4th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Post Office Cleaners - ImportedPoles - Dangerous Telegraph Poles - Perth Telephone System - Wireless Telegraph Station, Fremantle - Victorian Telephone Service : Spindles and Telegraph Poles. Dr. MALONEY. - As good news has circulated through some branches of the Public Service, I ask the PostmasterGeneral if he has any for the cleaners connected with the Melbourne General Post Office, some of whom receive only 20s. or 25s. per week?
– The cleaning of the General Post Office is done by women, though, personally, I think it should be done by men. However, the system of employing women has been in vogue for a long while, and as those employed are generally widows with families, I should be loth to alter it. As it is recognised that 20s. a week is small pay for them, the Government has decided to increase the amount to 25s. a week.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral say whether, as stated in the press yesterday, his Department is importing castiron poles for telegraphic and telephone wires in Western Australia? Could these not be made locally?
– The honorable member was good enough to show me the newspaper extract to which he referred. I knew nothing of the matter before, but shall make inquiries in order to ascertain what is being done.
– Information has reached me that a telegraph pole has fallen at Eastern Hill, in the vicinity of several churches and this building, and that there are other poles in the neighbourhood in a dangerous condition. I desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether he will cause inquiries to be made in the interests of the safety of the public?
– I shall be glad to have the matter inquired into.
– On Thursday last the honorable member for Perth asked a ques tion regarding the telephone arrangements in Perth and its suburbs, and between Perth and Fremantle. An interim reply was given, but I am now furnished with the following report from the Deputy PostmasterGeneral for Western “Australia : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Postmaster-. General, upon notice -
– The following information has been furnished by the Deputy Postmaster-General, Melbourne, and the Chief Electrical Engineer: - 1 and 2. No ; but-
– How can the first and second questions be answered in that way?
– I am reading on behalf of the Postmaster-General the answers supplied to the honorable member’s questions. As the honorable member is aware, the Postmaster-General is not well, and asked me to read the replies to the questions put by him. If the honorable member is not satisfied I cannot help it. The answers are as follow : - 1 and 2. No, but about 2,000 spindles to fit a new pattern of telephone insulator were ordered and used with some of the new insulators. The cost of these spindles was £29 3s. 4d., but they were all used with the new insulators, and there was no extra cost.
– Has the Minister of External Affairs read the following paragraph, which appeared in the London letter of a recent issue of the Melbourne Herald -
London, 7th October. - There seems to be scant hope of making up for the failure to secure sufficient accommodation on outgoing liners for settlers under the Mead scheme. Matters in that respect remain much as they were last week. ….. The suggestion has been put forward that if British liners cannot accommodate even one-half the intending settlers who are desirous of leaving here in the course of the next five months, recourse should be bad to some other means of getting away the overflow. So far as I can find out, no attempt has been made to arrange with either the Messageries Maritimes or the Norddeutscher Lloyd Companies to take some of the people out on a basis similar to that existing with the Orient and other companies.
Can the Minister say whether it is true that the British liners cannot accommodate even half of those who wish to leave the United Kingdom to settle in Australia, and, if so, will he, before spending more money on advertising in Great Britain with a view to attracting immigrants, see that adequate accommodation is provided for those who have already made up their minds to come here?
– I have read the paragraph referred to, and am surprised that official representations have not been made by the States on the subject of passenger accommodation. If the services of the High Commissioner and our officers in London can be used to improve matters, they will be at the disposal of the States, as I think it desirable that every opportunity should be given to enable those who desire to come here to get here with the least trouble.
– On Thursday last I’ asked the Acting Prime Minister if his attention had been drawn to the following paragraph, published in that morning’s. Argus -
The Premier (Mr. Verran) intimated in the House of Assembly to-day that on Tuesday he would ask for leave to introduce a Bill to authorize the construction of weirs, dams, and locks, and other works on the Murray River for navigation and irrigation, and for other purposes.
It has been arranged that a Parliamentary trip, attended by practically all members of both Houses, shall leave Adelaide for Melbourne on 6th December, and proceed to Mildura, where the party will board a steamer, and come down the river to Murray-bridge, inspecting the sites of the locks, and various irrigation and reclamation works along the river during their progress.
The honorable gentleman promised to let me know whether he would take steps under section 98 of the Constitution to have the Commonwealth represented.
– The Commonwealth has no power to interfere in regard to any action taken by any State for the construction of locks or irrigation works in connexion with any running stream in Australia, nor have we the right to be represented at any inspection. All that we may do is, if the navigability of rivers is threatened, to exercise our powers under the Constitution. Until then we may not interfere. The States, therefore, may do anything in the way of preliminary inquiry or continue to act until they reach the point when the navigability of rivers is threatened.
Inter- State Free Trade - Wharfage Dues and Inspection Fees
– As the control of quarantine is now in the hands of the Commonwealth Government, I desire to know whether restrictions are to continue against the sending of stock from Western Australia to South Australia by sea. If the Minister of Trade and Customs does not intend to provide for Commonwealth control in regard to stock quarantine, will he lay on the table the State regulations on the subject, so that honorable members may know exactly how matters stand? The action of South Australia amounts practically to a refusal to permit stock from Western Australia to enter South Australia whenever there is a scarcity there.
– I shall be pleased to look into the matter, and to do all I can to promote Inter-State Free Trade. While Western Australia is complaining of South Australia, the latter has a grievance in that her fruit, when sent to Western Australia, has to pay heavy inspection charges. When the Customs Department did away with Inter-State certificates, with a view to facilitating trade and intercourse between the States, Western Australia initiated what is practically a system of Inter-State certificates in another form.
– Is the Minister of Trade and Customs aware that the wharfage dues charged on Inter-State goods in many States are equivalent toan extra Customs duty? Will he, in the interests of freedom of trade between the States, take steps to bring about uniformity of wharfage dues throughout the Commonwealth?
– If any case can be submitted to me, I shall be delighted to see that whatever the Commonwealth can do to make the fees uniform is done. I thought they were uniform.
– Is the Minister of Trade and Customs aware that South Australia prohibits the importation of all stock from Western Australia, except horses, coming from districts south of the27th parallel of south latitude, and also that its prohibition with regard to all stock is absolute, the only exception being that of dogs ?
– I was not aware of the fact, but I shall cause inquiries to be made. I am in favour of Inter-State Free Trade in the true sense of the term, without any improper restriction.
– Will the Minister of Trade and Customs, when considering the question of the passing of stock between State and State, also give full consideration to the tick regulations as existing between Queensland and the infected areas of New South Wales and the rest of the State?
– Yes. I believe that every State should have such inspection laws as will keep it free from any disease existing in another State; but I object to a State making use of its inspection laws or quarantine fees with the object of preventing Inter-State Free Trade.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs will recollect that when we were discussing the question of Inter- State fees, on the motion of the honorable member for Wilmot with regard to the inspection of produce, he promised that he would have full inquiry made.
– That was in relation to inspection fees, and not wharfage dues.
– I took it that it applied to all restrictions on the passage of produce between one State and another. Has the Minister done anything in that matter yet?
– Yes, I have instructed departmental officers to obtain for me the fullest particulars relating to inspection fees. The question of wharfage due’s was not raised until to-day, but 1 shall see that it is added to the list of subjects for inquiry.
Increases of Salary
– A paragraph appeared in the New South Wales and Victorian papers within the last two or three days stating that a large number of public servants had had their salaries almost doubled, in the teeth of the Public Service Act, and against the recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner. Can the Minister of Home Affairs state whether that is true? If not, will he correct it in an interview or by some other method ?
– I ask my honorable friend to give notice of the question, so that I may look into the matter.
– With regard to the question asked by the honorable member for Parkes, it has been stated that the Minister intends to override the Public Service Act by giving to members of the Public Service either bonuses or salaries, not provided by the Act. I wish to ask the Acting Prime Minister if that is correct. If it is, will he take action to amend the law so that he may act within the law and not override it, and make it of no effect, as the Sydney press stated the other day was intended?
– It is not the intention of the Government to break the law. The payments will be made without involving a breach of the law, as the extra amount will be paid by way of allowance. As I have already explained, we shall in that way avoid interfering with rights of seniority and other matters which would otherwise be involved and necessitate a rather extensive amendment of the Public Service Act. That we cannot attempt at this stage of the session.
– On the 27th” October, the honorable member for Lang, on behalf of the honorable member for Wentworth, asked the following question: -
What is the estimated present value of the various naval establishments at Sydney?
The information has now been received, and is as follows : -
– In view of the fact that all the leading theatrical firms in Australia have agreed to their employes joining the Choristers and Dancers’ Union, and that only Mr. J. C. Williamson’s company have beaten their employe’s by a technicality, I desire to ask the Attorney-General if he will take action should Mr. Williamson prevent any of his employes joining the said union?
– My attention was drawn to the matter by direct representations made by some persons who are or were members of the union to which the honorable member has referred. They stated, as the honorable member has done, that there was an interference which amounted in effect to a prohibition on the right of these men and women to become members of an organization for the purpose of registering under the Conciliation and
Arbitration Act. I asked them to put their statements in writing, and support them with any facts they had at their disposal. I may say, to be perfectly candid and fair, that representatives of Messrs. Williamson and Company waited on me this morning, and told me, I presume officially and formally, that Mr. Williamson had no objection to the formation of a union, nor to members of his company becoming members of such an organization; but I understood there was a reservation to the effect that he did object to persons outside his employ becoming officers of the association.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Home Affairs -
– No. We propose simply to go on as previous Governments went on before we took charge.
– In view of the statement that the present Government proposes to follow on the lines of their predecessors with regard to accepting municipal services and evading payment therefor under the terms of the Constitution-
– Order. The honorable member is going beyond a question.
– I wish to ask the Minister whether he will follow the lead of the preceding Government by giving the most earnest consideration, which that Government promised, to the injustice now suffered by municipalities in order to see if some rough-and-ready methbd, such as is adopted in England, may not be arrived at, so that the Commonwealth may pay for the services it receives.
– If the honorable member asks only for serious consideration such as my predecessor gave the matter, I can promise him that he will have it.
– I ask the Minister whether his Government will give to this question, not merely his serious consideration, but the same earnest consideration as was given by the late Government?
– I cannot speak for the Government as a whole; I can speak in this matter only for myself.
– As it is possible that the Northern Territory may come into the possession of the Commonwealth before next session, I wish to ask the Minister of External Affairs whether he will indicate before the close of the present session the steps that the Government intend to take for the protection and control of the aborigines now resident in the Territory ?
– I think that I answered a similar question put by the honorable member a few days ago. As a matter of policy is involved, I ask the honorable gentleman to give notice of his question.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether, in view of the fact that his Department has taken steps to protect the public from the importation of certain drugs and chemicals, he will lay on the table of the House the papers affecting the matter?
– I am not sure that I car promise to do so. Although we have power under the Commerce Act to prohibit the importation of certain drugs and chemicals, it is quite possible that it might be held that we were going beyond the law if we advertised or made public through the press the names of the chemicals and drugs in respect of which action had been taken.
– Will the honorable member lay the papers on the Library table?
– I cannot promise to do so, but the papers will be available for inspection by any honorable member who desires to see them.
Grants to Institutions
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he take into consideration, in order to save the lives of the Australian babes, the necessity of placing on the Estimates a sum of money in order to grant to any institution the sum of 5s. per week for each child during the nine months that the mother would be under the shelter of such institution, such nine months to date from three months before the birth of the Australian babe to six months after the birth?
– This matter is one of vital importance; but it cannot receive attention at this stage of the session.
Physical Fitness for Active Service - Use of Air- ships.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– -The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Will he lay on the table of the House the papers in connexion with the letter written by Mr. Austin, a Victorian State officer, on the advisability and economy of using air-ships in the defence of Australia, which was forwarded to the Prime Minister by the late Sir Thomas Bent, then chairman of the InteT-State Conference of Premiers ?
– There is no objection to the papers being laid on the table of the Library. .
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Public Service - Female Medical Officers - Papers re Appointment of.
Immigration Restriction Act - Provisional Regulations - Statutory Rules 1910.
Papua - Ordinance of 1910, No. 14 - Supplementary Appropriation 1910-11, No. 1.
Excise Act - Tobacco Regulation No. 8 Amended (Provisional) Statutory Rules 1910, No. 107.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The Public Service Commissioner reports -
Qualified for promotion, nil.
Not qualified for promotion, 1907, 27.
Not qualified for promotion, 1908, 8.
Not qualified for promotion, 1909, 11.
Not qualified for promotion, 1910, 6 (to
Debate resumed from 3rd November (vide page 5642), on motion by Mr. Thomas - That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I did not have the privilege of hearing the second-reading speech of the Postmaster-General, whom we are all glad to see again in good health amongst us. I have glanced casually through the measure since my arrival in Melbourne to-day, and, personally, I have no objection to offer to the introduction of this reform. The honorable member is lucky to have the privilege of conducting this measure through the Chamber. As he himself has said, it is unthinkable that there should be a uniforming of the rates upwards, and that makes it inevitable that the uniforming shall be downwards. I should like to know, however, why this reform does not operate from the beginning of next year.
– The main thing is the exigencies of space at the Sydney Post Office. I am a little afraid to bring the measure into operation until I am quite sure on that point.
– I think we ought to risk the exigencies of space in connexion with a matter of this importance. The honorable gentleman risked exigencies when he decided to radically alter the telephone rates, which has left us in just as great a mess as ever. We have no better service, and things are going on just as badly; perhaps alittle worse, if anything; and the honorable member did not conserve the interests of the general public when he decided on that alteration. He has referred to the inevitability of this reform, owing to the cessation of the Braddon section period. What adjustment does he propose during the first four months of next year, when the same disparity will exist? I think he will find that he is doing an unconstitutional thing in charging differential rates for those four months.
– The Bill is to be brought into operation by proclamation, so that it may be in force as soon as possible.No one would be better pleased than myself to have an earlier date. But we have not fixed an earlier date for the reason I have given.
– We ought to fix a date; and I myself shall propose to do so if no one else does. We ought to put up with a little inconvenience during the first three or four months of next year, if for no other reason than to prevent the Postmaster-General carrying out his desire, with which he seems to be obsessed, of making the operation of the Bill date from the 13th April.
– Make it the 1st May !
– Why not the 1 st April? 1 really think that the 13th April is much more an “ All Fool’s “ day than the 1st of the month.
– I am not surprised the honorable member should think that !
– I have thought so ever since the 13th April last, which was certainly an “All Fool’s” day for Australia, and I venture to think the country will realize the fact before many years are over. However, joking apart, in my judgment a little inconvenience ought not to prevent this reform from coming into operation on the date on which the Constitution says it ought to. I do not see how the PostmasterGeneral can go behind the Constitution.
– What does the Constitution say?
– The Constitution says that the Braddon section and the bookkeeping period shall cease as from the end of the year. I take it, therefore, that since the general revenues are to be pooled from that date, the postal revenue, as part of that revenue, ought to be pooled in precisely the same way, and the States ought not to be victimised to the extent they will be under the pro posal before us for a third of next year. I congratulate the Postmaster-General on the fact that during his short term of office he has been able to convert all his confreres to the idea of penny postage. We all remember the fierce onslaught which’ came from honorable members opposite vjen this proposal was submitted on previous occasions.
– I am not yet converted !
– That is so. When the honorable member for EdenMonaro, as Postmaster-General, introduced this reform on two occasions, he received very scant courtesy from both the then Leader of the Labour party, Mr. J. C. Watson, and the present Prime Minister. Both these honorable members were almost vicious in their onslaught on the proposal, and spoke, perhaps, with more warmth than on any other occasion that I recollect. Referring to the debate which occurred when the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, in 1906, and not in 1907, as has been said, laid this proposal before the House in a long speech, I find that a whole page of the Hansard report consists of a dialogue carried on between Mr.. J. C. Watson and the honorable gentleman; and there is almost, as I say, a vicious tone in the interjections of the former.
– Did the honorable member support the proposal then?
– I should have done so had there been a straight-out vote.
– I think the honorable member voted against it.
– I voted for the adjournment of the debate.
– That was to kill the proposal !
– There never was a straight-out vote on the question, but only a vote for the adjournment of the debate. My position has always been clear on this matter. If honorable members will look back to the first proposal made at the beginning of Federation, they will see that I advocated penny postage and cheap telegrams.
– I have no doubt the honorable member advocated the reform, but he does not appear to have voted for it.
– I suppose the honorable member is going to vote against this measure?
– I am.
– Very well ; but it appears that a great number of other honorable members opposite are entitled to change their opinions, while objection is raised only when some one on this side is supposed to change his opinion. My own opinion, however, has not changed in this respect. On the occasion referred to, a vote was not taken, the debate being adjourned, and the Bill being subsequently dropped ; but nearly every member who spoke against the proposal was a member of the Labour party, and was fiercely antagonistic to it.
– One of its keenest opponents was the present PostmasterGeneral.
– That Is not so.
– It is so ; and I can prove it. From this corner, he shouted interjections against it.
-The then Leader of the Labour party, Mr. Watson, was opposed to it, denouncing it on several occasions, and declaring it to bea sop to the business community, at the expense of the taxpayers.
– I say that now.
– The concession is also being given at the expense of those who need telegraph and telephone communication, and cannot get it.
– I would point out that, at the expiration of the Braddon provision, the postal rates must be uniform, and must therefore either be raised or lowered; the present inequalities cannot continue.
– But, in fairness, the change should commence on 1st January.
– It will be very unfair to all the States but Victoria if it does not commence then. The present anomalies should not continue beyond the end of this year.
– There is no need for the Bill if the Constitution requires the change to be made.
– The PostmasterGeneral has stated that the measure would have been introduced earlier but for the Braddon provision. When it has ceased to have effect there must be uniformity, and there is no justification for continuing unequal rates beyond the present year.
– Will not the Minister allow the change to take place on the 1st January?
– I should like to see it come about to-morrow morning.
– The Minister offers no reason against the making of the change at the beginning of the year other than would apply to any other change?
– There are a lot of golden reasons against it.
– As the honorable member represents Victoria, he should be the last to speak against the proposal.
– New South Wales has had so much, that her representatives might well keep quiet.
