6th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– As the PostmasterGeneral is doing something for the relief of the mail contractors who have suffered because of the high price of fodder,will the honorable gentleman also take into consideration the position of youths on small salaries who are employed at some of the official post offices, and who have to keep horses for the performance of their work ?
– The matter is being dealt with.
– Is the Minister of Trade and Customs yet in a position to announce the policy of the House in regard to the sugar question ?
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to a paragraph in this morning’s newspaper to the effect that the Minister of Defence has been doing all that the Trades Hall Council has asked? If that report is correct, does the right honorable gentleman think that either the Trades Hall Council or the Minister is yet fully seized of the seriousness of the position?
– I have not seen the paragraph, and I do not think it calls for an answer.
– Has the Prime Minister noticed the continued unpatriotic writings in the Melbourne press which discourage recruiting? If so, will he consider the advisableness of compelling the writers of articles of this nature to sign their names to them, so that the military authorities may have the opportunity to deal with such traitors to the Empire?
– I do not wish to discuss these matters. It is our business to go straight on, whether we meet with opposition inside or outside the House.
– In view of the fact that wounded men will shortly be returning to Australia from Egypt, will the Government take into consideration how far those of them who are still trainees under the Defence Act, and thus liable to attend drills, may be relieved of that obligation, seeing that they have completed their training on the actual field of battle?
– I take it that the honorable member refers merely to night drills. I would not advocate the men being relieved of the necessity to go into camp once a year.
– In justice to the Defence Department I could not, and would not, answer the question offhand.
– I asked the right honorable gentleman to take the matter into consideration.
– The Assistant Minister of Defence is present, and I, too, intend to bring the matter before the Minister of Defence, but the question is one that I and the Government will not touch offhand, because we do not know what is required.
– I ask the Prime Minister if he has seen in the newspapers the statement that Mr. Lloyd George lays the blame for the non-production of munitions against the employers and not against the workers ?
– I have observed many statements in the newspapers, both before and since the war began.
Assistance to Relatives
– Where suitable employment can be found for the widows and orphans of the men lost with the illfated trawler Endeavour, will the Government see that their services are made use of?
– That is our policy in cases of the kind. As soon as we get the opportunity a Bill will be brought in to deal with this case.
– Has the Govern ment ceased to make efforts to induce immigration to Australia from Great Britain ?
– I am not aware what is being done. I think that some immigrants are still coming to Australia, but 1 cannot say whether they come through the Commonwealth agencies.
– Can the Minister of Home Affairs tell me when I am likely to receive a reply to a letter that I wrote to him regarding the alleged victimization of a Mr. Cummings at Port Augusta!
– I think that the honorable member will receive a letter from the Department this morning.
– As for several months past the Ministerof Trade and Customs has been replying to. numerous petitions, asking that bags and sacks and other jute goods shall be placed on the free list, that the wishes of the petitioners will receive careful consideration-
– The right honorable member must ask a question.
– This is a necessary preamble.. Has the Minister of Trade and Customs yet considered the matter, and, if so, with what result? He has had many months in which to give it his attention.
– The matter will be dealt with when the Tariff is under consideration.
– Is the Minister of Trade and Customs in a position to inform the House on what day he intends to proclaim the Act dealt with yesterday, and also on what date the regulations for the collection of light dues will come into force ?
– The intention of the Government is to bring the Act into operation on 1st July.
– Will the regulations come into operation then?
– I presume so.
– Can the Assistant Minister representing the Minister of Defence inform the House when the Geelong Clothing Factory is likely to commence operations ?
– Some time in August, I think.
– Yesterday I asked the Assistant Minister of Defence if he could give the House any information with regard to the suggested second shift at Lithgow. Is he in a position to tell the House to-day when it is proposed to establish the second shift?
– The Minister of Defence has instructed the manager of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory to commence a second shift as soon as possible. navigation act.
– Is the Minister of Trade and Customs in a position to inform the House when it is proposed to proclaim the Navigation Act ?
– May I ask the Prime Minister, in view of the announcement that the Imperial Government, in the large loan that is now being raised, is making provision for the necessities of theDominions, to say whether it is the intention of the Government to apply for any financial assistance in respect of the ensuing financial year?
– It is impossible to answer that question. Our business is not to embarrass the British Government any more than we can help, and for the time being we have made no application. At the same time, we are in constant communication with the authorities in London, but the subject-matter of these negotiations is confidential at present.
– Has the attention of the Minister of Trade and Customs been drawn to the fact that the British Government have introduced a Bill to the House of Commons for the purpose of prohibiting the slaughter of calves and female stock? Is it the intention of the Federal Government to introduce a similar measure into this House?
– We have no power to introduce such a measure, or to give effect to it.
– We could introduce it and pass it.
– The States were communicated with in April last, when the matter was brought under their notice. I understand that some of the States have :taken action.
– About a fortnight ago 4he Minister of Trade and Customs, replying to a question by the honorable member for Oxley, said he would make inquiries as to the alleged operations of the Beef Trust in New South Wales. Can lie tell the House if he has made any inquiries, and with what result?
– I do not remember the question.
– I .wish to ask the Attorney-General whether he hps yet received any information in regard to a question I put to him about two months ago concerning an alleged agreement “between the Western Australian Government and some foreign whaling company ?
– I recollect the honorable gentleman’s question, and I have endeavoured to ascertain particulars, but I am sorry to say without effect. I have wired to Western Australia on the subject, and will communicate the result to -the honorable gentleman.
– A few days ago the honorable member for Corio asked a question regarding the food supply on transport vessels and also as to the provision of life-saving apparatus. The answer to the honorable gentleman is that the allegation that food of an inferior quality has been supplied on the transports is not borne out either by reports received from the troopships, all of which testify to the excellent rations supplied, by actual inspection by officers of the Defence Department, or by first-hand information received verbally from the troops. With regard to the number of lifeboats provided, it has been recognised that during the whole of this work in transport service it is impossible to provide boats for the full number of persons carried. The danger arising from this, however, is minimized wherever possible by the order that two or more vessels shall proceed in company.
Small Arms Factory: Second Shift.
– I ‘have received from the honorable member for Parramatta a letter, stating his desire to move the adjournment of the House in order to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz. , ‘ ‘ the delay in instituting a second shift at the Small Arms Factory.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– I hope the Government and honorable members opposite will not think that I am taking this step out of any party spirit. Notwithstanding what they may say, I assure them that nothing is further from my thoughts; but the statement made by the Assistant Minister just now in answer to a question only emphasizes the necessity of my taking the course that I am taking in order that we may get to some definite issue upon this most important matter. General statements that things are going to be .done “ as soon as possible “ are all very well. They may be very illuminating, but they are very unsatisfying. For instance, we should like to know from the Assistant Minister what the two proposed shifts are to consist of. Is it proposed that there shall be two shifts of eight hours? If so the total increase in working hours will be only four hours per day, since the men are already working twelve hours per day, and are doing so uncomplainingly.
– They have promised two ten -hour shifts, and that is known to every one.
– It is not.
– That is not the recommendation of the Department.
– It is not what the men propose, but what the Government intend to do.
– The’ men are to supply the guns.
– The honorable member will force me to read the statements of the men themselves if he interjects in this way. I do not wish to do so.
– We are in touch with the men.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong must cease interjecting.
– Let the honorable member for Maribyrnong hold his tongue as to what the men say and what they offer. I shall be compelled to deal with this matter in some other form if I am not permitted to discuss it calmly and dispassionately. I do not wish to raise any party question, but I do wish to have the matter cleared up. Reference was made in the House a few minutes ago to Mr. Lloyd George. May I remind honorable members of the difference between his action and that of this Government. Whereas Mr. Lloyd George is trying to mobilize the workers at the other end of the world - endeavouring to induce them to put every ounce of effort into the production of munitions - here, in connexion with this matter of munitions, it is the Government who will not move, and the men who are trying to force them to do so. Here the position is completely reversed. It is the men who are protesting, on behalf of their confreres in the trenches, that the Government cannot be induced to take action and to institute a second shift for the manufacture of rifles at Lithgow.
I wish to come to the point without beating about the bush, notwithstanding all the statements that have been made by the Prime Minister and his Attorney-General during the last few days that the Opposition never make any suggestions - that, as the Prime Minister said, I think, we do nothing but “ nag.” I can only say that I shall keep on “ nagging,” regarding this matter of rifles until some satisfactory decision is arrived at, no matter what the Prime Minister or any one else may say. I know Lithgow; I know, perhaps, ys much as the honorable member for Maribyrnong does of the Small Arms Factory, and I make the statement deliberately that two shifts could have been put on there six or seven months ago.
– Is there any more machinery there now than when the right honorable member went out of office?
– That interjection, which, of course, is quite friendly and. non-party, leads me to say that the Prime Minister, when speaking in this House a few nights ago, asserted that when he took office in the middle of September - and this, too, was a little nonparty interpolation by the right honorable gentleman -
No steps had been taken to provide for thu manufacture within Australia of either ordnanceor ammunition therefor.
I should like to tell the right honorable member, using one of his own expressions, that three suns had scarcely gone down after the outbreak of Avar before we engaged the services of one of the best scientists of whom we knew, and who* happened to be visiting Australia in connexion with the Science Congress. I refer to Dr. Rosenhain, whom we engaged to investigate this very matter of steel production.
– A good name!
– Dr. Rosenhain is a Melbourne-born man, a Melbourne University graduate. He was retained by the present Government after we left office, and was given, I understand, a fee of 200 guineas to report on the question of the local manufacture of steel, with a view to the production of rifles and other munitions. So much for the gratuitous, friendly statement by the Prime Minister, that when his party took office in September last they found that their predecessors had done nothing. I make this explanation in justice to that brave little man, Senator Millen, who has never had credit given him for his work, and who took prompt steps to secure, all the ability within his reach, not only to equip men and to send them oversea, but to deal with this great question of the production of steel for rifles and other munitions.
To come back to this question as it stands to-day, the outstanding feature of the situation in these last few weeks has been that the Minister of Defence and the Government had to be forced by public opinion to take the step they have recently taken. Everything was going on quite complacently, and Ave were told by the Minister,. time and again, that, in the interests pf the production of rifles, it was not advisable to start a second shift at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. He took that view, notwithstanding the deputations of the mcn who waited upon him in December, and again in January last, and asked him to institute a second shift. The Minister of Defence, after visiting the Factory, and having a conversation with the manager, decided against the men. Public opinion has had to force him and the Government upon this question of providing a second, shift at Lithgow. That cannot be denied. And what is the position now that an investigation has been made? Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Davis, and Colonel Dangar visited the Factory, and now announce that the reports made by the Public Works Committee i and the Public Accounts Committee, that two shifts could be worked, is justified on every ground and from every point of view. They also say, as those Committees have already reported, that it is possible to work two shifts at Lithgow, and, further, that the present plant, owing to the additions that have been made to it, is capable of producing 20,000 rifles per annum, on the basis of an eight-hours’* shift per day. Multiply that output by two, and you find that the Factory ought to be giving us 40,000 rifles per annum.
– Say 35,000.
– No, I can make no deduction whatever, since I believe I am giving the Government a sufficient margin to work upon when I make them a present of one eight-hours’ shift per day. Forty thousand rifles ought to be issuing from this Factory every year when two shifts are instituted.
– If the Government were serious, would they not provide for three shifts?
– Had we not hotter get, first of all, two shifts 1 I attach great importance to the report made by Mr. Davis, the Director-General of Works in New South Wales. He said that two shifts could be instituted, but that, under the proposal then in consideration, it would take three or four months. By this means, he said, men would be trained - note the language - within three or four months to enable a second shift to be working. On that report Senator Millen asked the Minister of Defence whether this three or four months could not bo shortened to two weeks - whether, instead of taking the untrained men in the Factory and training them, the Minister could not make available for himself the trained resources already in possession of private employers and the Governments of the various States. We must remember that the State Governments had said that the Commonwealth could take their men from anywhere to be used in the manufacture of munitions. That is the offer made, yet, strange to say, here is the proposal of these experts, on the assumption that untrained men from outside are to be taken and trained in the Factory. But when the question is put to Mr. Ferguson as to whether, by taking trained mechanics from outside and putting them straight on to the machinery, the time could not be reduced to a fortnight, he answers, “Yes.” Here, then, we have Mr. Ferguson forced by the exMinister of Defence to say that two shifts could be started in a fortnight if only the Commonwealth availed itself of the resources which were at its disposal.
– That is confirmed by the skilled workmen in the Factory.
– The men themselves say that there need not be any trouble, and on this point they have been insistent all along. They say that it is nonsense to suggest that there is anything occult or difficult in the machine, which can be worked by any ordinary trained man.
But a further question was put to Mr. Ferguson by the Minister of Defence, and not a question suggested bv Senator Millen, but evidently one that the Minister interposed on his own account. If ever there was a leading question, this is one. The Minister asked Mr. Ferguson to say whether he would recommend the institution of a second shift in a fortnight, in view of the effect it would have on the labour organization of the Factory ; and to that Mr. Ferguson answered. “No.” If you ask a man to say “Yes” or “No” to a question he is hound to do so; and I hope that honorable members will understand this point thoroughly. At the Factory the rule is to train unskilled labour from the bottom until it becomes highly skilled labour at the top; and Mr. Ferguson, in reply to this leading question by Senator Pearce, said that if trained men from outside were taken on for the second shift, it would prevent the unskilled men in the first shift from getting their proper promotion.
– That is all right in time of peace.
– I should think so; but ought a question such as that to be seriously asked or answered? As a matter of fact, the taking on of other men from outside need not interfere with the promotion of those in the Factory; and I make that statement without the slightest hesitation. The idea is not to keep these outside men on the second shift for ever, but only temporarily, if only for the reason that the States Governments will very naturally desire to have their skilled labour again.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that what he has indicated was the object and meaning of the question.
– I do; it is clear enough.
– I do not agree with you.
– Shall I read it?
– The question put by Senator Pearce was whether, assuming the answer to be in the affirmative^ - that a second shift could be instituted in a fortnight- and in view of all the circumstances connected with the organization of the labour at the Factory, he would recommend that course; and Mr. Ferguson said, “ No,” but he explained that there were machines there of minor importance, requiring very little skill, which could be manned by the lower-grade employees, who would be able to look to these positions as an avenue for promotion. That was Mr. Ferguson’s reply to the leading question.
– It was not a leading question.
