15th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (,by Mr. Lyons) - by leave - agreed to -
That the number of members appointed to serve on the Standing Orders Committee be increased to nine, and that Mr. Speaker, the Chairman of Committees, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Beasley, Mr. Blackburn, Mr. Makin, Mr. Menzies, Mr. Nairn and Mr. Page be members of that committee; three to form a quorum.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker, Mr. Brennan, Mr. Fadden, Mr. Holt, Mr. JohnLawson, Mr. Lazzarini and Mr. Riordan be members of the Library Committee; three to form a quorum.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker, Mr. Badman. Mr. Baker, Mr. Clark, Mr. Gardner, Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. James be members of the House Committee; three to form a quorum.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Anthony Mr. Barnard, Mr. Gander, Mr. Jennings, Mr. McCall, Mr. Stacey and Mr. Watkins he members of the Printing Committee; three to form a quorum, with power to confer with a similar committee of the Senate.
Destruction of Trees
– Has the attention of the. Minister for the Interior been drawn to the destruction in the Federal Capital Territory of ‘trees, chiefly Japanese plum trees, apparently as the result of the thoughtlessness of school boys? Will the honorable gentleman take steps to see that these beautiful trees are preserved ?
– This matter has been referred ‘to me, and I have directed the department to institute investigations and to take whatever steps are necessary to see that the damaging of these trees is not continued ; if necessary, to take action against any person or persons responsible.
– by leave - For the information of honorable members, I wish briefly to review recent important developments of the international situation. I propose to deal with the Sino-Japanese conflict, the situation in Spain, and the visit of Lord Halifax to Germany.
Honorable members will recollect that the Council of the League of Nations referred the Sino-Japanese dispute to the Advisory Committee which had been set up by a resolution of the Assembly of the League in February, 1933, to watch the Sino-Japanese situation. The Advisory Committee issued invitations to certain countries having interests in the Far East, including Australia, to participate in its work. Australia accepted this invitation, and was represented by Mr. Bruce, The Advisory Committee on the 12th October, appointed a sub-committee, on which also Australia was represented, to expedite the work of the full Committee. The report adopted by the sub-committee on the 6th October, stated that Japanese action in China was in breach of Japan’s treaty obligations, and recommended that the Assembly of the League should invite States members of the League, who were signatories to the Nine Powers Treaty, to initiate consultations as was provided for in the treaty, that the Assembly should express its moral support of China, and that members of the League should refrain from action which might weaken China’s resistance. The findings and recommendations of the sub-committee were in turn adopted by the Advisory Committee and by the Assembly of the League.
The governments of Great Britain and the United States of America made joint representations to the Belgian Government, on the 10th October, to convene a conference of the signatories to the Nine Powers Treaty, to consider means of securing, by agreement, an early settlement of the Sino-Japanese dispute. The governments of Great Britain and the United States of America also suggested that invitations should be issued to Germany and Soviet Russia, as both of these countries had considerable interests in the Far East. The Belgian Government acted on these representations on the 18th October. Australia and all other signatory powers, with the exception of Japan, accepted the invitation, as did also Soviet Russia, but it was declined by Germany. Japan’s reasons for refusing to attend the conference were briefly as follows: - First, that the action taken by Japan in China was a measure of self-defence, brought about by China’s fierce an ti- Japanese policy, and that consequently the dispute lay outside the scope of the Nine Powers Treaty; secondly, that the majority of the powers taking part in the conference would hold themselves bound by the resolution of the League condemning Japan ; and thirdly, that the dispute concerned only China and Japan.
The conference met on the 3rd November. Honorable members will appreciate that Japan’s refusal to attend made the task of the conference exceedingly difficult. Further efforts were made by the conference to secure Japanese co-operation, but the Government of Japan persisted in its refusal to attend. In a declaration adopted on the 15th November, the powers represented at. the conference noted that the Government of Japan had once more declined to enter into an exchange of views with the object of achieving a peaceful settlement of the Sino-Japanese dispute. That the conflict concerned the signatories of the Nine Powers Treaty, of the Pact of Paris, and indeed all nations, was also reiterated.
The conference adjourned on the 15 th November, to enable the Governments concerned to consult together as to the course of action to be adopted. The conference re-assembled on the 22nd November, and decided on the 24th November to suspend its sittings in order that participating Governments might have time to exchange views and continue to explore all peaceful means of settling the Sino-Japanese dispute. On the same day all the powers represented at the conference, except Italy, adopted a declaration, the effect of which was, briefly, as follows: Instruments such as the Nine Powers Treaty safeguarded international peace and security without resorting to armed force. Resort to armed force led to a universal feeling of insecurity, and compelled the nations to_ seek a security based upon armaments rather than on treaties. The conference had attempted since the 3rd November to settle the SinoJapanese dispute by conciliation, and had tried to secure the co-operation of the Government of Japan. Though it had been considered necessary to suspend the sittings of the conference, this in no way diminished the interest of the powers assembled at Brussels in the Far Eastern situation. The conference believed that a just and lasting settlement could be achieved only by consultation on the part of China and Japan with other interested powers, who should overlook no possible step to settle the ‘conflict by a peaceful process.
Honorable members will note that from the outset Australia has been closely associated with the action taken in the Sino-Japanese dispute by States members of the League and by the signatories to the Nine Powers Treaty. Unfortunately, the conference has achieved no tangible result. In spite of this, however, I feel that the Brussels Conference has been of real value. The co-operation of the United States of America in the work of the conference shows the great importance attached by that country to the maintenance of the integrity of international law and to the upholding of the principle of respect for international treaties. I am sure that all honorable members wholeheartedly welcome the cooperation of the United States of America, in the international field. The Government “believes that international disputes can be satisfactorily solved only by methods of conciliation and mutual agreement. In this connexion, certain organizations and individuals have, during the last few months, advocated such action as a boycott of Japanese goods and prohibition of the export to Japan of commodities which might be used for war-like purposes. As to this aspect of the situation, I would remind honorable members that the Prime Minister has made frequent appeals to the Australian people, deprecating single-handed action by any country, or by a section of a community, which would prejudice any attempt at conciliation by agreement, and would not assist either side in the dispute.
Before concluding my references to the Sino-Japanese dispute, I wish to refer to an aspect of the present situation in Shanghai. It has already been reported in the press that the Japanese have put forward far-reaching demands at Shanghai for the control of customs revenue and the suppression of various Chinese official activities. The British Ambassador in Tokyo has been instructed to inform the Government of Japan, that the Government of Great Britain cannot admit that any local arrangement as to customs revenues can properly be made without reference to it and other governments concerned. The Governments of France and the United States of America have made similar representations in Tokyo.
I turn now to the situation in Spain. Early this month, the Non-Intervention Committee, after prolonged discussions, reached an agreement in principle on the British plan for the withdrawal of foreign forces in Spain. The Commonwealth Government understands that General Franco will accept the British plan in principle; but there is no indication at present of the terms in which the Spanish Government will reply.
As far as the relations of Great Britain with General Franco are concerned, the British Government recently decided that it was necessary to establish a means of regular contact between London and Salamanca in order to safeguard British commercial interests in that part of Spain which is under General Franco’s control. It was announced in the House of Commons, on the 4th November, that arrangements had been made with General Franco for an exchange of agents. In every official pronouncement on this matter it has been made clear that this exchange of agents in no way involves the diplomatic recognition of General Franco.
Unfortunately, there seems no sign of an early termination of the civil strife in Spain : but the situation in that country is causing less anxiety internationally than it did two months ago, owing to the agreement reached by the NonIntervention Committee in regard to the withdrawal of foreign volunteers, to which I have just alluded.
Honorable members will recollect that Lord Halifax, the Lord President of the Council in the British Cabinet, paid a private and unofficial visit to Germany in the middle of November. During his visit he had conversations with Herr Hitler, General Goering, Doctor Goebels and other prominent German leaders. Lord Halifax’s conversations were of a confidential character, but the British Prime Minister, Mr.- Chamberlain, announced in the House of Commons, on the 24th November, that he was satisfied that the visit had been valuable in furthering the desire, which he believed was generally felt in both countries, for the establishment of a closer mutual understanding. Lord Halifax’s interview with Herr Hitler is at present the subject of conversations in London between British Ministers and the French Prime Minister M. Chautemps, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Delbos. From information at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government, it may be assumed that these Anglo-German and AngloFrench exchanges of view will not be followed by any change of the basic principles governing British foreign policy, and that Great Britain will not invite the Government of France to.alter any of the fundamental features of its foreign policy.
I invite the attention of honorable members to the communique dealing with these conversations read to the House of Commons by the British Prime Minister last Wednesday. The full text of the communique has appeared in the press.
The Government of Great Britain is not considering any agreement or understanding with Germany which might affect the security of France Or any country to which France is allied by treaty or pact. Both Great Britain and France desire to place their relations with both Germany and Italy on a better footing, but there is no question of either attempting to effect such an improvement at the expense of any other party. The Commonwealth Government sincerely hopes that the exchanges of views that have taken place will make it easier to find a solution, by means of conciliation and co-operation, of those problems which today menace the peace of the world. This Government believes that it, is of essential importance, if the peace of the world is to be assured, that the relations between nations should be based on an observance of the principles of international law and on respect for the terms of international agreements. Unless all countries recognize the binding character of those international obligations which they have assumed, the rule of law in international relations must give place to anarchy. It was to uphold the sanctity of international treaties that the Commonwealth Government associated itself with the action taken by States members of the League in the Sino-Japanese dispute, and it was in fulfilment of its obligations as a signatory to the Nine Powers Treaty that Australia was represented at the Brussels Conference. The Commonwealth Government, welcomes the cooperation, in the cause of general world peace, of any nation, whatever its political organisation and internal policy, and is convinced that the solution of world political problems can be sought only on the basis of common respect for international law and order, and not in the division of nations, real or apparent, into antagonistic alliances or ideological groups.
– Will the Minister for External Affairs state whether the Commonwealth Government has received information from the British Government as to whether Herr Hitler and General Goering, who were interviewed by Lord Halifax, gave an indication as to the practical methods which Germany would consider to assist in a general solution of the problems discussed ? If so, has the British Government communicated any outline of such practical measures to the Commonwealth Government? Of course,I do not for one moment suggest that the Minister should state the nature of the proposals.
– -The honorable gentleman, I am sure, will see the propriety of placing such a. statement, which involves immense possibilities, on the notice-paper. I shall make no attempt to answer it offhand.
– In view of the apparent interest of the Government in the subject of non-intervention in Spain, as outlined in the statement submitted by the Minister for External Affairs, will the Minister attempt to discover the truth or otherwise of an announcement appearing in an Australian journal that the British Government itself had either been responsible for the raising of a £90,000,000 loan for General Franco’s revolutionary army in Spain, or had permitted such a loan to be raised in Great Britain?
– I am not in a position to answer that question, except to say that personally I must dissociate myself entirely from anything that the honorable member has suggested.
– Jn view of the serious shortage of office accommodation thathas developed at Parliament House, following the reconstruction of the Ministry - a shortage which threatens to bring about, the exclusion of private, members altogether in the near future - will the Government refer to the newly appointed Public Works Committee, for immediate examination and report, a proposal to increase the accommodation in this building by adding another story?
-I recognize the difficulties that are, and have been, arising for some time. The Government will go into the matter that has been raised.
– By way of explanation of the question I am about to ask, I may mention that I have arranged in the electorate of Melbourne that no oldage pensioner shall ever be buried as a pauper whileI am a member of this House. In view of the fact that I have obtained estimates from an up-to-date funeral director that if the Government were to pay threepence a week for each old-age pensioner, it would remove from the pensioners the possible stigma of pauper funerals for all time, and provide a funeral costing £15 on the death of each pensioner, will the Treasurer, when any increase of the pension is contemplated, consider the earmarking of 3d. a Week in order to remove the possible stigma from all our old people?
– I believe that the honorable gentleman has made suggestions in the past; not dissimilar to that now advanced, and in the past I have replied to him that I do not consider that the majority of the pensioners would be agreeable to any appreciable reduction of the pension for any particular purpose; but, if the honorable member will let me havehis question in writing, I shall take the matter into consideration.
– What action does the Government propose to take to assure a home-consumption price for wheat? Is it proposed to provide a bounty on export, subject to free-on-board values, or to fix a home-consumption price in cooperation with the States?
– The general question of home-consumption prices for our export commodities has been fully discussed by the Commonwealth Government with the State governments and the Agricultural Council, and “certain proposals are now being examined by the State governments with their AttorneysGeneral to see whether a method can be adopted to secure a practicable scheme. When such a scheme has- been evolved, the question which the honorable member has raised will be discussed.
– Is the Minister in charge of Development in a position to say what progress has been made with the investigation into the possibility or feasibility of the destruction of rabbits by virus?
– ‘The laboratory experts who have been investigating the effectiveness of the virus known as myxomatosis have now reached satisfactory conclusions, and full-control experiments will take place on Wardang Island off the coast of South Australia. The results already obtained have warranted the proposed full-control experiments, but no report on the matter has yet come to hand.
– In view of the fearsome statements made by representatives of both employers and employees in the boot industry in Victoria, as to an increased importation of boots, will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform honorable members as to the number and aggregate value of boots and slippers imported into Australia since June, 1933, to the latest possible date?
– I have received no protest yet, from the industry, as to any present importations. I shall obtain the statistical information sought by the honorable member and let him have it later.
– Is it correct, as stated in the local press, that patrons of the local swimming baths are to be compelled to wear tops to their bathing costumes? In view of the fact that trunks are in popular use among men in most swimming baths in the world at the present time, and even on most of the beaches of Australia, and seeing that many patrons of the local baths, including members of this House, appreciate the comfort they afford, will the Minister for the Interior give consideration to permitting their use?
– I have seen some comment in the press on this matter, and I gather that the regulations governing the use of the swimming pool in Canberra deal with the matter to which the honorable member has referred. I have directed that this question should be referred to the Federal Capital Territory Advisory Council for its decision. I wish to make it clear that I regard the position of a Commonwealth Minister of the Crown as above necessitating a personal decision by him on such a matter, and I have no intention to become involved in a first-class newspaper controversy on such an issue. We have an Advisory Council in Canberra, which deals with conditions obtaining in the Territory, and, in my opinion, that body is the proper authority to make a decision regarding the matter raised. It will doso, and Ishall see that its decision stands.
– I desire to address a question to you, Mr. Speaker, on a matter of importance affecting the safety and dignity of the Chair.I would say, by way of explanation, that on Wednesday evening, when the House had resolved itself into Committee, the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) being in the Chair, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), was speaking. He was called upon, on account of conduct which was considered by the Chair to be disorderly, to discontinue his observations. The honorable member almost immediately, within sight and hearing of honorable members, approached the Chairman of Committees, and, in a threatening manner, amounting, in my opinion, to an assault, stated that he would visit vengeance on the Chairman and the members of the Country party . generally.
