House of Representatives
22 November 1904

2nd Parliament · 1st Session



Imperial recognition of australian laws.

Mr. higgins.- i desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he has had his attention drawn to the miscarriage of justice affecting Australians that has occurred in London in the Dacre case? The magistrate before whom the case was tried is reported to have stated that he did not know whether or not there was a Married Women’s Property Act in Victoria, and, therefore, he discharged the prisoner. i wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he will give his attention to this matter, with a view to making arrangements to have all our States Acts’ sent to the leading law libraries in Great Britain and Ireland - just half-a-dozen or so - and suggesting to the Home authorities that a short noncontentious Bill should be passed through the Imperial’ Parliament to enable the Courts in Great Britain to take judicial notice of our legislation.

Mr. REID. - I think that the honorable and learned member has directed attention to a matter of great importance, and the suggestion he has made is one that deserves very prompt consideration. It does seem anomalous that the laws passed under the Crown in different parts of the Empire should stand in Great Britain only upon the same footing as foreign laws. I think that that is a state of affairs which should be remedied without delay, and that it would be of great convenience in the administration of justice throughout the Empire if that were done. Of course, the remedy can be applied as my honorable and learned friend has suggested, only by an Act of the Imperial Parliament, and I shall take the matter into very special consideration.

page 7205

QUESTION

OCEAN FREIGHTS TO LONDON

Mr KELLY:
WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES

– 1 desire to ask the PostmasterGeneral whether his attention has been directed to a statement contained in the progress report of the Royal Commission on the butter industry, which reads as follows : -

The question of the efficiency pf a fortnightly, as compared with a weekly, service, has engaged our attention, and we are of opinion that, in the best interests of our export trade, there should be a regular effective weekly service with London. It must be admitted that the regular weekly service supplied by the mail companies has, in a very large measure, helped to. build up this national industry.

I wish to ask, further, whether the Minister, when endeavouring to secure the maintenance of a weekly mail service between England and Australia, will again take into consideration, in addition to the ques-. lion of cost, the importance of the regularity of such a service to our export trade in butter and other frozen commodities.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– My attention has been directed to the report referred to. The question of arranging for the conveyance of mails from the Commonwealth to England has already received the attention of the Government. We felt, however, that we were acting in the public interest when we declined to pay the exorbitant sum asked by the tenderers for the mail service.

page 7205

QUESTION

PUBLIC SERVANTS’ INCREMENTS

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I wish to ask the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that although five months of the year have elapsed, no increments have yet been paid to officers employed in the Post and Telegraph Department in Sydney. Further, whether he will take steps to see that this is remedied?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I shall make inquiries into’ the matter, and see that it is attended to.

page 7206

QUESTION

TARIFF COMMISSION: CONDUCT OF BUSINESS

Mr THOMAS:
BARRIER, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I should like to know whether the attention of the Prime Minister has been directed to the following statement in reference to the Tariff Commission, published in the South Australian Advertiser of yesterday : -

Many names have come before Mr. Reid in various ways, but so close is the attention he is obliged to give to such petty, paltry details as keeping a quorum that he is debarred from giving that single-eyed attention to the matter which it deserves.

Further, I wish to know whether there is any. truth in the statement?

Mr REID:
Minister for External Affairs · EAST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · Free Trade

– I must confess that the conduct of some honorable members, especially of the honorable member who has asked the question, has caused me considerable anxiety, inmy desire to promote the public business, and has added a new department to those which have to be attended to by Ministers. I am happy to say, however, that with the able assistance of the honorable member for Dalley, we are managing to carry on without a break. I think that, in regard to other matters, the paragraph is a little mixed.

page 7206

QUESTION

WHITE OCEAN POLICY

Mr WEBSTER:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I wish to ask the

Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the following paragraph, which appeared in the Melbourne Age: -

Sydney, Monday.

Mr. G. H.Reid’s attitude on the “White Ocean “ question, as indicated by him during the discussion on the postal estimates, does not meet with the approval of his principal supporter in this State. “ If this objectionable plea of political poverty,” says the Daily Telegraph, “ is to stand good, how is Mr. Reid to justify his present position as leader of the Government without a further appeal to the people at the. elections? He was not returned at the head of a majority, and he might just as well argue that consequently he could not accept power during the present Parliament. It was as a protest against the supremacy of the Socialistic party that Mr. Reid was put in office as Prime Minister, and if during the present Parliament he is not able to give effect to that protest the only proper alternative is to dissolve Parliament and have a fresh appeal to the people on the new issue, which, since the last elections, has drawn a new cleavage line in Federal politics.”

Is it the intention of the Prime Minister to adopt the advice therein given, or is he inclined to adhere to his latest pronouncement upon the White Ocean question?

Mr REID:
Free Trade

– The matter referred to, in common with allothers to which my attention is directed, will receive my best consideration.

ADJOURNMENT (Formal).

Rifle Club Railway Passes.

Mr SPEAKER:

– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Kennedy that he desires to move the adjournment of the House, to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The action of the Defence Department in refusing railway passes to rifle clubs, and other matters.” I do not understand the last three words.

Mr McDonald:

– They mean matters connected therewith.

Mr SPEAKER:

– As, under the Standing Orders, a motion of adjournment must relate to one definite question, I shall have to interpret these words to mean other matters relating to the refusal of railway passes by the Department of Defence.

Five honorable members having risen in their places,

Question proposed.

Mr McDONALD:
Kennedy

– I am very sorry to have to take this course, but I think that when I have stated my case the House will agree with me that, under the circumstances, it is absolutely necessary for me to dp so. A few days ago I received a telegram from : Normanton, informing me that the members of the local rifle club had been refused railway passes to enable them to travel to Croydon to compete with the rifle club at that town. I saw Captain Collins on the subject, without effect, and then interviewed the Minister, from whom I learned that there is a regulation now in force which prohibits the granting of passes for distances over fifty miles. This regulation has been framed practically in the interests of one section of the community only.

Mr Page:

– In the interests of Victoria.

Mr McDONALD:

– I will not say of Victoria only. It has been framed either in the interests of one section only, or its framing is due to gross ignorance of the circumstances of rifle clubs in distant parts of Queensland. I am inclined to take the latter view, because I have been informed that the Minister is going into the matter at a later date, and will have a map pre- pared showing the situation of the various clubs. Most of the clubs in Northern Queensland are more than fifty miles apart. Their members are required to go to enormous expense in perfecting themselves in the art of rifle shooting, and are then practically debarred by this stupid regulation from taking part in inter-club competitions. I do not know whether this Government or the previous Government are responsible for the regulation of which I complain, though I admit that it is necessary to have regulations preventing rifle clubs from travelling all over Australia at the expense of the Commonwealth.

Mr McCay:

– The regulation was framed long before this Government came into office; I think in the time of the Barton Administration.

Mr McDONALD:

– A rifle club in a place like Normanton is, by this regulation, practically cut off from all other clubs. Going south, the nearest club is 220 miles away. To the east, the nearest club is at Croydon, or at. Golden Gate, places three or four miles distant from each other, and eighty or ninety miles away from Normanton, while Thursday Island to the north is 300 miles away, and Cloncurry, to the south, is between zoo and 300 miles away. If restrictions of this kind are placed on the members of rifle clubs in outlandish places, they will refuse to be hampered by them, and will disband. Most of the members of these clubs are expert bushmen, who could find their way from one end of Australia to another, and exist for weeks on a few pounds of rations. Without wishing to disparage the dwellers in our towns, I say that such men, as members of a defence force, are worth half-a-dozen townsmen. Honorable members must recollect that even when railway passes are granted, the members of clubs who travel away from home to engage in rifle matches are put to considerable expense. When the members of the Normanton club visit Croydon, for example, it costs them from£1 to £2 or £3, according to the length of time they stay there. Seeing that they are ready to spend their own money in perfecting themselves in rifle shooting, we should do something to assist them. The regulation of which I complain is a hardship to a number of other clubs as well. The Ravenswood club, for instance, is practically isolated from all other clubs, that township being sixty-four miles from Char ters Towers, while the nearest place at which there is a rifle club is Sellheim, fiftysix or fifty-seven miles away. Going towards the coast, Townsville is sixty or seventy miles away. Hughenden is similarly cut off from other big centres. I believe that they are establishing” a rifle club at Richmond, about eighty miles away, while at Winton, 144 miles to the south-west, there is already a rifle club, and another at Torrens Creek, fifty-six miles away. The clubs in more settled districts are not affected by the regulation, and, therefore, do not feel the pinch ; but a great many clubs in Northern Queensland feel it. The club at Charters Towers, where there is a population of 26,000 people, is almost in the same position as the others to which I have referred, though it’ is able to compete with the club at Sellheim. Townsville, however, eighty-two miles away, has a population of 12,000 or 15,000 and the clubs of the two places should be allowed to compete with each other. The action of the Department in preparing a map at this stage, to show the situation of the various clubs, is evidence of want of knowledge on the part of the officials who are responsible for this regulation, or of carelessness which’ should be severely censured. They must have compiled this regulation without taking the trouble to obtain a map to ascertain where the different clubs are situated.

Mr McCay:

– Of course the regulation does allow District Commandants to specially authorize the members of rifle clubs to travel distances in excess of fifty miles.

Mr McDONALD:

– But in this instance the District Commandant would not give any such authorization, even on the recommendation of the Minister himself.

Mr Isaacs:

– Would the honorable member be good enough to read the regulation ?

Mr McCay:

– The regulation declares that members of rifle clubs may travel free over the railways twice a year within a radius of fifty miles, and that the District Commandants may authorize them to travel free over distances exceeding fifty miles.

Mr McDONALD:

– The Minister very kindly informed me that he would do what he could in connexion with this matter, and that I could wire to those interested at Normanton to the following effect: -

Final decision rests with Commandant. Minister wired him suggesting special circumstances under which passes may be granted.

Subsequently I received the following letter from the Department: -

Dear Sir,

With reference to your interview with the Minister requesting the issue of free passes to members of rifle clubs in the Normanton and Croydon. districts to enable them to join in competition, I am directed to inform you that the Minister has received a report from Colonel Plomer, the Acting Commandant, Military Forces, Queensland, in which he states that the money on the vote will not be sufficient to allow of the passes being issued.

The sum voted upon the Estimates for this purpose is, I understand, £600. Evidently the greater portion of that amount has been spent within the more settled districts. Under the circumstances I think that some small measure of justice might have been done to rifle clubs situated in remote localities. If the members of these organizations are not encouraged by the Department, the probability is that they will become apathetic, that they will relax their practice, and finally disband. Thus the services of very valuable men may be lost to our rifle clubs. There is one passage in the letter which I received from the Defence Department, to which I take very strong objection. The communication continues -

I am also to state that the amount in question is that voted by the House of Representatives, and that specific instructions have been issued to the Commandant that the (amounts voted on the Estimates must not, on any account whatever, be exceeded ; .but as you were previously informed, the Minister intends to go fully into the position of the rifle clubs in Queensland with respect to the regulation limiting the issue of passes to distances up to fifty miles, in order to see whether a modification may be necessary in the case of rifle clubs in a similar situation to those pf Normanton and Croydon.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Collins,

Secretary, Department of Defence.

The part to which I take special objection reads -

I am also to state that the amount in question is that voted by the House of Representatives.

It appears to me that we do not heed to be reminded by any officer of the Defence Department of the amount which has been voted by this House for the purpose. We voted what we deemed to be sufficient at the time. What the Committee of Supply specially objected to was the large expenditure which was being incurred in connexion with the Permanent Military Force, as against the rifle clubs, lt appears to me that certain officers in the Department have a greater regard for the members of the

Permanent Forces than they have for the members of our rifle clubs. I differ from them, and personally I shall always resent any reminder on the part of paid officials of the service as to what this House may have done. They have no right to act in that way, and it is just about time that we resented it. It is true that we voted a certain sum of money to cover the travelling expenses of members of rifle clubs. Probably we should have voted more had it been shown that the amount in question was not sufficient. Nevertheless, we do not need to be reminded of what we have done by any officer in the service. If any person is entitled to give us such a reminder it is the Minister himself, and not one of his subordinates. In submitting this motion, I have no desire to delay the business of the House. I contend, however, that the matter to which I have directed attention is a most important one, and that the strict enforcement of the regulation relating to railway passes would practically debar the whole of the rifle clubs in the northern portion of Queensland from taking part in inter-club competitions.

Mr McCAY:
Corinella · Protectionist

– I think perhaps that it may curtail debate if I at once explain the position in which this matter stands, and the action which I am taking in connexion with it. As he has stated, the honorable member approached me in reference to the particular match to which he has referred, as did also the honorable member for Maranoa and the honorable member for Capricornia, in reference to another match, which is to be held at a. place called Emerald, in Central Queensland. I must confess that though I am not as familiar with the geography of the northern State as I was when’ I was younger, I fully recognise that under present circumstances, or under the circumstances which are likely to obtain for some time to come, the strict enforcement of the regulation in regard to the fifty miles limit would have the effect of debarring the greater number of the Queensland rifle clubs from engaging in competitions. The regulation declares that the members of these organizations may, twice a year, travel free over the railways to engage in competitions within a radius of fifty miles and the District Commandants may grant them special permission to travel free over distances in excess of that limit. When this matter was first brought under my notice by the honorable member for Mara- noa, I promised privately that I would obtain a map of Queensland, showing the exact situation of the rifle clubs there, and the distances between the bulk of them, in order that I might reconsider the regulation with a view to insuring them a proper chance of effective competition. That seems to me to be the right course to adopt. As regards the two particular matches which were brought under my notice, the facts are these : A certain sum of money has been voted upon the Estimates to cover the travelling expenses of members of rifle clubs. In passing, I may say that I do not think it was ever intended that the official communication to which the honorable member for Kennedy has referred, should convey the impression which he seems to have derived from it.

Mr McDonald:

– What drew my attention so pointedly to the matter was that, upon one or two previous occasions, similar statements have been made in official communications to me.

Mr McCAY:

– That must have been some time ago. At any rate, I do not think that anything of the kind suggested by the honorable member was intended. The position is that, in consequence of certain minutes made by the honorable and learned member for Balaclava, when acting as Treasurer in the Deakin Administration, and by the honorable member for Bland when filling the same office in the late Administration, my attention was particularly directed to the fact that State Commandants were exceeding their votes, and that - to use the words of the leader of the Opposition - the Treasurer was being forced, so to speak, at the point of the bayonet, to meet the expenditure actually incurred.

Mr Watson:

– -The expenditure in excess of the Estimates.

Mr McCAY:

– Yes. Shortly after I came into office these minutes came under my observation. Thereupon I issued a circular minute informing all District Commandants that they would be advised of the amounts voted upon the Estimates for the various services over which they had control, and that, if those amounts were exceeded, they might expect to be held personally responsible in cases where it was clear that they could have avoided the excess. That being so, it was obviously quite impossible for me to turn round -and inform them that they must spend a portion of their votes in certain directions, when they declared that their votes would not permit of it. Honorable members must re cognise that the moment the Minister did that, he would be quite unable to say to any Commandant, “You have exceeded your vote,” because the latter would be in a position to reply, “ But you told me to do so.” And consequently I have refused to interfere with the final decision of the matter by the Commandant. In both the cases which were brought under my notice, I asked the Commandant whether in the special circumstances he could within the limit of his vote grant the passes. In each case, especially in the second, he said emphatically that his vote would not stand the charge. That does not mean that all the money has been spent, but that he has to recognise that there will be certain claims coming in during the remainder of the current year. Knowing the run of the matches for the year he has felt himself bound to say that the grant of £500 will not permit of all these passes being issued, and I do not think I am justified in overriding the exercise of his discretion, as he is on the spot, and knows the circumstances better than I do, and especially as he has been notified that he will be responsible for unauthorized expenditure.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– But there are only five men to compete in these matches.

Mr McCAY:

– The one to which the honorable member refers will cost about £$o out of the ^500.

Mr McDonald:

– How many clubs?

Mr McCAY:

– The Emerald match will cost ^50. There is an annual meeting of the Central Association, and I suggested either that the match might be held on that occasion or that it might be fired on their own ground under conditions which are arranged for in the regulations. There are two or three ways of meeting the difficulty. Either I had to exercise what I think is an unwise Ministerial interference with the Commandant’s discretion - either I had to practically abandon the efficacy of the rule I had laid down, or I had to allow the Commandant to act. But I have promised the honorable member for Kennedy privately, as I do publicly, that where clubs are situated at a distance of sixty or seventy or eighty miles from each other, and there is not the requisite number of clubs within a radius of fifty miles, some arrangement shall be made to enable the matches to be carried out.

Sir John Forrest:

– Cannot they compete against one another close at hand?

Mr McCAY:

– But they are not close at hand, for in this case the nearest club is eighty or ninety miles away. It is only when clubs are not within the prescribed distance of each other that this difficulty arises. I shall endeavour to so alter the regulations as to arrange for the special circumstances of Queensland or any other State which is in a similar condition. It is one thing to alter the general rule and another thing to interfere with the Commandant’s discretion. I shall not take action until I have the necessary data. I have sent to Queensland for a map, showing the exact position of the rifle clubs. I am having notice taken of the towns at which it is likely that rifle clubs may be established at an early date. I promise the House that, so far as means permit, I shall make such alterations in the regulations as will enable the clubs to have reasonable facilities for competition with each other.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– But Clermont is only sixty miles away.

Mr McCAY:

– I shall not interfere with the Commandant’s discretion in a particular instance, when he is acting under the regulations and warning he has had from me. I do riot think that it would be right for me to do so. . Honorable members may not agree with me.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– They do not. Clermont is only sixty miles away, and fifty miles is the limit.

Mr McCAY:

– The point is whether I am to override the decision of the Commandant. The honorable member for Kennedy drew attention to the considerable increase in the Queensland vote. I admit at once that the increase, to a large extent, is in other branches than rifle clubs, but there is also a considerable amount of increase in that direction. I have the fullest desire to afford every facility to rifle clubs, and I am doing everything which can be reasonably asked of me. I am taking immediate steps to do away with the existing difficulties. I trust that the House will accept this assurance, and that it will not be necessary to debate this question at great length. I quite appreciate the anxiety of honorable members that rifle clubs’ matches and the clubs themselves should be encouraged. With that desire I fully sympathize. I think honorable members will admit that long before I became Minister I showed my earnestness in that direction by the way in which I spoke and voted, and . I can assure them that that anxiety has not been in any way diminished by the fact that I am now charged with greater responsibility. I do not complain of the honorable member for bringing thismatter before the House, because it is well that the public should know . that these difficulties arise, but I trust that the House will rest satisfied with my assurance that, as soon as the full particulars come under my notice, I shall act as any other Minister would act in similar circumstances.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– Will, the Minister grant the passes for these matches?

Mr McCAY:

– I have tried to explain why I do not think I ought to interfere. I amvery sorry that what I have said does not satisfy the honorable member; frankly I think it ought to do so. These matches can be fired later on if they cannot be fired now, when the regulation has been altered.

Mr McDonald:

– In my case there were only three days to elapse.

Mr McCAY:

– The matches can be arranged for a later date. This is not the only month in which rifle clubs can fire matches in Queensland or elsewhere. I think it is fair for honorable members to allow mean opportunity to act, and then, if the altered arrangements should not suit them, they can draw attention to any de- fects.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I am surprised that the Minister of Defence has not control of the Commandant. The people of Clermont made an application to that officer for passes, the distance from Clermont to Emerald being only sixty miles.

Mr McCay:

– There are five clubs to engage in that competition, so that it is not fair for the honorable member to speak of only Clermont.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I am speaking of Clermont. This cup is to be shot for in Emerald. It is the only cup to be shot for by these clubs in my electorate, the area of which is as large as that of Victoria. There are only six rifle clubs in the electorate, and’ I am asking for passes for only one club.

Mr McCay:

– But I cannot give passes to one club without giving them to all clubs which are to take part in the competition.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I do not know that the others have asked for passes.

Mr McCay:

– Five clubs have applied.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I think it is very hard that the Ministerwill not grant this concession. In Queensland we can- not have rifle clubs within a few miles of one another as they can do in the metropolitan district of Victoria. The men who take part in the rifle” club matches in Queensland are not like the “ swaddies “ to be found in the metropolitan district of this State. The men who belong to the metropolitan clubs are not as capable of enduring fatigue or as good riflemen as the others. It is very hard that the men in the outlying districts are not granted the same privileges as the men in the populous districts. In many parts of Victoria there are rifle clubs within ten or fifteen miles of each other. Perhaps that is so- in New South Wales, or in and around Brisbane, but in the district which I represent men have to travel 60, 70, or 100 miles from their townships to take part in these competitions. They have no opportunity on ordinary occasions to shoot at- other ranges than their own. ‘It is impossible to train good riflemen if they shoot invariably at one range. I have done a good deal of rifle shooting myself, and I know the value of shooting at strange ranges. There are but five men who are asking for railway passes.

Mr McCay:

– I can assure the honorable member that there are far more than five.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– There are only five in my electorate. The Clermont Club is the only one that is asking for a concession.

Mr McCay:

– It is not the only one in the Commonwealth by any means.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– It is the only one with which I am concerned. Let other honorable members speak for their own clubs. These five men have sent an application to the Department, and the Minister throws the onus of the refusal on the Commandant. I do not think that is right. It has to be remembered that when these riflemen go from Clermont to Emerald to take part in rifle shooting, they will have to pay their own living expenses for three or four days. The Department is only asked to pay their railway fares. They give their time, and pay their own out-of-pocket expenses. It is certain that the members of the rifle clubs are the best shots in Australia, and they should be encouraged in every way. If their services should ever be required, I have no doubt, whatever that, except in relation to drill, they would be even more valuable than the ordinary volunteers. Then, again, it has to be remembered that there is no burden placed upon the taxpayer by granting this concession.

