3rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of a message from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, transmitting additional Estimates of Expenditure for additions, new works, buildings, &c., for the year ending 30th June, 1908, and recommending appropriation accordingly.
Mr. HALL presented a petition from certain women electors of Goulburn, New South Wales, praying that the House will not pass the Tariff.
Petition received and read.
– I desire to know from the Acting Prime Minister if he can inform the House when an opportunity will be given for the settlement of the Federal Capital question?
– At the present time it is impossible to fix a date.
– I wish to ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he remembers having given the promise to me, at the beginning of the session, that an early opportunity would be provided during the session for the consideration of the Federal Capital question, and whether he will be prepared within, say, the next fortnight, to announce definitely when he expects to deal with the subject?
– I do not remember the promise referred to, ‘but I shall adhere to whatever I have said.
– Some little time ago - I think in July last - tenders were called for a mail service from Australia to Papua, the Solomons, ‘ and the New Hebrides, As there has been a good deal of complaint about the accommodation provided by the steamers ..now’ carrying mails and passengers, I wish to know from the Acting Prime Minister whether new tenders have been or are to be accepted, and if he can afford the House information as to the conditions which are to’ be imposed ?
– The following memorandum from the Secretary for External Affairs gives all the’ information available on the subject -
The contract between the Commonwealth and Messrs. Burns, Philp and Company for a steam service to Papua is about to terminate. The existing service is an enlargement and extension of the Solomon Islands line, which, with one steamer, gave two-monthly trips to those Islands. At present both the Solomons and Papua have 21 trips per annum, with two steamers. The subsidy paid for the present service, exclusive of that paid on account of the Solomons, is £1,500 per annum. Tenders were called for a new service for three years by advertisement, of which a copy is attached. Messrs. Bums, Philp and Co. were the only tenderers. They submit alternative offers as follow-
Offer No. r. - To continue the present circular service from Sydney and Brisbane, vid the Solomons and Papua ports, to Cooktown and Cairns, by the Moresby ‘(1,763 tons), and the Makambo (1,159 tons). Until recently the running has been maintained by the Moresby and the Malaita (929 tons). The Makambo is a new steamer “ specially built and properly equipped for tropical Tunning with electric light, refrigerators to carry frozen cargo, amidship deck cabins, And all conveniences.” It is proposed, if this offer is accepted, “to equipthe Moresby with refrigerated space, electric light, and other improvements, thus providing a thoroughly up-to-date ocean . service.” For this service the company, ask £4,500 for the first year ; £4,000 for the second year ; and £3,500 for the third, year. If Cooktown is substituted for ‘ Cairns as the Queensland terminal port, the subsidy asked for is £3,750, £3,250, and £2,750 respectively.
Offer No. a”. - To revert to the original twomonthly Solomon Islands service from Sydney and Brisbane, with one steamer, extending toPort Moresby, Samarai, and Hall Sound. To supply a three-weekly service with a 500-ton steamer from Cooktown to Woodlark Island, vid Port Moresby and Samarai, less one tripper year omitted for docking purposes. The subsidy asked under this head is £2,500 per annum. The company offer, if the service described under (1) is adopted, to make improvements in the other lines which- they run under contract with this Government as follow : -
Marshall-Gilbert Service. - Replace Ysabel (520 tons) by the Induna (703 tons).
New Hebrides Service. - Replace Induna (703 tons) by the Malaita (929 tons).
Gilbert Ellice Service. - Replace Titus (763 tons) by a new steamer of 1,100 tons to beacquired.
The service by the existing route has beer* found quite satisfactory to all parties, and in my opinion it would be a matter for regret now that interest in Papuan development showssigns of Teal progress, to abandon it in favour of an inferior service with a smaller steamer. I do not see, however, that the advantages of retaining Cairns as the Queensland’ terminal port are worth an additional subsidy of £750- per annum, as the company undertake to maintain the connexion at Cooktown with the vessels of the Australasian United Steam Navigationcoastal service. If it is decided to adopt thecircular service, I recommend the substitution of Cooktown for Cairns as the Queensland ter minal port. The company submit a schedule of rates and fares which, if the circular serviceis adopted, ‘might be amended by reducing the rates to Woodlark Island to those in force to Samarai. The matter is submitted for directions.
– Will tenders be called’ for this service before a new contract islet? ‘
– Tenders have been called ; but no new contract has yet been let.
– Will Cooktown or Cairns be made the terminal port of call in Australia?
– A final decision has not yet been come to on the subject.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Additions, New Works, and Buildings. Department of Home Affairs
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 18th September, vide page 3461) :
Division 4, sub-division 1 (Post and Telegraph, New South Wales),£34, 246. Mr. TUDOR (Yarra) [2.40].- Last night honorable members from New South Wales were loud in their complaints about the condition of the telephone exchanges there, but in these Estimates provision is made for a larger number of exchanges in that State than in Victoria.
– Apparently the Sydney metropolitan area is much, better served with telephones than is that of Victoria. I desire to urge upon the PostmasterGeneral the need for placing telephone subscribers more on an equality. I have already drawn attention to the inequalities which now exist. As the honorable gentleman is aware, the Richmond and
Abbotsford districts are more than a mile from any telephone exchange, and a return laid on the table recently shows that the 241 telephone subscribers there pay on the average about £12 per annum for their instruments, whereas the telephone subscribers in Hawthorn pay considerably less. There is no telephone exchange in Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond, and Northcote, telephone subscribers in those districts having to pay extra mileage rates. The honorable member for Dalley pointed out last night that subscribers in Camberwell pay extra rates, while those in Canterbury, a suburb still further from Melbourne, do not.
– Is not the present system unfair and absurd?
– Yes. If I renteda telephone I should have to pay£3 more per annum than would be charged to persons living on the other side of the river in a more fashionable locality. We have been told that the exchanges are not to be less than 3 miles apart, but the South Yarra exchange cannot be 3 miles from the Windsor exchange.
Mr.Mauger. - It has been found necessary to open an exchange at the South Yarra post office, because it is impossible to accommodate all the subscribers in the district at the Windsor exchange. I have conceded every point which the honorable member is making, and shall endeavour to bring about an alteration of system as soon as possible.
– I suppose that we shall have to be satisfied with the promise that reforms will be carried out in the near future. Of course, the PostmasterGeneral has not been long enough in charge of the Department to make changes. The injustice of which I speak exists in numerous localities. The charge for telephones should be uniform over a certain area, say within 10 miles of the city, or some system should be adopted under which it would not be possible to favour certain localities. Persons at Richmond are not likely to apply for telephones for their private houses when they know that they will be charged £8 or £9 for them, although Hawthorn subscribers pay only £5. It is penalizing certain districts, and I trust that the Postmaster-General will look into the matter. Evidently New South Wales has far less to complain of than has Victoria.
– May I suggest to the honorable member who has just resumed his seat that he will do well to confine his attention to safeguarding the interests of his own State, and to refrain from instituting comparisons between Victoria and New South Wales. Evidently he does not know much about the latter State, otherwise he would not have made the remark with which he concluded his speech. Both the honorable member and myself have a common cause of complaint - a complaint founded upon a grave injustice. My complaint is that the ex-Postmaster-General is responsible for the difficulty which now exists, in that he abolished a system which had worked well for many years. I do not propose to deal with this question at any length. Last night the ex-Postmaster-General made some most absurd statements. When one sets out to make a “stump “ speech, I believe that it is proper that his statements should, as far as possible, be in the inverted order, and, true to tradition, the exPostmasterGeneral last evening delivered a “ stump “ oration which had little reference to the question under consideration, and in -which his statements were turned topsy-turvy. He asked, “ What about the men who have 6 or 7 miles of wire? Ought not they to pay more than the man who has only 2 or 3 miles of wire ? ‘ ‘ What the honorable gentleman has recently done is to emphasize that very difficulty. My whole complaint is that subscribers who receive least line accommodation, are paying the increased charges, whilst those with most line accommodation are receiving the benefit conferred by the smaller rates. That is the injustice which his recent action has perpetuated. It is an injustice that we hope to have remedied. We have been promised by the Postmaster-General that something shall be done to remedy it. He has promised two things : first, that the citizens of the Commonwealth who use telephones shall, as far as possible, be treated equally; and, secondly, that he will secure this end by a fair and even”handed apportionment of telephone facilities.
– If he would make the toll system universal . it would be a good thing.
– I do not care how uniformity is secured, so long as the “burden is made to bear equally upon telephone subscribers, and so long as we. do not get a uniformity upwards. It is too late in the day to do that. I complain that the present Postmaster-General is putting the rates up instead of down. I hope that we shall very soon hear from him. that an effort is being made to remedy the shocking injustice of which I complain, so that there will be no further need to deal with the matter in this House.
– I have no desire to revive discussion with the honorable member upon this question, but it is scarcely to be expected that I car. allow him to make the statements which he has made without pointing out what he said last night.
– What did I say ?
– The honorable member said that the anomaly to which he has referred, was due to the fact that Ministers were merely figureheads, and that they were wedded to conservative ideas. He also made a vigorous attack upon; the officers of the Department.
– The very second sentence which the honorable gentleman utters contains an absolute misrepresentation.
– I appeal to honorable members to say whether the honorable member did not make an attack upon the officers of the Departments. When I answered his criticism by putting the cold facts of the case before the Committee, he said that I made a “ stump “ speech. This afternoon he has referred to the framing of absurd regulations arid to “ shocking injustice.” The regulations to which he refers were framed for the purpose of bringing the toll system into operation. We all recollect the “ stump “ speeches which he and many of his friends delivered prior to the initiation of that system. It is refreshing to know that, whilst they then condemned the toll system from one end of the country to the other, they now have; nothing to say in opposition to it. Instead of doing so, the honorable member calmly declared, in answer to a question! put by the honorable member for South Sydney, that he would welcome its universal application - a course which we have always advocated.
– We have always advocated it.
– Then honorable members opposite had a most peculiar method of advocating it, seeing that they formed large deputations and waited upon the Postmaster-General of the day to protest against its initiation. I recollect that upon one occasion they endeavoured to get the leader of the Opposition to introduce a deputation upon this matter, and when they could not find him they requisitioned the services of Senator Neild. However, we can understand their action because at that time it was popular to scream against the inauguration of the toll system. It is a tribute to the officers of the Department who recommended the adoption of that system that, notwithstanding its denunciation by honorable members, the latter now recognise that it is no longer popular to scream against it. I do not wish to make what the honorable member for Parramatta terms a “stump” speech, but when he comes here, loses his temper, and indulges in strong language, it is only right that I should point out how inconsistent he is. He has spoken about the difference between the rate charged to a subscriber with seven miles of wire as compared with that charged to the individual who has only three miles of wire. The regulations framed by me were intended to insure that a man shall pay according to the service which he receives.
– The. honorable member has said that a man with seven miles of wire can obtain a cheaper service than the individual with three miles of wire. He was most positive in making that declaration last night in respect of two persons resident in the same place and receiving the same service under the flat rate system. No doubt he has gone through his statement very carefully this morning, but he does not now wish to confirm it. If he could have discovered one weak spot in my declaration of last evening undoubtedly he would have been prepared to criticise it to-day.
– I never gave the matter a thought.
– The honorable member comes here to interject freely whilst I am speaking, .and when I find that there is no means of stopping his interjections, except by raising my voice to drown his own, he affirms that I have delivered an absurd speech, that I issued absurd regulations, and that he welcomes an extension of the toll system. I welcome him to the fold, because his conversion will make it much easier for the Government to extend the toll system.
I am glad that this discussion has had that effect. The toll system aims at placing every subscriber upon the same footing. It gives effect to the principle of payment . by results, and provides that a man shall pay in proportion to the service which he receives. Quite a number of flat rate subscribers in the city, who receive a service which is worth £30 per annum, pay for it only from £5 to £9 per annum. The Postal Department has to be made to pay, and it is evident that the difference must be made up by the subscribers who do not get a large service. That is my answer to the honorable member for Parramatta.
– It is such an an- ,swer as the honorable gentleman is capable of making, no doubt.
– I am not going to make an answer which will suit the honorable member, and I will not allow him to attack the officers r-f the Department most bitterly - as he did last night - and to endeavour to make it appear that the regulations which I issued were absurd, without replying to his misstatements. When the honorable member has no otheranswer to what he has been pleased toterm a “ stump speech,” he rises in his place and shouts across the table “ Bluff,, bluff.”
.- It affords me great instruction to listen to thespeeches which have been made upon thisquestion by the deputy leader of the Opposition and the ex-Postmaster-General. It is remarkable that whilst the lattercharges the former with advocating the extension of the toll system which he once condemned, the ex- Postmaster-General takes tt> himself the credit of having inaugurated that system.
– His statement is not correct.
– I cannot say whether it is correct or not, because the honorablemember for Parramatta usually denies, everything. In my opinion, no greater bungle has ever been made than that which has been perpetrated in connexion with the introduction of the toll telephonic system in the Commonwealth. It is not many years since that system formed a new subject in the discussion of the votes of this Department. The Postmaster-General of the Reid Administration actually knew so little about it that he inquired across the table of the House, “ What is the toll system?” The introduction- . of that system marked the beginning; of a system of payment by results. After going very deeply into this question, and reviewing the history of telephonic development in older countries, I expressed the opinion by way of interjection - doubtless the Postmaster-General will remember the occasion - that the scale upon which it was proposed to base the toll rates was an unsatisfactory one. Prior to the introduction of the system in Australia the maximum number of calls permitted in any country was 750, annually, and fd. was charged for each additional call. In other instances a maximum of 600 calls was allowed, and id. was charged for each additional call.
– The honorable member is referring to other parts of the world.
– -Yes. These were the most liberal cases that I can cite. The ex-Postmaster-General, however, declared that he intended to allow 750 calls annually as the maximum. One would- have thought that such was a generous offer. Further, he proposed that only £d. should be charged for each additional callpractically half as much as is charged in other countries. Under these circumstances, one would have imagined that our subscribers were going to secure a service at exceedingly low rates. But we all ‘know the hue and .cry which was raised when he proposed the system under which a< maximum of 750 calls annually was allowed, with Jd. charge for each additional call. I blame the PostmasterGeneral for not exhibiting more courage upon that occasion, and for taking heed of the howl which was raised-
– Wire into him !
– I do not “ wire “ into anybody for the sake of achieving notoriety - for the purpose of getting a paragraph published in about every three inches of the daily newspapers. There is none of that sort of thing in my composition. Had the Postmaster-General stood firm at the time of which I speak. - had he endeavoured to apply the toll system to the whole telephonic service - we should to-day have been in possession of a system which would not only be paying, but which would enable us to give a cheaper ‘ service to all subscribers except those resident in the large centres of population, who have been thriving upon a socialistic institution by securing /[100 worth of service annually for a contribution of £9.
– Is there any Socialism about that?
– It is Socialism so far as the man on top is concerned) but when the man at the bottom- endeavours to get a share he is repelled with all possible force.
– And yet the honorable member says that he desires an extension of that Socialism !
– I do not know what company the honorable member for Parramatta is now keeping - whether he is in company about which he did not care at one time, or whether he is in the company of those for whom his nature used to yearn.
– I really do not know !
– I do not think the honorable member does know. If the exPostmasterGeneral had had backbone enough to face the metropolitan press, merchants and others, aird see to the interests of the general public, we should now have had a system which would be a credit to Australia; and we should have been enabled to give four times the telephone facilities, that :are now afforded in the country districts. Flat-rate subscribers pay only £& a year, and have 2,000 free calls, each of” which, of course,’ means a message and a reply. Is that not a ridiculously cheap rate?
– I say that 2,000 calls for j£8 per annum is not. a ridiculously low rate.
– I contend that it is a ridiculously low rate, as compared with the charges in other countries.
– We are not bound to follow the example of other parts of the world.
– Perhaps not, but we ought to see that there is equitable administration of the Department. If the large users of the telephone are afforded facilities at low rates, it follows that we cannot afford to give telephonic conveniences to the scattered population in distant parts of the Commonwealth at fair rates. It was sheer cowardice on the part of the exPostmasterGeneral to extend the number of calls from 750 per year to 1,000 each half year; indeed, I never dreamt that a gentleman of his characteristics would have backed down to such a degree. Until the charges are more equitably apportioned, we shall not achieve the object which the telephonic branch of the service ought to have in view ; but it will be more difficult now to undo what the ex-
Postmaster-General did, than it would have been to lay down a proper system at the outset.
– The honorable member’s contention’ might be met by charging £2 10s. per annum, or1s. per week, instead of £5 per annum, and reducing the calls from 2,000 to 1,000.
– That would not meet the position, although that course might have been adopted at the initiation of the toll system.
– It would be an improvement.
– Possibly ; but it appears to me to be only an apology for a system. I hope the present PostmasterGeneral will see his way to equalise matters by reducing the number of calls to say, 1,000 per annum, and charging½d. for every additional call, without that sliding scale which was adopted at the instigation of the metropolitan press, and those merchants and others who so influenced his predecessor. There is no doubt that the present Postmaster-General could make a name for himself ‘ if he grasped the nettle firmly, and adopted some such method as I have suggested, thereby releasing revenue for the purpose of affording telephonic facilities throughout the country. That is the only way now open to him to bring about that equality of administration which should have marked the initiation of the toll system. When I hear the exPostmasterGeneral talking about his courage, and about what he has done, I feel reluctant to express my opinion in the words which occur to me. He showed himself to be most weak when he had the opportunity of his life - to inaugurate a new and equitable system which would have proved of great benefit to the people of the whole of Australia.
– I notice that enormous expense is proposed for repairs, building, and so forth, in connexion with a number of post offices. For instance, £40,000 is provided in the case of the General Post Office, Sydney.
– Surely the honorable member does not object to that expenditure ?
– I do, indeed.
– The additions are absolutely necessary, owing to want of room in the offices.
– I have heard that kind of talk before. During the last twelve years thousands of pounds have been spent on the Sydney Post Office.
– And more will have to be spent if business goes on expanding.
– The reason for this continued expenditure is that provision is made only from day to day.
– The honorable member does not know what he is saying.
– The honorable gentleman is not talking like a Minister of the Crown, but like a nonentity. He has just assumed the position of PostmasterGeneral, and yet he presumes to know something of the service. All the honorable member knows about is hat making; he knows absolutely nothing about the Postal Department. If those in charge of this Department were business men, they would make provision for the future. There are three or four services which must expand with the population, and the Postal Department is one. Then, more money than is necessary is being spent in suburban places, where there is not likely to be any increase in population. The officers who make the suggestions are evidently influenced by some one against their own judgment.
– I do not think that the honorable member’s remarks apply to the Sydney General Post Office. I have known fora considerable time that the arrangements there are not at all equal to the work which has to be done.
– The Treasurer is proving my case, namely, that the policy is only a hand-to-mouth policy, which, provides only for the day, and not for the future.
– It is evident we require a new Ministry.
– Not necessarily ; the Ministry can to some extent be excused, because the responsibility has been taken out of their hands by the appointment of a Public Service Commissioner, who appoints responsible officers. On the advice of those officers the Minister reads and signs minutes, and that is about all he knows and does. The additions to the Sydney Post Office are of a florid character, with magnificent and artistic stonework. We should have business accommodation rather than ornamentation; and the extensions ought to have been made long ago. But to erect an ornamental building at enormous expense in an out of the way corner of the city-
– Surely the honorable member does not say that the Sydney Post Office is in an out of the way corner of the city?
