2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is there any satisfactory reason why the Government should not at once bring in a Bill to protect the makers of harvesting machinery, and to relieve other suffering industries?
– The matter is under the consideration of the Government.
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports is reported to have made the following statement on this subject last night: -
He would undertake to say, without doubt, that if Mr. Carpenter could get a resolution carried in the labour caucus on Wednesday to support the Government, that the Government would bring down such a proposal as this next week. (Loud cheers.) The Government that refused to do so could have no further claim on his support, or that of any other protectionist. (Hear, hear.) He believed the Government was anxious to take action.
-It has given no sign yet.
– He was sure, if the Labour Party supported this proposal, the session would not end without a practical proposal from the Government.
Had the honorable member any authority for so stating the mind and opinion of the Government? Have the Government it in contemplation to bring down such a proposal to the House, seeing that to do so would involve a flagrant breach of their promises to their constituents?
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports, like any other honorable member, is entitled to form his own opinions concerning the probable action of a Government with whose views he may assume to be reasonably acquainted; but I know of no direct communication to which he could have referred. The Government have this matter under consideration, not as a fiscal question, but as one involving an entirely different set of issues, which probably could not be disposed of, at all events, effectively, by fiscal means alone.
– Are the Government’ prevented from taking necessary action against the American Harvester Trust on account of any attitude adopted by the Labour Party?
– I have no means of knowing the attitude of the Labour Party on the question. Certain members of the party have made it clear by their public utterances that they are stronglv in favour of action being taken, but I do not know the opinion of the others.
– Therefore, the Government have not been prevented from taking action by the attitude of the Labour Party ?
– I have no knowledge of the attitude of the Labour Party on the subject.
– I should like to know from you, Mr. Speaker, whether, in the event of a Bill being introduced by the Government to increase the duty on harvesters, it would be competent for an honorable member topropose to amend it to provide for the imposition of a duty on some other article; that is to say., would the introduction of such a Bill necessarily reopen the whole fiscal question?
– I should prefer to have the measure and the suggested amendment before me before giving a final opinion on the point, Ifthe honorable member desires any further statement, I may be able to answer him more fully tomorrow if he cares to ask a question on the subject then.
– Seeing that the Labour members generally in Melbourne are so anxious for a higher duty on harvesters, will, the Prime Minister inform the’ House and those members in particular df the Government intend to do anything in regard to the old-age pensions question this session?
– If all the suggestions now being made are accepted, it will be hard ‘ to say what will not be considered this session, but I very much doubt if that question! can be dealt with, in view of the practicable possibilities.
– We are quite prepared to remain here to deal with it.
– Hear, hear. We should be willing to remain in session for another two months to ‘have it dealt with.
– Has the report of the Public Service Commissioner on the criticisms made by honorable members upon the Public Service classification vet been, placed before the House ? If not, will it be made available to honorable members?
– I have already promised to lay the report on the table. It is now being printed, arid will be made available at the earliest possible date.
– This week?
– I cannot say.’ It will be laid upon the table and made available as soon as it is printed.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers: -
Report of the Secretary to the Department of External Affairs on New Guinea.
Report of the Public Service Commissioner on the several matters referred to in Parliament in regard to the Classification of the Public Service.
Ordered to be printed.
Recommendations, &c, and approval of the promotion of Mr. W. D. I-I. Claxton to be Accountant, Postmaster-General’s Department, Adelaide.
The Clerk laid upon the table
Return to an order of the House, dated 29th August, giving the cost of Royal Commissions and Select Committees.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– I am informed that -
asked the* Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– On behalf of my honorable colleague, I have to State -
The name of the successful tenderer was not previously given as the firm did not think it necessary, and I agreed not to do so, unless the honorable member persisted in his desire foi that information.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, Upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable ‘member -
“TOLL” TELEPHONE SYSTEM.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
In reference to his answer as to the religious service to be held by the Commonwealth at Albert Park on the 13th November, made to the House on the 26th inst., and his statement that the same will be conducted by Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplains -
– I am informed -
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 27th October, vide page. 4260) :
– I take it that there is to be a general discussion on this division.
– We should have a statement from the Postmaster-General first.
– If that is so, I am willing to give way.
., - If I make a statement now, I may omit to mention the very matters about which honorable members desire information, so that I think it will be more conducive to the transaction of business if I reserve my remarks until honorable members have indicated the points on which they wish to be informed. These Estimates were framed practically by my predecessor, and although I went carefully through them, I made very few alterations in them. They may not be as perfect as honorable members would like to see them, but I think that they will be admitted to be fairly satisfactory. The aim of the Government in connexion with the administration of this Department is progress tempered with prudence. We desire to afford all the facilities possible to the settlers in the back blocks.
– The Department charges them very heavily for whatever service is rendered.
– We have to charge for the services rendered, because the Post and Telegraph Department is run upon commercial lines. This principle is so far recognised that the Government intend to in every possible way curtail the expenditure upon ornamental and otherwise costly buildings in order that as much money as possible may be devoted to. providing postal and telegraph facilities for residents in the outlying districts. We are endeavouring to meet the demands for extended telephone facilities, and to’ confer upon the public the advantages of the improvements made from time to time in mechanical and other contrivances relating to the services of the Department. I shall be very pleased to give honorable members any information that I am in a position to afford them.
Mr. THOMAS (Barrier).- When the Post and Telegraph Bill was before this Chamber in 1901, I advocated the adoption of the toll system of charging for the use of telephones, and, again, when the last Estimates were under consideration, I expressed the hope that the PostmasterGeneral would take some active steps in the direction of introducing an improvement. Since then, Mr. Hesketh has paid a visit to Europe and America, and has returned an ardent supporter of the toll system, which is practically superseding all others in Europe and the United States. I was glad to hear the Postmaster-General state that he intended to give the system a trial in. some of the agricultural districts, but I would point out that it has advanced beyond the experimental stage, and I trust that more definite action will be taken in the immediate future. I am quite prepared to admit that if the toll system be substituted for the present method of charging for the use of telephones the PostmasterGeneral will raise a perfect hornet’s nest, because large business houses are at present receiving service quite out of proportion to the fees they are called upon to pay. For instance, a telephone in such an establishment as the Grand Hotel, Melbourne, would probably be in constant use for ten hours per day, and in occasional use for a further six hours. The Grand Hotel Company is required to pay for that telephone only the same annual fee that is demanded of a small- hotelkeeper who uses his telephone only half-a-dozen times per day. That is manifestly unfair. The anomalies which characterize the present system induced the late PostmasterGeneral to introduce the use of coupons, which were intended to be issued by subscribers to persons who desired to use their telephones. I do not approve of that system, which, as a matter of fact, proved a failure. What I have said regarding hotels applies also to business houses. If a business firm despatches a thousand telegrams it has to pay accordingly, and the telephone charges should be based upon the same principle. If in regard to private houses the telephones were granted, and charged for according to the rateable value of the house, just as water is supplied and assessed for municipal purposes, I could understand it. But the present system of charging houses with big establishments the same as the smallest private house is simply absurd and unfair. I know that a great amount of opposition would be raised to the introduction of the toll system, because no sooner did Mr. Hesketh’s report appear in the press than the South Australian Register published a long article viewing his recommendations with the strongest disfavour. I was very pleased to notice that the Register, which is an anti-socialistic organ, acknowledged that the present system of State control of the telephone service was all that could be desired. The Register argued that under the new system the large commercial houses would be called upon to pay more than at present, whilst there was no guarantee that the service would be improved. . I am- quite prepared to admit that the larger establishments would be called upon to pay more than at present ; but it is not necessary to show that the service would be improved in order to justify the suggested change, because I claim that the larger establishments are receiving benefits far in excess of those to which they are entitled. I believe, however, that they would derive the advantage of an improved .service, because, if the toll system were introduced, much less time would be wasted in mere gossipping and the lines would be more readily available than at present for purely business purposes. This, in itself, would afford some compensation for the extra payment demanded. I should prefer, if it were possible, to call upon the public to pay according to the time for which the telephone was in use. I do not mean that any particular period should be fixed for the despatch of a message, and that at the end of that period the persons using the instrument should be switched off ; but my idea is that a meter, similar to that used in connexion with the supply of water and gas, should be attached to the telephone for the purpose of recording the time for which the instrument was in use. I understand that some such system is in use in Norway and Sweden ; although Mr. Scott, the Secretary to the Department, informed me some time ago that he did not know pf any telephone meter that could be regarded as satisfactory. I understand that some little time ago a resident of New South Wales invented a telephone meter which he desired to sell, but I am not aware whether that was a perfect apparatus. If some such system could be adopted, it would prove of immense advantage to business people, because a much larger number of persons would be induced to have their establishments connected with the exchange. Some time ago a friend of mine, who is in a fair way of business, was induced by me to become a subscriber to the telephone exchange, and he has derived so mu;h advantage from it, owing to the facilities which it offers for sending orders to Hm, that he would not now be without it. The advantage thus derived would be largely augmented if householders generally were encouraged to become subscribers. I believe that if we were to - adopt the toll system we should enormously increase the use of our telephones, and though business people might be required to pay a little more than they do at present, they would be more than compensated by the saving of their time which would be effected - time which is now wasted in getting connected with the subscribers with whom they wish to speak. Another reason why I am opposed to the present system is that its use must result in the Government’ being defrauded of a considerable amount of revenue. I venture to say that every honorable member of this House - from Mr. Speaker down to the humblest member of it - has defrauded the Government under the existing telephone system.
– “ Defrauded “ is not a proper term to use.
– We all defraud the Government when we make use of telephones for which other people pay.
– There is no regulation to prevent that.
– Yes, there is a regulation which is intended to prevent subscribers from using their telephones except for their own business purposes. Every time a non-subscriber is allowed to use the instrument belonging to a subscriber - probably from considerations of friendship - he defrauds the public revenue. Some time ago I was informed by one subscriber that there are no less than six business houses which make use of - his telephone. The instrument is located in a very convenient place, and these six establishments regularly use it. If we adopted the toll system the Government could not be defrauded. A person would then have to pay for every message transmitted over any particular line, and instead of the authorities attempting to throw obstacles in the way of the telephone being largely utilized they would endeavour to encourage its use in every possible way. At the present time we do not erect obstacles in the way of persons who desire to send telegrams, because we know that every wire despatched is productive of a certain amount of revenue. So itf would be with telephone messages under the toll system. When the Estimates of the Postmaster-General were under consideration last year, I drew attention to the fact that a large number of the drivers of our inland mail coaches were being employed excessively long hours. I asked the then Postmaster-General - the honorable member for Macquarie - whether he would be good enough to obtain a report as to the number of hours weekly which these persons are being employed. He promised to inquire into the matter-
– I think that something was done.
– I should be very glad to know what has been done in that connexion, because in some places I know that coach-drivers are working longer hours than ought to be demanded of them. This House is opposed to anything in the nature of “sweating,” and I do not think that we should allow any person in the service of the Post and Telegraph Department to be sweated. We are prone. to indulge in a good deal of criticism if letter-carriers or any other officials connected with the Department are called upon to work excessively long hours. Not only is it bad that people should be “ sweated “ under any circumstances, but the practice is particularly objectionable in the case of our mail coach-drivers, because it must tend to endanger the lives of the passengers whom they carry.
– But the contractors fix their own prices by tendering.
– If in the contracts for the carriage of Our inland mails we stipulated that the coach-drivers should work only a certain number of hours weekly, all tenderers would be placed upon a fair basis. At present, however, it is possible that one individual may base his tender upon reasonable hours of labour for his employes, whilst another may not be so scrupulous, and is consequently able to tender at a lower price. I should like to see the Postmaster-General insist that” in connexion with all our inland mail services, the coach-drivers shall not be permitted to work more than a; certain number of hours per week. Honorable members are aware that a great deal has been said at various times in reference to the prohibition, of Iascar labour upon our ocean mail steamers. It has. been pointed out - and with good reason - that if we allow coloured labour to be employed upon these vessels there will be a disposition on the part of their owners not to engage our own people. This Parliament, having insisted that coloured labour shall not be employed upon the oversea mail steamers subsidized by the Commonwealth we ought to go a step further and see that nobody connected with our postal service is sweated or required to work unduly long hours. I observe that in reference to the employment of lascars upon our mail steamers there is still a certain amount of controversy. I trust that the Postmaster-General will always insist that no coloured labour shall be employed upon those vessels. As this question is ‘rather an important one, I should like to quote a few extracts bearing upon it from a speech which was delivered by the honorable member for Parramatta.
– If the honorable member will read the whole of. it, I will not object,
– I should be delighted to read the whole of it. There is not a single sentence in it that I_ would ‘desire to omit. Considerations of time only prevent me fiteni quoting it in extenso.
– If the honorable member omits anything it will be merely for the purposes of his argument.
– I am prepared to supply the honorable member with the reference to the speech in question, so that he may see that I quote it accurately. It was delivered on 25th July, 1901. The honorable member for Bland had moved the adjournment of the House, in order to draw attention to the question of the employment of coloured labour upon our mail steamers, and upon that occasion the honorable member for Parramatta made a very able and vigorous speech. He said -
I view with the greatest possible apprehension the advent of coolie labour to the Orient Company’s boats. It seems to me that the matter is assuming so serious an aspect that the Government should take it up with some degree of firmness, put its foot down sternly, and say, “ As we subsidize these boats to the extent that we do, we shall take care that our own race is not excluded from employment on board them.”
We have been assured that when the honorable member in the capacity of PostmasterGeneral of New South Wales, took up a certain attitude at Hobart, he did so for Imperial reasons. He goes on to say-
I rejoice that this matter has passed over to the Commonwealth, because I believe that the Commonwealth Government will be able to take up a stronger attitude than we were formerly able to adopt, through the medium of our postal conferences. We used to meet f rom time to time, and invariably when we met we discussed this question of coloured labour. So surely as we discussed it, we found that our views had to be subject to a compromise. We could not do anything such as the Commonwealth Government will be able to do. I do not think there would be” any serious consequence if the Government put their foot down firmly and said once and for all : “Our labour must not be excluded from these boats.” That is the attitude we should take up. It is not so much a question of black labour being employed, but that white labour is being pushed off these boats.
Later on he said -
The agent of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, in a communication addressed to the Postal Conference in 1895 says : - “ The reason of this company employing native crews in preference to Europeans is, that after many years’ experience of both, the former have proved themselves to be in every way more satisfactory. The immediate reason for doing away with European crews in the lower grades is that they cause an infinity of trouble through drunkenness, disobedience^ &c.” I do not believe a word of that. I think that is a paltry subterfuge, under which to get cheap labour on the boats, and, of course, to do that they feel that they must insult the class of labour which has been hitherto employed.
He further stated -
I am glad to hear the Prime Minister say that he will take firm steps to see that white labour is not excluded from these boats - that as we subsidize these boats to such a large extent, he will see that only our< own labour is employed on them.
– What is the application of all this? There is not one word of what the honorable member has quoted that I would withdraw to-day.
– I am merely pointing out-
– Do my remarks contain any suggestion that we should “ smash “ up the Imperial negotiations ?
– I am not dealing with Imperial negotiations at the present moment. I mere h, say that I am very strongly in favour of prohibiting the employment of lascars upon our mail steamers, and I am pleased to know that the honorable member agrees with me. I like to quote the view of a prominent authority.
– My position in regard to that matter has not altered in the leo. st
– I am glad to hear it. Although we differ with .regard to the labour caucus arid several other questions, I am pleased to know that in some respects at least the views of the honorable member are in accord with my own.
– Is that why the honorable member made the quotation?
– Surely the honorable member does not object to my quoting his opinions on this question?
– I object to the twist that the honorable member tries to give them.
– I used the quotation only to support my argument. When the Estimates of this Department were under consideration last session, I urged that it was desirable that New South Wales should be divided into postal districts, and that resident inspectors should be appointed. I was anxious that at least one inspector should be appointed to reside in the arid parts of the western district of New South Wales, and believed that if this system were adopted it would prove more advantageous than that of having all the inspectors stationed in Sydney. I am glad to say that this division has since been made, but it seems to me that there has been a desire to study the convenience of the inspectors rather than the interests of the public. It would appear that the inspectors have taken care to select districts in which it is pleasant to reside. For example, we find that one ha? been stationed at
Goulburn, one at Maitland, one at Armidale, and still another at Orange. The post offices in the western district are under thecontrol of the inspector residing at! Orange,, and it seems to me that, so far as that district is concerned, the new arrangement isnot by any means an improvement on the old one. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will endeavour to make an alteration.
– ‘The honorable member considers that the decentralization in that case does not result in a saving of time.
– I do not think that itdoes. An inspector may reach Wilcannia or White Cliffs almost as expeditiously from Sydney as from Orange. I am inclined’ to believe that if an inspector were living in the arid parts of the western district, and experienced the disadvantages under which the people of that part of the State suffer, he would be more readily disposed to endeavour to remedy them than he would otherwise be. I am not suggesting that an inspector should be appointed to> reside at Broken Hill, although that city is, doubtless, the most important in the western district ; but I do urge that an inspector should be appointed to reside in that part of the State.
– If an inspector were so appointed, would be not be called upon to discharge duties which should properly devolve upon the postmaster at Broken Hill ?
– No. The postmaster at Broken Hill could not be expected to look after the postal requirements of Tibooburra, Milparinka, White Cliffs, Wilcannia, and many other towns in the western district. I should like to hear the views of tEe Postmaster-General in regard to the way in which New South Wales has been divided into postal districts, and trust that he will see his way clear to appoint an officer to reside in the western district. Another matter which I desire to bring under the notice of the Committee should be of interest to the representatives of South Australia. I pointed out las? session that the cost of constructing telephone lines in Broken Hill and the surrounding districts was considerably increased by reason of the fact that all the material was sent from Sydney instead of being obtained from Adelaide- and the extra freight saved. I urged that Adelaide should be made1 the central depot for the western district of New South Wales,, and that the material required for the construction of telephone lines at Broken Hill should be sent from that city. During the recess I received a letter from Mr. Scott, which caused me some surprise, inasmuch as it set forth that the cost of the material in Adelaide was greater than in Sydney. Mr. Scott forwarded me a> report, which had been obtained, in regard to) my suggestion, and in which it was set forth that -
It is reported that the additional freight (the only extra cost) amounts to 35s. per ton, and that this is compensated for by the fact that line material has always been obtained at a cheaper rate delivered in Sydney than it can be supplied -delivered in Adelaide. A practical illustration of this was given in a recent case where 45 poles required at Broken Hill were delivered there from Sydney at an average cost per pole of £3 19s. 8d. -Quotations for similar poles in Adelaide averaged £2 10s. per pole, to which had to be added £2 17s. per pole freight from there to Broken Hill, making the average price per pole at Broken Hill £5 7s-
It is also pointed out in the report that -
In the case of an application for the establishment of a telephone office at The Pinnacles, the Inspector reported against the establishment of a public office at this place, owing to the small revenue likely to be realized. The freight in this case for the wire, insulators, and pins for the whole line was estimated at £12 os. nd. out of a total cost of £360 for the line, and, had the freight been omitted altogether, the Inspector would doubtless have reported against the proposal, as he estimated the revenue at only £10 per annum. From information furnished by the Deputy Postmaster-General, Adelaide, it is estimated that if the material, exclusive of poles, were supplied from Adelaide, the proposed line would cost about ^341. The material alone delivered from Adelaide would cost ^20 10s. 5d., from Sydney ^25 12s. 7d., owing to high charges made by Wright, Heaton and Company. The financial aspect of the case would therefore -be unaltered. Cost of material in Sydney is £13 1 is. 8d., in Adelaide ^15 10s. 5d. ; the difference in cost delivered in Adelaide, as above, is due to high freight charges by the contractors.
