2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Report (No. 2), presented by Mr,. Poynton, read by the Clerk, and agreed to.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister, without notice, whether, in view of the misrepresentation and ignorance displayed by Australian detractors and others, the Government will take special steps to make the nature and objects of the Immigration Restriction Act known to the British Government and its people’? Will he make it known inthe same quarter, in some way - by special despatch or otherwise - that it was owing to representations made by the Imperial Government that the Commonwealth Parliament was induced to agree to the insertion of the language test in the Immigration Restriction Act?
– The best refutation of these calumnies will be afforded, by the announcement of a definite policy for the encouragement of immigration which I hope the House will be able to consider before the sessioncloses. In the meantime, steps will be taken to correct current misrepresentations. The language test was adopted in spite of the strong feeling against it of many, if not most, honorable members, and in order to meet representations made by the Secretary of State to the Colonies in 1897.
– It is stated in this morning’s newspapers that an agreement has been practically reached between the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales concerning the method to be adopted for the settlement of the Capital Site dispute.’ Is the honorable and learned gentleman prepared to make a statement to the House on the subject?
– The Premier of New South Wales, having asked this Government to perform some overt act, as by driving a peg, to assert, the claims of the Commonwealth to take and deal with the territory we require under the Seat of Government Act, we have replied expressing our concurrence, and informing him that the Attorney -General is now considering the best method in which some formal action may be taken to allow of the submission of the matter to the High Court.
-Has the attention of the Prime Minister been called to a speech made by Colonel Price at the annual dinner of the Victorian Mounted Rifles? That officer is reported in last night’s Herald to have said that the defences of Australia are in a deplorable state, and that, owing to our immense sea-board, if we were attacked, we should certainly not be found in a fit condition to repel the. attack -
I say, as an experienced man, that we could not light for eighteen days. I am not a pessimist, but I say that it is very necessary that Australia should look out for herself.
That statement is published under sensational headlines, and it is, I think, desire able to take notice of it. Does the Prime Minister think it worth while to do so?
– I have read Colonel Price’s statement, for which he is personally responsible, but make it a rule not to trust scare headings.
– I desire to inform the House that a copy of the correspondence between the Commonwealth and the Governments of the Stateswith respect to the establishment of a Commonwealth Statistical Bureau will be laid on the. table of the Library this morning.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 7thSeptember, vide page 2043) : Division 3 (Post and Telegraph),
– Before the Committee proceeds further with the consideration of these Estimates, I wish to give honorable members information which was withheld last night, not discourteously, but because they were then eager to catch their last trains. The honorable member for Bass asked the meaning of the item, “ Nonrecurring, £2,220,” in connexion with the votes for Tasmania. That item is not a portion ‘ of the Estimates for 1905-6, but the difference between the aggregate of the items submitted in last year’s Estimates, when the expenditure was incurred, and the total vote; that is, it accounts for items which appeared in last year’s Estimates, but do not. appear in this year’s: The amount is made up, first, of£1,120 for land for a rifle range at Hobart, the late Minister of Defence, when the Estimates for this financial year were under consideration, having decided that a revote should not be taken ; secondly, of , £600 for a magazine at Launceston, it being considered that sufficient accommodation would be afforded by the re-allotment of existing buildings; and, thirdly, of £500 for a drill hall at Evandale and Ulverstone, these buildings being completed during the last financial year. I am forwarding; to the Minister of Defence the representations made by the honorable member for Herbert, and will cause inquiry to be made into and give consideration to the statement of the honorable member for Fremantle in respect to contract labour.
– I wish to direct attention to the proposed expenditure of£800 on the General Post Office at Sydney. When the former vote was passed, some question was raised as to whether the work, should be carried out by contract or by day labour. The work was; started under the day labour system, and was carried on by awell-equipped staff, and I understand that, as the result of representations made last year, it was decided that it should be continued upon the same system. I should like the Minister to look into this matter, with a view to insuring that this shall be done.,
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - It. is true that a great part of the work has been carried out by day labour, but it was found necessary to perform some of it by contract. . I shall be glad to look into the matter.
-In connexion with the item referred to, I should like to know how it is that, whereas the estimated cost was £2,300 the much larger sum of £3,092 was expended.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs).No mistake was made in the Estimates. The amount, voted covered the cost involved in. the construction of the roof ; the extra sum was required to provide the flooring and partitions.
– The explanation given by the Minister indicates the ridiculous position which is occupied the Commonwealth in regard to public works. A building is erected, and after the roof has been put on, it is found to be necessary to put down a floor for which no previous provision had been made. And this happened in the great city of Sydney, where there is an architect at the corner of every street. The sooner we employ a staff of our own, which will arrange to put in the floor before the roof is constructed, the better. Was it supposed, for one moment, by those who drew the original plans, that the occupants of the building could walk on the laths and plaster forming the ceiling of the rooms immediately underneath. I can scarcely realise that the Minister was speaking seriously.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Down - Minister of Home Affairs). - My statement was substantially correct, and the incident is not capable of the Gilbertian construction suggested by the honorable member for Maranoa. As a matter of fact, this work was started by the State Government, and it was thought that some of the money required would come out of loans. Provision was made in the design for the construction of a roof, and for certain alterations, it was necessary to put in a floor and certain partitions, in order to complete the work. It, therefore, became necessary to ask the House to vote the additional amount.
– I have, for some time past, been endeavouring to obtain information from the Postmaster-General with regard to postal officials, particularly letter-carriers, who are being brought into Melbourne, in order to have their work allotted to them at the central office, instead of at the various suburban offices. I am given to understand that this centralizing policy is responsible for the proposed expenditure of ^10,000 this year upon the extension of the General Post Office in Melbourne. The total estimated cost of the work is ^30,000. I understand that this centralizing system is adopted only in Melbourne, arid that in all the other large cities the letter-carriers work from the suburban offices. I think that the Minister should look very carefully into this matter. I admit that under our present system, by which the expenditure upon new works is debited upon a per capita basis to all the States, any honorable member who protests against expenditure in his own State may be looked upon as doing it an injury, “but I think that we should consider the Estimates very carefully, and check, as far as we can, useless expenditure. Honorable members should not consent to expenditure merely because it may be to the advantage of their own State.
– That is the true Federal spirit.
– I think that is the spirit which should animate all of us. The Queensland Government some time ago requested the Commonwealth Government not to carry out certain works in that State, because they did not wish their State to be burdened with the cost of them, as the present system of paying for works and buildings did not operate then, and I think that we should all endeavour to keep down expenditure as far as possible, not with a view to undue economy, but in order to prevent extravagance. There are some other items which I regard as too large. I note that provision is made upon the Estimates for the expenditure of ^2,500 upon a post-office at Warracknabeal - although the population of the township does not exceed 2,000 or 3,000.
– It is the centre of a very large distributing district.
– That is the excuse which is urged for the expenditure of every large sum of money in connexion with the erection of post-offices in country towns. The item should be carefully looked into. At any rate, I do not feel prepared to .accept the responsibility of voting these sums in the absence of fuller information.
– I am sure that if the honorable member for Yarra will visit the Melbourne General Post Office he will be convinced that, in the interests of the men who are employed there, additional accommodation is urgently needed. I agree with him that the centralization which is going on, and which necessitates men being brought in from Brunswick and the outlying suburbs in connexion with the delivery of letters, is exceedingly unfair to them. It frequently compels them to work not eight but eleven and twelve hours per day. I do hope that the Postmaster-General will investigate this matter. I can assure him that there is no occasion for the present practice. For years letters were delivered in Victoria without resort to it. Under existing conditions the men may work nominally^ only eight hours a day, but in reality they are compelled to be on duty for a considerably longer period. The accommodation for letter-sorters and others in the Melbourne General Post Office is very inadequate. Indeed, I do not know why the health authorities have not interfered.
– It is inadequate not only in regard to the letter-carriers’ quarters, but in regard to those of other officers.
– The requirements which axe insisted upon in the case of private employers have not been enforced by the health authorities in the Postal Department. I am aware that the PostmasterGeneral has- visited the offices, and I am quite sure that if the honorable member for Yarra does likewise he will agree that further accommodation is urgently required.
– I should like to obtain more information in regard to this vote of ,£10,000. I do not know whether we are to have a repetition of the condition of affairs described by the honorable member for Maranoa, who spoke of a building without a floor, or a structure possessing a floor, but no roof. Certainly, there has been too great a tendency to erect buildings of a temporary character, which require to be pulled down and rebuilt within a few years. Some time ago, in a spirit of great economy, the Electric Telegraph Office in Elizabeth-street, Melbourne, was erected. That building will have to be demolished some day, and a new one substituted. It is not at all in keeping with the Post Office buildings, and is entirely inadequate to the business which is transacted there. I desire to know whether this proposed vote of £10,000 is to be expended upon additions of an absolutely permanent character - whether it is to be part of a well-defined scheme to extend the General Post Office in accordance with the original plans and specifications. It seems to me that if this money is to be spent upon temporary buildings, it will not be true economy, but the very worst kind of waste.
– I am quite prepared to accept responsibility for this proposed vote. When I was PostmasterGeneral I made careful inquiries into the accommod’ation at the General Post Office, Melbourne. I visited the place, and I have no hesitation in saying that it is not creditable to the Department to allow men to work there under existing conditions.
– Did the present state of affairs obtain prior to Federation?
– It has been in force for a long time. If the honorable member will visit the Registered Letter office in Bourke-street upon any busy day he will find the place thronged with people, and that from want of space the officials are very much hampered in the discharge of their duties.
– We can see that at times in any of the other States.
– I am sure that the honorable member would be satisfied of the need for some additional accommodation if he saw what happens in’ Melbourne. When the late Government were in office, a proposal was made to me that temporary partitions should be erected round the verandah of the General Post Office. I did not think that it was desirable to spoil a fine building by the erection of wooden partitions. I concluded that the requirements of the Department were such that it would be unwise to expend a large sum of money in providing temporary additions which would require to be demolished within a few years. Consequently, after consultation with the Federal architect, it was decided that permanent buildings should be erected. It is not intended that too much money shall be spent upon those buildings immediately ; the idea is that’ they shall be extended as the requirements of the public demand. The additions will be in keeping with the main building. There is a splendid block of land available for the purpose - a block which at present is not being utilized. I think that the Government are acting wisely in supporting the view taken bv the late Ministry. At first I was disposed to think that temporary buildings might suffice, but after a personal inspection upon two occasions, and after consultation with the Federal architect, I decided, that it would be better to erect a permanent structure. It would not be wise to enclose the verandah of the General Post Office with a wooden partition.
– It would spoil the appearance of the whole building.
– That is what has been done to a certain extent in Elizabethstreet.
– What did the Sorting Committee recommend?
– They recommended that’ temporary buildings should be erected. However, I entertained a different view, and after consultation with the Federal architect, I was satisfied that it would be false economy to erect a temporary structure, seeing that it would probably require to give way within a comparatively brief period to a permanent building. The decision of the incoming Government proves that I acted rightly in recommending this expenditure. I believe that my successor caused inquiries to be made, and was satisfied that the correct course was adopted by the late Government in deciding that this expenditure should be incurred.
Mr. PAGE (Maranoa). - I must congratulate the Government on having the able advocacy of the Opposition in support of these Estimates. The honorable member for Yarra has given notice of a question relating to the centralizing of suburban lettercarriers at the Melbourne General Post Office, and I understand that there are a number of suburban offices where the sorting might well be carried out. I shall not support any proposed vote which, in my opinion, is unnecessary. Some of the States are passing through a time of stress, and this expenditure on new works will impose on them a further burden. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has told a harrowing story of the overcrowding of officers at the General Post Office. Has this occurred only since Federation ?
– The business of the office is increasing.
– Has it increased to such an extent that additions involving an outlay of £32,000 are necessary.
– As the result of these additions, a considerable saving will be effected in the number of hands employed.
– I am pleased to hear that the increased business is one of the results of the union. This is another of the injustices which Victoria has suffered as the result of Federation. It is strange that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who is one of the High Panjandrums of the Anti-Sweating League, has not called attention before to the overcrowding of which he now complains.
Mr.Mauger. - Idid so years ago.
– And it has been left to a Minister representing another State to recommend this expenditure.
– I believe that the honorable member for Coolgardie, when Postmaster-General appointed the Sorting
Committee which recommended that increased accommodation should be provided. The only difference is that the committee recommended a temporary building, while I considered it would be wiser to have a permanent one.
– The committee was appointed’ to inquire and report, and yet the Minister has over-ridden its recommendations.
– Surely a Minister is not always bound toadopt the recommendations of his officers?
– Certainly not. If I were a Minister, I should break away from some of the red-tape regulations.
– That is what I did in this case.
– If the requirements for the next ten years will be servedby the erection of a building costing £5,000, it would be unwise to incur this expenditure of £32,000. I only urge the Minister to see that the reasonable economies which he would practice in making alterations to his own residence are observed in relation to works undertaken for the Commonwealth.
-I think that there is considerable force in what has been said by the honorable member for Maranoa. Although we are asked this year to vote a sum of only £10,000 towards this work, we know that a total expenditure of £32,000 is involved, and that we shall have to vote that amount by yearly instalments. I should like to know whether the late Postmaster-General had the plans and specifications submitted to him, and was satisfied that there was no alternative but to agree to this expenditure.
– I consider that the accommodation is necessary, and that a permanent building would be better than a temporary one; but it is for the Government architect to say what expenditure is necessary to provide the requisite accommodation.
– One cannot fail to observe that considerable expenditure is being incurred in connexion with the principal postal buildings of the union, and it is well that we should consider whether we are not a little inclined to extravagance in readily adopting the plans of architects, who often have no true conception of economy. As a rule, the only desire of a Government architect is to prepare plans for a handsome building that will serve to enhance his reputation. This is new expenditure, and will fall heavily upon Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania. Those States are at present suffering acutely from the extensive expenditure that is being incurred in connexion with new works, and I should like .to know whether the Postmaster-General as well as his predecessor have carefully considered the plans and specifications for these additions. The services of an architect are undoubtedly valuable, provided that he is told how much his employer is prepared to expend. The building in which we are assembled was designed by an architect who was told that he might spend anything up to half -a-million ; but we know that £1,000,000 was expended. Architects have magnificent ideas, but it takes a lot of money to give effect to them. I observe an item of £2,500 for a new post-office at Warracknabeal. I am .told that that flourishing town -already has a post-office which is doing good work. Is it intended to replace that excellent building at a cost of £2.500?
– Has the honorable member seen the building?
– No, but 1 have been told that the district has a population of 5,000, and that the town has an excellent post-office, where the work is done efficiently. £2,500 is a large sum to spend in providing a post-office for this insignificant town, especially when an excellent front could be put to the present building at a cost of £1,500. I know of some towns similarly situated, where a grant of £1,000 has been made to provide a front to the existing building. The honorable member for Macquarie comes from a State in which public money has been spent most lavishly in this direction. But in Victoria, South Australia, and other States, such lavishness is not appreciated. £2,500 is altogether too much to vote for a new postoffice at Warracknabeal. If the burden had to fall upon the people of Victoria alone, and they desired the expenditure to be incurred, the case would be different ; but Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania will be debited with a portion of the outlay. If so much moneyis not required to provide the necessary accommodation for the proper conduct of postal affairs in this town, then its expenditure will be a waste of public funds. I think that the item of £10,000 for extending the General Post Office in Melbourne should be looked into tho roughly, because it will involve a total expenditure of at least £30,000, and the item of £2,500 for a new building at Warracknabeal could very properly be reduced to £1,500.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - A new post-office at Warracknabeal is absolutely necessary, because the present building is really unsafe, and is not worth repairing. The foundations are defective, and altogether the building is in a very bad state of re pair. In constructing the new building it is intended to utilize all the material in the present one. The old brick building is absolutely useless and unsafe, and it is necessary to provide adequate accommodation for the postmaster, as well as for the work which is to be done. This proposal involves no undue extravagance. It has been subjected to criticism by four Ministers, to see if it were not possible to reduce the expenditure, but it was found absolutely necessary that it should be incurred. As regards the extension of the General Post Office in Melbourne, it is not intended to erect a temporary structure, because to do so would be practically to waste public money. A plan has not yet been decided upon, but the intention is to lay down permanent work, with a view to eventually completing the original structure. It is nor proposed to waste any money on the erection of temporary buildings, which, after they had served their purpose, would have to be pulled down. As a matter of economy to the Commonwealth as a whole it is considered that lasting work should be done. The question as to whether it is necessary to bring letter carriers into the head office is one which is outside the jurisdiction of my Department, and on which perhaps, the Postmaster-General may offer some observations.
