance to the general public than those of private members ; but if it is thought worth while to report a Minister in full, the newspapers, who reap a pecuniary benefit from the report, ought to pay the expense of telegraphing.

Mr BROWN:
Canobolas

– The Postal department is one of the most important so far as the public are concerned, and deserves the serious consideration of honorable members. The administration enters so largely into promoting the progress and the wellbeing of the community that we cannot deal with it with too liberal a hand. In New South Wales the Postal department was for years administered with the object of’ making the service revenue-producing ; but for some time prior to Federation, the importance of the post-office in furthering progress was recognised by the State PostmasterGeneral, who now represents Parramatta in this Chamber. That honorable member was not bound by the old conservative ideas which had actuated his predecessors, and he introduced a number of liberal reforms by way of encouraging the use of the telephone in both city and country, and extending postal facilities to remote communities. This liberality did not, as was expected by those who had conducted the old red-tape administration, result in a loss, but in a gain. Since we entered into Federation, however, the old conservative ideas appear to be once more largely dominating the administration ; and that opinion is borne out to someextent by the Estimates before us. There has been increased expenditure in all the States except New South Wales, wherethere is actually a reduction of the total expenditure by £994. The increased expenditure in the other States is divided as follows : - Victoria, £6,954; Queensland, £11,694; South Australia, £3,773 ; Western Australia, £16,553 ; and Tasmania, £4,590, a total of £42,595. The requirements of New South Wales have grown in proportion with those of the other States, excepting, perhaps, those of Western Australia. In the Western State there has been rapid increase in population and a lotof pioneer work, such as has already been accomplished in the other parts of the Commonwealth, has to be faced. But the position disclosed is that, in the face of increases in all the other States, the Postmaster-General has held such a tight hand in New South Wales as to cause a reduction. Between the last referendum and the transfer of the services, the policy of the New South Wales Government was to reduce the expenditure as far as possible, all fresh undertakings being held in abeyance to be dealt with by the federal authorities. But in the other States, notably in Victoria, a march was stolen on the Federal Government by undertaking increased services and increased expenditure just prior to the transfer of the department. I hope the Federal Government, while exercising due care over the expenditure to the extent of seeing that no moneys are wasted, will not go back to the old rigid policy of demanding guarantees before extending postal or telegraphic facilities in developing districts. These facilities are a great factor in development, and a narrow-minded policy in this connexion would more than anything have the effect of bringing the federal movement and federal administration into disfavour. I can speak ‘ with special knowledge only of New South Wales, and in my own electorate there are a number of new centres where mining and land settlement are going on, and where the natural desire is to have reasonable postal, telephonic, and telegraphic facilities. A number of necessary works were under review during the last twelve months of State control, and in some cases were approved ; but it was decided, in pursuance of the policy of the State Government, that no action should be taken in view of the transfer to the Commonwealth. The only reply the people of those centres, and I acting for them, could obtain from the Postmaster-General during the past twelve months amounted to this, that he and his officials were engaged in determining some common policy in regard to guarantees, and some common method for providing facilities of the kind desired, and that until they were settled matters would have to stand in abeyance. Therefore, these improvements have had to stand in abeyance for the twelve months preceding the transfer of the department, and the twelve months since they were transferred. Three or four glaring instances of the delays to which I refer are those in connexion with the telephone extension from Waroo to Begerebong, and in connexion with the extension to the Bena settlement, to the Landsdale settlement, and to Woodlands. A considerable amount of dissatisfaction was caused by the guarantees required by the State authorities in New South Wales prior to federation. Before undertaking the reconstruction of telephonic or telegraphic communications the department very often required a guarantee from persons in the district concerned - often from five approved persons - for the payment of any difference between the cost of the service and the receipts, the result being that these people had sometimes to pay a small initiatory deficiency while the general community benefited. I have not read the regulations which have just been issued, but’ I understand that the department intend in the future to require in cases of this sort that a sum of money shall be placed in a bank to the credit of the Government, and, if necessary, kept there for a number of years in order that the authorities may deduct from it any deficiency in revenue. If that is the system to be adopted, it is a worse one than the very bad system hitherto in force in New South Wales, and instead of the Commonweath department extending facilities of communication to pioneer communities, they will be placing additional handicaps upon them. I wish to bring, under the notice of the Minister the great inconvenience which the mail contractors in New South Wales and elsewhere are suffering through the continued prevalence of the drought. Attention has already been directed to the matter more than once, and the Minister representing the Prime Minister received a strong and representative deputation from NewSouth Wales this afternoon, asking for special consideration. I wish the PostmasterGeneral to extend this consideration to the mail contractors. I have made representations to the department on their behalf, but hitherto not with very great success. In one case where a light mail is sent over a long distance by the contractor by means of a horse and sulky, according to the terms of his contract, he asked to be allowed to substitute a bicycle service, but the reply I received from the department in regard to the matter was that consent could not be given to vary the contract in the manner proposed. Considering, however, the exceptional conditions, and the fact that the keen competition causes these services to be undertaken at extremely low rates, I think the request might have been complied with. In another case the Postmaster-General consented to reduce the service by 50 per cent., but, at the same time, made a reduction of 25 per cent, upon the mileage allowance, and I have since been informed by the postal authorities that where a reduction in the services is made, a corresponding reduction will also be made in the allowances, too. I think, however, that, considering the low rates at which the contracts are let, the contractors might be given more liberal treatment. If the Federal Government are willing to remit the duties upon fodder for the benefit of those who have starving stock to feed, they ought also to do something for the mail contractors who have to use horses to carry out their contracts ; and when reductions are made in the services they should not insist upon a corresponding or even a smaller decrease in the allowances. I wish also to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General the fact that, while the townships on the New South Wales western railway lines have been benefited in certain directions by an alteration in the train service, their postal facilities have been reduced. Previously, only one train a day was run from Sydney to places west of Orange. It left at eight p.m., and carried the mails. Now trains leave at half-past seven p.m. and nine p.m., the former only carrying mails. The result of that arrangement is that the mails close much earlier than they did formerly, and the trading community in the townships affected are thus put to considerable inconvenience. I do not know upon what lines the Government intend to proceed in regard to expenditure upon public works. I notice that in the supplementary Estimates ±’4,000 is put down for the construction of a new post-office at Inverell amongst other places ; but when I asked for improvements to existing offices in Orange and Parkes, I was informed that the money could not be provided out of current revenue, and would have to come out of loan funds.