It will simply be a matter of debiting the Defence Department and crediting the Railway Department of Queensland with the cost of the railway tickets. No money will pass. I am sorry to see that the Minister is so obdurate.

Mr Reid:

– Cannot the match be put off in order to give time to alter the regulation ?

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I do not think so.

Mr Page:

– Will the Prime Minister promise that if the match is postponed the concession will be made?

Mr Reid:

– I guarantee that the thing will’ be done if time is given to alter the regulation. We all admit that there is a hardship.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– There is one club that is within the 50 miles limit - namely, Springsure - and if only the Emerald and Springsure riflemen take part in the match it will be shot off.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Has what is asked for been done before?

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– A new cup is being shot for this year.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– How much money is involved?

Mr McCay:

– Fifty pounds ; they want to come from Longreach.

Mr Reid:

– Surely it is not urgent that the match should be held at this particular time.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– It is urgent, so far as the rifle clubs in my electorate are concerned. I know nothing about others. Whatever happens, the match will not be put off. If only two clubs participate it will take place.

Mr McCay:

– Does the honorable member mean that the other clubs will not agree to postpone the match so as fo enable all to compete?

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I do not think that they will.

Mr McCay:

– I do not believe that of any rifle club.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I appeal to the Minister to grant the concession for five men to go from Clermont to Emerald. I am asking only for second-class passes. Some of the men would ordinarily travel first-class, but I do not ask for first-class passes for them on this occasion.

Mr POYNTON:
Grey

– I think this is an opportune time to bring, under the notice of the Minister a matter which does not strictly bear upon the rifle clubs. _

Mr SPEAKER:

– Only one question canbe discussed on a motion for the adjournment of the House, and the honorable member himself has called my attention to the fact that the subject to which he wishes to refer does not relate to that which is now under discussion.

Mr POYNTON:

– I think, sir, that you will agree with me that the subject to which I wish to refer is pertinent when you have heard what I have to say. I am not certain that the matter does not affect the rifle clubs. What I wish to allude to is the regulation which deals with headgear.

Mr SPEAKER:

– I am afraid that the honorable member, having called my attention to the fact that the subject to which he alludes is not that concerning which the adjournment of the House has been moved, he cannot pursue it.

Mr FISHER:
Wide Bay

– The Minister was right in thinking that the honorable member for Kennedy acted properly in moving the adjournment of the House in order to call attention to the matter under discussion. The amount of money placed upon the Estimates for rifle club purposes has not been earmarked. The tendency in Australia, both under the Commonwealth and under State Government, has been to “grease the fat pig.” Those riflemen who live in places situated near to centres of population have obtained every privilege, and no adequate provision has been made for those who happen to live at distances from the centre. I regret that even the Minister of Defence appears to have no idea of the enormous distances which men have to travel in some of the States. Queensland is in a very peculiar position. Every part of the Stale is settled to some extent, and there are large centres of population at very great distances from other centres. The members of the rifle clubs go to great trouble to equip themselves and make themselves efficient for the defence of the country in time of need and are deserving of every consideration If this £500 is voted to encourage rifle shooting, and to assist those who are least able to assist themselves, I suggest that the Minister must go further than his proposal to alter the regulation. He should share the money amongst the different rifle clubs, and those in the more distant parts of the State should receive the largest share. If the bulk of the vote is to be absorbed by the members of rifle clubs in the cities and towns the interests of rifle clubs in the country will not be sufficiently considered.

Mr McCay:

– The probability is that the greater part of the vote will be absorbed in railway passes to the annual meetings of the various rifle associations, of which there are five in Queensland.

Mr FISHER:

– That means that the greater part of the vote will be absorbed in connexion with the annual meeting of the Queensland association, held in Brisbane.

Mr McCay:

– No, in addition to the association at Brisbane, there are in Queensland, the Queensland Northern, Queensland Central, Mackay, and Western Associations.

Mr FISHER:

– I am aware that an annual meeting is held by rifle associations at Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, and Brisbane, but I should like to know where the meeting of the Western Association is held. I have never heard of it.

Mr McCay:

– I could not say. There is a grant of £625 to other than Brisbane Associations. Queensland gets more than does any other State, in proportion to its population.

Mr FISHER:

– That is because of the larger area, and the more scattered nature of the population of the State. Queensland is, I think, the only big State which is settled in every part. Undoubtedly persons who travel 100 miles or more and by coach in many instances to attend a rifle meeting, are entitled to more consideration than are those who can attend such meetings by riding a few miles on a bicycle.

Mr McCay:

– I am prepared to give them greater consideration.

Mr.FISHER. - I am glad that the matter has been referred to, because the tendency of all Governments is to give assistance to those who are best able to help themselves, who are conveniently situated, and can personally appeal to the Commandant and to the Minister. The Commandant, in framing these Estimates, has excluded far-distant places from consideration. The development of rifle shooting and the encouragement of rifle clubs have increased the numbers of those who desire to take part in these rifle matches, and this has not been provided for in the Estimates submitted by the Government. If there is to be any concession given at all, it should be to those people who have few opportunities to amuse themselves, or to take part in any movement which will be of advantage to the Commonwealth. Instead of the bulk of this vote being expended in the large centres of population, it should be expended in the smaller centres. The Minister said that he is prepared to alter the regulation, but, in my opinion, the alteration of the regulation will not remedy what is complained of.

Mr McCay:

– I give my promise to ascertain how this estimate has been made up, and to see that some readjustment takes place if it appears that there is any unfairness in the treatment of the various portions of the State.

Mr FISHER:

– The main idea in my mind is that to give a concession in respect of a greater distance than is now provided for will not help the matter.

Mr McCay:

– The other course I propose to adopt will help it.

Mr FISHER:

– Yes, that is the crux of the whole matter. A discussion of this kind brings before the House some idea of the distances to be covered in some of the States, and the pleasing fact that people living in very remote places are anxious to take their part in fitting themselves to efficiently defend their country in time of need.

Mr REID:
Minister of External Affairs · East Sydney · Free Trade

– I should like to say that I do not at all complain of the action of the honorable member for Kennedy in moving the adjournment, in order to discuss this matter. We are always in danger of forgetting the special circumstances of the men who are scattered over the interior districts of Australia, as are many of the riflemen of Queensland. I can quite see that a mere alteration of the regulation might not achieve all that is necessary, but my honorable and learned colleague can be trusted to take the necessary action now that the matter has been brought pointedly under his notice by the honorable members for Kennedy and Capricornia.

Mr Page:

– I interviewed the Minister. Mr. REID. - I believe the matter was brought under the notice of the Minister before, and I wish to say that it is no mere talk when I express the greatest sympathy with the men in remote districts, who are anxious to qualify themselves to take part in the national defence, notwithstanding that they have to live a very hard life, and are so far removed from the advantages which those in more settled districts enjoy.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– Let the right honorable gentleman send a wire to that effect to the Commandant.

Mr REID:

– I am afraid that we cannot respond to the direct appeal of the five friends of the honorable member for Capricornia, but I can say that my honorable and learned colleague will have our thorough support and sympathy in giving immediate attention to this matter with a view to remedy the inequalities referred to.

Mr PAGE:
Maranoa

– I do not rise to condemn the Minister in the action he has taken with respect to the rifle clubs in my electorate.

Sir John Forrest:

– Queensland isnot the only State in the Commonwealth.

Mr PAGE:

– In reply to the interjection of the right honorable member for Swan I must say that I am at a loss to understand how the right honorable gentleman, coming from a country of distances, could have allowed such a regulation to be framed.

Sir John Forrest:

– The regulation is all right.

Mr PAGE:

– The right honorable gentleman knows as well as does any member of the House that Western Australia and Queensland are countries of distances. In those States we have not rifle clubs in our back yards, as they have in Victoria. There are no two clubs in my electorate whose head-quarters are within sixty miles of each other. The members of these clubs are engaged in the primary industries of the State, and they give up their leisure time in order to become expert rifle shots. The honorable member for Capricornia referred to five members of a rifle club at Clermont, but there are members of rifle clubs in. other parts of Central Queensland who desire to go to the meeting held at Emerald in order to compete for the Foy cup. Mr. Foy of Sydney, when in Queensland taking up country, gave a silver cup to be competed for by the rifle clubs of Central Queensland, and it was decided that it should be competed for at Emerald, which is about half way between. Rockhampton and Longreach, and about 200 miles from each of those places.

Mr McCay:

– The honorable member does not desire that the concession asked for should be given only to the members of the Clermont rifle club ?

Mr PAGE:

– No, I am not so selfish. I wish to see the members of all the clubs get the same concession.

Mr McCay:

– Could they not put their meeting off for a few weeks?

Mr PAGE:

– If the Minister will promise to consider the request that has been made I will see that the meeting is put off.

Mr McCay:

– I promise to consider it in the most favorable way possible.

Mr PAGE:

– I thank the honorable and learned . gentleman. I should like to say that somewhat similar circumstances arose two years ago, when the whole of the Central Queensland clubs competed at Emerald in the same way. On that occasion, the application for passes met with the same answer, that there was no money available, that the competitors had to travel further than the stipulated distance of fifty miles, and that the Defence authorities would have nothing to do with the meeting. The secretary of the Longreach Rifle Club wired to me at Charleville that they could not obtain the passes, and that the meeting, which was to be held purely for the love of the sport, would consequently fall through.I travelled from Charleville to Brisbane, a distance of 400 or 500 miles, in order to interview Colonel Price, who was then District Commandant, and as soon as I explained to him what the clubs desired, he said that in the circumstances he could stretch a point and give them the necessary passes. The whole matter was settled in a moment by the action of the District Commandant. I believe in the rifle club movement, bu t the staff, in Brisbane more particularly, are opposed to it, and do all they can to discourage these clubs.

Mr Higgins:

– Why?

Mr PAGE:

– Simply because they do not favour rifle clubs.

Sir John Forrest:

– They spend more money on the clubs there than is spent in any other State.

Mr PAGE:

– I have already explained that Queensland is a State of magnificent distances., . Its population is less than that of Melbourne, but surely the population of Queensland, simply because it is a scattered one, is not going to be denied the privileges given to the people of other States. I was under the impression that with the establishment of Federation there would be an end to provincialism, but the right honorable member for Swan is always bringing it to the front. He should be the last to do anything of the kind. I can understand, of course, that he does not relish this criticism, as his administration has been called in question.

Sir John Forrest:

– Not at all.

Mr PAGE:

– I have known from the first that we have the sympathy of the Minister in regard to this matter; but on interviewing him privately I found that our request could not be complied with unless he overrode the decision of the District Commandant. I do not desire any Minister to do that - I would not be a party to such a proceeding. If the District Com mandant . cannot see his way clear to grant our request there must be an end to the matter. I am pleased with the remarks that have been made by the Prime Minister, as well as by the Minister of Defence, and I shall telegraph to those interested, requesting them to defer their meeting to a future date, in the hope that the regulation governing this question may be so amended as to allow of their being treated more favorably.

Mr WILKINSON:
Moreton

– I sympathize with the Minister in the difficult position in which he finds himself, seeing that in some parts of the Commonwealth he has to deal with a congested population, and in others with a scattered community, and I would suggest to him that something might be done to improve the present state of affairs by adopting the zone system. In the metropolitan districts there is a large number of , clubs which are able to interchange meetings, and to shoot on different ranges under differing conditions; but in scattered communities there are not the same opportunities for making these interchanges. Ihave notworked out the matter, but I think that the Minister would do well to adopt something in the nature of the zone system, whereby a certain number of clubs might be allowed to interchange visits regardless of the distance separating them. In centres around Melbourne we have forty or fifty clubs within the fifty-mile radius, and they should be allowed to interchange visits as before. In sparsely populated districts there may be a distance of 100 miles separating different clubs, but a regulation could be so framed as to admit of an interchange of visits between them, notwithstanding the distance, without unduly increasing the expenditure on rifle clubs. I find no fault with the increased vote provided in the Estimates for the encouragement of rifle shooting. I think that the increase has been fully justified by the Minister of Defence, who explained that it was due to the necessity to largely renew the stock of ammunition. It has been a stand- . ing grievance in Queensland, and, I dare say, in other States where small centres of population are a great distance apart, that the facilities which clubs enjoyed prior to Federation are not now forthcoming. We all know that some rifle clubs, while able to put up good scores on their own ranges, find that they cannot do any good shooting when they visit a range with which they are unfamiliar, and where the weather conditions are different.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– But why continue this debate after the promise made by the Minister ?

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– No promise has really been given.

Mr WILKINSON:

– I rose principally to make a suggestion that the Minister should consult the Acting General Officer Commanding as . to whether something might not be done to improve the present position by bringing all the clubs - be the number large or small - within a certain radius, into competition with eachother. Some system akin to the Hungarian railway zone system might be adopted.

Mr McCay:

– In Victoria the clubs are classified in districts. I presume that they are in the other States, but am not sure on the point.

Mr WILKINSON:

– If the classification were extended it might meet the case.

Mr McCay:

– I propose to do something of the kind.

Mr WILKINSON:

– The conditions in Victoria are dissimilar from those in (he western district of Queensland, of which the honorable member for Capricornia has spoken ; but, with all due deference tohis representations, I do not think that there is very much in his contention. No one will accuse me of want of sympathy with the rifle club movement; but I would point out that the Clermont Rifle Club is sixty miles from Emerald, and that all that is required is to pay the return fare of five men over a distance of ten miles. Under the regulations they can travel free by rail to within fifty miles of Emerald, and all that needs to be done is to provide for their return fare over the remaining ten miles. I do not think there is much hardship involved in that as compared with the position of clubs in townships which are more widely separated. I might refer to cases which have occurred in my own electorate, but I recognise that this is a matter of general application, and can be dealt with in only a general way. From what I know of the Minister of Defence, I am sure that he is in sympathy with the rifle club movement ; but I have to indorse the statement made by the honorable member for Maranoa, that those at the head of the Defence Department in Queensland are not so much in sympathy with it as is the Minister.

Mr Fisher:

– Three out of four commissioned officers are against it.

Mr WILKINSON:

– The reason for that may be differently interpreted by different men. I would remind the House, however, that some little time ago the retiring General Officer Commanding endeavoured to introduce a regulation providing that every holder of a Government arm should salute any officer whom he met. Riflemen will not submit to anything of the kind. Many of them will not even wear a uniform until the time of Australia’s need arises ; and perhaps one reason why some of the commissioned officers are opposed to rifle clubs is that they have not the control over them which they exercise over the regular forces. Some one has taken credit for having, during his term of office, placed a minute on the records of the Department to the effect that any officer who exceeded a vote passed by the Parliament should be held accountable forthe excess expenditure. I should like credit to be given to the man who is really responsible for that minute.

Mr McCay:

– I said that the instruction was prepared as the result of Treasury minutes by the right honorable member for Balaclava when Treasurer to the Deakin Administration, and the honorable member for Bland when Treasurer to the Watson Administration.

Mr WILKINSON:

– I mentioned the matter so that the Minister might make that clear.

Mr McCay:

– I made the statement before in my speech.

Mr WILKINSON:

– Then I did not clearly understand the honorable and learned gentleman. I have found him, ever since he assumed office, more ready to give credit to his predecessor than to take credit to himself. I was of opinion that the instruction had arisen out of a dispute between the General Officer Commanding and the last Minister of Defence.

Mr Watson:

– No. Officers were perpetually exceeding their votes - a thing which they had no right to do.

Mr McCay:

– The minute came from the Treasury, and I passed it on to those concerned. I can take credit only for having been the conduit pipe through which the instruction was conveyed.

Mr WILKINSON:

– Is it not the fact that the cause of the instruction was the dispute with the General Officer Commanding in regard to the despatch of a certain telegram?

Mr Watson:

– No; that had nothing to do with the minute to which the Minister of Defence refers.

Mr WILKINSON:

- Senator Dawson placed a minute on record in the Department, and I was under the impression that the credit for this instruction was due to him.

Mr McCay:

– I do not claim any credit in the matter. I merely passed on a minute which had been prepared by previous Governments.

Mr WILKINSON:

– I believe that the Minister Wil I do all he can to remove difficulties from the way of members of rifle clubs, who wish to travel from one place to another to perfect themselves in rifle shooting by club matches, and to exchange opinions with members of other clubs.

Mr ISAACS:
Indi

– I think that a larger question has been raised than the effect of the regulation upon the one or two clubs to which reference has been made. I do not desire to speak on behalf of any particular club, but to say one or two words on the matter of general policy. I am satisfied - that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence are sincere in the wish to advance the interests of rifle clubs, but I think it is proper, at- this moment, when we are discussing a future regulation, to consider the general principle involved.

Sir John Forrest:

– The regulations are all right as they are.

Mr ISAACS:

– I must take leave to differ from the right honorable member on that point. It is a mistake to regard the amount spent in this manner as absolute expense. It is not like money spent for uniforms, if that were a Commonwealth expense, or for ammunition even, because there is really no expense to the people. Therefore, I do not think that we should be sparing in the amount that is debited for this service. It is only a book-keeping entry, after all.

Mr McCay:

– It is charged against the Defence Estimates, and then the Department is censured for submitting an appropriation which is too large.

Mr ISAACS:

– I think that the Minister has sufficient courage to meet that objection with a proper answer. When we recollect what the members of these rifle clubs do, that they are engaged in a great public work, that they are men who would not be ready to travel from home without sufficient reason, because of the loss entailed in leaving their avocations, that they spend money in purchasing their uniforms, and to a large extent upon their ammunition also, in the desire to perfect themselves in shooting, which is a more difficult accomplishment than the acquirement of the evolutions of drill, we must admit that there is reason for encouraging them ; and I ask the Minister, in reframing the regulation, not to retain the limitation of fifty miles. I have been informed by men who took part in the recent contests at Williamstown, that the conditions in the country are so different from the conditions they met with here that they were at a great disadvantage.

Mr McCay:

– In what way?

Mr ISAACS:

– With regard to windage, for instance.

Mr McCay:

– Of course, they were at a disadvantage, but no regulation would remove that.

Mr ISAACS:

– I think that if greater opportunities were given to the members of the country clubs to come to Melbourne, the disadvantage would be largely removed. The men who practice at these targets daily are more familiar with them, and are therefore in a better position than men who come from the country. We can rely upon the members of country rifle clubs not abusing the privilege of free passes. It would not pay them to do so, even if they had the wish. I think, therefore, that passes should be granted for longer distances than fifty miles. The expenditure is merely nominal, and when that is taken into consideration, together with the benefit which the country obtains in affording the members of rifle clubs larger opportunities for practice, the Minister may well see his way to increase their facilities for travelling.

Mr HUTCHISON:
Hindmarsh

– I am pleased that the Minister has told the House that he will do what he can to remove the difficulty which has been complained of, but he added that in altering the regulation, he will be compelled to have regard to tEe financial position, and may not be able to do much. There is a great difference between the position of members of country rifle clubs and that of rifle clubs in populous centres, inasmuch as the latter can travel free every we’ek to take part in matches. At least that is what we were able to do in South Australia.

Mr McCay:

– I think the Department pays a lump sum there.

Mr HUTCHISON:

– Exactly. I agree with the honorable and learned member for Indi that it does not matter to the people of the Commonwealth whether the members of the rifle clubs travel twice a week or twice a year, or two miles, or 102 miles, to take part in matches, because the travelling, costs the community nothing. It is a mere bookkeeping charge. The rifle clubs are the cheapest arm of the service, and should be encouraged, though at pre sent they get no encouragement. The club to which I belonged had to find not only their uniforms, but their range, and to erect their targets, and pay for their up-keep. Yet, under the regulation of the Department, no rifle club can obtain passesto permit its members to travel over fifty miles to fire a match with another club. The longer the distances which clubs have to travel to meet each other in competition, the fewer will be the matches, so that the pass system is not likely to be abused, and the least the Minister can do is to place the members of all clubs on the same footing. I think that it is a fair thing to fix a maximum number of passes, but whatever is done should apply to the members of all the clubs in the Commonwealth. If the Minister re-reads the regulation, I think he will find that, although State Commandants are allowed to sanction the issue of railway passes for distances exceeding fifty miles, the Minister’s approval must be obtained.

Mr McCay:

– No.

Mr HUTCHISON:

– I accept the honorable and learned gentleman’s statement, though that was my impression. State Commandants have not been willing to give this concession ; I have never known it to be given. I admit that it is only proper that the amounts set down on the Estimates should not be exceeded. I know that the Minister is willing to assist the members of rifle clubs in every reasonable way, and I hope that he will put every club on the same footing. The travelling of members of clubs does not cost the people of the Commonwealth one penny.

