2nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable and learned member’s questions is as follows : -
The whole question of the position of the Ordnance Branch is at present under consideration.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether, in his negotiations for an improved service for the New Hebrides, and other South Sea Islands, he will -
Philp, and Co. to tender?
– The answers to the honorable and learned member’s questions are as follow : -
Motion (by Mr. Mcwilliams) agreed to-
That a return be laid upon the table of the House showing -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 15th November, vide page 6974):
Department of Defence
Victorian Military Forces : Division 104 (Volunteers), £2,998 ; division 105 (Cadet Corps), £1,716 ; division 106 (Rifle Clubs and Associations), £25,247, agreed to.
Division 107 (Camps of Training and Schools of Instruction), £5,600
– I wish to know from the Minister whether canteens are allowed in camps of training. If they are, I intend to move a reduction of the proposed vote, to test the opinion of the Committee on the subject.
– Would the honorable member prevent men in camp from getting a drink of beer on a hot day?
– Cadets and young men go to these camps of training, and we should not put temptations into their way. I, at any rate, intend to do what I can to remove from their way temptations to drink. Will the Minister give us some information on the subject?
– This question was raised when the Defence Bill was under discussion, and it was then decided that canteens should not be prohibited. Consequently, the regulations issued under the Act recognise that canteens are not forbidden, and allow them, but they are controlled in the strictest manner possible. Last Easter I had the honour to be in command of a camp of training, and authorized the establishment of a canteen in the camp, but from the first day to the last not a single man present was under the influence of liquor, nor was a single crime committed in the camp. At the same time, I sympathize with the honorable member’s desire that temptations shall not be placed in the way of young men. I agree with him that the drinking habit should not be encouraged ; but, speaking from many years’ experience of camps, I say that, when canteens are properly controlled, none of the evils which he fears result In reply to his request for information, not a penny of the proposed appropriation will be spent on canteens. Every penny of it is used in other directions, the vote being one of the most valuable we have. However, as he and other honorable members feel strongly on the matter, I suggest that the best way to test the opinion of the Committee in regard to it would be to try to have their views embodied in legislation.
– Insert a new clause in the Defence Bill ! I intend to move one.
– While I deprecate the introduction of new matter into that Bill,I suggest that the honorable member for New England should test the feeling of this new Parliament in regard to canteens when the new Defence Bill is under consideration, instead of by the inconvenient method which he now proposes to adopt.
– I trust that the Committee will not follow the honorable member for New England in this matter. It is essential that men under training should have opportunities to procure liquid refreshment. I do not know if the honorable member has recently visited camps of training to see how the men there behave, but I have been to such camps frequently, and I have not seen any indication of an abuse of the canteens.
– In any case, the establishment of canteens is not provided for in the proposed vote.
– That is so. During the Sydney encampments last Easter, the weather was very wet, rain falling for several days in succession, and on one occasion the officer in command ordered a special ration of rum to be served to the men, because they had been out in the rain for the greater part of the day. I think that that was a wise precaution to take. The canteens are always under proper regulations.
– So is a public house.
– I do not object to public houses. I use them occasionally, and I know that they are useful institutions. I trust, however, that the Minister will see that officers are given to understand that they must confine their expenditure to the amount voted for the purpose of encampments. While I was in the Treasury the pistol was, metaphorically, placed at my head on . several occasions by commanding officers, who asked for additional grants for camps of training, perhaps after the men had actually started. The military authorities know the amounts voted in the Estimates, and they should cut their coat according to their cloth. If the amount proposed is not sufficient, let it be increased to what is reasonable ; but it is not right that these votes should be continually exceeded, as has been done in the past. I had to authorize the expenditure out of the Treasurer’s advance vote of several sums in excess of the amounts voted bv Parliament, because I had no option in the matter, since one could not make the men suffer for the mistakes of those in authority, I do not think that the service should be run on those lines. The Minister should make it clear to the officers who are intrusted with the administration of these matters that they must not exceed the expenditure authorized by Parliament.
– I insisted on each State Commandant sending in, not a request for financial authority for particular camps of instruction or schools of training, but a complete schedule of the proposed expenditure of the vote for the whole year, having notified them of the amount proposed to be placed on the Estimates. These schedules reached me. some weeks ago, and two of them were returned, because they were insufficient in their details, or did not leave a sufficient margin for contingencies to satisfy me that the vote would not be exceeded. They then came back to me in an amended’ form. I have been through these schedules for the year, and had them checked by my financial advisers, and, so far as I can judge, they are reasonable, and likely to be correct. The States Commandants have received formal notification from me that they must expect to be held personally responsible if they exceed the amounts set down on the Estimates, after having been duly warned that they must keep their expenditure within those limits. I have every reason to believe that this will prevent the recurrence of what the honorable member for Bland has complained of.Two or three similar cases came under my notice, in regard to one of which I told the State Commandant that he must make the excess good outof this year’s vote, that is, I have surcharged him for a portion of his excess out of this vear’s vote.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- I am prepared to accept the Minister’s assurance that honorable members will be afforded an opportunity to deal with this matter. It seems to me to be absolutely foolish to contend that drink is indispensable in military camps. There have been extraordinary scenes in connexion with some of the encampments in New South Wales.
– Which one?
– In several of them.
– That is a libel. One man may have been drunk amongst several thousands.
– If canteens are allowed, they should be conducted under the strictest supervision, so that no evil results may arise from the abuse of the facilities offered by them. I am altogether opposed to canteens, but, in view of the promise given by the Minister, I do not propose to take any action at present.
– I am pleased that the Minister has promised to afford honorable members an opportunity to discuss the question of conducting can- teens in military encampments, and I hope that honorable members will endeavour to put a stop to the system. If it is necessary to have canteens- I do not think it is - they should be conducted under the control of the Army Medical Corps, and liquor should be dispensed only when it is absolutely necessary, and by the orders of the medical officers. The present system of supplying drink haphazard should not be continued,and I hope that provision will be made in the Defence Bill to that effect.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 108 (Maintenance of Existing
Arms and Equipment), £4,643 ; division 109 (Ammunition), £9,600; division no (Warlike Stores), £2,150; divisionIII (General Contingencies), £9,560; division 112 (General Services), £446; division 113 (Postage and Telegrams), £600, agreed to.
Queensland Military Forces : Division 114 (District Head-Quarters Staff), £2,651
– I notice that provision is made for an increase of £19,000 in the total vote for the Queensland Military Forces, and in view of the present straitened finances of the State, I should like to know whether this large vote is absolutely necessary? We have from time to time made attempts to reduce the Defence Estimates and bring them within reasonable bounds, and I think that we have accomplished good work in that direction. Now, it appears to me that some influence is at work among honorable members to induce them to favour a large increase in our military expenditure.
– Only in certain directions.
– It appears to me that the expenditure is increasing all round. If special appropriations are to be made for the purpose of increasing our armaments or equipments,we should deal with such items apart from the ordinary routine military expenditure. Then we should know exactly what we were doing, and would be able to guard against any unwarranted increase in the outlay. The Military expenditure in Queensland was increased to the extent of £50,000 or £60,000, partly as the result of the Jingo spirit which was rampant at the time of the Boer war immediately prior to Federation, and upon us was thrown the responsibility of reducing, the inflated Estimates to a reasonable amount. I desire to enter a protest against any large increases at the present time. I do not feel justified in proposing a reduction upon any particular item, because I do not know which one should be cut down.
– I desire to obtain a little information from the Minister with regard to the allowances to Colonels, Lieutenant-Colonels, Majors, and the like, for which provision is made throughout the Estimates.
– I do not think any such allowances are made.
– Ifthe Minister will turn to pageIII he will find allowances provided for two Colonels at the rate of £36, five Lieutenant-Colonels at the rate of £30, and five. Majors at £24 each.
– Those are the annual allowances for officers which are paid upon the same basis as the allowances made to privates.
– My point is that some of these officers have found their way into this Parliament, and into the States Parliaments.
– They are specially exempted from the prohibition in the Constitution relating to the acceptance of emoluments.
– I do not recall any constitutional exemption.
– Yes, they are.
– That point was tested in Tasmania, and it was found that they were exempt.
– I was not aware that they were allowed to receive any gratuity or honorarium for services rendered to the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member will find that they are specially exempted by the provision made in the latter part of section 44 of the Constitution.
– I now see that I am in error, but no harm is done in calling attention to the matter. The mistake is due to the fact that in dealing with another point which arose in connexion with the provision in the Constitution against the receipt of gratuities by members of this Parliament. I overlooked the concluding provision of the section. So long as the Constitution permits officers who are members to receive this allowance there can be no objection to the practice.
– There is some force in the remarks made by the honorable member for Kennedy with regard to the increased expenditure proposed in connexion with the Defence Forces of Queensland. I am quite aware of the fact that we adopt a course different from that pursued by the various States Governments prior to Federation. The States authorities provided for any special defence expenditure out of loan funds, whereas we adoptthe proper course of charging all expenditure against revenue. Comparing the proposed expenditure of £77,920 in Queensland with the total expenditure of £40,237 proposed in connexion with the South Australian Defence Forces, the former amount appears unduly large. South Australia has in this Parliament seven representatives, as contrasted with the nine representatives returned by Queensland ; whereas their contribution towards the defence of Australia amounts to only half the sum contributed by Queensland. I think that a very wise economy is being exercised in South Australia, and that the expenditure in Queensland is too high, especially in view of the serious financial straits of that State. . I have always felt that the expenditure on permanent forces and head-quarters staffs is proportionately far too large, and I shall certainly welcome the time when it is reduced, and any money that may be saved under that heading is spent in the direction of encouraging the rank and file.
– The payments to the Militia are the cause of all the trouble.
– The men who perform the actual field work will have to do the fighting. The Permanent Forces are so small that they will not be able to do very much except act as supervisors in time of trouble. Therefore, every economy should be exercised in the expenditure upon that section of the Forces, and more liberal treatment should be extended to our citizens who give up their time with a view to fitting themselves to take part in the defence of the Commonwealth. The expenditure upon rifle clubs and associations in Queensland last year amounted to £2,142, whereas it is proposed to expend . £8,915 during the current year.
– There is a special reason for that.
– I do not deny that, nor do I begrudge the money, especially if it is to be devoted to the purchase of ammunition, and to offering further encouragement to riflemen to perfect, themselves as marksmen. We should not be justified in practising economy at the expense of our rifle clubs, or of the equipment of our soldiers. It would be safer for us to have ten men thoroughly equipped than to have 1,000 men without effective arms or a sufficient quantity of ammunition. I trust that the Minister will exercise every possible economy during the current year.
– I am somewhat confused by the first four items in this division, which read as follows: -
I shall be glad if the Minister can explain these items. I am as anxious as is the honorable member for Wide Bay to keep down expenses. At the same time I recognise that it would be useless for us to maintain a Defence Force unless we took measures to insure its efficiency. Our Defence Force, whether it be a large or a small one, must be properly equipped, so as to be always prepared to meet any emergency. There is another matter to which I desire to direct the attention of the Minister. I am given to understand that although in one branch of the service a horse and fodder allowance is provided, it is denied to another branch. Possibly I may be told that in the latter case the allowance is included in the salary, but I cannot understand why any such differential treatment should be meted out to the two branches. I should like to have the matter explained by the Minister.
– Concerning the remarks of the honorable member for Kennedy upon these Estimates, it will be observed that the proposed increase over the actual expenditure of last year in connexion with the Queensland Defence Force is very much larger than it is over last year’s appropriation. A considerable portion of that increase is due to the fact that at the present time the various regiments are nearer their full strength than they were last year, when recruiting was suspended for a long period. The balance of the increase is required to make provision for the purchase of ammunition. Honorable members will understand that we have what is called an ammunition trust fund for all corps, to which is credited the moneys paid by those who purchase ammunition at reduced rates. These moneys accumulate from year to year, and when they amount to a reasonable sum, instead of the Estimates being charged with the purchase of the whole or part of the ammunition required, it is paid for out of that fund. In Queensland last year . the fund had accumulated to such an extent that we were practically able to purchase the whole of the ammunition by that means, without having to charge the Estimates on that account. This year, however, the position is reversed. In my judgment, it is a bad. practice to allow the ammunition trust fund to accumulate and then to disburse it in large sums. Consequently, I propose to leave a certain margin, so that in future the vote for ammunition shall not fluctuate so much as it has done in the past.
– When was recruiting stopped ?
– Last year it was stopped for a considerable period all over the Commonwealth.
– Look at South Australia.
– In South Australia there is an increased expenditure of £6,500.
– Of which £3,000 is to be spent in the purchase of ammunition.
– Yes. I would remind the honorable member for Wide Bay that last year recruiting was stopped upon a certain date. After an interval had elapsed, the practice was1 again authorized. When recruiting had been in progress for five or six weeks, however, it was again stopped. During that period some of the regiments had obtained all the recruits they needed, and had sworn them in ; but others had not done so. In my own case, I was a day late, with the result that I could not enrol fifty recruits until the order forbidding recruiting had been cancelled. I can assure honorable members that these Queensland Estimates have caused me a great deal of anxiety, because of the considerable increase which they show upon last year’s expenditure, quite apart from the increase upon last year’s appropriation. There is another circumstance which contributes towards keeping them a little higher than they might be. Owing to its geographical position and its area, we need to maintain more troops in Queensland in proportion to its population than we require to maintain in a State such as
South Australia, which is less disadvantageous^ situated, and which has a shorter coastline.
– That is an argument in favour of a national system.
– There are two regiments in Queensland which continue tt> be paid as militia, although their duties relate to district defence as contrasted with the duties of a field force. As honorable members are aware, the militia belong to the mobile forces, which may be moved anywhere within the Commonwealth. On the other hand, the volunteers are those to whom is allotted district defence - the infantry defence of forts, for example. I repeat that there are two regiments in Queensland which continue to be paid as militia, although their duties appertain to district defence, because it was found by my predecessors in office that great difficulties would arise if any alteration were made in that practice, it having existed for such a long period. Concerning the remarks of the honorable member for Oxley, I wish to say that the vote to which he refers appears in its present form in order that honorable members may be supplied with the fullest possible information. Colonel Price, it will be remembered, was Commandant of Queensland for some time. His term of office expired upon the 22nd October of this year. In April last he became ill, and was granted leave of absence on that account. Upon the 1st August he was retired, upon the recommendation of a Medical Board, as it was seen that he could not recover. Seeing, however, that in 1902 the Government of the day had promised him that his term of office should be extended until he reached the maximum age of 62 years, we thought it only fair - as he was retiring without any other compensation- to pay his salary up to the period when he would have relinquished his command under normal conditions. From the day that he actually retired until the date upon which he would have retired under ordinary circumstances, an allowance of 5s. per day was made to Colonel Plomer, as Acting Commandant. Even now we shall save a small sum upon that account, because Colonel Plomer is not receiving £800 a year at the present time.
Mr. HIGGINS (Northern Melbourne).I wish to know what policy the Minister intends to adopt in regard to the Field Artillery? I note that there is such a force in Queensland, but in Victoria I know that the batteries of Field Artillery have been flouted, discouraged, ignored, and disheartened. Indeed, at the present time, they are kept together only by the enthusiasm and energy of a few officers. They have no instructional staff, and no attempt is made to impart any real instruction to them. I do not know whether or not the Field Artillery is a suitable arm of defence, but if it is it should be maintained and encouraged. Either we ought to disband that force, or to treat it properly. At the present time the position is that its members have practically been told that they must ndf expect anything. The money which used to be bestowed upon them is being devoted to what is called the Australian Light Horse. No complaint is made as to the allowances provided for officers and men. The grievance is that they possess little or no appliances, and have practically no- opportunities for practice in the field, or otherwise. I know that the Minister will be told by his officials that some instruction is given to this branch of the service.
– I know something about it.
– I ask the Ministerwho I am sure is anxious to do his duty in this matter - not to rest satisfied with any report which he may obtain from his officers, but to ascertain full particulars as to what instruction is imparted.
– There are one or two points connected with these Estimates to which I wish to direct attention. In the first place, I notice that they provide for an increase of £10,416 over the expenditure of last year. It seems to me that that increase is upon right lines. If it were not for the fact that the Minister of Defence has been such a short time in office, I should ask him to supply me with figures showing what was the expenditure of last year, as compared with that during the year immediately preceding the establishment of the Commonwealth.
– I think it is very _ much less now. In the first year of the existence of the Federation, a promise was made by the Commonwealth Government to reduce the expenditure to £80,000, and it is below that sum now.
– I desired to obtain that information, because upon the 27th October, 1900, when the Queensland Government submitted their Defence Estimates to the State Parliament, they increased the total amount of the vote by more than £49,000, under the impression that the Defence Department would be a charge upon the whole population of Australia. The late Government of Queensland was constantly crying out that the Commonwealth Parliament was extravagant, and under the circumstances I think that it is wise to occasionally draw the attention of the public to the fact that the expenditure now is very much less than it was during the year immediately preceding Federation. When it was found that each State would be responsible for the expenditure upon its own transferred Departments, the Queensland Government appealed to this Parliament to cut down its Defence expenditure, and we did so. The result is that notwithstanding the increase which is proposed during the present year, the Defence expenditure in Queensland is still £20,000, or £30,000 less than it was in 1900.
– It is not low enough vet.
– I think ,’that in this, as in other matters, it is possible to be a penny wise and pound foolish. I am glad to note that a small increase is provided in connexion with the cadet forces. I wish that a similar increase obtained throughout the whole of these Estimates. In mv judgment, that force forms the basis of our whole defence system. I need scarcely remind honorable members that a little more than a year ago the Brisbane Grammar School Cadet Corps defeated all the public schools throughout the British Empire in rifle shooting. In Queensland there is another corps which has since defeated the team to which I have referred upon two occasions. The shooting of these corps, in competition with the whole of the schools of the British Empire, proves that the Australian youth is quite able to hold his own with the rifle. I think that very little is required to encourage the patriotic and martial spirit in our youths. What is learned at school is never entirely forgotten. During the South African war we had evidence that while some time was required to teach men how to shoot straight, it did not take long to render them amenable to discipline. I claim that if we teach discipline to our lads in the State schools, they will render a good account of themselves when occasion arises. A portion of this increase is due to the provision made for rifle clubs, and I think that the expenditure will be a very wise one. I proposed to say something about the necessity for the establishment of a State ammunition factory, believing that I knew something about small-arms ammunition, but, having ascertained the views of experts, I find that the opinion I expressed on a previous occasion in regard to this matter was not altogether correct. I feel, however, that there is need for very close inspection of the ammunition turned out under contract. In using the rifle I have found that the ammunition so supplied is very accurate, but we cannot exercise too much care in regard to its manufacture. There is another question to which I should like to refer, namely, the allowances in respect of horse hire. In looking over some of the regulations, I find that an officer who has to provide his own horse is allowed in some cases twice, and in others three times as much as is allowed a trooper, who often provides a far better animal. I believe that an allowance of 30s. per annum is given to some of the members of mounted infantry regiments. That is scarcely enough to pay a man to shoe a horse, and yet for this sum a trooper is expected to provide his own saddle and bridle, feed his own horse, and keep him well groomed, so that he may appear on parade in a proper condition.
– The warlike stores vote includes provision for a number of proper saddles.
– A horse must be shod at least four times a year, so that an allowance of 30s. is not more than sufficient to pay for shoeing. I suppose that a trooper’s horse will wear out as many shoes, and eat as much corn, as will a horse used by an officer, and yet there is a marked difference in the respective allowances. I should like to ask the Minister when we shall have a supply of the hew rifles which have been ordered? Through his courtesy I had an opportunity a few days ago to inspect a sample rifle, and I was satisfied that it was a good’ weapon. The sooner our troops are armed with these rifles the better. I think that it would be desirable to enter into some arrangement whereby our permanent forces would have a sufficient supply of up-to-date rifles, whilst members of rifle clubs who are arming themselves at their own expense might be able to .become possessed of the most modern weapons.