– I have never inspected the General Post Office in Melbourne, but I quite agree with the action of the late Minister in his efforts to largely increase the accommodation for the officers. Many improvements to the General Post Office in Sydney have been made, and there is no reason why essential accommodation should not be provided in the General Post Office here. Last night I had to complain of the dilatory conduct of the Defence Department in regard to matters which I had continually submitted. I have a similar complaint to make against the Post and Telegraph Department. In my electorate there are many places which are very ill served in regard to post-offices. Chillagoe, which is an important town, and the centre of a large district, with a considerable population, has only a contract post-office. I am convinced that Chillagoe deserves a higher grade of office than it has. At Atherton, a large piece of land has been reserved in the centre of the town for postoffice purposes. Part of it might be sold, and the proceeds devoted towards the erection of a new building. The place was visited by many honorable members on the tour in Queensland during the recess, and they will know that the inhabitants are very badly served in regard to postal requirements. Other places in my electorate are similarly situated. Cairns is a large town, the centre of an important district; but only £2,500 is set down for a post-office for it, whilst the same sum is to be devoted for the erection of a new office at a place like Warracknabeal, which, I learn from honorable members who have been there, is merely a little one-horse place of no consequence, inhabited by a few men and several dogs. I really cannot see why such a place should occupy the same position in regard to expenditure on post-offices as ah important town like Cairns. I can see no reason for these anomalies. The only conclusion I can draw is that favoritism is shown to Victoria and to New South Wales.
– I am glad to hear that it has been decided to expend £2,500 on the erection of a new post-office at Warracknabeal. I was not present fit the early part of the sitting to-day, but when I arrived I was told that a certain amount of opposition was being exhibited to the proposed work. Those honorable members who are criticising it surely know nothing about Warracknabeal. I contend that the expenditure is fully justified. Three PostmastersGeneral have considered and approved of the work, which has been recommended by their inspectors. The matter reached a climax a short time ago, when tenders were invited for. the repair of the old postoffice. Those tenders would have involved a considerable expenditure, and the inspector reported tWat, after all, it would only be a piece of patchwork, and that the money would be wasted. Something has been said about the population of Warracknabeal. It numbers about 3boo people, and the population of the district at the present time is about 7,000. A short time ago Warracknabeal was seventh or eighth on the list of Victorian postoffices, a fact that indicates that the business done there was equal to that done at any other town of similar size in the State. That fact is some justification for the construction of the new office. The residents of Warracknabeal have made an application for a telephone exchange to be established, and, if it is granted, it will, of course, mean that increased accommodation will be required. The present building is wholly insufficient, I am perfectly satisfied that if honorable members would visit Warracknabeal, see for themselves the size and importance of the town, and form an opinion as to the resources of the district, thev would without hesitation come to the conclusion that the existing accommodation is insufficient, and would support the vote. I trust that no further opposition will be shown to it, because I am satisfied that the work is necessary, and should be carried out.
– It is all very well for the honorable member for Wimmera to say that this work is necessary, but what we want to know is why a new building is required. It may be true that the old post-office is in a bad state of repair, but that is no reason why we should spend £2,500 on a new building, especially as we have been told that £1,000 expended on the old office would make it sufficient to meet all requirements. We learn from the Minister that £2,500 does not cover the whole of the expenditure, because the material in the present building is to be utilized in the construction of the new one. Evidently it is good material, and would be worth, say, £300 or £400. If it is good enough to use again, one must come to the conclusion that it would be cheapen to (repair the present office. ‘I presume that” this expenditure will fall upon the whole Commonwealth. We are quite justified in opposing any outlay which is likely to be a heavy burden upon the people.
– A part of the burden is thrown on Victoria.
– Victoria bears no burden beyond its proper proportion of the cost of buildings. My- complaint is that expensive buildings of this character are erected in places where they are really not necessary. Neither the honorable member for Wimmera, nor the Minister in charge of the Estimates, has shown any need for an elaborate building such as that proposed. There may be hundreds of other post offices in the same class as that at Warracknabeal ; and requests for elaborate buildings of this kind1 will lead to extravagant expenditure and endless trouble. Under the circumstances, I move -
That the item, “ Warracknabeal, ,£2,500,” be reduced by £1,500.
Unless we obtain some further information, showing the expenditure to be absolutely necessary, I shall press this amendment to a division.
– The amount proposed is large for a small place like Warracknabeal, but we ought, in my opinion, to accept the assurance of the honorable member for Wimmera that if we visited the district we should be satisfied that the sum is required.
– I am pleased to, see that the Committee is in an economical mood this morning. I am surprised, however, to hear (the honorable* member for Wimmera supporting a proposal for such exorbitant expenditure on a postoffice at Warracknabeal. It is, further, surprising to find the ex- PostmasterGeneral, who is now a prominent member of the Opposition, in the forefront in supporting this expenditure at a time when he has no responsibility.
– I only exercise the same right that the honorable member is exercising.
– We know that the honorable member for Macquarie administered the Post and Telegraph Department with such care and tact as to earn the respect of every honorable member, and it is now alarming to hear him advocating this lavish expenditure at a time when he has practically no responsibility. We all know that a brick building means a substantial building; and I am certain that not many years since a very considerable amount was expended on the post -office in this town. The ex- Postmaster-General had most piteous appeals from very important centres in the Commonwealth for cheap buildings in which postal business could be conveniently transacted, and he was hardhearted enough to refuse those appeals. I should like to know what it was that affected him to such an extent that he granted the request of the residents of Warracknabeal.
– I must say that I do not remember the honorable member for Wimmera ever waiting on me.
– Ali I did was to send in a petition- signed by the residents.
– I have no desire to make any charge against the honorable member for Wimmera, who, I feel sure, would make no request which he did not feel was justified on its merits.
– When was the present building erected?
– It cannot be more than twenty years ago, because Warracknabeal as a town is only of very recent date.
– I think the report was that the present building is unsafe.
– That is somewhat) strange in the case of a brick building put up so recently. We have had attention drawn to the fact that this Department has accepted contracts, and forgotten to provide for very essential parts of buildings. I trust that the Minister will be able to give a full explanation as to the necessity for the proposed expenditure.
– With reference to the matter brought forward by the honorable member for Yarra, I direct the attention of the Committee to the report of the Sorting Committee on the Melbourne Post Office. They say -
Owing to the extremely inconvenient construction, and the very limited space in the mail room, obstructed by numerous large pillars and obsolete fittings (see rough plan of mail room and fittings submitted), together with the fact that the letter carriers’ room is on the top_ story of the building, and the ‘delivery room quite apart in another street, proper organization and supervision are very difficult, if not impossible. These arrangements cause delay and considerable expense, as two lifts have to be provided for the conveyance of mail matter, letter carriers, aridstaff to the letter carriers’ room, and the best use cannot be made of the available staff. This could be remedied by the erection of a large inexpensive L-shaped annex on the vacant land extending from the mail room to Little Bourkestreet, thence to Elizabeth-street, thus providingabout 6,000 square feet of space, as against 4,074 feet now available for the letter carriers. The proposed addition would enable the receiving 100m to be placed in a central position in the mail branch, leaving sufficient space for the introduction of the bag rack system. It would also permit of the delivery room being removed -to a more convenient position for the public, frontingElizabethstreet, and allow the services of the letter carriers to be utilized during the time now wasted waiting for correspondence to be sent to- them under the present slow process, at the same lime expediting deliveries to the city and suburbs.
That is the position in the Melbourne Postoffice, and I should like to say that, even if there were no centralization, the additions proposed are absolutely necessary to provide reasonable accommodation for the officers employed, and to enable them to carry out their work with the expedition which the public demand. I have looked into the plans placed before my predecessor, and, although they have not been definitely decided upon, I can assure honorable members that nothing of a temporary character will be approved. In all the cities of the Commonwealth, and in fact in every place whose permanency is established beyond any doubt, only buildings of a permanent character will be constructed.
– Will not the Minister see that the character of the building is preserved in the case of the proposed additions to the Melbourne Post Office ?
– Certainly. Whilst £30,000 is asked for, it is proposed to spend £10,000 at the present time in a way which will preserve the character of the building, and later on if additional accommodation be found necessary we can add storey to storey, and there will be no need to pull down any of the work previously constructed. I had a report prepared on the subject of centralization, which really means that letter-carriers are sent out from the Melbourne office in many cases, instead of from some of the suburban offices. Whilst we should be desirous of treating the letter carriers, and all the public servants of the Commonwealth, as well as we can, the convenience of the public must also be considered. There can be only one desire on the part of the Department, and that is to give the best possible service ‘at the least possible expense, and whilst the officials of the Department are treated fairly they must expect to have to do the same work as they would be required to do if the Post-office were a private institution. There is no doubt that the vast increase in the work of the letter carriers has been brought about by the reduced rate of postage in Victoria. The report on the subject says -
This vast increase is accounted for 6y the introduction of the penny postage, and the new Postal Rates Act, also the general increase of population. It therefore follows that a_ very large increase of sorters would be required if the old system were reverted to. At least twentyfive additional sorters would be required at the General Post-office, and a number of sorters would also require to be appointed at the suburban offices; and even then their services would not nearly be so rapid or efficient as at present, and the public would not tolerate the delays which would be unavoidable with such a system after experiencing the benefits of the present one. 1 do not think any one will seriously contend that we should go back to the old system. It would mean the employment of twenty-five more sorters, whilst the public would not be as well served as they are at present. The Government are of the opinion that centralization is a bad thing if it can be avoided. It is the policy of the Post-office Department whereever it can be done to distribute the work, and let each centre take care of itself. But when the adoption of such a policy involves extra expenditure without securing a better service, we do not propose to run a good principle to death. As regards postal facilities at Chillagoe and Atherton, any representation made regarding those places will receive every consideration. It is not the function of the Postal Department to erect grand buildings, because I think that when the convenience of the general public is fairly met with suitable offices, we should do what we can to provide better facilities of communication for those who are living in distant places. In many districts contract offices are better than official offices - the three grades of offices being non-official, contract, and official. The representations of the honorable member for Herbert will have every consideration, and so will those of other honorable members, especially when they have to do with the requirements of the backblocks. The design and construction of the Warracknabeal office are really matters for the Department of Home Affairs; though, of course, the postal authorities will have something to say as to the accommodation to be provided. I would remind the Committee that these Estimates were prepared by the previous Government. My predecessor looked very carefully into this matter, and we all know how painstaking he is, and how strong is his desire for economy, and when I add that they were also scrutinized by the late Treasurer, whose views as to the desirability of keeping down expenditure are so well known, honorable members need not be very much alarmed at the proposal. Complaints have been made that many requests for offices in the country districts have not been complied with, because Victoria cannot afford to comply with them, though, whenever a good case is made out, I will give consideration to it. Warracknabeal is an important place, with! a pretty big postal business, requiring the employment of a staff of eight officials. When a new post-office was asked for, the district inspector was instructed to report on the subject, and on that report the following minute was written: -
This is really a matter for the Department of Home Affairs to decide. The district architect has reported that, owing to the foundation having given way, the present building will, at no distant date, be unsafe.
In the face of that report, I do not see the justification of questioning the advisability of the proposed expenditure. It is desirable that we should be economical, but £2,500 is not a large .sum for the erection of a post-office in a large place like Warracknabeal.
– In my opinion, the explanation of the PostmasterGeneral has not justified the expenditure of so large a sum as £10,000 on the General Post Office in Melbourne, an expenditure which only forms part of a proposed total expenditure of £30,000. In my opinion, there is too much expenditure on ornate buildings, to the neglect of public requirements in other directions, such as improved and cheapened telephonic communication. Ever since I have been a member I have been trying my hardest to obtain from successive Postmasters-General telephonic communication for Miranda, Cronulla, Sylvania, and adjacent places, which are absolutely without this ordinary convenience. Sutherland, the nearest place to which there is a telephone, is a considerable distance away, and that telephone was only recently erected, after persistent effort, at a cost which was very small.
– Because we adopted the condenser system.
– The district to which I refer contains a much greater population than that of Warracknabeal. I am at the present time having considerable difficulty in the effort to get a public telephone at the new railway station at Oatley, the centre of a busy and fairly populous neighbourhood. Although successive’ PostmastersGeneral cheerfully acquiesce in the erection of costly post-offices in country towns, they demur at granting telephonic communication to districts where people cannot properly conduct their business without it.
The Postmaster-General has told us that, according to the district inspector’s report, the Warracknabeal post-office is in a state Of disrepair, and that the foundations are giving way, and it may become unsafe. The present building, however, must be a comparatively new one, because Warracknabeal has not existed as a town for many years.
– It has existed for thirtyfive years.
– I understood that ohe present building has not been erected very long. If its foundations are giving way, that must be owing to the unsuitability of the site, or due to a defect in construction which reflects upon those responsible in the first instance.
– Warracknabeal is the capital of the Wimmera.
– I believe that it was a fairly important centre until the railway was extended further on, but that since’ then it has declined.
– Its postal revenue this year was £300 greater than its postal revenue last year.
– We are asked to give what is equivalent to a present of £1 per head to every resident in the town, because of an increase of £300. In Marrickville, although there is a population eight or ten times as large as that of Warracknabeal, the postal business is transacted in an office which cannot have cost anything like £2,500. It seems to me that one-storey weatherboard structures would be sufficient for places like this. At the same time, while I am not disposed to support the item as it stands, I think the honorable member for Kennedy’ is proposing too drastic a .reduction. In my opinion, the Department should do not more, when erecting post-offices, than meet the actual necessities of the towns in which they are to be erected, and any savings could be expended in extending telephonic communication. I shall oppose all the items in which I think that the proposed expenditure is too great, until more recognition is given to .the needs of the country in regard to telephonic communication. Since I have been in this Parliament, I have, as the result of eighteen months’ hard work, secured the construction of only one small telephone service on the cendenser system.
– The honorable member wanted me to make a departure from a regulation - a departure which if it had become general would have resulted in great loss of revenue to the Commonwealth.
– A resolution was passed by this House in favour of an amendment of the regulations which would permit of the extension ‘of the telephone system ; and I think that effect should be given to the wishes of honorable members. The residents in the other States should not be subjected to inconvenience because of some special arrangement which is in force in regard to the out-of-date telephone system of Western Australia. We should cheapen and extend telephone facilities as far as possible, and, ‘ in the meantime, oppose all proposals for lavish expenditure in the erection of elaborate postoffices where they are not required. At the same time I think that the honorable member for Kennedy has proposed too great a reduction upon this vote, and I cannot go the whole way with him. I hope the Postmaster-General will do his best to give effect to the resolution passed in favour of providing better facilities for telephone extension, and at lower rates than those now charged; beyond the metropolitan radius, andi that he will alter any regulation that may prevent the desire expressed by honorable members from being carried into effect.
– We have been told by the Minister that the plans which were prepared last year were very carefully considered by the Postmaster-General and the Treasurer ; but it is very strange that so many of the votes proved to be larger than were required. Last year we passed the sum of £5,500 for expenditure upon sundry offices, but only £1,075 was spent. This year it is proposed to revote £2,600, and to also appropriate £500 for new service, making a total of £3,100. The total vote for this year, added to the amount spent last year, represents a considerably smaller sum than the appropriation for 1904-5, and I should like to know whether we are justified in placing any reliance upon the estimates of our officers. Why is it that the large sum voted last year is not now regarded as necessary? We are here as a Committee of review, and we should not vote a single shilling unless we are satisfied that it is required. If Ave are called upon to rely solely upon the reports of the officers, we might just as well pass everything they propose with out question. Last year £838 was appropriated for expenditure upon the sewerage of sundry offices, whereas only £266 was spent. This year it is proposed to revote £150, and to spend £200 upon new service, making a total of £350, which, added to the amount expended last year, gives us an aggregate considerably lower than thu previous appropriation. I showed alsf. that in one case in Tasmania, £1,100 more than was required was voted. Our officers should present us with reliable estimates in the first instance, and, if we consider that the proposed votes are justified, the money should be spent during the year. If, on the other hand, the officers present excessive estimates, they cannot be properly discharging their duty. I do not approve of the proposal to spend £10,000 in making additions to the General Post Office, Melbourne, before we have any plans submitted to us. For all we know, £8,000 might be sufficient, or, possibly, £12,000 might be required. I think that the proper course in all these matters is to offer a bonus for the best plan submitted.