– The honorable member is referring to an incident that he says happened when the House was in committee. The Speaker would hardly deal with it unless it was reported to him as dirertly affecting the Chair.
– I propose to submit that it does affect the Chair and the House, and I ask leave to put my question. . I desire to know whether -the incident has been reported to you, Mr. Speaker, and whether, in view of the unprecedented circumstances, and the threat to the Chairman, you, as Speaker, propose to take any action for the protection of the Chair and the safety of honorable members?
– The matter that the honorable member has referred to has not been reported to me. He says that it happened in committee. If the Chairman of Committees was offended, and desires the protection of the Speaker, he will get it. I have no doubt that the Chairman of Committees would know how to act if an incident such as the honorable member describes happened.
– Is the Minister for the Interior in a position to advise when the locomotives ordered from Walkers Limited, Queensland, will be available and put into commission on the trans-
Australian railway? When is the new railway time-table, contingent upon the delivery of these locomotives, likely to come into operation? What will be the time saved to trans-Australian passengers between Adelaide and Perth, under the new time-table?
– I have not that information to hand, but I shall secure it and supply it to the honorable member later.
– With reference to the reported intention of the British Government to expand its air force so as to make Great Britain supreme in the air, and the attitude of the Brisbane press, which strongly urges that Australia’s defence depends much more upon its air force than upon its naval and military forces, will the Prime Minister do the decent thing-
– Order ! The honorable member must not couch a question in such terms.
– Will the right honorable the Prime Minister admit that the recent elections were won on a false issue, and, as it is now too late to remedy this unsatisfactory position, will he proceed to carry out the Labour party’s defence policy?
– The defence policy of this Government was made absolutely clear to the people of this country. It has been supported not only by the ministerial candidates but also , by the people generally. It is still the policy of the Government, and what the honorable member has said to-day does not affect the position one iota, any more than have the unpleasant words which he has employed.
– Yesterday, the Prime Minister, in reply to a question asked by me regarding the daily air-mail service to Tasmania, stated that an alteration had been made in the carrying of the air mails to that State so that Hobart might have a daily service, without any interference with the delivery of the mail on the day of arrival. Will the right honorable gentleman also ascertain whether it will be possible to remove the surcharge on mail carried from Hobart back to Launceston by the temporary plane?
– So much has already been done to facilitate the distribution of air mails in Tasmania that I do not feel disposed to recommend any alteration of the present system unless similar facilities can be extended to other States. The Government hopes that, before long, the air-mail services throughout Australia will be further improved. It cannot, however, entertain the suggestion to remove the surcharge on air mails between Hobart and Launceston, or, in fact, on air mails in any part of Tasmania.
– Has the attention of the Minister for the Interior been directed to statements which have appeared in the press from time to time to the effect that Mr. Hamlet, a candidate at the election recently held in Warringah, refuses to sign a declaration that his election expenses did not exceed the statutory amount? If so, does the Government propose to take any action against that gentleman?
– My attention has not been drawn to the statement; but I shall have inquiries made so as to be able to inform the honorable member later.
– The Prime Minister having stated that the electors endorsed the defence policy of the Commonwealth, I should like to know how the right honorable gentleman can make that statement coincide with the fact that Sir Archdale Parkhill, who was Minister for Defence in the last Government, and directly responsible for giving effect to the Government’s defence policy, was defeated at the recent election?
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon.G. J. Bell).As the question does not relate to the administration of government departments, it cannot be allowed.
– On the 15th September last, the then Minister for Health said that the Director-General of Health had stated that investigations were were being made to ascertain the extent to which the lungs of workers engaged in the bulk-handling of wheat are affected. I understand that, as the result of an examination recently conducted, it has been ascertained that a disease similar to silicosis develops. In view of that statement, will the Minister ascertain what power the Government has to compel those controlling the bulkhandling of wheat to provide the workers with respirators while at work?
– Yesterday I informed the honorable member that this matter had been submitted to the Council for National Health and Medical Research for investigation. The inquiry will cover not only the effect upon the human being, but also the manner in which any inconvenience or disability can be obviated. When the inquiry is complete the matter will be further considered.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1937 -
No. 17 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia; and Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association of Australia,
No. 18 - Commonwealth Telephone Officers’ Association.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at - Bullsbrook, Western Australia - For Defence purposes.
Dalby, Queensland - For Postal, telegraphic, telephonic and other like services.
Tintinara’, South Australia - For Defence purposes.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Thompson) read a first time.
In Committee of Supply: Considera tion resumed from the 2nd December (vide page 196).
Proposed vote, £662,440.
.-I rake this opportunity to bring under the notice of the Government an administrative act which is causing serious dissatisfaction among the employees in the Commonwealth railways who have the benefit of a medical fund subsidized by the Government. Recently the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator provided in a determination made in connexion with the Commonwealth railways, that the employees should be entitled to sick leave. At the time the determination was made Mr. Westhoven was fully aware of the benefits which the men were entitled to receive under the medical fund which he knew was subsidized by the Government. The department is now trying to deprive the men of the benefit they receive under the arbitrator’s determination, as an intimation has been received that the subsidy to the fund is to be withdrawn. That appears to me to be a back-door method of depriving the men of the benefit they received as the result of Mr. Westhoven’s determination. I understand that the department has intimated, that, as the men are entitled to sick leave, it does not feel that there is any need to subsidize the medical fund. If men should be prevented from working owing to illness or injury considerable expense is involved, in providing necessary medical comforts, and the remuneration they receive is inadequate to meet the cost involved. Surely the Government is justified in continuing to subsidize the fund so that adequate assistance can be given to the men in time of need. Having been a member of a State railway service I know that some are unwilling to recognize the value of such funds, which are of great benefit to the employees. It is surprising to find that marked discrimination has been shown in that the members of the clerical branch of the service have been entitled to sick leave, and also to receive assistance from the fund while the workers now are to be deprived of that right. I strongly protest against the action of the department in withholding the subsidy which in effect is an underhandway of defeating a determination made by the Public Service Arbitrator. I understand that action has been taken in other directions to defeat the arbitrator’s decisions, and later, on the advice I have received, I shall be in a position to present further instances of what is felt to be the unjust way in which the men in this department are being treated. I shall be glad to receive an assurance from the Minister that the Government’s subsidy to the fund will be continued so that men will be entitled to receive benefits in addition to sick leave during the time they are incapacitated.
.- Those honorable members who have visited other countries will realize that Canberra., although comparatively small, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I direct the attention of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) to the Canberra railway station, which is not in harmony with the city of Canberra. I suppose that no important city in Australia has a more unattractive railway station than that of Canberra, and I trust that at an early date the Department of the Interior will, erect a railway station worthy of the national city of Australia. I also direct attention to the make-up of the trains used for transporting passengers between Sydney and Canberra. It is true that the service has been improved. To-day, some very fine tourist trains are running between Sydney and Katoomba, and Sydney and Newcastle. Despite the fact that tourist traffic, to Canberra has greatly increased, I believe that much more could still be done to stimulate it by the provision of better travelling facilities. To-day a splendid train is running between Melbourne and Albury, which has aroused quite a lot of favorable comment. I know that we cannot expect anything as elaborate as that in respect of the service between Sydney and Canberra, but, at the same time, an improvement of the existing facilities would do much to stimulate tourist traffic. If the department would discuss this matter with the New South
Wales Railway CommissionerI feel sure th at some better arrangement could be made. Great rivalry has existed in overseas countries between railway services and motor services, with the result that railway services have been greatly improved with successful results. Another complaint made by passengers travelling between Canberra and Sydney is in regard to the refreshment facilities provided, and a better refreshment arrangement is suggested ; further, numerous complaints are made as to the slow speed of the trains. I feel sure that if action is taken to. remedy these matters, the tourist traffic between these two cities will be greatly stimulated.
.- I ask the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) to direct the attention of the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to the somewhat poor appearance which, unfortunately, has marked the East- West train during the present year. I do not know the reason for this, but it is a fact that there is a rather drab, andaltogether worse-for-wear appearance, not only in the furnishing of the train, but also in its exterior. It may be that the Commissioner is using the earliest of his rolling-stock, and has the more up-to-date carriages in the shops preparing for that new era which we have been promised for so long. It is rather unfortunate that during the last few months travellers on the East- West train - many of them with regret because they are frequent travellers - have noticed the deterioration of the service, and the altogether depressing way in which the train has failed to keep the standard set for so many years.
I am not yet satisfied with the housing provision which the Commonwealth Railways Department makes for its employees along the line. I know that there has been an improvement, but when we take into consideration the conditions under which the workers in that very inhospitable land between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta have to live, it suggests itself, to me at any rate, that something should be done to improve the housing facilities of the great number of families quartered at the various sidings - I do not include the siding at Cook. I know the financial side of this railway is a pressing problem, and that any Minister would be hard put to it to satisfy the Commonwealth Treasurer in regard to the accounts of the railways. By and large, we ought to be thankful to those workmen who service that line and enable it to be carried on; and, as the family life is, I think, the very kernel of the social character of Australia, those workers’ families should be as well housed as possible. I know they do not ask for anything approaching what we would call the housing standard of a model suburb, but the hot summer, the dry winds, the absence of vegetation, and the inhospitality of nature, make it all the more imperative that man should use his genius to surmount the very irksome conditions in which the women and children have to live along this railway line. I know that the Minister will deal with this matter as sympathetically as he does with most things.
– Honorable members will, of course, appreciate the fact that I have not yet had an opportunity to acquaint myself with the many ramifications of this very large department which it has fallen to me to administer, and so I am not able to reply with full knowledge to the representations that have been made by various honorable members today. However, I give to those honorable members my assurance that I shall go into the issues raised by them. I quite appreciate the desire of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) which, I think, we all share, that Canberra should have a railway station worthy of the importance of our national city. Of course, one cannot disregard financial aspects, and permit one’s desires to overrun one’s prudence; but I assure the honorable member for Watson that consideration will be given to the points which hehas raised. I also appreciate the case which- he makes out for a railway service between this capital city and Sydney, which could be regarded as fast and satisfactory, and providing the maximum convenience in the way of refreshment rooms and “ a buffet car “. We must remember, however, that this service is in the main under the control of the New South Wales Railways Commissioners. I undertake to confer with the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to see if it is not possible, by co-operation between the two services, to do something along the lines indicated by the honorable member.
With regard to the not-new character of the rolling-stock and the equipment and furnishings of the East-West train mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), I appreciate the necessity and the desirability of having equipment upon that train which would be regarded by overseas visitors as a credit to Australia as well as satisfactory to Australian citizens themselves. No doubt, there are many thousands of overseas visitors gleaning their first -impressions of our country during the days they sit in that train, travelling across to the eastern States, and we certainly share with you, Mr. Chairman, the feeling that I am sure you hold, that Western Australians should be given the best possible facilities when travelling to and from the eastern States.
– Cannot an improvement he effected on the section of the line between Kalgoorlie and Perth?
– That is not under Commonwealth control.
– The Commonwealth has resources, and it could help the Western Australian Government to improve it.
– Why bring in tie small States issue? I shall confer with the Commissioner on the issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition. His reference to the housing problem, of course, touches us all in a soft spot. We appreciate the necessity for giving to those people who are living in remote and inhospitable places, decent housing accommodation. That is a matter to which I shallalso give careful consideration.
With respect to the matter raised by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), I find it difficult, to believe that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has deliberately endeavoured to circumvent any part of the determination of the Public Service Arbitrator by ceasing the Commissioner’s contribution to the sick fund merely because the award has provided for sick leave, and increases have been made in other respects.I assure the honorable member that that also is a matter to which I shall give serious consideration, and that it will be reviewed in the light of the sentiments which he holds and which I share with him.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £11,062,450.
.- Comparing the expenditure of 1936-37 with the vote for 1937-38, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department shows a small increase of expenditureof £771,824. I do not propose to offer any complaints with regard to that increase, because the functions of the department are known and understood by every section of the community. Practically every person comes into touch in one way or another with the activities of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department during the year. Generally speaking, the department is very efficiently conducted, and sets an example of how a large State enterprise should be conducted on sound business lines. My plea to-day is largely for those in remote country districts, who have experienced great difficulty ingetting additional postal and telephonic facilities. We should not set city life against country life. The cities cannot he prosperous unless the country districts are enjoying the same measure of prosperity. While, to a large extent, we must look to the big city factories in the future to absorb a greatly increased population, we must also develop our primary industries, and we can assist those industries greatly by affording additional postal and telephonic facilities to those people who are prepared to go out into the remote country districts and suffer all kinds of inconveniences and hardships. While country life offers many advantages, country people have to suffer all kinds of drawbacks. Obviously they do not enjoy the amenities of city life, and the Postmaster-General’s Department is one that could make country life much more congenial. Not only is there a lack of proper postal and telephonic facilities for people in remote areas, but they also suffer quite as acutely as many in the cities from inadequate housing facilities. Bad roads and poor communications make their lot an unhappy one in time of sickness. I direct the attention of the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) to some of the complaints made by country people against the department for its lack of sympathy in dealing with applications for improved postal and telephonic facilities. lt cannot be said that this department is run at a loss, because examination of the figures shows that during the five years from 1932-33 to 1936-37, its operations have resulted in an aggregate surplus of £-1,241,000. These are budget figures, which may not agree with details of the department’s trading figures, but as they have been supplied to me by the Treasury, they correctly show the true state of affairs. I do not think a consideration of pounds, shillings and pence should be applied to all of the requests that come from closer settlement areas in remote parts of Australia. I have here a sample of the replies sometimes sent out by the department in answer to applications for better telephonic facilities in remote country districts. In this instance the application came from Emu Park, in Central Queensland. The reply, which is dated the 22nd November, is as follows : -
In connexion with your recent representations in favour of continuous telephone service at Emu Park, the matter has been reviewed very carefully, but, unfortunately, the revenue derived from the exchange is insufficient to justify any increase in the existing period of attendance at present.
The inquiries disclose that the revenue from the Emu Park exchange is £00 below the minimum amount required to justify the provision of continuous service at departmental expense. Therefore, if the persons concerned are willing to guarantee the amount of the deficiency in the revenue, or contribute the additional amount involved in establishing the service, thu department will increase the hours accordingly.
Alternatively, if the local residents can come to some satisfactory arrangement direct with the postmaster whereby the increased period of attention would be made available, the department would gladly authorize the extension on the condition that any additional remuneration required by the postmaster is paid by them. In this connexion it is understood that the postmaster is prepared to provide continuous service for an additional payment of £45 per an man.