– I should like to say a word or two in reference to the Easter Encampments which are held in the different States. Volunteer forces are expected to go into camp with the partially - paid and other branches of the service at the various capitals. As the Minister is aware, many of our volunteers are work ing men. They are expected to remain in camp from three to seven days, and during the whole of that period are unable, of course, to follow their usual employment. It seems to me that, as all the other forces are paid, it is not reasonable that the volunteers should be expected to lose their employment whilst in camp without receiving seme allowance. If we had a sufficient number of people to enable us, as in England, to form yeomanry corps - consisting of men who can give the requisite time to attendance in camp - the position might be different, but, as the volunteers on whom we have to rely must attend the camp from the first day until the last, if any .good results are to follow, I think the Minister might well consider whether an. allowance should not be granted to them in respect of their attendance.
Mr. R. EDWARDS (Oxley).- I do not think that the Minister of Defence has supplied me with all the information for which I asked a few minutes ago. It appears to me that a preference-
– I must apologize to the honorable member for having overlooked that point when I was speaking.
– There are many complaints in regard to the practice of supplying officers in one branch of the services with horses, and granting them an allowance for horse-feed, whilst officers in another branch of the service have to provide their own horses, and feed them at their own expense. That is not desirable. The officers, in all branches of the service, should be treated alike, and, in order that an end may be put to the dissatisfaction to which I refer, I hope that the present system will be discontinued.
– I have to apologize to the honorable member for having overlooked the matter to which he referred in the course of the reply that I made a few minutes ago. ‘Honorable members will recollect that when the Defence Estimates were_ first put before the Commonwealth Parliament, the Treasurer caused a return to be prepared as to the allowances made to officers and others in various whys. That return was of an alarming character, and the result was that the system of consolidating the pay and allowances of all concerned was inaugurated, in order that we should know exactly what they were receiving. At that time the officers of the Royal Australian Artillery did not receive any horse allowance, .whereas other officers did. Those who had received the allowance had it consolidated with their pay, but those who had not, of course, had nothing to be consolidated with their salary. In the one case, an officer received a salary and so much in respect of horse allowance, which was practically a part of his salary, and under the new scheme, he received both amounts in the name of salary. The only alteration made was that those who had been receiving portion of their salary in the name of an allowance had it called what it ought to be. Under the new system, they receive no more than they got before.
Mr. R. EDWARDS (Oxley). - I believe, after all, that the grievance to which I refer is only imaginary, but it would be in the interest of the Defence Forces of the Commonwealth to treat all officers alike.
– We are doing so. They are all treated alike.
– I am glad to hear it. Nothing should be paid to an officer by way of allowance. All payments made to him should be by way of salary.
– That is now the position. But it must be that those officers who did not receive an allowance before the inauguration of the new system now desire that their salaries should be increased by a sum equivalent to the increased salary granted to others in lieu of allowance. In other words, they desire to obtain something which they never had before simply because others now receive something which was paid them by way of allowance under the old system. That is not reasonable. In reply to the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, I would say that I am watching the interests of the Field Artillery as well as I can, and have ordered twenty guns by cable. As regards the matter of instruction, I think I know the details of the trouble to which he refers. It is largely a Victorian difficulty, and I do not anticipate that it will continue. The honorable member for Moreton has also referred to the position of cadets. The reason that the cadet vote is not larger this year is that I find that there is really no system in existence, but I hope through the Prime Minister to be able to arrange with the States for a system applying to the whole Commonwealth. It is impossible to expect it to come into operation, however, before the beginning of the next financial year, and I have therefore avoided loading the Estimates with votes that will not be used.
– A number of private schools wish to come under the system.
– Quite so. The 5,000 new rifles which I have ordered ought to be here before the end of the year. Two months ago I cabled payment for them in reply to a cablegram which I received intimating that they were ready for delivery, and that the contractor was anxious to secure his money. They are chiefly intended for the use of the. Light Horse, and are not to replace the long magazine rifle. We do not at present propose to obtain more than the 5,000 now on order. I agree with the honorable member that a trooper’s horse will eat as much corn as will an officer’s horse. I do not profess at this moment to know the details of the particular matter to which he referred ; but I shall make inquiries in regard to it. The honorable member for Newcastle has made some observations in regard to the desirableness of paying volunteers while in camp, and I promise him that I shall look into the matter. To be frank with the Committee, however, I must say that I am afraid that financial considerations, as usual, will prove a stumbling-block to many proposals that we should otherwise desire to carry out. I have no enthusiasm in regard to getting something for nothing from any man, whether he be a private, or a colonel, but, unfortunately, we have to limit our expenses, and volunteers are volunteers, because in theory, at all events, they are supposed to have less demands made on their time than have the field forces, which are militia.
– The honorable member for Parramatta yesterday drew attention to the lack of recognition of some of the men who had served in South Africa.
– We have been proceeding on somewhat irregular lines. A series of questions has been put to the Minister, who has replied no less than three times, and I would now suggest to honorable members that they should conclude their list of inquiries before the Minister makes any further reply.
– This is a general matter. I wish to remind the Minister of the fact that early in the history of the Parliament I drew attention to the position of some of the men who had served throughout the South African war, but who had not in my opinion received the recognition they deserve.
– The honorable member is now proposing to deal with a subject which it will not be competent foi him to discuss on this division.
– Will there be another opportunity to refer to the matter?
– Yes ; the honorable member may do so on the report.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 115 (Royal Australian Artil lery), £10,257 ; division 116 (Corps of Australian Engineers), £1,700; division 117 (Ordnance Department), £2,068; division 3.18, (Rifle Range Staff), ,£110; division 119 (District Accounts and. Pay Branch), £1,490; division 120 (Instructional Staff) £7,980 ; division 121 (Militia), £25,085 ; division i2’2 (Volunteers), £831 ; division 123 (Cadet Corps), £1,270 ; division 124 (Rifle Clubs and Associations), £8,915; division 125 (Camps of Training and Schools of Instruction), £4,000 ; division 126 (Maintenance of Existing Arms and Equipment), £1,479; division 127 (Ammunition), £4,280; division 128 (Warlike Stores), £595; division 129 (General Contingencies), £4,295 .; division 130 (General Services), £514; division 131 (Postage and 7’elegratm), £400, agreed to.
South Australian Military Forces: Division 132 (District Head-Quarters Staff),
– I have very little to find fault with in the South Australian Estimates. The proposed increase of £6,545 over the expenditure of last year would be a great deal too large to pass unchallenged, if it were not for the special items by which it is accounted for. For instance, £3,510 additional is to be spent upon ammunition, which is more than half the total increase. That expenditure is absolutely necessary, because we must keep up our supply of ammunition. The other substantial increase is £1,530 for the Militia Forces. That increase, however, does not make the proposed appropriation quite as large as the appropriation for last year, and bears out the statement of the Minister of Defence in regard to the Queensland Estimates, that, as recruiting has now recommenced, we must make provision for the payment of a larger number of men. But, apart from those two items, I note a tendency, although the amounts are not very large, to increase the expense of the Permanent Staff, and to decrease the expense of what are known as the Citizen Forces. Thus, there is an increased expenditure of £869 in connexion with the
Permanent Forces, made up of a number of small items, the largest being an increase of £282 in connexion with the Instructional Staff. Does that mean that an additional instructor is to be appointed?
– No; but we are providing for the maximum salaries.
– Last year the appropriation was £2,189, and the expenditure £2,048, so that, apparently, the same appropriation this year would allow a sufficient margin. However, I do not cavil at the increase. I should not object to the appointment of an additions,! instructor. The objection taken on a previous occasion was that local men, though suitable, were not promoted to these positions. Then, in connexion with rifle clubs and associations, there is a decrease of £376.
– That is because we have been able to utilize the ammunition trust fund for the purchase of some of the ammunition required this year. I referred to the matter when speaking on the Queensland Estimates.
– Last year £260 was provided for a cadet corps, though the money was not expended, and this year no appropriation is proposed. I presume that it is not intended to take any steps for the formation of cadet corps in South Australia this year.
– I am going to take a great many steps ; but I do not expect to be able to do anything definite until the next financial year, and I was unwilling to load the Estimates with votes which will not be expended.
– I would remind the Minister of the absolute necessity of keeping down the expenditure on the Permanent Forces. Increases in that expenditure are most dangerous.
– I find that the proposed appropriation for the South Australian Instructional Staff is £2,330, while that for the Western Australian staff is £3,120, or £790 more, and for the Tasmanian staff £2,810, or £480 more. In Western Australia they have five or six more instructors than there are in South Australia.
– Prior to Federation there was practically no Defence Force in Western Australia.
– In South Australia some of the instructors are expected to do the work of two or three men.
– -The representatives of that State objected to the appointment of additional instructors.
– The ground of objection taken by the representatives of South Australia was that instructors were sent from the other States when there were competent men already in South Australia. We are highly pleased with the instructors who were sent to us ; but I see no reason why they should work harder than instructors elsewhere have to work. I should like an explanation from the Minister as to why South Australia has fewer instructors than there are in Western Australia.
– There is a wider area to cover in Western Australia.
– I think ‘ that the area in which troops are being instructed is wider in South Australia than in Western Australia, and certainly very much wider than in Tasmania.
– Western Australia is more willing to pay for instruction.
– I do not take exception to the proposed appropriation. South Australia is not paying too much for the instruction she gets.
– There are two reasons why the instructional staff of South Australia is smaller than that of Western Australia, the first being that the South Australian Forces have been longer in existence than the Western Australian Forces, and were, as a whole, in a more advanced condition, while the second is that in the last Parliament there was considerable questioning on the part of the representatives of South Australia as to the need for a large instructional staff for that State. The honorable member for Barker asked questions on the subject about once a week. In my opinion, South Australia would be the better for an increased instructional staff. One of the best ways in which we can spend our money is in making provision for instruction. The preceding and the present Government, however, have respected, so far as they could, the feeling of the representatives of South Australia in this matter; though, if I find that the instructional staff in any State is insufficient to do justice to the Forces there, I shall not hesitate to take the steps necessary to secure efficiency, and to prevent the instructors from working for unreasonably long hours.
– Their hours are unreasonable now.
– There have been complaints on the subject, but I think that the honorable member will agree with me that the causes of complaint have been, to a large extent, removed owing to statements made to me privately by representatives of the State, to which I have been glad to pay attention.
– Will the Minister tell me the names of the clerks whose salaries are provided for in subdivision 1 ?
– There is a clerk named Powell, at £120; a clerk named Fowles, at £110 ; and a recently-appointed clerk, whose name I do not know, at £65. I take him to be a youth.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 133 (Royal Australian Artillery), £2,309 ; division 134 (Corps of Australian Engineers), £239 ; division 135 (Ordnance Department), £1,610 ; division 136 (Rifle Range Staff), £110; division 137 (DistrictAccounts and Pay Branch), £610 ; division 138 (Instructional Staff), £2,330; division 139 (Militia), £13,160; division 140 (Volunteers), £1,817 > division 142 (Rifle Clubs and Associations), £2,386; division 143 (Camps of Training and Schools of Instruction), £1,800; division 144 (Maintenance of Existing Arms and Equipment), £1,400; division 145 (Ammunition), £6,585; division 146, (Warlike Stores), £50; division 147 (General Contingencies), £3780; division 148 *(General Services), £226 ; division 1.49 Postage and. Telegrams), £250, agreed to. [
Western Australian Military Forces : Division 150 (District He ad- Quarters’ Staff), £1,550; division 151 (Corps of Australian Engineers), £50 ; division 152 (Ordnance Department), £440, agreed to.
Division 153 (Rifle Range Staff), £104.
– I notice that last year £150 was provided, of which only £3 was spent, for paying markers at Karrakatta and out-stations. No provision is made for this purpose during the current year. As Karrakatta is the principal range at which rifle shooting is carried on in Western Australia, I should like to know why no sum is provided.
– In Western Australia the practice was to provide and pay for markers during the time the troops were going through their musketry course. In Victoria and in some of the other States the wholesome practice followed was to require the troops to do their own marking. The men took it in turns to mark, as a part of the work for which they received pay. That practice is now being followed in all the States.
– Is this practice universal throughout the Commonwealth ?
– I believe so. At any rate, I hold a definite opinion that it should be universal.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 154 (District Accounts and Pay Branch), £450; division 155 (Instructional Staff), £3,120, agreed to.
Division 156 (Militia), £7,806.
– I should like to know whether the Minister is able to hold out any hope of an addition being made to the Light Horse in Western Australia. Only one regiment is provided for at present, whereas in South Australia provision is made for two regiments. I am informed that there is a strong desire in Western Australia that two regiments should be formed, and I know the reorganization scheme is sufficiently elastic to allow of this being done when necessary. It is desired that a second regiment should be formed at some centre along the Great Southern Railway, such as Katanning. Although I do not ask the Minister to make provision in this direction at present, I shall be glad if. he can assure us that he will consider the desirableness of making provision for a second regiment of Light Horse in Western. Australia upon the next Estimates. It must be remembered that the population of Western Australia has considerably increased since the reorganization scheme was formulated.
– I should like to know from the Minister whether there would be any chance of securing the establishment of a troop of Light Horse in the Bendigo district. I have been informed that a troop of at least 100 men could be very easily raised at Bendigo, and I wish to know whether the present organization is of such a character as to permit provision tobe made in that direction. I believe that a similar troop could be raised at Geelong.
– I may explain to the right honorable member for Swan, and the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, that the General Officer Commanding prepared a scheme in which he made what he considered the necessary provision for the defence of Australia on the basis of the strategical propositions laid down. He then mapped out the various States in order to arrive at a territorial basis, which is the fundamentally correct one to adopt, for the distribution of the forces. The regiments were raised upon the territorial system, and in each State he provided for what he considered to be sufficient troops. If a second regiment of Light Horse were raised in Western Australia, the expenditure in that State would be considerably increased. I promise to look into the matter, and see what can be done ; but I must not be taken to mean that I will adopt the right honorable member’s suggestion.
– The extra expense will amount to only about £500 per annum.
– It will be more than that. As regards the matter mentioned by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, I do not think it would be wise to depart from the territorial basis in connexion with the raising of Light Horse regiments.
– Not when the population has increased.
– An increase of population does not necessarily call tor an increase in the Defence Force, because, holding in view purely strategical considerations, a small force may be sufficient. I cannot charge my memory with all the details of the Defence scheme, but I know that Bendigo, together with Ballarat and other populous centres, is regarded as a recruiting ground for Infantry rather than for Light Horse, and the honorable and learned member for Bendigo will understand that it would not be desirable to interfere with the effectiveness of that particular branch of the Defence Forces, to which Bendigo so excellently contributes. I shall, however, look into the matter.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 157 (Volunteers), £2,369, agreed to.
Division 159 (Rifle Clubs and Associations), £6,400.
– Provision is made in this division for an efficiency allowance at 5s. per efficient, amounting to £250. That would provide for 1,000 efficients, and I desire to know whether that is the limit of the allowance for the rifle clubs in Western Australia. In South Australia, provision is made upon the same scale for 2,800 efficients, and I am quite sure that if reasonable facilities were given in Western Australia, we should soon have quite as large a membership in our rifle clubs. I hope that the Minister realizes the advantage to be gained by offering every opportunity for the development of our rifle club system.
– We call upon the States staffs to furnish us with estimates as to the number of members of rifle clubs who are likely to qualify during the year, and upon their reports calculate the efficiency allowance. Of course, if more men than are provided for on the Estimates become entitled to the allowance, we shall have no hesitation in asking Parliament to make the necessary extra provision. No one will be more pleased than myself if the Estimates for Western Australia are exceeded in this item.
– I desire to know the meaning of the allowance made last year at the rate of 2s. 6d. per member.
– That was for only a halfyear. Every rifleman is entitled to an allowance of 5s. if he complies with certain conditions with respect to the musketry course.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 160 (Camps of Training and Schools of Instruction), £1,800; division 161 (Maintenance of Existing Arms and Equipment), £629, agreed to.
Division 162 (Ammunition), £1,620.
– I notice that there has been a considerable reduction in the vote for ammunition. Last year £3,400 was spent, whilst this year it is proposed to appropriate only £1,620. Perhaps the Minister will explain.
– We estimate very carefully the ammunition requirements of each State for the year. First of all, we make provision for a certain reserve stock, and our reserves are complete and in a most satisfactory condition. I do not think it would be desirable to state publicly the actual quantity in hand, but I can assure honorable members that it is ample for all requirements. We estimate that the State of Western Australia will require to use so much ammunition, and we provide upon the votes a sufficient sum to replace the quantity taken from the reserves during the vear. Western Australia happens to have more than the quantity necessary to constitute a safe reserve, and therefore we shall not be required to replace every round that is fired during the current year.
– Apparently, last year the reserve was short.
– Probably, it was. However, it is made up now, and it will be maintained.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 163 (Warlike Stores), £1,250; division 164 (General Contingencies), £2,740; division 165 (General Services), £585; division 166 (Postage and Telegrams), £200, agreed to.
Tasmanian Military Forces : Division 167 (District Head-Quarters Staff), £1,435.
Mr.McWILLIAMS (Franklin).-It is well known to most honorable members - certainly it is to the Minister - that for some considerable time the Tasmanian Defence Forces have occupied a very unsatisfactory position. I am reluctant to bring this matter forward because I am not unmindful of the fact that some time ago the then Tasmanian Government approached the Minister of Defence with a request that the Tasmanian volunteers should not be placed upon the same footing as their confreres upon the mainland. The Commonwealth Government acquiesced in that desire, and I am sorry to say that the result has been most disastrous to the Defence Forces of the island State. Now, I find that it is proposed to pay those forces only from the 1st January, 1905, despite the fact that early in the present session I obtained from the. then Minister of Defence, che honorable member for Eden-Monaro, a written memorandum to the effect that they would be paid from the 1st July last. That memorandum I submitted to officers of the Defence Force in Tasmania.
– The same assurancewas given in this House by the right honorable member for Swan.