– We have to camout the original design.
– I do not know that that is always the best course to adopt, We ought to profit by our experience, and to recognise that modern buildings are, if not so ornamental, more useful than those which were erected years ago. We should be careful not to vote large sums of money which are not required for expenditure during the year, because the extent to which our balance-sheet has been inflated on. the wrong side has prejudiced us in the eyes of the general community.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - I might explain to the honorable member for Bass that during the year additions have to be made to various offices ‘and buildings, regarding which no precise estimates can be furnished, because we do not know what requisitions may come in. The Estimates have to be based upon the experience of preceding years, and I hope the honorable member will not find fault with the Minister in charge, or with the officers, if they endeavour to keep the expenditure during the year below the amount appropriated.
– What about the item for sewerage - £500 or £600 more than required was voted last year.
– The £150, which it is proposed to revote, is to be devoted to the sewerage of the Hawthorn and Flemington Post-offices, and the £200 to be appropriated for new service is to provide for the sewerage of the post-office at North Melbourne. We must also appropriate a sum to meet general contingencies in connexion with additions to sundry offices.
– The amount is a very large one.
– The £2,600 which we are asking honorable members to revote, is required to complete works which are already in progress at the post-offices at Bairnsdale and Windsor. The Estimates last year were not passed until December, and, therefore, only six months was available within which to carry out the work authorized. It is proposed to appropriate only £500 for new services arising during the year, and I can assure the honorable member that the object of the officers has been, and will be, to minimize the expenditure as much as possible.
– I think that our expenditure from beginning to end is upon altogether too lavish a scale. It must be remembered that the taxpayers have to provide this money. If we were conducting a business of our own we should conduct it upon economical lines, because we should have to provide the funds with which to carry on operations. But as we do not feel the pinch in that respect, we are not so careful as we might be in sanctioning expenditure upon Government departments. It appears to me that in some way or other we should endeavour to discover a much less lavish method of spending the taxpayers’ money. I contend that amounts which have been voted for services which may be carried out during the current financial year, should not appear upon the Estimates as revotes. They should be struck out, and we should vote the money as if it were to be spent upon new services. Of course if any amount is intended to be expended upon any work which is in progress, a revote will be unavoidable. The Minister of. Home Affairs has declared that it is necessary to vote a large sum to cover contingencies. I contend that if those contingencies, have not arisen, and if the amounts have not actually been spent, they should not appear upon the Estimates as revotes, but as expenditure upon new works. I do not think we should complain, because the expenditure upon these works has been kept below the estimate. So long as the services are well conducted we should encourage the Government to make savings wherever possible. It is far better that high estimates should be submitted for the carrying out of public works than that we should be furnished with low estimates, and should afterwards be required to vote additional money for the purpose. To my mind the proposed vote in connexion with the Warracknabeal Post-office is an unduly large one, despite the fact that both the Postmaster-General and the honorable member for Macquarie, agree that it is absolutely necessary. We should keep a tight rein upon our expenditure. I believe that for a less amount than ^2,500, we can provide all the accommodation that is necessary at Warracknabeal. In my opinion, we should be acting wisely if we despatched a representative to Canada to ascertain how it is that similar works there are carried out upon cheaper lines. I think that our telephone system should be extended in the interior as far as possible. In this connexion I have no special complaint to make, but I know that in a pastoral district in the constituency’ which I represent, the residents are very desirous of obtaining telephonic communication. The cost of providing them with this great convenience is estimated at £300. They have offered to contribute £100 towards the erection of the line before the work is commenced, but so far their application has been refused. I admit that the Postmaster-General is obtaining another report upon the matter. In districts where men are prepared to prove their bona -fides by contributing one-third of the capital cost of telephone lines before they are erected, I think that their claims should be considered. If the regulations do not permit of that being done they should be altered. We do not ask the residents of Melbourne to put their hands into their pockets and contribute more than £3,000 of the proposed vote of £10,000 which is intended to provide additional accommodation at the General Post-office. Of course we may be told that in our cities there are large populations, and that, therefore, these works are reproductive. But they are reproductive only because of the primary producers. Seeing that the individuals to whom I have referred, are prepared to tax themselves to the extent of 33 per cent, upon the capital cost of the undertaking, there should not be the slightest hesitation in carrying out the work. I admit that it is very difficult for us to control our expenditure. To a large extent we have to accept the Estimates submitted upon trust, but I do think that Ministers should exercise the closest supervision over them, and that, instead of sanctioning the erection of costly buildings, they should be content with less pretentious structures, in which the business of the Departments can be comfortably transacted.
– I desire to say a word or two upon the proposed vote in connexion with the Warracknabeal Postoffice. It seems to me an unduly large one, especially in view of the treatment which was meted out to the Woolongabba Postoffice, in Queensland. Last year, a sum of £2,010 was voted for the erection of a post-office at South Brisbane, but only £904 of that amount was expended. I think that that fact constitutes an argument in favour of reducing the vote for the post-office at Warracknabeal. The latter town is said to be situated in the “ back-blocks.” I am sorry that the honorable member for Hunter is not present, because I should like to know if his definition of “back-blocks” applies to Warracknabeal.
Mr. HENRY WILLIS (Robertson).- I think that the Postmaster-General made a satisfactory explanation of the proposed expenditure of £10,000 upon the GeneralPost Office of Melbourne, and consequently I shall offer no opposition to that item. In the case of the Warracknabeal Postoffice, however, I am satisfied that air the adverse criticism in which honorable members have indulged has been thoroughly justified. In that office I find that it will be necessary to provide -accommodation for only eight officials, and that the material used in the old building, including the fittings, can be utilized in the new structure. On the other hand, I find that at Mosman, in Sydney- the locality in which the postmasterGeneral resides - although a new building is to be erected upon a new site, and despite the fact that accommodation must be provided for seventeen officers, the proposed expenditure is only £2,100. It seems to me that the PostmasterGeneral has proved that a vote of £2,500 in connexion with the Warracknabeal building would be an excessive one. I urge the Committee to amend the amendment of the honorable member for Kennedy, and to agree to a reduction of the amount by £1,000. I contend that an expenditure of £1,500 will provide ample accommodation there.
– The foundations constitute the trouble. What am I to do when my officers, and the Federal architect, tell me that the work cannot be undertaken for less than £2,500?
– The PostmasterGeneral can commence de novo. As a business man, it seems to me that the honorable gentleman has clearly established the fact that an outlay of £1,500 will provide ample accommodation for the officials ‘al Warracknabeal.
Mr. MCDONALD (Kennedy). - From inquiries I have made, I learn that the greater portion of this sum is required for putting in a foundation, and that that fact accounts for the high cost of the new building. It is said that, owing to the rottenness of the ground, it would cost two or three times as much to put a new foundation under the existing building as to lay down a foundation for the new building. Although there is no stone in the district, a certain amount of material will be available from the old building. In my opinion, however, the amount we are asked to vote is too large. My principal objection is not so much to the cost of the new building as to the distribution of the expenditure amongst the various States. In view of the fact that New South Wales has a population nearly three times as great as that of Queensland, the result of this rule will be that in the near future Victoria and New South Wales will be compelling the smaller States to bear a burden which is really beyond their capacity. I feel that the appropriation of these large sums for the erection of postoffices will impose a very heavy burden upon the smaller States. It is high time that the whole matter was looked into very carefully, and a reduction in the cost of new buildings was made. From what 1 have heard, I am satisfied that the reduction proposed in the vote for a post-office at Warracknabeal would be too great, and therefore I ask leave to withdraw my motion.
– It is not necessary for the honorable member to ask leave, because the question has not yet been put from the Chair.
Mr. BAMFORD (Herbert). - I are thankful to the Postmaster-General for giving me an assurance that he will take into his consideration the matters I mentioned this morning. He implied that I had not previously communicated with the Department, but the fact is that my’ representations on the subject have been protracted over a period of four years. 1 hope that prompt attention will now be given to my requests. It has been laid down as a rule that a town cannot be provided with an official post-office unless the postal revenue is .£400. The postal revenue at Atherton exceeds that sum. In the centre of the town there is a piece of land which is absolutely suitable for a post-office, and which has been granted for that purpose by the State Government. There is no reason why an official post-office should not be provided. At the present time the postal business is done at the railway station, to the great inconvenience of every one, for it must be remembered that Atherton is a large distributing centre. I hope that the Minister will place an amount for this purpose on the Supplementary Estimates for this year. The sum of £2,500, which has been put on the Estimates for the Cairns post-office, is rather small ; but I do not complain on that ground, because I learn from a foot-note that the new building is estimated to cost £3,000. I ask the Minister to give more than the usual formal consideration to the matters I have mentioned. I have no wish to ventilate any grievance here until I have’ found that I can get no satisfaction from the Department.
Mr. JOHNSON (Lang). - I desire to obtain a little information about the item of £2,500 for the Cairns post-office, which, we are told, is estimated to cost ,£3,000. Is this large sum also due to defective foundations, or is it required for making additions to the existing building, and, if so, does the state of the postal business warrant the expenditure ?
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - At Cairns it is proposed to erect a new post-office. The postal inspector reports that the accommodation in the present building for the public is totally inadequate. It is merely a portion of an eight-feet verandah, which is blocked in with part of the original walls of the main building left open, and just a counter inserted. Behind the counter there is very inferior accommodation.. The space for handling the mails is exceedingly limited. In fact there is a block when the officers try to do mail business. The public lobby, the telephone exchange, and the telegraph office are under a skillion roof, and, of course, it can’ be easily imagined that in the summer months the atmosphere is exceedingly trying to the staff. During the greater portion of the day, from .twelve to fourteen officials are obliged to work under very trying conditions.
– What is the population of Cairns?
– It is a very prosperous and important place, and is likely to become one of the most important centres in the northern part of the State. I saw the old building, and I can say that a new one is absolutely required. The mail-room is positively dark, because daylight, is only admitted through a small window in the back skillion. If ever any expenditure on a post-office was justifiable, this is. When the new building is erected, the old one will be used for the purpose of a residence. I am unable to give the honorable member for Lang an idea of the postal revenue, but I can assure him that Cairns is a very large distributing centre, and the starting point of not only several tramways, but also several railways, which open up large mining and pastoral properties. The expenditure of this sum is quite justifiable, especially when it is remembered that the present building has to accommodate from twelve to fourteen officials. Mr. CULPIN (Brisbane).- As one who has visited Cairns, I. can indorse every word that the Minister of Home Affairs has said in reference to the importance of the district and the necessity for a new post-office there. The item in question appears to be the most important in the Estimates for new works and buildings in Queensland, and it- seems unfair, to say the least, that the number- of works to be carried out in that State should be so limited. Prior to Federation the State Government took steps towards rebuilding the General Post’ Office at Brisbane, but practically nothing (has since been done in that direction. I think that the (representatives of Queensland have a right to urge that provision shall be made for more new works in that State, and particularly in the capita] city. I direct the attention of the Committee, not to the items under the heading of “ Queensland “ in these Estimates, but to the absence from them of provision for many necessary improvements. The operators at the General Post Office are handicapped by want of room, and it seems to me that more consideration should be shown for the wants of Brisbane generally.
Mr. HENRY WILLIS (Robertson).-I should like the Minister to give the Committee some information as to what is being done in regard to a new General Post Office for Brisbane. Before Federation was established tenders were called for competitive designs, so that the people of the State were evidently of opinion that a new building should be erected.
– They probably thought that with Federation the other States would be jointly responsible for the cost.
– That cannot fairly be said, because competitive designs were invited several years before Federation. In these circumstances, I should like to know why nothing has been done to provide the increased accommodation required.
Mr. TUDOR (Yarra).- The honorable member for Lang has questioned the advisableness of the proposed expenditure on the Cairns post-office, but I for one have no objection to offer to it. The Public Service Commissioner has placed the Cairns post-office in the fourth grade, and the Warracknabeal post-office in the ninth grade, and yet the proposed vote in each case is exactly the same.
– In the case of Warracknabeal provision is made for a residence for the postmaster, as well as for a postoffice.
– No doubt the Public Service Commissioner had regard to the work to be performedat the Warracknabeal office when he placed it in the ninth grade. The honorable member for Brisbane has raised a question that is likely to be frequently discussed in this Committee. He has pointed out that these estimates provide for an expenditure of only £7,145 on new postal works and buildings in Queensland, and that this is a small amount compared with the proposed expenditure in other States.
– It is all that is necessary.
– That is so. The point I wish to emphasize is that we should regard these items from a Federal standpoint, and not from the point of view of a particular State. It was because of this feeling that I questioned the necessity for works, proposed to be carried out in an electorate joining that which I represent. In dealing with these items we should study economy, just as we should do if we were dealing with the expenditure of our own money.We should not be ready to sanction expenditure merely because it is to be borne by all the States.
Mr. JOHNSON (Lang).- I am glad that the honorable member for Yarra has compared the proposed expenditure on the Warracknabeal post-office with that on the post-office at Cairns. It appears from the statement made by the Minister of Home Affairs that while there are twelve officers employed in the Cairns office, there are only eight in the Warracknabeal office. I am not familiar with the two districts, but I gather that Cairns has a larger population andis a larger distributing centre than is Warracknabeal. We have also the assurance of the Minister that it is likely to develop into a town of great importance. I have no objection to expenditure that is shown to be absolutely necessary. If the accommodation at the Cairns post-office is such as has been described, improvements must be needed, but whether it is necessary to spend the amount proposed is quite another matter. In view of the explanations that have been given, the proposed vote seems to be more justifiable than does that to which we have agreed in the case of the Warracknabeal post-office. At the same time, I should like to know what accommodation is to be provided.
Mr. MCDONALD (Kennedy).- I should like to know whether the Minister of Home Affairs is in a position to afford us an explanation regarding the position assumed by Queensland in. reference to new works and buildings erected by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will bear the cost of these buildings, and I wish to know whether they will be our property?
– I have been led to ask the question owing to the extraordinary action taken by the Government of Queensland in transferring from loan account to revenue, amounts equivalent to the expenditure incurred by the Commonwealth on new works and buildings in that’ State.
– Can the honorable member quote a specific case?
– I am referring now to votes relating, not to postal buildings, but to defence works, and the erection of telegraph and telephone lines. It was pointed out the other evening by the honorable member for Macquarie that the expenditure charged to revenue by the Commonwealth from 1st July,1901, to 31st
May, 1903, in respect of new works and buildings in Queensland, was debited by that State to their loan account. The Auditor-General’s Report appearing in vol. 1 of the Votes and Proceedings of the Parliament of Queensland for 1905 prove that this has been done. We find that the amount charged by the Commonwealth to revenue on account of new works, &c, to 31st May, 1903, and now charged to the State loan fund, so as to recoup the revenue of the State, is £33,287 17s. 7d. in respect of electric telegraphs, £1,472 4s. 2d. in respect of defence, and so forth. I presume that when we pay for these buildings out of the revenue of the Commonwealth, they must become the property of the Commonwealth..
– And the old buildings also.
– I understand that we have to pay for the old buildings as transferred properties. It strikes me, however, that there may be . a difficulty, not only with respect to Queensland, but as to other States also, in this respect. A State Government may have carried a vote in a State Parliament on account of a certain work, and would have no asset to show for the expenditure; and, by-amd-by, when we come to pay for these buildings, the State Government may wish to make the Commonwealth pay again, because the expenditure has been charged to its loan fund’s. I know that this has happened in Queensland. The State Government will have nothing to show for the sums so taken from loan money, and credited to revenue, and unless we are able to show that this particular post-office was built from Commonwealth money we may have to pay twice. I want to know whether these buildings really belong to the ‘Commonwealth after we have paid for them?
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - This is the first time that the point raised by the honorable member for Kennedy has been brought under my notice. I will look into it carefully. All properties that were exclusively used by the Commonwealth at the time of taking them over passed to the Commonwealth, and ultimately they will form the subjects of a settlement between the Commonwealth and the States concerned. The honorable member is quite right in drawing attention to any matter if he thinks that we may possibly be charged twice, in consequence of a State’s method of financing.
