4th Parliament · 3rd Session
The President took the chair at 10.30 a.m. and read prayers.
Motion (by Senator ChaTaway) agreed to-
That the Government communicate with the State Governments asking them to ascertain the number of old-age pensioners found dead or found destitute, and the number whose deaths were the subject of coronial or magisterial inquiries during the last financial year, and that a return be made to the Senate thereon.
SUPPLY BILL (No. 2).
Treasurer’s Advance - Government House, Sydney - Garrison Artillery, N.S.W. : Resignations - Tasmanian Steam- ship and Mail Services - Harbor Accommodation : Launceston - Railway Station Letter Boxes : Late Fees - Launceston Letter Deliveries - Tattersall’s Agents, Hobart : Duties of Letter Carriers - Old-age Pension Administration - Underground ing of Telephone Wires : Charges Against Workmen - Post and Telegraph Department : Grievances.
Bill received, from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator McGregor) agreed to-
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through all stages without delay.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a first time.
This is a Bill providing for the ordinary services of the Commonwealth for two months, based upon’ last year’s Estimates. The total amount which it appropriates is not double what we voted last month for a month’s supply. The Bill appropriates £1,503,574, whereas the amount which was voted recently for one month’s supply was £882,768, so that honorable senators will see that the Government are not asking for more than is really necessary to carry on the ordinary business of the country. The Bill includes an item of , £20,000 for refunds of revenue and an item of £200,000 for an advance to the Treasurer. The latter is not double the amount which was voted in the previous Supply Bill, namely, . £150,000. Every honorable senator knows the purposes for which the Treasurer’s Advance is necessary, and consequently I anticipate very little opposition to the item. For the Parliament we ask for an appropriation of£5,744 for two months, and that is not double what we asked for last time. For the Prime Minister’s Department we require £10,597, which is considerably more than double the amount appropriated in the first Supply Bill for this year. The reason for the increased amount is that there is a very large amount of work done by the Department. It includes an item of £1,300 in connexion with the printing and publication of the Gazette and preparing the statutes for publication.
-Colonel Sir Albert Gould. - Is there a proportionate reduction in the other Departments?
– Yes. I thank the honorable senator for the reminder. The additional cost is merely expenditure transferred to another Department, and consequently, the appropriations, for the old Departments will be so much less. The Treasury requires an appropriation of £29,716; the Attorney - General’s Department £7,695 ; the External Affairs Department, £113,390. The External Affairs Department is now charged with large responsibilities, which did not previously exist, on account of taking over the Northern Territory, and, therefore, it must be supplied with the funds necessary to carry on the ordinary works. The Defence Department must also be supplied with funds, and the amount of its vote considerable, namely, £339,190. I do not think that there is any honorable senator who will cavil at the amount. The Trade and Customs Department requires £59,895; the Home Affairs Department, £55,535 ; and the Postmaster-General’s Department, £661,812. In my opinion, it is far better to ask for two months’. supply than to come here every month and ask for a month’s supply. In South Australia the general custom is for the Government to ask for three months’ supply at the beginning of the session, and that appropriation tides them over the period until the Appropriation Bill has been passed, when they can go on with the business in the usual manner. We know that the Commonwealth
Parliament is not prepared to allow the Appropriation Bill to pass out of its control until the very last minute, and, I think, wisely so, because while the Parliament retains the Bill the Government can do no damage, if at any time they should propose to doso, without its consent.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [10.41].- We realize that the Government must be provided with this money in order to carry on the business of the country. Personally, I do not object to two months’ supply being granted at the present time, although it will deprive us of one opportunity which is afforded by the motion for the first reading of a Supply Bill to ventilate grievances.
– Honorable senators can ventilate any grievances on the motion to print the Budget-papers.
– We can only make one speech on that motion, and we do not know when an opportunity will arise to f ully discuss the Estimates for the current year. I understand that the Minister is only asking for an appropriation for two months on the same basis as the total appropriations for last year. Of course, new proposals for expenditure or taxation would have to be brought forward at another time, when there would be ample opportunity for discussing them.. I notice that the Government require a Treasurer’s advance of £200,000 for two months - that is at the rate of £1,200,000 for the year. I would remind honorable senators that we have practically no control over the Treasurer’s Advance, because the money is always expended before we know how it has been expended. One of the weaknesses of our financial system is that we hand over these large sums on trust to the Treasurer to dispose of as he may think fit, subject, of course, to the right of Parliament to find fault afterwards if it should be dissatisfied with the way in which he has expended the money.
– Do you think that every item of expenditure can be absolutely foreseen ?
– No; but I think that the expenditure could be forecast in a more complete manner than it is. I would remind the honorable senator that £200,000, or £100,000 a month, is a very large sum to give straight away on trust to the Treasurer.
– I agree with that.
– The honorable senator should remember that there will be only two or three Supply Bills submitted during the year.
– What was the total amount of the Treasurer’s Advance during the last financial year? At the beginning of this Parliament we used to regard £50,000 as a very fair amount indeed to trust the Treasurer with as an advance.
– The first Supply Bill for last year appropriated £200,000 as a Treasurer’s Advance for one month.
– What was the total amount of the Treasurer’s Advance for that year ?
– I cannot tell you just now.
– It is a mistake for the Senate to vote these very large sums by way of advance to the Treasurer. I do not think that so many unforeseen expenses can arise within a limited period as would be indicated by such a large sum as we are asked to appropriate. I do not suppose that the present Government are any worse in this respect than previous Governments ; but, as a matter of principle, we should consider whether it is advisable to give these large sums to the Treasurer from time to time, trusting that he will spend them wisely.
– The total amount advanced to the Treasurer last year in three Supply Bills was , £650,000. The amount advanced in each of the first two Bills was £200,000, and in the third , £250,000. There was no amount advanced to the Treasurer in the last Supply Bill.
– There was no necessity for an advance in the last Supply Bill, because we were nearing the close of the session, and in a short time would be considering the Appropriation Bill. I do not know that one can do any more than raise a protest against these large advances to the Treasurer. I should like to know what arrangements, if any, have yet been made for the continuance of Government House at Sydney. I know that the matter has given rise to a good deal of discussion between the State and Commonwealth Governments. I understandthat some arrangement has at last been made, and, if so, I would like very much to know what it is.
– Negotiations are still proceeding, but no arrangements have yet been made.