This letter shows that, apart altogether from the question of freight, the cost of the material in Sydney is ^13 ns. 8d., as against ^15 10s. sd. iri Adelaide. I do not know what is the reason for the difference, but perhaps the Postmaster- General will be able to explain the matter. I shall also be glad to learn his views with regard to the introduction of a Commonwealth stamp. It is about time that a selection was made. It seems to me that it is unnecessary for us to wait for this reform until the close of the bookkeeping period. Federation has been established long enough to enable the officers of the Department to average the postal returns, and it should be possible for the PostmasterGene.ral to give the new system a six months’ trial. If it were found during that period to result in a serious leakage of revenue in the case of any State, it would be open to us to revert to the old system until, the expiration of the bookkeeping period. A Commonwealth stamp would be a great convenience. Those who travel from one State to another at the present time have to carry with them an assortment of stamps, but if a Commonwealth stamp were in use this would be unnecessary. I believe that the change could be made without any serious disarrangement of the present financial system, and that it would be a great convenience to the public. I trust that when the honorable gentleman replies to the criticisms of honorable members,, he will be able to promise to do something on the lines I have suggested’.
– I wish to refer to what I believe to be the growing practice of employing what are called relieving letter-carriers. I should not object to the employment of relieving letter-carriers if it were not for the fact that the persons so employed! receive less than the rates of pay given to ordinary lettercarriers. In my opinion, the people of Australia almost unanimously approved of the action of the first Federal Parliament in providing that a proper living wage should be paid to those who are intrusted with the duty of delivering letters, and I do not think that the Minister should sanction an arrangement under which the minimum wage provision can be evaded. Complaints have reached me from more than one source, however, that young . men are frequently employed as lettercarriers at .much less than the ordinary wage, not merely temporarily, but for months at a time. T received the complaint from Fremantle two or three weeks ago that a relieving letter-carrier had been employed for nearly six months, and’ although the State Deputy Postmaster-General said that he had not been so employed, my correspondent assures me that his statement was correct. Such a system allows men to be employed at a lower rate than Parliament thought should be paid to them. I hope that the Postmaster-General, if he is not aware of the practice, will have -inquiries made in regard to it, because I have sufficient confidence in him to feel certain that he would be no party to encouraging it.
– I have addressed’ the Postmaster- General and the Department on several occasions in reference to a- matter which particularly concerns the people of Northern Queensland. Prior to Federation it was the practice to publish daily throughout the year the weather telegrams received at the various post-offices. The information contained in these telegrams, particularly during the hurricane season, is of great value, not only to householders, but to ship-masters and the public generally, and great complaint has been caused by the discontinuance of their publication. I can understand that the Department should feel bound to closely conserve its own interests, and that if there were any expense attaching to the publication of these telegrams they might desire to curtail it; but, as a matter of fact, the telegrams are in any case sent to the post-offices, and it is purely “cussedness “ or obstinacy on the part of either the Department or its officers that they are not published. They are of no use to the officers themselves, and are not made available to the public, to whom they would be useful. At the postoffices i!n Melbourne and Sydney, and in other places, telegrams and charts giving information as to the weather in various parts of the Commonwealth are published, and when I was at Mildura a few days ago I found that .weather reports are posted outside the office there daily, although they can be of but little interest to the people of Mildura. Why, then, should the people of Queensland be refused this information? The present practice is causing a good’ deal of discontent, because the public naturally ask why what was done prior to Federation cannot be done now. I have on many occasions appealed to the PostmasterGeneral and to the Secretary to the Post Office on the subject, but, beyond receiving a printed list of regulations in regard to press telegrams, which has nothing to do with the matter, I have obtained no satisfaction.
– Are weather reports sent to each office daily?
– Yes, and they are allowed to remain in the offices.
– Then move a reduction on the Queensland vote.
– No doubt I should be justified in doing so ; but I hope that the Postmaster-General will give favorable attention to the matter, so that I shall not be called upon to delay business in that way. With regard to mail contracts, I wish to say that as the Department has been letting contracts for the conveyance of mails for the past fifty years, they should now know pretty well what any particular service should cost, and, therefore, instead of calling for tenders, should invite applications for the running of the services at certain prices. If that were done, it would get rid of the sweating about which so many well-founded complaints are made.
– When the last Estimates were under discussion, the honorable and learned member for Bendigo and others drew the attention of the PostmasterGeneral of the day to the fact that telegraph messengers on attaining the age of eighteen years are by law compelled to retire, and pointed out that many who qualify for a higher position are prevented from obtaining another post in the Public Service because there is no vacancyopen at the time when they are compelled to retire. The whole subject has been referred to in the press several times of late, and therefore I should like to hear from the Postmaster-General what is the intention of ‘the Department in regard to it. I know that it is impossible for the Department to absorb all the lads who are engaged as telegraph messengers, but it should be possible to absorb the greater part of those who qualify for higher positions. The idea is held that they are not eligible for vacancies in other Departments, such as the Customs Department, and I should like to know if that is the case. I hope that the Postmaster-General will see, too, that these boys are given an opportunity to prepare for the examination which is insisted upon as a test of their ability to hold other positions. Many of them, especially those in the suburban offices, complain that they are compelled to work broken shifts. It is therefore impossible for them, to make any definite arrangements for being coached up for examinations. All the lads should have equal opportunities presented to them for qualifying themselves for advancement in the service, if they are fortunate enough to be retained in it. The PostmasterGeneral recently announced that he was endeavouring to open up fresh avenues of employment for these youths, and I should like to know how far he has succeeded and how many of these lads are likely to be provided for.
– The post and telegraph services very closely affect the life and intercourse of the people, both in the large centres of population and in the outlying districts, and I am sure that it is the desire of the Postmaster-General and his officials to make the organization of the Department as effective as possible. Of course, the question of finance is a very important one, and the difficulty of meeting the public requirements is increased byrne fact that it is desired to, as far as possible, make the Department self supporting. The States Treasurers! keep a watchful eye upon the Commonwealth expenditure, and are ever ready to raise objections to what they regard as unnecessary outlay. This criticism cannot be objected to so long as it is directed to wasteful expenditure, or to preventing the leakage which is likely to occur in a large Department such as that now under discussion. We shall all agree with the PostmasterGeneral that, whilst it is desirable to comply with the reasonable demands of the community in regard to postal and telegraph facilities, any extravagant expenditure upon the erection of ornate buildings should be avoided. It is not uncommon to find in country towns postoffices which were apparently intended by their designers to grace those centres of population when they became cities - in many cases, a most remote possibility, and any reasonable departure from such an extravagant policy will be welcomed. I would urge upon the PostmasterGeneral that the encouragement of settlement and the development of our territory very largely depends upon the extension of postal and telegraphic facilities. One of the greatest difficulties now experienced by those who are engaged in pioneering work is in bringing themselves into reasonably close communication with the great centres of population and trade. The first concern of those who go out into the wilds is to secure means of communication, -by means of roads and mail, telegraph, and telephone services. The expenditure on roads must of necessity be limited until the settlement assumes reasonable proportion?, and the- provision of reasonable mail communication is often delayed owing to the lack of resources on the part of the Department. When an application for the extension of mail services is made, the first question that presents itself to the Department is whether it will pay, and if the estimates do not show a reasonable margin between revenue and expenditure the request is refused. Whilst no one objects to the Department keeping itself on the safe side, I would urge that a little discretion should be exercised, and that consideration should be paid to the possibilities of settlement and the prospects, of development. These remarks apply also, to applications for the extension of telegraph and telephone facilities. If the public convenience .is readily met in cases, of this kind, settlement ils wonderfully stimulated and promoted. An intending; settler in the back-blocks, unless imbued with the true spirit of pioneering, generally inquires as to the mail- and telegraphic facilities, and if these are reasonably good may be encouraged to -make his home in the district. If, on the other hand, the means of communication are inadequate and unsatisfactory, he may elect to proceed to some more favored locality. I hope that the Postmaster-General and his officers will recognise the very important part they play in this connexion. The great problem we have to face is how to induce desirable settlers to go out upon our unoccupied lands. Where there is a prospect of settlement being promoted by the extension of postal and telegraphic facilities the Department should not wait until such services can be made to pay. My sympathy has often been excited when I have noticed a small group of settlers,, a few isolated families, who are struggling to make homes for themselves .in the wilds, and whose repeated applications for post and telegraphic facilities have been denied because the prospective revenue- would fall short by a few pounds of the expenditure entailed upon the services. These poor people have had to struggle on under the most adverse conditions until such time as others could be induced to join them.
– Settlers are very often driven off the land because of the Jack of means of communication.
– There is no doubt about that, and I cannot too strongly impress upon the Postmaster-General the importance of doing everything possible to assist settlers in outlying districts. Mining discoveries have frequently been made in localities far away from any centre of population, and great difficulty has been experienced in inducing the Department to recognise the necessity for meeting the requirements of the settlement in the matter of mail and telegraphic services. I admit that of late years a better disposition has been shown, but the settlement of the country has been severely handicapped owing to the desire of the departmental officers to balance the expenditure and revenue. I think that, notwithstanding the watchfulness of the States Treasurers, their adverse criticism is not likely to be- directed to expenditure incurred in meeting the reasonable requirements of the residents in outlying districts. We do not appear to have made any progress towards the adoption of a uniform stamp for the Commonwealth. At present, persons travelling from State .to State have to obtain separate supplies of stamps in each State.
– Is not that matter practically determined by the Constitution?
– Yes, so long as the bookkeeping system obtains; but surely, some means could be devised for overcoming that difficulty. It is time that some inquiry was made with a view to ascertaining the nature of these difficulties, and how they may best Be removed, so that steps may be taken to overcome this anomaly at the earliest possible date. But there is another anomaly, to which I desire to direct attention, which presses even more harshly upon the people - I refer to the different postage rates that obtain in the various States. In Victoria, the very far-seeing politicians who controlled its destinies prior to Federation bestowed upon it the blessings of a penny postage system. But in New South Wales that system does not obtain throughout the State. There, certain localities have been proclaimed penny postage districts. The big cities and suburbs, and a considerable area beyond them, have been brought within the penny postage radius, but under the present regulations all new centres are denied the concessions which
Were granted to smaller centres under the old State system. How far this condition of affairs applies to the other States I am not in a position to say. To my mind the Only remedy for this anomaly - a remedy which would be in the direction of progress - is to be found” in the introduction of a s,stem of penny postage throughout the Commonwealth.
– Is the honorable member in favour of that system?
– Yes ; I see no other way of remedying these anomalies. That they exist is evidenced by the fact that persons living within a prescribed radius of certain towns are required to affix only a penny stamp to their letters, whereas people who reside within a smaller radius of other towns are called upon to pay 2d. upon their correspondence.
– Does not the honorable member think that before we ask for penny postage we should extend other conveniences to residents in outside districts?
– The adoption of the penny postage system will convenience the whole community.
– How will it assist the farmer in the back-blocks? ,
– He will secure equal advantages with other members of the public. Until we adopt a uniform postage system, it cannot be denied that the purposes of Federation will not be realized. I have no desire to ignore the interests of outlying places, but we must recognise our obligations with respect to the largest section of the community. The adoption of a system of penny postage throughout the Commonwealth would enable remote settlers to forward their letters at a reduced rate. Had the Commonwealth adopted that system when it assumed control of the Postal Department, a direct benefit would have been conferred upon the entire community. Instead of handing back to the different States a considerable portion of the one-fourth of the revenue from Customs and Excise, to which the Commonwealth is entitled, we should have expended that money in providing penny postage for the people. Had we done so, I venture to say that the community as a whole would have benefited much more from Federal expenditure than they have done. I trust that the Department will give some consideration to this question. It is true that it has been estimated that the introduction of a Commonwealth penny postage system would result in a loss of from £60,000 to £100,000 annually.
– In a loss of £250,000.
– But that is merely an estimate. What has been the experience of the world in regard to decreased postage rates ? We have always been assured that any reduction in those rates must result in a loss. Probably it does at the outset, but experience has shown that in the end there is a gain. The increased quantity of correspondence forwarded at the reduced rate has more than compensated for the loss. Only recently I read an article in one pf the English economic journals in regard to the operations of the British Post Office, in which it ‘ was pointed out that the penny postage system was the great “ stand-by “ from the point of view of. the revenue of the Department. The writer showed that the prophecies as to loss which were indulged in when the question of a reduced postage rate was first mooted had not ‘been realized, .and that to-day the revenue from penny postage in Great Britain is approximately £10,000, 000. The article to which I have referred shows that in the United Kingdom the postal service could be made to pay even if only a halfpenny were charged for every two ounces of mail matter carried. In the old country, postcards form a considerable revenue-producing item. There, a great loss of revenue is sustained in connexion with the telegraphic service, and more particularly in connexion with the transmission of press telegrams. It may be information to honorable members to learn that something like two-fifths of the total number of words despatched over the British telegraph lines comprise press messages, which return only about 5 per cent, of the revenue derived from other sources. Consequently, I claim that, whilst the adoption of penny postage in the Commonwealth would probably result in a loss of revenue for two or three years, that loss would be a diminishing one, and, with the extension of settlement and the increase of our population, would speedily reach the vanishing point. Concerning telegraphic and telephonic extensions, I wish to saythat the Commonwealth Postal Department has recently effected some very material improvements. Shortly after the Department was transferred to the control of the Commonwealth, New South Wales suffered considerably by the regulations which were imposed by the Federal authorities. as compared with the more liberal treatment previously accorded to the residents of that State. I am glad to know that the criticism which has been offered, and the experience which has been gained by the Department, have led to the removal of many of the inequalities’ of which complaint has been made. The regulations have been so amended that it is now possible for small communities which, a couple of years ago. were absolutely prevented from enjoying the benefits ‘ of telephonic extension, to obtain them. Under the present system they are merely required to guarantee the difference between the estimated’ revenue and the estimated minimum revenue necessary to cover the cost of the service j whereas, under the old practice, they were obliged to pay a large sum of money to the credit of the Postmaster-General, covering a period of years. That period, I am glad to say, has now been reduced to two years. That is certainly a step in the right direction, and as a result of the concessions which have been made telephonic facilities are now being enjoyed by many country centres. Undoubtedly one of the biggest improvements recently effected in the service is due to the action of the late Postmaster- Gai era! in introducing what is known as the “condenser” system. I say that the honorable member for Macquarie is entitled to every credit for the innovation which he had1 the courage to introduce, because I am aware that considerable opposition to it was offered by some of the officers of the Department in New South Wales. Apparently they were not acquainted with the system and its possibilities until the late Postmaster-General had experiments conducted which demonstrated its value. I wish to give one illustration of the saving which has been effected by that system. Under the old system I desired to secure telephonic communication between Orange - the largest town in my electorate - and Bathurst. The estimated cost of the work was set down at approximately ,£3,000. That estimate provided for the erection of a’ separate telephone line between the two places, and the local residents were asked to enter into such a large guarantee as to effectually prevent their securing the advantages which they sought. But, by introducing the condenser system, the late Postmaster-General ./provided us with an efficient service between the two towns mentioned for an expenditure of £45. Now Orange enjoys telephonic communication, not only with Bathurst, but with a number of other large towns in that district. As the merits of the condenser system become better known, and the initial difficulties connected with its installation are surmounted, it will ‘be admitted that its value to outlying communities cannot be over-estimated. I trust that the present occupant of the office will also realize the benefit which this service confers upon rural communities, and that he will endeavour not only to largely extend it, but to encourage every invention designed to improve and render it more effective. Reference has been made by the honorable member for Yarra to the position of the telegraph messengers; but there is another phase of the question that I wish to bring forward. At the present time the Department invite applications from boys desirous of obtaining employment as telegraph messengers, and these have to submit themselves to a qualifying examination. As the honorable member for Yarra has pointed out, many boys, after passing that examination, experience difficulty in securing appointments; but I understand that that cause of complaint has been largely removed by the action of the Commissioner, who has abolished the general examinations which previously took place. Under the present system, whenever a vacancy occurs in a post-office, a local examination takes place, and a selection is made from those who pass, with the result that the cause of complaint is not so pronounced as it originally was. But there is another matter in respect of which telegraph messengers labour under an injustice. Let us take the case of a lad who enters the service, say, at about fourteen years of age. He avails himself of every opportunity to secure efficiency, with a view to obtaining a permanent appointment, but when he reaches the age of eighteen years he is called upon to retire - despite the fact that he has passed the technical examinations, and proved himself qualified to act as a relieving officer - unless there happens to be a vacancy to which he may be promoted. When retired, he ceases to be known to the Department, and. must pass the clerical examination in order to secure an appointment in the Public Service. It seems to me that this system inflicts injustice not only upon the youths concerned but upon the Department. I am in accord with the underlying principle - that a man shall not be retained in the service to do the work of a youth, for a youth’s pay - but in endeavouring to remedy the evils of the system that obtained prior to Federation, the Department has created another anomaly. Many lads on obtaining appointments as telegraph’ messengers, do not trouble to complete their education, or in any way to qualify themselves for promotion. These might well be allowed to retire on reaching the age of eighteen years ; but it seems absurd that youths who have qualified themselves for promotion, who have passed special examinations,- and have been instructed by their superiors in the work of the service, should be retired for no other reason than that there are no vacancies in the higher grades of the service. I recognise that, in order to remove the anomaly, it will be necessary to amend the Public Service Act, but the matter is one that should receive immediate attention. My suggestion is that messengers who, during the currency of their service, have passed the technical examination, shall, on reaching the age of eighteen years, be allowed to remain in the service for a further period of two years in order to enable the Department to absorb them as vacancies occur. If this system were adopted it would enable the Department to retain the valuable services of these youths for a further period of* two years before calling upon them in the last resort to retire. I am told that, whilst some hundreds of telegraph messengers who are awaiting promotion in New South Wales have not even a remote chance of securing a permanent appointment, there are something like thirty who have specially qualified themselves for higher grades in the service, and that unless their services can be absorbed within the next three months, they will have to retire. In the latter event the Department would be called upon to train another lot of recruits ; but if my suggestion were adopted all this dead work would be avoided. The Minister has here a>n opportunity to effect an improvement in the service, and I trust that he will bring in a Bill this session to carry out the proposal I have made. I wish now to refer to the item relating to the Deputy PostmasterGeneral of New South Wales, which certainly calls for an explanation. This officer has been in the service for many years, having gradually worked his way up from the lower ranks, and last session we voted him a salary of £920 per annum.
