3rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and xead prayers.
– In this morning’s Age the Premier of Victoria is reported to have said at Glen Waverley yesterday -
When he was in England he had offered Mr. Deakin a million acres in writing. (Laughter.) From that- . time to this, Mr. Deakin had done nothing to take up the land. He differed altogether with Mr. Irvine in the immigration question, because they must provide for their own people first. When they opened up some land recently there were 200 applicants for one piece. Beforethey asked people to come here from England ‘ they should provide for the sons of the pioneers.
That declaration having been made by so able and practical a man, will the Prime Minister refuse to bring immigrants here until provision is made for their future?
– I daily expect from the Premier of Victoria a considered reply on the subject.
– Will the honorable and learned gentleman take steps to ascertain the views of other Premiers, and especially those of the Labour Premier of South Australia, ‘,who recently ptatsd fin England that there is plenty of good land in South Australia for immigrants to take up?
– And in theWest.
– Yes ; in all the States. When the views of the Premiers have been ascertained, will the Prime Minister give effect, as soon aspossible, to the expressed desire of the people for immigrationon a large scale ?
– All the Premiers have been invited to express their opinions, and to furnish statements showing the land available in their respective States. When they have done so information will be laid before Parliament.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to a statement made by the Premier of Victoria, and published in the newspapers three or four days ago, to the effect that certain railways, the construction of which was in contemplation, would make available for settlement in this State some 3,000,000 acres?
– I read that statement.
– I wish to know from the Postmaster-General -
– The honorable member was good enough to inform me of his intention to ask these questions, and I have been furnished with the . following replies: -
– I wish to know from the Minister of Defence if provision has been made to supply the cadets with a better head-covering for the forthcoming encampment than was used on the last occasion, when they had only small’ foraging caps.
– In Tasmania. I am sure that the Minister will agree that forage caps are not the proper headwear for boys underthe hot sun of Australia.
– The honorable member mentioned the matter, to me about a week ago. Unquestionably boys should not wear caps under the Australian sun.
– The sun is not too hot in the winter time.
– The forage cap is not a complete head-dress for a cadet. I do not know why it was permitted. Inquiries will be made, and the honorable member informed. of the result. Forage caps will not be used at future encampments.
– The Prime Minister stated yesterday that Mr. Staniforth Smith, in his effort to encourage settlement and industry in Papua, had gone too far, and had made a mistake in allowing an officer interested in an application to sit. with him on a public Board which had that application before it. I wish to know whether Mr. Staniforth Smith was aware that the officer sitting with him was an applicant, and whether the application was granted.
– There were two applications ; the first, in the names of Mr. Drummond and Mr. Pinney, was made when Mr. Drummond was sitting with. Mr. Staniforth Smith on the Land Board. The fact that he was an applicant was patent on the face of the document. The application was not granted. An Executive order was issued that officers should not be connected with land applications. The second application was made by Mr. Watt and others. Mr. Drummond’s name did not appear,, though he and Mr. Pinney were to acquire an interest afterwards. I believe it was generally known that the parties making the second, application were those who were interested in the first. In both cases,, probably, and certainly in the first, the probability is that Mr. Staniforth Smith knew who the applicants were. I was alluding also to the fact that a statement had been made that Mr. Staniforth Smith had allowed an applicant. Mr. Bloomfield, to leave with him papers in blank, to be filled up when certain surveys had been completed. I referred to both these matters as certainly errors on Mr. Staniforth Smith’s part. But, having regard to the great workhe has done in settling the country,, the immense energy he exhibited in making land available, and his eager search everywhere for proper applicants, I venture to say that, in the light of these facts, Mr. Staniforth
Smith’s action is not censurable in the manner in which certain press comments would seem to imply.
– Was that land granted ?
– No; the first application was set aside, and the second, when it came forward, was, I think, passed by the Land Board but rejected . by the Executive Council. An inquiry followed. In the Legislative Council both’ Mr. Smith and Mr. Drummond have seats. We have to remember that these applications are not made in Papua, as they might be in a State, without their purport being known. The little handful of people at Port Moresby know what the others are doing; and it is not too much to say that, in regard to these transactions, the imputations are unwarranted, because, the transactions appear to have taken place in the light of day.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General what the position is with regard to undergrounding telephone and telegraph wires in Melbourne?
– The work is being pushed on in sections by the Department of Home Affairs.
– Is the work being done?
– Yes, and within the last fortnighta further contract, involving an. expenditure of some , £48,000 has been let.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General a question in reference to the case which I brought before him yesterday, of three telegraphists in the Sydney Post Office, who, in order to attend the annual military encampment last year, had each to pay£3 5s. to a substitute to do their work. The Postmaster-General promised to make inquiries; and I should like to know if he has done so, and with what result?
– I have made inquiries, and I have issued instructions that these men are to be afforded facilities for going to camp without any deductions being made from their- salaries.
– I understand that it is the intention of the Government to take the discussion of the Federal Site question, on Tuesday ?
– No one said that.
– The Government said the question would be considered immediately after the Estimates had been disposed of.
– I suggest to the Prime Minister the advisability of fixing a date for a discussion, in order that there may be a full attendance of honorable members. I think the measure is important enough to justify such a step.
– I think that is a very proper suggestion, having regard to the importance of the matter, so long as no undue “delay is involved. We are now between the reception of the Tariff and its consideration. That consideration must commence as soon as the officials of the Customs Department have prepared all the particulars honorable members are likely to require. There is to be an interval between the conclusion of the Estimates and the dealing with the Tariff, and in that interval, I hope, the Federal Capital site question may be disposed of. This ought to be, at latest, on Wednesday next. Of course, there must be some debate, though I hope it will not be at any. length, and it should be concluded on Wednesday.
– Wednesday would suit Inter-State members better than Tuesday.
Mr.DE AKIN. - I am just informed by the Treasurer that the additional Estimates will be laid on the table to-day, and, perhaps, it would simplify matters and insure a better attendance if we decided to have the debate on Wednesday. The Treasurer tells me that the additional Estimates will fairly occupy the whole of Tuesday; and if we have the discussion on the Federal Capital site on Wednesday, we can take the vote on Thursday, which will afford honorable members ample time to be present.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether it is the intention of the Government to submit the new protection proposals following on the Senate’s Tariff suggestions, or whether it is proposed to wait until the decision of the High Court has been given before introducing the legislation?
– Even if we had a whole session before_s it would be unwise to propose legislation, in view of the direct challenge of the powers of the Commonwealth during the recent cases before the High Court. We should be proceeding in the dark, and there would be applications for its adjournment. Consequently, whatever our wishes or desires may be, it will be necessary to wait for the judgment, before submitting legislative proposals.
– In view of the fact that, as freely stated, several members have voted for the imposition of certain duties on an assurance that the new protection proposals would be applied, I desire to know from the Prime Minister whether, in the event of the High Court declaring the new protection legislation to be ultra vires he will afford Parliament an opportunity to review certain of the duties.
– That contingency will not arise. Whatever the terms of the judgment may be, the Government propose to proceed with their new protection proposals ; it is only a question of the particular way in which they should proceed.
Mr.McWILLIAMS. - Following up the question of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie may I ask the Prime Minister, without notice, whether, should the contingency to which the honorable member has referred arise, it will be possible for the Government to do anything in the way of carrying out the new protection policy without an amendment: of the Constitution ?
– There is more than one contingency. There are quite a series. I do not indicate what they are. But in regard to one particular contingency nothing could be done without an amendment of the Constitution.
– I desire to repeat a question that I asked last night on the adjournment, and the answer to which I did not quite catch. The Government have monopolized all the time, thus depriving honorable members of any opportunity of submitting private business ; and I desire to know whether the Prime Minister will afford facilities for dealing with the case of Messrs. Freeman and Wallace, and, in the event of a Select Committee being appointed”, to permit of its at once getting to work, so that we may have a report before the session closes?
– I admit that the honorable member is placed in a difficult position, but he has also to remember that the House is similarly circumsfanced. That is to say, there is no immediate opportunity of resuming . the discussion which was commenced last night on the honorable member’s motion.
– It was not commenced - I could not reach it.
– The honorable member is correct, and, perhaps, I ought to have . said the preliminary discussion before the honorable member’s motion.
– I had only ten minutes.
– Of course no one was aware that an objection was about to be taken. The honorable member must see that a Select Committee such as he proposes would require at least a fortnight or three weeks.
– A week would finish the whole thing - two sittings.
– I think that is an extremely sanguine estimate. With the close of the session,- the proceedings of the Select Committee would close. Consequently, unless the honorable member has an opportunity of taking the sense of the House upon his proposal sufficiently early to leave time enough for the completion of the inquiry - of which I can form no opinion myself, but which I have been informed must take two or three weeks ; indeed, I have heard twice that time named-
– The House should have an opportunity of dealing with it.
– The House has declined to deal with the matter so far.
– It has not had an opportunity.
– Before we give the honorable member another opportunity, we must also consider the claims of other honorable members who have motions on the paper. We are anxious to do that. But we are so close to- the end of the session that I fear the opportunity will be useless to the honorable member. That is my difficulty. I feel the position in which the honorable member is placed. It is only that reason, and the exceptional position which the Government occupies in regard to this matter-
– What exceptional position ?
– That the motion has regard to action taken by a member of the Government with the approval of the Cabinet. It is a matter that cannot otherwise be dealt with. If the House thought that any injustice was likely’ to accrue, and that a full inquiry is necessary, the Government is prepared to. grant it.
– And surrender the responsibility of the Government to the House?
– No. In this matter the duty of the Minister was, in a sense, a judicial duty. It was not executive, or, at all events, not administrative, in the ordinary sense of those words.
– Does the Minister concur in this inquiry ?
– No. I do not wish to debate it now ; but if honorable members will consider for a moment the nature of this judicial power and its exercise, they will see that the Government ought not to interpose any considerations of the customary character in regard to its executive administration. Under these circumstances, if any honorable member can satisfy the House that in this case or in any other exercise of the particular Ministerial power in question real injustice has been done, or that ‘there are reasonable grounds for believing that ‘ injustice has been done, I think that the Government should leavethe matter to the decision of the House as one quite apart from Ministerial responsibility altogether.
– Has any opportunity beenfurnished to the honorable member for Riverina to convince the Cabinet?
– There has been no effort to convince the Government, as far as I know, and no movement, except inside this House, , to consider whether this further inquiry should be made.
– The House has shown no anxiety to consider it.
– Well, all the honorable member for Riverina is requesting is an opportunity to ascertain whether the House desires it to -be considered ; and, under the exceptional circumstances of the case, I endeavoured to afford him an opportunity. Unfortunately, it was not in our power to give effect to that desire.
– In view of the’ reply given by the Prime Minister to the honorable member for Riverina, relative to his motion for the appointment of a Select Committee of inquiry, I wish to ask the honorable gentleman whether I am to understand that he. . admits that any individual whose correspondence is prohibited under the provisions of the Post and Telegraph Act is prevented from going to a Court and asking for an investigation into the merits ‘of his case? Do I understand from the Prime Minister that that, is a correct interpretation of his answer ?
– Substantially correct.
– Then I desire to ask the Prime Minister, if in view of the fact thatpeople who are convicted in this particular fashion are denied1 the right of appealing to a Court, which is the privilege of the meanest criminal in this land, does he think, considering that he made a promise ‘that an. . opportunity would.be given to discuss this question-
– No; an opportunity to bring on the proposal without discussion.
– Does the Prime Minister think that he is justified in now using the forms of the House to prevent an investigation into this particular case?
– I think that the last suggestion is not fair. Ministers are not using the forms of the House in any respect whatever. They were used last night to prevent the consideration of the honorable member’s motion, but certainly Ministers were not responsible for that. The matter is particularly one which the House itself, apart from the Government, should be allowed to decide. This I was anxious for.
– If there had been a vote last night the motion would have been defeated by two to one.
– The Prime Minister did not quitereply to my former question. 1 wish to know whether it is not possible for the Government to give one day - say next ‘week - not only to my motion, . but to other motions standing in the names of private members? Could not honorable members have one day to complete their business.
– I intimated the willingness of the Government to give a day, but of course it could not be next week, when we have the additional Estimates coming on, the Capital Site question to consider, and the Tariff suggestions of the Senate to take in hand. Then, as I said, the Government hope to be able to give a day, or longer if possible, to private members before we close ; but I was candid enough to warn the honorable member that that would be too late to be of any use to him.
– It would be too late, of course.
Stanley Mail Service - Telegraphists’ Pay, Queensland and Victoria: Sunday Duty
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice-
– The Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Hobart, has furnished the following information in connexion with questions 1, 2, and 3 -
For some ‘years the Union . Company’s steamers called at Stanley, and during the erection of the breakwater a certain amount of business resulted ; but when that work was completed, at a cost of , £37,000, the service diminished to once a week, as the business did? not warrant the vessels calling, and ceased before the contract was entered into. Under the present time-table mails for . Hobart, Launceston, West Coast, and intermediate offices reach Burnie in time for despatch by trains leaving at 6 and 7 a.m., and also for an early delivery as far as Wynyard. If steamers called at Stanley a much earlier sailing from Melbourne would be necessary., with a great risk of missing trains at Burnie.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, . upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will cause copies of Mr. A. H. Chesterman’s report on the Tooma site, with plans annexed, to be available for circulation among honorable members without delay?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
A copy of the first report by Mr. Surveyor Chesterman was laid upon the table of the House on the 20th July, 1904, and printed ; a copy of the second report was tabled on the 9th of August, 1904, and ordered to lie on the table; not printed. Heliographic copies of the plans mentioned in the reports were placed before the House, but the plans have never been reproduced for circulation amongst members.
I have, however, obtained, in addition to the report which is on the table, a certain number of typewritten copies of the second report of Mr. Chesterman. These, with the plans that we , -have - although they have not been copied- will be made available to honorable members somewhere in the neighborhood of the chamber.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member -
– Recently the honorable memberfor Corio asked the following questions : -
The Acting Deputy Postmaster-General, Melbourne, has furnished the following replies:
– Recently the honorable member for Cook asked the following questions: -
The Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, has furnished the following information: -
Presuming that the questions refer to two proposed new positions as telegraphist at- Deniliquin, a requisition was prepared, as usual, in the Appointment Branch of this office, and submitted by me on the 23rd January last, for the creation of such positions, and for funds therefor to be obtained from the Treasurer’s Advance. The papers were returned on the 12th February with a minute by the Public
Service Commissioner asking for further information before appointing additional hands, and are now under reference to the inspector, who is being asked to at once return them with his report, and in the meantime to advise by wire as to the present position of the matter.
– Recently! the honorable member for Brisbane asked the following questions: -
An answer to the first question was given on the1st April, and, in reply to the second question, the Acting Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Blrisbane, has’ furnished the following information : -
Payment for work at railway stations under lump sum agreement, made yesterday to the end of March,1908. Payments are made monthly, supplementary amounts for new offices opened, &c, are payable quarterly. Last payment to the end of December was made on 12th February; the voucher for March quarter has not yet been received : half revenue for telegraph work is payable quarterly, and was paid up to the end of December on 31st March, 1908 ; the voucher for March quarter has not yet been received. Allowance in lieu of commission on sale of stamps (£700 per annum) is paid half-yearly, and was paid on 5 th March in settlement to the end of last December ; next payment is due at the end of June. No payments are outstanding for services rendered by, or commission due to, railway officials.
Motion (by Mr. Archer) agreed to -
That a return be laid upon the table showing -
The names of all Commonwealth officers who have been promoted in Queensland during the past two years, giving their past and present salaries.
The names of all officers who have been transferred during that time, and the places to which they have been transferred ; also what salaries they were and are now receiving, and their length of service in the State and Commonwealth service.
How many officers there are in Queensland who have been and are still in receipt of £160 to£180 per annum, and who have been receiving these sums for ten years or over, and the names of such officers.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin, for Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act relating to the publication of parliamentary, papers.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Mr. HUME COOK laid upon the table the following paper -
Judiciary Act and High Court Procedure Act - Rules of Court - Practitioners Admission Rules - Statutory Rules1908, No. 35.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of messages from His Excellency the. GovernorGenerjaJ, transmitting Additional. Estimates of Expenditure, and Additional Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c, for the year ending 30th June, 1908, and recommending appropriations accordingly.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 2nd April, vide page 10126):
.- I think that we are all agreed that the Post and Telegraph Department, embracing as it does telephones and telegraphs, is conducted to the dissatisfaction of the people of Australia, including the members of the Ministry. Every one appears to- be more or less dissatisfied with the management of this most important Department. I believe that we are also more or less agreed that the mismanagement is due to the fact that it is conducted from apolitical and not from a business point of view.. For a very great many years I have held the view that all Government Departments dealing with commerce ought to be managed as nearly as possible on the lines of private enterprise. For a long period the railways of Victoria were under the management of a Minister, and we had great mismanagement. The annual deficit on their working amounted to a most serious sum, and the railways are still in arrears to the extent of, I think, £7,000,000. At last the community resolved to do away with the political management of the railways, and so they were placed under the control of a Board of Commissioners. Fortunately, Victoria secured in its Chief Commissioner a very able man, and the railways are now conducted as nearly as we can ever expect them to be on business lines. A Government enterprise is being conducted by Commissioners on fair business lines.
– Does not the honorable member think that Government enterprise is much better than private enterprise in regard to the making of engines in Victoria?
– No, I think, that it is very much worse.
– That is not what the Commission showed, anyway.
– I was a member of the Commission, and can tell the honorable member that twenty-five engines were withdrawn from the service the other day. When we get the ordinary “ public service stroke” trained official we shall have the ordinary Government bungle.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Post Office should be put under private control ?
– No, I do not go so far as that; but I think we. ought to try to get as nearly as possible to the methods of private enterprise.
– They have had a trial of private enterprise in the United Kingdom.
– I believe that everybody agrees with the view I have expressed. I know that the PostmasterGeneral does, because in the Age of the 10th March, he is reported to have made this statement -
If I were in the position of a private business firm I would be able to double the telephone business done by this Department in a very short time. What I mean is that if I could map out the places where for purely business reasons I would establish new exchanges I would be able to enormously increase our revenue. I am convinced that these new exchanges would pay handsomely.
So that the honorable gentleman is obviously carrying on the Department subject to political exigencies.
– What is to stophim from doing otherwise now, if he so wishes?
– If the honorable member, strong man as he is, occupied the position, and we all went to his office and badgered him, for political purposes, does he mean to say that he could withstand such attacks?
– I cannot plead guilty to the soft impeachment, because I have never applied political pressure to any Department.