– I visited Tasmania for the express purpose of endeavouring to bring about a settlement of this difficulty. I handed the memorandum to which I have referred to certain officers of the Tasmanian Defence Force, and I have no doubt that if the records are searched, a copy of it will be forthcoming. I regret to have to say that the volunteers of Tasmania regard the non-fulfilment of that promise as a distinct breach of faith on the part of the Commonwealth Government. Personally, I wish to thank the present Minister of Defence for having given me his assurance that he will visit Tasmania as early as possible during the recess, with a view to removing the friction which now exists, and to placing the forces of that State upon a satisfactory basis. It is not creditable to us to reflect that when the Governor of Tasmania arrived there a few days ago it was not practicable to obtain a proper guard of honour, exclusive of cadets. There were not available men in the Defence Force in the southern portion of the island to form a proper guard of honour to receive His Excellency. At the same time, it must be admitted that the members of the Defence Force of Tasmania have been very longsuffering. For many years the volunteers gave their services to the State gratuitously. Indeed, there are quite a number who are entitled to long-service medals, solely in their capacity as volunteers. Honorable members are aware that when the General Officer Commanding visited that State, some time since, an order was given that the men should attend a parade ; but, owing to a considerable amount of misunderstanding, and to some dissatisfaction, the volunteer forces failed to obey the order. The result was that a whole regiment was wiped out of existence. Of course, I recognise that discipline must be maintained, and I have never attempted to urge that, in acting as they did, the men did not commit a grave error of judgment. But in that connexion it should be recollected that they had ground for very serious complaint in that they had been treated differently from their comrades upon the . mainland. Indeed, the promise to place them upon the same footing as the Defence Forces of the other States has been made so often - and its redemption so long deferred - that they have come to regard its non-fulfilment as an absolute breach of faith on the part of the Commonwealth Government. I am aware that the action of the Government was actuated by a desire to study the finances of Tasmania. I am not anxious to increase the burdens of that State, but I say that when a pledge is deliberately given it should be adhered to, otherwise the Defence Forces of Tasmania cannot be expected to repose any confidence in. the administration of the Department. There is another matter to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister. Rightly or wrongly, the idea exists in Tasmania that those who framed the conditions of our defence system had an eye upon the speedy transference of militia to the mainland in case of emergency. Unfortunately there are two ends to Tasmania, and from time to time there has existed - not unnaturally - a certain amount of rivalry between them-. In the State Parliament we always endeavoured to sur mount that difficulty by dividing the Defence vote as equitably as possible between the north and the south. In my opinion it would be a very good thing if the Minister endeavoured to give effect to that system. Not more than four or five hours would be occupied in conveying troops from Hobart to Launceston - if their services were required - or vice versa. Before concluding, I wish specially to emphasize the point to which I have previously directed attention, namely, that there has been an absolute breach of faith on the part of the Commonwealth Government with the Tasmanian Defence Forces. I ask the Minister, in view of the circumstances which I have narrated, to give me some assurance that this matter will be considered. I have no desire to obstruct the progress of the Estimates. I merely wish to see even-handed justice administered, and to insure that a. pledge which was deliberately given in this House shall be respected.
– I am indebted to the honorable member for Franklin for having called attention to this- item during my .temporary absence from the Chamber. I think that he has said enough to induce Ministers to review this vote for the current year. He has conclusively proved that a distinct promise was made in connexion with the payment of the Tasmanian Defence Forces. The pledge was given by Ministers through me in Hobart last year that in future the Forces of Tasmania should, in the matter of payment for their services, be placed upon the same footing as those of the mainland.. It was the original intention of the right honorable member for Swan to include in last year’s Estimates a sum of about £5,000 in excess of that which had previously been voted for that purpose. But, owing to very strong representations on the part of the Premier of Tasmania, supported by the Treasurer and myself, and in view of the financial position of Tasmania, the amount in question was written off. Our action produced an immense amount of dissatisfaction, which culminated in the unfortunate disbandment of one regiment, owing to its disregard of a call to duty. I find that the sum of £1,500 has been placed upon the Estimates this year, as a sort of half redemption of the promise to which I have referred. That £1,500 is to be expended in paying the Tasmanian Defence -Forces from the 1st January next. If the promises of Ministers are respected, that amount will not be doubled to cover the expenditure for the year, because the full complement of men will not be enrolled, and consequently the vote may be increased by only £700 or £800. The representatives of Tasmania have every right to ask the Government to keep faith with the Defence Forces of that State by amending this item. I trust that the Minister will see his way clear to place the Tasmanian Defence Force upon the same footing as that of the mainland from the 1st of July last.
– It is refreshing to hear the honorable member for Denison now pleading that these men should be paid, although, as a member of a former Government, he did not do anything to bring about this much-needed reform.
– I took action to prevent the payment being made at the time.
– Mr. Hartnoll, who was a representative of Tasmania in the last Parliament, made an earnest plea for the payment of these troops. He certainly made out a good case in support of his contention, that there should be no discrimination in dealing with the forces on the mainland and in Tasmania. On that occasion he received the support of the whole Committee.
– It was then a question of studying economy in the interests of Tasmania.
– It is, to say the least, peculiar, that we should be asked to economize in such a way as to prevent the payment of Commonwealth Forces in one State, while those in the other States are paid. There was almost a rebellion in Tasmania last year, and the right honorable member for Swan, who was then Minister of Defence, said that the demand . made by the men ought to be investigated. Shortly afterwards the right honorable member was succeeded’ as Minister of Defence by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who took certain steps, with the result that many of the men were dismissed, and some of them were deprived of their military rights. The honorable member for Denison knew of the dissatisfaction which existed among the men, when he was a member of the Deakin Government.
– We had to ‘study economy for the sake of the State.
– We shall have a serious state of affairs, if for the sake of economy we are to run the risk of a rebellion. The right honorable member for Swan, as Minister of Defence, said that these troops would be paid if the necessary vote were granted. The money was voted, and now we have the astounding statement by the honorable member for Franklin that payment is not to be made until January of next year. If we are going to break faith with the men how can we expect them to render us loyal service? Several residents of Tasmania tell me that the Defence Forces in Tasmania are in an absolutely rotten state. I trust that the Minister of Defence will give the matter his serious attention. Only a few days ago, when the new Governor of Tasmania arrived it was found impossible to provide him with a guard of honour, and the school children had to be called out. It was a gala day for the boys, and no doubt the Governor appreciated their action, but the position is very unsatisfactory. I am surprised that the honorable member for Denison should now ask that these troops shall be paid, although, as a Minister, he did all he could to prevent the adoption of that course. The necessary vote was passed last year, and yet it is not proposed to pay them until January next.
– It was not voted last year.
– I should like to know whether it would not be possible to pay the men as from the 1st July last. If they have made themselves efficient the sooner we heal the old sore the better it will be, not only for Tasmania, but for the whole Commonwealth.
– When the Estimates for Tasmania were first put before me, on my taking office as Minister of Defence, I observed that there was a considerable increase in the proposed vote. Notwithstanding that fact, on my first review of these Estimates, I kept on them a vote for the whole year in respect of the infantry forces as well as the others in order that the men might be paid as from 1st July last, and placed on an equal footing with the Forces in the . rest of the Commonwealth. But, as honorable members know, financial exigencies often drive one to a course which he would not otherwise pursue, and I thought I would endeavour to compromise by making the infantry allowance payable from 1st January next. I was not then aware that any definite promise had been made, although I freely admit that the men had been led to believe that, if possible, this provision would be made for them. Subsequent to the preparation and circulation of the Estimates, a number of the representatives of Tasmania informed me of various facts with which I had not been previously acquainted. I was informed by the honorable member for Franklin that a definite promise had been made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, as Minister of Defence, that the payment should be made in respect of the current financial year, while the honorable member for Denison informed me that he had the authority of .the Cabinet, of which he was a member, to make a similar promise to the men. That naturally placed a different complexion on the matter, and I felt that even financial exigencies, unless overpowering, must yield to the keeping of faith by the Government. As soon as this information was conveyed to me, I immediately set to work - without waiting for the Estimates of my Department to be reached - to specially investigate those relating to Tasmania. I consulted with my Department, and also with my colleagues in the Cabinet with regard to this matter, and I believe that I shall be able, without any great increase in the Estimates of Tasmania, to keep the promise that was apparently made to the men. I, therefore, now desire to assure the Committee, and more especially ,the representatives of Tasmania, that I shall pay the militia infantry as from 1st July of the current year, instead of from 1st January of next year. I am hopeful that, as the result of savings which I may be able to effect in other parts of the Tasmanian Estimates, I shall be able to pay this infantry regiment from 1st July last, without any increase, or, at all events, without any substantial increase, in the total vote. I and my colleagues felt that, as the promise had been made so very definitely - and not merely in the way of holding out a hope that the men would be paid this year, if possible - the Government was bound, except in the face of the gravest objection, to carry it out and keep faith with the men. I trust that honorable members will accept my assurance that this will be done without requiring any postponement or readjustment of the Estimates at the present time.
– What is the strength of the Forces in Tasmania?
– We provide for 509 infantry - the regular strength of an infantry regiment in time of peace in Australia. These are the men concerned. With regard to the remarks made by the honorable member for Franklin as to the distribution of the partially-paid and volunteer forces, in some reasonable degree of equality, over the various parts of Tasmania, I must say that I am obliged to him for the suggestion, and I shall see how far it will be possible to comply with what is not an unreasonable local feeling in various parts of that State. Knowing that there have been difficulties in Tasmania, largely owing to the financial exigencies of the State itself, I propose, if I am still in the fortunate position of being able to administer the Department, to proceed to Tasmania either at the end of this year or early next year, in order that I may become acquainted on the spot with all the facts relating to the position of the Forces there. I feel sure that by visiting Tasmania I shall be better able to deal with the matters that are in question than I should be if I remained in Melbourne and merely obtained reports and official documents from the State. When we meet the House at the beginning of next session, I hope that I shall be able to say that, so far as the Defence Forces are concerned, matters in Tasmania are in a completely satisfactory state.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 168 (Royal Australian Artillery), £1,227; division 169 (Corps of Australian Engineers), £230; division 170 (Ordnance Department), £715; division 171 (District Accounts and Pay Branch), £330 ; division 172 (Instructional Staff), £2,180; division 173 (Militia), £5,950; division 174 (Volunteers), £2,119; division 175 (Cadet Corps), £200 ; division 176 (Rifle Clubs and Associations), £764; division 177 (Camps of Training and Schools of Instruction), £1,000; division 178 (Maintenance of Existing Arms and Equipment), £900 ; division 179 (Ammunition), £1,846; division 180 (Warlike Stores), £1,500; division 181 (General Contingencies), £1,625 ; division 182 (General Services), £246 ; division 183 (Postage and Telegrams), £150, agreed to.
Postmaster- General’s Department .
Division 184 (Central Staff), £5,447.
– I think that the Minister should let us know something about the- intentions of the Government in regard to the positions of Deputy PostmastersGeneral, which have just become vacant, Or are about to become vacant, at Perth, Sydney, and Adelaide. We should know, not merely how the Government propose to fill the vacancies, but what salaries they propose to allot to the officers whom they will appoint. As the Committee is doubtless aware, some of the higher officials in the service recently discovered that the Public Service Commissioner could not interfere with their offices, or grade their salaries, and that being so, the duty of fixing the salaries to be attached to these offices is thrown upon the Ministry. If the officials who found the loop-hole in the Public Service Act, gave equal scrutiny to minor matters in the Act and regulations, they would find, in the regulations at any rate, a great deal which, in my humble judgment, is ultra vires. The proposed appropriation for the Deputy PostmasterGeneral in New South Wales remains at £920, but I think that the feeling of the Committee is that these high salaries should be considerably reduced. I do not say that the gentleman who has been filling the position in New South Wales is not a very worthy and able man, but the salary attached to the office was fixed at a time when the person holding it dealt directly with the Postmaster-General of his State, and was responsible for matters of administration which now occupy the attention of the Central Staff. Now that these offices are becoming vacant, a proper and reasonable opportunity is afforded for reconsidering the value of the services to be performed toy their holders. If we do not reduce those high salaries, we shall leave ourselves open to the charge, which has often been levelled against the Federal Parliament, of doing nothing to decrease expenditure. I think that we should now make a beginning, and thus justify the hope which the people entertained, that Federation would lead to the administration of this Department in a more economical manner. What gain would there be from the transference of the States Departments to the Commonwealth if the higher officials in the service continued to draw the large salaries which were allotted to them when they had greater responsibilities? I do not wish to disparage the occupants of those offices ; but it must be obvious to, the Minister that their responsibilities are not so great, and that their duties are not so heavy, as when they were directly responsible to the Postmasters-General of the States. Their work has been much simplified, their responsibilities have been diminished, and therefore there is no justification for continuing to pay to them the high salaries which have hitherto prevailed, and for which provision is made on these Estimates.
– I hope that the Minister will consider the suggestion of the honorable member for Cool gardie. As has been pointed out by him, it was hoped that under Federation the transference of the Postal Departments of the States to the Commonwealth would lead to a reduction in expenditure, and an increase in efficiency. The honorable member for Coolgardie has pointed out that the officers in the Central Office now do a great deal qf the work which was formerly done by the heads of the State Departments. Seeing that the latter have had a great deal of responsibility removed from them, the Minister should consider whether it is fair to ask the Commonwealth to continue, to pay the high salaries which were paid prior to Federation. I do not advocate the payment of lower salaries than are earned, but I should like to hear some justification for the proposal to continue the present salaries. As fresh appointments are to be made, there is now a reasonable opportunity for reviewing the duties and responsibilities of these offices. Another matter upon which I should like the Minister to give the Committee some information is the system of requiring guarantees for the installation of telephones. In some cases guarantees have been demanded from large towns, the business of which was obviously sufficient to pay working expenses and interest on the cost of construction. I know several instances in which the subsequent working of the telephone system provided has shown that the guarantee required was absolutely unnecessary. I do not ask for the abolition of the guarantee system, because the Department must be run on business lines, but I think that the larger centres of population should be asked to contribute in some measure towards the cost of improving the facilities of communication of those who live in outlying districts. Our desire is that our population shall not centre entirely in our large cities, but that people shall go out into the country, and settle it. Where that happens, the community is under an obligation to keep the settlers as much as possible in touch with their markets, and to make their conditions of life as easy as possible. There are two townships in my electorate, Pittsworth and Clifton, which are farming centres, and which, judging by the settlement which is now going on around them, show every likelihood of becoming large - permanent townships. I think that the Minister, in considering the position of such places, should not insist on a guarantee if his officers report that their business will, if not immediately, in the future, ade- quately remunerate the Department for any expenditure on telephones. When a guarantee is required, it is often hard to obtain, and the demand for it provokes irritation. What happens is that some energetic individual has to constitute himself a commercial agent for his fellow townsfolk, and go round collecting subscriptions to make up the amount. The Minister has already given attention to the question of cheapening the construction of telephone lines, so as to reduce in some instances the guarantee asked for. I should like him to look into the whole question, and see if he cannot confer a great benefit on country districts by allowing a further reduction.
– My complaint against- the Department is that the red-tape bureaucracy of the Commonwealth paralyzes energy, and demoralizes efficiency. Nothing can be done until about fifteen or twenty heads of Departments have been consulted. The PostmasterGeneral is a man of experience, who knows the requirements of those who live in isolated parts of the country, and is prepared to see justice done. But if I ask for the establishment of a post-office anywhere, the matter has to be referred to the head of the Department in Hobart, who instructs some one else in some other place - only the Creator knows where - to inquire into the matter. He reports to some one else, and that person reports to Hobart, and Hobart in its turn reports to the Department’ in Melbourne, and the Department to the Postmaster-General, who, by the time the matter is placed before him, has become almost as demoralized as the administration which he controls. I have heard a great deal about the system of changing men which prevails in America, but the Lord deliver me from the Australian system, and give me the America’! system.
– The United States system, or the Canadian system?
– I do not care which. Letters sent to me from Tasmania have reached me five or six days afterwards, when they were of no value to me; but I have not complained. I suggest to ‘the Postmaster-General, however, that in transferring postmasters and other officials he should transfer from one State to another. New brooms sweep clean, and if Victorians went to Tasmania they might stir up the Tasmanians, while if Tasmanians come to- Melbourne they will be sure to make a stir here. Owing to intermarriages in Australia, every man has so many relations that you cannot step on any one’s toes without wounding the sensibilities of hundreds of others. It would be better to place an absolute stranger in such a position- -one who would not be affected by any attempts at bulldozing or intimidation. . I admit that the Postmaster-General has kindly endeavoured to help me in securing a satisfactory mail service for the inhabitants of King Island. He has promised to do everything he can to meet their requirements. There are upon that island 600 or 700 Britishers - wh’ite men, with white skins and white hearts - and I think that they are entitled to more consideration than are the residents of the New Hebrides, who are entirely beyond our ^borders. The PostmasterGeneral has also endeavoured to provide a better mail service for the residents of Camp Creek and other places where Britishers live, who are descendants of the men who won Waterloo and Trafalgar for England. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will adopt the plan of sending a responsible officer to investigate all such cases as those referred to. I admit that in Tasmania we have many capable and energetic officers, but I think that the introduction of a little new blood ls often a very good thing. I trust that the Minister will pay due consideration to the suggestions I have made.
– I regret being under the necessity of bringing before the Committee a matter which has been frequently mentioned by me. I refer to Hie subletting of mail contracts by Mr. Vines, who carries on business under the name of Cobb and Co. There were forty-one of these contracts in all. After attention had been directed in this Chamber to the circumstances under which the contracts were being carried out, Mr. Vines was notified that within a certain time he would have to transfer all the contracts to the men who were doing the work, and who were receiving in some instances less than half the’ money that the Government were paying for the services rendered. This action was taken by the late Postmaster-General, with the perfect approval of honorable members, and the present Postmaster-General has adhered closely to the decision of his predecessor. A new development has arisen, however, and I think that some action should be taken in regard to it. Honorable members may recollect the case of a man named Leviston, who was a subcontractor under Mr. Vines, for carrying on the mail service between Rokewood and Ballarat. Mr. Vines received from the Government in respect to that service £160, but paid _,eviston c only £72 per annum. Mr. Vines, after receiving notice from the Postmaster-General, transferred all these contracts but two, one of the- exceptions being that which was being carried out by Leviston. He waited on Leviston, and asked him, in the event of the contract being transferred to him, to sign a sub-agreement which -would entitle him to receive £108 per annum for doing the work for which Vines was to draw £160. Leviston was also requested to give Mr. Vines authority to draw the money from the Department until the termination of the contract. Let it be said, to the honour of Mr. Leviston, wthat he refused to do anything of the kind. The matter was brought under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral, who gave Mr. Vines notice that unless the contract was transferred within so many days it would be forfeited. He disregarded the notice, and the contract was forfeited. Shortly after this took place Mr. Vines served a notice on Leviston, through a Ballarat solicitor named McGowan, claiming £50 for breach of contract. Mr. Leviston, who is still conducting the mail service, upon making an application to Mr. Vines for his last monthly payment of £6, met with a refusal, upon the ground that he had broken his contract. I have every reason to believe that not one of the former subcontractors to whom the contracts have now been transferred are receiving the full amount which is being paid by the Department. I do not think we should allow what was practically a decision on our part to be disregarded in that manner.
– If the matter is the subject of legal proceedings, why does the honorable member refer to it at this stage?
– Because I think that some action should be taken in regard to it. We should not allow a man to suffer because he had the moral courage to resist an attempt to make him sign an agreement which was intended to defeat the object the Postmaster-General had in view in requiring the transfer of the contracts. Further, I think that we should cause the fullest inquiry to be made into the conditions under which all the contracts were transferred. I believe that inquiry would reveal the fact that not one of these men are receiving the amount which the Government are paying for the carriage of mails. It is immaterial to me who carries the mails, but I hold that those who perform the work should receive the money which we pay for it. I shall certainly not rest content until this matter has been further investigated. . Does not the Postmaster-General think that Mr. Leviston is entitled to be paid for the work which he performed during the last month? Does he imagine that this man who has the back-bone to resist the demands of such a strong company, should be’ victimized, or that he should be compelled to incur expense in defending his case in a court of justice? Mr. Leviston did not break this contract. The PostmasterGeneral broke it. If Mr. Vines should proceed against any person, it is against the Postmaster-General. But he has not the courage to do that. He prefers to select a poor man whom he has been sweating during the past two-and-a-half years.
An Honorable Member. - Sweating?
– Mr. Vines has been drawing £70 or £80 a year for doing nothing, whilst Mr. Leviston received an equal amount for doing all the work.
– Perhaps Mr. Vines is losing money upon other contracts.