– That is altogether too much.
– Not at all. The Department in New South Wales is a very extensive one, and the manager of a private business of such vast dimensions would receive a much higher, salary. I notice that, although last , session we voted this officer a salary of £920, the Estimates now before us provide for a salary of only £800. Why has this reduction been made?
– Because he has been too highly paid.
– I disagree with the honorable member, and I think that I know something of the working of the Department.
– I am prepared to explain the matter.
– It seems to me that the Postmaster-General might avoid a long debate by explaining the reason for the reduction, and, ‘in view of his offer, I shall at once bring mv remarks to a close.
– I have listened with attention to the remarks of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, .indi, whilst I concur with much that hd has said, I fail to realize how the introduction of penny postage, would assist the farmer in the back-blocks. I am becoming tired of presenting petitions asking for something like fair play for the backwoodsmen.
– The honorable member is not alone in that respect.
– What advantage would the introduction of penny postage be to residents of districts in which there is no postal service? I am sure that the Postmaster-General has some knowled’ge of the hardships of farmers and others in the remote parts of the Commonwealth, and of the happiness and pleasure which a mail service brings to many of their homes. But whilst city residents are supplied with telegraph and telephone services, and five or six mail deliveries per day, a request for a country mail service is at once met with a demand by the Department for a guarantee. The Deputy Postmasters-General, whilst prepared to admit that many applications for new mail services are reasonable, appear to think that the PostmasterGeneral requires a return of pound for pound. They often send in half-hearted reports with regard1 to these requests, their desire being apparently to foist upon the Postmaster-General the’ responsibility attaching to the establishment of new services.
– Is the honorable member referring to applications for new- postoffices or to those for mail services ?
– To applications for mail services, which in many cases would cost only a few pounds per annum, I know of one instance in which some persons offered to conduct a post-office and convey a mail for a distance which would have meant covering 2,000 miles every vear, for the sum of £31, and were told that if they would guarantee £15 10s. the Government would find the other half.
– Would more than one individual have been served by the arrangement?
Mr. POYNTON Yes ; a number of farmers and small graziers residing in a somewhat sparsely populated district. I am surprised that the honorable member for Canobolas should think that the adoption of a uniform penny rate would be of any material assistance to persons so situated. Personally, I should not object to a reduction if the service could be made to pay at that rate. These guarantees are not asked when the erection of a telephone line between Melbourne and Sydney is proposed.
– Nor in regard to the running of special trains to carry the newspapers to Bendigo and Ballarat.
– Is not four-fifths of the revenue contributed by the people living in the big cities ?
– Why should a guarantee be asked for only when the pioneers demand consideration? In a number of instances, in the Northern Territory, places 400 and 500 miles apart cannot obtain any concession in the way of mail communication.
– It will be very difficult to meet many of those cases so long as Parliament insists on the Department being conducted as a commercial establishment, and paying its way.
– It will be still more difficult for the Department to pay its way if the letter rate is reduced from 2d. to id.
– Is the honorable member in favour of borrowing money for the erection of telephone lines? They cannot all Le paid for out of revenue.
– Hitherto we have not borrowed money for these public works, a.nd it is not proposed that we shall borrow.
– It is bad bookkeeping to debit all this expenditure to one year’s revenue.
– In my opinion, some of the Deputy Postmasters-General should receive a hint to the effect that they are not supposed to block every request which comes before them, but should give more consideration to the man in the back-blocks. If penny postage would pay, no objection could be taken to its adoption, but how far would it benefit the farmers? How many of them write more than a few letters a year? Their advantage from the reduction would be a mere bagatelle. It is the business man who would profit by it. In my own little business it would mean the saving of, I suppose, £40 a year. But if the Department lost money toy the lowering of the rate, the man in my office would have to pay as heavily as I myself to make up the loss. That being so, it would not be right to make the reduction, unless there is a reasonable prospect of the expenditure of the Department being covered by the income received from stamps.
– There is every possibility of that.
– No. They hoped to make penny postage pay in Victoria.
– It has paid here.
– No, it has not; and those who write but a few letters in the year have to make up the loss which is caused in giving an advantage to large business firms, to which it means a saving of thousands of pounds every year.
– The business man makes the farmer or producer pay for his. postage.
– It is said that the business man passes on the stamp tax and other taxes, but I know from my own experience that that cannot always be done.
– An agent always charges farmers with commission and postage.
– Not always. It would be unfair’ to adopt a uniform penny postage if its adoption would result in a loss of revenue, because under our present system of taxation, any deficiency must be made up through the Customs Department, and no one will argue that Customs taxation is equal in its incidence. A conference of experts which considered this question a little while ago said that the Commonwealth. would lose about £250,000 a year by the adoption of universal penny postage. If there were that loss, the people in the back-blocks would be worse off then they are now, because the Department would have still less money than it has now to meet their requests for improvements. ‘
– Then the honorable member should move to increase the postage rate.
– I am satisfied with the present rate. The Commonwealth gave a great concession to the business people when it reduced the telegraph rates, and yet it is chiefly they who find fault with this Parliament because our revenue is not as great as it used to be. Chambers of Commerce and other commercial bodies are always declaiming against the extravagance of the Federal Parliament, and saying that the net revenue of the Post and Telegraph Department is not what it used to be. That is accounted for, however, largely by the fact that our telegraph rates have been reduced.
– But the Telegraph Department has paid better since.
– The revenue from our telegraphs is gradually increasing, but it has not yet reached the amount which was received prior to the reductions in rates.
– At the commencement the concession cost the Commonwealth £72,000 a year.
– Yes, and I am informed that at the present time there is a loss of £70,000 a year. The reduction in the letter rate to the qld country means a further loss of £7,000 a year, so the Minister informed me some time ago; but those who chiefly benefit by the reduction are business people.
– The whole public.
– Chiefly the business people. Having received these concessions, they should have the honesty to acknowledge that they are partly responsible for the falling-off in revenue which has occurred. Victoria did not adopt the penny postage system in order to increase her revenue.
– But that was the result.
– No. It will take a good many years before the loss is made good. The Victorian Parliament adopted penny postage because it thought that the Commonwealth would have to bear the expense.
– That amounts to saying that the Members of the Victorian Parliament were not aware of the provisions of the Constitution.
– There is no doubt that they were not. I should like the Minister to show a little more consideration for those who are settled in outlying localities. The position of these people is worse today than when the Department was under State control. I did not then experience anything like the same difficulty in obtaining reasonable services. It is difficult to understand why so much delay occurs in connexion with applications for mail services or telegraph facilities. In the first place, a petition has to be sent to the Deputy Postmaster-General, who obtains a report upon it. Then the petition and the report are forwarded to Melbourne, and when one makes inquiries at head-quarters he is, informed that the documents have been returned to Adelaide, from which place they are eventually sent back to Melbourne. The circumlocution under present conditions is greater than ever, and i trust that (the Minister will see that more expedition is shown. I can understand that he may experience difficulty in granting a request in the face of an unfavourable report by the Deputy Postmaster-General; but it has been reported to me that that officer frequently records an unfavourable opinion, and the idea prevails that the Commonwealth authorities do not take the same interest as did the State Government in meeting the -requirements of the people. The treatment now being meted out to residents in outlying districts is not calculated to encourage them to approve of the transfer of other services to the Commonwealth. The feeling is gaining ground that their greater distance from headquarters lessens their chances of receiving fair consideration, and 1 must say that recent experience has afforded some ground for this belief. If it is necessary to refuse a request, there is no reason why the decision should not be communicated within a reasonable time, and if the authorities are disposed to favourably entertain an application, there should be no necessity for delay, such as that which now occurs.
– The honorable member is very severe on <the Department.
– I venture to say that the honorable member has passed through experiences very similar to my own. I do not blame the Minister, because I recognise that he cannot make himself acquainted with the details of every application sent in to the Department. I trust, however, that he will impress upon his officers the necessity for dealing more promptly with the matters which come before them. At present- apparently they pigeon-hole all applications which are not made- the subject of repeated representations to the Department. I have a similar complaint to make with regard to the execution of public works approved of in connexion with the Postal Department. I know of one case in which certain additions to the residential quarters attached to a post-office were approved of, and the money was voted three, years ago. The postmaster and his wife and family are crowded to an extent that borders upon indecency, and yet no attempt has been made to proceed with the work. There is something wrong somewhere when such a state of affairs exists, and I hope that a reform will soon be brought about. Then, again, there is the case of the Adelaide Post Office. Nearly two years ago provision was made for the installation of electric light in that establishment. I communicated with the Department about twelve months afterwards, and was informed that the work was to be commenced at once, but from that date until to-day nothing whatever has been done. In the meantime, the officers are dependent upon kerosene lamps, and some of them are gradually becoming blind on account of the imperfect lighting arrangements. If more expedition is not shown in the Department it may be necessary for me at a later stage to move the adjournment of the House in order to direct attention to the matter.
– I do not intend to take up the time of the Committee this afternoon in discussing the question of penny postage, but I desire to ventilate two or three grievances. The Minister is fully aware that there is a district in my constituency called Pinnaroo, the residents of which are still lacking means of postal communication. I make that statement, because I have on so many occasions brought the matter under the Minister’s attention. Pinnaroo is a district in the southern part of South Australia, which has recently been opened up for agricultural settlement. A railway is being constructed1 from Tailem Bend, which is on the River Murray, and a station on the railway between Adelaide and Melbourne, to a point eighty-five miles in the interior; and already 185 leases and agreements, held by 160 individuals, have been issued. I may explain that Pinnaroo is a district which covers lands in the hundreds of Parilla, Hews, Cotton, and Pinnaroo. The terminus of “the proposed railway line is a town which will be known as Pinnaroo, and in which a considerable number of town allotments have been sold. As I have stated, this town is situated eighty-five miles from Tailem Bend, and an intermediate settlement called Lameroo has already attracted considerable attention. An hotel has been built, as well as several places of business, and twelve town lots have been sol3. I may mention that there is no doubt whatever as to the permanence of the settlement in the district.
– The State Government are spending £120,000 upon a railway.
– The honorable member’s statement is perfectly correct. I am glad to be able to add that the prospects ot the present season are excellent, and that there is every reason to believe that a satisfactory crop will be gathered in the district. Under these circumstances, it is somewhat extraordinary that no provision has been made for furnishing the residents with reasonable postal facilities. The Deputy Surveyor-General of South Australia, Mr. E. M. Smith, states that the settlers are fully entitled to a mail service, because residents elsewhere, with far less claims, have had such facilities granted to them. Honorable members will be surprised when I tell them that the residents at Pinnaroo are dependent at present upon the mail service to the survey camp established at a place called Parrakie Well. The men engaged on the survey work have their letters conveyed to them at a cost of £2 per week, and the residents of Pinnaroo have to travel a distance of forty-five miles to the surveyors’ camp in order to procure their correspondence. Unfortunately, however, within a very short time, even this means of communication will be. denied to them, because the survey camp will be shifted to a locality further away. The people of Pinnaroo feel specially aggrieved in this matter, because they believe that they would have experienced no difficulty in obtaining what they require if the Postal Department had been under State control. The policy of the South Australian Postal Department, prior to Federation, was to offer every encouragement to pioneers, and to furnish them with postal facilities wherever they could reasonably be granted. Considerable correspondence has passed on this subject, and I had no (dea that it would ever become my duty to bring the matter under the notice of this Committee- Some time ago, I received from the Secretary to the PostmasterGeneral a letter, in which it was stated : -
Relative to the desired establishment of a mail service between Tailem Bend and Pinnaroo, I have the honour, by direction, to inform you the matter has been further considered, and the PostmasterGeneral has approved of the provision of a temporary mail service, pending completion of the railway-line, at the lowest cost obtainable, provided the South Austraiian Government or the Railways Commissioner will undertake on completion of the railway to carry the mails for a sum not exceeding that derived from the mail service.
That appeared to be quite satisfactory, but some time later I received a further letter, from which the following is a’ quotation : -
Referring to the question of a mail service for Pinnaroo, l beg to inform you that it has been decided that the matter must stand over until after harvest, by which time we shall probably be in a position to obtain some idea as to the permanency of the settlement.
Honorable1 members can imagine how disgusted -the residents were upon the publication of that intimation. It seems that their postal arrangements are to be hung up because there is a dispute between the Postal Department and the South Australian railway authorities. 1 may add that possibly no gentleman in South Australia has taken a keener interest in the settlement of the Pinnaroo district than the Commissioner of Public Works in the late State Ministry, I refer to Mr. Foster. He has written me the following letter, which I think I am justified in reading to the Committee : -
The long delay in arranging for the Pinnaroo mail is very exasperating to the settlers in that district. The settlement is a most important one, and the great difficulties existing at present are very discreditable to the postal authorities. I am desired by the residents to ask that you will bring the matter under the ‘consideration of the PostmasterGeneral, and secure the mail service petitioned for long ago, as a dispute between postal authorities and the railways as to charges should not be responsible for further delay and loss to an important and extensive settlement.
I indorse every word of that letter, and I sincerely hope that it will have some weight with the Postmaster-General. I now wish to make a brief reference to another matter. Amongst the oldest and most flourishing towns in South Australia is Mount Barker, and I think that those who have any knowledge of the district will also admit that it is one of the most picturesque in the Commonwealth. Being an old town, its’ post and telegraph offices were erected many years ago. They are now antiquated, and, although .the » officials are all that could be desired, the accommodation afforded is just about as defective as it could be. The residents ask for an expenditure upon these offices, and when I mention the amount I do not think that honorable members -will regard it as excessive. They say that if a sum of from £150 to ,£200 were expended upon the present buildings they could be brought up to date and made sufficient in all necessary ways. They ask for more adequate and convenient’ means of delivering mails, private letter- boxes of the orthodox kind, better arrangements for the sale of stamps, proper provision for writing telegrams and for receiving and sending telephone messages, and a local telephone exchange. The Mount Barker Courier puts the case most admirably, and in this connexion I do not think that I can do better than read the following extract : -
Although when erected some 40 years ago the Mount Barker Post-office was quite abreast of the times, and the facilities afforded thereby adequate for the demands of the place, the present condition of things in this respect is anything but satisfactory, or what might be expected in such an important centre. During the lengthy period that the office has been in operation, notwithstanding the great increase in the population and the much larger volume of business, no additions or improvements worth mentioning have been carried out, with the result that both those who call for letters and those wishing to use the telephone or despatch telegrams are put to great inconvenience. Private letter-boxes, which exist more by name than otherwise, were installed a. good number of years ago, at an annual fee which is about double what should be paid for a much more uptodate service of the kind intended, by which subscribers would have keys for their boxes, and get their letters at any hour, instead of as at present having to go to the office, and obtain their mail in the same way as those who do not subscribe for a private box. Given the same service in this respect as obtains elsewhere, the number of subscribers would be more than doubled. It is quite the usual thing here, also, to see a line of a hundred or more persons in the evening patiently awaiting their turn at the letter window, and in the winter months The inconvenience of this can be readily conceived. Telephone connexion with Adelaide and elsewhere was effected a few months ago, but owing to the inconvenience of the office as at present constituted the receiving box is in a dark, out-of-the-way corner of the room, and not at all what might be expected. No special provision is made for those who wish to send” telegrams or purchase stamps, Sc., and although the staff are very obliging, it must be equally as annoying to them as to the populace to have to do the hundred and one things connected with the post-office through a couple of letter windows about a foot square.
Some time ago the Postmaster-General was good enough to extend telephonic communication to Mount Barker, and I may fell him, as a .matter of personal comfort, that the revenue derived from that source is in excess of the highest estimate, notwithstanding that the receipts from telegrams have not diminished. I sincerely trust that the case put by the writer an the Courier will so commend itself to the PostmasterGeneral that he will sanction the carrying out of the necessary alterations. I now wish to refer to the extension of telephonic facilities to Hog Bay. Although the name has not a very attractive sound, I can assure the Committee that the place is one of much interest, and has manyattractions for visitors, especially in summer time. It is situated on the south coast of Kangaroo Island. A telegraph line connecting Cape Willoughby and Cape Borda by way of Kingscote runs from the eastern to the western coast of the island. What is required is the erection of a branch line running north some eight miles to intersect the line which crosses the island. Hog Bay is an isolated place, and for that reason is entitled to special consideration. Every year it is growing in importance. Agricultural settlement is taking place in. the locality, and there is every justification for supposing that in a few years it will be one of the most important centres in Kangaroo Island. At the present time its residents receive a weekly mail, and sometimes they get the benefit of a bi-weekly service. But if they wish to send a telegram to Adelaide, it has first to be carried to Cape Willoughby, twenty miles distant. That in itself involves an expenditure of 25s. for a single message. As a tribute to the importance of Hog Bay, I may mention that the other day the South Australian Parliament decided to spend £2.000 upon the erection of a jetty there, and I may supplement that by the information that a telegram was despatched from Parliament House informing the residents of the fact. It was forwarded from Adelaide at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but did not reach its destination till the following night. What I have said! ought to lead the Postmaster-General to the conclusion that this place is deserving of special treatment. It is a port of growing importance, it possesses a considerable population, it is peculiarly isolated, and I do not think that the PostmasterGeneral would be going out of his way if he agreed to erect the line suggested without insisting upon the residents guaranteeing the Department against loss. There is little doubt that it would eventually pay well, but at the present moment it is doubtful whether the revenue derived from the undertaking would be quite equal to 10 per cent, upon the estimated outlay of £425. I trust that the Minister will see the reasonableness of remedying the three grievances that I have brought under his notice. In the opinion of the electors of Barker, the existing deficiencies are very important indeed, and1 if he shares their view, as, of course, he should do, I am quite sure that he will have them attended to ‘at once.