– I say that it was, and nothing else. Why bother about the promotion of these men, if it is going to interfere with the production of rifles in time of war? Could not the questions await settlement until the war is over V Ministers have the resources of the Government behind them, and they can. insure that the men shall lose nothing in. their positions; but to say that such a consideration must interfere with the second, shift and the output of rifles is monstrous.
– That is the Public Service Commissioner operating ?
– The Public Service Commissioner has nothing whatever to do with employment at the Small’ Arms Factory. The Government havecontrol of all that labour, and they could. insure to the men in the lower positions, even if their promotion was temporarilyblocked by the employment of outsidemen, that they would not ultimately loseanything.
The attitude of the Government isincomprehensible under all the circumstances. A second shift ought to beput on within a fortnight- quite a. possible thing, according to Mr. Ferguson. The Government ought to . obtain the best and most highly-skilled labour from anywhere - from State workshops, from private workshops - and this should be done at the earliest possible moment, as a most obvious duty.
I remind the Government that they arenot so deficient in resources as the Minister . of Defence or the manager of the Factory would make out. Personally, I could give the names of seven or eight men at Cockatoo Island* who have previously worked at the Small: Arms Factory, and could go back theretomorrow to leading positions. Hundreds of men must have passed through that Factory since it was started ; and it ought to be quite possible to have them mobilized and set to work again. These are men who know the Factory, and have had experience of the machines; and yet. the Government have never’ tried to obtain their services. Let them be advertised for and well paid, and we shall find them running back. Further, there areall the expert gunmakers in Australia, and many men who have worked in the Small Arms Factories at Home ; and thereis not the slightest doubt that these men if required would place their services at the disposal of the Government. The whole question is one of organization. I- am inclined to think that the position has . arisen through sheer want” of looking into- the matter on the part of the Government, for I cannot conceive of their taking such action deliberately. The Minister of Defence himself sees the true inwardness of this thing, for he put that leading question, and got it answered - a foolish thing in the circumstances.
The Government have no right primarily to- consider the position of any men in the Factory, either from the point of view of promotion or any other point of view. As I have said, Ministers have the resources of the Government behind them, and can insure that the employees get a fair deal. The Minister could remedy any defects of that kind ; he could see that the men received their pay as if they had been promoted. If ever there is a time when the Government will b& justified in paying men a little extra for their services it is this time of wai - when the Government are asking the men to spurt. Questions of payment and promotion ought to be the last things to stand in the way of an increased output of rifles, and I plead with the Government to set aside these trumpery excuses, and to put every possible ounce of energy into the working of the second shift. Get additional men wherever hands can be laid on them ; pay them well, and get them to increase the output at the earliest, possible moment. That is the point I wish to stress this morning. The Prime Minister ought seriously to look into this matter. I have read the question put by the Minister of Defence to Mr. Ferguson, and Mr. Ferguson’s reply. The way the question was put made it hard for Mr. Ferguson to answer it otherwise.
– - Is there any evidence of delay ?
– Oh, yes. Mr. Ferguson says that he cannot recommend the beginning of a second shift in a fortnight, because of the effect such a step would have on the organization of labour in the factories. Mr. Davis has said the same thing. He has said that if we bergin training these men we may be able, in three or four months’ time, to commence the second shift, but even then we shall only be commencing with untrained men. The inquiry all along has been based on the assumption that we are to commence the second shift with unskilled men. My point is that there is plenty of skilled and trained labour available; even the men at the factory make that- fact clear. They say that it is ridiculous to talk about training men when there are available men who are already trained and competent to take their places at the machines.
The way this inquiry has been made puzzles me more than anything else. I thought the inquiry was as to how and where we could begin to manufacture additional rifles at once. That is the only point into which there ought to have been inquiry. Instead of doing that, the experts have inquired along lines laid down by the Minister, and have come to certain conclusions; they could come to no other. Everybody knows that unskilled men cannot be converted into skilled men in a moment; weeks and months are required to do that. But we can get trained engineers, and in a few days they will work the machines right enough. I hope the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence will go further into this matter. It cannot be allowed to rest here. The vague statement of the Assistant Minister cannot be allowed to pass; the situation is too serious. We wish to know what instructions have been sent to the manager. Is he to proceed along the lines of requisitioning the trained labour which the Governments of the States have placed at the disposal of the Commonwealth, or is the manager to commence the training of men, giving them promotion in the Factory, and getting the second shift in operation in three or four months? The Minister should make that matter clear to the House, and to the people.
– I do not intend to speak very long on this subject, hut I wish the House to understand that the Minister and the Government will do, and are doing, everything possible. .The oration we have heard from the right honorable member for Parramatta was quite unnecessary. It is the opinion of honorable members opposite that if the Government were determined in the handling of this matter they could have a second shift in operation in a fortnight.
– Mr. Ferguson said so.
– If that is so, I ask the right honorable gentleman why, as Leader of a Government for six weeks after the declaration of war, he> took no such step.
– That question is about up to your mental standard.
– The right honorable member said that certain tilings could be done in a fortnight, and I ask him why did not the late Government do those things? The Leader of the Opposition has told us that he was in consultation with a certain expert in metals with a view to the manufacture in Australia of steel that would be suitable for rifle barrels.
– Not that alone. We also discussed the manufacture of munitions generally and big-gun armaments.
– The right honorable member said that the discussion related to the manufacture of rifle barrels. My point is that, if the honorable member had acted as he says we should act, he would have done these things before we came into office. The very fact that the right honorable gentleman said that he was in consultation with this expert is an admission that the Small Arms Factory was in need of certain material necessary for the manufacture of rifles.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– That was the inference. I ask him whether a double shift could have been created whilst his Government were in power or during the first two or three months after the present Government came into office?
– Could we have made another rifle?
– Yes, thousands more.
– We could not.
– The’ right honorable member for Parramatta knows as well as anybody in Australia that if we had established two shifts, or even three shifts, and worked the factory full time we would have exhausted our supplies of one of the essential materials.
Several honorable members interjecting,
– I ask honorable members on my right not to persist in these interjections. I dare say the Assistant Minister is able to reply to the Leader of the Opposition without other honorable members trying to assist him.
– I call your attention, sir, to the fact that when I called “ Chair “ a few moments ago, with the object cf asking you to call honorable members to order, the honorable member for Maribyrnong said “ Hang him,” meaning you.
– If there was any reference of that kind to me it was out of order, but I did not hear any such remark.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong made that statement as he left the chamber.
– Interjections must be discontinued. I do not wish to take extreme measures, because when I do so I am blamed, but honorable members must obey the Chair, and cease interjecting, or I shall have to enforce my authority.
– I rise to a point of order. You have ruled that we may not interject, but the Assistant Minister has just made a statement that I knew that the Small Arms Factory had exhausted its supply of steel. . I told the honorable member I did not know. He declines to -accept my statement, and says I did know. I submit that the honorable member is out of order. He must accept my statement that I did not know of the shortage of steel.
– It is customary in all Parliaments for an honorable member’s disclaimer to be accepted.
– I accept the honorable member’s statement. Perhaps I may put the matter in another way.. If a second and third shift had been appointed to the Small Arms Factory during the early stages of the war, could they have been kept occupied, because of the want of materials ?
– I do not know of anything that would have prevented it.
– Material could have been imported.
– Every Ally was asking for the material that we needed.
– They are still asking for it.
– Yes, and cannot get the supplies that they need. The Leader of the Opposition knew that.
– I did not know it,, and do not know it now.
– Then I tell the right honorable member that it is so. He should know it from this on.
– I do not believe it..
– There is no justification for this attack on the Government.
It is now possible to appoint two or three shifts, because we have obtained the material that we need.
– A second shift could have been started months ago.
– That is not so. What did the manager of the Factory say?
– Inquiries have been made by the Public Works Committee, the Public Accounts Committee, and bodies of experts, who have visited Lithgow, and reported to the Government. The reports of all these bodies have been sent to the manager and to the assistant manager of the Factory, and the instruction has been given to the manager that a second shift is to commence work forthwith. What more does the right honorable member want? What more can we do?
– On what lines has the Government acted - on the lines of Mr. Ferguson’s first report, or along the lines of the second? Is this to be done within a fortnight, or three or four months’ hence?
– The Minister’s instruction to the manager of the Small Arms Factory is that he is to put on a second shift forthwith, with a view to turning out as many rifles as can be turned out.
– Has the Minister instructed Mr. Wright to procure trained men from outside for the second shift?
– The Minister has instructed Mr. Wright to get the best labour available. We have not tied him down to anything. If he needs engineers from Sydney or from any other part of Australia we have no objection to his getting them. He has to get the best mechanical labour available, so that he can expedite work as efficiently as possible.
Honorable members interjecting,
– I have told honorable members several times that they must not interject, and I now give the House fair warning that I shall name the first honorable member who interjects from either side.
– Does the Leader of the Opposition think that the Government is going to send instructions to the manager of the Factory to take on men who are practically apprentices ? Does he think that the Minister would instruct the manager of the Factory to take on raw recruits T
– May I answer the question ?
– The Minister must address the Chair.
– I wish to know if the Leader of the Opposition thinks that the Government would send instructions to the manager of the Lithgow Factory telling him to employ unskilled mon? We were charged by him this morning with practically having done that. We should never dream of doing such a thing. We have enough sense to know that to get two shifts working under proper conditions it is essential that the manager of the Factory shall have a free hand in the employment of labour at this juncture. If he gets skilled mechanics from any part of Australia there will be no opposition from the Government. The whole trend of the arguments of the Leader of the Opposition was that the Minister desires to put unskilled men into the Factory, so that they may be trained there, although their services will be of practically no value for three or six months to come. We are not tying the manager down to any instructions as to the men who are to be employed; the members of the Opposition may relieve their minds on that score. We have also ascertained from the municipality of Lithgow that suitable quarters can be provided there forthwith for about 250 men. I hope that we shall hear very little more about this business. I am inclined to think that it has been made the most of as a political move against the Government.
– I entirely repudiate that suggestion.
– I am very pleased to hear that. I hope that the right honorable member will accept my assurance that we are going to do the best thing possible under the circumstances. We realize as well as the members of the Opposition do the seriousness of the position. We are not so devoid of common sense that we would send unskilled men into the Factory to form a second shift. We wish to have as many rifles turned out as possible, and the Minister is doing everything to that end. As to munitions of war, everything possible is being done-
– I did not ‘discuss that question.
– The Leader of the Opposition confined his motion to the Small Arms Factory.
– I purposely confined it to the one question.
– The last word I have to say is that the Government yesterday sent an urgent telegram to the manager of the Factory, telling him to use every possible means to give effect to the recommendations of the Committees and experts that had reported in favour of a second shift.
– Who is managing the Factory?
- Mr. Wright is still in charge, hut the assistant manager has a big say in the control of matters. We are doing everything possible under the circumstances, and I am sure that now that the Leader of the Opposition has been informed of these facts, he ought to accept them as final so far as the present position is concerned.
.- I felt very warmly about the management of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, but the statement of the Minister has thrown a new light on the position. The fact that we are short of steel-
– There is plenty of steel.
– When was it made available? ‘
– Steel has been available for a considerable time past.
– For how many weeks ?
– Since the 12th May.
– The report of the Public Works Committee has been presented for- more than a month.
-The Prime Minister was not here when I warned the House that I would name the first member who interjected! There was excuse, therefore, for him, though none for the honorable member for Wimmera, whose offence, however, I shall overlook on this occasion.
– If the statements of the Minister are correct, odium has been thrown on the Government which they do not deserve. The honorable member for Wimmera, who, by this interjecting, is qualifying for a seat outside in the wet, evidently thinks that he has some knowledge on the subject which should be made public, and I have been informed by a member of the Public Works Committee that a witness stated on oath that a supply of steel had been available for a considerable time. The Government, therefore, should make the facts very clear. If there has been a supply of steel available for any length of time, some one should be dealt with. In other countries the offender would be stood up against a wall and shot. I again urge the Government to adopt the suggestion to appoint a Minister of Munitions, notwithstanding the fact that the suggestion comes from the Opposition. If the honorable member for Maranoa were sent to Lithgow, the second shift would be started there within ten days. He would not waste time making inquiries. Yesterday I questioned the Assistant Minister of Defence on this matter, and was asked to give notice of my question. This morning the reply furnished was “ As SOOn as possible.” It is only when he was pinned down by the Leader of the Opposition that the honorable gentleman told the House what he should have said yesterday, that the instruction had been sent to Lithgow that a second shift must be started forthwith. This dodging of questions is had, because the public and honorable members are entitled to know these things. I was prepared to say some hard things about the Government and the Minister relative to the Small Arms Factory, but, after the Minister’s statement, I shall not do so. Members of the Public Works Committee tell us that there is plenty of material available, but the Minister says that it is not so. It is, therefore, difficult to know who is to blame. The Minister accuses the Leader of the Opposition of raising the matter for party purposes, and has asked why he did not authorize a second shift. A report of some length, by the head of the Amalgamated Engineers at Lithgow, was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which it is stated that a second shift could have been started long ago, everything being available. Ministers and. others must have read these reports. Naturally those who have kith and kin fighting at the front ask, “Why is the Government content merely to make inquiries?” The Public Works Committee, the Finance Committee, and two or three other Committees have visited Lithgow to ascertain what any man could have found out on the spot in ten minutes.
– Will the honorable member accept the statement of the Chairman of the Public Works Committee ?
– Certainly. We should have a statement from the Committee, though I am prepared to accept what the Minister has said. The Prime Minister would not have supported him had he not known his statements to be true. But we should know when there was the necessary material on hand. Many well-wishers of the Prime Minister, who disagree with him in politics, are asking, “Why does Mr. Fisher permit this delay.” I ask the right honorable member to let us know who is to blame, Some one is to blame if the material has been available for any length of time, and the man responsible for the muddle should be punished. Parliament and the public will not be satisfied until they know when the necessary material was available, why it was not available earlier, and why this scandalous delay has occurred. Let the Chairman of the Public Works Committee, which has dealt with this case, give us the facts. If the man who is responsible for the delay occupies a public position he should be hunted out of it.