I maintain that the attitude of the department in this respect is unreasonable. The residents of this district are comparatively poor people, and they cannot afford to meet the extra charges proposed by the department. They have the same right to improved facilities as have the city dwellers who are not called upon to pay anything extra for the privileges they enjoy. I should like the PostmasterGeneral to treat applications of this kind more sympathetically in future.
Complaints have been made by people in country districts that a charge is made for a local call in respect of every trunk line call that is booked. That additional charge for a local call should be abolished. T also urge the Postmaster-General to give favorable consideration to a request for the reduction of trunk line charges when the call extends beyond three minutes. The granting of this request would confer a great boon upon country residents.
The department should give serious consideration to the provision of additional A class ‘broadcasting stations throughout Australia. If a policy in this respect has been formulated by the Government we are entitled to know what it is. There are in Australia certain areas known as fading zones. Bundaberg and district represent one such zone in which reception from A class stations is impossible in the daytime. Some years ago, an additional A class station for this district was promised, but nothing has yet been done.
The Government should expedite the installation of automatic telephone exchanges in country districts throughout Queensland and the other States. One such exchange was promised for Rockhampton some years ago, and I understand that provision has been made in the Estimates for the work, but it has not yet been commenced. What is the cause of the delay? I ask the Assistant, Minister to take steps to ensure that, when the automatic exchange is in operation, those at present employed in the manual exchange will be absorbed in. other branches of the Postmaster-General’s Department, on either trunk line work or some other activity. When the head of the department in Queensland agreed to recommend, the establishment of an automatic telephone exchange for Rockhampton he gave an assurance that the displaced manual operators would be absorbed elsewhere. Rural automatic telephone exchanges have been , installed in the southern parts of Australia, and have proved to be a great boom to the people, who are thus enabled to maintain continuous communication with the larger centres. So far, however, no such station has been installed in Queensland.
I again wish to put in a word for that large army of allowance postmasters and postmistresses, who are the’ most overworked and underpaid section of the public service.I have on many occasions brought under the notice of the Government the meagre salaries paid to these unfortunate persons. The last Minister who represented the Postmaster-General in this chamber, promised that there would be a close investigation of the rate of allowances with a view to granting an increase. Can the present Minister say whether any decision has yet” been reached by the Government? If no decision has been come to, will he give an assurance that the matter will be dealt with before Parliament meets again? There are 9,830 post offices in Australia, of which 1,145 are classified as official. There are 8,685 non-official offices -call classified as follows: Semiofficial, 68; allowance, 6,801; and telephone offices, 1,816. Over 9,000 persons are employed by the department in the non-official offices, and each of these nonofficial offices contributes its full share to the department’s earnings. These offices are not. staffed by permanent officers of the Public Service. Some of the non-official postmasters are engaged in other occupations, such as storekeeping, &c., but some have to subsist solely upon their allowances.
– They have been sweated for years.
Mr.FORDE. - That is so. In the metropolitan division of Melbourne, there are non-official post-offices with a total turnover of £100,000 a year, and the same sort of thing applies to such offices in other capital cities of Australia. The allowance postmaster gives not only his own labour, -but frequently that of his wife, son or daughter as well during busy times. On those days when members of the farming community come into the town, generally on a Thursday or Saturday, a great deal of extra work is thrown upon the allowance postmaster, and he has to call in members of his family to help him or to employ other labour. When the time comes for the allowance postmaster to have his holidays he cannot leave his work with the same ease of mind as can permanent officers. He has to find an honest and reliable person to relieve him. Ho must pay this substitute, and must accept responsibility for him, making up any deficiency in the accounts which may occur during his own absence. While in some cases the remuneration received by allowance postmasters can be shown to be fairly substantial, the allowance postmaster has to meet the cost of renting a building, and for providing furniture and lighting. In my own district, many non-official postmasters make a profit for the department amounting to four figures. Their health is often impaired owing to the strain of the work, yet out of their allowance of about £3 a week they must pay 10s. a day to an assistant to help them on the two busiest days of the week. In many of the larger offices, the allowance postmasters are at call for fourteen hours a day, giving continuous telephone service in addition to discharging their ordinary duties. In some instances, it may be, unreasonable demands are made upon them, but they recognize that when country people travel ten or twenty miles to the township, and arrive after the ordinary office hours, they cannot be sent away without being allowed to transact their necessary business. In those instances in which a money order office is conducted in conjunction with a small business, experience has proved that, although the allowance for that office am ounts to only £3 a week, the postal work is practically a full time job for one person.
Semi-official postmasters are paid a margin for skill of about 10s. a week above the basic wage as a reward for their arduous and responsible work. They must be men possessing good clerical ability, yet that is all they are paid. The department could not call on farm workers or main roads employees to undertake the work. Many non-official postmasters have a greater volume of work to handle than has the official postal clerk, who enjoys annual leave, and they have to take full respon- sibiliiy for the conduct; of their offices while they are away on holiday. The department now grants three weeks’ annual leave to temporary and semi-official employees, even to telegraph messengers, but no leave leave as such is granted to non-official postmasters. I appeal to the AssistantMinister to give sympathetic consideration to the claims of these officers. Months ago we were told that an investigation was being made into ‘the matter, but we have not yet learned the result of it. Any one who has travelled extensively through our country districts realizes the great work which these people are doing and also the value of these small offices to farmers in remote areas. It is only right that these employees, who are not permanent find enjoy no superannuation benefits or, in fact, any security of tenure, should be remunerated on a more liberal scale, particularly when, I repeat, this department has made profits aggregating £4,241,000 over the last five years.
.- I congratulate the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) on his promotion to the Cabinet. As the Postmaster-General’s Department is one of the most efficient of our government services, very few of its activities can be criticized. I direct the attention of the Assistant Minister, however, to one or two matters in respect of which,I suggest, there is room for improvement.I do not know exactly who has been, responsible for allowing the carriage through the mails of 47 communistic publications in contravention of a ban recently imposed on such matter by this Government.
– That is the new policy of this Government.
– The Department has been severely criticized in respect of this matter in various parts of the Commonwealth. This week I asked a question as to what action the Government proposed, to take to re-impose this ban, and I was given to understand that no action in that direction is at present contemplated. It may be that the Government intends to deal with this matter in another way, but I sincerely hope that a satisfactory explanation will be forthcoming concerning the carriage) through the mails of these publications.
The policy of this Government is directed against communism and communistic activities. I do not wish to provoke a debate on this particular subject at the moment, but merely ask for an explanation of the point which I have raised, and repeat my inquiry as to whether the Government intends to re-impose its ban on the carriage through the mails of literature of this nature.
– Does the honorable member think that the ban should be imposed on each of those publications?
– I do. not oppose the carriage through the mails of any publication coming into Australia which gives one information with regard to the activities of any government, but I strongly oppose such facilities being given in respect of any publication which suggests that we should destroy constitutional government by revolutionary means. Any publication of that character should be banned and I do not think that any honorable member, even the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), would oppose that suggestion.
The time has how arrived when reductions of postal, telegraphic and telephonic rates should be effected and when particular attention should be given to the improvement of our air-mail services. I trust that there will be no further delay in inaugurating new air-mail services in Australia. I draw attention to the excessive charges made by the existing services as compared with those operating in other countries.
– Once again I am impelled to refer to the broken promise of the Government that it would construct a new General Post Office in Brisbane. It should not be necessary for me to do so because for the last six years I have continually brought this matter under the notice of the Government. Whilst I appreciate the improved postal and telephonic facilities which have been provided in Brisbane during thelast four or five years, I, nevertheless, deplore the apathy of the Government towards this project. When I raised this matter while the Estimates for 1934-35 were being considered, I was informed by the then Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral in this chamber that provision had been made in the Estimates for thai year for the commencement of the construction of this building by demolishing the parcels post office building in Elizabethstreet, and he added that the whole of the building would be completed in sections. Naturally when that information was conveyed to them the people of Brisbane were highly pleased, but, unfortunately, nothing has yet been clone by the Government to carry out its promise. Furthermore, following the meeting of the Federal Cabinet in Brisbane about two years ago, when the local press strongly urged it to come to a final decision in respect of this matter, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) made a statement in which he definitely promised the people of Brisbane that the Government would proceed with, the construction of a new General Post Office without delay. Two years have elapsed since that promise was given. When these Estimates were being discussed last session I again raised this matter with the result that I received a further assurance from the then M mister representing the PostmasterGeneral that the Government had made all the necessary preliminary arrangements for the commencement of this work. After Parliament rose for the last recess, I received a communication to that effect from the PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan) in which he also stated that a sum of £5,000 had been placed on this year’s Estimates for the purpose. On making inquiries from departmental officers in Brisbane, however, I found that none of them had received any such information from the Postmaster-General. Consequently, I am forced to the conclusion that Brisbane’s prospect of being provided with a new General Post Office is as far off as ever it was. I assure the Government that the citizens of Brisbane resent “its apathy in respect of this matter. Honorable members who have visited that city will agree with me that the present. General Post Office, which was erected 64 years ago, is a disgrace, not only to the city itself, but also to the Commonwealth Government. It is entirely unsuited to serve present-day requirements and one is forced to the conclusion that the Government responsible for such a state of affairs is, to say the least, very short- sighted. This building was constructed originally to house about 100 employees and to serve a city with a population of about 22,000, whereas to-day thousands of employees are housed under its roof and it is expected to cater for a population of over 300,000. It is true that from time “to time the building has been enlarged in piecemeal fashion. The first buildings a stranger looks for when visiting a city are its General Post Office and City Hall. I regret to say that any newcomers to Brisbane will find the General Post Office an absolute disgrace, utterly out of keeping with the imposing buildings adjacent to it in Queen-street. Brisbane has the worst General Post Office of any capital city in Australia, although, at the same time, it possesses the most imposing City Hall. I again urge the Government to carry, out its promise to the people that it would undertake this work. I understand that as far back as 30 years ago plans were prepared for a new General Post Office and that those plans are still lying in the Postmaster-General’s Department. Of course, they would not be of any use to-day. I point out that, apart from the aspect of service to the public, the present restricted accommodation is unfair to employees who have to work within the building. They are- housed in nothing better than hovels and dungeons. I ask the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing the Postmaster-General to ascertain how far the department has progressed in respect of the preliminary work for the proposed new building. I feel sure that he personally will do his utmost to see that the Government carries out its promise that a new General Post Office would be constructed without delay.
– I remind the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing the PostmasterGeneral that a definite promise was given to me by the Minister representing the Postmaster-General in this chamber last session that a departmental official would visit Liverpool in order to see whether something could not be done to remove the monstrosity there which is called a post office. This particular building was constructed by convict labour and, to-day, is one of the most antiquated of Government buildings in
Australia. The whole of the town of Liverpool is being remodelled, and the post office stands as a relic of old times in the midst of modernity. The post office was built when Liverpool was a little settlement in the wilderness, but to-day it houses a telephone system which serves a wide area in which the population is growing constantly. Another matter that crosses my mind is the fact that the Liverpool district is one of the few remaining centres in the County of Cumberland which is served by a manual telephone system, and when the new post office is built, I hope at an early date, steps should be taken to install an automatic system. It is my belief that if a private firm attempted to carry on business in a building like” that which houses the postal staff at Liverpool, it would be prevented from doing so by the public health authorities. I have no complaint to make against the fact that the Postal Department has revenue amounting to tens of thousands of pounds annually, but I think that it is a lasting disgrace that a public institution which is making vast profits should continue to carry on its business in buildings such as the one at Liverpool.
The Postmaster-General promised me that, he would send an official of the department to Liverpool to make inquiries into the proposal that the old post office should be replaced. I hope that that promise will be kept, and that I will receive notification from the department as to when the visit is contemplated in order to enable me to accompany the official and to arrange a deputation to him on the matter from members of the Liverpool Council and other leading citizens. I ask that the visit be made at an early date, not before Christmas perhaps, but at least early in the New Year.
Constant pressure is being brought to bear upon the Government to reduce the postage rate from 2d. to l½d. an ounce, and, although I do not think that the Government contemplates yielding to the pressure, I impress upon it the fact that such a reduction of rates would be of benefit only to large business enterprises and not to the general . public, members of which, as a rule, write very few letters in the course of a year. More widespread benefit to the people would come from a reduction of telephone charges and of the cost of construction of country telephone lines.
The Assistant Minister (Mr. Thompson) towards the end of the last Parliament made some strong comments on the floor of this House concerning the department’s treatment of non-official and allowance postal officers, -and, as a matter of fact, his speech on that occasion, now thathe has joined the Ministry, can be interpreted as a definite promise to those employees that he would do something to improve their lot. It appears, however, likely to be the same old story of something promised, nothing done. In the programme outlined in the Prime Minister’s policy speech, an inquiry into the conditions of those officers was promised, but I suppose that that inquiry will spread over three years until the next election and nothing will be done. The postal authorities, whose department is earning vast revenues, should hang their heads in shame at the way they sweat the non-official postmasters and postmistresses. Honorable members of this Parliament, if they gave evidence before a committee of inquiry into the conditions of non-official postal officers, could tell of the conditions which exist in their own electorates. On this matter, I feel that the Government should consider itself to be bound to give effect to the pledges made to these officials during the recent election campaign by candidates and their canvassers on behalf of the two parties opposite. My opponent in Werriwa visited all the non-official post offices in the electorate and made all kinds of promises on behalf of the Government, and I think that it is the duty of the Government to honour them. When the Assistant Minister (Mr. Thompson) was the Whip of the Country party, he made statements which he should now stand up to in the Cabinet room. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins), who is representing the Postmaster-General in this chamber represents a big electorate in which there are many of these non-official post offices, and he knows the disabilities that are suffered by the persons who work in them. Their condition is a blot on the record of the Postal lepartment that should be immediately erased. I venture the opinion, that these people would be much better treated even by private enterprise than they are by this Government.