– I have no desire to anticipate discussion upon a motion relating to penny postage, which will be considered next Thursday. But there are two or three remarks to which I wish to reply. The honorable member for Grey stated that as the result of adopting the penny postage system, Victoria has sacrificed revenue. I consider that figures which have been supplied to me by the Postmaster-General’s Department show that the contrary has been the case. During the year preceding the introduction of that system in Victoria, the amount received from the sale of postage stamps was £400,837, whereas during 1904 it was £668,283. The total receipts for the yean 1900 were £590,207, and the total expenditure was £608,875 - a losE of £18,668, whereas for the year 1904 the total receipts were ,£668.283, and the total expenditure was £658,348; a gain of £9,935
– How much of that amount represents fines for sending letters to the other States with only a penny stamp affixed to them?
– I cannot say. The net gain to Victoria for the year 1905 - according to the Treasurer’s Budget statement - was £1 7,964. Consequently, the argument that the adoption of the penny postage system in Victoria has resulted in loss, falls to to the ground.
– Penny postage is costing Victoria from £50,000 to £55,000 a year.
– I have no desire to quote inaccurate figures. . These figures were placed in. my hands by, the Department,” and if they are not correct, I should like the Postmaster-General to tell me so.
– The honorable member is not quoting the actual loss or gain experienced in Victoria as the result of the adoption of the penny postage system. I can assure him that the loss to this State consequent upon the introduction of that system is £50.000 or £55,000 a year.
– If the Postmaster-General bases his calculation upon the number of letters which are now carried, he is probably correct. But I would point out that in 1900 the number of letters posted in Victoria! was only 66,000,000, whereas in 1904 it was 94,000,060.
– But on the honorable member’s own showing a loss is being incurred.
– I mentioned the matter only because of the remarks made by the honorable member for Grey.
– Are the honorable member’s figures correct ?
– They were supplied to me by the Department. I agree with the statement made by the honorable member for Canobolas that the advocates of Federation claimed that one of the advantages of union would be the introduction of the system of penny postage.
– Many Victorians are not aware that penny postage does not obtain throughout the Commonwealth.
– Quite so. It must be admitted that the Commonwealth has already had a good opportunity to bring about this reform. We have had a large surplus on more than one occasion, and I feel satisfied that the people of the Commonwealth would have hailed with satisfaction the introduction of such a system.
– It is declared that Tasmania, to begin with, would lose £20,000 a year.
– What is the actual loss in Victoria?
– The statement before me shows that in 1900 there was a loss of £18,668, and that the difference between receipts and expenditure in 1904 was £9.935-
– The difference between receipts and expenditure for the whole Department ?
– TF?e Postmaster-General asserts that the honorable member’s figures are incorrect.
– I asked for certain information from the Department, and was supplied with it. In 1900, when the twopenny post prevailed, 67.563,206 letters were posted in Victoria, but in 1904, under the penny postage system, 94,733,350, or an increase of 27,170,144, were posted.
– Does the honorable member distinguish between letters and postcards ?
– I am referring to mail matter. I do not care whether it consists of letters or post-cards, as long as it is paid for,
– Do the figures which ‘the honorable member has quoted relate to the number of letters posted in Victoria to addresses within the State?
– They relate to letters posted in Victoria, but I cannot say whether they comprise only those for delivery within the State.
– Then the honorable member’s figures are absolutely valueless, because penny postage applies only to Victoria.
– I do not think that they are valueless.
– Would it not be better for the honorable member to ascertain the number of letters posted in Victoria for delivery within the State?
– I have not asked for such information, and do not at present require it. My only desire is to show that the Department has reaped a profit from the introduction of the penny postage system in Victoria.
– The Postmaster-General says that there is a loss of £50,000 per annum.
– I should like the PostmasterGeneral to place before the Committee the figures upon which he bases that statement. I am pleased to observe that the telephone system has been largely extended, but think it is capable of still further extension in sparsely populated districts, where the settlers enjoy few, if any, of the advantages which residence in a city affords. In many country districts not a doctor is to be found, and it seems to me that if it were only to enable the services of a medical man to be speedily requisitioned in case of accident the telephone service should be extended to these thinly-populated parts of Australia. I object to the demand that is made for a guarantee in connexion with every application for a new service. As a rule, a farmer does not care to sign a guarantee, and I think that it should be recognised that the extension of postal, telegraphic and telephonic facilities to the back country must do much to assist the development of our resources. A great deal has been said with reference to the question of immigration, and the desirability of settling the people on the land, and it seems to me that if better postal and telegraphic facilities were afforded to country districts many persons would be encouraged to go upon the soil. Residents of cities enjoy a hundred and one advantages which are not possessed by country people, and I think that some little consideration should be shown to those who do the pioneering work of Australia. The telegraphic and telephonic services should be extended as much as possible, and those applying for new services should not be called upon to give guarantees. I come now to the attitude taken up by the Department with respect to a request that towns on the bar rivers of New South Wales shall be supplied with weather reports. The residents of Kempsey, which is situated on the River Macleay, and is one of the largest towns in the northern part of New South Wales, asked to be supplied from day to day with information as to the state of the bar at the mouth of the river, and pointed out that the information could be readily obtained. There is a pilot stationed’ at the South-West Rock - at the entrance - and the Department of Navigation expressed its willingness to allow him to send information by wire. But the Post and Telegraph Department actually refused to allow him to supply it unless he paid for the messages.
– There is a regulation by which such messages may be sent at press rates.
– The pilot was willing to supply the information, but the Department declined to allow him to do so, unless he paid for the transmission of the messages.
– Who was the PostmasterGeneral at the time?
– I think that the matter has been considered -by the present, as well as by the late, Postmaster-General. The demand made by the Department was a most absurd one. Reports as to the state of the weather at Sydney and Newcastle are posted at Kempsey every day, and yet the Department refuses to supply the. public with the still more important information as to the state of the bar. No charge is made for these weather reports.
– I should like to know whether weather reports are to be supplied free of charge in New South Wales, while a charge is made for them in Queensland ?
– I do not ask for my electorate concessions that should not be granted to every other part of the Commonwealth. The wife of the pilot at the bar is the postmistress there, and it would be easy for her to ring up the postmaster at Kempsey, and give him the information to which I have referred. Surely information which costs nothing to supply should be. furnished1 to the people when they make a request for it. I object to the red-tape rules that we have from time to time to fight.
– The honorable member should nob lose sight of the great reforms that the Department has effected in his constituency.
– The people of my electorate are fairly well satisfied with the way in which they have been treated, but no one can say that they have been dealt with more liberally than they deserve.
– May I say that they are very well represented?
– I shall see, at all events, that their interests are not neglected. I trust that the Minister will direct that the information desired by the people of Kempsey shall be supplied free of charge. The town is an important one, and the managers of the many butter factories there, as well as many other business people, wish to know from time to time whether they will be able to “ship their produce. In all the circumstances, the .request is a most reasonable one. I recognise that the Department is of great magnitude, and that care has to be taken that its expenditure is judiciously made. I object .to the erection of palatial, post-offices, believing that money so spent might be put to better use in the extension of mail and telegraphic facilities. I think that the town council should buy and place in position any clock that maybe needed by. the residents of the town.
– Attempts are always made to get the Post Office Department to supply town clocks.
– That is because the Department has supplied these clocks in the past, and residents of neighbouring towns where there are no clocks naturally think themselves entitled ‘to similar treatment. Still, in my opinion, when a town clock is wanted the townspeople should pay for it. I hope that the Postmaster-General will pay attention to the matters to which I have referred.
– I wish to bring under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral some matters which I have already brought before the Department. With regard to the remarks of the honorable member for Cowper, I mav inform the Committee that, prior to Federation, it was the practice in New South Wales, to allow bush fire brigades - voluntary bodies, whose members find their own equipment, and are organized to prevent the spreading of fires - to send telegrams without charge from the nearest telegraph office to any other office to summon assistance for saving life and property. For some reason or other, the Department has discontinued that practice, and now charges for transmitting these telegrams. In my opinion, the concession should be given again, and extended in regard to telegrams announcing the flooded state of rivers. By obtaining early information in regard to the state of rivers, stock-owners are able to determine when the flood water will reach their district, and thus to save a great deal of valuable stock, and the wires should be available without charge for the transmission of information designed solely to facilitate the saving of life and property from fire or flood. I trust that the Postmaster-General will arrange that those in charge of country post-offices may telegraph or telephone the occurrence of such calamities.
– Not “ may, “ but “ shall.”
– All information of that kind which is available should be posted outside the various offices in the district, so that persons concerned may read it and take advantage of it.
– The Act says distinctly that all telegrams shall be paid for.
– Then I think the Act might be broken in this respect. I am sure that Parliament would not censure a PostmasterGeneral for allowing a breach of the law for the benefit of the public at large.
– I have already committed such a breach.
– Then I hope that the Minister will do so again. Another matter to which I wish to direct his attention is what seems to me the excessive charge made for “ loose bags.” In remote parts of the State many persons living in outlying districts, in order to secure the safety of their correspondence, have it sent from the despatching office in little canvas bags, which the mail contractor leaves in boxes placed at convenient points along his route. Where these bags are not used the letters are handed to the mail contractor in a bundle, and he has to sort them out by the light of his coach lamps, perhaps in wet weather, so that mistakes occur, and the letters often get wet and dirty, or otherwise injured, and occasionally are lost altogether. It is. indeed, a wonder to me that more letters are not lost, considering the inconvenience of having to deal with them in the dark. The loosebag arrangement saves the contractor much of this trouble, and costs the Department very little, because the extra work entailed on the officials is very small, and the bags themselves are of very little value. Therefore to charge £2 per annum for the accommodation is extortionate. The matter has been brought under my notice on several occasions, and I have already brought it before the Department.
– On the honorable member’s representations I am having inquiries made, with a view to reduce the charge, if possible.
– I hope that it will be reduced. I have never been able to take the view that the Department should be managed solely as a .commercial concern. In my opinion, the convenience of the public should be studied. I have ascertained that along the Darling country for a distance of hundreds of miles only a few persons are using loose-bags, because of the excessive charge. One of the local progress associations, however. has informed me that, its members would willingly pay a charge of £1 per annum, which, in my opinion, would be still very high.
– Should not the man whose bag is made up six times a week be charged more than the man whose bag is made up only once?
– It would not be verymuch to make up a bag six times a week.
– The trouble would be nothing like so great, nor the expense so large, as that caused by a house-to-house delivery.
– No. I hope that the Minister will agree to a reduction of the charge to at least £1 per annum. With regard to the telephone system, the present Minister and his predecessor are to be complimented upon the desire which they have shown to extend1 telephones to country districts, and I agree with what the honorable member for Cowper has said on the subject. The guarantee system should be abolished, because telephones can now be constructed much more cheaply than was possible in the past, and are a necessity in the country districts, where often a life may be saved by the quick despatch of a message to a medical man. It has been proved that ordinary fence wires are admirable conductors, especially if the barbed wire is used. I hope that the Minister will tell the Committee that he intends to comply with the requests which have been made to him in this connexion.
– When the Minister of Home Affairs was speaking on the Public Service classification he said -
Since the transfer of the Departments to the Commonwealth, there have been continual increases in the rates of pay, I am glad to say, mostly in the lower ranks of the service.
I do not think that the facts quite bear out that statement. The average Queensland salary of £136 per annum in 1901-2, to which he referred as having been increased to £142 per annum, an average increase of 4 per cent., was obtained by lumping together the salaries of officers of the clerical and general divisions. If the average for each division is taken separately a very different story is told. For instance, there are eighty-five clerical officers in Brisbane, thirty-two of whom are receiving no increase, while the remaining fifty-three divide an increase of £870 amongst them. In the general division there are 129 officers, of whom eighty receive no increase, and the remaining forty-nine divide an increase of £260 amongst them. It seems to me that the officers in the lower ranks of the service have been placed under certain disabilities. For example, the mail men have lost over £2,000 through the stoppage of the allowances formerly paid to them in respect to overtime and holidays, whereas the officers in the clerical branch have lost only £162 from the same cause. I consider that this state of affairs is quite contrary to that represented by the Minister of Home Affairs, when he stated that the officers in the lower grades of the service had been granted the greater share of the increases. So far as I can ascertain, the officers in the higher grade have received the most consideration. I should like to direct attention to the conditions under which. States officials perform work for the Post Office Department. Several railway station-masters in Queensland are required to act as postmasters, but receive no remuneration for the extra work they perform. Formerly, they were paid an allowance, but this has been stopped, I presume, as the result of some arrangement Between the Postal authorities and the Railways Commissioners. The station-masters are required to sell postal notes and stamps, and, in- view of the fact that a commission is paid to outsiders who are licensed to sell those things, I think the officers referred to are entitled to payment for the responsibility they have to assume, and the attention which they have to give to the affairs of the Postal Department. I’ would ask the Postmaster-General to look into the various matters to which I have directed attention, and see that justice is done.
– I wish to direct attention to one matter in connexion with the telephone system. We maintain in each of the States highly-paid professional staffs, and the Queensland electrical officers are considered to be the most up-to-date of all. An application was recently made for the establishment of a telephone service between Brisbane and Gympie. The estimate furnished by the professional officers of the Queensland telegraph branch ran into some thousands of pounds, and it was impossible to furnish the guarantee necessary to secure the construction of the line. The honorable member for Wide Bay subsequently consulted the late Postmaster-General, who agreed to send an obscure telegraph operator from Tasmania to see what could be done under the condenser system. Despite the report of the professional officers, this obscure operator installed at a cost of between £200 and £300, a telephone service which has paid handsomely.
– The condenser system is not new.
– It is not new, but the professional officers of the Commonwealth were strongly opposed to its adoption. I do not know Mr. Hallam, the telegraph operator referred to, but I think it is a sin to keep such an officer at his present work.
– I have recommended him for a position in the electrical branch at a substantial increase of salary.
– I am very pleased to hear that merit has been so far rewarded. From inquiries I have made, I believe that Mr. Hallam is an inventive genius, and that he has made several important improvements in the instruments used in the Department. As we proceed with the Estimates, I shall have something to say with regard to the proposed vote of £700 for the services of a professional expert in connexion with the Telegraph Department. In view of the fact that it is necessary tq go to a place like Tasmania to find a man to teach our professional officers their work, ib appears to me that we shall require something more than an expert at a salary of .£7°° to set things right. I shall have something to say with regard to some other items when they come under discussion.
– I do not wish to go into details, but I desire to direct the attention of the Minister to a matter of principle in connexion with the proposed vote of £528 for the payment of increments to which officers ate entitled under States Acts. I should like to know whether, in view of the fact that in the case of the South Australian officers, one more payment would exhaust the annual increment to which the officers “are entitled under the Constitution, it would not be better to acknowledge their rights, rather than test the matter in the Law Courts. I understand’ that if the Classification scheme be adopted - as it, no doubt, will be, before the session closes - it is intended to cease paying the increments under States laws - that is, the increments to which the officers are supposed to be entitled under section 84 of the Constitution, which preserves to them their accruing and accrued rights. Inasmuch, however, as one more payment, which would carry us up to the end of the current financial year, would exhaust the claims of the officers to increments under the States law, it seems pettifogging on our part to resist the full payment. The amount involved, including the claims of officers connected with the Customs Department, would not exceed £700. I would suggest that the Minister should ask the Cabinet to reconsider the matter, with a view to the recognition of the strong moral claims of the officers to complete payment.
– I wish to direct attention to the fact that the States which previously did not participate in the expense of carrying on the Vancouver mail service are, under the system adopted by the present Postmaster-General and his immediate predecessor, now required to contribute. Victoria, in addition to being called on to pay an increased contribution in respect to the Orient mail service, amounting to £36,550 as against £21,137 in the previous year, is required 10 contribute £8,020 towards the cost of the Vancouver mail service.
– Victoria sends more mail matter than Queensland does by the Vancouver route.
– Quite so; but New South Wales and Queensland derive direct advantages from the fact that the mail steamers make Sydney their terminal port, and Brisbane a port of call. Prior to Federation, Victoria was asked to join New South Wales and Queensland in subsidizing the Vancouver mail service, but upon finding that it was impossible to arrange for the steamers to call at Melbourne, the undoubted manufacturing centre of the Commonwealth, and that Victorian manufacturers would not be able to share with those of New South Wales the advantage of facilities for direct shipment to Canada, the State declined to become a party to the contract. I have no objection to urge to the service, but merely wish to point out that Victoria is now called upon to pay in respect to the Orient mail contract, the Vancouver mail contract, and the Pacific Cable, £54,57°- The Vancouver service is, no doubt, of great advantage to New South Wales, and that is why it has been maintained, in spite of the refusal of Victoria and other States to contribute towards it. In connexion with the Pacific Cable, only three States, namely, Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales, are required to contribute, and I see no reason why the whole of the States should be called upon to contribute upon a per capita basis to the cost of the Vancouver mail service. The Pacific Cable, although it serves Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia equally-
– Oh, no.
– Then let me assume that it serves Tasmania equally with the other States. Why should not Tasmania contribute towards the cost of its maintenance ?
– No new arrangement has been entered into as regards the Pacific Cable. All transferred services must be paid for in the same manner as before, whereas new services have to be paid for per capita.
– Am. I to understand that when a transferred service is continued it must be paid for by the States which are chiefly interested in it?
– It is held that the Vancouver mail contract is a new contract.
– Then at some time or other the Pacific Cable will be paid for by the whole of the Commonwealth.
– When the bookkeeping period expires, I think that the loss upon that cable will be borne by the States pro rata.
– Then I understand that after October of next year Victoria’s contribution will be shared by the whole Commonwealth ?
– The Pacific Cable arrangements are interminable, but if I am Postmaster-General when the proper time arrives, I shall endeavour to back up the opinion which I have just given, and which is entirely my own.
– Seeing that the cost of the Vancouver mail service is being paid! “by all the States, is it not a fair thing that the steamers engaged in it should call at the chief port in each of the States, and that, in particular, they should visit Melbourne, whence a larger proportion of the produce which they carry is exported?
– Why should they visit Melbourne any more than Perth?
– I am quite willing that they should also call at Fremantle.
– Does not the honorable and learned member think that all contracts should be for the conveyance of mails to the nearest railway port?