I will certainly see that no such thing takes place. Of course, however, a State’s method of financing is within its own jurisdiction.
– I merely wished to be sure as to the ownership of the buildings.
– The Cairns post-office will be paid for by us, directly out of revenue. It is a transferred property. It is ours. Ali that we have to pay for are properties which belonged to the State at the time of transfer. They will be valued according to principles agreed upon, and the Commonwealth will be debited with the amount due.
– What is our status? If we spend this money for the construction of buildings, will they be ours after we have paid for them?
– They are our property, and any money that we spend upon them we spend upon what is our own. The Treasurer informs me that the practice to which the honorable member has alluded has been discontinued.
– It was done in Queensland last year.
– It has not been done since the works have been debited per capita.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - The representations which the honorable member for Herbert has made to my Department concerning the postal accommodation at Atherton have received consideration. I have asked the Deputy Postmaster-General of the State for a further report, and immediately I receive it the matter will be dealt with. In answer to the honorable member for Lang, I have to state that the revenue from the Cairns post-office is £6,500 a year. Cairns is an important place. As to the question asked by the honorable member for Robertson, the Inspector-General of Works has paid a visit to Brisbane, and has looked into matters concerning the General Post Office carefully. I believe that a project is on foot for making certain improvements, at a cost of a few hundred pounds, that will afford the necessary accommodation for some time to come. Nothing definite has been decided. The Inspector-General has only just come back. But the whole matter will be carefully considered, and I hope that what is reasonable will be carried out.
– I wish to refer to the lack of privacy in connexion with the telephone lines that are now being multiplied, owing to the new arrangements made by the Department. A new system was inaugurated by the late Postmaster-General, and I have no reason to believe that the present PostmasterGeneral is not carrying out the same policy. The country districts are now beginning to’ get the full value of the telephone system. But the arrangements are faulty, inasmuch as there is no privacy in the use of the instruments. When a telephone is installed in a country post-office, unless there is a silence cabinet, people will not make full use of - it. At present there is a lack of such cabinets.
– It would not cost much to put them in.
– It is a matter involving very little expenditure, and the advantage to country people would be very great indeed. I believe “that such an improvement would pay for itself over and over again. I ask the Postmaster-General to see whether money can be provided for the purpose. I congratulate both him and his predecessor on the new departure in connexion with the installation of new telephone services. I am glad to see that the resources of science have made it possible nowadays for country people to enjoy the use of the telephone. The more we can give people in the back country these communal advantages, which are always easily obtainable in the towns, the more we shall be carrying out the purpose for which the telephone was instituted. That is being done, thanks largely to the energy and foresight of the late Postmaster-General, in connexion with the use of what is known as the condenser system.
– It was started by Mr. Drake when he was Postmaster-General.
– There is nothing new under the sun. When something which appears to be new is invented, we usually learn that in some form it has been in use since the beginning of- time. But I venture to say that, for practical purposes, it has only recently been discovered to what an extensive degree the condensor system can be utilized. Years ago the condensor system was talked of, but then scarcely any of the principal officers of the Department could see their way to adopt it, but treated it in the most gingerly way, with the result that in some cases extensive and costly duplications were made, which all could have been avoided. While this system is not new in the sense that it has now just been discovered, it is new in its application. But what I am now asking is that where extensions have been granted the Department shall make them of the fullest possible advantage to the people. That can only be done by guaranteeing some privacy to the users of the public telephones. I understand that the telephone cabinets cost £4 or £5 each,_ but I think that, perhaps, they might be provided more cheaply. At any rate, whatever the cost, it may be regarded as nothing compared with the advantages conferred. In my opinion, the great increase of business would more than compensate for the outlay; and I ask the Minister to endeavour to rectify the inconvenience I have pointed out.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (Eden- Monaro - Postmaster-General). - Instructions have already been given that whereever possible public telephones shall be so placed that they may be made use of in privacy. When this can be done in country places at small expense, it is only a question of time when it may be done in all, or pretty well all, places where the business of the user of the telephone is likely to be overheard by the public.
Mr. HENRY WILLIS (Robertson).The telephones in the silence cabinets in various parts of Sydney ought to be so constructed and cabinets so managed as to be of more service to the public. They are largely used by business men, but it is. found that in many cases the expenditure of the threepennypiece elicits no reply, and on occasions, two or three coins have to be inserted before communication is accomplished. Moreover, the instruments provided are those of the earliest period, which have been discarded in other branches of the telephone system; and if the public cabinets are a failure, it is because they do not give general satisfaction. I hope the Minister will endeavour to provide up-to-date instruments. Personally, I have ceased to use the public telephones for the reasons I have indicated.
Mr. POYNTON (Grey).- I should like to know what provision has been made for the work which was promised in connexion with the service at Streaky Bay, South Australia. Only last week I received a telegram stating that this work had been held over for a considerable time; and I notice that no provision is made for it under these Estimates, although there was a promise that the work was to be put in hand. Is it proposed to make provision in the Supplementary Estimates ?
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - This matter has only recently been brought under my notice, and inquiries are now being made. The honorable member for Grey made some representations to me the other day, and on these a report has been asked for.
– But a promise was made that this work would be put in hand as early as possible.
– What is the particular work to which the honorable member refers?
– It is some work in connexion with the telephone system.
– That work is being attended to. What I was referring to was the request for the post-office ; in this latter matter, a report has been asked for, and, when received, it will, of course, have attention.
Mr. JOHNSON (Lang). - An amount of £1,600 is provided for a post-office at Kadina. Will the Minister kindly give some information as to the work it is proposed to carry out?
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - The money is intended for the erection of a post-office. At present, the postal business at Kadina is conducted in premises belonging to the State, and we have received notice that the building is required by the State authorities. It, therefore, becomes necessary to provide a building of our own, and, in view of the population, and the importance of this centre, the sum of £1,600 is not regarded as excessive.
– I see that £800 is provided for, I presume, the erection of a new post-office at Fimiston. In regard to this work, the Government cannot be accused of extravagance, because the experience of the people at this particular place, owing to the want of proper accommodation, has been most unsatisfactory. Great difficulty was experienced in getting a building of any description, considerable hostility being shown by the Department on. I understand, local advice.
– But accommodation was provided very quickly when I became PostmasterGeneral.
– I am pleased to say that the honorable member for Coolgardie, who knows the importance of this place, immediately acceded to the reasonable request for accommodation when lie became Postmaster-General. At present, the Government pay a rent of £104 per annum for a building that is entirely unsuitable. It was alleged, when requests were originally made for accommodation, that the business likely to be conducted at Fimiston would not justify the erection of a postoffice, but I am pleased to say that at this place is done the fifth largest amount of postal business transacted in the post-offices of Western Australia. Fimiston is in the very centre of the gold belt, known as the “ Boulder. Block,” and the mines in the vicinity are producing about £7,000,000 worth of gold per annum.
– Why all this explanation? Nobody is objecting to the expenditure.
– But I am complaining of the smallness of the amount provided, which is not more than enough to provide entirely inadequate accommodation. It is extraordinary that such an interjection should come from the honorable member for Lang, who is one of the great time monopolists in . the Chamber. The honorable member has spoken for about half the time devoted to the Estimates, and has communicated less real information than has any other speaker.
– I shall move a reduction of the amount provided.
– If the honorable member does so he will probably find himself alone. It is safe to say that within halfamile of the Fimiston Post-office there are 20,000 people at work during the working hours of the day, and very many of them can get to the post-office during the luncheon,adjournment in order ‘to transact mail business. The block of land on which the post-office is to be situated has been made available by one of the mining companies, which is a proof of the anxiety of the companies to have their business transacted near the mines. The cable business in connexion with the mines is of considerable magnitude. Although the Commonwealth, by an arrangement with the State Government, and in order to get a clear title to the land, has paid the sum of £500 for it, from an impartial valuation is is estimated that it is worth £6,600. There is another aspect of the question which should receive some consideration. The climatic conditions prevailing in Kal- goodie- are such that, during some months of the year, it is not possible for public officers to give reasonable satisfaction in their employment if they are compelled to work in a galvanized iron building. I trust that if the work is undertaken it will be carried out in such a way that it can subsequently be extended as the need for greater accommodation arises. Provision for a further sum might be made on the Supplementary “ Estimates, or from an advance account. I hope that the Postmaster-General will see fit to express an opinion on the subject.
Mr. JOHNSON (Lang.).- I did not propose to offer any observations on this item, but when I suggested to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that it was not necessary to enter upon a lengthy explanation of an item to which apparently there was no opposition, I was met with a reply which was designedly offensive in its character, and wholly uncalled for. If it were only as a’ matter of protest against the right of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to constitute himself, with the characteristic bumptiousness of precocious youth, lecturergeneral to the Opposition, I should be justified in asserting my right to challenge this item, or any other item on the Estimates. But I have still more solid grounds than the assertion of my right of criticism as a member of this House. I was previously unaware where Fimiston was situated, but I have since made some inquiries, and I find that it is about a mile from Kalgoorlie. From the information I have received, and from the anxiety displayed by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to secure the expenditure of a larger sum than is proposed to be voted, I am convinced that the item is one of those which require investigation. But for the remarks of the honorable member it might have been passed over in silence. 1 find that Fimiston is situated between Kalgoorlie and Boulder City, at both of which places there are magnificent post-offices.
– Fimiston is v miles from Kalgoorlie.
– As Fimiston is connected by an electric tram service with Boulder City and Kalgoorlie, the people of the district can, with the greatest ease, make use of the post-office accommodation provided at either of the places mentioned, in addition to availing themselves of the Fimiston Post-office.
– Look at the revenue of the Fimiston office.
– There can be no guarantee of a permanent revenue from a place which depends solely on the extent of the payable mineral deposits in the neighbourhood. Some justification should be shown for additional expenditure in a place which appears to be very well served already.
– There is a postoffice there now.
– I am aware of that, and, so far as I cam see, it meets all present requirements without the necessity for a penny of extra expenditure. Seeing that the place is so close to the palatial postoffices at Kalgoorlie and Boulder City, I think it is unnecessary to expend this money at Fimiston. The post-office at Kalgoorlie vies with the General Post Office in Melbourne in the matter of structural magnificence and accommod’ation, and it is probably more up-to-date than is the Melbourne office. It would appear to have been designed to supply the requirements of the public for the next half-century. I feel disposed to move a reduction of the item by £775- I think that £25 would be a proportionate expenditure for a post-office at Fimiston, in view of the postal facilities provided by other offices n the neighbourhood of that place. I see that £13,000 is set down for the purchase of sites. I should like to know where these sites are to be purchased. The amount proposed to be voted is a very large amount, and we should remember that after all Western Australia is only a minor State by comparison with New South Wales and Victoria, and there is a great disparity in the sums proposed to be spent in these States. It appears to me that, by comparison with the votes proposed for works and buildings in the other States, those proposed for similar worksin Western Australia . are unduly large. We must keep a watchful eye on all proposals for expenditure, and not vote for items unless we see a justification for so doing. I shall be glad to get information from the Minister of Home Affairs as to where these sites are situated, and what thev are required for.
– I have nosympathy with the first part of the speech of the honorable member for Lang, and I think that I can speak as impartially of Western. Australian affairs as he can. When he talks of Boulder City being within a mile of Kalgoorlie, it is evident that he did not pay much attention fo distances when in Western Australia.
– What is the distance?
– So far as I could learn, it is about three miles “by tram.
– But to Fimiston?
– It is about two and a half miles to the place which, I believe, is known as the Boulder Block. How would the honorable member for Lang like the Department to close down all the postoffices in his district, so that his constituents would have to travel to the General Post-office by tram - a similar distance, though in summer time the climate would not be so trying?
– There is some differ- ence between the population of the two places.
– In Kalgoorlie and the neighbourhood there must be 40,000 people, andi I have been told that the proposed post-office will serve at least 10,000 people.
– But there is a post-office there now.
– The Department pays £104 a year rent for the present postoffice, and the building is very unsatisfactory.
– As the interest on the cost of the proposed new building would be only about £30 a year, it is cheaper to erect a building of our own than to continue to rent one. The honorable member for Lang was on firmer ground when he asked for information in regard to the proposed vote for the purchase of sites. The sum seems a large one, and we ought to be informed why so much more is being voted for one State than for any of the other States.
– The point just .referred to by the honorable member for Newcastle also struck me. The proposed votes for new works for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia are approximately proportionate to the population of those States; but the proposed vote for Western Australia is much larger than that for even the larger States.
– More than one-fourth of the total vote is for Western Australia.
– A large part is made up of revotes. Newly-settled States naturally require a greater expenditure in proportion to population than do the older States.
– I understand that, and I do not cavil at the expenditure, because I think that in a few years the matter will right itself. At the same time, Western Australian representatives have no reason to consider that their State has been overlooked. While the other States of the Commonwealth have had to pay for their own post-offices, the expense of providing Western Australia with new post-offices is to be borne by all the States. 1 did not raise any objection to this arrangement in connexion with Defence, because the whole Commonwealth is concerned in the defence of any part of Australia; ‘but when advantages are being given to Western Australia in connexion with the construction of post-offices which the other States do not receive, the members pf that State should not complain of neglect.
– A very good post-office is being provided for Cairns.
– I leave the honorable member for Herbert to deal with that matter. The postal accommodation at Cairns is not commensurate with the importance of the town and surrounding district. The proposed expenditure of £800 on a post-office for an important centre like Fimiston is not exorbitant; on the contrary, it is good business to save something over £60 a year in interest, and have a property of our own, instead of continuing to rent private property. I hope, however, that in the discussion of these Estimates we shall all be actuated by higher motives than mere personal animus, against the representative of any district.
– I have no quarrel with the fact that these Works Estimates provide for a much greater expenditure in Western Australia than that State would be entitled to on the basis of her contributions, because the .policy that new works should be charged on a population basis was deliberately adopted by Parliament a year or two ago. The adoption of that’ policy’ was, I take it, the first step towards the uniform charging of Commonwealth expenditure on a population basis, but under it the more newly-settled States have the incidental advantage of receiving contributions for their public works from the people of the older States, while the people of the older States suffer a consequent disadvantage. I wish for information about items 6 and 9. I gather that the Fremantle Post-office is to cost £20,000 for land and buildings. I do not at the moment remember what the population of Fremantle is.
– About 25,000.
– Fremantle is the gateway of Australia.
– The post-office is not one of the portals of the gate. If the transcontinental railway were made, and Australian mails were transhipped and made up at the Fremantle Post-office, there might be some reason for providing special accommodation there; but no city of 25,000 inhabitants should require a post-office costing £20,000, unless under very exceptional circumstances.
– Land always costs a lot of money.
– I am aware that land in Fremantle is very expensive. It would be difficult to find any land in London valued at a higher price than that attached to some allotments in Fremantle. Judging from my experience, the land values there are highly inflated and entirely fictitious.
– I do not think so.
– It is usually unwise to prophesy, but I venture to predict that land values in Fremantle and Perth will, before very long, become much reduced. An enormous number of estates have been subdivided, and the subdivisions are not being sold, and, judging from the experience through which we have passed in Melbourne, there will be a heavy drop in values very shortly. Many persons who bought land in Melbourne twelve years ago would now be glad to accept an amount equivalent to half-a-crown for every £1 they have paid. The land boom in Perth has reached its highest point, but the ebb will come along a little later. I do not know what character of building it is proposed to erect at Fremantle, but it must be of a very substantial character. Even if land in Fremantle were worth £18,000 per acre, neither an acre, nor even half-an-acre would be required as a site for a post-office. I see that £13,000 is provided for the purchase of sites for post-offices, and I should like to know whether any large purchase is included in that amount.
– The only large purchase for which provision is made in that amount is the site for the Fremantle post-office. The balance is intended to meet requirements that may arise in the future.
– In that case, the Estimates are somewhat misleading as against the Government. I naturally concluded that the £20,000 proposed to be appropriated for the Fremantle post-office, was quite exclusive of item 9. The Minister’s explanation presents the matter in a somewhat more satisfactory light. I trust that in purchasing the site the Minister of Home Affairs will recognise that there are propertyowners in Fremantle who entertain the same sanguine ideas as to values as does the Treasurer.