– I regret very much that a second shift has not been started at the Small Arms Factory before this. .1 believe it could have been started. I regret that after the Public Works Committee made its report to the Minister of Defence, and after the Finance Committee made its report, the Minister should have seen fit to send another Committee of Experts to go over the work the two Committees had done. I think that has been responsible for some delay. The facts of the case, so far as concerns the Public Works Committee should, I think, be made clear to the House. When the Committee visited Lithgow everybody was anxious that a double shift should be established for the rapid production of more rifles. The Government was very anxious on the same point. I remember meeting the Prime Minister on the afternoon that we left for Lithgow. I told him where we were going, and he said to me, “ Hurry up with your report, so that we can get more rifles.” We brought in our report on the advisability of the double shift being established’^ somewhat hurriedly because of this anxiety. I do not think there is any question that the men are very willing - to assist the Government. They areprepared to work two shifts of twelve hours each if necessary, so that I do not think there is likely to be any trouble in : that respect. We heard evidence from the manager of the Factory in camera, and he assured the Committee that up to very recently there had not- been a sufficient supply of the particular kind of steel known as acid steel to warrant theintroduction of a second shift. We called upon Mr. Hoskins at Lithgow, and asked’ him what . he could do to facilitate the production of this steel, and he told us that he would have to- erect a special furnace. The manager subsequently pointed out to the Committee that supplies of steel, were coming forward on every steamer, and we had similar evidence from the agent of the firm which supplies the steel, with the assurance that he would do all he could to obtain additional supplies. But the chief point made was that up to that time there had not been sufficient steel in the factory to keep two shifts going. We were told also that there was not a sufficient supply of wood for the manufacture of rifle butts, because a consignment which was leaving the Old Country at the time the war broke out was commandeered by ‘ the British Government. The result of this was that our own stocks were depleted, and the management had to look round for Australian wood to take its place. The discovery was made that there was an abundant supply at Canberra and other places of well-seasoned timber. Now wood is coming along, and I think that within the last six weeks there has been quite sufficient to keep two shifts going.
– Was anyone held responsible for the limitation in the supply of steel?
– That is a matter I do not wish to go into. I do not want to blame the late Government or any Government for failing to see how the war was going to develop. The late Government, which was in power when the outbreak of hostilities occurred, could not have seen even six months or twelve monthsahead. Therefore, I do not want to blame the late Minister or anybody else for not ordering supplies. The demand for rifles which suddenly sprang up could? not possibly have been foreseen. When the war broke out the Government tried to get further supplies of steel, but the same class of material was wanted in every other part of the world, and there was naturally a shortage.
– Is it not the severest condemnation of the management that there were no reserves of steel, if that be true?
– If I were .to answer that question I should say that the manager of the Factory was under the control of my honorable friend’s Government during the twelve months preceding the war, but I do not want to blame the manager or the Government.. All these things were unforeseen. What I want to say is that now supplies are coming forward there should not be a moment’s delay in establishing two shifts. The Government will receive the hearty co-operation of the men and of all concerned, and I trust there will be no laxity, but that the Government will act. I should like to point out, however, that since the war broke out there has been a gradual increase in the output from the Small Arms Factory. I believe that the Factory is now producing 50 per cent, more rifles than it did at the beginning of the war. That has necessitated a larger staff, and larger supplies of steel and wood. I quote this as showing that everything at the Factory is working splendidly at the present time, and I think the Government owes a debt of gratitude to the men employed there. They have stood on their feet from 7 in the morning till 9 o’clock at night doing their very best to meet the demands that have been made upon them. I believe everything possible has been done to increase the number of rifles from the Factory under the circumstances operating, and I hope attempts will not now be made to blame either the present or the late Government, but that satisfactory developments will be made at the Factory to meet the end we all have in view.
– I think the Leader of the Opposition is to be complimented for having brought this matter forward in order that public attention may be drawn to it, with a view to immediate effect being given to the two reports which have already been sent in recommending the establishment of a second shift. The chief trouble in connexion with the Factory, so far as regards the failure of the Government to establish two shifts, has been that first of all the manager was against this course, and that the Minister did not exercise the necessary driving power and tell the manager that it should be done. I do net intend to discuss the position prior to the issue of the report by the Public Works Committee, but the Committee, after the fullest investigation, came to the conclusion that there were no disabilities in the way of an immediate start, not only of a double shift, but of shifts occupying the whole twenty-four hours if need be. That was the unanimous conclusion arrived at by the Committee. It does seem extraordinary that the suggestion of additional shifts should have been objected to by the manager right up to the time the Committee carried on its inquiry. The inquiry found it was quite possible to institute a second shift at once.
– But what about the supply of steel?
– I will deal with that question shortly. The members of the Public Works Committee were very anxious to make the strictest investigation, so that they might make a reliable recommendation to Parliament. The first witness examined was the manager of the factory, who stated that it was impracticable to work two shifts. When we asked him why, he* gave us a myriad of reasons. He said th.:re was difficulty in obtaining, labour, and that if two eighthour shifts were put on at once it would not increase the output over the twelve hours’ shift then being worked. When it was pointed out to him that labour might be supplied as the result of the patriotic offers on the part of the State Governments to supply all the necessary skilled labour, his objection was removed, and he then raised the objection that it would be difficult to house the men in Lithgow. When it was pointed out to him that this objection might be overcome by the residents of Lithgow, he passed on to another objection, and said there was a shortage of material. When we asked him to point out what particular class of material was short, he said that difficulties existed in regard to the supplies of wood. Yet when we asked him whether it was not possible, out of the great resources of Australia, to find sufficient wood of a quality good enough for rifle manufacture, he said he thought it might be possible to get over that difficulty by association with the Home Affairs Department, which has a stock of seasoned timber on hand. We asked him if there was any mechanical difficulty, and that eventually was brushed on one side. It was only by the most searching inquiry and interrogation that we were able to drag from the manager of the factory an admission of the possibility of two shifts being worked, and to brush away one after another the objections that were brought forward. We found that the material was there, that it had been possible to work the double shift for some time, and, that being the case, I think we have reason to be somewhat suspicious regarding the official statement of the supplies of material prior to our inquiry. The agent who supplied the steel, in his evidence before the Committee, did not give any indication that it would not have been possible to increase supplies if the Government had only given an order. He stated that there was a three-years’ contract in operation for the supply of steel, and that, though he had only supplied the requirements of the contract, yet his firm was well in advance of supply, and had been for some time. In my opinion, the whole trouble is that the Defence Department has accepted the recommendation of the manager, and has accepted the objections raised by him as being sufficient for delaying the second shift instead of giving the definite instruction that the second shift was absolutely imperative, and that, if that management was not prepared to establish it, other means would have to be taken of doing so. The chief difficulties in regard to the establishment of a second shift are those of men, material, and housing accommodation, but the Committee, as the results of its investigation, pointed out that all these difficulties may promptly be overcome. In its report the Committee state that “ it was ascertained, after evidence, that the factory has sufficient steel in hand to enable it to double its output for twelve months without exhausting its’ supply. The Committee is also sanguine that further supplies will be available.” The clause in the report stating this, which is the unanimous view of the Committee, is clear evidence that with the stocks on hand, and- the stocks on the water, it would have been possible, for some time prior to the Committee’s investigation, to institute a second shift.
– »How long have they been working one and a half shifts per day?
– For several months.
– It is longer than that.
– In the face of the evidence submitted, I am naturally suspicious at the present moment of the objections that have been put in the way of the institution of a second shift by the manager, Mr. Wright.
– Did not the manager of the works state that the institution of a second shift would mean a reduced rather than an increased output for the first three months?
– He said that they were at present working a twelve-hours’ shift per day, and that two shifts of eight hours would not mean an increased output. That statement on his part to the Public Works Committee was immediately followed by the evidence of the President of the Skilled Workers Union, Mr. Cornwell, who told us that the men had intimated to the Department their willingness to institute a second shift; that they believed two shifts should be worked and two shifts, not of eight hours each, as suggested by the manager, but of twelve hours each. He went further, and said that, if necessary, in time of war the men were prepared to work for three Sundays out of four. This witness is one of the foremen of the tools branch of the Factory, which is the most skilled department of labour in the whole establishment. He told us that there was no difficulty in the way of the immediate institution of a second shift; that if the necessary additional labour were provided, then, as a practical man, he would say that a second shift could be at once started, and that within a few weeks after they should be able to increase greatly the output of .the Factory. The Public Works Committee has unanimously recommended an increase to the extent of 70 per cent. A lot of the talk that has been indulged in regarding skilled labour in the Factory is, in my opinion, quite beside the murk. Captain - Clarkson, who has investigated the manufacture of small arms all over the world, told the Public Works Committee that only a small percentage of skilled labour is required in such factories. At Lithgow we have half-a-dozen foremen and a similar number of section hands who, outside the tool branch, represent chiefly the skilled labour in the establishment, and, according to the sworn evidence of Mr. Cornwell, the skilled workers in the factory arc prepared to heartily cooperate with their fellow-workmen, when a second shift is started, in making the new hands familiar with their duties. I hold that there was no possible excuse for any further investigation after the reports of the Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee had been presented. The Minister should have peremptorily directed the manager of the Factory to institute at once a second shift. The necessary material was in hand, the residents of Lithgow had patriotically promised to house the additional hands required, the State Government offered the skilled labour, the co-operation of the skilled workers was assured, and a second shift should have been ordered by the Minister immediately upon the receipt of our reports. A want of driving power has been shown in the Department, and this is responsible for the delay of a month that has taken place, since the issue of our reports, in starting a second shift. I am glad that the management have at last been instructed by the Minister of Defence to start a second shift forthwith. But something more than a mere instruction to the manager is necessary. An outside business man of organizing capacity should he engaged to get into communication with the States Governments with the object of at once sending to the works the skilled labour necessary to provide for the second shift. If the provision of these additional skilled hands be dealt with in a purely departmental manner there will be further delay. I therefore hope that the instruction given by the Minister to the Factory manager to start a second shift will be supplemented by the organization necessary to supply at once the additional skilled labour required, and that we shall hear very speedily that the machinery in the Factory, instead of running only two eight-hour shifts per day, as recommended by Mr. Davis and the manager, will be set to work for the whole twenty-four hours per day. That is quite possible, and ought to be brought about without anyfurther delay.
– I am glad that this question has been brought up, although at the outset I was inclined tothink that it should not have been.
– Because there is a shortage of steel, and that, I think, wasknown to the right honorable member.
– Honorable members opposite now say that we should have told the people everything. I would remind them, however, that Governments are not appointed to tell the enemy everything.
– Nothing that we might do could affect the enemy very much.
– The right honorablegentleman is as patriotic as any of us, and I think he will admit that it is for the Government of the day to take what action it thinks fit. My information is that until some five or six weeks ago the supply of steel was sufficient only to keep the Factory going at its then rate of production, and that if the output had been accelerated the Factory, after a time,, would have had to close down.
– That is what the Factory people say.
– That was the advicegiven to the Minister of Defence.
– But it is said that supplies of steel are now available.
– We directed our energies to an effort to obtain supplies ;. happily a supply has been secured, and steel is now being landed here. If thecharge made by the Opposition is that a second shift should have been inaugurated’ three weeks or a month ago, then I canonly say that, in the absence of the limitation to which I have just referred, itwould be a good one. But my information is that that limitation has actuallyexisted. The management, in additionto the Ministry, has been challenged. I’ would say now to Australians, as I havesaid on many other occasions, that they appear to attach a higher value to theability of others than they do to their own. In the view of many, nothing can be done by Australians unless an experts from abroad is secured to guide them, although that expert, as a matter of fact, may know far less than is known by many- men in our own country. To those who come from oversea the weight which Australians attach to the opinion of an expert merely because that expert comes from another country is absolutely astounding. The Leader of the Opposition said that the late Government retained the services’ of Dr. Rosenhain to report on the local production of steel for the manufacture of rifles and other munitions.
– Is he a German ?
– I do not know.
– He is a Melbourne University man.
– The question of his nationality has nothing to do with us. The point is that he was retained by the late Government as an expert to report on the manufacture of steel for the production of guns and other munitions.
– That is so.
– After coming into office I had an interview with Dr. Rosenhain, and found that he had not even begun the preparation of his report.
– He had not had time.
– I had two serious interviews with him, and intimated to him my desire that we should get down to bed-rock facts. He spoke of an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds on the establishment of testing laboratories, and I asked him to set down i n writing what he proposed . Since leaving Australia he has furnished to us a statement on . the subject. His scheme, however, is useless to meet present requirements. It could not be carried out in time to enable us to produce steel for use in this war. It is something that is in the dark and distant future. It may be good or bad, but that is the position, and it will be my duty to lay before the Cabinet the statement - it could not by any means be called a complete reportwhich Dr. Rosenhain has made. He has, I believe, received a fee of four hundred guineas. I think the agreement with the Leader of the Opposition was that he should receive such a fee. He proposes to make a further report after he has consulted with other scientists. I take the view that the time has come when Australians should be prepared, to avail themselves of the services of their own scientists. We have an analyst of our own - Mr. Wilkinson - who is probably as capable, as clever, and as keen as is this expert, whose services were retained by the late Government.
– Why has not the Prime Minister begun with him ? He knew of this man.
– I think I shall, if I can do so; but we must be careful lest we be denounced for passing over known scientists for a practical man. The question -of professional etiquette has also to be considered. Even in time of war, it would seem, we must not employ a practical man to do the work of a scientific expert.
– Does the Prime Minister say that Mr. Wilkinson is a specialist in the manufacture of steel ?
– No’ ; but he is an analyst of capacity.
– He has a European reputation.
– When Australians are prepared to say ‘ ‘ An Australian reputation is good enough for us,” then, and not till then, shall we begin to do things for ourselves. The Government, so far as it can take the responsibility for all that has happened, accepts it. We have done our best; we may have erred.
I should have liked to see the Small Arms Factory managed in a different way, but in order to make an alteration it would have been necessary to change the manager, Mr. Wright. He said that certain things could not be done which we wanted done. He reported that a second shift was impracticable, and, probably, if I had been an autocrat I should have said to him, “ You had better retire.” It is only fair to Mr. Wright to say that he has never wavered in the position taken up by him. He came here with a reputation as an upright, honorable, capable man, of recognised ability, who had been employed by a first class firm, and I understand that that firm has asked for his services again at a higher salary than he has been receiving here. But their methods and our methods are not identical. That is the whole point. A man is not to be condemned because he cannot fit himself into our circumstances.
– This man has not risen to our situation.
– No. It is no reflection upon him to say that he cannot fit himself into our wants and needs.
– He cannot rise to the occasion.
– I am not here to condemn him, and I ought not to do so; but it seems to me that the Commonwealth Government must take a risk in thismatter. I have here some evidence given before the Public Works Committee on 6th May last, which may be useful as throwing a light upon the question of the practicability or otherwise of working two shifts.
