14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– In the temporary absence of the Prime Minister, I ask the Attorney-General, who is in charge of the House, what Ministers comprise the inner cabinet, and whether it is a fact that they have abandoned the intention to precipitate a general election in February or March next? If so, what were the circumstances that caused them to change their minds?
– The answer to the question depends entirely upon which newspaper writer is writing about the matter at the moment.
– As it is the opinion of primary producers’ organizations that the holding of the next general election simultaneously with the taking of the referendum in relation to the marketing power of the Commonwealth would prejudicially affect the result of the referendum, will the Prime Minister say whether it is the intention of the Government that the general election shall be held on the same day?
– It is not the intention of the Government to hold the election on that date.
The following papers were presented : -
Sugar Agreement - Fifth Annual Report of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee, for year ended 31st August, 1936.
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act and Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1936, No. 149.
Norfolk Island Act - Ordinance of 1936 - No. 19 - Printers and Newspapers.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Attorney-General - W. D. McNiven.
Interior - A. Brennan.
Shipping Act - Commonwealth Shipping Board - Cockatoo Island Dockyard - Balance-sheet and Liquidation Account as at 29th February, 1936, with AuditorGeneral’s Certificates.
Transport Workers Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1936, No. 148.
– I have to inform honorable members that copies of the reply which has been received from the Premier of New South Wales to the Commonwealth communication despatched to him on the subject of the resumption of assisted migration, have been placed upon the table of the Library.
– Has the attention of the Treasurer been drawn to the statement made by Mr. Dunstan, Premier of Victoria, which has been published in the press, namely, that he considers that the Financial Agreement between the Commonwealth and the States should be so amended as to give to the Loan Council full control over all governmental borrowing, semigovernmental borrowing, and the borrowing of local authorities, boards, and commissions? If so, is the honorable gentleman in accord with the suggestion? If he is not, on what grounds does he disagree with it?
– The matter raised by the honorable gentleman was first considered during the progress of the discussions which eventually resulted in the making of the Financial Agreement. It was then decided that it was too much to attempt to bring semi-governmental borrowing within the scope proper of the Loan Council; but there has since been in existence a so-called gentleman’s agreement, under which the Premiers of the States bring up at the Loan Council in May of each year the borrowing proposals of semi-governmental authorities in their respective States. The matter is adjusted at the meeting of the Loan Council, and the arrangement made operates for the ensuing twelve months. I should like to give further consideration to any proposal for an extension of the scope of the Financial Agreement and the activities of the Loan Council in order to bring semigovernmental borrowing entirely and properly within the scope of the Loan Council before replying to that portion of the honorable member’s question.
– Has the attention of the Treasurer been directed to the statementmade by Mr.Stevens, the Premier of New South Wales, that the present policy of the Commonwealth Bank Board, if persisted in, will bring about anundue slowingdown of public works, with resultant unemployment, and would reverse the momentum of recovery; further, that there is obviously something wrong with the central bank’s policy, with Australia’s interest rates rising out of line with world interest rates?
– The observations of the Premier of New South Wales in this respect, and in others, have been brought to my notice, and I have replied to them in this afternoon’s press.
Mr.Curtin. - Why not tell the House?
– The matter does not arise in this House. It has arisen in the press, and I consider that the press is the proper channel through which to make my reply.
– I ask the Treasurer whether he agrees with the statement of Mr. Stevens, that the root of our financial trouble lies in the decrease of the cash and liquid assets of the Australian trading banks by more than 20 per cent, in the last five years, whereas, in contrast to this, the cash resources of the British trading banks have increased by about 20 per cent, during the same period?
– I think it would need a longer statement than the House would have patience to listen to if I were to reply fully to the honorable member’s question. Briefly, I do not believe that the source of any alleged trouble lies in the decrease of the liquidity of our trading banks. For one thing, this does not take into account the variations of the trading banks’ holdings of securities in the period mentioned. The position of the trading banks in Great Britain has no parallel in this country. They have not been able to place their advances, and the ratio of advances to deposits of British banks has declined from about 55 per cent, before the depression to 40 per cent, to-day. Actually, they cannot find creditworthy persons to whom to make advances, and so they invest largely in securities. In any case, the monetary position in Great Britain cannot in any way be relied upon to provide guidance in relation to the monetary position in this country.
– I ask the Treasurer whether there is any indication in the outburst of Mr. Stevens against the Treasurer himself or the Commonwealth Bank Board, that Mr. Stevensis acting as the mouthpiece of the Bank of New South Wales in an internal squabble with the Commonwealth Bank?
– I have no information on the subject.
– I ask the Treasurer if he agrees with the statements made by Mr. Stevens at the Loan Council, that the amount of money in the market, whether for private or public purposes, is under the control of the Commonwealth Bank?
– I do not recollect any statement of that sort. If it were made at all, it would have to be made with many qualifications, and not by any means as a general statement.
– Will the Treasurer inform me whether he has been accurately reported in the press, to the effect that the loan programmes of some States have been inspired by political reasons? If the report is accurate, will the honorable gentleman indicate to which State this criticism refers?
– I made no such statement to the press.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is not a fact that the rate of interest to be charged on the forthcoming loan is substantially greater than the rate of interest now being paid on recent loans converted by the High Commissioner in London? If this is so, has the Treasurer any explanation to offer?
– The yield of the proposed loan is £3 19s. 4d., which is higher than the rate of conversions in London recently, but there is no similarity between the conditions of the money market in Australia and those in London; they are entirely dissimilar.
– In the Melbourne. Herald of Saturday last there is published a statement by the Acting Premier of Tasmania, Mr. Dwyer Gray, that political influence was brought to bear on Mr. Butler, the Premier of South Australia, to vote against the proposed allocation of a sum of money to Tasmania. If the report be true, will the Treasurer state who was responsible for causing Mr. Butler to “ somersault “ in respect of an arrangement into which he had entered?
– I cannot believe it possible that the Premier of South Australia was subjected to, or was influenced by, political pressure of any kind.
– Has the Attorney-
General considered the effect of the decision of the ‘High Court in the Henry appeal, so far as - it relates to industrial questions? Does not the decision lend added support to the view expressed from this side of the House recently regarding international conventions, namely, that this Parliament has the power, through the medium of such conventions, to legislate for a 40-hour working week?
– Within the limits of the time available to me, I have considered the decision of the High Court in the Henry case. There is no doubt that at least one of the judgments, which was delivered on behalf of two learned justices, supports the general view which is implicit in the honorable gentleman’s question; but, reading the whole of the judgments, it is, I think, impossible to say that a majority of them do lend general support to that proposition. There is no doubt, however, that the decision itself is an extremely important one, which gives rise to a very much extended interpretation of the external affairs power of the Commonwealth. What the limits of that extension may be I am not prepared to say offhand; nor, indeed, were the learned justices themselves prepared to say offhand what they might be, because the majority of them were content to deal with cases as they arise; but, under the interpretation now given by the High Court, the external affairs power will undoubtedly attract to the Commonwealth Parliament legislative authority over certain matters which hitherto was thought to be unavailable to it.
– As the Chief Justice of the High Court appears to have laid great stress upon the fact that the Commonwealth has power over interstate, but not over intra-state, trade and commerce, can the Attorney-General say whether the possession of the full trade and commerce power by the Commonwealth would enable it to legislate at large in respect of marketing, industrial matters, and aviation ?
– I am reluctant to treat the House to a lecture on the limits or otherwise of the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth, even were I qualified to do so.
– We all want a little free law.
– I know that; and nobody more than the honorable gentleman. But I think that the answer to the question which has been asked by the honorable member for Fawkner is that, while the full trade and commerce power would go along way towards giving to the Common wealth complete control, possibly over industrial matters, and certainly over aviation, the fact remains that there could still be aviation which came under the heading “ non-commercial intercourse between the States “. ‘ Consequently, it seems to the Government advisable that the matter of the aviation power should be dealt with separately and specifically. For that reason I have to-day given notice of my intention to ask for leave to introduce a bill for an act, the object of which will be to transfer to the Commonwealth, subject to the approval of the people expressed in a referendum, the full aviation power. This, as honorable members know, will be in line with the agreement already made between the Premiers of the various States and the Commonwealth at the recent Adelaide conference.
– Would it not be wise to prepare against the possibility of such a situation arising in regard to broadcasting?
– If I may answer that supplementary question without notice, I remind the honorable gentleman that the High Court of Australia has already decided by a substantial majority in favour of the exercise of power over broadcasting by the Commonwealth. While that decision stands, it would be as, I think our friends the theologians would say, a work of supererogation to ask the people to hand such power over to us. Should anything occur in the future to upset the decision of the High Court the subject will receive the immediate attention of the Government.
– Having regard to his statement of a few days ago that to raiseanother question at the forthcoming referendum would prejudice the chance of obtaining a favorable vote on the marketing question, is the AttorneyGeneral still of the opinion that a question relating to Commonwealth control of aviation should be submitted to the people at the same time as the question, relating to marketing?
– I think the honorable member will recall that when I made the statement mentioned by him, I was referring to the possibly prejudicial effect of a highly controversial question. I am raider the impression at the moment that the question of whether power in respect of aviation should be transferred to the Commonwealth, is not a controversial one.
– Is it the intention of the Government to hold a referendum every time the High Court, on a constitutional issue, delivers a judgment adverse to the Commonwealth?
– In view of the High Court’s ruling in regard to the control of civil aviation, I ask the Minister for tlie Interior whether he will make representations to the appropriate .authorities to see that Dr. Pen ton’s plane is reconditioned or replaced at Commonwealth expense, as the authorities refused to allow expert mechanics to overhaul the plane, thus making it encumbent on Dr. Fenton himself to attempt this expert task before starting on his flight to attend, at the request of the Commonwealth Government, sick people on Bathurst Island?
– I am awaiting a report from the Administrator of the Northern Territory on this subject.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether the Port Augusta to Port Pirie railway will be completed in time for tourists and others to avail themselves, during the Christmas vacation, of this new facility for rapid and comfortable transport to visit the largescale mining plants now in operation on the gold-fields of Western Australia on which the number of miners employed has increased five-fold to 20,000 <:1;ring the last five years ?
– If the honorable gentleman has in mind the coming Christmas vacation, it is not at all likely that the work will be completed. It is confidently anticipated, however, that it will be completed by the 30th June next. I speak, of course, of the Commonwealth section of the railway. I understand that good progress is being made with that portion of it which is being constructed by the Government of South Australia.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior if there is any pro vision in the contract for the building of the Port Augusta to Port Pirie railway for payment by the contractor of not less than award rates of pay and observance of awards, hours of work and conditions of labour by the contractor or sub-contractors? If so, will he say whether award rates and conditions are being observed, and if they are not, will he take steps to have these conditions enforced ?
– I understand thai such a provision appears in the contract; and I am also informed that the Commonwealth Railway Commissioner ha> used every endeavour to see that proper wages are paid where sub-contractors ar<? carrying on the work.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether he is prepared to take steps to invite the people of Australia to approve of an amendment of the Constitution to provide that the High Court of Australia shall be the final court of appeal in all constitutional matters?
– I am not.
– I ask the Minister of the Interior whether he is prepared to make a statement about the Freer case?
– by leave- Information was conveyed to the Department of .the Interior that an Australian military officer who has a wife and child in Australia had become entangled with a Mrs. Freer in India, and was coming to Australia on the same steamer as Mrs. Freer. Information received from India was of such a nature as to indicate that Mrs. Freer was a person of undesirable character, and, in view of these facts, I approved of action being taken to exclude Mrs. Freer from landing in Australia.
– Will the Minister for the Interior state upon what authority customs officials can supply confidential information, unknown to him, to representatives of another government concerning the administration of the immigration law, as is claimed to have been done in the case of Mrs. Freer? I also ask whether the honorable gentleman will take steps to ensure a closer liaison between customs officials and the Government to prevent such happenings in the future?
– By reciprocal arrangement it is customary for confidential information to be exchanged between the customs authorities of Australia and the Dominion of New Zealand on matters of this kind.
– Unknown to the Minister?
– Yes, without reference to the Minister. It is regarded very largely as a matter of form.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether he considers it was in order to state in this House that no information had been given to the Government of New Zealand in connexion with the exclusion of Mrs. Freer when such information had been given?
– I was very careful in the words I used in replying to the specific question asked by the honorable gentleman on this matter. I was very careful to say that no communication had been sent by this Government to the Government of New Zealand. At that time Iwasaware that any information had been sent to that Government through another channel.
– In view of the fact that it is reported that Mrs. Freer intends to return to Australia from New Zealand, will the Minister state whether she will be subjected to a second dictation test in Italian or any other language?
– That is a hypothetical question to which, I think, an answer is unnecessary.
– Seeing that Mrs. Freer has publicly stated that she has no objection whatsoever to all the facts being given in regard to her case, and that the Minister has stated thathe is withholding the facts only out of consideration for Mrs. Freer, will he now place full information before Parliament? If not, why not?
– I have not made, in this House, the statement attributed to me by the honorable member, and I do not believe that it would be in the public interest for me to add anything to what I have already said.
– Will the Minister for the Interior state who informed his department that Mrs. Freer was an. undesirable person, and what steps did ha take to verify that statement?
– I am not prepared to add anything to the statement I haw made.
– I have received the following telegram, to which I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs : -
Largeand increasing imports women’s frocks end of season dumping from Canada. Two factories already affected. Can you cause inquiries with a view to applying anti-dump ing laws? Further particulars being supplied.
I ask the Minister whether he will make inquiries into the truth or otherwise of this allegation with a view, if necessary, to the taking of effective action to prevent dumping in Australia.
– I shall be glad to accede to the honorable gentleman’s request.
– I ask the Attorney-General whether it would be possible to have prepared for honorable members a statement showing what are the rights,prerogatives and powers of the Prime Minister in. asking for a dissolution in the event of the time for which the House of Representatives hasbeen elected not having expired or, in the event of all. attempts to carry on the business of the country not having been made before resorting to that extreme measure?
– In the time at my disposal, I do not feel able to undertake the work of compiling a treatise on the subject raised by the honorable member, but I shall be glad to refer him to the relevant text books in the library.
– The honorable gentleman might assume the task when he is in opposition.
– The suggestion is an interesting one.
– I ask, Mr. Speaker, in view of the interest aroused in regard to the Northern Territory and outlying territories and complaints raised by honorable members in this House, that they are not informed of what is going on in those territories, if you will ensure that honorable members will keep silence while the Clerk of the House is laying ordinances on the table so that honorable members may take an intelligent interest in this matter.
– It may be that audible conversation is occasionally carried on while the work of the House is progressing, but the Chair calls the House to order. I feel it is obvious that it is the purpose of the honorable member in asking his question, to direct attention to a matter on which he sought information a few moments ago.
– Have the Defence authorities yet come to a decision regarding the kinds of warships to be built under the new defence programme? If not, for whose instructions or suggestions is the department waiting?
– The honorable member’s question is answered by the reply given to-day to a question on notice.
-I desire to inform the House that the Right Honorable Viscount Elibank, C.M.G., D.S.O., a member of the House of Lords, is within the precincts. With the concurrence of honorable members I shall provide the right honorable gentleman with a distinguished stranger’s seat on the floor of the House beside the Speaker’s chair.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
Viscount Elibank thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.
– I have received from Lady Anderson, and from Lady Groom, letters thanking the House for its resolutions of sympathy.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 6th November (vide page 1611).
Proposed vote,. £42*8,210.
– ihe Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) directed attention to increased expenditure in connexion with the maintenance of trade commissioners in the East. 1 remind honorable members that the amount on this year’s Estimates provides for a whole year’s expenditure, as against expenditure for only part of the year provided for in the previous Estimates. Moreover, the staff has been increased since the establishment of the various offices, this being found necessary, as the organization was placed in proper working order. These trade offices are doing particularly valuable work in Batavia. Japan, and China. Representatives of the Commerce Department have visited several other centres, including India, and a most valuable report dealing with their visit has been tabled so that honorable members may learn, for themselves the true position in Eastern countries, and the possibility of developing Australian trade there.
As for the increased cost of the Department of Commerce generally that is attributable, for the most part, to the fact that the head-quarters of the department were transferred this year from Melbourne to Canberra. Expenditure was incurred in transferring the department itself, as well as in connexion with the transfer of officers and their families. The increased expenditure is further accounted for by the fact that restorations of salaries under the amendment of the Financial Emergency Act have been made in this department, in common with all other Commonwealth departments.
I come now to another item in connexion with the cost of ministerial visits overseas. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked me whether I could give honorable members some information in respect to the inquiries which were carried out in Denmark on behalf of the Government in connexion with the dairying industry. I have already explained rather fully to this House the work which was carried out in this regard not only in Denmark but also in. various other countries which were visited by members of the delegation, and the relevant reports are available to honorable members in the various departments. Since our return the Australian Butter Board bas given consideration to many of the difficulties under which the export trade was labouring and has suggested many amendments of the regulations which had to be formulated and they are now in operation. The object bas been to improve the quality of butter exported from Australia, or, in other words, to restrict the export of butter of inferior quality in order to consolidate the whole of the publicity campaign which, has been carried out and subsidized by the Commonwealth Government with an increased sum of money, and to eliminate the multitude of brands under which Australian butter was being marketed from time to- time. I am pleased to say that the number of brands has now been reduced to an absolute minimum, and approximately only four brands of Australian butter, compared with six hundred brands eighteen months ago, are now leaving these shores.
– Will the Minister give the House some details in regard to the long-range meat agreement?
– I am not in a position at this stage to give honorable members that information owing to the fact that the latest advices which we have received stated that the agreement between the United Kingdom and Argentina has not yet been signed, but we expect the finalization of those negotiations at any moment. Honorable members realize that they have a direct bearing upon the position which exists between the United Kingdom and Australia.
– Has the Minister received any assurance from the British Government that the United Kingdom will take all the chilled beef which we can send to it for a fixed period, say, of five years ?
– The Commonwealth Government is quite satisfied that no serious difficulties confront it in regard to the market for Australian chilled beef in the United Kingdom. The terms which, I understand, will be embodied in the agreement between the United Kingdom and Argentina will be favorable not only to Australia, but also to all the British Dominions which export meat, and will also safeguard, our interests for a considerable time. Furthermore, the increased quantity of chilled, beef which has been despatched to the United Kingdom from time to time is meeting a fairly steady market and Australia has suffered no reverse or setback whatever in connexion with the conditions imposed upon our meat export by the British Government. We have been able- to market the whole of our chilled beef and secure a considerably increased market for our frozen mutton and lamb at very satisfactory prices. The Commonwealth Government is confident that the meat trade bas a very definite future and that the market of the United Kingdom will increase and improve from time to time as the conditions which are embodied in the new agreement are brought into operation.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed Votes - Miscellaneous Services,. £1,149,430; Refunds of Revenue. £1,350,000; and Advance to the Treasurer, £2,000,000.
,- I notice that a sum of £22,604 has been made available towards the provision of an improved passenger service between Melbourne and Launceston. Some explanation is due to honorable members as to the necessity for granting this annual subsidy because the service operates on the direct route between the mainland and Tasmania, and the amount of business there should be sufficient to enable any shipping company to provide an adequate service without having to rely upon the Government for assistance.
– In reference to the vote of £1,000 for subsidies and expenses in connexion with maternal and infant hygiene, I take this opportunity to make a few remarks which I had intended to deliver during the discussion of the Estimates for the ‘Department of Health last week. The Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) on that occasion was chided by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) in connexion with certain statements which he had made concerning the desirability for increasing the population of Australia. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out to the Minister that the best immigrant we could have was the young Australian himself, and with that opinion I am in complete accord. Recently I took the opportunity to read a series of articles by Dr. Watson Munro which received considerable prominence at the time and which drew attention to the fact that we in Australia were not taking sufficient precautions to guard against maternal mortality, or to bring into the world very necessary “ immigrants that is to say, young Australians. Dr. Watson Munro further pointed out certain facts which were an indictment of not only all Departments of Health throughout Australia, but also the medical profession generally. According to his opinion we were losing approximately five mothers in every 1,000 births. That roughly represents that out of every 200 Australian mothers that give birth to children, we are losing one, due entirely to the failure of the various Departments of Health to make the necessary arrangements whereby these very natural functions should have the satisfactory result that all natural functions should have. If we include in the statistics the cases of criminal abortion, the rate of maternal mortality is considerably higher and 700 Australian mothers die annually through giving birth to children. This information, together with other facts which I shall present to the committee, should cause this national Parliament seriously to consider whether some definite instruction should not be given to the Commonwealth Minister of .Health immediately to convene a. conference of representatives of all Departments of Health throughout Australia in order to ascertain whether thi* tremendous maternal mortality rate cannot be reduced. The figures which I have quoted do not take into consideration all those women who are broken in health or who have developed definite organic diseases arising out of what should be considered just an ordinary natural function. By our apathy and failure to face up to this serious situation we are stifling the springs of life at their source and I therefore suggest that this national Parliament should devote its first con- sideration to the preservation of the life of Australian mothers. I propose now to deal briefly with the results that follow from the loss of mothers, and the failure of Departments of Health generally to cater for the maintenance of their health, and the preservation of infant life. The effect roughly on Australia is the loss of approximately 10,000 children per annum, and honorable members of the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States in conjunction with the medical profession generally, are doing a definite dis-service to Australia and to Australian mothers by permitting this sad state of affairs to continue. If we look more deeply into these statistics, we find that, notwithstanding our vaunted civilization and the progress of medical science, the losses of children under one year of age are higher to-day than they were 30 years ago. May I suggest that this extraordinary increase of infantile mortality may be due to the fear of prospective mothers of bringing into the world the children whom they have conceived? May I further suggest that that of itself may be a reason for the marked increase of the use of contraceptives, which is definitely detrimental to the health of the nation as a whole, but particularly of its womanhood? The present is a real live situation, to the needs of which the Minister, who prides himself on his wide national outlook, should immediately adapt himself. When the right honorable gentleman first took over the administration of the Department of Health, he announced, with a fanfare of trumpets, what he proposed to do in connexion with this particular matter. What steps has he so far taken? The other day, by way of interjection, I suggested the establishment of a chair of obstetrics in every State university, but with an airy wave of the hand he dismissed the matter, his only explanation being that the power of the Commonwealth is limited. If it be desirable to seek what is regarded as necessary power in respect of marketing and aviation, surely any constitutional deficiency that may exist in respect of this matter also ought to be remedied!
– Another referendum ?
– It would be die best referendum that could be taken. If the Commonwealth has not the power to assume full control, the Minister should convene, without delay, a conference of representatives of the Departments of Health throughout Australia. I feel sure that the States would range themselves alongside him, and lay down lines for the standardization of education in this matter. According to figures that have been prepared by the Government Statistician of New South Wales, infant mortality is greater to-day than it was 30 years ago. In 1934, of the total number of deaths that took place under one year of age, 52 per cent, occurred within one week of birth. That, of itself, proves conclusively that the medical profession of Australia is not in possession of sufficient knowledge in regard to child-birth. Such a state of affairs could be overcome by the adoption of proper training methods for the care of mothers during pregnancy. I believe that the States would be glad to co-operate with the Commonwealth in the establishment of a chair of obstetrics in every university throughout Australia. I readily admit the sincerity of the Minister and the State Departments of Health, but hitherto they have been dilatory in taking action and have failed to realize the consequences to Australia of the continuance of the existing conditions. An impartial inquiry by experts into the loss of mothers and children is an eminently feasible proposition. The position has become vital, and demands much closer consideration from honorable members than has been given to it in the past. The loss of both the mothers and the children could be prevented, and this would add far more to the national wealth than is within the capacity of legislation in respect of marketing or aviation. If the necessary power to deal with the matter does not now lie with the Commonwealth, there is nothing to prevent the Government from seeking it. Children are the best immigrants that Australia could have.
– Would not the removal of people from the dole be helpful?