– That sort of argument has been used previously in an attempt to justify this iniquitous system. Seeing that Mr. Vines has been relieved of the penalties which would have followed the cancellation of -the contracts - there were forty-one of them altogether - he should not be allowed by the Postmaster-General to appropriate the whole of the payment for last month for which he did no work whatever. From a private conversation which I have had with the Minister, I gather that he is of opinion that this matter is one between Mr. Vines and’ Mr. Leviston. I do not share that view at all. These contracts had to be transferred upon a certain date. They were not so transferred. If Mr. Leviston had signed an agreement to do the work for £108, Mr. Vines would have transferred the contract in question. But because he refused to do so, the Postmaster-General was placed in the position of having to forfeit the contract. If the PostmasterGeneral can suggest any way out of the difficulty, I shall be very glad; If not. I shall insist upon instituting an inquiry into the whole business, with a view to ascertaining how much Mr. Vines is getting. In this case, he was attempting to obtain by means of a sub-agreement, the difference between £108 and £160. Had he been successful, he would practically have thwarted the decision of the late PostmasterGeneral, which has been supported by the present occupant of that office. Yet we are asked to allow that decision to be ignored, and to permit an innocent man, who declines to sign a sub-agreement, to be victimized. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will devise, some means of supporting Mr. Leviston. I repeat that the men who perform the work of carrying our mails should receive the full amount. that is paid for that service. When I first brought this matter forward, I did not know Mr. Leviston. My information was derived from another individual. Subsequently, however, I appealed to Mr. Leviston to supply me with evidence in support of my statement, and thereupon he candidly narrated the whole of the facts. If I cannot obtain satisfaction in any other way, I shall move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into this case, and into others, in the interests of economy. I believe that such an inquiry would result in nothing but good to the Commonwealth. I am sure that the Committee will not tolerate Mr. Vines drawing some £1,500 or £2,000 annually from the Commonwealth for doing nothing ‘but lending his signature to mail contracts. I shall content myself with what I have said upon this matter, and perhaps at a later stage I shall have something to add to my present remarks.
– I wish strongly to support the position taken up by the honorable member for Grey. The cases which have been cited show that our postal contracts filter through’ quite an unnecessary number of middlemen. We have recently heard a good deal in reference to trusts and monopolies. I claim that the firm to which reference has Been made enjoys a monopoly. I remember that many years ago Messrs. Cobb and Co. not only carried passengers on their coaches for nothing, but provided them with a good dinner at the end of their journey. They did that, not in the interests of the passengers, but in order that they might run other competitors off the road. If it suited that company to do so, they would offer cheap trips to the public now. In the present instance it is admittedly difficult to obtain the facts, but I think that inquiry would show that in connexion with many of our mail contracts a preference is given to these powerful companies.
– Is it not possible for the sub-contractors to tender upon their own behalf?
– The sub-contractors do the whole of the work. They even provide all the plant, and should therefore be given the contracts. It very frequently happens, however, that these large companies threaten that if they tender for a contract they will be run off the road. The PostmasterGeneral is a member of a Government which believes in competition, and therefore I hold that he should take steps to prevent the establishment of monopolies. In other Departments of the State, I am aware that sub-contracting has obtained. I remember a case in New South Wales in which a contractor for the construction of certain roads had sublet his contracts to Chinamen, and was pocketing sufficient profit to provide himself with a good living throughout the year. I brought the case under the attention of Parliament, and established the fact that the local inspector had been deceived in regard to the matter. I would urge that, in the interests of the Department itself, a full inquiry should be made, not only into this case, but into all others of a similar character. The company in question could be punished by the Department absolutely refusing in future to grant them any contract. The Government need fear no difficulty in finding others ready to carry out the work. This company has simply been resorting to the old dodge of securing a monopoly of the road. Their tactics may not be known to the Department, but if inquiries be made on the spot, they will be readily disclosed. I do not say that the Department itself is to blame for this state of affairs.
– We could not prevent their trying to run competitors off the road.
– We can prevent them from adopting unfair tactics by refusing to allow them in future to take contracts for these services. We know that there is a great deal of commercial immorality, but there is no reason why the State should encourage anything of the kind. It is quite in keeping with the tactics hitherto employed by Mr. Vines, that he should endeavour to punish the individual who told the truth in regard to the contract to which reference has been made by the honorable member for Grey.
– He is at liberty to charge what fares he pleases.
– It is the business of the Government to see that justice is done.
– It is our duty to see that no one is robbed. The Government have no right to let tenders to a man who, to their knowledge, is subletting them. In the case under notice, Vines receives £160 per annum for carrying out the service, and has sublet his contract to a man who does the work for £72 per annum. Surely we ought not to be a party to such a proceeding. The right honorable member for Swan by his interjections would lead the Committee to assume that he is in favour of the practice pursued by this individual.
– We should remedy the trouble by letting the contracts separately
– In many cases separate contracts may be let ; but, in order to allow full effect to be given to the system which the right honorable member suggests, it will be necessary for us to take steps to prevent boycotting by powerful companies. Sometimes coaching companies resort to various devices to shut out competition, and render it impossible for a man of limited means to take up a contract. I agree with the views expressed by the honorable member for Grey, and urge that the inspectors of the Department should make a searching inquiry Before the time comes round for calling fresh tenders. We ought to be able to effect great savings by letting contracts direct to those to whom they have been previously sublet at a profit by the original contractor.
– But we ought” to do something in regard to this particular case.
– I agree with the honorable member. The sub-contractor has been victimized, and the Department, which has full power to deal with the company, ought to protect him. I have on previous occasions entered a protest against the policy pursued by the Department in dealing with applications for postal facilities for outlying settlements. I refer more particularly to the attempt to make residents of rural districts pay for the carriage of their mails. The policy to which I object has been in force practically since the establishment of the Commonwealth, and I should like to know what is the view of the PostmasterGeneral in regard to it. The conditions of life in the remote parts of the Con> monwealth are not by any means attractive, and anything that can be done to encourage the people to develop the country should be cheerfully undertaken. In the central division of New South Wales, the vast sheep areas of olden days are giving way to agricultural holdings and sheep-farms, and the people who are settling on the land in this way deserve to be provided with reasonable postal facilities. In many cases the Department has refused an application for a mail for a particular district, unless the persons concerned are prepared to .pay for it. When an application for a mail service for a settlement is made, an official of the Department is called upon to make a report, and he usually informs the Minister that only a small number of letters are likely to be carried, although, how he ‘arrives at his calculation it is difficult to understand. A certain sum is set apart by the Department for the carriage of mails in scattered districts, and if the local residents cannot induce any one to do the work for the money so provided, they have to supplement the grant out of their own pockets. Under the collective method on which our postal system is supposed to be- conducted, I hold that the profits made in large postal centres should go .towards making good any loss in the carrying of mails to outlying districts. I do not say that the Department should be expected to deliver mails to every individual in the country ; we do not ask for a letter delivery in the back-blocks; but we do say that reasonable postal facilities should be afforded. I was pleased to read a statement in the press the other day to the effect that the Postmaster-General is considering the desirableness of providing some cheaper method of telephonic communication ; and I should like to know whether he has made any headway with his scheme. As in the case of the mail service, too much economy has been practised by the Department in dealing with applicants for telephonic communication. A settlement with a population of 500 or 600 is fairly entitled to be connected with the telephone system, on the understanding that as the business grows the wires may be utilized for a telegraphic service. There are two settlements in my own electorate having a population of 600 or 700 each, and the residents enjoy practically every convenience except that of a post-office. They have neither mail nor telephonic communication, and the Depart- ment refuses to supply them with a mail service unless the residents give a certain guarantee. These are two typical cases. The settlements in question are on mining fields, which give every indication of becoming permanent ; but the townspeople for the most part are miners, and have no means of raising the necessary funds, with the result that they have to suffer for want of mail communication. I am not complaining of the general principle that when telephonic communication is desired by the people of a small town or settlement, interest on the cost of erecting the line should be guaranteed ; but I say that the Department goes to extremes. Considerable savings have been effected by the refusal of the Department in many cases to build new post-offices, and also by having what are known as unofficial post-offices. In some cases a saving of £200 or £300 per annum is made by having an unofficial instead of an official post-office. A miserable pittance is paid to those who carry out the service, for many persons are ready to undertake the work for a trifling remuneration, believing that it will benefit them in other directions. The savings being made in this way should’ be sufficient to enable the Department to connect such post-offices by telephone, and I feel confident that the business would be more than sufficient to pay interest on the cost of the construction of the line. I am speaking entirely of the position of affairs in the back country. It would be ridiculous, of course, to say that a telephone service should be provided for every man who asks for it, at the expense of the rest of the community; but I repeat that the Department is refusing applications that might well be considered. I hope that the policy of the Department in regard to both the mail and the telephone service will be more liberal than it has been. Mining settlements sometimes spring up very rapidly, and must reach a stage when it will be absolutely necessary to provide them with official post-offices. My contention is that before that stage is reached the Department should, be prepared to connect such settlements with the telephone system, and that the wires could ultimately be devoted to the purposes of a telegraphic service. No loss would be occasioned by the adoption of this practice. The pressing demands that are being made for the erection of new postoffices are due to the fact that it is only in this way that the people of many settlements can hope to secure the facili ii k ties that they really require. I bone that the Postmaster-General will look into these matters, for they certainly deserve to receive his immediate attention. The matter to which the honorable member for Coolgardie has referred, namely, the reconsideration of the salaries of the DeputyPostmastersGeneral who are retiring, should be dealt with by the Minister. This is certainly the right time to review the work of those officials, to ascertain whether it justifies the continuance of the high salaries which were fixed for their offices by the States. The people expected that under Federation there would be a saving in the cost of administering the Postal Department, and while we have no desire to be other than liberal in fixing the salaries of offices which only able men can fill, consideration must be given to the fact that the responsibilities and duties attaching to these offices are not so great now as they were prior to Federation. The Minister might give us some information as to how the classification scheme affects these positions, and express his opinion as to whether there should not be a limit fixed which should not be exceeded.
– I listened very carefully to the remarks of the honorable member for Grey in regard to the case of subletting to which he has drawn attention, and while he has my sympathy, I do not see how the Minister can interfere in the matter. He cannot write to one of the parties and tell him not to sue the other, nor can he ask the Law Courts not to interfere. It would therefore be very foolish to attempt any interference. If Money has been paid te Mr., Vines which should have been paid to Mr. Leviston, I do not see how the Minister can interfere.
– At his own request, the Government agreed not to cancel his contracts, provided he would transfer them.
– If the Government have illegally paid money to Mr. Vines instead of to Mr. Leviston, the latter can sue the Department.
– Would the honorable member support a motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the whole matter?
– I am prepared to support an inquiry into the whole question of sub-contracting ; but I do not wish to try to force the Minister to do what he is powerless to do. My complaint against him is, not only that he has allowed sub-contracting, and in that way has connived at sweating, but that he has been responsible for the direct sweating of a contractor, whose contract was taken under circumstances which entitled him to consideration which the Postmaster-General has not given to him.
– Can he not sue the Government ?
– No. With regard to the telephone guarantees, it would be better for the Postal Department to say outright, “ We shall not give telephones to country districts,” than to continue the present system. I do not say that guarantees should not be required, but more consideration should be given to the scattered population in our country districts. In the cities people have their letters brought round to their doors three or four times a day, and enjoy other advantages; but in the country the settlers have a very hard time, and their means of communication are poor, so that they need some special consideration with a view to making their conditions easier. Surely the Commonwealth could afford to bear an occasional loss incurred in giving better communication, to those who are engaged in developing our industries in the far interior. There may have been loss under the New South Wales system, but it was a better system for the country than is the present system. I know of cases in which refusals have been justified, because people often ask for what they should not receive ; but each, case should be treated on its merits, and when men are prepared to guarantee interest on capital and working expenses, that .guarantee should be accepted. I hope that the Postmaster-General will adopt a forward policy, and do all that he can to assist the toilers in the country.
– The matter to which the honorable member for Grey referred has been brought up in this Chamber on previous occasions, on the first and second of which the honorable member for Coolgardie occupied the position of Postmaster- General.
– No; the honorable member for Denison was Postmaster-General on the first occasion.
– I felt a great deal of sympathy for Mr. Leviston ‘on the statement of his case presented by the honorable member for Grey, because I thought that he was being unfairly treated. No doubt the honorable member for Grey is a fair man, and wishes to do what is just; but I claim for
Mr. Vines, who has been so much abused, as much consideration as has been claimed for Mr. Leviston
– Did not the honorable and learned member for Corio say that Mr. Vines was a constituent of his?
– Yes; and, hearing his name mentioned, I felt it my. duty to look into the matter. It should be known that the permanent head of the Department thinks that Mr. Vines acted quite rightly, and I appreciate the defence which the honorable member for Coolgardie, who was then PostmasterGeneral, made on his behalf. According to Mr. Vines’ statement to me, instead of merely subletting to Leviston for £72 a year a contract which he had taken from the Department at £160 a year, he also guaranteed to him freedom from com.petition on the part of his firm, trading as Cobb and Company, over the route in question, the carrying business on which was bringing him in at least £2 10s. a week, or from £100 to £126 a year.
– He did not do anything of the kind. If an inquiry is allowed, I will bring out the real facts.
– I understand that Mr. Vines is willing to submit his case for investigation. I do not think that we should be justified in going to the expense of appointing a Select Committee ; but Mr. Vines would not be afraid to appear before such a body. The elder member of the firm is not a constituent of mine, but is an old colonist residing in Ballarat, and well-known to many of the old pioneers there. He has had an honorable career, and is so satisfied of the justice and fairness with which he has treated Mr. Leviston that he is not afraid of any inquiry.
– He has never asked for one.
– I do not know why he should. Although the Crown Solicitor advised that it was illegal to sublet this contract, Mr. Vines’ solicitor, at Geelong, advised him that it was not. I know nothing of the facts, except as Mr. Vines has placed them before me; but I know him to be a straightforward man.
– The Department inquired into the statement which the honorable and learned member has just repeated, and found that the facts were not as alleged.
– I think that Mr. Vines’ view of the case should be placed before honorable members, so that both sides may be recorded in Hansard. With regard to the present position of affairs, I know enough of my duties as a member of the House not to refer to them, seeing that, according to the statement of the honorable member for Grey, legal proceedings were threatened. Mr. Vines is no longer a contractor in regard to the particular route affected. He has yielded to the pressure which the Minister, heckled by honorable members, and against his better judgment, brought to bear upon him, and has given up his contract. There are other facts which I could put before the Committee, but they are of a purely private and personal nature, affecting only Mr. Leviston and Mr. Vines. These are matters with which this House has no right to interfere, and with which the Postmaster-General cannot deal. As legal proceedings have been entered upon, it was unfair for the honorable member for Grey to refer to the case, and we should do well to allow the matter to drop.
– I desire to direct attention to the contribution of £1 0,000 which has to be paid by the State of Victoria towards the loss incurred in the working of the Pacific Cable. The other States interested - New South Wales and Queensland - each have to contribute a similar amount. I find that the actual expenditure last year, under this head, so far as Victoria is concerned, was £10,171. I do not underrate the advantages which were conferred upon the community by the reduction of the cable rates, and I admit that the benefits thus derived afford some compensation for the loss which has to be made up by the various States concerned. At the same time, I should like to know what steps are being taken to place the cable arrangements upon a better business footing. We were promised some time ago that the Pacific Cable Board would shortly meet in London to consider matters connected with the extension of the business, but I understand that no such meeting has been held, partly owing to the fact that Canada has not yet appointed a representative. Surely we should not stand idly by without entering a vigorous protest against the continued delay in conducting the cable business upon sound lines. Without casting any reflection upon the Postal Department, I may mention that it is quite within the knowledge of those who do business with the two cable companies that the arrangements of the rival concern, the Eastern Extension Company, are immeasurably superior, and that no efforts are spared by their officers to secure business. The fact that we are still losing such a large sum of money annually in connexion with the working of the cable is a matter of serious importance to the States, and in the name of the commercial community, and of the public generally, I would urge that some vigorous effort should be made to induce the Pacific Cable Board to take action that will tend to bring about better results.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I am waiting for the Pacific Cable Board to meet in London, and to appoint private agents to cooperate with the officials of the Post and Telegraph Department here, in offering additional facilities for transacting business.
– The management are perfectly free to do what they conceive to be best to make the cable pay.
– No doubt; but so far they have . not taken steps to placetheir business here under control of the same efficient character that is exercised over the affairs of the Eastern Extension Company. It is full time that some steps were taken in that direction. I desire to refer to another matter. I find that, according to the Estimates, Victoria will be asked to contribute £22,512 towards the cost of the conveyance of mails to Europe during the current year. I understood that it was expected that some saving would be effected under the poundage system, which is to be brought into operation in the event of no further tenderers for the English mail service coming forward. I should like to know, therefore, whether we may expect any reduction upon the expenditure for lastyear. The commercial community of Melbourne view with concern, and even alarm, the prospect of uncertainty in connexion with the transmission of our mails to Europe. I know that this matter is, to some extent, beyond the Minister’s control, because he is compelled to comply with certain conditions which, in my opinion, wrongly interfere with his administration and prevent him from making the best possible arrangement in the interests of the community. I hope that the Minister will see his way to indicate the position in which we may expect to find ourselves under the new arrangement. I desire to know whetherwe are to have a service equal in all respects to the present one, an improved, or an intermittent and irregular service. I wish now to refer to a matter which seriously affects the public health, namely, the question of providing for the disinfection of the telephone instruments. The honorable member for Denison, when he was Postmaster-General, was good enough to promise that he would seek the advice of medical men as to the steps that could be taken to protect the users of the telephone against the spread of tubercular and other disease germs. I am afraid, however, that the changes which have since taken place in the Administration have resulted in the matte; being lost sight of for the present. I would suggest that directions might be given to subscribers as to the means which they should adopt in order to disinfect the telephone transmitters, and that facilities should be offered for obtaining supplies of the necessary materials for this purpose. I am perfectly .sure that the honorable member for Hunter will bear me out when I say that the telephone transmitters are the means of spreading disease, and that .some steps should be taken to get rid of this menace to the public health.
– I desire to direct the attention of the Minister to a matter to which I have previously referred, namely, the ‘ rates of pay given to casual employes. Honorable members have distinctly expressed the opinion, which I believe was placed on record, that casual employes should be paid at least the same wages as were received by the permanent employes whose places they had taken. That rule, however, is not being observed in some of the branches of the postal service. I believe that such casual employes as porters and mail-cart drivers are not being paid the same rates as are given to permanent hands. I trust that the Minister will make full inquiries, to insure that the casual employes shall not be required to work for less pay, or for longer hours than permanent hands engaged in the same occupations. There has always been a tendency in Victoria to employ as many temporary hands as possible at rates considerably below the permanent scale, and thus effect a saving in the public expenditure. This should not be encouraged. We have fixed £no as the minimum wage for permanent employes, and we should not allow that minimum to be disregarded in the case of temporary hands.
– I indorse to the fullest extent the remarks which have fallen from the honorable member for Kooyong with regard to the Pacific Cable. The loss incurred in connexion with that service falls upon three States only. Vic toria, New South Wales, and Queensland, are each required to contribute £10,000.
– South Australia incurs a loss as the result of a portion of the cable business having been diverted to the Pacific route.
– But South Australia is not called upon to contribute towards the actual loss incurred in carrying on that service. I do not see any reason why Queensland, with her comparatively small population, should be called upon to contribute in the same proportion as New South Wales and Victoria. No doubt those members of the community who find it necessary to use the cable have derived great benefit from the reduction in the rates. At the same time, I am of opinion that all the States should share in the loss, which will be sustained upon that work for some years’ to come, according to population. I maintain that that loss should not fall entirely upon New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. I protest against the northern State, with its small population, being required to make the same contribution towards any deficiency upon that undertaking as are the two larger States.