– I am speaking, not for New South Wales, but for all the States. According to the present Chairman of Committees, uniform penny postage should not be adopted because any financial loss that might result must fall on the people. He said -
The estimated loss of£208,000 in the first year will have to be made good out of revenue, and the man who posts two or three letters in the course of the year will contribute as much to the amount necessary to make good that deficiency as will the- business man who sends thousands of letters through the post, and will thus reap the chief benefit of the reduction.
Figures were quoted to show how low the payments made to many employes in the Post Office are; and the honorable member concluded by saying that -
While it is all very well to be generous, as he is in the proposal which he has placed before the House, he should, in the first instance, be just to those employed by the Department. It must be remembered that any loss accruing from a reduction in postage will have to be made good by the people of the States.
It is true that all losses in connexion with public services must be borne by the people. Other members of the Labour party fulminated against the proposal, not only on the ground that it was expedient, but because 2d. was not too much to charge for the transmission of letters, and that that charge should be made in order to increase the number of mail services. It is only recently that the idea that we cannot afford penny postage because money is needed for old-age pensions has been brought forward. I congratulate the PostmasterGeneral on the reform with which he is lucky enough to be associated ; and I hope that, as a large number on this side will support it, he will spare usthe indignity of commencing the reform on the 13th April next.
– If that is thought to be an indignity, it will not be done.
– In the courseof his speech, the Postmaster- General said that he favoured free railways, and I have- beard him say so on the public platform. But directly he took charge of the Post Office, he applied the most rigorous busi-ness methods of the individualist to this Socialist institution. He says that the services must pay, and that the public must not expect benefits from them, except on a hard, matter-of-fact, cash basis.
– Who said that?
– The Acting -Prime Minister said that the other day at the Postal Conference, when the PostmasterGeneral was sitting alongside him. The honorable gentleman has told us that the telephone service must pay.
– Hear, hear !
– If the railways are to be free, why should not the telephone be free too? Why should we have communistic railways and individualistic telephones? The honorable gentleman’s regulations have put the telephone out of use for any but business purposes. He has destroyed its usefulness for social purposes.
– A big business man told me yesterday that he had petitioned against the toll system,- but was now in favour of at.
– Is the honorable member in office only to consider the big business man ? Is that the purpose in life of this Socialistic Minister ? How soon bis tone has changed. A little while ago be told us that he would make the big business man sit up.
– I did not say that.
– I am not misrepresenting the honorable member, though those are not his exact words. He said that he would make him pay up. Now he is ranging himself on the side of the individualist. I hope that he will remember these statements when he is next inclined to preach Socialism. He will have to tell the people that his Socialistic practice was promotion according to merit and individual fitness, and administration upon a purely individualistic system, the public services being required to pay. I congratulate the honorable member for EdenMonaro on seeing the Bill introduced, and I acknowledge the work which he did for years in endeavouring to have this reform p.ut on the statute-book. In my judgment, the estimate of loss is greatly exaggerated.
– There will be no loss; we shall merely refuse to take so much money out of the pockets of the people.
– Departmental estimates of this kind are, perhaps wisely, conservative, and, like many others, will probably be falsified in practice. I am Socialist enough to support everything that helps to develop social intercourse, the increased facilities for which are one of the chief benefits of our civilization. I very much regret the step taken in regard to the telephones. The inventor of the instrument intended it to be, not merely a convenience for the transaction of business, but something much more, an aid to the expansion of the social intercourse upon which we to much pride ourselves.
– An amorous conversation by telephone costs only Jd.
– I have known some that have cost a ‘great deal more.
– Whoever succeeds the present Postmaster-General will, I hope, restore the telephone to its proper use as an aid to social intercourse, instead of regarding it merely as a convenience for business men.
.- I desire to add my voice to those of other honorable members who wish to see penny postage instituted at the earliest moment. There are particular reasons why the new rates should come into operation on the 1st January next. They may not appeal with so much force to those Victorian members who are “ now interrupting, but they will appeal to the members who represent broadly the Commonwealth and who wish to see a fair thing done for the people as a whole. I propose to go into a little piece of ancient history regarding the introduction of penny postage in Victoria. When the Victorian Parliament .realized that Federation was coming, it deliberately reduced the rates of postage within the borders of that State to one penny, thinking that the people of Australia would have to bear the cost involved thereby. Having done that, however, they woke up, after Federation, to the fact that whatever departmental revenue Victoria lost as a State through carrying its own letters cheaper than those of the rest of Australia were carried, it would have to make up itself.
– They fell in.
– They did. But we must see that all the States are put on exactly the same basis after the 1st January, because after that date whatever loss is made by the Department through carrying only Victorian letters for one penny will bie borne not by Victoria, but by the Commonwealth as a whole.
– It is practically so now.
– I thought that that would begin only at the end of the ten years’ period. If it applies to-day it makes it all the more urgent that the anomaly should be rectified without further delay.
– Raise the Victorian postage rates.
– I do not believe in doing that. I believe in carrying letters as cheaply as possible. I do not see why it should cost twice as much to carry a letter in Australia as in any other country in the world.
– -We are completely behind the times.
– Not only are we behind the times in our rates of postage, but we are infinitely behind them in bur postal services in the great cities. I know that in the backblocks we have peculiar conditions to cope with which make it almost impossible to contrast our services with those of other countries, but when we compare the postal services of the most crowded sections of Melbourne or Sydney with those rendered in London, the result is infinitely to the discredit of the Australian postal service. In regard to the number of deliveries, the speed of deliveries, and the price of postage, we are infinitely behind the Old Country, which we sometimes patronizingly regard as an aged person without the vigour and enterprise of youth.
– We are not far out in many things.
– We are very far out so far as the London postal arrangements are concerned.
The earlier we get to grips with this question the better it will be ,for the people of Australia. The Bill is to come into force on a date to be fixed by proclamation. What is the objection to fixing the 1st January definitely as the date of commencement? I do not recollect a case where a Minister, in introducing a Bill to be brought into force by proclamation, has objected to state definitely the date on which it is proposed to put the Act into effect. The matter is of great importance, as every user of the postal service will want to know when the Act is to come into operation. To fix the 1st January next will certainly give greater satisfaction to the people and to the House, and also to the honorable member for EdenMonaro, to whom so much is due for having urged the reform in its early stages.
I should be the last to blame the people of Victoria as a whole for the piece of sharp practice perpetrated by the Victorian Parliament just before Federation was entered into.
– They must have been very poor lawyers.
– They must have been as deficient in legal acumen as in the moral sense. An action of that sort by the Victorian Parliament reflects little credit upon that body, but I do not think the people of Victoria can be blamed for what was done then by their ‘representatives. Since 1 have been in this State I have seen evidence among some public men, and certainly in one section of the press, of the most bitter anti- Australian feeling. This would be described by that section of the press as a pro- Victorian feeling, but it is really anti-national in its virulence. Having lived here for some years, however, and met all classes of the community, I must say that I do not find that cancer in the minds of the people of the State. But the feeling of that section of the press may influence a certain number of weak-kneed politicians who want its support, and might have made the Victorian Parliament do the shady action to which I have drawn attention.
If the Postmaster-General and the Government have any regard for the rights pi the people as a whole, they will see that from the 1st January next the people of every State in the Union are on exactly the same basis with regard to postal rates.
– This is the only Bill introduced this session that has given me any pain. I must say at the outset that I am against it.
– I thought the honorable member held progressive views.
– So I do. I should not go to the honorable member for them, in any case. If the Government had made an arrangement whereby all the States would be placed on the same footing in another direction, I should have been quite willing to accept the Bill. Perhaps, as a Victorian, I may be charged with taking an unfair stand on the question, but I would rather have seen the Victorian postal rates raised to those of the other States.
– The honorable member when Postmaster -General was worried by myself and others, just as the present Postmaster-General has been worried, in order that the post-office servants might receive fair remuneration for the work they perform, and be given fair hours of labour.
– This Bill will not prevent that.
– Will it not? In the past when we endeavoured to have a grievance redressed we were always told that the financial position would not allow it. Yet we are now informed that the loss of half-a-million of money will not make the matter any worse than it is at present.
– There is no loss; the Government are simply refusing to take the money out of the pockets of the people. .
– The Government themselves have made preparation for a loss of over £400,000. When complaints have been made the answer has always been that there is no money to redress them. Redress has now been given by the Government in one direction by advancing the wages of the lowest paid public servants, but we have Been trying for years to get the salaries of the lower-paid officers raised, and we are always met with the answer that there is no money to do it. There are hundreds of thousands of hours of overtime owing to the Public Service throughout Australia, and no redress can be obtained.
– Mr. Bright tells me that in Victoria he can wipe it all off in four months.
– I invite the Minister to disprove my statement. I asked in the House how many hours’ overtime were owing to the Federal public servants in Australia last year, and whether the amount had decreased or increased; but was told that it would cost thousands of pounds to obtain the information. I did not wish to put the country to that expense, because I knew, as the Department knew, that hundreds of thousands of hours of overtime were owing. Now the very people who are owing the public servants all that overtime, and who say they have no money to pay them, propose to make a loss of another half-a-million. Is that a common-sense way to carry on a business concern, as the Postal Department undoubtedly is? It must not be run as a sentimental affair.
– Every country where penny postage has been introduced has shown an increased revenue.
– I always listen with pleasure to the honorable member. He made a splendid address on this question - perhaps his best address in this chamber bar one - but he did not convince me or the House with it. We have officers in our Departments whose increments have been refused for years. I know postmasters who at present are down in the fourth class, but who, if they had their rights, being able men and attending conscientiously to their duties, would be in about the second class. They are kept down because there has been no money to give them the increments to which they were entitled. How are things to be any better in the future under this proposal? Things must be worse if a big loss of revenue is caused. The people in the country are clamouring for telegraph and telephone lines and extended postal conveniences. We have been assured by every Postmaster-General and Treasurer that there is no money for those purposes.
– It is the Treasurer who is the bugbear.
– I admit that the honorable member knew what the position was when he held office as PostmasterGeneral.
– I am not finding fault with the present Treasurer, and do not wish to blame him. If there is any blame, let it be attributed to myself.
– Then the honorable member must take the blame. Victoria is a mere patch, so to speak, as compared with some of the other States, yet we have many complaints, justified by evidence, that thousands of its citizens are suffering from incomplete telephone and postal services, and are unable to obtain any. redress.
– Residents of the country districts of Victoria would not agree to revert to the system of a twopenny postage.
– Some commercial men would object to a return to the old system, but many country people would approve of a return to it provided that an improved service were given them.
– I know something of the feeling of country residents.
– The honorable member represents the business section of his electorate - the men who can afford to pay for their correspondence.
– I represent the majority of people in my electorate.
– But not the worst paid men in the electorate. A Labour candidate who opposed the honorable member polled about 4,000 votes. We had a complaint the other day from representatives of Tasmania.
– They are always complaining.
– They would be poor Britishers if they did not complain when they were suffering a wrong. It is only by complaining that we can hope to secure the redress of grievances.
– We can get nothing from the present Postmaster-General.
– He is neither better nor worse than his predecessors. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, when introducing the first Penny Postage Bill in this House, told us of the advances that had been made by other countries as the result of the adoption of the system. I contend that in this regard a comparison cannot be made between Australia and England, Germany, or the United States of America. A comparison, however, might be made with Canada, since whilst we have to contend with great heat and sandy deserts in some parts of the continent, Canada has ice-bound coasts and snow-covered areas. We are told that on the introduction of penny postage in the Dominion of Canada the revenue was considerably increased. I do not know that we were told by the Postmaster-General that the system has proved payable.
– The loss which followed the introduction of the system was made good within three years.
– South Australia is the only State where penny postage has not been applied - at least to certain districts. In the closely settled parts of the remaining States the system has been in force for some time, so that we have to look to the remote and sparsely populated districts of Australia to make good the loss which will follow from this reduction of rates.
– But surely we should give country people the advantages which city residents enjoy in this regard.
– I would give country residents as many facilities as 1 would give any other section of the community, and my contention is that country residents will suffer mostly from this reduction.
– The employes of the service will be made to suffer for years longer.
– Yes. Some time ago, when I made an interjection in regard to the State of Victoria, the honorable member for Maranoa replied, “ Why, the whole of Victoria could be put in one corner of my electorate.” It is in such large and thinly populated electorates that the mail services are most costly, and it is only from such districts that we can hope to obtain additional revenue to make good the loss which will follow the introduction of penny postage. We have been told that 50 per cent. of the people already enjoy the advantages of the system, and, that being so, what chance have we of increasing in this way the present revenue ? Will the honorable member for Eden-Monaro say that a service which has not hitherto paid will become payable as the result of this system?
– I do not think so. In every country district that I have visited I have found the people clamouring for better telephone facilities. That is the cry practically all over Victoria.
– But telephone facilities have nothing to do with the postal revenue.
– The honorable member must admit that it is difficult to separate one service from another in connexion with his Department. I believe that nine-tenths of the people of Australia - I do not include the commercial men, because they are never satisfied unless their~special interests are being looked after and their dividends increased - would be prepared to continue paying the existing rates, provided that better facilities were supplied in country districts. We are told that penny postage will cause the revenue of the Department to increase by leaps and bounds. In this connexion, let us consider what has taken place in Victoria, which has a perfect network of railways, so that it should not be difficult or costly to supply every district with a postal service. According to the Postmaster-General, we have lost between £20,000 and £30,000 a year since the introduction of penny postage in this State, and the honorable gentleman tells us that the postal system of Victoria next year will be -run at a loss of £260,000.
– Mostly for telephones.
– Then the honorable member had no right to play into the hands of those who were gibing at me by saying, in reply to a statement that I made in regard to penny postage, that under the present system we should lose £260,000 in this State next year.
– I did not want to gibeat any one. Most of that amount represents the extra cost in respect of telephones in Victoria.
– But the honorable member did not make that statement at the time. The inference to be drawn from his remark was that the loss was in respect of postal business.
– We shall lose that amount on the whole service.
– Not in respect of the postal service?
– On the whole service. Most of the money relates to the new exchanges.
– So that, as a matter of fact, the loss has nothing to do with penny postage in this State?
– Nothing at all.
– It seemed to me, to say the least, to be peculiar that, if in Victoria, where we have a greater network of railways than is to be found in any other part of Australia, penny postage was not paying, honorable members could hope that the system, as applied to the whole Commonwealth, would pay within the next hundred years.
– The service did not pay prior to penny postage being introduced here.
– That is quite possible; but I was led to understand’ that there was a loss on the transmission of letters in respect of the Victorian branch of the service. If that is not so, the bottom is, of course, knocked out of my argument to a great extent; but that is what I understood to be the position.
– Other States will be called upon to pay for other things !
– But Victoria will be called upon to pay, not only the loss on penny postage, but also the loss on the transcontinental railway to Western Australia.
– Wherever fates have been lowered in regard to letters, money orders, or any other service, there has been an increase in revenue.
– But the expenses have not increased accordingly. I admit that, with the cessation of the Braddon section, the receipts have to be pooled, and that other States have a right to the same postal facilities that Victoria has; but those facilities ought not to be given at the great sacrifice of certain States. The first to suffer from the reduction in the rates will be those who now require more facilities in the country, and the second will be those public servants whose increments and overtime will be reduced at a time of life when their family responsibilities are increasing. I know, of course, that I. am “ talking to the wind,” and that we shall see what to me is the lamentable sight of the Opposition coming over to support the Government. However, on all the grounds I have stated, I enter my protest against the proposed reduction.
.- It seems to me that the answer to the honorable’ member for Melbourne Ports, and many other critics of this proposal, is the fact that the unity of Australia remains incomplete so long as the present postal differences and contrasts remain. It was regarded from the very outset, in the adjustment of the financial proposals, as ordered by the Constitution, one of its necessary implications. On the termination of the period for which the States were to be dealt with independently and separately, there was to follow a period in which, all our interests being blended, we should associate as one people. The honorable, member for Melbourne Ports has himself, doubtless, on many occasions on the public platform^ and in this House, reminded us that we are one people; and how he can reconcile that with the attitude he at present adopts- -
– I contend that the Victorian rate should be raised to that of other States.
– If it be regarded as an inevitable accompaniment of Federation, and an indispensable condition of the active working of Federation, that we should have complete intercommunication and interchange, then penny postage is plainly an absolute necessity. I am very glad to see present with us my honorable friend and former colleague, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who, as Postmaster-General in days before we had reached our present relative freedom - in the days of our bondage to the financial requirements of the Constitution, before we were able to breathe the air of liberty which the present PostmasterGeneral finds so exhilarating - as early as 1906-7, on behalf of the Ministry of which we were members, did his best to induce the acceptance of this as one among the responsibilities which the Commonwealth must assume. I do not pretend to put aside for a moment the financial or other practical considerations associated with this proposition;, but these have already been dealt with by my friend and late colleague, the honorable member for Bendigo, and I certainly should not dream of repeating them. The financial considerations have to be weighed, and I think they have been well weighed; but on the whole it is sufficient to point out the world’s experience in relation to changes of this character. Although the initiation of penny postage on 1st January next will necessarily involve an increase of the present deficit in the working of the postal service, after all, that is but one, and by no means a major, consideration. With the progress we are making, and particularly with the progress : rc settlement to which we are anxiously looking forward, we must remember that there are few greater agencies in encouraging the enterprising to venture out back than the possibilities of communication now afforded by the postal and telegraph services. I, for one, am glad to know that the post and telegraph system is not to be crippled in any respect in consequence of this change. We have the assurance of the Minister to the contrary ; and I hope that the greater tide of business which must inevitably accrue will improve existing channels, and that a proportion of the cost of the new system will not be extra cost, so largely will it be covered by our capacity to do more business over a greater area of Australia. No one will deny that to the hard- worked pioneer of the backblocks, whose position, under all circumstances, is arduous, and, under some circumstances, almost unbearable, the fact that the post and telegraph, and, if possible, the telephone, systems are brought within reasonable reach of his holding at cheap rates, is one of the greatest encouragements to him to hold on. It also keeps him in touch with market operations, which’ are often extremely material. But I do not propose to repeat a series of reflections which are familiar to us all. I have only to congratulate the Postmaster-General on having paired in favour of the original proposition in IQ06 and on now being in the fortunate position of submitting it to a more willing House - not only to a more willing House, but in proposing it at a period in which, as he himself has said, our national circumstances have entirely altered. There is no inconsistency in the alteration of attitude of some honorable members in this regard. In 1906-7, in view of the financial burdens then imposed on us, and the limited outlook in the way of receipts, honorable members hesitated to commit themselves. I think they were unduly timorous, but still there was very necessary weight given a.t that time to everything affecting the state of the public finances.