– Certainly. The Minister, too, is in accord with that sentiment. But apparently the right honorable gentleman does not consider the present time ripe to seek the power that the Commonwealth needs lo correct the position. All the evidence, however, is against him. I consider that’ the time is over-ripe, and that we should seek power from the people to adjust these unfortunate conditions. Standardization of policy in relation to obstetrics would raise the educational qualifications of the medical undergraduate, and that would ultimately be of benefit to Australia, because the undergraduate of to-day is the medical man of to-morrow. With proper education in the science of obstetrics, the loss of 10,000 children and 700 mothers annually could be considerably reduced. 1 believe that steps taken recently in the United States of America have resulted in the reduction of the infant mortality rate in the ratio of five to two. Australia has the wonderful natural advantages of plenty of sunshine, fresh air, and open fields, and the continuance of existing conditions proves the inability of our Health Department, and our medical profession to adapt themselves to the situation. Certain of the states have begun to lend encouragement to the raising of the standard of education in this matter. In Victoria, a special diploma is issued to those who prove by examination that they possess a given standard of knowledge of obstetrics. I suggest that the Federal Government might take over that function, because any diploma that it issued federally would prove of much greater value to those who receive it than one issued by a State. On many occasions, I have heard the Minister voice his beliefs in language more lucid and forceful than I can employ, and with an emotional appeal which has (rone right to the hearts of the people. He may have other duties which prevent his devoting to this matter the attention that it warrants, but if he feels disposed to take the necessary action to secure a widening of the powers of the Commonwealth he will find that he has the support of a considerable body in this Parliament. Recently I introduced a deputation to him in New South Wales. Its object was to urge that the Commonwealth should, by the granting of a subsidy, make possible the free distribution of milk to school children. Certain facts were placed before the right honorable gentleman that somewhat appalled him, and the matter assumed such importance that, instead of occupying the usual few minutes, the interview lasted an hour or more. The right honorable gentleman made an appeal that quite touched the hearts of those whom he addressed. He said that the remarkable lowering of the Australian standard of health was due entirely to the malnutrition of the people, and drew attention to the fact that children of school age were not consuming a sufficient quantity of milk to ensure their proper physical development. He was shown conclusively that the State’ governments were in accord with the proposal put forward, but at the moment found it impossible to raise the necessary money to finance it. The Commonwealth has distributed millions of pounds among wheat-growers and other primary producers to preserve those industries for Australia, and, yet, notwithstanding that the available supply of milk is superabundant, and its free distribution among school children would result in the raising of a better race of Australians, both physically and mentally, the Commonwealth is not prepared to subsidize the States to preserve the health of the coming generation. The- chairman of the Milk Board in Sydney- has advised me that there is superabundance of milk available for distribution throughout the Sydney metropolitan and Newcastle areas. I direct the Minister’s attention to the fact that the Government of New Zealand bns made available the sum of £32,000 for the supply of this very necessary bodybuilding food to the school children of that dominion, and that the Government of the United Kingdom has made arrangements for the free distribution of milk to the 5,000,000 children who attend elementary schools in that country. In other countries, the consumption of milk is approximately 1 pints daily per capita, but in Australia it is “only J pint. No wonder the standard of health of the average Australian has been lowered, and does not compare quite so favorably as it did formerly with the standard of other countries! “We should have reason to be proud of the standard of health of our people, because Australia offers such remarkable natural advantages for its development; instead we are rapidly becoming a C3 nation, If the Commonwealth were to cooperate with the States and the suppliers of milk, the cost to it would be only approximately £60,000 a year. In the matter of maternal and infantile mortality, the Minister should be prepared to adopt without hesitation the principles that he expounded when he took over the administration of the Department of Health, and seek the help of the Government in bringing about an alteration of the existing conditions which is both desirable and necessary.
– I direct attention to the item “ Representation at International Labour Conference, Geneva - £2,500”, not to complain that the Government has spent the money, but to comment upon certain sins of omission of which it has been guilty. The Commonwealth Government is entitled to representation at the Geneva International Labour Conferences, but the State governments are not so entitled. It so happens, however, that when requests are made to the Commonwealth Government to take steps to implement the various conventions of conferences at which it has been represented, it excuses itself on the ground of constitutional limitation. Last year two important conventions were agreed to at Geneva. One related to. the shorter working week and the other to the provision of annual leave on pay for government employees. Although there is some truth in the contention that the Government’s ability to give effect to these conventions is limited by its restricted constitutional power, it could undoubtedly do more than it has done. Unless the conventions agreed to at these international conferences are implemented, the money expended in sending representatives to them is more or less wasted. I believe most honorable members would be quite prepared to expend considerably more than £2,500 under this heading, provided they could be assured that the Government would do everything within its power to give effect to the decisions of the various conferences. Although ths Commonwealth Government may have insufficient power to give full effect to the 40-hour week convention, for example, it could do a great deal more than it has done to urge the State governments to take appropriate action with that object. If our representatives are to be regarded as honest in the eyes of the world, more adequate steps must be taken to see thai the stand which they take on behalf oi the Commonwealth Government is supported by the Government itself.
– -Does the honorable member suggest that the Commonwealth Government should take action irrespective of what other governments do?
– The right honorable gentleman knows very weil that w& have been doing so for the last 30 years My complaint at the moment is that we are not doing all that we should do. The convention for the granting of annual leave on pay to government employees, has already been ratified and applied by 50 or 60 nations of the world, yet the Commonwealth Government has not taken such action in regard to its relatively small handful of employees. A 4.0-hour week is being worked to-day in many countries of the world.
– Which countries has the honorable member in mind?
– Some little time ago I read an extract from an official report to the effect that the Government of the United States of America had issued instructions that on all government contracts of $10,000 or more, a maximum working week of 40 hours should be observed. It has also decided that the working week in all government departments shall be 40 hours. The Commonwealth Government could do much more than it has done to influence the State governments to apply this highly desirable principle. I therefore charge it with this definite sin of omission.
I direct attention, now, to the item, “League of Nations Union - Annual Subsidy, £100”. This is a miserable amount to provide as a subsidy for an organization with branches in every capital city, which maintains an international correspondence of considerable magnitude, holds conferences with the object of increasing international goodwill, invites people from other countries to visit Australia and sends delegates from Australia to other countries with the object of deepening the spirit of international friendship which Mr. Anthony Eden is doing so much to develop. I believe that 99 per cent, of the honorable members of this committee would gladly approve of a subsidy of more than £100 to an organization doing work of this character.
– That is the amount that has been asked for by the Union.
– No doubt the Union believes that that is all it can get. Many honorable members of this committee make contributions of a guinea or half a guinea annually to this worthy organization, and I sincerely hope that if an application is made to the Government for a larger subsidy, it will be granted, for the beneficial effect of the work of the League of Nations Union is felt on every hand.
– I corroborate the remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) concerning the necessity for assistance by the Commonwealth Government to organizations engaged in the work of providing milk for young children whose parents and guardians are unable to afford to supply them with the quantity of milk necessary to enable them to grow into healthy and strong children. The Melbourne Milk Council has been raising money for a number of years for the distribution of milk to needy children. Its efforts have been carried on in an honorary capacity and large sums of money have been expended in this very worthy work. The funds of the council have been raised partly by voluntary subscriptions from citizens, partly by competitions organized by the press, which, I may say, have been appreciated, and more recently by donations from the Government of Victoria. The council supplies milk to various State schools, elementary schools, schools conducted by different denominations and Kindergartens, and also to some creches. Many of the children attending these various schools would otherwise be unable to obtain the quantity of milk necessary to enable them to grow into normal healthy children. I make that statement deliberately.
If the Commonwealth Government could see its way clear to supplement the funds of this council, and, of course, other similar bodies in other States, for I regard this as a work of national importance, immense good would be done to the whole community. I suggest that its contribution should be by means of a £1 for £1 subsidy. The Government of Victoria made £2,450 available for this work in 1933, and almost as much in the following year. In the next year, having become deeply impressed with the value of the work, it undertook the sole responsibility to supply milk to certain State schools. Consequently, in that year its contribution to the Melbourne Milk Council was reduced to £1,100. There is imperative need for increasing the effectiveness of work of this kind, particularly in our big cities and the Commonwealth Government would be more than repaid for any money that it expended in this direction. Had the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), whose illness we all regret, been here to-day, he could have described in much more technical language than I can use, the benefits derived by small children from a properly balanced diet which includes a reasonable quantity of milk. I urge the Government to accede to the requests that have been made to it for financial support for this very worthy work.
.- I direct attention to the item, “ Subsidy towards provision of improved passenger service between Melbourne and Launceston, £22,604 “. I regret that this amount is only practically the same as the amount provided for the purpose last year. The people of Tasmania are entitled to a more efficient passenger service at a reduced cost to that now incurred by them. On their behalf I have made repeated representations to the Government, in this chamber and elsewhere. An improved, passenger service at a lower cost between the mainland and Tasmania is very long overdue. The Government should open negotiations with the shipping companies to ascertain exactly the basis of the present charges, with the object of effecting a reduction of some kind. If convincing evidence is forthcoming that the existing rates are the lowest that can be charged, so as to allow a reasonable profit, the Government should arrange with the companies for the charges to be reduced, and should compensate them for any loss so incurred. The various States on the mainland are connected by .railways, and also have the advantage of effective motor transport services, but Tasmania is not in that fortunate position. On various occasions, promises have been made by the Government that something would be done to improve the passenger service between Tasmania and the mainland, but so far they have not been honoured. The business people of Tasmania incur heavy expenditure in visiting the mainland from time to time, and, of course, business people on the mainland who need to visit Tasmania in connexion with their various enterprises, are also involved in substantial expense. If reduced fares could be charged by the shipping companies, it would be of great advantage to all concerned, and would serve to assure the people of Tasmania that their interests are not entirely disregarded by the Commonwealth. A more efficient passenger service at a lower cost to travellers is absolutely essential to the proper development of the island State. I appeal to the Minister to give this matter favorable consideration.
I have listened attentively to the remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) on the subject of maternal mortality, and to his references to the conditions under which many mothers have to perform the great and noble function of child-birth. But I ask him how he can expect women whose husbands are receiving the dole of 10s. 6d. a week to bear children? The first duty of this Government should be to provide, through the various State governments, sufficient funds for the upkeep of expectant mothers whose husbands are out of work. Provision should be made to admit expectant mothers to hospital five or six weeks before the date of birth, an’d to allow them to remain in hospital for another four or five weeks. This practice is followed to-day in the more efficient hospitals in other parts of the world. Expectant mothers among the poorer sections of the community, however, are not admitted to hospital until five or six hours before the birth takes place. In fact, in some cases, they are refused admission until three
Ito lira before actual birth takes place, and, strict instructions are given to that effect. To-day, maternity hospitals, generally speaking, are run on a purely commercial basis. My wife has experienced treatment similar to that which I have just indicated, and these conditions apply to the majority of expectant mothers throughout Australia. Wealthy people, of course, can provide for better treatment. It is because of such conditions that maternal mortality is greater among the poorer sections of the community. Apparently this Government expects women to bring children into the world when the only food they are able to procure is bread and dripping, bought with the sustenance allowance given to their husbands. Surely we cannot say that wo are providing . for the welfare of expectant mothers when we allow those conditions to exist. I urge this Government to do everything in its power to enable the mothers of Australia, without exception, to rear healthy children. I am aware that, through its assistance, a maternity ward has been provided in the new hospital in Hobart, where expectant mothers who are unable to afford the expense will be able to procure the best medical and nursing attention. The position, however, is much different in New South Wales. The wife of a man who is out of work, and is an expectant mother, is expected to purchase food essential to her health out of her husband’s allowance of 10s. 6d. a week.
I ask honorable members who represent electorates in New South Wales, to make representations to the Government of the State to make better provision for the maintenance of expectant mothers; or to urge the Commonwealth Government to disgorge portion of its surplus for the purpose. The welfare of these mothers constitutes one of the greatest factors making for the progress of a nation. The time has como when we should adopt a system in Australia similar to that which now operates in France. In that country, when a child is about to be bom out of wedlock, no question is asked when the mother is taken into a hospital, and the institution accepts the responsibility of rearing the child. I have discussed this matter with members of the Women’s Non-party League in Tasmania. lu Australia if an unmarried girl is about tu become a mother society scorns her, whereas 1 claim she should be cared for in every possible way.
– Definite provision along those lines is made in every State.
– I say that is not the case. This Government neglects its duty towards the mothers of this country. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to talk about the Government’s good deeds in the interests of the nation, but the greatest thing any government can do for a nation is to look after its mothers. Figures given by the honorable member for Wentworth prove conclusively that this Government is not doing its duty in this direction. I protest against the practice of placing expectant mothers in institutions to be practised upon by medical students. Without exception they should be enabled to procure the best medical and nursing attention. I point out that the destruction of human life at birth by illegal methods, which is so prevalent to-day, is due solely to poverty. Women are driven te commit such acts when they realize that they are unable to care for their children. Society generally is responsible for such conditions, but this Government must be prepared to accept a share of the blame. It is its duty to provide food and nourishment for expectant mothers and thus enable them to bear healthy children. It is useless for us to talk about conditions as they are; we must rectify the wrong. Undoubtedly the financial resources of expectant mothers have an important bearing on this matter. If they can afford it. they will procure the best medical and nursing attention, but if they are among the poorer sections of the community they are unable to procure such attention. The kissing of babies and being photographed in the act of doing so is not the way to deal with the problem. I venture to say that the Minister for Health would not go among the mothers of Woolloomooloo or Melbourne Ports kissing their babies. The only remedy in this matter is to provide food and nourishment for expectant mothers, or to find employment for the husbands se that the wives mav enter maternity hospitals and 2’eceive efficient attention. All our talk about “the priceless baby” will not help expectant mothers. The Minister would be doing something more effective for these women if he persuaded the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to give financial assistance to maternity organizations and institutions.
I understand that a method is in use to-day which makes childbirth painless. If this Government would place that method at the disposal of every mother in Australia it would be doing something really beneficial to these women. In any event, if the Minister is sincere in his desire to do something for them, he will have this method investigated. It is being used extensively in the United States of America. The Minister may be most sympathetic in this cause, but rather than indulge in cheap publicity he should demand sufficient money from this Government to improve the lot of expectant. mothers. I have no doubt that all honorable members would support him in that direction. As men it is our duty to ensure that these mothers shall be given every comfort and the best hospital treatment possible in their travail.
– It is not my intention at this stage to speak at length, but I shall furnish honorable members who have addressed themselves to this item with such information as I have at my disposal. By way of general observation I should like to say that much of what has been said can be answered by a reference to the limited powers of the Commonwealth under the Constitution in respect of health matters. I do not suppose that anything can bring more clearly before the minds of the people the limitations imposed by a written constitution on the national legislature than the position in which this Parliament finds itself in regard to health.
I have listened with very great interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison), and, as the honorable member knows, I am, in substance, entirely in agreement with him. The honorable member for Capricornia (“Mr. Forde), speaking on Friday regarding another section of the Estimates for my department, made some references to its activities, to which I endeavoured to reply as best I could; but the answer, after all, is that our powers are so limited that, constitutionally, we can do little or nothing in regard to a matter of the greatest national importance. Replying to the point raised by the honorable member for Wentworth, I may say that, in my opinion, it is of the utmost importance that children should start life with sound health, with body and mind keyed up to the nth degree, so that they may fight the battle of life with some prospect of success. As I have said, however, the powers of the Commonwealth are severely limited. While the States have power to deal with every phase of the health of the community, the powers of the Commonwealth are limited to quarantine.
The first item in this division provides for a grant to the Mothercraft Society of Canberra of £1,000 for maternal and infant hygiene. This society is carrying on ante-natal, post-natal and natal work. It is also caring for children, and is supplying milk in necessitous cases. Last year a sum of £400 was voted by the Commonwealth for this work, and £900 was spent.
– Will the Minister compare this subsidy with the second item on the list, that dealing with cattle tick ?
– Like must be compared with like. The grant to the Canberra Mothercraft Society is for the purpose of carrying on a limited work in Canberra only. We hope, and have every reason to believe, that there is very little distress in this capital city. The honorable member must understand that this sum of £1,000 by no means covers the whole expenditure of the Canberra Mothercraft Society; it is merely a grant-in-aid. The honorable member sought, to make a comparison with the expenditure on cattle-tick control. An arrangement has been entered into between New South Wales, Queensland and the Commonwealth for the purpose, of dealing: with this menace, which is so serious that, were we to suspend operations even temporarily, injury would be inflicted on our herds to the extent of perhaps millions of pounds.
– lt is proposed to vote £1,000 for maternal and infant welfare, whereas £44,000 is to be voted for cattle-tick control. Would it not be possible for the Commonwealth to subsidize the States so that they might establish schools of obstetrics in the universities?
– The honorable member is not looking at the matter fairly. The allocation for cattle-tick control represents the total Commonwealth expenditure in connexion with that matter. I point out, however, that, in addition to the subsidy of £1,000 to the Canberra Mothercraft Society, there is a grant of £32,000 for maternal and infant welfare, and a further grant to the Sister Kenny clinic. Moreover, a grant of £10,000 is to be made for work in connexion with cancer research, making a total of £18.000 for medical research work.
– Will the Minister state why the grant of £50,000 made last year for maternal and infant welfare has been reduced this year to £32,000?
– The grant of £50.000 was made during the jubilee year of King George V., for the purpose of founding a fund with which to establish a memorial. The movement begun at that time has resulted in the raising of £200.000 for this work. The vote of £32,000 this year is for the purpose of carrying on the work which was then begun.
– Has anything been done in regard to the establishment of the memo’,ia.l ?
– The sum of £200,000 has been distributed among the States in proportion to population. To the amount allocated to the various States by the Commonwealth, there has to be added the amount raised in the States themselves by private subscription, and the amount granted by each State government. In each case, the money thus subscribed by all parties has been placed in a fund, which is to be administered by a committee. I was advised only on Saturday 1. St that the committee for New South Wales had presented its report, so that the scheme in that State will shortly commence to function. The honorable member must understand that the Commonwealth has no control over this fund: it is merely our business to distribute it. In addition to its share of the grant of £50,000, Western Australia has received a special Commonwealth grant of £5,000 in recognition of the splendid work being done in that State in the way of ante-natal and maternal care. The King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth has a record that can compare favorably with that of any such institution in the world. Out of 1,200 consecutive births, not one life has been lost. I have already mentioned the allocation of £18,000 for medical research, which includes a sum of £5,000 granted to Victoria to initiate a campaign against cancer. The Hospitals Commission has advised that, from, an amount made available this year, the Sister Kenny clinic will be financed.’
The bulk of the expenditure this year is made up of a grant of £1,000 to the Mothercraft Society at Canberra, a subsidy of £44,000 for cattle-tick control, a grant for the upkeep of the Australian Institute of Anatomy, which is doing a great national work for education in Australia, a grant of £18,000 for medical research, and a further grant of £32,000 for maternal and infant welfare work. The grant for the nutrition and other campaigns in connexion with health matters amounts to £10,000. Honorable members will agree that the Department of Health is carrying on its work in every possible direction. It is assisting research. It has been responsible for launching in all the States a vigorous maternal welfare campaign. Furthermore, it has established a nutrition committee with a view to ascertaining what is the best diet for the people of Australia, and when this body has made its recommendations, it will be the business of the governments of the Commonwealth and the States to educate the public on this important matter. As I have said over and over again, if this committee reports that malnutrition or ill-nutrition is the result of under-nourishment, and if in its turn under-nourishment is caused through a lack of purchasing power either through the . basic wage being below the proper level, or for any other reason, it will be the business of every government of Australia, Commonwealth and State, to see to it that without delay such changes are .made in the economic and industrial structure of this country as will be “-compatible v th the maintenance of a strong, vigorous and numerous people.
.- J. desire very briefly to direct the attention of the committee to what I consider the excessive expenditure which is contemplated in respect to the representation of Australia at the coronation of His Majesty King Edward VITI. The amount of money which has been set aside in the Estimates for this purpose is f] 0,000. Apparently the Government considers that this sum is sufficient to make provision for the representation of the Commonwealth at the coronation. J desire to say at the outset that the Opposition believes that it is fitting and appropriate that the Australian people should be adequately and properly represented on the occasion of the coronation of His Majesty; indeed, that it would he altogether wrong for Australia not to be so represented ; but it sees no occasion for spending for that purpose £10,000, an amount which in all probability will eventually be exceeded. If honorable gentlemen will peruse the Estimates of expenditure over a period of years they will discover that the amounts which have been voted in connexion with the despatching of delegations overseas have usually been greatly exceeded, necessitating the submission of supplementary votes. As proof of my conjecture in this connexion I direct attention to item 26, “Visit of Overseas Commonwealth Ministerial Delegation, 1036, £1,000”, and indicate also an item of expenditure of £5,468 in 1935-36 which was incurred last year in connexion with the overseas visits of Ministers. I know that it is probably intended that a number of Ministers shall attend London in connexion with the. coronation of His Majesty the King, but I think that it would be quite sufficient so far as the coronation is concerned, for the Prime Minister to represent Australia. I make that statement quite definitely. It would be in every way typifying of the nature of a formal representation which Australia regarded as the minimum. As a matter of fact objection should be taken if the Prime Minister were not present on the occasion of- the coronation of King Edward, but it is the practice of the Government to make these delegations overseas unnecessarily large, and that remark applies particularly to ministerial delegations. Since the right honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) has been Prime Minister, twelve Ministers have had eighteen trip3 outside Australia. According to answers which were given to a series of questions which ! have asked from time to time, they have visited about 27 different countries, some of which have been for the most part only “ looked in at “, as it were, I submit, upon a sight-seeing expedition, because the amount of time spent in some of these countries was quite inadequate to enable Ministers either to study the economic and political condition of the countries concerned or to conduct any satisfactory negotiations with their governments. If one Minister had done all the travelling that has been undertaken by the twelve Ministers to whom I have referred the time which it would have taken* him would have amounted to approximately 60 months, whilst the total cost of those various delegations as disclosed in the answers to questions which I have put from time to time exceeds £49,000.
– Do those figures include the expenses incurred by Mr. Bruce as Resident Minister?
– No, but they include the visit which Mr. Bruce paid to Ottawa as a member of the Government. They do not include any expenses paid in respect of Mr. Bruce from the day of his appointment as High Commissioner. At this stage, I am dealing wholly and solely with trips which have been undertaken by Ministers of the Lyons Government.
– I suggest that the amounis rather less than that which the Melbourne firm of Myers would spend each year in. sending business representatives abroad.
– I have merely referred to this matter at this juncture in order to direct the attention of the committee to the amount which the Government has placed upon the Estimates now before the committee. The item, honorable members will notice, is a round sum of £10,000, and, obviously, all that the Government has done, in deciding how much will be spent in this connexion, has been to select a figure which would not be too large, but yet would be sufficiently substantial to admit of some give and take in regard to the number of delegates who should be sent to the coronation celebrations. I frankly would not have raised this matter at this juncture but for the fact, that I am, I confess, staggered at the amount of travelling the Ministers have done outside Australia since the right honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) has become Prime Minister. The following Ministers have travelled abroad: The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill), the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett), the Assistant Minister for Commerce (Mr. Thorby), and the Minister for External Affairs (Senator Pearce) who visited New Guinea, Papua, and Norfolk Island. I have included in this list the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), but have placed an asterisk against his name, because he was not travelling as a member of the Cabinet, but, at the time, was Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment. The honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr) was a Minister at the time he visited New Guinea and Papua, and Senator Sir Walter MassyGreene was a member of the Cabinet when he visited New Zealand. The right honorable Sir John Latham was also a member when he visited England, Switzerland, Netherlands East Indies, Malaya, Hong Kong, French Indo-China, Philippine Islands and China. Mr. Bruce, while a Minister of State, visited Canada, Switzerland and England. The number of overseas countries which have been visited by all Ministers are as follows: - England, France, Belgium, Italy, America, Canada, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, British. Malaya, Netherlands East Indies, India, Egypt, Irish Free State, New Zealand, New- Guinea, Norfolk Island, Papua, Hong Kong, China, French Indo-China, Philippine Islands, and Japan. I have not invented this list. Every country I have mentioned is contained in a list which was supplied to me in replies given to me by a Minister when I sought information in regard to the number of countries which have been visited by Ministers. In all, a period of 60 months has been occupied by the Prime Minister and his colleagues in touring the world, and they have spent approximately £50,000 on these visits. The Melbourne firm of Myers Limited may get full value for all that it has spent over the same period - that is the firm’s own concern - butI am quite confident that Australia has not had full value for its expenditure of £50,000. For that reason I ask the committee seriously to consider if the sum of £10,000 for the forthcoming delegation to the coronation celebrations does not at this moment constitute, too large an amount to give to the Government to spend when I believe that there will be another supplementary item on future Estimates after, the delegation has returned.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has endeavoured to make a very large item out of the sum of £10,000 which is provided on the Estimates for the visit of the overseas Commonwealth ministerial delegation, 1937, to England for , the coronation of His Majesty King Edward VIII.
– Will it be only a ministerial delegation?
– I was about to explain that point. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin: ) was hardly fair when he referred to thenumber of Ministers who, in the past, have visited overseas countries and said that the cost totalled £49,000. The amount is considerably less than £10,000 per annum to cover the cost of the attendance of Ministers and officers associated with the several delegations which have participated in the various important imperial conferences that have been held during the last five or six years. The Leader of the Opposition seems to have forgotten that, although the Scullin Government, of which he was a supporter, was in office for a comparatively short period, it had five Ministers in London almost at the one time, including the Prime Minister of the day. I am not criticizing it; I cannot say offhand what the results of the efforts of those Ministers were; but when die Leader of the Opposition draws attention to the £10,000 provided for the delegation that is going to the United Kingdom during the coronation celebrations, I point out that it is not a mere joy ride for the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and that the cost will cover, as it has always done in the past, the expenses of the necessary officers that will accompany him. It will also cover the cost of the officials who will accompany the other Ministers, who will not be merely attending the coronation itself. Certainly the date of the coronation will fix the time of the visit of the delegation, but honorable members must know that one of the most important imperial conferences that the Empire has ever had will be held during that period, and at that conference it will be essential for, not only the Prime Minister, but also other important Ministers to be supported by quite a number of responsible departmental officers. It will not be a joy ride or an entertainment. Ministers will attend that conference to conserve the welfare and the interests of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Leader of the Opposition is neither more nor less than downright ridiculous in his suggestion that Australia has been extravagant during the last five years in having expended less than £10,000 per annum in meeting the expenses of responsible ministers and officers who have visited the United Kingdom and other parts of the world for the purpose of maintaining and developing Australia’s overseas trade. When one realizes that Australia trades with all of the countries referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, and that the value of our overseas trade is over £100,000,000 per annum-
– On the statement of the Treasurer, the big commercial houses conduct their own overseas negotiations.
– I do not deny that.
– ‘Can the Minister tell us the cost of the Labour delegation that went abroad ?
– I have not the exact figure; but before this period of the session closes I shall make it known.
– What was the cost of the attendance of the honorable gentleman at the wool conference in Berlin?
– I attended the International Wool Conference in Berlin on behalf of the Commonwealth Government.
– The Sydney Morning Herald has said that the honorable gentleman did not do so.