– No; but the Sydney Post Office is all complete, and the structure now being erected is going skyward.
– The honorable member is really approving of what we are. doing.
– That is what I meant by my interjection - that the honorable member was not acquainted with the facts.
– I have seen the plans in connexion with the Sydney Post Office, just as I have seen the plans in connexion with the Melbourne office, and I know pretty well what is going on. When a design has once been completed, we must not spend money on ornamentation. Suburban offices should be suitable for the service of the districts. In a place that is stagnant and not likely to move for many years, it is a waste of hard cash to erect elaborate buildings. At Bondi, for instance, it is proposed to spend £1,300, although that place is within two miles of a first-class post office. This is an insignificant place so far as business is concerned ; and, as I have indicated, most of the population are within a short distance of Randwick. At Katoomba it is proposed to spend £1,000 on a post office, although this place is practically forsaken during all but about three months of the year. I find that it is proposed to expend £2,000 in erecting a post-office at Lithgow, a town that is absolutely dead. Its position to-day is exactly what it was about five years ago.
– The honorable memberis not correct in his statement of the facts.
– But for the railway officials the town would be absolutely empty. When I referred to another item relating to a town in; the mountains, the honorable member for the district objected so strongly that I thought it was well to mention this item, although I was not altogether in earnest in my references to it. I wish now to say something about the telephone service. The ex-Postmaster-General has described that of New South Wales as being satisfactory. I contend that it is a disgrace to the Commonwealth. Any one who has travelled will admit that he has not met with a more inefficient or unsatisfactory service. The ex- Postmaster-General said that he had been charged by the deputy leader of the Opposition with being a mere figure-head to that Department. It appears that the honorable member said nothing of the sort, but I have- no hesitation in so describing the honorable gentleman. He took exception to strictures passed upon the administration of Departments by officers, but I should like to know whether we have not a right to refer to any case of inefficiency. The responsibility of Ministers has been transferred, to some extent, to the Public Service Commissioner, but, at the same time, we surely have a right to comment upon the inefficiency of any of the services, of the Commonwealth. Are we at all times to blame the Commissioner? I think not. The ex- PostmasterGeneral should have made a minute recommending that a highly competent man of wide experience should be brought to Australia to reconstruct our telephonic and telegraphic services.
– Why bring in an outsider ?
– Because we need a man of experience, and to get one we must go to the United States of America. The telephone service of the Sandwich Islands is far ahead of that of New South Wales, arid, even some years ago, was in advance of It. When Mr. Sydney Smith took office as PostmasterGeneral, he suggested to his officers directions in which improvements might be made, but on every hand he was opposed by the electricians of the Department, and as soon as he retired they returned to their former inadequate system. The Minister who succeeded him adopted the system which they dictated, and it is for that reason that I assert that, whilst PostmasterGeneral, the honorable member for EdenMonaro, was nothing but a figure-head. The telephone service is far behind the times. That of Adelaide is a tin-pot one. It is impossible to communicate with a subscriber there without giving his name to the officer at the exchange, and it is only a few months since the penny-in-the-slot system was introduced there. If we had an up-to-date officer it would not be long before we should have, in all probability, a system second to none. Some of our subscribers are provided with a maximum service at a minimum cost. The business of our exchanges is congested by a few people. Large business firms are constantly connected with the exchange, and for a very small payment are enjoying a service that is worth thousands of pounds. Compared with such subscribers, those who have telephones only in their own homes pay far more than they ought to do. This is a question, not of the large man being attacked by the small man, but of every subscriber being called upon to pay in proportion to the service rendered by the Department. We shall not have a satisfactory system until we have at the head of the telephone service an officer capable of reorganizing it. Then again we find that the old practice of allowing persons to own their own telephones has not yet been abolished. Such’ subscribers enjoy an unlimited service at a peppercorn rental. The; system should have been abolished years ago, and, if necessary, in the interests of the general body of subscribers, these persons should be bought out. The exPostmasterGeneral has declared that the Opposition were always opposed to the toll system. I have always been in favour of it, believing that a man should pay in proportion to the service he receives. Under the flat system, that is not done. Even if it be true that the leader of the Opposition refused to introduce a certain deputation to the Minister, that is no evidence of his opposition to the request which the deputation had to make. It is a well understood rule that a member of Parliament shall introduce to a Minister any deputation from his district which asks him to do so. It does not necessarily follow that an honorable member, simply because he introduces a deputation to a Minister, approves of its object. I find that, according to a statement maderecently by the PostmasterGeneral, the heads of his Department have gone back upon their reports as to the inefficiency of the service and the shortage of officers.
– Who said that?
– I understood the honorable member to say yesterday that Mr. Arnold, of the Sydney office, had stated that his former report was overdrawn.
– I did not say anything of the kind. I said that the later reports showed that the previous ones, so far as the question of overtime was concerned, were exaggerated.
– Here we have an officer writing an exaggerated report to a Minister-
– That is not correct.
– If an officer deceived the Ministerial head of his Department he should be suspended.
– But did the officer in question admit that his report was exaggerated ?
– No; but we have a responsible Minister talking like a child. If the officer in question submitted an exaggerated report to the Minister he should have been suspended. He had before him books showing the extent of overtime worked by men in the service. All these facts go to show how incompetent the Postmaster-General is. If officers are at liberty to send in reports which are exaggerated, or, in other words, untrue, the service must be in a deplorable state.
– The reports in question were borne out by papers laid, two years ago, on the table of the Library.
– I do not think there can be any doubt as to the” correctness of the reports. The speech made during the Budget debate by the honorable member for Gwydir should have been answered by the Minister. When an honorable member makes a straightforward statement in regard to the working of a Department, and in support of it quotes from the reports of responsible officers, the Ministerial head of that Department should either be prepared to make a satisfactory explanation or to resign. It seems that we have reached a stage in the history of the Commonwealth when Ministers may be permitted to make random statements and to draw salaries in respect of offices which they are quite incapable of filling. Something has been said by the PostmasterGeneral with regard to the unjust treatment of officers. This Parliament has never done any injustice to an officer of the Public Service. It is the Minister at the head of the Department in which such a complaint is raised who must accept the responsibility. The Ministerial head of a Departmentis expected to provide increased assistance for a growing service. The Public Service Commissioner cannot make more appointments unless the funds necessary for the payment of additional officers are provided. All these facts go to show how incompetent are the men at the head of affairs to discharge the duties expected of them.
.- I trust that the Postmaster-General is taking a note of the criticism of his Department, for I can assure him that there is an opportunity for him to effect great improvements in it. I brought before the House the inequitable charges imposed for the use of the telephone service in Adelaide and its suburbs. Places six miles from Adelaide have a cheaper telephone service than more populous districts close to the city. Telephone subscribers in Norwood, Unley, St. Peters, and Kenttown, all thickly populated centres,’ have to pay £3 more per annum than subscribers in Glenelg, Port Adelaide, and other districts further removed, where the population is not so dense, and, presumably, ‘the cost of the service greater. There is no excuse for continuing these inequalities. ‘ I admit that the present system is not the fault of this Ministry, but has grown up under a number of Governments. Still, although I called attention to the South Australian inequalities three months ago, and was told that steps were being taken to remedy them, nothing has yet been done, and I see no proposal on the Estimates for new exchanges.
– The Minister chooses the line of least resistance, and finds it easier to bluff honorable members than to insist upon departmental reforms.
– I think that it would be easier and pleasanter to do what is wanted than to have to listen to so much adverse criticism. As I have heard no complaints about the want of telephones recently, I assume that the supply of instruments has pretty well overtaken the demand.
– Not in New South Wales. We cannot get a sufficient number of telephones there.
– If a sufficient number of instruments is available, the Department should have no difficulty in meeting the proper requirements of the public.
– The Postal Department 0,11 v makes recommendations; it does not frame the Estimates.
– I do not think that the Cabinet is entitled to withhold improvements and conveniences which the public require. Parliament would be quite prepared to vote whatever money is necessary for a proper telephone system. As a matter of fact, it would not cost much to remove the inequalities which have been complained of, and which should not be allowed to continue a day longer than is necessary. The honorable member for Yarra was taken to task for having referred to the condition of things in New South Wales, but, under the circumstances, his remarks were perfectly fair, and by no means parochial. According to the Estimates, provision is being made for at least fourteen new exchanges in that State.
– To my knowledge, all those exchanges have been in existence for at least ten years.
– The votes set down are “towards the erection” of the exchanges mentioned-.
– The money is being provided for extensions, not for new exchanges.
– I am glad that the New South Wales exchanges are being improved, but I should like to see similar attention being given to the needs of the suburbs of Adelaide.
– £500,000 isneeded to do all that is required.
– What is needed is not money but a more capable administrator.
– The inequalities of which I have complained could be removed for a much smaller expenditure than that. The additional accommodation necessary could be provided for a very small increase in expense.
’. - I do not agree with what was said by the honorable member for Robertson in regard to the expenditure on the General Post Office at Sydney. I admit that ‘ we must always keep in view the utilitarian aspect of our buildings, but it is not desirable to deprive them of all adornment and artistic finish.
– Would the honorable member spend £40,000 to get £20,000 worth of accommodation?
– Most of the ornate work on the Sydney General Post Office was carried out long before there was any Federal Parliament. But complaints have been general for a long time past about the inadequate accommodation provided there. This has caused serious trouble to those responsible for the despatch of business. The opinion has also got abroad that for many years the persons employed in that office have been continuously sweated, from the heads of departments right through the service, and I have every reason to believe that this opinion is well founded. But I understand that it has been determined to relieve the overwork of the . officials there, giving them much- needed assistanceby increasing the staff. Inlooking through the Estimates I have noticed that very large sums are set down for buildings in comparatively out of the way places. For instance, we are asked to vote £400 towards the cost of erecting a post office at Bellingen. The total cost of the work is to be £900, a very large sum to be spent on so small a place.
– Bellingen is one of the most flourishing towns on the northern rivers.
– I do not object to necessary expenditure, but in connexion with items such as that to which I am referring we should have full information as to the population to be served. Some justification for proposals of this kind should be put before us. If we are not properly informed in regard to them, I, for one, shall feel inclined to move reductionsin many cases. A large sum is proposed for the erection of a post office at Coff’s Harbour, a very small place. We should set our faces against lavish expenditure in out of the way places. Instead of erecting large and costly buildings such as are bigger than the actual or probable immediate requirements of districts demand, we should confine ourselves to providing what will meet the necessities of the situation. In regulating this expenditure we could always have an eye to future development, and see that the designs are such as to permit of the extension of these buildings in conformity with the ultimate plans. I notice, too, that £700 has been put upon the Estimates for the erection of a postoffice at Culcairn,£400 towards the erection of a similar office at Curlewis - the total cost of the building is to be £800 - £750 for a post-office at Kyogle,£400 towards the erection of a post-office at Tingha, the total cost of which is to be £800, and £470 for a similar office at Kurri Kurri.
– The honorabe member must not say anything in opposition to the Kurri Kurri post-office.
– Doubtless the honorable member will be able to give the Committee some information in regard to that undertaking. A sum of £749 has also been provided for the erection of a postoffice at Mullumbimby. I call attention to these items because of the extreme difficulty which I have experienced in securing the expenditure of small sums upon admittedly necessary postal works. As a mat ter of fact, I had to go through all sorts of formalities to get acoat of paint put upon a post-office in my own district. Before that work was actually undertaken an officer had to inspect the building, and to report upon it, which, of course, is proper - but the matter was then hung up for months. When I see large sums provided upon the Estimates for the erection of new buildings, I am impelled to ask why it is that such a marked disinclination is evinced to the expenditure of small sums upon necessary repairs. Another example of the extreme parsimony sometimes displayed was afforded by the refusal of the Department to purchase from a retiring postmaster a bath-heater which he had installed at his own expense whenin charge of the office. Little acts of parsimony of that kind are irritating in themselves, and naturally provoke one to inquire why such penuriousness should be exhibited upon the one hand and such lavishness upon the other. Some time since complaints were made of the inadequacy of the living accommodation provided at the St. Peter’s post-office. I visited that office with a view to making a personal inspection. I found that a bedroom was provided which was barely large enough to permit of a single bedstead being erected, and that, to insure a supply of light and air it was necessary that the door communicating with another and by no means large room should be kept open.
– Is that a Government building ?
– Was it built by the Public Works Department of New South Wales?
– Yes. At the present time the officer in charge of that postoffice is a married man with a family. No proper provision has been made for housing the members of his family, and no disposition has been exhibited by the Government to improve the living accommodation. A little time ago the authorities did build outside the house a small weatherboard shed intended to serve the purpose of a bedroom, but it was a mere shed, and unfit for such a use. I mention these matters merely with a view to show the parsimony which is exhibited in some cases as compared with the extravagance which is shown in others. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will order an officer to make an inspection of the St. Peter’s post-office with a view to providing increased accommodation for the postmaster and his family.
– Does the Department compel the postmaster to live there?
– I think so.
– I have already written a minute stating that where the Department compels officers to live upon the premises and charges them rental, it must do what any ordinary landlord would do, namely, keep those premises in a proper state of repair. ‘
– In this instance, it is not only a question of keeping the premises in a proper state of repair, but one of providing sufficient breathing space to enable the postmaster and his family to live under healthy conditions. One of the bedrooms - so far -as accommodation is concerned - is little better than a wardrobe or linen closet.
– Are not these matters really too small to be brought forward here?
– Unfortunately there is no other way in which I can insure that attention will be paid to them. It is idle to make representations to the Department.’ Any officer who could report- that the room to which I have just referred was a fit place for a perso’! to sleep in must be ignorant of the first principles of hygiene. I come now to the question of telephone exchanges. While the honorable member for Parramatta was ‘speaking last night, the ex- Postmaster-General interjected that any two individuals can secure the establishment of a telephone exchange at any place if they choose,,
– I was referring to the small telephone exchanges. Under the old regulations it ‘was necessary that fifteen subscribers should join together in country districts before an exchange could be established ; but under the new regulations only two persons are required to so join together.
– At the request of the Municipal Council of Rockdale, I applied to the Department to establish an exchange there. Rockdale is really the centre of the State electorate represented by the New South Wales Premier, Mr. Carruthers. ,
– How far is the centre of Rockdale from a telephone exchange ?
-I am aware that it is within three miles. I understand the rea son why an exchange has not been established there is that a regulation, existswhich prohibits the establishment of an exchange within three miles of another exchange.
– Surely Ave do do not want exchanges established at every three miles.
– The honorable; member must think that we have an awful lot of time upon hand.
– The Acting Prime Minister will not induce me to. shorten my speech by interjections of that sort. I ami not going to be bullied by him. I repeat that the establishment of a telephone exchange ought not to be the subject of a hard and fast regulation. Notwithstanding . that an exchange may exist within three miles of any centre, I say that the population of that centre may justify the erection of another exchange. The present arbitrary regulation, if continued, will be provocative of a great deal of trouble in the future. I was under the impression that the object of the Department was to popularize the telephone, but that result is not likely to be achieved if obstacles are placed in the way of residents in populous centres securing the establishment of .local exchanges.
– The Department is losing money every day.
– I think, that it is. Certainly its policy is in opposition to alt . recognised commercial principles. I may add that I have unsuccessfully attempted to procure the establishment of a telephone bureau at Como, which is a favourite resort of week-end holiday makers, and of picnickers generally. At present it_ is impossible to transmit a telephone message from that place to Sydney, which is only 13 miles distant. The railway authorities of New South Wales have offered to provide the necessary accommodation for -a telephone bureau at the Como railway station. Then there is another busy centre upon George’s River, between Tom Ugly’s. Point and Sylvania. An immense traffic passes over this particular spot every day in the year - indeed, at week-ends the traffic becomes so congested that persons frequently have to wait an hour for the punt to take them across to the other sideBut, although there is a post-office at Sylvania, it is impossible to get a telephone installed there, notwithstanding that the place is visited by tens of thousands of persons every year;
I am informed that the cause of the delay is the scarcity of instruments ; but, although, that excuse might be reasonable in the beginning, it cannot last for ever. When the heads of the Department know that the telephone is likely to come into general use in the near future, they should adopt the ordinary commercial principle of providing for any increase of business, and so provide the facilities so often promised by the ex-Postmaster-General. I do not blame the ex-Postmaster-General so much, because, while he was in charge of the Department, he made great strides in the direction of reform. There is, however, too much of a tendency to allow officers torun the Department, owing to the. fact, I suppose, that Ministers do not take the trouble to inform themselves. Ministers are very prone to rely too much on reports from their officers, although I have known some cases in which such reports have been absolutely unreliable, even to the extent of misstatements of fact. For example, in reference to Miranda, where telephonic facilities were required, the reports of the inspecting officers were of such a dolorific nature that the Minister regarded himself as taking tremendous risks when he finally met the wishes of the residents.
– The honorable member will give me the credit that I promised, if he gave me his assurance as to the necessity for the telephone facilities, I would provide them.
– That is so, but he has not always acted up to those promises. In the Miranda case I got the telephone because I was prepared to back my opinion against the official’s report by a personal guarantee to make up any financial loss on the line. As a matter of fact, the returns from the telephone at this place are eminently satisfactory from every point of view. I mention this fact only to show that it is not advisable for Ministers always to rely too much on the reports of officers ; but that, where an honorable member shows reasonable grounds for telephone extension, the Minister should weigh those grounds and form an independent judgment, and, when possible, pay a visit to the locality. The Progress Association of San Souci and Sandringham sent a request to the Minister for improved postal and telegraphic facilities several weeks ago, hut up to the present no definite reply has been received. I wrote the other day reminding the Department that a request had been sent in, and asking that the in quiry might be expedited. I believe that the Minister has asked to have a report prepared assoon as possible; but I take this opportunity to suggest that the Department must be undermanned, having regard to the great delay in obtaining a reply from it
– In one case the time was 194 days.
– Other honorable members have complained on the same score; and as these matters are in the multiplicity of corespondence liable to escape one’s memory, the blame for the delay is placed upon the shoulders of honorable members by our constituents.
.- We are asked to vote a very large sum of money, and we ought to have some information as to how it is to be used. The sum immediately under consideration is £34,246, but the sum ultimately involved is much larger. I notice that £40,000 is to be spent on the General Post Office, Sydney, and we are now asked to vote £7,000 of that sum. This is a matter on which we require some enlightenment, because, in my opinion, service would be rendered to the country if the post-office in Sydney were burnt down and a new one erected in its place.
– Is the honorable member serious?
– All I mean is that the present structure is so out of date that it would be really much better if it were thoroughly renovated. The offices of any up-to-date business firm are so constructed that the whole of those employed are under a certain amount of supervision by their superiors; but in the General Post Office, Sydney, each individual officer appears tohave a carefully closed room allotted to him. There is, first of all, the head of the Department, in a very handsome office, and each officer apparently works in a little cellular compartment. The whole of the front of the building, which is well lighted by a series of windows, is devoted to a long passage ; and I think the whole place ought to be reorganized structurally.