– That is not a bit of good, because we are all the same in that regard. All I want to point out to the Committee is that the Minister has admitted that he cannot get away from political pressure; that it is not possible.
– Not the slightest inference of that character can be drawnfrom that remark.
– Perhaps the Minister was not correctly reported ; but, according to the report, what he said is as plain as daylight, and he repeated the statement -
If I were in the position of a private business firm I would be able to double the telephone business done by this Department in a very short time.
– It ought to be explained what he did mean. I did not understand the statement at the time.
– The Minister went on to say -
If I could map out the places where for purely business reasons’ I would establish new exchanges I would be able to enormously increase our revenue.
– Why does he not do it?
– If he cannot do it, he ought to come here and ask for the necessary power.
– That is what? I propose to do.
– The Minister must differ from ordinary human beings if he is able to resist political pressure.
– Would the honorable member permit one of his managers to spend thousands of pounds on one of his stations without asking his consent!?
– No ; my stations are conducted on the ordinary business lines of private enterprise, and I should expect my managers before incurring expenditure to first ask my authority to do so.
– That is what we wish the Postmaster -General to do, and if . he does it he will get the money he requires.
– It is only natural that) honorable members should wish to oblige their constituents. I- know I do, because I wish to see them get what is their due.
– Not to the extent of doing any wrong?
– No; I do not for a moment believe that any member of the Committee would wish that, but we are apt to give our constituents the benefit of the doubt. If the Postmaster-General were faced with the fact that as a business man in managing his Department he would have to sink or swim, according to the success of his enterprise, he would have a very considerable inducement to do what would be likely to make it succeed. He would follow the course he suggests in the quotation I have made from the Age, and would establish these telephone exchanges where they are required and would pay, and not where they would benefit only a handful of people.
– The honorable member does not mean to say that the PostmasterGeneral would be guilty of that kind of thing ?
– I mean to say that the honorable gentleman at the present time feels political pressure, and he has said so plainly and like a rnan.
– I have said that his statement is reported in the Age of the ioth March, 1908.
– Would the honorable member deprive people of the advantage of telephones in districts where they do not pay?
– I admit that if I were conducting the Department as a private enterprise I certainly would, but I do not believe that the Post and Telegraph Department should be run entirely on the lines which would be adopted if it were a private enterprise. I do, however, say that we should follow those lines as closely as possible, and should, as far as possible, eliminate the influence of political pressure.
– Does the honorable member believe that social gossip should be allowed on public telephones?
– That is too deep a question for me. I hope that before long we shall see the management of this Department in the hands of some kind of permanent head. As a business man who has been fairly successful, I make the suggestion that it should put under the management of Commissioners. We should have a Commissioner in charge in each of the States, who might be! the head of the Department in his State. Then I think that the Commissioners should be required to meet once a year at some centre, which need not always be the same, to discuss thoroughly the work of the Department. Their meeting should be held before the Estimates are framed, and each Commissioner should submit the estimates of expenditure required in his State.
– One would require to be in charge of the Department for some little time before he could carry out a reform of that sort.
– I quite sympathize with the Postmaster-General. The honorable gentleman is only human, and I have to admit that he has done very good work indeed since he has been in charge of the Department. No one could have worked harder or better, and I certainly have no wish to attack him in any way. My contention is that it is impossible to satisfactorily and successfully carry on the work of this Department when the responsible head of it is continually changing. That is a defect in the system which I think we should try to remedy. My suggestion as a business man is that we should appoint a Commissioner for each State, that once a year, before the framing of the Estimates, the Commissioners should be Brought together, and that each should be asked to submit his estimate of expenditure required in his State. The Minister would then go through the estimates recommended, and afterwards submit them to Parliament.
– That is practically what is done now.
– What is done now is somewhat different. According to the scheme I propose, each State Commissioner would be a responsible man.
– So is each Deputy PostmasterGeneral.
– I do not think so. Under the present system it appears . to me that the Deputy Postmasters-General have not sufficient responsibility, and have to refer nearly everything to head-quarters.
– They are invested with very extensive powers.
– Then they do not appear to be willing to exercise them. I believe that with a Commissioner in charge in each State, and a meeting of the whole of the Commissioners at least once a year to discuss the whole position, we should secure better management of the affairs of the Department. Under existing conditions every one is dissatisfied ; the Minister admits political pressure, and the Department is in a state of disorganization. One can hardly go near a telephone without becoming nervous.
– The honorable member will admit that even the telephones have improved recently.
– Yes, I think that they are decidedly better than they used to be, and the Minister certainly deserves praise” for his energy. I do not wish to say that the public dissatisfaction in connexion with the telephone service is entirely due to the fault of the telephone operators. 1 never think of accusing a large body of people of being less worthy than any other large class, though perhaps I sometimes use unparliamentary language at the telephone. It is the system that is really to blame, and the fault, in my opinion, is dueto the frequent changes in the responsible head of the Department. I have not Been a member of- the Federal Parliament for very many months, and yet, since I was elected, there have been two PostmastersGeneral. It should not be forgotten that the Post and Telegraph Department is really a commercial department, making a certain charge for the delivery of letters and telegrams. This work is done in a business way in the United States, and I think better than it is done here. 1 should be prepared to assist the PostmasterGeneral and the Government in their endeavour to put this Department on a proper business footing, convinced, as I am, that until that is done it will never give satisfaction to the public.
– I wish to take the earliest opportunity of thanking honorable members for the uniform, kindness and patience that they have exhibited in regard to this very difficult Department during the few months that I have had the honour of presiding over it.
– We have done nothing of the kind. We have been attacking the honorable member at every opportunity.
– I am sorry to hear the interjection, but I do not think it expresses the sentiment of the House.
– Does not the honorable member think that the patience of some is nearly exhausted?
– I . can only say that the patience’ being exhibited here is that which has been exhibited in the British House of- Commons, and in the House of Representatives of America, for many years. The following very remarkable speech was made upon the great central Post Office of Great Britain by Mr. R. W. Hanbury, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury : -
You have got to trust the heads of the Departments,or get new heads. . . .
– Get new heads.
– I trust the Committee will give me fair play. I think I shall be able to show that while there may be difficulties and grievances, they, are recognised, and that every effort is being made to overcome them; that many of the grievances in regard to the officers have been remedied, and more will be remedied in the immediate future ; and that the public have services at charges which will compare more than favorably with similar charges in any other part of the world, America not excluded. Mr. Hanbury continued - and I know no Department where the work is more technical and more complicated than the Post Office. The Treasury work is supposed to be hard tolearn (by the members of the House of Commons working for promotion to the Ministry), but the technicalities of the Post Office is about the most difficult job I ever had, and I do not think a Select Committee would be really able to get to the bottom of this matter.
I might go on quoting the reasons advanced not only by that gentleman, but by the occupants of the position of PostmasterGeneral in the. British Government during the last four years,showing why a Select Committee could not be accepted by the Government, and would not be satisfactory to the people, of Great Britain. I could also show from the latest reports that - although the great American Postal Department, to which the honorable member for Fawkner referred, has been established for over a hundred years - exactly the same charges are being made, and the same difficulties, both . financial and managerial, are presenting themselves. This is the report which has come to hand by the last mail : - .
The particular and striking needs in this immense business institution of the Government are up-to-date business methods, a revised system of bookkeeping permitting the taking of a trial balance.
The honorable member for North Sydney has just submitted a motion, after consulting with myself, . by which we shall endeavour during the coming twelve months to collect as much data as will enable us to present a balance, and. show the profit and loss in connexion with each branch of the Department.
– We have all been at that for some time.
– The honorable member could not have been at it, because he has not been here very long.
– The honorable member will find it in Hansard.
– I hope by the means which- we are. at present adopting to be able when the Estimates, twelve months hence, are presented to give an’ approximate balance, showing the profit and loss in connexion with each of the branches of the Department. Honorable members will see at once that it can only be an approximate estimate, when I say that in many of the offices, not excluding the general post offices, there are men who are for a few minutes at the telephones, a few minutes at the telegraph branch, and a few minutes selling, postage stamps. Their services are divided amongst the various branches. The cost of such services can only be calculated approximately, but at any rate every effort will be put forth to present a statement that will show as nearly as possible the position of each of the branches of the Department under the control of the Postmaster- General.
– It will be a difficult matter to divide up the duties, especially where one man does all the business of an office himself.
– It will be difficult indeed. I had a long conversation with the honorable member for North Sydney, who for businessknowledge is not to be excelled. He admitted frankly that the difficulties presented from a practical point of view were great, and that the statement would have to be only approximate, but he thought that if we could begin on the lines suggested and agreed upon, it might lead to the achievement of a result that every business man in this House desires. With regard to the statement of the honorable member for Fawkner, that I knew a large number of centres where successful and paying telephone exchanges might be established, I say that so long as we attempt to conduct the business of the Post Office by trying to take all capital expenditure out of the year’s revenue, and to do all the work that is necessary in the one year, charging it to the receipts of that year, it will be quite impossible for me to carry out my ideas. No business firm tied up in that way could possibly expand.
– And the country districts are suffering accordingly.
– I think I shall be able to show that the country districts are being granted greater and greater facilities, and that those facilities are being availed of in a most striking way.
– Nothing in comparison with what is being done in the towns and suburbs.
– The towns and suburbs provide the greater part of the revenue from which the expenditure in the country is defrayed.
– The towns and suburbs get their life from the country.
– I cannot enter into an academical discussion as to the relationship of town and country. I recognise that what the honorable member says is perfectly correct, but I have to deal with the matter from a practical business point of view. I must recognise that my great business centre and source of revenue is in the cities and the larger towns, while that revenue, or a very large proportion, of it, is expended in affording additional facilities to the country districts.
– For the most part, the country districts pay their way, do they not?
– No, not by a long way. I shall show that we are losing an additional £10,000 this year on country mail services alone, over and above what we have lost on previous years.
– I thought the honorable member was talking about telephones and telegraphs.
– The same applies in a less degree to telephones.
– The honorable member exacts the 10 per cent, guarantee.
– That guarantee system was not established by me, and is, I think, open to review and reconsideration. I quite realize that there might be a relaxation in that regard, and I will do my best to bring it about. I was about to say that it is quite impossible to take the ordinary capital expenditure - a huge sum such as is necessary - and spend it in the one year out of revenue, and do anything like the progressive and reproductive work that should be done in a new and expanding country likethe Commonwealth.
– The honorable member will have to construct works out of loan money, as the Railway Commissioners do.
– No. I do not propose to detain the Committee by indicating schemes that might be adopted nor those which I will submit at a later stage. I refer to this phase of the question in order to show, in-the first place, that I have given the matter earnest consideration, and secondly, to point out the very great difficulty with which we are confronted in connexion with the Department. It was that which I had in mind when I spoke on the occasion to which my honorable friend the member for Fawkner has referred. I had in mind the fact that there are in States like Queensland a number of centres where the Deputy Postmaster-General could, and would now, if the capital were at his disposal, establish exchanges ; where he could and would establish exchanges, in country districts, on lines that would give farmers telephones at a cost of 10½d. per week, three or four men dividing the cost of the service. But under present conditions we are unable to do this. The Treasurer has made great advances out of the Treasurer’s advance account to enable me to do much of this kind of work, but the resources at our disposal are entirely inadequate to meet the demands of the Department for increased facilities.
– And yet we are returning surplus revenue to the States.
– Quite so; but my honorable friend will admit that the Post and Telegraph Department is not responsible for that arrangement. Let me give as briefly as possible some interesting and telling facts in connexion with this greatDepartment facts which, I venture to think, are not within the knowledge of many honorable members, and of which the public outside certainly know nothing.
– I think that we ought to have a quorum to hear these interesting facts. [Quorum formed.]
– For the first financial year after the establishment of Federation - the year ended 30th June, 1902 - the total revenue of the Department was x2, 372, 861, while for the year ended 30th June, 1907, the revenue amounted to £3,130,034, an increase in five years of £757,173. In other words, there was ari average increase of over £150,000 per annum, notwithstanding that during the five years reductions in charges involving a. loss of revenue of over £100,000 per annum were made by way of concessions to the public of the Commonwealth. For the- financial year ended 30th June, 1902, the ordinary expenditure of the Department was £2, 430^645, while the expenditure on new works and buildings which, under State control, was usually charged to loan funds, but which, under the Commonwealth, is provided out of revenue, amounted to .£37,149, making a total expenditure - including payment of arrears from previous years - of £2,467,794 for the year, or £94)933 in ‘ excess of the revenue receipts. For the financial year ended 30th June, 1907, however, the ordinary expenditure pf the Department was £2,689,990, while the expenditure for new works and buildings which, as I have stated, was provided for under the States’ regime out of loan funds, amounted to £275,783, making a total expenditure for the year of £2j965>773> or £164,261 less than the receipts. In other words, for the financial year ended 30th June, 1902, the total expenditure of the Department exceeded the revenue for the year by £94,933, whereas for the financial year ended 30th June, 1907, the revenue collected exceeded the total expenditure of the Department by no less than. £1:64,261-
– Does that allow for interest on buildings and telegraph lines?
– The revenue collected last year exceeded the total expenditure of the Department by £164,261 - an amount which it is thought would be sufficient to provide practically 3 per cent, interest on the value of the transferred properties, of the Department. It will thus be seen that in a period of five years the Department has bettered its financial position to the extent of £259,194 per annum, notwithstanding a loss of revenue, amounting to over £100,000 per annum, involved in granting to the public many reductions on the charges made when the Department was under State control for postal and telegraph services. That is the position today, notwithstanding also that the expenditure for new works and buildings, amounting for the five .years to no less Shan £877,695, has been defrayed out of revenue, and that an immense amount of additional expenditure has been entailed upon the Department in connexion with Ocean and Inter-State postal services, the Pacific cable guarantee, the granting of additional postal, telegraphic, and telephonic facilities to the public, the consequent growth of expenditure to provide for those additional services and the staff necessary to carry on the Department, and the payment of a higher remuneration to a large bod of officials. The minimum wage provisions of the Act alone have involved in respect of this Department, an additional expenditure in five years, of over £190,000. That was a just provision to make, and it had to be met. It will be seen that the Department has made steady progress from the point of view of revenue; and that although it is providing for new works and buildings out of revenue,- it is earning sufficient at ‘the present time to pay practically 3 per cent, on the transferred properties, valuing those properties at
– It has done this at the expense of efficiency and public convenience.
– I claim, and shall prove, that the Department is just as efficiently conducted, to-day as ever it was, and that public facilities have been increased. I shall show tha’t when classification was made the Public Service Commissioner reported ‘that there were 108 excess officers in the service, and that all the Departments had been, so arranged that ‘they were manned up ito. the strength necessary.
– What does the public say ?
– I must deal with one subject at a time. The public have so availed themselves of the facilities for communication afforded by the Department that the growth of business has been abnormal, and extraordinary steps have been necessary .to cope with it. This has necessitated the employment of a large number of temporary hands, whom we are now making provision to replace by permanent hands, so that sweating may cease, and the provisions of the Public Service Act may be observed.
– Why does the honorable member say that the increase of business has been abnormal? Has it not been natural ?
– I shall not’ stop to define terms. The increase of late ‘has been abnormal in comparison with that of former years.
– The word is a good one to shelter behind.
– At all events, the efforts to cope with the abnormal business might also have been abnormal.
– Extraordinary efforts have been made to cope with it, as I shall show. This Parliament has imposed a uniform charge for metropolitan and country centre telegrams which was a reduction of 3d. on the old Victorian charge, has imposed a uniform charge of od. for telegrams within a State, whereas, in five States, the charge was is., and has made other concessions. The concession in fees for private bags and boxes involved an immediate loss of .£2,500 per annum; the reduction in charges on Inter- State money orders from is. to 6d. per £5. involved an immediate loss of £4,000 per annum ; the reduction in the postage of letters to the United Kingdom, an immediate loss of £9,000 per annum; the abolition of the Inter-State poundage on postal notes, an immediate loss of £500 per annum ; the adoption of uniform terminal and transit charges on cable business, an immediate loss of £1,3,000 per annum; the abolition of charges for the use of certain telephone trunk lines, an immediate loss of £5,000 per annum; the. abolition of cable charges on telegrams to and from Tasmania and the mainland, entailing upon the Department a payment of £5,600 per annum ; and the’ reduction of charges for the use of telephone trunk lines and slot telephones, an immediate loss of £2,000 per annum. A further concession was given to the public under the toll system, whereby business men in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide, can obtain an exclusive service of 1,000 calls per half-year for £5 per annum.
– What was the loss on that ?
– Although there was an immediate loss, there has since been a large increase in the receipts. The result has proved the wisdom of every one of the concessions which I have mentioned to be wise.
– It would have been still better to follow the rational practice of other countries, and apply the toll system universally.