– I am not concerned with what the Sydney Morning Herald has said. If the honorable member is prepared to deny my statement, let him rise in his place and do so. I have justified my attendance at the International Wool Conference in Berlin, and make no apology for my presence at that gathering. I brought back with me to Australia information that has benefited the wool industry by many hundreds of thousands of pounds. I can produce evidence of that fact. Not one word of the reports that I have repeatedly given to the press has been proved to be false.
I return to the exaggeration of the Leader of the Opposition. I wish to mention quite a number of the countries that I visited, because the honorable gentleman has asserted that the time occupied on those visits was not sufficiently long to enable Ministers or officers to collect information of any value or to do any work that would produceresults beneficial to the Commonwealth. That statement is not only most unfair, but also illogical, and groundless. In. some cases it was necessary to be in a country not longer than 48 hours. On my visit to Berlin, I spent the time, not as a tourist, but as a Commonwealth Minister, seeking to advance the interests of this country. The conference concluded at midnight, and- on the following morningI entrained for London, and travelled throughout Easter Sunday and Easter Monday - public holidays. It might be of interest to the Leader of the Opposition, and to several of his colleagues who have’ referred to my visit to other countries, to know that when I visited Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Ireland. Scotland, and the north of England, the- whole of the expenditure was defrayed out of my private purse.
– I have not referred to the honorable gentleman’s personal expenditure.
– The honorable gentleman, and other honorable members opposite, have accused me of having indulged in a joyride at the Government’s expense. What applies to me applies also to my colleagues. A portion of their private funds was used in gathering information of value to the Commonwealth.
– The replies given to my question are the only material upon which I have based my contentions.
– I challenge contradiction of airy statement that I have made. The Treasury can bear out the fact that part of my salary was paid in London, as was the salary of the majority of the ministers who went abroad, and was expended on public work.
– I have said that the Government was involved in an expenditure of £49,000. I have made no mention of what the honorable gentleman spent personally.
– If the honorable gentleman will analyse his speech in cold print to-morrow, he will be bound to admit that he endeavoured to insinuate that the £49,000 was expended on ministerial trips in various parts of the world.
– So it was.
– Nothing of the kind; only a portion of it was used to defray the expenses of Ministers of the Crown, and it covers a period of five years.
– If a minister did not go abroad, there would be no need for his private secretary to go.
– The matter is not one that relates to private secretaries. I am. not trying to divest myself of responsibility. The public should realize that when Ministers attend the important conferences that have been attended during the last five years, it is essential that they should have responsible officers with them to act in an advisory capacity. Every Prime Minister and other minister, irrespective of party allegiance, has taken responsible officers abroad with him, so that he might properly do the work of Australia.
– Twelve ministers have gone abroad.
– In five yearsapproximately two ministers a year.
– Six Labour ministers went in one year.
– Five Labour ministers went to London in a period of nine months, and I venture to assert that very little result can be shown for the expenditure that they incurred. The last delegation secured for the Commonwealth a meat agreement which, in a period of fifteen months, has benefited this country by an amount of £1,250,000. The Leader of the Opposition has included the expenses of the Ottawa Conference. Let us consider the position in which Australia was placed prior to that conference, and ask ourselves what advantages have accrued to this country as the result of the expenditure upon it, of a few paltry thousands of pounds. Benefits aggregating tens of millions of pounds have accrued to the Commonwealth as the result of it. Do honorable members opposite suggest that it was of no value to this country?
– Would honorable members opposite tear up the Ottawa agreement if they had the opportunity to do so?
– Therefore, if honorable members opposite were in power in. the Commonwealth to-day, the people of Australia could say good-bye to the Ottawa agreement, and would be thrown back to the conditions that existed prior to its being signed. Australia has received very good value for the expenditure of £49,000.
– The time allotted for the consideration of these proposed votes has expired.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Proposed vote, £1,171,940.
.- I wish to raise the subject of the payment of fees, legally, properly, and legitimately incurred by a successful appellant before an appeal tribunal. A very big principle is involved. I have raised this matter on a previous occasion, and I raise it again now only because, while the present Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Hughes) was temporarily outside the Cabinet, the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) piloted through this branch of the legislature an amendment of the Repatriation Act. That honorable gentleman promised me that he would discuss it with the Repatriation Commission, and furnish me with a reply. Unfortunately, however, I have not Y:, been informed as to what may be the decision of the commission, the Minister, or the Cabinet. Upon the disability of an ex-service mau being discovered in a repatriation hospital, he is informed ai to whether the department accepts it as being due to or aggravated by war service. In the event of the decision being that it is not attributable to war service, he is advised that he has the right to appeal to the Repatriation Commission. If, upon exercising that right, he is again informed that, in the opinion of the commission, the disability is not due to or aggravated by war service, he is notified that an appeal lies to the Entitlement Tribunal. In order to appeal to that tribunal he must obtain certain evidence because, under the act, the onus of establishing a prima facie case is placed on the appellant. The principal evidence in many of these appeals consists of medical opinion. In very few cases is the appellant a medical man. I suggest that, if he were, his explanation of the reason for the disability would in the majority of cases be accepted. Thus, he has to obtain medical opinion outside the department in order to prove that his disability is the result of war service. But if the decision should go against the Repatriation Commission, he is not entitled to claim from it the legitimate expenses he Las incurred in proving his case. These are really cases of law7, in that on the one side there is the Repatriation Commission, and on the other side the appellant. The two parties appear before a tribunal of three members, one at least of whom has to be a barrister or solicitor of the Supreme Court of a State. It is a permanent body. After hearing the evidence, it gives its decision, just as three judges sitting in a court of law give theirs.
– Is the tribunal properly constituted at the moment, or is there a preponderance of legal men on it?
– At present two barristers are on it. The chairman has, of necessity, to be a barrister.
– It was never intended that it should be a semi-legal tribunal of that kind.
– Definitely not. Legal practitioners are not permitted to appear before the commission. The last appointment made to the tribunal quite undid the good work that had been done in regard to keeping it as free as possible from legal entanglements. I wish to make it clear, however, that I am not throwing brickbats at the tribunal. I am not prejudiced against it. All I say is that appellants who establish their claim before it should be reimbursed to a fair and reasonable extent for the expenditure incurred in preparing their cases. I have brought this matter under, the notice of the Government on several occasions, and a good deal of correspondence has passed between myself and various Ministers upon it. On the 6th June, 1934, the then Acting Minister for Repatriation, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) wrote to me in the following terms: -
Since you raised the matter of reimbursement to ex-soldiers, the cost of medical opinion, examinations, &c, in connexion with a claim for the acceptance of a disability, 1 have had an opportunity of going into the matter fully. As you will recall, the question hinged upon the propriety of paying the expenses incurred by a soldier for the medical evidence submitted .by him (which he had privately obtained) in connexion, particularly, with ari appeal to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal.
I am sure you will agree that the Government undertakes to (and does) make, in every case, all the necessary clinical and other investigations and obtains expert opinion on the information thus obtained, and for this purpose the leading consultants were appointed in every State to assist in reaching a sound decision.
Your request Iws received close consideration by me and the Repatriation Commission, but I regret that it is not possible to admit such claims for repayment.
I direct particular attention to the paragraph to the effect that the Government undertakes to make all necessary clinical and other investigations. That is per- fectly true, but the consequence of it is that every ex-soldier who subsequently becomes an appellant is required to obtain additional and contrary evidence, [f the evidence of the Government officers had been in his favour, he would have had no need to appeal, but by it not being so he finds himself an appellant, and is under necessity to obtain medical opinion counter to that obtained by the Repatriation Commission. As this is inevitably expensive, it is only reasonable that, if the appeal is successful, the appellant should be reimbursed at least to a reasonable extent for his expenditure. His action could not be regarded as frivolous, otherwise it would not have succeeded. I make it clear that I am arguing the case of only the successful appellants. It must surely come as a surprise to honorable members generally to realize that successful appellants are not reimbursed for the medical expense they must necessarily incur to establish their case. Whenever an ex-soldier is dissatisfied with the decision of the Repatriation Commission, he must obtain medical evidence that offers him some hope of success before he can appeal. His own view as a layman would get him. nowhere. I feel very strongly that, when such an appeal is allowed, the financial outlay involved in preparing the case should be refunded. Unfortunately, the Repatriation Commission in New South Wales often throws every obstacle in the way of an ex-soldier obtaining th« X-ray plates relating to his case for submission to an outside medical practitioner. Frequently, the returned men are informed that the plates are available at the Randwick Military Hospital. Obviously a great deal more expense is involved in requiring, say, a Macquarie-street specialist to visit Randwick Hospital to examine the plates than for a returned soldier to obtain the plates at the hospital and take them to the specialist’s chambers.
– In most cases the expense of a Macquarie-street specialist going to Randwick is more than a returned soldier can afford.
– That is so. In the circumstances, I strongly appeal to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Hughes) to give sympathetic consideration to the request that medical expenses incurred by successful appellants i>e reimbursed to them. The usual practice of courts of law is to grant successful appellants their costs, but the maximum amount allowed to a successful appellant before the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal is 7s. 6d. or 10s., or some ridiculously small sum like that. An important principle is at stake in this matter. Hundreds of exsoldiers whose appeals have succeeded have found themselves very seriously embarrassed, in spite of their success. The anomaly to which I am referring could be corrected by an alteration of the regulations. lt would not be necessary to amend the act. In view of the sympathy which the Minister for Repatriation has frequently publicly expressed for returned men, I urge him to remove this anomaly without delay.
.- -I wish to make still another appeal for a complete investigation and re-organization of the War Service Homes Department. The management and control of this important activity should have been reviewed long ago. The . department has been m.03t unfortunate in its management, for it has been conducted on strictly business lines, with the result that grave injustice has frequently been done to purchasers of war service homes. As honorable members are aware, the conditions governing the purchase of war service homes were prescribed when the country was prosperous and wages, generally speaking, high. I do not say thru the conditions were unjust at the time they were fixed, for in those days many applicants for war service homes were earning from ;E5 to £6 a week. Subsequently, however, when the depression hit the country, many of these men lost their employment, or found themselves compelled to accept seriously reduced wages. The basic wage fell from more than £4 a week to £3 10s. a week. It is true that the rate of interest charged on outstanding capital on war service homes was reduced by 1 per cent, or 1^ per cent., but a reduction of one per cent, on a £700 or £900 war service home represented only about £9 a year, whereas the income of basic wage workers who were fortunate enough to retain their employment fell by about £26 a year.
Wc know also that, in consequence of the recommendations of a committee of honorable members appointed to investigate this subject, an agreement was reached that ex-soldiers in receipt of 3 a week should be required ,to pay 9s. a week rent, and those in receipt of 55s., but less than 60s., 8s. a week. I do not need to give all the details of the varying rates. It is sufficient to say thai men in receipt of 42s. 6d. a week or less were required to pay 2s. a week. The trouble with this arrangement was that the unsatisfied indebtedness of the purchasers was funded. The “War Service Homes Commission apparently assumed that, by agreeing to capitalize obligation of from £100 to £200, it was doing the ex-soldier a good turn; but obviously, men so affected were still under heavy disabilities. Their arrears of interest payments increased, and the likelihood of them ever obtaining full possession of their homes diminished. It frequently happens that men in debt to the commission to the extent of £200 or £300 are asked to meet their obligation without further delay, and when they cannot do so, some re-arrangement is suggested which invariably is an inadequate compensation for the loss which the men have suffered as the result of the depression. The result is that these men are asked to vacate their homes. I know that the Assistant Minister in Charge of War Service Homes (Mr. Hunter) will say that none of them has been evicted, but the department’s process of putting them out is just as sure as eviction. It sends a notice to the occupants of the homes drawing attention to arrears, and giving them seven days’ notice to appear before the court. No lawyer can represent a purchaser of a war service home in such cases before the court. No one other than the officer of the department and the purchaser himself can appear in these proceedings. I attempted to represent one purchaser, and I was told by the magistrate that I had no standing before him when he was dealing with such a prosecution. Prior to doing so, I approached two lawyers and asked them if they would appear for the particular woman whose case I have in mind, and each replied that he would have no standing in the court. I was also informed by the local sergeant of police that I had no standing in the court. I was fortunate enough, however, to persuade the magistrate to give the home purchaser 60 . days . in which to commence making payments to the department; but he made it clear that, despite his decision, the department, if it wished, could evict that purchaser the next morn ing. That power is vested in the Commissioner, but I do not suggest that he would act in that manner.
The. point I stress is that these purchasers are put out of their homes; they have no security of tenure. It is clear that if purchasers accept the department’s scheme of repayments they only add to their troubles. I can mention scores of cases to show that this is so. I would like to see a judge or special commissioner appointed to inquire into their position. Hundreds of purchasers who accepted the department’s arrangement incurred an indebtedness of £200 to £400 in the course of four or five years, and then when they secured employment at a wage of £3 10s. a week, were called upon by the department to make arrangements for the payment of their arrears. This Government should have said to these men when they were in financial difficulties during the depression, “ Your rate of repayment is reduced to 9s. a week, and no addition to your arrears will be incurred while you are in the unfortunate position of not being able to obtain work “. After all, these men did not lose their employment through any fault of their own: like thousands who lost their jobs during the depression, they were not to blame for their misfortune. It was impossible for them to get work. I claim that during the five years of the depression, none of these men, who were forced to live on the dole or relief work, should have had his indebtedness increased by Id. That is a fair business proposition. Up to date a loss of £17,000,000 on soldier settlements has been remitted to settlers by the State governments, yet no step has been taken to remit any loss due to the depression to occupants of war service homes in industrial areas. Some of these men, when they vacated their homes, owedthe department £200, and as soon as it was discovered that they had again secured employment, they were served with notices to call upon the Commissioner and make arrangements for the repayment of their arrears. In such cases also, purchasers of war service homes should be relieved of their liability to the department. The department has gone so far as to take out garnishee orders against the wages of these men. In one casean ex-tenant, who owed the department £120 and is to-day receiving £3 10s. a week, has been asked to pay off his arrears at the rate of 2s. 6d. a week. In another case, a purchaser who was asked to vacate his home last August, and thought that if he did so the contract would be cancelled and he would be free of his indebtedness, went out willingly, but later discovered that, whilst the contract had been cancelled, his liability of £176 had not been cancelled. At present he is being called upon to pay off his indebtedness at the rate of 7s.6d. a month. In agreeing to so low a rate of repayment, the department admittedly showed a generous spirit, but any department which asks a man to carry a load of indebtedness of £176 to be paid off at so low a rate only shows its own stupidity. In another case, a garnishee was served by the department on a railway employee. The Commissioner was prepared to accept repayments at the rate of 5s. a week, but as the result of an appeal by the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr) the rate was reduced to 2s. 6d. a week. The amount of indebtedness in that case was about £200. I know of many cases of men whose indebtedness is £230, and who are being asked to pay off that sum out of a weekly wage of £311s., despite the fact that during the depression they had been forced to live on the dole. To-day these men are obliged to inform the Commissioner if they again secure employment. Their position generally is a very sad one. The other night I visited the home of an ex-purchaser of a war service home, the father of three little girls, who, when asked to pay off his arrears, declared that it was impossible for him under such conditions to re-establish his family.
It is generally recognized that the majority of purchasers of war service homes will never be able to pay for their homes in full. Nothing that I have said applies to the administration of the Assistant. Minister now in charge of this department. In the short period in which he has occupied the position he has given very great relief to purchasers who, I feel sure, would have been passed out by other Ministers who have been in charge of this department in the past because of their lack of interest in the welfare of ex-soldiers. I believe that the new head of the department has already realized the injustice of the penalties which these men have been called upon to bear. Perhaps the departmental officers themselves are not to blame, because, after all, they have to administer the law; but I claim that in many instances they show complete disregard of business procedure in dealing with these purchasers. If an officer visits a home on two occasions and finds the purchaser absent, or after sending notices, the department immediately proceeds to issue a summons; it does most stupid things which would be expected only of Shylocks. The time has come when this Government must show more respect for these ex-soldiers. In. going to the war they risked everything; they lost positions which, on their return, they were unable to regain. Other men who stopped at home had secured them. During the depression it was the duty of this Government undoubtedly to give these men food and shelter when they found themselves in difficulties, but whatever good was done in that direction is, to-day, being nullified when, on again securing employment, they are asked to pay off the arrears incurred during the depression. I emphasize that the Government of New South “Wales extends very much more generous treatmentgenerally to its purchasers. Section 4 of the New South Wales Moratorium. Act reads -
– (l.) This act shall not bind the Crown or any statutory body respecting the Crown except -
Advances for Homes Department, and Government Housing Department other than mortgages given or executed between the eighteenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and thirty, and the commencement of this act.
Through the Rural Bank the Government of New South Wales cancels the indebtedness of its purchasers when it is clear that it is impossible for them to purchase their homes. In contrast with that treatment the War Service Homes ‘ Department prosecutes its ex-purchasers for the last shilling of their arrears. Laws of this nature should dispense equal justice in every State of the Commonwealth. I am aware that the Assistant Minister will say that a mortgagor is not asked to repay arrears once the department has foreclosed on his mortgage, but is there any difference between the position of a mortgagor and that of a purchaser who is purchasing his home under a contract of sale? The mortgagors may have paid a deposit of, say, 10 per cent, of the purchase price, but purchasers, during a period of eight or nine years, have paid as much as £200 in instalments, and then, owing to the depression, found themselves unable to continue payment, thus accumulating arrears. I ask the Assistant Minister, keeping in mind actual business principles, to show the difference between the position of a mortgagor and the purchaser of a homo in those circumstances, and how he can justify the department relieving a mortgagor of his arrears whilst, at the same time, insisting that the purchaser shoulder , the full burden of his arrears. 1 point out also that, whilst the Commonwealth Government to-day compels purchasers to leave their homes, the Government of New South Wales, during the depression, accepted the responsibility of finding food and relief work for them. Many of these men, because of conditions obtaining during the depression, were forced to leave their homes.
– In many cases men resident in the district I represent were evicted from their homes.
– In reply to the honorable member I point out that many occupants of war service homes situated in districts represented by honorable members opposite could have been saved if honorable members opposite had not resorted to the low-down practice of having photographs taken of evicted purchasers with the object of grinding votes from the public. I shall co-operate with any man in an endeavour to help purchasers of war service homes who find themselves in difficulties, but I shall not be a party to exploiting the misfortunes of these people by having them photographed and publishing such photographs in the Labor Daily for purposes of political propaganda. It is doubtful whether those who did this really wanted’ to do anything for these unfortunate men. Rather did they wish to keep them in suffering so that, by pretending to help them, they might win their votes. I have over 1,300 occupiers of war service homes in my electorate, and in all genuine cases of distress I have been able to make fairly successful representations to the department on their behalf. In a few instances men have deliberately refused to pay anything, even if they could afford to do so, taking up the attitude that it was the duty of the Government to provide homes for them. In such instances I did not hesitate to tell them, in the presence of departmental officials, that I had no sympathy with them, and would take no further interest in their cases.
I appeal to the Minister and to the Government to give favorable consideration to the request that war service homes should be revalued. According to the figures supplied for the assessment of the cost of living a four-roomed house should be rented at 17s. 6d. a week, but in many instances reverted war service homes of three rooms are being let for £1 a week. I have appealed to the department not to allow rentals to be fixed on a basis assessed by land agents, as is now sometimes done. Recently, a woman told me that in her neighbourhood four young married couples were occupying four war service homes, and in no case was the husband a returned soldier. That is not right. War service homes should be kept for returned soldiers, and should be let at reasonable rentals.
.- I protest against the assertion of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) that honorable members on this side of the House have used unfortunate occupiers of war service homes for the purpose of furthering their party propaganda. I deny that statement absolutely. At any time when I or my colleagues have protested in this House against injustices meted out to these people, we have been prepared to back our protests with our votes, but the honorable member for Barton, on more than one occasion, after making his protest, has lacked the courage to vote in support of it.
I join with those other honorable members who have protested against the manner in which the commission is treating the purchasers of war service homes. Several very distressing cases have come under my notice from time to time. Quite recently, one of the victims of the department, who had been evicted from his home, obtained employment through my agency from the Canterbury municipal council. For his first week’s work he received £4 2s. 6d., and immediately the department garnisheed hi3 wages, and claimed £2.
– I am with the honorable member in his protest against action of that kind.
– I believe the honorable member is sincere in that statement, but he continues to support a government which allows that kind of thing to go on. The Minister and the Government cannot shelter any longer behind the War Service Homes Commission when such, injustice is being perpetrated. To-day the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) and the Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) discussed the question of infant welfare, hut what hope is there for the little’ children of this man when he, after having been out of work for four or five years, has nearly 50 per cent, of his first week’s wages taken from him to satisfy a claim by the War Service Homes Commission ?
– The whole policy must be considerably liberalized.
– I agree, but the honorable member for Wentworth and his colleagues have the remedy in their own hands. I object to the department trying to drag money out of people who cannot alford to pay. The commission should not garnishee the wages of a man who has just obtained work after a long spell of umemploymentThe trades people, who’ stuck to that man, perhaps for years, are entitled to be paid before the War Service Homes Commission. The Minister should issue instructions to the Commissioner to refrain from taking action of that kind. In some instances, men on the basic wage are as much, as £200 in arrears with their payments, but orders have been made against them for the payment of 2s. 6d. or 5s. a week. It i3 impossible for them to pa a larger amount, and the commission i.= simply tying millstones around their neck* for the rest of their lives.
I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister the case of a man who bough i for £1,200 a war service home in Earlwood. The house was built by the War Service Homes Commission, part of it being erected on a solid rock foundation, and the other part on clay. No provision was made for underpinning that part built on the clay foundation, with the result that to-day the house is parting in. two, the walls being severely cracked in many places. The man cannot afford to pay £200 or £300 for the necessary repairs. He has appealed to the commission, and has been told that the building was erected by a contractor, and that it was reasonably constructed according to plans and specifications. T don’t know what is meant by “ reasonably constructed “ ! Unless the department does something for this man he will have to leave the home, and it will revert to the commission. If I were in his place I should refuse to pay any more instalments until the commission has effected repairs.
I desire to enter a protest against the allotment of so short a time for the consideration of this important department. 1 know that several honorable members have matters of urgency .to bring forward, but it is doubtful whether they will ha.ve an opportunity to do so.
I have made several efforts to induce the Repatriation Department to recognize spondylitis as a pensionable disability under the Repatriation Act. In answer to one question which I asked in this Parliament, I was informed by the Minister that spondylitis was one of the most ancient of afflictions, and that it was even found in racehorses. As a matter of fact, the term spondylitis covers all that range of complaints which include rheumatism, arthritis, &c. I have had brought before me recently the case of a man named Bradley, living at Campsie, who suffers from spondylitis. He is a returned soldier, but his medical records were lost, and the record now in the files of the department was supplied by himself. He was wounded in France, and lay out for nearly a day and a half in snow and frost. Now, after eighteen years, he has made a claim on the department for a pension, because he is permanently incapacitated as a sufferer from spondylitis. The tribunal sent him before two specialists in Sydney in order that they might determine whether or not this disability arose out of his w.it service. For the life of me, I cannot see how any medical man can say whether a returned soldier suffering from rheumatism at the present time owes that condition to his experiences in France or England eighteen years ago. Recently, a mail suffering from Parkinson’s disease established his claim for a pension only after he had had his case before the department for nearly five years. This is one of the most distressing cases that has been brought under my notice since I have had the honour to represent the electorate of Lang, and I consider that this man has been the victim of considerable injustice. It took him four or five years to prove his case to the satisfaction of the department, and only then after his claim had been referred to two specialists in Sydney - Dr. Blackburn and another - whose reports were of a “ YesNo “ type. In fact, they were unable to state definitely whether or not the disease was due to the effect of the war. He was given the benefit of the doubt. I am gratified that the Repatriation Commission appreciated the justness of his claim by doing so. In the case of Bradley, and hundreds of others where men are suffering from spondylitis, I think the Department should recognize that the disease is due principally to the effects of the war, because of the climatic conditions to which the men were subjected while on active service. In concluding I protest to the Minister against the cur.tanment of time for the discussion of this department and I consider that all members should be given an opportunity to voice their complaints.
– I regret that time does not permit me to deal fully with the various points which have been raised by honorable members.
– Next year there will have to be some readjustment of the time for the consideration of these Estimates.
– I shall give very careful consideration to all the points which have been raised by honorable members. I had intended to refer to a statement which was made by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) in this chamber a fortnight ago. I caused inquiries to be made into that matter, but -if I were to deal with it fully it would take up far more time than I have at my disposal. With the permission of the Committee, therefore, I ask that this document which contains the information which the honorable member sought be incorporated in Hansard.
– I suggest that the Minister should leave it on the table in the Library.
– I thought it proper that the statement should be included in Hansard in connexion with the discussion of the Estimates for the Repatriation Department.
– Is there any objection to the statement being incorporated in Ilansard?
– I object. We do not know what the document may contain.
Leave not granted.
– Perhaps at this juncture I may be permitted to make a general statement in regard to the Repatriation Department which will be of interest to honorable members. The total amount of war pensions paid as on the 30th June, 1936, was £7,520,228, arid the total number of war pensioners, including soldiers, wives, widows and children and other dependants, was 258,282. The number of service pensioners as at the 30 th June last, including wives andi children, was as follows: - (a) unemployable, 1,774; (6) old-age, 1,257; (c) unaccepted tuberculars, 817. Honorable members will be interested to learn that the amount which has been paid in pensions up to date from revenue is £133,153,503. The war up to date has cost the Commonwealth £544,848,000, and we have paid £171,674,000 of this from revenue and now have an unextinguished debt of £323,697,000, which will rise continuously for several years. I ought to state, that in addition to the cost of war pensioners, £133,153,503, there should be added (a) general repatriation costs, £20,777,475; (b) soldiers’ children education scheme, £1,680,329 ; (c) war service homes scheme, £29,163,975, and (d) land settlement scheme, £34,000,000, making a total of £85,621,779. This must be added to the cost of war pensions, £133,153,503, and thus the staggering total of the cost of the war to our small community of some, six and a half millions of people is reached. I have only to add once more in conclusion, that I shall give the most careful consideration to all the points and complaints which have been raised by honorable members.