– Has the evidence been published ?
– I do not wish to read it if I ought not to do so.
– It is all right.
– Mr. Wright, when before the Committee, said -
In the first place, the locality has not a large enough mechanical population to supply the number of men needed for this work. In the second place, if another 500 men were engaged for the Factory, where are they to be housed? What we would have to pay to men for night work, if the second shift were operated, would bc regulated by the arbitration award. The mere fact of having to pay 900 men does not influence me against working two shifts, but that is practically impossible.
– Is that the evidence of the manager?
– I understand so.
– Where was the impossibility ?
– I merely wish to show what the exact position is; here we have the manager using strong language to the effect that a second shift was practically impossible.
-For the reasons given, I presume?
– Reasons for which the honorable member for the district knows there is no foundation.
– I do not desire to minimize what has been said by the honorable member for the district. The evidence proceeds -
The plant in these workshops, when first established, was one of the best I ever saw, and there was no better plant to be bought in England. As a matter of fact, the establishment of this plant in Australia has been the means of agood many hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of this same machinery being installed in the Enfield and Birmingham factories, and also in Indian, German, and French factories. I do not think the output could be increased by the duplication of certain parts only, because all the machines we have are specially designed for this work, and are running a little below their normal capacity.
That is surely clear enough!
– Surely the Prime Minister does not think that these are cogent reasons against the second shift?
– I am now merely showing what is the opinion of the manager of the Factory. This manager was employed by a previous Government, and his services have been retained by the present Government; and he is the principal adviser we have. The Government are bound to respect his evidence. He proceeded to say -
In the present calendar year we have had hard luck, because on account of the quality of the metal we had to give the barrels special treatment. That fact threw us behind to some extent….. We ran into a lot of poor material. That may or may not have been our own fault; but, at any rate, we had to give it special treatment to bring it up to the standard. That trouble threw us behind; but now our output is steadily increasing. . … Our steel contracts were let about a year ago, and represented ample provision for the manufacture of 60,000 rifles. Nobody anticipated an outbreak of war, but we ordered supplies for three years. We have not obtained all the material because of the outbreak of war. We also ordered the wood for 15,000 butt stocks, in addition to the wood for 25,000 stocks we had in hand. The front stocks and hand-guards did not arrive at that time - they were taken off the ship last November….. We cannot work two shifts for these reasons: In the first place, we cannot get an additional 400 men who are sufficiently trained, or who possess any mechanical capability at all to better the output of the Factory. If men are brought from Sydney there is no housing accommodation for them when they come. It has been suggested that we should accommodate themen in tents; but the class of artisan we require for a Factory of this description cannot be induced to put up with that sort of accommodation.
That is pretty clear.
– Read what is on the next page.
– The reasons are summarized at the bottom of page 23.
– The manager went on to say -
Assuming the labour were available, the principal obstacle in the way of working two shifts at the present time is the insufficiency of material to carry the Factory on for any length of time. Altogether we have in hand material for about eight months’ work.
– Eight months’ supply!
– Further -
There are further supplies of iron and steel in prospect, but not of wood. Australian timber could be used if a supply of seasoned timber were available; but green timber is of no use for our work….. My view is that there would be no advantage in working two shifts, and then having to shut the Factory because of lack of material to continue. It would be better to keep going as we are doing now. Briefly summarized, the obstacles to the working of two shifts are the obtaining of trained men, the housing o£ the men if they were obtained, and the procuring of sufficient supplies of raw material.
I think I have read that part referred to by the honorable member for Wimmera.
– That is the ‘part I meant.
– I find that my time has expired, and I have only to say that I have endeavoured to put both sides of the question.
– This discussion has, I think, been quite justified by the information we have gained. It would appear. that Ministers do not now intend to follow any longer the advice of the expert officer by whom they have hitherto been guided. The extracts read from the evidence of that gentleman are very emphatic; but I understand now that instructions have been issued that a second shift shall be instituted “ as soon as possible,” though what that means I do not know.
– We shall go right on with it.
– This is a matter that affects every member of the community, and need not be discussed as between Government and Opposition. Unless I have been very much misinformed, the deficiency in the supply of arms is not only a trouble of to-day, but has been a trouble for the last six months. Indeed, I was informed confidentially - though, now the troops are gone, the necessity for confidence has passed - that troops in my own State had their departure delayed for some three months or so owing to this cause. The Government ought to have been aware all along that the supply of arms was insufficient.
– We were quite aware of that. »
– -Every effort should have been made, months ago, to turn out arms more quickly. This Small Arms Factory has been a cause of trouble and irritation from the beginning, and has never fulfilled our expectations regarding it. There was great delay in the starting of operations ; and I do not think I should be very wide of the mark if I were to say that the issue of the first rifle was not within two years of the time expected. The Government are, I think, to blame for their lack of candour to the
House, and to honorable members who ask questions. I do not think that the disastrous war would be in any way affected by the fact that we could manufacture 20,000 more rifles in a year; no one knows the supplies we have in hand, and, even if it were known, it would not matter, so long as we are doing our best, and can do no more. Much of the trouble that the Government are experiencing is created by their lack of candour, and withholding information that should be supplied.
– We were asked from oversea to take the course we did.
– Yesterday, for instance, I asked a very simple question as to whether three shifts were to be established, what the increase of output would be if three shifts of eight hours were instituted, and when the extra shifts would be at work. The answer should have been as simple as the question, but I was informed that an expert committee consisting of certain officers and persons had been appointed to inquire and report on the quickest and best method of instituting a second shift, that extracts from the reports of this Committee had been laid on the table, and that full reports, portions of which were confidential, had been handed to the Leader of the Opposition in each House. Now, I did not want all that information, but merely a straightforward answer to the simple questions I asked. If I had been told that it was not expedient in the interests of the country for the .Government to say more, I should have been satisfied. But there is reason to complain of a lack of straightforward answers to straightforward questions, and information which honorable members have not asked for should not be given instead. We ought to know when the second shift is to be instituted, and what the effect of it will be. Of course, it is the duty of Ministers to defend public officers as far as is reasonable and proper, in order that they who cannot speak for themselves, may not be sacrificed; but, in view of the extracts read this morning, it seems to me that the manager of this Factory has not risen to the occasion, and that he apparently has failed to realize the terrible necessity there is to cast every consideration on one side in order to provide proper equipment for our men. The suggestion about the second shift affecting the pensions or positions of some officers
After the war is one that is not worthy of consideration.
– That did not weigh with us.
– The Government are in a position to do justice to every man in public employment, and I regard that reason or suggestion .is an absurd, ridiculous, and foolish one. The Government are to blame for their paying too much attention to their expert officer. Of course, it is quite right that expert opinion of the kind should be considered, but it is now quite clear that the manager has changed his mind, for a second shift is to be instituted.
– He is compelled to do so.
– Then he is not the man for us. We require a man who can rise to the occasion, and do his utmost at all times to see that our men are properly armed for service at the front. The Prime Minister himself should take this matter in hand, and insist on what is necessary being done. The Factory should be kept working the whole twentyfour hours.
– Somebody would move if I did that !
– The right honorable gentleman could do it; at any rate, I have done it before this. We ought to know exactly what we can do, and when we can do it; and if the honorable gentleman will place the House in possession of the necessary information, ne may rely on our help and assistance.
Mr. CARR (Macquarie) [12.201.- If I may say so, it is only fair to myself that I should let the House and “the country know that, so far from attempting to harass the Government, I have been doing all I possibly can to help them. At the same time, every one is justified at a juncture like this, when there is a general outcry, in frankly expressing his opinion. And I may add that there is some justification for a little added emphasis now, because this matter, which has been all too long delayed, is still being delayed. It seems to me that there is a sort of a curse on its progress . Three or four weeks ago the second shift was to be initiated, hut one difficulty after another has been raised to prevent anything definite being done. The objections that are made are surprising. The latest obstacle placed in the way of the effective working of the Factory is that Hie authorities are con templating the removal of the Factory to Canberra, and because of that possibility the Lithgow people hesitate about incurring expense in providing accommodation for the extra workmen. I am not prepared to say that Lithgow is the only place in Australia where a Small Arms Factory should be established, but I do say it is the best place, and that at this particular time it is the height of folly to introduce a debatable question of that sort, because it means thwarting the efforts of the Government to get the work done.
– Do you mean to say that the Government have seriously proposed the transfer to Canberra?
– Most seriously. The Home Affairs Department, backed up by the manager, Mr. Wright, is now stating that there is not room for the extension of i ho Factory so as to accommodate extra machinery, and that to acquire additional land would cost too much. With regard to the accommodation of the men, the Lithgow people are not going to lay out a lot of money in providing houses when there is a possibility that, in a year or two, the Factory will he moved to some other place. However, the townspeople are willing to accommodate any extra workmen sent to Lithgow. The residents are very patriotic, and any man who has a spare room in his house will make it available. That, however, is only a temporary arrangement; we cannot expect it to last long. Permanent accommodation must be provided. The honorable member for Wimmera has told the House how the manager’s objections to the second shift gradually vanished as they were probed before the Works Committee. To my mind, it is the height of absurdity that this Factory has not been forced into working three shifts per day. We know that the# material was in hand for at least eight months’ work, and if that work had been compressed into only two months, so much the better. No one can convince me that there are not enough men available to work the machines. Any trained engineer requires only a design and a lathe, and he will produce the work. I have been told by the secretary of the Lithgow branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers that there are plenty of members of the society who are prepared to do the work. By the employment of 100 or 200 of those members, the necessity for any preliminary training would be dispensed with. Had that been done, we could have compressed the material for eight months’ work into one month or two months, and supplied promptly an article that is badly needed.
– Mr. Davis says that the plant is badly balanced.
– Even if it is badly balanced, three shifts would still give approximately treble the production of one shift. There has been a lamentable lack of initiative right through. There are machines available in Australia that could have supplemented the machinery at Lithgow. There are machines at the Factory, such as the forge hammer, which could do enough work for three factories, and other implements to augment the production by the other portions of the plant are to be had in the Commonwealth factories. All that was needed was an advertisement for machines suitable for this class of work. The Government were offered machinery at Randwick worth £70,000, and a large proportion of that could have been utilized for increasing the output of rifles. The objection as to the supplies of wood for rifle stocks is simply ludicrous. Any large firm engaged in the timber trade carries large stocks of seasoned timber which could have been utilized by the Small Arms Factory. I venture to say that the harvester manufacturers have in stock hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of wood which is three and four years old, and people engaged in manufacturing furniture and billiard-tables have also large stocks, which could be utilized by the Government. It seems to me that there is something almost treasonable taking place at Lithgow. As the right honorable member for Swan has said, the Minister should have been at Lithgow and set the factory going properly, and sent out of the way any man who was an impediment to the speeding-up of the establishment. At a critical time like this, when the lack of munitions means a loss of valuable lives at the front, any drastic action would be justified. I have no patience with the delay that has taken place. The excuses made to-day will not hold water. I have always taken that view. Neither have I any sympathy for the mysterious silence that has been preserved. No one can convince me that the intentions of the
German raiders would have been in the slightest degree affected by any knowledge that may have gone to them from Australia.
– Were the Minister’sremarks this morning merely excuses or statements of facts ?
– I say that I do not agreewith the Minister’s view in regard to thenecessity for secrecy. It was immaterial whether the German raiders knew this orthat about Australia.
– They knew everything.
– Very likely they knew more than we could tell them. I have not the least time for all this talk about, the Small Arms Factory. All men,, whether holders of stocks or possessors of trained ability, ought to have been calledfrom all quarters of Australia ‘ to helpthe Government in making the Factory efficient.
.- A fewmoments ago the Prime Minister informed the House that the scarcity of steel wasa reason for the delay in starting the second shift. Does the right honorablegentleman know that 1,000 tons of steel would be sufficient to keep the Factory going for twelve months? Australia, is in touch with Japan and America by cable, and supplies could have been ordered and landed in the Commonwealth in three or four weeks.
Debate interrupted under standing-, order 119:
In Committee of Sup-ply (Consideration* resumed from 16th June, vide page 4058. )
– I rise to make a few general observations concerning the famous Postal Department of Australia. A couple of days ago we were challenged by the AttorneyGeneral to say whether the management of our public utilities had not beena great success.
– We have penny postage, and it is paying.
– I am speakingof the management of our public utilities, and the honorable member meets me withan interjection about the advantages of penny postage. We could have halfpenny postage, or even send twenty letters for a penny, if we were content to pay for the privilege. I wish only to deal with the management. A general statement might be made that the management of public utilities is good or bad, to the extent that the management is or is not made efficient by those responsible for it. Public utilities may be badly managed just as private utilities may be, and are, badly managed.
– The only difference is that the private concern bursts and the Government Department does not.
– The Government Department does not burst, because every year that the publc utilities make a huge deficit, the Treasurer delves his hands into the people’s pockets and balances the ledger. That is why “ she does not bust.” If the Post Office were under the same limitations as apply to private enterprise, it would have “busted” long ago. I say that public utilities should justify themselves on business grounds, and the reason why some of our public utilities do not “ bust “ - to adopt this Yankee term - is that the private enterprises of Australia are made to find the money necessary to prevent it. At the end of every year the PostmasterGeneral dips his hand into the public till, and takes out millions of pounds to square the ledger of his Department.
Let me draw attention to the financial position of the Department during a series of years. For the year 1904-5 there was a surplus of £39,000, and for the next year 1906-7 a surplus of £162,000, but the following year there was a deficit of £45 000. then deficits annually of £202 000, £55 000, £437,000, £1,428,000, £2,208,000, and £2,088,000. For the year just ending the deficit is £2,739,000, from which £425,000 of loan money has to be deducted, making it £2,300,000. For the year just closing the estimated receipts of the Postmaster-General’s Department were £4,566.000, and the estimated expenditure £7,305,000. Those who talk of the business success of our public utilities should keep these figures in the back ground. I do not say that the figures themselves should be taken in their bare bones, so to speak; they must, of course, be regarded in the light of the advantages secured by thepublic from the operations of the Department. There would be no justification at all for these huge deficits, which total about £8,500,000, if there were no compensating advantages. A private enterprise whose financial operations were like those of the Post Office would have “ busted “ long ago. But with regard to our public utilities we say to the taxpayers every year, “ You must make good the deficit and square the ledger.”