– That is what the money is for.
– Is the honorable member an architect as well as a doctor?
– No. but I profess to have a certain modicum of common sense ; and I am entitled to express an opinion on a matter common to any man of ordinary observation. If the Treasurer would only explain his Estimates and other proposals in a proper way, a good deal of speech-making and inquiry would be saved. I do not take exception to the amount proposed to be expended, because, after all, it is most necessary that our post-offices should be made convenient. I do take exception, however, to the elaborate structures which are provided in many of the country districts, where money, which ought to be devoted to providing facilities for the people, is spent in outside ornamentation. For example, at a place called Kurri Kurri we find that the postmaster, with his family of four or five, has two small rooms in which to live. I do not think that the Department does justice to country districts. In various outlying places, where the important industry of dairyfarming is chiefly carried on, there are no telephonic facilities, and I may say, in illustration, that time after time a request has been made in, vain for such facilities at Underbank and another similar place. It - would appear that the inspectors, who have to cover enormous stretches of country, areoverworked, and that this fact supplies the reason for the delay. If money has to be spent, I think the number of inspectors might be increased. The exPostmasterGeneral told me that he quite recognised that the Department was suffering a loss owing to some leakage, which he proposed to stop ; but, unfortunately, the honorable gentleman has moved up a step, and his successor, the present Postmaster-General, is so busy with protectionist propaganda, that he really has no time to devote to the work of his office. I do not think that the present Postmaster-General is likely to follow the advanced policy of his predecessor, so long as he bestows- so much of his time on furthering the protectionist movement.
– That is utter rubbish, and utterly untrue !
– I rise to a point of order. The Postmaster-General has accused the honorable member for Hunter of saying that which is “ utter rubbish and utterly untrue.” I ask that the PostmasterGeneral foe requested to withdraw those words.
– I am sure that if the honorable member made that statement he will withdraw it.
– I withdraw the ‘word “untrue,” and say that the statement is contrary to fact.
– Does the honorable member withdraw the word “ rubbish “ ?
– Certainly not.
– I am compelled to accept that apology.
– Does not the honorable member know that his statement is untrue?
– Is the honorable member in order in making that remark ?
– I do not see that any exception can be’ taken to it. The honorable member has withdrawn the remark that the statement made by the honorable member for Hunter is untrue.
– I wish now to allude to the private telephones attached to hotels. The Postmaster- General does not often enter such places, and perhaps he is not aware that a great many telephones in hotels are used by the general public. They are frequently used by men who do not even purchase a drink.
– They have no right to use it.
– What steps are being taken to prevent the practice?
– The only steps that can be taken.
– Absolutely nothing is being done, but I would point out that the practice could be abolished by the introduction into hotels of penny-in-the-slot telephones.
– I certainly shall not afford telephone facilities in hotels.
– That is a remark which should be printed in Hansard in capital letters.
– Surely the honorable member does not wish to make a publichouse a telephone bureau?
– Does not the Acting Prime Minister, who, when in London recently, stopped at the Hotel Cecil, know that in all large hotels there private telephones are placed for the convenience of the public?
– Yes; but not penny-in-the-slot telephones.
– And they are more expensive than they are here?
– I am prepared to say that they are a great nuisance.
– In Australia, telephones in hotels are for the use, not of the public, but of the man who pays for them.
– But the public are allowed to make use of them.
– The proprietor is liable to a penalty if he allows his private telephone to be used by non-subscribers.
– In London, one has to pay for the use of a telephone attached to an hotel . The Department would derive considerable revenue from pennyintheslot telephones in hotels.
– We are not going to do what the honorable member suggests - or, at all events, I am riot.
– If the honorable member is such a narrow-minded man, ‘ I am very sorry that he holds office as PostmasterGeneral. Is it not his duty to conduct the Department on commercial lines? Does he propose to conduct it on purely sectarian lines? Does he not know that it is his duty if possible to make the Department pay and to see that it provides for the convenience of the public ? I maintain that very many people go to hotels not to purchase a drink but to obtain meals, or to secure board and residence, and I fail to see why a telephone service should not be provided in such places for their use. If we were to place on the Estimates a sum to permit the Postmaster-General and others of the same ilk to travel in order to enlarge their ideas we should do well. I wish now to refer to the practice adopted in providing silent bureaux for country offices. When it is proposed to erect one of these bureaux reports travel backwards and forwards between the head office and the country office - I cannot say whether ornot they are sent on to Melbourne to be indorsed by the Secretary of the Central administration - and after a considerable delay a box is sent along. Instead of instructing a local man to carry out the work tenders are invited, and sometimes it is discovered when the box is delivered that it is too large to pass through the doorway. It has then to be altered or the doorway has to be enlarged, unless the box is to remain on the verandah of the post office.
– There is no case in the history of the Department where such a box has been sent along.
– At an office in my electorate there was erected a box which no one could enter for the reason that the builder forgot to provide a doorway.
– If I remember rightly, one of these boxes was sent up to the post office at Kurri Kurri, and as it was too large to go through the doorway of the post office it had to stand in the passage. I am grieved at the attitude of the Post master-General with regard to the introduction of penny-in-the-slot telephones in hotels. By refusing to adopt this system he will lose a large amount of revenue which might well be spent in raising the salaries of some of the unfortunate clerks who, owing to the parsimony of the Department, are now being overworked. I know of cases where these unfortunate officers have deductions made from their salaries in respect of rent for premises owned by the Department when they are really acting as caretakers of them. Over and over again I have made representations to the Department in regard to these matters, but I invariably meet with a rebuff, and it seems to me that the sooner the Treasury benches are occupied by men who are prepared to listen to reasonable requests the better.
– I hope that the debate on these small items will now be brought to a close, although I admit that it is only reasonable that honorable members should desire to know something of the intentions of the Department in regard to the extensive alterations to be made at the Sydney General Post Office. The item of £7,000 appearing on the Estimates is to provide for alterations, the total cost of which will be £40,000. More floor space is urgently required, and alterations to secure the same, in the shape of remodelling the interior of the building, are intended to be undertaken. Walls and masonry piers at present occupy a great deal of space, which by their removal, will be available for official work.
– It is a matter of all corridors and no room.
– Quite so. For an expenditure of £40,000 the interior of the building is to be remodelled. The work must be a gradual one, and I think that most honorable members who have referred to the item largely agree with the proposal.
– It is not proposed to add another story?
– The item on the Estimates in question is to be devoted to the alterations I have just indicated. It will readily be recognised that we could not attempt to expend the whole amount at once, since the making of these alterations must necessarily be a gradual process. As soon as one part of the building has been remodelled, another part, where the officers are now working, can be relieved, and the alterations may be proceeded with.
– Why did the Government sell the land on the other side of Moore-street ?
– The honorable member ought to ask Mr. Carruthers. The last allotment was sold to the University, which has just completed the erection of a building upon it. The work of the General Post Office in Sydney is increasing so rapidly that it is probable that a proposition will shortly be made to extend the building in the direction of Kingstreet.
– Towards Sands’ shop?
– And also Hoffnung’s premises. The matter has not yet been brought to a head, but very likely there will be a proposition to extend the building in that direction. The question is one that cannot now be discussed. We are fully aware of the necessity for increasing the accommodation at the General, Post Office, Sydney, and I hope there will be no further objection to the item. Reference has been made to several other items relating to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and I wish to place before honorable members the information I have in regard to them. In the first place, a contract for the erection of the Alstonville Post Office is in progress, and provision is made on the Estimates for carrying out the work. A tender is being accepted for the erection of the Bangalow Post Office, and the work will probably be. proceeded with almost immediately. As to the item of £400 towards the cost of the Bellingen Post Office, I may say that The total cost is exjilted to be £900. The revenue of the post-office is nearly £2,000. I have visited Bellingen on many occasions, and knew that it is situated in one of the richest parts of the north coast country. The population is rapidly increasing. The railway line which is now being constructed from Newcastle to Grafton will traverse part of the district, and cause it to be still more productive and valuable. The lease of the present premises expires on 30th June, 1908., and in order to provide for increased postal business, the inspector for the district recommended the acquisition of a portion of the police reserve site in the main street, and the erection thereon of a building for postal purposes, at a cost, as I have said, of £900. This recommendation was concurred in by the Postmaster-General on 2nd May, 1907. The population of Bondi, where it is proposed to erect a post-office at a cost of £1,300, is 3,000. The site is Commonwealth property. The premises in which business is at pre1*“being transacted are leased at a rental of £28 5s. per annum. There is no residence attached to the present building, and it is proposed to erect a new brick building to afford adequate accommodation for the public and officials. The total cost of the Canbelego Post Office will be £800. The town has a population of 600. The revenue is £892. The postal business at this place is at present conducted by a non-official postmaster, in premises which are represented to be inconvenient,, and it is recommended that a building be erected on a site previously reserved for postal purposes by the State Government. The ‘estimated cost of the Coffs Harbor post-office is £900. The present rented premises are inadequate, and inconveniently situated, and are leased for a rental of £33 a year. The proposed site of the new building is the property of the Government of New South Wales. The new Culcairn postoffice will cost £700, and is about the only new building to be erected in my electorate. For some time past private persons, one on each side of the railway, have wanted the building to be placed on their property, but it was discovered about six months ago that there .is a police reserve almost adjoining the line, and the Commonwealth has arranged to buy part of it for about £25, and the post-office will be placed on that land.
– What is the value of the business transacted at Culcairn?
– The present premises are rented from the Railway Commissioners of New South Wales for £13 per annum, the lease being terminable at any time. The district inspector recommended the erection of a post-office similar to that at The Rock, to cost £640. The revenue of the present office is nearly £600.
– Has the Minister any information about the proposed new Cessnock post-office?
– £300 is set down for that work, the cost of which is estimated at £900. The population of the district is 500, and the revenue of the office £409. I believe that the Katoomba post-office has been referred to. The estimated cost of the new building is £1,000; but the township is a very flourishing one, with a population of 2,500.
– That is the resident population ?
– Yes. I have seen 20,000 persons at Katoomba.
– What is the revenue of the office?
– £3,335. It is proposed to spend £1,000 in erecting a new post-office at Lithgow, the total cost of which will be £2,000. The population of the town is 6,900, and the revenue £3,563.
– I received a letter from the Department in which it was stated that £160 is to be spent on the Gunning postoffice, but I cannot see the amount on these Estimates.
– I shall make inquiries in regard to it.
– It is included in the lump sum for sundry offices.
.- Information as to the population to be served by a new post-office and the revenue received by the present post-office, such as the Minister has read to the Committee, should” be printed and circulated for the benefit of honorable members.
– That has never been done.
– It ought to be doneThere are certain places, such as telegraph repeating stations, where accommodation relatively larger than that needed in other districts with similar (populations is required; but, generally speaking, the expenditure on post-offices should bear a relation to the revenue received from the_ districts in which they are situated. I” feel positive that there are many contract offices in Victoria whose revenue is greater than that of districts elsewhere in which official post-offices have been erected. I have always done my best to bring about the substitution of official for contract postoffices, but in some cases the Department has gone to the other extreme by erecting buildings much more costly and elaborate than are required. We should have full information in regard to every district in which any large expenditure is contemplated. We are asked to vote £7,000 towards the cost of alterations at the General Post Office, Sydney, and are informed in a foot-note, printed in very small type, that the total cost of these alterations will be £40,000. For the extension of the
General Post Office, Melbourne, only £6,574 is set down for the new service, and £12,426 as a re-vote, although I understand that it has been necessary to lease an adjoining building to provide the accommodation required in this city. In all cases, full information should be put before the Committee. It is not fair to ask us to vote lump sums for new works as to the need for which we are not in the position to form an opinion.
.- The experience under State administration was that, if one centre got a good post-office, adjoining centres wanted equally large buildings, whether the volume of work there was large or small. Under Commonwealth administration, however, since works have now to be constructed out of revenue, and not out of loan moneys, an attempt has had to be made to make new buildings conform, as nearly as possible, to the requirements of the districts in which they are situated.
– There has been a minimum of £400.
– There is no fixed rule.
– Every rule has its ex?ception, and I know of instances in which post-offices in rapidly-growing places have been made larger than would meet immediate requirements, those who have had charge of these matters having had the foresight to see that larger accommodation would be necessary in the future.
– I have to complain of want of foresight in such circumstances.
– Even professional men occasionally make errors.. When a district has a postal revenue of £300 or £400, we need not be afraid of spending £900 to build a post-office there. The Commonwealth could hardly rent a suitable building for less than £1 a week, which, at the rate at which- we could borrow money, would be more than the interest on the sum I have named. Moreover, we must feel confident in the prosperity of Australia, and it is easily seen that the acquirement of property by the Commonwealth at reasonable rates will be to the advantage of the public. I am with those who think that the fullest information should be given in regard to proposals for expenditure, and have advocated what is the rule in some of the State Parliaments, that a column should be provided in the Estimates for figures showing the total sum to be expended on any new work, as well as the amount required for the year.
– That information is given here by means of foot-notes.
– It would stand out much more prominently if given in a separate column, and estimates and expenditure could then be easily checked from year to year. I think that this would be an advantageous alteration to make in connexion with the compilation of our Estimates.
.- This debate must have convinced the PostmasterGeneral that a. good deal of dissatisfaction exists in regard to the management of the Department over which he presides. I think that the dilatoriness is due not so much to any want of attention on the “part of its officers as to the fact that those officers have been, and still are, very much overworked. To dwell upon this aspect of the matter can serve no useful purpose, because I believe that the Postmaster-General himself recognises the existence of the evil to which I refer, and intends to do what he can to remedy it. The grievances which have been ventilated this afternoon in regard to the telephone department arise from a similar cause. They are not due so much to any want of appreciation by the Department of the necessities of the various districts as to bungling in the ordering of supplies. I should not have risen if it had not been for certain remarks made by honorable members upon this side of the Chamber. It seems to me that the honorable member for Lang displayed a lack of knowledge when he questioned items of expenditure in connexion with post-offices at Bellingen, Kurri Kurri, and Coffs Harbor. Bellingen, I may inform the ‘ Committee, is the centre of the rapidly growing northern rivers district of New South Wales. Coffs Harbor is a similar centre, and in these centres a marvellous growth of population has taken place during the past five years, owing to the development of the dairying industry. We all know that immense coal fields have been opened up at Kurri Kurri, as the result of which a township has been formed within the. past three years. My surprise is that a post-office has not been erected there before. The progress of that centre reminds me of the rapid growth of a place in my own electorate. I refer to Wolgan - where the population has incensed during the past eighteen months by perhaps 1,500, and where great difficulty was experienced in inducing the authorities to establish a postoffice. It was only when the matter became almost a scandal that they consented to the establishment of an office there. It seems to me that Kurri Kurri occupies a somewhat similar position. The honorable member for Robertson has questioned the propriety of the erection of new offices at Lithgow and Katoomba. Everybody throughout the Commonwealth has rejoiced over the establishment of iron works at Lithgow. We all recognise that in consequence of the rapid increase in the output of coal, Lithgow has progressed by leaps and bounds. Its population is increasing at the rate of about 1,000 a year. The small building which does duty for a post-office in the township is absolutely unsuited to the purpose for which it is being used. The Acting Prime Minister has quoted figures relating to the revenue derived by that office. I have some statistics showing its total receipts - which, of course, is a somewhat different matter from revenue - for six months. These figures show that during the first half of the present year the Lithgow post-office received £850 for Excise stamps, £2,529 for postage stamps, or a total’ of ^3)379. which is equivalent to £6,758 per annum.
– Those are not the figures which were quoted by the Acting Prime Minister.
– No. I have already said that these figures represent the gross receipts of the office in question.
– What is the Excise revenue derived from?
– From the sale of duty stamps for beer.
– That is Commonwealth revenue.
– Three-fourths of it has to be returned to the State.
– It is not calculated as postal revenue.
– During the same halfyear £5,821 worth of postal notes were disposed of. Of course, the revenue derived from the sale of these notes would be based upon the poundage rate. The post-office at Lithgow also derived a revenue of £255 from money orders last year, and that amount will be considerably increased during the current year. Between June and December, 1905, the total amount received from the sale of stamps was £067,. which is equivalent to about£1,900 annually, showingan increase in eighteen months at the rate of approximately £3,158 per annum on the sale of postage stamps alone. It will be seen, therefore, that the revenue is increasing by leaps and bounds. The town is provided with an all-night telephone service, and the whole of the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic work has to be carried out in an office which is not large enough to permit of the swinging of the proverbial cat. The telephone cannot be used with any degree of privacy. One cannot write out an application for a money order without other persons in the office being in a, position to read what one is doing. I understand that some temporary repairs are being effected with a view to improve the existing conditions, but it will be utterly impossible to continue the work which has to be done there in the present office. Moreover, the population of Lithgow is spreading towards Eskbank, and the post-office is situated on the western boundary of the town. The inspector who has reported upon the matter has, I understand, advised the removal of the office towards Eskbank, so as to make it central for both places. Otherwise, a new post-office will need to be erected at Eskbank. At Lithgow, the accommodation supplied to the postmaster and his family is utterly inadequate, and from every stand-point the building is out of date. The necessities of the township demand the erection of a new building. The honorable member for Robertson questioned the need for erecting a post-office at Katoomba, and the Acting Prime Minister said that the population of that centre was 2,500. But I desire honorable members to recollect that those figures represent only the resident population. Katoomba is the centre of a mountain district, and in the summer time instead of possessing a population of 2,500 has a population of nearly 10,000. Yet the post-office there is a building for which we pay £106 annually as rental. It seems to me that we can do very much better than that by erecting a building of our own.
– What is the use of “flogging “ these items ? The Committee will pass them.
– I am merely replying to the criticism of the honorable member for Robertson. At Katoomba the parcels post is a stupendous thing to handle, and the Department have found it necessary to erect a building which will provide accommodation for mail carts for parcel delivery instead of hiring vehicles to perform this service, as is, I understand, done at the present time. All the facts show how necessary these buildings are ; and I am sure that if the honorable member for Robertson were acquainted with the facts he would be the last to question the propriety of the expenditure.
.- I have been making an analysis of the figures before us; and it is just as well to inform honorable members that, while we are providing for an immediate expenditure of £45,200, we are in reality committing ourselves to a total expenditure of £115,600. I am not objecting to the amount, but I urge that the full extent to which we commit ourselves should have been placed before us. For instance, I find that it is proposed to spend £7,310 in the purchase of sites, while, as a matter of fact, we do not know where the sites’ are or anything about them. I quite agree with honorable members who have said that figures should have been supplied, so that we might know exactly what we are voting.
– It would be hardly advisable to publish the figures in cases where the Department is negotiating.
– But we should know the population of the various districts, and the revenue from the offices.
– I rose simply to protest that we should have been supplied with more information. Last night the Acting Prime Minister read out a number of figures relating to the expenditure on rifle ranges; and it would have required only another column in the Estimates, and a little more attention to detail, to supply all the information necessary to a more intelligent vote than we shall be able to give under present circumstances. If the figures were placed before us more concisely, we should clearly know our position ; and it would not be incumbent upon honorable members to investigate for themselves.