– I warmly support the requests which have been made by various honorable members in connexion with war service homes. It appears to me that the time has long since passed for a general review of the administration of war service homes and the policy which to-day is being applied to them. The consideration exercised by the Minister in reviewing the claims of occupants of war service homes is unsatisfactory, and many of these persons who, through continued unemployment have fallen into arrears with their payments to the department should be granted some relief from the accumulated capital indebtedness. When occupants of war service” homes have suffered long periods of unemployment, they are justified in demanding more considerate treatment than has been given to them under the present policy.
– The time allotted for the consideration of this proposed vote has expired.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £549,900.
– In view of the improved finances of the Commonwealth, I hope that the Govern ment will see its way clear to extend the railway in Canberra from its present terminus to a point within the heart of the city, ultimately connecting with Yass. I do not advocate that the extension w Yass should immediately be undertaken, because I realize that the Government has incurred expenditure in the making of a road to that centre, which has not yet been completed. Visitors on arriving at the national capital for the first time are surprised when they have to. leave the train at the miserable station which bears the name of Canberra and find that they have to put their hands fairly deep into their pockets for taxi fees in order to reach the heart of the city. In view of the fact that there are many unemployed persons in Canberra at the present time, the work of building the railway terminus nearer the heart of Canberra is well worthy of consideration.
The Government might also contemplate the extension of the Central Australian railway. This proposal has been mooted for many years, and, indeed, it was part of the agreement that the Commonwealth entered into with the Government of South Australia when it took over the control of the Northern Territory from that State. I do not criticize the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) in this connexion, because in the past I administered his department, and I found that it was impossible to proceed with the scheme. But now that Commonwealth finances have substantially improved, I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this project, because the North-South Railway is one of the few lines that can be wisely built, in the knowledge that no competition from road transport is likely to eventuate. In many places railways are giving way to motor services, and the necessity for them as a means of transport is not so urgent as it was in past years. The gap in the north-south line, however, is one tha’, must be bridged, and I therefore hope that my suggestion will receive the consideration of the Government.
– I consider that the Government would do well to adopt the proposal of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) to extend the terminus of the railway in Canberra to a point nearer the centre of the city. From my reading of reports upon this matter I am aware that it was intended that this extension should ultimately be made, but that for reasons, mainly financial, the station has been left at its present position. Honorable members must be aware that at the present time Canberra is receiving many more visitors than it has in previous yeai-3, and it is true that the persons engaged in transport are receiving considerable benefit from the fact that the station occupies its present site, but the station is unfortunately situated, and I therefore trust that the representations of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro will be considered by the Government. I also agree with his suggestion that the Government should keep in mind the necessity for building a railway from Canberra to Yass. Reading reports of some years ago on this matter, I find that it was the original intention to have such a railway constructed. At the present time a tremendous amount of useless mileage is covered by those who desire to reach Canberra from the south. Despite what many say, I believe that railway projects are not by any means out of date. Often it has been said that because we have facilities in fast motor cars for rapid land transport, such projects are not now worthy of consideration, but many railways are now being built in other countries, and means of transport by rail are better than ever before. In fact, the progress which has been made, as the result of the improvement of steam locomotives is amazing. I should have liked the opportunity to say a good deal more on this subject, and in my opinion the limitation of half an hour for the discussion of this particular department is altogether ridiculous. The Commonwealth Railways is a big spending department, although it may be comparatively small in proportion to the expenditure which is incurred by State railway departments. I shall content myself, therefore, with reiterating what has been said by the honorable member for Eden-
Monaro, and emphasizing that a railway from Canberra to Yass should be constructed in order that large numbers of people who are coming from the south to visit the national capital, may find an easy means of access to a city which is growing in popular favour as a tourist resort. Many of those who come to Canberra are tourists who merely wish to view the beauties of this city which, great though they now are, will be considerably enhanced when the ornamental shrubs and trees reach full maturity. I am personally acquainted with a number of people who, having made one visit by rail, intend to repeat their experience if better facilities are provided. For such as those, better travelling conditions should be made available.
Another matter to which I direct attention is the inadequacy of the acommodation provided for Commonwealth railway, employees working on the East-West, and North-South lines.
– There is no accommodation for women.
– I speak of the housing accommodation for the men and their families, some of whom are living under entirely unsatisfactory conditions. I do not suggest that no money is being devoted to this purpose, because I know that at Cook, for example, on the East-West line, the homes of the Commonwealth railway employees have been made a good deal superior to what they were formerly. But in some of the most isolated places, in which men and women should not be asked to live at all, the provision is not nearly what it should be. The Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator is at present hearing a claim with respect to rates of pay and conditions of labour, and I shall therefore make no comment in that regard, although I could supply a good deal of useful information with respect to the conditions under which the employees have to operate. But the matter of housing does not come within the jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator, although he may comment upon it in his determination. If other honorable members could view for themselves the habitations in which these men are expected to live, they would feel as strongly dissatisfied about them as I do. The climatic con- ditions are so severe as to warrant far greater consideration than the nien at present receive. While it might not have been reasonable to expect the expenditure of large suras in this direction during the years of the depression, now that Australia is emerging from a state of financial stringency and, according to the Government, is approaching a state of prosperity, those who are operating the essential services of Australia should receive more consideration than they have been given in the past. At Tarcoola, Rawlinna and Cook the men have decent dwellings, but on both line3 there are places in which the men have no social life and are compelled to live in reprehensible conditions. By comparison, the provision that is made by the Postal Department for its employees is greatly superior. In the matter of acommodation, there should be no distinction between railway men and thu employees of other government departments.
The construction of the line from Alice Springs to Birdum should be undertaken, even though it would not earn much revenue.
– Pioneer railways should not be expected to pay.
– I agree with the honorable member. Unfortunately, however, the inability of railways generally to make a profit is urged as a reason for declining to grant reasonable rates and conditions whenever tb ev are sought by the employees. The principal purpose of the railways is to develop our territories and to render an essential service. If the consideration meted out to the employees were comparable with that enjoyed by persons whose freights have been reduced, but who are far better able to stand a little additional expenditure, the position would be much fairer. I asked a question concerning the concessions given to graziers and others along this route, and the answer that I received showed that they were substantial. Those concessions are still operating. I have no objection to reasonable concessions being given to those who need them or to encourage a particular industry, but it is unfair of the employers, having given them, to urge losses as a reason for the withholding of reasonable rates of pay and conditions of labour from the employees.
– The value of those concessions is made good by the Treasury ; the railways are not affected.
– The failure to make profits is always urged as a reason for the rejection of the men’s claims. If the debates that took place on the proposals to construct the East-West and North-South lines are perused, it will be found that no one expected those’ lines to pay. I believe that the right policy was followed in the construction of the line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. Prior to that, a large amount was spent in making cuttings through the sandhills, which filled up when strong winds blew, and that expenditure was added to the cost of operation. But from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs the contour of the country was followed. The quality of the meals and of the service generally, between Quorn and Alice Springs, is very good. The ride may be slightly uncomfortable compared with long-distance trains elsewhere, but that is unavoidable because of the undulations of the track. If a similar policy were pursued in connexion with the extension from Alice Springs to Birdum, the cost would be considerably less than the original estimate. The promise was made many years ago that this line would be built. “I have frequently endeavoured to obtain data in connexion with it. From the viewpoint of the defence of Darwin, where a fair amount of expense is to be incurred on oil reserves, the aerodrome and other defence works, the construction of this line will eventually be found essential. If it does not find a place in the Government’s immediate programme, I hope that it will be given early consideration. This part of the Commonwealth’s obligation ought to be fulfilled, as a means of providingadequate transport for defence purposes, and in addition the standard gauge should be applied to such an extent as to make rail transport what it should be in this country.
– I support both honorable members who have preceded me, in regard to certain of the railways that they have recommended, and I particularly endorse the claim of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) that proper housing should be provided for the womenfolk of the employees on the northern railways. I speak, of course, of the extension from Alice Springs northward, and particularly of the continuation southward from Birdum to Daly Waters. I hold definite views as to what should be done.
I shall refer to the position at Alice Springs, before dealing with the extension to Tennant Creek. As to the condition of the carriages, the service is excellent; but I would point out to the Minister (Mr. Paterson) that men and women travelling from Alice Springs are given no facilities which would enable them to have a bath or a shower on the three-days’ journey, and it is high time that a certain amount was allocated for this purpose. I pressed for this during a ministerial tour of the country, but nothing has since been done in regard to it.
Before the discovery of gold at Tennant Creek, I had advocated the extension of the line from Alice Springs to that centre because of the valuable asset which it would tap, namely, the rich cattle country of the Barkly Tableland. I was then conducting official surveys in those areas. The need for this extension is more imperative to-day than it was then. It is felt that the department has failed to do all that it might in the ‘ascertainment of facts that would warrant the extension to Tennant Creek. I say with all respect that a sufficient depth has not been explored to learn the exact value of the asset. A mining engineer of world repute should be engaged to find out exactly the method of gold occurrence in that country, which is faulted for an area of 60 by 30 miles. Although there is a dearth of experts in Australia, such advice should be obtained “from a world authority, so that the railway might be extended from Alice Springs northward with exact knowledge of the asset to be tapped at depth. I realize that in the person of the Commissioner of Commonwealth Rail ways the Government has an officer of outstanding qualities. I know of none with such a long-Tange view of developmental policy for that big interior. From the sentiments he has expressed to me, I am led to believe that he is awaiting information as to what is at depth at Tennant Creek so that he may decide whether the field is likely to continue and thus warrant the extension of the Alice Springs railway station to a sufficient extent to cope with the estimated traffic, and to plan for the extension of the line northwards. The highest officials are waiting on the Department of the Interior to learn exactly what is at Tennant Creek, as the Government of Western Australia did before constructing the line to Wiluna. I urge the Minister to borrow from that State four or five competent men to shaft, sink, and ascertain the nature of the asset.
The extension southerly from Birdum is even more pressing at the moment, because the necessary material is on the spot. There are men out of work in the Northern Territory, and they could be given useful employment in this’ direction. It is obvious that a line which ends in a swamp, as this one does at Birdum, is a nuisance to the public, because in the wet season it is almost impossible to approach it. Only shortage of money caused its stoppage in such an awkward locality. .1 surveyed a township opposite to it, and recommended a land tenure that could be cancelled, anticipating that the terminus would not long remain there, and that the line would be continued to higher country. I urge the Minister to undertake the immediate extension for the 46 to 50 miles to Daly Waters, because the material is on the spot, and a portion of the earthworks is already constructed. The direction which the line should take further on is bound to be the subject of considerable debate. I hold very definitely the idea that the connexion with South Australia should be deferred for the present, and that it may not be needed for probably 50 or SO years. Extension of the line to Daly Waters would remove it from the monsoon belt into the dry country. The connexion with Tennant Creek would be worth while, because a mining field would be served, and the rich pastoral country of the Barkly Tableland would be tapped. A connecting link could bc made by motor transport and the motor unit which is already operating there. I should like the present arrangement to be transformed into a bi-weekly service from the termi- n us at Alice Springs to Tennant Creek, with two units running to a railway timetable. Instead of allowing the motor unit to compete spasmodically with the transport facilities already operating in the area it should be employed only to cart low-grade ore from very remote Tennant Creek mines and mining timber from northern areas. It should also be placed under the direct control of the Railways Commissioner. I ask the Minister to give immediate attention to this proposal. To use this equipment in such a way as to make it competitive with the lorries already operating in the area is most unfair. The uncoordinated work on which it is now engaged is, in a sense, futile, although I realize that the engineer and his staff are to be commended for the experimental work they have done in proving its possibilities. The time has arrived, however, for us to take advantage of this means of inland transport remote from railways in a planned way. If it were made a part of the regular transport service and operated on a bi-weekly schedule, business men, lorryowners, miners, and other settlers would all be pleased, and unfair competition would be obviated.
I wish now to give reasons why I do not, at present, advocate the building of a railway from Birdum to Tennant Creek. Such a line would traverse very dry country which for many years would be much better served by motor units, for the roads there can be used practically all the year round. The problem we have to face is the development of the northern area of the Northern Territory. We should make up our minds first whether the produce of this country is to be sent south, or whether development is to be in an easterly and westerly direction from the railway line which now runs from Darwin to Birdum. We should concentrate for the next 50 years on the development of the country east and west of the present railway line to carry a white population to produce the produce for transport. No great advantage would accrue from the completion of the NorthSouth Railway, except from a defence point of view. Because of the heavy rainfall that occurs during the monsoons in the area between Darwin and Daly Waters, the roads are often impassable.
The general transport facilities of that area should be improved before we eontemplate the completion of the NorthSouth Railway. In my opinion, the development that has followed the completion of the railway line from Brisbane to Townsville has not been nearly so great as was anticipated.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the population in that area has not increased?
– I believe that greater development would have resulted had the money spent on the completion of the Townsville-Brisbane line been spent on other developmental works in the north.
I doubt whether many honorable members realize the significance to Australia of the immense development that has occurred at Mount Isa. It is of prima importance to the Commonwealth from the point of view of the northern coastline defence that first-class engineering equipment, valued at several million pounds, has been constructed at Mount Isa, yet it is isolated for want of a gulf’ port outlet to make it an effective supply unit. I suggest that the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) and a senior officer of the Defence Depart: ment give some consideration to the possibility of using that machinery’ for defence purposes should the need arise. We should do our best to connect Mount Isa with the territory railways, for the works in that remote area could undoubtedly be converted into a sm1! arms factory, such as we have at Lithgow, should the need for such action ever unhappily occur. My considered opinion is that the railway should be continued from Mount Isa to the head of t“» Georgina River, a few miles north of Camooweal, and then along the Gulf waters divide to the head of the Kilgour River. Continuing parallel to the seaplane route, but well inland, the line could then go through to Daly Waters. An immediate branch line could be constructed to the Gulf coast at Port McArthur, Point Parker, or Burketown to provide an outlet to the sea for the Barkly Tableland and Leichhardt River cattle stations, and to give access to the known but unexploited mineral wealth of these regions. I ask the Minister for Defence, and the Minister for the Interior to give serious consideration to this proposal for linking up Mount Isa with Daly Waters.
.- I invite the attention of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) to certain considerations in relation to the East- West railway. We are undoubtedly approaching a new epoch in the history of that railway, for with the completion of the Red Hill to Port Augusta line the time necessary to make the journey from Adelaide to Perth will be reduced by about one day. I would not presume to dictate to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, Mr. Gahan, who is a technical expert, but suggest to the Minister for the Interior that speed is becoming more and more important in respect to railway enterprises. Railway engineers the world over are to-day doing their utmost to increase the speed of railway locomotives. This becomes more vital to success as improvements are effected in sea-going vessels and aeroplanes. If railway trains can be made more comfortable and faster, they will be able to compete on better terms with other means of transport now available.
– Eight express locomotives are now being built in order to increase the speed of the trains running on the transcontinental lines.
– ‘Considerable difference of opinion exists among railway engineers as to the best methods to be used to increase the speed of railway travellingBritish engineers still pin their faith, to steam engines, and by the adoption of streamlining and other methods they have been able greatly to increase the speed of their express trains. In Europe and the United States of America, the diesel oil engine has been developed very remarkably. Recently 1 travelled over a short length of railway line across Denmark at the speed of 70 miles an hour. It is now the regular thing for railway trains to travel at high speeds over long distances, and substantial progress nas been made in this regard in “the United States of America. A unique opportunity exists on our transcontinental route to carry ofl the blue ribbon of railway speed, for we have a stretch of level track of 1.050 miles between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie. I am glad that steps have been taken to increase the comfort of travel on that railway by installing air-conditioning plants in the carriages. I have been given to understand that this equipment costs about £2,500, including installation, for each carriage. By means of this device it is possible to make the temperature cooler in hot weather - and that is generally needed in connexion with our transcontinental trains - but it is also just as possible effectively to warm the carriages in mid-winter.
If we are to do all that is possible to reduce the length of time occupied in the journey to Perth, the Commonwealth must rebuild the line from Kalgoorlie to Perth. At present the run over this section of the journey across Australia, a distance of 375 miles, takes seventeen hours over a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railway. If a modern line of 4-ft. Sl-in. gauge were built, the time occupied in that journey could be reduced to seven hours. I am quite satisfied that with the new section of line from Port Augusta to Red Hill in operation, the building of a new line from Kalgoorlie to Perth, and a proper ballasting of those portions of the existing line which have not yet been ballasted, two full days could be saved in the time now necessary to travel from Adelaide to Perth. If this railway line is to compete effectively against steamers and aircraft, everything possible must be done to improve the service. Such improvements as I have mentioned would bring the line within measurable distance of not only paying interest on the cost of construction, but also of gradually paying off the principle, though I realize that that much to be desired day is still well in the future. However, when we consider that Western Australia will be once again, facing prosperous times and should increase its population within a few years to 1,000,000, there is justification for our looking forward to the time when we shall have a daily service on the transcontinental line which will help to make it a payable proposition to the Commonwealth.
As I frequently travel over this railway I wish to pay a tribute to the courtesy and attention accorded to passengers by our railway officers. My experience has been that the attention they give to passengers is equal to, if not better than, the attention given to passengers on the interstate passenger boats. With rapid transit, air-conditioned carriages and close attention to the details of service, I feel justified in saying that our transcontinental line is something of which we should be proud.
– The time allotted for the consideration of this proposed vote has expired.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.
Proposed vote, £10,321,315.
. - I appeal for a reduction of postal charges, and, in doing so, 1 propose to analyse the receipts and expenditure of the Postmaster-General’s Department with a view to discovering whether it renders its services for the convenience of the public or for the express purpose of making money. If we find that it has made excessive profits over a long period we can conclude that something more than service is required from it. In 1935-36, the department’s receipts exceeded its expenditure by £664,883, but this surplus fades into insignificance compared with its profits over the last two years, which amounted to the extraordinary sum of £2,447,735. That ratio of profit is being maintained; because in the business resulting from the passing of the depression we find that profits are gradually on the uptrend, and for the first two months of the current year the receipts, amounting to £1,190,000, exceeded an expenditure of £713,000, by 41.1 per cent. Those facts, I feel sure, will convince the Minister and honorable members of the necessity for giving some consideration to the reduction of the charges made for services rendered to the people who contribute towards the maintenance and the upkeep of the department. One can say with positiveness that our postal rates have never been so high, even when these services were controlled by the various States of the Commonwealth. As far back as 1908, a penny postage was inaugurated between Australia and the United States, and, in 1911, a penny postage had been established right throughout the Commonwealth. It is interesting to examine the increase of the postage rate which has since been made, to see what led up to it, and to note the manner in which the department has taken advantage of the war-time and depression increases to maintain a high standard of receipts which cannot be justified when we consider the services rendered in relation to the extraordinary profits made. During the war, the postage ratewas increased from1d.to11/2d., and as the result of the falling off of business generally during the depression it, was increased to 2d. I maintain that if that increase was rendered necessary because of the depression a reduction is just as necessary to-day, now that the depression is over. The huge profits which are now being made conclusively prove my contention in that direction. I do not want to give the impression that I am opposed to governmental control of essential services. On the contrary, I feet that these essential services are for the public convenience, and, therefore, the Government must exercise a certain amount of control over them; but I object entirely to the abuse of that control as evidenced by the figures which. I have, just given. In all business enterprise, governmental or otherwise, it is an established principle that any profit in excess of what may be called a reasonable return should be devoted in the main, particularly in the case of governmental enterprise to a. reduction of charges. One can imagine the extraordinary position that would be created if we were to find, for instance, our railways, which are an. essential service, returning so extraordinary a profit as that returned by the Postal Department, and, at the same time, refusing to reduce fares and freights. I suggest that no department rendering an essential service other than the Postal Department could possibly “get away” with so extraordinary an extortion from the public. If any other department under government control should return such a profit, and refuse to lower its charges, the resultant public outcry would force it to disgorge its profits. One can quite rightly claim that the present charges for postal services are excessive, particularly in view of the long-standing complaints that have been made by the business community in this respect. Such complaints are of little value unless one can prove that the present postal charges are excessive. I have already given the committee certain figures on that point, but I shall go further and quote from the postal accounts for the year ended the 30th June, 1935, giving the specific surpluses of the various departments in detail, and the percentage of the net profit on turnover. These figures are as follows: -
Those figures prove conclusively that the Postal Department in making such a high net profit on turnover is taking full advantage of Government protection to extort from the public extraordinary amounts of revenue; and I suggest that the committee should, in no uncertain manner point out to the PostmasterGeneral the necessity for giving special consideration to the users of those services. The figures prove that the charges made by the department are far too high. An apt business axiom may be rightly submitted to the Minister in this respect. I think l»e will agree that an increase of turnover would compensate the department for any reduction of the charges for these services. Parallel cases in private enterprise show that every reduction of charges results in an increased demand for the goods or services rendered, reflecting itself in increased revenue and turnover. I suggest that the Government should follow a similar practice in regard to the postal services. Australia is the only portion of the British Empire that has so high a postal rate and I urge that penny postage should be resumed. Such a step would link not only the back blocks of Australia but also the various parts of the Empire because at the moment, the extraordinary charges operating must retard the use of postal services by the general public.
In respect of telephonic services also, I claim that the present rates are excessive when compared with those in other countries. Recently I read a report on the operations of the British Post Office, which showed that telephonic rates in Great Britain bad been reduced to such a degree that telephones had been brought within the reach of the ordinary working man. The telephone should not be regarded as a luxury in these days of scientific advancement; and if it is possible to do so, it is incumbent upon the Government to bring the telephonic service within the reach of the working man. There has already been in the United Kingdom a very big reaction in that regard; and although the annual rentals were not mentioned in the report which I perused, that report emphasized that an increased demand with a consequent increase of revenue had resulted from the experiment. I. suggest that our PostmasterGeneral should investigate that experiment because, in view of its success, I feel sure that he would be prepared to follow a similar course of action.
Along with other honorable members I also draw attention to the complaints which arise from time to time with regard to the meter registrations for the purpose of telephonic charges. The department has been asked time and again to install, at the subscriber’s cost, a meter to register outgoing calls; and although it has resisted these appeals, I again ask the Minister (Sir Archdale Parkhill) representing the PostmasterGeneral if it would not be possible to have such meters installed at the subscribers’ expense. In one case which has come under my notice, a subscriber, owing to unforeseen circumstances, had his telephone for outgoing ears sealed down. While he could continue to receive calls it was made impossible for him to make an outgoing call. The telephone was sealed for that purpose, yet he received an account for certain outgoing calls which he was supposed to have made. This proved that the meter reading at the other end of his line was wrong. Of course he received a refund - the excess charge involved, but the incident proves conclusively that the public is open to excess charges under the pro- sent meter system and I suggest that the installation of a meter for the registering of outgoing calls on the premises of the subscriber at his own expense will overcome this difficulty.
Another point with which I wish to deal arises from a question which I asked the other day dealing with telegraphic charges. Briefly the story can be placed before the committee in the form of a letter which was directed by a certain firm to the manager of the telegraphic department, General Post Office, Sydney, under date the 11th March, reading as follows : -
We have - installed in our office - a direct line for the receipt and transmission of telegrams; we desire to know, if, after the message has been telephoned to our office, it would be possible to have the typewritten copies of messages forwarded to us in the ordinary method, by telegraphic messenger.
We are forced to make this request, owing to our having suffered a very heavy loss this week, due to the telephone message not having been transferred to the department concerned - and as the typewritten message did not reach us until the following day, the omission by a member of our staff to pas3 the message to the department concerned was not noticed - which waa the cause of the grave loss we suffered, namely, over £100. We mention the figures so that you will realize the importance df our request.
Unless the message can be delivered to us as above requested, we will have to seriously consider discontinuing the phonographic services.
That was answered on the 19th March, under the signature of Mr. Bradley, Superintendent of Telegraphs, who stated that the service asked for could not be given without extra charge. The firm replied that the telegraph boy delivered telegrams almost daily in the same building, and suggested that he might deliver to them copies of the telephoned messages. They pointed out that, for the month of December, they paid £206 2s. for this service, and suggested that, in view of the large amount of business they were doing with the department, some consideration should be show to them. This was replied to by Mr. Jones, who stated -
Further to my letter of 10th March, 1036, and in reply to your’s of 23rd March, 1036, relative to the free delivery by telegraph messenger of telephoned telegrams, I have to inform you that it is regretted that no depar ture from the Post and Telegraph Regulations can be made in this regard.
Regulation 7U is appended for your information.
The department may without charges telephone telegrams to an addressee who is telephone subscriber or to any person at a telephone subscriber’s address, provided that any subscriber may decline to accept delivery in this manner.
The large amounts paid by your company for telephonic and telegraphic service are very much appreciated, but it will be realized that any special privileges granted in regard to the free delivery by telegraph messenger of telephoned telegrams would necessarily have to apply to other firms. This would involve the employment of additional staff for the special treatment of such messages, thereby incurring costs over and above the established requirements of the Telegraph Branch.