– I have had printed, for the convenience of honorable members, a statement of the concessions granted to the public, and the benefits given to the officers of the Department since Federation, and while there are still many serious grievances to be remedied,- while much overtime has been worked, and leave not granted, a study of this document will show that our public servants are better off than they were under State control, and that the conditions of the public service are better than exist under the regime of any of the States. The reduction of the charge for the use of public telephones from 3d. to id. per call was followed by a great increase of business. In New South Wales the calls increased from 330,000 per annum to 1,245,000 per annum, which gave an increase in revenue of over £1,000. That abnormal increase in business could not be anticipated. There has been a similar increase in the demand for private telephones. I have not time to read to honorable members the mass of detail which I have collected to show how greatly the business of the Department has expanded; but by way of additional illustration, let me say that in 1900 the number of telegrams transmitted in Victoria was 1,818,000, and in 1907 2,491,000, while the revenue increased from £103,000 to £131,000, notwithstanding the reduction in charges. The number of private bags and boxes in use has increased from 996 to 2,370 during the same period. The number of letters, postcards, &c, passing through the post-office for the year 1906 was 530,821,316, our correspondence per capita being now equal to that of Great Britain, and exceeding that of Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, and even of America. As for the circulation of newspapers, the Commonwealth rate is 25.20 per cent., while that of Germany is 23, that of France 36, and that of Holland 41. In 1902-3 the revenue for the Commonwealth was £2,404,730, an increase of 1.34 per cent, on that of the previous year; and next year showed an increase of £105,473, while for the year 1906-7 there is an increase of £304,726, or 10.79 Per centThe expenditure has not increased in the same ratio. In 1902-3 it was £101,052 larger than that of the previous year, while for 1906-7 the increase on the year before was £181,109, or 6.50 per cent. Therefore, while our income increased last year by 10 per cent., our expenditure increased by only 6 per cent. In the Additional Estimates which- will be brought down today, the Treasurer has provided a large sum, so that temporary hands may be replaced by permanent officers. As the revenue of the Department is earned mainly by the personal exertions of its officers, it is reasonable to maintain that any substantial development of the revenue must necessarily be followed by a proportionate addition due to the permanent staff. This has’ npt taken place during the last four years, which accounts largely for the heavy demands now made on the financial year 1907-8. In my opinion, it is essential that the permanent ‘‘Staffs ‘in the several States shall be adequately strengthened to bring their working hours within the statutory limit, to do away as much as possible with the employment of temporary hands, and to allow officers to enjoy the concessions, leave, and other privileges to which- they are entitled under the Public Service Act. t recognise that there has been ground for complaint, especially on the part of telegraphists and sorters; but I have endeavoured to meet the difficulty by the employment of temporary hands, and hope, with the aid of the provision now made by the Treasurer, to appoint a sufficient number of additional permanent hands to get rid of the congestion and trouble. But while we have heard a great many complaints about decentralization and the congestion of work in the Department, I would remind honorable members that the same complaints are being made against the administration of the Imperial Post Office. I ask them to listen to this remarkable speech uttered by Mr. Austin Chamberlain, in April, 1903, when Financial Secretary to the Treasurer and R.epresentative of the Postmaster-General -
In a great administration like this, there must be decentralization, and how difficult it is to decentralize, either in the post-office or the army, when working under constant examination in question and answer in this House, no honorable member who has not had experience of official life can easily realize. But there must be decentralization, because every little petty matter cannot be dealt with by the PostmasterGeneral or the Permanent Secretary to the Post Office. Their attention should be reserved in the main for large questions, and i think it is deplorable - absolutely deplorable - that so much of their time should be occupied, as under the present crcumstances it necessarily is occupied, with matters of very small detail.
– Why not decentralize the administration?,
– Do honorable members not recognise that the very actions they take themselves prevent decentralization ?
– Not at all.
– Every question asked, every return called for, every inquiry made about a lost letter, every demand for extra postmen, means centralization in its very worst form.
– We are obliged to come here because we cannot get the information that we want in the States.
– But powers have been delegated to the Deputy PostmastersGeneral over and over again.
– They refuse to use those powers.
– They refuse to recognise their responsibilities, or they offer a sort of passive resistance.
– Why does, the Minister not make the Deputy Postmasters-General use those powers?
– Why does the Minister not sack them?
– Because I have not the power to do so.
– Do I understand that the Deputy Postmasters-General do not exercise the powers that have been delegated to them?
– I do not think that they have exercised to the full all the powers that have been delegated to them.
– They are afraid to do so.
– And I am afraid that many of the instructions issued to the Deputy Postmasters-General are not always properly understood, or have been very sadly misinterpreted. A concrete example recently came under my notice. My attention was directed to the fact that sweating of a gross character was being carried out in connexion with contracts for the supply of clothing, and so forth, to the Department in Tasmania. I communicated with the State authorities, and made’ personal investigation, which satisfied me that the allegations were based on fact.
– What State authorities ?
– I communicated with members of Parliament and referred to the minutes of evidence given before a Royal Commission. I then issued, an order, which, I think, honorable members will regard as reasonable and fair, that in every contract there was to be a clause that in those States where there are Wages Boards and Arbitration Courts the findings of these tribunals must be acted on in the matter of wages.
– What is wanted is a living wage.
– That will be provided for in the future if the clause to which I am referring is inserted. The order went on to say that in States where there are no Wages Boards or Arbitration Courts, the wages are to be based on those in the nearest State, where there are such tribunals; that is to say, the wages in Tasmania will be based on the Victorian decisions, and the wages in Queensland on the New South Wales decisions. This was dealt with in one of the States in a way that would have caused endless trouble had the error not been detected by the central office. However, let me proceed with the speech of the representative of the British PostmasterGeneral
Their attention should be reserved in the main for large questions, and I think it is deplorable - absolutely deplorable- that so much of their time should be- occupied, as under the present circumstances it necessarily is occupied, . with matters of very small detail, because these ‘ matters of detail are asked by honorable members, and because we do not feel an honorable member will accept an answer from ‘any one but the highest authority. I think a third of the time - I am putting it at a low estimate - of the highest officials in the post-office is occupied in answering questions raised by members of this House, and in providing me with information in order that I may be in a position to answer the inquiries addressed to me concerning matters which, in any private business, would be dealt with by the officer on the spot, without appeal or consideration unless grievous cause were shown.
The honorable member went on to say that he had had an estimate made of the time taken up in preparing returns and’ answers to questions for members of the House of Commons, and to point out that much of the overtime might have been avoided during the last twelve months, but for the preparation of what he considered unnecessary information’.
– And. similar conditions prevail here, I suppose?
– To a very large extent. Of course, honorable members are quite within their rights in asking, questions, and in moving for returns ; but it must be remembered that every question asked of the central administration, that could be answered bv the Deputy PostmastersGeneral, means centralization, and much extra work for. the already overworked employes.
– We are obliged to come to the central office, because the Deputy Postmasters-General dare not report against the administration.
– How can the information be obtained from the Deputy PostmastersGeneral ?
– By letter or by personal interview.
– But if they refuse to answer questions?
– If they refuse to answer questions on matters within their control, they are not obeying instructions. I have done my best, following in the footsteps of my predecessor, to promote decentralization.
– I have done my best to obtain information through the Deputy Postmasters’-General, and have failed.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral found any contumacious disregard of his instructions by the Deputy PostmastersGeneral ?
– Certainly not ; I should not like to go so far as to say that, but in many instances, I’ have felt that I have not had that cordial co-operation which I had a right to expect, although I fully recognise the difficulties of their position. .
– Then the PostmasterGeneral is at fault in not seeing that he has proper co-operation and loyalty.
– There is a cooperation which is easy to define, but there is also a want of it that is very difficult to describe. I am glad to say, however, that a better spirit has been evinced of late; and efforts are being made to extend the principle of decentralization.
– I desire to be very clear . as to whether there has been on the part of the Deputy Postmasters-General any disregard of the instructions from the head office?
– Ap.pa.rent disregard? No; but there seems to have been at times a misinterpretation and misunderstanding of orders which is very hard to explain.
– Does the PostmasterGeneral think that there is a sullen indifference to instructions ?
– A” sullen indifference ?
– Certainly not. As the Deputy Postmasters-General arrives at a better understanding of what the central office really requires, I think that even any semblance of passive resistance will pass away.
– If there is any passive resistance, they are flouting their orders.
– I am satisfied that any difficulties might have been considerably reduced had there been from the inception that cordial feeling and co-operation that there ought to lae on the part of the heads and. senior officers in all the States.
– It is a. serious charge the Minister is making.
– I am making 1,0 charge.
– The whole Department must be disorganized.
– That is not so. As I said before, matters are improving, and, as the Deputy Postmasters-General, and the senior officers in the various States, fully appreciate the responsibilities delegated to them, the machinery will work with satisfaction to both the service and the public.
– And how much time does the Postmaster-General think will be required to effect this improvement?
– I think matters are improving every day.
– After seven years of Federation the Postmaster- General is complaining !
– The improvement should be carried out in a day.
– When we remember that, at the inauguration of Federation, six different Departments on six different systems - Departments absolutely unknown to one another - had to be brought into line, the wonder is that, not that there has been, any misunderstanding, but that we have -an organization as complete as that of to-day.
– Not one of the six Deputy Postmasters-General were in office when Federation was inaugurated.
– Frequent changing of principal .officers only makes the position more difficult.
– Not so; it should make the position easier, seeing that these Deputy Postmasters-General did not carry on the old systems.
– But they were brought up under the old systems, and are timid and nervous. I believe, however, that when they thoroughly appreciate the powers delegated to them, there will be a cessation of the complaints we have heard to-day from honorable members. I make no charge. I believe that the vast majority of the officers are loyal and satisfied ; that a large number have made many sacrifices without complaint in order to meet the abnormal Conditions, and that there will no longer be a feeling that they are either timid or nervous.
– What makes them “timid and nervous”?
– Last night the honorable member for Maranoa introduced to me a postal officer, who presented ‘to me conditions which I shall take steps to change.
– Has the Minister taken steps ?
– Yes, this morning. I admit that a minority have had, at times, to work abnormally long hours on given days, and under conditions that ought not to prevail. I . am sure, however, that, when the Additional Estimates are passed, and temporary hands are. replaced by permanent hands, and overtime that cannot be made up in time off is paid for, especially in New South Wales, much of the dissatisfaction will disappear. I have issued orders from time to time that casual employes, doing skilled work, shall be paid prevailing outside rates, and I have laid before the Public Service Commissioner anomalies which I think should be removed. I could give a great deal more information did time permit. I may say that the Cabinet Committee has undertaken a thoroughly comprehensive inquiry which will afford ample opportunity for the presentation of all grievances. Public servants from the highest to the lowest will be able to meet the Committee face to face, and, without fear, frankly present their cases.
– Is it intended that the Committee shall visit the different States?
– The full Committee?
– That I do not know it will depend on circumstances.
– If the full Committee travel over all the States, we might consider whether we could not permanently do without them in the House.
– It does not follow that all the States will be visited, or that all the members of the. Committee will travel. New South Wales, which, so far as this Department is concerned, is the most progressive, is a storm centre as it were; and special attention will be given to the public requirements, and all complaints by the public servants there. The Committee will inquire into the policy of decentralization, and the degree to which it may be extended with advantage ; the staffing of the Department, and the relationship of the Department and its officers; the present pressing needs of the Department in regard to expenditure; the difficulties of the Department in regard to the carrying out of. its public works, including minor alterations to buildings and so forth; the present practice and future policy of the Department in connexion with applications for the extension of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services in country districts, and particularly in remote and sparselypopulated parts of the Commonwealth; and the future management and financing of the Department.
– That sounds like a GovernorGeneral’s speech !
– I am afraid that whatever I do, I shall not succeed in satisfying the honorable member. I am conscious of having made many concessions and given many advantages. I have relieved many anomalies under extreme difficulties - difficulties of. which honorable members who have not been associated with the De partment have not the slightest idea. More than that, I claim that, given time, it will be clearly demonstrated that the Department is by no means disorganized. It is, however, only human, and capable of improvement, and I am satisfied that both the public and members of this Parliament will be satisfied. I feel it to be my duty, before resuming my seat, to bear testimony to the work - the value of which cannot be estimated by the salary paid - done by the administrative officers of the” Department. Mr. Scott, the Permanent Head, and Mr. Oxenham, the second administrative officer, have done their very best, to meet difficulties that have, occurred, and to carry out the wishes of honorable members as far as those wishes could be met within reason.
– Is not centralization at the bottom of all the trouble?
– I think not.
– What does the honorable member mean by carrying out the wishes of members of Parliament?
– So far as they are right; and that is a proper thing to do. Decentralization is advisable to some extent, and that policy will be extended as far as it is possible to do so with advantage to the Department. I have now under consideration a scheme for doing away with a quantity of the centralized work, whilst at the same time keeping a hold on all the details by means of the central administration.
– What does the honorable gentleman think of the criticism of the honorable member for Fawkner with regard to private enterprise?
– In my opening remarks I pointed out that many of the methods of private enterprise cannot be our ideal in the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department. The methods and objects of private enterprise and thoseof a service which is conducted for the advantage of the people of this country, are entirelyifferent things.
– The Postmaster-General has now had his opportunity of making a statement. I think” we may sum it up by saying that he has admitted that the service is in a deplorable condition. His remarks went to prove that we could not expect anything better under the present administration.
– I said just the opposite.
– The Minister has spoken of the corruption existing in America, and said that that was a system in which private enterprise had been at work. There may be corruption and there may be inefficiency in America, but as to our service, the trouble is that the. Department is administered by a man who has had no experience whatever in postal affairs, but who thinks he is going to revolutionize this service. The Minister said, “ I will do this,” and “I will do that.”
– I said nothing about corruption in America.
– The Minister did, and he has it in writing. He said that it could not be coped with by means of a Select Committee.
– The Select Committee reference applied to Great Britain.
– The Minister’s idea of remedying the trouble in the Post Office is to run about from suburb to suburb inquiring into sweating in small offices. He has done that in Melbourne, and I suppose he will do the same in Sydney. To strengthen his hands he has gained the assistance of the honorable, member for North Sydney, who is to go into the matter with him,’ and who is to obtain approximate returns as to how the various branches of the Department pay. ‘ Imagine a responsible Minister going to a member of the Opposition and asking him to come in and investigate the Department !
– The Minister did not say that. His remark was in connexion with some returns which the Government offered to supply.
– The Minister said that he was going to look into these matters with the honorable member for North Sydney, and that there would be approximate returns to show how the several branches paid, and as to whether they were managed’ or mismanaged. That is the act of an incompetent. It is the act of a man who does not know his business. It is the act of a .man in despair, who wants to do something and does not know how to go about it. If the Minis1ter really wished to’ bring about decentralization, he would propose to put the Department under the control of Commissioners, who would see to the proper organization of it. The Chief Commissioner should be an expert. This is a Depart- ment that requires an expert at the head of affairs. The great source of trouble arose at the beginning of the Federation. Each Minister wanted to have his departmental head brought from his own State. The’ Postmaster-General in the first Government brought down from Brisbane a gentleman, Mr. Scott - a most estimable man personally - who had spent most of his life in a very small and inefficient service, although a growing one. He was placed at the head of a service commanding six States, including the great service of New South Wales, which is estimated by the Minister to be the most progressive of all the States in regard to postal matters.
– It was like putting a suburban shopkeeper in control of Foy and Gibson’s.
– It was putting an inexperienced man in control of an establishment at least six times as great as that of the State from which he came. The second in command of the Post Office comes from the same State - a most estimable gentleman also, though his proper place is not at the head of this service. We want a man from the United States or from England,- who could teach our people something, and who would be possessed of organizing capacity. We want a man who has grown up in a very large service, amongst big men.
– How would such a man know our local conditions?
– The Minister’s idea of “local conditions’” is that every postal service in Australia should be made to pay. He said that more money is lost in the country places than in the cities.
– What are the English conditions which the honorable member would desire to see introduced here?
– The honorable member can make his own speech when I have done. The Minister, as I have said, desires that every country service shall be made to pay. Good gracious ! How can a country like ours be built up unless we are prepared to spend money in it?
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– It is only by the expenditure of capital that a young country can be developed. ‘The Minister expects to be able to go into the wilds of Australia, open up the country, and make each particular service pay. ‘ That is the sort of tin-pot policy that is in operation under him, and it isthe cause of the failure of the whole service. It cannot be expected that a great service like the Post and Telegraph Department will pay from end to end. If the Minister tries to make it pay in every direction, there must be inefficiency. As to the classification of officers, there is no’ man in the service competent to classify them at all. The Public Service Commissioner is a most estimable gentleman, and’ an able, conscientious man. But he knows’ absolutely nothing about the postal service. He makes appointments upon the recommendations of other gentlemen who have had no experience. They themselves get an inkling from inspectors, who make reports. Upon those reports recommendations are made.
– Not always.
– In many cases the reports of these inspectors are initialled, sent forward, and confirmed by the head of the Department. So that it is a case of one incompetent person recommending an appointment to another incompetent person. Ultimately the Postmaster-General makes his recommendation to the Public Service Commissioner, and it is confirmed. There is incompetence from beginning to end. People who have had no experience in large affairs, and no experience in telephonic and telegraphic business, are put in charge. The whole system is conducted on a handtomouth basis. The service is full of derelicts. There are men in it in charge of important offices who cannot send a telegraphic message - men drawing large salaries, ton.
– That must be in New South Wales.
-In every State in the Union.
– The honorable member does not know.
-We know our own State.
– The honorable member cannot know unless he has been in the service.
– How long has the honorable member been out of the service ?
– I have obtained my information from men in the service, and have investigated some of the cases for myself. I know that my statements are true.
– Where is the necessity fur the head of a large office to be able to send a message?
– Unless an administrative officer understands the whole business, he cannot properly control the officers under him, nor will they have a proper respect for him. The honorable member for Fawkner has suggested that the Department should be managed by Commissioners. That means placing the whole administration in commission. A number of public services has been placed in commission, and in not one instance has the experiment, so far as administration is concerned, been a failure.
– What about the administration of the Victorian Railwavs?
– That service is under the control of a Board of Commissioners.
– But is it satisfactory?
– I believe that the railways of this State are worked to the extent of thousands a year more cheaply than used to.be the case, and, what is more, before they were placed in commission the Government had piled up an enormous debt on which the service was called upon to pay interest. A parallel case is furnished by New South Wales. When its railways were placed in commission the Government said, “ A certain sum should be ear-marked on which no interest shall be paid, because it was frittered away.” The same remark applies to Victoria, and I dare say to some extent to other States. What we want is a municipalization of the Post and Telegraph service. Where are those who are socialistic rather than Socialists? They profess to be in favour of municipalizing public services. Here is an opportunity to their hand. Let them . incorporate the Post and Telegraph Department and put at its head men who understand the business, and call upon them to make it pay.
– And give them£1, 000,000 to plav with.
– For the sake of their reputation they would endeavour to make the service pay, and, as the honorable member for Daliey suggests, a million pounds of the money which has been frittered away should be struck off the capital so that the service would only be called upon to pay interest on a legitimate debt from the beginning and not on an enormous debt which has accumulated through the wasting of public funds. The Postmaster-General says that he knows of places where, if a telephone servicewere established, it would pay from the outset. Why does he not establish a service in those places ?
– Where is the revenue to come from?
– Is there disintegration in the Ministry itself? If Ministers know of a system by which they can make a service pay, are they so much at variance with each other as to withhold from the Postmaster-General the funds which would enable him to do so?
Mr.Hume Cook. - But if we have not the funds we cannot help withholding them.
– The Government have at their command any sum which may be required up to one-fourth of the revenue . from Customs and Excise duties. During the last seven years there has been returned to the States£5,000,000 which
Could- have been used for a legitimate purpose.
– Not if the Government had paid the interest on the values of the transferred properties.