Question resolved in the negative.

page 7217

QUESTION

ENGLISH MAIL CONTRACT

Sir JOHN FORREST:

asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -

  1. Does the contract entered into between the Imperial Government and the P. and O. Company provide for the mail steamers calling and landing mails at Fremantle and Largs Bay on both inward and outward voyages?
  2. Does such contract provide for the mails paid for carriage by the lb. being taken on board at Largs Bay as at present, or will it be optional with the P. and O. Company to take them on board at Melbourne and not call at Largs Bay at all?
  3. Does the contract provide for any time-table for the return voyage from Australia with mails paid for by the lb. on board?
  4. Whether the Orient Company’s steamers, or any other steamers carrying mails by poundage, will be under any obligation to call at Largs Bay or Fremantle either on the inward or outward voyages, and whether he can give any information as to the rules and regulations imposed on steamers carrying mails by the poundage system.
  5. Whether he can place a copy of the new contract between the Imperial Government and the P. and O. Company on the table?
Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The answers to the right honorable member’s questions are as follow : -

  1. Yes.
  2. No, such provision would not, under any circumstances, be necessary, the contract provides for mails being taken on board at Largs Bay, and also at all the ports now called at under the existing contract. The method of payment for mails placed on board is a matter between the Imperial Government and the Government of the Commonwealth, it is fully provided for under the Postal Union Convention, and does not in any way affect the P. and O. Company.
  3. The contract provides a time-table for the return voyage from Australia, which will not be affected by the payment for mails by the lb. or otherwise.
  4. Steamers carrying mails by poundage would not be under any obligation to call at any ports, or be subject to any compulsory conditions, except those set forth in Part IT. - Conveyance of mails by ships - of the Post and Telegraph Act 1901.
  5. A copy of the new contract will be placed on the table.

page 7217

TARIFF COMMISSION

Mr. ISAACS, in asking the Prime Min ister, upon notice -

What steps he has taken with regard to the appointment of the Royal Commission upon the Tariff?

I quite understand that thePrime Minister has a great many matters to attend to, but I should like to point out that some weeks have elapsed since this question was debated, and that we are all anxious to have a fair opportunity to consider the appointments made.

Mr REID:
Free Trade

– In reply to the honorable and learned memberI desire to say that -

We are endeavouring to secure the best possible selection of members of the proposed Commission, a task involving a number of considerations of great importance and some difficulty.

Mr Isaacs:

– That is hardly an answer.

Mr REID:

– I shall give a further answer if it is needed.

Mr Isaacs:

– Then I shall repeat the question.

Mr REID:

– I do not wish my honorable and learned friend to think that I am putting him off. I thought that I had answered the question fully. The question is as to what steps have been taken with regard to the appointment of a Royal Commission upon the Tariff. The first step, I think, is the selection of proper persons to sit on’ the Commission. I did not intend to give an insufficient reply. Taking that to. be the first and main step, I wished to convey that we had not got over it yet by securing the right number of suitable men.

Mr Isaacs:

– Do I understand that the Prime Minister is trying to secure them?

Mr REID:

– Certainly. I should like to take advantage of this question and answer to say that if any of my honorable friends on either side of the House, or in the Senate, or any other citizen who takes an interest in this matter, would help the Government by suggesting the names of persons who would be useful as members of the Commission I should consider that they were rendering a real service to the Government, because I realize that unless we secure the services of the best possible men the money spent upon the inquiry will be wasted.

Mr Isaacs:

– We desired that the House should assist’ the Government in that respect ; but the offer was not accepted.

Mr REID:

– I fancy that I can make a number of inquiries that it would not be convenient for the House to make. If hon- orable members will suggest the names of men who would be useful as members of the Commission I shall consider it a favour. I include in this statement not only honorable members but any citizens who can assist us.

Mr Isaacs:

– I shall repeat the question this day week, when, perhaps, the Prime Minister will be able to afford further information.

Mr REID:

– I do not think so. I tell the honorable and learned member frankly that I do not expect to be able to give any definite information for some time to come, unless names are presented to me which do not suggest the difficulties which seem to attach to those who are so far on the list.

Mr Isaacs:

– The Prime Minister was anxious that the Government should take the responsibility of making the appointments.

Mr REID:

– Exactly ; and, having a full sense of my responsibility, I wish to discharge it carefully and faithfully.

page 7218

PRINTING :

page 7218

QUESTION

PUBLIC DEPARTMENTS

Mr KELLY:

asked the Treasurer, upon notice -

  1. Where is the printing done for the New

South Wales sections of the Customs, Post Office, and Defence Departments?

  1. What is the course usually followed when arranging for the printing for these Departments ?
Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -

  1. Receipt books and forms having a money value are printed by the Government Printer, Melbourne. All other printing is executed by the Government Printer, Sydney, except in the case of the Defence Department, where the practice is to print District Orders and job-printing at the Garrison Printing Office, and to requisition on the Government Printer, Melbourne, for books and forms already set up.
  2. Except in the case of District Orders and job-printing in the Defence Department, a requisition is made on the Government Printer, Sydney, or Melbourne, who is first, in certain cases, asked for an estimate of the cost.

page 7218

QUESTION

COST TO VICTORIA OF CUSTOMS CASES

Mr WATSON:
for Mr. Hughes

asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -

What is the amount of costs incurred in connexion with Customs cases debited to the State of Victoria since the establishment of the High Court?

Mr McLEAN:
Minister for Trade and Customs · GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA · Protectionist

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

The amount to date of costs debited against the State of Victoria in connexion with Customs cases heard in the High Court is£138 5s. The claim for the costs of the other side in the cases recently decided against the Department have not as yet been received, and are, therefore, not included in the amount mentioned.

page 7218

QUESTION

SUPPLY, 1904-5

In Committee (Consideration resumed from 18th November, vide page 7204) :

Postmaster-General’s Department

Division 185 (New South Wales), £866,228

Mr THOMAS:
Barrier

– I was not aware that the whole of division No. 184 had been dealt with.

The CHAIRMAN:

– When the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was called on, it. was decided, with the consent of the Committee, that the divisions should be submitted, but that if any honorable member desired that a subdivision should be taken separately, that course should be followed.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– The present plan of rushing the Estimates through was proposed some weeks ago, and advantage was taken of the absence of a number of honorable members to spring a totally new arrangement on the Committee.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– That was done at the request of honorable members of the Opposition.

Mr WATSON:

– I never heard of any such request being put forward.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The honorable member was not here.

Mr WATSON:

– It was understood that the practice originally arranged should be adhered to.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I have no objection to the honorable member discussing a particular subdivision.

Mr WATSON:

– It is not a question of whether the Minister is agreeable or otherwise. I object absolutely to the alteration of the method previously adopted of submitting the subdivisions separately. No great expenditure of time is involved in following that course.

The CHAIRMAN:

– May I explain to the honorable member that at the outset I submitted the votes in subdivisions. Then it was proposed that they should be taken in divisions.

Mr Watson:

– I objected to that.

The CHAIRMAN:

– The honorable member suggested that I should take them in divisions.

Mr Watson:

– I think not.

The CHAIRMAN:

– I have a distinct recollection of what took place. When the subdivision relating to the GovernorGeneral’s establishment was under consideration it was agreed that that and another subdivison, which was germane to it, should be taken together, and I continued to submit the’ votes in divisions until some discussion arose with regard to the method that was being followed. Then I pointed out that the practice had been to submit the votes in divisions, and that I was the first Chairman to adopt a different course. I made the change, not at the desire of any honorable member, but because I thought that it would serve the convenience of the Committee. When we came to the Department now under consideration, it was decided with the consent of the members of the

Committee present, that the votes should be submitted in divisions. I do not wish the honorable member for Bland, or any other honorable member, to feel ‘that advantage is being taken of him. I pointed out the great length of some of the divisions, and it was then agreed that the votes should be submitted in divisions, except where any honorable member desired any subdivision to be taken separately. I am quite prepared to ado pt any course that will serve the convenienceof the Committee. I do hope that no statement will be made to the effect that . there is a desire on the part of the Chair to rush the Estimates through. I would further point out that we have had a very full discussion, not only upon the first item of the Estimates, but upon each Department of them, and that, I think, is an innovation. A very exhaustive debate has taken place upon the Postmaster-General’s Department, and I have allowed honorable members in their remarks to range over the whole of the items of that Department. Indeed, I have permitted a very full debate of details which are not usually touched upon in the general discussion. Is it the desire of the Committee that I should put these Estimates in subdivisions?

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

Mr. THOMAS (Barrier).- I move-

That the item, “ Inspection Branch,£2,505,” be reduced by£5.

I wish to obtain from the PostmasterGeneral a definite assurance that New South Wales will be divided into districts for inspection purposes. This matter has engaged the attention of the Department for a very long period. The Deakin Government bestowed some consideration upon it, and during the term of office of the Watson Administration the Postmaster-General definitely promised that New South Wales, for inspection purposes, should be divided into districts. Up to the present, however, that work has not been undertaken.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I have practically decided to undertake it as soon as the Estimates have been passed.

Mr THOMAS:

– That assurance will satisfy me.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– What advantages will result from the adoption of that proposal ?

Mr THOMAS:

– At the present time the six inspectors, for whom provision is made upon these Estimates, are located in Sydney. It frequently happens that certain reforms require to be effected in remote country districts, but before they can be carried out a report has to be obtained from an inspector. For this purpose that officer has to travel all the way from Sydney.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– In how many instances ?

Mr THOMAS:

– I will give the honorable member a case in point. Some time ago a request was made that a certain portion of Broken Hill, which was within the bounds of the municipality, should be granted a letter delivery. Honorable members will understand that years ago, when the township was first established, an area was mapped out within which letters were delivered. A certain portion of the township was excluded from that area, because it contained no residents. In the course of time, however, some hundreds of persons settled there, but although they were within a mile and a half of the postoffice, they were compelled to visit the central office in order to obtain their letters. After the lapse of some years they complained of this treatment. I then made representations upon the subject to the postal authorities, and in reply received- a communication, stating that it would be necessary for an inspector to travel from Sydney to Broken Hill to inquire into the matter.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– That was a piece of pure bunkum.

Mr THOMAS:

– I admit that ultimately the evil was remedied without any inspector being required to visit Broken Hill. Nevertheless, I contend that such a simple matter should have been settled without any delay whatever. I have in my possession a communication from certain residents at White Cliffs in regard to a similar matter. That town possesses a population of 2,000, and yet for years it has been denied a postal delivery. When I asked, in December last that the residents should have the advantage of a letter delivery, I was informed that the request would be acceded to. Six months after I received a letter from the local Progress Committee, informing me that no letter-carrier had been appointed. In reply to an inquiry, I was informed by the Department that they could not adopt this plan because it was necessary to have a bicycle. The Department had no bicycle which could be sent to White Cliffs for the use of the letter-carrier, and there was no money available for the purchase of a ma:bine. Consequently -the townspeople had to wait for six months for a letter delivery, simply because the Department could not provide a bicycle.. It was explained that as soon as there was a bicycle available elsewhere, it would be sent to the town. When a letter-carrier died elsewhere in New South Wales, his bicycle was sent via Sydney to White Cliffs. If an inspector were located in the western district, such matters could be brought before him ‘ directly, and unnecessary delays would not occur. I have been informed by an officer in the Department that it is not its business to discover conveniences and facilities required by the public. If the public do not ask for such things, it is taken for granted by the Department that they are not wanted. My idea is that the Department should always be on the lookout to give reasonable facilities to the public. If the inspectors were located in their respective districts, the .people would be able to submit their complaints directly to them. It would also be the means of enabling telegraphists and others who now have to live in the back-blocks year in and year out to get a transfer to Sydney and other places. I can quite understand that an officer located in Sydney is not desirous of going to the back-blocks ; but I contend that a scheme should be evolved by the Department whereby men, after” having served in the back-blocks for so many years, should have a definite opportunity of going to Sydney or elsewhere. The Department experiences much difficulty in getting men living in a nice climate to go to the western districts. When the honorable member for Parramatta was PostmasterGeneral for New South Wales he told me that the postmastership of Broken Hill had been offered to thirty-five officers, and refused by them, and that at last the Department had to put down its foot and tell an officer that he must go. I believe that if the inspectors were located in their respective districts a scheme would soon be evolved for the relief of officers in the interior. When some officials go to the back-blocks they receive an extra allowance, and when they ask for a transfer to Sydney or elsewhere they wish to be paid on the same basis. Naturally a man who has been paid a certain sum does not like to receive a lesser sum. I know that positions in Sydney andi Bathurst have been offered to western officers, but they wished to be transferred at the same salary, and to enjoy the same status. A great deal more ought to be done to provide telephonic com- munication. I was very glad to hear the Minister say that he is prepared to use the telegraph wires. If the inspectors were located in their districts the people would be provided with a better system of telephonic communication. If a telephone were attached to every public-house near a telegraph line it would be a great convenience to the travelling public. It would be better for the Department as well as for the public to have in each district an inspector. I am quite prepared to accept the assurance of the Minister and to withdraw the amendment.

Mr SPENCE:
Darling

– I am satisfied with the promise of the Minister to look into this matter. As the representative of a large area of back-block country in New South Wales I know that the consideration of many matters is delayed owing to so .many inquiries having to be made. It is unsatisfactory to have all the inspectors located in Sydney, because it means that cases are allowed to accumulate until there are sufficient to justify a man being sent out to make the necessary inquiries. I cannot help suspecting that some of the replies we get are drafted in the office in Sydney^ and that no local inquiries have been made. A recent case gives very good ground for entertaining that suspicion. To the secretary of a Progress Committee I sent an official reply, about a mail extension. He took the trouble to travel some distance, and to make inquiries. The mail-man should be the first person to whom the inspector should apply for the purpose of ascertaining the cost of carrying the mails a few miles further. Although he had not been seen, still the official reply mentioned what the extension would cost, and said the additional expenditure was so high that the Department would not be warranted in undertaking it. The secretary to the Pi ogress Committee could not find in the district any person who had beer seen on the subject, nor could . he learn that any official had been sent there to make proper inquiries. On several occasions I have formed a suspicion that, inasmuch as the inspectors know the country pretty well, the replies to such communications are framed in the Department. Any one who is acquainted with mining localities knows how constantly changes take place. Frequently no coach is being run on a road, but when a little settlement has taken place some person, for the sake of carrying parcels and passengers, will put on a coach, and then the Department could get the mails carried for a comparatively small sum. Unless an officer goes into the locality ‘and makes inquiries the position of things cannot possibly be known at head-quarters in Sydney. Sometimes the local officers have an objection to making up an additional mail-bag. But I trust that the Minister will be able to abolish this desire to shirk work. The aim of every postal official should be to assist the public, and by that means to make the Department more profitable than it is. There is too great a disposition shown to refuse requests of this nature. It would be a good policy, I think, to require the inspectors to live in their districts. It would enable the necessary inquiries to be made far more quickly than at present. Il is a waste of time for an inspector to travel a long distance from the city to the scene of his labours. I do not believe in centralization. I trust that the Department will be able to devise a check on the inspectors, otherwise the system must break down. There are many efficient .officers, but we want to have a new spirit animating them. We want them to recognise that they are serving the public, and that it is their duty to afford every facility that the public require within reasonable limits. We do not desire to have a letter delivery for every person in a district, no matter how many miles he may be away from any other person, but there should be reasonable facilities. A good plan would be to divide up the country, and to place districts under inspectors, shifting the inspectors about from time to time, as has been suggested.

Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I have listened carefully to what has been said upon this subject. Much can be said on both sides, and I always try to keep an open mind upon such matters. But I have heard nothing to justify a change being made.

Mr Spence:

– What is the advantage of the present system ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– The first question should be what advantage the proposal now suggested has over the existing system ?

Mr Frazer:

– Does the honorable member think there is a necessity for keeping six inspectors in Sydney?

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Six inspectors, are not kept in Sydney.

Mr Thomas:

– They reside in Svdney.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– That is quite a different matter. Would their residing in the country obviate any of the disadvantages which have been pointed out?

Mr Thomas:

– Decidedly; the inspectors would have to put up with the disadvantages and would try to remedy them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Is there any guarantee that if the inspectors lived at a particular place in the country they would not still report without reference to other persons residing in the locality ?

Mr Frazer:

– There would be a guarantee that they knew more of the local requirements.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– It is assumed that an inspector will constantly be travelling in the district in which he resides. If that were the case, the honorable member might make up his mind that any communications which he had to make would be longer in travelling than is now the case. It will be admitted that since the Post Office had been federalized, the red-tape has been made longer instead of shorter. Precisely the same would happen if these inspectors lived in the back country instead of in the capitals of the States. Suppose an honorable member has a difficulty in connexion with the Department, which has to be referred to one of the inspectors. I do not refer to a difficulty concerning a large matter of policy, affecting, perhaps, a matter of discipline, or a radical alteration of a mail route, but a small difficulty which is merely a matter of adjustment. Is it not better to go to the capital and have’ the matter out face to face with the inspector ? In five cases out of six the case can be settled in the office at once, but that could not be done if it had to be referred to an inspector in the country.

Mr Thomas:

– Is the honorable member aware that a broken window cannot be mended without reference to the head office ? A window in the Broken Hill Post-office remained unmended for six months.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– That is not a matter affecting an inspector. In a question of expenditure; the difficulty would be the same if the honorable member’s suggestion were adopted.

Mr Thomas:

– We could give the inspector power to see to small matters of that kind.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– This question of sending the inspectors from the capital into the interior is not a new one.

Mr Bamford:

– How can six inspectors be necessary in Sydney ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– It is not a fact that they are always in Sydney. They are only in Sydney when there is no necessity for them to be travelling in the country.

Mr Thomas:

– I should like to know the number of days when they are in Sydney, and the number of days when they are travelling.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– No doubt they are in Sydney a great part of their time, but it is necessary for them to be there. How can they be consulted, and how can matters be discussed with them, if they are always in the country ? At present a matter of detail can be discussed with the inspector in the office, and’ settled in five minutes, whereas if an inspector had to be consulted in the country a communication would have to be addressed to the Deputy Postmaster-General, who would have to send it to the inspector, who would have to be found somewhere in the interior. The inspector might be hundreds of miles away, and it might be very difficult to find him. The business would have to wait until he got back to some centre. With reference to Broken Hill, I can tell the honorable member for Barrier that when I was at the Post Office in Sydney we had a capable officer at a high salary at Broken Hill, Tor the express purpose of intrusting him with authority in matters which were not ordinarily in the province of such officers. It would be a piece of moonshine to send an inspector to Broken Hill for any purpose, however small. An inspector should not be required to go there, unless there were a large question of policy at issue. The postmaster is a competent officer, and knows more about the district than any inspector would be likely to know. The probability is that in many cases when an inspector visits country districts, he merely consults the local postmaster, and accepts, his recommendations.

Mr Thomas:

– I have correspondence here which shows that in order to decide whether letters should be delivered to people at White Cliffs, or whether they should go to the post-office for them, there had to be a report received from an inspector.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I am not disputing the facts. I agree that the present arrangement is as ridiculous as the honorable member contends it is, but the question is whether the honorable member is suggesting a remedy for the present difficulty.

Mr Spence:

– If the inspectors were given additional power, the remedy would be provided.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– That is another matter entirely. If it is contended that we should pursue an entirely different policy, and give inspectors plenary powers in these matters, I am with honorable members; but the mere transfer of inspectors from Sydney to some country locality will not confer any more power on them. I may point out that at present, although the inspectors live in Sydney, their districts are defined ‘for them. There is a metropolitan inspector, an inspector for the western, southern, and northern districts, and every one of these officers has his district defined for him.

Mr Thomas:

– Why not provide that they should reside in their districts, in accordance with the practice adopted by the New South Wales Education Department?

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I do not offer any serious objection to that, but I am telling the honorable member that if there is not to be a radical departure made in connexion with the distribution of power, the mere residence of an inspector in a particular locality will not obviate the evils to which reference has been made. On the other hand, I am very much afraid that what is suggested will but add a long length to the already enormous length of red-tape which surrounds all these matters. What we wish to do is to shorten the red-tape used in the settlement of these questions, and I submit that we can do that effectively when we can get face to face with the inspectors, and thresh out our difficulties with them.

Mr Thomas:

– It is for that reason that we desire that they should reside in their districts.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– At present, if an inspector is not engaged in visits of inspection, we know that we can find him in Sydney, but if he is to go through the land like Sir Galahad, we shall have some difficulty in finding him.

Mr Thomas:

– Surely it would be easier for the people of the Hill if an inspector were resident in the district?

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– The honorable member has got the Hill on the brain. He is citing a case which is not analogous to any other that could be cited in New South Wales in this respect. It does not follow that what would be suitable for Broken Hill would be suitable for other districts.

Mr Thomas:

– Nor does it follow that, what is suitable for other districts is suitable for Broken Hill.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– The honorable member did not find an inspector frequently visiting Broken Hill during my time as Postmaster-General of New South Wales. I considered it a wicked waste of expense to send an inspector from Sydney to Broken Hill when we had a competent postmaster on the spot, who knew more of local requirements than any inspector could possibly know.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– With a view to shorten the debate, I may be permitted to say a word or two on this matter. Already Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia have been divided into districts, and it has been arranged that inspectors will take charge of those districts. With all respect to the honorable member for Parramatta, I quite agree with the proposal to divide the State of New South Wales into similar districts. We adopted that system in the Mines Department of that State. It had been found that the sending of mining inspectors long distances to inspect mines caused delay and dissatisfaction, as well as expense, and we therefore divided the State into districts, and appointed resident inspectors for those districts. My own opinion is that these inspectors should not only inspect the various offices when called upon for report, but should also supervise the working of the Department in their districts. An inspector resident in a particular district will naturally become acquainted with the working of the various local post-offices, and will be in a position to suggest desirable alterations in the public interest. Such a system should largely minimize the red-tape now complained of.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I do not think so.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I remind the honorable member that a similar system is adopted by the New South Wales Education Department. That Department has inspectors appointed to various districts, who, from their local knowledge, are in a good position to report fully to the head office. I think that the adoption of the system of resident inspectors will tend to economy and efficiency in the conduct of the service.