SenatorLt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - I hope that before very long some satisfactory arrangement will be made whereby the Governor-General will continue to be afforded an opportunity to reside in Sydney for a portion of each year. It is only fair to say that no blame rests upon the Commonwealth Government in this matter, as they have endeavoured to make a suitable arrangement with the Government of New South Wales to provide a residence for the GovernorGeneral in Sydney, and at the same time meet the demand of the State Government that a certain area of the land on which Sydney Government House is situated should be at their disposal. I may mention that there is some question as to whether the lands on which Sydney Government House is situated passed over to the State Government of New South Wales under the grant that was made of the waste lands of the Crown to the State Government when the Constitution was granted to that State. It has been contended that these lands never did actually pass over to the State Government in the same way as the ordinary waste lands of the Crown. No doubt a careful examination of a number of documents of the early days, and also of the Constitution of New South Wales, is necessary for the settlement of that question. But I have seen it strongly contended that these lands did not pass over to the Government of the State; and that, as a matter of fact, the Commonwealth Government would be within their rights in saying that they would make no bargain with the State Government for the use of these lands because they were set apart by the Imperial authorities for a specific purpose, and should continue to be devoted to that purpose. I should have liked to have said a word or two upon the trouble which has recently arisen in Sydney, and is responsible for a number of resignations from the Garrison Artillery. But I believe that the matter is not at the present time ripe for discussion. I noticed a letter in a Sydney newspaper which I received yesterday which puts quite a different aspect upon the matter to that suggested by the telegrams and communications referred to by the Minister of Defence. I repeat that I think the matter is not yet ripe for discussion, and we shall require further information before we shall be able to understand what the trouble really is, and in what way it may be overcome. I am sure that the Minister of Defence will only be too glad to take whatever steps may be necessary to settle the difficulty.
.- I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to bring under the notice of the Senate several matters connected with the steam-ship service between Tasmania and the mainland, and to suggest the urgent need for the Commonwealth taking steps to establish a Commonwealth-owned and controlled line of steamers, in order that the people of Tasmania may be afforded adequate and satisfactory shipping facilities. An agitation has arisen in Tasmania which I am voicing here to-day, and which must continue until the primary producers and business people of that State are afforded better shipping facilities than they have to-day. Tasmania is not a manufacturing State, and depends very largely on her primary industries.
– What about her woollen manufactories ?
– They are not so extensive as to seriously affect my argument. It is our duty to do anything we can to assist our people in marketing their primary products. The farmers and orchardists of Tasmania are suffering to-day because certain shipping companies control freights and shipping conditions absolutely between that State and the mainland. There is no free competition in the trade which would enable the producers of Tasmania to secure reasonable freights and adequate service. We are not asking for any favours, because we believe that we have a just claim to consideration. We recognise that Western Australia is being connected with the eastern States by means of the transcontinental railway. To that we take no exception, and it will be found that the majority of the representatives of Tasmania in this Parliament gave their support to that railway. The means of communication existing between other States of the Commonwealth may be considered satisfactory, and in all the circumstances, we will say that, if the shipping companies carrying on the trade between Tasmania and the mainland do not make some effort to remedy existing evils, we must look to the Commonwealth to establish its own line of steamers to relieve the present position.
The debate which took place in the Senate about a week ago showed that the boats engaged in the Tasmanian trade are old and out-of-date. I may inform honorable senators that, so far as speed and the accommodation provided for the carriage of perishable produce are concerned, the boats now running between Sydney and Hobart are no better than the boats engaged in the same trade twenty-five years ago. As a result, the products of Tasmania cannot be shipped to Melbourne or Sydney because the boats engaged in the trade have not the necessary accommodation. To show how this is affecting Tasmanian producers, I may say that, quite recently, from 500 to 600 tons of hay, 350 tons of straw, and 500 tons of potatoes per week were ready in Hobart for shipment to Sydney, and the steamers engaged in the trade were unable to find room for this produce.
This is a matter of serious concern to Tasmanian producers. This will be seen when I mention that, at the time the Hobart price of chaff was £5 5s. per ton on trucks at the Hobart railway station, whilst the Sydney price was £5 10s. on the wharf at Hobart. The price of straw was £ji 9s. per ton on trucks at the Hobart railway station, whilst the Sydney prices were .£3 15s. per ton for wheaten straw, and ,£3 10s. for oaten straw. The price for hay at Hobart was £4. ros. and the Sydney prices from ^£5 to £6 ros. per ton. Deputations waited on the representatives of the shipping companies to request that some effort might be made to carry this payable freight to Sydney; and, although the people of New South Wales required these products, ‘ the steam-ship companies only made proraises in reply which, up to the present time, they have not fulfilled. Tasmania is admittedly famous for the production of apples; and in connexion, with the apple trade, the position of affairs is even worse than in connexion with other produce. I have before me a letter from a gentleman who has a very wide knowledge of the -apple trade, and great experience of shipping facilities. It is dated May last, and in it he says -
The ventilation of the holds of these boats trading between Hobart and Sydney is so neg- lested that pears sent from Tasmania direct from the trees are utterly useless on arrival at
– At Brisbane?
– Yes ; they have to be transhipped, and that is another grievance to which I shall refer in a moment. The writer of the letter to which I refer says, further -
So far as cool storage is concerned, although they have cool chambers working for the buttery no offer will induce them to take the trouble to carry Tasmanian fruit in those chambers.
He says he has offered the companies double freight, and they have refused unless he will undertake to fill the chamber.
I have received a very reliable estimate showing that the southern fruit-growers of Tasmania put 30,000 cases per week, in the apple season, into the Sydney boats, and the freight for the forty-four hours’ run averages nearly .£”1,000 per week. It will be seen that the shipping companies have here a very profitable trade in the carriage of fruit ; but, though requests have been repeatedly made to them to provide cool storage for this trade, they have taken absolutely no notice of those requests. A very glaring case came under my notice when I was in Queensland recently. I happened1 to be in Maryborough chatting with a local fruiterer, and he showed me a telegram he had received from Brisbane, stating that no pears were available in Brisbane. Mr. Finlayson, the fruiterer in question wanted a hundred cases. Singular to relate, while that condition of affairs prevailed in Queensland, I had a letter in my pocket from Dr. Ben j afield, in which he says -
I have now in cool stores some 3,000 bushels of very fine dessert pears and a similar quantity of apples; but to consign most of these pears to Brisbane even means a total loss under the present system of transhipment and carriage, and very risky for the apples.
Surely that is a state of things which should not be permitted to continue !
– What the honorable senator desires is a direct steam-ship service between Hobart and Queensland.
– Yes ; we require cool storage in Tasmania, and on these boats, too.
– The people of Tasmania want a Labour Government to give them a bit of Socialism.