In my judgment it is time that business principles were applied to the management of the particular public utility under discussion, and it is for that reason that I have given the figures just read. As I say, they are not to be regarded in their bare, naked outline; in considering them every compensation is to be weighed in the scale. My own conviction is that the Post Office is not being managed on business lines. Were it so managed, the loss would be a great deal less.
– Who is responsible for that?
– I am not blaming any Government in particular; the responsibility must be shared between the Governments that have wanted either the opportunity or the courage to deal with this problem. Financially the Department is drifting to leeward more and more rapidly every year. Certainly it is not to be classed as a revenue-producing Department.
– I think that the publicis willing to nurse this baby. I have had no complaints.
– The public will nurse the baby so long as it thinks it is getting fair benefits from its expenditure, but it has a right to expect 20s. worth of service for every sovereign that it spends on the Post Office.
– People are always clamouring for increased postal facilities.
– No doubt, but the tendency of big business operations is to increase advantages and to decrease prices. That is what the big business concerns are doing all over the world. They can decrease prices, and yet make a profit because of the greater efficiency, and because of the narrow margin on which they trade. Honorable members would be amazed if they knew how narrow are the margins upon which huge profits are made by the trusts. Sometimes a margin of one-eighth of one penny will .make all the difference. It is the volume of business done that makes the profits so huge. I do not say that trusts, if given the opportunity, will not exploit the public - we must be on our guard against that all the time - but every one knows that big businesses can be managed more economically and efficiently than small ones, and that tremendous profits for distribution amongst shareholders can be built up on very small margins.
It does not follow that because the facilities given by the Post Office are increased, its towering deficit should increase year by year. What the Government should do, and what the last Government intended to do if it got the opportunity, is to put this huge institution under capable business control. There ought then to be no reduction of public facilities, but the taxpayer should pay less for the advantages given.
– According to the figures read by the right honorable member the’ deficit now is six times as large as it was five years ago.
– Yes, and over a period of ten years it totals £8,500,000. We were challenged this week by the Attorney-General to impugn, if we dared, the management of our public utilities. I do not suggest the curtailment of the facilities offered by the Post Office, but I am profoundly convinced that were expert management applied to its operations it would cost us very much less than it does now. I hope that Ministers will take their courage in both hands. Were effect given to my suggestion, the PostmasterGeneral would be relieved of much worry. Let the Post Office be managed on business lines, reserving to the Government the right to direct its policy, as the Governments of the States direct their railway policies. This problem cannot be allowed to drift much further. It is getting worse every year, and it will continue to get worse until better methods of management are adopted. Only by a strong, courageous, resolute course of action can we ever hope to see these growing deficits reduced to smaller dimensions. Side by side with the figures come statements made from all quarters of the huge losses that are being caused upon our railways, due, no doubt, to drought and other causes. In my own State of New South Wales the drought has not been so severe as it has been in Victoria, yet, according -to the Commissioner of Railways in that State, the railway deficit is now £20,000 per day, which is considerably more than £1,000.000 per year, and this notwithstanding that last year but one Mr. Holman put fares and freights up so as to produce an additional revenue of £1,100,000.
– Does the honorable member suggest that this loss of £20,000 per day will continue indefinitely?
– I hope not. I hope that is not to be a recurring decimal, but my point is this : Public utilities are useful and advantageous only in proportion as they are wisely, economically, and efficiently managed, and this Government would do well to seriously consider the question of whether it will not be wise to hand over this huge institution to be managed by a capable Commission, so as to reduce this loss, which, instead of getting any less, is growing year by year.
– I have listened to this discussion with a great deal of interest, because I think that a Department such as the General Post Office is altogether too large to be under the direct control of a Minister. In my opinion, a more desirable arrangement would be one similar to that which applies to all the railway systems throughout Australia, which are now controlled by Commissioners. > There were, however, one or two’ points referred to in the course of the speech by the Leader of the Opposition as to which I hardly understood just where the honorable member was leading. He said he did not wish to see any of the facilities and advantages of the Post Office reduced, but that the question was one purely of management and administration. That suggests to me that either there is now a scandalous waste in the Department itself, or else it is very much overmanned. Probably the Leader of the Opposition, in referring to this phase of the question, overlooked the fact that whilst the expenditure in connexion with the Post Office has increased to the extent it has, figures can also be quoted to show that the amount of business which the Post Office has to perform - the number of letters, packages, and newspapers that have to be handled - is increasing in a similar ratio to the expenditure. If these figures were analyzed, I am satisfied that there would be no question about the Post Office being in the parlous condition that the Leader of the Opposition would have us believe. I will repeat, however, that in my opinion it would be better for the Minister, for Parliament, and for the country if the administration of the Post Office were put under a Board of Commissioners, or under some other similar form of control, with the reservation, of course, that questions of policy should remain in the hands of the Minister. This system has worked satisfactorily in regard to other big public undertakings, and I think that it would be satisfactory if applied to the Post Office. References have been made to the Post Office staff, and in this connexion I want to refer to a matter which has been brought under my notice recently, in connexion with the arbitration proceedings before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, in which the Letter Carriers’ Association was concerned. During the conduct of the letter carriers’ case in April of this year, references were made by Mr. Skewes, who, I understand, represented the Public Service Commissioner before the Arbitration Court - I believe the Postmaster-General is also represented. These references I intend to quote, in order to show to the Blouse that there is some need for a change in the representation of the Public Service Commissioner before the Arbitration Court. I want to say at once that Mr. Skewes is personally unknown to me, and perhaps it is not altogether fair to condemn him without hearing his side of the case. I do not want to he unjust. Rather would I be scrupulously fair to this gentleman, but if the statements that have been attributed to him, and that have been submitted to me in a perfectly genuine way, were made by Mr. Skewes regarding the conduct of letter carriers generally, then he is a man who should be called upon for an immediate explanation, and a man whose position in connexion with Arbitration Court work should be very seriously considered by the Government.
– Did you see how Mr. Justice Powers dealt with him?
– Tes. I have it all here. The first statement of which I com plain appears on page 1433 of the notes of Court proceedings, where Mr. Skewes is reported to have said - <
Whilst we have honest, hard-working men in the ranks of the letter carriers, we have also far too great a proportion of men whose consciences arc fairly elastic, and who do not scruple to rob the Government of valuable time.
That statement would be quite right if Mr. Skewes could back it up with evidence, hut he did not back it up at all. He simply made the bald assertion. Mr. Justice Powers, who was conducting the Arbitration Court, immediately pointed out that there was no evidence to support the statement, and Mr. Skewes replied that he was expressing the opinion of the Public Service Commissioner as well as his own opinion. Further on Mr. Skewes used these words -
We go further than suspect it, because we know it. 1 want to enter a plea on behalf of the Letter Carriers Association - on behalf of the men who have to deliver our letters in the cities and in every part of Australia - against a statement like that being made in connexion with Arbitration Court work. When put to the test, Mr. Skewes could not substantiate the charge. He finally pointed out that there were only 2 per cent, of the members of the claimant organization who had been guilty of any of a number of stated offences, very few of which are, I think, of a serious nature.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I purpose reading some extracts from the minutes of the Court in order to substantiate some statements which I intend later on to make to the Committee. In the first instance, Mr. Skewes made against the letter carriers the general charge of wasting time and robbing the Government; but, when pressed for specific details, he said that his statement applied to from 5 to 10 per cent, of the men. In response to further questions put to him by Mr. Justice Powers he said that in the course of three years 100 charges had been made against letter carriers. I do not think I can do better than read His Honour’s observations concerning Mr. Skewes’ statement -
What it really amounted to was that thirty-‘ three to thirty-four out of 1,70!> letter carriers each year had been found guilty of some of the offences mentioned. That is slightly less than 2 per cent, each year. Whether they were members of the claimant organization or not was not disclosed. Only one offence was serious enough to be sent to a Board of Inquiry, and the 100 offences included (1) Coming late; neglecting to deliver letters at the end of a round : taking longer over a walk than was necessary: claiming overtime the letter carriers were not justified in making: and an unknown percentage of the 2 per cent, were guilty of the more serious offences of (2) falsifying the attendance books by making false entries as to the time they started and left off work:
Mr. Justice Powers went on to say ;
I could not find out what percentage of the 2 -per cent, had been found guilty of any of the more serious offences, or, in fact, of any of the offences.
All these had been dealt with and punished. In conclusion, I asked -
I want to know whether you wish to put in this evidence or any evidence with a view of influencing me in any way in milking an award ? - Answer - No, Your Honour, .&c.
You do not wish to put it before mo in any way to influence me in the award? - No.
And you say you still think that the award should bo made on the evidence before me, and that they should get whatever they are fairly entitled to on the evidence? - Yes.
And that the hours should be fixed on the evidence that is before me without considering this? - the statement made by Mr. Skewes -
That is so, yes.
Later on His Honour said -
General charges are easily made, and necessarily include the innocent and the guilty. I personally detest general charges, because they are unjust every time they are made. There is no chance of disproving them, and I trust that no representative of the Commissioner or the Minister will, in future, in this Court, make any general charge against his fellow officers, or make any comment that is not justified by the evidence he has previously submitted to the Court.
These were serious words to be uttered by the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, and I believe that they are worthy of the special attention of the Minister. I do not know Mr. Skewes, nor do I know what are his qualifications.
– Was he instructed by the Department to make these charges?
– He said at one stage that it was his own opinion, and also that of the Public Service Commissioner, that these men wasted time and robbed the Government. When asked for proof of his assertion he was not able to do more than to show that some thirtythree Or thirty-four men out of a total of 1,709 had been charged with certain offences. Of these charges, only one wassufficiently serious to be dealt with by theBoard.
– Where an offence is admitted the case does not go before the Board.
– Nevertheless the fact remains that on the Department’sown showing only 2 per cent, of the men have been charged with any offence. Mr.. Justice Powers went on to say -
In this Court particularly, where all evidence is received, whether legally admissible or not, comments not justified by the evidence:ire specially objectionable.
I desire, on behalf of the Letter Carriers Association, to enter a protest against themaking of such statements as those which were indulged in by Mr. Skewes in the Court of Conciliation- and Arbitration. There can be no question that they were made with a view to influence the decision of the Court. It is true that afterrepeated efforts had been made to ascertain what ground there was for such a statement, Mr. Skewes said that he had not made it with any desire to influence the Court in arriving at its award; but the fact remains that there was absolutely no justification for his assertion that these men had deliberately wasted time and robbed the Government. If, as this incident would lead one to. believe, Mr. Skewes is a man who would make unjustifiable statements, it is time that the Public Sendee Commissioner was represented in the Court by one better fitted to act in his behalf.
.- I wish to address myself to one or two matters relating to the Post, and Telegraph Department, and arising largely out of official replies to questions put by me in this House. I propose to take upthe cudgels on behalf of the subsidiary mail contractors who have not received1 from the Department the considerationwhich is their due. The big mail contractor in New South Wales is the State monopolist known as the Railway Department. I learn from answers to question.1* I have put to the Minister that in 1913, when there was a daily service on all lines the subsidy received by the Railway Department in New South Wales was ?121,811, whereas in 1915, although the time-tables in respect of most of the branch lines had been considerably curtailed, the subsidy paid to the Railway Department for what, in many cases, was only a three-days’ as against ‘a daily service had been increased to £123,000. Here we have what honorable members opposite designate as “ Fat “ being assisted while wholly different treatment is meted out to the small man. In reply to a question I put to the Postmaster-General as to the number of mail contractors in New South “Wales adversely affected by the curtailment of the railway service in that State, I was officially informed that the report was that there were only nine. That surely must be incorrect. I am not exaggerating when I say that there are more than nine mail contractors in my own electorate who have been adversely affected in this way. In what direction are these men adversely affected? I have before mo a letter addressed to the Postal Department by one of the subsidiary mail contractors operating from a branch railway line, and the official reply thereto. This man had entered into a contract some time prior to the curtailment of the railway service, under which he was to be paid £175 per annum. On the railway service being curtailed he was officially notified that his subsidy would be reduced to £87 10s. Is the small mail contractor to have his subsidy cut down, while the monopolist mail contractor - the Railway Department - secures an increased payment for a decreased service ? I am aware that the explanation given is that the increased payment is due to the opening of new lines. I find, however, that the Railway Department is paid upon a mileage basis, and the reduction of a daily service on branch lines to one qf three days a week cannot be more than compensated for by the opening of new lines. Very few new lines have been opened in New South Wales since these curtailed services were entered upon. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to re-consider the whole position.
– Where does the honorable member suggest we should get the extra money ?
– If there is to be any concession, it should be made to the little, and not to the big, man.
– The honorable member would increase the amounts paid to mail contractors outside the Railway Depart ments of the States because they have to pay an increased price for chaff.
– I ask that the small man shall at least be treated as well as the big contractor. The Railway Department of New South Wales is receiving an increased subsidy compared with the amount paid in 1913, although it has curtailed its time-table, whereas the small mail contractors are having their subsidies reduced.
– Surely this is not occurring under a Labour Ministry?
– It is, and that is why I am appealing to the Postmaster-General. These small mail contractors had to enter into contracts for the supply of fodder for their horses at the different changing stations. They had to look ahead, but they never anticipated the extraordinary climatic conditions with which they have recently been faced. Their arrangements were such that they could not violate these contracts with any honour; and yet we find that, because the trains do not run into the stations the same number of times each week that they used to do, the original subsidy is cut down by nearly half. These men have their own contracts to fulfil in the face of very adverse climatic conditions, and they have only half what they used to have to meet their engagements. It does not follow that because the trains along these branch lines only run three days a week, the volume of mail matter to be carried is lessened; it only means that they have to take two days’ mails in the coach, thus adding to their trouble. More room is taken up, and the passenger space curtailed, and it was from the passenger traffic that they had hopes of making some revenue. With all these cases before me, I seriously question the replies I have received from the Department, to the effect that the curtailment of the railway facilities in New South Wales affects adversely only nine mail contractors.
– The honorable member is speaking of the number affected; they are not all adversely affected.
– Does the PostmasterGeneral think that a contractor is not adversely affected when his subsidy is reduced from £175 to £87 10s. ?
– It does not necessarily follow.
– Then I should like to know what “ adversely affected “ means.