.- Some anomalies still exist in the administration of the Postal Department. Some are due to the department itself, and some to government policy, lt has been said that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and that the importunate widow policy is the only way to get results from the Government. It appears to me, however, that the case that I am about to put is unanswerable and needs early attention. We still have that interstate anomaly in connexion with the telegraph rates under which 4d. extra is charged on a telegram immediately it crosses the border from one State into another, even if the distance be only a mile. I have discussed this surcharge with the departmental heads, and have never met with one able to justify the continuance of the unfederal policy which it entails. For every one of the 37 years since federation this anomaly has prevailed and, to-day, whenever a request is made for a review of the surcharge, we are told that the loss of revenue that would be caused by its abolition makes it impossible for it to be abolished. The amount of the surcharge is 4d. on an interstate telegram because the charge for one is ls. 4d. for the first sixteen words and Id. for every additional word, compared with ls. for sixteen words and Id. for each additional word charged for an intra-state telegram. 1 have gone to some trouble to obtain the figures in respect of the number of telegrams sent interstate every year. Last year 4,864,000 interstate telegrams were dispatched, as against 4,312,000 three years ago. On the basis of the figures for last year, the abolition of the surcharge of 4d. would mean that the revenue would be reduced by £81,000 per annum. It is astounding that the Government should allow this anti-federal policy to remain when it would cost such a small amount to remove it. I have suggested to the department and to the Postmaster-General that there should be provision for telegrams to. be sent 50 miles from anywhere to anywhere regardless of the State borders at a flat rate of ls. for the first sixteen words, and if this were done much of the dissatisfaction which exists in districts close to State borders ‘ would be removed. I suggest, however, that telegrams should be put on the same basis as letters, which are not subjected to surcharge if posted for delivery within any State of Australia. On the figures I have given it would not affect the revenue by more than £81,000 a year to remove the telegraph surcharge. It must be recognized moreover that reduced rates would mean increased turnover. More telegrams would be sent and the cost of the abolition of the surcharge would accordingly be reduced. I appeal to the Assistant. Minister (Mr. Perkins) to urge the Government to introduce legislation to remove the anti-federal spirit which is entailed in the surcharge on interstate telegrams and to provide a flat rate of ls: on all telegrams.
– There is no surcharge on interstate telephone calls.
– At present telephone charges are fixed on a mileage basis, but there are many objections to putting telegraph charges on the same basis, because distant States would be penalized, and the result would be just as anti-federal as the telegraph surcharge is.
A surcharge is also made for the delivery of parcels, but the parcels business is not on exactly the same basis a? telegrams, because parcels have to be carried by the same railways with which the postal service is in competition. I suggest that it would be equitable for a mileage system to be adopted in respect of the parcels post. These anomalies have existed too long and they should be removed at a very early date.
Reference was made by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) to excessive costs in the erection of telephone services in country districts. There have been many complaints, but it is recognized that the departmental methods used in the construction of these lines are not the most economic and that it is frequently cheaper for a subscriber to the telephone system in a country district where there is no existing line to construct a line himself and avoid the necessity to pay rent. If a person wants a line put up, the department contributes £50 towards the cost, but if - two or three parties want the line only £50 aggregate is available for them, although, if they wanted individual lines, instead of a party line, £50 would be available to each of them. It would be equitable for the telephone department to allow a little extra if two persons want to be on the one line. I suggest that the department, in such an instance, should contribute £75, and that if three parties increase the rental obtained by the department, the amount of money provided by , the department towards the construction of the line should be increased in proportion. If four subscribers pay £6 in rent, compared with £3 paid by one subscriber, it would not be unreasonable for the department to contribute £100 towards the cost of the line. That, to my way of thinking, is a fair proposition.
Another matter that is exercising my mind concerns allowances to postal officials. I made an interjection when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) was speaking, concerning the reliability of his figures ; still I think that they have a good case for an inquiry into their conditions, and I am glad to learn now that the Government has determined that an inquiry should be made. My interjection referred to a statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that some allowance officers showed a profit of “ four figures “ to the department. When one has a good case there is no need for exaggeration. I asked the honorable gentleman the source of his information, because, although it is possible to ascertain the income of each office, the salary of the person in charge, and certain other information, I cannot see how he can know what profit is made by any one office. How can any one say what profit is made in respect of a particular telegram or letter? One may be addressed to a person in the Northern Territory or Western Australia; the destination of the other may be in the next street to the receiving office. I am somewhat curious to know how the honorable gentle- man obtained the information which he gave to the committee. It is significant that he did not answer my interjection. I hope that the department will not delay the making of an inquiry.
Another source of complaint is the departmental regulation which prevents a telephone subscriber from being connected to more than one exchange. That restriction does not worry the city man, but it does affect country subscribers. A man in a country district may have telephonic connexion with a town many miles away, but should a new exchange be established in the vicinity of his residence he cannot he connected with it unless he ceases to be a subscriber to the other exchange, the connexion to which would probably have cost him £100. In reply to representations which I made to the department on behalf of a country resident who wished to obtain telephonic connexion with a second exchange I was informed -
It is not now the practice to permit subscribers to connect their premises to mora than one country exchange.
The gentleman who applied for a second connexion lives on one side of the road, and has his business- premises on the other side. Because of the existence of this regulation he frequently has to run across the road to or from his housea distance of about 80 yards - to answer calls. He is prepared to give an indemnity against any infringement of the regulations, such as the making of a connexion between the two lines. I realize that the department fears abuses; but surely when a man is prepared to enter into a bond to observe the regulations, there should, be a little more elasticity. After all, the Postal Department exists to give service to the people.
– The department would ‘ have to keep a special body of detectives to prevent infringement of the regulations.
– The department has its inspectors, who would be free to inspect his premises at any time. The gentleman to whom I have referred is prepared to pay for the convenience, and the department should be willing to accept his bond. I hope that these representations will be given careful consideration, and, especially that those anomalies which are against the federal spirit will soon be removed. I appeal to the Assistant Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral to do what he can to convince, not only the Minister, but also the whole of the Cabinet of the need for alterations along the lines that I have mentioned.
.- I ask the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing the Postmaster-General to give special attention to promises made by the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) himself. In my electorate large numbers of old-age pensioners attend at the several post offices every fortnight to receive their pensions. Most of these offices have only one door for both ingress and egress. The pensioners, probably because they fear that the Government may run short of funds, are generally early in their attendance at the post office, with the result that there is congestion on pension days. The post office at Kogarah, where these conditions exist, is situated at the corner of two streets, and it would be easy to relieve the congestion by placing a door round the corner in the other street. The Chamber of Commerce and various other public bodies have urged that that be done. Similar’ conditions exist at the Hurstville post office. As the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) said, many of these post offices were built about 30 years ago, when the districts which, they served were less thickly populated than now. Existing conditions cause pensioners considerable inconvenience, and hamper the postal authorities in the conduct of their business.
From my own experience I am able to say that subscribers are overcharged for the number of effective telephone calls that they make. It is not unusual to get the wrong number two or three times. In some cases I admit that the numbers are not dialled correctly, - but that does not account for all the wrong connexions. It is practically useless to ring LOO for the purpose of lodging a complaint, because the officer who deals with complaints is evidently overworked, and subscribers get tired of waiting for him to reply. If the post office were in competition with other similar services, I venture to say that itwould lose 50 per cent, of its business within six months, so inefficient is its conduct of postal business. I know of instances in which telephone accounts are £3 or £4 in excess of previous accounts, although the instrument has not been used more than formerly. There is something wrong with the mechanism at the Kogarah exchange; otherwise, so many wrong connexions would not be possible.
– Perhaps wrong dialling is the reason.
– That would not account for all the errors. The trouble is that the department is laying fresh cables, and the unions are incorrectly made. The department cannot claim that it is short of men to do the work, for only last week a number of men were put off. I was informed that about 100 men had received notice, but I have heard since that the number is much smaller. Another reason advanced for the delay in attending to these matters is shortage of funds. It would appear that, during Mr.’ Brown’s absence from Australia, something went wrong in the department. Mr. Brown lives in Melbourne, and it may be that conditions in Victoria are not so bad as in New South Wales, but I know that in the latter State there is good ground for complaint. . I have letters here stating that, although the necessary fees have been paid, telephones cannot be obtained, and persons are called upon to wait longer than should be the case. Mr. Duncan, the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in New South Wales, does his best to meet the situation by sending to me letters designed to appease the wrath’ of subscribers, or would-be subscribers, but I can assure the Assistant Minister that it takes a great deal of ingenuity to pacify progress associations and other bodies, as well as individuals, who experience trouble with the department. Only last week, I received three letters from the Kogarah Council on postal matters. For several years I have advocated that certain manual exchanges in my electorate should be converted to the automatic system. I could foresee a congestion of telephone business, with its consequent dislocation’ and annoyance. I claim that the department could reduce its accounts by 25 per cent., and even then it would probably not do full -justice to subscribers. I have had sufficient business experience to know that the fault lies in inefficient supervision. The telephone network in the Barton electorate is so unsatisfactory that the Government should keep men at work night and day until the service is such as the subscribers pay for. Bather than save a few pounds by a parsimonious policy which keeps men working only for certain regular hours daily, the Government should push ahead with the work of improving the service. I hope that before long there will be an automatic exchange in the Rockdale district.
– Until a few days ago, I, as a private member of this House, had occasion to make frequent representations for improved postal and telephonic services. I, therefore, listened with interest and sympathy to the claims put forward this morning by honorable members. As Minister representing the Postmaster-General in this chamber, it is now my duty to see these things from another viewpoint a3 well - that of the department - but I assure honorable members that their representations will be given careful consideration.
The Deputy Loader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) referred to the increased postal expenditure this year compared with last year; I am sorry that the amount to be made available is not larger. As the representative of a big country district, I realize, as does the honorable, member, the need for improved facilities in country districts, and I am pleased to say that last year the Government took vigorous steps to meet the position which had arisen. The hours of business were increased in respect Of as many as 500 country exchanges, in most instances without any application for that extension by subscribers. The system that has been adopted is based upon revenue collections; thus, for an exchange with a revenue of up to £100, the office is open from 9 a.m. to G p.m., for an exchange with a revenue of £100 up to £250 the hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; for an exchange with a revenue of from £250 to £400 the hours are from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., whilst when the revenue exceeds £400 the office is open continuously. The number of exchanges added during the last few years to the list of those open continuously has been considerable, even in my own electorate, and I hope that policy will continue. As the representative of a country constituency, I fully appreciate how convenient a continuous telephone service can be.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also brought under notice the matter of trunk-line charges. I understand that it would involve a loss of not less than £160,000 per annum if the # connecting link of 2d. for an ordinary exchange call was abolished. That is a considerable sum, which I doubt if we could afford to lose. It might be mora desirable, in the interests of the country generally, to retain it and make improvements with it in other very necessary directions.
The honorable member also brought under notice a promise made to him in connexion with the erection of an A class broadcasting station at Bundaberg. I have no information on that subject, and I do not know what is the exact position. I shall have inquiries made, and obtain the information required for the honorable member.
The honorable member also spoke of an automatic exchange for Rockhampton. This work, I am assured, is in hand. The policy of the Government throughout Australia is to “complete such exchanges in all the big cities of Australia, and to put them all into working order as rapidly as possible. It is, however, not easy to proceed rapidly in this matter, because not only has the cost of machinery to be met, but also, as the manual exchanges are done away with, the employees who are displaced have to be provided with work elsewhere in the department, and, if the change proceeded too rapidly, room could not be found to absorb them all. So far 30 country exchanges throughout Australia have been made automatic, and, although it is only a couple of years since the first of them was opened, all of them are working and giving satisfaction. It is. the intention of the Government during the present year to convert 53 more, and L hope that the time will come at no very distant date when most of the others will be made automatic.
As regards the allowance offices, brought under notice by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and by other honorable members., and always brought before the department by myself when [ was a private member, I am pleased to be able to state that the Government is proceeding with an inquiry. I hope that good will come of it, because I represent a country district, and I know that what other honorable members .have said is true also of my own electorate of EdenMonaro. I will continue to press the matter, and will bring it before the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan), and, if necessary, to the attention of the Cabinet itself. I have not been long enough in office to know how far the inquiry has gone, or to guess what is likely to be its result, .but I understand that it is now proceeding”. I hope it will be on the widest lines possible, and that much good will result from it.
The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) alluded to the necessity for a reduction of postage rates. I have expressed my views on this matter frequently on the floor of the House, and will see that the honorable member’s remarks, and those of other honorable members, are brought before the PostmasterGeneral and others concerned with the fixing of the rates. As regards the transmission of certain, publications through the post, alluded to by the honorable member, I answered a question on that subject for the Postmaster-General yesterday. The matter concerns not so much the Postmaster-General’s Department, as the department of the AttorneyGeneral.
The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has brought up the necessity for the erection of a new post office in Brisbane. No honorable member could be more assiduous than the honorable member has been in that regard, and it is not- his fault that a new post office has not been erected there long ago. Recently the representative of the Postmaster-General in this chamber assured the honorable member that it was the intention of the Government to proceed with the work as early as possible, although it seemed impossible to go on with it this year. He was informed that the Government realized the necessity for a new post office iu Brisbane, and on the 1st September last, in reply to a question put by him to the PostmasterGeneral, he was informed: -
It is the intention to proceed with the erection of the new promises as early as practicable, but the project is one of great magnitude involving considerable preliminary attention, and it is doubtful whether it will be possible to actually commence building operations during the current financial year.
That statement has no doubt been found correct, because the only provision on the Estimates in connexion with the work is a sum of £5,000 for preliminary inquiries and investigations.
– Are the plans being prepared ?
– I presume that no actual working plan has been prepared, but estimates have evidently been obtained.
– “ As soon as practicable” means “this year, sometime, never “.
– At all events the sum of £5,000 is tq be provided for the purpose mentioned. I am sorry that I cannot say that the work will be gone on with immediately, but the honorable member has the assurance of the PostmasterGeneral that lie realizes its necessity, and that the department is proceeding with it as rapidly as funds and circumstances permit. I can assure the honorable member for Brisbane that the Government is sympathetic towards him, and I hope that in the near future I shall be able to inform him of definite progress in the matter.
The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) has made allusions to the post office at Liverpool. I have no direct information on that matter, although from my own knowledge I think that what the honorable member said has a good deal of truth in it. A promise has been made to the honorable member to send an officer there. I will see that that promise is fulfilled, that a capable officer is sent, and that the honorable member is kept informed. The honorable member also spoke of unofficial post offices on the same lines as other speakers have done, and. I now give him the same reply, namely, that the matter ig under consideration.
The honorable member for Riverina, (Mr. Nock) referred to interstate telegrams. He made a speech on that subject on a former occasion, and was informed that the department had made inquiries in connexion with the zone system and had found, for certain reasons which were set out, that it would not cure the evil in all cases, and might make it worse in others. Another scheme, however, has been brought forward which may possibly be given a trial at a later date, but no date lias yet been fixed for it. Inquiries are proceeding, and in the meantime, I shall see that the honorable member’s remarks are brought under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral.