.- I desire to draw attention to the fact that for the provision of telephone exchanges in fifteen large and important municipalities in and around Sydney a sum of £4,000 appears in these Estimates; Amongst those municipalities is Balmain, a portion of my electorate; and it will be observed that while £4,000 is deemed sufficient for all these populous centres, a sum of ,£1,500, involving an ultimate expenditure of £2,560, is proposed for the Redfern exchange, which is in the electorate of the leader of the Labour Party.
– The honorable member surely does not pretend that Balmain is as important a centre as is Redfern?
– Balmain is not so important, I admit, to the Ministry. It would appear that I should come provided with a pistol and bowie knife to fight my way through the storm of interjections which always arise when I address honorable members.
– The Redfern people are a deserving class.
– They are not more deserving than the people of Balmain, but the honorable member is a deserving supporter of the Government. The sum of £4,000 represents about £260 for each of the fifteen municipalities, and, of course, if that- be proved sufficient to provide an effective exchange, I have no more to say. It seems striking, however, that so ardent and straight-out a supporter of the Government as the leader of the Labour Party should have the satisfaction of seeing such a comparatively large sum devoted to a portion of his constituency. I point out that there are over 30,000 inhabitants in Balmain, who are certainly deserving of some consideration in the way of telephonic facilities. Then, amongst the municipalities, there is Annandale, which, in addition to containing many large works, is a large residential quarter. If it is the policy of the Government to erect telephone exchanges in all large centres, I point out that Annandale has not yet an exchange, though the population there must be about 20,000. I am .pleased to see that some attempt to provide an exchange for Balmain is being made, because such an exchange will serve, not only Balmain itself, but a large urban district behind. Then, again, there is Ashfield, which is a “ swell “ quarter, for which we are asked to vote £600 now, with the ultimate intention of spending £1,100 on an exchange. I suppose this is the tribute paid by the Government to my esteemed friend the honorable member for Parkes, although that gentleman is opposed to the present Ministry. It would appear that the leader of the Labour Party and the honorable member for Parkes are bosom friends, seeding that they are the only two representatives who have secured a satisfactory ex.penditure on telephone exchanges in their district. On the one hand we have theleader of the Labour Party, and on the other hand the honorable member for Parkes, who is the leader of an inimitableparty of one, though I admit that that party is a very solid one. The electoratesof these two honorable members share between them ,£3,600 of the money proposed! for the provision of telephone exchanges,,, while, as I have already pointed out, fifteen other large municipalities have to be content with £4,000 amongst them. I would be the last to complain, but I must ask if honorable members regard this asfair treatment ! I should like some explanation of these items, though I know that the Treasurer is very much worried* having to answer, not only for his own Ministerial sins, but for the sins of his colleagues. Is the sum of £1,500 proposed for Redfern a kind of return to a Government supporter, while my electorate is; ignored because I am a bitter opponent of the Government? I wonder what the honorable member for Yarra would say if hiselectorate were treated like Balmain?
– A large sum is proposedunder this head for Hawthorn, while thereis no proposal in reference to my electorate.
– Anyhow, we can- imaginehow Victorian representatives would howl if their electorates were treated as mine is upon these Estimates. This is a serious matter, and I am sure that my electorswill not be pleased with the treatment they have received. Why do the Government frame their Estimates on party lines?1 Even if I. were their bitterest opponent’,, they should not have regard to that fact in determining what public buildingsshould be erected in my constituency. I think that I have made out a strong case. You, Mr. Chairman, are aware of theextent of the business carried on in Annandale, and I am sure that you will support my contention. I trust that the Treasurer will explain how it is that the electorateof South Sydney has been so generously treated. I do not wish to suggest that where an expenditure of £4,000 would be sufficient to meet the requirements of a district, £5,000 should be expended; but it seems to me that the Department is either too extravagant in the one case to which I have referred or too miserly in the other*
.- I should like to introduce into the discussion a serious and relevant note. I have no desire to scramble for disbursements. I do not say that since £2,000 is to be expended on public buildings in one electorate, £2,000 or more should be expended in mine; but I regret that the Government have made no provision for the extension of the main trunk telephone line from Sydney to Orange. At the present time the line goes as far as Blayney, and Orange is connected with that town by means of the condenser system. Orange is the centre of the western district, so far as general industrial, agricultural, and pastoral enterprises are concerned, and I hope that, as an act of simple justice, the Government will make provision in the Supplementary Estimates for the extension I have advocated. The proposition is a business one. The telephonic communication between Orange and Sydney is unsatisfactory, by reason of the adoption of the condenser system between the points I have mentioned, and I am satisfied that the extension of the main trunk line from Blayney to Orange, a distance - of between thirty and forty miles, would prove a payable enterprise. Another point which I desire to make is that the Department makes no provision for post-office clocks. Since the Postal Department exacts from the public the observation of time limits, in connexion with mails, it ought to provide official time in all country towns. In many post-offices in my electorate the clocks are often much agley, and I am told that the Department makes no provision for the supply of suitable ones.
– It would cost thousands of pounds to provide them, and it is impossible to do so.
-The States used to provide them.
– I fail to see why the Government should insist upon running the Department on a purely business basis. Their object should be to provide an effective service, and I trust that attention will be given to the matters I have brought forward.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sub-division 2 (Post and Telegraph, Victoria), £58,300.
.- I trust that the Minister will supply the Committee with some information regarding the contract for the extension of the
General Post Office, Melbourne. . I find that this sub-division makes provision for an expenditure of £19,000 on that work, and I am given to understand that the contract now in progress provides only for a one-story addition in the northern end of the building. In other words, the new building will be only one-story high, and after the walls have been carried about 5 feet above the first cornice, they will be topped by a permanent roof.
– That would be a rubbishy addition.
– It will result in an absolute waste of money. Theworkshould not have been commenced if the Government were not prepared to make the additions correspond in height with the main building. At present there is such a lack of room at the General Post Office that Wallach’s buildings, in Elizabeth-street, have had to be rented for postal purposes. A sum of £40,000 is to be expended on alterations to the General Post Office, Sydney, and I fail to see why the additions to the Melbourne office should not be carried to the height of the present structure. If a permanent roof be placed on the one-story addition, an absolute waste of money will take place, because, sooner or later, it will be found necessary to carry up the additions to the height of the main building. I hope that the Government will look into this matter, and, if necessary, provide on the Supplementary Estimates the amount necessary to complete the work in the way I have indicated. The expenditure, like that on the alterations to the Sydney General Post Office, could be spread over a number of years. I notice that it is proposed to expend £4,000 on a post-office at Hawthorn. I have not a word to say against the item, but I think that we should have some information as to the revenue derived from the local postoffice at the present time.
– The receipts from the post-office and telephone exchange are over £10,000 per annum.
– If the honorable member includes in that total all the receipts from the telephone service, I would remind him that at the present time subscribers to the telephone service in my electorate have to pay £3 or £4 per annum in excess of the amount which should be exacted from them, simply because they have to be connected with the Hawthorn exchange. , Before the Postmaster- General took office, he drew attention to the unsatisfactory position in regard to contract offices, and I hope that he will be as zealous in his efforts to prevent abuses in connexion with the system as he was before he joined the Ministry. I have here a return presented to the order of the House nearly two years ago, which shows that some of the contract post-offices have a revenue of from £1,500 to nearly £2,000 per annum.
– Whenever contracts expire, inrespect of offices having a revenue of more than , £400 per annum, we make them official offices.
– Is that the absolute rule?
– It is.
– There is a contract post-office in City-road, which has a revenue of about £1,200 per annum, whilst the East Melbourne post-office has a revenue of about £1,500 per annum.
– Would it not be better to abolish the contract offices altogether?
– That would be impossible.
– Although I represent a metropolitan constituency, my regard for the interests of residents of rural districts would deter me from supporting the total abolition of the system. If it were abolished many people in the country would suffer serious inconvenience. I certainly think, however, that every contract office should be made an official office as soon as its revenue goes beyond a certain point. I trust that we shall have an explanation regarding the contract for the additions to the Melbourne General Post Office, and that the Government will take care that a waste of money does not occur.
– Before the discussion of the question proceeds any further, I think it would be desirable to give the Committee the information that has been supplied to me with regard to the additions to the Melbourne General Post Office. The estimated cost of the present extension is £30,000. The amount now submitted is the first instalment towards the cost of building the basement and ground floor of portion of ultimate extension northward, covering about one-half of the present unoccupied portion of the site. The additional accommodation provided will be absorbed by the Letter-carriers’ and Mail Branch, and increased accommodation will be afforded for registration, inquiry, stamps, and telegraph offices. The proposal also includes provision for a telegram receivingroom in the main building. A contract for £20,785 is now in progress.
– There is to be a permanent roof placed on the one-story addition ?
– I can only put before the honorable member the information with which I have been supplied by the Department.
– It will be a waste of money to put a permanent roof on the building if it is to be carried up only about 5 feet above the first story. A temporary roof should be made if it is intended to stop the work at that stage.
– The work that is being done is permanent work, and carries out the original design.
Mr.tudor. - Will the Minister intervene if it is the intention to put a permanent roof on an unfinished building?
– I know nothing about the matter, except from the information furnished by the Department. It may be that the foundations are not strong enough for a second story. If they are strong enough, it will probably be a good thing to build another story higher.
– When the Estimates were first prepared, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who was then PostmasterGeneral, promised that the new portion should conform in design with that already built.
– It is intended that it shall.
– I have hitherto had nothing to do with this matter, but after what has been said, I shall make it my business to find out from the PostmasterGeneral exactly what is. going tobe done. It would not be right to make an eyesore of what should be a fine building.
.- In comparing the proposed post and telegraph expenditure for New South Wales ‘ and Victoria, I find that, although the latter State is smaller, and has a smaller population than New South Wales, £58,300 is to be spent here, as against £34,246 in New South Wales, or £24,054more.
– If the expenditure is necessary, it should not matter where the works are situated.
– That is the crux of the whole question. I do not think that expenditure should necessarily be regulated by population or area ; but I cannot help being surprised at the disparity between the proposals for the two States which I have mentioned, seeing that one is so much larger, more populous, and commercially more important than the other.
– The defence expenditure in New South Wales is nearly twice as large as that in Victoria.
– Because there is more to defend in New South Wales.
– Some very large sums are to be expended on Victorian post-offices. For instance, £600 is to be spent at Brunswick, and £2,000 on a building at Hawthorn, the total cost of which is to be £4,000. The suggestion that full information should be published and distributed amongst honorable members in. regard to all these items is one which I hope will be favorably considered by Ministers. We cannot be expected to vote money without knowing that the expenditure is justifiable. The Minister has given us no information, except such as has been dragged out of him, and even then only grudgingly, in reply to questions, and a return such as has been suggested would prove very valuable to honorable members’. In view of what has been said by the honorable member for Yarra, as to the contemplated extravagance of placing a permanent roof upon the unfinished additions to the Melbourne General Post Office, I think that the Committee should do all it can to prevent such a waste of money, and therefore I move -
That the item, “ Extension, General Post Office, Melbourne, ^19,000,” be reduced by
– I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn. The honorable member for Lang is, perhaps, one of the most artistic men in the Chamber, and I feel sure that he would desire to have the Melbourne General Post Office as beautiful a picture as is the Sydney General Post Office.
– I do not consider the Sydney General Post Office very artistic.
– If twice the sum proposed to be expended were necessary to beautify the splendid post-office building in Sydney. I should willingly vote for it..
– I do not object to expenditure on permanent work.
– The last PostmasterGeneral distinctly promised that the extension to the General Post Office, Melbourne, should be in keeping with the original structure, and I feel sure that if an appeal were made to them, New South Wales members would join in a request for an extension of the building from street to street. Unfortunately, it is not to be at present extended right through to Little Bourke-street ; but to send away parcels or money orders, one has to go to a building in Little Bourke-street, which just there is called Post Office-place. I understand, too, that a portion of Messrs. Wallach Brothers’ building has been rented for post-office business. I hope that the Postmaster-General will see the’ desirability of keeping to the- original plans, and will not allow one of the best” buildings in Melbourne to be disfigured.
.- My* experience of the postal authorities is that’, they are not too ready to spend money in New South Wales. I do not know whether that is because of the large amount, which they are spending in Victoria. I’ hope that the present Postmaster-General will put a check on the contract post-office system. If it grows as it has done, we may reasonably expect to find the General Post Offices of the capitals ultimately converted into contract offices. There is a considerable number of contract offices in my electorate. The rule of the Department is that when the revenue of an office reaches £400 per annum, it may be made an official office. In some cases postal business is transacted in the offices of railway stationmasters, an unsatisfactory arrangement, though one which is unavoidable in certain places. But I know of an instance in which the business of such an office was transferred to a contract office, the contractor binding himself, in consideration of a three years’ lease, to put up a building, and to find a telegraph messenger. Although the revenue of that office is £354, which is not far short of £400, the Department would not depart from its rule, and make the office an official office. By keeping so many contract offices, we are preventing our officials from rising in the service as rapidly as they might reasonably expect to do. I trust that the Postmaster-General will obtain a grip of this matter. In some places the contractors have to find the necessary building, provide th>i telegraph operators and telegraph messengers - in short, to run the whole concern. I hold that if a district is likely to grow the Department should provide its own officer. In my own electorate the system to which I refer has been abused, and I protest against it. In my opinion, a sufficient sum has not been providedupon these Estimates for the payment of these officials. The Department is acting, in a niggardly fashion, and is really sweating these persons in that they are not fairly remunerated for their services.
.- The object of dealing with Estimates, I understand, is to insure that no Ministerial head of a department shall indulge in extravagance - in short, to secure economical administration. The honorable member for Lang has moved the reduction of this item by £1,000, and the honorable member for Yarra. has pointed out that the money which we are asked to vote is required to enable a permanent roof to be placed upon an unfinished building.
– Will the honorable member permit me to make a brief statement?
– In reply to the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra, I desire to say that I have made inquiries, and I find that the present extension of the General Post Office, Melbourne, provides for one story with a temporary roof. The complete project is to make the extension correspond with the present building.
– I would point out that when the honorable member for Dalley was speaking on behalf of his own electorate no such courtesy as has been extended to. the honorable member for Melbourne was extended to him. I am opposed to any exhibition of nepotism. The artful member for Melbourne has appealed to our love of art.
– It would be impossible for me to appeal to the honorable member’s love of art.
– I have quite as much love of art as has the honorable member. The Committee has already voted £7,000 to enable the General Post Office, Sydney, to be completed. That building - though a costly one - is most unsuitable for the transaction of postal business. It is neither ornamental nor useful, although imposing.
– The carvings upon it have been pronounced by those who are competent to judge, an “ abomination.” As a result of the unsuitability of that building we have to sanction expenditure for the purpose of providing necessary accommodation. Similarly, no honorable member can urge that the Melbourne General Post Office is a work of art. The Government propose that a total sum of £19,000 should be expended upon enlarging it. Of this amount £6,000 is required for the erection of a roof. I ask the honorable member for Lang to withdraw his amendment; otherwise I shall be compelled to vote against it. The honorable member for Melbourne has declared himself to be stout supporter of the Government, but it seems to me that the Government are his stout supporters, seeing that they have placed £19,000 upon the Estimates to enlarge the General Post Office, Melbourne, which is in his electorate. When the honorable member for Dalley was urging the claims of his constituency-
– Surely the honorable member does not measure support in this House by concession?
– We are told to “repent and be careful of our works.” We have already voted £7,000 out of a total of £40,000 towards completing the General Post Office, Sydney, and I fail to see why we should not vote the amount required for the extension of the General Post Office, Melbourne.
– I desire to inform honorable members that provision for the establishment of an exchange at Balmain is included in a sum of £4,000, which it is proposed to expend upon establishing various exchanges. In this particular instance the plans have not yet been prepared.
– The item to which the Postmaster-General is referring has already been agreed to, and if I allow him to again debate it, I do not know where the discussion will end.
– The sum upon the Estimates represents portion of the cost of a building which is to be subsequently erected.
.- In view of the explanation given by the PostmasterGeneral, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sub-division 3 (Post and Telegraph,
-. - There are one or two items connected with the proposed expenditure in Queensland to which I desire to direct attention. I am pleased to note that the Department intends to make some provision for alterations to the General Post Office, Brisbane. These alterations are sadly needed. But I would point out to the PostmasterGeneral that Queensland is comparatively a new country, and that the rural districts are in need of postal facilities. It seems to me that these have been somewhat overlooked.
– Does the honorable member desire any information upon this item?
– I do not. I merely wish to give the Postmaster-General a hint or two. I have no doubt that portion of the proposed expenditure of £1,633 upon various offices is intended to improve the Beaudesert post-office. ‘ I desire to point out that Beaudesert is the centre of a very large farming district, which is being thickly settled. Several large estates in that locality have recently been subdivided for purposes of closer settlement, and I am hopeful that others will be similarly treated. Various mail routes radiate from this centre, and consequently it would be a mistake for the Postal Department to “ patch “ up the old building, which is certainly too small for the requirements of Beaudesert. I would, therefore, urge upon the Government the necessity for erecting a new post-office there. T ask the Postmaster-General not ti., be quite so parsimonious in regard to outside post-offices. We have heard. a good deal in reference to “contract or semi-official post-offices, which are really indispensable in country districts. Many of these small offices are conducted by people merely for the benefit of the locality in which they reside ; and I should be sorry to see them abolished, unless it be in centres large enough to support official offices. I am pleased to note that Gatton is to have a new post-office ; and this brings me to the question of the post-offices conducted under the auspices of the Commissioners of Railways. Very often, the dual position of the railway officials in this connexion, leads to some inconvenience to the public ; and there is another objection which appeals to me as requiring some little consideration on the part of the Minister. Those railway officials, who conduct postal business, are not really in the employ of the Postmaster-General, but they should, I think, be paid directly by him, and, to some extent, be brought under the control of the Department.
– The States Governments would not allow that; they insist on receiving a lump sum for the services rendered.
– I understand that the Postal Department pays a lump sum to the Railway Departments; but the officials who conduct some of the small country post-offices in connexion with the railways,’ seem to have an idea that they are not paid for- the services they render. I’ km sorry to have to refer to this matter, because remarks made here may be taken as a reflection on States Departments with which we have nothing to do. However, I know ‘ from personal experience, that those rail-r way officials, who are employed on postal business, are of. opinion, in some instances, that they are not paid by the Common. wealth Government for the services , they render. There is another matter which might have the attention of the PostmasterGeneral, namely, the guarantees given by local residents in connexion with telephone exchanges. I know of one case in my electorate, where the revenue from a guaranteed exchange exceeded in one month the estimated revenue for twelve months; and the guarantors find that the money thev deposited is tied up for seven years. Under the circumstances, I think that the guarantee ought to be refunded. Another matter. I should like to refer to is that of the lighting of country post-offices. These may be matters which could be discussed with the Deputy Postmasters- General, but there appears to be a general instruction that the expenses are to be kept down to the lowest possible limit. On one occasion, I asked to have a post-office lighted so that the holders of private boxes might be enabled to see to open their boxes, and to decipher the addresses on their letters ; but the request was refused on the ground that an hotel would shortly be opened opposite to the post-office, and that the light from the hotel ought to be sufficient.
Mr. JOHNSON (Lang) 6.y].~ There are two or three items on which I should like a little information. I notice that a sum of £365 is provided for the Dalby post-office.