– If the “ PostmasterGeneral believes that, I cannot understand why he should advocate - as he recently did - that the terminus of the Vancouver service should be at Sydney instead of at Brisbane. At the present time Victoria is exporting to Canada a larger quantity of produce than is any other .State of the Union. In spite of that fact, however, when the service was instituted by Mr. James Huddart, of Messrs. Huddart, Parker, and Company, this State did not regard the venture as a good one from a business stand-point, and consequently declined to (join in the undertaking. The Vancouver mail steamers touch only at one port, and it seems unfair that Victorian exporters are not allowed to participate to the full in the benefits of that service, inasmuch as their produce has to undergo transhipment. I ask the Postmaster-General, at the expiration of the present contract, to endeavour to make some arrangement under which consideration shall be extended to Melbourne.
– I think we are all grateful to the honorable and learned member for Corio for having imported into this debate a new interest by raising the old sordid cry of Svdney versus Melbourne. He claims that Melbourne is the natural terminus of the Vancouver mail service, and that consequently the steamers engaged in that service should call here. Surely if the Victorian trade with Canada is as important as he would have us believe, those steamers would call here of- their own accord. After listening to the honorable member, one would be disposed to believe that the whole export trade of Australia is centred in Melbourne. But in demanding that the Vancouver mail steamers should call at Melbourne in order that Victorian, importers might be relieved of transhipment charges, he gets himself into an awkward impasse. Is he anxious that harvesters, shall be brought here more cheaply, than they have been hitherto?
– Is not that the whole source of the trouble? Are not the freight charges via the Vancouver route greater than thev are via New York?
– The bulk of the trade will always go via New York, because the freight charges are less. But until recently urgent shipments of harvesters were sent via Vancouver, although the new regulations regarding f.o.b. values will cause these goods to be sent by other routes in future.
– Order ! We are not dealing with the question of harvesters.
– We are dealing with the question as to whether the Vancouver mail service shall be so altered) that goods may come direct to Melbourne without transhipment at other ports. The honorable and learned member for Corio seemed to think that any good which accrued to either New South Wales or Queensland as the result of the Vancouver mail contract must necessarily injure this State. ‘I do not hold any such view. The representatives of New South Wales are always glad to see Victoria prosper. All that we object to is that New South Wales is not granted similar advantages. We are always glad to see any portion’ of the Commonwealth making that progress which we ourselves should like to make as the result of Federation. The honorable and learned member for Corio spoke as if the fact that consideration was being extended to Sydney and Brisbane would have the effect of injuring the Commonwealth.
– His point was that this is the first year in which Victoria has been debited with a portion of the Canadian mail subsidy.
– That was one of his points. As the honorable member is aware, the Constitution specially prescribes the manner in which these matters shall be dealt with. It provides that transferred expenditure must continue to be borne by the States which originally incurred it, so long as the arrangements in force at the time of the transfer of the Departments remain in operation. But where a new arrangement is entered into, the expenditure must be borne per capita.
– The point suggested by the honorable and learned member for Corio was as to whether the Vancouver mail service represented transferred or new expenditure.
– Obviously it represents new expenditure.
– The late Treasurer held that it did.
-That is so. The present contract differs from the old contract in a variety of ways. I think that the point made by the honorable and learned member for Corio in regard to the Pacific Cable payments is deserving of some consideration. I have considered the matter, and, like the honorable and learned member, have been struck by the anomaly, but I do not at present see any way out of the difficulty. If any honorable member would show me how, without infringing the rights of the States which are not at present concerned, we might remedy the trouble, I should be very glad to move in any direction that would make the contribution a Commonwealth one. All these services should be paid for by the people of the Commonwealth. Anything that tends to give us increased postal facilities, and consequently to encourage trade - anything which by giving us regular communication with different countries helps to spur our exports, no matter from what corner of the Commonwealth those exports may be shipped - is a matter in which the whole Commonwealth is concerned. Surely it is to the advantage of Victoria, for example, that potentialities for power in different directions are being stirred up in some other parts of the Commonwealth? Any increased power’ which any section of the Commonwealth gains is a power that can be placed at the disposal of the people of Australia generally in their hour of need.
– A gain to one is a gain to all.
– That is so. I think we have had enough of the spirit of provincialism in dealing with these matters. I have always held that it should be the duty of this Parliament to allay as far as possible, by judicious and diplomatic legislation and administration, those few Inter-State differences which existed at the time of the establishment of the Commonwealth. Honorable members know, however, that, as the result of the bond which was to foster a spirit of amity and goodwill between the different States, still more differences have eventuated - differences of a nature that are now making themselves very bitterly felt. In all these matters we must endeavour to act in. a broad-minded spirit, so that” the whole Commonwealth will receive as much consideration at the hands of each honorable member as does that part of it which forms his own electorate. That is the way in which I endeavour to view every proposal brought before the House. I have always sought to show that I feel that, my constituents could not expect to receive that consideration which they ought to receive at the hands of this House if I were not prepared to accord the same treatment to all other constituencies. I wish now to refer to the question of uniform stamps. The honorable member for Barrier brought the matter forward, and, like a number of other questions about which he spoke, it has been learnedly discussed for some time in the public press. I always endeavour to be present when the honorable member is addressing himself to questions concerning the Post and Telegraph Department, because I recognise that three months hence his views of to-day will be those of the powerful party of which he is a member, just as they have been the views of the general public for many months past. The honorable member certainly did’ useful work in urging the necessity for uniform postage stamps for the Commonwealth. I fail to find sufficient force in the argument against the proposal to deter us from entering upon it. We are told that the bookkeeping system must necessarily interfere with its adoption. I do not know why it should. The Governments of New South Wales and Victoria have arrived’ at a reciprocal arrangement, by which the more burdensome bookkeeping safeguards on Inter - State trade are avoided. Such an arrangement having been made in. relation to a matter that affects every department of trade, it should not be difficult to arrive at a system by which each State might be credited during the bookkeeping period with the revenue to which it was entitled from the sale of stamps. If the bookkeeping difficulty is not to be overcome, surely it would be possible to issue stamps bearing in their corners a small letter indicating the State of origin. The PostmasterGeneral who, no doubt owing to’ political exigencies, is a philatelist, is doubtless aware that a .small letter appeared on the corner of all the early English stamps. Some such system might be brought into vogue in Australia during the bookkeeping period, to show the State of origin of the uniform stamps. I fail, however, to see that such a step should be necessary. Like the honorable member for Barrier, I feel that it ought to be possible, if the persons concerned would only apply themselves seriously to the subject, to arrange a basis upon Which the Department could credit each State with that to which is was entitled during the bookkeeping period. My first point is that the reform is possible, so far as the financial provisions of the Constitution are concerned, and my second is that we should not continue to use in Australia a series of practically obsolete stamps. The late Queen’s head appears on a great number ot them, and whilst we shall always be glad to see that representation, we must not lose sight of the fact that stamp issues are used by many countries to advertise their capacities. We talk a great deal about the necessity for advertising Australia, and I hold that we should avail ourselves of every means, however trifling - and this would be really only a little way - to advertise ourselves. The initial cost of making the) change would be small, and thereafter a big saving would be effected, inasmuch as it would be necessary to have only one set of dies instead of six, in respect of each issue. I fail to understand why five years after the consummation of Federation, the Postal Department in each of the States should be still as distinct in many respects as it was before. If the PostmasterGeneral considers the possibilities attaching to his position, he will take this matter very seriously into consideration. The late Postmaster-General, whose energetic administration of the Department has secured him credit throughout the Commonwealth, instituted so many reforms on the telephonic side of the service, as well as in other directions, that the honorable gentleman, unless he wishes to live during his term of office in the glory of his predecessor, must necessarily look round for some new opportunity to show his ability.
– He has an opportunity in regard tol the uniform stamp.
– In this respect the honorable gentleman has an opportunity’ to do something that will make his administration known all over the world. The stamps of the United States bear likenesses of the more prominent men of that country, and the Postmaster-General might cause disown portrait to appear on some of the new issues. If the Postmaster-General made the administration of the telephone systems of the States uniform he would do still further good service. Every one who travels from one State capital to another must be struck by the differences in the arrangement of the books giving the list of subscribers, in the way in which calls have to be made, and in many other matters. I think that in the past the States systems have been arranged in accordance with the personal predilections of the permanent departmental heads, and that Ministers have not sufficiently addressed themselves to the federalization of this Department. They have been content to ‘administer the systems of the various States separately, without co-ordinating them in a number of small particulars, whereby, the facilities offered to the public could be increased without additional expense to the Department. The telephone systems of Australia are in an exceptionally bad state. No one can use the telephone in any large centre of population without being compelled to hear a number of conversations which he does not desire, and is not meant to hear, and which it would be sometimes better not to hear. What is needed is the metallic circuit, and, although it would be expensive to institute, I think that the expense would be quite justified, in the larger cities, at all events. As additional evidence that our system is behind the times, I would remind the Committee of the extremely faulty switchboard in use at the General Post Office, Sydney. Its purchase is not creditable to the State Government responsible for it, because, I understand, the board was hopelessly obsolete at the time. I have been informed by a man who had considerable experience in the United States, in connexion with telephones, being at one time the head of one of those combines which run the telephone systems of the northern and1 western States, that it would be difficult for the Department to extend the Sydney system because of the defects of the switchboard. He told me, apparently in good faith - though, of course, I have’ no means of checking his statement - that he would cheerfully pay a large sum. to be permitted to carry on st telephone, system in Sydney in competition with the existing Government system. He said that, with proper instruments and uptodate arrangements, he could offer so much better facilities to the public than they are now getting, that he could run the Government system off the market. Honorable members have at times been maddened by the delays which arise when one desires a particular number, though it is hardly fair to put the whole blame on the shoulders of the switchboard attendants. They do their best, I believe, and their slowness in answering calls is mainly due to the defects of the switchboard. This subject leads me to make a remark on the subletting of telephones. It is, no doubt, essential that any enterprise which wishes to gain trade, as I hope the Telephone Department does, shall be generous to its customers. Consequently, there must not be too much red tape in the administration of the Department, and petty abuses of regulations must not be too keenly pried into; but, occasionally, these petty abuses become serious, as is instanced by the following statement which appeared in last Saturday’s Argus: -
Complaint was made at the meeting of the Trades Hall Council last night, by Mr. D. V. Cooke, a delegate from the Painters’ Union, that two members of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Board had their business establishments connected with their private residences through fire stations. While these gentlemen were using their telephones, the circuit was cut off, and fire alarms, if it were necessary to give them, would consequently be delayed. It was a matter of considerable importance to the community that there should be no hitch in communicating news of a fire ; but alarms could not be given promptly if the lines were privately engaged, and the circuits destroyed.
It was decided to bring the matter under the notice of the Postmaster-General.
– Who is the offending member?
– I understand that a member of this House is a member of the Fire Brigades Board, and, no doubt, if he were present, he could give us information on the point ; but I do not wish to mention his name in his absence. I am reminded thereby, however, of the terrible fall of the leader of the Government. I remember when it came within his province to go round the country speaking for his supporters, but now they have to go round the country speaking for him. I do not, however, grudge them the practice which it gives them in the answering of interjections. I hope that the Postmaster-General will take this matter into his consideration, and that there will be no sub-letting of lines in connexion with the fire brigades. It would be a very serious thing if calls in: tended for a fire brigade were delayed because a line was being used for private business by persons who were taking advantage of their public position to enjoy telephone facilities at the public expense, notwithstanding the extremely reasonable rent charged for private telephones. I do not wish to deal with the various questions of policy which have been raised during this debate, because I am anxious that the discussion of the Estimates shall be concluded this week. A number of important questions have been raised by the honorable member for Barrier, who has dealt with the administration of the Department in a manner which shows that he has ambitions to hold the portfolio now in the hands of the PostmasterGeneral. I have no desire to play into the honorable member’s hands by entering into a prolonged debate upon Esti- mates which have been framed by an able Minister, and handed over to the present capable administrator of the Department. Neither myself, nor any other members of the Opposition have any wish to delay the passing of the Estimates, and I shall therefore defer any further remarks I may have to make in regard to individual items until thev are submitted for specific discussion.
Mr. CHANTER (Riverina).- I wish to refer to a matter which I forgot to mention when I was addressing the Committee at an earlier stage of the debate. I would ask the Minister to consider whether it would not be possible to apply a zone system of postage, similar to that adopted in large centres of population in New South Wales, to some of the districts on the Victorian and New South Wales border. At present considerable loss is incurred by residents in Riverina owing to the difference in the rates of postage charged in Victoria and New South Wales respectively. The residents of Victoria who send letters across) the border into Riverina sometimes forget that Riverina does mot happen to be in Victoria, and fail to attach anything more than the one penny stamp required for letters sent from any one part of Victoria to another. The consequence is that the recipients of the letters have to pay a surcharge of twopence, namely, one penny for deficient postage, and one penny in the shape of a fine. This penalty is incurred through no neglect of theirs, but through an oversight on the part of the sender, upon whom the fine should be inflicted. In many cases letters bearing insufficient postage are declined, and sent back to the Postal Department. The cause of complaint would be to some extent removed by the adoption of a zone system, which would bring within the operation of a reduced postage rate certain towns upon both sides of the. Murray. The real remedy for the present evil lies in the adoption of a uniform postage rate for the whole of the Commonwealth, but the present would lie an inopportune time to debate that question, as there is a motion on the businesspaper set down for discussion on Thursday next. I hope that in the meantime the Minister will do something to remove the disabilities to which the residents of Riverina are now subject.
– I indorse the remark of the honorable member for Wentworth that there is no desire on the part of members of the Opposition to unduly prolong the discussion on the Estimates. The reason is sufficiently plain. The Minister claims that they are not his Estimates, but those of his predecessor in office, whom he is anxious to emulate in all things, and whom he has certainly placed upon a deservedly high pedestal. I am afraid, however, that we shall have to apply the Statute of Limitations to the Minister, because we cannot allow him to recline much longer upon the capacious bosom of the honorable member for Macquarie. I hope that the Minister will soon take up the ‘attitude of a thoroughly responsible administrator, and tell us what he proposes to do on his own account. We have heard to-night from the Henniker Heaton of. the Chamber - I refer to the honorable member for Barrier - that, notwithstanding the ability and industry which have been brought to bear upon the administration of the Postal Department, much still remains to be done, and I think it is about time that the Minister got off the shoulders of the honorable member for Macquarie.
– Why complain if the Minister is doing all right?
– I shall show the honorable member presently why I complain. For one thing, the wind is taken out of One’s sails when he is told that these are not the Estimates of ‘the present Government, but those of the late Administration.
– The honorable member cannot prevent me from saying a good word for the honorable member for Macquarie.
– I have no ‘desire of that kind, but I hope to see the Minister submit some proposals of his own. One complaint which has been made during this debate appears to me to have a substantial basis. The honorable member for Barker has voiced the grievances of the .settlers at a place called Pinnaroo, somewhere on the border between Adelaide and Melbourne. It has been represented that this settlement is in process of verv sharp development, and that the postal facilities have not kept pace with requirements. That is a very old complaint against the Post and Telegraph Department, and a very well-grounded one. If there is one charge, more than another that can be justly laid at the door of the Postal Department, it is that it has been tardy in. extending the benefits of postal communication to new fields. I could1 point to a number of cases in which the greatest difficulty has been experienced in inducing the inspectors, even to report upon, the claims of a locality, and the probable permanence of a settlement.
– If a settlement goes down, postal facilities can be withdrawn, but the Department lost a lot of money over the construction of a telegraph line to Tarcoola.
– Precisely the same thing occurs in connexion with other businesses. We have been told that the Post Office is a commercial Department, and as such it must take ordinary business risks in connexion with new fields of operation.
– Does the honorable member distinguish between postal and telegraphic facilities?
– I do not think there is the same necessity as formerly existed to make any such distinction, because the telephone is destined to be the pioneer of the telegraph line, if it does not entirely supersede it in outlying localities. But whether a telegraph or a telephone line be in question, the Post and Telegraph Department must take the same risks that have to be incurred bv commercial houses. Take the case of Pinnaroo. I understand that South Australia is spend ing £120,000 upon the construction of a railway to that country. I am further assured’ that that expenditure will have the effect of opening up 130,000 acres of excellent land.
– The estimated cost of providing a horse mail service to Pinnaroo is £160 per annum, and the estimated’ revenue about £40.
– My experience is that these Departmental estimates of cost, especially in regard to new undertakings, are of a very pessimistic character.
– Sometimes the Railways Commissioners ask too much.
– There is no more facile way of squelching an undertaking than of securing an official report which is diametrically opposed to it. My experience is that the moment any new enterprise is put before the officers of the Department, they proceed to throw a wet blanket over it. That ought not to be the attitude of an up-to-date commercial Department. The fact that we may lose money by incurring risks to develop these new fields ought not to deter us from doing, what any enterprising private firm would do under similar circumstances. I well remember when the system of guarantees in connexion with telephonic extension was introduced. Its effect was to completely block any such extension for some years.
– That system is preventing development still.
– Yes. I do not believe in the principle underlying it. The Department should either say that an undertaking will pay, or that it will not. Personally I should decline to enter into a guarantee of that character in connexion with any public undertaking.
– If everybody adopted that attitude a lot of places would remain without telephone lines.
– That is the fault of the Department.
– Not at all. In some cases they would not pay for very many years.
– That is no justification for asking a private individual to take upon himself a responsibility which ought properly to attach to the whole community.
– But the guarantee system is very different now from what it was in the old days.
– I quite admit that the present conditions are fairly easy. - thanks to the honorable member. But I am entirely opposed to the principle of guarantees. There is one matter connected with the administration of this Department to which I take strong exception. I refer to the cutting down of the salaries of its responsible officers in the various States. I have specially in my mind the reduction which hasbeen made in the salary of the Deputy-Postmaster-General in New South Wales. In my opinion there is no justification whatever for that reduction. I believe that the work of these superior officers is very much heavier now than it was under the old regime when they had a Minister at their elbows whom they could consult immediately any doubtful question arose. I do not think that Federation has had the effect of diminishing their work - it has rather tended to increase it. Further, I do not believe that they have ever been overpaid. In New South Wales the DeputyPostmasterGeneral has between 4,000 and 5,000 employes under his control. Such an officer, I contend, is not too well paid at£920 a year. Honorable members cannot point to any other business undertaking in the Commomwealth in which a man who is saddled with the same amount of responsibility is paid such a salary. The reduction of that officer’s income to£800 is a very serious blot upon the administration of the Postmaster-General. His action is one which will not benefit the Department; on the contrary, I believe that, as a result, the interests of the State may suffer.
– When he was promoted, and received an advance in salary from£700 to£920, a special note was made that he must accept the amount which might thereafter be voted by Parliament.