Sir George Turner:

– I have transferred all expenditure, except in regard to very large buildings, to the revenue vote.

Mr BROWN:

– I am glad to hear that, because I have had considerable trouble with the department in regard to necessary alterations in the Parkes office. The expenditure of £100 has been authorized for the carrying out of repairs to that office, and an expenditure of £160 for providing protection against the weather for the public. The department held that the first expenditure should come out of revenue and the other out of loan funds, which would mean that the work would have to be carried out in two sections, entailing extra cost and considerable inconvenience.

Sir George Turner:

– Did I not authorize the two alterations to be made at the same time?

Mr BROWN:

– I understood the Treasurer to say that part of the work was provided for in the Loan Vote, and that he could not anticipate Parliamentary sanction by ordering it to be carried out.

Sir George Turner:

– I think that as the amount involved was so very small, I authorized both works to be carried out at the same time.

Mr BROWN:

– I am very glad to hear it. I am also pleased to know that the cost of a large number of works which it was originally proposed to provide for out of loan funds is to be defrayed out of revenue. I hope that included among these will be the proposed additions to theOrange post-office, which were approved by the State Government, and for which the sum of £2,000 was allotted prior to thetransfer of the department to the Commonwealth. The statement made by the Treasurer will tend to remove a great deal of dissatisfaction.