– Has the honorable member been at Dalby during the last five years ? During that time, the town has grown immensely, owing to’ the cutting up of big estates
– When I visited Dalby, some six or seven years ago, there did not seem to be any great necessity for an expenditure of the kind proposed.
– The population of Dalby and district is 17,000.
– I do not know what the population was when I visited the place, but the post-office at that time seemed adequate for all the requirements of a small township.
– The big estates are being cut up, and a branch railway is about to be constructed.
– That being so, the amount proposed is, perhaps, a reasonable one to spend. I see also that there is £1,500 provided for additions to the Toowoomba post-office.
– That office has been built over twenty years, and has not been extended since. The population of Toowoomba is 17,200, and the town is the second biggest, distributing centre in Queensland.
– If the expenditure is necessary on account, of the increase of business, I have ho more to say.
– The increased business was represented last year by £3,000 - that was in one year.
– Then there is probably some justification for the expenditure. The large amount of £1,565 is provided for the Cloncurry post-office. I do not know whether this town also is” advancing by leaps and bounds.
– A railway line will be constructed in a few months.
– Reference has already been made to the Roma post-office, for which £1,500 is provided, with a total contemplated expenditure of £3,000. Roma is right away in the. heart of the desert.
– There is no desert in Queensland, and Roma is in a particularly good district.
– I used the term “desert ‘ rather inadvisedly; I ought to have said the heart of the interior.
– Roma is not even in the interior, being only about one-third of the distance inland.
– At any rate, the railway journey gives one the impression that the distance is very great. When I visited the town it did not appear to me to be one in which an expe’nditure of £3,000 on a post-office would be justified. Perhaps, however, the Minister will give us some information relating to population and so forth.
– The population of Roma is 3,000.
– I rise to protest against this raid by Queensland on the Commonwealth funds.
– The honorable member forgets that Queensland is a growing - State.
– I notice that when Queensland had to pay for its own buildings a great many alterations and additions of this kind were dispensed with.
– Just before Federation it was proposed to spend £100,000 on postoffices in Queensland, and £8,000 was actually spent.
– Eight or nine years ago it was proposed to add to the General Post Office, Brisbane, but the work was not carried out.
– In the first year of Federation hardly a penny was spent on Queensland’ post-offices.
– Because then Queensland had to pay for its own postoffices.
– These wants of the people must be supplied.
– But there was a time when Queensland had to pay for its own buildings, and did not show any desire to add to them unnecessarily.
– That was during the drought.
– But now that conditions have changed, and these buildings are paid for by the Commonwealth as a whole, Queensland appears to desire the lion’s share of the expenditure. Even in a tin-pot place like Gatton-
– Good gracious ! There is a population of 20,000 in that district.
– At Gatton it is proposed to spend almost as much as at Cloncurry, a description of which by thehonorable member for Kennedy convinces me that it is a place worthy of a postoffice of the character proposed.
– If the honorable membersaw the places to which he refers he would! alter his tune.
– I passed through the townships recently. It may be that the post-office at Gatton is required, but not at such great cost. I hope we shall not have similar demands next year.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sub-division 4 (Post and Telegraph, South Australia), £i4,977, agreed to.
Sub-division 5 (Post and Telegraph, Western Australia), £8,494.
– I move -
That the item “ Northam Post Office - Towards cost, £2,000,” be reduced by ^1,000.
The total cost of this work is to be £2,900, but I think that £1,900 should be adequate for the purpose. As most honorable members are aware, Northam is a small town in an agricultural district, and a post-office is already in existence there. It is idle to complain of excessive expenditure unless we axe prepared to support the reduction of any proposed vote which we consider to be unnecessary. Surely it is not necessary to expend £2,900 on a post-office where the business is not likely to be very extensive. I have visited’ Northam. There are refreshment rooms at the railway station-
– That shows what the honorable member knows about the place.
– I know, at all events, that the proposed expenditure is too large, and I hope that the reduction I propose will be made.
– The information supplied to me is that the total estimated cost of this post-office will be £2,900. The present building, though affording accommodation to meet requirements at present, is very inconveniently situated on the opposite side of the railway to the business portion of the town.
– There is no distance between the post-office and the business part of the town.
– I have visiter! Northam on several occasions, but have never called at the post-office. I presume that this amount is necessary or provision would not have been made for it on the Estimates.
.- After .the explanation given by the Treasurer I have no hesitation in urging the Committee to reduce the item.
– The existing postoffice could be sold for more than is to be spent on the new building.
– Then why has it not been sold? I have nothing to say against Northam, but I would remind the Committee that, as the custodians of the public purse, we should not support any expenditure which does not appear justifiable. There are in various parts of the Commonwealth districts in which increased postal facilities- are absolutely necessary, and where the inconvenience suffered by the people is far greater than is that of the residents of Northam, who complain that to reach the post-office from the business part of the town they have to cross the railway line.
– Why does the honorable member select this item for opposition ?
– Because it is one of the most expensive proposals on the Estimates.
– If we could sell the old’ post-office for a sum that would be sufficient to pay for the new one there should be no objection to this item.
– Does the honorable member suggest that an office which is inconvenient for business purposes would fetch nearly £3,000. If its situation is inconvenient, it is not likely to be sold except at a sacrifice. I am, not objecting to the amount proposed to be expended in Western Australia as compared with the provision made for works and buildings in other States, but I certainly protest against an expenditure on post-offices that are n’ot wanted.
.- Tt is not to be expected that honorable members should be familiar with all parts of this immense continent, and that the representatives of South Australia, for example, should know the circumstances prevailing in some of the far-away towns of Western Australia.
– I have been to Northam.
– The honorable member may have passed through the town.
– It is a growing town.
– It is. The honorable member for Boothby, with his slight knowledge of the conditions of Northam, is taking upon himself a serious responsibility in asking the Committee to reduce an item which the Government, after careful inquiry and consideration, have proposed. There has been, for some years, ar, agitation foi a new post-office at Northam. The question of cost is a matter that I cannot discuss with any degree of confidence, but it has been considered by the architects of the Department of Home Affairs, who know the class of building required for the district, and have estimated the expenditure that it will involve. Northam is one of the most important inland towns in Western Australia. It is at the junction of two lines of railway, and is in the centre of a large agricultural district.
– What is the population? ?
– I should think it is about 3,000.
– There must be a population of 10,000 in the district.
– I was referring only to the population of the town.
– It is a permanent town.
– Yes, and it is a very important agricultural centre. Some of the best land in Western Australia is to be found around Northam. The GoomallingDowerin railway, junctions with the main line from Fremantle to Kalgoorlie there, and the Spencer’s Brook railway junction, where the railway to York and Albany joins the same main line is six miles away, and the branch railway to Newcastle is also close at hand. Although £2,900 may seem a fairly large sum to expend on this building, we may be surethat the officers of the Department of Home Affairs would not propose a larger expenditure than is necessary.
– The official report is that the existing building is sufficient for present requirements.
– I am sure the Minister did1 not intend to convey such a suggestion’. If the present building were sufficient for existing requirements, the people would not be so unreasonable as to agitate for a new one. I hope that the honorable member for Boothby will not press his objection.
– I am rather surprised at the attitude of the honorable member for Boothby. Northam is one of the most important towns in Western Australia, as well as one of the most stable and well-built, and it is deserving of any money that the Government can spare for the construction! of a suitable post and telegraph office.
– It is certainly a most central agricultural town.
– Quite so., When the present office was erected, no- one imagined that the town would progress as it has done. It is in the heart of the agricultural belt of Western Australia. There are some very fine flour mills in the town, and’ since private* individuals and companies have not been afraid to invest money in the erection of substantial hotels and banking institutions there, the Commonwealth should not hesitate to erect a building necessary to meet the requirements of the district. The criticism of the honorable member for Boothby cannot count for much, since he was not even aware that there is no refreshmentroom at the local railway station. A mere flying visit to the West is not sufficient to enable honorable members to express an authoritative opinion on the requirements of the inland towns of the State.
– But on information supplied to the Minister the proposal stands condemned.
– If the honorable member knew Northam as well as I do, he would take up a different attitude. Northam is the centre of one of the finest districts in Australia, and is worthy of a post-office such as the Government propose to erect.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7-45 p.m.
.- On reconsideration, the honorable member for Boothby may probably feel inclined to withdraw his amendment for the reduction of the proposed expenditure on the Northam post-office. Northam is a township situated in one of the finest agricultural districts in Western Australia, and a very promising and rapidly developing- centre. At this particular time it would be very inadvisable to do anything tending to. further alienate the people of Western Australia in regard to Federation.
– That is not a strong point. Must we bribe them into being Federal?
– If the honorable member were a close reader of the newspapers of the State, and knew a little as to what the feeling is there in regard to Federation, he would not be disposed to press an amendment, the adoption . of which might tend to widen the existing breach. The people of New South Wales are at times inclined to be irritable, because certain departments of government are administered from Melbourne; but if, instead of being 500 or 600 miles from the Seat of Government they were 2,000 or 2,500, and had no direct land communication, the feeling would be much stronger; and the honorable member, having fuller knowledge, would more keenly appreciate the position of Western Australia. I do not say for a moment that we should, under threat of secession, do anything in the nature of undue favoritism, or by evincing fear of the movement, but we ought not to do anything to intensify the present high state of feeling in the isolated western State. The honorable member knows the desirability of not magnifying any little grievances- which New South Wales may have in regard* to Federation.
– Is the honorable member going to connect these remarks with the amendment?
– I think that there is an intimate connexion. The point I am making is that it is undesirable to reduce the Estimates; because, amongst other reasons, the reduction might intensify the feeling against Federation which exists in Western Australia. I take it that I am in order in adducing that reason as a justification for opposing the amendment.’ I ask the honorable member for Robertson to place himself in the position of the citizens of Western Australia, who feel that their State has not been well treated by the Commonwealth.
– They have been excellently treated.
– That is open to question. The honorable member for Boothby is a reasonable man, and must be aware that the cost of the new building at Northam will be paid for out of Western Australia’s contribution to the Customs and Excise revenue.
– These works are paid for on a per capita basis.
– The honorable member cannot deny that the people of Western Australia contribute their share to the revenue, and the bulk of expenditure on works of this kind is met by that contribution.
– We contribute as much as we receive.
– Yes. The honorable member for Boothby has had considerable experience of Ministerial office, and must know that departmental officials may be trusted in a matter of this kind to see that no extravagance is indulged in.- Nothing is to be provided beyond what is required by the necessities of the case. The importance of the district has been em phasized by the honorable member for Swan, who has more knowledge of it than any one else on this side of the Australian Bight, and by the honorable member for Fremantle. It is a rapidly-developing township, and the centre of perhaps the richest agricultural area in Western Australia.
– What about Newcastle ?
– Newcastle is situated in a very good district, and so, too, is York; but neither town has developed more rapidly than Northam.
– - I knew Northam when it was a very insignificant hamlet, before the railway was taken through it, and on revisiting it, after an absence of twelve years, I found that it had made wonderful strides. It is, indeed, the only instance I know of in which what was a terminal railway townhas been increased in importance by the extension of the railway beyond it. The reason for this is ‘ that Northam is the centre of an agricultural district which supplies - produce to the mining districts. Out in the desert they grow nothing.
– There is no desert now out almost as far as Southern Cross. Crops are grown on all the intervening country.
– The railway has cut off the old post-office from the busiest part of the town, and as two line” junction there, it is often dangerous to tr> to cross. I hope that the honorable member for Boothby will withdraw his amendment. I am not influenced by the remarks of the honorable member for Coolgardie. The magnificent post-office at Coolgardie is one of the greatest white elephants that I have ever seen, because the town is practically forsaken. ‘But I think this work should be undertaken, not because I am afraid of encouraging the secession movement in Western Australia, which I regard as a huge joke, placing no importance upon the speeches which have been made on the subject, but because the people of Northam have a just claim for consideration. If the amendment is pressed to a division, I shall vote against it.
– I wish to know ‘ from the Minister what population will be served by the proposed post-office, and what is the revenue from the present office. In the past, under States administration, there has been great extravagance in connexion with public buildings.
When we visited Queensland we saw in one town, which had a population of not more than 10,000 or 12,000, a Custom House as big as that in Melbourne.
– It was built prior to Federation, with a view to future developments.
– The people of Queensland owe for it still. I hope that the Commonwealth will not follow the example of the States in this matter. We have only the reports of the States officials to go on.
– They say that this work is not required.
– I am reluctant to vote against any of these proposals, but I desire information in regard to them before making up my mind as to any course of action.
– The honorable member would vote for the expenditure if it were to be made in Melbourne.
– I should not. I voted against spending more money on the Melbourne General Post Office, and this afternoon I opposed other proposed expenditure in Victoria.
– What information does the honorable member require?
– I should like to know what is the population of Northam, and what revenue was derived from the postoffice there last year. I think that another column might, with advantage, have been added to these Estimates, setting forth information of that character.
– More information has been given upon these Estimates than upon any that I have previously seen.
– Then we require still more.
– The revenue received last year by the Northam post-office was £4,158. The population of the town is set down at 5,500.
– Is that in the town itself ?
– The expenditure upon salaries is £1,598.
– How many officers are located there?
– I cannot tell the honorable member. There is no doubt that Northam is an exceedingly progressive town and that the proposed expenditure will be considerably reduced by the sale of the present office, which is suitable for some purposes, though altogether unsuitable for postal purposes.
– Therefore, we do not need to vote the extra £1,000?
– I can assure my honorable friend that the departmental officers have made a careful calculation, and I find that their estimates are usually pretty near the mark. If we do not need the extra £1,000 it will not be expended.
– Upon the information which has been given by the PostmasterGeneral I shall vote for the item, but I will not vote expenditure blindly.
– I knew that the honorable member would vote for it.
– I do not know why this discussion has been provoked. I intend to act in a truly Federal spirit- in the spirit indicated by the soft, smooth, honeyed, suave words of the honorable member for Coolgardie. For some time, I confess that I experienced a difficulty in recognising that honorable member as the honorable member who spoke the other evening in regard to my own State.
– The honorable member always says a nice thing, and then proceeds to destroy it.
– I am not quite certain that the honorable member for Coolgardie is the same honorable member who spoke here the other evening. He has an entirely different coat on to-night.
– I have only one suit.
– That is another reason why we should act liberally towards the honorable member. I sympathized with him this evening when he was referring to the movement towards secession which he declares to be abroad in his own State. He said that unquestionably that feeling would have to be reckoned with. What a difference there is between the tone adopted by the honorable member towards his own State and that which is adopted by a great many of his colleagues towards their own States !
– Western Australia has grievances, and other States have not.
– I commend the example of the honorable member to a great number of those who are sitting around him, and who, instead of endeavouring to smooth down the antagonistic feeling manifested in their States, are constantly endeavouring to inflame that feeling for purely party purposes. The distinction between the conduct of the honorable member, and that of a great many of his colleagues in this connexion is most marked, and I commend his example to his leader, amongst others, who is never tired of tilting at his own State.
– Order. I cannot allow the honorable member to enter upon a discussion of States rights.
– I do not intend to do so. I am, however, entitled to point to the difference between the tone adopted by the honorable member for Coolgardie 3n advocating the claims of his own State, ;ind that which is adopted by other honorable members of this Committee. When I heard the honorable member talking in the way that he did of the feeling in Western Australia, I could not help admiring him for his patriotism and loyalty to that State, notwithstanding the view which he entertains regarding the merits of the question. I wish that we had more like him in this Chamber. I have yet to learn that to be a Federalist, it is necessary for an honorable member to be constantly tilting at his own State. But even the conduct of the honorable member himself is not uniform-
– Does the honorable member intend to connect his remarks with the item under consideration?
– Yes. I am endeavouring to urge reasons why this item should be agreed to. The honorable member for Coolgardie has made an appeal which merits our consideration. He has appealed to us to agree to the item as a sort of salve to the feelings of the people of the State which he represents. I wish to contrast his action to-night with his action upon another occasion, when the interests of the State of New South Wales were involved. Upon the latter occasion, he declared that he would do nothing for New South Wales, and he even went to the length of saying that he would vote against the Capital Site because he would not heed the violent incendiary there.
– I must point out to the honorable member that if I allow him to continue in that strain, I cannot prevent other honorable members from following his example.
– I voted for Lyndhurst.
– Since I am not permitted to read what the honorable member did say upon the occasion to which I refer, I cannot do him justice. However, his speech is recorded in Hansard, andhonorable members can turn it up for themselves. When the honorable member spoke this evening, I could not help looking at him, with a view to ascertain whether he had the same coat on which he was wearing the other evening. But upon the present occasion I intend to “ turn the other cheek “ to him by voting for the item. Above all, I wish to emphasize the fact that I shall vote for it in a truly Federal spirit - in the spirit in which the honorable member appealed to us to vote with hint
.- When the honorable member for Parramatta rose just now, he put a very pertinent question to the Committee. He asked whether the honorable member for Coolgardie was the same honorable member whom we heard speak in this Chamber last evening. When I listened to the speech of the honorable member for Parramatta I asked myself the same question in regard to himself. In my judgment there has been another change of garment. In listening to the plea put forward by the honorable member for Coolgardie in favour of the expenditure proposed upon the new post-office at Northam, I could not help wondering whether he was born in Ireland, and whether he had not spent a considerable portion of his time in paying homage to the historic blarney stone. The appeal which he made to the Committee to allay the anti-Federal irritation in Western Australia, and to stop the movement towards .secession, is certainly one that honorable members will receive with a great deal of caution. But I would point out that the people of Western Australia did not spare the feelings of honorable members of this Parliament in connexion with certain legislation which was enacted a little time ago.
– In passing, I thought that I might be permitted to mention that phase of the matter. I am disposed to support the amendment of the honorable member for Boothby, because the expenditure proposed at Northam seems to me to be excessive. We have been told that the population of the town is 5,500, but I. can scarcely credit that statement. I do not think that its population exceeds 500.
– Nonsense. There are 3,000 persons in the township.
– If the township of Northam has assumed such large dimensions, the increase of population must have. taken place during the last two or three years.
– Not at all.
– The right honorable member for Swan knows that I visited Northam in his company.
– The honorable member passed through it.
– I spent an hour or two there, and I do not think that the population of the town numbers anything like 5,000. In my judgment those figures must include the inhabitants of the surrounding district for 100 miles. The honorable member for Robertson, in supporting this item, referred to the danger to life and limb, caused by having the postoffice located upon one side of the railway, whilst the principal business centre is upon the other side. He urged this as a reason why a new building should be erected. One would imagine that there was immense traffic over the line, something like that between Flinders-street and the south side of the Yarra. But how many trains pass through Northam in the twenty-four hours? In any case, would it not be much more economical to construct an overhead bridge for £300 or £400? The honorable member for Swan, when the honorable member for Boothby proposed a reduction, interjected, “ Oh ! we can sell the old building for more than honorable members are asked to vote for a new one.” Yet, a little while afterwards, when addressing the Committee, he. said that the present post-office was an old building, and practically worthless, or words to that effect.
– I said it was a building that had been added to.