– But the PostmasterGeneral has taken uponhimself the responsibility of asking Parliament to vote a decreased salary. In that connexion I think that his action is entirely inconsistent. I appeal to him, even at this late stage, to see that the present occupant of that office is granted his full salary till the time comes for his retirement. I understand that he contemplates retiring.
– Hewill soon reach the age limit.
– If I were in his place-even if I had not reached the age limit - I should not quietly submit to having my. salary reduced in that way after having served the Department faithfully for forty-five years. Mr. Unwin has passed through every grade in the Department. He has now reached a position in which he exercises full local control over that Department
– Is the PostmasterGeneral asking for a refund of £120 in connexion with his salary last year?
– I do hope that the Postmaster-General will yet see his way to allow this officer to draw his full salary until he chooses to retire, upon reaching the age limit. To reduce his remuneration when he is about to leave the Department is scurvy treatment of a trusted servant. I can conceive of no greater indignity being heaped upon an official under such circumstances.
– The action taken in his case has been held to justify reductions elsewhere.
– I think that in South Australia the salary of the Deputy Postmaster-General has been reduced by £300 or£400.
– No other officer has had his salary actually reduced. It is not proposed that the salary of the Deputy Postmaster-General in Victoria shall be reduced.
– We cannot reduce his salary. He brought it over with him.
– I am glad that the Government cannot reduce it.
– What was Mr. Unwin’s salary before he was promoted to the position of Deputy Postmaster-General in New South Wales?
– I apprehend that the honorable member knows all about the matter, and I am sure that he will support my contention.
– I would point out that, if I permit the honorable member to discuss that particular item, I must allow a general debate upon it.
– I bow to your ruling, sir; but I shall be bound to refer to the matter again, because I feel that a great injustice has been done to this officer.
– It has not yet been done.
– I feel that the Government cannot have considered the claims of Mr. Unwin - they must have considered the office itself rather than the man. I am sorry that the honorable member for Barrier is not present, because I desire to reply to some of the statements concerning myself which he made this afternoon. It seems that in recent times he has been busy searching my statements, and hunting up my attitude upon the black labour question. To-day he quoted from yet another speech which I made, urging that steps should ‘be taken, by process of negotiation with the Imperial Government, for the elimination of black labour from, our mail steamers.
– Surely the honorable member does not begrudge him those quotations. They were the most interesting portion of his speech.
– I was very glad to hear them, although the honorable member’s purpose in making them was quite obvious. I think that he had better get rid of all his bile at once, and see if he cannot let my career alone. I am afraid that, search as he may, h& will not find that I have made any such changes as he has clone during recent years. Indeed, the whole trouble of himself and his colleagues seems to be that I have not chopped, and changed, about, as they have done. I have made no change in this respect. If changes have taken place they have occurred, in relation to the attitude, not of myself, but of my honorable friends of the Labour Party.
– The honorable member is like the obstinate juryman.
– The honorable member did not hear the quotations to which I referred, but there was nothing in them inconsistent with my attitude to-day. I stand to-day on precisely the same ground as I did when, in conjunction with the present Treasurer, we asked the Imperial Government to see if they could not remove black labour from the mail-boats. When they told us that for Imperial reasons they could not do so we took no further steps. The quotation which my honorable friend has made to-night serves only to emphasize that attitude on my part, and shows no inconsistency, so far as I am concerned, in relation to the question of coloured labour. Who is there in this Chamber, however ardent an Imperialist he may be, who would not prefer to see Australian labour rather than coloured labour of any kind employed on the mail steamers ? There are many rea sons why we should desire that change. The. principal one is that pointed out by the honorable member for Barrier, and attributed to me - that, having regard to the value of our mercantile marine in its relation to the Navy, the Imperial Government must soon give attention to the question of the- employment of coloured and foreign labour upon British merchantmen.
– Many persons d’o not realize that fact.
– I hold that when we confine this question to the mere matter of employing coloured labour on mail-boats we show no sense of its proper proportion. It is a defective view of Liberalism which sees in the employment of a few men on the mail-boats the whole question as it affects the interests of the Empire.
– We are bound to support the employment of white labour where we. have the power to do so.
– I am always willing to do something of the kind’ when I can do so without dealing a blow at myself. When we disrupted the mail services of the Empire, as we did, we paid a very high price for what, after all, is not part, of the policy of a White Australia. It is quite a distinct question. I therefore say that it is all a matter of proportion and of price. Apart from other Imperial considerations-
– From the honorable member’s stand-point the considerations are mainly Imperial.
– If it will please the honorable member, I shall admit the soft impeachment. But I advise the honorable member for Barrier when next he inquires into my career to make a more- diligent search, and to try to rake up something that will deal a more deadly blow at my Liberalism than did his very feeble attempt this afternoon. I am afraid” that my honorable friend, like some of his colleagues, is assuming - and it is a very easy and airy assumption - that all the Liberalism of the world necessarily inheres in the caucus. I do not take that view, and, judging by recent events, it would appear that the workers of Australia do not share it. They, too, are coming to the conclusion that all the Labour sympathy of Australia is not resident in ‘ the caucuses of the various States. I should not have referred to this aspect of the matter but for the attitude of the honorable member for Barrier, and, as he is not in the Chamber, I shall say no more about it.
– Everything is looking beautiful.
– I do not think we need complain if the honorable member has no complaint to make. He has had his answer, in Western Australia, to the plea which he, in conjunction with his fellows, «ent to the people there. If he is satisfied, we certainly ought to be.
– Amply satisfied.
– Then there is no need to further discuss the matter. I should like to hear the Prime Minister say that he is perfectly satisfied with the trend of events in Western Australia ; because that would complete the circle of satisfaction now ‘Obtaining in the Chamber. To come back to the Postal Department, I would say that pleas for further ‘concessions have been made from various parts of the Chamber. The honorable member for Canobolas desires a Commonwealth system of penny postage, and the honorable member for Cowper is also* an earnest .advocate of the system.
– Here is another one.
– The Minister, I believe is, or, at all events, used to be, a warm supporter of the system. I think that at the very moment he took office he had upon the business-paper a motion in favour of the immediate granting, of penny postage. I presume, however, that a few months’ experience in office has shown him that there is a taxpayers’ side, as well as a popular, and a parliamentary one, to this question. We need to look a little more closely into the working of the Department, and to determine what its financial aspects really are. We have been told by the Postmaster-General that it is a commercial Department, and according to the Estimates now before us, it would appear to be in a very good way. For instance, the honorable member for Macquarie - the ex- PostmasterGeneral - told us that last year there was a surplus as between the revenue and expenditure of the Department, and I believe that there is an estimated surplus this year. I submit, however, that these Estimates are made up in a way that is very misleading, unless careful consideration be given to them. It is true that there was last year a surplus amounting to *-f 64,000 on the operations of the Department.
– The whole matter was explained in the Budget statement, and is also explained in the Budget papers.
– I assure the right honorable member that it is not. It is estimated that there will be this year a surplus of £26,000. That would be ali very well if other matters had been taken into account in connexion with these Estimates. The Treasurer says that the whole matter was explained by him in his Budget statement. It was, to a certain extent, but not fully. I propose to show that this Department is not by any means paying its way. If it were, I should be heartily pleased, because I could then see some prospect of the granting of all the concessions which honorable members are demanding. Such concessions’ would be readily granted by the Minister, if it were not for pressing financial considerations. He, like other honorable members, has to observe his financial limitations, and it is because of these limitations that he is not permitted instanter to grant the concessions which are sought from time to time. As I have said, there was last year a surplus of £64,000 in respect of ‘the operations of the Department, but that assumption leaves out of account the sum of £217,000 which was spent out of revenue on new works, and enterprises of various kinds. The cost of those works was not debited as expenditure against the Department, nor was it taken into account when this balance in favour of the Department was struck. There is another item which does not come into this balancesheet, and that is the interest on transferred property. That must, amount to at least £250.000. We’ have thus to add to the £2,656,000 of expenditure indicated in the Budget statement, as well as in the Estimates, £217,000 for new works and £250.000 in respect of interest, and we thus find that instead of a surplus on last! year’s operations, there was a debit of £440,000. and that probably the present year will sh’ow’a similar loss.
– Out of what fund was the £217,000 paid?
– Out of the consolidated revenue, but it was not debited against the Postal Department.
– These amounts were previously charged to loan expenditure in New South Wales.
– It is only fair to point out that the bulk of this sum of £217,000, but not the whole of it, under the old conditions would have been charged to loan account. But we have made up our minds, and,. I think, rightly, for the present, not to float loans to carry out these minor works. The cost has therefore to be debited in some way, and my point is that it lias not been debited against the Department for whose benefit it was spent. If it were, the result would be, as I have said, that, with interest charges added, there would be a debit on the year’s operations of no less than £440,000.
– Does the honorable member desire the Estimates to be reduced in order to meet this deficiency?
– By no means; but I hold that an effort should be made to place the Department on a more businesslike footing.
– We spent only £131,000 on new works and buildings.
– I am speaking of the Estimates. The honorable gentleman did not take the question of interest into account, but he will have to do so before he can present a proper^ balance-sheet of Commonwealth .accounts.
– Interest on works constructed with borrowed money?
– Interest on transferred properties. We are paying no interest on any of our transferred properties. The right honorable gentleman has dropped that out of his balance-sheet.
– In New South Wales the Postal Department never paid interest on works constructed out of loan money.
– I am not making a comparison between former times and the present. There has been a very great improvement in the administration of the Post Office, and I am as ready as is any honorable member to give credit to those who have brought it about. But we should let the public know the true position in regard to figures relating to the Department. They should not be given to understand that there is a balance to its credit when, if all the charges against it are accounted for, there is a deficiency of nearly £500.000.
– Are not the properties held by the Department worth anything as a set-off ?
– I am not dealing with the value of the properties held by the Department; I am speaking of ‘he interest chargeable on those properties.
– The honorable member is speaking about the annual expenditure on works.
– Yes ; and the value of those works is supposed to be represented in the revenues of the Department. Taking full credit for all the revenues of the Department, and charging the item of new works as well as the item of interest against the Department,, there is the debit balance to which I have referred. Honorable members, before asking for a uniform penny postage and other concessions which cost money, should make themselves acquainted with the true position of affairs. The honorable member for Macquarie has always been in favour of universal penny postage in the abstract, and more than twelve years ago I spoke in favour of it in the New South Wales Parliament, as the honorable members for Cowper and Canobolas have done to-day, and as the Postmaster-General did only a few months ago. But when we come to deal with the matter in a practical way, we find ourselves faced by certain financial limitations. There is a debit balance of £500,000 on the working of the Department, and yet some honorable members propose to add a further deficiency of £250,000, which is the estimate of experts as to tlie loss of revenue which would be caused by the adoption of uniform penny postage. It has been said that there has been no loss in Victoria through the adoption of the penny postage system throughout the State, but in dealing with the Victorian system honorable members have taken into account, not postal revenue only,but also revenue from telephones and telegraphs. Victoria to-day loses more than £50,000 a year by the penny postage system. But, on the other hand, her revenue has been increased by the amount with which the State is credited as the cost of sending weather telegrams, by the increase of the packet rate, and by the business resulting from the location of the Federal Parliament and Government in Melbourne. This is, therefore, no time to speak of reducing the Commonwealth postage. We should rather seek to reduce the deficiency to which I have referred. I am not sure that a mistake was not made by the first Federal Parliament in reducing the telegraph rates, and particularly the rates for Inter-State telegrams to the extent we did. I think that we went too far, and have lost revenue to the amount of the reduction of rates which we provided for. Whilst there were strong sentimental reasons urging the adoption of uniform telegraph rates, as there are strong sentimental reasons for the adoption of uniform penny postage, we let our sentiment run away with our judgment in that instance, and did not pay due attention to the business considerations involved. For this I take as much blame as attaches to
Other honorable members. We should have given more care to preserving the balance between expenditure and revenue. I am not sure that it was fair to give the concession which we gave to one section of the community at the expense of the ratepayers as a whole. I agree with the honorable member for Barrier that the sooner the “ toll “ system is charged in connexion with our telephones the better it will be. In adopting it Australia will be following the example of other parts of the world, and by this time the Department should have prepared Estimates of the probable increase in revenue to be expected from its adoption. An honorable member whose business acumen I greatly respect, with whom I was discussing the matter to-day, doubts that there will be an increase of revenue, but my belief is that the revenue will be considerably increased.
– The adoption of the “ toll “ system would lead to the use of telephones in a number of country towns whose residents are now standing out for lower rates.
– I do not think that it will have that effect, unless the increase of revenue is so large as to allow a considerable reduction of the minimum, because in any case there must be a fixed minimum.
– Then how is the additional revenue to be obtained?
– From the large business firms whose telephones are in use all day long, who now are charged only the same rent for their instruments as is paid by the business or professional man whose telephone is used only a few times a day. We might, perhaps, also increase our telegraph rates without injuring the general public, because, in return for the increase, we might give a better service. For instance, we now limit a message to sixteen words, charging extra for every additional word. But I do not think that the staff of the Department would have to be increased if we increased the length of the message to twenty words. I do not say this should be done, but refer to it only as an instance of the unexploited possibilities in connexion with increasing the revenue of the Department The charges to the public cannot be increased, unless we give them some return such as I have referred to. The honorable member for Canobolas to-day_ referred to the fact that England enjoys penny postage; but when the penny rate was adopted England had a population of (i 7,000,000. We have a population of only 4,000,000; but if we had 17,000,000, and only the same area of country to serve, no doubt we could reduce our rate. Our postal service costs three or four times what the English service costs, in proportion to the revenue received, because Australia is a country of magnificent distances, whereas in England the population is crowded into large centres, and the work of distributing letters can be performed at the minimum cost. If I thought that the adoption of penny postage would lead to the writing of many more letters, and, therefore, greatly increase the postal revenue, I would vote for it; but, in the face of the Victorian experience, we must go very slowly in this matter. I wish now to refer to the Pacific Cable, on which Australia is losing £30,000 a year. I keenly regret this, because I think that that enterprise should never have been a losing concern.
– Nor would it have been had it been properly managed.
– If the honorable member for Barrier were here, I would tell him that I think he should take his fair share of responsibility for the bungling to which the loss is due, because he and other honorable members supported a Government which could have prevented it. I struggled hard to prevent the agreement being made by the Government of the day.
– Why did not the honorable member succeed ?
– Because the colleagues of the honorable member1 backed up the Postmaster-General of New South Wales. I have a very distinct recollection of one or two letters’ of protest I wrote on one occasion. At that time the Postmaster - General had a boat-load of labour members of Parliament down the harbor, and in their presence was hurling anathemas at my head, amidst the plaudits of many .who are now’ deploring the failure of our Pacific Cable. I fought that matter out as persistently as any man could fight it, because I could see that a huge mistake was being made. Everything that has taken place has proved that my forecast was correct, and
I regret it very much, because I contend that these cables should be owned by the Empire, and that the only way in which we can develop State enterprises of this kind is by showing that they can be managed commercially. Unfortunately, upon the very first occasion, we have bungled our business in a way that is a disgrace to all those connected with it.
– Can the honorable member suggest any improvement?
– Yes. It is not too late to effect an improvement, although I must admit that after having read the report of the proceedings of the Pacific Cable Conference, I do not see much prospect of success. The Conference have looked at the matter in an easygoing manner, and I do not believe that their recommendations will, if carried out, result in making the cable a paying concern. At the same time, I think that they should be put to the proof at the earliest opportunity. The Conference point out very clearly that the whole of the present trouble and loss in connexion with the Pacific Cable is due to the fact that the Eastern Extension Company have been granted special facilities, and have been permitted to open offices in Australia under the New South Wales agreement of 1901 and the Commonwealth agreement of 1903. The latter agreement has not been ratified by this Parliament, but the Eastern Extension Company are operating under it. I give the Senate, and particularly one or two Labour members in that branch of the Legislature, credit for having set their face against the ratification of the agreement with the Eastern Extension Company. I heard no word of. protest from the honorable member for Barrier when we were fighting the proposal made by Sir Edmund Barton in this Chamber. The honorable member has a knack of always coming in too late. When the time arrives for action in this Chamber, he is never in evidence.
– The honorable member gave his vote with the honorable member for Parramatta on that occasion.
– I do not think so. I do not remember hearing him say a word about it. Even to-night he said that he did not see what else could be done. I say that in view of the fact that the Commonwealth Government has control of the terminal charges for both companies, a great deal could be done ifwe were in earnest. I am afraid, however, that it isv now too late. We have remitted the matter to a Conference, and all the otherpartners have been consulted, and, therefore, we are not in the same position that we should occupy if we were dealing with, the matter ob initio in this Chamber. Wecould, however, have done something whenthe question was introduced here by Siu Edmund Barton. I think the Senateadopted a wise course in opposing that gentleman’s proposal. They now havethe results of the Pacific Cable Conferencebefore them, and it remains to be seenwhether they will ratify the agreement. TheConference makes several suggestions, which> I think might very well be adopted by the Government. One of these relates to the definite termination of the agreement with the Eastern Extension Company. As. drafted, the agreement does not provide that it shall automatically terminate in the year; 1 91 3. It is provided -
The agreement shall remain in force until the 31st day of October, 1913, and thenceforth until, terminated by two calendar years’ notice in writing by either party.
The Conference recommend that the agreement shall be terminated at the earliest possible moment, and I quite agree with that view, having regard to the fact that thePacific Cable is so heavily handicapped by, the operations of the Eastern Extension Company. If the agreement were terminated within ten years from 1903, the wholeof the bungle made by the New South Wales Government in the first instancewould be wiped out, and we should be freeto make the Pacific Cable a businesslikeconcern, and perhaps be able to return a profit to the partners. So long as mattersare left in their present indefinite shape, there will be no guarantee that the agreement will terminate even at the end of thetenyear period. There should be no difficulty in carrying out the recommendation of the Conference, and I hope that the Government will give their best attention tothe matter.
-The agreement has stilleight years to run.
– Yes. I. am afraid that we shall have to face a loss so long as the Eastern Extension Company enjoy the privileges and immunities conferred upon them by the Parliament of New Souths. Wales, and subsequently by the Commonwealth. I did my best to check Sir Edmund Barton, and I challenged him to user the powers inherent in the Federal Government to bring about a satisfactory arrangement. He could have so exercised them as to compel the Eastern Extension Company to enter into a fair working agreement, and to obviate the loss which is now being incurred in connexion with the Pacific Cable. However, the agreement has been made, and I suppose we must respect it. It is further recommended -
That the Pacific Cable Board, representing the -various Governments, should negotiate a working arrangement with the Eastern Extension Company.