Mr PAGE:
Maranoa

– I desire, on behalf of my constituents, to compliment theGovernment on the stand they took with reference to the contracts of Cobb tfe Co. for the carriage of mails in Queensland. The Postmaster-General was told when he permitted Cobb <fc Co. to create a monopoly in Queensland, that he would live to regret it if he continued to administer the affairs of the Post-office. I am sure that the honorable gentleman little thought that that prediction would so soon be realized. In times gone by, Cobb & Co. found it comparatively easy to obtain concessions from the Government, but it is fortunate that the administration is now less, amenable than formerly to local influences. I desire to call attention to the vote of £250 proposed to be given to Mr. Outtrim to defray his expenses to London to attend the International Telegraphic Conference. Every one knows that the conference has been postponed for two years, and therefore there is no necessity for thevote being placed on the present Estimates. When the conference was postponed, Mr. Outtrim had reached Colombo, and he was. asked by cable whether he would continue his journey to London on leave or come back. Of course, he continued his journey. If I were given ‘ the same option, I should do as Mr. Outtrim did. I cannot understand how the Estimates for the Victorian departments have been framed. They are very puzzling. Dealing first with the clerical division, it will be seen that every one of the officers has received an increase of salary since the department was taken over by the Commonwealth, and I desire to know why officers receiving less than £156 per annum have not had their salaries increased t

Sir George Turner:

– To begin with, all the officers in the clerical division have not received an increase. Those who have obtained it was by virtue of a Victorian Act of Parliament.

Mr PAGE:

– Then why did not the men receiving less than £156 per year get the benefit of the increase, too ?

Sir George Turner:

– Because no one can ascertain what they are entitled to receive. The amount will be decided upon, and then they will receive payment dating from the beginning of the Public Service Acf!

Mr PAGE:

– How was it that the increments of the clerical officers could be ascertained 1

Sir George Turner:

– Because the schedule of the Victorian Act fixes their yearly increments.

Mr PAGE:

– It is most peculiar that the stiff-collared gentlemen always receive their increases whilst others are left out in the cold. There are many items in these Estimates which I cannot understand. “We find one messenger provided for at from £84 to £120 per annum. Again we see one foreman instrument-fitter provided for at from £204 to £240, with a maximum of £240 ; i and so on. Why are the Victorian Estimates not framed in the same way as are those of the other States 1

Sir George Turner:

– Because there was no opportunity of making them nearly alike. All that will be altered next time.

Mr PAGE:

– In the administration of the public service we should do everything possible to secure a contented staff. If any officers are entitled to increases of salaries, it is not for us to inquire whether the States Governments have done rightly or wrongly in providing for them, but we should pay strict regard to existing rights. All that the Victorian officers desire is that they shall be placed upon the same footing as officials in the other States. I glory in the pluck which they exhibit in attempting to uphold what they regard as their rights. The other evening, when I objected ‘ to the allowances paid to Mr. Cohen and Mr. Lewis, the honorable member for Parramatta asked why those officers should not receive allowances, seeing that they formed a part of their agreement with the Commonwealth Government. But I would point out that the same argument is applicable to Mr. Scott and Mr Oxenham. ‘ They accepted their present appointments upon the understanding that the former would receive £1,000 a year with an allowance of £2 2s. per week, and the latter £600 a year, with an allowance of £2 per week. I ask the Minister, what are his intentions in regard to the agreement entered into with these officers when they relinquished their State positions 1 In the northern State they were considered twoof the most trusted and valued officers in the Postal department, and that department to-day, upon the score of efficiency, is second to none in the Commonwealth. I hope that the Minister will carry out in its entirety the agreement entered into with the officers mentioned.

Mr FOWLER:
Perth

– I have no very serious grievance to bring forward in reference to the general administration of the Postal department. Indeed, it is my duty to congratulate the Postmaster-General and his representative in this Chamber upon having at last determined to initiate a most pressing reform in my own electorate, by placing the telephone wires underground. From experience I can say that those wires were rendered almost useless by the proximity of the electric cable along which the motive power of the tramways is conducted. Whilst I cannot subscribe to the proposition that a loan should be floated for this particular purpose, I shall endeavour to induce the Treasurer to apply a portion of his surplus to the carrying out of the work in question. One or two honorable members have complained of the difference which exists between the charge levied for telegraphing the speeches of honorable members and that exacted for transmitting the utterances of Ministers. The honorable member for Macquarie made a strong point in this connexion. I claim, however, that the people of Western Australia have still more reason to complain, because whereas New South Wales has to pay only 3s. per 100 words, Western Australia is charged 4s. fid. Whilst I have no desire to depreciate the importance of Ministerial communications to the people of that State, I would modestly suggest that the utterances of

Western Australian representatives are perhaps sometimes as interesting and instructive to the people of that State as even the expressions of Ministers themselves.