– Even the State Governments were against the proposal !
– Even some of the State Governments were opposed to a reform which, under ordinary circumstances, we should have expected them to receive with enthusiasm.- However, the entire contrast in the financial circumstances, then and now, and in our constitutional position when taken into account, more than justify the step now to be taken. Had it been the fortune of the late Government to conduct the business of this session, this would have been one of the measures introduced. So far from having weakened in our faith, each year’s experience has strengthened our - confidence in the response which the public will make to proposals for the extension of postal facilities. Consequently, the sea-/ son, as well as other circumstances, are in favour of the present Postmaster-General. I, for one, do not underestimate the extra burden about to be cast on the Post Office. J have every hope, however, that the concession will lead to “ such an increase of business as to exceed even the highest expectation of the PostmasterGeneral.
– That has been the history of penny postage the world over !
– This I take as affording excellent prospects, not merely becauseit will contribute towards the inevitable expense of this reduction, but because it will illustrate the appreciation of the public, indicating what we may expect when the’ telegraph and telephone are treated in the same liberal way.
– We have the advantage over Canada in that we own the telegraphs, and, consequently, the increased business, generally, will mean increased telegraph business.
– What will the opponents of this measure say if, at the next Postal Conference, world-wide penny postage is decided on?
– I observe that, except in one item of the schedule, a liberal view is taken. There is a relative increase in one of the charges.
– What is that?
– In regard to newspapers printed outside Australia ; but, in any case, that is a detail for consideration in Committee. I rose to express my satisfaction that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro should be present to witness the culmination of his labours, and to congratulate the Postmaster-General on taking one of those steps which, however small and insignificant they may appear to some, represents a great agency binding us more closely together, facilitating a better understanding throughout and between all parts of the Commonwealth, and narrowing the divisions which at present separate town from country, or the settled country from the unsettled behind it.
– And all at the expense of much-needed facilities in the country !
– The PostmasterGeneral has undertaken that the facilities referred to are not to be curtailed, but will be expanded at least in the same proportion to the growth of the business. The policy of the Government, or certainly that of this Parliament, is that this reform shall not mean a retrograde step, nor involve parsimony, but shall be associated with such a development of the agencies of communication as will gradually extend to the whole community the many benefits now enjoyed by the metropolitan populations. No better civilizing organization than that controlled by the PostmasterGeneral exists. While telephone and telegraph communication cannot be extended as quickly as postal services, every decade, and, indeed, every quinquennium, should witness their development and the closer bringing together of the peoples scattered over this vast continent.
.- In listening to the honorable member for Ballarat coining nice-sounding phrases, with a charm of manner which seems to insure their reception, I almost regret that there is not a penalty attached to the practice similar to that attached to the coining of counterfeit money. We are informed that the proposed change in the postal rates is necessary to effect the “ unity of Australia,” which will be a name only until we have uniform penny ‘ postage. I have heard the phrase employed before in other connexions; but when the proposal before us has been adopted, the “ unity of Australia “ will have been finally achieved. It is alleged that our finances permit of what is proposed being done. I would remind the honorable member for Ballarat that the “unity of Australia,” by means of the reduction of postal rates was not made an important part of the programme of the last Ministry, whose proposals were chiefly for disuniting Australia, and making the Commonwealth Parliament subservient to those of the States. When the unfortunate employes of the PostmasterGeneral, who are to-day wretchedly underpaid and shockingly overworked, call attention to their condition, they will be told that the “ unity of Australia “ requires that no change shall be made.!hen the employe at £2 2s. a week, who is struggling hard to keep a wife and family, is called upon to work two or three hours a day overtime, and his wife asks him, “ Why have you to do this without extra pay?” he will have as his answer, “ The unity of Australia requires it.” In scarcely any branch of the postal service do just conditions prevail. When the professional men remind the Postmaster-General that they are getting less than those similarly employed outside the service, they will be told, “It is necessary that your salary should not be increased, in order that the ‘ unity of Australia ‘ may be accomplished.” The professional man who has the temerity to ask that he may be paid 10s. a day because that is the rate paid to those similarly employed outside, must be told that he should be willing to do with less clothing, and his children to do with less food and inferior education, so that this blessed and satisfying thing, the “ unity of Australia “ may be brought about. These phrases may please the unthinking, but they do not feed the hungry, nor remedy the grievances of those who have been sweated.
– They do not take the telephone into the bush.
– No. The men who are the backbone of the country, and whose votes are so eagerly sought at election time, especially by the coiners of phrases, sometimes do not get a letter once in three months. With uniform penny postage, it will be impossible to provide them with telegraph or telephone communication though possibly we may be able to send the message that the “ unity of Australia “ requires that they should go on cutting down forests and doing other pioneering work without the benefits of closer communication. When a mail service costing £100 is asked for, and the departmental estimate of revenue is only £80, the invariable reply is that the service cannot be established. But we are going to give to those in the city and the large towns benefits which we deny to those in the country. We cannot find the money for postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services, for the benefit of the cream of our population, the men whom we should assist almost at any cost, because it is they who are opening up the country; but we are able to make a costly present to a few merchants in the cities. When country districts ask for telephone connexions, they are told that they must give a guarantee of 5 per cent. on the outlay.
– Often the connexion is not given after the guarantee has been provided for.
– Sometimes, money is subscribed, and is in the hands of the postal authorities for months before anything is done. The city merchants are not asked to guarantee the loss consequent upon the proposed reduction of postage rates. The Minister proposes a step which will cost the Department£400,000 a year.
– Then I am a little below the mark. No guarantee is asked for. I place on record my opinion that this proposal is equivalent to the increasing of dividends at the expense of employes. If a private company proposed anything of the kind, the Postmaster-General and others would be up in arms denouncing it as a wrong, and I have never understood why the Public Service should be less well conducted than private employment. If we have some thousands of pounds to spare, we should use the money, not to gild the apex of the commercial and social pyramid, but to strengthen its foundations. The structure is more likely to stand if the foundation is good. It is the men, women. boys, and girls employed in the Department who constitute the foundation on which this superstructure rests; it is on their efforts that success largely depends. Parliament will not do its duty if it does not treat them as reasonably as the finances will permit. I submit to honorable members opposite, who are almost unanimous in support of the proposal-
– They are not.
– One or two of them are not supporting it. I submit to them that, apart from the minimum wage provision, the employes in our postal service have been unfairly treated ever since Federation. Over£6,000,000, which should have been expended in putting the Department on a proper footing, was handed back to the States.
– The honorable member should try to convert those of his own side.
– I have not heard a supporter of the Bill on this side other than a Minister.
– Members of the Labour party will come in and vote for the measure.
– I do not know that that is so. The honorable member suggests that they vote in accordance with conclusions arrived at outside, not listening to the opinions expressed here. But I protested against the measure directly it was placed on the table, speaking against the proposal on a. grievance motion, and I again take exception to it in the peculiar circumstances in which we are placed. Until those circumstances are altered, and justice is done to the whole of the Postal Service, it seems to me that we are not doing right in proposing the reduction of the postal rates. A duty devolves upon the House of seeing that the employes, who owe their allegiance to Parliament, and, through Parliament, to the people, are not unfairly treated. For years back they have been told that “the finances will not permit.” That has been the stock argument. They have been told in some cases that the Public Service Commissioner would not permit certain unjust conditions to be altered. They have been met with all manner of excuses from Deputy Postmasters-General, Public Service Inspectors, and the hundred and one other persons who, unfortunately, come between the individual who is doing the work and. the last responsible official. Now, apparently, the finances do permit of proper wages being paid, but the very first proposal of the Government is, not to do justice to those who have justifiably complained for many years, but to make a present to a small section of the community vho are really not asking for it, because they know in their hearts that it is not. in the circumstances, a fair or honorable thing lo ask for. Yet this is being done because of those high-sounding phrases which we have heard, or because of some kudos that may attach to a Ministry, or a Minister, tor the introduction of this grand and large thing - “ penny postage all over the continent, and the unity of Australia.”
– The honorable member admits that we must have uniformity?
– I acknowledge the necessity for uniformity, but not uniformity of this particular character, at the expense, of individuals in the Department who today are being sweated and underpaid. It is being achieved at their expense for the time being.
– Would the honorable member raise the postage to 2d. all round?
– I am not prepared to advocate any increase at the present moment.
– We must do one thing or the other.
– No; uniformity may come in its right place.
– How will the honorable member get it?
– It can come when we have the finances to permit of it. Does the right honorable member for Swan say that we ought to reduce the postage rate to id., involving for a number of years, at any rate, a reduced postal revenue?
– The rates are reduced in all the towns, and also in the whole of Victoria. Does the honorable member propose to raise them?
– There is no violent necessity for uniformity of the character proposed at present.
– I think it is compulsory.
– I do not. Even if that alleged constitutional necessity for uniformity exists, the Ministry would have been more nearly doing their duty if they made proposals to give a greater degree of uniform justice throughout the service, which for ten years has been ill-treated, neglected, and overlooked, instead of making a present to a small section of the community who do not require it.
– The honorable member is always looking for votes.
– That - remark was most uncalled for; no man in the House deserves it less. I do not truckle to the mob in any shape or form. If I have an opinion, I give expression to it. When the right honorable member for Swan is speaking, if I offer even a mild interrogation to get a little more information from him, he replies to me most rudely. So far as I am concerned, the vote in this respect is of absolutely no consequence to me. It is simply a question of doing justice to men who depend on this House for justice, and who can get it from no other source. They have been kept back year after year, because of the old cry that the finances would not permit more money to be paid. To-day they are being shockingly ill-treated, so far as rates of pay, hours of labour, and the amount of work imposed on them are concerned. Yet, instead of the first proposal of the Government being to do justice in that direction, it is to give penny postage. One honorable member on the other side said that the proposal meant progress. Apparently, in the minds of some honorable members, progress means strewing roses on fine carpets in the path of those who are already well shod, and it make no difference to them if the strewing of roses in front of a certain few means strewing thorns and broken glass in the path of the barefooted many.
– Where is the proposal coming from?
– From the present Government, but it matters not to me which Ministry it comes from. If I do not think it is right, I do not support it. The coining of high-sounding phrases about the unity of Australia may tell with some people, but it does not give justice to a small section of the community who have comparatively little voting strength, and have been forced to suffer for a number of years. Apparently, because they have suffered in comparative silence, and have not been able to make themselves strongly heard in the House, their suffering is to continue. I can see no indication that the wrongs from which they suffer are to be in any way redressed. A statement has recently been made by the Government that all persons in the postal service over the age of twenty-one are in future to receive a minimum wage of £110 a year, irrespective of length of service. That is a magnificent concession, almost heartbreaking in its generosity, but it does not affect very many. There are numbers between eighteen and twenty-one doing work, the results of which justify a higher payment even than £110 a year, but that minimum is to be paid only to those over twenty-one, so that the increase amounts really to very little. Before making this proposal the Ministry might have indicated to the House what they intend to do with respect to the report of the Postal Commission. It points out innumerable wrongs, and shows the necessity for change and improvement, and a better system of administration, in order to do justice to the employes in the” postal service. So far, I have heard no word from the Ministry as to what they intend to do to redress the wrongs enumerated in the report. Instead of yielding to a desire on the part of some honorable members to benefit a small section of the community on the ground that it will promote “ the unity of Australia,” the whole House ought to demand from the Government a statement of what they intend to do with the recommendations of the Postal Commission. That should be made clear before the Government bring in any proposal of. their own not recommended in the report. The Commission went exhaustively into the whole of the postal service, and deserve our everlasting thanks for their work. They recommend that postage, rates within the States be made uniform at id. per ounce when the telegraph and telephone services have been placed on a self-supporting basis. I understand that that recommendation is only for penny postage within the States,, but this Bill proposes penny postage throughout Australia. The Government, therefore, propose to go a great deal further than the Commission “recommended. When we turn to the question of justice to the employes, we find on the part of the Government a silence that is appalling. There is an entire absence of indication even as to their trend of thought on that subject. The Commission recommend that leave in lieu of overtime be abolished, and that the overtime be paid for. Here again there is a distressing silence on the part of the Ministry.
– In the circumstances, we ought to have a quorum present. [Quorum formed.’]
– I was drawing attention to the fact that the Ministry, under this Bill, are going a great deal further than is recommended by the Postal Commission. I do not wish to go into the details of the Commission’s report, for I understand the honorable member for Gwydir, who is thoroughly conversant with all the facts relating to the inquiry, intends to speak to the motion. When we examine the recommendations of the Commission, we find that, in regard1 to items that ought to be attended to immediately, “there is a distressing silence. The Com mission recommended “ That leave in lieu of overtime be abolished, and that overtime be paid for.” What right have we, because we happen to be in Parliament, to say to hundreds of employes in the postal service - not in our service, but in the service of the whole of the people, we being merely the responsible managers - “ You shall work overtime, and shall not be paid for it “ ?
– No right.
– But that is what we do. The practice has prevailed for a number of years, and apparently we are going to continue the wrong. The Ministry do not propose any redress in this connexion. Week after week, and month after month, persons in the Public Service have been brought back from their own homes and made to work overtime at all hours of the day and night.
– Sundays included.
– Sundays included. Week after week this has gone on, and yet no payment has been made for overtime.
– Why does not the honorable member put a stop to it ?
– I am doing my best by calling public attention to the matter, and I am going to vote, irrespective of Ministerial considerations, in accordance with my views. What right have we to continue this system? In some quarters it would be regarded as little short of revolutionary to continue to sweat employes as we have sweated public servants in the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– And that is the only monopoly that the Government have yet secured.
– We shall secure an alteration.
– The trouble is to sweep away abuses which previous Governments have created.
– -These are abuses, and I call public attention to them in the hope that they will be removed. The Postal Commission recommended “ That six days be added to officers’ annual leave, in lieu of- public holidays worked,” and that Sunday work - this ought to appeal to the Postmaster-General, who is a strong supporter of the reduction of postal rates - be limited. It is further recommended “ That Christmas Day and Good Friday be treated officially as Sundays.” That is an excellent proposal - one with which every honorable member agrees - and yet it is not adopted. A peculiar phase of political life is the fact that we are apt to find a Parliament unanimously of opinion that a particular system ought to be abolished, or some work carried out, yet that system is not abolished, and that work is not carried out. We who talk about “ the unity of Australia “ are prepared to throw thousands of pounds into the laps of a few merchants who have already been surfeited with benefits under the Federal Postal Service - benefits far in excess of those which they received when the service was under State control - and yet another sop is to be thrown at them. The majority of the people do not care two straws whether they have to use a penny or a two-penny stamp. What cares the ordinary individual about a penny or a two-penny stamp? What benefit will this reduction be to the average man so far as it will represent an increase of his wages during the next twelve months? It will not mean to him a saving of 6d. per annum, and, in dealing with his correspondence, he thinks no more of a two-penny stamp than he would of a penny stamp. The honorable member for Gwydir suggests to me the question, “ Of what advantage is penny postage to individuals in country districts, who have no postal service - who can -obtain neither a post-office nor a mail?” Well may the question be asked. Others, as the- result of this reduction, will be able to read the charming speeches of the honorable member for Ballarat, the eulogies of the PostmasterGeneral, and the addresses of the ex-Postmaster-General, who, when referring to the welfare of the farming community a few days ago, strained himself to such an extent that I had fears about his physical condition. The farming community are deeply interested in this matter; for, although the average farmer has not a voluminous correspondence, he has an interest in securing some sort of postal service. He desires occasionally to write and post a letter, if only to check the city agent who is overcharging him for his agricultural implements, or to deal with other, matters. But of what use is penny postage to him if his mail service is limited, and what after all is penny postage to the average citizen? The average man cares little or nothing for it. It will mean, however, an additional benefit to a small section of the community who, as I have said, have already been surfeited with benefits under the Federal postal system. We have reduced the telegraphic rates to the benefit of the commercial element of the community, but the average citizen has not gained by the reduction to the extent of a snap of the fingers. We have facilitated the transmission of newspapers through the post, which has been an advantage to newspaper proprietors, although of little benefit to the people generally. It has certainly assisted some people to disseminate views which might as well have been kept in the background, and has helped a certain section of the community, but the bulk of the people have received no material benefit from it. The commercial classes have enjoyed the use of the telephone services for a number of years at an enormous loss to the country. It has been a case of “ Dividends, dividends, dividends “ to a small section of the community, and now we have a proposal to add still further dividends to their lists - and dividends which, from my point of view, will be paid at the expense of individuals doing the work of the Postmaster-General’s Department. It seems to me that under these circumstances honorable members, on this side of the House in particular, will be only doing a fair thing if they object to this Bill until we have pertaining to the service a more just system than we have at present. I shall not go into further detail in regard to the recommendations of the Postal Commission, but there are one or two more to which 1 should like to refer. For instance, the Commission recommend that “ overtime be abolished except in special circumstances, and that overtime now due be paid for.” There we have proof positive that this Parliament, as the manager responsible to the people, owes money to the underpaid employes of the postal service. I know of no proposal to carry out that recommendation; but we are going to give the merchants of one or two cities a reduction amounting to a few hundred pounds per annum per firm in respect of the cost of their postal service. Here is a recommendation to which I must draw attention - “ That tea money be abolished and extra services be paid for.” If a man in the postal service happens to be receiving about £400 a year, he receives something like 3s. for tea money when he has to work overtime; but if he is getting about £110 per ‘annum he is given is. for tea money. If you are a £400 per annum man you can have a first-rate dinner, and possibly a small bottle of wine ; but if you happen to be one of _ the rank and file receiving only £110 per annum, you must battle somewhere with your ninepence or shilling and get the best you can for the money. I have complaints at the present time to put before the Postmaster-General to the effect that, although the regulations provide that if a man is called back to work two hours’ overtime tea money shall be paid to him, there are persons in authority who deliberately refuse in certain cases to carry out that provision; but who never fail to observe it in the case of those higher in authority. There are other recommendations by the Postal Commission to which attention might well be given. The Commission recommends, for instance, that linemen’s travelling allowances be increased, and that officers performing work of higher grades be paid the salary attached to higher grades if so employed for three months or more. There is also a recommendation relating to the provision of telephone and postal services in country districts. It seems to me that if we are to be just before we are generous we must first of all meet these demands ; but there is. no indication of the intentions of the Government with respect to these recommendations. We are to put the system of penny postage into operation for the sake of the “ unity of Australia !” I hope that it is clearly on record that I shall vote deliberately against this Bill. I am of opinion that the Ministry have not done right in bringing it forward in the present circumstances. It would have been better if they had had regard to many of the recommendations of the Postal Commission before seeking to give effect to this scheme. We shall not necessarily secure progress by giving a little more to those who have already been surfeited; but we shall secure progress - and progress of a more just and honorable character - if we consider the wants of those who have been wilfullyoverlooked in some instances to-day when the finances of the country permit of justice being done to them.