Mr Thomas:

– And it will be the means of providing better facilities for the public.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I hope so. The inspectors under such a system will be better acquainted with the requirements of the public, and will be in a position to deal promptly with all requests. Broken Hill may be a somewhat exceptional case, but there can be no doubt that somewhat similar difficulties exist in connexion with the Bourke district, and some of the northern districts in New South Wales. In my opinion, an inspector should supervise the work of the Department in his district, he should be a live man, alert to discover the best means of improving the facilities afforded by the Department, and he should report upon such matters without waiting to be asked for a report by the head office. I intend, after these Estimates are passed, to take steps to divide the States in the way suggested, believing, as I do, that the adoption of this system will add to the efficiency of the service.

Mr WEBSTER:
Gwydir

– I have been very pleased to hear the Postmaster-General express so strong an opinion on this matter. If the honorable member for Parramatta had ever represented a large and scattered country electorate, he would recognise that the people in such districts suffer great inconvenience as the result of the system now prevailing. At present there is far too much circumlocution associated with the Department. Under the existing system an inspector, who may be called upon to report upon some departmental matter in one portion of a large district, makes his inspection, and then returns to Sydney to furnish a report. In the meantime numerous other complaints relating to the same district have been received by the Department, withthe result that the inspector is continually travelling to and fro, and there is agreat delay.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917
Mr WEBSTER:

– This happens, to my own knowledge. If there were a resident inspector, stationed in a central part of each district, he would be better able to attend to the requirements of the people, and could deal with complaints far more expeditiously than is at present possible. In the main, no comparison can be made between the Lands Department and the Mines Department of New South Wales and the Common wealth Post and Telegraph Department; but I would point out that the benefits to be derived from decentrali zation have been amply shown by the working of these State Departments. District officers are appointed by them, and are able to inquire on the spot into any grievance, and to furnish a report with expedition. This system works very satisfactorily as compared with the circumlocution shown by the Commonwealth Departments in dealing with matters of even small concern. By way of illustration, let us suppose that in preparing plans for the erection of a post-office, the Government Architect has overlooked some convenience which is absolutely necessary, and which could be supplied at a cost of£5. Under the system which prevails, neither the Colonial Architect, the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, nor the Postmaster-General himself could authorize the necessary expenditure. The matter would first of all be dealt with in a report sent to the Department of Home Affairs. The Department would return the report to the Colonial Architect, who would make further inquiries and send it back to the Department of Home Affairs. Thence it would go to the Deputy Postmaster-General of the State, who in turn would refer it to the Postmaster-General. By that time, the contractor would have completed his work, and the building would have been occupied perhaps for months. Honorable members will recognise that this is a most objectionable system. If the Prime Minister were subjected to the irritation to which many of the electors in rural districts and their representatives have to submit, in regard to these matters, he would not be so jovial a man as he is. The worries of his office are as nothing compared with the difficultieswhich we experience in having the wants’ of our electors investigated. An officer is not even allowed to deal with a matter involving no expense, and the cost of investigating and determining a case brought under the notice of the Department is very often a hundred times greater than the expenditure which would be involved in at once giving effect to the request of the electors concerned. I hope thatthe Government will strike out in a new direction, and make reforms that will enable the business of the country to be attended to with expedition. No one would be more readythan I should be to sing the praises of the Ministry, if the residents of my electorate were more readily brought in touch with postal facilities than they are at the present time. Under the proposed new system of resident inspectors, the Minister would be able to come to a decision more expeditiously than he is at present, in regard to telephones and similar accommodation.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– That is one reason why I favour the new system.

Mr WEBSTER:

– I realize that, but as the ‘honorable member for Parramatta strongly opposed the proposal outlined by the Postmaster-General, I thought it necessary to say a word or two to strengthen the honorable gentleman’s position.

Mr BROWN:
Canobolas

– In connexion with the item “ Deputy PostmasterGeneral, ^920,” I should like to know whether the Postmaster-General is aware that for some time we have ‘had, not a Deputy Postmaster-General, but an Acting Deputy Postmaster-General in Sydney?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The matter will be settled as soon as the Estimates have been passed.

Mr BROWN:

– I am very glad to hear it. I admit that, so far as the public are concerned’, the service has not suffered in any way from the present arrangement, but a great injustice is being done to the gentleman who so ably fills the position of Acting Deputy Postmaster-General. I should also like to ask the PostmasterGeneral to consider the position of the inspectors. At present the Chief Metropolitan Inspector, Mr. Maguire, has also to attend to the duties which he discharged as a rural inspector - plus those of portion of a district formerly allotted to his predecessor, Mr. Young - for the salary that he received as a rural inspector, namely, ,£400 per annum. Prior to this promotion, the position of metropolitan inspector carried with it a salary of ^470 per annum. In the classification of the Public Service Commissioner, this officer is set down for an increase of .£20, whether on the basis of his old salary as country inspector, or on the basis of his new salary as metropolitan inspector, I cannot determine. This officer has to discharge very important and growing duties, and, whereas under State administration there were at one time nine inspectors employed, there are now only six inspectors, one of them having been appointed within the last few weeks, and having been promoted to an inspectorship from the position of postmaster at Tamworth. I find from the records of the Department that the officer to whom I have referred, joined the service in 1859, and holds the highest testimonials for efficiency during his long career as a public servant. In 1882, he was appointed telegraph inspector, and held that position until 1893, when he was promoted to be postal inspector, a position which he held until the present year; when he was made metropolitan inspector. The matter is one of some urgency, because he is now very near the retiring age, and if he retires while temporarily filling his present position, he will not be credited in his pension allowance with the work done in that capacity. With regard to the inspectorial work generally, the Postmaster-General is moving in the right direction in decentralizing the administration. The people of country districts feel that they labour under considerable; disadvantage ion -not having inspectors in closer touch with their requirements. A great part of an inspector’s work is now performed in the head office, so that he can make only periodical visits to his district.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Does he do any work in the head office which he would not have to do if he were compelled to remain in his district?

Mr BROWN:

– I do not know; but if there is any part of the work of the inspectors which can be better done by men in the head office, it should be allotted to them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– The inspectors would have to write up their reports in the country, as they now do in the city.

Mr BROWN:

– The whole of their time is not occupied in writing reports. At present, however, a great deal of work has to stand over, pending investigation, because the inspectors’ time is otherwise occupied. The objections which are urged against the decentralization which I now suggest were urged against the decentralization of inspectorial work in the States Departments of Mines and Public Instruction.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– There is no analogy between the work of a school inspector and that of a postal inspector.

Mr BROWN:

– It was found -that the difficulties which were feared did not arise in actual practice, and the efficiency of those Departments was improved by compelling inspectors to reside in, their districts. A similar result would happen if postal inspectors were compelled to reside in their districts. The inspectors should either be given larger and more direct control over their districts or the staff of inspectors should be increased so as to prevent delay. Another matter which deserves attention at the hands of the Minister is the need for giving local officials greater latitude in regard to petty expenditure. Instead of requiring them to obtain permission through Sydney from the Central Administration in Melbourne, for the expenditure of money for putting in a pane of glass, for instance, which causes great delay, and often expense, they might be allowed to authorize expenditure up to £2°, £5°, or .£100.

Mr. SPENCE (Darling).- Under the Public Service regulations, provision is made for recompensing overtime by allowing time off, but certain officers may be paid for overtime not exceeding twentyhours a year. I have here, however, a record of the overtime worked by twelve linesmen, amongst .them gangers, some of whom have worked over forty hours, others over eighty hours, and one as much as ug hours overtime during the nine months ending September last. I have made careful .inquiries into the matter, having seen the parties concerned, and having interviewed the Public Service Commissioner and the Deputy Postmaster-General in order to study the public interest, as well as ‘ that of the men, I find that the Depart- mental regulations cannot be carried ou< because the men could not be spared from, duty a sufficient length of time to compensate them for the overtime which they ‘ have worked. Upon asking if the service is not undermanned, and whether the working pf overtime cannot be brought ,to an end by appointing extra men, I was told that this overtime is mainly brought about by the necessity for repairing lines which are damaged by heavy storms. We have had several such storms in New South Wales during the past twelve months, and it has been found imperative to employ thoroughly experienced men to do this class of work. Then, again, some of the overtime is due to the cable work which has to be performed in the telephone tunnels. When a job is once started in the tunnels it must be carried through to’ completion without unnecessary delay. The arrears of overtime to which the men are entitled are accumulating to such an extent that it will be extremely difficult ‘ to compensate them by giving them .time off. It would be fairer, to the men if they were to receive pay for’ overtime work at the rate of time and ahalf, in keeping with the practice whichprevails in nearly all private employments. It is unfair to expect the men to take time off as compensation for the time occupied in performing special work outside ordinary working hours. When I submitted this matter to the Public Service Commissioner he pointed out that the same argumentswould apply to all forms of overtime, and that, as the regulation was a general one, it would be difficult to know where to draw the line. It is clear that some change will have to be m.ade. The men are not complaining about the odd hours and halfhours for which they are called upon tqcontinue their work, but they point out that the wages paid to’ them are so small that it would be of great advantage to them if they were to receive money compensation for overtime. I do not press for an immediate decision upon this matter, because it will probably be brought under the notice of the Minister by a deputation representing the men. An Inter-State conference of representatives of the employes in this branch of the service will shortly be held. I think that it would be desirable to limit the number of hours for which the men are to be compensated by receiving time off, and to pay time and a half in re. spect to any period in excess of the limit. One officer worked for twelve hours on each of three Sundays, and on twelve Saturday afternoons in 1903, and he has not yet been paid. Another officer had overtime to his credit prior to the present regulation being brought into operation, and he still remains unpaid.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– If the honorable member will give me particulars of the cases to which he refers, I will inquire into them.

Mr SPENCE:

– I shall be happy to do so. The men claim that the work which they are called upon to perform, and which results in their being required to work beyond ordinary hours, is of an exceptionally arduous nature, and that it would be fairer to pay them at overtime rates than to con,tinue the present arrangement. One officer has 119 hours to his credit, whilst several have as many as eighty hours, and the least time to which any of the officers is entitled is seventeen hours. It would be impossible in many cases to fully compensate these officers by giving them time off. I hope that the Minister will take this matter into consideration, and that some arrangement will be made which will be fair to the men, and will’, at the same time, enable the Department to fully avail itself of their services.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. THOMAS (Barrier). - In connexion with the proposed vote for the conveyance of inland mails, I desire to know whether the Postmaster-General is taking any steps to abolish the sweating of mail-coach drivers. Some time ago, a deputation waited upon the honorable member for Coolgardie, when he was PostmasterGeneral, and pointed out that a number of drivers were required to work from seventy to eighty hours per week. They asked that a report should be obtained, and that, if possible, future contractors should be required to abstain from working their drivers for more than fifty-six hours per week. I know that there is some difficulty in imposing fresh conditions upon the present contractors, but special provision should be made in all future contracts for the fair treatment of the men employed.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– How would the honorable member calculate that working time?

Mr THOMAS:

– I should take into account all the time that a man is actually driving a coach.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– How would the time be calculated in cases where a driver had to perform a journey occupying two hours one way, and then, after a long break, drive the coach back to the original point of departure?

Mr THOMAS:

– I should reckon the actual driving time. I do not think that even the contractors should be permitted to drive for more than fifty-six hours per week. This matter has to be considered not only from the stand-point of the drivers, but also from that of the safety of the travelling public. The roads in the back-blocks are not always the best, and it is desirable that the drivers should be as alert as possible. Unless we make some provision such as I have suggested, contractors may, in some cases, be induced to tender at low rates upon the chance of their being able to secure the services of men who will work for unreasonably long hours.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– We are waiting for further reports upon the matter.

Mr THOMAS:

– I should like to know whether the Postmaster- General is in sympathy with the idea that all future contracts should provide that mail-coach drivers should not work more than fifty-six hours per week.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The honorable member knows that I am not in favour of sweating.

Mr THOMAS:

– I am aware of that. I claim that it is our duty to safeguard our mail-coach drivers from sweating, just as much as it is to safeguard the officers of our Public Service. We must recollect that the latter work under conditions which are a perfect paradise when compared with those under which the former discharge their duties. I shall be glad if the PostmasterGeneral can see his way to insert in all future contracts a provision that only a maximum number of hours shall be worked by all mail-coach drivers.

Mr. BROWN (Canobolas). - I desire to direct attention to the item, “ Allowances to non-official postmasters, receiving-office keepers, and others, and to provide for the opening of new non-official post-offices and receiving offices, . £32,500.” I need scarcely point out that since the Postal Department was transferred to Federal control the system of employing nonofficial postmasters to perform certain duties has been very considerably extended. I understand that a rule obtains in the Department - that unless any centre can demonstrate that a certain amount of revenue willbe derived from it annually, an official post-office will not be established there. In my own electorate there is a little town named Manildra. It is situated upon the western line, is surrounded by a very fine agricultural district, and is a growing centre. Some months ago its residents, through the secretary of the Progress Committee, communicated with me with a view to securing better postal facilities by the establishment of an official post-office there. Hitherto the postal work of the place has been attended to by a non-official postmaster, who also conducts a store. So far as I am aware, no special complaints have been urged against the present management, but the residents of the town naturally think that to meet their growing requirements they should be granted increased facilities in the shape of an official office, and accordingly they made application to that effect. In reply, the Department forwarded a communication containing a copy of the following report by the Deputy PostmasterGeneral of New South Wales : -

As the revenue of Manildra post office is only £222 for the year, and it has been determined not to establish an official or staff office, unless there should be a revenue return of at least£400 a year, the erection of a governmental building for a post office is not justified.

From this communication it would appear that the rule of the Department is that before an official or staff office can be established at any centre, it must be apparent that it will return a revenue of at least ^400 per annum. That seems to me to be a very high minimum to fix, and I would respectfully ask the Postmaster-General, in fairness to the Department, and in justice to a number of places which occupy a similar position to that of Manildra, to ascertain whether the amount in question cannot be reduced.

Mr CHANTER:
Riverina

– I desire to obtain some explanation regarding the item, “ Hire and maintenance of bicycles, £1,200 I spoke of this matter the other day, but I was not present when the Minister replied. It seems to me that it would be more economical for the Department to purchase these bicycles than to hire and maintain them at such an extravagant cost.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The matter to which the honorable member for Riverina has referred was brought under my notice the other day by a member of the board which inquired into the question of the postal pillar clearances in Melbourne and its suburbs. I then asked a question in reference to it, because it seems to me that we are paying a very large sum of money for the hire of these bicycles. I also determined - as soon as the Estimates were disposed of - to ascertain whether some more economical arrangement cannot be entered into. In my opinion it would be better for us to purchase the machines. I shall have an inquiry made into this and other matters as soon as we get into recess.

Mr. THOMAS (Barrier). - I notice an item for printing postage stamps and postal notes. I desire to ascertain whether the Postmaster-General is willing to provide in the main post-offices of each State some stamps of the other States. Of course, I should like the honorable gentleman to put down his foot and say that a Commonwealth stamp must be introduced. But it may be that there are some difficulties to be overcome before that forward step can be taken. On application at the General Post Office in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, a person can purchase a few stamps of any State on paying a commission of 2d. per dozen. It is a great convenience to the people of Melbourne, for instance, to be able to purchase here stamps of New South Wales or Queensland. This advantageous system should be extended to all the main post-offices in each State, and the fact made known to the people by means of advertise ments. When a man is writing a letter on a business matter to a person outside his State, it is a great convenience to be able to inclose a stamp for a reply. When I was in Broken Hill I received a letter from a person in Victoria, who was a stranger to me, asking for information about a work. He expressed his regret that he was unable to enclose a New South Wales stamp for a reply, but hoped that in the circumstances I would furnish the information desired. If my suggestion be adopted a far larger number of persons would be able to enclose a stamp for a reply to a letter, and also to remit small sums to distant places in the Commonwealth. I should also like a few English stamps to be stocked at the main post-offices, so that any person would be in a position to enclose English stamps for the payment of any article which he required to get from the old country. If a pound’s worth of the stamps of each State were stocked it would be sufficient to begin with, and as soon as they were utilized they could be replaced. A charge of 2d. per dozen, or per two dozen, would cover any loss which might occur. This would be a great convenience to those persons who live in border towns. The people in the rural districts ought to have the same facilities as the people in the metropolitan districts.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I shall consider the suggestion of my honorable friend.

Mr THOMAS:

– In very many ways,’ Broken Hill’ is placed in a peculiar position. For instance, all the material which is used by the Post and Telegraph Department has to come from Sydney, and, of course, that adds very considerably to the cost. Some time ago a person wished* a telephone to be fixed from Broken Hill to his station, which is some twenty miles outside the town. He offered to lay the line, but there were some objections made to his offer. I fancy that he wished to use .the telegraph posts, and he was told that he -could only use the telephone wire’ sanctioned by the Department. He was prepared to comply with that condition, but when he inquired about the price, he found that he could get the same wire for some pounds a ton less from a private company at Broken Hill, than from the Department. The difference in the price is mainly caused by the fact that the wire has .to be shipped from Sydney to Adelaide, and thence carried to Broken Hill. This not only places a handicap on private per– sons who desire to have telephones of their own, and are prepared to buy the wire, but it also adds to the cost of anything which the Department wishes to do. Some time ago I asked that the telephone system should be connected with a mining township called the Pinnacles. The estimate of cost was based by the Department or the assumption that the wire ‘ would come all the way from Sydney. The cost would be pounds less had the wire been sent from Adelaide ,to Broken Hill. If the Department would only make up its mind to do so, it could easily -give effect to the Federal spirit. It would be very easy to make an arrangement with people in Adelaide to supply the articles required, instead of sending them all the way from Sydney via Adelaide. The bicycle to which I referred recently, must have been almost worth its weight in gold by the time it reached White Cliffs. I should be pleased if the Minister will try to arrange that all stores shall be sent from the nearest port to Broken Hill. Now that the States are federated, surely it is not absolutely necessary that all the stores for that very important part of Nev South Wales should come from Sydney ? The townspeople are severely handicapped by the cost of the extra carriage.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I have made a note of my honorable friend’s suggestion.

Mr THOMAS:

– I take it that the item of £26,000 for the conveyance of mails to Europe is intended to meet the charge for poundage rates.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– This estimate was framed to cover the New South Wales portion of the old contract before it was decided to adopt poundage rates. Of course, the amount may be modified.

Mr THOMAS:

– I understand that it is estimated on the same basis as previously?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Yes; these Estimates were framed on the basis that some satisfactory arrangement would be made.

Mr THOMAS:

– I am glad that this point has been raised, because I am very anxious indeed that not a single penny should be paid by the Post and Telegraph Department on account of mail contracts, except for the carriage of mails. I do not object to pay £50,000 or £100,000 for other purposes, if necessary. But we should have some assurance from the Minister that he will fight for his Department in this matter. What is the poundage rate which we shall have to pay when the present contract lapse’s?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– It is fixed by the Postal Union. The rate is 3s. 7d. per lb. under the Postal Union rates.

Mr THOMAS:

– The point that I am anxious about is that we shall not pay a penny more than is necessary for the absolute carriage of the letters and packets sent through the Department. If it were found necessary, in the interests of defence, that the mail steamers should be armoured cruisers, I should not object 1.0 pay money on that account, but the payment should be debited to the Defence Department, not to the Postal Department.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The present contract does not expire until 31st January next.

Mr THOMAS:

– Will the whole of this money have to be paid?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Most of it will have to be paid, and we may have to enter into a new contract.

Mr THOMAS:

– If we have to pay for refrigerating chambers, the payment should not be debited to the Postal Department. We ought to pay only on account of speed and the delivery of mails within a certain time.

Mr McLean:

– To what Department would the honorable member debit the cost of the White Ocean policy?-

Mr THOMAS:

– I should debit that to the Department of Trade and Customs. It seems to me that even the poundage rates are extravagant.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The Postal Union rates apply to nearly all countries. Our Australian poundage rates, which we pay to vessels that are not under contract with the British Government, are lower than the Postal Union rates. Those rates are 3s. 7d. per lb., while ours are 2s.

Mr THOMAS:

– The poundage rate isvery high per lb. Why should thePeninsular and Oriental Company and the. Orient Company charge more for carrying a ton of letters than for carrying a ton of merchandise? They carry merchandise for £2 a ton. I suppose that they take no more care of the letters than of the merchandise, and they do not accept the responsibility if a bag of letters is lost any more than they accept the responsibility if any portion of the cargo is lost. As under the poundage system the companies are not bound in respect of time and speed, I hope that the Minister will see that the rates paid are as low as possible.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 186 (Victoria), ^613,257

Mr POYNTON:
Grey

– In connexion with the vote for the conveyance of inland mails, I wish to refer to the matter I mentioned the other day with respect to the sub-contracts, and which has been investigated by the Department. I . have made the statement that these sub-contracts, which are supposed to have been transferred, have, I think, been transferred only in name, and not in substance, and I believe that in connexion with them certain sub-agreements exist. I have not yet heard that the Minister has taken any action in connexion with the matter I brought under his notice. The charge I made is a serious one, and demands investigation.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I have directed that a full inquiry into the matter shall be made.

Mr POYNTON:

– I desire now to. know the nature of the full investigation which the honorable gentleman has directed to be made. I desire the appointment of some tribunal before which witnesses can be examined on oath. I do not make serious charges in this House without good grounds, and I have gone so far in this matter that I do not intend to be made a laughing-stock for Mr. Vines.

Mr Lonsdale:

– What is the charge the honorable member has made?