Sir Philip Fysh:

– But all the Parliamentary and Executive proceedings are transmitted at a uniform rate.

Mr FOWLER:

– But if a report contains a single line of comment, the higher rate is charged. That is rather unjust under the circumstances. To my mind a certain amount of latitude should be allowed. There is just one other matter of some importance to the people of Western Aus- tralia to which I must allude. It has already been mentioned by some of my col- leagues. I refer to the admistration of the Postal department of Western Australia by the gentleman who has been in charge of it for a considerable number of years. I have no hesitation in declaring that his management has been characterized by very gross incapacity, and by a senseless tyranny over his officers generally. Within the service itself there is very grave dissatisfaction, and there is also general discontent amongst the outside public. I am convinced that if the Government investigate this matter, they will arrive at the conclusion that it will be an advantage to the Commonwealth generally, and to Western Australia in particular, if they retire the present chief of the postal department in that State under some fair and equitable arrangement, and appoint in his stead an officer who is more up-to-date, and one who is imbued with more democratic ideas regarding the treatment of his subordinates. I do not wish to dwell on this matter. It is somewhat unpleasant for me to say as much as I have said, but I felt -impelled by a sense of duty to my constituents and the public of Western Australia to mention the’ subject.

Mr POYNTON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– From time to time I have brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General, and also of honorable members, the question of the increments which were due last June to a number of letter carriers and others, and which have not yet been paid. I have been told that the increments cannot be paid until these Estimates are passed. Are these allowances included in the Estimates ; and if any are omitted, will the Minister undertake to have the matter rectified t

Sir George Turner:

– All increments to which officers are entitled ai-e provided for in the Estimates, so far as I know. The rule is not to pay until the Estimates are passed, but under the circumstances I gave permission for their payment with the June salaries. Of course I do not know whether the increments to which the honorable member is particularly referring are included in the Estimates, and I should be glad if he would let me have a list.

Mr POYNTON:

– I am unable to give a list at the present. When under the South Australian Government these officers were entitled to annual increments, which were paid without waiting for the passing of the Estimates.

Sir George Turner:

– South Australia is the only State in which the Government have been paying increments which are due under Act of Parliament.

Mr POYNTON:

– But there are other increments, due under regulation, which have been held over by the Treasurer until the passing of the Estimates.

Sir George Turner:

– If the men are entitled to the allowances, I am perfectly sure these have been provided for in the Estimates.

Mr. TUDOR (Yarra). - Letter-carriers in Victoria are on the whole receiving less remuneration than is paid in the other States. I am informed that while in Victoria no trousers are provided by the department, in Queensland each letter carrier is given, in addition to the coat which is allowed in each State, four pairs of trousers per year. The Victorian letter-carriers, prior to retrenchment, were allowed trousers, and in New South Wales three pairs are provided, together with, as in Queensland, a mackintosh to each man.

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– I had not intended -to make any special reply to the criticisms which have been offered. I thought the better plan would be to peruse the report which the Hansard staff so readily and accurately give us, and submit the requests made to the Postmaster-General. As to the observations of the honorable member for Maranoa, I think a reply could best be given when we deal with individual items. I, do not think it desirable to enter into the important question which the honorable member for Bland properly raised as to the desirability of having a thoroughly qualified expert electrician associated with the department. To carry out the views of the honorable member and others must involve very serious expenditure. I have been informed that, in Victoria alone, the completion of the metallic circuit and tunnelling for underground wires will cost £200,000 ; and until we can effect such works, much improvement cannot be made in the telephonic system. In the neighbourhood of the telephone exchange in Melbourne, tons of wire are sagging across the street, to the danger of the traffic. I propose to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General and the Cabinet all the suggestions which have been made, and as the committee deal with the items I shall take care to be prepared with full information. I am hopeful that a great many points, which now appear dubious in the minds of honorable members, will be cleared up. Honorable members will be able to deal, among other matters, with Mr. Outtrim’s visit, and the incidental expenditure ; and I hope to show that the department is carried on with sound judgment. We are dealing with an administration which extends over the whole of Australia, with 50,000 miles of telegraph wires and 12,400 employes. It can be imagined what an enormous task the Postmaster-General has had to gather all the strings together before a year has passed, and to issue regulations, remedying defects and extending the usefulness of the services. The PostmasterGeneral has had his central staff only about eleven months, and if he has been able to accomplish so much in that time he will, as he learns the requirements of the country, still further extend and complete the department year by year.