– The honorable member said more than that ; he said it was an old building of an old type. The plea put forward by the Honorable member for Boothby in favour of a reduction is a sound one. If we spend a sum much less than that proposed in improving the existing building, sufficient will be left to provide the overhead bridge which is the source of so much anxiety to the honorable member for Robertson. But, seeing that we have passed the Estimates for most of the States, I feel reluctant to appear to single out Western Australia for a reduction of this character; I suggest, however, that some effort be made to obtain an offer for the present post-office, as a set off against the cost of the new one.
.- It is necessary that we should be placed in pos session of all available information in regard to expenditure we are asked to approve. I mean information as to theamount of revenue from the various post-offices, and the population of the districts.
– All that information has been given.
– The population of Northam has been stated to be 500 ; is that the population of the town only ?
– There is a population of 5,000 in the district served by the postoffice.
– I suppose that is within a radius of live miles, although one honorable member suggested that it would be necessary to take a radius of 100 miles, in order to find a population of 5,000. The honorable member for Boothby is consistent in submitting his amendment, but he would have been still more consistent had he moved the omission of the item. I have a little knowledge of this district, and I know it to be an important one, which, I believe, in the near future, will prove of even more consequence than the great town of Kalgoorlie is at the present time.
– The honorable member must not forget that Northam helps to pay the sugar bounty !
– I must ask the honorable member to keep quiet. I do not consider that £2,900 is too much for the erection of a substantial post-office in so important a district. The honorable member for Yarra said that he had seen most expensive buildings as post-offices in Queensland; but I venture to say that the accommodation in that State is not in excess of the requirements. The post-offices of Queensland are not built merely for today, but for the next twenty or fifty years ; and I hope that the building in contemplation at Northam is of a similar character. I shall support the item.
.- I am afraid that the support I am receiving in my efforts to secure economy cannot be called enthusiastic. However, the criticism offered does not allay my anxiety as to the justification for this item ; and the reasons advanced by the honorable member for Coolgardie do not strengthen the case for a new post-office at Northam. I do not think that if we pass this vote we shall in any way weaken the cause of secession in the western State. The spirit displayed by honorable members on this item is not that in which we ought to approach proposals by the Government for expenditure on new works. The sole questions we have to ask ourselves are whether the work is justified, and whether it . is not on a more elaborate scale than is necessary. I do not object to the fact that the total sum we are asked to expend on new works in Western Australia amounts to some £57,000, which is much larger than the proposed expenditure in South Australia, where the population is very nearly double that of the western State.
– The population of Western Australia is 270,000.
– And the population of South Australia is about 400,000.
– Western Australia will soon catch up to South Australia in population.
– Then the requirements’ of Western Australia will be as great as those of South Australia.
– Western Australia has more revenue than South Australia.
– But Western Australia keeps its revenue to itself. It has been urged that we should pass this item because Western Australia is a long way off, and is deserving of sympathy and liberality. I point out, however, that, apart altogether from this item, we are liberal and sympathetic in regard to the western State. If there is anything in the argument of the honorable member for Robertson as to the danger of crossing the line, it is an argument for building new post-offices in very many other places in Australia. The question for us is whether it is necessary to expend as much as is proposedon the post-office at Northam ; and the. position that I have taken up is supported by the reply of the Treasurer that the existing building is sufficient for present requirements. I apparently have no support for my amendment ; but, nevertheless, it is our duty to criticise these proposals, and not accept them blindly.
Proposed vote ageedto.
Sub-division 6 (Post and Telegraph, Tasmania), £975.
.- I am rather surprised at the vote proposed for Tasmania this year, in view of the fact that last year an expenditure of £330 was voted, of which only £140 was spent. We are therefore asked to re- vote money ; and, with some additions, we have the total of £975. Under this head the proposed expenditure in the other States is as follows: - New South Wales, £34,246; Victoria, £58,300 ; Queensland, £30,086 ; South Australia, £14,977;and Western Australia, £8,494. Some time ago the present Minister of Trade and Customs, when Postmaster-General, visiting Tasmania, received a large deputation in reference to alterations at the Launceston post-office, and gave the request preferred a very favorable reception. Some time afterwards the honorable member for Swan, as Acting Prime Minister, paid a visit to Launceston, and also gave the mayor of the city a favorable reply in reference to suggested expenditure in this connexion. The honorable gentleman raised some difficulty about the winding of the post-office clock when it should be placed in position, but the local municipal council undertook to keep the clock in good order and repair. The citizens raised over £1,000 towards the cost of placing a clock and chimes in the post-office tower, and I am willing on their behalf to guarantee that the whole sum necessary for that purpose will be provided if this Parliament willvote the money requisite to cover the cost of altering the tower.
– Part of this item of £900 is for that purpose. The official report is that provision is also made for alterations to the clock tower in the postoffice at Launceston.
– Had that information been given earlier some trouble would have been obviated. At the same time, I do not think that the necessary alterations could be made for the proposed expenditure. What is to be done in regard to the other post-offices in Tasmania?
– The honorable member badgered me till I promised to place on the Estimates £400 or £500 for this work.
– Tasmania, like Western Australia, is a growing State. Within my own electorate three blocks of ground have been reserved by the Government for post-offices, but although other parts of the Commonwealth are able to secure the erection of new buildings, we cannot do so. So far as I am aware since the establishment of Federation only one new post-office has been built in Tasmania. The Launceston post-office tower was so badly constructed that I do not think £400 will be sufficient to cany out the necessary alterations. It is true thatI pressed the Minister to make some provision for this work, but I think that the amount set apart is inadequate. The citizens of Launceston are so disgusted with the delay that has taken place that some of them have been suggesting in letters to the press that a tower should be built on the town hall, and the chimes and clock erected there, since they do not consider that the postoffice is’ really their own property. Considering the number of improvements that are absolutely” necessary in connexion with post-offices in Tasmania, I think that the proposed vote is altogether too small; and since only £140 was spent upon them last year, no one can say that the Federal Government have been guilty of extravagance in connexion with the postal services of that State. I am glad, however, that we are to have something like £400 spent this year on the alterations to the Launceston post-office tower, and I presume that we shall obtain a further grant of £400.
– The honorable member will see that we put another sum on the Estimates if this be insufficient.
– I suppose that we shall get a brick at a time.
– Something like three or four years ago, when I held office as Minister of Home Affairs, my attention was directed to the Launceston tower, which is known as “ the pepper-box,” and is certainly deserving of the name. I promised at the time that if the opportunity offered I would endeavour to have, the necessary alterations made. The tower as it stands is a disgrace to the architect who designed it, and unworthy of Launceston. I did not know what was the amount to be set apart for the alterations, but my impression is that £400 will be insufficient. If the work is to be undertaken it should be properly carried out. If it should be found that £400 is insufficient, I have no doubt that we shall be able to find another £100. My desire is that the tower, as reconstructed, shall not be an eyesore. The people of Launceston have made a very good offer in regard to the provision of a clock and chimes, and I do not think that we ought to be very chary about giving them an extra £100 or £200 if it be required for this work. The honorable member for Bass has fought hard for this work, and he may accept my assurance that the existing ugly tower will notbe allowed to stand. This item also provides for additions to the post-offices at Queenstown, Ulverstone, and sundry offices, as may be required. The total is very small, but the works other than that relating to the Launceston post-office may not be extensive. A number of people in Launceston, as well as some of the citizens of Hobart, said that they did not desire that the Federation should expend a large sum in that State, because the money would have to come out of their pockets. Probably that is the reason why a larger sum has not been provided.
– That is a very silly idea, since they have to contribute to the expenditure in other States.
– Quite so. The people of other States cannot be said in this respect to be foolish. However, I am sure that the honorable member for Bass will be satisfied with my explanation. I, like him, am interested in this work, and! I think the tower should be altered as soon as possible.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Postmaster-General
Division 5, sub-division 1 (Telegraphs and Telephones, New South Wales), £95,665.
.- The Postmaster- General should give us some information regarding the trunk telephone line between Sydney and Melbourne. When its construction was originally contemplated it was the subject of strong protest in this House. I and others pointed out - and I think very properly - that, whatever revenue might be obtained from it would in reality be subtracted from the revenue derived from the telegraph service between the two capitals. A careful analysis of the receipts will show that that assertion was well founded. This long; trunk telephone line has merely resulted” in a decrease of the telegraphic business between the two States.
– It was a good thing to do.
– It is very useful to those who chiefly avail themselves of it, and who could very well afford to use the telegraph line. When the exPostmasterGeneral urged the Committee to agree to the item he said that he intended fixing and maintaining a rate of 6s. for every three-minutes’ conversation. The line had barely been completed, and the operators were scarcely at work, when an agitation was started by the wealthy merchants of
Melbourne and Sydney, who, I may say, are the sole users of this service, for a reduction of the rate.
– And the Government immediately climbed down.
– They immediately climbed down and met them. The agitation was started by the gang that is urging the retention of the flat system in relation to telephones in the cities of the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member ought not to call them a “ gang.”
– I so describe them, because I can compare them only to those gangs which combine and use illicit power to secure loot. I do not desire, however, to indulge in any strong language in discussing this matter. The Government very improperly yielded to the agitation for the reduction in the charges.
– Do not call them “gangs.”
– I am sure that the honorable member will admit that since the Committee were “informed that, according to the departmental estimate, a charge of 6s. for a three-minutes’ conversation would be absolutely necessary, and that that rate would be adhered to, there should have been no .departure from it. The item was agreed to only on the understanding that that charge would be adhered to.
– But supposing a lower rate paid?
– That was not the position. The complaint urged was that the line would not pay because of the high rate fixed. The Ministry should not have yielded to the clamour of interested parties, who are identical with those who constantly advocate, the payment of small salaries to the employes of the Post and Telegraph Department. The same newspapers, the same State “politicians, and the same private citizens who howl at the action >of the Commonwealth Parliament in fixing a minimum wage of j£no for adults in the public service took part in the agitation for the reduction of this rate.
– I have never heard them agitate for low wages.
– Has the honorable member never heard of the protest against the action of this Parliament in’ fixing a minimum wage for the Commonwealth service?
– But that ‘ protest was raised on other grounds. The people knew that the minimum wage would become the maximum.
– The honorable member knows full well that the minimum wage in. the Commonwealth public service is not the maximum. The Public Service Commissioner has carefully graded the service, and officers are paid according to their classification. The Committee ought to protest against the spineless action of the Government in yielding to this agitation. _ Whouse this trunk telephone line? Not the working people.
– Nor the small business men.
– No; it is used by the bankers and the wealthy merchants, whowish to transact big deals between Sydneyand Melbourne.
– At a small cost.
– Quite so.
– Does the honorable - member say that the facilitation of business does not favorably affect small, as well as large, business men?
– Of course, if charges are piled up at the top they are ultimately transmitted to the bottom. But in thiscase the difference is very small, and the clamour for reduction is like that for the reduction of the postage from 2d. to id. The present rates are not felt by the customers of the big houses, though they are considerable to the big houses themselves. It is a curious thing that the Government has no sooner got this great public utility into working order than the large daily newspapers, which are the organs of the merchants, who support them with extensive advertisements, ask for a cheaper service.
– No one advertises less than the wholesale merchant does.
– The honorable member is very innocent, if he is not aware that great pressure is often put on the newspapers by the large wholesale houses and the banks.
-The banks have great facilities for passing on any charge made upon them.
– They managed some years ago to secure the passing of an Act of Parliament which enabled them to take advantage of the public for large sums of money. *
– Why has the honorable member such’ a set on the importers and the banks ?
– I have not a set on the importers, but I ask why should thev or other users of the telephone not pay adequately for the service rendered to them?
– Does not every one attempt to get things for nothing?
– The honorable member is a Democrat, and he must know that this class possesses a powerful influence which it always uses to its own aggrandizement.
– Every other class would do the same if it could.
– Other classes are not so powerful. What influence could the working men of Melbourne exert on the big newspapers ?
– What chance have the employés of the post-office of getting justice from the Administration?
– The Government should stiffen itself to resist the demands which are continually being made by these classes for the reduction of telephone rates, and other charges for other public services. We have a similar agitation for the retention of the flat system, under which business houses making 200 or 300 calls a day pay no more than the small trader whose calls number only ten or twenty a day.
– The policy of the Department seems to be to make the flat rate subscribers suffer in all sorts of ways.
– My experience is that all subscribers get the same attention. I think that the toll system should be made universal, because under it every one must pay according to the service which he gets. The flat rate system is rank Socialism, and therefore honorable members opposite should oppose it.
– Itis communism, not Socialism.
– At any rate, it has many of the evils which are occasionally attributed to Socialism, and forces the man who uses his telephone very little to pay for the service given to the man who uses his telephone very much. I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Government that the rates for using the telephone between Sydney and Melbourne will not be reduced beyond what is necessary to pay interest on the cost of construction and working expenses, and to provide a sinking fund.
– The interest does not come to £3 10s. a day.
– I do not know what it comes to. I think we should be told what the line has cost, what its daily working expenses and earnings are, and what amount is being set aside to create a sinking fund for necessary renewals later on.
Mr.KNOX (Kooyong) [8.52]. - I resent the suggestion of the honorable member for Coolgardie that those to whom he has referred have asked the Government for special privileges in connexion with the Sydney-Melbourne telephone line. I assume that the head of the Department, as a prudent man, finding that the returns from a charge of 6s. made the concern an unprofitable one, recommended a reduction in order to increase business.
– Will the honorable member say that there was not a deliberate abstention from using the telephone in order to force the Department to reduce the rates ?
– I have no knowledge of it, and I think that my association with one or two bodies would probably have made me aware of any such arrangement had it existed. In my opinion the Minister will act wisely if he makes a further reduction, supposing it to be likely to result in a larger use of the line, and, consequently, more profitable business. My opinion is that the charge might be greatly reduced for conversations at night after business hours.
– The facilities now afforded ought to be better known. When the public know more of them they will use them more.
– If the charge were greatly reduced during slack periods, I think there would be frequent family conversations, which would prove profitable to the Department. I rose largely to urge the Minister to see that there shall be no delay in segregating the accounts of the Telephone, Telegraph,and Postal Departments, so that Parliament may know how they are conducted as business enterprises. At the present time the revenue from each Department is set out separately, so that the segregation I speak of ought not to be difficult. I wish also to direct attention to the fact that many telephone subscribers are now charged unfairly high rates owing to the manner in which the Department has located its exchanges in post-offices. Many of these post-offices were established years ago, when the. population of the suburbs was smaller and differently centred, and their use as telephone exchanges often makes the mileage charged to subscribers very heavy.
– Richmond subscribers have to pay on an average £3 more each than the Hawthorn subscribers pay.
– That is the system which I complain of. There is a large and populous area at Kew, which, instead of haying a telephone exchange of its own, is connec(ted with the Hawthorn exchange, and consequently Kew subscribers have to pay mileage rates, and are in a worse position than are those living in the Hawthorn district proper. I think that the Committee should insist on tlie Ministry altering this state of affairs. So far as the telephone service is concerned, I cannot conceive of a more distracting employment than that of the telephone operator. I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he is not reducing the advantages which might be conferred bv this public utility by neglecting to employ sufficient assistants in some of our telephone exchanges. I recollect visiting one of these exchanges in company with the honorable gentleman, and I say that the distracting nature of the work which some of the operators are called upon to perform should be taken into serious consideration with a view to seeing that these officers are not taxed beyond human endurance. Incidentally, during the current session a telephone exchange has been established in the vaults of our parliamentary buildings. I favour a reversion to the old system, because under the new arrangement it is much more difficult to get into communication with a subscriber than it was previously ; and that is the feeling of most honorable members. I also desire to direct the attention of the Minister to the necessity, which exists for furnishing honorable members with a proper statement of accounts in regard to the working of the telephonic department.
– All the information that the honorable member requires is contained in the Budget.
– I can assure the honorable member that it is.
– I am not speaking upon this matter without knowledge, and I maytell the Minister of Trade and Customs that there is no statement in the Budget showing the profit or loss involved in the working of the Department. I believe that the Postmaster-General recognises the need for reform in this direction, and therefore I shall not dwell upon that aspect of the case. I earnestly hope that he will give favorable consideration to our representations, because -the public - whilst desiring improved telephonic facilities - are anxious to know whether the working of this facility results in a profit or a loss. The statements made by the honorable member for Coolgardie concerning the number of calls made by many of the merchants of Melbourne under the flat-rate system were very greatly exaggerated. I say this very confidently, because when the toll system was first projected the Chambers of Commerce in Sydney and Melbourne requested, the merchants of those cities to furnish them with returns setting forth the number of calls which they made daily. I recognise that public opinion is rapidly coming to regard the toll system as the most convenient one. I hold that the payments made by telephone subscribers should be proportionate to the services which they receive, and I have consistently maintained that view.
– What is the average daily number of calls made by city merchants ?
– There is an impression abroad that a subscriber under the toll system receives more attention than does at subscriber under the old flat-rate system. I am not prepared to say whether that impression is correct.
– It is absolutelyincorrect. ,
– I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister of Trade and Customs that that is so. I believe that the Government are doing their best to improve the telephonic service. I hope that the time will speedily arrive when every person who desires it, may have a telephone installed in his home.
– -What is the average daily number of calls made bv the merchants of Sydney and Melbourne ?
– The average number is about seventeen.
– The average is five calls per day under the toll system, and sixteen under the flat-rate system.
– The average number of calls made by the merchants of our two principal cities is seventeen.. Of course some individuals make more calls than that. The number ranged as high as thirty-seven. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will give the matters to which I have referred favorable consideration.
._There is one matter in connexion with the Estimates that we are considering which I regard as of very great importance.
Apparently the amendment. submitted by the honorable member for Boothby earlier this evening was entirely out of place, because it now appears that, irrespective of the sum which Parliament may appropriate for a particular work, the Department will expend a great deal more. For instance, I find that for the construe tion and extension of telegraph lines, instruments, and material in . New South Wales we appropriated last year £12,000, whereas the Department expended £14,114. Again Parliament authorized the expenditure of £27,500 last year upon the construction and extension of telephone lines, instruments, and material, including the construction of conduits and the undergrounding of wires, but’ the Department expended £31,097.
– Unfortunately the price of copper wire will fluctuate.
– For the construction of the New South Wales portion of the trunk telephone line between Sydney and Melbourne, Parliament appropriated £23,000 last year, but the Department expended £32,025. What is the use of Parliament voting money for any particular work if the Department is ait liberty to expend 40 per cent, more than the amount appropriated?
– Would the honorable member discharge the workmen engaged upon these undertakings, and wait until further funds had been appropriated by Parliament?
– Whilst I admit that the cost of wire would form a considerable proportion of the expenditure upon that particular line, we have to recollect that labour would be employed in its erection. The same practice has been adopted in regard to works in Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia. In each of those States more money has been expended by the Department than was appropriated by the Parliament.
– That was not the case in Victoria..
– It was. Upon the construction and “extension of telephone lines, instruments, and material in Victoria - including the construction of conduits, and the undergrounding of wires - Parliament authorized an expenditure of £45,000 last year, whereas the Department expended £47.653.
– I spent all the money appropriated, and all that I could obtain from the Treasurer in addition.