– This is an unfortunate time at which to introduce the Bill now before us, and it seems to me that this and other measures with which we are now asked to deal should not be considered until the Budget has been dealt with. Since the inception of Federation there has never been such a stoppage of all works in outlying districts as there is at present. Honorable members who have had occasion to ask for the construction of a telephone or a telegraph line in country districts have invariably been met with the stereotyped reply, “ No funds available.”
– There has been more work done in my electorate this year than in any previous year.
– And there is a larger sum on the Estimates than there has ever been.
– There is less being done at the present than ever before. The Department is becoming more and more conservative in its operations.
– More is being done in my electorate than ever before.
– I should not like to suggest what those interjections might lead one to think. Whenever application is made for telephone extension in the bush a personal guarantee from the residents is demanded. King Island, for instance, is cut off from all communication.
– That is a scandal !
– It has been a scandal for years. Wireless telegraphy structures were erected at Devonport with a view to test communication with Tasmania, but, for the sake of a few pounds, the work was abandoned. Although King Island has been exceedingly well settled both from Victoria and Tasmania, it is practically as much shut off from the outside world as it was ten years ago. Quite recently an application was made for a telephone to Port Davey.
– The Government will give communication as soon as possible.
– But we are told by the Postmaster-General that the Government’ cannot afford to carry out the work. There have been shipwrecks in this neighbourhood, and sailors have died of starvation owing to lack of communication, and, for the same cause, when steamers have been obliged to put in for shelter for a week or more, the friends of the sailors and passengers are left without any newswhatever. There is no place in Australia where the same number of wrecks hasoccurred, or where there have been such hardships suffered by crews in distress. The State Government have offered to erect a depot at Port Davey and place a man in charge of the telephone if the Federal Government will construct the line, but we are told that the Government cannot afford to undertake the work.
– Who said so? It is absurd to talk about constructing a line to cost £2,000, when there is not a soul at the place !
– It would not cost nearly £2,000, and the PostmasterGeneral knows that the circumstances make such communication an absolute necessity.
– How would the honorable member provide against the present conditions.
– Before undertaking a reform which is estimated to lose about £400,000 for the first year at least, telephone communication should be given to every place in the bush where a few people are gathered.
– How can there be a loss when this Bill simply means leaving the money in the people’s pockets?
– I am talking of departmental revenue and departmental loss, and it would be a thousand times better to give telephonic communication first, and penny postage afterwards. If there is one hardship from which our pioneering people suffer, it is the absence of such communication, which, in many cases, means the impossibility of securing medical attendance, even though a life may be at stake. We talk a great deal about assisting the men in the backblocks, and about opening up the country; and we ought to realize that there is no adjunct to civilization so necessary as the telephone. The honorable member for Adelaide has told us of the way in which some of the postal servants are underpaid; and for further examples I refer honorable members to the salaries paid to the people in charge of semi-official offices. The revenue of the Department should in no way be reduced until every man and woman employed is paid a fair living wage; yet we have this proposal for penny postage in face of the fact that every application is met by the answer that the Department cannot afford the money.
– No such thing.
– Then why are the reforms mentioned by the honorable member for Adelaide not carried out?
– This Government have done more than has been done at any time in the last ten years.
– The Labour party supported former Federal Governments for eight years out of the ten, and must, therefore, take a share of the responsibility. As to the semi-official offices, I confine my remarks to the State of Tasmania ; and here I may observe that, when honorable members are sometimes charged with talking from a State stand-point, it merely arises from the fact that they are speaking of matters with which they are of necessity more familiar.
– Is it not a fact that salaries in Tasmania generally are lower than in any of the other States?
– That is no answer. On the authority of a departmental paper, I can show that in the semiofficial offices in Tasmania sweating is going on, and has gone on since the commencement of Federation. According to this official paper, there are four semiofficial offices in which £90 is paid, two in which £80 is paid, three in which £70 is paid, four in which £60 is paid, five in which £55 is paid, five in which £50 ispaid, seven in which £45 is paid, and eleven in which £40 is paid with over 250 under £40. In many of these offices there is a telephone, necessitating constant attendance, and the person in charge has, further, to look after the business of money-orders, the payment of old-age pensions, and so forth.
– I think the honorable member will find that he is speaking of allowance offices, and not of semi-official offices. There is a regulationunder which those in charge of semi-official offices have to be paid the minimum rate of wage, including rent, light, and so forth.
– If such a regulation were made, it has never been brought into operation, because I know, personally, of offices where the salary is £40 in return for the whole of the time of the recipient.
– What is thehonorable member’s remedy?
– A living wage to all those in charge of semi-official offices.
– Is the honorable member speaking of semi-official offices or of allowance offices ?
– Of semi-official offices.
– Then I cannot understand why the officials are getting so little. If the offices referred to are semi-official offices, I shall have inquiries made.
– They cannot be semi-official offices !
– The PostmasterGeneral may laugh, but I am speaking on the authority of a departmental paper prepared by some one who, apparently, knows a great deal more about the working of the Department than does the honorable gentleman.
– Every postmaster and postmistress must be paid the minimum wage, including rent, light, and so forth, if they devote the whole of their time to their duties.
– Then I say that it is not a fact that they are so paid.
– The honorable member should look after his constituents a little better !
– I must say that when the honorable gentleman was in office he always gave us very favorable answers, though I am afraid the favorable answers were about all we did get. 1 do not blame this Government more than any previous Government, but the state of affairs I have described has continued since the commencement of Federation.
– That is not so, because I myself raised thewage to what I have stated.
– The honorable member did not raise the wage, and the salaries now paid are those which every Government has paid. When penny postage was previously proposed, I took up the same position - that fair and proper wages should first be paid to all those employed insemi-official offices, and that the advantages of the telephone should be extended throughout the country districts of Australia before undertaking the proposed reform. The present Postmaster-General and an ex-Postmaster-General both admit that there must be a loss of revenue to start with, though they contend that it will be recovered in three or four years. They admit that there must be a serious decline of revenue in the first year after the reduction of the rates ; and the last Government made a similar admission. The loss of revenue is now estimated at between £300,000 and £400,000.
– Is it a loss to the public if we refuse to take money out of their pockets?
– The people in the country districts are clamouring, not for penny postage, but for greater facilities of communication. If any district was offered a more frequent mail service, or telephone communication, and, as the alternative, penny postage, it would not choose the latter. Penny postage means little or nothing to those whose newspapers and letters are delivered only once a week.
When a district asks for telephone communication, its people are told that the work cannot be constructed unless they guarantee the Department against loss of revenue.
– It is not the city men who are clamouring for penny postage ; they have it now.
– Does the honorable member think that Tasmanians should pay 2d. for the letters sent throughout their State while Victorians pay only 1d.?
– I am not in f avour of a reduction of the postal rates in association with methods which may have the effect of depriving country districts of telephone communication. Nothing can benefit the backblocks more than the construction of telephone lines ; but very often, when a new line is asked for, the Department replies that there is not enough money to pay for its construction. We should not reduce the postal rates unless we are in a position to give telephone communication to every district, whether any particular line will pay or not.
– How will the reduction of postal rates militate against the extension of telephone lines ?
– Because it will further reduce the departmental revenue; and want of money is always urged as an objection to telephone extension.
– Want of money, or the fact that the particular extension will not pay?
– The fact that a line will not pay is always regarded by the Department as a sufficient reason for not constructing it.
– Where can we draw the line ?
– I would give telephone communication throughout Australia, whether it paid or not. The extension of telephone lines has been the worst administered branch of the Public Service. Whatever may be said against the inadequacy of the city telephones, it is as nothing compared with what should be saidin condemnation of the policy which has prevented the people in the country from having the means of communication which they need.
– Is the honorable member in favour of reducing the cost of telephones?
– I would not favour the reduction of telephone charges in the towns at the expense of the country. The country districts generally should be given telephone communication, and a fair living wage should be paid to all employes of the Department, especially to those in charge of semi-official offices, who are nearly starved.
– If the honorable member will put the payment of a living wage first, and wider telephone communication second, I shall be with him.
– If that is the order I would accept those needs in that order. The other day I received a letter from a firm which has reduced the rent of a semi-official office to 4s. a week, because the office was in charge of a widow with two or three children. She had applied to it for the use of the house free, on the ground that she could not pay rent and keep her children at school. The payment of those in charge of semi-official offices is a positive disgrace. Our PostalDepartment is the greatest sweater in Australia, and in proof of that statement, I could give names and circumstances. Before any reduction in rates is made, we should see that all employes of the Department are given fair wages, and should provide for the extension of the telephone to all country districts, without requiring guarantees, as is now done. I have no objection to penny postage, and recognise the anomaly of allowing letters to be sent throughout one State for1d., charging 2d. in all the other States, but we should not throw away £300,000 or £400,000 of revenue before providing for the remedying of the grievances which I have mentioned.
.- We have heard something about unity, and some one has spoken of the audacity of the Postmaster-General. It required great audacityonhis part to introduce the Bill before the Postal Commission’s report has been dealt with, and he cannot complain if his proposals are severely criticised. Probably the debate would not have been so long, had the other matter been dealt with first. Modern civilization depends on transportation, and its corollary, rapid communication. We cannot do without an efficient telegraph, telephone, and postal service. It is most cruel that those in the country who are furthest from markets, and have fewest social advantages, are least considered in this matter. As a country representative, I have felt strongly that the Department is not being wisely conducted so far as the people in the back districts are concerned. We should either provide for the free carriage of mails, and the free transmission of telegraph and telephone messages, or make these services pay expenses. I am in favour of making them pay expenses, but not of charging their cost to individual users. It was an immense advance when the charge for letter carrying ceased to be in accordance with mileage. Where we should have unity is in the distribution of the cost of these services over the whole population. But early in Federation, the wrong system was introduced, by compelling persons in particular districts to pay the cost of their mail services. That is done even under the present go-ahead Government. I admit that there must be limits to the const ruction of telephones, and before telegraphs and telephones can be provided, there must be a mail service. These services, however, should be made as frequent as possible, and their cost charged, not to particular districts, but to the whole community. It is in the wide, not in the narrow, sense that these services should be self-supporting. We have had considerable faith in the Minister, but this proposal has put a great strain upon it. I have always recognised that penny postage must come eventually, but we have a great deal to do first. It will benefit the commercial people more than anybody else. Those living out back have to pay more for their letters and have far fewer mail services. They are treated worse all round. When people in the country ask for increased mail facilities; the Department call for a report, and the inspector estimates the’ probable revenue at so much, reckoning on a rate of 2d. per half-ounce. If that estimate does not reach the amount that a mail service would cost, the Department asks that the residents should find so much money before they can get a mail. If the income is to be reduced by half, and that principle is to be still maintained-
– I dealt fully with that phase of the question when I was speaking. I showed that under my scheme, with penny postage, country districts would gain an advantage in those cases.
– I regret that I did not hear the honorable member, and Have not yet been able to read his speech, but I discount the predictions of a greatly increased revenue from penny postage. If the residents will make up the estimated loss, or can arrange for somebody to carry the mails for the price quoted, they are told that they can have the service, but if the income is reduced by a half it means that the residents will’ have to make that up out of their own pockets.
– I dealt with that question at considerable length.
– If the honorable member has pledged himself to alter that-
– I have.
– Then, I want the whole system altered. I do not believe in the system of asking people to pay for their mails.
– Where would the honorable member draw the line?
– Everybody in Australia is entitled to mail facilities.
– The mails cannot be delivered at every house.
– I am not quite such an idiot as to think that. The people in the back country are most reasonable. In fact, they are too modest. They are satisfied with a fortnightly mail, in some cases, and many of them are prepared to drive 8 or jo miles to a letter-box to pick up their letters. All I say is that they should have their mail services without having to pay for them. I have always recognised that a reasonable line must be drawn, but the cost of sending the mails should be spread over the whole service. I do not deny that, eventually, the reduction of the postage rates will lead to an increased correspondence, but Victoria already has penny postage, and it also obtains in the Sydney metropolitan area, which contains half the population of New South Wales, and in some other large centres in Australia, so that the increase of revenue from the change is not likely at any time to be very large. We must therefore be prepared to make up an immediate loss. The honorable member for Adelaide has very forcibly and fairly put the situation in regard to the employes of the Postal Department. I regret that the Bill has not been postponed until the report of the Postal Commission has been dealt with. The eyes of honorable members have now been opened to many things of which they were not previously aware. That applies to the starvation of the Postal Department for want of, say, £1,000,000. We only discovered, after £6,000,000 had been handed back to the States, that the money ought to have been used to put the Department on a proper footing. One thing which tempts me to support a proposal of this kind is that some people are to get a little advantage through having their letters carried at a penny instead of twopence. If the taxpayer over the whole of Australia is to make good the loss out of the ordinary revenue it will not be so bad, but the alteration should not be made at the expense of people in remote districts. I think everybody should be regarded as entitled to mail facilities. That principle cannot be suddenly introduced in regard to telegraph and telephone construction, but we ought to aim eventually at having a telephone in every farm house. I am glad the Ministry are recognising the difficulty in country districts in regard to mail services, and propose to alter the system which has been in vogue ever since Federation, of asking people to pay the cost of their own mail services-
– I did not say that.
– I have always said that it was only on condition that it would not count against people in country districts, or lessen their mail facilities, that I would support penny postage. I understand that we are expected to make the Department as a whole, including telephone, telegraph, and postal services, selfsupporting. To do that the charges should be sufficient to meet the expenditure, and in that regard I have some facts to bring under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral. The. practice has been growing up of carrying newspapers at specially low rates. It is contended that this is done because they are more or less necessary adjuncts to modern life, and are educative. I shall not say much about their educative effects on this occasion. In New South Wales, before Federation, newspapers were carried free, and in some cases special trains were run to carry them. That was wrong in principle, because it benefited only the newspaper proprietors and a number of persons doing business with the newspapers. There are certain rates set out in the schedule for packets, comprising printed matter, books, and so on. Those rates are higher than the newspaper postage rates. I have here a production registered as a newspaper, sold at id., and going through the post as a newspaper. It is called the Kookaburra, and I dare say its proprietors laughed when they thought how nicely they got it through the post. lt contains fortyeight pages, twenty-four of which are a consecutive catalogue of Riley Brothers, a Sydney firm. Ordinary catalogues have to be sent through the post at packet rates, so that this way of circulating them will make a very big difference to the revenue of the Department. The major part of the other twenty-four pages in this production also consists of advertisements. I do not know what rule is to be adopted to define newspapers as distinct from advertising circulars, but this is a sample of a number of glaring cases. I believe that an officer in the Department raised some objection to the registration, but when the proprietors went to see about it, the publication was allowed to go through, because the Daily Telegraph had been allowed to go through with an eight or nine page advertisement of David Jones and Company. Apparently, because the Department had gone wrong once it was held to be an excuse for letting this little laughing bird go through. I have another instance which may be said tobe exceptional, but it emphasizes the point I am making. It is the issue of the Australian Producers’ Home Journal for 20th September. It consists practically, from beginning to end, of the political advertisements of the late New South Wales Government when fighting the recent election contests. It went through the post as a newspaper, although purely an advertising circular, instead of being made to pay ordinary packet rates. Sometimes the greater part of the space of the Melbourne dailies is devoted to advertising matter. Seventeen of the twenty-four pages of a recent Saturday’s issue of the Agc consisted solely of advertisements; and the carriage of these advertisements is a matter of serious import, materially affecting the postal revenue. An organization which acts for literary men has suggested to me that the American system of dealing with advertising sheets should be adopted. In the United States, I am informed, newspapers are divided into three classes, and the postal rates upon them depend upon the proportion of space that is devoted to advertising matter. It is suggested that a fair definition of a newspaper -would be “ A printed sheet, 50 per cent, of which is devoted to news matter.” 1 do not know what is the definition adopted by the Department, but, in many cases, prints used solely as advertising mediums, and whose lives extend over only a month or two, are registered as newspa.per.s- According to my informants, in the United States of America, a newspaper of which at least one half consists of reading matter, is transmitted through the post at the lowest rate, and those having a larger percentage of advertisements have to pay a slightly increased charge. As honorable members are aware, the income of newspaper proprietors is largely derived from advertisements ; and we have no right to put our hands into the pockets of the taxpayers and make them contribute in this way to their earnings. The Postmaster- General will find that complaints are being made in the Department of the increased prices being charged for the carriage of mails in country districts. People are beginning to think nowadays more of their wages and their income; and no doubt many of’ the mail contractors have been, and are still, underpaid. Many of them carry mails at a ridiculously low rate. There has been a substantial increase in the contract prices for the carriage of mails in many parts of the Commonwealth, owing to the increase in the volume of mail matter. One often sees great baskets of mails being carried by coaches in country districts ; and the greater the facilities we give commercial people in large cities to make use of the ‘ Postal Department, the worse it is for the country mail contractor. A large proportion of this increase in the volume of mail matter consists of advertising sheets. I would remind the House that, in some parts of the Commonwealth, the people are called upon to bear a proportion of the cost of the carriage of mails to and from their districts, and that these facilities, which are granted to increase the dividends of city men, mean additional cost to these people.