Mr. KIRWAN (Kalgoorlie).- I see that there is new expenditure to the amount of £5,360. When federation was established it was understood that amalgamation would mean economy ; and I should like to know whether, with this new expenditure, there has been any corresponding economy. The amount may seem small in comparison with the total expenditure, but new expenditure always has a tendency to grow.

Sir PHILIP FYSH:

– If we are to continue as in the past year and add 400 new officers, there must be a large increase in the work of the central staff. By the transfer of these officers to the Commonwealth, the States ought to be enabled to economize in salaries.

Mr. POYNTON (South Australia). - I notice that the secretary of this department receives a salary of £1,000. I know of no other secretary who is receiving so large an amount.

Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- Surely the secretary is entitled to more salary than his subordinates who administer the subbranches.’ I see that the officer in New South Wales receives £960.

Sir George Turner:

– That is under statute.

Mr MAHON:

– And I believe the Deputy Postmaster-General in Adelaide is paid a salary of £1,000. The secretary is the man who has the organization of the whole department to carry out; he controls the management of the department in six States. The secretary to the Minister for Trade and Customs receives £1,200 a year, and he has not nearly as many officers under his control as there are in the Postal department.

Mr Poynton:

– But the secretary to the Minister for Trade and Customs was getting £1,200 a year before his department was transferred.

Mr MAHON:

– Even so, I think that this salary is only a fair one. You must pay your foreman a little more than your journeyman.

Mr. TUDOR (Yarra).- I pointed out, when we were dealing with the temporary Estimates some months ago, that it was expected that after federation the status of the Deputy Postmasters-General would be made lower, and that a consequent saving in expenditure would be effected.

Sir George Turner:

– We cannot reduce the salaries of the men now in office.

Mr TUDOR:

– But some of the salaries have been increased.

Sir George Turner:

– Not by the Commonwealth.

Mr TUDOR:

– No, by the States ; but the public blame the Commonwealth authorities for the expenditure. As the honorable member for Coolgardie has pointed out, £1,000 a year is not too much for the secretary to the PostmasterGeneral when the Deputy PostmasterGeneral in South Australia is receiving that amount. I think, however, that we should give an instruction to the Ministry that future appointments to the position of Deputy Postmaster-General shall be at a lower salary.

Sir George Turner:

– That is a matter for the Public Service Commissioner to deal with.

Mr. PAGE (Maranoa). - I am surprised that the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Poynton, has cavilled at this salary. Mr. Scott was getting £800 a year in Brisbane, and he came to . Melbourne only because he was offered £1,000 a year and allowances amounting to £2 2s. a week. He could not be expected to come to Melbourne for the salary that he was getting in Brisbane, and none of us would have come from the State Parliaments to this Parliament but for the fact that we were entering a higher political sphere, and getting an extra £100 a year. The secretary to the Postmaster-General, who is running the whole department, could not be expected to take less than is being paid to the Deputy Postmaster General in one of the States. Besides, if Dr. Wollaston is getting £1,200 a year as secretary to the Minister for Trade and Customs, this office is certainly worth £1,000 a year.

Mr. POYNTON (South Australia).-! should like to hear some explanation of the note -

Salary allotted on appointment ; does not apply to officers occupying the position in future.

Sir George Turner:

– That note was inserted because it was said on a former occasion that the Public Service Commissioner might consider himself bound to continue the salaries fixed by Parliament in dealing with these Estimates. It is an intimation to-him that he is at liberty to use his own discretion in fixing the salaries of future occupants of the office.

Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- Is it intended that the itemTravelling expenses and incidentals, £700 - shall again appear?

Sir George Turner:

– Yes, because we must have departmental inspections by members of the central staff.

Mr MAHON:

– Have we not provided for public service inspectors to do that work?

Sir George Turner:

– I think that an officer of the central staff should visit the branches in the various States at least once a year. The money will be well spent upon that service. The actual management of the departments will not be part of the work of the public service inspectors.

Mr MAHON:

– I understood that the public service inspectors would report upon the management of the offices in the States to which they were appointed.- It is news to me to hear that there will be a duplication of inspection. T wish also to know what Mr. S. H. Lambton is doing for the honorarium of £50 per month which is being paid to him ? Why, top, is his work not being done at the head-office, instead of in Sydney, where the papers have to be sent to him ?

Sir Philip Fysh:

– The work ceases this month.

Mr. POYNTON (South Australia). - I should like some further information in regard to the £700 set down for travelling expenses.

Sir George Turner:

– Hp to the 31st May we spent only £160 out of that vote. It is only actual experience that will enable us to frame these Estimates with anything like accuracy.

Mr POYNTON:

– What is the meaning of the item -

Allowance to officers transferred from other States, £210.

Sir GEORGE TURNER:
Protectionist

– The House expressed pretty strongly the opinion that these allowances should be stopped, and they were stopped, except in regard to two officers who were specially engaged by a telegram dated 25th June, 1901, on these terms -

Vacancies, this office £350 and £250 with allowances in Melbourne of £78 each. Will Templeton and Shepherd accept. Reply urgent.

It would be a distinct breach of faith with those officers if the allowances were discontinued. With regard to the Queensland officer who is receiving £250 a year and allowances, there is a special difficulty. In the department there is a Victorian officer who is also receiving £250 a year, and no allowances, hut if the salary of the Queensland officer were increased, and his allowance abolished, he would become senior officer in virtue of receiving the higher rate of remuneration. I hope, however, that the Public Service Commissioner will be able to deal with the matter in such a way as to get rid of what is an anomaly.

Mr Thomson:

– How long are these allowances to lost 1 ;

Sir GEORGE TURNER:

– Until we get to the federal capital.

Mr. PAGE (Maranoa).- What about the allowances to the two gentlemen to whom I referred ?

Sir George Turner:

– They were stopped.

Mr PAGE:

– Did not they get anything?

Sir George Turner:

– They received them up until the end of July.

Mr PAGE:

– -Then the only two officers in the Postal department who are receiving allowances are Templeton and Shepherd?

Sir George Turner:

– Yes.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 130a (Miscellaneous), £250

Mr PAGE:
Maranoa

– I think this item should be struck out, and I shall oppose it.

Sir PHILIP FYSH:
Free Trade

– I hope that the honorable member will not persist in his objection when he hears my explanation. Mr. Outtrim was due for six months’ leave of absence on full pay, when an intimation came to us that a conference upon postal and telegraphic matters was to be held in London early this year. The States have sent representatives to similar conferences, and the representation of Victoria on the last occasion cost £700. Mr. Outtrim intended to pay a visit to London, and agreed to represent the Commonwealth at the conference, on the understanding that he should receive an honorarium of £250. He had proceeded on his way as far as Colombo when we were advised that the conference had been postponed. We then cabled to Mr. Outtrim, advising him of the fact, and proposing that his leave should date from 1st January, and that he should still be entitled to the proposed honorarium of £250. If the conference hud beenheld he would have been entitled to six months’ leave of absence after the conference had closed.

Mr TUDOR:
Yarra

– The conference has been postponed for two years, and the Commonwealth will have to pay for representation at the gathering when it is held. Mr. Outtrim has made his holiday fit in very nicely, so as to enable him to take part in certain interesting events transpiring in England, and as he has not performed any service that entitles him to the proposed grantI shall oppose it.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Progress reported.

House adjourned at 10.55 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 June 1902, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020604_reps_1_10/>.