– The land is to be resumed under the Property for Public Purposes Acquisition Act.
– Then the Government will probably not pay more than twice as much as the land is worth.
– In view of the fact that the whole Commonwealth will have to pay for the proposed sites for postoffices, the Minister seems to have been particularly generous to Western Australia. £2,675 is proposed to be appropriated for the purchase of sites in New South Wales, and £100 for the purchase of sites in Queensland, whilst £13,000 is allocated to Western Australia. No money is set aside for expenditure in the same direction in Victoria or Tasmania. I should like to know why no provision has been made for the purchase of a site for a new post-office at Drysdale.
– I am obtaining a report on the subject.
-I do not suggest that the Postmaster-General has been overgenerous to his own State, but I would point out that provision is made for the erection of eight new post-offices in New South Wales - which, unlike Western Australia, cannot be regarded as a new State - that Western Australia is to have four new postoffices, Queensland two, and Victoria only three. I understand that the Minister promises that provision will be made for the purchase of a site for a new post-office at Drysdale.
– Why does the honorable and learned member presume that?
– My representations to the Minister do not appear to have any weight, and it seems that nothing has any influence upon him except a deputation. If the Minister wishes to have his time occupied in receiving deputations, I canpromise to bring a number of my constituents before him every day.
– There is not the slightest necessityfor that, because the honorable and learned member’s representations are quite sufficient. I am looking into the whole matter.
– Drysdale, which is very much older than a number of these towns which are of mushroom growth, does not yet possess a post-office, and I think that a modest amount should be placed on the Estimates for the purpose of providing it with one.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - Concerning the item which has been mentioned by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, complaint is made that in view of the importance of Fimiston, and of the %’olume of business which is transacted there, the sum provided in the Estimates is not sufficient. On the other hand, it is contended that no money should be expended on the Fimiston post-office at all. As a matter of *f act,, inquiries have been made by various officials, who report that an expenditure of £800 is necessary to erect a post-office at that place, and would be adequate for that purpose. A considerable business is transacted at that important centre, where we are at present paying a rental of £2 per week for postoffice accommodation.
– The amount provided will only be sufficient to permit of the erection of an iron building.
– In regard to that matter the honorable member has made very strong representations, which will receive attention at the hands of the Government.
– Will the Minister admit that an expenditure of £800 will be merely sufficient to provide for the erection of a wood and iron building?
– I understand that that is so.
– There is very good building stone in the locality.
– I will promise the honorable member that I will look into the matter. Of course, nothing can be done without the authority of Parliament. The honorable member for Lang and the honorable and learned member for Corinella may rest assured that it is not the intention of the Department to expend more than is necessary in the acquisition of sites and the erection of the requisite buildings. In the case of Fremantle, however, it is absolutely necessary that postal accommodation should be provided at the earliest possible moment. The money for this purpose was passed in last year’s Estimates. A site came up for consideration, and was practically approved, but its acquisition was not proceeded with. Action is now being taken to define the particular area’ required, and the necessary steps for its acquisition will follow. At the present time a little difficulty is being experienced in obtaining the requisite site, but I do not need to trouble honorable members with the history of that matter.
– I suppose that the owner wants ‘ too much.
– As a matter of fact, the owner does nob desire to get rid of his property at all. That is a fair indication of his opinion of land values in the West. Of course, it is possible that these values may decline, but all that we have to pay regard to at the present moment is the fact that it is necessary for us to acquire a site and to erect a building upon it. In the case of Western Australia, too, we must recollect that we are dealing with a State which is carrying out large development works. It is a significant fact that each quarter its population returns show a considerable advance. A great portion of that population is an adult one, which means that new centres are constantly being opened up. As towns are formed and new settlements are established, the officers of the Department, looking to the needs of the future, recommend the acquisition of sites. I can assure honorable members that the sums which appear on the Estimates in this connexion are only such as are required to meet the requirements of the future.
– I wish to indorse .the statement of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that the provision which has been .made in these Estimates for the erection of a post-office at Fimiston is insufficient. The sum of £800 is not adequate to erect a post-office in Kalgoorlie, where, on account of the climate and the dense population, there should be a building of a substantial character. Seeing that there is good stone to be had in the vicinity, and that the permanence of the Kalgoorlie field is undoubted, I think that a stable structure should be erected. I understand that the mining companies have given the surface of the land - which is very valuable - free of charge. The honorable member for Lang has argued that the proximity of Kalgoorlie and the Boulder to Fimiston renders a post-office at the last-named place more or less unnecessary. I quite agree that the distances from Fimiston to each of these centres are not so great as have been stated. From Fimiston to Boulder the distance is about a. mile, and to Kalgoorlie is under two miles. At any rate, there is rapid means of communication between these places. There is no doubt that a good deal of the postal and telegraphic business of that belt of country will now be concentrated in Kalgoorlie. I understand that the Department proposes to make Kalgoorlie the repeating station instead of Coolgardie, and to transfer some twenty or thirty operators to the former town. That proposal has been before the Department for the past eighteen months.
– That will be an injustice to Coolgardie.
– Unfortunately, it seems to be unavoidable. In that event the accommodation provided at the Kalgoorlie post-office, which, even at present, is ‘not more than sufficient, will be practically exhausted. That being so, I believe that it is necessary, in order to relieve the congestion of business at Kalgoorlie, to provide increased postal facilities for the people of Fimiston and the surrounding localities. If the Government are to be guided by the statements of those who, knowing very little about the gold-field’s of Western Australia, assert that they are evanescent, and likely, soon to disappear from the map, the outlook for the western State is not encouraging. But . I can only say that if there be a permanent gold-field in Australia, we believe it to be that of Kalgoorlie. I forget for the moment the depth of the Boulder mine-
– Two thousand feet.
– Bendigo has been going to disappear for the last forty years.
– The same dismal prognostications have been made in regard to Ballarat, and yet both cities continue to make solid progress. The history of Kalgoorlie will probably be the same. Until recently the developments have all taken place at the southern end of the Golden Mile, but a valuable discovery has now been made at the northern end, where a great many people said that no gold, except that found on the surface by Hannan, existed, and I believe that a very valuable mine is now being opened up. ‘We may regard Kalgoorlie as one of the permanent gold-fields of Australia, and it is therefore the duty of the Department in erecting buildings there to have regard to the ques tions of permanence and durability, and to see that the convenience of the staff is studied. There is no doubt that officers called upon to work in iron buildings in that climate cannot satisfactorily perform their duties. Unfortunately, I had the experience of working for several years under such conditions, and I am able to say that the tax which they impose ‘ upon one’s powers of endurance is extreme. If we expect our public officers to render good service we should provide them with reasonable accommodation. There are one or two other items to which I desire to refer. In the Estimates for 1904-5 a sum of £1,500 was appropriated for the erection of a post-office at Fitzroy - a station in my electorate - but in the Estimates now before us that amount has been reduced to £1,100. I understand that the reason given for the proposed expenditure of this large sum in a remote locality - where the population is scattered, and the revenue from the postal sendee small - is that there is a repeating station at Fitzroy, and that a number of men employed in maintaining the overland telegraph line are housed there. I would point out to the Minister, however, that it is desirable that he should scrutinize the estimates from time to time submitted to him. When I was administering the Department I discovered that the estimates for this work included the cost of conveying timber from Fremantle, although I subsequently ascertained that there was an ample supply of suitable timber in the neighbourhood.
– Is it not proposed to shift the post-office to the other side of the river?
– That is another matter, in regard to which I desire an explanation. I have had a protest from a stationowner in the vicinity, who contends that the office should not be removed ; but, as I have not been in the district, I have not the personal knowledge necessary to enable me to determine whether his protest is justifiable.
– I have been near there,, and have no doubt that if the postoffice were on the other side it would be more convenient for Derby.
– The Department should be able to furnish a reason for the proposal to change the site.
– That is the reason.
– I have entered my protest on several occasions, but all that I have been able to ascertain from the Department is that the post-office is to be shifted. With regard to the outcry as to the large sums placed on the Estimates for the purchase of sites in Western Australia, as compared with the proposed votes for similar purposes in other States, honorable members must not forget that Western Australia is but a young State, and that her wants, as a rapidly developing country, annually receiving a large access of population, are necessarily greater than are those of other States. I am pleased to observe that some honorable members have not overlooked this point, but I would impress upon the Committee that any comparison of the expenditure of the Commonwealth in Western Australia, with that in other States, must necessarily be very unfair. I think it will be found that the Department is acting wisely in acquiring, at Fremantle, the site which has received the approval of the municipality and of most of the people.
– Of most of the representatives of the people.
– With the exception of the Chamber of Commerce, I believe that all the representative institutions of Fremantle approve of the site in question. I have nothing to say against the Chamber of Commerce, but I do not think it represents more than a verysmall minority of the people of Fremantle. The local municipality favored the site which has been selected, and other public bodies have also done so. The site being in the main street, is necessarily a costly one, but I do not agree with the honorable and learned member for Corinella that, just as was the case in some of the other States a few years ago, land values in Western Australia at the present time are probably fictitious. He has overlooked the fact that Victoria was not progressing when its land values were fictitious.
– It was progressing, but not as rapidly as is Western Australia.
– If was not receiving the accession of population that Western Australia is securing.
– It was receiving a very fair accession of population’.
– I am speaking of the period - I daresay it is the one to which the honorable and learned member referred - from 1888 to 1891, when undoubtedly land was at a fictitious value. I am not going into ancient history to find out the causes, but certainly there was nothing in the condition of Victoria at the time to warrant the extravagant prices which were paid for land. In Western Australia we have had yearly a large number of new colonists, and necessarily their demands increased the price of land. The parallel which the honorable and learned member has drawn is scarcely fail to Western Australia. I think he will find that, although the value of suburban lands may not be maintained, sites for business purposes will always command a very high value in the main portions of Perth and Fremantle.
Mr. TUDOR (Yarra). - I was not present when the Minister made his explanation with regard to the item of £2,500 for the Fremantle Post Office. According to a footnote the total estimated cost of the land and building is £20,000 ; and that expenditure is, I consider, out of proportion to the business likely to be done. In other cases it has been proved that the estimated cost of new buildings has been too high. The Minister might look carefully into this case, and see if the estimate could not be brought down considerably.
– I promise to do that.
– I do not intend to vote against the item, as it is a certainty that either next year or later on we shall be asked to vote the balance of £17,500. Last year I protested against the new system of charging the expenditure on new works on a per capita basis ; but I was assured by the late Treasurer that it was adopted on the advice of the Crown Law officers, and that it could not be departed from.
– It is as broad as it is long, because the transferred properties will have to be paid for afterwards.
– It is not; because we have not yet reached that stage. I object to the submission of these high estimates, because the representativeof a State seems to consider that he has to support any proposal to expend public money therein. I am speaking impartially on this subject. I was the first to object to the item for the extension of the General Post Office in Melbourne, and to the item for the erection of a new post-office at Warracknabeal. I trust that the Minister will take steps to get the estimates for new buildings cut down, and will not go in for elaborate buildings, such as some of us recently saw in the other States. It was quite an eyeopener to me to see the magnificent public buildings which had been erected, particularly in Queensland. The Treasurer says that the per capita payment is as broad as it is long; but I think that the States which have not borrowed large sums for the purpose of erecting public buildings will have to pay in the future for the extravagance of those States which have not adopted that policy.
– It is grossly unfair.
– It is grossly unfair to the latter, and I trust that the Committee will not sanction the erection of large buildings merely for the purpose of expending large sums of public money.
Mr. POYNTON (Grey). - I wish to enter another protest against the system of charging this expenditure on a per capita basis. Of course we are all delighted to hear of the great influx of population to Western Australia. As population means wealth, one would think that the State would be willing to bear the cost of its public buildings. When I interjected about the increase of population in Western Australia, I was twitted that the new colonists had come from South Australia. It is not much consolation to the Government of that State to have to tell the persons who have remained that they must carry on its development for the benefit of those who have left. I am not referring to a particular item on these Estimates. If there is to be a funding of the expenditure, it should be accompanied bv a funding of the receipts, so as to establish a system on sound Federal lines. I do not know who introduced this method, but I predict that before long it will be declared to be the most rotten arrangement that has ever been introduced. It must lead in every direction to extravagant expenditure. What advantage is it to the representatives of a State to keep down the expenditure on public works therein if it is to be debited with a proportion of the expenditure on public works in other States? I feel quite confident that eventually Parliament will have to consider the question of pooling the revenue as well as the expenditure. Until that time arrives, however, each State ought to be responsible for the expenditure on public works therein.
– In the debate on last year’s Budget the question of debiting the cost of public works against the States on a per capita basis was discussed. But honorable members did not seem to fully realize what had been done. So far from indorsing the remarks of the honorable member for Grey,
I think that the new system is not likely to make for extravagance. The discussion, on these Estimates this morning has furnished direct evidence to the contrary.
– And not a penny has been saved.
– That is a tribute to the economy of the Estimates which have been submitted. So long as each State had to bear the expenditure on public works therein, the representatives of other States were not very much concerned about cutting ‘ down the items for a State. If the representatives of a State could induce the. Government to place on the Estimates large sums for public works for the State, what did it matter to the representatives of other States how much money was voted? Naturally they said, “As the people of this State will have to bear the expenditure, let the money be voted.” Under the new system, however, the representatives of each State are interested in the amounts which are placed on the Estimates for this purpose. I do not think there fs any ground to fear that it will lead to additional extravagance. On the contrary, I believe, that its tendency will be to cause honorable members to be keener critics of’ proposed expenditure.
– It will make honorable members keener to get sums placed on the Estimates for their own electorates.
– The honorable and learned member for Corinella has done a service to the Committee in pointing out the misleading character of the footnote, which would lead honorable members to conclude that in addition to the amount, set forth’, a larger sum was to be expended. It is quite correct, as he pointed out, that the principal portion of the sum named in item 9 will be for the purchase of the Fremantle site. I hardly know whether or not fo regret that land values are so high in Fremantle. The buyer always regrets a rise in land values; the seller never. But it has been a matter of regret to me that although this vote was agreed to last year, the efforts made from then until a few clays ago to obtain land at a reasonable price did not succeed. That is the reason why the vote has to be submitted to the Committee again. Neither this Government nor its predecessor can be charged with having come to a conclusion hastily. Every offer has been carefully considered, and some which ought to have been more reasonable have had to be rejected. I believe the Government has chosen a site which will suit the convenience of the great majority of the people of Fremantle, and I trust that no delay will take place in the construction of the work. As to the character of the building, I have never been an advocate of extravagant expenditure, but I do not wish to see ramshackle structures erected in the centre of any large and growing town. I like the buildings owned by the Commonwealth to bear comparison with other buildings. I feel somewhat ashamed if I see an iron structure, pointed out as a Commonwealth building, in a town of importance. When the present Fremantle post-office was built, it was not foreseen, even by the Treasurer, then Premier of Western Australia, that in the near future the town would grow to such an extent as it has done. The expansion has taken place in a direction which was not expected ; and what was then the centre of Fremantle, is now practically at one end of the town, and is, indeed, in a somewhat out of the way corner. For some time past it has been necessary to rent a portion of the Town Hall in which to transact some of the postal business, which in consequence has been done in two separate parts of the town. The erection of the new building will enable the Department to bring the two branches together in one centre, and will make for economic working. There is a great rush’ at the post-office during the short period when the mail-boats are at the wharfs. It is, therefore, necessary to afford every facility so that the people who come to Australia shall not go away with the impression that we cannot provide for the -postal business that has to be done. .1 am glad to find that no objection has been raised-to the expenditure of this apparently large sum, because it is recognised by honorable members that the vote is justifiable on account of the growth of a young State, which occupies a position different from that of any other State in the Commonwealth.
– I judge from what previous speakers have said that much dissatisfaction exists at the proposal to erect a post-office and various other buildings in Western Australia, at the expense of the other States. Speaking for Tasmania, it seems to me to be grossly unfair that a small poor State should be compelled to assist the more prosperous States in reference to expenditure. We have been told that a true Federal spirit is to prevail, and that we are to share each other’s burdens. Tasmania has been bearing other people’s burdens; no One has been helping to. carry hers. Unless the per capita basis is to apply to revenue as well as to expenditure, it is grossly unfair. I have no knowledge as to the necessity for the post-office at Fremantle, and am quite prepared to believe that it should be built. But it should be erected at the expense of Western Australia. I propose to test the feeling of the Committee as to whether the per capita basis is to be continued, by moving a reduction of the vote.