– The honorable member for Oxley has evidently forgotten that it “was the three States which he has mentioned that entered into the agreement for the laying of the Pacific Cable, despite the protests of the other States. In this connexion, I would point out that South Australia suffers a very severe loss upon the Transcontinental telegraph line, owing to the business which is carried by the Pacific Cable.
– Competition is the life of trade.
– I wish, however, to refer more particularly to the matter which has been brought forward by the honorable member for Grey. In his piece of special pleading, the honorable and learned member for Corio misstated the position. He overlooked the fact that, in order to avoid the penalties which the PostmasterGeneral had power to inflict, Mr. Vines actually agreed to transfer these contracts to the sub-contractors. That fact, in itself, is an admission that he has been doing something which he was not entitled to do. But after having agreed to transfer those contracts, he is now attempting to rob the’ poor sub-contractors. What do we find disclosed by the lawyer’s letter which he has sent to Mr. Leviston? That last month he actually collected from- the
Government the sum of £13 4s. Of this amount £6 was supposed to be paid to the sub-contractor, who, however, did not receive a single penny. Mr. Vines declares that the sub-contractor, Mr. Leviston, owed him £50 13s. 4d., but that he has reduced that amount to £44 13s. 4d. by deducting the £6 in question. How does Mr. Leviston owe this amount? Because Mr. Vines entered into a contract with the Government to carry the mails at a certain rate. The fact remains, however, that he did not perform the work. He got somebody else to do it for him, for £72 per annum, and pocketed the difference between that amount and £160. In my opinion, the duty of the Postmaster-General is clear. He ought to take this matter out of the hands of Mr. Vines instantly, and inflict the penalties which are provided under the -Act. Mr. Vines has been dealt with leniently in that he was allowed, conditionally upon his transferring his contracts to the subcontractors, to escape the penalties which might have been imposed. But he has not fulfilled that condition. He is still putting into his pocket, money which does not belong to him, and is threatening Mr. Leviston with an action at law which may ruin him. I ask the Postmaster-General - who, I believe, is anxious to do what is fair - to at once determine Mr. Vines’ contract, inflict the penalties which are provided under the Act, and hand over the contracts to the subcontractors. It is just possible that there are some facts with which the Committee are not acquainted. If that be so, I ask the “Minister to state them without further delay.
– I must congratulate the Commonwealth upon having at the head of the Postal Department a gentleman of such wide experience as our present Postmaster-General. I hope that he will endeavour to reform our postal system root and branch. In a general way, I desire to refer to certain reforms which, in my judgment, are worthy of consideration. I entirely agree with the honorable member for New England in the statement that there is too much centralization in connexion with our Post Office system. I believe that the large cities are being favoured at the expense of the country districts. I think that in a country like Australia - a country of such magnificent distances - the telephone should be popularized as much as possible. The best way in which to achieve that object is to cheapen the use <sf the instrument to the general public.
How is it that telephone subscriptions in the country districts are as large as are those in the cities ? In a town which boasts only fifty or sixty subscribers, does a man obtain value for his money when he is required to pay £8 or £9 per annum for the use of a telephone - an amount as large as that which is paid in the city, where there are thousands of subscribers?
– The honorable member should recollect that it costs a lot more to provide country districts with telephonic communication.
– I claim that we are all citizens of the Commonwealth, and that therefore we should be treated equally. If in the country districts, the charges for the use of the telephone were reduced, the number of subscribers would increase. Take the case of the Sydney tramways as an example. Immediately the fares were lowered, the traffic upon them increased fourfold. Similarly, I maintain that if the charges levied for the use of the telephone in country districts were reduced, the number of subscribers would materially increase. If £5 annually were charged for the use of a telephone for business purposes, and £3 for a private house connexion, the receipts would be very much greater than they are. How is it that in the large hotels of our capital cities, the guests are able to use the telephone for nothing? In London, a guest is not privileged to use the telephone free of charge whenever he wishes to do so. There, each hotel has a telephone office, and if anybody wishes to make use of it, he is required to pay a certain fee. In one of the leading Melbourne hotels, too, there is a special telephone office which is presided over by an attendant. I cannot understand why numbers of people are allowed to use the telephone without any charge whatever being made. I would also point out that in the telegraph offices in England, one does not find pens, ink, and superfine creamlaid paper provided. Instead, pencils are supplied, and paper of an inferior quality. Why cannot a similar practice be adopted here? I cannot understand how it is that such a ‘difficulty is experienced in obtaining telephonic communication for the country districts. I have received dozens of applications for the establishment of telephone offices in my own electorate, but when I make inquiries regarding them, I am met with the objection that “the undertaking would not pay.” As a matter of fact, the officers of the Department reported that a trunk line from West Maitland to Newcastle would not pay. No sooner, however, was it opened, than it paid four-fold. -That, I regard, as a distinct reflection upon the officers in question. I am satisfied that in many instances the official reports upon these matters are not what they should be. I see no reason why the telephone line between West Maitland and Sydney - a distance of 120 miles - should not be extended to Singleton - an additional thirty miles. The telegraph poles along the railway could be utilized in this connexion. There is just one other matter to which I desire to refer. In many towns there are post-offices which are surmounted by ornamental clock-towers. The clocks, which are placed therein, very rarely keep correct time. In the West Maitland postoffice tower, thereis not only a clock, but a bell which formerly chimed the hours. The chimes, however, have stopped. The Department having supplied them, I fail to see why they should remain silent. There is another matter to which the PostmasterGeneral ought to give his serious attention. I refer to the fact that many of our popular newspapers - the Argus, the Age, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the Bulletin, and other journals - which contain pernicious advertisements, are circulated through the post-office. I think that if the Postmaster-General is worthy of the name of a man he will see that newspapers containing such advertisements are not distributed through the agency of the Department. This is a matter of vital importance. I know how far-reaching these evils are. I know what is the result of the distributtion of such literature throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth ; it is a disgrace to the press ; and I maintain that it is our duty, and more particularly the duty of the Postmaster-General, to do everything that is possible to put an end to its circulation.
– I have one or two grievances which I desire to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General. On referring to the classification I find that, although a certain degree of liberality has been shown in the treatment of postmasters in other States, not one postmaster in Queensland has been granted an increase. The duties of these men are very onerous, and in order that the Committee may judge of their character, I should like to cite a case in point. I have received a letter from a gentleman whose identity I shall not disclose, although I can vouch for the accuracy of the information which he furnishes me, stating that he is a postmaster with a staff of ten men, that over 650,000 postal articles pass through his office every year, and that he handles in cash alone £18,000 per annum. He works from 6 a.m. until after 6 p.m., or a total of seventytwo hours per week, and he is also Electoral Registrar for twelvepolling places, the rolls relating to which comprise about 10,000 names.
– Is he not paid specially for his work as Registrar?
– I think that he receives payment at the usual rate of 2s. 6d. per hundred names, but he has to attend to many matters outside the actual preparation of the rolls. A good deal of the time of a postmaster who acts in this capacity is taken up in attending to inquiries by persons who desire to know whether their names are on the rolls, and if not, what they are to do in order to secure enrolment. In New South Wales I believe that postmasters have also to take some action regarding electors’ rights, which, of course, is a State matter; but the postmaster in Queensland to whom I have referred receives only £162 per annum for discharging his multifarious duties. That is a starvation wage, and is almost a temptation to a man in such a position to help himself. Under the State regulations he had to give a fidelity guarantee for £400, but latterly the Department has called upon him to increase his guarantee to £700. I think that the Committee will admit that a little more than £162 per annum should be paid to a man holding an office which entails so many duties, such long hours, and so much responsibility.
– How long has he been in the service ?
– For many years. I am personally acquainted with him, and know that he is deserving of better treatment.
– He is not under the eye of the Public Service Commissioner, or he would be getting an increase of £70.
– That is a matter with which I hope we shall deal when the classification scheme is under our consideration. It is, to say the least, singular, as the honorable member for Maranoa has pointed out, that whilst certain officials immediately under the eye of the Public Service Commissioner have received increases, others who occupy positions that are equally responsible, have been overlooked. The position of the postmasters in Queensland is worthy of some consideration. The representatives of that State, however, are placed in a somewhat invidious position. We are aware that our constituents are lacking many requirements, and I have repeatedly brought many of these matters under the notice of the Department; but at the same time we know that the Government of the State are appealing to the Government of the Commonwealth to keep down expenditure. We have to do what we conceive to be our duty, and to secure such conveniences as we believe to be necessaryfor our constituents ; yet, even in pressing just claims, we feel that we are to a certain extent embarrassing the finances of the State. That is a very illogical position for honorable members to occupy, but in any case, there are many conveniences to which the people of Queensland are certainly entitled. I have interviewed several PostmastersGeneral, as well as the Secretary of the Department, on many occasions in regard to the necessity for a telephone line to Ebagoolah. That town is only twelve miles from the main line, and as it is a populous place, its claim to be connected with the telephone system is certainly a good one. I understand that the PostmasterGeneral is taking into consideration the advisableness of using trees, fences, or any other suitable object for supporting telephone and telegraph wires in outlying districts.
– We have been utilizing trees in that way in Tasmania for twenty-five years.
– That shows that in that respect, at any rate, the people of Tasmania are certainly up-to-date. The failure to cheapen the system has been due not so much to the Department itself as to the engineers. When loan moneys were plentiful in Queensland the engineers had the idea that all the material used must be of the very best quality. They would not allow anything but iron poles and wires of. a certain gauge to be used in the construction of these lines, and all work had to be carried out in the most elaborate way. Whilst at Chillagoe recently, I noticed that the tops of the trees had been cut off, and insulators placed on the trunks, which served the purpose of telegraph poles. The line in some places was inclined to be something in the nature of a zig-zag, but it answered its purpose. I compliment the Postmaster- General on his expressed intention to resort to this practice in erecting telephone lines in sparsely populated districts, where it is impossible to have the most up-to-date material. When the honorable member for Hunter referred to the chimes in the post-office tower at West Maitland, I could not help thinking that it was remarkable that the residents of large centres in New South Wales and Victoria should have such extravagant notions in regard to clocks and chimes, when for nearly two years I have sought in vain to induce the Postal Department to supply a very simple clock, at a cost of 30s., for a Post-office in a populous district, where it is much needed. Up to the present, my request has not been complied with. If we had an eight-day clock, we should be quite satisfied, and when I hear honorable members complaining because they have a clock in a post-office tower which will not chime the hours-
– Why did not the honorable member provide the clock at his own expense ?
– If honorable members were to provide everything which is necessary for their constituents, at their own expense, the starvation wage to which the honorable member for Darwin sometimes refers, would not go very far. The PostmasterGeneral is taking a very wise step in regard to cheapening the telephone service, and there can be no doubt that the cheapening of this and other services would lead to a large increase in business. As I have already said, although there are many works, such as post-office buildings and defence works which we require in Queensland, we feel a certain hesitancy in pressing our claims upon the Government, owing to the unfortunate financial position of the State. It is to be hoped that circumstances will so alter before very long that weshall be in a position to demand the carrying out of these works with a greater degree of assurance that they will not press unduly upon the finances of the State Treasurer. I believe that not only the Treasurer, but the Premier of Queensland occasionally asks that the expenditure of the Commonwealth shall be cut down, and it is only natural, in the circumstances, that they should do so; but there are certain requirements to which the people are justly entitled, regardless of the financial exigencies of the moment.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the delay which occurs in carrying out improvements and other public works under the administration of the Postal Department.
I do not know with whom the blame rests, but I should like to bring under his notice the case of the Newcastle post-office. For a period of twelve months attempts have been made to get certain necessary alterations made there, and a huge mass of correspondence on the subject has piled up, but nothing has been done. Newcastle is the secon’d town of importance in New South Wales, and its post-office does a business worth thousands of pounds annually; but, although plans for the work were approved of months ago, the private boxes there still remained in an unprotected state, while the correspondence in the receiving boxes is at the mercy of any one who wishes to tamper with it, because any one might, by inserting a walking-stick with a little glue on the end, draw out the letters lying in them.
– Does the honorable member refer to the new post-office?
– Yes. It would require the expenditure of only two or three pounds to make the necessary alterations. I have no particular complaint to make on the subject of telephone extensions, but I agree with other honorable members that the New South Wales system was preferable to that adopted by the Commonwealth Administration. I think that every telephone installation placed in the Newcastle district since the inauguration of the Commonwealth has paid handsomely. When a town of 10,000 or 12,000 inhabitants asks for a telephone system, the Department should -have no hesitation about complying with its request, particularly since the lines which have been erected during the past twelve months are returning a handsome profit. Persons in the country districts are deprived of the advantages which those who live in the city enjoy, and the least we can do is to improve their means of communication. Whenever a telephone is established in a populous centre, ft is found to be so useful that it quickly pays for itself.
– In my opinion, the telephone regulations require si great deal of amendment to make them satisfactory to the people in the country.
– The House has resolved that thev should be amended.
– Those of us who have been in Parliament for any length of time, know that such declaratory resolutions have little or no effect. I should like to give the Committee an example of the length to which red tape can be stretched by the officials of the Postal Department.
The regulations provide that no trunk telephone line shall be constructed by the Department unless the officials are satisfied that it will pay. The officer who has to deal with the matter usually makes a guess at the probable receipts, and if he thinks that the line will not pay, he reports accordingly to the Postmaster-General, and the Department then imposes conditions which are absolutely prohibitive. Hamilton is a pretty big town in the western district of Victoria, and is growing rapidly. Its residents recently asked for the erection of a trunk line” from Hamilton to Ballarat, a distance of 124 miles, which would place them in communication with Ballarat, Geelong, and Melbourne. If that line were made, the through line from Hamilton to Melbourne would be the longest in Victoria, and possibly in Australia. .The Department, however, came to the conclusion - the reasons are not given - that the line would not pay. I do not object to that, but ‘ I object to the absurd conditions which it would impose, should the people of Hamilton desire to go further. It assumes not only that the line will not pay, but that for seven years after its construction it will not earn a penny, and requires a cash deposit covering maintenance, interest, and sinking fund, equalling 10 per cent, of the cost of the line, and’ the total cost of operating it for a period of two years, with a guarantee from approved persons of £310 a year for five years more, to provide against any subsequent deficiency.
– That is a mild case compared with one which I know of.
– Then I am sorry for the Department. There is a telegraph line from Hamilton to Ballarat, so that the Department would be put to no cost in erecting poles for a telephone line. If a reasonable guarantee were asked for, the money would be forthcoming in a week, because, those who wish for the connexion are men of substance ; but a deposit of £620, and a subsequent guarantee of £310 per annum for five years is out of the question. Some radical change must be made in this matter. It is of no use to leave it entirely to officials. If a. Minister is content to initial the minutes placed before him by them he will be useless. What he should do is to shake the Department out of the rut into which it has got. In NewZealand, Sir Joseph Ward, by taking the postal officials by the scruff of the neck, so to speak, has established the best telephone system in the southern hemisphere, so that after 7 o’clock at night any one having a telephone in his private house, can converse with any one else similarly situated throughout the South Island.
– Is not the explanation of the rule- to which the honorable and learned member objects the fear of the Department that it may lose money ?
– It is only fair to require some guarantee, but not such as I have referred to. Honorable members whose houses or offices are connected with the telephone exchange know how inconvenient it would be to discontinue the arrangement. Similarly, a business firm which happened to be connected with the metropolis would not lose that connexion for the sake of a few pounds. It would pay the Department to take a less stringent view in these cases. Neither the Minister nor his predecessor has had time to thoroughly reform the Department, but in the recess an energetic Minister will have some scope for action, and should be able to make our telephone system of use to the people in 4ihe country districts. I am informed that in New South Wales there are many towns which have not even local exchanges, while many others are not connected with the metropolis, or with adjoining large centres of population. All of us who represent growing towns feel that something should be done to make the telephone system of more service to the community at large. The present restrictions are almost too grievous to toe borne. I am glad that the Minister has found an officer of intelligence sufficient to recommend the construction of a line from Geelong to Warrnambool. If that line is the success which I hope it will be, it should be an object lesson to the Department, by showing how profitable it would be to connect other large farming towns.
– Would it not be better to connect Hamilton with Warrnambool than with Ballarat?
Mr. RONALD (Southern Melbourne).I desire to direct the attention of the Minister! to a grievance which arises partly from the fact that many postmasters have been required to act as returning officers and electoral registrars. The task which they have been called upon to perform is simply Titanic. They are required to deal with piles and piles of applications for enrolment and transfer. I have never ap- proved of the action of the authorities in saddling our .postmasters with this work. The difficulties of these officers have been increased by the fact that, owing to the cheeseparing policy adopted by the Postal Department,’ their staffs have in many cases been reduced down to the lowest possible limit. This has thrown a great deal of extra labour upon them, and they have had to work during a great part of the time which should be at their disposal for recreation and rest. Some of them have been so hard pressed that they have expressed their intention to resign - if some of them have not actually done so. It is not desirable that sweating should be perpetrated in connexion with any of our Departments, and I trust that the Minister will make the most careful inquiries, with a view to modifying the conditions under which these officials have to carry on their work. The miserable pittance given to them for acting as electoral officers does not adequately compensate them for the work which they have to perform. If we desire the work to be well done, we shall have to pay for it. If it is neglected, or inefficiently performed, the public will suffer. The postmasters in the metropolitan area of Melbourne are in open revolt against the manner in which they have been dealt with, first by the Electoral Department, and secondly by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. At the best, it strikes me that the present arrangement is a miserable make-shift, and that our administration in this regard compares most unfavorably with that of the State of Victoria, which employs officers specially to perform the work required to be done under the Electoral Act, and remunerates them upon a” fairly liberal scale. I hope that the Minister will do his best to see that these officers receive just treatment in the future, and that adequate assistance is granted to them.
– As I understand that it is the desire of the Government that the Estimates of the Post and Telegraph Department shall be, as far as possible, debated at this stage, I desire to say a few words. I do not rise with a view to finding any fault with the present Ministry, because I know that’ they have not been long in office, and that, consequently, it would be unreasonable to unduly find fault with their Estimates or their administration. The Post and Telegraph Department brings honorable members into closer touch with the general public than any
I other Department under our control, and most intimately affects the citizens of all parts of the Commonwealth. I regret to say that the Department is at present carried on at a considerable loss. I look forward to the time, which I think is approaching, when it will be made self-supporting. I do not desire that less facilities should be afforded, but I trust that by the consolidation of the post and telegraphic business under one control, great savings v-;l! eventually be effected. In view of the fact that the revenue for the present vear is expected to reach the large sum of £2,560,000, it is somewhat surprising that any loss should be involved in carrying on the business of the Department. I find, however, that the expenditure is estimated at £2,813,713. or £253.713 more than the anticipated income. I wish to correct the statement I made some days ago to the effect that Victoria occupied the best position as regards this Department. I find that I was in error, and that South Australia is tile only one of the States which shows a profit. It is estimated that during the current year the loss in New South Wales will amount to £43,540 ; in Victoria, to £39,131 ; in Queensland, to the large sum of £128,194; in Western Australia, to £39,810; and in Tasmania, to £12,911; whereas South Australia is (expected to have a surplus of £2,673.
– That is in spite of the reduction of the telegraph rates.
– The whole of the business of the Commonwealth, including the appropriations for the erection of new works and buildings, shows a deficiency of £253,713. It is not pleasant to reflect that this loss is increasing, year after year. Leaving out the year 1901-2, which does not lend itself to the purposes of comparison, because very few new works were carried out during that period, we find that the loss in 1902-^ amounted to £164,116 ; and in 1903-4, to £187,341; whilst during the current year it is expected that the deficiency will represent the amount I. have already stated. No doubt some portion of this deficiency is due to the extent to which the cost of new works and buildings is charged against revenue. In 1902-3, £1 35,699 was spent in this direction, and in 1903-4, £187,772 ; whilst this year provision is made for an outlay of £217,648.