How can men with an annual payment of this kind possibly entertain the idea of having recourse to motor cars? If honorable members who make this suggestion knew as much about motor cars as I do, they would realize that they do not represent so inexpensive a method of getting about as some people seem to imagine. On a previous occasion I have branded the replies of the Department in reference to these contractors, as “ coldblooded, legal replies,” and I see no reason to withdraw one word of that criticism. Every sympathy ought to be shown to those men who, in a small way, are endeavouring to make a living, and any curtailment of expenditure should be in connexion with that bie State monopoly in New South Wales, represented by the Railways Commissioners.
– I do not propose to follow honorable members who have’ preceded me, in blaming the Postmaster-General for the non-success of his Department. We all recognise that it is a very difficult Department to control and manage; and, seeing that the present Postmaster-General has been in office only a few months, we might, I think, excuse all, or, at all events, many, of the present anomalies. The Estimates before us are not the Estimates of the present Government, and the shortage is not caused by them.
– These Estimates never came before me before I left office. Do not try to shirk your responsibility!
– On the contrary, we desire the responsibility, in order that we may show the people of Australia how competent we are to manage their affairs. The figures which have been placed before us bv the Leader of the Opposition do not really represent the loss in connexion with the Post and Telegraph Department. From the balance-sheet, which was practically prepared by that honorable gentleman’s own Government, we find that, during last year the loss on the working expenses was £53,547, and the total loss on the Department £501,000. During the previous year there was a loss of £20,000, which last vear had been increased to £33,466. This, to my mind, proves conclusively that the charges made by the Department are not sufficient to produce the necessary revenue.
– Are you urging an increase in the charges?
– I am, because I regard that as the only way in which- we can meet the ever-increasing cost of administering that Department.
– Put up the cost of living, and then blame the Trusts !
– I am prepared to blame whoever is responsible. However, we ought not to continue a policy of placing the Post Office at the disposal of business houses who do not pav sufficient for the services rendered; that is one of the causes of the present deplorable position of the Department. During this session most of the questions asked in this House have been directed to the Postmaster-General .
– What does the Assistant Minister of Defence say to that?
– Quite recently, of course, honorable members have directed their attention to “the Assistant Minister of Defence, but until a few weeks ago the Postmaster-General was the Minister to whom most of the inquires were addressed, not only from the Opposition, but from the Government side. Most of these questions arise from the fact that the financial position of the Post and Telegraph Department does not permit of that more liberal administration the PostmasterGeneral no doubt desires. The services rendered are, as I say, too cheap : and we ought to have the courage to emphasize this fact to the people.
– I have never seen this Department administered in. so niggardly a way as at the present time !
– Without additional charges it is impossible to administer it in any other way. If honorable members look at the balance-sheet, they will find that during the present financial year there has been a loss of £296,424 in connexion with telephones.
– There was no loss in South Australia.
– Nor in Victoria.
– The figures show that there was a loss, although, of course, there are branches of the service in South Australia on which no loss occurred.
– There was no loss on telephones in South Australia.
– I find that the honorable member is correct. There was no loss in’ South Australia, but on the service throughout the States there was a loss.
– Not in Victoria.
– Victoria shows a loss, as over the whole Department, but there are some branches, of course, that show a profit. However, that is quite apart from the question I desire to discuss. We must recognise that the present charges are not sufficient. On telegraphs there is a loss of £151,446; and I think that the present reasonable charges could very well bear a little increase. A person at Albury is charged ls. to send a telegram to Wodonga, while exactly the same message could be sent from Wodonga to Wallangarra, at the extreme end of New South Wales, or to Tweed Heads, for 9d. In my opinion there should be a uniform charge from one end of Australia to the other, except in the case of suburban areas.
– How would you arrive at uniformity - by reducing or increasing ?
– I should increase the charges in view of the loss of over £150,000 a year; and the loss on the telephone service should not be forgotten. There are many other services rendered by the Post Office at too cheap a rate. Catalogues of every description can be sent through the post at very small cost, and this imposes a vast amount of work in the way of handling packages at every office throughout the Commonwealth. My suggestion is that the postage for catalogues should be brought up to the ordinary postage rate. These publications are of very little use to the majority of people; and I do not think that the business houses who desire to reach prospective customers would have any objection to pay increased charges. This is a matter that will have to be faced and decided. We have also to remember that big advertisers throughout the Commonwealth take advantage of the cheap rates, and give the postal officials much additional work that could well be avoided. There are some business houses who do the great bulk of their business through the Post Office; for instance, patent medicine dealers probably transact threefourths of their business in this way. Then the charges for the postage of newspapers might well be reviewed. Past Postmasters-General have been desirous of being in favour with the newspapers, and I understand that that was one of the main reasons why in the earlier history of Australia such big concessions were given to the newspapers. Honorable members opposite complain bitterly about the treatment of the mail contractors by the Postmaster-General, but they must not forget that much of the work of the mail contractors is caused by the heavy loads of newspapers which they are obliged to carry into tie country districts. For that service the Department is very poorly compensated. The newspapers in the capital cities of the Commonwealth are those which impose the heaviest tax on the Government service for the carriage of newspapers. No doubt the people in the outback districts are desirous of getting the latest information, but as the metropolitan newspapers are probably the greatest profit-earning businesses in the Commonwealth, they could afford to pay a greater charge than is levied at present. Many reforms are possible which would help to make the Post Office a paying concern. Whilst we have no desire that the postal services shall show a profit, we certainly are anxious to terminate the losses which occur from year to year. Honorable members on this side of the House intend to request the Government to take into consideration the imposition of the increased charges that have been suggested.
– Does not the postal branch of the Department pay?
– It does not pay a sufficient return to cover the interest on the capital expenditure.
– The interest charges must be met from some source, and the consequence is that the PostmasterGeneral has to ‘get assistance from the Treasurer every year. The subject of press telegrams also requires immediate attention. The Melbourne correspondent of a country newspaper may lodge a telegram to be sent to any part of the State,, but if it arrives too late to be delivered it is returned to the sender, and no charge is levied except a fee for informing the sender of the non-delivery. The telegram may have been one of 9,000 words, and the only return the Department gets from the handling of it may be 9d. I do not think that there was any intention that the Department should conduct its business on those lines. The annual loss of £151,000 on the telegraphic branch is not surprising when we know that somuch time is occupied in the transmission of messages of this kind for which the Department receives no return. The ordinary press telegrams between States; are charged for at the rate of ls. 6d. for 100 words. I do not object very strongly to that charge, but probably if it were increased, many of the telegrams that -are now sent to the newspapers would not be sent. Greater care would be taken in regard to the selection of Inter-State news.
– And the people would get less news.
– Probably they would get more reliable news than is published to-day. I make these suggestions with a view to the reduction or complete wiping out of the deficit which the transactions of the Department show every year.
– Do you think the Post Office ought to be run on business lines?
– It ought to be, and I hope it will be in the near future. I ask the Postmaster-General to give “consideration to the alterations I have mentioned, which I am sure will have the support of a majority of honorable members on this side of the House. Those who are not prepared to support my proposals may be -able to suggest some better alternative. 1 believe that the principal cause of the deficit is to be found in the management of the Department. The Leader of the Opposition has suggested that the control of the Postal Department should be given to a Commission. I cannot agree with the right honorable gentleman. My view is that the Deputy PostmastersGeneral should be given almost absolute control in their respective States. I would recommend the almost entire abolition of the Central Office, retaining only a few expert officers to advise the Minister, and the placing of almost complete control in the hands of the Deputies, and I would insist on conferences between the Deputies every twelve months, or perhaps every six months, and also conferences of the heads of the Department. Such a method of management’ would be infinitely better than control by commission, and I believe that by such reforms Ave should be able to discover a means of obviating the regularly recurring deficit.
– Do you suggest a different form of management in each State?
– I am suggesting uniform management throughout Australia. “The Postmaster-General in the Central Office would see that the policy of his Go vernment was given effect to by the Deputies in the States. Control by commissioners is not likely to be satisfactory. A few days ago the Minister of Railways in New South Wales approached the Commissioners and asked for some plans in connexion with a proposed new railway, and the Commissioners actually refused to see the Minister or to allow him to have the plans. If we were to place under the Minister a man who would have absolute control of the head office, in much the same way as the Commonwealth Bank is controlled by the Governor, and were to give the Deputies larger powers, a great increase in the efficiency of the Department would follow. Some proposal of the kind will require to be adopted before we can get from the Post Office the valuable services that we have a right to expect. There is one other little matter which I desire to bring under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral. Those in control of the Central Office seem to be very favorable to the importation of engineers for the carrying out of departmental work. The Prime Minister remarked this morning that anything Australian was very objectionable to many people in the Commonwealth, but I am in the happy position of believing that there are in Australia engineers just as competent as any that have been imported. The salary offered to the imported man is about £480 per year, and that of the Australian artisan is only about £250 per annum. The advent of imported men creates dissatisfaction amongst the Australians in the Department because they feel that they have not been given an opportunity of rising to higher positions. That is one of the most serious causes of discontent and unrest throughout the service. I trust that the Postmaster-General will adopt the policy of giving to the Australian who has graduated in the service every position that is available.
– That is never done.
– Until it is done there will never be satisfaction.
– I had the Public Service Commissioner under me for some time, and I know something about the matter.
– I hope we shall have an opportunity of amending the Public Service Act in such a way as to remove from the Commissioner much of the power which he exercises over the postal service at the present time.
– You have not got a hope. I took the matter to Cabinet, so that I know something about it.
– Well, we can make an effort. We should obtain more valuable service from the Post Office if the Deputy Postmasters-General were able to appoint and dismiss without referring every case to the Public Service Commissioner for approval. I wish to draw attention to the heavy premiums which linesmen who obtain permanent appointments have to pay for life assurance. I spoke to a linesman this week, who told me that he has to pay a premium of £17 a year, although his salary is less than £156 a year.
– For what amount is he insured?
– I think £200.
– He must be insured for a larger sum than that, or must have insured when he was advanced in years.
– He is not very old, aud is a Brisbane man who is now in Melbourne.
– The charge is an extortion.
– The whole system is an extortion. The Government should have its own insurance office, seeing that it compels so many officers to insure, and I hope that that will be regarded as an early and urgent reform. I trust that the Postmaster-General will state his views in respect of the matters that have been mentioned to-day, so that we may know that he has them under consideration.
– The speech of the honorable member for Oxley will, no doubt, sink deeply into the heart of the Postmaster-General, who, should he pay any attention to the honorable member’s remarks, could not do better than place himself on a pedestal, when he will soon learn what the country has to say about him. The honorable member said nothing about increasing the charges to be paid by those who live in the cities; it is the people in the country who are to boar the burden.
– It has been suggested that telephone rates should be increased.
– The honorable member for Oxley did not mention the telephone rates.
– I forgot to do so. I would support an increase in the telephone charges.
– Every proposal made by the honorable member would increase the charges to be borne by the people living in the country. He did not say that we should give up penny postage, but he appeared to be in favour of increasing the postage. Such a course would considerably affect those who live in the country, and we should again be in the strange position of having a penny postage to Great Britain and all the countries that are within the postal union, and twopenny postage internally. Some years ago we were in that position in Victoria, and I remember that a country newspaper then drew attention to the fact that a letter could be sent from a certain town to London, half across the world, for one penny, while it cost twopence to send it to the next town, only 13 miles away. Any charge in telegraph rates would also greatly affect the people in the country. A city man does not require to use the telegraph to send a message; he can use a messenger, and were the postage increased, many letters would be sent by messenger. That happened in Victoria on a former occasion, when the postage was increased from, one penny to twopence. The number of letters sent through the post at once decreased considerably. The people in the cities do not use the telegraphs to the same extent as do the people in the country. The honorable member for Melbourne says that our telegraph service is the cheapest in the world, and. so it is if you pay only the ordinary rates, though some different arrangement should be made in respect of border towns. As a matter of practice, however, our telegraph service is one of the dearest in the world. Were I to telegraph to my home this afternoon to say that I was returning to-night, I should have to send an “ urgent “ wire, and pay double rates, if I desired to make certain that the telegram would reach its destination before I could do so. If you need a telegram to reach a destination 100 miles away within two or three hours, you must pay “ urgent “ rates.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I know that a considerable amount is lost by the operations of the Post Office. As to the telephones, is it proposed to curtail the facilities given? Is it to he made harder for the people in the back-blocks to obtain telephone connexion? We should be more liberal than we are now in providing telephone communication in the country, notwithstanding that the Department is a” losing concern.
– How would the honorable member make good the loss ?
– In the same way as we do now. Those in the country should not be put in a more difficult position than they now occupy. They should be able to telephone for a doctor in cases of illness. In the interests of development, our country telephone system should be extended. As to the town telephones, one cannot use them without being driven nearly frantic. Those in this building are enough to drive one crazy. No man could attempt to send two or three consecutive messages by telephone without being driven nearly off his head, and if merchants use the telephones as much as it is sai d they do, they must employ others to despatch and receive the messages. I do not think that they would object to pay higher rates for a better service. The other day, with a deputation. I waited upon the Deputy Postmaster-General for Victoria in regard to a telephone line which has a length of 18 miles. The local residents had put up the line, but it had gone out of use. The Department had obtained all the revenue that had been derived from the line, and the deputation came to Melbourne to see what was proposed to he done about it. They were told to put up the line again, and the Department would be glad to manipulate the service. Greater telephone facilities than are given now should be extended to the people in the country. The honorable member for Oxley spoke of increasing the postage on newspapers, but it is the man out-back who pays that postage. The newspaper offices do not pay it.
– Where would the honorable member get the additional revenue necessary for his proposals?
– In the same way as we get it now; certainly not at the expense of the people living in the country. According to the honorable member, the postage on newspapers is low, because the various Postmasters-General have courted popularity; but, prior to Federation, newspapers in New South Wales were carried free of postage, and the present rate is a kind of compromise.
– Does the honorable member advocate free carriage of newspapers ?
– I advocate only what I consider to be a fair thing. I say, do not put the cost of these services on the men in the country. Most of the working men in the country take a newspaper, and have to pay the postage on it. I ask the Postmaster-General whether the mail contractors are going to get any satisfaction. Does he or does he not intend to give them relief?
– He has promised to do so.
– But the fulfilment of the promise will do some of them little good unless it comes soon.
– Claims are being adjusted.
– Many of these men sent in claims a month ago, and have received forms to be filled in with the price paid for chaff at the present time and the price paid twelve months ago. These forms have to he returned to the Department within twenty-four hours. In a case which came under my notice, the contractor, who is only a working man, though he has a fairly big contract, said, “ I know that I am paying £15 per ton for chaff now, but I could not tell, offhand, what I was paying twelve months ago, and I have put down the price from memory, at £5 per ton.” The Postal Department, having received this information, referred the matter to the local grain merchant, which was a proper, businesslike procedure, and was informed that the price twelve months ago was £3.