– The Government should have paid the interest on the values of those properties, but even then they would have had an immense sum aggregating millions which might have been used for a legitimate and reproductive purpose. Although the Minister knows or has been advised that such is the case, not a move has yet been made in that direction. He simply says that he has’ been unable to move, because the Treasurer would not provide him with the necessary funds. Surely he is’ an independent . man, and could have told his colleague that he must have the funds. It was his duty to make the Department pay, and he should have told the Prime Minister that if ‘the money were not placed at his disposal he must decline to be at the head of a service which was ruining itself by extravagance and incompetence, and simply because he was unable to establish services which would pay, as against those which could not be expected to pay. If we had a strong man at the head of ‘the Department the position would be very different, but while we have at its head a man who will knuckle under, and go on bended knee as soon as he is spoken to by some one higher in authority, we shall have nothing done. An independent man with some administrative capacity, and with the desire to do something for his country, and to make the service over which he presides a success, would be firm, and get what he wanted from the Treasurer, and what is more he would very soon come to the front as a man of some ability. The Postmaster-General, has stated that he intends to go in for decentralization. That result would be obtained if the service were municipalized. Let it be placed in commission, and then we should have complete decentralization, and men who could be spoken to and would be respon: sible for making their departments pay, just as the water, railway, and other municipalized services pay. Every officer in a subordinate position would, on showing merit, be brought to the front, and those who were not fitted for their positions would be retired, as many of ‘them should be. The heads who are expected to teach the juveniles in the services would be called upon to understand their duties, or else they would be cashiered. There should be a commission to inquire into the question of buildings. Of late the buildings have been more adapted to the work for which they are required. But if we had a system by which the architecture for the different classes of offices might be regulated the present difficulty would be overcome. That is a matter rather of detail than otherwise. The policy which the Minister is going to adopt is a continuation of the present policy, notwithstanding all its defects, with the addition of what he calls decentralization If the same evil should prevail under a system of decentralization the position would be no better than it is. The Minister has stated that every Deputy PostmasterGeneral has power to act, but that he will not. . This is a matter on which I suppose the Minister could have a few words to say. He has the authority to say that these officers must exercise their power, and that to that extent there should be decentralization. But it appears that he is unable to act. He is advised that he should not act, and, what, is more, he says that when somebody told him that he ought to dismiss the officers in question, he said, “ No.” When he was reminded that Parliament would not countenance their inaction, he said, “ No, Parliament would have the present system1,.” What an idea to express ! If Parliament were of my way of thinking it would demand an immediate change, and the Minister who would not enforce itswill would not be retained here for ten minutes. He would have to act, and see that his officers did their duty, or call upon the proper authority to find a competent man to fill the leading position in each State. At some time, I suppose, we shall have an opportunity to consider my proposal to place the Post and Telegraph Department in commission. If the Labour Party be true to its policy it must support the municipalization of the service, as it is a part of their programme. In other places, I recommended this change long before I entered this Parliament. I shall see that the members of the Labour Party have an opportunity of casting a vote on the question at some future time.
.- For two reasons, I do not intend at this juncture to enter into an elaborate review of the conditions which exist in the Post and Telegraph Department. My first reason for adopting that attitude is that, although the service - owing to very rapid extension which has been found necessary in some States - is not as complete as it might have been, still I think that an effort is being made to meet the great public necessities. My second reason for not desiring to review the position very extensively this morning is the Minister’s statement in regard to the possibilities of the Committee of the Cabinet. T think he must recognise that his admission that the appointment of a Cabinet Committee has been found necessary to review the administration of his Department, is certainly a heavy denunciation of the conditions existing therein.
– But one member of the Cabinet Committee had occupied the position previously.
– I understand not. Had a previous Postmaster-General, who happens to be in the Ministry, been placed on the Committee, very likely the assistance which he would have been able to render to his colleagues might have been valuable.
– Put the Minister of Trade and Customs on the Committee, since he has not much to do.
– In all probability the members of the Cabinet Committee will find that a great deal of work must be done before they can understand the position of affairs, and undertake the responsibility of advising the Government how to remove some of the undoubted disabilities under which the public suffer. The admission made by the Postmaster-General in regard to the possibility of the Cabinet Committee being engaged upon the inquiry for a very long time, undoubtedly suggests the reflection that it would have been more satisfactory to the service generally, even though the inquiry might have occupied a little longer time, toappoint a Select Committee of this House, which could have entered thoroughly, and more independently, into various questions. If the Cabinet Committee are going to effectively consider the many objections and complaints which have been levelled against the Department, and which are being nursed by honorable members, that inquiry must make a serious inroad upon the time which they ought to devote to the administration of their own Departments. All the statements which the Minister can obtain from PostmastersGeneral on the other side of the world in regard to the difficulty of administering, a Department of this kind, will not convince honorable members that things are not in an unsatisfactory state here. At the same time, I do not enter into the general condemnation which some honorable members have made of the present condition of the Federal service. In my judgment, thepeople of Western Australia, for instance, have benefited very considerably from the federalization of the Postal and Telegraphic Departments. I believe that they are now getting many services which they would not have been able to secure withouta large expenditure of borrowed money if the Department had remained under State control. Although I disagree with the regulation requiring a guarantee in regard to certain telephones, and regret the system of playing fast and loose with the regulation after it had been approved of by this House, still I think that a considerable effort is being made to meet country necessities in regard to these conveniences. I strenuously object to the strict enforcement of this provision in the case of applications from country districts when, in the case of applications from metropolitan and suburban districts, it is relaxed or entirely abolished as it was in the case of the Melbourne- Sydney telephone,which has not realized the anticipations formed in connexion with it. We can hope to do very little good in discussing these Estimates when ten months of the financial year have passed, and when we have an opportunity to discuss Estimates in the ordinary way, * a*
I shall have something more to say on this subject.
– I have committed to writing the opinion that the inspectors almost invariably under-estimate the revenue likely to be received from country offices.
– I am glad ‘that the Minister is talcing that view of the matter, because in a State of magnificent distances like Western Australia, it is found, very difficult to convince an unsympathetic official that mining camps are likely to be permanent. Many offices that have been secured only as the result of persistent hammering away by parliamentary representatives have been found to give very much more satisfactory returns than were estimated by the inspectors who reported upon the applications. There are one or two matters affecting Western Australian officers of the Department that I should like to bring under notice. This is the first occasion on which I have referred to such matters in this House, although I am not going to say that I have not frequently had occasion to bring the position of officers under the notice of the Department. I have studiously avoided taking up the time of Parliament with the grievances of public servants until it has been demonstrated that they will not be remedied by application to their Departments. I wish to say that Western Australian officers are not receiving the treatment which I think they are entitled to receive, and I again bring under notice the position of officers located in outside districts.- There are stations in Western Australia so far removed from any large centre of population that the cost of living ‘is abnormally high. Generally speaking, the cost of living is very much higher in Western Australia than in any of the other States. The only State in which it can be said to be nearly as high is Queensland. Officers stationed in outside places in Western Australia, do not receive the consideration in the matter of living allowances which they should receive at the hands of the Department.
– The honorable member will allow me to say that the Department has no control whatever over the matter referred to. The Public Service Commissioner fixes all allowances.
– That makes it only the more necessary that we should have some expression of opinion from the Minister as to the view he takes of what I believe to” be the excessive exercise of authority by the Public Service Commissioner. As members of Parliament we are debarred from approaching the Public Service Commissioner in such a matta, but this House should not be debarred from having the last say in connexion with any matter affecting the public servants under the control of this Parliament. I am not prepared to say that the control of the Public Service through the Commissioner has been altogether unsatisfactory, but I do say -that there should be such a review of his powers as would enable the responsible Minister and’ Parliament to be supreme in a matter of this kind.
– That would be returning to the old system of political patronage.
– No, it would not. I am not in favour of a .reversion to the conditions existing prior to Federation in connexion with the management of the Public Service in many of the States. But, while giving the Public Service Commissioner all reasonable authority, there should be a point at which Ministers and Parliament might interfere to do justice -when it is demonstrated that a real grievance exists, and is not remedied.
– If the Public Service Commissioner will not do justice, he should not be where he is.
– I say that, in my opinion, under the rule of the Public Service Commissioner injustice has been done to many officers of this Department in Western Australia. The cost of living in Western Australia ms not higher now than it was five or six years ago, and yet for five or six years the Public Service Commissioner insisted that the conditions of living were the same in Perth as in Melbourne. Ultimately he visited Perth, and on his return to Melbourne made a recommendation that an allowance of 5 per cent, should be given to officers in Perth and the surrounding districts on the ground that the conditions in Perth were not the same as those in Melbourne, or generally in the Eastern States. Any man who resides in Western Australia must be aware that there are many circumstances which make the cost of living in that State very much higher than it is in Melbourne, and certainly 5 per cent, does not represent the difference. The Public Service Commissioner admitted the facts after five years, and recommended an extra allowance. But the injustice to which I refer is found in the fact, first, that it was delayed five years, and, second* that whilst the Public Service Commissioner has recommended this extra allowance on the ground that the cost of living in Perth is higher than in Melbourne he has made no provision in the case of outside districts in Western Australia to cover the extra cost of living in those districts as compared with the cost of living in Perth.
– Are the officers referred to getting less than they did in the service of the State?
– The Western Australian officers as a body have not had their, position improved as a result of Federal control. I am not prepared to. say that they are worse off than they were under the State Government, but I am prepared to say that their position has not been improved, and that they have received less under Federation than have officers in the other States. I should like to ask the Minister whether, seeing that it is admitted that officers in Perth are entitled to an extra allowance of 5 per cent, as compared with officers in Melbourne, he does not think that, in all fairness the officers on the gold-fields in Western Australia should not receive some extra allowance to cover the extra cost of living in those districts as compared with the cost of living in Perth ?
– My personal opinion is decidedly in accordance with what the honorable member has said, but I have no say in the matter. Personally, I believe that the conditions with which public officers in remote parts of Australia have to contend should be recognised in as liberal way as possible.
– I am glad to hear that expression of opinion from the Minister. I shall take another opportunity of suggesting a means of overcoming the difficulty to which I have referred should the Public Service Commissioner adhere to his’ present decision. Having received such an assurance from the Minister, I cannot reasonably ask for more.
– It is only fair that I should say that the Public Service Commissioner, at a function held on Saturday night, explained .that he had made his basis the conditions existing all over the Commonwealth, and that he felt that in giving 5 per cent, extra allowance to officers in Perth and the same in Kalgoorlie, he was doing all that could reasonably be expected.
– The trouble is that he is not giving the extra 5 per cent, allowance to officers at Kalgoorlie; because the officers at Kalgoorlie always had what is called a Gold-fields Allowance as a recognition of the difference in the conditions existing in Kalgoorlie as compared with Perth. The Public Service Commissioner has given- officials, in Perth a 5 per cent, allowance on the ground that the cost of living is 5 per cent, dearer there than it is in Melbourne; he has not added the same extra allowance to those previously enjoyed by officers at Kalgoorlie.
– The honorable member contends that the difference in the cost of living between Kalgoorlie and Melbourne is 10 per cent.
– Yes, it is 20 per’ cent, and more.
– An independent authority recently estimated it at 17^ per cent.
– That authority has not treated too liberally the position of those who have to live in Kalgoorlie.
– That calculation appeared in an article in an English newspaper, dealing with the cost of ‘ living in Australia.
– Would the ‘ honorable member- give an increase all round in consequence of the increased cost of living due to the Tariff?
– We alL. have’ our own opinions about the probable effect of the Tariff. I accept the assurance of the Minister that he believes in the justice of the case which I have been putting. I cannot do anything further now, but- will make an effort as soon as convenient to take other means of achieving what I want. Another important matter to which I wish to direct the Minister’s attention- is the provision denying civil rights under certain conditions to officers of the Commonwealth. A man employed in the Public Service should be entitled to exercise his civil functions in common with every other citizen. The Minister, who claims to hold democratic views, must hold that that embargo should be removed. When a man has given his services to his country for the number of hours for which he is engaged, no other obligation should be thrown upon him. He should be as free as any other man is when he’ leaves his work to do as he thinks advisable during the hours of his recreation. He should be allowed unconditional civil rights.
– The Labour Party would not allow him to abuse them.
– He can abuse the Labour Party if he likes, but Commonwealth officers as a whole, I am sure, recognise more merit in the programme of the Labour Party than in the programme of any other party.
– Still, the honorable member’s party would not allow civil servants to abuse them.
– We are prepared to’ give them absolute freedom in the way of civil rights. If they conduct themselves as decent citizens, as they are sure to do, we shall find no fault with any objections which they take to our programme.
– It is unreasonable to propose to let them abuse their own chiefs and their own Departments. I do not believe in any member of a Department criticising his Department outside.
– So long as public servants do not disclose the confidential business of their Departments - and I am sure that their sense of right and honour would prevent them from doing anything of that kind - they should have absolute freedom as citizens.
– Men in private employment are not allowed to criticise their own employers or firms.
– They are allowed to express their political views. In fact, I have known many men in private employment to point out the difficulties and disabilities to which private employers subject those who work for them.
Sitting suspendedfrom 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– The Minister might well bring under the notice of the Public Service Commissioner the allowances granted to mail carriers and the question of promoting officers who have been for a considerable time in one grade. Another point worthy of consideration is whether an arrangement should not be made with the Railway Departments of theStates for a concession to officers stationed inland, so that they may enjoy their limited holidays by the seaside. There are in Western Australia many districts so far inland that an officer stationed there would have to pay £20 in respect of coach and train fares for his wife and himself to the coast. I dare say that there are many officers similarly situated in other States. I understand that State employes are franked over the railways when on leave.
– The railway employes are granted free passes.
– And I think that a special concession is made to all members of the State Public Service. For the sake of the health of our officers in the inland districts, we should endeavour to arrange for concession tickets to be granted them when on leave. Another question of great importance is whether the Government are prepared to arrange a scheme of compensation in respect of the dependents of public servants killed in the execution of their duty. On the closing day of last session we had submitted to us the Officers’ Compensation Bill, in which a few isolated cases are dealt with, according to no fixed rule.
– The honorable member contends that we needa fixed scheme?
– We certainly need a fixed scheme of compensation.
– At present the granting of compensation in such cases depends upon the mere whim of Parliament.
– That is so, and very often deserving cases are overlooked. A few days ago I brought under the notice of the Postmaster- General a case to which he has promised to give his favorable consideration. But under the present system many cases that ought to receive generous treatment must necessarily be missed. In Western Australia, under a State Act, the dependents of a man killed in a mine or in a timber mill or other works are entitled to £400 compensation, but the question of whether or not that Act applies to State servants has not yet been determined. There is no such law in regard to officers of the Commonwealth service. It is generally conceded that a scheme of compensation such as I’ have suggested is urgently needed, and the Government would do well to take it in hand. This is the first occasion on which I have felt it necessary to place grievances of this kind before the Committee; but there are occasions when publicity must be given to such matters. I admit that the Minister and his officers have given a good deal of consideration to some of these suggestions, but the House itself must take action if the dissatisfaction in the service is to be removed, and fuller consideration given to the requirements of the public.
– A discussion on the Estimates rarely has the desired effect, but since a Committee of the Cabinet has been appointed to inquire into the working of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department I propose to bring forward two or three matters which ought to be ventilated. I join issue with some honorable members who speak rather harshly of the present administration of the Department. The present PostmasterGeneral, so far as Tasmania generally is concerned, has done more to decentralize the work of the Department than- did all his predecessors. That being my experience, I think it only fair to mention it. The present system in regard to the extension of the telephone service into outlying districts is also a decided improvement upon that which was in vogue a few months “ago. There is, however, a great deal more to be done. The trouble relating to the Department at. present arises largely from the centralization of the work in Melbourne. It is said that efforts are being made to decentralize it, but I intend presently to’ cite a case which clearly shows that, despite all efforts in that direction, the protests of local officers are overridden by the Central Administration and by the Public Service Commissioner. ‘ From time( tq time questions have been put in this House with regard to the promotion of Mr. E. A. Blakney, an officer in the Hobart General Post Office. The Postmaster-“ General has laid on the table the whole of the papers r-elating to the case, and- 1 invite honorable members to read the correspondence, most of which is in the name of Mr. Betheras. If they do, they will find that the Commissioner has deliberately disregarded the recommendations of the Deputy Postmaster- General and the Deputy Inspector in Tasmania. Mr. Blakney, a junior officer, was promoted from one grade to another over a number of officers who were his seniors. So far as I have been able to gather from the recommendations of the Postmaster-General and the Deputy Inspector in Tasmania, Mr. Blakney is a thoroughly deserving officer ; the correspondence shows that even those over whom he has been promoted have not a word to say against him. Two clerks are employed at the counter of the Hobart General Post Office, and the Deputy Postmaster-General recommended them for preferment. It was decided that one of the two clerks should be promoted to another class, and when it was suggested that Blakney should be chosen for promotion, Mr. Bichard, the Deputy Inspector in Tasmania, telegraphed to the Public Service Commissioner -
I recommend only such officers, Customs Department and Postmaster-General’s Department, as report on 28th February last. Re vacancy class 4 will have to be settled. E. A. Blakney or G. T. Creswell I do not consider entitled - will probably be other officer.
That was the report of the- inspector in charge to whom the Commissioner is supposed to look for suggestions in regard to promotions in the service in Tasmania. To that telegram Mr. McLachlan replied -
The Public Service Commissioner certifies that there is no officer available, senior to the one above-named, as capable’ of satisfactorily performing the duties of the position.
In the office at the time there were several senior officers who had already discharged those duties. I come now to a further telegram from the Deputy Inspector to the Public Service Commissioner -
Notwithstanding that report, Mr. Blakney, was appointed to the position. I come now to a protest made by the officers over whom he was promoted. In their petition they say -
He was not the “ senior competent officer,” but was junior to twenty-five officers in the Clerical Division - as indicated by the list hereto attached - and also junior to twelve officers who are in the- General Division, and who retained clerical status when classified.
It was further pointed out that the services of any one of those officers were available. The petitioners show that’ the procedure followed in the States was entirely at variance from that usually followed in the office, and they “go on to say -
That the promotion, of Mr. Blakney to the same position, but with a higher classification, gives him a better status than is held by us who hitherto have been his seniors, and some of whom have for years discharged the very same duties.
I know of my personal knowledge that the incident has created intense dissatisfaction; not only in Hobart, but throughput the Tasmanian service, there being officers in Launceston, senior to Mr. Blakney, who have been doing similar work, whose claims were not taken into consideration. The Public Service Commissioner can know nothing of the individual ‘ capacity, of the great bulk of trie officers of the “ service, and yet, in this case, he promoted a man over the heads of his seniors, in -spite of the protests of the Deputy PostmasterGeneral and Deputy Inspector for Tasmania. It is idle to think that officers will give the attention to their duties which is expected from them if they are permitted to feel that the recommendations of those above them, who alone are competent -to judge of their fitness and energy, will be disregarded by Mr. Betheras and the Commissioner, sitting in Melbourne. There could not be a more glaring instance of the abuse of centralization than that to which I am calling attention. At the present time there is a general complaint against the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, and Ministers have made a mistake in appointing a Cabinet Committee to investigate them. Neither Parliament nor the country will be satisfied with that investigation, and I suggest to the Minister that it would be well to allow the appointment of a Committee such as that of which notice has been given.