The point I desire to make is that the regulation does not state arbitrarily that a charge shall be made, but by the use of the word “may” the Superintendent is given discretionary power. During the twelve months ended October, 1936, this firm paid £950 to the department for telegrams, £790 for telephone calls, and £230 in postage, a total of £1,970 for twelve months. Surely a firm, which contributes such an extraordinarily large amount each year to the revenue of the department is entitled to some consideration, and the Superintendent should use in its favour the discretionary power which he enjoys under the regulations. It is asked that copies of the telegrams be delivered only when it is convenient, sometime later, and not immediately. When the telegraph boys are in the neighbourhood of the office, they could then put the telegrams under the’ door, or hand them over the counter. The telephoned messages are not always’ accurate, and it is highly desirable that copies should subsequently be delivered for checking purposes. The firm has contributed to the revenue of the department by installing a special telephone to take the telegrams, and the department should not take advantage of its monopoly in the supplying of this essential service, but should meet its clients half way. I do not wish to be critical m regard to the department, but the PostmasterGeneral and officials of the department always take great pride in stressing its efficiency, and point to the surplus produced by the department year after year as evidence of this. I remind honorable members, however, that any ‘business firm which enjoys an absolute monopoly in regard to an essential service, and the privilege of fixing its own charges, can-
DOt help but succeed, and deserves no great credit for showing a surplus. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask that the surpluses so created should be devoted to reducing postal charges.
Mr. GEORGE LAWSON (Brisbane) p. 22]. - I desire to bring once more under the notice of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General the need for the erection of a new general post office in Brisbane. I am glad that the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) is representing the PostmasterGeneral in this chamber, because he knows the position in regard to this matter, and realizes the need for proceeding immediately with the work. During the last- twelve months the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has provided improved postal and telegraphic facilities in Brisbane, and these are ‘much appreciated, but the need still remains for a new post office, which was definitely promised by the Government some time ago. During a debate in this chamber a few weeks ago, the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) denied that any such definite promise had been given. By way of interjection, he stated that the Government had merely stated that it was its intention to go into the matter, and had asked the Works Department and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to cooperate in the drawing up of plans and estimates. That statement was not in accordance with facts. I have here copies of press reports which, state that, when the Commonwealth Cabinet sat in Brisbane, a definite promise was given that a new post office would be erected. Every member of this Parliament who has visited Brisbane realizes the need for a new post office, and the people of Brisbane have for years’ urged that a building worthy of their city be provided. In this regard they have been sadly neglected, not only by this Government, but also by previous governments. The present building is obsolete. It was erected about 64 years ago, and, though no doubt a very fine building for those days, it is now quite inadequate for the purposes to which it is put, and is, in fact, a disgrace to the city and to the Government. When the building was el’ected the population of Brisbane and suburbs was 22,000; now it is 300,000. Constantly throughout the last six or seven years I have advocated the erection of a new post office, and the people of Brisbane have supported my requests. Before the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Cabinet in Brisbane, the Courier-Mail, which does not support my party, but supports the Government, published, on the oth October, 1936, the following leading article: -
Eleven Ministers of the Federal Government, including the Prime Minister, will be in Brisbane this week. Primarily, their purpose is to hold Cabinet meetings here . . .
Federal Ministers will be able to see something of the growth of Brisbane and to realize bow pressing are the needs for adequate facilities to” enable the business community and the general public to meet modern requirements. One of these urgent needs is the erection of a new general post office . . .
Ministers will probably hear not only from the Parliamentary representatives of the State, but from representative men of the business and professional community, that the present building, despite the alterations and additions that have been made, is quite inadequate.
Federal representatives of Queensland have urged on many occasions the erection of a new building, equipped and organized to meet the expanding needs of the metropolis, and personal inspection by the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-Genera] will undoubtedly reinforce their claims.
The Courier-Mail was quite satisfied that immediately the Cabinet met in Brisbane it would decide that the erection of a new post office was justified. In the same issue of the Courier-Mail as that in which appeared the leading article from which I have just quoted, another . article was published headed “Federal Cabinet’s Chance to help Brisbane. Modern G.P.O. for Modern City “. The opinions of many prominent business men of Brisbane were given as to the need for a more up-to-date post office to meet the commercial requirements of the capital city of Queensland. On Saturday, the Sth August, after the Cabinet had met in Brisbane, the Courier-Mail published a half -page- article headed as follows in bold, black type- “New G.P.O. for Brisbane. P.M.G. has looked for himself. Quick action by Federal Cabinet.” The article stated -
Brisbane is to have a new post office on the existing Queen-street site.
After a meeting of the Federal Cabinet yesterday, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) announced that Cabinet had had before it a statement by the Postmaster-General (Senator McLachlan ) on the representations made to him with regard to the inadequacy of the Brisbane General Post Office to cope with the increased postal business.
A definite undertaking was given by the Government, and it is in duty bound to honour its promise at the earliest possible date; but it has made no provision in the present Estimates for the commencement of the work. I point out that it would not be necessary this year to vote the whole of the amount required, as the cost could be spread over two or three years. Some months would necessarily elapse before the work could be commenced, but an attempt should be made to show to the people of Brisbane that the Government intends to honour its promise. According to information I have received, an amount of several thousands of pounds is to be spent on extensions at the Sydney General Post Office. I claim that Brisbane has stronger claims to consideration, because the facilities already provided at the Sydney office are much better than those in Brisbane. I hope that my remarks will bc brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General. All honorable members who have visited Brisbane will agree with me that that city is entitled to a post office in keeping with its importance. We have been informed that the Government intends to proceed with this work, and that the proposal is under the consideration of the Commonwealth Works Department and the Postal Department. I trust that immediately the plans have been prepared the work will be commenced.
.- The two honorable members who have immediately preceded me have pleaded for improved postal services in the city electorates which they represent. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) complained that the charges for postal and telephonic facilities are too heavy. In justification of his claim for reduced charges, he pointed out that the department had made such large profits in recent years that it had paid into the general revenue approximately £1,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) desires a more up-to-date post office for Brisbane. I make no complaint against those honorable members, for they have merely presented a case on behalf of their electors; but I put forward a plea on behalf of people in the country who enjoy neither telephonic nor postal facilities. I shall make a comparison between the conditions under which those services, if they are supplied at all, are given .to-day and those obtaining some years ago. I complain definitely that during recent years the conditions under which postal and telephonic facilities are provided are less generous than they were years ago. During the early days of the depression period, those of us who asked for additional telephonic and postal services repeatedly received letters from the department intimating that, whilst it was recognized that improved services might be desirable, the financial stringency then experienced made it impossible to grant the requests. It must now be admitted that those financial conditions no longer prevail. The amount of profit made by the department in recent years shows that financial stringency can no longer be pleaded. For a number of years after I entered this Parliament, I advanced annual requests, when the Estimates were under consideration, for more generous treatment of people in country districts in the matter of postal and telephonic facilities, and a number of other members made similar claims. I well recall the former honorable member for Wimmera, the late Mr. P. G. Stewart, and I, vying with each other for the first call when the Estimates of the Postmaster-General’s Department caine up for consideration. No matter which of us spoke first, we always supported each other in a plea for more ‘ generous treatment of country districts. After years of pleading Ave were able to convince the government of the day of the justice of our claim, and a more generous policy was introduced. In 1926-27, and I think well into 1928-29, the Postmaster-General’s Department sent its agents into country districts inviting people to avail themselves of telephonic services. The representatives of country districts in those days found that, in some cases, the erection of telephone lines was commenced even before the people had asked for a service. The present position in my electorate and, perhaps, in other parts of the Commonwealth, is that when some of the lines that were erected at that period full into disrepair and posts have had to be renewed, the department informs the residents of the district served that they must renew and maintain the poles at their own expense, otherwise the service will be withdrawn. This affords proof of the statement that the treatment accorded to country people to-day is less generous that it was some years ago. I protest against subscribers being told that, unless they renew or maintain their own telephone poles’, he service will be discontinued. When I visited Tasmania about a fortnight ago, I noticed that for some distance along the road not far from my borne posts for the renewal of the telephone line had been laid at intervals and that quite a number had already been erected by the people at their own expense. The department had threatened to disconnect the service unless the subscribers renewed the posts. I was amazed that they had agreed to do so without greater protest. It may be. that the district has not progressed as the department anticipated it would, but there are more people there now than when the line was first constructed. The people there are serving the nation by opening up and developing a piece of country by hard toil, a work that all too few nowadays are willing to undertake. In the same district of my electorate a telephone line fourteen miles in length was constructed without any request by either the residents or me. I do not say that it was not justified. Although there are more people in the district now than when the line was erected, the department is asking the residents to renew the posts, and threatens to withdraw the service if they refuse. That service will have to be withdrawn unless the Government alters its policy, for the people will not renew the line and it is unreasonable to ask them to do so. I repeat that there is no conflict between the cities and the country in this matter, because a service that benefits one section benefits the other section also. There are two ends to every telephone line,, and it is unfair to ask the person furthest away from the city to build and maintain his own line. The department seems not to realize that there are probably more outward calls from the towns than inward calls from the country, for when estimating the revenue from country lines it has regard only to calls from the extreme end. The benefits of a telephone service are shared by both city and town merchants and country dwellers. If every telephone subscribed had had to build his own line because it would not pay during the first year, Australia would not have the network of telephone lines that exists to-day. It is most unreasonable to charge the person who desires an extension of the existing services to pay the full cost of providing it or a. portion of it. I have discussed this matter at length with, successive Postmasters-General, and I have before me letters from the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) when be was. Postmaster-General, . in which he stated that although he was in sympathy with country subscribers he could not reduce the charges, because losses would be incurred thereby. The Director of Posts and Telegraphs has told me that the department is losing money on its country telephone lines. He has even gone so far as to say that if more subscribers had their telephones disconnected the department would save money. I cannot understand a business undertaking being conducted on the policy of “ The more subscribers the greater the loss “. The argument . of the Director is equivalent to a business man saying that if he increased his customers threefold he would treble his losses. If the policy which is adopted in connexion with coun- try telephone lines were applied to the telephone cable between the mainland and Tasmania, it would be tantamount to saying that only calls originating in Tasmania would be taken into account in estimating the revenue. In estimating the revenue of a telephone service, the calls both ways should be taken into account.
In a letter to me the department states that telephone charges in country districts have been reduced. That was done last year. I am complaining not about the charges, but because there are instances in which telephone services are not provided unless the intending subscribers either construct the lines themselves or contribute substantially towards their cost. Seeing that the PosmasterGeneral’s Department makes a huge profit each year, it is only fair that country subscribers should get some of the benefit. As it is, these people by building or maintaining their telephone lines are making a direct contribution towards the profits of the department.
Telephone rentals are based on the distance from the subscribers’ premises to the exchange with which they are connected. The charge is £3 5s. per annum when the distance is not more than 2 miles, with a further 7s. 6d. for each additional half-mile. I have represented to successive Postmasters-General that a flat rate should be charged to all subscribers, irrespective of the distance from the exchange, but have always been told that it would not pay to have exchanges too close to one another. I do not ask for exchanges every few miles, for I know that that is not necessary, but I do claim that the annual rental for telephones should be the same all along the line. There is no justification for the present differentiation.
The same argument applies to mail services. In my own electorate there are many places which have no post office whatever. I have repeatedly asked for better facilities only to be told that they are not justified because the existing service reasonably meets the needs of the district concerned. If those who make such decisions were to live in the back districts they would think differently. The Postmaster-General says that the service in general must pay. What is meant by the words “ in general “ ? Do they mean that every extension of the existing system must pay, or that the service as a whole must pay?
– If a service costs more than £50, the department asks for a contribution by those who will benefit from it.
– I should like to know whether every telephone line m each separate district must pay for itself. I know that the service generally shows a profit. If the policy followed by the department in connexion with country districts were applied to the cities and towns there would be protests from every member of this Parliament, and from so many business interests and various organizations, that before long the department would be obliged to change it.
Of all persons in the employ of the Commonwealth none are remunerated so badly as are the non-official postmasters. Many of these postmasters arc either farmers or shopkeepers in a small way who do this work, not to make profits, but to serve the people of their districts. Representations have been made to the department for an extension of the hours during which country offices may remain open, and the reply invariably is that unless the revenue reaches a certain amount the request cannot be complied with. In my own electorate - and I have no doubt in other districts also - offices may remain open for longer periods daily if the person in charge will undertake to perform the extra duties without additional pay. I claim that such individuals, who already are inadequately paid, are contributing directly to the Commonwealth surplus each year. I plead for more generous treatment of these nonofficial postmasters.
In some cases, the service provided by the department is anything but good. I shall again cite an example from my own electorate because I am acquainted with the facts. In the western portion of Tasmania, a wonderful industry is established at Mr Lyell, Queenstown. There is a telephone line from Queenstown to Burnie approximately 70 miles away. Burnie is connected with Launceston by a line about 100 miles long, and. a further line of a little more than 100 miles brings the subscriber into communication with Hobart. Although there is a direct road between Queenstown and Hobart, a distance of a little over 100 miles, telephonic communications between those centres have to follow the roundabout route through Burnie and
Launceston. The result is not only great delay on many occasions but also a poor service. A direct telephone line between Queenstown and Hobart has been asked for, but the resquest has been refused on the ground that the expenditure of about £10,000 would not be justified. It is true that a service between Queenstown and Hobart is provided, but it is inadequate. This department should build a new line along the direct road joining the two places because there is a considerable amount of business transacted between Queenstown and the capital city of Tasmania. Some day such a line will have to be built, in the interests of both the city and this important town.
I repeat that there is no conflict between the interests of the country and of the city in thi3 connexion. Every telephone subscriber in Australia is concerned with every extension of the system; but until the Postmaster-General’s Department adopts a more generous policy, a gross injustice will continue to bo done to people who have rendered great service to the community by developing the outback parts of Australia. I hope that other honorable members will support me in the things for which I have’ asked. I have not raised this subject in the committee without first having brought it before the notice of the department on a number of occasions. When I have spoken to the Director and the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs about it, their reply has been in defence of the present policy. I ask the committee to support my claim for justice to country towns and districts. If the committee will insist that the department acts in the best interests of country subscribers, the Postmaster-General’s Department will act. Lack of knowledge rather than lack of sympathy is responsible for the present state of affairs. We are acquainted with the conditions which are prevailing, and this is our opportunity to bring them under the notice of the responsible Minister. In the circumstances, I fully expect the committee to support me in my plea. .
.- I endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell). Many complaints in regard to the lack of postal facilities are brought under the notice of the Minister (Sir Archdale Parkhill) representing the Postmaster-General in this House only after honorable members have exhausted, every possible avenue of appeal to have them rectified. As the result of postal facilities being below the requisite standard, country districts have sintered considerably in the past, and I consider that the principal objective of the Postal Department should te to give service to the community rather than te accumulate huge surpluses from year te year. In regard to the disposal of those profits, various suggestions have been made by honorable members. Foi example, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) proposed a reduction of postal charges, and every honorable member from time -to time has probably received letters from local governing bodies and other organizations requesting him to advocate a reduction of rates of postage, particularly with a view to reverting to penny postage. 1 agree that a reduction of postal charges should be made, providing that the wages and conditions of employees of the Postal Department are satisfactory. Serious complaints have been made from time to time and discontent is seething among employees of the department due to the inadequate rates of remuneration which are paid to them in proportion to the great responsibilities which they bear. I refer in particular to the mail branch section, although my remarks include the whole of the employees in the postal section of the Postmaster-General’s Department. They complain that their salaries are based on the rise and fall of the cost of living, by which method they suffer reductions of wages not contemplated by the Premiers plan. Although the Commonwealth Government contends that all ‘the deductions of wages and salaries which took place under that plan have been restored, I hold the contrary view, because these workers at the time of the introduction of that plan, suffered an arbitrary cut of 10 per cent, as well at the direction of the government of the day, which was advised by Professors Copland. Giblin, and Shann. Those gentlemen claimed that their recommendation would rehabilitate the finances of the Commonwealth, but after years of experience we are now well aware that that expectation has not been borne out in fact, because reduction of the purchasing power of the workers lessened the demand for commodities, resulting in an extension of unemployment instead of a restoration of prosperity. On reviewing the salaries of some postal employees in proportion to their responsibilities, I feel that it must be admitted that they are grossly underpaid. For instance, one postal counter-hand to my own knowledge paid into the cashier’s office for stamps, &c, a sum of £66,000 for one year, but his salary was only £208 per annum. As a further illustration of my contention I cite the instance of an officer who is employed in the mail room section. I again speak from first-hand knowledge, because the information has been imparted to me, and I have frequently visited the office. The official in question, who is in charge of 37 men in the mail section, and has had approximately 50 years postal service under the State and under the Commonwealth, receives a salary of £308 . per annum. He has the responsibility for all the mail, the upkeep of the room and the direction of the duties of the staff working under him. A postman receives £3 17s. a week, and one such official to my knowledge has had 28 years’ service, and no black mark has ever been recorded against his name. When the low rate of remuneration, which is paid to these men, is contrasted with the responsibilities which they carry, one may well ask whether it is any wonder that an isolated case of theft may occur from time to time among .the men who are so discontented with their wages? I stress that their wages are not adequate to enable them to rear a family with a reasonable standard of comfort without incurring debts. Unfortunately, isolated cases have been known of where such men have fallen into debt and have succumbed to temptation. We should recognize the services which they render to. the community, and take into consideration the nature of the labour which they perform. A postman no longer has a conveyance on his round. Once he was provided with a horse, but now he must walk from door to door carrying approximately 1 cwt. of mail matter on Ins bac, and bis round of delivery covers a radius of one mile. In a day, he would walk from 15 *to 20 miles, and. for this arduous labour .and honorable service - in the case of one postman 2S years - the individual is paid only £3 17s. a week. The greatest discontent in my experience is to be found in the mail section of the Postal Department. Last year, the department showed a profit of over £1,SOO,000, yet the officers employed in this branch are the poorest paid of any in the department. In my opinion, this huge surplus is not gained from good management or from excessive postal rates, but is chiefly “ taken out of the hides “ of the employees. I refer to all employees who are receiving less than £400 a year. It should also be realized that the Premiers plan not only reduced wages and salaries, but also led to the retrenchment of many employees in the Postal Department, and a considerable number of them are still awaiting reinstatement in their former positions. If the oft-repeated boast of the Government that prosperity has returned is correct, why should not the retrenched workers, who were responsible for creating a surplus of £1,S00,000 in the Postal Department, share in that huge profit by having restored to them the rates of remuneration which prevailed before the introduction of the Premiers plan. In my opinion, the minimum and maximum salaries which are paid to the employees of the department require rectification. As a further illustration of my contention, I compare the salary of £4 a week which is paid to a postal official for handling over £60,000 per annum, with that of the ordinary bread carter who is in receipt of £4 18s. a week, I do not advance this argument with a view to asserting that the wages of the bread carter should be reduced, but the purpose of the comparison is to indicate that, in view of the responsibilities which the officials bear in comparison with persons employed in other walks of life, their wages are disgracefully low, and should be increased to at least £5 a week.
– Why not also increase the baker’s wages?
– I admit that the baker and the bread-carter, in order to live decently, should receive a higher rate of remuneration, hut, at the same time,- the postal employees are unable to live in a reasonable standard Of comfort on their present salaries. The fact should not be overlooked that they must be better dressed, and must have a better education than people in many other avocations, and they are required to pass a severe examination in order to qualify for entrance into the Postal Department. The salaries of these employees do not compare with those of the average shop assistant, although the responsibilities of counter hands who handle thousands of pounds a year in the post office are substantially greater than, those of the shop assistant class. I do not complain about the rates of remuneration paid to shop assistants or suggest that it is even sufficient to keep them in reasonable comfort; nor do I suggest that the higher officers in the Service should be reduced in order that the wages of the employees on the lower rungs of the ladder should be increased. My point is that the substantial surplus which the department has made from year to year should be sufficient to enable a proper wage to be paid, and that we should be prepared to grant it to this hard-working and zealous section of the Commonwealth Public Service. The provision for the annual decrease or increase by £6 according to tho cost-of-living variation is totally inadequate to meet the position of these men. . Admittedly the reductions of salary which Were made under the Premiers plan have been restored to them, but the fact must not be overlooked that the 10 per cent, cut which was imposed by the Arbitration Court on employees covered by Federal Arbitration awards has never been restored.
– - That cut can be restored only by the Arbitration Court.
– When the court has been approached on this matter, it has said that, owing to the fall in the cost of living, the workers in the Postal Department covered by Federal Arbitration awards were relatively better off than they were when the 10 per cent, was made
That is neither fair nor reasonable, because the cut that was made in their salaries was definitely an arbitrary one. Let- us review the procedure adopted by the Commission of Inquiry into the cost of living. The practice in relation to rent, for example, is to obtain figures in a number of towns, and from them to strike an average. Such towns may be chosen as Cobar, West Wallsend, and other mining centres that may be termed “deserted villages”, and in which a four or a fiveroomed cottage may be procured for 5s. a week if the tenant- will undertake to look after it.
– Cobar is not in that category.
– Not at present. I believe, however, that when the index figure of the cost of living was last fixed, Cobar was one of the towns chosen, and at that time it was a deserted village. Admittedly it has since regained some of it3 former prosperity as the result of the resuscitation of mining operations. Having obtained particulars in a number of towns, the commission fixed the average rental at 15s. lid. a week. It is ridiculous to suppose that postal employees, particularly those in the mail-room section, who are generally stationed in large centres of population such as Newcastle, which “is the main sorting centre for the northern districts, and the metropolitan areas, can obtain housing accommodation for 15s. lid. a week. In my opinion these workers, because of their responsibilities “in regard to dreS’s and educational qualifications, should receive at least £5 a week plus an endowment payment. The child endowment paid to federal public servants ceases when the child reaches the age of fourteen years, notwithstanding the fact that there is no certainty of its obtaining employment and that the cost of maintaining it then becomes greater. I admit that this applies to all sections of the community, including those who have a taxable income. Even the taxation law of the Commonwealth stipulates that the exemption of £50 in respect of children shall cease when the child reaches the age of sixteen years. How can the workers be expected to continue to maintain their children beyond that age on the meagre wages that they receive? The position of postal workers is tragic. Their annual leave of eighteen days is of practically no benefit to them. One man said to me, “ Where can I spend the eighteen days? I am actually running into debt, and am not in a position to pay even a tram fare, let alone take my family for a holiday.” I assure the Minister in all seriousness that the conditions in the mail-room section and other branches of the Postal Department are such that breaking point has almost been reached. Considerable discontent prevails, and probably the strike weapon will be resorted to, not merely to obtain the restoration of what was received prior to salary reduction, but also to counteract propaganda whichis designed to convince the people that the Government has restored all cuts.
– It has not. The Premiers plan was adopted by agreement between the Government of the day and the then Opposition, led by the present Prime Minister. In the party room, eighteen rebellious Labour supporters refused to support it, and in this chamber voted against it lock, stock and barrel. But for the support of the Opposition, it would not have gone through.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).I ask the honorable member to confine himself to the item before the committee.
– The claim of the Government to have restored all cuts is not justified. If it wishes to play the game with postal and other workers, it must accept the responsibility of approaching the Arbitration Court with a view to the restoration of the 10 per cent, cut which that tribunal made at the request of the financial advisers of the Government in 1931. There are servants of the Commonwealth in this building who are suffering an injustice under the operation of the provision relating to the cost of living allowance. If the application of the Government to the court during the early years of the depression to reduce wages by 10 per cent, can be justified, an application for the restoration of that 10 per cent, is equally capable of justification now . that budgets have been balanced.
It is unfortunate that honorable members should Tail to secure rectification of grievances through official channels in their electorates, and be compelled to ventilate them in this Parliament. I am not actuated in any way by considerations of political propaganda.
– That may be the motive of honorable members opposite. My object is to secure, if possible, the adoption of the policywhich was implicit in the invitation “Vote for the United Australia party and secure for yourself a good job at steady wages”. Its adoption would prove beneficial to all electorates, not to mine alone. Representatives of metropolitan areas have no conception of the disabilities that are suffered by country districts in regard to postal services. The cities are given every facility that they need, but in the country the department will not provide even a public telephone unless it receives a guarantee that the cost of installation, amounting to approximately £16, will be met. On numerous occasions mine explosions and other accidents have occurred in country areas where there has not been a public telephone, by means of which medical assistance could be summoned. If such a condition of affairs operated in the city, there would bean immediate hue and cry to have it removed. I am astonished that the Country party, which can dictate to and squeeze from the Government everything that it is humanly possible to grant by way of bounty and other assistance, will make no attempt to obtain postal facilities that would prove beneficial to the community generally.