Mr POYNTON:

– I have said that I have good grounds for believing that contracts supposed to have been transferred have not been transferred in the sense desired by the Department.

Mr Lonsdale:

– Can the honorable member give any proof of that?

Mr POYNTON:

– I have already submitted evidence, which shows that one of the contractors was approached and asked to sign a sub-agreement to do work for £ioS, for which the amount previously paid was He was further asked - and in this connexion the Department will be able to ascertain what truth there is in the allegations made - to give an order on the Department, so that the original contractor, who is supposed to have transferred his contract because of a breach of the regulations, might draw ^160 per annum for the work, and should pay back to the person to whom the contract is supposed to have been transferred, the sum of £108. If the man is guilty of making that proposition to one, he is capable of making it to . forty others, and I wish to have the matter investigated.

Mr Lonsdale:

– Who made that proposition ?

Mr POYNTON:

- Mr. Vines.

Mr Crouch:

– He has denied it to me, and he wishes to have a Select Committee appointed.

Mr POYNTON:

– He cannot deny the letter which I have in my pocket, and in which he demands over ^40 from this man. I do ‘not desire that there should be any perfunctory inquiry into this matter. When I raised it first, about eighteen months ago, the Department made an inquiry by means of an inspector. The honorable member for Denison, who was then in charge of the Department, ‘will know that what I am stating is correct. The departmental officers went to Mr. Vines and accepted his word. He told them that he had none of these contracts sublet, and 1 got a letter to the effect that the Department, having made inquiry into the matter, it was found that none of these contracts had been sublet.

Mr Crouch:

– I have seen the agreements, and they are not sublet.

Mr POYNTON:

– The honorable and learned member’s admission that there are agreements is an admission that the contracts have been sublet. The Crown Solicitor has ruled that they were sublet; and a decision to that effect was arrived at. We now have the honorable and learned member for Corio, who has a brief for Mr. Vines, admitting that there are agreements. Mr. Vines was allowed to escape penalties, and to transfer the contracts, upon the understanding that the sub-contractors were to receive the same amount of money from the Government that he was to receive.

Mr Webster:

– Was that understood? That is a revelation.

Mr POYNTON:

– That was understood by the Department. Instead of doing that, Mr. Vines endeavoured to get men to sign a private agreement to accept considerably less than he had received from the Government for the same work. The matter is too serious for a mere inquiry by an inspector. I am prepared to go on with the case, and I submit that Mr. Vines’ friends ought not to allow the charge to rest where it is. They should assist me in securing a Select Committee to inquire into the matter.

Mr Crouch:

– The honorable member is aware that Mr. Vines wanted a Select’ Committee, but he ran away from the proposal when it was made.

Mr POYNTON:

– I did nothing of the kind, and I do not know what warrant the honorable and learned member has for say- 1 ing that Mr. Vines desires a Select Committee.

Mr Crouch:

– I said so the other day, and the honorable member did not seem inclined to accept the proposal.

Mr POYNTON:

– The honorable and learned member need make no mistake; I am inclined to accept it. I am not pre- pared to allow the matter to pass without a satisfactory inquiry, and I wish to have evidence taken on oath. ‘It will then be seen whether the honorable and learned member or I am telling the truth.

Mr Crouch:

– The honorable member should not put it in that way.

Mr POYNTON:

– The honorable and learned member says that these contracts have not been- sublet, but that he has seen agreements, and knows all about them. This is not a personal matter, as the Minister is aware.

Mr Crouch:

– The honorable member is making it a personal matter.

Mr POYNTON:

– I contend that these charges are so serious as to demand the fullest investigation. I have been for a certain number of years in parliamentary life, and I am not in the habit of making serious charges without good reason. So far, in connexion with this matter, I have proved every statement I have made.

Mr Crouch:

– Who is the honorable member’s informant ? Is it Mr. Poynton, of Smeaton?

Mr POYNTON:

– I was not aware that there was a Mr. Poynton at Smeaton. I have not received letters’ on the subject from any person named Poynton. I have not concealed the source of my information. The officers of the Department have all the information that has been given to me, and they are satisfied that it is correct. As a result of it, the Department gave notice of the cancellation of forty-one contracts. The officials agreed to the request of Mr. Vines that he should be allowed to transfer his contracts, and he was thus allowed to escape the penalties which would have been imposed if the extreme step of cancellation had been taken. In my opinion these contracts have not been transferred in accordance with the spirit of the agreement arrived at between the Department and Mr. Vines. I believe that there are still some sub-contracts in existence - that men are to-day engaged in carrying mails for less ‘than the amount of the Government contract. I proved the other day that in one case a man who refused to sign a sub-contract agreeing, for t’he sum of £108 per annum, to carry mails for which Vines received £160 per annum, had been threatened with law proceedings.

Mr Hutchison:

– We should not have heard a word about the matter if he had signed it. “

Mr POYNTON:

– That is so. I wish now to know whether other persons have signed similar agreements to that which Leviston was asked to sign. If they have, Mr. Vines is not worthy of being intrusted with a Commonwealth contract. We should make an example of him.

Mr Henry Willis:

– In what way could we do so?

Mr POYNTON:

– There are various means by which he could be made to pay the penalties provided in such cases. In all probability Parliament will be prorogued within the course of a few weeks, and as the present mail contract will doubtless expire before next session, it seems to me that my complaint is worthy of serious consideration. I am led to bring this matter before the Committee, not from any personal feeling, but because I desire rhat justice shall be done, and I wish now to know what action the Minister proposes to take in regard to it.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– My honorable friend is aware that when the question was brought under my notice i did not hesitate to- cancel the contract when I found that Mr. Vines refused to act in accordance with his promise. With regard to the statement made to-day by the honorable member for Grey, I may say that I intend to have a searching investigation into the whole matter. If that investigation reveals such a state of affairs as he has indicated - if it shows that Mr. Vines has not carried out the spirit and the letter of the agreement between him and the Department, by which he undertook to transfer the contracts and so escape the penalties - steps will be taken to see that he is punished in some other way. But until I have an opportunity to make a thorough investigation it would be unfair for me to prejudge the case.

Mr Poynton:

– I am satisfied with the promise which the Minister has given.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– At a time when the sub-contractors were, ‘ to a certain extent, in the hands of the contractor, I caused an investigation to be made, and had no difficulty in ascertaining facts to enable me to still further support the action of my predecessor. The Committee may rest assured that a thorough investigation will be made.

Mr CROUCH:
Corio

– I desire to say that Mr. Vines is prepared to give the PostmasterGeneral the fullest possible information in regard to this complaint, and is very anxious that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into it. When the honorable member for Grey first brought the matter forward I informed him that Mr. Vines desired that a Select Committee should be appointed to deal with the case, and he feels aggrieved that the good name which he has held for forty years should be taken away in this Chamber by ex parte statements, based apparently on information supplied by a Mr. Poynton - not the honorable member for Grey - and also Mr. Leviston, against whom he has instituted legal proceedings. Mr. Vines interviewed me to-day, and thinks it. disgraceful that a man who is not only known to the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, but was also known to his father, as one having a reputation for straight-forward conduct, should have been attacked in the way disclosed by the last issue of Hansard, without having an opportunity to reply to the charges made against him. When I spoke last week, I was not aware that, from his point of view, two contracts had to be taken over by Leviston. He also explains that Cobb and Company had been running their coaches on the road in question for ten years, and that, in addition to the sum that he was to pay Mr. Leviston for carrying the mails, he agreed to give him absolute control of the passenger traffic which had been carefully built up in this way. That is a consideration which the honorable member for Grey ought to have mentioned. If he were not aware of it, I can only say that he should not have placed before the Committee a distorted statement of the facts.

Mr Poynton:

– That is just about as accurate as is the honorable and learned member’s reference to “ a Mr. Poynton.”

Mr CROUCH:

– I have no desire to deal with the question from a personal standpoint.

Mr Hutchison:

– We wish to know who is this Mr. Poynton?

Mr CROUCH:

– He may not be related in the slightest degree to the honorable member for Grey.

Mr Poynton:

– I have never had any correspondence with any one named Poynton.

Mr CROUCH:

– Nor any communication or statement from a Mr. Poynton?

Mr Poynton:

– No.

Mr CROUCH:

– Then I can only say that I am informed that a Mr. Poynton, who resides at Smeaton, has been stirring up an agitation in regard to this matter, and appears to regret that he was not successful in obtaining the contract let to Cobb and Company.

Sir JOHN FORREST:
Swan

– I have listened to the statements made on several occasions by the honorable member for Grey in regard to this matter, and, although I have not given it careful consideration, it seems to me that the mere fact that a contractor for the carriage of a number of mails has sublet some of his contracts for less than the amount paid to him by the Department does not in itself prove that he has been guilty of any wrong-doing.

Mr Poynton:

– The regulations prohibit anything of the kind being done.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– At most it shows that the gentleman in question has not wisely carried out his business arrangements. If it be correct, as stated by the honorable and learned member for Corio, that Mr. Vines had undisturbed control of the passenger traffic on the road in question for several years, I should like to know why he should not have been able to say to another man, “ I am prepared to hand over to you the full sum of £200 which I receive in respect of my contract for the carriage of these mails, provided that you carry out the service, and allow me £100 for refraining from competing with you for the passenger traffic on this road.”

Mr Hutchison:

– But the law does not allow anything of the kind.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I think that such an arrangement could be made under the Act. It would be a matter, not of carrying the mails, but of refraining from competing for the passenger traffic.

Mr Hutchison:

– But the Act prohibits the subletting of contracts.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– Surely a contractor would have no difficulty in subletting a contract, provided that he gave the sub-contractor the full amount that he received from the Department in respect of the service.

Mr Poynton:

– Even that couldnot be done under the Act.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– It seems unreasonable that such an arrangement could not be made, say, by the executors of a deceased contractor. I believe it might be very well explained that Mr. Vines, in agreeing to refrain from carrying passengers on Che road, gave the sub-contractor a quid pro quo for carrying the mails at less than the contract price. While the person who is subletting may seem to be gaining an advantage by the transaction, as a matter of fact, the subcontractor may be making a good thing out of it, too. The proper way to prevent this would be to let each contract for service separately, but neither the Department nor the contractors would gain by that. A man without money is always at a disadvantage in competing with a man who has money, and small contractors would find it difficult to compete against a well-established firm. Whilst we admire the honorable member for Grey for the goodness of his intentions, it is quite possible that if his proposition were assented to, injury rather than good might result to those whose interests he has at heart.

Mr. POYNTON (Grey).- I should not have risen again, but for the statement of the honorable and learned member that I had received information from some one named Poynton. I denied that before he got up to speak, but he did not accept my denial. He also said that I had made statements affecting the reputation of Mr. Vines. Both the late Postmaster-General and his predecessor investigated my statements, and the present Postmaster-General has since had additional information to more than justify them. That is a sufficient reply to the honorable and learned member. Now that the Minister is prepared to order an investigation, I am ready to allow the matter to drop. Inquiry will show if the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Corio. that Mr. Vines had a coach on that particular line, is correct.

Mr SKENE:
Grampians

– I do not propose to go into the merits of this case, tout Mr. Vines called on me to-day and asked me to support a thorough investigation into it, because he feels that the reputation of himself and his firm has been attacked. He informed me that, although his solicitor took a different view from the Crown Solicitor in regard to the sub-letting, he was prepared to abide by the cancellation of the contracts in order not to make trouble.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 187 (Queensland),£416,941, agreed to.

Division 188 (South Australia),

Mr. HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh).There is a matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the Postmaster-General, and which I did not mention during the general discussion because I felt that he had already quite enough questions to reply to. Under a State Act, the Commonwealth public servants in South Australia are entitled to certain increments, and I understand that these increments are not to be paid until the appeals against the classification of the service by the Commissioner have been dealt with. I can understand the action of the Government in not paying the increases recommended by the Commissioner until they have been approved by Parliament, but there is no reason why the statutory increments should not be paid.

Mr REID:
Free Trade

– Where the increase proposed on the Estimates covers a statutory increment, as well as a classification increase, the statutory increment will be paid without delay. These increments apply only to salaries under a certain amount -£160 per annum, I think. There will be no delay in paying them.

Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).None of the increments referred to have yet been paid in New South Wales. I have been asking the Treasurer about this ‘matter for the last four years, and he has repeatedly told me that he was anxious to pay the increases as they became due. Notwithstanding this, I understand that in New South Wales - and I suppose it is the same in the other States - none of the increases have been paid. So far as I can ascertain, this result is due either to dilatoriness on the part of some of the officials, or to short-handedness in the office in which the returns are prepared. I am informed that the returns relating to the increases have not yet reached Melbourne. Therefore, no blame attaches to the Treasurer, although some one is certainly at fault. The preparation of the list of increases seems to have occupied fully six months. Instead of their being ready at the beginning of the year, the particulars do not reach the Treasury until about Christmas time. I submit that some one should be stirred up in connexion with this matter, particularly as it affects officers who are in receipt of small salaries. Those who receive little more than£100 a year have obligations , to meet, just as well as others, and it is unfair to require them to wait for six months after their increments become due, merely because some . officer, who isin receipt of a large salary, has not sent in the necessary list at the proper time. The Postmaster-General has promised to look into this matter, and I hopethat he will apply the remedy. Something should be done, and I trust that an arrangement will be made for paying the increments as I they become due. It could be remedied by commencing before the end of the year instead of after.

Mr BATCHELOR:
Boothby

-DidI understand the Prime Minister to say that only the increments upon salaries up to the amount of £160 per annum would be paid?

Mr Reid:

– That is what I said .

Mr BATCHELOR:

– Surely it is not necessary to make a distinction between: officers receiving under and over £160 per. annum ?

Mr Reid:

– I was anxious to make my self perfectly clear. When. I first replied to the honorable member for Hindmarsh I thought there was no trouble in connexion with the matter, but I found out afterwards that there was some difficulty. I wished to make it clear that my answer referred only to salaries up to £160.

Mr BATCHELOR:

– I shall be glad to hear something further as to the reasons why statutory increases due to officers in receipt of salaries over £160 are to be withheld.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Because they are not yet voted by Parliament.

Mr BATCHELOR:

– Of course, I fully understand that they cannot be paid until they have been voted by Parliament. I am not speaking about the increases which are dependent on the adoption of the classification scheme. I understand that those cannot be paid until the scheme has been approved. But. apart from those altogether, there are a number of statutory increments to officers in receipt of salaries over £160, which, so far as I can understand, should not be withheld. If we are to understand that these increments are to be paid after the Estimates have been passed well and good ; but if, on the other hand, they are to be withheld until the. classification scheme has. been adopted, considerable delay, for which I know of no justification, will be involved.

Mr. REID (East Sydney - Minister of External Affairs). - I know that there is some trouble with regard to the increments; to which my honorable friend has referred. Quite apart from the Estimates, I promise to look into the matter, and furnish him with information to-morrow. I really do not feel competent to give a. proper answer just now, but I shall obtain full information. I know that there is considerable trouble over some of the increases.

Mr Batchelor:

– May I ask the Prime Minister also to ascertain whether the statutory increments due under States laws are to be paid ?

Mr REID:

– It is in connexion with such increases that the trouble arises.

Mr Batchelor:

– There are statutory increases due to officers under the Federal law about which no trouble need occur.

Mr REID:

– There is no trouble in regard to those.

Mr Batchelor:

– There are also increments which are due under the States laws.

Mr REID:

– Those are the cause of the trouble.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 189 (Western Australia), £276,473

Mr CROUCH:
Corio

– I understand that the honorable member for Coolgardie desires to make some references to the question of transferring officers who are now employed on the gold-fields to stations where the conditions of life are more favorable. Perhaps I may be permitted to direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to the desirability of establishing a Commonwealth list of the public servants connected with his Department. Under present conditions officers, except in rare instances, are apparently required to remain in the States in which they are at present employed. A former constituent of mine, who was stationed at Queenscliff, was some time ago transferred to Kalgoorlie. He expected that, in due course, he would be able to return to Victoria.

Mr REID:
Minister of External Affairs · East Sydney · Free Trade

– As I understand that an honorable member who wishes to discuss some item in this division is absent, I suggest that its further consideration should be postponed.

Proposed vote postponed.

Division 190 (Tasmania), £109,485, agreed to.

Additions, New Works, and Buildings

Division1 (Trade and Customs), £5,1 58

Mr BAMFORD:
Herbert

– I should like to ask the Minister where the launch, to which reference is made upon the Queensland portion of these Estimates, is stationed ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The launch to which the honorable member refers was required at short notice by Queensland to replace a smaller one which had been previously in use there. Consequently it became necessary to secure a vessel which was then in use in New South Wales. A substitute was afterwards built for that State, and an arrangement was entered into under which the cost of the new launch was to be debited to Queensland, and that of the repairs to the vessel transferred, to New South Wales. At the present time the new launch is stationed at Brisbane.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 2 (Defence), £63,444.

Mr BATCHELOR:
Boothby

– I wish to draw attention to the large and increasing amount which is annually being expended upon drill halls.

Mr Kelly:

– Does not the honorable member wish the members of our Defence Force to be drilled?

Mr BATCHELOR:

– Yes, but most of the soldiers of the present day put in their drills without the aid of halls. As a matter of fact, except in Tasmania, where the weather is cold and boisterous, these buildings are very little used, save for dancing purposes.

Mr McCay:

– They cannot be let for dancing purposes without the special consent of the Minister, which is never granted if they enter into competition with other halls.

Mr BATCHELOR:

– There are no less than nineteen drill-halls in Melbourne.

Mr Reid:

– Surely they are not all used as dancing saloons?

Mr BATCHELOR:

– Some of them are used for little other than dancing purposes.

Mr McCay:

– These are the new works and buildings which were proposed by the Government of which the honorable member was a member.

Mr BATCHELOR:

– That is so. But I would remind the Minister that I eliminated from the Estimates a very largeexpenditure upon drill halls. I am not complaining of the items which appear upon the Estimates, because, in most cases, the expenditure proposed is necessary to complete halls which are already in progress. I maintain, however, that the outlay upon these buildings should be kept down to the lowest possible minimum. Over the greater part of Australia we possess a climate which permits of men being drilled in the open air.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– The expenditure upon drill-halls is one of a most useful character.

Mr BATCHELOR:

– I do not agree with the honorable member. I claim that it is possible to waste a good deal of money in this direction. I do not believe that the erection of drill halls encourages a taste for military training. In going home from the House last session I could not fail to admire the enthusiasm displayed by some young Australians who were being drilled in the open street on the west side of the Fitzroy Gardens.

Mr Crouch:

-That is because the drill hall in Powlett-street is not large enough for their requirements.

Mr BATCHELOR:

– The hall in question was being used for dancing at the same time.

Mr Crouch:

– The drill hall in Powlettstreet has an asphalt floor, and cannot he used for dancing purposes.

Mr HUTCHISON:
Hindmarsh

– Unlike the last speaker, I am very pleased to see on these Estimates an item for drill halls. The necessity for drill hallsis greater to-day than it ever has been. In South Australia we have not an up-to-date drill hall, but merely an iron shed. When the State is provided with three drill halls - one at Adelaide, and two in country districts - we shall not have too many of them. It ought to be remembered that part of the instruction consists of lectures. In South Australia it has been found very inconvenient to give lectures outside in the gas light. I am pleased to notice that provision is made for three drill halls, and I trust that the Minister will see that they are used for the proper purpose.

Mr CROUCH:
Corio

– I wish to call the attention of the Minister of Defence to the necessity of erecting a hospital at Queenscliff. The Estimates for 1902 contained an item of £1,000 for this purpose, but when the cutting-down process began, it was omitted, and has not been re-submitted. I understand that the house of the late Colonel Umphleby is vacant. The use of this building has been recommended, first by Dr. McDougall, and next by Dr. King Scott, who say that the hospital accommodation at the Queenscliff forts is utterly inadequate and improper, because a patient has to be taken up a staircase containing two or three turns. If the Minister will promise, on his next visit to Queenscliff, to inspect the proposed hospital, I expect that it will result in the placing of an item on next year’s Estimates for this purpose.

Mr McCAY:
Protectionist

– The difficulty is that a number of things are wanted, and that we cannot charge them all to the services of one year. We have to provide for those things which seem to be absolutely pressing. I promise the honorable and learned member that I wall inquire into the matter when I next visit Queenscliff, and see if it is possible to do anything.

Mr Crouch:

– What about Colonel Umphleby’s house.

Mr McCAY:

– I do not know it.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 3 (Post and Telegraph), £117,580.

Mr PAGE:
Maranoa

– I should like the Minister of Home Affairs to give some information about the Woolloongabba Post Office. There is an impression amongst several representatives of Queensland and the members of the State Government that it is not required. From information I have received from the Minister, I am satisfied that it is not only needed, but will effect a saving on the present outlay.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– A sum of £3,500 was voted on last year’s Estimates.