– We do. I may tell the Minister of Defence that the present agitation is merely a prelude to the very vigorous agitation which will be raised in this matter.
– I - It will not be long before we shall have a Labour Government in Tasmania which will establish cool storage there.
– Never !
- Senator Guthrie is a very bad prophet when he utters that exclamation. I found that all over Queensland there was a desire to obtain Tasmanian apples. Fruiterers told me that they were the best apples ; and private persons assured me that they would purchase them in preference to all others.
– I cannot agree with that statement.
– The fact is indisputable that the apples are in demand there, and are not obtainable. Let me give another instance. A fruiterer in North Queensland, wishing to secure Tasmanian apples, wrote to a firm in Devonport asking for forty or fifty cases. I have the invoice of these goods in my hand. Mr. Soyd, the fruiterer I mention, obtained from Messrs. Clemons and Company, of Devonport, 43 cases of apples and 13 cases of pears, at a total -cost of £16 2s. 6d. The transport cost from Devonport to . -aims was not less than £11 4s. 2d. It was made up as follows : - Steam-ship freight £10’ 6s. 6d., bill of lading 6d., exchange 5s. 2d., insurance 7s. 3d., harbor dues 2S 6d., inspection fees 2s. 3d. In other words, these charges amounted to 70 per cent, upon the invoiced value of the goods, or 4s. per case.
– What is the use of growing fruit in Tasmania under those circumstances.?
– It is not much use attempting to put that fruit upon the Queensland market. In addition, Mr. Soyd received half of that fruit in a rotten’ condition.
– T - To what did he attribute the condition of the fruit?
– To the rough handling, the lack of cool storage, and the want of proper facilities for sea carriage.
– Was there transhipment in the case of those goods ?
– Yes, they were transhipped at Sydney. I believe that this condition of affairs extends not only to southern fruits, but also to citrus fruits grown in the north. Recently I obtained a couple of cases of oranges from Queensland. When I received them, nearly half were bad. I attribute this to the way in which they were carried. The usual practice is for the vessels either to carry fruit on deck, exposed to the weather, or to stow it in the hold where the only ventilation is supplied by means of an inadequate windsail. No provision is made for properly preserving the fruit.
We think that some steps should be taken to provide a better steam-ship service, and I know of none that would be as adequate as would a Commonwealth line of steamers. . I wish also to point out that the charge on Tasmanian fruit between Sydney and Brisbane is double that which, is levied upon oranges from Brisbane toSydney.
When in Brisbane recently, I understand that Dr. Benjafield waited on the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company for an explanation of this circumstance. When he pressed it, he was coolly informed that the company intended to make as much out of the Tasmanian people as they possibly could. They refused to reduce the rate, and challenged! him to go to either of the other steam-ship lines and secure a reduction. At the present time the vessels trading from Hobart to Sydney stop at the latter port, and, consequently, fruit from Tasmania, which is intended for Queensland, has to be transhipped there. From Hobart to Sydney the freight is 13s. per ton of 40 cubic feet > but from Sydney to Brisbane, owing to the transhipment charges, it is 25s. per ton of 40 cubic feet. It will be seen, therefore, that the transhipment process is such an. expensive one that it practically imposes a prohibition upon the entrance of Tasmanian fruit into Queensland. Time after time the people of Tasmania have waited on the shipping companies with a request that the latter should continue the steamship service from Hobart to Sydney as far as Brisbane, and, if necessary, to the north of Queensland.
– Why not send the fruit on by rail from Sydney?
– That suggestion offers no practical solution of the difficulty. The fact is that, owing to a well-known combination between the steam-ship companies, there is no chance whatever of inducing the Union Company or Huddart, Parker, and Company to send their vessels past Sydney. While that state of things continues, thousands of pounds’ worth of Tasmanian products will annually be debarred from finding a profitable market. Let us see how this combine of two companies, which has an honorable understanding with other companies of the Commonwealth, treats Tasmania in the matter of fares, as compared with the way in which it -treats other portions of Australia.
– The fare between Hobart and Sydney is the cheapest in the world.
– I am very glad that Senator Guthrie has made that interjection, because I hold in my hand a return showing the fares and distances between Australian ports, and between Australian ports and Tasmania. The first return fare from Melbourne to Adelaide, a distance of 508 miles, is £4 4s., and the second class return fare is £2 12s. 6d. The first class return fare between Melbourne and Sydney, a distance of 564 miles, is £4 4s. ; whilst the second class is £2 12s. 6d. The return fare between Melbourne and Brisbane is £9 3s. 9d. first class, and £5 5s. second class. That is for a distance of 1,074 miles. The return fare between Melbourne and Fremantle, a distance of 1,886 miles, is £12 12s. first class return, and £1010s- second class. A deck cabin between Melbourne and Launceston costs £3 2s. 6d. first class return, and £111s. 6d. second class return, and the distance is 277 miles. Between Melbourne and Hobart, the first class return fare is £4 8s., and the second class £2 15s., the distance being 457 miles.
– The fare between Sydney and Hobart works out at¾d. per mile.
– The fare between Melbourne and Sydney, a distance of 564 miles, is £4 4s. ; whilst that between Melbourne and Hobart, a distance of 457 miles, or 107 miles less, is £4 8s.
– Take the volume of trade into consideration.
– The honorable senator is slipping. If he will look at the fares per mile, he will find that the position of Tasmania is worse than that of any other State of the Commonwealth. Why is this so? Simply because Tasmania is isolated, and there is a shipping combine in existence. Quite recently, that combine increased its. freights and fares under the plea that it had to pay increased wages. It increased the wages of its employes by, say,10 per cent., and simultaneously it put up its freights by about 20 per cent.
– And the Tasmanian local steam-ship companies are paying only half the ruling rate of wages.
– That may be so. I hold no brief for them. But I do submit that Tasmania ought to be placed on an equality with the rest of the Commonwealth in the matter of freights and fares. Let us look at the rates which are charged from Launceston. Quite recently, the freights upon wool were increased. Before the 1st May, 19 1 2, the charge up to 15 feet was 2s. per B. ; up to 16-20 feet, it was 2s. 6d. per B. ; up to 21-25 feet,itwas 3s-per B. ; and up to 26-30 feet, it was 3s. 6d. per B. After the 1st May of the present year, these rates were increased as follows: - Up to 15 feet, 2s. 6d. per B. ; up to 16-20 feet, 3s. per B. ; up to 21-25 3s. 6d. per B.; up to 26-30 feet, 5s. per B. ; up to 31-35 feet, 6s. per B. ; and up to 36-40 feet, 7s. 6d. per B. They not only made these increases, but would have made very much larger ones if it had not been for the fight put up by the business people. I wonder whether the honorable senator who interjected just now knows that the freight on rabbit skins from Melbourne to London is½d. per lb., whilst the freight on rabbit skins from Launceston to Melbourne is1/8d. per lb. How do those rates compare when distances are taken into consideration? In the one case the goods have to be taken all theway to Great Britain, and in the other case they are simply ferried across the Strait. The freight on furred skins from Melbourne to London is ¾d. per lb., whilst that from Launceston to Melbourne is¼d. per lb. The freight on sheep skins from Melbourne to London is 60s. per ton, whilst the freight from Launceston to Melbourne is a sliding scale of about 14s. a ton.