If that could be done, it should be done.
– That means a pooling arrangement.
– Yes. I see no reason why we should not put the whole business upon a commercial basis, such as would permit of the Pacific Cable paying its way. The honorable member for0 Barrier has ,a motion on the business-paper in favour of the Commonwealth, in conjunction with Canada and Great Britain, acquiring a land telegraph line in the Dominion, and -an Atlantic Cable, in order that we may have a continuous line of communication with the heart of the Empire, solely under State control. I would ask what chance we have of success in connexion with an “enterprise of that kind, whilst we are unable to avoid bungling the small business we have so far undertaken? In view of the fact that we are losing £30,000 per annum upon the Pacific Cable, what prospect should we have of making money out of such an extended means of communication? If we acquired an Atlantic Cable, we should be subjected, to the competition of one of the keenest trusts in the world, and we should have a small prospect of -standing up against that combination. We should put our own business concerns upon a paying basis before we think of extending them-. If we operate all our Government enterprises in the way that the Pacific Cable is managed, the further we extend our operations the nearer we shall approach national bankruptcy. The State cannot lose money on all its enterprises without reaching the same end as the man who mismanages his private business.
– Do I understand the honorable member to advocate -a pooling arrangement?
– I am ready to support any arrangement that will put a, *top to the heavy loss we are now incurring.
– A pooling arrangement might involve a loss to the Eastern Extension Company.
– A small loss might be incurred, but nothing more than the company could readily face. I do not see, however, that there need be any loss on either side. Both companies could increase their -rates slightly without hurting any one.
– They ought to be able to reduce expenses considerably.
– I am afraid that they could not do that, except to some small extent in connexion! with their terminal staffs. They could, however, enter into a working arrangement which would have no disadvantageous results so far as the public were concerned, but which would square the ledger of the Pacific Cable Company. As the honorable member for Barrier pointed out the other day, when he quoted some remarks made by me, we could not obtain any concession in rates until the Pacific Cable Company! began to operate. Then the Eastern Extension Company rushed the rates down not for the purpose of defeating the Pacific Cable project, because that could not hurt them, -but because that was the initial point in a succession of evolutionary measures which must ultimately have threatened their existence. That company, with its world-wide ramifications, could afford to run its Australian service at a huge loss rather than permit the competing cable to be worked successfully. Therefore I say that we ought not to have fallen into the toils of that company by accepting what after all was a bribe to the Chambers of Commerce of Australia in the shape of low rates.
– The cable rates are noi low where the Eastern Extension Company have no competition.
– No, and they would not be low here but for the existence of the Pacific Cable. The public are deriving huge advantages in the shape of low rates, and we ought to take care that some arrangement is made to convert the Pacific Cable from a losing into a paying concern. If we go on losing £30,000 for eight years the man who advocates the acquirement by the Government of any more cables or business enterprises of the kind will be looked upon as something akin to a lunatic I believe that there are certain functions of the State which can well be extended, and that this is one of them, because it vitally affects the whole Empire in many ways, and particularly in the matter of its defence.
– Why should we wait for eight years before we terminate the agreement? Was not the agreement made subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament ?
– Yes; but we are now committed to the proposal. The time when this fight should have been made was when the proposal was submitted by the Barton Government. Upon that occasion a few of us did make a fight, but we were defeated after a debate which lasted two or three days. Under the circumstances, I fear that we cannot do other than fall in with the recommendations which have been made. We had it in our power to insure that this enterprise should be commercially profitable from the moment that it began operations. But instead of doing that, we gave to a competing company privileges which were not demanded from us by equitable considerations. That company proposed to temporarily reduce the rates for the purpose of securing permanent concessions. That is where the original mistake was made - a mistake which has made this cable a losing undertaking to the extent of £90,000 annually. I do hope that the Postmaster-General will endeavour to stop the rot which has set in in connexion with the Pacific Cable. I come now to an increased charge which has been made by the Postal Department upon the carriage of a very useful publication belonging to the Commonwealth Parliament. I’ refer to Hansard. The cost of that publication now in consequence of postal charges is 6d. per copy. It used to be 3d.
– Has Hansard. grown bigger?
– Not a bit of it.
– Is it more important?
– I will not say that it is more important. Nevertheless, its price per copy, consequent upon postal charges, is now double what it used to be. I do not think that there is any justification for that alteration, and I have it on the best authority that since the price has been increased the number of inquiries for the purchase of Hansard has correspondingly decreased. I am one of those who do not underrate the importance of Hansard at all. I think that we owe a very great deal to Hansard from every point of view, and I am one of those who believe that the money spent upon that publication by this Parliament is not an unremunerative investment. The quality of the work which we get for that expenditure does not need to be mentioned in this House. We are all deeply sensible of the care, accuracy, and ability which the Hansard Staff put into their work. At any rate, that fact seems to be appreciated to the full by the Postal authorities, who have increased the price of Hansard to such an extraordinary figure. I suggest that there is no reason why the cost of that publication should be doubled in this way.
– The Postal Department ought to carry Hansard free. It is about the only medium through which the public can learn what this Parliament is really doing.
– I think that a reasonable price to charge for Hansard would be 3d. per copy, the figure at which it was formerly sold. It ought to be posted to every one who cares to purchase it at that price. I have one or two other matters upon my notes, but as my time has run out, I must forbear mentioning them to-night. I hope that the Postmaster-General will accept my criticism of his Department in the spirit in which it is offered. It has been impersonal, so far as I can make it. Certainly no reflection, either upon his administration or upon that of his predecessor has escaped my lips. But I do think it is time that, in the interests of the taxpayers of the States of the Commonwealth, we addressed ourselves to the business side of this Department, with a view to ascertaining if we cannot reduce the great loss which is being incurred year after year.
– I have listened with very great interest to the address which has been delivered by the deputy leader of the Opposition. He has given to honorable members.like myself, who have not been so long in Parliament as he has, some detailed information of a very valuable character. When the first Deakin Administration was in power I pointed out the great benefits which would accrue from the adoption of the “toll” or “call” telephone system, not only from a revenue stand-point, but from the point of view of the switchboard attendants. ‘I contend that in introducing that system we should open up avenues for the extension of the telephone service, of which we do not at present dream. I have no desire to raise the question of town versus country, but I realize that if Australia is to take her proper place in the Empire she can only do so by developing her rural interests. One of the best means of achieving that result is by extending to country settlers some of the conveniences which are enjoyed by the residents of more densely populated centres. This afternoon reference was made by various speakers to the guarantee system. I candidly admit that we cannot entirely abolish that system. But I hold that the Department is drawing the line too tightly when it seeks to levy harsh conditions in respect of telephonic extension to distant parts of the States. I believe that the introduction of the “toll” system would materially assist the Postmaster-General to extend the service without involving the Department in any additional expense. A little while ago, the honorable gentleman asked us to sanction” the expenditure of £40,000 upon the construction of a trunk telephone line between Sydney and Melbourne.
– We shall derive a revenue from that work.
– So we should from many telephonic extensions in the country. Whilst we are doing so much to meet the demands of residents of the metropolis we are neglecting the interests of the country districts. If our large merchants were deprived of the use of the telephone they Would lie called upon to expend, in the way of messages, twenty times as much as they do at present.
– If the honorable member can tell me of any place in Australia where the erection of a telephone line will return as much” revenue as will the proposed trunk line between Sydney and Melbourne, I will sanction the outlay upon it to-morrow.
– I am speaking of the “ toll “ system, and’ of the benefit derived by the merchants and other business people in large centres of population from the existing services. I hold that the Department caters for the wants of residents of cities in a way that is out of all proportion to the assistance which it gives the people who are developing the country on which those cities so largely depend. The obstacles thrown in the way of the efforts of a representative of a country constituency to secure new and pressing services for his constituents are disheartening. The delays of the Department are almost interminable.
One has to write again and again, reminding the Department that a promised service has not been supplied, or that attention has not been given to a demand for postal or other facilities, and, as a rule, to each of these communications he receives simply an official reply that the matter will receive further consideration, and that he will be informed of the result in due course. I am not accustomed to such a system, and hold that the reasonable wants of the people should be supplied with celerity. I have had many complaints to make against the Department, and wish now to refer to the attitude taken up with regard to the circulation of weather reports. We must all recognise the value of the distribution of such reports in districts that are subject to inundation. There are parts of my electorate that are liable to floods, which come down %’ery suddenly, and if reasonable warning be not given, farmers and others living there may be ruined. The whole of their live stock might be within the area liable to be flooded, and in the absence of a timely warning would perish before it could be removed.
– The honorable member knows that it would be necessary to amend the law, in order to do what he suggests.
– I know that when these matters were under the control of the State Parliament some consideration was shown for the people. The State Parliament of New South Wales had an interest in developing the country, and in encouraging the people to remain on the land. But this Parliament has nothing to do with the control of the lands of the Commonwealth, and the Department seems to be disinclined to grant any service unless assured that it will pay. The lives and1 the prosperity of the people appear to be regarded as of secondary importance.
– Under the present law al] telegrams must be paid for. I have broken that law, however, and have given directions that in all cases information is to be furnished in respect to floods.
– Why do the Government give free telegrams to the shipping companies ?
– That is another case of greasing the fatted sow. Free shipping telegrams are supplied without demur for the information of the shipping companies, but the poor settler, who is more worthy of consideration than are many of the big trading concerns) is not considered to deserve the attention of the Department. I have been endeavouring to induce the Department to furnish weather reports to the people of a district who were continuously in receipt of them until some twelve or eighteen months ago. Some time since it was found necessary to remove the postoffice from this district to a more thriving part of the country some three miles distant. The office was rightly closed, but the residents of the neighbourhood appealed to me to urge the Government to allow the telephone to remain in the old postal building, so that they might be speedily apprised of approaching floods. When I brought the matter under the notice of the Government they agreed to allow the telephone to remain, but said that if the people desired this service they would have to pay some one to attend to the telephone. The former postmistress was offered £i per annum to attend to it, and, as she accepted the offer the telephone was allowed to remain in the old building. But when I asked that the weather reports should be supplied as before, I received from the Department a letter from which I make the following quotation : -
I may add that the telegraph office at Kunopia has recently been opened, but the postmistress (who formerly .received £26 per annum) is now only paid a nominal salary of £1 per annum. She (the postmistress) does not feel inclined to continue to collect and send meteorological information for such a small sum, but states that, if an extra allowance were made, she might consider the matter. It is considered that this Department should not be expected to pay the postmistress for such services, and that the residents who desired the re-opening of the office should make some arrangements with her for a renewal of the reports.
In other words, notwithstanding that by the closing of this post office, the Department has effected a saving of £25 per annum, it is so parsimonious in its dealings that it demands that the late postmistress shall either perform this extra work for nothing, or that the residents of the district shall pay for it. This is a clear indication that the Government have no sympathy with the people on the land, and have no desire to assist in keeping them there. We have heard a lot of hifalutin about the need of placing people on the land, of settling immigrants on the soil, and so forth, but all this is mere by-play on the part of the Government. There are certain matters which afford a true indication of the attitude of a ‘Ministry, and this is a case in pointWhile the Government are prepared to provide £40,000 for a trunk telephone linebetween Sydney and Melbourne, they provide only £1 per annum for a woman toattend to a telephone in a country district.
– There might bea thousand cases of the kind.
– What if there were.
– That would mean an expenditure on “the honorable member’s own statement of something like- £20,000 per annum.
– No; the honorablegentleman must imagine I have no knowledge of the cost of such a service. I say,, at all events, that the present system is disgraceful, and betrays a lack of sincerity, which I did not suspect, on the part of those in high places, who prate about theneed of placing people on the land. Another matter which I have carefully inquired into does not reflect credit on the Ministry. At Chatswood, a very popular suburb of North Sydney, there is a postoffice which was conducted for many years by a lady. The suburb rapidly expanded, and the business of the local office grew with it. The postmistress ultimately found that the work of the office was far in excess of the assistance granted her. She appealed to the Department for further help, but with that disregard for facts which characterized the Department it was said that there was no necessity for further assistance, and her request was refused. When, through lack of the help necessary to efficiently carry out the work of the office, the postal assistant became either overburdened or careless” in the discharge of her duties, and the business of the office did not run as smoothly as it ought to have done, the Department, toput the matter shortly, offered the postmistress one of two alternatives. She was told that she must either retire or agree to take an inferior post in some .other office. Rather than leave the office which she had helped to build up, and in which, as the inquiry elicited, she had done nothing to her discredit, she preferred to retire. This was the way in which the Department rewarded a faithful servant. After her retirement her complaint that the office was undermanned was amply borne out. Before she left the cost of the office was £1,500 per annum, but under her successor it increased1 to £1,857.
– What are the “different dates?
– Immediately after this lady resigned a postmaster was appointed, and he proceeded to reorganize the office to such an extent as to increase its annual expenditure by £344 per cannum.
– Where did the honorable member obtain his figures?
– They were furnished in replies to questions which I put to the honorable gentleman in this House. The late postmistress ,at Chatsworth received £140, and her assistant was paid £65. The present postmaster, however, receives £235 per annum, and has one clerical assistant receiving £160 per annum, and another who is paid ^110 per annum. These facts clearly prove that the late postmistress was overworked, and that her assistant was also sweated.
– I do not think that the honorable member is aware of all the facts of the case.
– I am. I take care never to ventilate a grievance in the House before I have carefully investigated it. I have been met with the same reply in regard to other complaints, but after-events have invariably borne out my statements. I would not be so unjust to a Minister as to bring forward bogus charges against his Department. I have questioned the Minister very carefully about every detail of this case, and have based all my statements to-night on his replies. This’ lady practically resigned rather than submit’ to the indignity heaped upon her by the Department, and the facts show that the Department is prepared, not only to sweat, but to persecute, those who are not able to protect themselves. Evidently she was objectionable to the inspector of her district, who, it was alleged, had borrowed money from her - temporarily, I believe - and had been blamed by the Department in consequence. The case shows that the Department is not worked as it should be, and that fair play is not meted out to worthy officers. I think that some redress should be given to this lady. She served the Department for years faithfully and well, until she was so over-burdened with work that she could not continue, and her place was filled by a postmaster and two assistants. If she cannot be compensated in any other way, she should be reinstated in an office, at any rate superior to that which she has been offered, and equal, to that which she gave up. I agree with what the honorable member for Parramatta has said about the salary of the Deputy PostmasterGeneral of New South Wales, though I , think that he made too much of a personal appeal. In my opinion, Mr. Un win’s name should not have been mentioned. The onlyquestion for us to consider is whether the office is worth the salary attached 10 it. I think that amy man who faithfully carries out the work and discharges the responsibilities attaching to the management of a large Department like the New South Wales branch of the Commonwealth Postal Department is not too highly paid at the salary set down for the position. Moreover, this salary having been voted to Mr. Unwin last year, it would seem hardly fair to reduce it this year. Another matter to which I would direct attention is the fact that there are a number of assistant lettersorters who receive less than the minimum wage fixed for the class of work which- they are performing. The minimum is £138 per annum; but in New South Wales there are eighty-four assistant sorters, receiving smaller sums, ranging down to £114 per annum. Why should they be asked to work for; less than the amount determined upon as fair pay for the duties of their position? There are only 120 assistant sorters in the service of the Commonwealth who receive less than the minimum rate, so that it would not take very much to raise them all to the minimum. I hope, therefore, that the PostmasterGeneral will decide, as a matter of policy-, altogether apart from the classification, that they shall receive the minimum, and I ask him to take the subject into his consideration before the classification is finally adopted. I wish now to draw attention to what is being done by the Department in connexion with the farming out of post-offices. The post-office at Enfield, a suburb of Sydney, was formerly run bv a postmaster, two letter-carriers, who were supplied with horses, and a boy, who had a bicycle for the delivery of telegrams, at an expense of over £500 per annum ; but the Department is now actually proposing to farm out the work to a person who must furnish premises and act as postmaster, supplying two letter-carriers and horses, and a boy with a bicycle, for £290 per annum.
– I have gone into that case thoroughly with the member representing the district and a big deputation.
– That will not prevent me from stating the facts of die case. This Parliament determined that the minimum wage should be ^110 per annum. Surely the two letter-carriers, who must be older than mere boys, will be worth that wage, allowing nothing for their horses, while the boy will be worth £26 a year at least, which makes £246, leaving only £44 as rent for the premises, which is little enough if the public are to have a decent office. There remains nothing for the services of the postmaster himself. Surely this is a pure case of sweating.
– The member who represents the district is satisfied.
– That does net prevent me from stating that this is a case of sweating, and a disgrace to the Commonwealth.
– Enfield is not in the honorable member’s electorate.
– I represent Australia in a case of this kind ; I do not confine my efforts to any little piece of country known as a constituency. I am prepared to denounce a wrong, no matter where it is happening.
– I can assure the honorable member that no sweating will be allowed.
– There can. be nothing but sweating in this case.
– The honorable member’s figures are not correct.
– I know that they are correct. The example I have quoted is not the only case of the kind to be found in the Commonwealth. In numbers of instances persons give their services to the Commonwealth at rates of pay which would not compensate them for one-fifth of the time they devote to the work. In some cases they carry out their duties in conjunction with other occupations, whilst in other instances they are driven by necessity to accept the very lowest terms. I do not see why the Commonwealth should be guilty of any sweating in these matters. I intend to keep a very close watch over the conditions under which persons are employed in the Postal Department, particularly in relation to the farming out of postoffices. If I find any infringement of the principle we have laid down, that! a living wage shall be paid to all persons employed by the Commonwealth, I shall bring; it under notice without regard to the district in which it has occurred.
– If the honorable member points out any case of sweating, I will put a stop to it.
– I hope that the PostmasterGeneral does not seek to justify the treatment meted out to the late postmistress at Chatswood.
– Does the honorable member expect me to argue the matter out with him after it has been officially investigated? Would it not be as well to first listen to the representative of the district in which Chatswood is situated, and who differs from the honorable member ?
– The PostmasterGeneral cannot shirk, his responsibility in that way. A great wrong has been done to the former postmistress at Chatswood, and I trust that the Minister will see that redress 19 given. I had proposed to refer to a number of other disabilities under which residents in the country are labouring, but in view of the assurances given by the Postmaster-General, and of my faith in his sincerity, I shall wait and watch. If I find that the promises now made are not fulfilled, I shall have to take further action.