Mr R EDWARDS:
OXLEY, QUEENSLAND · PROT; FT from 1913; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910

– And on the previousyear’s Estimates, too.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– At any rate, an item has appeared on the Estimates for two years. In 1902 the land was purchased for £1,260, and an item of £3,500 appeared on the Estimates for the following year, although my honorable friend says that it also appeared on the Estimates for the previous year. Whenthe Public Works Inspector visited Brisbane, a question arose as to the desirability of erecting the office, and the suitability of the present rented office for the purpose. He interviewed the Deputy Postmaster-General, who stated that they could manage for three years with the present office if certain alterations were made. A question was referred to my Department by the Post and Telegraph Department as to the erection of this building if the land could be disposed of. If it were not to be needed there might be some reason to dispose . of the land; but as the office will be needed in the course of three years, and as the site’ is. a good one for the purpose, it is considered that, in order to save the waste of the land and the annual interest of £40 or £50, a building smaller than that previously provided - one which will cost £2,010 instead of £3,500, and be justified by the savings effected - is reasonable. We are paying a rent of £65 a year for the present office, and £52 a year as an allowance for quarters to the officer, and the total of £117 represents about 6 per cent, on the proposed expenditure of £2,010. Under these circumstances, I thought that the proper course to take was to erect a building.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I understand that some time ago a report against the erection of this. new post-office at Woolloongabba was supplied to the Department.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The report said that they could do with the old post-office for three years longer.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– Considering the present financial position of Queensland, I think that the new building should not be erected at present. I am opposed to the proposal. The Queensland Government and the State members are not in favour of it. Honorable members all know what the financial position of Queensland is, and they should not vote for unnecessary expenditure.

Mr Reid:

– This site is not in the electoral district of an honorable member on the Opposition side, evidently.

Mr DAVID THOMSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– I am speaking solely in the interests of the Queensland finances. The Queensland Government have had to impose an income tax to meet the exigencies of the State ; and, in view of all the circumstances, I think that the Government ought to defer the expenditure.

Mr McDONALD:
Kennedy

– There seems to be a mystery about this Woolloongabba Post Office.

Mr Reid:

– Call it a vendetta.

Mr McDONALD:

– In view of the narrow majority which the Government have, works of this kind are very useful little things to hand about.

Mr Reid:

– The work was proposed years before we came into office.

Mr McDONALD:

– I understand that the Departmental expert has reported against the building. Colonel Owen said that the new office will not be required for some time to come.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– I may say, in reply to the honorable member for Capricornia, that, without any request from the Queensland Government, I, . in going through the Estimates, was careful to reduce them as far as I possibly could, knowing that it was of importance to the State that the expenditure should be kept low. I reduced this amount by , £1,500, and, in addition to that, I reduced other Estimates, so that, after paying this £2,000, Queensland will be debited with £1,600 less than would have been the case under the Estimates of my predecessor. These facts are sufficient to show that every consideration has been shown to Queensland. The report of Colonel Owen, the InspectorGeneral of Public Works, is as follows : -

During my recent visit to Queensland, I took the opportunity of visiting the site recently purchased by the Commonwealth Government for a proposed new post-office at Woolloongabba. The site is an excellent one.

The present post-office is a building rented at £65 per annum. The first floor of this building is not occupied, excepting the front room used by the caretaker. It appeared to me that the first floor might be used for postal business if a small staircase were erected within the building and a correspondence lift provided. The Postmaster at Woolloongabba appeared anxious thata new post-office should be erected, but said that if the proposal indicated above were carried out, there would be sufficient accommodation for him to carry on for the present. I. discussed the matter with the Acting Deputy PostmasterGeneral, who stated that the existing accommodation would suffice for the next three years.

If no land had been purchased, or if the land, having been purchased, could have been disposed of, as not likely to be required, there might have been some reason for not erecting the new office. But the land was purchased at a cost of £1,260.

Mr McDonald:

– Who was the owner of the land’?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– I have not the remotest idea.

Sir John Forrest:

– What is the date?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The land was purchased in 1902.

Sir John Forrest:

– What is the date of Colonel Owen’s report?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The 16th May, 1904. The estimate of 1903-4 for the building alone was £3,500, and that amount was voted by the last Parliament. The question which I had to facewas - what was the proper action to take in regard to the building? I entirely repudiate any insinuation such as has been made by the honorable member for Kennedy. The matter was looked upon entirely apart from the electoral district in which Woolloongabba is situated. In fact, members of the Opposition have been treated in precisely the same way by previous Governments. There have been communications from the Premier of Queensland in connexion with post-offices in the electorates of other honorable members in opposition, asking that the works should not be proceeded with, owing to the financial condition of the State. But they were proceeded with. I was very anxious to consider Queensland, but I could not justify refusing to erect the office when I knew that it would be required in three years, and when there was a loss of interest on the £1,260 invested in the land. It was a question either of selling the land - which could not be justified, because it was required - or of expending a sum of money sufficient to provide the accommodation needed. We propose to erect a building that can be enlarged as required. Under all the circumstances, I felt that it was necessary to proceed with the work.

Mr WILKINSON:
Moreton

– I should like the Minister to answer a further question. What is the difference, if any, between what we are paying for the present accommodation, and what we shall have to pay as interest on the money expended upon the building that it is proposed to erect, together with the cost of the land that has been purchased?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The interest at 4 per cent. would be £80 and a few shillings, andwe would be saving £117. In addition, I may say that if another officer is appointed to this post-office, hewill have to pay the usual 10 per cent. rental charge.

Mr Tudor:

– Do not all officers have to pay that?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– This officer appears to have had an allowance of £52 a year. There are some cases of that kind that require to be adjusted.

Mr Lonsdale:

– The actual saving would be £37 a year.

Mr CULPIN:
Brisbane

– We have been told that the land on which this postoffice is to be erected was purchased two or three years ago, and it appears to me that action in the matter must have been taken very suddenly. The initial fault was in the purchase of the land, which is not in the best position for a post-office. I believe that the erection of this building will really result in some little saving, and I shall not oppose the vote.

Mr R EDWARDS:
OXLEY, QUEENSLAND · PROT; FT from 1913; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910

– The Committee, by voting this £2,010 for the post-office at Woolloongabba, will be effecting an actual saving. The premises at present occupied as; a post-office at Woolloongabba do not belong to the Government. They are very unsuitable, and have not sufficient accommodation for the post and telegraph business of this growing district. I have made inquiries into the matter in order to be able to place the facts before the Committee. We pay at present for the use of these premises £65 per annum, but the lease will expire in a few months’ time. We also give an allowance of £52 a year to the postmaster in lieu of quarters. Occasionally there are dull days in Queensland as well as in Melbourne. Being badly lighted, an expenditure of £13 was incurred last year for lighting the present premises. If we allow , £50 as interest on the cost of the new site, it will be seen that the present cost of the post-office at Woolloongabba is £180. We have paid £1,260 for the land, and we propose to erect on it a building costing £2,010, making a total expenditure of £3,270. At the same rate of interest that would involve a charge of £130 a year, which means an annual saving of £50 to the Queensland Government. Honorable members should, therefore, have no hesitation in agreeing to this item. The new building will provide ample accommodation for some years to come. As Lt.-Col. Owen has said, the site selected is an excellent one. It is a corner allotment’, and it will be possible to give light to the building at both sides and ends. I hope the Committee will agree to the vote.-

Mr. McDONALD (Kennedy).- I have no objection to the Government becoming its own landlord at every favorable opportunity, but there appears to be something strange running through the whole of this business. The purchase of the land was made in a very sudden manner, and we knew very little about it. The Minister informs the Committee that we were then asked to vote a certain sum of money for the erection of the building, but I do not remember noticing the vote on the Estimates.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– On the Estimates for 1903-4 there was a vote of £3,500 for this purpose.

Mr McDONALD:

– There is a blank opposite this vote in the column showing the vote for 1903-4. At present the finances of Queensland are not in the very best condition.

Mr R EDWARDS:
OXLEY, QUEENSLAND · PROT; FT from 1913; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910

– This will mean a saving for Queensland.

Mr McDONALD:

– I believe it will not result in a saving. We cannot repudiate the arrangement by which the present postmaster at Woolloongabba is paid an allowance of £52 a year. If he is transferred to some other office he will still have to get this allowance, and it is therefore of no use for the honorable member for Oxley to try to hoodwink the Committee in the way in which he has done by suggesting that this £52 a year will be saved. When that sum is included in the expenditure, it will be seen that the proposal will involve a loss, and not a saving. I am not strongly opposed to the vote, but I think it would be wise to delay the erection of this building. Queensland should be considered to a greater extent than probably any other State in the Commonwealth in the present circumstances. When we entered Federation, we knew that Queensland must suffer an enormous loss of revenue from Customs taxation of between £200,000 and £300,000, and the loss has been greater than was anticipated.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– I reduced this vote by £1,500.

Mr McDONALD:

– I am aware that the honorable gentleman has reduced the amount from £3,500 to £2,010, but I am one of those who believe that if it is necessary that this building should be erected, we should expend £3,500 upon it if that can be shown to be advisable. I am surprised that the honorable member for Oxley has not pressed the Government to adhere to the original vote, because I feel sure that the honorable member is sincere in his desire to have the best possible building erected at Woolloongabba. As the honorable members for Maranoa and Brisbare are opposed to me in this matter, I withdraw my opposition to the vote.

Mr. PAGE (Maranoa).- The honorable member for Kennedy has not been quite fair to the honorable member for Oxley in saying that the £52 allowance to the postmaster at Woolloongabba will not be saved if the new post-office is erected. If the honorable member will reflect for a moment, he will see that it must be saved, because if an officer is living in quarters owned by the Commonwealth, 10 per cent, of his salary is taken for rent. This £52 is not a living allowance, but an allowance for house rent, and when the officer is transferred to the new building he will not get that allowance. In view of the explanation made by the Minister, 1 am satisfied that money will be saved by erecting this : post-office. If we can become our own landlords, there is ho reason why we should not do so as soon as possible.

Mr McDonald:

– I should like to know whether the Tambo Post-office is in the’ electorate of Maranoa.

Mr Robinson:

– It is in Gippsland.

Mr POYNTON:
Grey

– I observe that provision is made for the expenditure of £600 on post-office buildings at Mount Gambier. Residents of the town desire me to oppose this vote, .because they con- : sider it to be inadequate. I believe that the ; honorable member f or Denison, during his! term of office as Postmaster-General, visited Mount Gambier, and recommended that something like £1,500 should be provided for the erection of a post-office worthy of the place. Mount Gambier is a verv important town, and, in the absence of the representative of the district, I should like to know whether it is true that the Department has- recently decided to expend more than £600 on the necessary postal buildings.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– Since the preparation of the Estimates it has been estimated that an expenditure of ,£900 or £1,000 will be necessary to complete the buildings required. I believe the townspeople raised a question as to whether an entirely new building Should be ‘ erected ; but, after making inquiries, the Works Branch of the Department of Home Affairs considered that, as the present structure is a substantial one, the best course to adopt is to make additions, which will be entirely self-contained, at a cost of £900 or £1,000. The new building will form part of a design, which may be. completed when it becomes necessary to replace the present structure. We shall then have an office complete in its design and in its accommodation. The officers of the Department consider that the best and most economical course to adopt, and I am sure that the honorable member, after looking into . the matter, will arrive at the same conclusion.

Mr FOWLER:
Perth

– Amongst the. items in subdivision 5. we find a re- vote ofl £500 for the East Perth Post-office. This re-vote is almost perennial, and it as time; that something was done with the money.; Year after year considerable sums are re- voted for works in Western Australia, but apparently no attempt is made to proceed with them. I am aware that this postoffice is badly wanted, and there is no reason why it should not have been erected’ long ago.

Sir John Forrest:

– Where is it to be erected ? 5

Mr FOWLER:

– On the north side of the railway. I hope that these re-votes, to which I object on principle, will not again appear on the Estimates relating to Western Australia, but that the money will be spent as Parliament, in sanctioning the expenditure, intends.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 4 (Telegraphs and Telephones), £169,902.

Mr BROWN:
Canobolas

– It is sin: gular that in the Estimates relating to the Department of Home Affairs provision is made for erecting new post-offices and making additions to old ones, whilst in this division we have, such matters as the construction of telegraph lines, and the cost of instruments, material, and so forth provided for under the Post and Telegraph Department. What is the reason for this distinction ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– It has always been the practice to have works of this kind carried out under the control of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, as we have a number of electricians in that Department who are specially qualified to deal . with them. It would be impossible for officers in the Works Branch of the Department of Home Affairs to undertake such work, because they are not familiar with all the technical details relating to it.

Mr FOWLER:
Perth

– I should like to know from the Minister how the work of erecting’ the additional wire between Perth and Eucla is proceeding. The improvement is one which is very badly needed, and I should like his assurance that- it is being carried out as rapidly as possible, so that the inconvenience from which the people of Western Australia have suffered for some time will be removed at the earliest opportunity.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I approved of an arrangement the other day under which the work, will be proceeded with without delay

Sir JOHN FORREST:
Swan

– I would remind the Minister that it is useless to erect . an additional wire on the Western Australian side without, doing . the same thing on the South Australian side. To my knowledge, the telegraphic facilities on the Western Australian side have for several years past been better than those on the South Australian side, but I hope that under the Federal administration a good and efficient service will be given throughout.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I will see to the matter.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 5 (Government Printing Office), £1,660; division 6 (Rifles, Guns, and other Equipment), £130,000, agreed to.

Postmaster-General’s Department.

Postponed division 189 (Western Australia), £276,473.

Mr FRAZER:
Kalgoorlie

– I wish to refer to a matter which has already been alluded to in the discussion of these Estimates. I was very pleased to hear that it is the intention of the Minister to inquire into the subject, and, so far as he can, to see that the officers of his Department who have been sent out to places where there are practically none of the comforts of civilization shall be allowed, after they have served a certain term there, to return to more favoured districts. In Western Australia there have been some cases of exceptional severity, but one which I think is unparalleled is that of the postmaster at Balladonia, midway between Esperance and Eucla, who has been there for a numbet of years, and went there onthe understanding that after a certain term he would obtain a transfer. I would contrast the position of such an officer with that of those in places like Bunbury, who are allowed to remain in agreeable posts for their lifetime.

Mr Fowler:

– Or are promoted over other men’s heads.

Mr FRAZER:

– Yes, by being made inspectors out of their turn.

Sir John Forrest:

– That is absolutely untrue.

The CHAIRMAN:

– The right Honorable gentleman must withdraw that remark.

Sir John Forrest:

– I have much pleasure in doing so, but the statement is most inaccurate.

Mr FRAZER:

– It is a fact that the postmaster who has been all his life at Bunbury has been appointed acting inspector out of his turn. Under the present administration of the Department it is impossible for an officer in one of these outoftheway places to get back to civilization. I do not desire that officers should be forced, without regard being paid to other considerations, to go to remote stations, but where it is necessary to afford relief to those who have already served a considerable period in such places, officers in more settled and healthier districts should be required to take their turn, if they wish to remain in the service.

Sir John Forrest:

– They make the excuse that they are secretaries to unions, or something of that kind, and therefore cannot go.

Mr FRAZER:

– No; they generally get their friends in Perth to use influence in their favour.

Mr Fowler:

– It was the men who were secretaries to the unions who were sent out to distant stations.

Mr FRAZER:

– I know that the Minister has difficulties to face in connexion with this matter. Under the Public Service Act an officer may not be transferred without the consent of the Commissioner for a longer period than three months, but the Government should impress upon the Commissioner the desirability of approving of the recommendations of the responsible officials in the Postal Department in this matter. I also favour the opinion that a more liberal allowance in outside districts would tend to minimize the present difficulty. I cannot be accused of being actuated byselfish motives, because these men are so far removed from centres of population that they have practically no “ say “ at election time. It is only through Members of Parliament that they can get their grievances aired.

Sir John Forrest:

– In the north there are worse cases than those which the honorable member has in mind.

Mr FRAZER:

– I doubt if there is any case in Australia worse than the Balladonia case. The people at that settlement see strangers only once in three months, when provisions are brought to them. I was unfortunate enough to have to go through this sandy country some months ago. At one station I found that the line repairers had one crippled horse, and another that could not get up. That was not a very satisfactory state of affairs. I have since been informed that the disabled horse has recovered to a certain extent. The linemen have to go out on horseback, and I think that in cases where the circumstances will permit of the use of a cart, such a vehicle should be provided. We expect to see telegrams published in the newspapers daily, but we shall run great risk of having the lines blocked for longer periods’ than is at present of frequent occurrence, unless we provide the line repairers, with proper facilities for doing their work. I desire to direct attention to the Sunday work which some officers are called upon to perform. Officers who are provided with residential quarters do not receive any allowances. Perhaps that may be justified, except in cases where they are required to perform Sunday work. I know of two instances in which officers are called upon to do more work on Sundays than on any other day. When a mail-boat happens to arrive they have to prepare for the incoming and outgoing ship’s mails, and also for the departure of the inland mails. Their work therefore extends over a great number of hours. I think that it is iniquitous to require officers to remain in their quarters throughout the Sunday, and to perform work without extra pay. I hope that the Minister will give these matters his best attention.

Mr FOWLER:
Perth

– I quite agree with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, that the question of transferring officers from the more settled parts of the State to the outlying districts requires the most careful consideration. There has always been a great deal of trouble in connexion with these transfers, and a verysimple way out of the difficulty which has, on several occasions, been suggested to the authorities, has not been adopted to the extent that the circumstances require. The allowances should be proportionate to the hardships entailed upon the officers. I am sorry to say that we have not hitherto paid our officers located at remote stations upon a sufficiently generous scale. We should have a more effective and contented service if the allowances were increased to a reasonable amount in consideration of the privations which the officers have to undergo. As the honorable member for Kalgoorlie has indicated, some officers have spent a long time in some of the most pleasant and salubrious spots in the State, and have not been called upon to go out into the interior, whilst others, after only a few years’ residence in favoured localities, have been obliged to fill positions upon the goldfields. I know of two striking cases in point. One officer, who was in charge of a suburban post-office, who was thoroughly up-to-date and progressive, was ordered out to the gold-fields after about seven or eight years’ service. The reason for this was not very clear, but I imagine that the officer created some trouble for himself by showing that he was somewhat progressive in his ideas.

Mr Johnson:

– That was a fatal mistake.

Mr FOWLER:

– No doubt it was a fatal mistake in Western Australia up till recently. The Other case is that instanced bv the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, and it affords a remarkable illustration of the manner in which some officials manage to escape transfer. The postmaster at Bunbury, who had been stationed there for over twenty years, was never transferred.

Sir John Forrest:

– That is not a singular case.

Mr FOWLER:

– I am sorry to say that it is not. Several postmasters have never been called upon to take their share of the hardships attached to life upon the goldfields.

Sir John Forrest:

– The gold-fields have not been very long opened up.

Mr FOWLER:

– That affords all the more reason why those officers who have held positions in the more favoured districts for many years should’ have been transferred to the gold-fields. The unfortunate officers who have been sent to the interior have had to stay there because transfers could not be effected. I hope that the Postmaster-General will see that the system of transfers is improved, and that the administration in that connexion is of an impartial character. Also, that he will take into consideration the question of increasing the allowances, especially in the case of officers who are located in the more remote districts. I believe that if this be done we shall have no further difficulty in regard to transfers.

Mr LONSDALE:
New England

– I rise to indorse the remarks of the honorable member for Perth with regard to the allowances to officers stationed in remote localities. For many years in the New. South Wales Parliament I advocated that officers should have allowances upon a liberal scale in proportion to the extent to which they were removed from the metropolitan areas. The salaries should be fixed upon the basis of the work performed in the big cities, and the allowances should be added in the way suggested. It is very; difficult to induce the authorities to adopt this common-sense method of meeting the case. No consideration is paid to the great disadvantages under which officers living at remote stations have to labour.

Sir John Forrest:

– They have not such hard work to do.

Mr LONSDALE:

– I am claiming that the salary should first be fixed in accordance with the character of the work, and that a special allowance should be made in consideration of the disabilities under which the officers may have to labour. There are undoubted advantages attached to residence in the capitals. When I recently endeavoured to assist an officer who desired to be removed to a station nearer to Sydney I found that hundreds of others had a similar desire. This was perfectly natural, and the authorities offered no inducements to them to remain outside.

Mr Brown:

– When the Department gets officers into these remote places it keeps them there.

Mr LONSDALE:

– The Department might make allowances to officers proportionate to the conditions obtaining in the distracts in which they were stationed. If officers received allowances of from £20 to £50 a year as compensation for residing in remote portions of the Commonwealth, they would know that the moment they quitted those districts for better localities they would forfeit their allowances. That would deter many from desiring to obtain appointments near the coast. I do hope that honorable members will take a common-sense view of this matter, and will seek to equalize the con ditions obtaining. We have only to recollect the numerous conveniences which are enjoyed by an officer who is resident in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane, to appreciate the superiority of his position over that of an officer in the back-blocks. I am astounded that honorable members who have an opportunity to show that they are fair-minded, do not take a broader view of this matter. The fact is that officers at head-quarters are constantly seen by their superiors, and as a result are able to obtain more advantages than are those who are located in outlying districts. In my opinion, we should seek to give those who do the work of the Government in the bush some compensation in the way of salary for the disadvantages which they suffer.

Mr McDONALD:
Kennedy

– When I brought this matter forward a few days ago the Postmaster-General did not give the

Committee any definite statement of his views upon it. I disagree with theopinion which has been voiced by the honorable member for New England, because I hold that something more is involved in this question than the mere matter of pay. I know of many instances in which officers in the bush have had no opportunity whatever of educating their families. Personally I am of opinion that there are plenty of young men in the postal service who are better able to accept positions in remote country districts than are married men.

Mr Lonsdale:

– I spoke of only one aspect of the matter.

Mr McDONALD:

– Exactly. I think that these cases should be taken into consideration. At the same time we must recollect that it is not fair to keep single men stationed in outlandish places year after year. Naturally they desire to enjoy some of the comforts of civilized life, and instead of encouraging them to remain in the back country by granting them increased salaries, I claim that some system should be devised under which, after they have served three or four years there, they should be afforded an opportunity of getting nearer to the coast, and of enjoying improved conditions.