– This proposal will increase that difficulty.
– I am emphasizing the point that we must arrive at a proper definition of the word “newspaper,” so as to prevent the overburdening of the mail services by the carriage of advertisements. One great Sydney newspaper frequently has pages of large advertisements. Why should the public pay for their carriage? That is not a brand of Socialism of which our party approves. We believe in seeking the common good. We find, on looking into this matter, that, in some cases, perhaps a dozen selectors living on a country road have to bear a proportion of the cost of a mail service - -a cost which is increased owing to the increased size of newspapers that are sent through the post. In this way, they are helping to make up the dividends of big city warehousemen and others who advertise on a larger scale. The principle is wrong. The honorable member for Adelaide very properly desires that those who are doing the work of the Department shall receive fair considera- lion; and 1 think lhat the House is with him. Parliament is responsible for the condition of the Postmaster-General’s Department, as shown by evidence taken on oath before the Postal Commission. Honorable members will agree that great ability has been displayed by the Commission in the preparation of its report; and I hope we shall soon have an opportunity of dealing with it. The report is concise and clear, and contains a great number of recommendations which must commend themselves to honorable members. It indicates that much remains to be done to place the Department 011 an effective working basis. An outstanding feature of the report is the fact that the expenditure of the Department must be very materially increased. Complaint is made that owing to lack of funds overtime cannot be paid. I recognise, however, that there has been a big advance in the provision made for the wants of the Department, and I am not complaining of the present Postmaster-General. Many grievances in my electorate have been redressed, but there is so much yet to be done in connexion with the Department that a lot more money will have to be expended upon it. We can never have efficiency unless we have justice to the workers in the Department.
– The Government have £3,500,000 more in respect of the present financial year than we had last year.
– All that money will be required to provide for the Western Australian transcontinental railway.
– But not this year.
– I am pointing out that we are confronted by the fact that a large additional expenditure is required to place the Post and Telegraph Department on a better footing. The loss incidental to the introduction of penny postage will be insignificant in comparison with that larger sum, and the Postmaster-General has shown some courage, if not audacity, in introducing this measure at the presentstage. One must admit that there is a certain degree of sentiment as well as of practicability associated with this proposal. Penny postage prevails within certain areas in some of the States, and thousands of people in sending letters to Inter-State addresses overlook the fact that a twopenny stamp is necessary, with the result that the addresses are surcharged. It is time that we had uniformity of postage rates.
– And uniformity with regard to the postage on magazines.
– I have never contended otherwise. My only desire is that the back country people who have suffered so much shall receive a better service. Residents of sparsely populated districts, in my electorate, have obtained some relief from the present Postmaster-General, who knows the circumstances in which they are placed, but a great deal more remains to be done. I wish now to refer to the contract and allowance offices which constitute one of the most difficult sections of the Department to handle. In places where there are only a few residents, some one is usually willing to act as a postmaster or postmistress on receiving a small allowance, and in that way an allowance office is created. Gradually the business of the office is increased, and, in the past, the Department has been somewhat slow in recognising that increase. The present Postmaster-General, however, has recently issued a scale of allowances which must prove very useful. Prior to the issue of that statement many persons in charge of allowance offices did not know exactly what they were entitled to receive, and non-complaining people worked, in some cases, for half the remuneration to which they were entitled. Where cases of the kind have been brought under my notice 1 have taken care to have the grievance redressed, but with the issue of the scale of allowances every one will know exactly how he stands. These allowance, offices, as I heir business increases, gradually become semi-official, or contract offices. I have been, and am still, opposed to the contract post-office system, for it certainly is a system of sweating. In some cases the man in charge of a contract office receives £150 per annum, in return for which he has to provide a suitable building for postal business and pay a telegraph messenger, whilst possibly he must also be a telegraphist. The contract offices stand in a different position altogether from the official postoffices in large towns, for, unless a special report is obtained in regard to them, Parliament does not know the true position The system is not a good one.
– It is probable that, to 1 very great extent, it will shortly be swe t away.
– I am glad to hear it. I have always denounced the system as being foreign to the principle on which our postal service should be conducted. When the business of an allowance office becomes so large that some one is asked to enter into a contract to provide a building for ic and to attend to the business, an official office should at once be established.
– I do not say that I have absolutely decided the matter, but appearances suggest that the system will be done away with to a large extent.
– The introduction of penny postage will reduce the income of many contraCt offices, with the result that their status will be affected. The rule of the Department is to make a contract office an official post-office when its income reaches £400 per annum. I am glad that the Postmaster-General recognises that something should be done in this connexion. We have no right o ask outside people to give their services unless we pay them a fair and reasonable wage, and such a wage would be better if given to our own trained officers, who have some guarantee of permanence and may look forward to promotion. Many of the outside officials have their own businesses to attend to, and, though some of them are glad of the position at first, they afterwards find the remuneration too small. Indeed, one woman, I understand,” wrote to the Department declaring that she would close the office on the Monday if she did not get an increase ; and I give her-credit for her courage, under a sense of injustice, in declaring a strike against the whole Federation. In this case the postmistress’s house was originally about the only one in the place, but with a railway in view the population has increased, and there is a probability of officials in such a position being overlooked . by the inspectors, even under the present regulations. I have no doubt, however, that the Department has come to some arrangement with the lady, because she had good grounds for complaint. These matters present a bis problem which will have to be dealt with, I suppose, next session ; and I hope the Postmaster-General will give every consideration to the grievances I have brought under his notice.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
.- There is no service which enters so closely, into the daily life of the nation and the people as that of the Post Office, and there is no service which we could less dispense with.. As a consequence, any proposal to increase postal facilities will, I am sure, all other things being equal, com mend itself to honorable members on both’ sides. But when the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, as Postmaster-General, introduced his Bill in 1906, one of the great pleas he made was the necessity for uniformity ; he considered that, in a country like this, there should not be those anomalous conditions which we know to exist in different parts of Australia. If the case for uniformity was good in 1906, I believe there are much more weighty reasons now in its favour. Up to the end of this year the Braddon section and the bookkeeping sections continue to operate in such a way that each State pays for the peculiar facilities it enjoys in its postal service. Victoria, under those sections, simply pays for the advantage she enjoys; and in the same way New South Wales, which has penny postage in the principal centres of population, pays in her return of Customs and Excise revenue. At the end of this year those sections cease to operate; indeed, to all intents and purposes they are non-existent to-day, though they nominally operate up to the end of December. It will be seen, therefore, that the conditions which are now anomalous will then become doubly so ; and New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia, will immediately begin to pay for the facilities which Victoria enjoys in the way of penny postage. It becomes absolutely necessary that there should be uniformity ; and if the PostmasterGeneral puts that forward as a reason for the introduction of this measure at the present time, he must see that the measure ought to operate from the 1st January.
– The bookkeeping system i=; practically finished to-day.
– I know it is practically finished, but it nominally runs to the end of December. If there be any force in that argument at all, it is only an argument that the Bill should have been introduced earlier, and that there should not be the delay of a single day in its coming into operation. As, however, at the end of ..this year we see the cessation of the operation of the Braddon section—
– It is not at the end of this year - the section has already ceased to operate.
– It is at the end of the year, if the Postmaster-General’ will pardon me. I admit that the honorable gentleman was one of those who assisted to pass a. measure which, to a certain extent, got behind the Constitution and enabled the Government to do what they have no right to do. That, however, does not refute my contention that, inasmuch as the bookkeeping provisions nominally run to the 31st December, from that date onwards there should be uniform postal rates throughout Australia.
The question now arises whether the rate should be id. or 2d. ; and to-day three objections have been urged very strongly against the former. The first objection is that a penny rate will afford additional facilities to large business men, and practically put money into their pockets. To a very great extent, however, that has already happened under the present system. In the large centres there is penny postage now ; and I should say that the bulk of the correspondence of business men is in the cities. As ‘a consequence, business men are already reaping those benefits which some honorable members opposite, notably the honorable member for Adelaide, have said they will reap from the introduction of this Bill.
– Not in all the States.
– I am aware that that is not so in South Australia, though I do not know as to other States.
– Everywhere but in South Australia there is penny postage in the large cities.
– And in regard to this objection, I would point out that the country people, to whom the facility of penny postage has not been extended in the past, have simply been paying more than their fair share towards the postal rates.
– And getting fewer facilities.
– Yes. They do not expect the same facilities, being thoroughly reasonable in the requests which they make, and I have not met a case in which there were not reasonable grounds for the request made.
Another objection urged against the measure is that the officers of the Department are underpaid. I do not think that there can be the slightest doubt that the service is underpaid, overworked, and undermanned. In nearly every large office men are working overtime, and unable to get payment for it. This overtime amounts in some cases to hundreds of hours. It is necessary that the staff should be thoroughly re- organized, and the salaries subjected to the closest review, so that the administration may be placed on a better footing.
But the case of the permanent officers is not so bad as the position of those in charge of semi-official and allowance post-offices;. I received to-day a letter from the postmistress at Cudgen, on the Tweed River, in which she says that she is in charge of an allowance office, containing a branch of the Government Savings Bank. She attends to ordinary postal business, issues money orders, pays old-age pensions, and looks after the public telephone and subscribers’ telephones. According to the latest official figures obtainable, the departmental report for 1908, the articles posted and received in that year -letters, newspapers, packets, and parcels -numbered 33,651, while 2,432 mails were received, and the same number despatched. The telegrams received and despatched numbered 1,222 ; the value of the money order and postal notes issued and paid was £1,280; and the payments into and from Savings Bank accounts amounted to £2,092. Thus over £3,400 was handled, in addition to the money received on account of’ stamps and telegrams, and the payments made in respect of old-age pensions. I know from personal acquaintance with the district that there has been an immense advance during the past two years, so that the business of the office must now be much greater than it was in 1908 ; yet the postmistress receives only 13s. 8d. a week. She handles over 100 postal articles every day, despatches eight mails, receives and sends four telegrams, attends to the Savings Bank business and the issue of money orders, and gets only 13s. 8d. a week.
– How long has the office been in existence?
– I do not know.
– The pay is about 2s. a day ; which is about what would be given in Java. Is this happening under the administration of the PostmasterGeneral?
– The work of the office occupies the whole time of the postmistress, who must be on duty from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening every clay.
– Is the fact that the remuneration paid is only 13s. 8d. a week set out in the report from which the honorable member has. quoted?
– No ; I have been informed of the remuneration from other sources.
– How long has the postmistress been rising to this salary?
– No doubt the business of the office was very small at first, and has increased without a corresponding increase of remuneration.
– The remuneration should be stated in the table showing the work of the office, so that the PostmasterGeneral may not overlook these facts.
– There is good reason for doing that. There are other cases, perhaps not quite so bad, in which those in charge of semi-official offices are scandalously underpaid.
– Is there a store connected with this office?
– No. I might add that the building is found for the Department; it pays nothing in the way of rent. The territory in regard to which semiofficial offices operate is much greater than that in regard to which permanent offices operate. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will investigate these cases, and remedy a state of affairs which could exist only under the worst administration of which it is possible to conceive. If I thought that the introduction of penny postage would prevent the removal of these injustices, I would vote against it.
– The existence of a case such as the honorable member has directed my attention to does not depend upon either a 2d. or a1d. rate.
-I think not, but the administration which allows it is altogether wrong.;
– The administration at the head office is worse than that.
– If I thought that the passing of the Bill would prevent the remedying of injustice, or bring about the curtailment of facilities of communication, in any district, which is another objection urged against this measure, I would vote against it.
– So would I.
– We must view this matter from two quite distinct stand-points ; firstly, from a purely commercial aspect, and, secondly, as it affects the development of the country. These two points of view must be kept clear and distinct. The PostmasterGeneral admits, and the report of the Postal Commission bears him out, that the receipts from postal services practically meet the expenditure. Throughout Victoria, and in large districts in all the other States, with the exception of South Australia, penny postage is already in force. I do not see, therefore, why it could not be made universal without any great loss of revenue. I am of opinion, too, that this need not interfere with the facilities of, but may greatly benefit those in the sparsely settled districts of Australia. I know what it means to ride 9 or 10 miles for the mail after a hard day’s work, and the same distance back again. It is of the greatest importance to people in the backblocks to have every possible postal facility granted to them. We should not look at that part of the service from a commercial point of view, but, in considering country districts, we should regard the post-office more as a factor in the development of the continent. People will not be willing to go away back and cut themselves off from all the comforts of civilization unless we give them reasonable facilities to keep in touch with the outer world. I admit that in the past more might have been done in regard to these matters. The Postmaster-General has before him a great work in the re-organization of the whole of our postal facilities in the back country. I hope he means what he says when he states that he will see that the introduction of this measure does not in any way curtail the existing facilities, but I should have liked to hear him say also that he would see that it did not interfere with a progressive policy in the way of affording the back-country settlers every additional postal facility possible. In many instances, at present, a number of settlers club together and subscribe a certain amount to enable them to get a postal service granted to them, the Department paying so much, and they paying so much. While there are cases where this system is possibly justifiable, when there are two or three settlers away up in a district which is not capable of further expansion or development to any appreciable extent, I do think that, where there is a prospect of a very large amount of development, the first few settlers, who pioneer a district and make it possible for others to follow them, should not be saddled, in the first instance, with the additional expense of providing postal facilities for the district. That, however, is the principle which the Postal Department at present follows to a large extent, particularly in regard to telephones. A number of settlers away out on the Mingoola, about 40 miles from Tenterfield, recently made an offer to the Department to guarantee the cost of the erection of a telephone and any loss on working expenses. The departmental answer was that they would not put the line up at all on guarantee conditions, but that there would be no objection to the residents themselves erecting the line if they so desired. What possible help is it to settlers who go, in the first instance, back into the bush as those men have done, and who are all poor struggling men, to tell them that they may have the privilege of putting Up 30 miles of telephone line? It simply means that there is not the slightest hope of their getting telephone facilities.
It is absolutely necessary that we should get rid of the anomalous condition of affairs existing at present in regard to postal rates, and bring about uniformity. I believe that can be done without interfering with the facilities which the country people have enjoyed up to the present, or preventing them from getting increased facilities in the future. The responsibility of financing the proposal rests with the Government. I only hope they will recognise the absolute necessity of meeting the evils in connexion with their staff, not only permanent employes, but more particularly the allowance and semiofficial officers, who are paid, at present, on a basis that calls for the most drastic remedy. It is a great pity that this measure has not been introduced side by side with a scheme of reform of the post and telegraph service from beginning to end. I believe penny postage would have come in any circumstances sooner or later. It is apparent to all members that it has become necessary to have a uniform rate, and I think that should be a penny rate, but it would have been far better if the PostmasterGeneral had taken the bull by the horns, and set to work to re-organize the whole of the Department, simply making this reform one of many.