– That accounts for nearly the whole of the deficiency.
– The deficiency is estimated at £253,713; only about half.
– The amount expended upon buildings can hardly be regarded as loss.
– Perhaps not, but I am dealing with the whole of the expenditure.
– But would not the right honorable gentleman regard the buildings as assets?
– Perhaps so, to some extent; but still the money has to be found. I am dealing with the gross expenditure. We shall have to erect new works and buildings year after year, and we shall require to charge their cost against the revenue, and I do not think that I am proceeding unfairly in dealing with the expenditure as a whole. In Western Austra-Iia the Post and Telegraph Department is carried on at a loss. I am not surprised, because the area is immense and the population scattered’, and besides, it has never been hitherto a reproductive institution. However, as time goes on, I hope that it will become so. The reduction in the rates for telegrams does ‘not seem to have greatly affected the gross revenue, because, I am glad to say, the income is larger than it has ever been before. To that extent the position is satisfactory. I have no particular fault to find with the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department in my own State. There have been complaints, and there always will be. Western Australia has had an exceptional experience in regard to the Public Service, and the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, inasmuch as a gentleman from one of the other States, without any local knowledge was appointed as the Public Service Inspector ‘ for our State. No other State has been treated in that way, and however qualified an officer might be, it would be idle to suggest that he could be as intimately acquainted with all the intricacies of the Public Service of Western Australia as would an officer who has been resident there all his life.
– But he would have no friends to be placated.
– That is a very Common statement by persons of the honorable member’s frame of mind. I tell him, however, that no purer administration is to be found in any part of Australia than that of the Public Service of Western Australia.
If the honorable member had occupied the office which I filled in that State for so many years, I question whether he would have been able to declare - as I am- that he had not a single blood relation in the Public Service there. When he sneers at the Public Service of Western Australia, and suggests favoritism, I resent his insinuation. It was a misfortune that the inspector appointed to supervise the Public Service of Western Australia was not familiar with the local affairs of that State. Personally, I believe that the officer in question is an excellent one, but from lack of local knowledge he has laboured under a disability, and I am satisfied that as a result the Commonwealth has suffered. Want of knowledge is one of the greatest dangers with which we have to contend. If we desire to have good administration we must appoint officers with knowledge, and it is idle to suggest that any officer could acquire an intimate acquaintance with the whole Public Service of Western Australia except by long experience.
– Who appointed that officer ?
– I believe that he was appointed by the Government of which I was a member. Nevertheless, his appointment was a mistake, and I was absent from the Commonwealth when it was made. Recentlythat officer has also been placed in charge of the Commonwealth Electoral Department in Western Australia, although I am informed that he has hitherto had no experience whatever of electoral matters. I am not aware what Government appointed him to that position - indeed I only heard of the circumstances the other day. My idea is that his time would be fully occupied in dealing with the Commonwealth public servants of that State under the Public Service Act. I do not care how clever or honest he may be - and I believe that he is both clever and honorable - he had not the necessary local knowledge to carry out efficiently and economically within the time at his disposal, the classification of the whole Public Service of Western Australia. Western Australia merely desires to be treated in the same way as are the other States. We do not wish that State to be made the dumping ground for those who have proved unsuitable elsewhere. I repeat that Western Australia has been in this and other cases treated in an exceptional manner.
When a Public Service Inspector was required, he was selected from New South Wales; that State provided him.
– He is a very good man, too.
– But he did not possess the requisite knowledge of local affairs.
– I remember some Western Australian representatives clamouring for an officer to be appointed from one of the other States.
– I am responsible only for my own opinion. Similarly, when a Superintendent of Mails was required, he was selected from Victoria I have heard that this officer had only had experience in the Melbourne Parcels Department. Although Western Australia is far removed from the eastern States, it is not destitute of men of education, experience, and ability, and there are plenty of officers in the Public Service there who could have efficiently filled that position.
– Western Australia would have Federation.
– But my point is that Queensland and the other States have not been treated in the same way as Western Australia. Had the same treatment been meted out to all the States I should not complain. Then again a vacancy for an accountant recently occurred in the Deputy Postmaster-General’s Department there, and Mr. Vowles, an officer from one of the eastern States, was sent to fill it. When I discovered this I protested against the course which had been followed, and I was then informed that the Deputy PostmasterGeneral of Western Australia thought it would be well to appoint an officer who was conversant with the system of accounts over here. That is merely an excuse for foisting an officer upon the western State. I wish to tell the Postmaster-General that Western Australia will not tolerate that sort of thing. I will undertake to say that there are many officers in the Treasury, Audit, and other Departments in that State who could obtain a complete grasp of the system of accounts which is in operation here within a couple of weeks.
– The Prime Minister represents Western Australia.
– And I believe he will do his best to represent it well. I am sure that he will not be offended with any criticisms of mine, because they are based upon public grounds. Further, I believe that Western Australia will receive fair treatment at the hands of the present Government. I merely wish to bring these facts before the Postmaster-General, who may have no knowledge of them.
– Were not those appointments made by the Government of which the right honorable member was a Minister ?
– I cannot say; my object is to prevent these mistakes being repeated. There is still another matter to which I desire to direct attention. I am afraid that there is a disposition on the part of the Postal Department to unnecessarily interfere with existing arrangements. I desire to impress upon the PostmasterGeneral the fact that there is a very great difference between bestowing benefits upon people and depriving them of benefits to which they have become accustomed. If, for example, it is proposed to erect a new post-office, or to institute a new mail service, the proposal should be carefully scrutinized. But when it is suggested that people should be deprived of facilities which they have enjoyed for twenty or thirty years, the matter should receive the closest personal attention of the Minister in charge of the Department before action is taken. In this connexion I have received complaints from two towns in Western Australia. Twenty years ago the Government of that State erected- a branch telegraph line some ten miles in length to a country town called Maradong Prior to the establishment of the Federation the postmistress in charge of that office was in receipt of a salary of £80 a vear. The other day I was informed that this building is to. be converted into a telephone office. I should like to ask the PostmasterGeneral what salary he proposes to pay the telephone operator if he - is to effect any reasonable saving? I do not see what saving will be effected by the change.
– What is the population?
– I cannot sayexactly, but it is certainly larger than it was when the post and telegraph office was established there. Within a radius of five miles there is perhaps a population of 200. But the point is that it is to be not abolished out* converted from a post and telegraph office to a telephone office.
– The Department say that they are not going to do anything of the sort.
– I received a telegram stating that a meeting had been held to protest against the contem plated change; but if the Department do not intend to make this alteration I need say no more about it. I come now to another place, the Greenough, where a post and telegraph office which has been established for more than twenty years, is also to be converted into a telephone office. At the date of the establishment of Federation the officer in charge - a postmistress, I believe - received £100 per annum.
– Is it a contract office?
– No; a public office.
– Then the person in charge must receive £110 per annum.
– I am afraid the provision relating to the minimum wage of £110 per annum may do a great deal of mischief, and cause persons to lose their appointments if small post-offices are to be changed in this way, simply because the returns do not justify the payment of such salaries to the officers in charge. At present a messenger is employed at the Greenough office, and if his services are unnecessary they may be dispensed with. But what saving will be effected by making the change to which I have referred ? It certainly must be very small, and there is therefore no reason to disturb a system which has been so long in operation. ‘ The Greenough is in the centre of rich, fertile country, and naturally the residents do not like to forego the convenience which they have enjoyed for many years prior to Federation. They do not consider the question of cost, but simply attribute the change to Federation. “We were told that Federation would give us greater facilities.” they say, “ yet the very conveniences that we enjoyed under the State Government for over twenty years are to be taken away from us.” They naturally resent anything of the kind being done. The Minister should look into these matters, and see that conveniences which have existed, for so many years are not unnecessarily interfered with, and especially in cases where the saving that would be effected by the contemplated change must be infinitesimal. I have been glancing over the Estimates of the Western Australian Postal Department prior to the establishment of Federation, and have selected ten post and telegraph offices in the rural parts of that State, in respect of which very small salaries were paid. I anticipate that what 1 is to be done in regard to the Greenough post-office may probably be done with these offices, and when I explain that with one exception they are all in my own electorate, honorable members will realize that I have the more justification even for anxiety. The offices and the salaries of those in charge of them at the date of Federation are as follow : - Armadale (which is not in my electorate), £70 per annum; Balbarrup, £50 per annum ; Balingup, £70 per annum; Bannister, £100 per annum; Bayswater, £90 per annum ; Carnamah, £60 per annum; Greenough, £100 per annum ; Marradong, £80 per annum ; Moora, £80 per annum; and Walkaway, £72 per annum. Prior to (Federation, these small offices were under the care of young women, who were satisfied with the salaries which they received; but unless my protest has good effect, the offices may be converted into telephone offices, with the result that great dissatisfaction will be caused.
– Would not private enterprise put them on a paying basis ?
– I do not know that it would. I am not aware that the Postal Department is conducted on the basis that every office shall pay its way. As in the case of the railways, some of them pay, while others do not, yet we do not close down a railway line because it does not pay.
– We do in “Victoria.
– I am very sorry to hear it. When I had control in Western Australia I used to say, “ We must deal with the railway service as a whole, and if the service pays as a whole, do not talk to me about non-paying lines.” “Under the system now being inaugurated, every one of the post and telegraph offices I have mentioned, runs a risk of being changed. If this is to be the result of the minimum wage section in the Act, it will deprive the young women in charge of these offices of their employment, and will do more harm than good. The salaries they have been receiving are certainly very small, but I do not remember hearing any special complaint in regard to them when I was at the head of “the State Government.
– They would be afraid to complain to the right honorable member lest they might be dismissed.
– Unlike the honorable member, I can. say that no public servant has ever been afraid of me. The public servants of Western Australia looked upon me not as their oppressor, but as their protector and friend. I ask the Minister to give his earnest attention to this matter, and appeal to him to remember that there is a great difference between giving a concession and taking away an existing privilege. I desire now to deal with another subject relating, not to the internal affairs of the Commonwealth, but to the mail services between Australia and the’ rest of the world. I think we ought to have some clear statement as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the provisions of section 16 of the Post and Telegraph Act, and I address my words in this connexion not only to the PostmasterGeneral, but ?o every honorable member, believing that it is urgently necessary that we should deal with this question. Honorable members sitting on all sides of the House have admitted to me that in passing section 16 of the Post and Telegraph Act we went too far. If we made a mistake) and there can be no doubt we did, the only course open to us is to admit our error, and amend the Act. I regret that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat is not present, for I should like to appeal to him in regard’ to this question.
– He has not changed his mind.
– I should know as much about that as does the honorable member, who has deserted him. No one likes to reverse an opinion that he has expressed or a decision which he has given. This is more especially the case with politicians, and probably most men would, if possible, avoid doing so. They would say, “ We will leave the matter for a more convenient season. We do not wish to acknowledge that we have made a mistake, or to reverse what we have done.” But circumstances have changed even since we passed what I consider is a very foolish provision. Japan has become a first class power, and if it succeeds in the present war to a greater extent than it has, it will be the great dominating power in the East. That fact alone should make us consider whether it is necessary or advisable to go on with this experiment.
– The Bill in question was introduced by a Government of which the right honorable gentleman was a member.
– I am not finding fault with that Government. I simply assert that we made a mistake in passing clause 16, and that we should reverse our decision, so as to do away with the very great inconvenience and loss, which has already occurred’, and which will occur, as the result of it.
– What does the right honorable member advise?
– That we should repeal the section. I have never faltered in the desire that I have entertained for many years, that Australia should as far as is possible be preserved, for the white races; but in seeking to keep it for a white people we must act in a reasonable way. I appeal to the honorable member for Kennedy, whose eye I have justcaught, to say how coloured men, working on steamers, carrying our mails on the ocean under contract, encroach upon our ideal of a White Australia, when the same persons employed on steamers carrying mails under the poundage system are not considered to do so? In other words, what is the difference between coloured men working on steamers carrying our mails under the poundage system, and the same men being employed on the same steamers carrying mails under contract?
– Ask the PostmasterGeneral.
– I ask every member of the Committee, and I ask every person in the community.
– Is there not a difference between a subsidy and a payment for services rendered?
– Iri either case we pay for services rendered. An acute mind might discover some theoretical difference between the two, but there is no practical difference. There is no practical difference between employing vessels with coloured crews to carry passengers and merchandise, and employing such vessels to carry our mails. In any case, we pay for services rendered. Honorable members are willing to permit the Government to enter into an arrangement with companies employing coloured crews for the carriage of our mails under the poundage system, but they will not allow a contract to be entered into with them. That is not a logical position. If it is wrong to enter into a contract for the carriage of mails on vessels with coloured crews, it is wrong to ship our wool, our butter, and other produce, and to travel ourselves, by such vessels.
– The Government does not subsidize vessels for the carriage of butter, fruit, or other produce.
– In any case, the people of Australia pay for the service performed, and the- Government itself pays poundage on mail matter. Are we business men, or are we wholly unacquainted with business methods ? By means of a contract we can make and enforce stipulations in regard to speed, conditions of carriage, ports of call - a very important matter, especially to ports of’ call en route to Western Australia - times of deliver)’, and every other contingency ; but under the poundage system that is not possible. What is the difference between paying by the pound and paying under a contract? We are acting a very foolish, and I think not a very creditable part, in this matter, though I do not wish to reflect on the personal conduct of any honorable member. In pursuing this policy, now that it is clear that an error has been made, we are throwing dust in the eyes of the people, by making them believe that we are doing’ something for them which is really inimical to their interests, and may result in such ports of call as Fremantle and Adelaide being passed by. We are putting on one side the conveniences and facilities which we now enjoy, and are substituting an arrangement under which our mails may be placed on any steamers which happen to be leaving. We will have no control over the speed at which they are to be carried, the route by which they are to be taken, or the time at which they are to be delivered. The Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company’s steamer Macedonia yesterday took an immense quantity of butter away from Melbourne. If vessels like that cease to run as regularly as they do now, our producers will be injured, and when the people- learn that we are injuring them without obtaining any compensating advantage, some of us will fare baddy. The only argument which I have heard in support of the present position is that of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who, in the eloquent language which he can so well employ, spoke about the service which we are rendering to the Empire by encouraging a mercantile marine. Does any one tell me that that was the real reason for our action ?
– It is a sufficient reason.
– I do not think so.
– I think so.
– Then I hope the honorable member will never travel in or send anything by a vessel on which coloured labour is employed. If he does, he will not be consistent.
– He smokes tobacco and drinks tea and coffee which are brought here by such vessels.
– The argument which I have quoted is not the real one. It was not the reason why this legislation was urged upon the. Parliament, and after much hesitation, passed ; but was an afterthought to justify a wrong, foolish, and dishonest thing.
– Why is it dishonest ?
– Because there is no consistency or sincerity in it. I do not impute personal dishonesty to honorable members, and have no desire to relieve myself from a full share of responsibility.
– Then the action of the Government which was responsible for the law, and of which the right honorable member was a Minister, was dishonest?
– Full consideration and experience has shown that we made a mistake, and if Parliament is assured that a mistake has been made, it should rectify the error. Do we pretend to be wiser than the people of the great country from which we come? Is the care of the British race intrusted to the few persons who comprise this Parliament? Is the British Parliament, and the Parliaments, of all the other British dominions, of no importance as compared with us? Such a position is untenable. If the people of Australia believed in this matter, they would say, “We will neither travel ourselves, nor send goods or mails, either by contract or under a poundage arrangement, by any vessel carrying a coloured crew. We are determined to pay our money away only to white people.” There would be some consistency in that position. But, of course, we could not carry out such an arrangement. We are merely tilting at windmills, and I hope that every honorable member will acknowledge that a mistake has been made. As a member of the Government which was in office when this clause was inserted in the Post and Telegraph Act, I must take responsibility for it; but, having given the matter f uller consideration, and having seen how adversely it is likely to affect our interests, I am anxious and willing to have it repealed. The Act says that our mails shall not be placed on board vessels employing coloured crews, either under “ contract or arrangement.” I should like to know what “ arrangement “ means. I speak with bated breath in the presence of so able a lawyer as the honorable and learned member for Bendigo ; but in my opinion, “ arrangement “ includes poundage. To say that it does not, is to give the word an interpretation which no ordinary man would put upon it. Therefore, we are breaking the law if we pay poundage for our mails, since we are making an arrangement for their carriage on vessels employing coloured crews.
– The arrangement is one which was made for us by an international committee.
– Still, it is an “ arrangement,” and there is no compulsion that we should avail ourselves of it.
– In view of what the right honorable member has said, he should not have supported the provision.
– I have already said that a mistake was made by us all, and that a good deal of its inimical effects have been forced upon us since it was passed into law. Do honorable members desire to prevent persons belonging to coloured races from obtaining employment anywhere on the broad ocean? Some of them had a great deal to say the other night for the aborigines of New Guinea; but apparently they would debar them from earning their living as seamen. It is necessary for the protection and furtherance of our interests, that we should make contracts with these companies. If honorable members did not know by what route a vessel would go, or when she would arrive at her destination, would they travel in her? I do not know why honorable members who feel as strongly as I do, sit silent whilst a great injury is being done to the Commonwealth.
– The right honorable gentleman is referring to honorable members sitting on the Government side of the House.
– I am referring to honorable members who sit on all sides of the House, who are anxious to assist a White Australia policy, and are anxious at the same time to do everything in their power to benefit the Commonwealth. We must all recognise the absurdity of allowing our letters to be carried at poundage rates on vessels manned by coloured crews, whilst we object to a mail contract being entered into with those vessels? I think that the Government should take us into their confidence with regard to this matter.
I do not want them to do anything that will injure their position politically ; that would be unreasonable; but I believe that a perfectly full and free discussion of this question would result in our arriving at the conclusion that an alteration of the existing law is necessary.
– Members are something like the right honorable gentleman - a bit mixed on the subject.
– They have opinions, and I should like them to express them. I do not believe in members refraining from saying what they think in a matter of th’is kind.
– It is too late to do anything now in regard to the mail contracts.
– No, it is not. I appeal to members who were supposed to be in accord with a provision precluding the employment of coloured labour upon mail steamers .to think this matter over, and not to persist in following a course which can only, under existing conditions, injure Australia, and prove prejudicial to our interests. I hope that other honorable members will not be afraid to speak out upon the subject. Is there any difference in principle between carrying mails at poundage rates, and under contract? Are we consistent when we avail ourselves of the steamers manned by coloured crews for the conveyance of ourselves, and those belonging to us, and for the carriage of our merchandise across the ocean, whilst we draw the line at entering into mail contracts with the owners of such vessels? We have done ourselves injury, and have lost a good deal of money owing to the existence of this clause in the Post and Telegraph Act. I believe that we could arrange with the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies to continue the present service upon satisfactory terms but for the obstacle that now stands in the way. We cannot afford to run atilt against the whole world. Australia is a small place, and although we have great possibilities before us, we cannot afford to act in a foolish and unbusinesslike manner. It would be better for us to reverse a decision which was arrived at without sufficient thought, and which has already proved prejudicial to our interests.
– We have so often heard the fright honorable gentleman repudiate the acts of his own ‘ col leagues in the Deakin Government that the exhibition which he has given just now should not take us by surprise. I would remind him of the necessity of introducing a little colouring of fact into the fiction which he places before us. He complains that we are tilting at the universe, and trying to impose impossible conditions on the shipping companies which carry our over-sea mails. As a matter of fact, the right honorable gentleman ought to know that the manager of the Orient Company told the leader of the Opposition-
– I am speaking of two years ago.