– Why do not the Launceston people send their goods to London instead of to Melbourne?
– That interjection is scarcely worth considering. I am giving these instances to show how little Tasmania is being penalized by these companies. We have to take the fares and freights they provide for us, and are helpless in their hands.
– Why do not the Tasmanian people start a shipping company of their own?
– We want the Commonwealth to start a line of steamers.
– Why does not the State Government do so?
– Why did not South Australia build the railway to Kalgoorlie?
– We may be isolated, but we are a State of Australia. We are not connected with Australia by land, but we surely have claims as an integral part of the Commonwealth.
Before passing from this point I may refer to the Launceston harbor accommodation. We have lately been making some efforts to put things into a better condition. The Marine Board of Launceston is making efforts - somewhat belated I admit - to put the Tamar on a footing equal to that of many other harbors in Australia. They have obtained the services of Mr. Hunter, an engineer from England, at a. cost of 1,400 guineas, and have acquired a dredging plant at a cost of ?70,000. They propose to spend practically up to ?250,000 in improving the river. But whilst Launceston is doing this kind of thing, let honorable senators consider the action of the shipping companies. It is proving extremely detrimental to the best interests of the port which the local authorities are trying to improve. This is an aspect of the case to which I was prevented from calling attention - quite properly under the Standing Orders - when a similar matter was under discussion a little while ago. There is a very sinister aspect of. the question which I wish to mention. I allude to the coming to Launceston of that big Norwegian barque Fingal, a four-masted sailing vessel of 4,500 tons, laden with lumber for Hobart and Launceston. She came because representations were made to the owners that she could, after bringing out her lumber, secure back freight and Inter-State freight whilst she was in our waters. In the Launceston Examiner of the 2nd July appeared the following paragraph, which is very instructive reading -
A case of alleged intimidation was referred to at yesterday’s meeting of the Marine Board by Dr. L. C. Webster. The doctor stated that he had been informed by the captain of the barque Fingal that he could not get any back loading because shippers were afraid that if they brought him down cargo a certain shipping company would refuse them freight in future. If that were true, some steps should be taken by the Board, as otherwise it would have the effect of damaging the port.
Mr. HOLMES. It amounts to a boycott.
The ACTING MASTER WARDEN. - The vessel is loading now.
Dr. WEBSTER. That is so. The complaint was made about a fortnight ago. Other people, however, were afraid to ship.
Mr. SADLER. I notice the vessel is taking in straw, chaff. , and metal:
Dr. WEBSTER I know there are certain lines that could be shipped, only the merchants areafraid of the company referred to.
Mr. NEWTON. It is very regrettable if such is the case. If we had the power, I would move in the direction of penalizing the company which holds the threat over the shippers.
The ACTING MASTER WARDEN. - The matter is outside the Board’s jurisdiction.
Mr. SADLER considered Dr. Webster was to be commended for bringing the matter forward. He understood a small company intended bringing a vessel to Launceston to take stuff away. That might get over the difficulty. It was a bad state of things if one company was to be allowed to monopolize the trade.
– Where was the Fingal loading for?
– For Sydney.
– Coming into competition with European wages?
– In fairness to the Union Steam-ship Company, which was evidently the company referred to. in the Examiner report, I should say that their Tasmanian manager distinctly denied that they had used any influence with Launceston shippers to intimidate them or to prevent them from shipping with the Fingal. They denied that publicly in the press of Tasmania. At the request of a friend of mine an interview was arranged with Captain Hannivig of the Fingal and myself. I obtained from him at first hand the information, in the course of a lengthy conversation, that he was induced to come to Tasmania by representations made by business people in Great Britain. He pointed out that before he came out here he had no certainty of getting freight back from Tasmania; but English business people told him that plenty of freight was available, and that he would certainly get it. As he pointed out to me, although the outward trip did not pay him, he considered the voyage would pay him in the end because of the Inter-State or Home freight he hoped to get. He came out to Hobart and Launceston, where he unshipped his lumber. Then he went to the business people and said, “ I will take as much light stuff as you like for 10s. a ton by weight.”
– Hear, hear. FreeTrade ; protect your industries ; get your shipping free !
– He also said, “ I will take as much heavy stuff as you wish for 8s. per ton.” Captain Hannivig, in laying these terms before the merchants of Tasmania, pointed out to them, as he did to me, that the charges were very profitable to him, and that he would be quite satisfied to ship for a much longer voyage at those rates if he could get the freight.
– To save him from taking ballast. He was paying about 3s. a day per man.
– He was paying bigger wages than that.
– He was paying £3 a month.
– The honorable senator is not correct in making that statement.
– It was not over £3 10s. per month.
– The Union Steamship Company’s rates for light stuff to Sydney was 17s. 6d. per ton, or 75 per cent. more than Captain Hannivig offered. Business men all over the world will, as a rule, take the cheapest rates they can get, and they would at once have accepted Captain Hannivig’s offer if they had felt free, because there was a great quantity of chaff and straw, as well as other primary products, awaiting shipment. Captain Hannivig told me that when he went to the merchants some of them refused, without giving any reason why, to ship with him, but one of them told him definitely that he would not do so, because if he did the Union Steam-ship Company would make it remarkably awkward for him with his future freights. Another one said that past experience proved that any one who left the Union Steam-ship Company would have little obstacles thrown in his way when it became necessary to ship from the port of Launceston in the future. There is a. fair case of boycott. As I am reminded, it is on a par with many other cases of the kind. As a matter of fact, one business man in Launceston did ship goods by the
Fingal, but he was the only one who was plucky enough to avail himself of the facilities offered.