– The honorable member will not secure his object by doing that now ; because some honorable members may agree with him as to the principle, but may desire that this vote shall be passed.
– Then I shall move at a later stage. I wish’ to know whether the “Federal spirit is to prevail, and we are going to share each other’s burdens, or whether one or two States are to be hit, owing to the fact that, the Treasurer is a Western Australian representative.
– These Estimates were not framed by the present Treasurer.
– I do not know who framed them, but I know that the present Treasurer is responsible for them.
– That was not the honorable member’s suggestion.
– If the principle to be laid’ down is that all the States are to share alike in revenue and expenditure, I am quite prepared to accept the position, but if the idea is that one State shall reap advantages for which the other States have to pay, as, for instance, in the case of the sugar bonus, I do not feel inclined to’ submit.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- I understand that in some cases where it is proposed to build post-offices in Western Australia it is necessary to purchase land, and that this land is being charged for at extremely high prices. Care should be taken to obtain land necessary for such purposes at a fair price ; but I have heard it whispered, that the Government of Western Australia are asking what is far beyond the value of the areas which the Commonwealth desire to purchase.
– In some cases the owners do not want to sell.
– I understand that it is desired to purchase some State land. I realize that. the private owner grabs all he can get, and he is a person with whom it is at times difficult to deal. We should take care, however, that in the case of State land’s the Commonwealth is not “got at.” The Treasurer, who is one of the representatives for Western Australia, believes in his own State, and the right honorable gentleman doubtless desires to obtain all the advantages he can for the State; and we cannot blame him if he is allowed to do so. But we are here to guard the interests of the States as a whole. It has been pointed out that these Estimates were drawn up by the previous Government; but, for all that, it is quite possible that the influence of the right honorable gentleman was brought to bear. Under our present plan, it is difficult to control expenditure of the kind, and it seems to me that, along with the Estimates, there ought to be supplied the particulars of such matters as we are now discussing, so that honorable members might have before them accurate information of how money was to be spent in, not one, but all of the States, particularly in reference to buildings so far from the centres. The Treasurer smiles when I refer to the whisper about that State Government asking high prices for land; but we know that, so far as the right honorable gentleman is concerned, the other States are not likely to get the best of the argument when the interests of Western Australia are in question. Consequently, when the Treasurer is behind anything of this kind, it makes us suspicious, and causes us to look into the matter in order to ascertain whether everything is just and right.
Mr. CAMERON (Wilmot). -I shall at
A later stage move a reduction of a vote by £1, in order to test the feeling of the Committee as to whether in future new works shall be charged to the Commonwealth as a whole on a per capita basis, or whether the States in which the buildings are erected shall bear the costs.
Proposed vote agreed to.
– There is an item here of £12,000 for the construction and extension of telephone lines, instruments, and material, in New South Wales. This is a work in which the needs of the States have to be considered, but I cannot help drawing the attention of the Com mittee to the fact that, whilst in New South Wales the expenditure on this score is £12,000, the amount set down for Victoria is £25,000, for Queensland £15,000, for South Australia £10,000, for Western Australia £17,000, and for Tasmania £3,000. Such large differences require, I think, some explanation. Nextto the provision of post-offices, the extension of the telephone system is very important. This is one of the means by which isolated districts are brought into closer contact with the centres of civilization, and are thus enabled to carry on pioneering work with greater advantage. In New South Wales in the past, one of the great difficulties has been to get the Post and Telegraph Department to realize the importance of extending this means of communication. Numbers of little centres have sprung up all over the State, and these have for some time been asking for telephone extension. The requests, however, have beenrefused on the ground that the time is not opportune, the excuse, amongst others, being given by the Department that the anticipated revenue will not cover the cost. In this connexion there is always this difficulty to contend with : The cost of a proposed telephonic or telegraphic extension is estimated at the maximum, whilst the revenue , to be derived from it is estimated at a minimum. The officers of the Department naturally wish to be on the safe side. They do not desire that their estimate of the cost of an extension shall be exceeded, and, on the other hand, they do not wish to supply the Department with an estimate of revenue that is not likely to be realized. Very often” the mean, therefore, lies between the two extremes of a high estimate of the cost of construction, and a low estimate of revenue. When an agreement is arrived at, and the Department sees its way to approve of a certain extension, there are often considerable delays in carrying it out, which are attributed to the fact that the Department has no money at its disposal, and must await a vote for the purpose. I believe that the late Administration was largely redeemed from barrenness by the active and up-to-date way in which the late Postmaster-General dealt with these matters. The honorable gentleman had a virgin field for his operations in this direction, as his predecessors were contented to allow matters to run in the old groove, and to consider the difficulties of proposed extensions without at the same time considering their advantages. As a consequence of that policy there was a very great deal of friction and dissatisfaction throughout New South Wales, but the action of the late Postmaster-General has largely helped to remove it. The honorable gentleman introduced the system of condensor telephones, making use of telegraphic extensions to establish telephonic communication. Before his retirement from office, he approved of a number of centres connected by telegraphic communication being brought under the condensor system of telephonic communication. This approval was given in respect of a number of centres in my own district; but so far nothing has been done to carry out the work. ‘ I have had no official explanation of the delay that has occurred, although I have addressed several communications on the subject to the Department. I am unofficially informed that it is due to the fact that the Department has not the necessary instruments and material to carry out this important work, and is awaiting a vote for the purpose. I presume that these instruments and material will be supplied from the vote under consideration at the present time. The present Postmaster-General has a practical knowledge of these matters as they affect New South Wales, and I presume that the condition of things in the other States is similar, and they would be similarly benefited bv the adoption of an enlightened policy in this respect. I hope that the honorable gentleman will see that sufficient money is provided to carry oh this important work. I do not know that £12,000, the amount proposed to be voted, will be sufficient for the purpose; but if it will not steps should be taken to provide a sufficient amount, so that before the end df the year we may not be met with the objection urged hitherto that there is not enough money available, and necessary work must, in consequence, stand over. I trust that this work will be carried on with the energy which was displayed by the late PostmasterGeneral, and that the useful policy that honorable gentleman inaugurated in this respect will be carried to completion.
– In answer to the honorable member, I may say that it is the intention of the present Government to pursue in this matter the policy laid down by my predecessor, and to afford every facility for the extension of the telephonic system in country districts. I shall give attention to the question which the honorable member has brought under notice, and endeavour, as far as possible, to meet his wishes.
– We should have some explanation of the difference between the amounts set down for Victoria and for some of the other States.
– That ds accounted for by the fact that the vote put down for Victoria covers other services, including the grounding of wires, which is dealt with by a separate vote in New South Wales. There is a proposed vote of £4,000 for this work in New South Wales, whilst the same expenditure is included in the larger vote of £25,000 set down for Victoria. Honorable members will find, from last year’s Estimates, that the Department had money right through the year for this purpose, and I am assured by the officer responsible for the vote that sufficient provision is made for this year. If more money is required, the Government will have the courage ,to do any necessary work, and afterwards ask Parliament to ratify the expenditure.
– In connexion with the extension of the telephone system, a matter has been brought under my notice by a number of public bodies in my electorate, and I believe that it has occupied the attention of progress associations and borough councils in other electorates. It is considered very desirable that the cost of telephones in suburban and country districts should be reduced. Subscribers in country towns are called upon to Pav £8 a Year f°r a business telephone, and £5 a year for a private telephone. The same charges are ‘made in the larger cities, where subscribers have the advantage of being able to communicate with a very large number of other subscribers. In West Maitland, for example, a telephone subscriber is able to communicate only with some sixty other subscribers, and it is somewhat of a hardship that telephone subscribers in country towns should have to pay exactly the same fees as subscribers in the larger cities, who are given a great deal more for their money. If the charge were reduced, the use of the telephone would become very much more popular in the smaller centres, and the service would pay better than it does at present. Honorable members are aware that, in connexion with the management of tramways, where the fares have been lowered, the traffic has been much more than doubled, and the total returns have been greater. I am pleased to find that the present Postmaster- General appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor, and to be particularly anxious to facilitate the work of his Department. I have been informed that it has been the practice of the Department to supply country subscribers with inferior telephones ; that when a subscriber is connected with one of the metropolitan exchanges, an Ericcson instrument, which can be used with one hand, is supplied, but that subscribers to the country exchanges have to put up with inferior instruments, requiring the use of two hands; just as the people of Newcastle have to put up with the discarded steam trams which were once used in Sydney. I have one other subject to refer to. In my electorate there is a permanent coal-mining centre, known as Kurri Kurri, which has a population of 2,100, and is yet without a letter-carrier or a satisfactory post-office. Consequently, there is a considerable congestion in front of the building every morning when those who are expecting letters call for them. I see no reason why a letter-carrier should not be appointed.
Mr. BROWN (Canobolas). - I agree with the honorable member for Hunter that it is not fair that the large business place whose telephone is in use practically the whole day should pay only at the same rate as the small trader in a country town, and that the charge to subscribers to a country exchange should not be as great as the charge to subscribers to whom thousands_of connexions are possible. I suggest to trie Minister that a considerable reduction in the telephone fees for country exchanges would greatly popularize the telephone in country districts. Within recent years a number of country towns have had telephone exchanges installed, and private individuals living 20 or 30 miles outside the town have in some instances been connected with the town exchange. This practice would, I think, extend if the heavy fees charged for such connexions were not so big a handicap. At the present time the town of Parkes, which is a very considerable business centre in my electorate, is considering the advisability of having a telephone exchange installed. There are a number of wouldbe subscribers in the town itself, but squatters, farmers, and others, living at a dis tance would also be glad to be connected with the exchange, so that they could communicate easily with business men and others in the town, if it were not for the very high rates which the Department charges for such services. Some difference should be made between the city rates and the rates charged to small country centres where the business done is nothing like so large. If, say, £5 per annum were charged, I think that exchanges would be established in a large number of country towns, and _ if outside subscribers are encouraged, i think the revenue from telephones will considerably increase.
– I desire to support the contention of the honorable member for Canobolas. He referred more particularly to country exchanges, but I have in my mind the need for giving better facilities to thickly-populated districts just beyond the metropolitan radius, for which, where telephone bureaux are established, the call rate is 6d. It often happens that the person going to a bureau can get no response to his call, so that the money is lost, and most people are apt to think twice before risking a coin in that way. Of course, there are some whose means are sufficient to make them superior to such considerations, but the districts which I have in my mind are populated mostly bv persons of small means, who ought to have telephonic facilities at a cheaper rate than that at which they now enjoy them. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will inquire whether effect cannot be given to the motion passed last session in favour of altering the regulations, with a view to cheapening telephonic communication.
– I agree with the honourable member, *for Lang that there should be some alteration in the ‘rates ; but I think that it should be by the adoption of the toll rate or flat, system. According to those who have made a study of this question, the toll system is finding most favour in other parts of the world. I desire the Minister to furnish some information with regard to the £30,000 proposed to be spent on the construction of a trunk telephone line between Sydney and Melbourne. I notice that the sum of £19,000 is debited to New South Wales, and that the Victorian share of the expenditure amounts to £11,000. Then I see that another sum of £4,000, which is debited to New South Wales, is to be devoted to work in connexion with the erection of trunk lines between Sydney and Melbourne. I should like to know whether the line is likely to pay, and whether an estimate has been made of the loss that will accrue to the Telegraph Department owing to the installation of the telephone system between the two capitals. Our object should be to make our Departments self-supporting, and at the same time to keep them up to date. I am quite aware that the telephone is largely superseding the telegraph, but we should proceed cautiously in constructing lines which would upset our present arrangements, and some definite information should be afforded on the subject. We know that if the proposed trunk line is constructed, we shall probably have to consider proposals for the provision of similar facilities between Melbourne and Adelaide, and possibly between Sydney and Brisbane, and we should keep these possibilities in view.
– I desire to impress upon the Postmaster-General the importance of doing everything he possibly can to extend telephone facilities to residents in the more remote country towns. I heartily congratulate the late PostmasterGeneral on the energy he displayed in extending these services, the value of which his experience enables him to highly appreciate. I do not wish to commend the honorable member for Macquarie at the expense of other administrators of the Post and Telegraph Department, but, even though his predecessors may have paved the way to some extent for what was accomplished by him, we should not withhold our approval of his action. Although much has been’ done -in the direction I have indicated, still more remains to be accomplished, and I think the aim of the PostmasterGeneral should be to extend to residents in the country districts the same conveniences; that are enjoyed by inhabitants of the larger and more important centres of population. At present it seems to be the rule of the Department not to construct telephone lines unless the officials are assured that they will prove payable from the outset. But I think that in a country like this it is desirable that we should strain a point in favour of those who are settled on the land, whom it should be our desire to assist in ‘every possible way. In many cases the Post and Telegraph officials have held the view that certain lines would not pay, but the results have proved much more satisfactory than thev anticipated. I am sure that I need not impress upon the Post master-General the necessity of continuing the good work performed by his predecessor, and I confidently leave the matter in his hands.
– I should like the Postmaster-General to give us some explanation with regard to the item of £1,000 towards the purchase of telephone lines held by subscribers under the purchase system, as a vote for this purpose is only required for New South Wales. I think that the Minister should explain why this expenditure is proposed to be incurred.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - With regard to the question of telephone rates, I desire to inform honorable members that regulations are now being framed, under which it is intended to reduce the cost of the telephone service in connexion with some of the smaller lines. Later on I hope to be able to submit a general scheme of uniform: rates for each State. At present the rates are much higher in some States than in others, and we hope to be able to bring about conditions which will at least make some closer approach to uniformity. We intend to reduce the cost of the telephone service as far as possible, particularly in the case of the smaller centres.
– Has the Minister decided to adopt call rates?
– I’ think honorable members had better wait until the regulations are completed. With regard to the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Yarra, my predecessor inquired very carefully into the proposal for the construction of the trunk telephone line between Melbourne and Sydney, and I hold in my hand a long report on the subject, the concluding paragraph of which reads as follows : -
Estimates have been obtained which indicated, in the opinion of the late Postmaster-General, that the revenue that would be derived from conversations over the line would, at the outset, exceed 10 per cent, on the cost of construction. It was also pointed out that the copper wires which would be used for the line would, if required, be available for telegraphic purposes.
– By whom were the estimates prepared?
– By the responsible officers of the Department. It is proposed to charge 6s. for the use of the line for three minutes.
– Can the Minister tell us what loss is likely to be incurred so far as the telegraph lines are concerned ?
– I cannot give any specific information on that point at present. As a rule, however, the estimates of revenue furnished by the officials are found to be rather below than above the actual result, particularly in connexion with telephone services. A large amount of quite unexpected business generally has to be provided’ ‘for, because persons who avail themselves of the service and appreciate its benefits relate their experiences to their friends, who are induced to also avail themselves of the opportunities offered.
– For how long doe’s the Minister suppose that he will be able to charge the rate of 6s. for three minutes’ use of the telephone line between Melbourne and Svdney ?
– That is a matter for the experts to determine; but I think business men would only be too ready to pay that charge at the present time. I should not be at all surprised if the revenue derived from this source proves to be in excess of the estimate. In the matter of the use of old telephone instruments in New South Wales. I desire to say that that State does not suffer so much hardship as do some of the other States. We are endeavouring to provide better instruments as opportunity offers. That is to say, as we obtain better instruments we are substituting them for the old ones. The honorable member for Gwydir has referred to the refusal of the Post and Telegraph authorities to construct telephone lines in localities where they will not pay. In this connexion it must be recollected that the Department is supposed to be worked upon commercial lines. If our officers report not only that a line will not pay, but that it is never likely to pay, we have to proceed with extreme caution. At the same time, I admit that, in order to convenience the public, we should be prepared to take certain risks, particularly in the outlying portions of the country, because,, as settlement progresses, we are bound to obtain an increased revenue. As regards the question of providing a lettercarrier at Kurri Kurri, I merely wish to remark that that is a new township, and the honorable member for Hunter may rest assured that his representations will receive every consideration. As the sum of £30,000 or £40,000 has already been advanced by the Treasurer to enable certain of these works to be. proceeded with I am . very anxious that the Committee should pass the Estimates relating to them this afternoon. When the Estimates in chief are under consideration I shall be glad to supply honorable members with any further information which they may desire.