– I have a few observations to make, principally in regard to the extension of telephone facilities. I do not propose to speak at inordinate length, because I give the PostmasterGeneral credit for a desire to do the very best he can to meet the” requirements of the public, and to at the same time pay due regard to the finances of the Commonwealth. I wish, however, to again emphasize several complaints in connexion with the extension of telephone facilities which I have previously brought under the notice of the Minister and his predecessors. I refer more particularly to the cases of Miranda, Oatley, Cullenbone, and Sutherland. Referring first to Miranda, I would point out that it is the centre of a very large rural district, with a fairly considerable population of smalt industrial settlers. It is situated only thirteen miles from Sydney, andi yet so far as facilities of communication are concerned, it might as well be a thousand miles awayTwo days are occupied in despatching a letter to Sydney and obtaining a reply. I understand that Parramatta, which is located at about the same distance from Sydney, has had cheap telephonic facilities extended to it, and I think that the residents of Miranda may, with reason, claim similar privileges. With regard to the claims of the people of Oatley to telephone facilities, I desire to read a communication I have received from the Post and Telegraph Department. It reads as follows : -
With reference to my letter of the 4th instant, and previous correspondence, respecting the desire of the Oatley Progress Association, New South Wales, that telephonic communication be extended to that place, I have the honour by direction, to inform you the Postmaster-General has approved of a recommendation submitted by the Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, that a telephone line be erected between Kogarah Telephone Exchange and Oatley Railway Station, and that a telephone bureau be opened at the latter, provided the following action is taken by the residents interested : -
An amount of ,£3 us. to be deposited with the Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, being the difference for two years between the revenue (£1 6s. per annum) estimated to be derived from a telephone bureau at Oatley, and the minimum revenue (^3 2s. per annum) required from such bureau under the regulations relating to guaranteed lines, and a bond to be entered into guaranteeing this Department to the extent of the estimated loss of £1 r6s. per annum for a period of seven years from the date the bureau in question is opened for business.
It seems to me that that proposal is ridiculous on the face of it. I had occasion some little time ago to ask that a telephone bureau should be established at the new railway station at Oatley. One of the officers of the Department was sent to the district to make a report, and he stated that a public telephone had been provided at the old railway station, and that in twelve months only one call had been made, for which a fee of 6d. had been paid. If the statements of some of the most reputable residents of the district are to be believed that report is most misleading The secretary of the Oatley Progress Association informed me that, in company with other leading residents, he went to the stationmaster at Oatley, and asked to be allowed to use the telephone at the railway station. He was informed, however, that it was intended for the sole use of railway officials. Any estimate of revenue based upon conditions of that kind must be absolutely misleading, and it would appear either that the officer had not taken the requisite care to properly inform himself of the real facts, or that his report was intended to create a wrong impression in the mind of the Postmaster-General. I take it that the residents of Oatley would not conspire together to make an assertion quite contrary to the facts. If the estimate prepared is no more reliable than the report referred to, no faith can be reposed in it. The residents are asked to deposit £3 12s., and to become guarantors for £1 16s. per annum for a period of seven years, and it appears to me that that demand is extortionate. I do not suggest that Oatley has been selected for special treatment, because I understand that the same rule has been applied to other localities. At any rate, the conditions imposed in this instance are absurdly rigorous. The total amount required to be guaranteed by five persons is £16 4s., and I would ask the Postmaster-General to consider the desirability of relaxing the present rigid rules. It should be the policy of the Department to encourage the use of telephones, and I trust that the policy pursued in the past will be abandoned. I should like to know upon what basis the Departmental Estimates are framed. Are the calculations made after careful inquiries in the district, or does the officer merely have a general look round and form his conclusions without obtaining information from the leading residents? The excessive guarantees against loss for which the Department asks is a matter to which I hope the PostmasterGeneral will give his serious attention. ‘It has been urged that some guarantee is necessary to guard against loss resulting from the cheapening of telephonic communication. I do not know upon what those calculations are based, but I think that that information should be supplied to honorable members. They would then be able to determine whether the basis was a reasonable one. I have had some experience of similar declarations by officials, that reduction in the rates charged for public services must inevitably result in loss, and notably in connexion with the Sydney tramways. In days gone by I attended’ many deputations to the Railways Commissioners, urging them to adopt penny sections upon those lines ; but they were always prepared by means of figures to show that the introduction of that system would result in a certain annual loss. When, however, the Sydney tramways were electrified, the Commissioners themselves adopted penny sections, with the result that all their previous predictions were absolutely falsified.
– The Melbourne Tramway ‘ Company does not offer the public penny sections to-day.
– I am perfectly aware of that. Probably that company would use the same argument.
– It has done so many times.
– In Sydney the result of instituting penny sections has been to quadruple the number of passengers carried. Consequently, I hold that if cheaper telephonic facilities were offered to the public, the result would be not a loss, but an actual gain to the revenue. I recognise that, the telephone is a comparatively recent introduction; but it was introduced under certain conditions, which do not now obtain. In all Government Departments, and more particularly in the ‘Postal Department, there seems to be a certain amount of conservatism and dislike of innovation. It should be the duty of the Ministerial head of that Department to counteract that tendency as much as possible, consistent with, a proper regard for the public revenue. One other matter to which I desire to refer is the claim of Sutherland to be brought, within the metropolitan telephone area. It is the centre of a large district, and. is only just outside the present radius. Many of its residents decline to pay sixpence for the use of the telephone, with the possibility that they may be called upon to pay another sixpence by reason of not obtaining any response to their call.
– Surely they have not to pay the sixpence if they do not secure communication with the person with whom they desire to speak?
– In some cases they lose their money unless they have ample lime at their disposal. I am informed that one of the objections to granting the reasonable request that Sutherland should, be brought within the metropolitan telephone area is that it would involve a lossof £5,000. I was informed by the late Postmaster-General that that loss would be occasioned by a particular arrangement which had been made in Western Australia. I am glad that the PostmasterGeneral has undertaken, to supply me with information respecting that estimated loss. When I speak of Sutherland, my remarks are applicable to other places which are similarly situated. I do not. ask that any special consideration should be extended to places in my own electorate. Some time ago I wrote a letter to the PostmasterGeneral in regard’ to the requirements of Cullenbone. I understand that that matter is now under consideration.
– Yes; but it takes a long time to get information in regard to it.
– I have received pressing letters from residents there, although Cullenbone is not within the electorate which I represent. When I am told that small changes such as that I have suggested in connexion with Sutherland will involve the Department in a loss of £5,000, I would point out that we have already voted various amounts for the erection of post-offices in different parts of the Commonwealth - amounts aggregating tens of thousands of pounds. Seeing that no guarantee was asked in connexion with therm, I fail to understand why it should be insisted upon in connexion with the erection of telephone lines.
– We are insisting upon guarantees being provided in the. cases of many post-offices..
– But I am speaking of the erection of post-offices. Only the other day this Committee cheerfully voted £2,500 for the erection of a building at Warracknabeal.
– That is an oldestablished town and a very important one.
– No doubt it was important when it was the terminus of the railway. But it is no longer so, and its importance has considerably diminished of late years. I am informed that the present population is now very inconsiderableIn that case no guarantee against loss was asked by the Department. Seeing that the principle is not applied in the one case, I fail to understand why it should be applied in the other.
– We have considerably modified the conditions relating to telephone guarantees.
– I am not saying that the Postmaster-General is entirely responsible for the. present unsatisfactory conditions, but he now has the opportunity to improve them. Honorable members bring these matters under his notice in the hope that he will endeavour to meet their views as far as possible. The only other matter to which I at present wish, to draw attention is the desirableness of an equitable arrangement being arrived at by which the services of postmasters acting as divisional returning officers and electoral registrars will be adequately remunerated. I trust that the Postmaster-General will give the matter his consideration, and, in consultation with the Minister of Home Affairs, endeavour to arrive at a more equitable arrangement than that now obtaining.
– I was pleased to listen to the remarks of the honorable member for Parramatta, and with all friendliness would say that I should like to hear him speak more frequently in the same strain. I indorse every word that he said in reference to the position of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. I referred to this matter last week, and, as an instance of the way in which the company fleece the public in places where they are free from competition, would point out that I was called upon not long ago to pay 13s. 6d. for a cablegram of thirteen words from Hongkong to Shanghai, a distance of only 700 miles ; whereas the Commonwealth will transmit a message of sixteen words from Thursday Island to Perth - over 6,000 miles of wire, for is. I am told that, owing to the competition of the “All Red Line “ - which the honorable member for Barrier, and also, I believe, the honorable member for Parramatta, would like to .see nationalized - the people of Australia have been saved many thousands of pounds, inasmuch as it has forced the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company to reduce its rates. I am informed, upon fairly credible evidence, that the All Red Line has to pay a charge of 6d. per word more for messages crossing the Atlantic cable than have certain American lines, and I should not be at all surprised, in view of this information, to learn that the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company have a large financial interest in that cable. Be that as it may, I heartily indorse the remarks made by the honorable member for Parramatta in reference to this question. I am also of opinion that something should be done towards the establishment of a Commonwealth system of penny postage. I am aware that the Cabinet has had the matter under consideration, and that a letter from a gentleman very well versed in the matter has been replied to, if not by the Postmaster-General, at all events by the Prime Minister. The absurdity of the position may be briefly pointed out. A letter posted in England, and bearing a penny stamp, will be delivered in the Commonwealth without any extra charge, whereas a letter sent from any State in Australia to another must bear a twopenny stamp. Then, again, the people of New Zealand have the privilege of having a letter delivered to any address in Aus tralia at a cost of id. Honorable members may remember that the Premier of that Colony was prepared, in the event of objection being made to the introduction of the new system, to cause an additional stamp to be attached to all letters posted in that Colony to Australian addresses, in order to bring them within the Commonwealth law ; but such a system would not have meant any increase in our revenue. I am credibly informed that the people of India also have the privilege of sending a very light-weight letter - equal to 1/4 oz. in weight - for, roughly speaking, less than Jd., to any address in Australia, although a letter sent from one State to another would have to bear a twopenny stamp. I think that the Government might well give serious consideration to the matter, and see whether they cannot extend to the people of Australia the privilege in this respect enjoyed by the people of England, India, and New Zealand. I have a letter posted from the United States of America in the early fifties which bears a one-cent, stamp. Under the present system it seems to me that, where speedy delivery is not essential, it would pay an Australian firm having a large quantity of circulars to distribute in the Commonwealth to send them in bulk to New Zealand, whence they might be posted to Australian addresses for less than it would cost here. In the same way, merchants and others in Tasmania would find it payable to post printed matter in Colombo for delivery in Australia. The anomaly is one that ought to be removed, so that the Australian will stand on no worse footing than his brother in the old land. I fully indorse the re- ‘ marks made by the honorable member for Parramatta in reference to the value of Hansard. In Hansard every honorable member finds his defence against attacks made by the press. As long as we have the official reports of our proceedings in this Parliament, we shall always be able to answer press criticisms, and some honorable members like myself may know how unjust the press can be. I do not wish to refer at length to the position of the telephone service, for that has already been well discussed. It seems to me, however, that if a merely nominal fee of £z 2s. or £3 3s. per annum were charged for connecting private houses with the telephone service, and a charge of so much per message were also imposed, greater use would be made of the system, with the result that the Department would secure increased profit. While ready at any time to show by my vote how strongly averse I am to the practice of sweating/ I do not desireo bblame the Minister for anything of the kind that may occur in connexion with the Department. I take it that the honorable gentleman is as honest in his desire to put down sweating as is any other honorable member, but I think it well to bring under his notice facts which might otherwise escape, his observation in connexion with the administration of so large a Department. I wish first of all to refer to the mail service between Yarra Glen and Toolangi. The road from Yarra Glen over the hills to Toolangi is worse than any I have ever seen in New Zealand, or, indeed, in any part of Australia except Gippsland. But even the Gippsland gluepot, in its famous days, was not worse than is the road to which I refer. The distance run per week from Yarra Glen to Christmas Hills is sixty miles, and from Christmas Hills to Toolangi eightyfour miles. The line has been let for a little over £47, which returns 1 1/2 d. a mile to a man to drive a horse and trap for a distance of 144 miles a week over roads which are absolutely bad. If the Minister has any doubt on the subject, it will afford me much pleasure to tak2 him over the roads under the guidance of the most expert driver whom it has been my lot to meet in Victoria. I have not seen the equal of these bad roads, not even in the case of the glue-pot road in its worst time. I understand that the minimum wage for postmistresses is £6$, which, together with the rent, fuel, and light, many clever and able -ladies are only too happy to have ; but I am told that in some cases much less than that sum has been paid. I cannot give the data, but I am sure that it can be found in the Department, and when it is found, I hope that the Minister will stop the practice. The minimum wage of a telegraph messenger is £26 ; but I am credibly informed that even that small sum has been reduced, not by the Minister or’ the Government, but by officials, whether heads or sub-heads of the Department I do not know. The Minister will bd blamed - unjustly, I know - by many persons for the fact that these men are being sweated. It is only right that the Committee should know the names of the officers who are responsible for this discreditable state of things, because any sum which is paid below the minimum wage fixed by Parliament is nothing but sweating.
– Whoever fixed the remuneration had no right to go below the minimum wage.
– If my information be found to be correct, it will be my duty to ask that the House be supplied with the names of the officers who are responsible for transgressing that rule. I believe that the Public Service Commissioner has handed in his reply to the criticisms which were levelled against his Classification Scheme. I am informed that it has been in the possession of a Minister for upwards of three weeks. I asked, without notice, to-day if it would be placed at the disposal of the House. I do not wish the Minister to think that we desire to prolong the debate on his Estimates until the report is produced, but if it could be laid upon the table to-morrow, it would be a convenience to honorable members, because it contains some anomalies. The telegraphists are, I understand, the only officers below the maximum of £160 in the fifth class who are required to pass an examination. In mv opinion, no barrier should be placed against the advancement of an officer in the fifth class to the maximum. I do not know whether the attention of the Minister has been drawn to a letter which appeared in the Age of the 29th of October, on the subject of the pay of telegraph operators, but I think it is well that it should be placed upon record. It reads as follows: -
In connexion with a case which was before the court the other day, it transpired that a clerk in a well-known telegram company, after ten years’ service, was in receipt of only £S6 per annum. In reply to a question upon this subject in the Senate on Friday last, Senator Keating stated that a clerk in the Commonwealth service after ten years’ service would receive at least ^140 per , annum. A number of officers transferred from the Victorian service have not enjoyed such rosy times as people would imagine. In 1900 there were more than 200 officers in the Postal Department of Victoria with ten to fifteen years’ service, whose ages ranged from ai to 30 years. These men were doing responsible work and handling large sums of public money, yet the majority of them were paid only ^60 a year. Parliament tried to remedy this by passing clause 19 to place Victorian men on a level with those in other States, but the Public Service Commissioner in his reclassification scheme reduced some 40 odd telegraphists in Victoria to £120, depriving them of sums of from £20 to ^30 per annum which they had received under the Victorian Act.
The letter has, I think, only to be brought under the notice of the Minister in order to have the wrong remedied. Again, the temporary porters and clerks have been treated in a way which certainly must have been impressed upon the mind of the Minister by the discussion on the Classification Scheme. I think that the time has come when the heads of Departments should be taught to carry out the will of the House. In the olden days, the heads of the Departments ran the State of Victoria, and the Ministers were blamed for the injustice which they did to public officers. I hope that the Commonwealth will not sink to the depth to which Victoria did in those times, and that the heads of Departments, to whom fair salaries are paid, will not be permitted to sweat the men who are under their care.
In Committee :
Consideration resumed from 25th October (vide page 4049) of the following message from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral : -
In accordance with Section 58 of’ the Constitution of the Commonwealthof Australia, the GovernorGeneral returns to the House of Representatives a proposed law intituled “ An Act relating to Assurance on the lives of Children bv Life Assurance Companies or Societies,” which has been presented to him for the King’s Assent, and transmits, herewith, the following amendments, which he recommends to be made in the said proposed law.
Government House, Melbourne, 25th October, 1905.
Clause1,page1, line 7. After the words “ body of persons “ insert the words “ corporate or unincorporated.”
Clause 1, page 1, lines 7-8. Omit the words “ incorporated or regulated or enabled to sue and be sued by any charter or Act and.”
– When this message was last under consideration, it was pointed out that there was some difficulty in connexion with the interpretation pf “Life Assurance Company,” which, according to the Bill, means any company, society, or body of persons, not being a friendly society, incorporated, or regulated, or enabled to sue and be sued by any charter or Act, and associated together with the object solely or amongst others of granting policies upon lives, or entering into contracts for future endowments by way of annuity or otherwise. It was shown that according to the Acts Interpretation Act the word “ Act “ may be construed to mean only a Commonwealth Act, whereas the Bill is intended to give power to companies incorporated under States laws to carry on the business referred to in the Bill. The proposal to insert the words “corporate or unincorporate “ is made with the approval of those concerned, but it has been suggested that the amendment would still leave it open to certain foreign companies to carry on business under the Bill, without complying with the States laws. In some States the law provides that no person shall carry on life insurance business unless deposits are made; and the intention is to make a slight amendment so that the Bill will apply only to those companies which, in fact, conduct their operations in accordance with the laws of the State. . I intend to move the insertion of words which will confine the operation of the Act to companies lawfully carrying on under the laws of the State.
– Does the honorable member consider that that would be a consequentialamendment? Could it be made after the recommendations of the Governor-General had been agreed to?
– To enable consideration to be given to the point raised, I will not proceed further to-night.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I beg to ask the Prime Minister whether any steps have been taken with a view to bringing military clerks under the Public Service Regulations? It seems that, at present, promotion for these clerks is wholly blocked. I know that in the present state of business it is impossible to deal with the matter this session, but I ask the Prime Minister to consider the advisability of making some provisional arrangements to meet what the military clerks regard as the injustice of their position.
– I also ask the Prime Minister to give some consideration to the position of the military clerks. I cannot discover from the AttorneyGeneral, or any other official, why these men were left out of the Public Service Classification. There is no doubt that the -military clerks are public servants, though they do not strictly come within the discipline of the Public Service Act. They perform civil duties absolutely, and yet they are debarred from promotion. The best information I have been. able to elicit was from the Attorney-General, who said that each case would be treated on its merits, though what that may mean I do not know. There is no doubt that these clerks ought to come within the regulations, and I ask the Prime Minister to consider whether that cannot be brought about without an. amendment of the Public Service Act.
– The question is an extremely complex one, and by no means sp simple as the statements just made would lead one to suppose. That is about the present extent of my knowledge with regard to it. However, Ministers are carefully considering the matter. The AttorneyGeneral has already advised in regard to it, and will, if necessary, advise further, so that it may be settled with as little delay as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.43 P-m-
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 October 1905, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19051031_reps_2_28/>.