I asked Captain Hannivig whether he was prepared to put up with Australian conditions, and he Said that he did not want to compete unfairly with any company. But, simply because he could not fill his ship with freight, he was compelled in Launceston to buy 500 tons of road metal to ballast his vessel in taking her to Sydney. What is the result? He informed me plainly that when he got back to his own country his experience in these waters would lead him to warn other ship-owners to keep away from Australia. It is very little use for a Marine Board or other public body to spend money in improving ports in Tasmania if this kind of thing is going to take place. It will continue to occur as long as it is within the power of one or two companies to dictate to the shippers of Tasmania how and’ when and under what conditions they shall ship their commodities. The sinister aspect of the case that is opened up is so serious that I feel sure that every honorable senator, unless biased, will realize that the condition of things is most deplorable from a Tasmanian point of view.
I should like to allude to one other matter before concluding. We have a prospect of having some rather important industries established in Tasmania. At present a big company is exploiting the water power in the centre of the island, and is spending a great deal of money. With the cheap power that will be made available it is certain that many industries will be established, especially in Southern Tasmania. But while the shipping companies hold the key to the situation there will always be’ a deterrent to any company establishing operations on a large scale in any part of the State. We in Tasmania have a claim on this great Commonwealth for practical help. I say deliberately that every legitimate avenue has been tried by the people to induce the shipping companies to trade north of Brisbane, and to provide better’ storage facilities, better boats, and fairer freights and fares. It was right for us to make that attempt. But it has been unsuccessful. I see no hope in this direction. Mr. Williams, the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, said recently that the shipping companies do not care what the Tasmanian people want. There is no prospect of conditions being improved while the present companies monopolize the trade. Consequently, I hope that the present Government will take up the question of establishing a Commonwealth service. I do not claim to be an engineering expert, or an expert on defence, but it is worthy of the consideration of the Minister of Defence whether estimates should not be obtained as to the cost of building a few steamers to trade between the mainland and Tasmania, which, being of a certain type, might be capable of being armed with quick-firing guns, and so forth, so that they might be used as commerce destroyers in the event of war breaking out.
– That is the cry of ten years ago when we had a special Commission appointed.
– That may be so. I do not care whether it is an old or a new cry.
– Who is to run the ships and incur all the loss - the Commonwealth or the State?
– So far as Tasmania is concerned I do not think that there would be any loss. I am confident that the trade is good, and large enough to prevent any loss from arising.
– Surely the shipping people know better.
– If a start is made in a modest way by building two vessels, and putting them in the trade, I feel sure that the Commonwealth need not fear any liability or loss.
– In the meantime are the Government going to give a contract to this combine?
– I feel sure that the Government will do all that they possibly can to bring about a better condition of affairs than obtains to-day.
– It is a recognition of the combine that I do not like.
– I agree with the honorable senator. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will see that the contract is not given to two companies, and by that means recognise the existence of a combine. I hope that one company only will get the contract. The question of the cost of these steam-ships ought not to deter the Government, because the cost of such vessels would not be great. I have heard persons who admitted that we could beneficially spend £153,000,000 on railways in Australia, say that we could not beneficially spend £500,000 on boats. Where is the logic there? One service is a form of land transport, while the other service is a form of water transit. If we could afford to spend that large amount on railways I claim, logically, that if a paying proposition be put before a Government they could expend a lesser amount in providing suitable boats to relieve the people of one State from the ravages of an undoubted combine and monopoly. I believe that every senator Tor Tasmania will indorse what I have said. We intend to agitate in this matter. A public meeting is to be held in Hobart to-night, and I believe that an agitation will be carried on which will force a recognition of the needs of my State.I shall leave the matter at this stage, and I feel sure that if I have only ventilated it some good will accrue, and the Senate will show that in the National Parliament some notice is being taken of the operations of a combination which bids fair to do our primary products and people much harm, not only in Tasmania, but also in other parts of Australia.
– I desire to refer to a matter which is creating a great deal of annoyance and inconvenience throughout Victoria, and that is the charging of a late fee on letters posted at railway stations in the State. It was never intended that Federation should curtail or limit the privileges or the conveniences of the people of any one of the States in postal or other matters. The rights and privileges of Government employes were carried over to the Commonwealth, and I fail to see why the privileges or the conveniences of the people of a State ought to be curtailed. Ever since the establishment of a railway service in Victoria its people have had the privilege of posting letters at railway stations without an extra charge being imposed. Much inconvenience has been suffered in country districts, even where post-offices are provided, because the latter are situated at a considerable distance from the railway station. It has been found convenient by the farmers, and other persons going to the railway stations, to deposit their letters in the boxes provided there. In many other places the mails come in late at night, and replies have to be sent away at once. If persons have to wait till the post-office opens in the morning, their correspondence will be a day or two late. I understand that the people of the other States have not enjoyed this privilege. Now, Victoria had the privilege of penny postage prior to Federation, but, instead of bringing the postage in this State up to the same rate as was levied in the other States - namely, 2d. outside certain areas - the Commonwealth brought the other States into line with Victoria in this respect. I do not see why, in this case, Victoria should be deprived of a privilege which its people have enjoyed for generations. Why should not the Commonwealth do as it did in the case of penny postage, and that is bring the other States in line with Victoria, and give theirpeople the same privilege as our people have been accustomed to enjoy. The other day I asked the Department to supply me with the conditions obtaining in the other States, and received the following reply : -
In reply to your letter of the 29th instant, I bee to forward herewith a copy of the regulation relating to the payment of a late fee in respect to letters posted at railway stations. This regulation applies throughout the Commonwealth, and it has been amplified by an instruction issued last month reading as follows : -
Chas. E. Bright,
At the same time, I was supplied with a copy of the regulation which is in force in all the States, and which, although it has been ruling in Victoria, has never been enforced here. It leads as follows -
All unregistered postal articles except news papers and parcels may be posted fifteen minutes after the time appointed for closing the mail at the post-office ; they may also be posted on board steamers, in or for the railway travelling post-offices, and in the boxes provided at the principal railway stations for the reception of letters to be carried loose by the guards of all passenger and mixed trains, and at stations where boxes are not provided such postal articles may be. handed to the guards or stationmasters.
In addition to the ordinary postage, all late unregistered postal articles except newspapers and parcels must also bear late fees, as follows : -
If for delivery in the Commonwealth,1d. each.
If for transmission to places beyond the Commonwealth, a single rate of postage each.
That means that foreign letters will have to carry an additional2½d., which is a very heavy surcharge -
If the late fee be not prepaid in stamps, all late unregistered postal articles except newspapers and parcels posted at a post-office will be detained until the following mail ;
In the case of letters going to foreign countries, or to the Homeland, that is a serious drawback - those posted on board steamers or sailing vessels, or taken to the travelling post-offices, will be forwarded on, and the late fees collected on delivery.