Postmaster-General, in introducing this measure, referred to it as one of the greatest achievements that any man could possibly aspire to. In a sense I agree with him. I realize that there is a great deal in the argument that to cheapen the means of communication in any country is to assist in educating the people of that country. I also recognise, as the PostmasterGeneral said, that we are in a peculiar constitutional position on this question. There are conditions which we in this House had nothing to do with framing, but which must govern our actions and those of the Government. The Constitution makes it necessary that, at the termina tion of the operation of the “ Braddon blot,” we should seek to bring about uniformity in the charges made for the services rendered by the Commonwealth to the various States. I recognise that as being almost a mandate to this House; but I feel that it is necessary, before entering upon any drastic measure of reform, to at least investigate the position and see how far it is necessary to go constitutionally, or how far it is practical to go from a financial stand-point. The Postal Commission, of which I had the honour to be a member, and to the work of which I have given almost the whole of my time for the last two or three years, went very closely into the matter. We took evidence from every possible and conceivable source with regard to, firstly, the practicability of securing this reform ; secondly, the financial responsibility that would be involved in granting it; and, thirdly, the possible financial results that would accrue to the Department by its adoption. Having reviewed all these phases of the question, we were forced to the conclusion that we could not recommend the Government, or this Parliament, to grant penny postage in the Commonwealth as a whole until we had set in order the finances of the telegraphic and telephonic branches of the Depart- ‘ ment. It is all very well to try to place oneself before the public as a man of great ideas seeking to bring about beneficent changes ; but the man who deserves the best gratitude of the public is the man who has the courage to attempt to remove the obstacles that stand in the path before he does something which may put additional obstacles in the way of the administration of his Department. We, therefore, said that only when the telephonic and telegraphic branches of the Department were placed upon a paying basis could we recommend the House to venture upon penny postage within each State. Some members may ask what 1 mean by securing true financial equilibrium in the telephonic and telegraphic branches. The Postmaster-General has wisely recognised the necessity of adjusting the rates in the Telephone Department, and has taken time by the forelock to bring about a readjustment. Before the Postmaster-General entered upon his 7A regulation, the Commission had taken evidence which must have convinced everybody of the necessity of a change. At any rate, any PostmasterGeneral would have been blind if he did not see the operation of the conditions that prevailed in his own Department. 1 am not here to be unfair to any one. 1 am here to honorably criticise the situation from’ every stand-point, and I admit that the Postmaster-General has attempted, so far as his lights would allow him, to readjust one side of the position. Although the step he has taken is not in accord with the detailed recommendations of the Postal Commission, it is well worthy of a twelve months’ trial before we attempt to condemn it. I believe that it will at least attain the main object that we have in view, and that is to place the Department upon a sound financial basis. Nothing has been done, however, with regard to the telegraph branch of the service. The evidence taken by the Commission shows that, in order to bring that branch of the Department to a sound financial position, rates must be increased from 40 to 50 per cent. The Postmaster-General has not told us that he is going to do anything n regard to the telegraph service. He has not said that he recognises the great loss at which it has been worked ever since the Parliament, as an experiment, tried to carry out the ideal of the honorable member for Ballarat, that the people should feel that we had a. united Australia, by making an all-round charge of rs. per message in respect of Inter-State telegrams. That experiment has cost the country a very large sum. The information supplied to the Commission on the subject is by no means final. It was indeed impossible to secure finality with respect to the finances. I pity the PostmasterGeneral if, in the administration of his Department, he calls for information as to the financial position of its different branches, for no solid information can. be obtained on the subject. The evidence, placed before the Commission showed that rates would have to be increased from 40 to 50 per cent, to bring the telegraph service to a sound financial position, but the Postmaster-General has not told us that he “intends to do anything in that direction. The honorable gentleman said that the honorable member for Eden-Mona.ro introduced a Bill to provide for penny postage in 1907, and that it was then opposed by many honorable members on the ground that we ought to provide for old-age pensions before reducing the postal rates. He is now happy in the knowledge that a Federal system of old-age pensions has been established, but he has yet to consider the ramifications of his great Department. Although he has before him the report of the Commission - a report pre- pared after the most searching inquiry - he has not told us what he is going to do to adjust the wrongs of the service, and to bring about the structural reforms that are necessary if effect is to be given to our recommendations. He has not deigned to recognise the great responsibility cast upon his Department as a result of our inquiry. The honorable gentleman told us that, as the result of penny postage, there will be practically no reduction in the salaries of postal officers. He may be right, but I think that there will be a very serious difference in the demands made upon officers of the service in the matter of overtime and work generally. The PostmasterGeneral would have the. House believe that the cost of this reform will be nominal, and that no one will suffer. He says, “ The change is one which threatens no interest, and must benefit the whole of the people.” I deny the accuracy of that statement. The change threatens very severely the interests of the pioneers who are trying to clear the road for the multitudes who must ultimately follow them, and settle on the land. Their interests, we are told, are to be safeguarded by a readjustment of the method of estimating revenue from country mail services. At present, when application is made for a country mail service - and the man in the back-blocks has nothing but the mail to keep him in touch with the world’s affairs - the Department estimates the probable revenue on a basis of 2d. per letter, inwards and outwards, and, by dividing the total, arrives at the amount which may be credited to the new service. The PostmasterGeneral now proposes to credit such services with all the revenue derived from them after the new system has been introduced. In other words, they will be credited with the revenue received from postal matter both inwards and outwards. That means either that country districts have hitherto teen wrongly treated, or that some other part of the general service is going to be crippled by an unjust proportion of the postal revenue being credited to a particular mail route. If that system is adopted, what is to become of the proportion of revenue credited to trunk lines along which the postal matter for small services must travel ? I think that in trying to overcome his trouble in this regard with the representatives of country districts, the Postmaster-General will find himself in a still more difficult position in the final application of his theory. Undoubtedly, residents of country districts will suffer. The honorable gentleman says that for the first twelve months after the introduction pf this system he is not going to reduce the status of certain offices or to reduce the emoluments attaching to allowance and semi-official post-offices. If penny postage is going to increase the volume of business to anything like the extent predicted by the honorable gentleman, he will have to increase the allowances. The increased cost has not been estimated by the PostmasterGeneral. He has been told that with the introduction of penny postage in Victoria an additional number of sorters had to be engaged, but no account has been taken of the fact that from the time a letter is posted until it is delivered either at a city or country address, its every movement must be paid for. On the establishment of penny postage increased expenditure must necessarily ensue by reason of the additional weight of the postal matter carried, and if the revenue of country services be ‘estimated on the basis now proposed by the Postmaster-General, it will be found that the revenue derived from services to large centres of population will not balance the cost of collection and distribution of mail matter. There is another point which the Postmaster-General seems to have overlooked. He does not seem to have observed that, as the result of telephones being brought into general use, the conditions which prevailed in Victoria prior to the introduction of penny postage have considerably altered. The increased business resulting from the application of this system to the whole continent will not be in proportion to the increase which followed the introduction of the system in Victoria. Much of the business formerly transacted through the medium of the post-office is now conducted over the telephone, which is found to be both cheaper and more expeditious. This practically undermines the value of the examples drawn from time to time from the experience of the penny postage system in New Zealand, Canada, and other countries. Another point to be remembered is that Victoria is the most closely settled State of Australia. Mails have to be carried over comparatively short distances, and the shorter the distance the larger the profit on the business done.
– Victoria as shown on the map is a very small State.
– The size of a cabbage garden.
– It is as big as Great Britain.
– I know that, in the opinion of its representatives, Victoria is greater than the rest of Australia, but compared with the other States it is but a compact little village. It is nonsense to base upon the experience of Victoria any calculation as to the increased cost of postal business in Australia following the introduction of this reform. If we consider the difference between the cost of carrying mail matter in large States with scattered population, and in the more closely populated States, we see that the basis of calculation is misleading and deceptive to a large degree. The PostmasterGeneral exemplifies the characteristic of the Department in that he seems prepared to take any suggestions without acknowledgment, and to disregard the figures obtained in the long-continued examination of witnesses by the Postal Commission in regard to the financial aspect of the question. The admitted loss of £400,000 may not appear to be much to honorable members to-day, but we must not forget that the estimated increase in revenue is not likely to be realized, and that years must pass before the loss is diminished to any appreciable extent. The proposal does seem hard on the country districts, which have hitherto been treated most scandalously under all Federal Governments. Prior to the inquiry by the Postal Commission, the finances of the postal, telegraph, and telephone branches were all jumbled together so that it could not be said which was paying and which was not. The Commission, however, managed to unravel the matter up to a certain point. It was the rule of the Department to refuse country mail services unless it could be shown that they would pay, or the people concerned were prepared to guarantee 50 per cent., or 60 per cent, of the cost; and that rule has remained in force for four or five years simply because it was not known whether the postal branch of the service paid or did not pay. The Postal Commission, however, discovered that the only branch of the service which is paying is the postal branch. The telegraph branch has been a losing concern to a very large extent, and the position of the telephonic branch in this connexion is selfevident ; as a matter of fact, the postal service alone has been providing the revenue necessary to practically keep the Department solvent. Just at the time, however, when we were hoping that the facilities provided for country districts would be more liberal, we have this measure introduced, involving a loss of £400,000. In my opinion, the benefit to the country people of penny postage will not be as one part compared with ten parts of advantage conferred on the business and other people of the cities. It was urged that the country services were losing money, but, as a matter of fact, the Postal Commission discovered that they were making a profit of . £70,000 a year clear. At the same time, be it remembered, the people who used these country services were called upon to pay half the expense, although the mails represented their only means of communication, and were, as I say, returning a profit. That is the kind of encouragement given to country districts - the kind of assistance given to the development of the country. I regret that the PostmasterGeneral is not able to remain here throughout this discussion as he ought to, because the subject is one of great importance. The country districts have been worked by the Department in an impracticable and unjust way. The maxim has been acted upon that every mail service must stand on its own merits, no matter how important it might be in the opening of the country, or in feeding the more busy lines of communication. The Postal Commission found that in the country Federal electorates of New South Wales the mail services generally paid; but, under the system adopted, individual mail services were penalized, and I maintain that the measure before us is an ungenerous proposition, tending to limit the services still further, even on the proposal of the Postmaster-General to allow them all the revenue inwards and outwards. These country people will be the first to be injured, but are they the only people? The Postmaster-General speaks of raising salaries in the case of all officers whether official, semi-official, or allowance, in proportion to the demands made by the increased volume of business ; but he evidently has not considered the vast increase in the expenditure that will follow from such a policy being adopted throughout the service. The honorable gentleman has spoken of the introduction of a similar measure by the honorable member for EdenMonaro, and has eulogized that honorable member’s speech and so forth. That is all very well ; but I say that the Deakin Government are not to Be given credit for intro ducing that Bill when they did, but rather condemned for not having introduced it before. That may appear an anomalousstatement on my part, but I shall tell honorable members what I mean. That Bill was introduced at a time when the Department was seething with discontent, and when every newspaper contained headings, “ Chaos in the Post Office,” and so forth. It was when the Department was in that lamentable position that the Deakin Government came forward with the proposal for penny postage, although the day had passed when they could have passed such a measure without any trouble. Had they done so several years before, even when the Commonwealth first took over the Department, and there was plenty of revenue, there would have been no objection, because they could have deducted the cost from the amount they were struggling to return to the States. They did not move, however, until it was too late - until chaos threatened, and the financial barometer was falling. I therefore do not give the Deakin Government much credit for the proposition, but rather think they were deserving of condemnation. Were it not that a Land Tax Assessment Bill has been passed, and the return to the States fixed at 25s. per capita, thereby insuring an increased revenue to the Commonwealth, the Postmaster-General would not have dared to submit this measure.
– Will the Government be thus enabled to carry out penny postage?
– Undoubtedly, but it is questionable whether they can do so with safety. All the Postmaster-General says is that the loss will come out of the Con- . solidated Revenue. What sort of way is that to run the Post and Telegraph Department? A Government can be liberal with everybody for popularity’s sake, if there is plenty of money in the Consolidated Revenue, and Parliament will allow it to be used.
– The land tax wilt provide plenty of money.
– That is not a legitimate source from which to make up a loss of this kind. The Post and Telegraph Department ought to be self-supporting, as it would be if administered differently. If the whole basis of management were altered the Department could be made one of the grandest examples of State administration in the civilized world. But such a result will not be brought about by illdigested action, without regard to the obli- gations due to the Department itself - without recognising the fact that, unless those who are responsible for the management and working are treated as human and given fair hours, wages, and conditions, efficient and effective service cannot be expected. The Bill, as I have said, affects both country facilities and the general finances. Can any one say what the next few years will bring forth? We are heaping up liabilities without regard to the possibilities of the future, basing our estimates on the continuance of prosperity which cannot endure for ever. Some day we may find the revenue depleted, and our liabilities more than we can meet. Of course, the motto of some honorable members is “ Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Before reducing our revenue, we should consider our liabilities. It is a great blot on the Department that a large number of men, who have given faithful service to the Commonwealth, have had to work overtime, amounting to days, and even to weeks, and that their claims for compensation for it are unpaid and unrecognised. Their position should have been considered before this proposal was made. The Constitution requires us to make our rates uniform, but that should have been done by providing for penny postage within each State, instead of making it universal throughout Australia. Our officials have borne their burden with an endurance which is highly creditable to them. Had they not had the interest of the public at heart, the service must have broken down ; and, indeed, it has occasionally done so. But they have strained their best efforts to meet the occasion, and have not been treated fairly. To reduce the postal revenue by £400,000 will make it still more difficult for them to obtain fair treatment in the future. The evidence shows conclusively that in every branch of the service officers have been underpaid and overworked.
– Does the honorable member think that the Minister has availed himself of the Commission’s report in framing the Bill 1
– I do not think so. The Minister realizes that he is in power, that there is now plenty of revenue, that penny postage is popular, and that the requirements of the Constitution have created an opportune time for making a change. Like that predecessor who cut down the telephone rates to a degree 40 or 50 per cent, below what was profitable, he desires to gain popularity. The honorable member for Eden- Monaro reduced the telephone rates against the advice of his officers. He knew that it would gain him applause, and it was done without that consideration for the Department and the service which should have been given.
– Does the honorable member think that the proposal before us has been brought forward under similar circumstances ?
– I do not say that, but every politician when he gets into office wishes to leave his footprints on the sands of time. The honorable member himself would not be above that weakness. As the honorable member for Ballarat very suavely said, the Postmaster-General is a lucky man to have this opportunity provided by the Constitution to propose a reduction in postal rates. But attempts to gain notoriety are more or less harmful to n reputation for wise administration.
– Did not the honorable member, in his report, recommend that ii number of steps should be taken before this reform was brought about?
– We recommended that penny postage, even within the separate States, should not be inaugurated until the telephone and telegraph services had been placed on a sound, financial basis.
– Does the honorable member think that that has been done?
– It has not been done. Apparently, the telephone, service will come out fairly well, but much remains to be done for the telegraph service. The Commission ascertained that £2,516,000 isneeded to put the departmental services on a proper footing. Of that amount,. £500,000 has already been spent or provided for, but ,£2,000,000 must be spent within the next. three or four years, which means £500,000 a year. Honorable members opposite would have gone to “ Uncle “ for the money, but we on this side do not wish to follow the bad example of the socalled financial giants of the past. Wemust, therefore, see that the Government does not outrun the constable. It must be pointed out, too, that as we improve our telegraph service its revenue will increase. At the beginning, “ urgent “ telegrams, at double rates, were provided for, to enablespecial messages regarding sickness and death to get precedence ; but the public hasbeen forced by the slow despatch to send a large number of messages as “ urgent.” Itis estimated that 33 per cent, of the messages are marked “ urgent,” and for them- the Department gets double rates, although the service is not so good as should be given for ordinary rates.
– Does not the honorable member think that a better service could be given by private enterprise?
– No; but when the service is improved so that messages can be sent correctly and rapidly, “urgent” telegrams will not be necessary, and consequently the revenue of the Department will be less in proportion to the business done than it is now. But, even though getting double rates for a large proportion of its business, the Department is working at a loss. If we give the public an effective service, it will send its wires at the ordinary rate, and the extra revenue obtained from “ urgent “ telegrams will be greatly diminished, We cannot, therefore, look for an improvement in the revenue of the telegraphic branch which will be proportionate to the money expended in improving it. It is merely to get rid of a congested system, and make it possible for the business to be done more expeditiously, and not to increase the business largely. That is the main object that would be achieved by the improvement.
– Does the honorable member approve of building new post-offices out of the earnings of the Department?
– I think that new post-offices should be built out of the earnings of the Department, but that they should be debited- year by year for a given life.
– How would the honorable member create that fund?
– That is explained in the report; but I am not going into the question to-night. With regard to the management of the Department, the honorable member for Parkes is a great stickler for private enterprise ; but 1 0may say that I entered upon this inquiry with a fixed opinion regarding the administration of a Department of this kind. After going through the inquiry, however, I had to change my opinion.
– “ A little learning is a dangerous thing.”
– There are some men who know how little they possess, and are anxious to improve themselves, but others do not know how small their knowledge is. The Commission holds it to be essential that the Department should be placed under a board of management. That is another reason why I should have liked to see the consideration of this question de ferred until we could have put the whole scheme into operation. We recognise that the Department can no longer, in a Commonwealth of this kind, be effectively administered by a central head. I want to deal particularly with the demands that should be made upon the Postmaster-General, because he has not given us any idea of how he is going to meet them. There are many cases of injustice throughout the service. The Postmaster-General, in his speech, quoted some figures furnished to him by the Public Sendee Commissioner, who, whenever he wants to improve his case, resorts to the deceptive law of averages. The Postmaster-General, when referring to the wages paid to men in the Department, gave, on the authority of the Public Service Commissioner, what he called the averages paid in 1901 and 1909 respectively. If I had time to dissect those, figures to-night, I could show how fallaciously the average works out when applied to the individual officer. Apart from that, during the last eight or ten years, the whole of the industrial army have marched on with regard to wages. While the cost of living has, I admit, gone up materially, the wages paid to the workers in ali branches of industry have risen also. No thought has been given to that, however, in an equitable, way, by those responsible for the administration of the Department. The question has been reviewed by the Commission in all its phases, and they have reported what, in their opinion, would be necessary. We find that, throughout the Department, large sums of money will be needed to re-adjust the position of the officers upon whom the Department depends. We recommend’ that the maximum salary of the fifth class, clerical division, be raised to £200 per annum, and that sorters’ grades be abolished. That means additional expenditure, because ‘ grading ‘ ‘ in regard to sorters has been nothing more nor less than “ evading. ‘ ‘ The Department has kept grading and regrading men only to keep down the rewards to which they were entitled for services rendered. We recommend, also, that the salaries of sorters be from £150 to £190, despatching officers £200, and mail officers £210 to £240 per annum. Those are increases of expenditure into which the PostmasterGeneral does not seem to have looked at all. They represent a considerable item, although they mean but simple justice to the men in the Department. Another important feature in’ the recommendations is this : While there have been grades in the Department, promotion has been so long delayed that often a man became almost entitled to an old-age pension before he could reach the top grade. When he was least fit to earn his money was the time when he would be entitled to get the most, but at the age when he was most vigorous and able to earn more he received only a medium rate of salary. The Commission recommend, and think it is imperative as a matter of justice, that these men shall all reach the high-water mark of their grade when their biggest responsibility is upon them, when they can give the most energy to the Department, and when their judgment is the most effective - that is, at the age of thirty-one years. If we are going to standardize the service, it is only equitable, just, and fair that that should be done. The Postmaster-General should look into that recommendation if this party is going to be worthy of its name as the protector of those who are placed under its control. We recommend that officers in charge of mail vans be raised to the rank of despatching officer, and that the maximum salary of letter-carriers - £150 per annum - be attainable in nine years after reaching the minimum wage. At present, many of them do not reach it in twenty years after reaching the minimum wage, and some take longer than that. That reform will involve further expenditure. We recommend that letter-carriers’ hours be forty-four per week, and this will mean further expenditure; that the salaries of mail-drivers and groomsincharge be increased; that country linemen be afforded opportunities of transfer to city parties ; and that linemen be provided with waterproof clothing. One wonders why that has not been done already. We recommend also -
That linemen’s grades be abolished, and their salaries increased as follows : - Linemen, £120 to £156; line foremen, £168 to £192; line inspectors, £200 to £350 per annum.
That means another item of expenditure which has not been reviewed by the PostmasterGeneral. We further recommend -
That the maximum salary of instrument fitters be increased to *£160 * that the salaries of senior instrument fitters be from ^170 to £190; and foreman fitters, ^200 to £250 per annum.
That would involve further expenditure. Every one of the proposals attached to this report demands the close attention of the Postmaster-General. The claims made should be met, and justice meted out to the employes of this great Department before any concessions, other than those we are compelled to give, are given to any particular section of the community. We have it in evidence that the late Secretary of the Post and Telegraph Department was always strongly opposed to penny postage under existing conditions, ike recognised that it is not a fair proposition, and that it is not reasonable to compare Australia in this connexion with the countries in which the system has been adopted. He admits that a penny is a fair charge for services rendered in metropolitan areas where letters are delivered from the postoffice in which they are posted, but he contends it is a sound financial proposition to charge a higher rate for letters which have to be delivered at a distance. This gentleman, whose advice the Postmaster-General of the Commonwealth has been prepared to accept in the past, expresses himself in unmistakable terms as opposed to the adoption of penny postage in the Commonwealth. I ask Ministers to make a special note of what 1 am now about to say. We have no permanent Secretary of the Post and Telegraph Department to-day. . The late Secretary has retired, and there is an officer acting in his place, and, in my judgment, it will not be in the interests of the Department or of the Government if during the recess they decide to nil the position without having first considered the whole of the proposals made by the Postal Commission foi the future management of the service. To fill this important position with any officer now available in the Commonwealth would be to take but another of the disastrous steps which have been taken in the past. In my judgment it would be an unpardonable thing to do.