– It is not stated on the forms that the returns must be made within twenty-four hours.
– This man told me that his return had to be sent back within twenty-four hours. I do not know why the Postal Department asks for the information to be supplied so quickly. Will the Department take twenty-four months or tweny-four years to grant relief, which must be of less value after every day’s delay? Had these men obtained consideration when they applied for it, they could have bought chaff for £8 or £9 per ton, but now it is £15 per ton, and in some cases unobtainable. Surely each application could be dealt with on its merits, and these mail contractors informed of the result, without the general reply, ‘ ‘ Due consideration is being given,” being all that it is possible for them to get. The mail contractors ought to be able to receive the relief that is due to them without having to wait any time at all. Honorable members may not have any idea of how long it takes to get money out of a Department. In a great many cases, it takes at least six months, and usually a person is lucky if he can get it within six months. Such a delay is of no use whatever in the relief of these mail contractors.
– There is no such thing as waiting for six months. Authority had been given that the money shall be paid straight away.
– I am glad to hear the statement of the Postmaster-General - that as soon as the Department is satisfied that a claim is genuine, the money will be paid at once.
– It will be paid within six months as from 1st January last, in a lump sum, when the claim is made out.
– I shall inform the mail contractors in my district, many of whom have approached me, that as soon as they establish their claims; they will receive their money. But the honorable member for Calare has information on this subject which seems to suggest that these claims are not being properly settled. With regard to the construction of new. telephone lines, I have endeavoured to discover why lines that have been sanctioned are not constructed. We were told, in the first instance, that there was a shortage of material. That is not so. Now we are told that, though material and money is available, the Department cannot obtain men. Surely, in a Department like this, where gangs of men are out erecting telephone lines in all parts of the country, it is not necessary to keep one gang with one ganger at the head for ever. The man who is second in command must surely develop and become fit to take a position as ganger. What is going to. happen to the Department if it cannot get fresh “ bosses,” or whatever you like to call them, when the present men die? Are they going to shut up? If a man who has been second in command for two or three years is not then fit to be promoted to the position of ganger, he has no right to be even second in command. There are hundreds of men capable of erecting these lines under proper supervision, and surely the Department should have no difficulty in finding men competent to take charge. When dealing with this question, the honorable member for Swan said that if more straightforward answers could be obtained in the House regarding the postal service, it would be more satisfactory to ‘all concerned. I agree with the honorable member. May I quote a case which came under my own notice. Application was made for a trunk line from Warrnambool to Allansford. The engineer reported that the line was absolutely necessary, because the Railway Department had declined to permit any more wires to be attached to their poles. Yet the Deputy Postmaster-General refused to sanction the line, and no explanation at all was given until after the expiration of eighteen months, when the parties interested were informed that the Department was going to construct the line. Why could we not have been informed eighteen months ago that the line would be constructed as soon as possible: that is, as soon as money and material were available? An answer setting out the facts would have relieved residents in that district of much correspondence, and it would have saved me. as member, a good deal of trouble, whilst there would have been a much better understanding all round. I hope, however, that the Postmaster-General will look seriously into this question of sending out more gangs of men. There are in my own district any number of men out of work, and I do not think the Department would have any difficulty in getting all the expert gangers they desire.
– I agree to a certain extent with what the honorable member for Oxley said with regard to the management of the Post Office, but while I desire to say one or two things about the Department in connexion with matters that deserve early rectification, I want to say also that it is altogether unfair to lay all the blame at the door of the Postmaster-General, no matter what the party to which he is attached, or at the door of the Deputy Postmasters-General. While things are bad, so far as any new work in the country is concerned, I think they would be very much worse but for the gentleman who occupies the position of Deputy PostmasterGeneral in Victoria. I have no complaint either to make against the Postmaster-General. It is the system of which I complain.
– Hear, hear; the system is rotten.
– I think the drastic term used by my honorable friend describes the situation fittingly, and we are too often too eager to blame the Minister or the Deputy PostmastersGeneral. The Post Office is very much like the Lands Department here in Victoria. There is altogether too much circumlocution, and I am afraid it is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. There is altogether too much divided responsibility in the Post Office. That is the whole trouble. If something were done that would bring the Deputy PostmastersGeneral of the various States together in periodical conference, or if they were placed in the position of commissioners, I think we should be on the war to getting a satisfactory solution of many of the difficulties that now exist. At present the Postmaster- General is unable to do things, so surrounded is he by regulation and formality, and the Deputy PostmastersGeneral are in an equally difficult position. If a man like Mr. Bright, for instance, had more power, he would take his courage in both hands and do things.
– He cannot leave his office without a permit from the head office.
– Exactly. We have capable officers in the Post Office, but they have not the power to do anything, and in regard to Mr. Bright, I know of no public servant in the Commonwealth who is more capable or energetic, and anxious to improve the service to which he is attached. I disagree entirely with some of the observations made by the honorable member for Oxley in regard to the telephones. I hope the PostmasterGeneral does not intend to increase in any way the burden upon the country in regard’ to the construction of telephones. As the representative of a country constituency, I do not think the country ought to be further burdened.
– The losses are in the big cities.
– I quite agree, and I am very pleased to have the admission from the Postmaster-General.
– And they will have to pay, too.
– Hear, hear! I am very pleased to hear the Postmaster-General say that. The losses that are taking place to-day in the postoffices of the Commonwealth are being largely incurred in the cities-
– That is, the telephone losses.
– And I am very pleased to have it from the PostmasterGeneral that the cities are going to be called upon to shoulder the responsibility of meeting these losses, and not the country. That, at all events, is satisfactory to any one who knows the conditions prevailing in the country districts. I suppose no member of this House will deny that the cities are dependent on the country to a very large extent. Without the country there would be very little use for the telephones that are now used by the business people of the cities, and to ask the people of the country to make up any general deficiency would be to add insult to the injury from which they are already suffering. With regard to telephone construction in the country, I am not surprised that the PostmasterGeneral does not propose to make the burden any heavier. It is now heavy enough, in all conscience. The system with regard to the construction of telephones should be revised right from, the very beginning. I think it is absolutely wrong. At the present time, when application is made by a member on behalf of some public body for a telephone service, he has to wait two months or three months before getting the information that an estimate has been made of the cost of construction, and he discovers that the probable revenue. has been estimated, not by inspection on the spot, but by an officer sitting somewhere in the General Post Office, who has taken into account the number of letters dealt with at the various post-offices in the district, and based his figures upon a certain percentage of the number of letters. The residents are told that if they do not like this estimate, an officer will he sent down to make an investigation. The point I urge is that this method of arriving at an estimate of the revenue is altogether wrong, because it is reason* able to assume that if added facilities are given to people resident in the back country, more people would go to live there, and the revenue would increase.
– Many farmers have offered to do the work themselves.
– I know several places: where the farmers have supplied the poles for telephone purpurses, only to find that they have been laid aside for a couple of months. The reason is, as stated by the honorable member for Corangamite, that the work of erecting these poles is held up by the Department until a gang working in some remote part of the electorate is available to take it in hand. There ought to be several of these gangs. We have many unemployed, and there are quite a number of men in country districts who are capable of undertaking this work under proper supervision. I have heard some members of the Opposition this afternoon speaking very harshly of the treatment of country districts in the matter of mail and telephone services. While I admit that there is much room for improvement, I would remind these honorable members that prior to the Fisher Government coming into power in” 1910, the position was much worse.
– Do not deal with the subject on party lines.
– There was a party colour given to the utterances of the honorable member for Corangamite and the honorable member for Hume.
– Not by me.
– They were seeking to condemn the present Administration .
– I gave proof of my statements.
– I have indorsed the honorable member’s statement that there is room for considerable improvement; but I would remind the Opposition that the position was infinitely worse until certain concessions were made by the Fisher Government in 1910. The honorable member for Hume and I are now securing the erection of telephone lines in our electorates, where it was impossible to obtain them prior to 1910. Then, again, before the Fisher Government came into office in that . year, the estimated deficiency on all country telephone lines and mail services had to be borne by the residents served.
– The Braddon section was then in existence.
– It is an undisputed fact that the Fisher Government, on taking office in 1910, agreed to shoulder 50 per cent, of the estimated deficiency . on these services, and consequently lightened by one-half the burden which residents of country districts desiring these facilities had previously been called upon to bear.
– But the Government then had more revenue.
– Quite so ; but with the advent of the Fisher Government mail and telephone facilities in the country were materially increased. I think that still further concessions should be made. These country telephone lines should not be expected to pay their way, much less to show a profit. In many country districts people are forced to live under conditions which many of us would not like to face, and I do not think they should be asked to shoulder even one-half the estimated deficiency on any telephone line for which they apply. In the city a man no sooner applies for a telephone than it is provided.
– In the United States of America you can get a line in three days.
– I have had to wait four* months for a telephone line.
– That is not my experience of the city services. On the other hand, in country districts the residents are ‘fortunate if their application for a telephone line is settled within six months. In some cases more than twelve months elapse before a request is complied with. I know of cases where local residents have supplied the poles required for a line, and these have been allowed to lie on the ground for months pending the arrival of a departmental gang to erect them. I appeal to the PostmasterGeneral, who is familiar with the conditions of life in the back country, to recognise that the time is ripe for lightening the burdens resting upon the shoulders of residents of rural districts who seek these very necessary facilities. Mail and telephone services make all the difference between isolation and civilization. A telephone line brings the people in back-country districts, not only in touch with a doctor, as the honorable member for Corangamite has said, but with their markets and, in short, with civilization. The Postmaster-General has admitted that the losses incurred in connexion with the telephone service relate to the city exchanges, and I maintain that something should be done to lighten the burdens of the people who are struggling in the country, and doing more than their fair share to provide for the cost of government. These men, who have to bear the heat and burden of the day, should not be asked to shoulder even onehalf the estimated deficiency on a contemplated telephone line, as is required of them to-day. The honorable member for Darwin has said that in the United States of America every householder has a telephone.
– No ; what I said was that there an application to be connected with a telephone exchange is granted within three days.
– It would be a good thing if telephone facilities could be extended to every member of the community. It would increase business, and consequently augment the revenue. Another point that I wish to make is that the method of arriving at an estimate of the revenue to be derived from these services is entirely wrong. It is impossible to gauge what revenue will be produced by calculating on a percentage of the number of outgoing letters. The Department shouldtake into account the fact that population follows the granting of these increased facilities, and that with an additional population there must be additional revenue. I come now to the position of the mail contractors, to which reference has been made by the honorable member for Hume. If the Postmaster-General does not expedite the distribution of the £50,000 which has been set aside to grant relief to these men, it will not bo worth £30,000 to them. Commodities are increasing in price.
– If they are not paid soon their horses will be dead.
– Quite so. I understood the Postmaster-General to say - I hope I am wrong - that some months must elapse before the money will be made available.
– No; I said that the money is available, and is being promptly paid. I have telegraphed to all the
Deputy Postmasters-General urging that they should use all expedition in dealing with claims. I cannot do more than that,
– Before resuming my seat, I wish to refer to certain remarks made by Mr. Skewes, when representing the Public Service Commissioner in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, while the claim of the letter carriers was under consideration.
– It has already been referred to.
– It has been referred to by the honorable member for Fremantle, and I wish to join with him in protesting against the remarks made by Mr. Skewes. That gentleman went out of his way to make statements which he could not substantiate, and which were unbecoming a man occupying his position. A man who would make such unfounded statements is not fit, in my opinion, to occupy such a position. He should be reminded that he is not to make use of his position to put before the Court unfounded charges. Here is the statement which Mr. Skewes made -
Throughout the hearing of this case we have refrained from making any pointed reference to the efficiency of the employees who are claiming higher rates. The largest class is the letter-carrying class, and we do not hesitate to say that the average efficiency of these employees is far below what is justified by even existing rates of pay. While we have honest, hard-working men in the ranks of the letter carriers, we have also by far too great a proportion of men whose consciences are fairly elastic, and who do not scruple to rob the Government of valuable time.
That was a drastic statement to make, and, in my opinion, it was deliberately put forward to prejudice the claimsof these men. If was not backed up by evidence.
– Mr. Skewes and the Department which he represents are the judges of the qualifications of these men.
– Then they are beautiful judges! I should like some one to watch this gentleman, and see how much of the time of the Government he is wasting.
– If you knew anything of the public career of Mr. Skewes, you would not condemn him in the way you are doing. He is one of the most efficient officers of the Commonwealth; he was previously in State employment.
– The honorable member for Balaclava is quite entitled to his own opinion, and I am entitled to mine.
– I have watched his rise in the Department, and I know his value.
– Has the honorable member read the evidence?
– I have not read all the evi- dence-
– But has the honorable member read the remarks of Mr. Justice Powers?
– Then I do not know how the honorable member can have the same opinion of Mr. Skewes that he had before.
– I say that Mr. Skewes is a better judge in this matter than is Mr. Justice Powers, because he knows more about it. Whether Mr. Skewes is right or wrong I do not know, but he ought to be the better judge.
– When Mr. Skewes made the charge it was incumbent upon him to prove it.
– What he should have done was to dismiss such men if they existed.
– What does the honorable member for Indi propose to do with Mr. Skewes ? Why is he introducing this subject ?
– I am doing it in order to make a protest. From what I know of the letter carriers of the country they are men who give good service; and when a charge is made, as this was, in order to prejudice their claim, the person making it should be called upon to prove it. He was asked by Mr. Justice Powers to give some evidence in support of the charge, but he could not do so, and the case was adjourned. As Mr. Justice Powers said -
I thereupon adjourned the hearing until 11th March, to enable the Public Service Commissioner to prove the general charge made, and to allow the letter carriers the opportunity of calling evidence in reply, if necessary.
Later Mr. Skewes was still unprepared, and the case was further adjourned.
– What is the idea of bringing this matter up? What is the honorable member going to do with Mr. Skewes ?
– I submit that we should take this occasion to tell an officer that he was exceeding his duty when he made an unfounded charge against what I believe to be an efficient body of men, who are giving good service to the country.
– Is that all you are going to do?