It will be seen that there is differential treatment, some letters being sent on and others detained for a later mail, which, of course, means a great disappointment to many persons. I think that the matter might be got over by bringing the other
States into line with Victoria. That might involve a certain loss of revenue, but it could not be very great, and the extra work imposed on the officers would not be very much. There is one section of the community which is specially inconvenienced by this change. Commercial travellers go away from head-quarters on Monday morning, and return on Friday night. Nearly all their correspondence is posted in letterboxes at railway stations. Very often; they do not get near an ordinary postoffice, but have to go to the railway box.
– What does a penny stamp mean on a £100 order?
– As I am not good at figures, I cannot tell the honorable senator. Commercial travellers write their letters and drop them into the letter-boxes at the railway station. If these letters are detained under this regulation, that is a very serious matter to business men. It is a special blow at country people, because, whereas in large centres like Melbourne and Ballarat there are provided outside the railway stations ordinary postal pillars, in which people can post their letters without surcharge or extra fee, in smaller places, where a letter-box is provided on the railway platform, an extra fee has to be charged. There is, I understand, a proposal that where there is not a post-office the Department shall not make a charge; but I think it is unwise to make a distinction. We ought to get down to one broad principle of action. I do not know who authorized the change. According to the press, the postal authorities deny that they are responsible. I would like to know how the change originated. I bring the matter before the Minister who represents the PostmasterGeneral, and ask that it may receive further consideration. I submit that it is not right that the Federation should take away any privilege from the people of Victoria. If we in Victoria happen to have any additional privileges, give the other States the same privileges, but do not deprive us of what we have enjoyed for many years.
– The last two speakers have referred to matters which particularly appertain to the Department whichI represent here. Senator Ready, of course, made out a good case for the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers between Melbourne and. Launceston, and in doing so he called attention to the charges made by the shipping companies for carrying passengers and goods, and showed that Tasmania was not treated as well in these respects by the shipping companies as are the people in other parts of the Commonwealth. The Postal Department does all it possibly can to convenience the citizens of Australia as regards the postal services. When it called for tenders, certain conditions were laid down stipulating that the boat must travel at a certain speed, and that the mails should be delivered within a certain time, and providing for penalties in the event of the conditions not being complied with. But’ in regard to passengers we cannot do anything, so far as the mail contract is concerned. We have nothing to do with the accommodation provided for passengers, nor can we interfere with the charges which the shipping companies make for the carriage of cargo. If the powers we require were given to us by the people, we should, when we felt that the necessity had arisen, do something which would be of advantage to Tasmania, as well as to the whole of the Commonwealth. The Constitution dot’s not permit the Commonwealth to engage in a steam-ship service.
– The State of Tasmania can.
– The Constitution, of course, would permit us to build a ship for the conveyance of the mails from Melbourne to Launceston, or any other port of the Commonwealth. But no Government, in its sane senses, would for a moment seriously consider a proposal to build steam-ships simply for the carrying, of mails. I do not suppose that the company, to which such lengthy references were made by Senator Ready, would be carrying on business between Victoria and Tasmania if it were not for the fact that they get a subsidy from the Commonwealth, and, at the same time, have a large passenger traffic to Tasmania, particularly at a certain period of the year, when people from all parts of the Commonwealth make their way south from Sydney and Melbourne. I wish to make it quite clear that we have no constitutional power to engage in a passenger and mail steam-ship service. We could build and employ a steam-ship for the carriage of mails alone; but I point out that the Tasmanian Government might, if they so desired, build a steam-ship of their own to engage in any trade. When the Commonwealth Government asked for certain constitutional powers at present enjoyed by every State Parliament in Australia, the people, by a very large majority, refused to give that power to the Commonwealth Parliament. But I repeat that the Tasmanian Government has the constitutional power to purchase or build steam-ships of their own to engage in any service. If they were disposed to go in for this business, I do not think there would be any difficulty whatever in the way of the Commonwealth giving to the Government of the State a substantial subsidy. It might be similar to that now paid to the companies holding the mail contract, and with the assistance of such a subsidy the State Government might be in a position to supply a better service than Tasmania enjoys to-day. Senator McColl has raised the question of the late fee charged on letters posted at railway stations in places where there are post-offices. The honorable senator stated that Victorians have always enjoyed the privilege of posting letters in this way without extra postage. That statement is hardly correct. I am informed officially that up to the time of Federation it was the practice in Victoria for late fees to be charged on letters given to the mail guards.
– That may be so; but I referred to letters posted in the boxes at the railway stations five minutes before the starting of the train by which they are de <spatched.
– There is very little difference between giving a letter to a mail guard and posting it in a box a few yards from the train. I am informed officially that, prior to Federation, it was the practice in Victoria to “charge late fees on letters handed to the mail guards, or posted in railway travelling post-offices. When Federation was established, in every one of the other States a late fee was charged on letters posted at railway stations in places where post-offices existed. But late fees were not charged in Victoria, or in any other State, on letters posted at railway stations in places where there were no postoffices.. Late fees were charged on letters for New South Wales and Queensland posted in a bag at Spencer-street for despatch by the Sydney limited express up to 5.10 p.m., and on letters for South Australia posted at Spencer-street for the Adelaide express up to 4.35 p.m. Since that time there has been an alteration in the time at which the Adelaide express leaves Spencer-street. Senator McColl says that he has been unable to discover why an alteration has been made, and would lead honorable senators to believe that action in the matter had been taken by the PostmasterGeneral without any recommendation. The fact is that the action was taken as the result of a conference of the senior inspectors of the States, who recently met in Melbourne, and passed the following resolution : -
I admit that for ten or eleven years the Victorian people had an advantage in this matter over the people of the other States.
– And an unconstitutional advantage, too.
– Having enjoyed that advantage, they naturally complain when it is taken from them. I feel sure that Senator McColl is as much a Federalist as is any other member of the Senate, and does not desire that there should be any disparity in the charges made upon the people of the different States.
– I desire that all should be brought into line with Victoria.