– Are there not enough Select Committees?
– This is surely a case in which a thoroughly impartial Committee should do good work.
– If a Select Committee were appointed, every public servant possessing a grievance would want to come before it.
– I am suggesting the appointment of a Committee to investigate the general administration of the Department. I think that such a Committed would not be antagonistic to the Minister or to the Government, and that if an inquiry were made by representative men from the different States, their recommendations would strengthen the hands of the Postmaster-General in carrying out reforms. I believe that he is, to the best of his ability, honestly attempting to improve matters. The Government must not think that the appointment of a Cabinet Committee will satisfy the community.
– Wecannot expect to do that unless we effect the necessary reforms ; but we think that we can make many changes which would benefit both the public and the service.
– Why have an inquiry? Why not trust theMinister?
– Any inquiry would do good ; but I think that a Committee such as I suggest would be more effective than that proposed. I urge the Minister not to allow red tape and officialdom to stand in the way of that muchneeded reform, decentralization. The feeling of Parliament is such that any official who stands in its way should know that he does so at his own risk. I have had brought under my notice startling cases of the evils of the red-tape system. There have been instances in which it has taken from 100 to 150 days to answer an inquiry which a business firm would answer in a few. hours.
– It takes from six weeks to two months to obtain a reply from the Post and Telegraph Department.
– The honorable member for Hunter last session read a reply received from the Department in answer to a letter hehad written 186 days before. Some years ago, when I suggested a certain change, it was seven or eight months before I received a reply, and the lady concerned had been some five months out of office before the matter was inquired into.
– The honorable member for Yarra was promised, five years ago, a return which he has not yet got.
– Every village in the Commonwealth has a post-office.
– A good thing, too.
– I think so. One of the best ways in which the Commonwealth can help its people, and give an incentive to settlement in the back-blocks, is to increase the facilities for communication with outlying places, and the expense should not be criticised too closely. The complaints coming in with regard to the administration of all these offices flood the central office, and it is preposterous to expect a few men there to deal with them. It is wonderful that a system under which the postal, telegraphic, . and telephonic concerns of all Australia - from Capricornia to Tasmania, and from the eastern States to Western Australia - have to be dealt with by a few officers in Melbourne, did not break down much earlier. . Until we have absolute decentralization we shall not get the results which we have a right to expect from our expenditure on the Department of the Postmaster-General.
.- It is usual for members, when departmental. Estimates are under review, to lay before the Minister concerned any grievances in connexion with his administration, and the need for reform. This, however, is not an opportune time to deal with the many complaints against the. Department of the Postmaster-General. Most of the money covered by these Estimates has already been voted, and one who does not wish to be unfair to the Department cannot discuss its administration until the Additional Estimates have been brought down, and it is known what steps the Government propose to remedy the defects of the present system. I give the Postmaster-General credit for an earnest desire to bring about reforms, though I do not regard the appointment of the Cabinet Committee of investigation as likely to meet the public demand for information, or to do justice to the service. Undoubtedly the Cabinet Committee will do some good, but I suggest that all the information that is necessary could be found by them in their old official reports. As a matter of fact, I do .not see how the appointment of such a Committee is likely to bring about the desired results. We have been told by the Postmaster-General that he will pursue the investigation in Sydney, but he does not say tha’t tha whole of the Committee will sit together at all times. If it be a fact that the Committee in Sydney will be represented by the Postmaster-General and the Secretary, I may take it that the appointment of the other two members, is practically a make-believe. However, that is another matter, the discussion of which I shall postpone to a later period. The PostmasterGeneral quoted authorities this morning to show what he called the folly of attempting to investigate postal administration by means of a Select Committee or a Royal Commission ; but I hope to be able to give evidence later that such investigations are actually being pursued in Great Britain with much advantage to the service and the public. The speech delivered by the Postmaster- General to-day is full of information; and I desire to peruse it before I deal in detail with the question of postal reform,, so that I may be in no danger of misquoting or misrepresenting him.’ I, therefore, merely give a general indication of my attitude, pending the opportunity to move for the appointment of a Royal Commission.
.- The honorable member for Gwydir has suggested the proper course t’o be pursued on the present occasion with reference to the Estimates for this Department. The PostmasterGeneral himself has admitted all the weaknesses to which we have been drawing attention during the last two years.
– I admit that there are weaknesses which ought to be removed.
– By questions day by day, and by speeches on Supply, these weaknesses in the administration have been placed before the country ; and to-day we have had the amusing spectacle of a Minister rushing in early in the debate to explain matters, thus showing that hostile criticism was anticipated. The usual custom is for a Minister to wait until most honorable members have dealt with the Estimates of his Department, but to-day the Postmaster-General early applied a lubricant to the overheated bearings. I have no intention of making an attack ‘on the honorable gentleman, who has been only five months in office, while the weaknesses in the administration have been growing ever since the inauguration of Federation. There have been many changes in the political head of this Department, and each Minister has “been desirous of bringing about popular reforms, so as to prove himself indispensable as an administrator. In the old pre-Federal days it used to be said that “ the. fool of the family “ was invariably sent by the Cabinet to administer the Post and Telegraph Department; but that cannot be sa.’d of the present Minister. The only thing that can be said is that the present Government have placed Hie Minister with the biggest halo in the position of PostmasterGeneral ; but St. Samuel tries to do too many things, and sometimes, I think, he rather oversteps the bounds that ought to be observed by a gentleman in his position. We know that, with that humanity which distinguishes him, he is anxious that all sweating and other evils should be abolished, and, though he may be able to visit some suburban post-offices, he cannot visit every office in Australia. The Postmaster-General ought to have under him officers able to detect and rectify weaknesses ; a Minister has quite enough . to do if he moulds the policy of his Department, and sees that it is carried out. It is not the duty of a Postmaster-General or any other Minister to exercise the functions of an inspector ; he is not trained to such work, or, if he be fully qualified as an inspector, he is not in his proper place as Minister. I know, however, that the Postmaster-General is besieged with invitations to pay visits to various places, and feels that he cannot refuse them. Not desiring to have even a dint in his halo, he is most anxious to gratify every request ; but that is not the position a Postmaster-General should occupy. The cry for centralization ‘ has grown up during the last four- or five years. In the early days of Federation, those who clamoured for decentralization were small in number; but to-day nearly every honorable member is in favour of the .principle.
The Postmaster- General’s admissions and the document he read to-day proved that the whole Department is, in his own words, in a state of hopeless muddle; and there could be no severer condemnation. He reminds me of Stephen Blackmore in Dickens’ Hard Times, who thought that all the world was a muddle.
– I scarcely think that is correct.
– At any rate, I think that I am practically correct. Even if the PostmasterGeneral had Napoleonic ideas and powers of organization, he could scarcely have touched the fringe of the work necessary, during the five months he has been in power. The Postmaster-General has called to his aid two colleagues to form a Committee of Inquiry, and I guarantee that it took him some little time to so overcome his jealousy as a Minister to seek’ for this assistance. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will ever be jealous as to the administration of his Department, and not allow any interference; because it is his place to devise a progressive policy, and to see that it is carried out. This Department is the biggest spending Department of the Commonwealth, being responsible for some £3,000,000 per annum.
– It is practically the only earning Department.
– Quite so; and, with wise administration, it could be made a greater earning Department. I hope before long to see the Post and Telegraph Department in the hands of Commissioners, just as is the administration of most of the Australian railways. Of course, there must be a political head, but, at the same time, I am of the strong opinion that the Department ought to be administered by Commissioners. The Department, according to all accounts, is in a very similar position to that of the Australian Railways Departments before Commissioners were appointed ; and my suggestion would in no way undermine the position of the Postmaster-General, but rather strengthen it. In the case of the railways in Victoria and New South Wales, a lump sum, of, I believe, £1,000,000 per month is voted to the Commissioners, who are responsible for the smooth running of the machine. I hope the remarks I made previously were not taken in a personal sense by the Postmaster-General.
– The only interjection to which I might object is that in which Judkins was mentioned.
– What has Judkins to do with the Postal Department?
– How can we keep an irrepressible man like Judkins out of anything? As a matter of fact, Judkins wears a halo which is many sizes too large for the Postmaster-General; and I see the danger of too much Judkins’ influence in the Department. It is absurd to observe in the newspapers that the PostmasterGeneral has been visiting suburban offices for the purpose of inquiring into some weakness in the local business arrangements. That is no work for a Minister of the Crown ; and I am sure thatthe Treasurer, for instance, would leave his officers to report before taking any action. I can understand the humane object of the Postmaster-General, who is anxious for the welfare of the employes in his Department. The Postmaster-General can easily exceed his duty in looking after the welfare of the people under his charge. If he uses his mental faculties in devising an uptodate scheme for remedying the weaknesses that he has admitted, he will justify himself. I have one or two grievances which I wish to bring under the notice of the honorable gentleman. The first case is that of a contractor in New South Wales who undertook some construction work for the Department. He found that he could not obtain the timber that he required on a certain day, and he therefore telegraphed to his workmen in Sydney not to come up country. The telegram was not delivered. The officer who received it did not advise the contractor that, there being a public holiday in Sydney, the message could not be delivered. The consequence was that this contractor had to pay £7 for travelling expenses for his workmen from Sydney to Tamworth. He applied to the Department for a refund. They admitted that they were wrong, but the only redress they would make was to return him the9d. which he paid for the telegram. They refused to recoup him for his out-of-pocket expenditure. Of course, they sheltered themselves behind the provision that in accepting a telegram the Department takes no responsibility. That is quite right in the ordinary course of things ; but surely when a contractor is put to expenditure because the Department does not advise him that it will be impossible to deliver a telegram they ought to recoup him for the loss thereby occasioned. The second case which I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister in this : An official in a subordinate position in the central office, Sydney, was the subject of a complaintby a fellow-officer. He was suspended, and an inquiry was made into the allegations. The result was that the complaint was not upheld, the suspension was removed, and the officer was exonerated. He is a very old officer of the Department, and does not occupy a highlypaid position. In fact, he is employed in the stables. He was put to the expense of engaging a legal representative to appear before the Board of Inquiry, and this cost him £7 7s. Application has been made to recoup him the expenditure to which he was put, but the Department has refused to entertain the claim. I think it is a fair one, inasmuch as the charge against him was not sustained. Not being a man with a glib tongue, he did not feel competent to defend himself, and therefore was compelled to employ a legal representative. The Postmaster -General might make a note of the case with a view of seeing that the officer receives fair treatment. Another matter which I desire to mention is the regulation issued by the Department in New South Wales granting officers leave on St. Patrick’s day. I do not care “ a tinker’s continental “ whether St. Patrick’s Day, St. Andrew’s Day, St. David’s Day, St. George’s Day, or St. Kangaroo’s Day is celebrated. The latter would appeal to me as an Australian most of all. It is about time Australia had a saint of her own, and St. Kangaroo would do just about as well as St. Patrick, St. David, or St. George. As a matter of fact, they are all myths.
– Oh !
– The right honorable member for Swan is sufficiently well read to know that what I am saying is correct. The myths may be very pleasant, but that does not alter the fact. The point that I wish to make is that I see no reason why officers should be given leave on St. Patrick’s day - especially in New South Wales, where there is not a procession - when those who belong to the military forces are not allowed time off to devote themselves to military duties. Some of them have been refused leave except on the payment of substitutes.
– I have altered that.
– The Minister must have altered it within the last week, then.
– Within the last few hours.
– It would be very interesting to know how much this granting of leave on the 17th March cost the Department.
– The officers should be allowed off on public holidays.
– St. Patrick’s Day is not a proclaimed holiday in New South Wales.
– I knew nothing about the matter personally.
– The New South Wales officers, however, knew enough to ask for the same holiday, as they were aware that the Victorian’ officers were getting. It certainly is not in accordance with what ought to be that officers should be allowed off on St. Patrick’s Day, whilst others are not permitted, without expense to themselves to attend to what the Prime Minister calls the duties of full citizenship. I do not wish to deal with the Estimates generally. The PostmasterGeneral has had sufficient astuteness to recognise and admit the deficiencies in his Department. I hope that the Cabinet Committee will do good. I am not very fond of Select Committees myself, as honorable members know. I hope to see the PostmasterGeneral become, not the humane “ St. Samivel,” but a commercial PostmasterGeneral, fully seized of the importance of a sound policy, which will make more money for the Department and at the same time give an improved service to the public.
– The Department cannot, apparently, keep pace with the demands made upon it.
– The methods are too antiquated.
– It is a question of pounds, shillings, and pence.
– No, it is a question of antiquated administration. The PostmasterGeneral admitted thathimself when he said that, whilst Deputy PostmastersGeneral were permitted by the regulations to do certain things, they shirked their responsibilities and sent matters on to the central office. That is the reason, he said, why the central staff is clogged with business. That is an admission that the Deputy PostmastersGeneral have been neglecting the observance of the regulations, and intensifying the harmful policy of centralization. I am one of those who believe that if the Postmaster-General of the Commonwealth -devotes himself to matters of policy he will be the most hard-worked memberof the Ministry. I have had two personal interviewswith Postmasters-General in their office, once when the honorable member for Coolgardie occupied that position, and once during the regime of Mr. Sydney Smith, formerly member for Macquarie. On each occasion I saw the Minister with a pile of papers in front of him. I thought it was a case of “ dressing the shop window “ to give the appearance of having an enormous amount of work to do. When these gentlemen tried to convince me that they went through all those papers, and examined before signing them, I could hardly believe it. But still, if the PostmasterGeneral does his duty, and is desirous of making his Department up-to-date, so as to meet the growing requirements of the Commonwealth, he must necessarily be a very hard- worked man. I shall not detain the Committee further. I do not even intend to use the Additional Estimates for the purpose of making observations relative to the administration of the Department. I intend, as far as I can, to give fair play to the Cabinet Committee. I hope that good will result from their work. I trust that the final result will be to put the Department under the management of Commissioners. No honorable member who has belonged to a Select Committee or a Royal Commission can have failed to observe how easy it is for those in authority to befog any number of men who are inquiring into departmental management. It is too much to expect that departmental officers will allow a Committee to find out who is exactly responsible for anything that goes wrong. All that I can hope is that the Committee will find a means of clearing up various grievances, and will formulate an up-to-date scheme for the improvement of the Post and Telegraph service. The Minister is fortunate in being able to get his Estimates through, as it appears that he will do. It shows the advantage of using the oil-can before the friction is revealed.
– I feel, as previous speakers have done, that it is not desirable to take up the time of the Committee with the discussion of the details of the Postmaster-General’s Estimates. But, as the representative ofa country district, I am smarting on account of the want of action of the Department in coping with demands for new construction. It appears that the Department has been rather starved. It is admitted that the demands upon it have been abnormal, especially in New South Wales.
– Hear, hear.
– I fail to see how it is possible to keep pace with such a growth of business unless the Department is furnished with plenty of money. People are naturally dissatisfied, and have overwhelmed honorable members with complaints about the deficiencies of the service. Week in and week out, we have been urged to get this or that new telephone constructed. In the northem districts of New South Wales,we have been reduced to such a position, in regard to want of facilities for coping with the growingbusiness, that people have had to pay double rates to get telegrams through at all. We have also been called upon to wait for three or four hours if we did not care to pay the double rates. In view of the fact that every facility is given to the people in the cities, who have so many more facilities than have country folks, is it fair that the people in the country should be’ treated in the manner I have described? Sometimes I have felt inclined to blame the Postmaster-. General, but after hearing many explanations, I am willing to attribute most of the blame to the want of money. I hope that in connexion with the Additional Estimates a very vigorous construction policy will be foreshadowed, and I for one will be only too willing to vote in the direction of vastly increasing the amount to be spent by the Post and Telegraph Department. I look at this matter from a business standpoint. If we go into the work effectively and provide the facilities, the construction has only to be done once, and it may be improved upon at a. later period. Although we may feel the burden a little heavy for the time being, yet in future years we shall reap a benefit. Let me cite a case to illustrate the slowness in the provision of facilities in the country. A few months ago the residents of a district in my electorate asked for the erection of a telephone wire between Uralla and Ar midale, which are only twenty odd miles apart, and were told by the Department that it would cost some thousands of pounds. That seemed to me an absurd over-estimate in view of the fact that the poles were already erected, and that it was proposed to erect the wire along a railway line. There must be bungling of an unpardonable character in the Department when that sort of thing can happen.
– I believe that the tendency is to over-estimate the cost, and to under-estimate the income- in all the country cases.
– That is the tendency, I think.
– It is time that we got that admission from the Minister.
– That is what I minuted.
– Again, the PostmasterGeneral has admitted that a very large number of temporary hands have been employed. There seems to be an injustice going on in the Department. The employes consider it is an injustice, and are squirming under it. I refer to the fact that men: are placed in offices temporarily, but are not given the salaries attached thereto. I hope that that practice will be abandoned. If a man does the work of an office, it is very hard that he should not get the remuneration attached thereto. If a man does a clay’s work as a miner, he gets a miner’s pay, and that practice obtains in most directions under private enterprise. I am not one of those who would advocate the methods of private enterprise up to the hilt in running this Department. I regard post offices, telephones, telegraphs, and railways as facilities that create other sources of revenue. I hope that the Post and Telegraph Department will not be starved in order to run it on a paying basis. Efficiency is what we require, even if it should cost a little more than we now pay. The people who are served with those facilities are only too willing to contribute by taxation in other ways towards their up-keep.
– We cannot have efficiency , if we employ 19,000 men for six months, and at the end of that period replace them with other men, who have to learn to do the work.
– I trust that as far as possible the system of giving temporary employment will be knocked on the head, in order to remedy the injustice which is now done. I find that this curious Department is so mismanaged that it allows telegraph repairers to finance their own expenses when sent abroad to do its work. Fancy a man who is drawing £2 or £3 a week being sent off on an expedition in connexion with which, perhaps, £10 or £12 out-of-pocket’ expenses will have to be defrayed straight away. I know of one case where the man in charge of the office was empowered to advance the money on account, and to charge it, but I know of another instance where a telegraph repairer was not granted a solitary penny. These cases suggest to my mind a very lax method of administration. I do not know whether to lay the blame upon the head Department in Melbourne or upon the branch Department in New South Wales. I am very much inclined to believe that the trouble originates with the local administration. Another evil method from which we are suffering is the undermanning of country post-offices. In the country districts the business has expanded so rapidly that the Department has not enlarged the staffs in order to meet the local requirements, and, therefore, the people are suffering in a wholesale way. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to consider whether it would not be better to slightly overman the country offices.