As regards country telephone lines generally, a big advance has been made. 1. am deeply sympathetic with honorable members who have complained, because, representing a big country district, I know what a great boon it would be if ail the improvements that are asked for could be brought about. I have been unable to grasp the policy of. the department in the short time that I have been in office, but, if nothing can be done in that direction, it will not be for want of effort on my part to improve the service, and to make it possible to extend our lines into the most isolated parts of these big areas. The matter of connexion of house and business to more than one exchange, mentioned by the honorable member for Riverina, has not previously come under my notice, but I shall bring it before the Minister.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) has complained about the lack of accommodation for old-age pensioners and others at post offices. I fully realize that many of the buildings were put up in the early days, long before such numbers of pensioners had to attend at them. In most cases they are very inconvenient. The honorable member will understand that to deal with the whole of the post offices of Australia involves, not a few thousand pounds, but a few million pounds.
– Deal first with the congested areas.
– I undertake to bring the matter under the notice of the Minister, particularly in relation to the most congested places, because I am in full agreement with the honorable member as to existing conditions. I will ask the Minister if he cannot deal promptly with the most urgent cases. The matter of telephone work generally, brought forward by the honorable member, seems to be one for the attention of the telephone officer in charge of the district concerned, and I have no doubt the honorable member’s remarks will be forwarded to him.
.- During the last Parliament, I asked whether there was any restriction upon the use of Tasmanian timber for work in the Postmaster-General’s Department, particularly in calling for tenders for the supply of cross-arms and spindles. The reply given to me was that there were no restrictions, but I have here a tender form dated 9th March, 1937, containing the following: - “Consideration will be given to tenders for the class of timber set out here: blue-gum (Tasmania only), stringy bark (Tasmania only) “. That shows that the department has restricted the use of Tasmanian timber to the State of Tasmania so far as the department’s supplies are concerned. It is a direct contradiction of the answer given me by the Minister representing the Postmaster-General some months ago. Representations have been made to me by tenderers that the department does so restrict the use of Tasmanian timber. It will not accept Tasmanian timber for work in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia or Western Australia. I feel that the time has come when Tasmania should be given its rights. Tasmania has been always treated in this manner by the Commonwealth in connexion with not only timber, but also other materials on other occasions. Why should preference be given to timber grown in Victoria? This is a very serious matter. The department should not be allowed to treat Tasmanian timber in this way. This has been done for years and is not a matter of this year only. Tasmanian timber is as good as, if not better than, the mountain ash that has been shipped to Tasmania to fulfill the requirements of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for this year’s supply. If the use of Tasmanian timber in the Commonwealth is restricted in this way, how can Tasmania’s beautiful timber resources ever be developed ? I understand that Tasmanian oak is one of the finest timbers in the world, and that Tasmanian blue-gum has no equal for durability in all conditions of weather, particularly where it comes ‘in contact with water. I am fortified in what I am saying by representations made to me by Hobart people interested in timber, who are prepared to compete and comply with all the tender conditions. They resent the action of the department in forbidding the use of Tasmanian timber, except in Tasmania itself, in the supply of crossarms and spindles. In face of the evidence on the tender forms, I resent an answer such as 1 received recently from the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral. I want the Government to go into the matter, and to see that incorrect information is not given to us. It was a mis-statement of fact to say that Tasmanian timber could be utilized by any tenderer in any part of Australia, because tenders were called for the supply of these articles in a certain area, and the tenderer was prohibited from using Tasmanian timber. I discussed the matter with the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Tasmania, and he told me he had nothing to do with it, as it was controlled from Victoria. I record my protest here and now, and want justice to be meted out by the PostmasterGeneral to all States of the Commonwealth. All of them should have equal opportunities to compete for the supply of materials. I hope the Minister will rectify the anomaly and remove the damaging discrimination that has been shown against Tasmania, which, after all, is part and parcel of the Commonwealth. It is no wonder that people of Tasmania have a grievance against the present Commonwealth Government, and they showed in no uncertain manner at the last federal elections that they resented the treatment they had received. Sitting suspended from 12.U5 to 2.15 p.m.
– Tasmania is being treated very unfairly in that certain contract forms prohibit the use of Tasmanian timbers in buildings required for postal purposes. If this provision is retained for any length of time the Government will find itself subjected to increasingly hostile criticism. I trust that the Minister now representing the Postmaster-General in this chamber will do his utmost to rectify this anomaly. All things being equal, Tasmanian timbers should be used as freely as any other timbers in buildings required for postal purposes.
I wish to reiterate a request that I have made frequently in this chamber that the promised new broadcasting studio for Hobart be constructed without further delay. I sincerely hope that an amount will appear on the next Estimates for this purpose. Hobart is as much entitled to an up-to-date broadcasting studio as is any other capital city. Years ago the Australian Broadcasting Commission bought two blocks of land for the purpose of building a studio in Hobart. On one of these a doctor’s residence stood. Instead of letting these premises until such time as it was ready to erect the studio, the commission promptly demolished them. The land remained vacant for several years and is now being offered for sale. This transaction does not reflect credit on the business ability of the commission.
As the Postmaster-General’s Department is showing such a substantial surplus of revenue over expenditure. I oan see no justification whatever _ for further delay in. building the new studio. This 5-year-old unfulfilled promise should be honoured at once.
Until the new studio is erected it appears that concert artists in Tasmania are to be denied the opportunity to prove their fitness to provide radio programmes for the enjoyment of our people. This is not as it should be. Some little time ago an advertisement, appeared in certain Melbourne newspapers inviting artists to give auditions with a view to engagement to broadcast over the national network. Tasmanian artists were not invited to offer their services, yet we have in Tasmania many thoroughly qualified performers whose instrumental and vocal music would delight the Australian public. I protest vigorously against the practice of the Australian Broadcasting Commission of importing mediocre artists from abroad and paying them high fees for giving indifferent programmes over our national network. Some of the artists who have been brought to Australia have undoubtedly performed well, but others have been absolute “ duds.” In fact I have heard better singing in hotel bars. I believe that one artist was paid £500 for a programme of one hour’s duration. In my opinion that was unwarranted extravagance. Radio listeners’ fees should not be used in this way. Some of the music, so-called, that we hear over the air, is distasteful to 95 per cent. of the listeners. I understand that the Broadcasting Commission has recently appointed two officers . at salaries of £20 a week, one in England and one in Australia, to select artists for broadcasting programmes. This also is an unjustifiable expenditure. Very many artists in Australia are capable of providing delightful programmes, and it was unnecessary to appoint officers at such a high figure to engage artists.
Another matter to which I direct attention is the need for the construction of a telephone line on the west coast of Tasmania to link Hobart with Queenstown. The new road that has been built between these two centres recently has tremendously increased both tourist and general commercial traffic, yet the only means of telephonic communication between Hobart and Queenstown is th rough Burnie. A direct telephone line would be of immense value to business people and tourists in that locality.
I appeal tothe Minister representing the Postmaster-General (Mr. Perkins) to give sympathetic consideration to these requests.
.- I do not wish to reiterate arguments that have already been advanced in support of requests for increased postal facilities, but I feel under an obligation to urge the Government to give more attention, to the needs of country districts throughout the Commonwealth, which are suffering severely to-day in consequence of the inadequacy of these services. Many of the proposals brought’ prominently before the Government in the discussions in this chamber in the last two or three days, such as defence measure?, housing, the need for increased attention to the health of the women and children of our community, and the standardization of our railway gauges, would involve the expenditure of millions of pounds, which would have to be found from either loan or revenue resources, but improvements to our postal services could be effected out of the accumulated surplus of £3,000,000 which the Postmaster-General’s Department has available. The profits of this department should not be paid into Consolidated Revenue, but should be used for the improvement of the services which yield the revenue. The condition of many post office buildings in country districts throughout Australia is deplorable. Very few new post offices have been built in the 37 years that have elapsed since the consummation of federation. In the growing towns in particular, the congestion has been most acute. Other honorable members have referred to the position in their constituencies. I appreciate the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson). I happen to have some knowledge of the Brisbane General Post Office, and endorse his statement that it is in need of attention. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) has referred to the conditions in his constituency, and I propose to deal with those in mine. I refer in particular to the conditions in the city of Lismore, the largest and one of the most important towns in the northern part of New South Wales. The Lismore Post Office has served the people of that district for 30 or 40 years, within which period very little improvement has been effected to it, although the population of the city has more than doubled, and the officials now have the added duty associated with the payment of pensions. The disabilities suffered by pensioners on alternate Thursdays do no credit to the Government of this country. The climatic conditions of the Lismore district are particularly trying, yet the only provision for the pensioners is a space about 10 feet square, overlooked by a small window. The only seating accommodation provided is one form, which will accommodate four persons. The conditions are most exacting on those who are advanced in years. More humane treatment should be meted out to these old people. The honorable member for Brisbane has stated that lie has been hammering away at the subject of the Brisbane General Post Office for four years. I give notice that I shall hammer away at the project I have mentioned until it is accomplished whatever the period may be.
Another matter which calls for the attention of the Postal Department is the increase of automatic telephone exchanges in country areas. It has been argued that the remuneration of allowance officers is insufficient for the services which they render. That is quite true. But a good deal of the difficulty would be overcome, and the people in country districts would be provided with a more convenient telephone service, if the automatic system were installed. One of the great disabilities of country life is the lack of such conveniences. The honorable member for Barton has contended that city areas should first be considered. As he represents a city area, it is his function to plead its case. I submit, however, that his constituents would suffer greater inconvenience than they do now if they were unable to use the telephone service after 1 p..m. The subscribers attached, to the exchanges at many allowance post offices in the country cannot use the service after 1, 2 or 3 p.m. I hope that the department will take steps, at an early date, to raise the allowances of these officers sufficiently to warrant their giving an extended service to the subscribers connected with their exchanges.
In the allocation of portfolios, the Government should give consideration to the more adequate representation of country areas. There may be changes in the Cabinet, and should that occur, the office of Postmaster-General should be held by a member of the House of Representatives. I realize that the Minister representing the Postmaster-General (Mr. Perkins) is most sympathetically inclined towards the aims of country areas; but as he does not hold the portfolio he may not bo able to promise the very many improvements which he recognizes to be desirable.
Honorable members on both sides of the chamber are in complete accord in the matter of postal facilities. I sincerely hope that there will be an improvement of the different services, and that the profits made by the department will go back into the department for the purpose of providing increased facilities and raising the efficiency of the administration.
– I am somewhat puzzled at the underlying principles that are being followed with respect to the finances of the Postal Department.
I have the deepest admiration for the official postal administration. I greatly appreciate the work of the Director of Postal Services. Mr. Brown, and I doubt whether any country has finer direction of its postal services than we have from that gentleman. I have found nothing but courtesy and efficiency in all my contacts with the Deputy-Directors of Postal Services. I have seemed, however, to observe in the last year that it is now harder to secure improvements of a proper kind than during the whole of the twelve years of my experience in this Parliament, with the exception of the depression years. I believe in economy, and I agree that every new scheme for extended services should be thoroughly proved before any money is expended upon it; but, when the post office is showing a handsome profit, it should not be excessively economical, and one should not be able to charge the administration with being so.
– The post office balancesheet shows a different result from the Treasury statement, which merely indicates the difference between receipts and expenditure for the financial year. The post office balance-sheet takes into account to what extent stock has been used up, and represents a truer picture of the work than the mere Treasury statements.
– Perhaps I have not gone into the matter as closely as has the honorable member, but, dealing with it broadly, the profits earned by the postal services should go towards the reduction of the rates charged or to improve services.
It seems to me that we should either reduce the letter postage rate by a halfpenny - the present minimum rate of 2d. is one of the highest in the world - or Use it in other ways to improve the postal services. In Melbourne, we still have a number of the old-fashioned manual telephone exchanges, and the present would be a favorable opportunity to change over to the automatic system. If these alterations have to be made, it would be better to carry them out in prosperous times when there is alternative employment for those who necessarily will be thrown out of work, than at a time when such changes would accentuate unemployment difficulties. The present method of finance seems perplexing and unsatisfactory, and in my opinion is unbusinesslike.
– I support the remarks -of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) regarding the treatment of non-official postmasters throughout the Commonwealth. In my electorate, which is a mountainous and scattered one, transport difficulties are great, and the postal officials have to remain in their offices for long hours for a very low remuneration. The threat is always held over them that if they cannot do the work at the low rates offering, the non-official post offices will be closed. The department should pay a minimum of £1 a week to all these officers. Many of them now receive only a few shillings a week for their services. One of my constituents, who recently had to distribute mails before S a.m., was allowed only about 18s. a week. An alteration of the mail contract occurred, ‘his office hours were reduced, and his allowance was cut down by 10s a month. These officers are at the beck and call of the public for at least eight hours a day, and never receive a holiday unless- they obtain a substitute and accept responsibility for any losses incurred during their absence. Many of these officers have occupied their present positions for a great number of years without a vacation. They should be granted annual leave similar to that granted postal officials employed in the cities. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), who always opposes the interests of country people, contends that the city people are entitled to all the facilities which the department can provide. His principal complaint appears to be due to the fact that, on several occasions, he has found it necessary to call Central through a manual exchange without receiving an answer; hut that inconvenience is small when compared with the disadvantages experienced by country residents, many of whom have to walk miles to obtain their mail. What would happen to those engaged in commerce in the city if the primary producers failed? The country people, who are the backbone of this country, are entitled to greater consideration in the matter of telephone and postal facilities than they have received in the past. Ever since I have been a member of this Parliament, I have made a determined effort to persuade the Department to construct a new post office at Sorrell, and Mr. Blacklow, who previously represented my electorate, also endeavoured to convince the department that a new structure is necessary. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) said that for years he has been agitating for a new post office in Brisbane to replace a building which is 62 years old, but the post office at Sorrell, which has to meet the requirements of an important district, is 108 years old. Mr. Blacklow persuaded a former Postmaster-General to visit Sorrell, and received from him a -definite assurance that a new building would be erected at an early date. Five years have elapsed, and nothing has been done. I support the contention of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) that the portfolio of Postmaster-General should be held by a member of this chamber. Under the present arrangement, honorable members are prevented from obtaining information first-hand from the Minister. Towards the end of last year, I was informed that a new post office would be erected at Sorrell, and I earnestly hope that a definite pronouncement will be made on the subject at an early date.
The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), who represents a borderline electorate, condemned the present anomalous zoning system in connexion with telegraphic charges, and urged that telegrams transmitted between border towns should not have to bear a surcharge of 4d. The Tasmanian taxpayers suffer many disabilities as a result of federation. Just prior to the last elections, a reduction was made in the surcharge on air-mail letters posted in Tasmania. Aa there is no such impost on ‘letters posted on Kangaroo Island, the charge in Tasmania should be waived. I trust that greater consideration will be extended to those conducting non-official post offices, both in respect of pay and holiday leave. These officials should not be expected to work such long hours at a ridiculously low remuneration. The city people are already well catered for in the matter of telephone and mail services, and any surplus revenue that is available should be utilized to benefit taxpayers in the more remote parts of the Commonwealth.