– It is with a view to bringing all into line that certain action has been taken by the Postmaster-General. We have established uniformity in the postal, telephonic, and telegraphic services, and we desire that there should also be uniformity in regard to late-fee charges. I know something about this matter, because, as Senator McColl is no doubt aware, some of my friends in a certain line of business have been in the habit for ten or eleven years of putting letters’ into boxes at the railway stations, and have complained to me personally that they will be very much inconvenienced if the old practice in Victoria is not continued. Although at the time I did not know the mind of the PostmasterGeneral on the subject, I did not hold out the slightest hope that anything would be done to give my friends relief. I am strongly of opinion that the action taken by the Postmaster-General is in the right direction. To bring all the other States into line with Victoria in this matter would necessitate a large amount of ‘ unnecessary labour. Whilst the practice in Victoria has been a convenience to persons engaged in commerce, it has been taken advantage of by others who might, if they so desired, have posted their letters in the ordinary way at the local post-offices. They have, however, loaded up these boxes at the railway stations with letters, and have loaded up the guards with parcels. Complaints have reached the Department from guards, mailmen, and others that a great deal of unnecessary work was being put upon them as the result of the convenience enjoyed in Victoria almost since Federation. Whilst we do not desire to inconvenience the people of this State, we think it is only right that they should fall into line with the people of the other States, and that letters which are posted at the different railway stations after the closing of the mails at the local post-office should bear a late fee.
– I do not wish to labour the question of the mail service with Tasmania, nor do I propose to raise or argue the question as to whether it is desirable that the service should be conducted by the Commonwealth, the State of Tasmania, or a private company. I add, further, that I hold no brief for any shipping company concerned. With these prefatory remarks, I may put before the Minister briefly and concisely what the position is from a practical point of view, because the matter is urgent, and it is intended to accept a contract on or about the 12th of this month. The whole service carried on between Melbourne and Northern Tasmania to-day is conducted with three boats, the Loongana, the Rotomahana, and the Oonah. Every plank in these boats belongs to one company, the Union Steam-ship Company. To that statement I must add the slight qualification that the Rotomahana, which is the property of the Union Steamship Company, is chartered by Huddart, Parker, and Company. This is not the first Government of the Commonwealth to whom I have addressed similar remarks, and I am, therefore, not addressing them to the present Government because they are a Labour Government. We have let, and apparently propose to renew the letting of, this contract to two shipping companies jointly, the Union Steam-ship Company and Huddart, Parker, and Company. I have pointed out that one of these companies brings nothing of its own into the performance of the contract. It brings only the chartering of one boat, which is absolutely the property of the other company concerned. This represents, as I have said before, a combine. If this combine represented something which would make for the benefit of the people of Tasmania and the Commonwealth mail service, it might be said that it is desirable to let the contract jointly. If the Commonwealth controlling the Post Office, or the State of Tasmania, were to derive any benefit whatever from the fact that the contract is let to two shipping companies jointly, it might be argued that it is desirable to secure the benefit of the services which two companies can give, rather than be limited to the service which could be supplied by one. But the facts are that one of the companies brings nothing to the contract which makes either for the rapid delivery of mails or the convenience of the people of Tasmania and Victoria, the two States chiefly concerned in the contract. The Union Company own the one boat that is satisfactory from a mail service point of view - I refer to the Loongana. The other company charters a vessel which, from a mail service stand-point, is unsatisfactory, because it is admittedly slower.
– It is only slow compared with one of the fastest vessels we have ever had in Australia.
– I grant that.
– A vessel which travels 14 knots an hour is not a slow one.
– Possibly it is not. But I am not so much concerned with the speed of this vessel. My point is - and I am sure the Minister must recognise it - that no gain to anybody results from this joint contract. Certainly there is no gain to the Commonwealth.
– W - Would not there be a gain if only one company held the contract ?
– There could not be any loss. If the Union Company held the contract to-day. exactly the same boats would be running. I repeat that the incoming of one of these joint contractors does not confer a single advantage upon the Commonwealth, or upon Tasmania, in any shape or form. That being so, why do the Ministry propose to continue the existing system? If it could be proved that by letting the contract jointly either the Commonwealth or Tasmania derived a benefit, it might be expedient to continue it. But that is not the case to-day. I come now to another question. I know how much the service of the Post Office has been criticised in this Parliament, and I have no desire to make any employe of that Department do more than he ought to do for the wages that he receives. But to give a concrete illustration - I am writing to-day to Tasmania. Let me assume that the letters which I have written will leave by the Loongana at 4 o’clock this afternoon. In ordinary circumstances she will reach Launceston at 10 o’clock to-morrow morning. Yet those letters will not be delivered to the persons to whom they are addressed until 9 o’clock on Monday morning. There is no Saturday afternoon delivery. In other words, there is no delivery on a Saturday which corresponds with the 2 o’clock delivery upon an ordinary day: If these letters were forwarded on a Wednesday, and the boat carrying them arrived at Launceston at 10 o’clock on Thursday morning, they would be delivered to the addressees about half-past 2 o’clock on the afternoon of that day. If the Rotomahana takes these letters - as I am informed she will - she will arrive at Launceston wharf to-morrow afternoon between 1 and 2 o’clock.
– That is early for her.
– I do not wish to overstate the position. Of course, in that case the letters will not be delivered until Monday morning. These are facts of which the Minister ought to be seized. I am aware that if an arrangement were made with the Launceston Post-officefor a Saturday afternoon delivery it would necessitate the letter-carriers working that afternoon. I have no desire to deprive them of a half-holiday, but I think that, consistent with extending fair treatment to our postal employes, there ought tobe some means whereby if a letter reaches Launceston at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning it should be delivered some time during that day instead of on the following Monday morning at 9 o’clock.
– The letters would not be delivered in ordinary circumstances until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and the postal employes will have ceased work be fore that time on Saturday. That is the explanation.
– Possibly. But certainly the existing arrangement might be improved upon without sweating the postal employes.
– I desire to join with Senator McColl in protesting against the new regulation which requires a late fee tobe paid upon all letters posted at railway stations at places where there is a post-office.
In this State if a return were called for showing the amount of mail matter posted at railway stations, I am sure that the result would occasion much surprise. The Honorary Minister, in reply to Senator McColl, stated that complaints had been received from guards of the large amount of business which is done at these stations. But it is just possible that. by depriving the citizens of Victoria of the right which they’ have hitherto enjoyed in this connexion, we may be mulcting the Commonwealth in greater expense. Let me give a typical case. I was at Beech Forest on Saturday last. There, the post-office has been built in what is known as the “ old town,” and in order to secure a better gradient the railway station was located a. mile beyond it. The result has been that a new township has sprung up around the railway station. The post-office is some 400 or 500 feet higher than is the new township, so that under the new regulation, residents will be obliged to pay 2d. upon each letter which they post at the railway station, or walk a mile’ up a hill, which is some 400 or 500 feet high. The latter consideration is an important one, particularly in the case of elderly persons.
– I - It is not the fault of the Commonwealth that the post-office has been built on a hill.