At Belmont, in my electorate, which has a population of approximately 8,000 persons, the postal business is conducted in a residence. This provision is totally inadequate to meet requirements. I have no wish to particularize other thicklypopulated centres which are compelled to rely on non-official post offices, although many of them come readily to my mind-. If official post offices were established in themofficers who have been retrenched could be re-admitted to the department.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I welcome the opportunity given by these Estimates to bring under the notice of the Minister (Sir Archdale Parkhill) who represents the Postmaster-Genera! in this chamber a number of urgent matters concerning the administration of the Postal Department, There is an urgent necessity to proceed with the least- possible delay with- the erection of a new post office at Brisbane. This work is long overdue. In 1925, it was approved and plans and specifications were drawn up for the erection of a new post office as well as an automatic telephone exchange. The automatic telephone exchange has been provided, but it is already 1936, and nothing practical has been done in connexion with the provision of a new post office. “When Cabinet met in Brisbane in August last, a deputation waited on the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan), and urged the provision of a new post office as a matter of urgent importance. Cabinet discussed the matter, and a statement was made subsequently that gave the definite impression that a new post office would be built in Brisbane, and that the work would be put in hand at once. As a matter of fact, the PostmasterGeneral himself made it clear that the Department of the Interior and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department would get together and examine the matter, so that plans and specifications could be drawn up with a view to putting the work in hand at once. So far as 1 know, nothing has yet been done. I read in the press that a small amount of work would be done this year, and that the expense would be met from the Treasurer’s Advance. The matter is so important that it should not be trifled with in this way. The Brisbane post office was built 30 years before federation, when the population of Brisbane was 25,000. Today the population of that city is about 325,000, yet the same post office has to suffice its needs’. The Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Brisbane, Mr. A. B. Corbett, has done everything possible by reorganization to try to make the old building able to cope with the increased business. The staff has to’ handle every possible postal matter, and in addition, matters connected with the invalid and old-age pensions. Staffs dealing with postal business, the sale of stamps, telephones and telegraphs, are all huddled in small sections quite incapable of coping with needs. At the peak periods with the crowds around the counters it is’ like being at a football match. That condition obtains in a city with a severe climate, and I pay a tribute to the way in which that staff does its work under most trying conditions. It is urgent that the replacement of this building should be proceeded with with utmost despatch. A further limitation on the old building’s ability to deal with the work is the fact that mail deliveries are now received three times a day from the outer suburbs. I comm’end the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs for the added frequency of mail deliveries in the outer suburbs and country districts, particularly for the improved services from Brisbane to the South Coast district, and for the remarkable all-round improvements that have been made, but all of these much appreciated facilities intensify the urgency to go ahead with this work. I hope that the Postmaster-General will give us some hope that it will be done at a very early date.
I also take this opportunity to direct attention to the need for the speedy provision of an automatic telephone cable between Brisbane and the . outer suburbs of Corinda, Sherwood, Graceville and Chelmer. During the depression a cable was provided, but it has proved to be hopelessly inadequate to deal with the traffic. It is defective and the department has recognized the fact,but people have had to carry on for some years with it, because no money has ‘been available to provide a new one. Last year I understand its replacement was definitely promised, and a cable was ordered, but the work has not yet begun. I want to know when it will be done. Is the cable in Australia, and when can we tell the people affected that the changeover will take place?
I take -s opportunity also briefly to appeal to the Minister on behalf of the non-official postmasters and postmistresses in the country centres. Like all other members of the community, they made their contributions to the recovery of Australia from the depression by submitting to a substantial reduction of their very small allowances. I regret that these people who are render- ing a public service have, had only a limited part of the reduction they suffered restored to them. All those whose annual turnover is £250 or less have had a full restoration, but those whose turnover is above that amount have not. Fu.il restorations of the emoluments in the public service have been made, and the salaries affected rise in some cases up to £2,000 and £3,000 a year. With that L am in accord, but I also think that the small section of the community represented by these non-official postal officers should have had a restoration some time ago.
– A full restoration has been made to all of them as from the 1st November, 1935. “Mr. FRANCIS. - If that has been done, I am glad; but I was not aware of it.
I appeal also for a more liberal policy towards country centres in view of the substantial advance made in the finances of the department which has, at least in the last two or three years, experienced a continuous surplus. When one considers that many of our people in the country districts are getting mail services once, twice or three times weekly instead of three times a day as in some city centres, it is reasonable to ask the Postal Department to review its policy in order to see if it is not possible to give the outback pioneers better services. I should like to see the hours of attendance of country telephone exchanges extended. They have been extended in many cases, and we are grateful ; but the policy could be made even more liberal. In the past it was not possible to do this because funds were not available, but the department now has the money and it is to be hoped that a more extensive and more liberal mail service will be devised and that the times of attendance at post offices will be extended. It is also necessary to provide for a more generous opportunity for the use of public telephones in country areas.
– The city areas have not got everything they want.
– I am conscious that it is not possible to provide everything the cities want, but these pioneers who open up the back country should be given every possible consideration. In recent years the drift to the cities has been decried, lt could be checked substantially if improved facilities were given to th*e country districts. Improved facilities have been made available to the country people through wireless and many other channels, but I do think that improved mail ‘ services and improved telephone services, which could be used up till 9 p.m. at reasonable rates, would materially do away with the isolation which these people are suffering to-day. I hope the Minister can give us an assurance that an early start will be made with the new post office at Brisbane, and that the other matters I have mentioned will receive immediate attention.
Mr. BERNARD CORSER (Wide Bay) [9.43 J. - Much has been said regarding necessary postal improvements in the city electorates, and attention has been directed to the need to replace the Brisbane post office with a modern building. The necessity to do this has been emphasized on numerous occasions by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), and, before long, 1 believe some action will be taken to replace the building, which was almost condemned before federation. The PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan) could find in Brisbane plans for a new post office which were drawn before federation. At that time a competition was held and prizes were offered by the colonial government for plans for a new Brisbane post office. The representations which have been made, not only by the honorable member for Brisbane, but also by other honorable members, are worthy of the consideration of the Government.
The profits earned by the Postal Department warrant the provision of better mail and telephonic facilities in the country districts. There are many small matters which are harassing to the country people. In the..first place, if an application is made for an isolated telephone, much representation has to take place, and after an exchange of letters the honorable member representing the constituency with which the application is concerned is informed, that if the applicant contributes £30, and a yearly rental, the department will provide the telephone. If three or four subscribers ask to be connected the charge imposed is likely to be very high. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department should review the regulations governing the granting of telephone services to country residents as it did in 1926 when a very generous policy was adopted. At that time the then Postmaster-General helped the developwent of country districts by providing improved telephone and mail services to a greater extent than had ever been done previously;, for that the Government received a great deal of credit. The additional facilities then provided were outstanding in comparison with anything that has since been done. It may be a surprise to some honorable members to learn that the service in some districts Ls so inadequate that letters sent overseas by air mail reach their destination in a shorter period than those sent from Australian capital cities to such districts. I know that the Government has done a good deal to improve mail services and that the facilities provided are being increased, but requests for improved mail and telephone services in country districts should be considered more sympathetically than at present. For many years residents in the vicinity of the Cromhurst observatory in my electorate have been agitating for telephonic communication, and I understand that only to-day they have received an intimation from the department that hi consequence of the necessary number of persons having stated their, willingness to become subscribers, a telephone service will be provided. This will enable them to receive from this observatory information concerning weather conditions which will be, of estimable value to them particularly during a drought such as they are experiencing fat present. More sympathetic consideration should be extended to those living in country districts, many of whom are experiencing great hardship in trying to eke out an existence. In carrying out developmental work in heavily timbered country, they are performing work of national importance. In granting telephonic facilities to these people, the department should dispense with the exorbitant cash deposit required because the people cannot afford to pay the amount demanded. Telephonic communication should be established so that the services of medical men can be obtained in case of sickness or the residents notified in the event of floods or fires. It should be a part of the Government’s policy to provide reasonable telephonic services, and more particularly, country telephone exchanges should remain open for a longer period than at present. Greater consideration should also be extended in the matter of mail services. At present the mails of isolated settlers are not delivered because they live ten or twelve miles beyond the point where the delivery terminates. Moreover, the telephone cabinets which are provided in many country towns are a disgrace to the department. They provide such inadequate protection to those using them that they should be brought under the notice of Mr. Spooner. In many instances, these cabinets cannot be utilized because they are erected adjacent to a general store, thus preventing conversations from being conducted in privacy, or at a noisy centre which makes conversation impossible. Many persons decline to use these boxes because it is quite impossible to carry on an intelligible conversation over the line. The design of the cabinets is ako most unsatisfactory in that they cover only the shoulders and the head, and the swing doors with which they are supplied are unsuitable. Progress associations and similar organizations have notified the department that it is impossible to carry on conversations satisfactorily from these boxes owing to the noises caused by the cranking up an old Ford car or truck, a passing motor bicycle, and the traffic generally. When such complaints have been made, the departmental officers have said that it is unnecessary to speak loudly in private conversation; but . those using the cabinets have to talk so loudly that if they raised their voices much more the person to whom they were talking would be able to hear them without the use of the wires at all. In view of the substantial profits made by the department during the last financial year improved facilities should be provided instead of installing these useless little boxes. When requests are made for cabinets for public telephones, the department asks that the timber be supplied, and that other assistance be given, otherwise the cost will be £30. That cost is excessive. Many” important seaside resorts in my electorate are patronized to a great extent during the summer time, and new centres are always being opened up; but their development is being retarded owing to the absence of adequate telephonic communication.’ The department is aware that there is always a big influx of population for three or four months in the summer time, but every year application has to be made for a continuous telephonic service which is usually granted after a good deal of unnecessary delay. Generally speaking, the Postal Department should make better provision for country residents who wish to transact savings bank business at country post offices; a compartment at the end of the counter would not cost more than a few shillings.
– In many country post offices a small compartment is provided at the end of the counter.
– In some of the larger offices that is done, bur greater privacy should be provided in all country post offices where savings bank business is transacted.
– I shall have inquiries made into the matter.
– As a large number of private lines are constructed without cost to the department, thus augmenting the revenue of the Postal Department, some concession should he extended by way of a reduced rental to those who provide the material. In view of the buoyant state of the revenue of the Postal Department, the Minister should give immediate attention to the interests of those residing in country centres.
.- I endorse the representations of several honorable members on some of the subjects they have discussed to-night. At this late hour I do not wish to reiterate what has already been said, but I emphasize the need to review the very poor payments to persons in charge of non-official post offices. 1 wish to refer to complaints which arise from the fact that the national broadcasting station, 2BL Sydney, is located in a thickly-populated area at Coogee. Local residents assert that their wireless receiving sets have been rendered practically useless by “ blanketing ‘” from this powerful station, for no station other than 2BL can be hoard satisfactorily. At the request of an important association in the Coogee district, I brought this matter under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral, and he indicated that the department realized that station 2BL was operating on an unsuitable site, and that it was proposed to transfer it to another locality. That reply was satisfactory so far as it went, but unfortunately some uncertainty as to the department’s intention still exists. The irritation and inconvenience caused to residents of the Coogee district through the presence of this station in that thickly-populated area continues to be a source of serious complaint, and I ask that the intention of the department be carried out as early as possible.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) observed, in the course of his speech, that the revenue of the Postmaster-General’s Department was buoyant. I notice that the profit from the broadcasting branch of the department’s operations is set down at 43. 68 per cent. Those in control of any business yielding such a handsome return are not likely to spend sleepless nights on account of financial worries. In the circumstances, I suggest that the Government review the charge for listeners’ licences, with a. view to making a reduction of it. If the fee were reduced by even 10 per cent., it would not seriously impair the revenue of the department; in fact, I am confident that the additional number of licences taken out at the lower rate would more than compensate for the reduction.
In making an acknowledgment of the efficiency and courtesy of the officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department, I wish also to make a suggestion which, if accepted, would undoubtedly add to the convenience of our citizens who use this great public utility. The quality of the paper upon which the 2d. stamps are printed is very poor, and is the subject of a general complaint from the public and the business community.
Frequently when persons buy a sheet of stamps they find that, in separating
I hem at the perforations, the stamps tear. This is the cause of a very general grievance. It may seem to be only a small matter, but it would be to the advantage of the department to remove even this small cause of irritation.
I trust that the matters to which I have so briefly referred will be carefully investigated by the department.
.- The operations of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department touch the lives of practically every person in our community. For this reason, no doubt, honorable members generally have felt it desirable to offer suggestions for the improvement of the service it renders to the public. The Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill), who represents the Postmaster-General in this chamber, is not unacquainted with the dissatisfaction of tha people in country districts with the replies they frequently receive from the Postmaster-General’s Department to their requests for improved facilities. The honorable gentleman. was a sympathetic Minister when he had charge of this portfolio some little time ago. As I represent a country electorate almost equal in size to the State of Victoria, I direct attention to some of the complaints of country residents about the treatment they receive from this great public department. I have no doubt that the remarks that I :im about to make would have application to other country electorates throughout the Commonwealth. Thousands of country people have at different times received adverse replies from the department to very reasonable applications they have made for improved services. Our young people are very often advised to go on the land and get away from city life, but unless country life is made more attractive to them, they are not likely to leave the city areas. An improvement of the telephonic and postal facilities would add to the amenities of country life, and tend to decentralize our population to some extent. The replies sent by the department at times to requests for improved facilities are quite unfair, having in mind the flourishing, financial position of the depart ment. The following letter is typical of the replies given by the department to requests made to it for improved services : -
If the service is of valise to the residents a* claimed, they should be prepared to make some personal effort to justify its retention, the present revenue is not sufficient. If the residents will agree to maintain the telephone line, including the renewal of a large number of supports, free of cost to the department, the decision to withdraw the public telephone will be reconsidered.
Frequently when country people ask for an extension of an existing telephonic service they are asked to guarantee a certain amount of revenue. The following letter was received from the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Brisbane to a request for improved facilities by people who reside in one part of my electorate : -
Thu minimum revenue required to justify the provision of a public telephone is £l(i per annum, and it is estimated that an amount of only £10 would be received from a service at the site suggested by the applicants. In the circumstances, it is regretted that a public telephone cannot be provided unless thi? persons interested agree to make good the deficiency between the actual receipts and the in illinium revenue required by the department, viz., £l(i. An agreement will be prepared and forwarded to them for completion if they desire to proceed further in the matter.
That letter is also typical of many other replies. A. few years ago, when the revenue of the department fell short of its expenditure, there might have been some justification for making requests of the kind outlined in that letter; but as the department is now making a substantial profit every year, such replies are not warranted. Country people should not be required to maintain telephone lines, or to guarantee a certain amount of revenue.
Certain honorable gentlemen have this evening requested the Government to consider making a reduction of the postal rate. ; I should have no objection to a reduction of the postage rate if all the employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department were being adequately paid and if proper facilities were being provided for people who reside’ in country districts. It is not so very long since many officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department who had reached the age of 21 year; were being paid less than the adult rate of wage.
– That is not so now.
– I am glad to have that assurance. If any reductions of charges are to be made by the Postmaster.General’s Department, I submit that more sympathetic consideration should be given to the requests that come from people living- in the outback parts. One practice adopted by the department, in regard to which I have received complaints, is that of charging local calls in respect of every trunk line call booked. That means, in many country centres, that two calls are charged, a local call and a trunk line call. I urge the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to give favorable consideration to the reduction of trunk line charges when the call extends beyond three minutes. That would mean a great saving to many people living in country districts. I wish to bring under notice also numerous requests by the people of the Bundaberg district for the provision of an A class relay station at Bundaberg. That district is in a fading zone in which wireless reception is very poor, particularly during the summer months, when listeners residing there are not able to enjoy the same clarity of reception’ as is possible in other parts of Australia. The licence fees paid by listeners in the Bundaberg district are the same as those paid in Sydney and Melbourne, and they have a right to improved wireless facilities.
The Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral might also be good enough to give an assurance that the erection of an automatic telephone exchange at Rockhampton has not been completely overlooked. Numerous requests have been made to have this improved facility provided for the people living in an. area which has suffered from the inconvenience of an obsolete telephone system. The Minister said that provision would be made on the Estimates for that purpose, but there is no sign of any activity in Bundaberg in regard to the erection of the necessary buildings and plant. Automatic telephone exchanges in country districts have probably been provided in Victoria, but I have seen none of them in central or northern Queensland. Surely the people living in those areas of Queensland are entitled to the improved telephone facili- ties that are given to those in the more closely settled parts of Victoria.
I support all the representations which have been made here to-night on behalf of allowance postmasters and postmistresses throughout , Australia. They are undoubtedly greatly overworked and underpaid, and it seems to me that the department is getting cheap labour in a number of centres where, if official post offices were established, award rates would have to be paid. I find that there are 9,S30 post offices in Australia, of which 1,145 are official. The S,685 nonofficial offices are classified as - semiofficial, 63; allowance, 6,801; and telephone offices, 1,816. Over 9,000 persons are employed by the department in the nonofficial offices, and each contributes its full share to the department’s earnings. I am glad to see that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has set an example of what an efficiently State-owned concern can do. The profit from this huge state enterprise amounted last year to £2,300,000, and is estimated this year to reach £2,500,000. The revenue last year was £14,865,000. These figures show that the postal business is a huge success, that reflects great credit upon its largs army of officers from the DirectorGeneral down. [Quorum formed.] In the metropolitan division of Melbourne, there are non-official post offices with a total turnover of £100,000 per annum. The same may be said of such offices in other capital cities of Australia. The allowance postmaster gives not only his own labour, but frequently also that of his wife, son, or daughter, who are called in to assist him. In many instances allowance postmasters work overtime three or four nights a week. At the end of the year, when he is physically and mentally tired, he may have a holiday, but not under the same conditions as are enjoyed by the permanent officers of the Public Service. He may have a holiday, hut only conditional upon his finding a capable and honest person, approved by the department, to relieve him, that he pays such person in full for all work done, and accepts, while away on leave, full personal responsibility for all cash and valuables in the office. I a3k the
Minister representing the Postmaster.General to reconsider the whole scale of allowances paid to these officers. It could probably be shown in some cases that their monthly pay is substantial, but out of it they have to meet the cost of renting a building and providing proper lighting and all labour required for postal services. Frequently’ they give the whole of their time to the work, although I admit that some of them also conduct small businesses. In my own district the average non-official postmaster shows a profit to the department running into four figures; but there are men receiving £3 a week whose health is impaired through the strain of the work, and who have to pay an assistant 10s. a ‘ day to help them on the two busiest days of the week. That means that the postmaster works for a full day and carries the responsibilities of his office for the two days a week on which he is obliged to employ help. In many country centres allowance postmasters do not work under such continuous strain, but in all of the larger offices they are at call for 24 hours a day, giving a continuous telephone service in addition to discharging their ordinary duties. In many small centres local residents, particularly farmers, who are busy all day and go to the local townships only at night, expect the allowance postmaster to open the office to deliver their mail and, probably, to operate the telephone exchange to permit calls to be put through. Frequently these officials are called out at all times of the night. In cases where a money order office is conducted in conjunction with a small business, experience proves that, although the allowance for such an office amounts to £3 a week, the postal work is practically a full-time job for one person. Semi-official postmasters are paid a margin for skill of about 10s. a week above the basic wage for their arduous and responsible work. Is that a fair remuneration for a man with the necessary education and training to carry out this exacting work? Justice demands that, before any reduction of the postal rates is made, the whole system of payment of non-official postmasters should be reviewed. Furthermore, the payment of allowances monthly is a serious and recurring inconvenience to non-official post- masters. I ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to see that they are paid twice monthly, say, on the 15th and at the end of each month. Many allowance postmasters employ a staff and endeavour to pay their employees weekly or fortnightly. The additional cost which would be involved in the payment of allowances twice a month would be negligible. I urge the Minister to give consideration to the following facts: - (3) Many a non-official postmaster has not only a greater volume of work te handle than the official postal clerk who enjoys annual leave, but also has to carry, during his absence, the full responsibility for the proper conduct of his office. (2) This dual strain seriously impairs the health of the non-official postmaster, making annual leave for him a real necessity. (3) The department now grants three week’s annual leave to its temporary and semi-official employees, and even to telegraph messengers.- Surely those non-official postmasters, some of whom have 20, 30 and even 40 years of faithful service to their credit, are worthy of the status and privileges enjoyed by a youth who is employed for a year or so to ride a bicycle delivering telegrams. (4) The allowances now paid to non-official postmasters are inadequate to enable them, after maintaining their families, to provide for an annual holiday. (5) If the non-official postmaster enjoyed recreation leave, he would be stimulated to greater effort to increase departmental business, and his general efficiency would be improved. (6) The cost of providing annual leave would not greatly increase the department’s expenditure on nonofficial post offices. If three weeks’ annual leave on full pay were granted to every non-official postmaster, the extra cost would be not more than 5 per cent., and if two weeks’ leave were granted, not more than 3.75 per cent. If such leave were granted, I submit that the nonofficial postmasters while absent on leave should not be required to carry full responsibility for cash and values in their offices, as is the case at present. The department will permit only persons of whom it fully approves to relieve them, and I feel, therefore, that such persons should carry full responsibility while on duty. The Postmaster-General, in reply to representations which I made to him previously in favour of increased allowances and annual leave for allowance postmasters and postmistresses, expressed regret that, because of the cost involved, he could not comply with my request. In view of the department’s surplus last year of £2,300,000, I ask that the whole system of the employment of allowance postmasters be reviewed, and that the many requests to improve the conditions of this overworked section of the service be reconsidered.
– The whole matter of the employment of allowance postmasters is now under consideration. A deputation waited on the PostmasterGeneral last week in connexion with it.
– I ask the Minister to consider the matter of increasing the status of many of these offices which today are conducted by officials who are not permanent employees, because apparently, the department seems to favour a system of getting work done cheaply.
– It is a sweating process.
– Yes, it is a system by which the department gets a lot of work done at less than award rates of wages. Surely the Minister representing the Postmaster-General does not approve of such a system. I repeat my appeal on behalf of this large section of employees of the department, numbering about 9,000, who are forced to work under the present unjust conditions.
– The general tenor of this debate seems to be that as the Government has a surplus it should spend it in various directions. I can understand the desire of honorable members who represent country electorates for increased postal facilities in rural districts. This need does not exist only in country areas, although I believe that some services which are now being withheld, could Le provided immediately and cheaply in those districts. For instance, a suggestion made by yourself, Mr. Chairman, for the provision of postal boxes at country post offices at a cheaper rate than the present rental is deserving of consideration. If these facilities were provided, callers in country districts, who often arrive at the local post office after it has closed down, would be enabled to take delivery of their letters without undue delay. If boxes we’re constructed at a cost which would enable a rental of 2s. 6d. to cover interest charges instead of the present rental of 10s. a box, the work of allowance postmasters and postmistresses would be lightened .considerably. As one who lived in a country district, I agree that an improvement in this respect could be cheaply effected.
As to the general way in which the department should spend money, I raise a matter which the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), undoubtedly would have raised had he been present, namely, the provision of a modern build.ing in place of the tin shed which now adjoins the Elizabeth-street Post Office, Melbourne. The present structure is an eyesore, and an affront to citizens who take a pride in their city. It is a disgrace to a city renowned throughout Australia for the beauty of many of its public buildings, including the Treasury and the State Parliament House, and it compares unfavorably with the finished General Post Offices in all the mainland capitals. The Postmaster-General’s Department and the Government should give immediate attention to the matter.
– The Government has no title to the land.
– Doubt has been expressed on that point, but it has been definitely stated recently that the Government has a title to the land and, therefore, I can see no reason why the erection of a new building should not be proceeded with immediately. Twenty years ago the question was raised as to whether a lease of the site should he given, and assurances were published in the press at the time that it was only a temporary structure. It would be of great convenience to Ministers and other members of Parliament, if the site were used for the housing of federal departments. The Melbourne offices of the departments of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Attorney-General are located at the Treasury Gardens, near East Melbourne, in a serene and peaceful atmosphere, but the position is too far away for business purposes, and, it’ the postal department does not require the Elizabeth-street site it could well be used for other public purposes. Possibly the Minister for Defence would not care to relinquish his office in the handsome building occupied by the Defence Department on St. Kilda-road, but it might be even more convenient for him, and it certainly would bc so for members of the public, to have an office in Elizabeth-street in the heart of the city. I hope that this matter will bo considered during the present financial year, because the completion of the building would provide work for skilled artisans and at the same time effect a saving of the rents now paid for in the housing of departmental offices elsewhere.
At a time when the postal department is making a substantial profit, attention should be directed to the frequency of late deliveries of letters in closely populated areas. I have had occasion to make representations on this matter in the past, and have been informed by the postal authorities that late deliveries are sometimes unavoidable. It is most inconvenient to have a letter making an appointment delivered after one has left his home in the suburbs to go to the city. Every effort should be made by reducing the rounds to secure prompt and more frequent deliveries of mail matter.
In advocating increased telephone facilities, I am not advancing the claims of suburban localities in preference to those of country districts, yet I see no reason why the suburban areas should be neglected in this regard. When people ask for public telephone boxes, they are nearly always confronted with an estimate showing that the cost of the work would be almost twice as much as the amount of the probable revenue. I maintain, however, that in growing districts the people should be encouraged to use the telephone, and that surplus revenue might well be devoted to this purpose. Many of the applications that are refused from time to time should bc granted.
Emphasis has been laid on the amount of revenue raised from the issue of wireless licences, the number of which increased last year by 100,000. The licences in force throughout Australia to-day number 825,000. Many of those people who operate wireless sets can ill afford to pay the present charge of £1 ls. a year, and the Government should consider the wisdom of encouraging the use of more wireless sets by reducing the charge. Pleas have been made for a reduction of postal rates, but those who would benefit most from cheaper postage are the big business firms, and I am more particularly concerned about the interests of the. people generally. The majority of those who hold wireless licences are persons of moderate means and they are entitled to more consideration.
The employees in the postal department known as adult juniors have not had fair treatment, and I hope that a way will be discovered to remove the present injustice. Prior to 1930, it was the policy of the department to pay these men the minimum rate applicable to the position of adult assistant occupied by them upon attainment of the adult age, and to allow them to begin to earn increments, whatever might be the class of work the department required them to do. One of the statements made to produce the impression that a good budget has been presented was that all reductions of the salaries of employees receiving less than certain rates had been restored, but a number of employees continue to suffer reduction of salary because of the policy of the department in not giving them the rates to which they would have been entitled if the reductions under the financial emergency legislation had not been made. Some men who are junior in age and service to the adult juniors are receiving higher rates, because they were put into certain positions in which they could get the adult rates.