– Very likely. Probably the Treasurer of the day supported the honorable gentleman. When I took exception to the amount placed upon . the Estimates for the erection of a post-office in Western Australia, it was alleged that I was influenced by provincial motives. As a matter of fact, I fail to see why those persons using the telephone trunk line between Sydney and Melbourne should be placed in a different category from that occupied by residents in the country who desire telephonic facilities. The latter are compelled to guarantee the Department against loss. When the honorable member for Maranoa and the honorable member for Coolgardie asked that the same procedure should be adopted in regard to the trunk telephone line between Sydney and Melbourne, the reply which they received was, “ Oh, but this line villE pav from the jump.” But what do we find? As soon as the charges were fixed an. agitation was promoted by those interested with a view to their reduction.
– How does the honorable member know that that line will not pav?. It has been opened only about three months.
– Country residents who desire telephonic facilities are asked to guarantee the Department against loss, and why should city residents be placed in a different position ? As the result of a little research I find that the charges levied byprivate enterprise in other parts of the world over long distance telephone lines are more than double those charged by the Government. After 8 o’clock in the evening the trunk telephone is used mainly by the press, who resort to it instead of to the telegraph. Until we have a report, a balance-sheet, or statement - call it what we may - showing the receipts and expenditure of the three separate branches - telephone, telegraph. and postal - we shall find it impossible to say how much we are losing in any particular direction. I am delighted at the marvellous change that is apparently coming over many honorable members regarding the toll system. I well remember, when the Reid-McLean Government were in power, the honorable member for Barrier raising the question on the Estimates, and the honorable member for Gwydir subsequently submitted a motion, and gave us full information regarding this system in various parts of the world. We are now told by the honorable member for Corio that the toll’ subscribers have increased facilities as compared with the flat-raters.
– Not increased facilities, but more prompt and better attention.
– In my opinion, the honorable member is absolutely wrong. I am positive that if he took the trouble to inquire, or to visit the exchange, he would find that it is nearly impossible for the operator at the switchboard to tell whether he is communicating with a flat-rate or a toll subscriber; and, in my opinion, both classes receive exactly the same attention. No doubt the switchboard in Melbourne is not as perfect as it might be ; but I hope this will be remedied by means of the vote we are asked to pass. I was rather interested to learn that flat-rate subscribers use the telephone three times as often, or, in other words, get three times as much value for their money, as do the toll-rate subscribers. This probably accounts for the complaint that the flat-raters do not receive such good attention. If the toll-rate subscribers averaged only five calls each per day, I have no doubt that the Department would see that the operators in charge at the Exchange were given at least three times as many calls as at present to look after. I trust that the tollrate system will become more popular, and that, as in other parts of the world, greater use will be made of the telephone. I was sorry that the honorable member for Kooyong was absent when I raised the same question as he raised to-night, namely, the great disability which certain subscribers surfer, merely because they happen to be a certain distance from an exchange. I hope, not only that we shall have a report or statement such as I have suggested, but that the system will be thoroughly overhauled by the present Postmaster-General, with a view to greater economy and efficiency.
.- I desire to present another side of the question. The present Minister of Trade and. Customs, when Postmaster-General, had the good- fortune to establish the trunk telephone line between Melbourne and Sydney. That undertaking, beyond all others, will stand to his credit for many years.
– It must not be forgotten that the enterprise was initiated bv my predecessor.
– But it was completed by the present Minister of Trade and Customs. I hope, before long, to see all the capitals of Australia connected by tele phone - Adelaide with Melbourne, Brisbane with Sydney, and, if possible, Perth with Adelaide. In the old world it is usual to find all the capital cities thus connected, and Australia cannot afford to lag behind. Apparently, the honorable member for Yarra is troubled with the idea that one section of the community is getting some special advantage over the rest of the community. In the early days of telephones very few people were connected; and the popularity of the system has been, and is, a matter of growth. Each householder who has ani installation advertises the system, and once a man is accustomed to the convenience, he would rather cut clown his expenses in another direction, than relinquish it. We find that in any given neighbourhood where there are five installations, there are ten in a short time ; and thus they increase in geometrical ratio.
– In support of the honorable member, I may say that the applications for telephones are to-day four times what they were at the corresponding period of. last year.
– And what occurs with the ordinary telephone will occur in connexion with the trunk line. The honorable member for Coolgardie, directing his glances to this side of the House, talked of “ merchant princes “ of Australia, who, according to’ him, enjoy some advantage. I have had experience in parliamentary life for some years, and I must say that, with, perhaps, the exception of the honorable member for Lang, I see no one very like a merchant prince on this side of the House. If I were to imitate “the honorable member, I might direct my glances to honorable members opposite, and talk about the advantages which the millionaire manufacturers of Victoria have over the rest of the community. But that is an absurd argument ; because both classes to which I have referred are out with the intention of making money. And that is the position of the press also. The honorable member for Coolgardie, when he attacks the press, forgets that only two or three years ago he and others fought for special telegraph rates for the benefit of the newspaper proprietors of Australia. An ordinary citizen communicating by telegraph on private business, has, roughly speaking, to pay for forty words the same amount for which a newspaper proprietor can telegraph 1.000 words. The honorable member for Coolgardie, if he were consistent, should say, “ The press is a money-making concern, conducted by journalistic princes, and they ought to be compelled to pay the same telegraph rates as do ordinary citizens.” Now, no one would, I think, advance such a contention ; and the position I am putting applies with equal force to the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Yarra. Whether there be fifty calls or ten calls over a trunk line, the cost of conducting the service is exactly the same. We have to consider the cost of construction, the cost of maintenance, and the cost of supervision, and the last-mentioned has to be incurred whatever may be the number of calls.
– Does not the honorable member see that if the charge were made 4s., the rates would have to be reduced on every other trunk line throughout Australia ?
– The honorable member for Yarra ought to have opposed the establishment of the trunk telephone line, if there is anything in his present argument, or he should have insisted on “a guarantee. All the Postmaster-General has to do is to look at the matter in a business light, and consider what rate will offer the biggest inducement to the public, and, at the same time, pay interest on the outlay. The Postmaster-General has had experience of a 6s. rate, and of a 5s. rate’; and, in my opinion, the more we cheapen the facilities the more they will be used. If there were 200 calls a day at 5s., the revenue would be ,£50; whereas 150 calls at 6s. would mean a return. of only £45. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time when the rate will be reduced to 4s. It does not matter who uses the telephone, provided that proper facilities are given, and that the Department has a proper return. I should like to know whether the use of the trunk Inter-State telephone is growing?
– The best week we have had was last week.
– That is an answer to the honorable member for Yarra, who suggests that a special return should be provided, because he believes that those who use the telephone are depriving the telegraph branch of revenue. But such an argument would apply to the use of all telephoned. We know that the telephone system has deprived a number of messengers, cabmen, and others of work, but no one would dream of condemning the telephone on that account. This is not a conflict between the telegraph and the tele phone, but merely a question of convenience. If a man desires to communicate speedily, he will readily pay the higher rate for the telephone as compared with the telegraph. Speaking generally, my experience is that the telephone service is well conducted. The operators at the switchboard are invariably civil and most attentive; and the least we can do is to pay a tribute of admiration for a hardworking branch of the service. Indeed, it is a wonder that the telephone operators are not more ill-tempered than they appear to be, considering their nerve-racking work. I know that, in view of the irritability of some subscribers, if I were an operator I should be discharged in half-a-day, because my language in reply to some of the remarks made, would simply fuse the wires. Altogether those who are responsible for the conduct of the telephone service deserve every commendation. The advocates of the Inter-State line cannot be said to be fighting for a privileged class. It is designed to convenience all classes of the community, and I hope that the charge will be finally reduced to even 2s. or 3s. for a conversation of three minutes’ duration. I care not whether the press messages passing between Melbourne and Sydney are sent by telephone or by telegraph, but I should Le pleased if the wires were more freely used to transmit the observations made by me and many other honorable’ members of this Parliament. I would ask the Postmaster-General to let us know whether the revenue from the line is anything like sufficient to pay interest on the original outlay, and the cost of supervision ?
– A sinking fund must also be provided.
– That is a self-evident proposition. The revenue yielded by the line is growing, and the PostmasterGeneral should be able to tell us whether there is reason to believe that it will pay interest and enable a fair amount to be set apart for a sinking fund.
– Perhaps the time of the Committee will be conserved if I give honorable members a rough statement regarding the working of this line. The estimated cost of construction was ,£34,465, but the actual cost was £46,686. Honorable members will recollect that the increase was due to the advance in the price of copper.
– The price of copper had not risen very materially at the time the line was erected.
– I repeat that the chief reason for the additional cost was the rise in copper. The work was such a plain, straightforward one that, whilst some might attempt to throw discredit on the officers who made the estimate
– What was the extent of the rise in the price of copper?
– I shall supply that information presently. The difference between the price of copper at the time the estimate was given and when the wire was purchased, accounts for nearly the whole of the increased cost. The revenue required to yield 5 per cent. on the cost of the line, £46,686, is roughly, £2,334. The cost of operating will be approximately, £400.
– That is a rather moderate estimate.
– No ; it is quite sufficient.
– I do not think so.
– How many operators doesthe honorable member think we should require?
– That would mean an annual . expenditure of £440; but I take it that four operators would not be continuously required. At certain periods very little business is done, and when the line was not fully engaged, the operator in charge would devote his attention to something else.
– But surely the honorable member would pay each operator more than £110 per annum?
– The honorable member knows as well as I do what is the rate of pay received by telephone operators. The loss of telegraph revenue due to the construction of the line is estimated at £2,500 per annum. That, I think, is a liberal allowance. If we take £2,334 as representing 5 per cent. on the first cost, £400 as the cost of operators, and £2,500 as the estimated loss of telegraph revenue, we have a total of £5,234. We have also toremember that something must be placed to the credit of the line in respect of its use for telegraphic purposes. If it were not so used, the increased business between Melbourne and Sydney would necessitate the erection of another telegraph line. It is only reasonable that we should credit this line with telegraphic revenue to the extent of, say, £1,200. That would leave a balance of £4,034 per annum still to be found. The receipts for the week ending 13th September amounted to £62, which would be equal to £3,224 per annum.
– Is that not the largest weekly return yet obtained from the line?
– It is, but the revenue is increasing every week.
– So that the honorable gentleman is basing his calculation on the biggest revenue yet obtained from the line in any one week?
– It is some time before a new service becomes generally known. No one can say that the revenue obtained at the outset from a new undertaking is a fair indication of what it is likely to yield.
– As we advertise the service more largely the returns will be increased.
– I understand that the Postmaster-General proposes, and very properly, I think, to advertise the new line, in order that the facilities which it offers may be more generally known. The public ought to know, for instance, that after 8 p.m. a three-minutes’ conversation over the line costs only 2s. 6d., and I believe that it will not be long before the service will be very largely availed of. The cost of maintenance would not be increased even if the business were doubled. The honorable member for Riverina has referred to the establishment of a sinking fund, and I think that 5 per cent. should provide for replacement of lines and maintenance. A copper wire has a long life, and since other lines are carried on the posts on which this wire is stretched, some part of their maintenance must be charged against them. I am prepared to accept the estimate that is supplied to us, not to prove any case, but as the deliberately prepared calculation of the officers of the Department. It will be remembered that when the estimate was made it was intended to allow intermediate stations to be connected. Had that course been adopted, there can be no doubt that the revenue from the line would have been increased. But in order to give better facilities to the capital cities, the intermediate stations have not been let in. It is estimated that the business will grow so rapidly that the line will scon be up to the paying standard.
– It is not paying now.
– The return is not yet what we estimated it would be. In making his attack on this line, the honorable member for Coolgardie said that when the proposal was originally before the Committee I gave honorable members an assurance that a charge of 6s. per conversation of three minutes would be adhered to, and that but for that it would not have been agreed to. The only statement that I made in regard to the rate to be fixed was that it would not exceed 6s. per conversation of three minutes. The honorable member said, further, that as soon as the merchant “ gang “ clamoured for a reduction the Government climbed down. He declared that we were always ready to yield to the clamour of a “ gang ‘ ‘ of merchants, and that this continual weakness on our part showed that we were spineless.
– The honorable member was frightened to apply the toll system.
– Why .did not the honorable member, when PostmasterGeneral, display some of the courage of which he talks? Why did he not see that some of the postal employes received ‘a living wage? Those are questions which I may fairly ask him, since he insists upon interrogating me.
– The honorable member took care that the Labour Government did not remain in office long enough. We were put out owing to his underground engineering.
– I do not admit that there was any underground engineering on my part. But at the same time the one standing grievance of the honorable member’s life seems to be that his party was turned out of office.
– The honorable member was convicted of it.
– In the opinion of the honorable member I may have been, but, fortunately for me and many others, he is not the sole judge of what is the right course of action for a Minister to follow. 1 fail to understand why the honorable member should have made such a bitter attack upon me. I have not attacked him nor have I criticised his Administration.
– I did not mention the honorable member’s name.
– The honorable member spoke of the weakness of the Ministry. He said that we climbed down in obedience to the clamour of a “ gang “ of merchants, and spoke of what he described as our spineless action. If those were not hard things to say, I do not wish to hear any from him. I have no quarrel with the honorable member. I have given the Committee the facts, and I think that they furnish a complete answer to our critics. I have yet to learn that it is wrong for the Post and Telegraph Department to do anything to facilitate the business of merchants and traders generally. Surely they are entitled to fair and reasonable consideration. The honorable member’s statement about the spinelessness of the Government and our yielding to the clamour of “ gangs “ of merchants will appear in cold type in Hansard, and surely it is necessary that some answer should be made to them.
– A better answer is required than has been made by the honorable member.
– I have no desire to quarrel with the honorable member. I refuse to quarrel with him.
– I never said a word about the honorable member.
– The honorable member for Kooyong asked for some information as to the’ receipts and expenditure of the Department. I would remind him that the Treasurer, in delivering his Budget statement, read a table on the subject, which appears in Hansard. It shows that the receipts for the year ended 30th June, 1907, were as follows: - New South Wales, .£136,569 over the expenditure; Victoria, £69,181 over expenditure; Queensland, £49,983 under expenditure; South Australia, .£47,464 over expenditure; Western Australia, £40,363 under expenditure; and Tasmania, £1,393 over expenditure. The net receipts over expenditure were £164,261, or nearly sufficient, after charging to expenditure the full cost of new works and buildings constructed during the financial year, to provide for interest at the rate of 3 per cent, on the estimated value of transferred properties of the Postmaster-General’s Department. That is an answer to those who make charges against the Department.
– Does the honorable member say that is a fair statement of the Post Office accounts?
– It has been handed to. me by the Accountant of the Department, who, I am prepared to say, would give only that which he considers to be a fair statement. It is not mine.
– The honorable member ought to know that it is not a fair one.
– I believe it is, and I do not think the Treasurer would have included it in his Budget statement had he not been sure of his ground.
– Does the honorable member think he knew anything about it ?
– I am sure he did. I may add that a specially heavy w ire has been used on’ the Inter-State line, so that it may be connected with Brisbane and Adelaide. I hope that honorable members will be satisfied with this information, and will now allow the items to pass.
– I should like to know whether the statement we have just heard was made by the honorable member for EdenMonaro, as Minister of Trade and Customs, or whether there has been another shuffle of portfolios, and he has regained that of Postmaster-General ? As he is not Postmaster-General, I should like to know why the honorable gentleman who draws the salary of that office does not take up the responsibilities of the position? There has been undoubtedly a great increase in the demand for telephones, but the officials of the Telephone Department have not been increased proportionately. Consequently, although there are more telephone subscribers now than there were some time ago, and a much larger revenue, the service is not so good sis it was. In fact, it is out-of-date and inadequate, and subscribers often fling aside their instruments in disgust, finding it better after all to journey several miles to conduct their business directly. The Telephone Department is altogether undermanned, and requires reorganization. I should like to know whether the £500 set down for the purchase of telephone lines and instruments held by subscribers under the “ purchase “ system is large enough to enable the Department to acquire these telephones. As to what has been said about the flat-rate system, in my opinion the statement of the Chamber of Commerce that the daily telephone calls average seventeen is incorrect. I know that the calls on my own telephone are much fewer. It is the merchants of Sydney and the large business houses who get most out of the telephone system. If every one were charged for the service he gets, some of those who are now paying £100 a year would have to pay £1,000, while others who pay £10 or £12 a year would not have to pay more than £5 a year. Not only are more telephone assistants wanted, lint the hours of the switchboard attendants should be reduced from six to four or five a day. Investigations made in England and in America show that the work is most trying, and often produces a form of hysteria, leading to lunacy, which is a serious thing for the future of the race. I hope that the Postmaster-General will take courage from the discussion in regard to the Sydney and Melbourne telephone line, and establish connexions between all the main cities of Australia. When at Port Darwin recently, I discovered that there was a copper wire right across the Continent, from that place to Adelaide. A great saving might be made by sending the telegraphic business from England and foreign countries across that line by telephone, instead of by the Morse telegraph instruments. Possibly it is not generally known that there is a copper wire there. I “should like to see the charge on the Sydney and Melbourne line reduced, so that it may be more largely used, and a bigger return obtained. The outlay . I regard as a mere bagatelle in comparison with the conveniences afforded. As to the facilities to be afforded to the press, I think that it is time that the Government considered the whole subject of press concessions. It must be remembered that the press is a commercial concern. Newspaper proprietors charge very highly for the advertisements which they publish, and supply news only to induce the public to buy their newspapers. It is a business concern out of which immense sums are made. There is no reason why these great facilities and reductions should be given, to the press.
.- In New South Wales, Victoria, and elsewhere there has been a very large increase in the number of cases of influenza. It seems to be synchronous with the increase in the use of the public telephone. There is an impression prevailing that the telephone receivers are largely responsible for spreading the disease. What I wish to elicit from the Postmaster-General is whether there is any systematic inspection and disinfection of the receivers, and if not whether he will give an instruction to that effect ?
– I desire to refer to the matter of telephonic connexions. As I inaugurated the first long-distance telephones in New South Wales, I am not likely to make any quarrel about the connexion between Melbourne and Sydney. It was a step in the right direction, and I hope that we shall soonsee a net- work of these wires established round Australia. I believe that nothing would contribute more to the development of good feeling between the States than the connexion of all the large cities by telephone. The sooner it comes about the better. In my judgment, the connexions will all pay very speedily. I know of no more profitable undertaking than the construction of long-distance telephones. At the beginning of all these undertakings, there is a great deal of nervousness. If the facilities are provided, they will be used by the public - that public which has been described to-night as a gang who go about robbing the community. I was surprised to hear the honorable member for Coolgardie indulging in such language.
– I said nothing about robbing the community.
– In my opinion the remark was unworthy of the honorable member. A merchant is not necessarily a robber. I venture to say that in simply asking to get a service provided as cheaply as possible-
– At less than its cost.
– Then, according to the honorable member’s ethics, a man who asks for a service to be provided at less than its cost is necessarily a robber ?
– If he uses illegitimate influence to get it, yes. He is a robber in intent, anyhow.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK. - I haveyet to learn that because a man tries to get a cheap service, he is, therefore, a robber. Those, however, are the ethics of the honorable member and those who agree with him. It is ridiculous to hear them always tilting in this way at an honest trader, who adds to the advantage of the community by the distribution of useful goods. It is farcical forany one to suppose that he is necessarily a robber.