– I have not finished yet. I wish honorable members to know what happened when the case again came on. On the 11th March Mr. Skewes appeared for the Public Service Commissioner, and he was asked what percentage of the letter carriers the Commissioner proposed to prove were guilty of the charge. And Mr. Skewes’ reply, after the case had been twice adjourned, was -
I do not propose to prove any percentage, but to prove there was ample justification for the opinion held by the Commissioner.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member says “Hear, hear!”But I shall show that, later on, Mr. Skewes was forced to say something to indicate what the percentage was; and, as the honorable member for Fremantle has pointed out, it amounted to 2 per cent. ‘
– One per cent. later on.
– There was only one case out of all the charges that was deemed serious enough to go to a Board of Inquiry.
– Are you proposing to hang Mr. Skewes?
– I would not go quite that far.
– The honorable member will do nothing except talk!
– If an officer charged admits the charge, the case does not go to a Board.
– There was no evidence that the charge was admitted .
– Mr. Skewes did not give any evidence at all.
– At any rate, there was only 2 per cent. of, I believe, 1,790 men.
– But a broad and general sweeping condemnation was passed on all the rest.
– Is the honorable member for Indi going to move the impeachment of Mr. Skewes?
– I have not finished “ raking him up” yet. Mr. Justice Powers, after hearing all the evi- dence, said this of the gentleman of whom the honorable member for Balaclava has such a high opinion -
In making my award, I do so as if no such general charge had been made. Not only was the statement not justified in the slightest by the evidence, but 1 do not personally think it was justified by the facts the Commissioner later on said he was prepared to submit to the Court. General charges are easily made and necessarily include the innocent and the guilty. I personally detest general charges, because they are unjust every time they are made; there is no chance of disproving them; and I trust that no representative of the Minister or the Commissioner will, in future, in this Court, make any general charge against his fellow officers, or make any comment that is not justified by the evidence he has previously submitted to the Court.
As my time has expired, I am unable to accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta, and impeach this official.
– At the outset, I may say that Mr. Skewes is one of the most honest and painstaking officers in the Public Service, and a man who would not wittingly do an injury to anybody.
– The evidence does not bear that out.
– The evidence doesthe evidence of this man’s career and character. I have read a good deal more evidence connected with this case than has the honorable member.
– I appeal to honorable members to assist me in the performance of my duties, by at once ceasing interjections.
– Justice is a sacred principle, and ought to be applied all round; we must be just to a man who is not able to present his own case.
– He ought to be just to the men.
– If I am not to be permitted to speak, I might as well resume my seat. The question raised in the remark of Mr. Skewes was not one for the Court. It was not for the Court to say whether or not these men were all perfect angels, doing their work with perfect honesty; the only question for His Honour related to the pay and the conditions of the men. It is the duty of the Department, and not of the Court, to see that the men give an honest return for the wages they receive. It was unfortunate that a remark of the kind was made; but, from my information, I think that the object in making it has been rather misunderstood. It was quite natural, of course, that the men should resent such a statement; but I think that Mr. Skewes expected the Judge, in giving an award, to suggest that now that fair conditions had been granted, honest service would be expected in return. Suggestions of that kind have been made by other judges - suggestions that both sides should honorably and loyally observe an award.
– Mr. Skewes said that these men were robbing the Commonwealth.
– Mr. Skewes was, perhaps, unfortunate in the way he presented the case.
– He was given a second chance.
– Will the honorable member have patience for a moment? There are always two sides to questions of this kind, and I believe a great deal more has been made of the incident than was justified by the circumstances.
– You ought to protect your officers.
– An honorable member is now unjust to me.
– No matter who may be concerned, I shall endeavour to see that fair play is given. Mr. Skewes is not able to tell us himself the reasons that prompted him to make the remark, and, while I am not saying that it was a wise one to make, too much importance has been attached to it. The ground that Mr. Skewes had was evidence of cases in the Department of the Public Service Commissioner.
– Has Mr. Skewes at any time ever reported malingering by these men?
– Of course there is a number of such cases. But surely honorable members realize that in any large body of men, in any occupation anywhere, there must be some who are not doing quite the right thing; and to say so is no reflection on anybody. A number of cases have been reported in the Department, and have been dealt with; and, as I said before, the fact that only one case went to a Board loses its significance when we remember that admitted charges are not inquired into in that way.
What the percentage of the cases at the time was I do not know.
– The Judge proved that it was 2 per cent.
– The Judge was not called upon to prove anything of the kind, and it was a mistake that the matter was referred to at all. When the noise was made, the Judge adjourned the Court, and asked the Postmaster-General and Public Service Commissioner if they supported the statement of Mr. Skewes. My reply was that I knew nothing of the case, except what had appeared in evidence. The Commissioner said he was prepared to prove the charge, and that he had evidence in his office of the percentage of the cases.
– Why was that evidence not produced?
– Because it was not the business of the Court to deal with such evidence.
– Why did Mr. Skewes mention the matter at all?
– I have explained the reason given by the Public Service Commissioner, and the remark was taken up, I think, in the wrong way. Frankly, I think that such a remark was an unfortunate mistake, and it was very naturally resented.
Several honorable members interjecting,
– I have to make another appeal to honorable members to cease interjections. If they do not do so, I shall have to take another course.
– I have had the supervisors and inspectors before me, and I think that these letter carriers are a body of men who do their work honestly and well; but it would be surprising if there were not some lapses amongst them. The motive of Mr. Skewes was an honest one, though, as I have said more than once, the remark may have been very unwise. Mr. Skewes was in a difficult position. He appeared before the Court as the representative of the Public Service Commissioner, who previously had fixed wages and conditions, and he had to put forward the best case possible for the Commissioner. It was unfortunate that this trouble should have cropped up at all in the case; but much more has been made out of the incident than is justified. I have been asked by the organization to dismiss Mr. Skewes from the Service; but I do not intend to take any such action. The Judge stated his view, and I agree with him that there is no occasion to complain at all. I am satisfied that good honest work is being done by letter carriers, and there is not an undue percentage of unsatisfactory cases. The records of the Department show that a considerable number of cases have been dealt with under section 46 for varying offences.
I frankly admit, after my experience in administering the Department, and my previous experience as a private member, that there is very great room for improvement in the management.
– What ! After you have been ten months in office ?
– I hope the right honorable member will not attempt to be funny. Everybody knows that changes must be made slowly ; and I am not claiming that there is any possibility of rushing in and making big changes at once. But the fact is recognised in the Department that there is room for improvement, and steps to that end are being taken. We hope later to make further moves towards increased efficiency.
– I thought the Post Office would be a New Jerusalem by this time.
– I do not care to speak about the improvements that are being introduced; but I hope to leave the Department in an improved condition when I go out of office - not that I shall claim any credit for whatever reforms are made. The Leader of the Opposition quoted some figures in regard to the deficits. The right honorable member must have included in the amounts he quoted the total capital invested.
-. - I included all expenditure, from revenue.
– It is not fair to include the capital expenditure. It would not be said that because the Broken Hill Proprietary Company expends £3,000,000 on a plant, the money out of pocket represents a deficit. Including the interest on loan money, the loss on the Department’s operations was over £500,000 last year.
– There was no loan money.
-Then we shall call it capital expenditure. The expenditure on works has been counted, and interest charged on that amount.
– The new works are built out of revenue. When the Minister says that there is £500,000 deficit on the Post Office, he excludes every penny spent out of revenue on new works.
– I am quoting from the balance-sheet prepared by the accountant, and it shows that, allowing interest on the capital account, there was a total loss of £510,000 last year.
– But that excludes all expenditure out of revenue on new works.
– I do not propose to go into the matter at this stage. The new accountancy system has worked very well, and has been of great assistance in increasing the efficiency of the Department. We are now able to get comparisons and tests of efficiency which were not obtainable before. The Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Fremantle have suggested that the Post Office’ should be placed under the control of a Commission. It seems strange to me that honorable members should assume that by placing the Department under a Commission we shall” get increased efficiency.
– I propose a Commission of one.
– One man could not control the Department. Neither honorable member gave any evidence as to how the increased efficiency was to be brought about, or as to why any such improvement could not be effected under the present system . I am not very much in love with the work done by some commissioners. I doubt if the people of New South Wales are very satisfied with the late Commissioner of Railways, who was an autocrat, and could set at defiance both .the Government, and Parliament. The Postal Department does ‘npt get fairly treated by the public. Somebody has trouble over some little thing, and it is at once assumed that the whole Department is badly managed. We have heard complaints about the late delivery of a telegram., but the Department would be marvellously efficient if some such thing did not occur, having regard to the quantity of correspondence that is dealt with in the course of a year. It is not fair to assume, from one instance of delay, that the De- partment is never up to time, and that everything is wrong.
Honorable members interjecting,
– I regret that I have again to appeal to honorable members to maintain silence. Our Standing Orders provide that only one honorable member shall speak at a time; but several honorable members are trying to speak at once, so that it is impossible for even the Chair to hear what is being said by the Minister. I ask honorable members to assist the Chair in maintaining order; if they do not, they will force me to take action.
– Complaints to the Department of specific instances of inefficiency are of very great value, and are welcomed, because they enable us to deal with any officer who is to blame. A statement has been made that a number of people send urgent telegrams because the ordinary telegram is not delivered quickly enough. Tests have been made in the Department to ascertain whether there is any avoidable delay. The time of lodging a message and of its receipt at the other end of the line are taken, and those tests have not shown that any unreasonable delay takes place.
– What is the use of talking like that?
– I am stating facts; I am not talking at random. Of course it does not follow that because a message is transmitted and received promptly it is delivered promptly to the addressee. Unless complaints are received in regard to the delay in delivery, it is difficult for the Department to know of them except by the very closest supervision.
– Do you mean to say that the complaints we have made are lies ?
– No. But I say that because of some instance of delay the public are apt to assume that the Department is never up to time. I said that there is room for improvement, and that the general complaint that everything is wrong is unjustifiable. If, instead of criticising in a general way, tho public would state specific grievances, something could be done to remedy any defect in the organization. A great many people do forward complaints, and by so doing render great help to the responsible officers. Last year more than 13,500,000 telegrams passed through the Department, and it would be an extraordinary thing if some in that immense number were not delayed. The percentage of delays is difficult to arrive at; but, as I have stated, a check on the system is made from time to time. The new system of clearing centres which is being inaugurated will do much to minimize delay. Instead of every little office, with perhaps a slow operator, tapping the main trunk line and blocking business, the telegrams are collected at certain centres, where they are handled by a quick operator. In one case it was discovered that work which had previously occupied one and a half hours to clear was done in half-an-hour, and 80 per cent, of it in fifteen minutes. By this means a greater amount of work can be done on the trunk line, and there is greater promptitude in the delivery of messages. I think honorable members will see that improvements are being effected. Although we hear a great deal about the inefficiency of the Department, we never hear a word about the inefficiency of the public. Last year, 4,362 letters were posted, whose envelopes had no address at all, and of these 132 contained over £514 in value. Between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 letters containing over £84,000 in value went to the Dead Letter Office, ‘ but we managed io deliver 2,000,000 of these. Over 800,000,000 articles go” through the post every year, about half of them being letters and postcards, and only about one letter in 121,000 is not delivered. To show that losses, delays, and non-delivery of letters are not wholly the fault of the Department, I might mention that, after it had been stated in one of the newspapers that letters were being stolen by some person employed at the General Post Office, and public attention had been drawn to the fact that private letter-boxes were often left unfastened, the authorities found that between 5th May and 5th June, twenty-four firms left their keys in the locks of their private letter-boxes, so that any member of the public could obtain access to the letters in these boxes, and twenty-seven left their boxes open. The boxes thus left unfastened were boxes rented by some of the largest firms in Melbourne. When letters are reported missing, nothing is said of the neglect of the public ; the blame is always put on the Department. There are, however, two sides to every question, and all the blame for failure to deliver letters is not properly attributed to the Post Office. As to our contract with the Railways Commissioners of the States, we have the same agreement with them all, and it is one that was made some eight years ago, though it is now proposed to make a new agreement. The arrangement is that the charge to be made for the carriage of letters is to be the same whether a service is reduced or increased, the charge being fixed according to the weight carried, and the distance for which it has to be transported. This operates rather in favour of the Department, because, although on some lines the service has been temporarily reduced on account of the drought, the tendency is to increase services, and our contract will extend over a long term of years. As to telephone construction, as a country representative, I shall do my best to help those in the country districts. Very large losses have been incurred in connexion with the telephone service, which increases in expense as the number of connexions with an exchange increases. This increase is of great advantage to the busi-‘ ness people who are connected with the telephone. In Sydney, there are twentynine exchanges having 35,000 subscribers, with all of whom any Sydney subscriber can have conversation, and do business, and it is ridiculous that so little should be charged for the service given. The United States of America are sometimes referred to as an example of what we should do in telephone matters, but, according to John Lee, M.A., who has written a book on the Economics of Telegraphs and Telephones, America is very much behind in regard to country village installations ; and I think that, in some of these matters we can give them points. The Department is steadily trying to remedy the defects which are discovered in its work. Further decentralization is aimed at, and the clear limitation of responsibility. Officers are to be given authority within defined lines, and when that is done, we shall’ be better able to test their efficiency and ability. We are also striving for uniformity in several directions, and trying to abolish dual control. As to new telephone and telegraph charges, I shall deal with them when the next set of Estimates is before Parliament. I hope to receive shortly a report from the gentleman who has been investigating the whole administration of the Department. I desire to make only one other observation, and it is in connexion with the Telephone Purchase Bill, which will be discharged very shortly. In order to avoid litigation, the matter was put into the hands of Mr. Anderson,who, I am glad to state, has been able to make an arrangement with about 150 persons who were concerned, so that there will now be no necessity to resort to legal process. Mr. Anderson exercised the utmost judgment and tact, and I think it is to his credit that, in a big thing like this, he was so successful. Progress reported.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
Bill returned from’ the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
The following papers were presented : - War, The -
Alleged German Outrages - Committee appointed by the Bight Hon. H. H. Asquith,First Lord of H.M. Treasury.
Report by the Committee.
Appendix to the Report.
Gifts from the Oversea Dominions and Colonies- Further Correspondence.
Treatment of British Prisoners of War and Interned Civilians at certainplaces of detention in Germany - Reports by United States Officials.
Violation of the Rights of Nations and of the Laws and Customs of War in Belgium - Reports of the Official Commission of the Belgian Government; with an Appendix and Extracts from the Pastoral Letter of Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines. House adjourned at 4.27 pan.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 June 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1915/19150625_reps_6_77/>.