.- As we have another Minister in this chamber representing the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan), I am encouraged to repeat a request ‘which I have made annually for a post office. The people of Inglewood, a suburb of Perth, have been clamouring for a post office for years, and, on the basis of population, a building should have been provided long ago. A recent census taken in that suburb shows that the number of houses in the area to be served had increased by 200 in one year. I renew this request in the hope that the present Minister will bring a new mind, to bear on an old subject and that a building will be provided in the next financial year.
.- I join with other honorable members in their demand for improved telephone and postal facilities in country districts. I have endeavoured from time to time by amicable means to obtain improved services in country districts, but have failed. Prior to the last general election, I launched an attack on the administration of the Postmaster-General’s Department, and I propose to renew that attack to-day in the interests of country residents who experience many disabilities, which could be overcome by sympathetic administration. In visiting various electorates in New South “Wales, I have examined the post offices and found people living and working under conditions which should not be allowed. If the PostmasterGeneral’s Department wishes to secure, the best service from its employees, it should ensure that the conditions under which they work are favorable. Some of the country post offices in which people are compelled to live, are not fit to House a dog. Although I have drawn the attention of the Deputy-Director to offices of this sort, the only reply he has been able to give is that he is unable to do anything, as a matter of government policy is involved. The sooner this policy is revised the better it will be for the department and the people concerned. If the postal officials are to receive the consideration they deserve, there must be a general review of the whole of the postal services, as was promised to me through the Postmaster-General’s Department, after 1 launched my last attack against the administration of this department. [ agree with what the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) has said in regard to border differential rates for telegrams. I see no reason for it, and I join with him and the honorable member forFranklin (Mr. Frost) in demanding a uniform rate for telegrams throughout Australia.
– And there ought not to be any extra charge for telegrams that are re-transmitted. -
– That is so. A 2d. stamp will take a letter to any part of the British Empire, and I see no reason why an extra charge should be made in respect of interstate telegrams. It is farcical that a man living in Albury can send a telegram to the most northerly portion of New South Wales for1s., but is charged1s. 4d. for a telegram despatched to Wodonga, only a couple of miles away. I urge upon the Government the necessity for undertaking a complete review of the whole of the postal services.
The poor salaries paid to postal employees have recently been brought under my notice. The employees of no government department are paid more poorly than are those engaged in the Postal Department. I recently brought under the notice of the authorities the case of one officer, but again I was confronted with the unsatisfactory reply that nothing could be done, as the payment made to certain officers was a matter of policy. This man was employed in a post office in the centre of a municipality with a population of about 5,000. This officer relieves the girl telephonists at 9.30 p.m., and is on duty continuously through the night until 8 a.m. every day in the year, for a miserable pittance of £1 a week.
– It is a disgrace to the Postal Department and a reflection on the Government which permits such a state of affairs to continue. I feel very strongly about this matter, because I have already approached the authorities in an endeavour to secure justice for the man, but without avail. It is impossible to secure redress of such wrongs without launching an attack in this Parliament. That course has its disadvantages, in that it may result in the employee concerned being victimized. This young fellow, who has relatives to support, is paid so poorly that he has to seek other employment during the day, and is unable to get proper rest. When I approached the authorities in regard to his case, I was informed that the office did not warrant an all-night watch, but the man concerned is on duty all night, and never knows when he may be called to effect a telephonic communication in case of emergency. I intend to keep a close eye on this case in order to see that he is not victimized because I have brought the matter before the Parliament. I am anxious that better living conditions should be provided for postal employees in country districts generally. In some of the sparsely populated areas in the far west of New South Wales one can see the wretched conditions under which many postal employees are compelled to live. Yet when the Postal Department is approached to provide better conditions, the invariable reply is that the district is not sufficiently important to warrant the additional expenditure which would be involved. If we wish to secure the maximum service from postal employees we shall have to improve the conditions under which they labour.
– I think most honorable members were glad to hear that the Postmaster-General’s Department has decided to institute an inquiry into the conditions under which allowance post offices are being carried on. All honorable members know of cases in their own electorates which appear .to be indefensible, and to justify which the department is very hard put. We wore glad to learn that the Government had recently instituted the fortnightly payment of allowance postmasters; the system of monthly payment imposed a hardship which reacted very seriously in many cases, and, for that reason, we were gratified that a start had been made to recognize the claims of this large and deserving section of postal employees. Several honorable members have mentioned the disability under which allowance postmasters labour because no provision is made for granting annual holidays. I hope it will he possible for the Government to consider very seriously the granting of holidays to non-official postmasters who are on duty all the year round, and are unable to leave their offices unless they themselves pay a substitute, and take the responsibility for the proper conduct of the office during their absence. The Government has, undoubtedly, liberalized the conditions of certain post offices as regards hours of attendance, and much has been done during the last few years to improve mail services, but I trust that the Government will now do everything possible to speed up the work of installing rural automatic exchanges - a policy which T. think was originated by a former member for Corangamite. That rural automatic telephones provide an ideal method of serving country districts is beyond question. I trust that the Government will push on even more quickly with this work than was indicated to-day by the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral. It is at times difficult to understand the attitude adopted by the department in individual cases brought under notice. For instance, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) mentioned the unsatisfactory condition of a post office which is over 100 years old. The Lake Bolac office in my electorate is only 50 odd years old, but is quite obsolete, and unsuited for its purpose. Although the department says that the building is sufficient to deal with the business which it handles, I fear that unless something is done to improve its condition, it is likely to be condemned by the health officer as unfit for human habitation. It is difficult to break fresh ground in these Estimates - we have our own individual complaints - but I think the Government is to be congratulated upon the fact that it is pushing on with the liberalization of hours of attendance at pest offices and improving the frequency of mail services. I hope the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral will bring prominently under the notice of his colleague the necessity for accelerating the provision of rural automatic exchanges.
.- I desire first to take the opportunity to compliment my colleague, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), on his unremitting endeavours to secure for Brisbane a general post office worthy of that city. For over four years the honorable member has been striving for the erection of a new post office in Brisbane, and although on every occasion he has been promised sympathetic and courteous consideration by the Government, nothing tangible has resulted. For my part, it would take considerably more than the courteous protestations of members of the Government to persuade me that their promises in this regard were not merely made as electioneering propaganda. I am inclined to think that we shall not hear very much more on this subject, except from members of the Opposition, until the next election looms near. That, however, does not detract from the merit of the strenuous endeavours of the honorable member for Brisbane. I suggest that when eventually - no doubt under a different government - a new General Post Office is erected in Brisbane, it will be a worthy tribute to the honorable member to associate his name in some way with it. Sydney has its Martin Place, and I suggest in all seriousness that Brisbane should have its Lawson Square, or its George Lawson Elace. That would serve to remind Brisbane citizens of the debt they owed to the honorable member for Brisbane for. his unceasing efforts on their behalf.
For almost the same length of time, I have been agitating to get a new post office for South Brisbane. It is claimed that the erection of a new General Post Office in Brisbane would be a very costly undertaking. That may be, but I still think it ought to be done. I point out, however, that the provision of a new post office in South Brisbane is just as necessary, and it would not cost nearly so much. Time after time I have brought this matter under the notice of the Government, but so far nothing has been done. Twenty years ago, South Brisbane had for its post office a good, twostorey building at the corner of Melbourne and Grey streets; that building was taken over by Bayards Limited, and the post office was removed to temporary premises, where the business is still conducted. The building now occupied is in Stanley-street, where there is one-way traffic, and not even a tram stop opposite the post office. The majority of people visiting South Brisbane, and wishing to reach a post office, travel by tram for a couple of miles past the Stanleystreet building until they reach the Woolloongabba- post office. The west end post office at the other end, is a better structure than that at South Brisbane, and in fact the post offices in north, east and west Brisbane are all better than in South ‘ Brisbane. The new bridge being erected across the Brisbane River from New Farm to Kangaroo Point will soon prevent overseas and interstate shipping from proceeding further upstream than a point which is 2 miles from the South Brisbane post office. The Adelaide Steamship Company has already altered the berths of the Manoora and the Manunda to New Farm, and Birt and Company are building new wharfs at Hamilton. About three years ago, when Sir Archdale Parkhill was PostmasterGeneral, he visited South Brisbane, and I introduced a deputation to him to discuss this subject. He admitted that a new office was needed, and said that the only argument that could be used in support of the retention of the present building was that it was a convenience to those ships berthed at the wharfs. When the construction of the new bridge is completed, the vessels will not travel right up the river and, therefore, the retention of the post office on its present site is not justified on the only “ground advanced for retaining it there. Unfortunately, when Sir Archdale Parkhill had been in charge of the Postmaster-General’s Department for just long enough to get to know the job, he was, in accordance with the usual political practice, transferred to another department. I believe that, had he continued to be Postmaster-General this necessary work would already have been performed. Though he was a doughty opponent, and a strong Government supporter, he was one of the few Ministers who was prepared to accept full responsibility for his department, and to see that the job was properly, done. Too often there is a tendency to throw the blame for things done or left undone upon permanent Government servants. To-day, honorable members asked for a number of improvements, and there was a constant suggestion that permanent officers are to blame for the fact that improvements had not been carried out before. I have always opposed that attitude. If a government employee is. not doing his job there is a way to deal with him, but the Minister must accept responsibility for what goes on in his department. I recognize that the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral in this chamber cannot be held responsible for the present unsatisfactory state of affairs, but the- PostmasterGeneral himself has held- his position for a considerable time, and he should have seen that, these necessary- works were undertaken. Reverting to the subject of the South Brisbane Post Office I point out that the main business centre of South Brisbane is in the vicinity of the proposed site for the new Post Office and that site is opposite the South Brisbane railway station, which is the terminus for south coast and interstate trains. The Commonwealth Bank is adjacent, which makes it very convenient for the transfer of money, and for the payment of pensions.. The four main business banks are also within, a. few hundred, yards of the site.. The junction of Melbourne and Grey streets is the busiest traffic centre in. Brisbane, being the outlet for- all traffic going to. the city via Victoria-street- and Grey-street bridges: Land on which to erect the new building was purchased by the Commonwealth Government some years ago. which indicates that, in its opinion, the present site is regarded as unsuitable. The interest which would have to be paid on the cost of a new building would not be so much as the rent charged for the broken-down structure in - which the postal business is now carried on. 1 do not think that it would be possible to select a more unsuitable site for a post office than the one now used. Like the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), I propose to keep hammering away at this matter until eventually something is. done. In all our electorates many public works are needed, but in most of them . there is probably some one thing more important than all the rest. I regard this matter of the South Brisbane Post Office as the most important in my division, and I shall persist in my request until the Government sees fit to provide a new building. The Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral is not, of course, in charge of the department, but no doubt he possesses considerable influence. Hetold us that many new postal works were needed in his own electorate of Eden-Monaro, and I agree that it ishis duty to press for the carrying out of those works but he shouldnot overlook the needs of other districts.
.- I do not agree with the contention of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, that the Government has not done a good job of work in connexion with the Postal Department. With the money it has had at its disposal it has, up to the present atleast, done exceptionally well. The discussion on the Estimates provides honorable members with an opportunity to bring various matters before the committee or the appropriate Minister. I have followed that practice in the past, and I now propose to do so again. I repeat that the Governmenthas done a good job of work in connexion with the Postmaster-General’s Department and. I readily commend it for that, but I cannot say that I am altogether satisfied with the position which exists in respect of broadcasting.
– If it is permissible for an honorable member to discuss broadcasting at this stage I shall have a lot to say on the subject.
– The honorable member may make only passing reference to that matter.
– I should like to see the balance-sheet of the Australian Broadcasting Commission brought down much earlier than is the case at present. Honorable members were obliged to ask many questions in this chamber in regard to this matter before we obtained a balancesheet. The commission should present its balance-sheet in the same way as the Postmaster-General places his report before the Government. On the last occasion I examined the commission’s balance-sheet I was under the impression that the commission was in a state of affluence, and had a good deal of money to spare. Consequently I was anxious to see that that money was expended wisely. Furthermore, after analysing its balancesheet I came to the conclusion that the present listeners’ licence-fee of 21s. a year is too high. In many parts of Australia a demand is being made that it should be reduced by half; I am of opinion that it could be reduced at least to 15s. I appeal to the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) to place this matter before the Postmaster-General in order to see whether some reduction cannot be made.
– The only item relating to broadcasting which I can find in the division under discussion is, “Engineering Services (other than New Works) - National broadcasting services “. I rule, therefore, that the discussion must be relevant to that item.
– I rise to a point of order. The Chairman permitted a very full discussion to take place on the subject of broadcasting generally, and I suggest that, as a matter of fairness, you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, might allow other honorable members similar latitude.
– I think it is desirable to limit the discussion to the specific items mentioned in this division of the Estimates.
– I rise to a point of order. As broadcasting services come within the scope of the Postmaster-General’s Department I submit that, when the Estimates for that department are being considered, and they include, an item which concerns any phase of broadcasting, the discussion should not be restricted to that particular item, but should be allowed in respect of broadcasting generally. In this instance the committee, 1 submit, is entitled to discuss the whole range of broadcasting administration.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.As we are considering specific items in the Estimates I propose to confine the discussion to those items.
– Out of present listeners’ licence-fee of 21s. a year the Government retains 9s. That is an unjustifiable class tax.
– The honorable member is not in order in pursuing that line of discussion.
– I wish to direct the attention of the Assistant Minister to the sale of postage stamps by such people as chemists and storekeepers of various classes. These people are licensed to sell postage stamps, and in doing so perform a great public service, but they receive no commission whatever from the department. I ask the Assistant Minister to look into this matter with a view to seeing whether some arrangement cannot be made whereby they will at least receive some payment. The revenue of the Postal Department’ for last year amounted to £15,787,000, or an increase of £113,000 over that for the preceding year, and I maintain that the department can well afford to make some payment in this respect.
I suggest that the department should purchase a site for a post office to serve the thickly-populated areas of Fullarton, Fullarton Estate, Rosefield, Highgate and Myrtle Bank, which at present are served by an unofficial post office at Sim’s store at Fullarton-road, Rosefield.
– I rise to a. point of order. I call your attention, Mr.. Temporary Chairman, to the fact that broadcasting is mentioned again and again in the division of the Estimates under consideration. On page 103 appear the items, “ Engineering services (other than New Works) - National broadcasting, services “, and “ Other Services - Contribution, to Amalgamated Wireless Limited towards cost of wireless stations (moneys received from A.W.A.. Limited, to be credited to this vote) “. In some sections we find radioresearch mentioned. Then on page 104- there is the item, “Payment to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited for hireand operation of broadcasting station”. All of these items are in respect of New South Wales; similar references with respect to other States appear throughout the division. I submit, therefore, that broadcasting generally should be open for discussion while the Postmaster-General’s estimates are before the Chair. .