– An anti-Socialist Socialist. Is that what the honorable member means ?
– To-night the honorable member is not so clear as he usually is, I do not know why. In my judgment the telephone charge between Sydney arid Melbourne should be reduced still further. I venture to say that if it were reduced from 5s. to 4s. the line would pay handsomely.
– Why not to 3s. ?
– Order !
– Since my honorable friend says it is a socialistic institution, why not let every one use the telephones to his heart’s content?
– Why not?
– When the honorable member’s theories have all beer* worked out and human nature has been re-: constructed according to his leader’s views, I dare say that his wish will be realized.
– When we get ridof the incubus which is sitting on the chest of the people it will come.
– No doubt that is a very good sentiment, but I suspect that it is not new.. I fancy that it smells of the Gwydir bush. I think that there is very great room for improvement in the working of the telephone connexion between Sydney and Melbourne. I have spoken over the line twice, and at neither time has the effort been a success. On the first occasion I had to ask the Minister to try to ring up the gentleman whom I wanted, but he could not make any sense out of the sound, while we could hear everything which went on in the office in Sydney, so distinct and clear is the connexion. In my judgment it is a splendid success as between the two cities, but the moment one gets to Sydney the whole advantage ceases. Between Sydney and Parramatta the world is a blank so far as the telephone is concerned. For the last two years it has been almost impossible to get a proper connexion between those two places. It is about the worst line I know of. Improvement is constantly promised. I hope that it will not be long before the service on that line is improved. That leads me to refer to the small amount which is provided on these Estimates towards the establishment of metallic circuits in connexion with the telephone system.
– There is nothing on the Estimates for the Gwydir electorate.
– In my judgment the Committee is performing no more useful work than in overhauling these services.
– I quite admit that ; but I want to get these Estimates dealt “ with to-night.
– We are asked to vote nearly £1,000,000, and I do not agree that a moment has been wasted by the discussion of the items.
– I am not complain: ing, but I want to get the Estimates passed to-night if I can.
– In my opinion these are the most important items in the Estimates. There will be no good done to the telephone service until we have installed a complete metallic system. The sooner that is done the better. We are asked to vote only £5,500 - exactly the same amount as last year - in connexion with the institution of a metallic circuit in New South Wales, ‘ so as to stop the cross-firing on the. lines. I notice that last year the whole of the vote was not applied to that most’ important work. This is a matter of prime importance. It is more important than any other question concerned with these Estimates.
– It would take a lot of money to do what the honorable member desires.
– Of course it would, but my complaint is that no great effort is being made to do the work. Sums like £40,000 or £50,000 are applied to other requirements, and only £5,500 is devoted to this most important matter. I find that while last year £5,500 was set down on the Estimates only £4,865 was spent. I should like to see .five or six times as much money, devoted to the purpose. It would pay the Department to do the work in a thorough fashion. Numbers of people at present will not be bothered with the telephone, so troublesome is it to get connected, and to carry on a satisfactory conversation.
– It ‘is not worth the money.
– In many cases it is not. A little while ago I had serious thoughts of having my telephone ‘ removed from my house altogether, because it caused a great deal more bother than it is worth. That is the experience of numbers of people who have telephones on the congested lines of our large cities. The defect can be remedied by the expenditure of a little money, and the outlay would pay in the end. The more valuable the service is made the more profitable it will be. But just at present it seems to be the policy of. the Department to discourage improvements. I do not know why. We are continually told that “ such and such a thing cannot’ be done.” For instance, in all the States people have to wait weeks and weeks before they can be connected with the telephone system, after making application. That kind of thing has been going on for ten years, and it shows a singular want of foresight on the part of the officers of the Department, that such inconvenient delays should be tolerated by them. I trust that the Minister will see that a very much larger expenditure is provided for on account of the metallic circuit. The sooner we put an end to the present system the better it will be for every one. There is only one wa.v out of the difficulty, and that is to give each subscriber a complete and independent connexion.
.- I move-
That the proposed vote be reduced by £1,000
I cannot understand the principle upon which our telephone system is conducted. The ex-Postmaster-General a little while ago remarked that to every regulation there is an exception. In.niv electorate there is a telephone line on which an exception might very well be made. Some time ago I asked the Postmaster-General if he could see his way to reduce the charges made for telephone conversations over the trunk line between West Maitland and Sydney. The reply was that the honorable gentleman would look into the subject, and that he hoped- at an early date to be able to reduce the charges on some of the. trunk lines. But what was my surprise when I found that instead of the charge on this particular line being reduced, an increase was actually made. The strange circumstance was, however, that the charge on a portion of the line between West Maitland arid Newcastle was reduced by 50 per cent. When the line was opened a great deal of fuss was made about it, and citizens were asked to .plank down their- sovereigns to guarantee it against loss. But within three years the business has increased three-fold. It is now one of the best paying lines in the Commonwealth. The charge for a conversation between Maitland and Sydney is rs. 10d. for three minutes. A large number of business men in the district feel this charge very keenly, and if the Seat of Government were within easier reach, I am sure that they would form an influential deputation to wait upon the PostmasterGeneral. Unfortunately, situated as they are, it is impossible for them to secure an interview with him. The honorable gentleman would be doing no more than justice iT he could see his way to reduce the charge from is. 10d. to is. 6d. I have asked for the production of the papers in connexion with the matter.
– The honorable member cannot expect to get a return such as that which he has asked for, in a week, and the more returns honorable members ask for, the longer it will take to issue them’.
– I earnestly hope that the. Minister will see his way to consider the subject seriously. I cannot understand why he refused my request so abruptly. His attitude reminded me of a shopkeeper, who would say to a customer, “ This is my price, and if you do not like it, you can leave it.” The Minister says, in effect, “ These are our regulations and I care nothing about your wants.”
– I understand the honorable member to say that the Department ought to charge the people who use the Maitland-Sydney line less than people who use lines of a similar length in other parts of the Commonwealth.
– There is an exception to every rule, as the Minister himself has said.
– Does the honorable member think that the Maitland people should get the service cheaper than other people?
– I believe that if the Postmaster- Genera I looks into the matter for himself, he will admit that the people whose interests I am representing are labouring under hardships.
– I suppose the honorable member is attacking the PostmasterGeneral, in order to induce him to consider the matter favorably.
– I am sorry if I have such a fierce and hostile aspect as to lead the Minister to think I am attacking him. I am simply pleading with him on behalf of people who are put to considerable inconvenience by the present system. There are many other matters to which I should like to refer, but, out of respect to the Minister, I shall confine myself to this one. I remind him that the Sydney-Maitland line is now a paying undertaking. Sometimes, indeed, one has to wait half-an-hour to obtain a conversation. There ought to be three lines instead of one, and if there were three, they would all pay.
.- There does not seem to have been due occasion for the rather windy ebullition of the Minister of Trade and Customs just now. Nothing that I said warranted such a, declaratory explosion, unless, indeed, the honorable gentleman desired to imitate the bad. example recently set him by an erstwhile colleague. In the few remarks which I made upon the long-distance telephone line, I do not recollect having mentioned the Minister at all. I did not hold him responsible for what had been done in that connexion. I merely referred to the Government. I included the whole Administration, so that why he should have taken my criticism entirely to himself passes my comprehension. Had I desired to attack him, surely he has provided me with ample ground. Had I wished to hold him up to public opprobrium, or to expose him to general ridicule, I need only have cited his monumental incompetency in connexion with the mail contract. But I remained absolutely silent upon that subject, which was the most shocking example of incapable administration this country has ever had presented to it. I make that observation merely with a view of showing that, had I wanted to attack the Minister of Trade and Customs, I have had plenty of scope to do it. But, as a matter of fact, when I was referring to the inertness of the Government in connexion with the telephone between Sydney and Melbourne, I was not thinking of him. His self-delusions should not overflow into the belief that he ever has occupied, or ever can occupy, a large place in die estimation of thoughtful . men. It would admittedly be difficult for any one to frame an attack on him as the advocate of any great principle, or the creator of any policy of high importance. No one can recall any display of constructive ability on his part. Hence, any attack on him must be based on his failure, as in the mail contract, ‘to rise to the level of hisopportunities, and his neglect to adequately safeguard the great interests which, even’ as a subordinate Minister, are unhappily committed to his charge. It is unfortunate that, despite a diligent search, the record of his undertaking that not less than 6s. would be charged for each conversation over this line, cannot be found in Hansard. As far as my memory serves me, he distinctly assured honorable members that a payable rate would be charged, and that no reduction would be made. He now declares that what he said was that not more than 6s. for a three-minutes’ conversation would be charged - thus leaving it open to him to make a lower charge. I certainly could not see daylight through the extraordinary mass of figures with which he favoured us, and the confusion into which he threw everybody justifies the contention t of the honorable member for Kooyong that a proper balance-sheet ought to be pre- sented of the three great services carried on by this Department. I repeat that the Government ran away from their decision in regard to toll telephones. They ran away from it because of the agitation and clamour of a powerful section of the community in Sydney and Melbourne, backed up or led by the newspapers. There is not the slightest doubt about that. Nobody who has taken the trouble to read the newspapers even casually can entertain the slightest doubt that the Government were absolutely forced to recede from- the attitude which they originally took up. owing to the pressure brought to bear upon them by interested newspapers and classes who utilize the telephone service to the fullest extent.
– Is the honorable member referring to the reduction in the charges ?
– I am speaking of the determination of the Government, as originally expressed, to make every person pay in proportion to the use which he makes of the telephone service.
– I was opposed to the toll system at first, and I ami not sure that I am in favour of it now.
– But surely the Acting Prime Minister recognises that it involves a very important principle?
– I admit that I do not quite understand it.
– It is very easy to understand. A large number of subscribers are getting the use of telephones at a fixed rate per annum, and are using the service to a much greater extent than are those who are under the toll system. The existing system is absolutely indefensible. I trust that this little episode will not be forgotten by the Minister of Trade and Customs. While that honorable gentleman was speaking he taunted me with not hav-
ing established a high wage in the Postal Department during my term of office. I think that I occupied the position of PostmasterGeneral for a little more than three months. But I may tell him of one thing which I did, and which perhaps he would not do under the circumstances. I saw that the organizations of employes were recognised by the Department - they had not previously been recognised - and that other reforms were instituted, which I did not trumpet forth in the press, as some Ministers since have done. My criticism of the Government was not unduly hostile or unfair. It did not exceed what, in the judgment of all impartial persons, their timorous conduct called for. It in no way warranted the bumptious irrelevancies of the Minister of Trade and Customs, who may feel perfectly assured that any repetition of vituperation will be repaid with compound interest.
– I have no desire to quarrel with the honorable member for Coolgardie.
– Oh, sit down.
– It is all very well for the honorable member for Parramatta to say that. But the honorable member for Coolgardie has charged me with having attacked him. The facts are that I was in charge of the Estimates when the honorable member for Coolgardie declared that the Government - I took down his words at the time - had “ yielded to the clamour of a gang of merchants.” He further said that we had exhibited weakness in reducing the charge made for a three-minutes’ conversation over the telephone trunk line between Sydney and Melbourne, and he described the action of the Government in that connexion as being “simply spineless.”
– So I did, and I repeat it.
– When an honorable member makes statements of that kind without any justification, surely I, or some other member of the Ministry, may be permitted to defend the Government?
– I did not object to that, but the Minister went further.
– When I rose to speak, the honorable member changed his seat to one on the Opposition side, and made all sorts of interjections.
– I changed my seat in order to better hear the Minister.
– As I said before, I have no desire to quarrel with the honorable member, but if he throws down the gage of battle, I am always ready for a fight. During the whole time I occupied the position of Postmaster-General, I never made an unfavorable comment on the honorable member’s administration of the Department ; indeed, I very often said that, in my opinion, he administered the Department very well.
– What right would the Minister have to make an unfavorable comment on my administration? It is a piece of impertinence on the Minister’s part to make the suggestion !
– That is a matter of opinion. But I may say that any threat the honorable member may make will not affect me in the slightest. I think, in fairness to myself, that I should be permitted to make an answer to the charges levelled against me. Whatever position I may hold in Parliament, or on whichever side of the House I may sit, Ishall not allow statements against me to go unchallenged. In my statements concerning the Inter-State telephone, I stated, to the best of my recollection, that the charge should not exceed 6s. The initiation of the trunk telephone is not my work, but that of the ex-member for Macquarie, Mr. Sydney Smith, who is entitled to all the credit.I simply took the work up and carried it out to the best of my ability. I hope I have put this matter right in the eyes of honorable members.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Subdivision 2 (Telegraphs and Telephones, Victoria), £100,000
.- A telephone project, in which the honorable member for Corangamite and the honorable member for Wannon are very much interested, is a line from Geelong to Warrnambool and Port Fairy, touching on the way a number of towns.I should like to know whether this will be a complete trunk line, reaching to Melbourne viâ Geelong, and whether the cost is included in the amount we are asked to vote?
– Yes, the amount is included.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Subdivision 3 (Telegraphs and Telephones, Queensland), £49,000
.- I desire once more to remind the PostmasterGeneral that Queensland is a scattered country, and to express the hope that where lines are already in existence, small agricultural settlements will have the advantage of telephonic communication. I have made a similar request on several occasions, but have always been met with official reports to the effect that the communication was not necessary. In one or two instances, where a line already passes through a district, the residents themselves have offered to provide and work the system free of charge to the Department; but that offer has also been refused on the same ground. I think some consideration should be shown to the people in these country districts, when the only cost would be that of, perhaps 50s., for the installation of the instrument. There is no doubt that telephonic communication in places which are far removed from centres of civilization, would be a great boon. My sympathies are with the Postmaster-General in the difficulties he has to contend with in connexion with the telephone branch of the service ; but I hope every effort will be made to popularize the system, and make it as cheap as possible, so that people in outlying districts may be able to come into closer touch with each other. The larger towns are pretty well catered for in the shape of slot telephones, by means of which for a small charge of1d., communication may be had over a radius of twenty-five miles ; and I think some attention should be paid to the agricultural districts.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Subdivision 4 (Telegraphs and Telephones, South Australia), £35,302 ; subdivision 5 (Western Australia), £32,000 ; subdivision 6 (Tasmania), £25,500, agreed to.
Subdivision 7 (Telegraphs and Telephones, Wireless Telegraphy), £10,000.
.- I should like the Postmaster-General to give some information as to what is proposed in connexion with wireless telegraphy.
– I have a memorandum here which states that it is the intention of the Postmaster-General, after the passing of the’ Estimates; to invite offers for installations at Cape York and Port Moresby. It is intended that action shall be deferred in connexion with the other stations suggested in the report of the late Wireless Telegraphy Conference until the receipt of such offers. The particulars to enable tenders to be called are in course of preparation.
– What distance is it proposed to cover?
– The distance is not given in the memorandum.
.I think the Committee are entitled to more explicit information. I understand that tenders are to be invited, as the Acting Prime Minister was good enough to say, for the best system. Will the, honorable gentleman kindly tell us how the Department proposes to arrive at a knowledge of what is the best system ? He is aware that one company conducting wireless telegraphy went to heavy expense in establishing a station at Queenscliff, and another in Tasmania, and that they have been allowed to dismantle their plant. What I desire to know is whether the Postmaster-General expects the owners of other systems to come to Australia, and do as the Marconi Company did, namely, give a demonstrationat a rumoured cost of from£8,000 to £10,000, or, whether officers will be sent to the old world where systems are in operation, the Government to act on a report obtained from those officers. This is rather an important matter. There is a good deal of difference of opinion as to the merits of the various systems. I know that very high claims are made on behalf of one system, which, according to the scientific journals, are scarcely justified. It may be that the authors of those criticisms are hostile, or may have some interest in an opposing system. What I wish to ascertain is some information as to the method which the Government propose to adopt in order to give effect to. the expressed intention to select the best system.
– I am very glad to be able to assure the honorable member that the difficulty he anticipates is not at all likely to arise. Only to-day I have had inquiries from the agents of some American companies, and I feel sure that there will be considerable competition for the plant we require. The idea is to select two of the best systems for the purpose of experiment. One will operate between Cape York and Port
Moresby,and the other between King Island and the mainland. It is hoped that as the result’ of these experiments we shall be able to ascertain the best system to adopt.
– MightI ask why, when these systems of wireless telegraphy are in operation in other parts of the world, it should be necessary to lay a cable between the mainland and Tasmania, as the Government propose?
– I can assure the honorable member that our experience so far of wireless telegraphy is such that there is little hope that for a considerable time it can be satisfactorily substituted for a cable.
.- The Minister has stated that it is proposed to experiment with two systems of wireless telegraphy, but, as these systems have doubtless been tried in other parts of the world, there should surely be no necessity to experiment with them in Australia. Experts, who have a knowledge of the operation of those systems elsewhere, should be able to advise us as to which we should adopt. I think that in dealing with this matter, as in all business transactions, we shall find that the best course to follow is to deal with a reliable firm. It may be contended that, for one reason or another, the experiments now proposed may not be successful ; but I trust that the Ministry will not adopt the course proposed. If these experiments are to be proceeded with, it will be satisfactory to have a station established at King Island.; but I think that it would perhaps be more useful if the station were established at Flinders Island, which has been the scene of a great many shipwrecks, and is not at present connected with the mainland. A wireless telegraphy station established there wouldbe of very great advantage when steamers trading in our waters are more generally fitted with the wireless telegraph apparatus, as I hope they will be at no very distant date.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Subdivision 8 (Telegraphs and Tele phones, Survey of Cable Route), £1,000, agreed to.
Baxter Income Tax Case.
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Honorable members are no doubt aware that it is the intention of the Government of New South Wales to appeal to the Privy Council against the decision of the High Court in the Baxter income tax case. As the issue involved in the matter isof great importance, I should like to know what steps, if any, the Government propose to take to have the Commonwealth view of the matter placed satisfactorily and fully before the Privy Council?
– Is not this a matter upon which we propose to legislate?
– This is a case in which an appeal is being made by the New South Wales Government. It is known as the Baxter case, and is one of great importance to the Commonwealth. The matter referred to by the honorable member for Gippsland has been considered, and the best counsel we could secure in Great Britain has been employed on behalf of the Government. Arrangements have been made for Mr. Garran to go to England in connexion with the case. No one in the Commonwealth knows more about the matter than does Mr. Garran, andno one could give better instruction to counsel on the question involved. He will leave in a few days, and will be in England for about . a fortnight before the appeal is heard.
– I think Mr. Bavin would be a better man to send.
– I discussed the question for a few minutes with the Prime Minister, and he is of opinion that as Mr. Garran is so well acquainted with the intricacies of the Constitution, and has taken so able a part in connexion with its operation, he would be the better man to send at this juncture. Mr.Pavin will take Mr. Garran’s place during his absence.
– And in the meantime, the Government propose to legislate on this very matter?
– No; this is a distinct point. The High Court has refused a certificate, and the Government of New South Wales are now appealing from the decision of the High Court refusing to allow the case to go to the Privy Council.
– I should have had the matter reported to the House as soon as it was ready for submission. I may add that Mr. Garran. will leave next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.45 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 September 1907, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1907/19070919_reps_3_39/>.