– Perhaps the adult juniors did not pass the prescribed examination.
– That is not the reason; I refer to men who have passed the required examination, and those who were the most competent suffered the most. During the period of the depression, the Government of the day introduced the system of paying the adult basic wage without increments during such periods as the men were employed on what was considered to be junior work. This action was taken, 1! think, by the Scullin Government. In March, 1932, however, the Lyons Government reduced the rate df pay to that prescribed for youths of 20 years of age. The trade union, however, succeeded in obtaining an award from the Public Service Arbitrator, providing for payment of not less than the basic wage. This award, No. 13 of 1932, which provided for the payment of not less than the basic wage to adult male employees and to married employees under 21 years of age, and another award, No. 6 of 1932, covering employees in the Trade and Customs Department, were disallowed by the Senate on the 2nd September, 1932. I think this was the first occasion on which an award of the Arbitrator was disallowed by either branch of this Parliament. At a later stage, the Lyons Government agreed to pay the basic wage when the employees concerned attained the age of 23 years, and on the 2lst May, 1935, agreed that the men should be placed on the basis in operation prior to 1930. That decision, so far as it went, was welcomed, because it removed an injustice to many, but it left some of the men suffering a disadvantage which should be removed. Under present circumstances there are now men of 24, 25 and 26 years of age who, because of their employment as telephonists, only commenced to earn increments as from the 21st May, 1936, whilst there are younger men who have had opportunities of acting in adult positions such as assistants in post offices, and, in consequence, have received one or more increments. They will continue to hold their advantage until the maximum grade is reached, unless the department makes provision to pay to each man the rate applicable to his age. The award provides for the payment of rates according to age, but these rates are, of course, paid only in those cases where the service rendered is satisfactory. The effect of this is that some men, simply because they were less fortunate than their fellows in regard to the positions in which they were placed, or because they were employed on different work in the same department, have been kept on low salaries, while other and younger men aic being paid higher salaries. It is very irritating for men to realize that those younger than themselves are in receipt of higher rates of pay. This matter warrants investigation and remedy by the Minister. Representations have been made in regard to it from time to time, but so far no remedy- has been provided. The Government claims that full restoration of the financial emergency reductions has bean made in respect of all salaries up to £4S5, using the 1930 cost of living as a basis. That is to say, it is claimed that all salary reductions, with the exception of those sustained by persons on or near the maximum rates, have been restored. However, the special salary cuts imposed upon these young men, due to conditions arising out. of the financial emergency, are being continued. That is unfair, and they should be restored to the position in which they would have been had there been no stoppage of increments. Representations have been made by the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, which represents these employees, to the Public Service Board, and, I believe, also to the Government, but without success. It is asked that their salaries be raised to what they would now be receiving had they been appointed to adult positions on attaining the age of 21. Some of these men, who proved unsuitable as telephonists, and were transferred to jobs in which adult rates were paid, are now receiving the higher rates, while others who gave good service in the positions in which they were placed, find themselves in receipt of the lower rates. I know that there are occasions when those occupying managerial “ positions in the department, even representatives on boards independent of the department, feel that a situation which they know to be unjust cannot be remedied because of the .cost that would be involved. However, when it is shown that men are receiving unfair treatment, the Government should take steps to remedy the position.
I disagree with the act ion of the Senate in disallowing the award of the Public Service Arbitrator, which covered the wages and conditions of these employees. In 1932, when this action was taken, it was claimed in justification that it was better to keep the young men on at the junior rate than to dismiss them from the Service. There may have been something in that argument at the time from the viewpoint of those who voted for it, but it is quite evident that it no longer applies. Senator Pearce, speaking at the time when the award was disallowed, said that the estimates of the department provided for the absorption of these young men into adult positions, and when that was done the lower rates would cease to apply. They are now in adult positions on rates of pay that are unfair to them. I do not wish now to argue the merits or demerits of employing adult persons at lower than adult wages.
– That is not being done now.
– No ; but they are receiving wages, not only lower than they would be getting had they been given the full adult rate upon attaining the age of 21, but also lower than those paid to men younger than themselves. The present position is anomalous, and should be remedied. Their case has been put forward by their own organization, but representations so made are not always successful, and I therefore feel justified in urging the Minister to look closely into the matter, and, if he finds that the position is as I have stated, to take steps to remove what is a manifest injustice.
– I ask the Minister and the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs to consider whether the department is justified in continuing to make such large sums of money out of this business undertaking. ‘ It appears to the business men of the cities, and, indeed, to all right-thinking people, that, in view of the surpluses shown each year, the department might very well do one of three things: It might cheapen its services to its clients, it might improve the conditions of its employees, or it might provide improved services for the public. The fact is that the department is handling too much money. Its only object seems to be to produce large surpluses at the end of each financial year, and it persistently disregards the claims of the public for cheaper and better services in connexion with posts, telegraphs, telephones and radio. There has been discussion for year3 past regarding the quality of the services rendered by the Broadcasting Commission. This body is receiving too much revenue, and it does not know how to use it. It would not be so bad if it were using some of its huge revenues for the purpose of encouraging and developing local artistic talent, but every day complaints are being made that it is failing to do even this. One of the first acts of the department should be to reduce listeners’ licence-fees, and then it might very well proceed to reduce postal rates, also. If that were done, there would be an increased turnover, more persons could be employed, and probably, after a little while, the revenue of the department would actually increase.
I have considerable respect for the business capacity of the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, but 1 confess that . I cannot understand why the department declines to accede to the request f-or improved telephone facilities in suburban areas. For the last eighteen months I have been forwarding requests to the department, and have been receiving replies that the department recognizes the need for increased public telephone facilities, but regrets that, owing to the lack of telephone boxes, it cannot meet the demand. I cannot understand a business concern like this being unable to estimate more accurately the . demand for telephone boxes. It is most humiliating for a member of Parliament to receive from public bodies in bis district letter after letter, such as I have here, stating that, consequent upon representations made, the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs had intimated that the request of the council for a public telephone would be reviewed in six months’ time. Since that request was made, rapid development has taken place in the district, and many more telephone boxes are now required. There is evidence of a lack of capacity somewhere. I sometimes think that the present Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) is too busy with the work of the Development branch to look after the Postal Department properly, for frequently considerable delay occurs before letters sent to the department are answered. Some time ago I urged that “a new post office be built at Mortdale, but the request was flatly refused. I then wrote to the PostmasterGeneral, asking for a record of the business transacted at the post office, and was disappointed to receive only a record of the numbers of telegrams, letters, &c, dealt with. No information as to the value of the business transacted was supplied. Even the information which was furnished was given to me confidentially, so that I could not place it before the progress associations and other public bodies in the district. The only explanation of such methods than I can imagine is that some one in the department does not want postal facilities to keep pace with the progress of the district. I .am reminded of an occasion when Mr. J. W. Kitto, a former Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs, attended a meeting and made public facts and figures. Now such information must be treated confidentially! Why should not the public know about the business of the post office? What is the reason for all this secrecy? Surely the PostmasterGeneral should have sufficient business acumen-
– Were the previous Postmaster-General (Sir Archdale Parkhill) still in office, the honorable member would not have to make these complaints.
– He was the best PostmasterGeneral Australia has ever had. I do not know what Mr. Brown is thinking about when he allows these things to go on, for certainly they do not reflect credit on the department.
I also have to complain that information is given by the department to other people, whereas the member for the district, who has interested himself in obtaining better postal and telephone facilities, knows nothing of what is being done. That happened recently in connexion with a hospital in my electorate. I protect most emphatically against being ignored by the department after I have actively interested myself on behalf of the people whom I represent. Some time ago T made representations to the department on behalf of a business man who pays over £60 a year as telephone charges. He desired an automatic telephone in his business, but was told that to give it to him would be to break some departmental rule. I represent a progressive district, and my endeavours to improve the facilities there should not be rewarded in this way. Some honorable members who have advocated better treatment of country districts probably refer to facilities which would be used by three or four people each day, whereas in the district which I represent, a similar service would benefit from 50 to 100 people. Yet I cannot get telephonic facilities for the outlying portions of my district. I ask the Minister to make representations in the matter. It took me a long while to make up my mind to express these sentiments, and I have expressed them to-night only because during the last year my efforts to bring the department up to the scratch have been so unfruitful. Other honorable members may not ask for much. I have always asked for a good deal, and have obtained quite a lot, but not as much as I should get. I have heard honorable members to-night speak of the high cost of erecting telephone lines in outlying districts, and of the inconvenience that is caused by the closing of post offices at 6 p.m. My case is not dissimilar from theirs; I cannot transact business at a post office in my electorate after 6 p.m., and I see no reason why a country post office should be kept open beyond that hour merely because one man and a dog may want to enter it. While I appreciate the necessities of country people, 1 assure the committee that metropolitan areas such as mine are entitled to more consideration than they receive. The Director-General of Postal Services is adopting a starvation policy in order to show a surplus on the operations of the year. This public undertaking should not set out to make an exorbitant profit. Last year, the profit on its transactions exceeded £2.000,000. Lower rates and greater facilities would enable a profit, to be made very little, if any. below what is now returned. During the last twelve months - I have received from the department at least a dozen letters advising me of consent having been given to the provision of public telephone facilities and adding that as the demands for cabinets exceeded the supply of them, some time must necessarily elapse before the work could be proceeded with. Business nien stock up sufficiently to handle seasonal trade, and the officers of the Postal Department should be well enough informed to know how to meet possible demands. The state of prosperity in both city and country areas to-day is such as to call for greater activity by the department. I hope that in this financial year the volume of my unsatisfactory correspondence with the department will not be as great as it was last year.
– I find myself somewhat diffident in addressing myself to the question before the Chair, following the eloquent appeal that has been made for the provision of greater telephone facilities by the “ primary producer “ from Bexley, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane).
I have listened with considerable interest to the advocacy by other honorable members of lower telephonic, particularly trunk line, and telegraphic rates, and the reversion to the muchappreciated penny postage rate; with all of these representations I am heartily in accord. Other claims have been made which it is not necessary for me to repeat, as they have been so ably placed before the Minister.
I support the claim of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) for the application of a differential telegraphic rate to towns within a certain radius of State borders. The honorable member for Riverina has mentioned Mungindi, which is partly in New South “Wales and partly in Queensland, to illustrate the inequity of the interstate telegraphic charge in respect of towns along State borders. His contention applies with equal force to border towns on the river Murray. A distance of only 3 miles separates Albury in New South Wales from Wodonga in Victoria, yet the same rate is charged for the transmission of a telegram from one to the other of those two centres, as is charged for transmission between Sydney and Wodonga, or Albury and Melbourne. I. -urge the Minister to give serious consideration to this matter.
The matter of the provision of private boxes at country exchanges, to which attention has been directed, also demands consideration. The department has been considerate in respect of many matters.
A reform that is particularly appreciated is the extension of the hours during which telephonic business may be transacted. In this mattei. the remarks of tlie honorable member for Barton had relation to post offices, while those of honorable members of the Country party have ref erred to telephone exchanges. The “ primary producers “ of Bexley enjoy the advantage of a continuous telephone service, while the residents of remote country districts may avail them selves of the facility only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wherever possible, the department has extended the lime, and has thus met a pressing need of men who are engaged in rural industries. These men have breakfast at 6 a.m. or 6.30 a.m., and are miles distant from their homestead before the exchange opens at 9 a.m. They do not return until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., and are thus unable to enjoy the telephonic facilities to the same extent as people who live in cities and large towns. The provision of rural automatic exchanges will be of considerable advantage to those who are engaged in pastoral and agricultural pursuits. I appreciate what the department has already done in this direction. On a previous occasion I brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General the necessity for the department supplying duplicate dockets, which could be placed in a subscriber’s mail or in his private mail box, showing the charges booked for trunk-line calls, and in that way enabling bini to keep a check on the charges made by the department. However careful may be his check on trunk-line calls, it is impossible for a subscriber to make his amount agree with that of the department. If there is » discrepancy it is useless to argue the matter out with the departmental officials.
– And if a check is asked for a further charge is imposed.
– Exactly. N0 additional cost would be imposed, on the department if a carbon copy were made of the docket showing the trunk-line calls charged to a subscriber each day.
On previous occasions, when I directed attention to the ruthless destruction of valuable trees to enable telephone lines to be erected I have been informed that the service required was of more impor- tance than birds’ nests. In certain parts of the Commonwealth trees which have added beauty to the landscape have been ruthlessly destroyed, when judicious pruning or a slight deviation of the route would have been sufficient.
– Where have the trees been destroyed?
– Along the Hume Highway.
– Not by the Postal Department, but by a State Government.
– It should be the responsibility of the Postal Department to preserve the natural beauty.
– I am inclined to think that the State Electricity Commission was responsible for the destruction which the honorable member has in mind.
– I am thinking of the trees on the road between Coleraine and Hamilton in Victoria.
– In that case the State Electricity Commission was responsible.
– If that is so, I have been misinformed. I trust, however, that the department will avoid, whenever possible, the unnecessary destruction of r.rees. Careful pruning may be carried out without ruthless destruction.
The practice of the department in accepting advertisements for inclusion in telephone directories must interfere seriously with country newspaper proprietors and those conducting general’ printing businesses.
– It does not affect country newspapers to any extent.
– There are newspapers which have not the circulation of that with which the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is associated; his journal may be independent of revenue from this source.
I trust that the department will also consider the practicability of allowing nineteen words to be transmitted by telegraph for ls., instead of sixteen words as at present, as the additional three words will often permit a .more satisfactory and effective message to be transmitted.
If the Government would revert to Id. postage, which was once enjoyed by the people of this country, the postal busi ness would, I believe, increase to such an extent that the loss of revenue would be insignificant.
– The main aspects of the activities of the Postmaster-General’s Department having been fairly well covered by other honorable members, there, are only -a few matters which I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister. I realize that during the last year or so the department has extended the hours during which some country telephone exchanges remain open, but it is obvious that, even during these hours, it is impracticable for many subscribers to utilize the service provided. Many country residents cannot transact their business between 9 a.m. and 12 noon, and from 1 to 6 p.m., and it would be more convenient for them if the offices were closed during the day and opened, say, from 8 to 10 in the evening. If a telephone call has to be made after 6 p.m., an opening fee of ls. 6d. has to be paid, and then the person wishing to make a call has to rely upon the official being willing to receive the opening fee. I trust that the department will continue its policy of extending the hours during which tele phone exchanges are open. I again stress the necessity for an extension of the policy of installing rural automatic telephone exchanges when not less than 30 subscribers are available. Subscribers to these exchanges enjoy the same privileges as subscribers to city automatic telephones, but if they wish to make a trunkline call they dial “ 0 “, and are then connected with the nearest continuous exchange. Rural automatic exchanges are a tremendous benefit to country residents, and I believe that this year fifteen or more are being installed in Victoria. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will increase the number whenever possible.
On a previous occasion I brought under the notice of the department the fact that telephone directories are issued only once a year. At the end of twelve months a directory is quite out of date. Some time ago I suggested that it should be possible to issue supplementary lists quarterly or half-yearly for the benefit of subscribers.
– Complete directories are now issued twice a year.
– I am glad to hear that that is so. If, as has been said, reduced charges lead to increased business, I trust that the department will soon be able to institute a policy under which it will not use the whole of its profits in providing additional services, but will utilize a portion of them in reducing the charges which the community has now to bear. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) referred to the expenditure involved in renewing posts on part-privately-constructed telephone lines every few years, thus imposing a heavy burden on a relatively small number of subscribers. I ask the department to be more liberal in its treatment of those who are compelled to bear this heavy cost. Other honorable members have stressed the anomalies that exist in the transmission of telegrams from border towns. This subject can be regarded as a “ hardy annual,” and although requests for a revision of the rates have been made from time to time, no satisfaction has yet been obtained. I trust the department will make a determined effort to place this matter on a satisfactory basis.
I could direct attention to the needs of many localities in my constituency, but I shall content myself at the moment with again asking the Government to consider the position at Lake Bolac. The building at present being used for postal purposes there was erected in 18S7, and it is now totally inadequate to serve the needs of this growing district.
An increase of the mail service from two to three times a week sometimes causes a large added expenditure to the department, but the amenities of life in our more or less remote country districts are greatly increased by an additional mail service. I therefore trust that the department, in view of its buoyant revenue, will liberalize its policy in this regard. It is not unreasonable to ask for added facilities from a department which is showing increasing surpluses year by year. In such circumstances we are entitled to expect that the surpluses will be devoted partly to increasing the service rendered to the community and partly to making possible a reduction of departmental charges.
.- I wish to direct attention to certain postal, telegraphic and telephonic requirements of Western Australia. In comparing the amount proposed to be spent in that State during the current financial year in increasing these services with the amount proposed to be spent in other States - a comparison I have never previously made - I am not accusing the Government of discriminating unfairly against Western Australia. I am taking this, for me, unusual course in order to indicate that no other State provides a parallel at present to the development that is occurring in certain mining fields of Western Australia. In many gold-field towns, for example, the revenue has increased prodigiously - the circumstances entitle me to use that rather unusual term in this connexion. On the 5th November last, I asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral -
What was the whole revenue from each Of the following post and telegraph offices in Western Australia for the financial years 1930-31 and 1933-30: - Coolgardie, Southern Cross, Norseman, Menzies, Laverton, Gwalia, Mount Leonora, Wiluna (including Wiluna Gold Mines), Meekatharra, Cue, Mount Magnet, Yalgoo, Boulder and Kalgoorlie?
The reply I received was as follows: -
The total revenue derived from the offices referred to was as follows: -
Those figures reveal a remarkable state of affairs in towns such as Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie - which a few years ago was thought to be a defunct mining town - Wiluna and Meekatharra. I am glad that the revenue of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has improved. In such circumstances, I suggest that it is not necessary to scrutinize so minutely all requests that are made for improved facilities. In 1931-32, the revenue of the department was approximately £12,300,000. Last year it was £14,800,000, and this year it is estimated that it will be about £15,700,000. This is a very pleasing result, for it is, to me, at any rate, a fair index to the business activity of the community. An increasing business by the Postal Department may safely be taken to reveal an increase of business in other directions.
The position of non-official post offices has been mentioned in the discussion this evening. I have for very many years taken a keen interest in this subject. Non-official post offices are conducted by storekeepers and others in many places where the volume of business is not sufficient to justify the establishment of an official post office. After a non-official post office has been opened, it is sometimes very difficult, notwithstanding that the volume of business has improved, to convert it into an official post office. Various Postmasters-General have endeavoured to ascertain the exact terms that would be involved in converting nonofficial into official post offices, but they have met with only a limited measure of success. That was my own experience when I held the portfolio of PostmasterGeneral. It invariably happens, however, that when the volume of business in these non-official post offices increases, requests are made for their conversion into official post offices. While such requests had to be considered very carefully during the years when the department was being operated at a loss, a more liberal attitude could be adopted in these days when the revenue is buoyant. Last year the Postmaster-General’s Department made a profit of more than £2,000,000. Recently the Postal Assistants Association, at a conference in Canberra, made a request which I feel was very moderate. They asked that non-official post offices which are able to return a revenue of £800 per annum should be converted into official post offices. It is contended that this would provide, employment for youths in a permanent capacity, and all governments are interested in finding work for the youth of a country. One of the most distressing features of the depression has been the fact that all of us have seen in our own homes, not only our own lads, but also visiting lads who, although they have received a fair education, have little chance of getting jobs. To think that these boys who have reached the stage of life at which they might reasonably look forward to the future with hope, have nothing better ahead of them than a dead-end, is highly depressing. We of the older generation might struggle on to the end of our days, hut the youth of the country must be served. That is one of our first cares. This matter was dealt with by the Commonwealth Statistician, as the following extract from the Melbourne Herald shows : -
The Commonwealth Statistician estimates that the number of new entrants into the labour market in Australia annually approximates 90,000 of both sexes. Against this number, about 30,000 males and 20,000 females po out by death or retirement. … In Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia the school ape is from sis to fourteen, and in the Federal Capital Territory, New South Wales and Tasmania, from seven to fourteen.
That goes to show that 40,000 new positions have to be found each year for the youth of this country. I have suggested one direction in which they might, to a certain extent, be absorbed. The Public Service Arbitrator, in Determination No. 6 of 1932, relative to adults occupying positions of minors, said -
Tt was stated during the hearing that the alternative to reducing the salaries of the adult officers employed in the junior positions named in this application was dismissal from the. Service. The representatives of the association combated this by stating that there ave many non-official post offices which are not “ side fines “ to other businesses, where permanent officers could be employed full time in place of employees who have not permanent status. A list of such officers in one State was submitted, and one office in particular was quoted as an illustration of departmental refusal to so act. At my request, the facts in respect of this office have been made available. The building is owned and was erected by the department for a post office; it contains a telephone exchange, which provides a continuous service; and a letter delivery is effected therefrom. The revenue is approximately £2,000 per annum. If the office be converted to official status, it would be given Grade 2 classification. Grade 1 is the lowest in order of classification.
He goes on to point out that there would b” an actual gain if the office were converted to official status. I contend that trained officers would give more efficient service, and thereby create public confidence, especially in regard to secrecy. If a government employee makes the department’s business known outside the penalty is dismissal, and rightly so. On one occasion when I was in the postal service a parliamentarian sent a wire addressed to the source from which he was being financed, asking for a large sum of money at once as his expenses were enormous. I was not responsible for what we call in the rough parlance of to-day “ spilling the beans “ in regard to that wire, but the opposition, on whose side I happened to be, obtained the information and disclosed it. The gentleman in question was speaking against federation, and at that time the members of the party which I supported were ardent federalists, and they were anxious to show that the funds of the opposing party were coming from an undesirable source. But those were the wild and woolly times, when the department was not then on such strict lines as we find in the Public Service to-day.
In regard to country offices, where the non-official office is conducted by the local storekeeper who may be an agent for manures or machinery, a person who wants to send a telegram may have an account with the non-official postmaster in his private capacity, and it may be necessary for him to trade with some one else if he wants manure or machinery. If he uses the telephone box, no matter how well intentioned he may know the storekeeper to be, there is a certain amount of temerity about sending his business to another firm through an office with the owner of which he has already an account.
In regard to automatic telephone units in Western Australia, we have only three out of 29 already established. I understand that 54 new installations are to bo proceeded with immediately. I trust that Western Australia will get its fair share of them.
In conclusion, I desire to deal with the type of stamps now being issued. The other day I sent on to the PostmasterGeneral a lithographed stamp of King
Edward VIII. which is being issued in the United KindOm. It is a work of art. The trouble during the reign of King George V. was that those in authority in Australia were more concerned about a utilitarian stamp than with one artistically conceived. To many people like myself it was rather depressing to see people lick the effigy of the King, stick the stamp on the letter and give it a bang. As an artistic work the very rough 2d. stamp now produced in the Commonwealth is a libel on His Majesty the King. I suggest that Australia might very well adopt the Canadian process of printing the effigy of the sovereign on stamps. I do not know why it has not been adopted in this country. Probably it is a photogravure method which would require costly machinery. It was proposed to issue a set of purely Australian, stamps and we got as far as the 6d. kookaburra and the ls. lyre-bird stamps. When I was in charge of the department a 2d. kangaroo stamp and a platypus stamp were ready to be printed, but when I relinquished office they were not gone on with. I do not know whether the Director of Posts and Telegraphs found out that his old British conservatism would not stand anything on our stamps except a portrait of His Majesty the King, This is rather a weak position to take up, having regard to the very fine stamps produced in many other countries. As in the case of the commemorative stamps occasionally issued, stamps depicting the very fine flora and fauna of Australia would advertise this country abroad
, - I do not propose to detain the committee at any length, but I wish to reply to one or two points raised by honorable members which I regard as of more than ordinary importance. The other matters will not be lost sight of, but will be the subject of direct communication by the department with the honorable members who have raised them. The main contention advanced in this debate has related to the profits made- by the department. It has been suggested that its surplus should be used to reduce charges for various services, to give improved and additional services, and to increase the salaries of employees who help to create the surplus. It has to be remembered that the profit of the department goes into Consolidated Revenue. This is not an unusual course. As a matter of fact, the British Post Office contributes, speaking from memory, approximately £11,000,000 or £12,000,000 per annum to revenue.
– A reduction of the profits of the Postal Department would have to be made good from other sources.
– Yes. That profit takes the place of other taxation which would necessarily have to be raised were it not available. That fact should be borne in mind in a discussion of this kind. If tho Postal Department stood on its own and its finances were in no way connected with the Consolidated Revenue; if it financed itself and used its revenue and profits in its own. way, then much of the criticism directed against it, particularly by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison), might, to some extent, be justified. We should not lose sight of the fact that the profits of the post office are paid into Consolidated Revenue and relieve the people from taxation to that extent in other directions. Rightly or wrongly, -the Postal Department has been utilized in this and, I think, other countries, Great Britain for instance, as a means of subvention of the public revenue. During the period of the depression which commenced shortly after I was elected to this Parliament, I remember quite clearly that the postage rate was increased by one half-penny for the purpose of increasing the Consolidated Revenue by an amount of £1,000,000. Thus a reduction of the present postage rate by one half-penny as advocated by certain honorable members, would mean a loss of £1,000,000 to Consolidated Revenue.
– And such a reduction would not mean very much to the man in the street?