– Of course, the honorable member, is acquainted with the routine through which I have to go before 1 can appoint even an assistant?
– I admit that it is a very circumlocutory method, but surely a quicker one could be devised. From what I can glean, there is a ridiculous want, of organization in the General Post Office at Sydney, and it is necessary to place at its head a strong man, who will see that justice is done to the employes. I recognise that the employes occupy most important positions. Whether they are on the lowest, the middle, or the top rung of the ladder, they should be treated as important servants of the State, and not as slaves. There is too great a tendency right through the Public Service to ignore the rights of the employes, and to sweat them. Let us properly finance the Department so that it can expedite its business a little more than it does, give additional facilities to those who go far out as pioneers to wrestle with all kinds of bad conditions, and treat the employes a little better than men are treated under private enterprise.
.- I admit that the Postmaster-General has made some herculean efforts to grapple with a very rapidly increasing business, but it roust be the common experience of honorable members, especially of those who represent country districts, that, so far, the Department has not succeeded in coping satisfactory with the demands of the people. I would urge upon the Minister the necessity of pushing on more speedily with the country services. It has been advanced, I think very effectively, by the honorable member for Coolgardie, that one of the most potent means in the future to improve the conditions of country life will be a telephone line to almost every household. Under the present departmental methods, there is no reasonable chance of that service being provided with anything like the rapidity with which it should bedone. I was very pleased to hear the Minister announce that he intended to reduce the 10 per cent. guarantee demanded from groups of people who apply for a telephone service in a country district. I hope that that exorbitant charge will be reduced very considerably. Judging from my own correspondence, and from interviews with the officers and the Minister, I believe that the Department is anxious to give greater postal facilities in the remote country districts. But, so far, my experience has been that too great a desire has been shown by the Department to establish those facilities on commercial principles. I have noticed a disposition on the part of officers to inflate the cost of construction and to underestimate the probable revenue.
– I am trying, as the honorable member knows, to get a cheaper kind of line constructed in the country districts.
– That is correct. In my opinion, these services are rightly conducted by a State Department, and the great advantage which the whole community should derive from that method is that they can employ the financial strength of the State to assist, for developmental purposes, the remoter districts throughout the Continent. That should be recognised as the principal advantage which the whole community can reap from the existence of a State Department to provide postal, telegraph, and telephone services. I hope that the Minister will initiate a system under which the Department can grant post-offices in pioneer districts on easier terms than at present, that he will provide for a reduction of the 10 per cent. guarantee demanded from country districts prior to the erection of telephone lines ; and that he will endeavour to get the money with which to proceed more rapidly with the works. The Treasurer should be prepared to provide the money which is necessary for an expanding Department of this description. In America, I understand, about 5 per cent. of the (population are connected with the telephone as against 1 per cent. in Australia, showing that we are very much behind in that regard. I admit that in America, with its very large population, it is much easier to grant telephone facilities on a commercial basis than it is in a sparsely settled country like Australia.
– In America, the charges are higher than our charges.
– We should lead the way a little. We should not lookto America or any other country, but we should be prepared to formulate a forward policy. I do not know of any direction in which the State might with more advantage pursue a progressive policy than in this important Department. One of the first facilities which should be granted to a coun- tr y district is a postal service, and the next essential convenience is a telephone service. I hope that if the Postmaster-General has not sufficient money with which to carry out various necessary works to give adequate facilities in country districts, he will appeal successfully to the Treasurer to grant him what he needs.
– We shall have to appeal to Parliament.
.- It is very satisfactory to hear from the honorable member for Wimmera andothers some testimony to the efficiency of the Post and’ Telegraph, Department. This testimony somewhat counter-balances the attacks made in the press, and which have found echo here in projected motions of inquiry into the management of the Department. The first thing that strikes one about these complaints is that considerable encouragement to make them has come from the rich metropolitan newspapers. Something in the nature of a standing invitation is offered the public to find fault with the Post Office. If we inquire why that should be so, we discover that before the Commonwealth took over the Post and Telegraph Department tons of newspapers were carried free by post. This gratuitous service was a very good thing for these wealthy newspapers, whose proprietors thus received an enormous subsidy from the public Treasury. It would be unnatural to expect persons deprived of so considerable an advantage to be’ other than disaffected towards the power responsible for wrenching it from them. On theother hand, we know that the Federal management of post and telegraph business has resulted in very substantial concessions to the general public. A few years ago it cost 3s. to send a message of ten words by telegraph from Western Australia to Victoria. Now the community enjoys the privilege of sending throughout the Commonwealth a message of sixteen words for is. Many other advantages have been conferred on the public, and these were only possible because the Department withdrew the heavy subsidy obtained by wealthy newspaper proprietors. There is, therefore, some reason why these gentry should squeal a little when they contrast the sombre present with their rosy past. However, after discounting much that is said against the Department’s methods, there is a residuum of reasonable and justifiable dissatisfaction. We should not be blind! to the fact that the functions of the Post Office have rapidly expanded during recent years, and that there is naturally some difficulty in keeping pace with the increasing demands of the public. But, reverting for a moment to the newspaper agitation against the Department, another reason may be added to account for this journalistic hostility. The Postmaster-General very properly desired! some time ago that those who made use of the telephone system should pay according to the use they made , of it. It is a sound principle to which no man, whether Socialist or individualist, could object - that those who enjoy advantages should pay in accordance with the measure of the advantage they enjoy. I am sorry to say that the Department has not had the courage to carry out this reform as fully as it’ should have done. It confines the regulation in respect of toll, telephones to those applying for new services. I think that’ the principle should be applied all round”, and that establishments which make frequent use of the telephone should pay according to the facilities afforded to them. The Government appears to have been intimidated ‘ by the clamour raised by the metropolitan press in the interest of a small class. Are Ministers going to be content with a system which compels the general taxpayer to make good the shortage of revenue due to the wealthy few enjoying telephonic services for which they d’o not adequately pay? Let us hope not. They should have the backbone to insist on a uniform method, and such a scale of payment as will save, those unable to afford the luxury of a telephone from the injustice of being taxed to- pay for the supply of this convenience to the opulent class and to rich trading corporations. These people should not be permitted to shift their burdens on to the masses, because the latter cannot command the . influence of powerful newspapers. Surely the commercial element has already scored sufficiently at the expense of the community in our outlay on the ocean mail service, and on the Sydney to Melbourne telephone line. We could well afford to dispense with the expensive contract which the Government has entered into for the carriage of oversea mails. All important business being now done by cable, a huge subsidy for the oversea carriage of mail matter is really unnecessary. Mails could be. sent by poundage, which for all practical purposes would serve us as well as the present expensive contract. In the establishment of the Sydney-Melbourne telephone -line the Government have incurred a very large ex- .penditure which would better have been devoted to extending telegraphic and telephonic facilities in the country districts. I am at one with the honorable members for Wimmera, New England, and others who have referred to the neglect of country districts as compared with the attention given to the requirements of large centres of population. If it is complained the country services do not pay, th Postmaster-General should let us have a balance-sheet showing the financial results of the Sydney-Melbourne telephone. He can have no interest in concealing the true position of that work. Many honorable members believe, as I do, that it is an unnecessary duplication, conceived and carried out in the interests of a few traders ; and that whatever revenue is earned by this telephone is more than counterbalanced by the decrease in the telegraphic receipts. I should like to know whether the Government intend to go on with; their proposal to establish penny postage in the Commonwealth.
– Does the honorable member think that” they do?
– I do not. I think tha’t! the present Postmaster-General has too much sense to father a scheme of that kind.
– It is not my baby.
– If that Bill becomes law, we shall have no money at all for extending the facilities of the Department to country districts. The Government will consult its’ own as well as the interests of the country, by dropping that measure from the paper. I urge, as other honorable members have done, the adoption of a more liberal policy with regard to country districts, a policy which will not hesitate to take a little risk.’ When the post and telegraph business was under the control’ of the States, Governments showed more enterprise. For instance, in Western Australia the telegraph surveyor followed up the prospector with great promptitude. That is the proper policy to pursue in a Department on which the rapid settlement of the country so largely depends. Such a policy is in strong contrast to the hesitating attitude taken, for instance, in regard to the line to Black Range, in my electorate. There the Government refused to move until the town was firmly established, and it became obvious that a line would pay its way. The PostmasterGeneral being a great opponent of sweating, I should like to direct his attention to the sweating, ‘that goes on in connexion with small-allowance offices in remote parts of Australia. I Bring under the notice of the honorable gentleman the case of a man who in six months received 2,079 letters, and despatched 1,908, handling altogether 3,987 letters in that time. This was apart from the newspaper receipts. The revenue of this postoffice for the period mentioned was £18 13s. 3d., and despite that fact the man in charge is paid only £12 per annum. He supplies his own building, and performs all the labour necessary in connexion with the office for the magnificent sum of £12 per annum.
– What are the receipts?
– Apart from the newspaper business, the receipts would amount to nearly £40 per annum, I admit that this office is stationed in a very remote centre, and that it costs a good deal of money to carry a. mail there. I .mention it as a typical case, illustrative of the premeditated parsimony of the Department in its allowances to postmasters in these outlying places. Another matter about which! 1 have to complain is the difficulty of getting telephones in country districts. Much as has been said, I do not think that the Department has constructed more than 250 or 300 miles of telegraph and telephone lines within my electorate, despite the rapid increase of settlement and population. This is a serious matter. Complaint must also be made of the same denial of money order facilities to new townshipsThe reason given is the absence of a bank, and the necessity of getting an escort to protect the money in transmission to the nearest town possessing a bank. That seems to me .altogether insufficient. I know of one place where nearly too adult miners have to send some 15 miles for a money- order to their wives and families. That should not be. These men must go into the township themselves or intrust their money to some one else, and in such cases money has often been lost. Where there is an allowance office, and a reliable person in charge, the Government . might strain a point, and permit the issue pf money orders and postal notes, as well as of stamps. I should have a good deal more’ to say but. that I understand there is some arrangement about putting the Estimates through to-day, and that we shall have another opportunity at a later stage of discussing the policy of the Department.
.- I quite agree that, since Federation, the Postal Department has been conducted much more to the benefit of the public of Australia than previously, and that the postal employes have enjoyed on the whole better conditions than under the State authorities. At the same time there seems to be a great amount of discontent on the part both of the public and the employes. The view-point of the public has been fairly stated here to-day, and my purpose in rising is to say a few words on behalf of some of the employes. In October of last year I brought up here the case of the retiring allowance of a retired postman named E. J. Dyer. He was a letter-carrier of Newtown, Sydney, and his claim had been hanging fire from the 28th September, ‘ 1905. He ‘was entitled to a month’s salary for each year of service prior to the State Act of 1895. That is the view of the legal authorities of the Commonwealth. In some cases that rate of payment has been made, but in this and several others a stoppage has occurred. Payment at the rate of a fortnight for each year of service prior to 1895 has been made, but the balance of the money has been in dispute. When we were dealing with the case before, I suggested to the Postmaster-General that, as the Commonwealth authorities were quite certain that they were acting within the law in paying the maximum amount pf a month’s pay for each year of service, the Commonwealth might, if the State authorities were the objecting parties, pay the amount and deduct it from the balances returnable to the States. The PostmasterGeneral said then that it was impossible to do that. My investigations at th« Treasury since then have shown me thai it could be done; and, as a matter of fact, has been done in some cases.
– I stated then what I had been informed by the Crown Law authorities.
– The practice was continued until the State authorities took steps to bring a case before the High Court. That case has been pending for about eighteen months. It seems peculiar that the Commonwealth authorities should , leave it in the power of tiu State people, to whose advantage it. was for the case not to be heard, to let the matter lie dormant. During the last eighteen months a large number of other people’s cases,1 including the constitutional question in regard to the new Excise, have been heard and decided by the High Court, whereas this particular case, affecting the rights of the humble employes of the Postal Department, has been allowed to stand aside. If it had been the case of some wealthy merchant like Mr. H. V. McKay, of the Sunshine Harvester Works, or if some other big interests had been at stake, they would have been able to bring sufficient influence to bear to have their cases heard and to push the authorities along; but because it happens to -involve only a few small letter-carriers scattered throughout the different’ States, with not much influence and very little money to hurry anything along, this case has been allowed to drop.
– Did this Government do that?
– Yes, this Government has clone it, and the right honorable member, when he was Treasurer, promised to see these postal employes paid. The Postmaster-General has surely heard “sufficient of these claims for retiring allowances to be able to make some definite pronouncement to-day. I admit that the State authorities are largely blocking the matter. The Commonwealth should not allow that. At the same time, the postal employes who are suffering this disability ‘ ought to thoroughly understand that it is the .State authorities, and not so much the Federal authorities, who are preventing them from securing the rights given to them under the Federal Constitution. This is a question, not of State rights, but of the Federal rights of postal employes being blocked by the State authorities. In August. 1905, the Commonwealth Treasurer decided to pay the maximum amount in these cases, based on their services as permanent employes. In July, 1906, the Federal AttorneyGeneral recommended that the amounts should not be paid pending the decision in the case which the State had instituted against the Commonwealth in respect to the payment of the .maximum amounts. To show how the State authorities are endeavouring to block the matter, I desire to quote the following significant paragraph from a. letter from the New South Wales Attorney-General’s Department^ dated nth July, 1906 -
I have to add that in view of the fact mentioned in previous letters from this Department that it has been decided to test the legality of ‘ the action of the Commonwealth Government in paying gratuities at the higher rate in cases of this kind, it is presumed that payment at such rate will not be made pending a settlement of the matter.
That shows distinctly that’ it is the State authorities who are suggesting that these letter-carriers and other employes entitled to retiring allowances should not receive them pending the decision of the case in the High Court, which is to come on for hearing presumably at their own sweet will. When the House met “after the Christmas adjournment, I noticed that the leader of the Opposition was very solicitous for certain postal employes, and was father concerned that he had not been invited to the picnics and demonstrations of the postal employes, whilst members .from other, sections pf the House, notably from the Labour corner, were being invited. I expect that the postal employes now recognise in which quarter of the House their friends are to be found, and are consequently inviting them to their functions and pouring their grievances into the ears of those who are sympathetic with their troubles. According to Hansard, No. 61, of this session, page 8822, the right honorable gentleman said -
But when officers are necessary they should be treated on a high standard of fair-minded liberality. I am afraid there are hundreds and hundreds of men in the Post and Telegraph Department who are not treated in that way - whose salaries are insufficient. I know of one man of twenty years’ service who is in charge of an important branch, and has no black mark against him, whose salary is ^160 per year.
That is a startling discovery for the right honorable gentleman tq make. As compared with a number of less fortunate employes, that man’s circumstances are happy. I could give the right honorablegentleman cases’ of letter carriers, with no black marks against them, getting far less. I may mention that of H. Cooper, assistant letter carrier at Petersham - particulars will be found in the Commonwealth
Gazette, No. 23. page 126 - with twenty years’ service, and a salary of. £110 a year. Compare that case with the one brought forward by the leader of the Opposition. In that man’s grade, there are 179 on the same level as himself,, and it will be impossible for him under the present system to rise above £110 a year for about seventeen years, although he has already had twenty years’ service. Another case is that of W. R. Morrisey, assistant letter carrier at the Sydney General Post Office. He has a most important beat, he has had seventeen years’ service, and his salary is £110 a year. Particulars will be found in the Commonwealth Gazette, No. 35> Page 60. These are not isolated cases. These employes have no possible hope of promotion under the present grading system. A salary of £110 a year ought to be the minimum, and employes with long service ought to lie given an opportunity of rising to a maximum of, say, £156 a vear. I should like to place the position and prospects of these letter carriers before the PostmasterGeneral and the House. They are divided into three grades. The lowest is that of assistant letter carrier, and then come grade 1 and grade 2. Those in grade 2 are eligible in turn for promotion to the position of sorter. Under the grading system, it has been decided that one-third of the letter carriers shall lae in each of the three grades. In the assistant’s grade, there are at present, in New South- Wales, 1:81 employes at £[,0 per annum. They receive no increments. In grade 1, there are 179 employes, receiving salaries of from £114 to £126 per annum: In that grade there are payable two increments of J£6 per year. In grade 2, there are 179 employes, whose salaries range from £132 to £138 per annum, in that grade one increment of £6 being payable. Promotion occurs from those pos/ tions to the position of sorter. The average rate of promotion since the introduction of the grading system has been twelve per year, so there is very little hope for the great bulk, of these men to obtain promotion. . It would take fifteen years, at the rate of twelve promotions per year, for all those in the top grade to make progress. The average service in that grade is seventeen years. The average rate of promotion in grade 1 has also been twelve per year, and it would take fifteen years for all those in the grade to receive promotion. The average service in That instance is four teen years. In the assistant grade, with twelve promotions per year, it would take fifteen years before the last of the 181 employes could receive promotion, and so obtain over £110 per annum. They would then rise to £114 per annum. It would be seventeen years before they could reach £126 per annum, and thirty-two years before they could reach £132 per annum. The average length of service in that grade is ten years. In competition with letter carriers in the top grade for vacant positions as sorters are forty-one senior assistants at from £132 to £138 per annum. In competition with the letter carriers in the second grade for promotion there are fifteen senior assistants at from £120 to £126 per annum, and sixteen mail drivers at from £114 to £126 per annum. In competition with the lowest grade there are 630. general assistants seeking positions in the next grade -of letter carriers. I think that the Postmaster-General ought to be in a position to grant some relief.
– I have no- control over the matter. The question is one for the Public Service Commissioner, whose Department is under the Minister of Home Affairs.
– It will be seen from the statements I have made that it is impossible for these letter carriers to improve their position, At least one-third of them can never hope to obtain a salary of more than £110 pex annum. The term “assistant letter carrier” is a misnomer. We have three grades, all doing the same work, although ‘ varying salaries are paid.
– I think that the honorable member will find that the Public Service Commissioner is proposing some change in that regard.