– I am speaking of three months ago. The right honorable gentleman concealed from the Committee the fact that the manager of the Orient Company told the leader of the Opposition, not more than four months ago, that the provision with regard to the employment of black labour upon mail steamers had made no difference whatever to the company in shaping their tender.
– Did he not say, however, that he could not be responsible for punctuality if he were obliged to comply with the provision prohibiting the employment of black labour?
– I have not the microscopic mind of the honorable member in respect to small details.
– Is not punctuality the essence of a mail service?
– It is very desirable; but the main point which the right honorable member for Swan was labouring to impress upon the Committee was that the prohibition of the black labour was the cause of our not having a mail contract. That is an absolutely unfounded statement.
– We could have secured a contract two years ago.
– If the Government with which the right honorable gentleman was connected could have secured a good con’ tract two years ago, they should have done so.
– The provision with regard to black labour stood in their way.
– That obstacle was created by the right honorable member and his colleagues. But I did not rise solely to controvert the statements of the right honorable member with regard to the White Ocean principle. If the Government agree with him. they should bring down a Bill to repeal the clause to which the right honorable member so strongly objects.
There is no use in abusing honorable members on this side of the Chamber. The whole Parliament is responsible for what was done.
– I said so.
– There is no need to cas: any reflections upon honorable members sitting on one side of the House or the other. The right honorable gentleman displayed great heat in consequence of an innocent remark of mine in reference to the Public Service Inspector of Western Australia. I thoroughly agree with the right honorable gentleman’s condemnation of the practice of filling all prominent positions in the Public Service in Western Australia by officers from the eastern States. This is a protest which I made long ago. I believe that the time has come when the Government should look round for suitable men in Western Australia. They have good men there, and if thev are not going to arrange for a free interchange of officers between the States, they have no right to fill all the lucrative positions in Western Australia by drafting officers from the eastern States.
– Still, the honorable member used to advocate that.
– I advocated: nothing of the kind. I said that in filling a position such as that of the Public Service Inspector care should be taken to select a man who would be absolutely independent, and that that was more important .than that he should possess local knowledge. I never advocated that the positions of the Inspector of Mails, or Superintendent of the Money Order Office, should be filled by men drawn from the eastern States. I do not think that the right honorable gentleman should have fallen upon me with such vigour as he did because of my innocent little interjection. I said then, and I repeat, that it was more important that the Public Service Inspector should be an independent man than that he should know ali about the geography of the State, and the family history of the public servants of Western Australia.
– That would apply to every other State.
– That may be; but “Western Australia was so isolated for so many years that political patronage was exercised exclusively for the benefit of gentlemen who moved in a very small circle. I do not say that there was anything corrupt about that.
– There is a very small proportion of old Western Australians in the service now.
– I am speaking of some ten years ago. If the right honorable gentleman had any complaint to make against an officer who was appointed by the Government to which he belonged-
– I have nothing to say against the man.
– Why did the honorable member complain unless he could point to some specific misdeed on the part of the officer? Why was he complaining at large?
– I complained that we were treated differently from other States.
– “Unless the right honorable gentleman could show that the appointment had been attended with disadvantage to the public arid to the service, or could point to some specific case* in which the officer was at fault, he should not have complained. The right honorable gentleman, has “Been careful to say that he did not attack the officer, but I think that in spite of that he reflected rather unfairly upon him.
– I had no desire to do that.
– According to the right honorable gentleman, Western Australia, prior to Federation, was a kind of paradise ?
– It was not bad.
– T can tell the right honorable gentleman that I have seen telegraph operators in Coolgardie huddled together in places that could hardly be rivalled by the Black Hole of Calcutta.
– That might have been expected whilst thousands of people were arriving daily.
– The operators had to submit to the conditions I have described until they struck - the first strike of public servants in Australia, so far as I know.
S’ir John Forrest. - They struck for higher pay.
– And also for better conditions.
– No conditions of a similar character ever prevailed in Australia before.
– I know all about that. The right honorable gentleman was in Coolgardie for twenty-four hours now and again, whereas I was there all the time.
The telegraph operators were huddled together under’ conditions which would not be fit for pigs.
– That was seven dr eight years before I left Western Australia.
– It is not so very long ago. Of course, I admit that since then, everything has been very materially improved. The right honorable member for Swan evidently believes that if I had possessed his opportunity, some of my relatives would have been appointed to. the Public Service of Western Australia. I have never attempted .to place a relative of mine in the Public Service, and if any of them possessed ambition in that direction, I should strongly advise them to abandon the idea at once.
– I was merely defending myself.
– Surely the right honorable member was not defending _ himself from my interjection. He is continually attempting to prove that prior to the establishment of Federation, everything in the Western Australian Public Service was all right. “ Notwithstanding that, I could cite case after case in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to prove that the state of affairs which existed at that time was absolutely rotten. I need scarcely recall the fact that upon one occasion the sum of £1,700 in cash was left loose in an office for anybody to pick up. That money was appropriated by a clerk. Surely that fact is not a tribute to the management of the right honorable member. I have no desire to indulge in personalities, but when he replies to me in the way that he did, I must tell him that up to a very recent period the best passport to any position in the Public Service of Western Australia was that of membership in the six families.
– There were thousands of employes in the Postal Department, not one of whom belonged to those families.
– I never implied that the right honorable member promoted his relatives, but it was notorious that the first, and frequently the only, qualification, for a position in the Public Service was that the applicant stood well with the class to which he belongs.
– Well, I repeat the statement. The right honorable member went further, and absolutely denied the franchise to the residents of that State as long as he dared.
– Why, he gave the suffrage to the women.
– Yes, to dish the residents upon the gold-fields. Before the latter could secure justice they were obliged to appeal to the Home Government upon the subject. However, I shall have another opportunity of discussing various portions of these Estimates, and having replied to the particular point raised by the right honorable member, I have no more to say upon the present occasion.
– I listened with very great attention to the speech of the right honorable member for Swan, and it is in consequence of certain remarks which he made - remarks which to some extent are applicable to myself - that I rise to say a few words.
– No personal reference was made to the honorable member
– I do not know whether the right honorable member’s reference was intended to be a persona] or a political one, but seeing that I took an active part in the matters to which he referred, it necessarily follows that if his word’s were levelled at any member of the Government to which he belonged, they must have been levelled at me. In the first place I wish to address myself to the question of the mail subsidy. I entirely disagree with nearly everything that he said in that connexion.
– That is satisfactory.
– It is all nonsense to urge that section 16 of the Post and Telegraph Act is responsible for the existing trouble in regard to tenders for our mail contracts. As the honorable member for Coolgardie has pointed out, the shipping companies have declared that that provision did hot affect the price of their tenders. Moreover, if other companies trading between England and Australia can employ white labour, why cannot the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Steam Navigation Company? There is no reason whatever except that the employment of black labour effects a saving of expense. I have heard it stated that if the companies employed white sailors thev could not run their vessels to time. It is suggested that thev can control black men, but cannot control white men. In this con- nexion I need scarcely point out that the German steamers do not employ black labour.
– What is the amount of their subsidy ?
– It is about the. same. The German subsidy to. one line of steamers represents about £80,000 a year, whereas that paid to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and to the Orient Steam Navigation Company aggregates £176,000 per annum.
– But the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Steam Navigation Company’s steamers cover three times the mileage that is traversed by the German vessels.
– The German vessels make only one trip a month, whereas each of the other lines makes one trip a fortnight. The subsidy, I repeat, is practically the same total in both instances. I am of opinion, however, that the time has arrived when our mails should be carried without any subsidy whatever. Honorable members should recollect that the conditions which obtained twenty-five years ago, do not exist to-day. At the present time there are a large number of fine steam-ships trading between Great Britain and Australia, and if we cannot induce one company to carry our mails, surely we can obtain the services of another. I say that no Government has a right to be dictated to by any particular line of steamers. That, however, practically represents the present position. The Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies conceive that they have a right to dictate to the Commonwealth Government as to the amount of the subsidy which they shall be paid. I claim that if those companies are not prepared to do what, the Government require, the latter should make arrangements to carry the mails upon the poundage System. If they did this, the steamers carrying them would compete with one another. I agree that there is not much difference between payment under the poundage system and the payment of a subsidy to vessels which employ black labour. What we wish to secure is the employment of white labour only on these vessels. Parliament, in its wisdom, having , enacted the provision contained in section 16 of the Post and Telegraph Act, it is not for shipping companies to dictate its repeal. As the right honorable member for Swan has declared, honorable members have a right to know what are the views of the Government upon this question. Let them attempt to repeal that provision, and then they will find whether or not the House and the country is with them.
– Why does the honorable member wish to retain it?
– Because I desire our mails to be carried by vessels which employ only white labour.
– The honorable member will not accomplish his object under a system of poundage.
– 1 understand that, in accordance with the International Postal Conference, we must send our mails by any ship which may happen to be in port at the time we desire to dispatch them.. Thus we are compelled to countenance in a minor way that which we would not countenance in a major way. The right honorable member for Swan has declared that he was opposed to the adoption of the section in question. I may add that he was also opposed to everything of a progressive character. A majority of the Barton Government, however, were in favour of it.
– It was not a Government proposal at all. It was forced upon the Barton Ministry.
– It was agreed to by the Government, and was discussed in Cabinet. It has been approved by Parliament, and if the right honorable member does not favour it, let the present combination Government attempt to alter it. I trust that the Ministry will definitely state their intentions upon this matter. The late Government, I understand, attempted to make adequate provision for the export of perishable products, but to this an objection was urged by the Peninsular and Oriental Company. That is a matter of far greater importance to the people of Australia than is the question of whether the mail steamers shall be an hour or two ahead of- or behind contract times. If the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and the Orient Steam Navigation Company had agreed to make this provision, it would have been of inestimable value. Another important concession which they will not make is to provide indicators enabling consignors of perishable products to ascertain the temperature which is being maintained in the freezing chambers. It is highly improper that consignors of perishable produce should not have an opportunity from the time that a steamer leaves Australia, until it reaches England, to ascertain the temperature in these chambers. There is no reason why the companies should not allow indicators to be placed in a position where the underwriters, or any agent of the consignors, would be able to inspect them. Those who send this produce to the markets of the old world run the risk of losing a whole consignment, and some opportunity should be given them to ascertain whether proper attention is being paid to it.
– Would the honorable member allow coloured crews to be engaged on vessels carrying merchandise?
– Not if I could help it; although it is far more important that we should have white crews on vessels carrying passengers than on cargo steamers. When an accident takes place on a passenger steamer, give me a white rather than a black crew.
– What did the black crew of the Quetta do when that vessel was wrecked ?
-We have also to remember the action of the crew on the occasion of the wreck of the China. When the Quetta struck the. unknown rock, her black crew rushed the rafts, and after the vessel had gone down, endeavoured to take the place of white persons who had managed to obtain a footing on some of them.
– That was not the case with the wreck of the China.
– No; but the facts’ relating to the wreck of the Quetta are on record, and I need not “discuss them. I turn now from this phase of the speech delivered by the right honorable member for Swan to the appointment of Mr. Green as Public Service Inspector for Western Australia, to which he referred. -The right honorable member must know that there was a strong feeling of discontent in regard to the control of the service in Western Australia at the time this appointment was made.
– I did not know of it, and surely I ought to .know something about Western Australia.
– The discontent which existed was voiced by every representative of Western Australia, with the exception of the right honorable member. I shall not mention the name of the officer who was said to be responsible for this state of affairs; but he was one of the right honorable member’s proteges.
– He was an able man.
– I’ believe that he was. When I met him later on, I found that he was an able man, but formed the conclusion that he had been in office perhaps a little too long. It is possible to retain even a- good man in one position toolong.
– The honorable member was surprised to find him so able a man.
– After what I had heard, I certainly was ; but I formed’ the opinion that he was a strong-willed man, who would be difficult to control. As Minister of Home Affairs, I recommended to the Cabinet the appointment cf Mr. Green, who is a most efficient officer. . I did not know him at the time of his appointment, but I was aware that he was one of the strongest men who could be selected for the position, and I felt that he would not be influenced either by a member of the Cabinet, or any member of the serviceIt should be clearly understood, however, that I recommended his appointment to the Cabinet, not of my own motion, but on the recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner. What other course could 1 have adopted ?
– He had never been to Western Australia.
– No. But from information received, the Public Service Commissioner asked that a strong man, who was thoroughly f familiar with his work, should be sent to that distant State, where the means of communication with the Central office are not so convenient as in the Eastern States. ‘
– Does the honorable member think he knew as much as I did about the matter?
– I do not think that he was biased.
– Surely the honorable member does not suggest that I was?
– I do not make the suggestion in any hostile spirit I think that the right honorable member always stands by his friends. I certainly do, and admire any one who does the same. No doubt the right honorable member was unconsciously biased. I know that he was very angry in regard to, some appointment at Bunbury which the Commissioner was about to make.
– He has given the man a good billet.
– I know that the right honorable member was very angry because the Public Service Inspector, Mr. Green, did not recommend the appointment of the officer of whom he approved.
– An injustice was being done to the man.
– I have no doubt that the Inspector, as well as the Commissioner, did what they believed to be right, and what was probably right in the circumstances. The right honorable member may rest satisfied that the Public Service Inspector of Western Australia, although he has the misfortune to hail from New South Wales, is an able officer, and will not do an injustice to any one. If the Public Service Commissioner discovered that he was attempting to do anything of the kind, no one would be more ready than he would be to prevent it. One object which the Public Service Commissioner had in view in selecting an officer for this position from one of the eastern States was that he desired to secure the services of a man who was familiar with the system of grading public servants, and granting increases in the eastern States, so that the whole service might be placed on an uniform basis. Mr. Green had been employed for a considerable time under the Public Service Board of New South Wales, and was familiar with the system which has, to an extent, been adopted by the Commonwealth. I cannot say anything with regard to the parcels officer to whom reference has been made, nor can I say anything of the other appointments.
– Neither Mr. Green nor the Commissioner had ever been to Western Australia.
– That was a good qualification.
– I admit that that is the case. I have a most pronounced aversion for the system upon which the Post and Telegraph Department - including the telephone service - is conducted. Although the Department, as a whole, does not pay, it seems to me that the revenue would be largely increased if greater facilities for telephonic communication with telegraph stations were afforded. Let me deal with the case of a farming district.* I know of a little township called Pleasant Hills, in my electorate, which is twenty miles away from a telegraph station. If there were a telephone line between that township and the station, the farmers of the district would avail themselves of it to send telegrams to various places in reference to their produce and supplies. But if they wish to send a telegram at the present time, they must undertake a journey of twenty miles. The result is that, except in very urgent cases, .telegrams are not transmitted, and the Department in this way is deprived of revenue which it would otherwise secure, both from the telephone and telegraph services. The Department should not consider in every case whether a line will actually pay at the outset. A line might not pay at first, in one sense, although it would’ do so indirectly in another. The more we deprive centres of population, and more particularly the outlying parts of the country, of the means of telephonic communication, through the ridiculously absurd and stringent regulation regarding the giving of a guarantee, the worse it will be for the Department.
– Those regulations were brought in by the Government of which the honorable gentleman was a member.
– But I objected to this practice. Although I was a member of the Government, I could not refrain from taking exception to the action of the Department in regard to these and other matters, considering that it was little short of a public scandal. I have also been endeavouring to secure the construction of a telephone line to Gobarralong, near Gundagai, but the rigid regulations of the Department will not permit the residents of the district to secure this convenience at a reasonable cost.
– Would not the Department take notice of the honorable member’s representations when he was a Minister?
– No. There was less cohesion in the Cabinet to which the honorable member refers, than in any other of which I have been a member. There is a scattered farming population in the Gobarralong district, to which a telephone line would be of great service ; but the Department refuses to construct it. I could also refer the Committee to other cases of a similar character. When an application for the construction of a line is made, the reply usually received is that it would involve a large expenditure in the purchase of posts ‘and wires, and that the Department cannot see its way clear to accede to it. Another matter to which I desire to refer, and which is a very sore point with me, is the failure to make provision for the housing of a clock at the Corowa post-office. Before Federation was established, a sum of £100, or £150, was promised by the State Government for the erection of a clock-tower. A clock had already Seen given by ‘trie Government, and it remains to this day under one of the arches, reminding one more of a coffin than of anything else. The vote necessary for the building of the tower was actually passed, and although the honorable member for Denison, who was then PostmasterGeneral, obtained the written approval of the State Ministry, the Premier would not allow the work to be carried out. This is an illustration of how unreasonable and unfair a Government may be in dealing with matters of this kind.
– There is a big principle involved. If that clock were placed in position, every other post-office in the Commonwealth would require one.
– But a clock is already at the post-office, and I might point to one or two other cases in which clocks have been provided. I should not have mentioned this matter, but that the money necessary for the building of .the tower was actually promised prior to Federation, and the money voted on the Federal Estimates. The administration of the Post Office is responsible for seething discontent throughout New South Wales. I hope that the Minister will not fail to be impressed toy what honorable members have pointed out as to the injury done to country districts by depriving them of telephonic communication. 1 think that the people in the country should be given all the conveniences possible, even though occasionally a telephone may not pay. To give another Illustration of bad administration, I would repeat an experience to which I have already referred in this Chamber. I recently had occasion to send a telephone message* from Sydney to Katoomba. I therefore went to the telephone and rang up the local postoffice, but as the telephone was not registered for the purpose, the officials would not take my message, and I had to walk a distance of half or three-quarters of a mile to the office. Then, having paid for the privilege of transmitting my message, I had to place 3d.” in the slot to pay for the use of a bureau telephone, so that altogether I spent is. 6d., when I could Have sent a telegram for od. I wish to impress upon the Minister the need for taking, hold of some of these officials by the coat collar and shaking them into alter ing their rigid rules, so that we may nave a progressive system like that of New Zealand. There are many other matters connected with post-office administration to which I might refer, but I do not intend to say anything more at present. I should not have risen to speak, had I not wished to notice the remarks of the right honorable member for Swan, and to emphasize what has been said by other honorable members about the discontent existing in New South Wales, and, I believe, throughout Australia, in regard to the present state of affairs.