– I think that is so. That reduction would have to be made up by taxation in other directions, as it would mean in effect a reduction of taxes. Apart from reductions of customs duties, reductions of taxes which have been made by this Government during the last five years total £15,000,000, and the principle by which the Government has been guided in making these reductions has been to make them in such a way that they will benefit the greatest number of the citizens of this country. That principle, however, would not apply to any reduction of the postage rate, because the average man in the street posts very few letters in a. week, and thus would benefit only to a very small degree. I assume that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who do not write one letter a week. Thus the real benefit of any reduction of the postage rate would go to the large users of stamps, that is, large business concerns ; and while I am not averse to giving reduction of taxes to such concerns when reductions are justified, the fact remains that that class only would benefit by a reduction of the postage Tate. Furthermore, I point out that business people can, and do, pass on their postage costs.
The argument is frequently advanced that reduced rates of postage would bring about increased revenue, but actual experience in Australia has failed to demonstrate this as a fact. Marked increases of traffic . have not followed reduced charges in the Commonwealth, and the revenue received from additional traffic has in no way been commensurate with the loss of revenue sustained through a reduction of the rates. This was clearly demonstrated by the experience of the department when the postage rates were lowered in 1923, the letter rate being reduced from 2d. a half oz. to l£d. an oz. This reduction entailed an immediate heavy loss of revenue, whilst the traffic increase was little above the normal. It was not until 1927 and 1928 that the revenue figure for 1922 was again reached, and in the interim the revenue sacrificed amounted to an average of approximately £750,000 peT annum. While like other honorable members I am not opposed to a reduction of the postage rates, such a reduction should be effected in its proper course. Taxes which press more harshly upon the mass of the people generally than the postage rates should receive prior consideration, as has been the case in the reductions of taxes already made.
So far as the telephone tariff is concerned, the wish of the department is constantly to reduce telephone charges as much as possible. A large proportion of telephone users in the Commonwealth reside outside the metropolitan areas, and relatively form small groups for whom lightly loaded long lines, independent switch boards and accommodation have to be provided, together with operating personnel necessarily working less efficiently than in their large exchanges, and linemen and mechanics in respect of whom there is a large proportion of ineffective time because of the distances which have to be traversed to attend to the maintenance of the plant. In order to assist in the development of the country, and to improve the amenities of life of those who are largely concerned in developing the primary resources of the nation, it has been the policy of successive governments to fix the tariff charges for telephone services in the country areas at the lowest possible cost. In fact, the rates which have been imposed over a number of years have been quite inadequate to make that section of the system financially self-supporting. It is a matter for comment that in many cases the. ground rental charged is scarcely sufficient to cover the interest on the capital invested to provide the service, and, were it npt for the fact that similar conditions do not prevail in the densely populated areas, either a substantial increase of the charges would be imperative or alternatively the general taxpayer would be called upon heavily to subsidize the service. It is recognized that the city benefits substantially from the development of business elsewhere, and, in addition, the city subscriber has access to a very large number of other telephone users without being called upon to pay trunk line fees.
In recent yeaTs, every expedient and every scientific device likely to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of service have been introduced, and it may be said with justification that few telephone administrations are taking greater advantage of modern developments than is the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Being fully alive to the great benefits which can be conferred on the community as a whole by an efficient and cheap com.munication service, the department is constantly exploring the possibilities of improving the conditions in both respects. It will be conceded, however, that to develop a system of nation-wide importance on a basis financially unsound, and entailing progressively increasing loss, would be disastrous to the community, and would presage an increasing lo3s of efficiency due to the inevitable inability to maintain the plant in a proper condition and consistently to modernize it.
Realizing the advantages of extended hours of service to country subscribers, a liberalized scale was introduced last year, giving immediate benefit to some 500 exchanges serving approximately 10,000 subscribers; and from time to time other exchanges benefit, as increases of their revenue improve their grade under the schedule regulating the hours of service. Furthermore, the department is now engaged on a programme providing for the installation of 54 additional rural automatic telephone exchanges in country areas. The charges levied for all classes of telephone service in the Commonwealth will compare favorably with those imposed in other English-speaking countries and in other countries where equivalent standards of living prevail. It may be’ said that the degree of efficiency of telephone services operating in Australia is equal to that displayed in the telephone services in any other part of the world. In my remarks relating to postal and telephonic services, and particularly postal services, I have expressed only my own views. The PostmasterGeneral will state in the other branch of the legislature the policy of the department in this regard.
I may inform the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) that the need for a new general post office in Brisbane has not been overlooked. He has mentioned this matter on a number of occasions, as has also the honorablemember for Moreton (Mr. Francis). The statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) -was that it had been decided by the Cabinet that the Commonwealth Works Department should confer with the Postal Department, and submit a report and estimates on proposals found necessary by the department, to enable the Government further to consider the matter in the light of theBe reports. I shall bring the matter under ibc notice of the Postmaster-General, and ask that the preparation of the reports be expedited, so that further consideration may be given to, the matter.
The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) referred to a number of matters corning under the administration of the Postal Department. A more lengthy reply than I could give him to-night will be made in due course. It is the policy of the department to provide telephonic facilities in country districts upon the most favorable terms possible, but, obviously, the financial aspect cannot be entirely disregarded. It is found necessary to fix a limit to the extent of new and costly work which may be undertaken. Recently, the amount to be spent on each new subscriber’s service was increased to £50. In computing this amount, the value of exchange equipment, apparatus in subscriber’s premises, and existing plant are excluded. “Where the limit of departmental expenditure is exceeded, it is necessary to require the applicant to make some contribution in cash, labour and/or material towards the cost of providing the facility. Where a contribution in cash is made by the subscriber, arrangements are in force by which the amount is rebated by the department. Experience has indicated that the practice observed is not unduly restricting the establishment of services, whilst at the same time costly expenditure on unfinancial facilities is checked. A relatively small number only of the applications has to be deferred, fu many cases, the expenditure involved is so large that the department would not be justified in complying with the applications, even if no restrictions were in operation. I have made this explanation to the honorable member to show that there are difficulties in the way of granting all requests.. The honorable member mentioned Queenstown in Tasmania. The establishment of a direct line to the west coast of that State would involve a heavy expenditure. The line would have to traverse a new road through mountainous and unsettled country, and this work has been reported on adversely on numerous occasions because of the extraordinarily high cost -that would he involved.
I have to inform the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) that the system of adding the unit fee for a call to the trunk-line charge was introduced in 1924. It is estimated that the abolition of the practice now would involve a “loss of about £160,000. It is considered that relief could be given in many other directions which would be relatively of greater value than, the remittance of the unit fee.
The question of non-official postmasters will be brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General. This matter has been referred to to-night by a number of honorable members. The request regarding official post offices will also be passed on to the Minister. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) introduced a deputation which I received on behalf of the PostmasterGeneral. Details of the request of the deputation were placed ou record, and are now being investigated. The arguments advanced had a great deal to commend them, and they were submitted in a reasonable way. I am sure that they will receive full consideration by the Postmaster-General.
I point out to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) that the department is now paying the basic wage to all adults employed in the post office. The honorable member has referred to a somewhat intricate matter which could not be dealt with briefly. The case which he has presented clearly and at length will be thoroughly investigated.
The honorable member for Wentworth. (Mr. E. J. Harrison) referred to the suggested installation of meters in subscribers’ offices for the registration of telephone calls. I can only tell him what he has been already informed, that the problem of metering effectively calls to subscribers’ premises, has engaged the attention of telephone engineers throughout the world, and has never yet been satisfactorily solved in regard to either the technical or economic aspect. A statement of that kind, coming from Mr. H. P. Brown, one of the most efficient postal engineers in the world, is worthy of respect.
– How do they overcome the difficulties within the post office itself?
– They certainly have overcome the difficulty within the post office, but the machines employed are very complicated and intricate. Recently, I went through the Sydney automatic exchange, which is the fifth or sixth largest in the world, and was impressed by the intricacy of the machines used for the computation of the number of telephone calls, and the assessment of charges. My impression was that the possibility of mistakes occurring in the working of these machines has been reduced to a minimum.
The honorable member for Wentworth also asked that copies of telegrams previously telephoned to recipients should subsequently be delivered to them free of charge. It is regretted that this course cannot be followed. The honorable member pointed out that the particular firm which he mentioned paid large sums to the department for service each year, and while that admittedly might entitle its claim to favorable consideration, it cannot be overlooked that to grant its request would create a precedent which would involve the department in great expense. However, I should be glad to have the matter looked into.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) mentioned the need for an automatic telephone exchange at Rockhampton. The work will be proceeded with at an early date.
The matter of the Elizabeth-street post office in Melbourne was mentioned by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford), and I am sure that, had the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) been present, he too would have touched upon it. Consideration will be given to the request of the honorable member.
The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Collins) and the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) raised the question of telegraph rates between towns near each other, but on opposite sides of a State border. This matter has been engaging the attention of the department. Although it effects only a limited number of towns, a principle of considerable magnitude is involved.
If I have omitted to reply to any of the points mentioned by honorable members, direct communications will be sent to them later setting forth the departmental view.
– I have received a special request from the Postal Workers Union to bring before Parliament the matter of the payment of full wages to adult workers in the Postal Department, but as the subject has been so fully dealt with by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford). and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), I do not propose to go into it further.
For the general work of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in the electorate of Cook, I have nothing but praise, and I have always found officials of the department ready to give favorable attention to any application I have put before them. The one exception to this is in respect of the application for an automatic telephone exchange at Mascot. This district is becoming a business area of increasing importance. Houses are being demolished every day, and factories erected in their place, but the progress of the district is being retarded by the fact that the existingtelephone service is most unsatisfactory. It is high time that an automatic telephone exchange was installed to serve the district. The following letter from the manager of a firm carrying on business in Mascot indicates some of the difficulties experienced at the present time: -
I am writing to call your attention to the question of Mascot exchange, and the attention subscribers get at this exchange.
It is bad enough to be under its tender mercies throughout the working day, but at night it is evidently not open for business. This eveningI tried from 7.30 p.m. to 7.45 p.m. to raise Mascot exchange, but could get no answer. Then I telephoned B073. information, to find out the trouble, asking for the officer in charge. Eventually, after about ten minutes, I told him the difficulty and hegot through to Mascot, and was full of apologies for delays, would find out trouble, &c.
I fortunately do not often call up the factory in the evening, but I ask you why print in your telephone book, “ Continuous Exchange”, when this does not represent the fact? The Sydney press recently noted that a lire in this neighbourhood became serious as Mascot exchange could not be raised and the fire brigade called in time.
Wepay your department approximately £100 per annum for telephones, and in view of the delays with Mascot exchange throughout the day, had to go to the expense of providing a direct line between the factory and our city office. I really feel this question requires looking into, whether it is the out-of-date equipment or inefficiency of staff, I cannot say.
Several municipalities have written asking me to urge that the existing . manual exchange be replaced by an automatic one. I know that the Minister (Sir Archdale Parkhill) representing the PostmasterGeneral is fully acquainted with this matter. Officers of the department visited the Commonwealth Bank in order to investigate the complaint. The department is at all times willing to undertake such investigations, but until there is a change from the manual to the automatic system, complaints will continue to come from this growing district. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) who was present at the opening of the factory of Stromberg Carlson (Australasia) Limited, knows that other factories are to be opened in the same locality shortly. This firm has had to have a direct line to the city office in order to avoid delays. I hope that the Government will give this matter its earnest consideration, and that something will soon be done. When the subject has been raised, the answer of the department has been that the existing equipment is not yet out of date, I submit that it must be out of date if it cannot cope with’ the requirements of the district.
I urge the Government to reduce the fees payable by wireless listeners in outback country districts. People living in places situated 25 or 30 miles from a post office or town should not pay more than 10s. a year. They have not the opportunities that city folk have for entertainment. I feel confident that no person living in the city would object to this reduction.
– On a number of occasions I have sought information regarding the new wireless broadcasting station in North Queensland. On the last occasion I was told that the station was undergoing its final tests. That was in July, but I have not heard whether or not the tests were satisfactory. I hope that soon the station will be in operation.
Other honorable members have advocated a return to penny postage. I fear that the reduction, if made, would benefit only the wealthier sections of the community, particularly the big business houses, and would not be of much advantage to the workers or the farmers; the volume of whose correspondence is not great. Large business houses would certainly reap an advantage from the reduction, but I doubt whether the benefit would be passed on.
Out of the surplus of the Postal Department improved telephonic communications in country districts should be provided. Unfortunately, small communities in the outback districts of the Commonwealth do not get the same consideration as do people in larger and more densely populated areas. In many instances people in country districts who desire to have the advantages of the telephone service are required to erect the posts themselves. I have in mind the Palmerston area of North Queensland, concerning which the department has stated that, if the residents will supply the poles and pay some of the cost of erecting them, the department will consider providing a service. Although this district is certain to develop fairly rapidly, in which event the department will benefit from increased revenue, the first settlers will be held responsible for the cost of the service. That does not appear to me to be right.
Representations have been made to the department for an extension of the telephone system to Eimeo, a seaside resort in Queensland. The department has replied that the amount of revenue would be so small that the extension is not justified. I urge the Government to give favorable consideration to the request, and not to insist on too great a guarantee from the residents before the line is constructed.
Money set aside for a certain purpose, but not entirely expended during the year, is returned to Consolidated Revenue. I have in mind particularly the sum of £1,800 provided for the removal of certain cables which were in the way of the foundations for the Kangaroo Point bridge, across the Brisbane River. In due course that money would be refunded to the Works Department or the Postal Department by the Greater Brisbane Council, but, because of the existing practice, the money, which has not yet been expended, will go back into Consolidated Revenue. Had that sum been spent in the completion of a number of small jobs, a good deal of employment could have been provided and facilities granted in various places. I ask the Government to review the existing practice in such cases.
Communications between border towns have caused some difficulty; but I suggest that the trouble would be obviated if a flat rate for telegrams were fixed. A telegram between towns 8 or 10 miles apart costs ls. 4d. should such towns be in different States, whereas telegrams despatched to destinations within 15 miles of the originating office in a city or town within a State cost only 9d. At places like Mungindi, a telegram which is sent only a few hundred yards across the border costs ls. 4d. I ask the Government to consider this matter, also.
I again urge that greater consideration be given to persons in charge of allowance post offices. I have here a letter from the person in charge of the post office at Goondi, Queensland, in which the writer says -
My allowance at present is £79 5s. per annum or £1 13s. per week, and the work entailed is as follows: Six mails received and despatched per week, money orders issued and paid, stamps and postal notes issued and paid, telegrams received and despatched through Innisfail, C.O.D. parcels received and despatched and moneys collected, telephone attended, Commonwealth Savings Bank deposits received and withdrawals paid out. The amount of money handled for (1935) twelve months alone, as statement attached was £G,S45 13s. Sd., so will appreciate the chances there are of making even a small error in this volume of cash, can at any time exceed the small weekly allowance paid, no matter how careful one may bc.
That is a difficult task for any man to undertake. Men doing responsible work of this nature should be given more consideration. In reply to the representations made, the department has stated that the regulations allow only for a certain payment to be made. The Commonwealth pays £79 5s. a year to this man, who handles business aggregating between £6,000 and £7,000 a year. If he does the work himself he is not sufficiently recompensed; and if he does not, he must engage a trustworthy person to do it for him, and this man would receive more than the sum paid to him.
In my travels through my electorate I have met men who sell postage stamps, but receive no commission on their sale. Residents of country districts are, in many instances, unable to reach a post office before the closing hour, and have to purchase postage stamps from small business places. It is suggested that this practice attracts business to the person who sells them. I know of cases in which would-be purchasers of stamps have had to be almost insulted by being told that there is no time to attend to them because of the claims of the private business of those whom they have approached. I believe that at one time a commission was paid on the sale of stamps. Those who sell them privately perform a public service, and should receive some recompense.
.This debate supplies an opportunity again to request the Postmaster-General, through the Minister who represents him in this House (Sir Archdale Parkhill), to give favorable consideration to the provision of a new post office at South Brisbane. I have brought up this matter on many previous occasions, and intend to continue to refer to it until the Government sees fit to grant the request for this much needed improvement. The site for a new building was purchased by the Commonwealth a considerable number of years ago, and is ideally situated. The Minister representing the Postmaster-General, while on a visit to Brisbane three years ago, met a deputation representative of the citizens of the district affected, and gave me to understand that, in his opinion, a new post office was needed, and that it might be decided to retain the old building as well as to erect a new one. The South Brisbane district is entitled to a post office second in importance only to the General Post Office, but instead the existing post office is probably the most ramshackle, nondescript building of its kind in that city. It is hidden out of sight in a one-way traffic street where people are sure to miss it, and the majority of those who seek it travel two or three miles beyond it until they reach the Woolloongabba post office - quite a pretentious buildingwhich they mistake for the South Brisbane office. Although I had resided on the south side of the city for nine or ten years it was not until I had represented the particular district in this Parliament for a couple of . years that I discovered where the South Brisbane post office was situated. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has informed me that, although he has been acquainted with the area for twenty years, he does not yet know where it is located. Recently a deputation representative of the business men and citizens of the district waited upon two Queensland senators and myself. These two senators did not know where the South Brisbane office is, although one of them lives on the south side. The necessity to have the office in its present positionhas lessened considerably since the Minister received a deputation three years ago, for the reason that the building of the new Jubilee bridge will take away all the overseas and interstate shipping which previously wharfed adjacent. to its site. The Adelaide Steamship Company has already changed the berth of the Manoora and the Manunda from South Brisbane to New Farm, and Birt’s have built a new wharf at Hamilton. Thus the main business of the present post office has been removed. The principal business centre of South Brisbane is in the vicinity of the new site. The Commonwealth Bank is adjacent to it, and thus is convenient for the transfer of money. The four principal banking institutions on the south side are close to it, and it is handy to the south coast and interstate railway terminus. The corner which adjoins it - the junction of Melbourne awd Grey-streets - is probably the busiest traffic corner in the whole of Brisbane, as it ‘ is the outlet for all traffic to the city over the Victoria-street and Grey-street bridges. Twenty years ago South Brisbane had as its post office a decent twostory building on the corner of Melbourne and Grey-streets. That was taken over by a private firm - apparently it was sold over the head of the department - and the post office was removed to temporary premises, in which it is still located. We believe that it is necessary to erect a new building as early as possible. The latest reply that I have received on the matter from Senator the Honorable A. J. McLachlan, dated the 28th September last, is. to the following effect: -
With reference to your recent representa tions in Parliament in favour of the erection of a new post office at South Brisbane, the matterhas been given very careful consideration, but I am afraid there are no prospects of the work being undertaken in the immediate future. The question will, however, be further reviewed when next year’s Estimates are being prepared.
That is typical of replies thatwe receive year after year, and it makes one wonder whether there is any chance of this work being commenced in the near future unless the Government is willing to listen to the arguments that are advanced in favour of it. I sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider its attitude and recognize that, while matters of this sort may appear somewhat parochial, they are regarded as most important by the residents of the district. While those who advocate it are in favour of a new building in the heart of the city, they yet urge that the South Brisbane office is more urgent and will be less expensive than the building of a new general post office in Brisbane.
Proposed vote agreed to.
– I have-to inform the House that it is my intention to issue a writ on Wednesday, the18th instant, for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Darling Downs, in the State of Queensland, in the place of the Honorable Sir Littleton Ernest Groom, deceased. The dates in connexion with the election will be fixed as follow : - Date of issue of writ, Wednesday,18th November, 1936; date of nomination, Thursday, 3rd December, 1936; date of polling, Saturday, 19th December, 1936; date of return of writ, on or before Friday, 15th January, 1937.
House adjourned at 12.31 a.m., (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions arc as follows : -
A further amount of £5.000 was authorized to be expended in providing a water supply for the company’s battery. A proportion of this amount is also subject to repayment.
The directors of Eldorado (Central Australia) Gold Mine Limited are Sir George W. Puller and Lionel Manchee.
Cockatoo Island Dockyard: Naval construction.
y asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In connexion with the £50,000 allocated for naval construction at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, can he indicate what type of vessel will be built and when construction will commence ?
– I am not in a position at this date to make a definite statement as to the type of ship that will be ordered at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. In my speech on the 11th September the importance that the Government attaches to the maintenance of local resources for the construction and repair of ships was indicated. In full realization of this policy and its economic benefits, £50,000 is provided in this year’s Estimates for new construction.
The advantages of the Government’s policy in the past are reflected in the fact that in respect of the sloop constructed and the one nearing completion, SO per cent, of the price paid to the contractors will have been spent on Australian labour and materials, giving employment to approximately 300 men for four years in the dockyard and establishments in which the necessary materials are produced. The total cost of these two vessels is £610,000.
In the light of this information, it will be apparent that only paramount considerations of what is in the best interests of the Commonwealth’s naval defence are delaying finality. When these have been determined, it is confidently anticipated that any present delay will have resulted in a local construction policy which will be beneficial to the Commonwealth, the maintenance of these important resources, and the employment of the workers in the trades concerned.
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Northern Territory : Appointment of administra tor.
Mr.E. J. Harrison asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
In view of the national importance of the development of the Northern Territory and the necessity to establish confidence on the part of settlers and investors, will the Government consider the advisability of appointing an experienced and energetic Administrator as a factor in solving the problem of development?
n. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
When will the consolidation of Commonwealth acts be available to honorable members ?
– It is expected that the consolidation will be published in December or January next.
e asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The report in question has received the consideration of the Government on a number of occasions. The Government desires to present the report to Parliament as soon as possible.
Trade Negotiations with United States of America.
y asked the Minister directing negotiations for Trade Treaties, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister directing negotiations for Trade Treaties (Sir Henry Gullett) supplies the following answers : -
en asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the approximate number of men and women respectively out of employment in Australia at the present time?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
It is only possible to make a rough estimate of the number of unemployed. Available data are not sufficient to distinguish between male and female unemployment. The latest date for which such an estimate can be made is August, 1036. For August, estimated unemployed (including sustenance and relief workers, but excluding those unemployed, but notavailable for employment owing to sickness,&c. ) were 201,000. There has been a reduction of 335,000 since early 1932.
en asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– Inquiries will be made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
en asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The answers, to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
China - Head-quarters. Shanghai. Mr.
V.G.Bowden. Appointed 30th May, 1935.
Japan - Head-quarters Tokyo. LieutenantColonel E. E. Longfield-Lloyd. Appointed 30th May, 1935.
Netherlands East Indies - Head-quarters Batavia. Mr. C. E. Critchley. Appointed 30th May, 1935.
Shanghai - China. Mr. A. L. Nutt. Appointed 9th September, 1935.
Tokyo - Japan. Mr. J. A. Tonkin. Appointed 19th October, 1935.
Batavia - Netherlands East Indies. Mr. C. J. Carne. Appointed 5th September, 1935.
Hospital Treatment of Returned Soldiers.
s. - On the 22nd October the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) asked me the following question, without notice: -
A returned soldier undergoing treatment in a repatriation hospital may have a broken limb. This not being accepted as a war disability, ho is obliged to have it treated at a private institution, and thus suffers considerable discomfort in travelling between the two. Will the Minister for Repatriation, consider the promotion of some scheme of co-ordination between hospitals controlled by the repatriation authorities and private institutions, whereby an ex-soldier may receive treatment at either the one institution or the other?
The report of theRepatriation Commission, which I promised to obtain,is as follows : -
If, in the circumstances mentioned in the question, an in-patient broke a limb whilst in the institution, requisite treatment would be provided by the commission. If the limb were broken when not such an in-patient the member would be required to obtain treatment at a civil institution, and whilst an in-patient at such institution arrangement:, are made for that institution to provide any treatment necessary for the accepted disability. It is highly desirable in all cases of fractured limbs that the surgeons concerned in the original setting of the limb should continue to watch its progress and for this reason it is preferable that, unless the patient is confined to bed in a departmental institution, he should continue to attend for advice and attention regarding the fracture to the institution at which the limb was originally attended to. Coordination in matters of this kind between repatriation and civil institutions already exists.
Death of Sergeant A. Evans, V.C., D.C.M.
s. - On the 6th November, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) asked me a question relating to a report in the Sydney Sun concerning an appeal by nine V.C.’s to provide for the widow and three-year-old son of Sergeant Arthur Evans, V.C., D.C.M. The honorable member asked whether it was my intention to make some provision for the family of this ex-soldier. I have been in communication with the chairman of theRepatriation Commission who informs me that Sergeant Evans was an ex-Imperial soldier, who was not domiciled in Australia at the outbreak of war, and was not a member of the Forces within the meaning of the Australian Soldiers’Repatriation Act. Sergeant Evans died from a disability which the British Ministry of Pensions refused to accept as having been war-caused.
– On the 23rd October, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) referred to the treatment of tuberciilosis with “ Mirdol “, and I promised that I would make further inquiries. I have been in touch with the Department of Public Health in Victoria, and with the Minister of Health for Victoria, and the position is that the Medical Superintendent of the Heatherton Sanatorium has replied that he is unable to give further information, than he had already given in a report which was laid upon the table of the House some few weeks ago.
Retail Price Index Numbers.
y. - On the 5th November, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions arc as follows: -
– On the 6th “November, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following answers to his inquiries: - 1 and 2. Thu amounts paid for the carriage of mails throughout Australia under the several means of transportation and those to whom payments were made during the financial vear 1935-36 are as follows: -
Design of Postage Stamps.
– On the 4f.h November, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) asked a question, without notice, pertaining to the designs of new Commonwealth postage stumps. I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the designs adopted by the Commonwealth for the new King Edward stamps will, it. is hoped, be both artistic and attractive, although the process of reproduction will differ from that adopted by the British Post Office.
– On the 6th November, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 November 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1936/19361111_reps_14_152/>.