– I hope that the Commissioner will give consideration to the facts that I am now putting before the Committee. Why should some letter carriers be condemned to receive for all time a salary of only £110 per annum, whilst others can work up to £138 per annum. Annual increments should, in my opinion, be substituted for the grading system, and all letter carriers should have an opportunity to rise to a maximum of £156 per annum. Such a wage would enable them t’> keep themselves and their families in some degree of comfort. At present, the grading system is nothing but a farce. In the- General Post Office, Sydney, assistants and No. 1 grade letter carriers are employed as sorters at from £110 to £120 per annum, although sorters’ work is valued at from £138 to £162 per annum. The services of permanent letter carriers are being utilized for sorting, so that the work may be done at a cheaper rate. A number of the letter carriers in the highest grade have passed the necessary examination to qualify for the position of sorters, and they were given to understand a little while ago that they would be promoted. No promotions have yet been made, and these men are still doing sorters’ work for less than a sorters’ pay. The Public Service Commissioner has determined that the hours of duty for a letter carrier shall be eightyeight per fortnight, with one day of four hours off per week. Ninety-six hoursper fortnight must be worked before overtime can be claimed. The letter carriers in the Sydney General Post Office average ninety-six hours per fortnight, and although effect should have been given twelve months ago tothe ruling to which I have just referred, there has been no time off in lieu of payment for overtime, and no weekly half-holiday has been allowed. In the country and suburban districts, a number of letter carriers work from110 to 120 hours per fortnight, with no time off in lieu of payment for overtime. As typical cases, I would point out that two letter carriers at Woollongong are working110 hoursper fortnight, three at Lithgow 120 hoursper fortnight, and one at Blackheath working 118 hours per fortnight. There are many others in exactly the same position.
– How do they manage to put in so many hours per fortnight?
– They have a great deal of broken time. They start at an early hour, and in some cases it is midnight before they finish.
– Surely they are not delivering letters all the time.
– Certainly not. Letter carriers, perhaps, get two hours off about noon, but that is absolutely useless to them, since it is occupied in going to and from their homes. They have to be in attendance from fourteen to sixteen hours in order to do ten hours’ work. Their attendance commences very often at 6 or 6.40 a.m., and finishes at f rom 8 p.m. till midnight. Letter carriers in the General Post Office Sydney, have to assist in opening mail bags, trucking mails, and handling them as they arrive on the lift. In the. summer months the men so employed are soaked in perspiration before they set out on their beats. I hear an honorable member cynically crying “ shame.”
– Who said that ?
– I donot know. The honorable member makes a ready response, and if the cap fits him he may wear it.These men are bathed in perspiration, and often tired out before leavingthe office for their beats. Their work begins at from 6 a.m. to 6.30 a.m., and, as a rule, they have no opportunity to get breakfast until 10 a.m. When the PostmasterGeneral was in Sydney recently, he promised the letter carriers who have now to assist in handling mail-bags at the General Post Office, that porters should be employed in that capacity, just as they are in the General Post Office, Melbourne. Although the promise was made some time ago, the desired reform has not yet been carried out. The me- are beginning to doubt whether the Postmaster- General was really sincere or simply made the promise in order to get rid of them.
– The promise was made not nine weeks ago, and it is impossible to give effect to it in less than seven months. We have to make provision on the Estimates for the change, and then adopt the procedure I have indicated.
– I hope that the Postmaster-General will grant the promised relief. Letter carriers should not be called upon to do such work before they set out on their ordinary rounds. There is room for very great improvement in the administration of the General Post Office, Sydney. The Postmaster- General has told us that he favours a policy of decentralization, and is doing his best to induce the Deputy Postmaster-General ‘ in each State to accept some larger measure of responsibility, but that, so far, there seems to be a disinclination on the part of the controlling officers in the different States to accept the responsibilities of their position, and that consequently there is an accumulation of work in the central office and business is blocked. If that is the position, will any purpose be served by our giving the Postmaster-General authority to carry out such a scheme? It would seem that his efforts to secure decentralization must be impotent when officers refuse to carry out the spirit, if not the letter, of the instructions given to them. I find no pleasure in constantly dunning the Department in respect of the grievances of employes. I should be’ glad if there were in operation a system that would enable the postal employes to obtain their rights, and to fairly put their grievances before the Department, so that they could be finally dealt with there. As a matter of fact, however, we find that ‘ these men are compelled to go outside the Department to seek redress of their grievances, because of small minded and indifferent administration within, and have to induce their representatives in Parliament to put questions to Ministers in the House, and to bring political influence to bear in order that some attention may be paid to their complaints. That is due largely to the lack of sympathy shown by the officers controlling the Department. They seem to be afraid that their decisions will be canvassed, and consequently they dp not give the employes under them an opportunity of ventilating their grievances within the Department. As I know that a number of honorable members desire to catch their trains, and the hour is late, I should be glad if the Postmaster-General would agree to progress being reported.
– The honorable member will have another opportunity to discuss these matters on the Supplementary Estimates.
– The opportunity to discuss these matters on the Supplementary Estimates will be very restricted. It is only once a year that we have an opportunity to put before the Minister and . the Committee our views on this question, and I think we should avail ourselves of- it. There is another matter affecting the forage allowance to letter carriers that I desire to bring forward. The men have repeatedly asked that the forage allowance of 12s. per week should be increased to 14s. per week, or 2s. per day. Instead of that request being granted, however, it has been laid down that no allowance for forage shall be made in respect of a letter carrier’s day off, so that the payment has really been reduced to us. per week. Is it not absurd that a man should not be allowed anything for the- keep of his horse on his day off? These officers must practically starve their horses or provide for them out of their meagre salaries.
– Cannot a man keep a horse on 1 is. per week?
– For some months fodder in the metropolitan districts has been very scarce, and prices have been high.
– I admit that the prices at the present time are a little easier, but they have been very high. The letter carriers, the men on the lowest rung of the official ladder, should be the first to receive consideration, and I certainly hope that’ the Minister will take action in the cases I have brought under his notice, especially the claim for retiring allowance. The Commonwealth authorities are’ of opinion. that those who retire are entitled to a month’s pay for each year of service. But because of a technical ‘quibble by the authorities of the States, they are not receiving it. If the Commonwealth reading of the law is correct, the men should receive what is their due, and, if necessary, legislation should be introduced to prevent them from being deprived of what they have all along looked forward to as the reward for long service and a provision for old age.
– I shall not.discuss the Estimates at length, because, while I felt indignant about the manner in which postal administration has been conducted in New South Wales, I found on inquiry that the Minister is not responsible, and that the blame for the Inefficiency about which there has been so many complaints, rests with the Treasurer. Therefore, on the Treasury Estimates I ventilated many of the grievances I had to submit against the postal administration. There are, however, one or two other matters to which I should like to refer now. As a Ministerial Committee has been appointed to investigate the administration of the Department, and as further proposals for expenditure in connexion with the Department are to be brought forward, I shall content myself on this occasion with a reference to these matters. In New South Wales, the feeling is growing that the contract post-office system leads to a great deal of sweating. A number of staff offices -have been made contract offices, and private persons put in chargeof them. Nothing is to be said ‘against the conduct of those in charge of contract offices, though the public would naturally prefer official postmasters and . postmis-tresses; but it is complained that so much work is required, and so little pay is given, that the offices are nothing less than sweating shops. A number of these offices were contracted for on the understanding that only certain duties would be required ; but the new system for checking telephone business is so minute and technical, that it involves a great deal of additional ‘work, and one postmistress informed me that it takes her twelve hours at the end of each week to deal with all the documents connected with it, no additional allowance being made for the extra work. I hope that the Postmaster-General will remove the stigma which now justly attaches to the contract system, of being a sweating institution. With regard to the mail contractors, I wish to call attention to a case of considerable hardship. In Temora there is a contractor who undertook to carry, the mails between the post-office and the railway station, but, during the term of his contract, a new railway line was opened up, and he was required to put on an extra relay of coaches, and do additional work without any increase of pay. He has told rae that he is being required to do this work because his contract stipulated that he should make so many trips a day, or more if required. But there was no indication that he would have a regular daily additional service to perform. What he understood was that he would be required to perform whatever extra work was to be done in consequence of a break-down or an additional service of a special nature. In his case the Department was guilty of an injustice of which a private person would not be guilty. Were a service discontinued during the term of the contract, the Department would reduce the payment proportionately, and yet it imposes additional services without extra reward. I hope that the Postmaster-General will see that ordinary commercial morality is observed in the dealings with the officers of the Department, and that, in the case of contractors, there are not imposed conditions which private people would never think of suggesting. I have no desire now to deal with the Estimates of the Department; and I content myself with pressing on the Minister the necessity for doing away ‘ with sweating conditions in contract offices, and of dealing with contractors in an honest straightforward way, setting out clearly at the outset the whole of the conditions. I specially commend the attention of the Postmaster-General to the causes of complaint in connexion wi’th the Mendooran and Temora contracts, in regard’ to which there have for years been many complaints.
– I had1 intended to address myself to the Estimates of the Postmaster-General, but time does not permit of my doing so. However, I understand that the Additional Estimates are very important, and that we shall have an opportunity to deal with these on Tuesday ; and, therefore, I think the Estimates now before us might be allowed to pass without further discussion.
.- It is all very well for the deputy leader of the Opposition to say that he desires to expedite public business ; but I have two complaints which I desire to bring under the notice of the Committee. “ One complaint, which I have voiced on many occasions, is that, not only this Government, but every preceding Government, have followed the bad practice initiated in New South Wales of not submitting the Estimates until the end of the year, when practically all the money has been spent. The Opposition might render valuable assistance if they could induce the Government to submit the Estimates earlier, when honorable members would have some control over the expenditure. The Estimates for the Post and Telegraph Department were submitted only “ to-day, somewhere about the luncheon hour, and honorable members who have grievances to ventilate are now asked to neglect their duty, and allow the votes to pass without discussion. The first matter I desire to bring under notice is the sweating which goes on throughout .the whole service. I ask the PostmasterGeneral when he is going to invite Parliament to take steps to protect the public servants, who are being harassed, and are not receiving .that fair play which they are entitled to receive from the Public Service Commissioner ? All responsibility is placed on the shoulders of that gentleman; but, a.s we know, it is impossible for him to deal with every detail, and he has to depend on the reports of others in the matter of classification and so forth. A Public Service Commissioner was appointed in order to remove political influence and favoritism, which resulted in officers pf merit being retained in the lower grades of the service, whilst others, with inferior qualifications, were promoted. I point out, however, that at that time any civil servant who felt aggrieved could approach a member of Parliament with a view to a ventilation of the grievance, and if the member or Minister did anything wrong, he was responsible to Parliament. This kept in check anything like undue influence ; but it was considered that a reform was required, and. the Public Service Commissioner was appointed. I say without hesitation, and with all due deference to the Public Service Commissioner, and without reflecting on him personally in any way, that there is more favoritism in the various Departments to-day than there was under the old conditions.
– I undertake to say that, if such be the case, it is not the fault of the Public Service Commissioner.
– I have just said so, and I have no desire to place the responsibility on the shoulders of that gentleman.
– I believe, however, that the honorable member is largely right.
– I believe that the Public Service Commissioner is entirely ignorant of the favoritism which is shown, and that he acts in good faith on the reports he receives. It is notorious, however, that the whole Public Service is seething with discontent. Men who have been in the service for many years, who are without a black mark against them, and who are ready to undergo any practical examination, find themselves anchored, while juniors by the dozens are placed over their heads.
– I think it will be ‘found that some of the subordinate officers are mainly responsible.
– The Commissioner, in my opinion, is above showing any favoritism. The fault lies with the superior officers in the metropolitan and other central districts. If an unfortunate public servant cannot get their favour he has no chance of advancement. I have here lists of cases, though I do not intend to mention them individually, because, under . existing conditions, if it is known, no matter how seriously aggrieved a public servant may be, that he has been in communication with a member of Parliament, a black mark is put against his name, and he is informed that he has been guilty of a breach of regulation so-and-so. A system of favoritism prevails. There is no right of appeal. There is no redress, unless this Parliament is prepared to give it. A. youth who enters, the service sees a goal before him, and hopes that by moving on step by step, and by the proper performance of his duties, he may ultimately reach to a good grade and a good salary. But it is absolutely impossible for him to do so under existing conditions. I know of meritorious officers who have been absolutely passed over by their superiors, who have preferred to consult other officers hundreds of miles away. Except an officer has the good fortune to be in touch with the metropolitan centreshe has very little chance of advancement.’ influence of various kinds is at work in>clubs and in other quarters, and many excellent public servants are becoming disgusted with the conditions which existSo strong has this feeling becomethat, as the Minister knows, in one case that I brought before the House some time ago, an officer of twenty years’ experience, without a black mark against his name, became so disgusted that he resigned, and went to earn his bread outside the service. Other officers are prepared to do the same.
– Was that in New South Wales?
– Yes. If I were to mention the particular place, it might have the effect of putting a black mark against the names of other officers there.
– I hope we shall never introduce political favoritism again.
– I would sooner have that than the departmental and club favoritism which prevails now.
– Then we should have Black Wednesdays now and again.
– Can the honorable member point to an instance in New South Wales where it was ever proved that political influence inflicted a wrong upon any officer ?
– It loaded the service, and retarded the promotion of many good officers.
– Does the honorable member suppose that there is no political influence now? There is another road than the political by which influence may be exerted. Let me give one instance. At the Deniliquin Post-office - one of the most important offices in New South Wales; a repeating station with quadrupling machines - there are men who have been twenty years in the service. But they have been passed over for promotion. On whose report? On that of the head of the office? No; but on the report of the head of the central office in Sydney, who never saw the officers, and knows nothing at all about them. He could ascertain, if he chose, that they are good, practical men, with no black mark against them. Who were the juniors who were put over their heads? They were men from favoured circles where these influences are at work. I know these facts, and other honorable members know them, too. Influences are used by little circles within departmental rooms. Any one who cares to make inquiries, as I have done, will find that very drastic changes are necessary to bring about a feeling of contentment in the Trade and Customs and the Post and Telegraph Departments. One would suppose that when pro-‘ motions had to be made information would be obtained straight from the offices where officers were employed.
– The head is always consulted.
– The heads are not consulted at all. Others are consulted who know nothing about the officers whose interests are concerned. Officers are passed along in grades. I want the Minister to explain upon what principle these grades are arranged.
– The honorable member must ask the Minister of Home Affairs.
– I am asking the Minister administering the Post and Telegraph Department. I am just about tired of always being shifted on to the Public Service Commissioner. The Minister has some power if he chooses to exercise it.
– I have no power whatever regarding grading and classification.
– I have heard that statement from other Ministers. But we once had a strong man in New South Wales, who had the courage to administer his Department properly. I allude to the late John Want, who exercised his powers as Minister in spite of the Public Service Commissioner.
– Would the honorable member counsel the Minister to break the law which Parliament has made?
– We do not grow Jack Wants every day.
– The Minister should be in a position to exercise a little control over his Department. It is a bad thing for the administration of any Department when its Minister is not endowed with that authority. All that a Minister can do now, apparently, is to submit a recommendation to the Public Service Commissioner. He has not the power to appoint an officecleaner, or even to engage a temporary hand.
– That is quite correct.
– Is that a proper state of affairs to exist? Who should be in a better position to form an accurate judgment than the man who is responsible for the administration of a Department? It is absolutely unfair to a Minister to foist upon him junior officers inferior in merit to senior officers. If he were a strong man, he would act as the late Honorable J. H. Want did in New South Wales, and have his own way in that respect. Under the Public Service Act, there are six classifications, namely, iA, 2A,1B, 2B,1C, and 2C ; and to the various classifications, of course, different salaries are attached. Without any examination, junior officers are appointed over the heads of senior officers. I think that public officers have a just right to claim that they should be afforded an opportunity to demonstrate whether or not they possess greater merit, more practical knowledge, ‘ and a riper experience. At the present time, that opportunity is denied to them. Is that fair? I invite, not only the Minister, but honorable members generally, to look at the matter from that stand-point. Under the old regime, the complaint was that favoritism was shown, and it was continuously urged that if the Public Service were put under a Commissioner it would be removed, and the officers would advance step by step and from grade to grade by order of seniority, contingent upon the possession of merit.
– That is not being done now.
– Exactly ; and that is what I complain of. We have a greater evil than the one which existed in those days. Seniority does not count at all; but who’ is to judge of a man’s merit?
– A biased man.
– I want to know what step the Postmaster-General proposes to take to remove this particular grievance of the officers, because the discontent is greater in his Department than in any other. It has become so grave a matter that honorable members will find themselves bound to interfere, and to press the Ministry in power to amend the law, in order to do justice to public officers. On that phase of the subject, I do not think it necessary to dwell at greater length, because I believe that there is hardly a member who does not indorse my views. Something has been said in reference to contracts and sweating. In another sphere of life, the honorable gentleman at the head of the Post and Telegraph Department has taken a very lively interest - for which I, commend him - in preventing sweating.
– And I have done a great deal to cure it here, too.
– I give my honorable friend credit for what he has done, .both privately arid ministerially, so far as his limited opportunities and powers have permitted him to do. Hitherto, the people of a whole district have been provided with an official post-office and an official telegraph office, under officials controlled by the Department. But now, from the commercial or other point of view, the rule has been laid down that if an office fails to return an annual revenue of ^400, the official in charge shall be removed and replaced by some one who has contracted for the office’ In .other cases, there is an allowance office, and it is more particularly concerning the latter that I desire to speak, because in a great many cases those who. hold contract offices are the offenders by having put in tenders at too low a price.
– My predecessor . made a provision that all contract officers are to be paid a minimum allowance of .£110 a year, and that is being paid now.
– I am very glad to hear that. The allowances to which I. refer start with the munificent sum of ^5 per year, and the person in charge of the office is supposed to be present from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., to do the necessary work, and to receive the mails, and in some cases to rise at midnight or 2 a.m.’ to receive and deliver mails. In the latter case, the allowance might amount to j£io a year. A little more is given where a person has to attend to telephones. I believe that .£25 or ,£30 a year is the whole amount which a person receives for- doing all the. postal, work of a district, attending to the telephones, and receiving and despatching mails, although he provides his- ‘own residence. If that is not sweating of the worst possible type, I do not know what is. That is done under the very eye of the Department. I admit that it cannot make any change unless it has money, but it ought to take strong measures to see that an equivalent is given for the services which are rendered in allowance offices in country places.’
– And that is what we invariably endeavour to do. I admit that there are cases where ari alteration must be made; but the honorable member will agree with me that there are also cases where a person has taken an allowance office in conjunction with a store, given up the store, and lived on the allowance. We are not responsible for the occurrence of such cases.