– Does the honorable member say that we have not a man in the Commonwealth fit to fill that position ?
– I do undoubtedly say that, unless the service is to be run on the lines hitherto adopted. The honorable member for Parramatta ought to know that himself.
– I do not know. it.
– Would the honorable member import a man for the position?
– That is for the Government to decide. I am giving honorable members my opinion. I say that the Department cannot be successfully run from a central office. The business is altogether too big for any one man to have charge of.
In view of the extension of our postal, telephonic, and telegraphic facilities, the time has arrived when we should have specialists in charge of each of the branches of the service. We should have experts in charge of each competent to advise us in the management of the service in the best interests of the country. That is admitted in the evidence given before the Postal Commission. Honorable members have only to read it to form a judgment upon the present personnel of the Department. The members of the Postal Commission were driven by the overwhelming evidence in support of it, to the conclusion that if the service is to be a credit to the Commonwealth, as it ought to be, its management must be intrusted to such a Board as we have indicated in our report. It should not be forgotten that this Department has the handling of practically £4,000,000 per annum. It is not, as in the case of the Customs Department, a matter merely of receiving the money and paying it into the bank. This Department has to earn the money by- services rendered, and nowhere in the world will honorable members find a private company leaving to one man the whole responsibility of managing all the different branches of a huge institution, operating so widely, and with a turnover equal to £4,000,000 per- annum. In America and in European countries they would not think of doing anything of the kind. They specialize their services, and appoint men in charge of the different branches whose special knowledge enables them to secure the best results. Under our system it is possible for a man to attain to the position of Secretary of the Post and Telegraph Department who has .never handled a telegraph instrument in his life, and knows nothing whatever of telephony.’ He may have been a clerk all his life, and have gradually risen through the different clerical grades of the service, and have no practical knowledge whatever of the two great revenue earning Departments of the service. To contend that mere seniority of service under the very ill-advised system of promotion in this Department gives any man a claim to take charge of such a huge concern is preposterous as a business proposition.
– Does the honorable member think that the Post Office should be used to help to develop the country districts ?
– It is impossible to define exactly to what extent the country districts are assisting the towns. The honorable member, as a representative of a country district, will hold the view that without the country districts the towns could not exist. The mere volume of postage out or in does not indicate what a country district contributes towards the prosperity of the larger centres of population. All the country districts must be taken into account, and I say that they should not be made to pay the full cost of the services rendered through the Post Office.
– The honorable member thinks that the Post and Telegraph service should be used to develop the country districts ?
– I say that proper consideration should be given to the relationship between country interests and the interests of the towns dependent upon them. The service should be considered as a whole, and if it shows a profit it should be used for further development for the benefit of the country districts. I am not here to be catechised and drawn off the track. Had the honorable member been in the House earlier in the evening, he would have heard what I had to say on the subject.
– Does the honorable member think that under a Board of Management that development would take place ?
– I have no hesitation in saying that it would, providing that the subsidiary recommendations of the Commission were also adopted. I refer more particularly to the recommendations that there should be a more thorough system of inspection, a more equitable basis of calculating revenue and cost of services, an extension of the terms of contracts, thereby cheapening services, and several other proposals which we make. I am not here to deal with the report as a whole; I am simply pointing out the sources of expenditure that are involved. I say unhesitatingly, in conclusion, that if it were not for our constitutional obligation to bring about a uniform postal system, I should bitterly oppose this Bill. As it is, I shall endeavour, in Committee, to carry an. amendment providing that penny postage shall prevail only within each State. Such an amendment would comply with the demands of our Constitution, and our financial necessities do not permit of our going further. I shall content myself with that announcement, and shall reserve for a future occasion what I have to say on the broader issue of postal management.
.-I agree with some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Gwydir, and more particularly with his view that simultaneously with the introduction of penny postage throughout Australia the Department should be placed on a sound, business basis. That should not be difficult. I do not think that the placing of the Department on a business basis requires a change of management in the direction recommended by the Postal Commission, and probably it would not require any alteration such as would involve a complete change of officers or the creation of new offices. The appointment of a departmental actuary - an appointment which has been confirmed by the present Ministry - was a very proper step to take. It should be possible for the people of Australia to ascertain from a departmental balance-sheet the paying and non-paying services of the Department. That is only a reasonable business proposition, which the people have a right to expect us to adopt. We shall never get the Post Office on a proper basis of management until we wholly separate the construction of new works from general administration. We shall never secure those services which are necessary in country districts unless we follow the course adopted in the past under State administration of paying for reproductive works out of loan money. It is a suicidal policy to call upon the Department to provide out of its own revenue for its many services throughout the whole of Australia as well as for new works and buildings. Such a policy must cripple the development of our commerce, and make it impossible for residents of country districts to secure those services which are essential to the development of a new country, and ought reasonably to be expected from a Government which has made a monopoly of the service.
– Is the honorable member talking of borrowing money in these times of prosperity?
– To talk of borrowing money for reproductive purposes is not to talk of borrowing in the broad sense of the term. I am in favour of this Bill, and think that even the experience of Victoria shows that it is amply justified. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, when introducing the first Bill providing for penny postage in this House, on 26th September, 1906, gave some very telling illustrations of the effect of penny postage in this State. The honorable member for Wentworth said, this afternoon, that Victoria had introduced penny postage shortly prior to the establishment of Federation, with a view of securing a cheaper postal service at the expense of the whole Commonwealth. According to the figures quoted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, in the very excellent speech to which I have referred, the business of the Department in Victoria increased very rapidly as the result of the adoption of the penny-postage system. He gave an illustration of the increased business transacted.
– Was there an increase in wages ?
– The PostmasterGeneral, in introducing this Bill, dealt with that matter. The question of whether the whole of the officers of the service have been properly dealt with should be considered in connexion with the Public Service Act, and quite apart from this measure. It seems to me that the revenue of the Department is sufficient to enable justice to be done to every one of its officers and still to leave a substantial profit, provided that new works and buildings be constructed out of loan money. If the policy of constructing new works out of revenue had been adopted in connexion with our railways and water conservation schemes, we should probably have been to-day in the same primitive condition that Australia occupied in the early days of its history. Only by the extension of public works have we been able to bring the country to its present stage of development. In 1900, before the introduction of penny postage in Victoria, the number of letters posted for delivery therein was 61,813,218. In 1901 -when the reduced rate had been in operation for only nine months - 70,255,396 letters were posted; in 1902, during which the reduced rate was in full play, 83,748,327 letters were posted; in 1903, 84,871,415; in 1904, 86,802,756; and in 1905, 92,340,704.
– The whole of this information is already in Hansard.
– I am repeating it in reply to criticism which has been made without, in my opinion, sufficient consideration of the experience of Victoria in respect of penny postage. It is good matter, and will well stand repetition.
– Honorable members have read it.
– I have followed the debate all day, and have not heard this information given. The figures 1 have quoted show an average increase equal to 35¼ per cent. per annum, as compared with the number of letters posted in Victoria for inland delivery in 1900. In Victoria, during the first year after the introduction of penny postage, the Department made a profit of, approximately, £17,000. In 1909-10, the receipts of the Postal Department totalled £3,757,000, whilst the expenditure aggregated £3,232,000- a profit of £524,000, after deducting the cost of new works and buildings. According to the figures presented by the Postmaster-General, the only reason why the Department will show a deficit during the current year is that the cost of new works and buildings is to be deducted from its ordinary revenue.
– What was the position of the Department in Victoria last year?
– I think that a slight profit was made In this State. But I merely cited the case of Victoria to show that a profit of £17,000 was made by the Department during the first year after the introduction of penny postage.
– Is not the honorable member aware that upon the whole of the service there was a loss last year ?
– That was occasioned by deducting the cost of new works and buildings from revenue. In my opinion, these new works and buildings should be constructed out of borrowed money. I see no objection to the establishment of penny postage, if works which immediately earn interest upon their cost are constructed out of borrowed money. I am now in a position to supply the information for which the honorable member for Illawarra asked a moment or two ago. In 1902, immediately after the introduction of penny postage in Victoria, the revenue of the Department in this State was £591,000, and its expenditure £574,000. In other words, it made a profit of £17,000. In 1910, the revenue of the Department in Victoria was £937,000, and its expenditure £809,000. There was thus a profit underthe penny postage system of £128,000.
– It is a magnificent profit. It is made by overworking and underpaying the employes.
– That is a matter which should be considered by the Public Service Commissioner. If the wages being paid to our postal employes are net sufficient, it is the duty of this Parliament to recast the whole of the conditions of the service If a proper business plan were devised by this Parliament, and the cost of new works and buildings were defrayed out of borrowed money, instead of out of revenue, it would render valuable service to the country. I believe that the Bill constitutes a step in the right direction. In the adoption of a system of penny postage, there is nothing inconsistent with the idea of granting to country districts the facilities to which they are entitled. We know that, during the first seven years of Federation - that is, until we appropriated the whole of the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to which we were entitled - the Postal Department, notwithstanding that £3,300,000 was expended upon new works and buildings, was very largely starved.
– An expenditure of £2,300,000 is required to make the Department efficient.
– The honorable member has stated that an expenditure of £2,300,000 is required to bring the Postal, Telegraphic, and Telephonic Departments up to a state of efficiency. If that be so. has he devised a scheme of taxation by means of whichthat enormous revenue maybe raised? We know that the policy of the Government is that we shall pay the whole cost of our defence out of revenue. Does he suggestthat a further sum of £2,300.000 shall be raised by means of fresh taxation?
– That is a question for the Government to determine.
– The recommendations of the Postal Commission have traversed the whole gamut of the present and future management of the Department; and it seems to me that that body might have laid down a business policy upon which the Government could base some new system of control.
– We have explained why that has not been done.
– The Commission had no right to make such a recommendation.
– It was supposed to lay down a business policy.
– No. That was outside the scope of the Commission itself.
– Not at all. It was the duty of the Commission to recommend the adoption of a business policy. But they have not done so. That is one of the weaknesses of the Commission’s report, though they have made some valuable sug- gestions which may be considered in connexion with this measure. As far as’ postage rates are concerned, I believe that it is within the power of the Department, by simply separating the construction branch from the administration branch, to introduce a system that would give to the country districts a much better service, whilst at the same time allowing more liberal terms to be conceded to postmasters and postmistresses. I am pleased that the Postmaster-General, in his introductory speech, stated that he intended to bring about an alteration in connexion with semiofficial post-offices. I have always thought that the difference between the two kinds of offices - official and semi-official - as determined by the difference in revenue of £200 and £400, was an absurd one’. Greater consideration should be given to those allowance offices in which the class of work entails long hours and a considerable amount of labour on those in charge, and where the mere amount of revenue received is no proper indication of the work done.
– Yet the honorable member is in favour of reducing the revenue.
– The revenue is ample, but we require to have in the Post Office such a system as prevails in the railway Departments of the States, in which construction and management are conducted by separate .branches. I give my hearty support to the Bill, and hope the Department will, before long, be placed upon a business-like footing in order that the country districts may have extended to them those postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services to which they are entitled, and which indeed are necessary in order that the country may be developed.
– I think that those who object to this Bill ought to remember that it is almost obligatory on this Parliament to establish uniformity in regard to postage rates.
– That does not mean lowering the rates.
– Not necessarily ; but I do not think that the honorable member is willing to increase the postage rates in Victoria.
– I would rather do that than lower wages.
– There is a great deal of make-believe about this matter of wages. Of course, the purpose of references of that kind has for its object the catching of - votes, as I interjected a little while ago. We ought to be able to deal with this subject on its merits, without introducing the question of salaries and wages, which have no connexion whatever with it, and which are dealt with under the Public Service Act, and in the Appropriation Act. On the 31st December, the’ operation of the Braddon section of the Constitution will terminate. Parliament has provided for a new arrangement with the States for the next ten years. While I am prepared to allow that the law at present prevailing in regard to postage throughout the Commonwealth might be held to be valid if continued until repealed by an Act of the Federal Parliament, nevertheless there can be no doubt that uniformity in rates in the several States ought to be instituted after the expiration of the Braddon section on 31st December next. Otherwise we shall have the anomaly of various postage rates being in force in different States. -In my opinion, therefore, it is incumbent upon us to avoid differentiating between the States. To do so, indeed, is, if not illegal, altogether unjustifiable. During the last ten years Victoria has had penny postage throughout the whole of her territory, whereas in other States, there has been penny postage in towns and municipalities, whilst in the country districts the rate has been 2d., which also has been the rate on letters to the United Kingdom. No one can argue that it is desirable to continue different rates in the States after the expiration of the Braddon section. My only regret is that uniformity of postage in the several States was not established long ago. I should like to quote from a speech which I delivered in this House on 31st July, 1906, when introducing the Budget. I said on that occasion -
It affords me great pleasure to announce that the Government propose to recommend Parliament to establish penny postage throughout the Commonwealth and the Empire on the ist October next. We propose also to extend penny postage to all foreign countries that will agree to deliver our letters.
Honorable members know that we have agreed to deliver letters posted with a penny stamp in the United- Kingdom, whereas we have to pay a fee of 2d. each on our letters to the United Kingdom. In that respect we suffer a disadvantage, as we have to deliver a great deal more matter for the United Kingdom than they have to deliver for us. I went on to say -
As Treasurer, I have satisfied myself that funds are available, and I hope that the amendment of the law necessary to insure the establishment of penny post will be unanimously agreed to by Parliament at the earliest possible moment.
I am very sorry to say that our Bill to introduce penny postage was laid aside, or, at any rate, was not proceeded with.
– What was the reason for laying it aside?
– It was postponed, and I think, if the truth must be told, there was a majority against it in the House at that time. The result has been that the people of Victoria have alone enjoyed penny postage. Of course, I am aware that the State has had to pay for the privilege. At the same time, there has been a want of uniformity in the postage rates of Australia which has been most inconvenient to persons in other States receiving letters from Victoria. The honorable member for Ballarat seemed to think that there was no one to blame because our Bill was not proceeded with, and that there is no inconsistency on the part of those who were opposed to penny postage dien being in favour of it now. There is, no doubt, something to be said on that score, because we are in a different position now that the operation of the Braddon section has come to an end. The States have been provided for in another way, and there is not very much obligation upon us to return to them more than 25s. a head, and, therefore, our resources are far greater now than they were previously. I, however, regret very much that penny postage was not introduced in 1906. I know of no reason why it should not have been established as soon as we were able to legislate on the subject after the inauguration of the Commonwealth. The postal revenue, which, of course, includes the telegraph and telephone revenue, has increased very largely every year since Federation, and is still increasing. In 1906-7, when we proposed to introduce penny postage, the revenue was £3,129,000, whereas now it is £3,899,000. The honorable member for Ballarat said that, perhaps, there were financial reasons which actuated honorable members in 1906, but I am not inclined to that view, because the very year when the Government did not proceed with the Penny Postage Bill we returned to the States £806,000 out of our one-fourth share of the Customs and Excise revenue. We were at that time very desirous of returning as much as possible to the States, which were rather short of funds. At the same time, it was not on account of want of funds that the Bill was not pro ceeded with. To those who have not read or have forgotten the experience of Canada in respect to penny postage, I may say that the following extract was quoted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro when Postmaster- General, and myself. The Treasurer of Canada, Mr. Fielding, in making a statement of its finances, in May, 1906, said -
It is but a few years since Canada had a 3-cent (1 1/2d.) domestic letter rate, and a 5-cent (2 1/2d.) rate on letters to Great Britain, and yet even with these heavy postal rates, the Post Office Department absorbed all ‘the revenue it could collect, and, at the close of the year, some 600,000 or 700,000 dollars (£123,288 or £143,836) was usually required from the public Treasury to make good the deficiency and to keep the post-office running. We have no longer a 3-cent rate ; Canada has penny postage within her own borders, and penny postage with the Mother Country. The Post Office Department no longer absorbs all its own revenue, no longer calls for 600,000 or 700,000 dollars from the Treasury. After affording the people a very liberal postal service, after giving reduced rates, after establishing the blessing - for it is not too much to speak of it so- of penny postage, the Postmaster-General comes at the close of the year asking for nothing from the public Treasury, but tendering the splendid sum of 900,000 dollars (£184,932) to assist the other public services of the country.
I believe that the experience of New Zealand has been equally satisfactory. In 1906, when I as Treasurer approved of penny postage being established on the recommendation of the then PostmasterGeneral, the honorable member for EdenMonaro, I estimated the loss for the year at £209,000. I was of opinion then, and I still believe, that the increased use of the post-office would have been such that in a very short time, as was the case in Canada, the loss would have been wiped out. At any rate, we could have afforded very well then to” establish penny postage’, and by this time I have no doubt that there would have been nothing but praise of it. I believe that a great many members of the Labour Socialistic party and others also were opposed to it at that time, so much so, indeed, that it was decided not to proceed with the measure. I am very glad, however, that the present Government have reintroduced the Bill, and in exactly the same shape as regards the rates as we proposed. I think it is a very progressive Federal proposal. I only regret that it was not introduced years ago. In the early days of Federation we had plenty of money at our disposal - that is, if we had not considered it our duty to return it to. the States. In those years the policy was to return to the
States as much as possible, because we knew that the States wanted the money. At the same time, when I look back I very much regret that we did not have penny postage from the very beginning, and that we did not spend some of the money which we returned to the States in defraying any loss which might have been sustained. I am gladthat honorable members on the Ministerial side, and also, perhaps, some on this side, have repented of their former error in preventing penny postage being established in 1906. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
I had intended to oppose this measure until such time as the Department was reorganized, and the employes received fair and just treatment. However, the PostmasterGeneral has assured us that fair conditions for the employes do not depend on the rate of postage; and on the promise to readjust the present conditions-
– When was that promise given ?