– Surely the trunk telephone line between Melbourne and Sydney has not yet been started?
– 1 have no desire to delay the Committee in coming to a decision on these Estimates. The Postmaster-General has declared that the Department must exercise caution in sanctioning the construction of lines which are not likely to prove immediately remunerative. I should like to know whether that caution on the part of the authorities is carried to the extreme of refusing to answer letters which are addressed to them on these subjects, because that has been the experience in some instances. As far as I am concerned- apart from. the proposed expenditure on the trunk telephone line between Melbourne and Sydney - these Estimates contain nothing of a controversial character. On that question, however, I propose to divide the Committee, and therefore I suggest to the PostmasterGeneral that the consideration of that item should be postponed. I also desire to ascertain whether we are. committed to any expenditure in connexion with the proposed trunk line to which I have referred.
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).As Postmaster-General in the late Government, I accept responsibility for having recommended the construction of the proposed telephone line between Melbourne and Sydney.
– The honorable member has no responsibility, save as a private member of the House.
– But in my capacity as Postmaster-General I had an opportunity of looking into this matter very carefully.
– I am prepared to postpone the consideration of the item in question.
– I wish to know whether the proposed expenditure for the construction of new telephone lines will be limited to those ^ which are specifically determined’ upon now?
– Certainly not.
– Will there be any reserve fund out of which lines that may be asked for during the current year can be constructed ?
– I think it would be well if the large sum of money proposed to be expended on the trunk telephone line between Melbourne and Sydney were devoted to the extension of postal conveniences to country districts. 1 agree with the honorable member for Gwydir that if we wish to encourage the settlement of people on the land we must make .the conveniences of civilization as accessible to them as possible. In order to accomplish that end we should be prepared to make some sacrifices. Even if certain telephone lines do not immediately return interest on their capital cost in addition to working expenses, I do not think that the loss so incurred represents a waste of public money.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - In answer to the observations of the honorable member for Brisbane, I would point out that, under the old system which obtain? in New South Wales, some people own their own telephone instruments. These we are gradually purchasing. In reply to the honorable member for Moira, I -wish to say that no expenditure has been incurred in connexion with the trunk telephone line ,to which he alluded.
Mr. TUDOR (Yarra).- In connexion with the construction and extension of telephone lines, instruments, and material, I wish to know why - although only £20,000 was appropriated for that purpose last year - the sum of £22,459 was expended?
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - The expenditure under this head for the year 1904-5 was £22,459, or £2AS9 in excess of the appropriation. The amount now provided, £25,000, will be required to permit of necessary extensions of the telephone system ; the establishment of new telephone exchanges, the purchase of Ericsson instruments, cable, &c, and,also to cover the cost of labour, cartage, and requisite material. I presume that the other expenditure was carried out by way of transfer.
Mr. TUDOR (Yarra).- I think that the system under which more money is spent than is actually appropriated for a specific purpose is a bad one.
– It happens constantly.
– There are only three or four items in these Estimates in which that course has been followed.
– The honorable member will find scores of instances in the general Estimates.
– I am prepared to allow the item to pass on the understanding that no money will be expended that has not actually been passed for payment.
– I wish to obtain some information from the PostmasterGeneral’ in reference to the item relating to the construction and extension of telegraph lines. There are two proposed lines in my electorate to which I desire especially to refer. Application has been made on several occasions for the construction of one of these - a line from Stannary Hills to Irvinebank - in which a large mining company is particularly interested. I believe that on more than one occasion this company has proffered to pay a considerable portion of the expense of erecting the line, which would extend over a .distance of 15 miles, but that for some reason or other the Department has failed to proceed with it. Judging by a communication that I have received the work has been under consideration for some time, and I should like to have some explanation, as to the reason for the delay. The other proposed line to which I desire to refer would run between Herberton and Atherton, a distance of about 12 miles, and would connect two fairly large and important centres - the one being an agricultural and the other a mining district. 1 should be pleased to hear what the PostmasterGeneral has to say in regard to these projects.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenM’onaro - Postmaster-General). - - The reports so far received have not been very favorable to the construction of the two lines in question ; but further representations having been made, the Deputy PostmasterGeneral at Brisbane has been requested to furnish an additional report. It that report be favorable, the Department will have the funds to construct both lines ; but until such a report is received I cannot say. that the work will be carried out. I promise the honorable member that I shall look into the matter, and deal with it in the light of the fresh information we are seeking to obtain.
– Subdivision 4 includes the item -
Additional plant required for printing postage stamps, postal notes, and money order forms (revote), £1,302.
This amount was voted last year, and I should like to know what is to be done, for the Adelaide office is very well equipped, and is conducted on economical lines. 1 understand that it is intended to give the Committee another opportunity to discuss this matter, but I think it would be well to postpone the w.hole subdivision.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - I trust that the honorable member will not press his proposal. The honorable member for Grey and other representatives of South Australia have asked for an opportunity to discuss a proposal to omit this item, and I have promised that it shall be afforded them at a later stage. I shall then be able to give the honorable member for Coolgardie the information that he” desires.
Mr. CULPIN (Brisbane).- This item appears to involve the transfer to South Australia of certain work now being carried out in Brisbane. Apparently, the intention is that postage stamps required for Queensland shall henceforth be printed in Adelaide, and I fail to see why we should allow this item to pass without offering a vigorous protest. I hope that the subdivision will be postponed.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - This item, affecting as it does the printing of postage stamps, has given rise to a good deal of controversy, and honorable members have asked to be supplied with further information as to the intention of the Department. There will be another opportunity to discuss the proposal, and honorable members will then be afforded the fullest information on the subject. The printing of stamps is now being carried on in several printing offices, but the work is to be consolidated. The printing of stamps is very similar to the printing of bank notes, and needs to be carefully supervised. At present we have only one Commonwealth printing establishment, and that is in South Australia. In all the other States our printing is carried out by the Government Printing Offices of those States. I ask honorable members, in the light of this explanation, and in view of the promise I have given,, not to oppose the passing of the subdivision.
– In view of the explanation given by the Minister I shall not oppose the passing of the subdivision, although it certainly relates to a matter that is of great importance to the States of
Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales, which have their own printing establishments, and print their own stamps. Tasmania and Western Australia have had their stamps printed in the other States; but iff. the proposition is that all stamps required for the Commonwealth shall be printed in South Australia, I shall have something to say with regard to it.
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).The proposal is that all our stamps shall be printed in the one State. Honorable members must realize that the Commonwealth derives a very large revenue from the sale of stamps, and that it is necessary that we should exercise great care to prevent any improper manipulation or forgery in connexion with the work of printing them. At the right time, I shall be very pleased to give further information on this subject.
Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- I think, on further consideration, that as we have now reached the usual adjournment hour, and honorable members desire to get away, it would be well to postpone subdivision 5, for it involves large questions of policy. The failure of the Department to realize the conditions of isolated settlements in Australia requires exhaustive consideration at the hands of the Committee. A good deal has been said to-day and on other occasions about the wonderful improvements in telephoning which have been i made by the introduction of the condenser system. What I contend is that the real needs of Australia, especially of its remoter portions, have not been improved by anything which has yet been done. Wherever a telephone has been established under the condenser system, there was previously a telegraph office. But the position’ I have to present to the Committee is that Government after Government have made no real attempt to meet the necessities of the outlying and pioneering settlements. I would ask the PostmasterGeneral not to press this subdivision until we have an opportunity of discussing the policy of the Government, and especial I v the remarks he made to-day as to his individual willingness to extend telephones and telegraphs in advance of the revenue-earning possibilities of the lines. If the Government are prepared to adopt that view, I shall have no more tto say on the subject; but I have heard only the Postmaster-General express his opinion, and I am not too sure that his colleagues agree with him. However, that is a matter for settlement amongst themselves. Up to the present moment, the Department, as well as the Postmaster-General, has carried out a totally different policy. I represent a district which contains a great many of these remote settlements, and in which a line over a vast distance necessarily cannot pay. My complaint is that the PostmasterGeneral states one thing here, and that when I write to the Department I get a totally different answer. It is only fair, however, to say that every PostmasterGeneral has carried out this policy.
– Why did not the honorable member fix up these things when he was in office?
– I could not, as I shall explain to my honorable friend.
– If the honorable member intends to discuss this question at any length, we are willing, to postpone the subdivision.
– Very well.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - As the honorable member for. Coolgardie desires to discuss several items which are included in this subdivision, I think it might be postponed, and the subdivision relating to Tasmania taken. So that there may be no misunderstanding as to what I said to-day, I wish to make arn explanation. If an application be made for the expenditure of several thousand pounds on the erection of a telegraph line, and the revenue is estimated to amount to £100 or £200, I do not suggest for a moment that we ought to seriously consider such a proposal. But where the estimated revenue approaches nearly to the amount prescribed, and the line will serve a sparsely populated district, from which, by giving the people more conveniences, an increase of revenue may be derived, we ought not to adhere too closely to a hard-and-fast rule, and say that because the revenue is a few pounds less than the amount fixed, the service cannot be given, and the people must wait until they can absolutely prove that a line would pay. However, we are willing to postpone this subdivision.
– Last year, in order to prevent any complications from arising, the practice was laid down that in such a case the subdivision- would be taken as not having been moved.
Proposed vote agreed to, with the exception of items 1 and. 7 of subdivision 1, and item 3 of subdivision 2, postponed ; and subdivision 5 not moved.
-! rise to make an appeal to the Prime/ Minister to adjourn now, and not to proceed with the second reading of the Representation Bill. The reason why I ask for an adjournment is because that measure deals with a very important question.
– That is why I wish . to have the Bill launched.
– Because of its importance, I think that its second reading ought not to be moved until next week. Saturday! is always a bad day to get the report of a speech in the press, and there will be no Hansard report of the Minister’s speech available for a week.
– I thought of that, and I intend to ask the chief of the Hansard staff to arrange for honorable members to be supplied with proof slips on Monday or Tuesday. The second reading of the Bill is to be moved to-day simply to save time, because some honorable members wish to discuss its provisions next week.
– I do not think it will save time. I believe it would save time if the second reading of the Bill were moved when honorable members were present, and had an opportunity to elicit all the facts.
– Proof slips will be available for honorable members.
– I think that the adoption of this course will lengthen, and not shorten, the debate.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is one of those machinery Bills which rise superior to party considerations. It is introduced, to complete the machinery of the Constitution relating to representation, by making provision for a definite decision as regards the periods at which the determination of the number of members for1 each State shall be fixed. Last session this ques- tion incidentally came up for consideration before a. Select Committee of this House which sat on electoral representation, and which consisted of Mr. Batchelor, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Fowler, Mr. Groom, Mr. Kelly, Sir William Lyne, Mr. Mauger, Mr. McCay, Mr. McDonald, Mr. McLean’, Mr. Poynton, Mr. Sydney Smith, Mr. Storrer, and Mr. Brown. I propose to quote only one paragraph from the report -
The returns of the population of the Commonwealth, upon which the determination of the number of members of the House of Representatives was made, have been questioned. Your Committee recommend that in future it should be made certain that an uniform system for the determination of the population be adopted by statisticians of the States. In the absence of any definite rule under section 24 of the Constitution, your Committee are of opinion that Parliament should, at an early date, take into consideration the question of fixing periods for the determination of the number of representatives of the several States.
In their report, in which they were unanimous, the Committee recognised that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the existing condition of affairs, and that therefore it was desirable that the House should, at the earliest opportunity, take into consideration the advisability of laying down some clear and definite rules whereby, superior to any party considerations that) might arise, the very important question of the representation of’ the States might be dealt with. I think honorable members will agree with me when I state that the question of the representation of the States is of the greatest possible importance. It is important to the States which may at any time be concerned’, because it may mean a subtraction from, or an addition to, the number of their representatives. It is important to the House, because it may involve the removal of a representative from one geographical area to another. It is most necessary, therefore, that we should lav clown, on clear, definite, and non-party lines, the principles which should underlie the regulation and determination of the number of representatives of each State. I ask honorable members to consider three propositions. The first is - What are the provisions of the Constitution dealing with” the subject? The, second is - What are the defects arising from the existing conditions? And the third is - What remedies do we propose for those defects? Those are the three points with which I propose to deal. In the first place, the law is to be found in section 24 of the Constitution, which reads as foi lows :; -
The House of Representatives shall be composed of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth, and the number of such members shall be, as nearly as practicable, twice the number of the senators.
The number of members chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people, and shall, until the Parliament otherwise provides, be determined whenever necessary, in the following manner : -
A quota shall be ascertained by dividing the number of the people of the Commonwealth, as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth, by twice the number of the senators.
The number of members to be chosen in each State shall be determined by dividing the number of the people of the State, as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth, by the quota; and if on such division there is a remainder greater than one-half of the quota, one more member shall be chosen in the State.
The fundamental principle underlying that section is that the number of members chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the existing number of the people. The number of the people in the various States is to be regarded as the determining factor. When ‘we come to deal with a measure of this sort, that must be recognised as a principle from! which we cannot deviate. No matter what legislation we introduce, we must regard that as one of the fundamental principles of the Constitution; and it will be seen, when the clauses of this Bill are studied, that clue regard has been given to it.
– How frequently is that principle to be applied?
– I will explain that at a later stage. The section of the Constitution is vague and unsatisfactory. I will indicate what I consider to be the defects of the existing state of affairs. The section provides that -
The number of members chosen in the several States shall be . determined whenever necessary.
That is the language of the Constitution - “whenever necessary.” We cannot gather from the wording of the section any underlying principle to guide the House as to what is and what is not! to be regarded as being “necessary.” There is nothing in the section to suggest- any specific time, or any specific set of circumstances, or any specific set of facts. That point is left vague, undefined, and uncertain. It is unsatisfactory for this reason - that if we take the section in the strict sense, “whenever necessary “ may be taken to mean “ whenever, by returns which have been sent in either quarterly or annually, it appears that the allocation of representation is out of proportion to the population.” It may mean, if construed very strictly, that the matter is to be determined every year, or perhaps every half-year. Taken in its strictest sense, it would seem to indicate - or, at least, ‘this could be argued - that, whenever it is shown to be necessary, in the very beginning of the year, or in the middle of the year, or at the end of the year, Parliament should pass such a law as would alter the electorates of the States ; that, as circumstances fluctuate from time to time, there should be a redistribution of seats, and the whole existing proportions of representation altered. I contend that that would be a highly unsatisfactory thing to continue. The next point is this : The section says that -
The number of members chosen . . . shall, until the Parliament otherwise provides, be determined whenever necessary in the following manner.
A further difficulty has arisen around those words as to who is to determine. Is it the Executive of the day, or Parliament itself? The view which I do strongly urge - although I hope to lay down a course of procedure which will not render it necessary to argue the point - is that it is Parliament that has this supreme right, that it was intended that Parliament should be the judge, and determine the matter when necessary. It was never intended, in my view, to leave it to the Executive of the day, of its own motion, to declare when it should and when it should not be regarded as necessary. In Quick and Garran, page 454, the learned authors seem to hold a similar opinion. They say -
Parliamentary authority, however, would appear to be required for two purposes : - (i) to provide for the preparation of the latest statistics, and to identify those statistics by law ; and (2) to declare when reapportionment is “ necessary.” As the statistics are at the root of the representative system, it is important that they should be clearly recognised and identified by Act of Parliament; and even when that has been done, it will be most undesirable that the Executive should be left to decide for itself whether reapportionments were necessary.
In those words the authors lay it down that it is for Parliament to decide the status of the statistics, and to define that by act of law ; and consequently it is for Parliament to declare when a reapportionment of members is necessary.
– Has not the Executivealready declared by proclamation in the Gazette ?
– The Executive has by an Executive act declared certain statistics; to be the latest statistics of the Commonwealth; but my contention, is that we should lay down in this Bill definite and settled principles, which) will put upon a clear, sound, and legal footing the representation of the States, so that the process of distribution may proceed without question and without cavil. The matter is of such vital importance, striking, as it does,, at the very foundation of the representative system, that it should be put upon a clear, sound, and definite basis* so as to be beyond all dispute.