– I do not wish to discuss to-night the action of the late Government in regard to the mail contracts, or the wisdom or folly of the provision in the Postal Act to which reference was made by the right honorable member for Swan, because I shall have some other opportunity for dealing with those matters more effectually. My object low is to draw attention to several matters connected with postal administration, to which I should like the Postmaster-General to give consideration. In New South Wales many country post-offices are conducted by unofficial postmasters, whose services are valued by the amount of revenue earned by the office of which they have charge, rather than by the extent and the nature of their duties. I know of cases in which these unofficial post-officers are practically sweated by the Department. In one ase an unofficial postmaster has to attend to three telephones, and during a visit not exceeding an hour in duration I have known him to be required to answer one or other of these telephones at least three times. About 4,000 letters pass through the office. 800 messages are sent by telephone to the nearest telegraph office to be transmitted as telegrams, and 400 telegraphic messages are received, the revenue of the office being £180 a year. That amount, however, is not an indication of the value of the ser vices performed. I maintain that regard should also be paid to the surroundings under which work of this kind is done. The case I have mentioned is not an isolated one. I could refer to a number of others which are equally hard. When the Post Office was under State control, the rules were not so hard-and-fast as they are at present, and many of these men would have been made official postmasters, and would be in receipt of salaries more commensurate with their services. It must not be forgotten that, in addition to its direct revenue, the Post Office returns a large indirect revenue to the Commonwealth and it must not be viewed too much from the financial stand-point. Our circumstances are very different from those of Continental countries, where there is a large population and an immense amount of business to be done within a comparatively limited area. Ours is a young country, which is in need of development, and we should assist to develop it by giving every convenience we can to those who settle on the land, so that they may not only remain there, but may induce others to follow their example. We shall not be doing our duty to the people of this continent if we permit hardandfast rules to be drawn which will prevent this assistance being given. The people in the country have to depend entirely upon the post-office, the telephone exchange, and the telegraph office for the transaction of their business, and their success depends very largely upon the proper administration of the Postal Department. Unless we recognise our duty in this matter we shall fall short of our obligations to those whom we represent. Another matter to which I wish to refer is the practice under which officials are sent out to, and are left many years in, arid parts of the country, where there are few of tlie comforts and conveniences of civilization, and they cannot get their children properly educated, while their wives and female relatives suffer from the climate. There should be some provision for the occasional relieving of such officers, and men living under more . comfortable conditions should occasionally be made to exchange places with them. I know one case in which an official, who has proved his worth by his services to the State since he was a boy, was sent into a hot, dry part of the country fourteen years ago, with the result that his wife’s health is now almost permanently undermined, while he himself does not enjoy the robust health which he would probably enjoy if differently situated. The Postmaster-General knows how trying the climate is in the western and north-western parts of New South Wales, and I wish to impress upon him the need! for introducing some system which will provide for the occasional relieving of these men. After a man has been two or three years in a disagreeable or unhealthy climate, he should be removed to a more salubrious one, so as to preserve the health’ of his wife and children. There should be some such system of exchange, as they have in the Wesleyan body, whose ministers occupy a circuit for only three years, and are then moved on to another. Again, it often happens that a boy obtains a position in the Postal Department at the age of fourteen or fifteen years, and his parents have then to leave the State, to go elsewhere to obtain employment, leaving him behind at an age when he should not be without their care, attention, and guidance. In such cases the boy should be transferred, if possible, to an office near his parents’ new home, so that he may remain under their guardianship a little longer. Several cases of that kind which have come under my notice seem to point to an irrational administration of the Department, without regard to surrounding circumstances. I think that all these matters are worthy of consideration. There is another important matter to which I wish to direct attention. I have taken some trouble to obtain information with regard to the difficulties which surround our telephone system. I find, upon looking through the records of the Department, that in 1901-2 conferences of the principal electrical officers of the Commonwealth were held in Adelaide and Melbourne with a view to advising the PostmasterGeneral upon the most economical and practicable system of working our telephone system. It would be idle for any honorable member to pose as an expert authority on telephone matters, but I think it may be interesting to honorable members to have placed before them some of the information contained in the report of the electrical officers who met in conference. It is stated that in Germany, Switzerland, and England, it has been found’ impracticable to carry on the telephone systems upon terms and conditions similar to those which apply throughout the Commonwealth. They came to the conclusion that in order to carry on their services economically, it was necessary to introduce the toll or call system. In some cases telephones were almost continuously in use, whilst in others the subscribers only occasionally rung up the Exchange, and it was considered unfair to make’ a uniform annual charge for the use of a telephone irrespective df the’ extent to which it was availed of. Therefore, it was decided to adopt the toll system under which a subscriber pays according to the number of messages he sends. The English and German scales differ somewhat.
– Have they any means of registering the number of calls made by the subscribers ?
– They cannot adopt an automatic register, because there is no means of discriminating between calls which are answered and those which are not. The system adopted was to place officers at the telephones for a given period, and to check the number of calls, distinguishing between those which are replied to and those which are not answered, and to then strike an average. It has been found that this works out very well, and with fairness to subscribers. The members of the Convention in their report say : -
It may be urged in favour of the toll system that it is more equitable than the flat system of uniform rales of subscription, inasmuch as the charge is based on the extent to which the exchange is used ; moreover, under the toll system the wear and tear, cost of attendance, and all working charges are reduced, seeing that each subscriber will economize, a% much as possible, in the use made of the service. Not only will reduced wear and tear result, but the attendants will be able to deal with more subscribers and give a quicker service than under a flat rate giving unlimited service for a fixed uniform charge.
In England the charge is id. per call up to 1,500, £d. per call from 1,500 to 3,000, and is. 6d. per 100 for any calls beyond that number. In Switzerland a uniform charge of Jd. per call is made, and no limit is fixed to the number of calls which may be made. It has been found necessary to increase the charge to subscribers in accordance with the number of subscribers who may ‘be connected with any particular service. As the number of subscribers increases so the charges advance. Where what is known as the flat system, now in force in the Commonwealth, prevails, the charges are much higher than those which prevail here. It is highly desirable that subscribers should be called upon to pay in proportion to the extent to which they use their telephones, and that something should be done’ to deter subscribers from making use of the telephones for other than legitimate purposes. One of the great complaints made in New South Wales - and I have no doubt that the same thing would apply to other States - is that a great deal of the time of the attendants at the switch-board is taken up by people who gossip over the lines. It is calculated that if the toll system were adopted, only onehalf of the present number of calls would be received, and that the volume of serious business transacted would be just as great if not greater. The unnecessary messages which are sent over the lines not only entail extra work upon the attendants, but also greater wear and tear upon the telephones. The report of the experts points to the necessity for a radical change in our telephone system. If we introduced the toll system, we should make subscribers pay in proportion to the use they make of their telephones. The telephone subscribers obtain wonderful value for their money, and large business houses could not grumble if they were called upon to subscribe upon a higher scale than at present. If the toll system were introduced, the instruments would not be used for other than legitimate purposes. Subscribers who only occasionally used their instrument’s would be placed upon a fairer footing, and we should have far less wear and tear upon our telephones. If we were able to cheapen the service, we should popularize it, and at the same time make it yield a profit. At present also a great deal of time is taken up by the misuse of the telephone by friends of subscribers.
– There is a regulation to guard against that.
– Yes ; but it is very difficult to enforce it. The only system by which we can check abuses is that which I have indicated. The report from which I have quoted is a very valuable one, and I earnestly commend it to the attention of the Minister.- If he will take this matter in hand, and introduce a more satisfactory system, I shall give him my hearty support, and shall consider that he has justified his occupancy of his position. The Minister has intimated that he intends to introduce a new system which will do away with the heavy charges now imposed upon subscribers to country telephone systems. Whilst I heartily approve of any scheme which will afford relief to the man in the lonely bush, I know that the PostmasterGeneral will experience difficulties in giving effect to any such scheme. Should he adopt the suggestion that in country districts telephone wires should be run along the tops of fences, we shall require to throw the whole cost of maintaining these lines upon the people whom they serve. Othewise, endless trouble will be created. The experiment which has been outlined, constitutes a step in the right direction. These temporary wires will demonstrate whether the Department would be justified in erecting permanent lines, and from that point of view alone, the innovation suggested seems to be a desirable one.
– The Postal Department is one in which a man of brains can initiate reforms which are very sadly needed. At present, I find that differential treatment is being meted out by the Department to various towns throughout the Commonwealth. Thus, in the Richmond River district, Lismore receives different treatment from Grafton. The former has communication with Ballina and Coraki, but subscribers are subjected to no special charge in this connexion. /The same practice, however, is not observed at Grafton. I think that the Postmaster-General might very well investigate existing anomalies in country districts.- In the Sydney metropolitan area, there are something like 5,000 telephones, and subscribers are called upon to pay £8 a year for the use of the exchange there. In the country districts, however, subscribers are required to pay the same fee, although they have not nearly the same conveniences. As a matter of fact, the towns in the country districts at present receive very different treatment from that which they received prior to Federation. Formerly, fire brigades were connected with the telephone exchange free of charge. Now, however, they have been cut off by the Postal Department.
– Not in Victoria.
– Only .the other day I received a letter from the Grafton Fire Brigade, asking me to interview the Minister with a view to preventing it from being deprived of telephonic communication. (However, I have since learned that the brigade-station has been cut off from the exchange. There is another matter to which I desire to direct attention. The canegrowers in the northern portion of New South Wales strongly object to telegraph poles being erected in their cane-fields. I know of one instance in which the poles were placed practically in the middle of the cane crop. I think that in future the Minister might see that they are erected along the road. Honorable members will admit that our farmers already suffer from sufficient disabilities. Yet, we find that the moment a request is made for telephonic communication by a new settlement, the Postal Department sends the applicants a form, setting out an estimate of the cost of the work. It actually deters the people from asking for these facilities. Where settlers are some nine or ten miles distant from a doctor, telephonic communication is nothing short of a boon. I claim that it would be wise not to frighten the people by imposing these high charges, but to make an endeavour to popularize the telephone as far as possible.
– I desire to say a word or two upon the point which has been raised by the honorable member for Cowper. The treatment which has been meted out to the country districts in regard to telephonic communication is unjust. Around Melbourne and Sydney people are able to communicate by telephone for a distance of twenty miles or more without paying anything more than the annual fee. The ordinary interpretation of the term “ trunk line “ is from exchange to exchange. In the metropolitan districts no such interpretation is placed upon that term; but if residents in the country districts desire to obtain a mile of telephone wire, it is regarded as a trunk line, and, as a result, special rates rule upon it. There ought not to be one procedure in the case of our great cities, and another in that of the rural districts. I am hopeful that some reform will yet be effected in this connexion. It is not right So ask, as a concession, that one should be able to talk upon a trunk, line, over great distances, without payment of some special charge. What I have suggested is that in districts where there is a community ot interests, that fact should be recognised, and subscribers should be allowed to communicate without any trunk line rates being levied within the district. It is unjust that a resident of Sydney or Melbourne should be able to talk over long distances without paying any additional fee when a person in the country cannot speak upon a wire which happens to cross a river, as at Grafton, without being called upon to pay for the use of a trunk line. But in our anxiety to obtain all that we can for our constituents, we ought not to forget that this matter has a commercial basis. Any “district which is prepared to guarantee a return of 10 per cent, upon the cost of construction to meet all charges, should be provided with telephonic communication. We all know that the telephone has accomplished a great work in every part of the world. It should accomplish a great work in Australia. I should not have risen but that I desired to refer to certain remarks made by the honorable member for Hume in regard to the White Ocean policy. In dealing with the question of black labour, to which his attention was drawn by the remarks of the right honorable member for Swan, he said that although the French and German liners employed white crews they received no greater subsidy than did the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Gompanies. I desire to place before the Committee a few facts with regard to the matter. The Peninsular and Oriental Company receives £85,000 per annum for its Australian service, while the Orient Company receives a similar subsidy.On the other hand, the North German line receives a subsidy of £11 5,000 per annum for its Australian service, while the French line - the Messageries Maritimes Company - has an annual subsidy of £124,000 in respect of its Australian and New Caledonian service. It will thus be seen that the English services are granted’ a much lower subsidy in the aggregate than are either the German or French lines. But the fairest way to state the case is to take the rate of subsidy per mile. For their Australian service the North German Lloyd Company receive 6s. 8d., and the French service 8s. 4d. per mile run, while the Peninsular and Oriental Company receive only 2s.7d. per mile run. Therefore it is not a fact that the Peninsular and Oriental and the Orient Companies are receiving anything approaching the subsidy paid by foreign Governments to foreign mail steamers on our coast.
– Like other honorable members, I have a number of grievances, more particularly relating to the telephone service, to ventilate. I mentioned a few days ago that I proposed to draw attention to the determination of the Department to construct a telephone line from Geelong to Warrnambool, and to waive the guarantee that has hitherto been required in connexion with such undertakings.
I have nothing to say against the construction of the line, but as the Department has not insisted upon a guarantee being given, by the persons to be served, I maintain that a similar concession should be given to other parts of the Commonwealth.
– Every one will be treated alike.
– We desire the line to be carried on to Hamilton.
– We were told that the. Department would not undertake to con struct a line from Geelong to Colac -where it was really needed - unless the guarantee were given.
– They did not even desire to construct it with a guarantee.
– It was subsequently pointed out that if the line were carried beyond Colac to Warrnambool it would pay, and it was decided to erect it. There are various districts in Queensland which are in the same position. If a telephone line were carried to a certain point in these districts it would not pay; but if it were extended a further distance of 100 miles it is most probable that it would.
– If the honorable member can put such a case before me it is more than probable that the work will be carried out.
– Queensland has perhaps the greatest length of telegraph lines to be found in any of the States. There is a population of something like 100,000 people in the northern part of the State, and they are certainly entitled to some consideration. It took me nearly eighteen months to secure the construction of a telephone line from Ravenswood to Charters Towers, notwithstanding that at one end of the proposed line there was a population of 26,000, while there was a population of several thousands at the other. Every one knows that there is always a large volume of telegraphic and telephonic business to be transacted in connexion with a mining centre, and more particularly when there is a Stock Exchange in the town that is served. But in the case to which I refer, the Department first of all asked that a guarantee should be given. The residents of the district replied that they would give it. Then it was said that a cash guarantee was to be given, and the residents replied, “We are willing not merely to give a guarantee, but to deposit £1,400, the estimated cost of the line, with the Department. Notwithstanding all these facts, something like twelve or eighteen months elapsed before the line was constructed. I understand that the regulation requiring the giving of a guarantee was the result of the construction of the telegraph line to Tarcoola - at a cost of £13,000 or £14,000 - which is practically a white elephant. We have no more direct evidence that the telephone line to Warrnambool will pay than we had that the Tarcoola telegraph line would show a profit.
– It will pass through a splendid district.
– For some time the people of Coobiaby, on the Flinders, in the north-west of Queensland, have been seeking to secure telephonic communication. The line would pass through one of the finest pastoral districts in Australia, comprising a stretch of country over 200 miles in length, between Richmond and Cloncurry. In portion of that district the wet seasons are very severe, and the country is so flat that if there is a flood at one end of the district the flood waters run into Alick’s Creek, while if it occurs at the other end they flow in the opposite direction. Honorable members will readily understand that in the rainy season a telephone service might result in the saving of thousands of heads of cattle and sheep, and that in this respect alone it would represent a big asset to the Commonwealth. During thedrought in New South Wales the Railway Commissioners of that State were prepared to carry starving stock, as well as food supplies for them, at a rate out of all proportion to the actual cost, for the simple reason that they realized that the saving of stock which would result would be a national benefit.
– The same thing was done in Victoria.
– I understand that it was. Something should be done to expedite the construction of the line I have mentioned. I frankly admit that the people are. not prepared to give a guarantee.
– The Department asks too big a guarantee.
– In this case they demand a guarantee on £4,000, whilst the residents of the district estimate that the line would not cost more than £2,000. Reference has been made during the debate to the undermanning of the Department. I do not know what is the position in the cities of the Commonwealth, but many country post-offices are certainly undermanned. At the present time there are only two officials in the Richmond post-office in north-west Queensland. That town is now connected with the railway system of the State, and promises to be one of the most important in the north-west. When the railway terminus was eighty miles nearer the coast, there were some 400 carriers engaged in carting pro duce from it to different parts of the west. These carriers now make Richmond their head -quarters, and honorable members will readily recognise that the postal business of the town has enormously increased, inasmuch as the mails for the western part of Queensland are sent out from that centre. It is now proposed that the postmaster shall act as electoral registrar, and I certainly think that something should be done to relieve the pressure on these officers. The position is the same at Ravenswood, a mining centre which has come into prominence during the last three years, and promises to be a second Charters Towers. The Department does not seem to realize how rapidly such places grow. Although the population is very much larger than it was some time ago, no increase has been made in the staff employed at this office, and I think that the Department should endeavour to remedy such a state of affairs. Another matter to which I wish to call attention is the arrangements which are made for the carriage of gold from small mining centres, such as are scattered about in Queensland, especially in the northern parts of the State. In many of these places there is no official receiving office, so that the miner who wishes to send away 10, 15, or 20 ozs. of gold has to intrust it to some person against whom he has no legal claim in case of loss. I have not heard of any instance in which the gold has not been safely transmitted to its destination, but the senders are always uncertain that it will go safely. Considering how hard they have to work to win this gold, I think some protection might be given to them. They should at least be given a receipt for the gold which they send away. I understand that there is some difficulty in dealing with this question, because the Department is unwilling to undertake all the responsibility ; but, on the other hand, we ought to give consideration to the position of men who are virtually pioneers. Some of these men get a mail only once a month, and perhaps, in wet weather, only once in three months, so that their lives are very lonely and comfortless. The right honorable member for Swan had a good deal to say to-night in regard to the black labour provision in the Post and Telegraph Act. and he asked the Committee if they could see any difference between a poundage arrangement and a contract. Practically, I say that I do not. There is, perhaps, a distinction without a difference.
– Then the honorable member had better join me in trying to get the provision repealed.
– The right honorable gentleman had better join me in trying to arrange for a Commonwealth mail service. He spoke as if the big English shipping companies were philanthropists, and sent their vessels here to assist us in developing our industries, whereas, if it did not pay them to carry our butler and other products, they would not send their vessels here. In Queensland the old Australian Steam Navigation Company at one time refused to enter into negotiations for a new mail tender, except at an exorbitant rate, and so extortionate were their demands that Mr., afterwards Sir Charles, Lilley, cabled to London, and ordered two steamers, of which the Governor Blackall was one, to enable the Government to carry’ its own mails. The company, seeing he was in earnest, gave way, and eventually had not only to accept his terms, but to buy the boats as well. It seems to me that the Commonwealth might make arrangements for the transmission of its mails on steamers of its own, manned by white labour. Great Britain subsidizes only vessels which are so constructed that, in times of war, they can be used as cruisers; and, if we took the matter in hand, we might obtain vessels which could not only be used as cruisers, but would provide proper accommodation for the carriage of our products at the right temperatures, which is not done now, and would give opportunities for the training of Australians in naval pursuits. If such action was threatened by the Government, it would bring the present companies to their bearings. They think that the Government are in a hole, and a combination has been formed to extort as much as they can for the carriage of our mails. I do not see much difference between having railways for the conveyance of goods on land under the control of a Government, and having vessels for the transit of goods by water under such control. I see no reason why we should not run our own steamers for the purpose of carrying our produce to foreign markets in proper condition, and at reasonable rates. I do not think that the right honorable member for Swan was quite sincere in his references to the advantages attaching to the employment of black crews.
– What I said was that we should be consistent, and that if we would not send our mails by steamers manned by black labour, we should not travel by them.
– Black crews have not proved very successful, so far as our mercantile marine is concerned. I remember very well the incident mentioned by the honorable member for Hume in connexion with the wreck of the Quetta. I was in Northern Queensland at the time, and I can assure honorable members that the circumstances connected with that wreck were not very creditable to the black crew. Not only were the boats rushed by the black members of the crew, but many unfortunate women and children, who were clinging on to pieces of wreckage, were thrown off in order to make room for lascars.
– Many instances of a similar character could be quoted against white seamen.
– Where; and when?
– There was a case quite recently on the American coast.
– I would sooner have a white man than a black man at any time, and I think we can point with pride to the manner in which British seamen have acted in times of shipwreck.
– What is the point of the honorable member’s remark?
– It has been stated that black crews are just as good as white crews.
– I did not touch upon that point.
– No, but other honorable members have. It is astonishing that whenever the question of obtaining cheap labour comes up for discussion, some honorable members take advantage of the opportunity to decry white labour. We have been told that our white seamen are loafers, drunkards, and the scum of the earth. I say that they are nothing of the kind, but that, on the contrary, they are as good men as are to be found upon the face of the earth. I trust that the Minister will give attention to the various matters which I have brought under his notice, and that the remedy will be applied as early as possible.
House adjourned at 10.46 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 November 1904, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19041116_reps_2_23/>.