-The Acting Prime Minister on Friday gave us a promise, so far as the lower-paid employes were concerned.
– All that the Acting Prime Minister said was that the minimum salary of£110 would be paid to employes over twenty-one years of age.
– Well, that is one point.
– It is a very small one 1
– And the PostmasterGeneral has said that as soon as we get into recess, and he has time to look into the matter, he will see that anomalies are removed. I shall vote for the second reading on the distinct understanding that the employes of the Department are not called upon to do sweated work. In New South Wales there are hundreds of men who work overtime and on Sundays, and who have accumulated what are called “ lieu “ days ; but in my opinion all overtime of the kind should be paid for, and I trust that in the reorganization this matter will have attention. Had I any doubt in the matter I should vote against this reduction of the postal rates, because we have no right to give cheap postage and “ take it out “ of the employe. The Government have been in power only six months, and we cannot expect everything to be done in that time ; but next session, if things are not altered in the right direction, I shall have no sympathy with the Postmaster-General. I vote for the second reading of this measure on the dis tinct understanding that fair wages and conditions shall be observed.
– We are approaching the termination of the operation of the Braddon section; and I suppose that, whether we like it or not, there must be uniformity in our postal administration. The Postmaster- General, in introducing the measure, informed us that contract offices, semi-official offices, and staff offices will be no worse off in consequence of its passing. It may be that that information is pleasant; but if the Department are not going to treat their employes better, it will be no advance, because they are in a disgraceful state at the present time . There are, I suppose, sufficient exPostmastersGeneral in the House to carry a measure of this kind, because, at some time or other, each one has issued a memorandum or introduced a measure in favour of penny postage. When the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, as PostmasterGeneral, introduced his measure, the interjections, I notice, by a number of honorable members well informed in postal matters did not predict the happy state of affairs anticipated by that honorable gentleman. Our present High Commissioner declared that the introduction of penny postage would mean that a favoured few in the city would participate in the benefit to the exclusion of those in the country, and thethen honorable member for Gippsland, Mr. McLean, a very wellinformed man, was of the same opinion. 1 have read the report of the Postal Commission, and I have received information from various sources in regard to’ the service ; and I do not feel at all disposed to support the measure as introduced by the Government. We ought to have more satisfactory assurance that the conditions within the service will be made much better than in the past. From a table in the report to which I have referred, I gather that the position of postal employes in other parts of the world is much better than in what we term “ Sunny Australia.” In “respect to holidays, sick pay, medical attendance, and salaries, the officials are much better off at Home and other countries than are officials of the same class in Australia ; and that is not to our credit. However, with the honorable member for South Sydney, I have in my mind the promise given by the Acting Prime Minister on Friday afternoon, that the employe’s, some of whom are married men with only £84 per annum, will be treated, at any rate, something like human beings in the future. There are many other reforms which ought to be carried out as speedily as possible. The report of the Postal Commission is voluminous, and contains many admirable suggestions, made after a prolonged inquiry by some of the most intelligent members of this House; and I think it is somewhat of a slight upon the members of that Commission that that report should be pigeonholed, even only for a session. In view of the fact that there is much discontent, not only on the part of officers, but on the part of sections of the public, it is time that the report was taken into consideration, and the necessary reforms carried into effect. In the Melbourne and metropolitan area, and, I believe, in the metropolitan areas of the other States, there are far too few letter-carriers, with the result that the men have to work from early morning to late at night in order to deliver the letters on their extended rounds.
– In South Australia the letter-carriers are loaded like mules, and at Christmas they have to employ, out of their own “ screws,” boys to carry their loads.
– That should not be tolerated for one day. In my own district the letter-carriers are sweated, working for long hours for a mere pittance on which to support their wives and families. There are too many grievances to be enumerated just at the present time; and pages of the report of the Postal Commission suggest necessary reforms. I am in sympathy with country members who’ wonder, if we give nearly £500,000 back to people who can best afford to pay postage, where the money is to come from to carry out telephone extensions.
– Hear, hear.
– I remind the honorable member that the first few words I spoke in this House had reference to this subject, and I said that when there was any proposal to assist those who were fighting the battle of life in the backblocks, I should lend a helping hand. I have received a letter from a friend of mine in America, who was at one time a farmer in Gippsland, but who, after fighting the forest, found a buyer for his farm, and crossed the Pacific. He is making his tour for the purpose of an investigation, so that when he returns he may be better fitted for the work of cultivating the land, and dairying on up-to-date lines. He is at present a close student of farming and dairying operations in America and elsewhere, and writes me that he has not visited an American farm which has not its telephone. Farmers, in sending stock and produce to market, have often to depend on the integrity of their agents, and it is of great assistance to be able to keep in touch with their markets. Any proposals for improving our postal, telegraphic, or telephonic communications will receive my hearty support. There are many other matters to which I would like to refer, but I do not wish to detain honorable members. Unless reforms are carried out in recess, I shall be a pretty regular departmental trotter.
– The honorable member should not put his trust in the recess.
– I do not. It is a reflection on the Postal Commission that we should be going into recess without carrying out the reforms which it recommends. Since Federation we have had nine or ten Postmasters-General, each of whom has wished to associate himself with the introduction of penny postage. No doubt it will be necessary to make our rates uniform at the end of the year, but in connexion with this change of postal rates a number of other reforms should have been provided for. Their consideration would not have delayed the progress of the measure. Because they have not been brought forward, and for other reasons, I shall vote against the Bill. If the changes which I think are necessary are not made in recess, I shall next session very severely criticise the administration of the Department.
.- It is surprising that, after the carefullyprepared peroration of the PostmasterGeneral, with its references to Trafalgar, Waterloo, and other scenes of strife, members of his own party, including the honorable members for Adelaide, South Sydney, and Maribyrnong, should not be convinced.
– We do not approve of warlike perorations from a Christian Minister.
– Certainly not. Having always been in favour of penny postage for Australia so soon as our finances would permit of it, I hail its introduction with delight. As a number of Labour representatives have declared their opposition to the measure, I hope that when the question is put it will not be found that they have been firing blank cartridges, and that they will call for a division, so that the people may know who are the opponents of reform. As a country representative, I have had great difficulty in getting the requirements of my constituency in regard to postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services supplied, and am very desirous that the change in postal rates shall not have the effect either of curtailing services or of reducing wages. After nearly ten years’ effort, I have just succeeded in obtaining telephonic communication with Sydney for one of the most important industrial centres in . Australia, but my constituency is not adequately provided with means of communication with the metropolis, and, no doubt, other constituencies are in like position.
– The change in rates may not mean a reduction in wages, but may prevent increases.
– I hope that it will not mean that. The Postmaster-General spoke as if the change would benefit the poorer classes, but, as the honorable member for Adelaide pointed out, it is the commercial classes who will be benefited by it.
– That is true.
– Does the honorable member think that the merchants pay the postage?
– I have always contended that the merchants pass on the protective duties to the consumers, and, true to their instincts, they also pass on the cost cf postage. When the honorable member for Eden-Monaro introduced his Bill in 1907, the honorable member for Wide Bay said -
I am sorry that the Postmaster-General is so urgent in this matter….. It is quite. right that this Bill should be introduced, but I must express my regret that Ministers are apparently exceedingly anxious to’ be able to institute penny postage during their term of office rather than to conserve the interests of the old people of Australia. This Bill particularly concerns the commercial community.
I ask my honorable friends in charge of this Bill whether they are sent into this Parliament specially to look after the interests of the commercial community? As far as I can make out, from their speeches both inside and outside the House, the commercial community are the last people whom they are at all anxious to serve. Time after time we have- heard them in this connexion indorsing the opinion of the present Prime Minister that the Bill particularly concerns the commercial community.
– Does not the honorable member believe in the commercial people being served?
– I do not know what my honorable friend believes in; all that I know is that he succeeded in winning the Indi seat at the last election ; but I understand that the matter of what he thinks or does .not think is all decided for him in caucus. He does not give us the advantage of his opinions in this House. The honorable member for Wide Bay, on that occasion, further said -
I admit ihat the Postmaster-General has manifested his eagerness to afford facilities to the country districts in the matter of the extension of telephonic communication, but, at the same time, I must remind him that there are people living in parts of Australia who would willingly pay a shilling on a letter if they, could get mails regularly.
Throughout the Commonwealth, a large number of our producers are not able to get their mails regularly. They cannot get them more than once a week, or perhaps more than once a fortnight. I desire to impress on the Ministry the statement of the Postmaster-General in introducing the Bill, that the great loss of revenue which would occur would not mean any deprivation of mails to people in outlying places ; and that the privileges which they are. asking for would not be interfered with. The honorable member for Herbert, another prominent member of the Labour party, speaking on the same question in 1906, said -
The Department have been fairly liberal, but they have not been able to give me a great many facilities for which I have asked, -because there has been no money available.
Every member representing a country constituency has received from the Department letters to the same effect. During the last five or six years, when I have sent in reasonable applications, the reply I have received from the Department, time after time, has been that there were no funds available. That official letter has been so frequent, that I have become heartily sick of receiving it. The honorable member for Herbert also said, on the same occasion -
Now, it is proposed to make a free gift to a small section of the community at the expense of the rest of the people of Australia.
The small section of the community referred to by those honorable members is the commercial community, who have been so often spoken of in opprobrious terms by honorable members opposite. Personally, I trust that the Bill will pass. I am entirely in favour of it; but I hope that, nothing will be done to deprive our settlers of necessary facilities, or to limit in any way the extension of facilities in outlying districts. I hope that honorable members on the other side of the House, who have spoken so strongly in opposition to the measure, will stand up to their guns, call for a division on it, and let Australia see who are the men who are opposed to the application of penny postage to the Commonwealth.
.- What has occurred on this question shows that members on this side of the House are not caucus-bound or hide-bound. Here is a measure introduced by the Government behind whom we are sitting, and yet many of us are opposing it. When I addressed my constituents I was never asked if I favoured reducing the rates of postage in the Commonwealth to one penny. The people of the Commonwealth have never asked for it. I do not think that any honorable member sitting here to-night can say that he has been specially asked by his constituents to have this measure brought forward and passed. I have npt read of such questions being put to candidates on the hustings. I am fully convinced that in the Postal Department throughout the Commonwealth a system of sweating the employes is going on. It went on under past Governments, and f am not going by any vote of mine to encourage the present Government to continue it. If we reduce the revenue of the Department by nearly £400,000 a year, how are we to increase the remuneration of the employes in the Department, who are justly entitled to increases? The Government say that the money will be taken out of the Consolidated Revenue, but that will mean that we shall have to go to the Customs to get it. We have a number of big projects in view, on which we could spend this £400,000; we have large railways to build, defence to look after, and the Northern Territory to develop. If all these commitments are to be met out of the Consolidated Revenue, where shall we land ourselves ? Honorable members on the other side would laugh and be joyful if they discovered that the Government in the next twelve months or so were in financial difficulties. Every member on this side of the House has pledged himself against Commonwealth borrowing. If we are to cut off £^400,000 of revenue here, and £1,000,000 somewhere else, and undertake all the large construction works that are proposed for the near future, what are we to do for money ? The people have not asked for the reduction of the postal rates, and why then should we make a . sweeping financial alteration of this kind? In the past, five States out of six have had twopenny postage, except in the cities within a 10-mile radius of the General Post Office. Victoria has had penny postage throughout its territory, but letters sent from Victoria to other States have had to pay 2d. The people in the cities and suburbs have benefited most under the present system, because every resident there has his letters brought to his door. The cost of delivery is enormous, in view of the very large number of letter-carriers engaged in the city and suburbs, and yet the postage there is only id. In the country it costs 2d. to send a letter for only a few hundred yards, so long as it is outside the boundaries of the town, but a person living there has no one to deliver his letters to him; he has to go to the post office and ask for them, although twopenny postage has been paid on each of them. The Government derive four times as much profit from the twopenny rate in the country as they derive from the penny rate in the town.
– That is an argument in favour of this proposal.
– It is an argument in favour of putting the city rate up to the country rate.
– Would the honorable member vote for that?
– Yes, I would, because I am here pledged to see that every man in the Commonwealth service gets a fair rate of pay. Until that is done, I shall not consent to any reduction in the postage rates.
– What the honorable member proposes would reduce the revenue instead of increasing it.
– Does the Minister think that people write letters for the fun of it? I know I very seldom write a letter if I can avoid doing so. I remind honorable members that there is at present practically a penny rate as well as a twopenny rate throughout the Commonwealth, because those who desire to do so may make use of penny post-cards. Residents -of Tasmania have, for years past, been worrying the Post and Telegraph Department to provide a better mail service with the islands in Bass Strait. I have waited on the Postmaster- General on many occasions since I have been a member of this House in connexion with the mail ser- vice between the mainland of Tasmania and Flinders Island, Barren Island, and Clarke’s Island, in Bass Strait. Let me tell honorable members that there are nearly 1,500 persons resident on these islands, and they are given only a triweekly service, which is conducted under conditions that can only be described as terrible. They have asked that a decent subsidy should be provided which would enable the contractors to put on a steamer of a fair size by which the residents might travel in some comfort to Tasmania or to Victoria. At present, the service is carried out by a small ketch, because a subsidy of only £$0 a year is paid for it. The answer to every demand for a better service is that it would not pay, and the Department has no money. Honorable members are aware that that is the departmental answer- to every request for better postal, telegraphic, and telephonic facilities. The small vessels which it is possible to provide for the subsidy granted for the delivery of mails from Launceston to the islands to which I have referred, a distance of about 100 miles by sea, are permitted by the Launceston Marine Board to carry no more than four passengers.
– The honorable member is not referring to a postal service.
– I contend that the matter to which I refer should be given consideration. The people on these islands have no telegraphic communication by cable, or by wireless telegraphy, and when a request is made to supply them with a better service, we are told that the Department has no money. If this proposal to reduce the revenue of the Department is carried into effect, what chance shall I have of securing a better service for the people of Flinders Island? The small vessels carrying on the present service are the only means of communication between the islands and Launceston, or Melbourne, and I can assure honorable members that on some occasions these small ketches have carried thirty passengers, without sanitary accommodation or conveniences of any description, and women and children have been put down into the hold without berths, and have sometimes had to stay there for from three to six days, in rough weather. Much the same thing applies to the service between Tasmania and King Island, which is represented by the present Minister of Home Affairs. That honorable gentleman has been asking for a cable service with King Island since he has been a member of this
House. There are thousands of genuine farmers settled on the island now, but, in common with the people settled on the other islands to which I have referred, they are denied a satisfactory means of communication with Tasmania and the mainland, because the Government have no money to spend in the way proposed. If that be so, how can I be asked to support a measure like this? If a proposal which must involve a reduction of the revenue’ derived by the Department brings, about a better service, I am a Dutchman. I am opposed to this measure.
.- I desire to offer one or two remarks upon this proposal. In my opinion, the payment of civil servants has been very unfairly intruded into the consideration of the question. It is really a question of statesmanship to say whether we should adopt universal penny postage in Australia. Honorable members who might be expected to support the Government appear to be determined to defeat this proposal. They contend that if this statesmanlike proposition is carried out, the Public Service is bound to suffer. If I thought that public servants would suffer as the result of. the passing of this Bill, I should not be prepared to support it; but, in view of the fact that a number of taxation proposals have been submitted to this House - proposals which are bound to become law, and are designed more particularly to take money out of the pockets of the commercial section of the community - I think it only reasonable that the penny-postage system should be adopted in other States, as it has been in Victoria. It appears an anomaly that whereas residents of Victoria can have all their correspondence carried through the post at a charge of id. per letter, those outside the city areas of New South Wales have to pay 2d. per letter, while in some of the other States every letter must be.t a twopenny stamp. Uniformity in this respect ought to be established, so as to fulfil one of the obligations of Federation, that every person in the Commonwealth shall be treated alike by the Public Departments. I am, therefore, a supporter of the Bill, and it appears to me that the Government are justly entitled to the sympathy of the House. This is the first measure that has created in my mind a feeling of sympathy for them. I notice that many of those to whom they have a right to look for support are badgering them in- this connexion, and I am afraid that they will have to rely on the assistance of the Opposition. We are always prepared to help the Government when they bring forward any sound measure; but we feel it our duty to oppose Socialistic propositions that are believed to be unsound. We believe this to be a measure that should commend itself to all right-thinking people, and we are therefore prepared to give it our support.
Question - That the Bill be now read a second time - put. The House divided.
Maiority … … 27
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and considered in Committee pro forma.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
– With the permission of the House, I move -
That the Senate’s Message be taken into consideration forthwith.
– No new business can be taken after11 o’clock, except with the consent of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the Minister of Trade and Customs have leave to move that the message be considered forth?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The amendment inserts in the Bill a clause similar to that appearing in other Bills providing for the payment of bounties. It declares that information shall be supplied showing by whom the bounty has been won, the amount of the bounty paid, the goods in respect of which the bounties were paid, and so forth. I move -
That the Senate’s amendment be agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I desire to announce that the Government have decided to appoint Mr. G. A. McKay, of New South Wales, as the Commonwealth Land Tax Commissioner.
– A very excellent appointment.
– We have carefully considered the qualifications of the sixty odd applicants for the position, and have decided that he is the most suitable man.
.- I should be glad if the Government would intimate when they propose to indicate their intentions in regard to the report of the Postal Commission. I recognise the difficulty in which they are placed owing to the regrettable illness of the PostmasterGeneral, and I wish to express my sympathy with him in that he was unable to remain here to record his vote in favour of the Postal Rates Bill. But the report of the Commission is so important, and so many thousands of persons are eagerly awaiting the decision of the Government in regard to it, that we ought to have a statement of their intentions at the earliest possible moment.
– The Government realize that the report presented by the Postal Commission covers so many questions of first-rate importance that, although there does not appear to be any reasonable chance of taking action in regard to them this session, they will, before Parliament prorogues, make a general statement of their intentions.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.20 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 November 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1910/19101108_reps_4_59/>.