– Any discussion that is relevant to any item in the Estimates will be permitted.
– For a long period the residents at Fullarton have been urging the provision of a new post office, and I hope that the Government will be able to see its way clear to grant their request in the near future.
I shall take advantage of the Temporary Chairman’s ruling to ask that the Postmaster-General should take early opportunity to consider the provision of a new broadcasting studio in Adelaide. A new studio was promised some time ago, and I ask that the promise be fulfilled. I shall take a later opportunity to address myself . more fully to broadcasting matters.
In order that residents of Adelaide may be brought into closer touch with the eastern States, I recommend that additional postal facilities be provided in different parts of the metropolitan area, and that the closing times for mails which are to be placed on the Melbourne express which leaves at 6.35 p.m. he extended. No great obstacles stand in the way of these additional facilities being provided.
– Points to which I replied earlier have since been touched upon again by various honorable members. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) referred to the supply of timber to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I had inquiries made, but was unable in the short space of time available to pursue them far enough and I should like to see the papers which the honorable member possesses in respect of this matter.
– I shall make them available to the honorable gentleman.
– The result of my further inquiries will be conveyed to the honorable member. In referring to the provision of studios for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the honorable member for Denison and the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) mentioned the need for new studios at Hobart and Adelaide respectively. The Broadcasting Commission has already given consideration to this matter, and “1. am informed that the erection of new studios in Melbourne and Adelaide has been, or is about to be, started. New studios are to be provided in Hobart and Adelaide, but which of the two will have priority has not been decided.
I must inform honorable members who have urged the construction of a trunk telephone line between Hobart and Queenstown that the prospects of its provision are not bright. The honorable member for Denison appears to have been agitating for a considerable time for the construction of the line - he has made inquiries concerning it on several occasions - but unfortunately, as the district between the two places is very sparsely populated, the Government considers that expenditure on the work would be unwarranted, and that the existing line via Burnie reasonably meets requirements.
The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) referred to the post office at Lismore. The Estimates contain provision for the expenditure of £2,000, out of the total estimated cost of £6,000, towards the provision of a new telephone exchange as Lismore. I assure the honorable gentleman that his request for better provision for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions at Lismore will be considered. He and other honorable members also mentioned the matter of rural automatic telephone exchanges. I replied this morning in reference to this subject and said that the Government was moving as rapidly as possible in the establishment of rural automatic exchanges.
The honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) raised the deeper subject of postal finance, and I do not propose to attempt to reply to his arguments, but I assure him that what, he has said will be brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) and of Cabinet itself.
– Can the Assistant Minister tell me what is to be done -about the Liverpool post office?
– The honorable member could not have been present when I replied to that matter this morning, and gave an assurance that an officer of the department will make investigations.
The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) mentioned non-official post offices, and the post office at Sorrell, which has been in existence for 108 years. I cannot get any information about the Sorrell building at the moment, but his remarks will receive further notice. The honorable member also mentioned the fact that whereas a surcharge is made on air mail letters sent between Tasmania and the mainland, no such charge is levied in respect of the air mail to Kangaroo Island. Before the air mail to Kangaroo Island was instituted, the mails were transported by vessels of the Adelaide Steamship Company under contract and, since the establishment of the air mail, a contract has been made for their carriage by air at the same cost as formerly.
I shall bring before the authorities the references made by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) to the post office at Inglewood, and the remarks of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Collins) regarding the salaries of nonofficial officers .of the Postal Department. I understand that the case he specified is not the only one of its kind. Although the man mentioned by the honorable gentleman is paid only £1 a week and has to be on duty from 9.30 p.m. until next morning he is disturbed only when the bell rings; as such interruptions are infrequent, he is earning money while he is asleep.
– Not much money.
– No.. This rate of payment has been the policy of the department for some years, but I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Minister in order to see if a change can he made.
The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Street) mentioned the un healthy post office building at Lake Bolac, and I shall bring his complaint to notice in the appropriate quarter. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker), and the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. . Geo. Lawson), stressed .the need for a new general post office at Brisbane, the former also pleaded for a new post office at South Brisbane. I cannot ascertain - any evidence that the Postmaster-General made such a promise as the honorable gentlemen claimed he did, but I do not, of course, disbelieve them, and, if any evidence could be found that some ministerial ‘ statement of the nature mentioned was made, I have no doubt it. would have an influence towards bringing a new general post office at Brisbane into existence. The honorable member for Griffith complained that when he raised the matter of Brisbane postal facilities, he always received plausible answers but no action followed. Unfortunately, I too can give only a plausible answer. I shall pass on what he has said, and I hope that at not too distant a date a new general post office will be erected in Brisbane, and another in South Brisbane on a site which might be called, say, “Baker Place”.
References by the honorable member for Boothby to wireless broadcasting concern the Broadcasting Commission, and I shall see that his remarks are forwarded to that body. Reduction of the listeners’ license fee from 21s. to 15s. per annum has been advocated, but this is a matter which is outside my jurisdiction. The honorable member’s request for a new post office at Fullarton, and other matters which he mentioned will be referred to the Postmaster-General.
.-Some of the matters I propose to mention have been referred to already by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins). One is the matter of rural automatic telephone exchanges. I think that the Minister has indicated that about 55 new exchanges of this type are provided for in the Estimates for this year I hope that at the end of the financial year we shall not find that a considerable portion of this money remains unexpended. I know the advantages associated with rural automatic exchanges, because one of them, which has been established in my electorate within the last year or two, has proved a boon to the people in the remote area which it serves.
There is considerable propaganda in favour of a reduction of the wireless licence-fee but I hope that the Government will not be influenced by it. The agitation is due to a desire to lessen the effectiveness of the A class stations.
– Order! The Australian Broadcasting Commission is not a branch of the post office. If it were, wireless broadcasting in all its aspects might be discussed under this heading; but as the commission is an entirely distinct body, this committee is limited to the discussion of such items as appear in the Estimates. 1, therefore, rule that honorable members are not at liberty to discuss at large matters relating to broadcasting.
– I rise to a point of order. I draw your attention, Mr. Temporary Chairman, to page 109 of these Estimates, where provision is made for expenditure under the headings “ National Broadcasting Services “, “ Trunk Line Services “ and “ Telegraph Services
– Those items relate only to technical assistance.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Only such matters as are covered by these Estimates may he discussed.
– I am not clear, Mr. Temporary Chairman, as to the limit on discussion imposed by your ruling. It seems to me, from what, appears on other pages, that there is a fairly wide scope allowed for the discussion of wireless broadcasting. I shall, however, pass on to a phase of this subject which is not controversial. I refer to the investigation of complaints regarding interference with wireless reception. Inspectors are provided by the post office to investigate such complaints. I have raised this subject in this House on a number of. occasions, because much too frequently reception is interfered with by persons using electrical appliances. That trouble cannot be overcome merely by asking the users of such appliances to discontinue their use; it can be met only by legislative action. Legislation passed recently by the New Zealand Parliament to deal with this sub ject provides penalties for the use of instruments which interfere with the reception of wireless broadcasts. I understand that the trouble can be overcome by the use of some small attachment. Under existing legislation in the Commonwealth, there is no power to compel the users of appliances which interfere with reception to provide eliminators; and as requests to discontinue the use of such appliances are, for the most part, ignored, I suggest that definite steps be taken to ensure that freedom from interferencewhich the people have a right to expect.
I understand that it is proposed to alter the system of supplying “ A “ class programmes, particularly, programme No. 1, to Tasmania. I do not know the extent of the proposed alteration, and, therefore, I suggest that the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Perkins) should make a public pronouncement on this subject, since the rumours which one hears are most disquieting. Station 7NT in northern Tasmania, was erected specially to enable A class programmes to be broadcast throughout Tasmania. I understand that it is now proposed to discontinue that practice, thereby forcing listeners in Tasmania to rely, as formerly, on stations 3TI and 3AR for A class programmes. That should not be permitted. Tasmania has a right to the same services as are rendered to the rest of Australia by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I have written to the manager of that body, but, so far, I have not had a reply, probably because sufficient time has not yet elapsed for a reply to come to hand. I mention this subject here, with a view to the avoidance of further complaints in the future.
– I strongly support the representations of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), and the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker), in connexion with the new post office for Brisbane. Because of my interest in public affairs in Brisbane for some years, I am able to say that as long as ten years ago a promise was made by the government of the day that the construction of that post office would be proceeded with at an early date. This is not a party political matter with me. Brisbane is nOt in tuy electorate, but nevertheless I think this building should be constructed without delay. I suggest to the Government that careful regard should be paid to the architectural features of the structure, so that they may be in keeping with those of other imposing public buildings in Brisbane. A building of this description may be both useful and beautiful.
I desire some information as to the basis on which the department calculates the minimum revenue required to justify the installation of public telephones. In connexion with one such installation that has been requested. I have been informed that a minimum revenue of £35 per annum would be necessary to justify the work. This seems to me to be very high, for very little expense is necessary in the maintenance of these telephones once they are installed.
– Vandals knock the telephones about in an amazing way.
– That may be so in some places, but it is not so in ‘connexion with the public telephones that have come under my notice. The cost of installation, apart from the cabinets, should not be any greater than the cost of installations in private homes. A revenue of £35 presupposes a cost of £350, at 10 per cent. I ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to furnish me with some detailed information in this connexion.
.- I have found a great deal of difficulty in tracing through the Estimates various details of expenditure in relation to the Postmaster-General’s Department. For that reason I urge the Treasurer (Mr. * Casey) to give very early consideration to the desirableness of preparing the Estimates in a form which will afford honorable members clearer and more specific information. I direct the honorable gentleman’s attention to the recommendations made in this connexion by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which inquired into the subject some time ago and recommended that summaries should be included in the Estimates setting out costs more specifically. It would be advantageous, also, if a smaller page were used. I hope that attention will be given to this subject before the Estimates for the next financial year are completed.
It is difficult, indeed, to discover from estimates prepared in the form of those now before us how much the broadcasting services provided by the department really cost. I realize that the department is responsible only for the technical services. According to my study of the information available in the Estimates now before us, the aggregate cost of these services is £118,000 per annum. Although a summary appears on page 100 of the estimates of the expenditure of the Postmaster-General’s Department, the dissection does not give an aggregate of the expenditure incurred in connexion with broadcasting services. Mention is made of “ Salaries, and payments in the nature of salary “ but the detailed information is not clearly set out so that honorable members are able to ascertain how much of the total should be debited to postal, telephone, telegraph and wireless services respectively.
– That detailed information is given in the annual, report of the Postmaster-General’s Department, but the report for this vear is not available.
– That is so. I also ask how it comes about that the line “ Other services “ in “ Section E, Engineering services (other than new works) “ provides for such a large’ expenditure? The expenditure under this heading at Central Office is only £200, but in New South Wales it is £191,567. In view of the fact that provision is made in this section for expenditure on telephone exchanges, trunk line, telegraph and national broadcasting services it seems to me that a total of £191,567 under the general heading of “ Other Services “ is very large. I suppose it is intended to cover contingencies of one kind and another, but I should like some information on the point. The aggregate for Central Office and all the States under this line is about £500,000 in this financial year I shall be glad to receive some information on this subject.
has said, that the expenditure on “ Other services “ under ‘*’ Section E, Engineering services (other than new works)” is large, totalling not far short of £500,000. “ Other services,” however, include the cost of reconditioning stores and the manufacture of stores and equipment in departmental workshops. The bulk of the cost of this work is finally chargeable to other appropriate votes. I point out to the Leader of the Opposition that a credit appears in this connexion under the heading “ Less amount chargeable to the Post Office Store? and Transport Trust Account.” In respect of New South Wales the credit for this financial yeal under that heading is estimated to bc £136.000 which is set against, the cost of the services to which I have referred. “ Other services “ also provide for the cost of the maintenance of motor transport for the General Post Office, and numerous other small services performed by the engineering branches in the various States. As the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) observed by interjection, full details of this expenditure appear in the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I have before me the report for 1935-36.
– But the annual reports are always a good deal behindhand.
– That is so. There is a difficulty in correlating the figures for the Postmaster-General’s Department in the Estimates, and in’ the annual return of the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General’s Department finds it most convenient, for its own purposes, to work on the commercial basis of profit and loss, whereas the Treasury always works on a cash basis in the preparation of the accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. That, of course, is finally reflected in the fact that the net result claimed by the department for its year’s trading is substantially different from the figure arrived at by the Treasury. From the Treasury point of view, we debit to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department such of the postal works as are paid for out. of revenue. The postal department does not do this.
– It is explainable if you go into the minutiae of the relationship between the two departments, but members of Parliament find it extremely difficult to get, merely from the estimates of expenditure submitted by the Treasurer, a clear picture of the relationship of one section of the postal service to another.
– That has been a matter of considerable discussion between’ the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Treasury for many years. All 1 can say is that the figures in their present form represent the compromise that has been reached between the accounting staffs of the two departments. It is of course possible to present figures by analysis in a large number of different ways, and, if the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) requires further information, we can make it available to him.
– Wo, I only suggested that in the preparation of the next Budget the honorable gentleman should, so far as possible, give effect to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts.
– I shall certainly take that suggestion into account.
.- 1 desire to bring under the notice of the Minister what I think is a distinct anomaly in regard to the engagement of linesmen in South Australia. I do not know whether the same practice is followed in other States, but in South Australia the principle is adopted of doing much of the country work by tender. The result is that, although the nien engaged are very often the same- men as have worked in other districts, and are required to migrate from the last job on which they were working to another centre, they do not get certain allowances to which they would be entitled if they were employed by the department in the ordinary way. This seems to me a contemptible method of depriving men who are really temporary employees of the department, of their rights. The work is done by tender, yet in the main the same men continuously are engaged from place to place. As temporary employees, they should be regarded as having the same rights as others in the department. Many of them are returned soldiers, who have the right, under the provisions of the Public Service Act. after giving two years’ service, to be regarded as eligible for permanent employment. Although the Government has for many years promised them permanencies as opportunities offer, fresh examinations are held and new candidates offer and are drafted into the department, whilst many of these men, who have passed’ the examination and are really eligible, are deprived of the appointments which should be made available to them. A definite . breach of the promise made to these men, who have served the department well and deserve something a good deal better than the treatment they have received in recent years, is being committed, and I urge the Minister to see that justice is done.