Mr. FOWLER (Perth).- I think that the honorable member for Kennedy somewhat misapprehends the arguments of the honorable member for New England and myself. There is no doubt that single young men are in a better position to accept appointments in the back country than are those with family responsibilities. But’ I know of cases in which married men with families have been obliged to go out into the back-blocks, and have received an allowance equal to an addition of only 25 per cent. to their salaries, whilst their expenses have been increased by 50 per cent. What I ask is that in such cases the allowance shall be such as to make the new position of the officer at least equal to that which he has had to relinquish.

Sir JOHN FORREST:
Swan

– I quite agree that no officer should be compelled to live the whole of his life in an outlandish place. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has referred to the cases of officers who have been obliged to remain for a long period upon the south coast of his electorate. But I would point out that there are worse instances than those named, in Western Australia. I need scarcely remind him of the position of officers who are stationed between Geraldton and the northwest coast, La Grange Bay, Broome, Derby, Hall’s Creek, and Wyndham, where very bad climatic conditions obtain.

Mr Fowler:

– Hall’s Creek is practically out of the world.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– Yes. At the same time I should not like it to be thought that in the past no consideration has been extended to the claims of officers similarly circumstanced. I understand that any officer who applied for a removal from these remote portions of the Commonwealth after having served six years there had his case favorably considered.

Mr Frazer:

– Some of them have had to remain until they threatened to leave the Department.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– r know that, at the time to which the honorable member refers, the Postmaster-General was very considerate to all his officers. There are, however, young men in the service who are qualified who should be willing to go out into the back-blocks, and I think that they might fairly expect to be sent there. I know a case in which an officer with a young wife and children, who occupied the position of postmaster in a suburb near Perth, and who had given the greatest satisfaction to the community, was transferred to a similar position at Peak Hill. That township is situated something like ninety miles from the nearest railway station, which, in turn, ds nearly 300 miles distant from the coast. In short, Peak Hill is upon the very confines of civilization. I interested myself in his case, and said, “ Surely from amongst all the young men in ‘the service, this officer, who has a young wife and children, need not be selected for duty at such a distant and isolated place.” My efforts, however, were unavailing. The officer in question was sent to Peak Hill, and did not, I believe, receive any consideration in the way of salary.

Mr Frazer:

– The right honorable member would kill the single man first.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– A young single man does not require or, indeed, expect, so much consideration as a young woman with young children. I brought this matter under the notice of the Commissioner, but no consideration was shown, although I believe it was thoroughly deserved.

Mr Frazer:

– If he had been in the bad books, he would have been “ sacked “ for using political influence.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– So far as I know, he has not used political influence.

Mr Frazer:

– The right honorable gentleman was working on his behalf.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I was moved by some persons who had interested themselves hi his behalf. It was a case in which an officer with a young wife and children was selected to go to one of the most distant places. There should have been many others available for the post. He might have been sent to a place not so far removed, from civilization. I am glad that the matter has been brought up. A system will have to be adopted in this large service, whereby those who go out into the far-back country shall not be compelled to remain there too long. I believe that there is considerable room for improvement in this regard. I know that officers have been at Eucla for very many years. In some cases, they have become so accustomed to being in out-of-the-way places that they do not wish to move. What has interfered, too, with their removal has been the allowance which they would have to forfeit if they returned to civilization. I agree with the honorable member for New England that if the allowance were made a little more worth having, it would be an inducement to young men to volunteer to go out to distant stations into the back country. I feel sure that the Postmaster-General will give his attention to this matter j but so long as he supports the Commissioner in sending a young man with a wife and children into the uttermost parts of Western Australia, he may depend upon it that he will not give satisfaction to myself, and to many other members of the House.

Mr BROWN:
Canobolas

– With the officers this is very largely a question of getting better facilities for a growing family, and very often, it is a question of health. When an officer is sent to arn isolated district, apparently he is forgotten by the Department, and is allowed to remain there for ever, unless, of course, he can bring some pressure to bear to remind the authorities that he is in existence. The only remedy I can see for this state of things is a system under which the officers might have the option of changing stations at least once every five years. It should not be made a hard-and-fast rule that the officer should be compelled to change, but he should have the option of doing so if he wished.’ There are many men in the back country who have been trying to get removal for from six to ten years, but have had no reasonable opportunity offered to them.

I do not hear very much complaint as to the matter of pay. The great complaint is that when officers with growing families are isolated, there are not sufficient facilities for giving their children a sound education, and, naturally, they desire to remove to those centres where it can be obtained. ‘ It very, often happens that the real reason why an officer desires to secure a change is because of the health of himself, or his wife, or his family. In New South Wales it is not uncommon to find that a medical man has certified that it is absolutely necessary for the preservation of her life that the wife of an officer should be removed from hot enervating districts. The only alternative which the officer has is to take the risk he is warned against, or to incur the cost of sending his wife into a colder climate, and providing for her there. In several cases officers in this Department have been compelled to take the latter course. That imposes a very serious strain on their salaries. Some officers would willingly adopt this plan if their salaries would permit, but, being in the lower grades, their pay is not sufficient to ^provide two homes, and they appeal to the /Department &n vain for assitance. I know that the heads of the Department endeavour, as far as they can, to meet these cases. But I think that if a system were adopted which would give every officer, after five years’ service in the back districts particularly in the hot enervating districts, an opportunity of removing to a better climate, a great improvement would be effected. I am very pleased that this subject has again engaged the attention of the Committee, and I trust that by the time the next Estimates are submitted the Department will have evolved a better system of dealing with .these causes of complaint.

Sir JOHN QUICK:
Bendigo

– I thoroughly sympathize with the appeal which has been made on behalf of officers who live in remote country districts. I- shall be very glad to support honorable members in the stand they have taken as far as I can, but I am afraid that the Minister’s hands are tied by the Public Service Act. I find that in a very great number of matters the Public Service Commissioner has much greater authority in the administration “of the Post and Telegraph Department than has the Postmaster-General, and no doubt the Minister has found to what extent his (hands are tied. I venture to say that he could not make a transfer of an officer in a remote country district, no matter how hard the case might be, without the consent of the Commissioner. The Parliament has, I believe, vested too much power in the Commissioner. The Minister ought not to be a mere clerk in his own Department, to go to the Commissioner and make an appeal to him whenever he wishes an act of common justice to be done.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Surely that is not the law.

Sir JOHN QUICK:

– It is. I know, as a matter of fact, that the PostmasterGeneral cannot transfer an officer from one room in the General Post Office here to another room in the same1 building without the consent of the Commissioner.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I know that if he were determined to do it, he could.

Sir JOHN QUICK:

– I know what the law is, and I apprehend th’at the Minister is as bound to obey the law as we are.

Mr Fowler:

– The honorable and learned member does not contend that it is anything more than a mere formal consent in the majority of cases?

Sir JOHN QUICK:

– I do not know. I am merely pointing out that a transfer or promotion cannot be made without the consent of the Commissioner. I believe that the law as it stands places too much power and political patronage in his hands, and the time will come when it will have to be reconsidered, if not modified, in the direction of vesting more power in the responsible Ministers of the Crown. I was very much impressed with this view of the case by an incident which came under my attention only recently in connexion with this Department. I found that ‘a large number of young telegraph messengers were being dismissed wholesale on arriving at the age of eighteen years. Ostensibly no employment could be found for them in the Department, but at the same time, I find that the Public Service Commissioner was making mew appointments of persons outside the service, whose names happened to be upon the employment register, and who had passed certain examinations. I interviewed the PostmasterGeneral, and pointed out the monstrous injustice that had been done in turning out of the service young fellows who had been there three or four years, had been trained to the work, had become useful, and had, it may be, disqualified themselves from obtaining employment in other walks of life. These youths, on arriving at the age of eighteen, were turned out of. the

Department. They were undoubtedly qualified. Many of them had passed an examination - some for telegraphy, and some for subordinate clerical positions. Yet they got their walking .tickets whilst the Public Service Commissioner was appointing other young fellows, and- other young women, who had not previously been in the service. If to do so be within the power of the Public Service Commissioner, it discloses a state of the law which ought certainly to be taken into serious consideration. If the Public Service Commissioner is acting legally in making these fresh appointments whilst there are others in the service who are qualified to be appointed, Parliament should step in and take that power from him. Young fellows who have served as telegraph messengers for some years, who have been waiting for employment, and who have qualified themselves, ought not to be cruelly turned out at one door, whilst they see fresh people entering by another door. I hope that the Minister will take the view that these young telegraph messengers, who tramp round our streets year after year in the hope and expectation of being appointed to permanent positions after passing the necessary examinations, should be turned adrift whilst persons outside the service obtain appointments. It is very bad policy indeed to ask for applications for appointment to positions whilst there are those in the service who are qualified to fill them. I know that what I am saying is actually true, because several cases have occurred in my own electorate. Other honorable members are also aware of similar cases of hardship. The whole subject should be taken into consideration by the Minister, and if he can interfere without any alteration in the law he ought to do so. If an alteration of the law be necessary I feel certain that honorable members would agree to make it.

Mr TUDOR:
Yarra

– I desire to indorse practically every word which the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has uttered with regard to the telegraph messengers who have passed examinations for entering into the permanent service, but for whom no positions were found, because none were vacant at the time when they reached the age of eighteen.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I understood the honorable and learned member for Ben digo to say that they were turned out of the service whilst there were vacancies.

Mr TUDOR:

– I know that some telegraph messengers have gone up for examination, have paid their fees, and have passed, when it must have been known by those who received the fees that there was no chance for them, even if they were successful. I maintain that in cases like that the officials should tell those who desire to be examined that it is absolutely useless for them to present themselves for examination, because there is no chance of their being appointed. Two cases Have been brought under my notice recently where persons employed in the Post and Telegraph Department have given satisfaction, and have become skilled operators, but because there were no vacancies on the permanent staff they have been turned adrift. I am aware that it is absolutely necessary that there should be a time fixed when these lads should go, because probably the service cannot absorb all of them. But those who are in the service and have passed the examination should receive the first consideration when vacancies occur; and if telegraph messengers have passed examinations, and vacancies occur shortly after they attain the age of eighteen, and they have been compelled to leave the service, they should be given the first chance, even if they have been out of the service for a few weeks when the vacancies take place. The complaint which many of them make is that, simply owing to the fact that they attain the age of eighteen a week or a fortnight before a vacancy occurs, their chance of entering the service absolutely disappears for life. Some of these youths I know have entered the service of the Eastern Extension Company, and are to-day skilled operators. The Postmaster-General might look into the whole subject, and I trust that he will do so.

Mr KENNEDY:
Moira

– The point raised by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo is important. The reason why the provision requiring youths to leave the service at the age of eighteen was inserted in the Post and Telegraph Public Service Act was largely on account of our experience in Victoria. We found that lads had been allowed to remain in the service for a’ number of years, had attained to manhood, married, and had families dependent upon them, whilst _ they were still being paid low wages for doing boy’s work. In order to alter that condition of affairs we provided that boys should go out of the service automatically on attaining the age of eighteen, provided that there were no vacancies in a particular grade which they could fill.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– That is the whole point.

Mr KENNEDY:

– But if in attempting to remedy that condition of affairs in the Commonwealth Service we have not carried out what we meant, we should alter the law. I understand from the honorable and learned member for Bendigo that, although there may be vacancies in the service, and although some telegraph messengers have qualified themselves, they have to leave at the age of eighteen, and no consideration is given to them if vacancies occur shortly after they leave. I agree that preference ought to be given to men who have been in the service. That was the intention of Parliament. Surely the spirit of the law is that if telegraph messengers qualify themselves by examination they shall have a preference, even if vacancies occur a few months after they leave the service.

Sir John Forrest:

– There should be a limit of time.

Mr KENNEDY:

– Certainly there can be no objection to that. If they take up other avocations they will not be likely to come back to the Public Service, unless it will improve their position to do so. The spirit of the law should be given effect to. If the letter of the law stands in the way,this Parliament has power to remedy the defect, and I trust that will be done.

Mr SPENCE:
Darling

– In New South Wales the position in this respect is somewhat worse than it is in Victoria, because, under the Public Service Act of New South Wales, the retiring age of these lads was twenty years. When accepting positions as telegraph messengers, they had to sign a document agreeing to retire at the age of twenty years, should there be no openings for them in the Department when they reached that age. I have seen the New South Wales list of the lads who retired in this way, and I should say that it contained some 300 or 400 names of young fellows, for whom it had not been possible to find any openings in the Department. As under the Commonwealth the number of offices has been reduced, and unofficial offices have been instituted, there are now fewer openings for these lads, and it is impossible to guarantee that openings Will be found for them even though they should prove themselves highly efficient. The claim is made by honorable members that they should have preference for vacancies which arise after they have attained the retiring age, but honorable members who speak in that way should remember what that would mean for those who are still under the age. We fixed .the retiring age at eighteen years, because it was thought that if these lads were kept at this work until they were older than that, it would spoil their chances of getting other work to do. There are quite a number of young men in my electorate who have retired from the Department at the age of twenty years, and I have made inquiries as to what could be done for them. I find that it has been the practice of the Department in New South Wales to give them considerable notice in the shape of four months’ leave of absence on full pay, that they may be able to look out for something else to do. It is .true that when they accept positions as telegraph messengers, they know what they must expect, but they still think that they should be given permanent positions. A number of the lads are very clever, and’ have passed examinations before they have come to the retiring age. They have become expert telegraph operators, and able to do all the work of the telegraph office, and ,the weakness of the whole system is that these smart young men should be lost to the Public Service of the Commonwealth and States. I think that there is a lack of proper co-operation between the different Departments of the States, ‘ as well as of the Commonwealth, or we should not lose the services of young men who have good qualifications, and for whom there may be no openings in the Post and Telegraph Department. I can hardly believe the contention that vacancies in that Department are filled from persons outside the service while lads under the retiring age can be secured, because that is contrary to the Act.

Sir John Quick:

– They are.

Mr SPENCE:

– What I say is that some other Department should absorb these young men who are compelled to retire from the Post and Telegraph Department. Unfortunately it would appear that the States and the- Federal Departments ignore each other. A private employer will look for the person best qualified for trie work he has to offer, and these young men, having special training, should not be lost to the different Public Service Departments. Of course I do not, in these remarks, refer to the whole of them, because I am informed . that some of them take no interest whatever in their work, and do not try to learn telegraphy or any office work. Such lads must take their chance elsewhere, but there should be some arrangement between the States and the Commonwealth Departments by which young men who. have qualified themselves could be absorbed in preference to taking on those who have had no departmental experience. I do not agree with the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, that everything is done by the Public Service Commissioner. When we go to some of the Departments with complaints, they will put the blame on the Public Service Commissioner, when it .should attach to some on-e else. It is a habit in Sydney to put the blame on the head office in Melbourne, but when we . make inquiries, we find that it does not rest upon the officers here. I have traced the hist-. /ry of some of- the cases which have been brought under my notice, and I have found that the recommendation, and practically the selection for any appointment are made, not by the Public Service Commissioner birt by the Deputy Postmaster-General, and it is merely the formal approval that is given by the Public Service Commissioner. As I understand it, and the Minister will be able to correct me if I am wrong, the selection or recommendation is in the first case made by the heads of Departments, and is sent on to the Public Service Commissioner “for his approval. With -respect to the other matter to which reference has been made, I am satisfied that many officers of this Department have been cruelly treated. Some have been stationed for seventeen or eighteen years in remote districts. They have lost members of their families, and have had their health broken down by1 long residence in a bad climate, and it is not creditable to the Department that they have not been transferred. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo cannot blame the Public Service Commissioner for this, because this kind of thing was done’ before there was a Commonwealth Public Service. There is nothing new in the treatment of public officers in this way. On my recent visit to my electorate, I was speaking to one of these officers, who had been stationed for seventeen years in a remote district. He is graded at a certain salary, and all that the Department has offered him has .been a transfer to two other districts where the climate is just as severe as it is in the district in which he is stationed. It will be admitted that that is manifestly unfair. In New South Wales the great bulk of the population is settled on the coast, because of the better climate to be found there. There is consequently a larger number of officers stationed there than in any other part of the State, and vacancies occur very frequently ; but the Department seems to lose sight of the back-country men when vacancies in their own grade occur in the coastal districts. A man is sent out into the back-blocks, and his existence is practically forgotten by the Department. The statements made by some of these officers are really pathetic. Imagine the position of a man stationed in’ a place where there is perhaps only one house. In Tilpa, which is in my electorate, there is only one public-house, and not even a store or a butcher’s shop. It is enough to break a man’s heart to be sent with his wife and family to such places, and compelled to remain there, notwithstanding repeated applications for a transfer. The only reason given for a refusal to transfer them to a coastal district, is that it is cheaper to transfer an officer from one suburban office to another, than it is to transfer one from a back-country office to a city one. I hold that officers stationed in the western part of New South Wales should not be compelled to remain there more than three years, and there are so many vacancies occurring in districts where the climate is more favorable, that there should be no difficulty in making transfers in this way. Representatives of New South Wales, who are acquainted with the Public Service Commissioner’s work as a State officer, believe that he would not be opposed to the transfer of officers from the western to the coastal districts, at all events, after five years’ service. In one case I appealed on behalf of an officer who produced a doctor’s certificate, showing that his health had been undermined by long residence in a backblocks district; that he had lost two of his children whilst stationed there, and that his wife’s health had become so bad that he had been forced to send her to Sydney. He was promised, a transfer as soon as a vacancy in his own grade occurred, but although there has been several such openings, he remains at his old station. I found, for example, that an officer had been removed from Grafton to another place close at hand, although that vacancy should have been filled by transferring a man from the western district.

Mr Brown:

– In these matters the Department considers the question of the cost of removal.

Mr SPENCE:

– That is the only reason given for the failure of the Department to make these transfers. I am not surprised that an officer should have -refused to go to Broken Hill. The local post-office is a large and important one, but any man who volunteered to go there would know that he would be forgotten by the Department. That is the position in regard to all the officers stationed in the western district. I am satisfied that the Department could overcome the difficulty by adopting the suggestion which I made a few days ago. An instruction should be issued that in filling any vacancy in the coastal districts, officers who have been stationed for some time in the back-blocks, where the climate is very unfavorable, should be given a preference, provided that the vacancy be in their own grade. It is natural that these men should desire to be transferred to the suburbs of Sydney if possible, but they would be satisfied if they were removed to one of the coastal districts. They enjoy very little social life. They never see even a travelling theatrical company or a circus, and they have scarcely any means of amusement. They live in the wilds of New South Wales, where they see nothing but an occasional sheep, and I should not blame them for endeavouring to be transferred to the suburbs of Sydney. They tell me, however, that they do not care where they are sent as long as they secure a change of climate. Under the present system, all vacancies are gazetted, and applications are invited from officers who are prepared to fill them. I hold that those who are stationed in districts where the climate is very extreme should be given a preference where any vacancy in a coastal district has to be filled. If the Minister adopted my suggestion I am sure that the Public Service Commissioner would not be found adverse to it. I do not know whether some of the officers under him desire to consider the claims of their friends, but, in one case, I was able to prove that preference had been shown to a local man. The reason given for his transfer was that his health was not very good, and when I pointed out that he had simply been removed from one office to another in the same district, the reply was that his new station was on a higher altitude. I pressed for a further explanation, and was finally told that the cost of filling the vacancy in this way was less than it would have been had an officer been removed from the western district. We passed the Public Service Act in order to do away with political patronage-

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– And the honorable member is showing that it is not done away with.

Mr SPENCE:

– Honorable members feel that it should be unnecessary for any officer to appeal to them. If justice were done - if proper consideration were given bv the heads of Departments to the claims of these officers in the back-blocks - it would be unnecessary for them to seek our intervention. But even under the Act, as it stands, my proposal could be carried out, and I trust that the Minister will give attention to it.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I have listened with considerable interest to the remarks of honorable members in regard to this matter, and need hardly say .that I sympathize with their desire that some arrangement should be made to enable the transfer of officers stationed in out-of-the-way places, where they do not possess the advantages, enjoyed by those stationed in large centres of population, to more favorable districts. But we have passed an Act which, to a very large extent, gives the Public Service Commissioner ,the power to deal with transfers.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Not the final power. .

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– It gives the Public Service Commissioner the power, subject to certain limitations, to deal with such cases as those to which the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has referred. My honorable friend would find if he tested the law that the Commissioner has considerable power in regard to transfers.

Sir John Quick:

– That is so.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The honorable and learned member knows the way in which the law has been interpreted with regard to this matter.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– The Commissioner is not above the Minister.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– In any event, I should not like to see the system of political control of the Public Service - a little of which we have seen in New South Wales - introduced in connexion with the Commonwealth.

Mr Brown:

– But there is no reason why Parliament should not see that justice is done.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I quite agree that honorable members have a right to bring under the notice of the Government grievances which they think ought to be remedied. Consideration should be given to the representations made by Members ot Parliament in regard to matters of that kind, because in passing the Public Service Act we did not give away our right to take such action. I strongly sympathize with those who have suffered hardships by reason of the provision in the Post and Telegraph Act which compels the retirement of telegraph messengers at the age of eighteen. Under the New South Wales Act this retirement was not compulsory until a youth reaches1 the age of twenty, while the Victorian Act provides for retirement at the age of seventeen. The provision of the Commonwealth Act is that -

Every person taken into the employment of the Department as a telegraph messenger after the commencement of this Act shall immediately, on attaining the age of eighteen years, cease to be so employed, but may, if eligible, be appointed to some other position in the Public Service.