– There may be exceptional cases of .that kind. The honorable gentleman will recollect that, only a week ago, I introduced to him a deputation from a very important farming district regarding the case of a lady who, for doing all the post and telephone work, and providing her own residence, received a paltry sum, together with a paltry commission on every telegram that she received and despatched.
– Does the honorable member know the amount of the salary in that case?
– It was under £30.
– What were the receipts of the office?
– A member of the deputation told the Minister that they amounted to .£79 per annum. An honorable member has stated that the Department is earning more money in the metropolitan centres than in the country, and that, therefore, it is. doing much more in the former places than in the latter. But is it to be looked upon purely as a commercial Department, which is to act like a shire, and to spend in a locality the money which has been collected therein? Is it not intended to be a Department for the convenience and development of the Commonwealth, rather than one in which finance must be studied :en, c closely? I have always held that this Department cannot and should not for many years to come be worked on commercial lines. We must extend post and telegraph facilities to the country districts whether it will pay immediately to do so or not. I suppose that every member of the Committee has had the same experience in connexion with applications made for the extension of postal facilities. An application for a service is put in, and a reply is sent to the effect that the revenue is estimated at a certain amount, and that as the cost of the service would be greater than the estimated revenue, the Department do not see their way to grant thepplication. II have in mind a case where a bi-weekly mail service between Wanganella and Deniliquin was, in accordance with the .determination to run the Department on commercial lines, reduced to a weekly service, which was of no practical use to the people of the district, because it did not fit in with other mail services. The Department was asked to continue the convenience, which the residents had enjoyed for the past twenty ears to my knowledge, and because the ‘service cost the Department between ^70 and £80 per annum, and the revenue from it was only between £40 and £45 per annum, the paltry difference between revenue and expenditure may prevent the resumption of the bi-weekly service.
– I had a case where the Department was offered a clear profit of 38 per cent. on the outlay, and they would not undertake it.
– The case to which I have just referred is under the consideration of the Minister or his officers, and the people concerned have offered to pay the difference between revenue and expenditure out of their own pockets. A similar course is being adopted in many other cases. Similar complaints must be made in connexion with applications for the extension of telephone services. I have referred to the case of a postmistress in charge of an allowance post office, who, finding her own house and attending to the work of the Department, received the munificent sum of. £20 per annum.
– That is hardly a fair way to put it. She must live in her house, and in nine cases out of ten these people apply for the position, and are paid in proportion to the work they do.
– In some cases that may be so, but in others I have known a house to be built for the purpose. The postmistress to whom I have referred is now called upon to take charge of telephone business.
– And she gets so much for every call on the telephone.
– She gets a miserable commission on all telegrams, which amounts to £2 12s. 6d. per annum.
-Whatcommission does she get ?
– I cannot say from memory, but the whole of the particulars were supplied by the members of a deputation that I introduced to the Minister a week or two ago. . There can be no doubt that there is sweating in the Post and Telegraph Department, and the Minister, in conjunction with the Treasurer, should say whether this kind of thing is to continue, or whether it is not better that they should take some of the surplus revenue earned in metropolitan centres to provide facilities which would add a little to the comfort and convenience of people in the country districts, who, under trying conditions, are doing as valuable work for the Commonwealth as is being done by the residents of large centres of population. There is another matter to which I should liketo direct attention, and I am sorry that the honorable member for Echuca is not present to deal with it. The residents of a place called Gunbower, which is about thirty miles from Echuca, applied for telephone connexion with that town. In reply to the application, the Department asked the residents a number of questions, and amongst them the question, “What will you guarantee?” A guarantee to pay the interest on the whole cost of construction of the line for a term of seven years was offered by a resident of undoubted means. Not satisfied with this guarantee, the Department replied, “We want you to supply so many score of telegraph poles free of cost, and to arrange with the owners of properties along the line for the use of the wire on their fences.” That condition also was complied with, and then a report from the district inspector was called for. He advised the Department that he did not see any prospect at the end of the term of seven years that the line would pay, and therefore his recommendation was against its construction. In spite of the general demand for land for settlement that is being forced upon the Parliaments of the States, as well as the Federal Parliament, this officer undertook to say that this district would remain stationary for seven years. To-day I received a communication, which I should have asked the honorable member for Echuca to deal with if he had been present, in which I am informed that a further report has been made by the district inspector, and that, although he admits that he has been told by the guarantor of the line, who is a large stationholder, that he intends to cut up a considerable area of his station property for dairy farming, he still says that there will be no increase of population in the district at the close of the seven years’ period for which the guarantee has been offered. How, in the face of the general demand for land, any man of common sense can say that a district . which is known to be suitable for agricultural development will remain stationary for seven years, I am at a loss to understand. I wish to draw attention to another matter, which applies more to the metropolitan than the country districts. A telegram, perhaps of the greatest importance, is brought to a house by a telegraph messenger. In some cases that I know of he does not even take the trouble to knock or ring, but leaves under the door the card with which he is supplied, having marked on it the words, “ not at home,” and takes the telegram back to the office.
– If the honorable member will supply me with the particulars of such an instance I will at once report it to the Public Service Commissioner, and have the person responsible suspended.
– In this case the offender was a. boy. I mention it because it was my own experience. An exceedingly important telegram was sent to me. A card was placed under the door, saying, “not at home.” The telegram was returned to the station, and yet my wife and myself had never left the house for the whole of that day.
– How long ago was that?
– About a month ago. I mention it now for the first time. I do not want to get the boy sacked. My object is to point to the practice, so that the Minister may make provision that nothing of the kind shall happen in the future. I gave the boy a good talking to afterwards, pointing out how wrong it was for him to do a thing of that kind. But where is the necessity for taking a telegram back in such a case ? Would it not be as easy to put the telegram under the door as to put the card there? If the telegram is not left, the person to whom it is addressed may have to go a considerable distance to the telegraphoffice for it, and may find the office closed. Inone case which I know of, where the person concerned was really not at home, he went to the telegraph-office when he returned, but failed to get the telegram until the next morning, because the office was closed. It was a serious matter for him, because if he had received the telegram at night he could have taken the train early next morning and been at the bedside of a dying relative.
– Surely that was his misfortune, through being out. Nobody was to blame for that.
– It would not have happened if the telegram had been put under the door.
– There are many strong reasons why that should not be done. What guarantee would there be that the telegram had reached the person for whom it was intended?
– Could not the messengerinform the authorities at the telegraphoffice that he had put the telegram under the door? Who would be likely to remove the telegram ? Besides, most of the suburban houses now have letter-boxes, which can be locked. A telegram could be put in the letter-box, and if necessary a card could be put under the door stating, “Telegram put in letter-box.”
– In Melbourne and suburbs, not 5 per cent. of the houses have letter-boxes.
– I doubt that, but in any case does the honorable member think that the practice is a proper one?
– It is the most effective way that I know of up to date.
– This is the only State where I have known it to be done. It was not done in New South Wales. On what system is the Department worked with regard to telegraphic and postal centres ? The present arrangements are most peculiar. For instance, Malvern and Caulfield adjoin, the boundary being the railway line. The Malvern post-office is practically alongside the Malvern railway station, but if you cross the line you are in Caulfield. The Caulfield office is about a mile and a half away. A letter or telegram addressed to a person living in Caulfield, practically within a few yards of the Malvern post-office, is sent a mile and a-half away to the Caulfield postoffice, and then back practically the same distance before it is delivered.
– And letters that arrive in Melbourne at 7 in the morning are not delivered in that district until 6 o’clock at night.
– That is because letters are sent back and forward in the way I have described. Why cannot each post-office be taken as a centre from which to supply a certain radius?
– That system is being worked out at the present moment.
– I am very glad to hear it. I felt it my duty to point out what has been happening in that regard, because it was a serious inconvenience, and often caused delay in the delivery of letters and telegrams. I should like to hear some pronouncement from the Minister as to the policy of the Government with regard to the Bill introduced by the previous Postmaster-General for universal penny postage for the Commonwealth.
– That Bill is dead.
– I do not think it is. Some remedy should be found for the evils which I am about to recount. I want uniformity in the Commonwealth - one postage stamp, one value.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr.
Wilks). - Order of the Day No. 14 - “ Postal Rates Bill “-deals with that matter. I cannot allow the honorable member to discuss it now.
-I do not think that that Bill quite covers the question. At any rate, the question’ has been discussed here before without exception being taken to it.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr.
Wilks). - Yes ; but I am in the chair now.
– Then, are we to understand that the rulings of the Chair are not to be uniform? Shall I be in order in stating that, owing to a practice of the Department, my constituents are constantly being called upon topay into the revenue more than they ought to do. Complaint is very general in my electorate, which is on the Victorian border, that business people and others in this State, who are accustomed to penny postage, frequently place only a1d. stamp on letters addressed to my constituents, with the result that, as penny postage is non-existent there, the addressees are called upon to pay not only the deficient postage, but a 50 per cent. fine. I do not know on what principle that system is based, but it ought to be abolished. I am constantly in receipt of complaints from Municipal Councils, Progress Associations, and other bodies, in respect of this surcharge. In many cases, peoplerefuse to accept delivery of letters insufficiently stamped. The difficulty might be overcome by the adoption of the zone system. The Department should provide that letters bearing only a penny stamp shall be delivered within a certain distance of the border.
– That alteration could not bo made without an amendment of the law.
– Then the law ought to be amended. The cure is universal postage. If we cannot obtain penny postage throughout the Commonwealth, we should have a general two-penny postage, so that all the States would be treated alike.
– Victoria has to finance her own postal system.
– But that state of affairs will not last much longer. Since the Minister is not agreeable to progress being reported, I shall pause to give him an opportunity to reply to the complaints that have been made.
Mr. MAUGER (Maribyrnong- Post with the suggestion made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that what he described as full civil rights should be granted to members of the Commonwealth Public Service, I take it that he means that any member of the service should have a right at any time to obtain extended leave to enable him to contest a parliamentary or municipal election.
– I say full civil rights.
– The Public Service Commissioner has very strong views with regard to the desirableness of allowing public servants the privilege of contesting parliamentary elections, and the honorable member’s own party in one of the States is divided on the question. I have no personal opinion to offer at this juncture, and it is a matter for Cabinet consideration.
– What justification has the honorable member for asserting that our party is divided on the question ?
– My justification is that in Queensland a State officer resigned his post for the purpose of contesting a State parliamentary election and that his reinstatement by the Philp Government was strongly opposed by the Labour Party members of which contended that since he had resigned his position in the service, he should not bo allowed to resume it.
– Had he stood as a Labour candidate, he would not have been reinstated.
– The Government have not considered the question.
– I refused under the law to reinstate one man, and he was returned to Parliament.
– I know that cases of the kind have occurred, and there is a strong diversity of opinion, quite irrespective of party consideration, as to the advisa bleness of the course suggested by the honorablemember. Before any member of the Government could express an opinion on so important a question, it would have to be considered by the Cabinet.
– Are all questions relating to civil rights considered by the Government as a whole ?
– The honorable member could not expect me to express my own personal opinion on so important a matter.
– The question is one which must be considered by the Government.
– The Government have to consider whether public servants should have full civil rights.
– The honorable member may put it in that way.
– I do.
– There are thousands of private employers who would insist upon an employe resigning his position before contesting a parliamentary election, and none would venture to say that that was a deprivation of civil rights. There are two sides to the question. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie also urged that arrangements should be made with the Railway Departments of the States for the issue of privilege tickets to members of the Commonwealth Public Service stationed in isolated districts when on leave. I shall make representations on the subject to the States Government, and shall ‘do my best to obtain for Federal public servants any privilege at present enjoyed in that regard by State servants.
– We should have to pay for such concessions.
– The States own the railways, so that their position is very different from our own. I sympathize with public servants in remote districts, who have to suffer the disadvantages of climate and isolation, and anything I or the Government can do to help them will be done. As to the question of allowance offices, I may say that I have called for a comprehensive report to enable the Committee to consider the present system, and its bearing on individual cases. I trust that some scheme will be evolved to enable us to place allowance and semi-official offices upon a satisfactory footing.
– Are the allowances on a uniform basis?
– They are on a calculated basis.
– They are very low in my State.
– In a number of cases there has been a vast improvement on the old State system.
– Some of the allowances are a good deal less than they were in preFederation days.
– When the Department was under the control of the States, men in charge of loose bags, for instance, received no pay, but every man who has charge of a loose bag under the Federal control has a minimum pay of £1 per annum.
– That is not much.
– It amounts to a considerable sum per annum.
– The payment is really made to enable the Commonwealth to have some control over the men.
– It is much appreciated by the men ; and I would remind the honorable member that a payment of1s. per annum would give us control over them. As to the case cited by the honorable member for Riverina, where a postmaster was not asked to report on the qualification of an officer under him who applied for promotion, I may say that I shall make inquiries. When those inquiries are complete, I shall make representations to the Public Service Commissioner, who, I am sure, will agree with the common-sense proposal made by the honorable member that when a man applies for promotion, his superior officer, who knows most about his qualifications, or disqualifications should be consulted.
.- There are some other matters which I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister.
– They can be dealt with in connexion with the Supplementary Estimates.
– I propose to avail myself of the present opportunity to refer to them. I have not yet received from the Postmaster-General a reply to a complaint that I brought under his attention. I recognise that he has done very well, and I wish to strengthen his hands. When tenders are invited by the Department for any service, it is presumed that no disclosure will be made in regard to the tenders sent in until they have been dealt with. I am sorry that they are not. I have brought forward a case in regard to which an investigation on the spot is demanded. It occurred at Hay. The Department invited tenders in the ordinary way by advertisement in the Gazette and in the newspapers, for a service from Hay to Darlington Point, and received one tender only. But considering the tender too high, because the amount asked for was larger than that paid for the previous year, they readvertised, and whereas the first offer was for £239, the second was for £270. There was only one tender on the second occasion, and it. came from the person who put in the first tender. Tenders were not again called for by advertisement, but I am in a position to’ state that the sum demanded by the tenderer was made known, and otherswere invited, not in the usual way, but by telegram, to undertake the service at a lower price. The date on which the first tender was lodged was 4th September, 1907, and that on which the second was received was nth December, 1907. The matter was referred to the Inspector for the district, and he recommended that the tender submitted in the proper form should be accepted. Whilst the Department did the right thing in re-advertising for tenders when it was considered that the first offer was too high, it did the wrong thing on the second occasion in, practically divulging by telegram the offer made, and asking others to tender for a less sum. There is considerable trouble now under the contract system, but if practices of this kind continue, and tenders are divulged, persons will cease from tendering altogether. The Minister promised to make an inquiry into the matter some weeks ago, and to let me know the result. I therefore ask him now what he proposes to do? Doeshe propose to cancel the tender, or to grant an inquiry by officers whom he can trust, to find out who was responsible for what was done, and how it was that, in spite of the recommendation of the District Inspector, the Tender Board in Sydney accepted, not a tender, but an informal offer. There is another matter to which I wish to refer. I am afraid that it will take me two or three hours to discuss it.
– Then why not deal with it on the Additional Estimates?
-I will do so, if I can get the promise that there will be no more trickery. I apply my remark, not to any action of the Prime Minister, but to what was done by members of the Opposition last night, who told me that they would do certain things and then did the reverse.
– That is not quite fair.
– It is.I was told by honorable members opposite that they would not oppose a motion which they did oppose. The honorable member who made that promise gave it to me personally, and it should have been kept ; but as he is not present, I shall not mention his name. Just now you ruled, Mr. Wilks, that I could not discuss the Penny Postage proposal because there is on the business-paper a notice dealing with it, and I wish to know whether you will rule that I cannot discuss a matter which is the subject of another notice of motion. If you do, your ruling will be contrary to that of Mr. Speaker, who stated clearly the other day that a notice of motion, until it is submitted from the Chair, is the property of the member who put it on the business paper. I understand, however, that some little difficulty might arise if I spoke at greater length to-day, as there are so few honorable members present. Under the circumstances, I can only trust to ‘the fairness of honorable members on all sides not to take any advantage of the forms of the House, so as to prevent my fully discussing the matter to which I have referred on Tuesdav next.
– I know that honorable members are desirous of concluding the consideration of these Estimates, but there is one matter I desire to place most emphatically underthe notice of” the Minister. I refer to the retention in the service of officials who have reached the statutory retiring age. I do not desire to say one word against the capabilities or energy of the gentlemanwho now occupies the position of permanent head of the Post and Telegraph Department, but, with an expanding service, it is wrong, after having fixed a retiring age, to discourage the younger officials in their natural desire for promotion. I do not say that this gentleman does not possess considerable ability, but there is no justification for the belief that there are not others in the service able to fill the position, if he were allowed to retire on his pension. I desire an expression of opinion, and therefore I move -
That the item “ Secretary,£1,000,” be reduced by£1.
– This motion is certainly very far-reaching, and deals with a subject on which there is great diversity of opinion.
– Perhaps the PostmasterGeneral would like until Tuesday to think over the matter.
– Why not bring this matter up on the Additional Estimates?
– Because the first item in these Estimates will then have been passed.
– There is a first item in the Additional Estimates referring to the Post and Telegraph Department.
– But that item does not provide for the Secretary in the general administration.
– Quite true.
– This is a matter which affects every officer in the service, and, as I suggested before, the Postmaster- General may desire to have until Tuesday to think the matter over.
– I do not desire to have until Tuesday to think the matter over.
– I suggest that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie raise this question on Tuesday. We do not wish to block the Senate in their consideration of the Appropriation Bill.
– Why should this block the Senate?
– The Senate expects the Appropriation Bill on Wednesday. This is a matter that cannot be decided in this way.
– Then we shall try.
– Under the circumstances, I shall move that progress be reported.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of messages from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, transmitting Additional Estimates of Expenditure, and Additional Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c., for the years ended 30th June, 1906 and 1907, and recommending appropriation accordingly.
Business of the Session.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I desire to point out that unless the Appropriation Bill reaches the Senate on Wednesday, the transaction of business there is likely to be paralyzed. I, therefore, ask. honorable members to lend their best assistance in transmitting the Estimates- and we are now considering the last of the divisions - to the Senate, in order that the session may be brought to a close, and that the little time left in both Chambers may be devoted to business which must be dealt with.
– The Prime Minister is not referring to the Additional Estimates?
– No. There are, in addition to the Estimates now under consideration, the Additional Estimates, and the customary Estimates for Works and Buildings to be dealt with on Tuesday. Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 5.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 April 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1908/19080403_reps_3_45/>.