.- The discussion that has taken place to-day has clearly shown the desire of honorable members that the Postmaster-General should be a member of the House of Representatives. This is necessary, not only so far as the administration of the Postal Department is concerned, but also from the point of view of finance. We need amending legislation to place the department in an entirely different position from that which it occupies today. I have been through the last report of the department, and find that year after year, since 1931- 32, the department has shown big surpluses, after paying the interest bill, exchange, working expenses and all other charges. The surplus was £750,000 in 1931-32, £1,200,000 in 1932-33, £2,000,000 in 1933-34, and £2,407,000 in 1934-35. I therefore venture to say that, so far as the Postal Department is concerned, its accounts should show a big surplus; but if one looks still further into the figures, one finds that heavy charges are being established against the department for interest on capital. I hope that legislation will be introduced in the near future to place the department upon a proper commercial basis, so that its profits should not go into the Treasury, whilst it has to turn to the moneylender for funds to carry out the developmental work expected of it.
– This year the amount of £3,250,000 for postal works is to be found wholly from revenue; there is to be no borrowing on that account.
– Appropriations total £2,912,000. Does the Treasurer say that amount, is to come from revenue?
– Certainly. Those are the charges which are necessitated by the service of the public debt.
– Is the expenditure of £16,225,000 for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to come from revenue ?
– Yes ; no loan money is to be expended on the Postal Department in this financial year. I think that I am right in saying that in the last several years very little loan money has been used for postal works ; the vast bulk of it has been found from revenue.
– Then I quite misunderstood the position. I was about to criticize the very bad practice of borrowing money for the Postal Department and using for other Treasury purposes the surpluses of that department.
– That has been done in the past, I admit.
– Any one who has the slightest knowledge of postal administration must congratulate the Government on the administration of the present Director-General - one of the. few officers brought to, Australia- who, has been able to make a success, of his department, I have been exceptionally pleased with the work that he has done, and the outstanding success that he has achieved. He is not only a great administrator but also a clever engineer. There have been numerous complaints in regard to administration in the States, but I have found that, particularly so far as Western Australia is concerned, the department has been keenly desirous of effecting improvements for the people in the country whenever trouble has arisen or complaints have been made. So far as I have been able to judge, it would appear that the administration is inclined too much towards the city and too little towards the country. The department is now being conducted, perhaps, to too great an extent on a commercial basis, the desirebeing to show “a big profit each year. I strongly urge that a greater effort be made to provide more facilities in the country than have so far been provided. The officers of the department, of course, have to comply with the regulations. I know of many cases in which men entered into contracts with the department fifteen, sixteen or twenty years ago for extensions of telephonic services. These now impose a very heavy charge on the persons concerned, but the department has declined to consider any reduction.I hope that it will change that attitude, and see if these charges cannot be modified. Then there is the matter of trunk line calls, which involve the opening of an exchange, for which a special fee is charged. If the caller wishes to be given an extension of time, he has again to pay an amount equal to the original fee. I agree that there should be an increased rate for opening an exchange, but when a. man pays a first change of1s. 6d. or 2s. he should be accorded the privilege of an extension of the call for not more than half of the original rate. I hope that action will be taken in that ‘ direction. The extra cost bears very heavily on many people in country districts. Similar considerations arise in regard to commission on the sale of postagestamps. Quite possibly, there are numerous places in the city areas at which the department can sell postage stamps; hut that is not the case in the country. Manysmall storekeepers would be very glad to sell postage stamps if they were given a small commission on their sales. This would greatly assist the business of the department, and cost, very little. Automatic telephone exchanges have proved most successful in the few country districts in which they have been built, and, as far as possible, more of them should be provided.
– I have some information before me in reply to questions which have been raised, but at this late hour of the day I shall not detain the committee by reading it. [ shall hand to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) full particulars regarding the sale of stamps and other matters mentioned by him, and I shall furnish the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) with the information he desires regarding electrical interference with broadcasting. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) was interested in the minimum revenue fixed for charges for public telephones. I can assure the honorable member that the postal authorities have gone most carefully into this matter, and have fixed the charges on the lowest possible basis. In the metropolitan area, £35 is the minimum charge for a full cabinet, and £28 for a halfsize installation the amounts in country districts being £23 and £16 respectively. These telephone boxes- are different from those in most common use and it is necessary to inspect them at frequent intervals. The department has gone into the matter on several occasions and the charges made cannot be reduced.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Territories of the Commonwealth.
Proposed vote, £682,720.
– This year the tenth anniversary of the official opening of the Commonwealth Parliament in Canberra has occured. During the decade an immense amount of progress has been made in the Federal Capital Territory. The capital expenditure to date is £11,704,000, of which no less than £10,000,000 has been expended on water and sewerage works, parks and gardens and so forth, the rest, of the money representing the cost of public buildings. No financial return is to be expected from the expenditure on public buildings, but the use of the public offices in Canberra has saved the Government an appreciable sum, which was previously expended in renting offices in Melbourne. The return now received from the expenditure of £10,000,000 works out roughly at 2½ per cent., so it may be said that Canberra has begun to pay its way. It seems to me that every, honorable member should do his utmost to advance the interests of Canberra and the Federal Capital Territory, by endeavouring to stimulate interest in the Territory, in order that ere many years have passed the receipts will be at least equal to the expenditure, after providing for interest and sinking fund charges. Every effort should be made to increase the population of the Territory,so that it may become a financial asset to the people of Australia. This Territory reminds me of a property on which the owner has spent a considerable sum of money in developing and beautifying it. Finding, after a number of years, that the property is giving him a slight return, he. is faced with the alternative of discontinuing expenditure or, by the expenditure of further money on development, making it a revenueproducing undertaking. As the population of this Territory is increased, the revenue from various sources will swell, the overhead costs will be reduced, and the day when Canberra will prove a remunerative proposition will be brought nearer. the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth will be served by doing everything possible to make the revenue balance the expenditure at vile earliest possible date. The majority of honorable members - and I have been one of them - have not taken as much personal interest in Canberra and “the Federal Capital Territory as they should have done.
– The honorable member should speak for himself.
-! have done so.
– The Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) knows that I have been deeply concerned about the details of administration in this Territory.
– Although honorable members show a keen interest in the affairs of the nation generally, most of them have displayed little concern regarding the local affairs of this Territory.
– Does the honorable member think that Canberra will ever pay?
– Yes. At the present time, too, many honorable members, when they are away from this city, speak disparagingly of it, apparently failing to realize that it should eventually become a national asset, and that the best interests of the taxpayers generally would be served by assisting its progress. I should like to know whether any programme has been formulated for a period of years with a view to the development of the Territory. Perhaps it would be wise to appoint a small non-party committee to help in the formulation of a sound scheme for progressive development over a period of three or five years, at the end of which time probably a further plan could be prepared for a similar period. We have to face the fact that the population of the Federal Capital Territory will consist largely of public servants and their families, but there is, however, no reason to suppose that Canberra and its surroundings cannot be made particularly attractive to others. It has a delightful climate and surroundings, and should become the natural centre of national history and culture. It is also a city in which many persons may desire to live in retirement. When in the United States of America in 1935, 1 visited Washington in an endeavour to make a comparison between that territory and the Federal Capital Territory of Australia, and from what .1 saw I formed the opinion that this Territory should have a better future than the national centre of the American nation. We are therefore doing good work on behalf of the Australian people who should be encouraged to assist in whatever way they can to make their national capital even more attractive. In that way, we shall be reducing the overhead cost of Canberra, and we may find that instead of paying merely 2-J per cent, on the capital invested, it will be returning the whole of the interest and sinking fund charges. It may even show a profit in a shorter period than now seems possible. I believe that a committee might stimulate the interest of honorable members, and that such a committee could suggest what works should be undertaken over a period of years, and in that way assist materially to make this Territory a payable proposition, which would be of distinct advantage to the Australian taxpayers.
.- It is a fact that the Federal Capital Territory is now coming closer to the point at which it will be able to pay its way, or, at least, earn reasonable interest on the capital expended.
– What is the total capital expenditure to date?
– Approximately £11,704,000. In the early days, and even up tq the present, there has been a great deal of basic expenditure in providing sewerage and water supply services which are now only beginning to earn money. As the population increases., we shall be getting closer to the point at which the city will return interest on the total amount of capital expended. The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) suggested the adoption of a plan for the progressive development of this territory. The Government has a definite plan on whichit is working, but much depends on the amount of money which can be made available to provide accommodation for the two large departments which have yet to be transferred from Melbourne. At the moment, we have to rely upon revenue, and not upon loan money, which places a distinct limitation upon the rate of development. The Government has a plan under which these departments will be gradually transferred over a series of years; that plan includes the provision of cottages for public servants. The rote at which this plan will be developed will depend upon the money that we consider should be set aside for that purpose.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Remainder of the Parliament.
Postponed vote, £128,000.
. - This vote was postponed at the request of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), who suggested that the restoration of parliamentary allowances should be considered with a view to bringing them up to the pre-depression level. This matter was not. mentioned before the general election and it does not form a part of the Government’s budget proposals. The Government proposes to give the matter serious consideration, but in view of the fact that such an increase is not a component part of the budget, the Government finds itself unable in this short session, which is to deal only with urgent, matters, to propose any increase of the allowances. At least two amending bills would be necessary to do what the Leader of the Opposition has suggested. The Government will give the matter consideration as early as may be practicable.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That the following resolution be reported to the House: -
That, including the several sums already voted for such services, there be granted to His Majesty to defray the charges for the year 1937-38. for the several services hereunder specified, asum not exceeding £27,514.910.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That, towards making good the Supply granted to His Majesty for the services of the year 1937-38. there he granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum not exceeding £13,415,020.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Mr. Casey and Mr. Perkins do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Sales Tax on Imitation Vinegar.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I apologize to the House for having to raise a matter at this stage, but, unless I do so now, I may not have an opportunity to do so later. I draw the attention of the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to an anomalous position which exists in connexion with the administration of the sales tax legislation. For some time, vinegar has been on the list of commodities’ exempt from sales tax, but, under a ruling secured by the .Deputy Commissioner of Taxation at Adelaide from the Commissioner, the exemption has been held not to apply to imitation vinegar, and I understand that a demand is to be made by the department for the payment of retrospective sales tax in respect of imitation vinegar sold since 1934.
– Imitation vinegar should never have been sold.
– That is a matter of opinion upon which I offer no observations, but I strongly object to the imposition of retrospective sales tax in respect of sales of imitation vinegar, which can only result in the elimination of the small manufacturers who make imitation vinegar from acetic acid, because they will be unable to recoup themselves for the loss.
– Does the honorable member say that imitation vinegar was previously free from tax?
– Yes. Serious objection is taken to the retrospective application contemplated by the Taxation Department under the ruling of the Commissioner. There is a suspicion that that ruling was sought by the larger firms, who have practically a monopoly of the market, and are anxious to take advantage of a flaw in the legislation to crush out their smaller competitors engaged in the manufacture of imitation vinegar. I appeal to the Treasurer to review this matter very carefully before demands for retrospective sales tax are made.
.- I think I was responsible for having vinegar placed on the list of commodities exempted from sales tax. Although 1 have no doubt that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) has spoken in all good faith in regard to this matter, in my opinion it would perhaps be just as well if imitation vinegar were subjected to the tax.” I have had some considerable experience of the manufacture of vinegar. Imitation vinegar can be manufactured from almost anything that will ferment, and almost anything will ferment and will produce acetic acid. If imitation vinegar were sold as such, I should oppose the ruling to which the honorable member for Hindmarsh has referred, but, unfortunately, it is not.
– The honorable member^ as usual, is standing behind the big manufacturers. The quality of the product is a matter for the State authorities.
– I am opposed to retrospective sales tax on imitation vinegar, but I think the State Government should prohibit its sale under the Pure Food and Drugs Act. I hope that in future sales tax will be imposed, but not retrospectively, as I think there has been a misunderstanding.
.- I do not intend to discuss the question as to how vinegar should be made, whether from wine or some other product.. As has been pointed out, that is a matter for the State authorities. I do, however, question the right of the department to claim retrospective payment of sales tax in respect of any commodity. I am glad that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) has seen fit to bring this matter before the House, and I feel sure that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) will go carefully into it before a decision is arrived at. If there is a demand for a retrospective tax in respect of imitation vinegar, it is quite likely that other products may be affected and manufacturers may be ruined in the process. Surely the taxation officers- should have been able to discover this flaw in the legislation before this. I appeal to the Treasurer to give very careful consideration to the representations that have been made on behalf of the small vinegar manufacturers.
.- The real question is the imposition of retrospective penalties on the manufacturers of pickles and the like. It is probably desirable thatthe quality of vinegar should be set at a very high standard. These manufacturers will find themselves in a most unfortunate position if the department persists in its intention to levy tax on this substance. Sales tax used to be charged on all vinegar. Then an exemption was made, and it was assumed that the substance “known as imitation vinegar should also be exempt, and this practice was followed. Now, after a lapse of some years, the department has ruled that it is liable to sales tax. If this ruling is enforced after the department has for. so many years acquiesced in the present method of trading, a grievous injury will be inflicted upon manufacturers. This is a proper case in which the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) should exercise his discretion.
. -I can assure those honorable members who have spoken on this subject that I shall look into the matter at the earliest moment. I shall discuss it with the Commissioner for Taxation and see that the proper thing is done.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.52 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
Is his department taking any steps towards amendment of the laws on bankruptcy?
– Yes. It is proposed to re-introduce the amending Bankruptcy Bill early next year.
Roy al Commission on Mineral Oils and petrol and other products of Mineral Oils.
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he inform honorable members before the end of the present session when the House may have an opportunity of discussing the reports of theRoyal Commission on Mineral Oils and Petrol and other Products of Mineral Oils?
– Consideration will be given to the matter of providing an opportunity for a discussion of - this report when Parliament re-assembles during the early part of next year.
s asked the Prime Minis ter, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers : -
Australian Broadcasting Commission: New Adelaide Studio ;revenue.
e asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice. -
Will the Postmaster-General make contact with the Australian Broadcasting Commission and ascertain when the proposed new broadcasting studios will be built and opened in Adelaide?
-The honorable member will be furnished with a reply to his inquiries as early as possible.
Mr.Badman asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
s. - The information is being obtained.
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Will he state the number of hours worked by-
Firemen acting as locomotive drivers on (i) the trans-Australian line, and (ii) the Central Australian line, for the year 1936?
Cleaners acting as firemen on (i) the trans-Australian line, and (ii) the Central Australian line, for the year1936?
Classified locomotive drivers on duties of a lower grade than that of their classification, for the year 1936; and
Classified firemen on duties of a lower grade than that of their classification for the year1 936?
– The information is being obtained and will be furnished as early as possible.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 December 1937, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1937/19371203_reps_15_155/>.