According to the interpretation put upon that section, young men. no matter how competent they may be, who have faithfully served as messengers for years, have to leave the service, and are not more eligible than members of the outside public for re-appointment. I have, therefore, asked the opinion of the Crown Solicitor as to whether these young fellows, although they have left the service, are not eligible for re-appointment.

Sir John Quick:

– If they have passed the necessary examination.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Yes. It seems to me that young men who have given faithful service, and have shown themselves qualified by passing an examination, should, if possible, be given a preference.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– For how long? ‘

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Perhaps it would be necessary to prescribe a time limit. It would be impossible in so small a service as that of the Commonwealth to find employment for all telegraph messengers who had reached the age of .eighteen, because boys are continually growing up, and swelling the number. ii r

Mr Spence:

– About twenty-five are absorbed in New South’ Wales each year.

Sir John Quick:

– Fourteen vacancies were filled in Victoria recently, and only seven of those appointed were telegraph messengers.

Mr Tudor:

– There are men now walking ,the streets who passed the Public Service examination three months ago.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– In my own district there are two young men who have served the Department faithfully for years, and are specially qualified, who have had to leave the service. The matter comes within the province of the Public Service Commissioner, but I shall be only too glad to make representations to him, not with a view to improperly influence him, but to insure the fair consideration of all the facts of the case.

Mr Poynton:

– It was never intended by Parliament that the Act should be so interpreted.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– That was the view placed before me, and I referred the matter to the Crown Solicitor for an opinion on the point.

Mr Brown:

– What is his opinion?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The opinion which I received from him did not altogether deal with the point on which I de sired information, and therefore the matter will be referred back for further consideration.

Mr Webster:

– Is the Minister prepared to introduce an amending Act?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The matter is one which the Government will consider during the recess. Although a great number of subjects have been brought under our attention, I think that honorable members will find when we meet Parliament again that they have received fair consideration, and that we have done our best to faithfully administer the Departments.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I should like to get at the bottom of this case, in the interests of the Public Service Commissioner as well as of the telegraph messengers and general public. I understood from the honorable and learned member for Bendigo that the seven men to whom he has referred had not been discharged from the service, but were on leave preparatory to being discharged.

Sir John Quick:

– No; they were actually at work, and had passed the examination, but seven outsiders were appointed instead of them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I submit that that is contrary to the spirit of the Act, and a violation of the intentions of Parliament. I have not heard of a case ‘like that.

Mr Webster:

– There are many cases in which outsiders have been appointed, although persons in the’ service were eligible.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I understood that a man in the service, qualified for appointment, was given a preference. This is a matter which Ministers should inquire into, though I do not think that an amendment of the Act is necessary to prevent injustice. In my own electorate, within the last month, young men of twenty have had to leave the service under a provision of the State Act. One of them is the son of a widowed mother, who has done a great deal to get her boy into the post office and to keep him there. His superior officers think well of him, and say that he is a competent telegraphist, and fitted to do almost any work in the Post Office. It is not right that he should be dismissed while there are vacancies to which outsiders are being appointed. The idea of Parliament in passing the section of the Act which the Minister has read, was to prevent the keeping on of youths engaged as telegraph messengers who had not qualified for higher positions, or for whom there were no vacancies Li the service. ‘ It was not intended that men not in the service should be appointed to vacancies which qualified youths already in the employment of the Commonwealth could fill. I hope sincerely that the Minister will look into this matter.

Mr POYNTON:
Grey

– I wish to emphasize what has been stated by the honorable member for Parramatta. I know of four lads in South Australia who passed the examination, and obtained the highest credentials from the ‘Deputy PostmasterGeneral, but who were debarred from promotion by the provision in the Act, which requires that they shall retire from the sendee at the age of eighteen. I am sure that if the Minister obtained reports from the Deputy Postmasters-General they would support the statements made by honorable members as to the hardships inflicted in a number of cases in which the Department have to get rid of bright and intelligent youths, qualified for work of a higher class than that of messengers. These boys, after having been trained in a certain direction, are condemned under present arrange ments, to make a fresh start in life. I trust that the Minister will give this matter his careful attention.

Mr HUTCHISON:
Hindmarsh

– I am sure that the statements made by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo and the Postmaster-General surprised many honorable members. Even if the Public Service Commissioner has the right to deal with these matters in the manner described, the Committee has a right to be informed how it comes about that outsiders are appointed to positions which might very well be filled by boys who, after having acted as telegraph messengers, have qualified themselves for a higher class of work. Some time ago I interested myself in the case of a messenger who was approaching the age of eigh- teen years. He had not only passed the first examination required to secure his admission into the service, but later on passed another examination, under the impression that if he succeeded he would be able to claim appointment to a higher position. Of the whole of the applicants in the Commonwealth he took fourth position on the list, but in spite of this fact, and of his having given every satisfaction, he. was told that he would have to go. I think it is the duty of the PostmasterGeneral to seek some explanation as to the principle upon which the Public Service Commissioner appoints outsiders in preference to those who have done good work in the service, and who have obtained the highest testimonials from their superior officers. When a youth reaches the age of eighteen years, he is too’ old to be apprenticed to some trades. For instance, he would not be permitted to become an apprentice in the printing trade. In many cases the lads will be compelled to take up the occupation of labourers, whereas they are qualified by education to become first-class mechanics or public servants. They ought to have a chance of filling vacancies, if they -are qualified to perform the work attaching to the positions. I know of two or three parents who submitted their children for examination in order that they might secure admission to the service. They were not anxious that their lads should become messengers, but they thought that if they proved themselves qualified for higher work they would be able to secure permanent employment in the Commonwealth “service. If, as the Postmaster-General has stated, the

Public Service Commissioner has the power to appoint outsiders in preference to these lads, it is time that some action was taken by Parliament to remedy such a state of affairs.

Mr. BROWN (Canobolas).- The honorable and learned member for Bendigo has raised an issue that is well worthy of consideration. The matter referred to has been forcing itself upon the attention of the public servants, and will demand the early attention of Parliament. As the honorable member for Darling has remarked, in New South Wales we are feeling the pressure of this legislation, perhaps to a greater extent than are the citizens of other States. Under the State regime, the retiring age for telegraph messengers was twenty-one. Now the age limit for messengers has been reduced to eighteen, and, further, all staff post-offices which could not show a revenue of £400 per annum have been converted into private offices. In this way the opportunities for employment in the service have been curtailed. I quite appreciate the difficulties which have to be overcome in dealing with telegraph messengers. We require a much larger number of messengers than can, upon reaching the age limit, be absorbed in the higher grades of the service. Therefore, under any .circumstances, a considerable number of the youths must be dispensed with. Our great difficulty in New South Wales arose from the fact that men who had entered the service as telegraph messengers were doing boys’ work and receiving boys’ pay, and would never qualify themselves for any higher class of employment. It was in order to remove this anomaly that the age limit was reduced. The idea was that if a youth had not, by the time he had reached the age of eighteen years, qualified himself for a higher position in the service, he should be required to seek an opening in some other walk of life. I do not think that the Public Service Commissioner is responsible for the fact that under present arrangements no adequate provision is made for the promotion of messengers to the clerical branch of the service. Upon reaching the retiring age the lads have to be dispensed with1, and their places have to be filled by others who are selected as the result of competitive examination. But there is also a higher grade in the service, known as the “clerical branch,” vacancies in which are similarly filled. 11 r 2

Mr Watson:

– Surely the honorable member would not confine all appointments to the clerical branch to the telegraph messengers ?

Mr BROWN:

– I say that the present position is anything but a satisfactory one. Youths enter the Postal Department, who show great aptitude for their work, and who qualify1 for higher positions than those which they fill. Under the existing system, however, they are not eligible for appointment to those higher positions. As soon as they attain eighteen years of age, their services are dispensed with, although the officers of the Department under whom they have served are very loth to lose them. What is required is some means which will enable telegraph messengers to qualify for and to obtain appointments to the higher grades of the service.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– But the standard must not be relaxed.

Mr BROWN:

– Exactly. If some such system were adopted - if some incentive were given to the brightest of these messengers to qualify for higher positions - it would not be necessary for the Public Service Commissioner to advertise vacancies for candidates outside the service. At the present time, the Commissioner is advertising an examination to fill eighteen vacancies which are expected to occur in the general branch of the service during the next eighteen months. In my opinion the telegraph messengers should be granted a preference, conditionally that they qualify for the higher positions.

Mr Watson:

– At the present time the Commissioner gives one-half of them a preference.

Mr BROWN:

– Some system should be devised under which a preference would be granted to officers who qualify for higher positions.

Mr Watson:

– Nonsense ! If that were done candidates outside the service would be deprived of any chance.

Mr BROWN:

– According to the argument of the leader of the Opposition, the highest positions in the Department should be thrown open to outsiders, and officers with twenty or thirty years’ service to their credit should have no more claim upon them than should those with no service whatever. There are officers in the general division who have qualified for higher positions, and who, under existing arrangements, have not the least prospect of securing them.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– When the Public Service Bill was under consideration I was one of those who strongly urged that opportunities should be afforded to those telegraph messengers whom we debarred from continuing in the service after they were eighteen years of age to qualify for its higher branches, and that they should be given a chance to obtain promotion. But, as I understand it, the contention which has been put forward by some honorable members this evening is that appointments’ to the service should be restricted to those who enter as telegraph messengers.

Mr Brown:

– No.

Mr WATSON:

– That is what I understood the honorable member to say. He claims that, not merely one-half of the vacancies in the higher branches of the service should be reserved to telegraph messengers, but that all appointments should be made from their ranks.

Mr Brown:

– Provided that they passed the necessary examination.

Mr WATSON:

– That means that the element of competition, which is the base of the Public Service Act, would be eliminated in favour of a standard examination. I do not agree with that suggestion. It would be in the highest degree foolish on the part of this Parliament, which is responsible for the conduct of an enormous Department, involving an annual turnover of many millions sterling - to place such restrictions upon any young man, who had. perhaps, passed a University course, as would prevent him from gaining admission to it. In my opinion, the Commissioner has adopted a very reasonable attitude. He says, “ Of the vacancies annually occurring, I shall set aside one-half to which the appointments will be made from those telegraph messengers who successfully pass the prescribed examination.”

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– That is in only the general division, I understand.

Mr WATSON:

– No, I understand that it applies all round.

Sir John Quick:

– No, to only the general division.

Mr WATSON:

– I had a conversation with the Commissioner on the subject a little time ago, and I was distinctly under the impression that he intended to allow one-half of the total vacancies to be filled by those within the service who succeeded in passing the examination.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I should say that that would be a perfectly safe thing to do in the clerical division, because the examination is far too stiff.

Mr WATSON:

– I may have misunderstood the Commissioner, but I was under the impression that he proposed to reserve one-half of the vacancies in all divisions. But if that is not the case, there is, perhaps some reasonable ground for the contention of honorable members.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– That may be, but we are only discussing the transfer of young men from the messengership to the general division.

Ms WATSON:
BLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I quite agree with what honorable members put forward as their contention. But I was under the impression that they were contending that all the vacancies occurring in the service, no matter in what division, should be filled by messengers if a sufficient number were eligible. -If all youths entering the service had to start as messengers at fourteen years of age - they are not younger than that, as a rule, I understand - it would have a most restrictive effect in regard to the general development of the service.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I doubt that. If a boy goes in as a messenger and works his way up to that pitch he must be an extraordinary lad.

Mr WATSON:

– The examination, in the first place, is not extraordinarily stiff, so far as I understand.

Mr Ronald:

– It is above the sixth standard in the State schools.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The stiffness lies in the fact that it is competitive.

Mr WATSON:

– The examination is only as between the lads who are already in the service as telegraph messengers.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– They need to pass well to get appointments.

Mr WATSON:

– No doubt, but the competition is restricted to these particular individuals, and that is what I object to, except in a limited degree. It is a proper thing to give these messengers a reasonable opportunity, but it would be a mistake to confine the whole service to them. That is the only point I am making. If honorable members are only asking that the general division be made open to the lads I certainly agree with them.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– I am reluctant to interfere when the Estimates of the Postmaster-General are before the Com- mittee, but really this discussion should have taken place on my Estimates, because, so far as the Public Service Commissioner is responsible to Parliament, he is responsible through me. This is the first time that this question has been raised, and I, as Minister, have not proposed to the Commissioner that he should introduce any new system in dealing with these matters. Now that attention has been called to the subject, I shall have much pleasure, also on representations from the Postmaster-General, in ascertaining exactly what are the rules which guide the Commissioner. I think there must be some good reason for what has been done, such as that mentioned by the leader of .the Opposition - that the Commissioner considers that there should be an opportunity to get in from outside those who have passed examinations, probably in many cases much better than the inside telegraph messengers have passed, and that there should be an opportunity to secure by competitive examination some of the talent which is outside the Department. Possibly, the Commissioner considers that he is under a certain responsibility to give those who have successfully passed examinations a share of the positions.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Is the Minister speaking of the clerical, or the non-clerical positions ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– I am speaking of the positions for which the telegraph boys can pass examinations.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Such as that of telephone assistant.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– It may not be only for the position of telephone assistant. Under our Act - and in that respect it is superior to -some of the States Acts - there is nothing to prevent a telegraph messenger from passing from the lowest to the highest grade in the service. Not being very long in office,

Ave have not had an opportunity to go into all these questions. Where the Commissioner draws the line, I cannot at the moment say. But in deference to the remarks of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, and other members, I shall have much pleasure in conferring with the Commissioner, and ascertaining how far the suggestions made to-night can. in his opinion, be given effect to. I do not intend to bring pressure to bear upon him in his regulation of the service. Even if a Minister had power we ought to avoid the political management which we tried to p,ut aside by appointing the Commissioner. I shall confer with him, and bring under his notice what has been stated. Probably he has better reasons than some honorable members seem to think. I shall take the opportunity ‘ of letting him know the opinions of honorable members, and see whether he thinks any of the suggestions will be of advantage.

Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- The fact that a young man is in the service should be no disadvantage to him as regards any examinations which he may pass. It should be all the more credit to him that he happens to be a telegraph messenger.

Mr Watson:

– He is not barred now from going in for competitive examinations.

Mr LONSDALE:

– According to the statements we have heard to-night, one-half of them are barred.

Mr Watson:

– No; they can go in as ordinary competitors.

Mr LONSDALE:

– That is all I ask should be allowed. If a telegraph messenger who is to go out of the service can pass any examination which the Department requires him to pass, he should be appointed. 1 would not draw a distinction between clerical and other work. According to the Commissioner, a lad in the telegraph service is to be disqualified from entering into another position, and he will appoint only onehalf if they do pass the examinations. That it utterly wrong, I do not care who may defend that view.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The honorable member does not know the defence yet.

Mr LONSDALE:

– I am only’ saying that if that is the case it is utterly wrong. The fact that a lad is in the service should be in his favour. I am surprised at what the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has brought before the Committee tonight. Only one case of the kind has come under my notice. I was appealed to on behalf of a lad who had received notice that on a certain date his services would be dispensed with, because he would then have reached the age of eighteen years. I found that he had not passed the examination, and was therefore ineligible for a further appointment.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– That will be found in many cases.

Mr LONSDALE:

– Where it is found to be the case there can be no complaint. If these lads have passed the examination they are entitled to a position in the clerical division, and if they can pass an examination for the clerical division they have a right to admission to that division. The fact that they happen to be in the service should be a qualification rather than a disqualification. I do not accept the position which the honorable member for Bland takes up in this matter, because we want to have the very best men in the service, and if men show themselves to be the best thev should be appointed.

Mr. BROWN (Canobolas). - I should like to emphasize one phase of the question introduced by the “ honorable member for Darling. It is a matter which the States ought to deal with, and which might very properly engage the attention of t’he Conference which is to be held at Hobart. I allude to the desirableness of greater re,ciprocity in the matter of appointing States public servants to positions in the Federal service. Under present circumstances a State public servant has the right to compete for any Federal appointment, and, if anything, has a preferential claim for consideration as against outside competitors, for positions in the higher ranks of the service. But the same consideration does not apply to Federal public servants who may desire to compete for positions in the States services. That is an oversight which ought to be remedied. The present position of affairs is creating some amount of friction. Naturally the Federal public servants feel that they have to face not only t’he competition of their brother officers, but the competition of the whole of the States public servants, whilst they are debarred from competing for positions in the States. That is an anomaly which ought to be remedied.

Mr THOMAS:
Barrier

– I wish to refer once more to a matter with which I dealt earlier in the evening. I allude to the conveyance of mails to Europe. I understand that in accordance with the Postal Union arrangements the poundage rate is 3s. 7d. per lb.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Yes, in the case of vessels under contract.

Mr THOMAS:

– If we send letters by the Peninsular and Oriental ‘ Company’s boats under the poundage rate, we have to pay 3s. 7d. per lb., whereas if we send by a line that is not under contract, Ave pay 2s. per lb. Now, 3s. 7d. per lb. is £401 per ton. Ordinary merchandise can be sent for £2 per ton. So that practically we pay for sending one ton of postal matter as much as would suffice to send 200 tons of ordinary merchandise. Under the 2s. per lb. rate we should pay .£224 per ton for postal matter, which is 100 times the amount that we should have to pay for ordinary merchandise.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The senders of letters pay much more than that; they pay 2jd. per half ounce.

Mr THOMAS:

– I wish to see established penny postage with England. If we were to pay at the rate of one farthing per letter, that would be 8d. per lb., or £75 per ton. That would be a fair rate to charge. It must be remembered that, even though we pay 3s. 7d. per lb., we have no guarantee that the companies will look after the letters any more carefully than they look after merchandise. Nor are they under any obligation in regard to time and speed. I understand that the Government cannot avoid paying the full rate of 3s. 7d. per lb. in accordance with the Postal Union arrangement. But it appears to . me that when the next Postal Conference is held, those who represent Australia should certainly object to pay so much poundage. New Zealand, Canada, and the Cape have gone in for penny postage with England. Indeed, I believe all parts of the” Empire have established Imperial penny postage, with the exception of Australia. Yet this is a serious matter of business, affecting our trade and commerce to a vital degree. I understand that if we established penny postage, the loss would be £22,000 per annum. We used to pay £75,000 per annum as subsidy. I take it that we do> not intend to continue that payment. We are going in for the poundage rates. Probably the cost will be £27,000 per annum. This will represent a saving of close upon £40,000 per annum. So that if we pay . poundage rates instead of a subsidy, we shall be £20,000 per’ annum better off than we were formerly - even if we have penny postage with England. If we can save that amount, we might very well go in for penny postage.

Mr Webster:

– What company willi carry the mails at that price?

Mr THOMAS:

– What is there about a. letter which should cause the shipping companies to refuse to carry it at the same price as merchandise ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– It is not to our interest that a mail leaving here one week should reach home after the subsidized mail that leaves in the following week. It would not be worth our while to pay poundage in that case.

Mr THOMAS:

– We already pay poundage to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s boats, and I understand that we are making arrangements for the payment of poundage rates in the case of other boats. We pay 3s.7d. per pound to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam. Navigation Company’s boats, which is a little over1d. per letter, and if we are to continue that payment we shall never be able to send letters to England at a charge of a penny for postage, because there would be a loss on sea freight alone. I think £75 a ton is a very fair freight to pay.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– We cannot pay what we like ; it is a matter of international arrangement.

Mr THOMAS:

– -It is not, except in the case of boats which are subsidized By the Imperial Government, We pay 3s. 7d. per pound for the carriage of letters by those boats, whilst we pay only 2s. per pound for the carriage of letters by other boats.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I do not think that subsidies regulate the matter.

Mr THOMAS:

– The PostmasterGeneral has said that they do.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– We pay 3s. 7d. per pound to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, because they are under contract to the Imperial Government.

Mr THOMAS:

– And2s. to the Orient Company.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Yes, if there is no contract.

Sir John Forrest:

– How is that arranged ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH:
Postmaster-General · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– By regulations, under the Post and Telegraph Act.

Mr THOMAS:

– To send eight letters weighing 4 ozs., we have to pay1s. 8d. freight, whilst we can send a newspaper of the same weight for1d.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Department 07 External Affairs.

Postponed division 13 (New Guinea),

Mr McDONALD:
Kennedy

– I would ask the Prime Minister whether it would not be a fair thing to adjourn now?

Mr REID:
Minister of External Affairs · East Sydney · Free Trade

– I ask the honorable member as a special favour to me, to let this item go through. It is the last on the Estimates, and it is an item we have to vote.

Mr Brown:

– It is an important item, and it was postponed for the purpose of discussion.

Mr REID:

– I am anxious to finish the Estimates to-night. I shall not ask honorable members to sit later than10.30 p.m. Considering the distance from which most honorable members have to come, we have an unbroken rule to adjourn early on Tuesday nights, and in view of the splen-. did progress which has been made to-day, I shall not oppose an adjournment at 10.30, but I should like the Committee to carry on the business until that hour.

Mr McDONALD:

– I have a good deal to say on the vote. It was at my suggestion that its discussion was postponed.

Mr Reid:

– May I hope for a little condensation in the discussion to-morrow, if we adjourn now?

Mr McDONALD:

– I can promise the right honorable gentleman that I shall not detain the Committee any longer than I can possibly help

Mr Reid:

– Then, in view of the progress made to-day, I shall consent to the adjournment.

Progress reported.

House adjourned at 10.17p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 November 1904, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19041122_reps_2_23/>.