– The same consideration applies to compiling the electoral rolls-
– I quite agree that that also should be on a sound basis. The existing condition is highly unsatisfactory, because it is uncertain when a redistribution should take place. It leaves Parliament in a very unsettled state, because it does not know how long the particular unit which constitutes an electorate is to continue. It is highly unsatisfactory to she Executive of the day, because, whatever party may be in power, it is subject to the charge of gerrymandering. The suggestion is made either that this party isdoing something with the intention of depriving a certain State of its representation, or that another party is doing something which will have the effect of adding a member to another State. The method is unsatisfactory to the House, because honorable members are constantly confronted with the fact that it may be necessary, from the statistics furnished, to have a redistribution. And yet agitations may be started and the Executive asked to postpone the doing of what should be done as a matter of right to some individual States. As I pointed out, this method is highly unsatisfactory to the Executive who happen to be intrusted at the particular period with the charge of public affairs. A recognition of those facts should lead us to take definite action, in order to put the whole business on a sound and stable footing. I hope honorable members will accept my statement that I do not, in any way, desire to introduce any party element into the debate, but rather to deal with the subject purely from the view of general principles ; so that, on what is a most . important subject,, we may calmly deliberate free from the colour of our particular party opinions or actions. What is the remedy proposed in order to deal with this state of affairs? Naturally the suggestion is that that which is uncertain shall be made certain; that that which is undefined shall be made clear and denned; that a matter which leads to friction and to Inter-State jealousies and disturbances, shall be placed in an atmosphere where friction and jealousy cannot arise; and that we shall lay down clear, definite, and decided rules by which the representation of the States may be determined. With those objects in view’ this measure is submitted to the House. In order that honorable members may see that we are not altogether departing from the beaten path of precedent, I may refer them to the Constitution of the “United States, article 1, section 2, clause 3, in which it is laid down that -
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within the Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined toy adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three.fifths of all other persons. The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.
– In the Bill the period is made every five years.
– That is a departure from the procedure of all civilized nations
– I shall explain that point presently. The principle, under the United States Constitution, is to have a decennial enumeration, and to act on that enumeration.
– Would not a decennial enumeration do here?
– If the honorable member will permit me, I shall deal with that point when explaining the clauses of the Bill. In Canada, under section 37 of the British North American Act 1867, the provision is -
The House of Commons shall, subject to .the -provisions of this Act, consist of r8r members, of whom eighty-two shall be elected for Ontario, sixty-five for Quebec, nineteen for Nova Scotia, and fifteen for New Brunswick.
The provision goes on - -
On the completion of the census in the year 1S71, and of each subsequent decennial census, the representation of the four Provinces shall be readjusted by such authority, in such manner, and from such time, as the Parliament of Canada from time to time provides. ^
This is subject to certain rules, which I need not read! In Canada the practice appears to be that at some time after a census has been taken in accordance with the principle of the Constitution, a Redistribution Bill shall be passed by the House itself; and so recently as 1903 such a Bill was passed. In New Zealand the electorates are divided by the Commissioners on the principle of having an enumeration, and, after that, a redistribution. In that Colony an enumeration is made as often as there is a census taken, and, I understand, this is done on a quinquennial basis, so that every five years there may be a redistribution. Such are the different methods in which this problem has been solved in other political communities which correspond to our -own. In the original draft of the Commonwealth Constitution Bill, made for the Convention of 1891, it was provided -
A fresh apportionment of representatives to the States shall be made after each census of the people of the Commonwealth, which shall be taken at intervals not longer than ten years. But a fresh apportionment shall not take effect until the then next general election.
The Convention, for some reason of its own, saw fit to reject that provision, and the matter was dealt with in the vague and uncertain terms which appear in the existing Constitution. The Bill now before honorable members sets out the method1 by which it is proposed to put the representation of the States upon a clearer and better footing. The underlying principle is that it shall be necessary to ascertain the number of the people in each State at certain defined periods which are fixed, that is, not every ten years, but every five years.
– Are we going to have a five years’ census?
– I shall explain that point. The idea is that we shall not at the present time have a quinquennial census, but if a quinquennial census is made, then the proportions for representation will be determined by the census at each period of five years. If, however, there be a decennial census, then every day on which the ^census is taken shall be held to be’ an enumeration day, and the result of that enumeration, taken under the census, shall be the basis of the determining the proportion of representation.
– Would that not entail a redistribution before a general election, if Parliament ran out full period?
– The Bill provides that if Parliament be sitting, and a census be taken during its currency, then at the next succeeding general election effect shall be given to the census, if it be possible and practicable to carry out a redistribution in the meantime. One’ set of enumeration days are the census days, and in the intervening periods it is proposed that there shall be a determination of the population on the principles which are laid down in the schedule to the Bill itself. Clause 4 provides that on an enumeration day which is not a census day, the enumeration shall be in accordance with the schedule, and the schedule lays down certain rules which are to be observed. In the first place a starting point is made from the last census returns. Say, for instance, that a census is taken in the year 191 1, and an enumeration has to be made in 1916; in that case regard is paid to the census taken in the year 191 1. In the meantime, of course, there may be increases or decreases of population, and those increases or decreases are to be added to. the census returns after having been determined1 by the following methods set out in the schedule : - In the first place the returns of the births and deaths are to be considered, and in the second place the arrivals and departures both by sea and land are to be taken into account. Then, in order to provide for inaccuracies, certain percentages are allowed for unrecorded arrivals and departures by land and sea. Those percentages have been worked out by the statisticians of the various States, and are for the time being embodied in this Bill. That, shortly, is the principle on which it is proposed to determine these matters.
– Is all this machinery necessary simply because it is proposed to have an enumeration every five years instead of accepting the figures of the decennial census?
– Schedule B, to which I have referred, is necessary because there is not a census every five years, and we must in a measure of this kind lay down some definite rules of universal application.
– And the more exact they are the better it will be.
– They are laid down here exactly, and if it is found necessary at any time to modify these principles, provision is made that the alterations made shall be set out in regulations which must be submitted to Parliament, so that Parliament shall know what is being done.
– What is the rule to be followed in regard to increases or decreases which are approximations, and cannot be stated exactly?
– As regards unrecorded passages by sea, certain rules with respect to them are provided for. I refer honorable members to the report of the Statistician’s Conference, which was held in Melbourne in 1903. They worked out a certain number of percentages based absolutely on census returns and records of departures by land and by sea, and these have been adopted.
– When a census has been taken in the past, the result has been to prove such estimates to be incorrect.
– When estimates have been made in the past there has not, until lately, been uniformity in the methodadopted throughout the different States. The rules laid down in the schedule to this Bill have been agreed to by the statisticians of the States as embodying the principles which should guide them in estimating population during periods intervening between one census and another.
– Is there any other country in which a five years’ enumeration has been adopted?
– In New Zealand a five years’ period is adopted for electoral purposes.
– We adopted a five years’ period in Queensland for many years.
Mr.GROOM. - Yes, in Queensland there was for a considerabletime a quinquennial census.
– Were they for electoral purposes ?
– No ; in order to as certain the increase of population.
– The reason for fixing a five Years’ period is that it is recognised that in. a country like Australia a State may atany time receive a large increase of population from various causes.
– That applies even more forcibly to Canada.
– Exactly. But, so far * as Australia is concerned, the idea underlying the adoption of the five years’ period in this Bill is to keep Parliament in touch with the masses of the people.
– But it does not matter where a man is in Australia, if he has a vote.
– It may be a very important matter to a particular State. The desire is, without having too frequent alterations in the representation, to recognise at the same time that in a Commonwealth like Australia there are likely to be fluctuations of the population. There may be an increase in one centre, and a decrease in another, and it is desirable to harmonize our representation with the movements of population which may from time to time take place. Suppose five of the States were to remain stationary in the matter of population, and another to increase its population very largely. Suppose, for instance, a State like Queensland were to increase its population suddenly by 1,000,000 persons, that would throw the existing basis of representation entirely out of joint. We are proposing to adopt a period which will enable us to make adjustments in the event of changes in population, but which, at the same time, will not require a too frequent distribution of the electorates. We try to recognise the democratic principle of keeping the House in touch with the people, while at the same time we preserve that stability in the representation of the various States which is necessary to prevent frequent local disturbance and dis- turbance in Parliament itself.
– The Parliament will be equally in touch with the people wherever they are registered.
– That might or might not be so. A representative coming from a northern State might take very different views from those held by one coming from a southern State. There are certain States’ influences which we must recognise as developing and moulding a man’s ideas. The principle of this measure is of course to exclude all questions of party, and questions likely to cause Inter-State friction, and to lay down absolutely just principles on which these matters shall be determined. I think it will be exceedingly gratifying to the House if we can succeed in doing so. It will certainly be a relief to the Executive of the day, and to honorable members as well. I propose to explain briefly the provisions of the Bill. Clause 2 provides that for the purpose of determining the number of representatives an ascertainment shall be made of the population of the Commonwealth. The inquiry is to be made by tha Commonwealth Electoral Officer. He is to base his calculation upon returns supplied to him either by the Commonwealth Statistician, or by the Stales Statisticians in the event of there being no Commonwealth Statistician. The States Statisticians are required by a subsequent clause to base their returns on a clearly defined and uniform basis.
– Is it proposed that the first enumeration shall be taken on the basis of the 1 90 1 census or upon a new census?
– If the honorable and . learned member will allow me, I will put it in this way : The fixed enumeration day is the census day. An enumeration day will be appointed, immediately after the passing of this Bill, in order to bring it into operation.
– The first will be on the 1901 census?
– It will be on the 1901 census plus the returns supplied by the statisticians upon the uniform principles laid down in this Bill. There will after: wards be a census day, and on the expiration of the fifth year after each census day there will be an enumeration on the principles laid down in this schedule.
– Is it implied by clause 2 that the first enumeration shall really be a census?
– No, it is not intended that the first shall be a census.
– - Only an estimate.
– The census will not fall due until March, 1911, when the next decennial census will take place. The intention of the clause is that after the passing of this Bill the Commonwealth Electoral Officer shall appoint an enumeration day, in order that it may be determined what are the proper proportions for the representation of the various States in this House. After that the next enumeration day will be a census day, and so the enumeration and census1 days will alternate, unless in the meantime! Parliament makes provision for a quinquennial census-. I do not think th’at the Parliament is likely to do that, because of the cost, the last census having cost the States £117,000 for collection and compilation alone.
– Then why cannot we wait until 1 91 1 before taking the first enumeration?
– It is necessary to provide for certain defined periods of enumeration. The Constitution says “ whenever necessary,” and it is alleged to be shown to be necessary now by the returns made. I am looking at this matter from an absolutely impartial point of view, my desire being to do absolute justice as between the States.
– Does the Bill improve the situation at all? Will the Minister be able to get more information when it is passed than he can get now?
– It improves the situation by affording an opportunity to obtain information supplied according to principles approved by Parliament. After the numbers have been ascertained, the Chief Electoral Officer is to issue a certificate containing the results of his inquiry, and if it appears that any State should have an additional member, or should lose a member, a redistribution of seats will be ordered in that State. Clause 10 provides that if an alteration should take place in the number of the representatives of any State during the continuance of a Parliament, it shall not affect the existing House, but shall apply only at the next elections. If the Bill is passed, the Commonwealth Electoral Officer will be asked to fix an enumeration day. He will ascertain from the statisticians of the States the information required, and if it appears that the representation of any State should be altered, a redistribution of seats will be ordered, on the basis of the necessary alteration. Of course, we know that the electoral quotas are now so out of joint that a redistribution will be necessary, and it will be carried into effect so as to operate at the next general election.
– Is itpossible that this may affect the redistribution that has already been laid before Parliament?
– It is possible that it may. The intention is to put matters on a legal basis, and to let Parliament lay down rules to determine when it is necessary to have a redistribution.
– To take matters out of the hands of the Executive.
– Is not that the whole point of the Bill?
– The object of the Bill is to put everything on a definite and sound legal basis, by laying down certain principles to be followed in future.
– If Parliament decides that, the numbers for any State shall be those of the last distribution, is that distribution to be accepted?
– Parliament will lay down, rules and ask the Electoral Officer to carry them into effect. It is not that we distrust each other, and would not be fair and just, but that we wish our motives to be beyond suspicion, and it is therefore better that these things should be dealt with according to fixed principles, the justice of which can be appreciated by the public at large. I hope that the Billwill be passed into law, because I think that it will be a valuable addition to the constitutional machinery of the Commonwealth. It will be necessary to make a slight verbal amendment in clause 3, paragraph b, in order to make it more explicit. The Government submit the measure in a nonparty spirit, and I hope to see it dealt within that spirit.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Johnson) adjourned.
Commonwealth Printing : Order of Business : High Court : Representation Bill : Non-delivery of Post-Cards.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I should like some information as to the reason why the printing of postage stamps, postal notes, money orders, and similar papers is to be taken from the Brisbane Government Printing Office. The State of Queensland hasgone to a lot of expense to obtain a printing plant second to none in the Commonwealth, and I do not understand the reasonof the change. Postage stamps, money orders, and postal notes being the equivalent of money, should, of course, be in thehands of the Treasurer. No Departmentshould be able to issue its own papermoney.
– The stamps are practically receipts for money.
-£1worth of postage stamps are as valuable as a sovereign, and the Treasurer should be the only man tocontrol their issue.
– I. hope that weshall have An. opportunity to discuss that question on Tuesday next.
– On several occasions honorable members have urged the desirableness of the Prime Minister, when moving the adjournment of the House, indicating the business which he proposes to take at the next sitting, and I suggest that the Prime Minister should adopt that practice, as itwould be of great assistance to honorable members.
– I notice that some letters are missing from the. correspondence, of which copies have been laid upon the fable of the House, between the present Attorney-General and the ex- Attorney-Generals and the Just tices of the High Court. I understand that the order of the House was that the whole of the correspondence should be published’, and I am assured that one letter is missing. There is a reference in the correspondence to a letter of the 8th May, which seems to be a very important communication, but it hasnot been included in the papers laid upon the table. I understand, also, that a confidential letter was written by the right honorable member for East Sydney, when he was leading the late Government, but I scarcely expected that would be published. Further, during a recent debate reference was made to a letter which had been sent by the Prime Minister to the ex-Prime Minister.
– I do not remember any such letter.
– A conversation, which took place between the Prime Minister and the right honorable member for East Sydney seemed to indicate that some such communication had passed between them. If there are any missing letters, we should be supplied with copies of them. In regard to the Representation Bill, various opinions have been expressed by the present Prime Minister, the ex-Attorney-General, and the present Attorney-General which would be of much assistance to honorable members if they were available during the discussion of that measure. There are some indications that a combination may be formed between honorable members on the Government and Opposition benches against honorable members sitting in the Ministerial corner, and in view of that possibility I think: we should be supplied with the fullest information.
– I desire to. direct the attention of the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Postmaster-General, to thefact that several complaints have been made in different quarters with regard to the non-delivery of post-cards. The practice of sending and collecting postcards has developed to a very large extent of late, and cases have come under my notice in which post-cards have not been delivered. In one instance, six postcards were posted at the Melbourne General Post Office, and only three were delivered. On another occasion, eight postcards were posted at a suburban post-office, and two were undelivered. I notice also a letter published in this morning’s Argus, which cites a case similar to those I have mentioned.
– I shall direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to the regretable occurrences mentionedby the honorable member’ for Lang. In reply to the honorable member for Corio, there will be no objection to furnish copies of whatever’ letters are referred to in the document mentioned by him, excepting, of course, the confidential letter written by the ex-Prime Minister. The honorable and learned member is mistaken in assuming that any correspondence has passed between myself and the ex-Prime Minister on the subject of the dispute between the late AttorneyGeneral and the High Court Judges. If the honorable and learned member refers to Hansard he will see that I stated that I had sent a warning to the ex-Prime Minister, conveyed viva voce, to the effect that on the High Court questionI held decided views, and, if necessary, would take decided action. With regard to the order of business, it is proposed to proceed on Tuesday with the Appropriation (New Works and Buildings’) Bill, which we hope to dispose of in time to forward it to the. Senate on Wednesday. When the measure has been passed’ by another Chamber, we. shall have obtained authority for all the expenditure on public works contemplated for the current year. Following on the disposal of that, measure, it is intended to resume the ‘debate on’ the Representation Bill, the Census Bill, and, if time permits, the Commerce Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 5.8 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 September 1905, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19050908_reps_2_26/>.