– But’ the post-office should be run as a public convenience. I would further point out that in many instances in Victoria, towns were built up before railway communication was established, and it seems to have been the policy of the Governments of this State, in building their railways, to see how far they could take them away from existing towns. On the spur of the moment, I could name twenty old centres where new townships have sprung up around the railway stations. Take the case of Seymour as an illustration. There, the old town is on the Sydney-road some threequarters of a mile distant from the railway station. Up till eighteen months ago, the post-office was located in the old township. But the greater portion of the population is centred around the new township. No person there would dream of walking three-quarters of a mile to the post-office in the old town. He would much prefer to pay the extra penny postage upon his letters.
– The new post-office is only a hop, step, and jump from the railway station.
– I have already said so. The result is that wherever the post-office has been established in old towns a battle is waged between one end of those towns and the other.In Victoria, I venture to say that there are fifty or sixty centres which are divided into old and new townships. What will be the result of this new regulation? If the people living in the old or in the new townships are to be asked to walk a mile to post a letter there will grow up an agitation in favour of the establishment of two post-offices instead of one.
– The main reason for the change . is the desire to secure uniformity.
– I admit that.
– The people can easily put their correspondence in the postoffice in the ordinary way.
– If the Minister were living in a new township alongside a railway station, and if the postoffice were three-quarters of a mile distant in an old township, would he walk that distance inorder to save the penny ?
– Take the town of Gordons as an example.
– Yes. and of Bacchus Marsh. In most of the country towns of Victoria it is the practice, especially during the summer months, for the residents to make their evening walk to the railway station. Generally they take their letters with them and post them. In Gippsland this has become such an established custom that no theatrical performance, no public meeting, and no social entertainment commences until after the arrival of the evening train, even if that should be as late as 9 o’clock.
– Usually there are barriers erected onthe stations, and a charge of 3d. is made for admission to the platforms. If people do not object to paying that charge, what objection can they have to paying a late fee upon their letters ?
– That practice is just about as bad as is the system which I am condemning. If a return were called for showing the percentage of letters posted at railway stations in Victoria, I am sure that the figures would surprise honorable senators. The Government pride themselves upon being a pro- gressive Government. They claim- and rightly so - a good deal of credit in connexion with the adoption of penny postage. Yet they now propose to progress backward by increasing the charges hitherto levied for postal facilities in the State.
– Does the honorable senator wish Victoria to enjoy an advantage over other States?
– No. If other States have occupied a similar position, I am surprised that they have tolerated it so long. Seeing that we are able to disburse such large sums of money in other directions, I should be very glad to support the abolition of this system throughout the whole of the States. I believe that every facility should be given to people to use the Post Office. I trust that if the Government do not see their way to take action in the direction desired, the Senate will adopt Senator McColl’s motion when it is called on.
– - The estimates of the Post and Telegraph Department for the year show a considerable loss on its operations. It appears to me that that loss will be greatly increased by granting the concession desired by Senator Russell to the State of Victoria. We certainly ought to be very careful before doing anything which would increase the deficit. What inconvenience is suffered by the general body of the users of the post-office, if they are called upon to pay an extra fee for posting letters at railway stations, because they have not been careful to post them within the prescribed time ? The man who has to pay this fee is, as a rule, one who has been a little bit dilatory.
– Some people would be late on the Day of Judgment.
– It is not a question of time, but of distance.
– I - In most cases, it is a question of dilatoriness. I can speak from personal experience. When I was in business, it often happened that I ought to have posted ten or a dozen letters at a certain time, but probably owing to engaging in conversation, or being delayed in some other way, I overshot the time, and had to pay extra postage fees. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are paying these extra fees, and getting advantages in return. I have heard no complaints in any other State than this.
– We believe in the late fee, but we do not believe in certain persons paying 2d., and others id.
– The The complaint is that the late postage fee is demanded from people in this State just as it is in other States. Serious consideration ought to be. given to the revenue aspect.
– Our complaint is that if you charge 2d. at a railway station, you ought to charge 2d. on a letter posted at a pillar-box at a corner of the street.
– The The late fee is charged because of the extra facilities afforded.
– It is paid at the gangway of every ship.
– Qui Quite so, and while so many people in some parts of Australia are deprived of postal facilities that they might reasonably expect, on the ground that the Department cannot afford to assist them, we certainly ought to most seriously consider the position before depriving ourselves of this source of revenue, because, a few people in Victoria grumble. There is another point which I wish to mention in connexion with the administration of this Department. I do not think it was ever contemplated that the Department should be used as a detective office, yet in one city of Australia a sort of detective system is in vogue, which ought to be remedied. The letter-carriers in Hobart are expected to act as detectives in trying to find out whether certain persons are receiving letters intended to be sent on to a prohibited addressee, known as the famous - or infamous, or notorious - Tattersail’s organization. I do not intend to enter into the merits of the section of the Act which prohibits letters being sent to Tattersalls. The point I wish to make is that the letter-carriers in Hobart should not be expected to find out the agents for Tattersalls, to whom letters are addressed in Hobart.
– Does the honorable senator say that the letter-carriers have received instructions to that effect?
– I d I do not say that they have actually received instructions from the Deputy Postmaster-General, but questions have frequently been put* to them.
– Surely if the Department wanted to find out that sort of information the sorters would be the persons to give it.
– Per Persons are continually being placed upon the prohibition list by the postal authorities of Hobart because they are supposed to act as agents for Tattersalls. When they give an undertaking not to act in that capacity the prohibition is removed. That has occurred over and over again. But the lettercarriers are supposed to find out whether certain persons do act as agents, and, if so, the names of these ‘persons are placed on the list of prohibited, addressees. I have no objection to the Government obtaining information in a fair manner, but it is distinctly unfair that the letter-carriers should be given to understand - as I know that they are - that they should keep their eyes open, and find out whether this or that person is acting as an agent for Tattersalls.
– The honorable senator surely does not object to officials in the post-office asking letter-carriers how many letters they have delivered to a certain individual ?
– W - What has that to do with a letter-carrier? His business simply is to take the letters from the postoffice, and deliver them to the persons to whom they are addressed.
– Does not the honorable senator think it is a case of having Commonwealth employe’s who are in sympathy with Commonwealth legislation?
– That is the whole thing.
– I d I do not see that the Commonwealth has any right whatever to ask these employes whether they are in sympathy with any particular section of the Postal Act.
– The honorable senator is in favour of demanding that sort of attitude from higher officials with regard to leasehold legislation in the Northern Territory.
– If we have legislation, we must see that it is carried out.
– I - I know that some letter-carriers have been harassed a little bit because they have refused to give the information required. Some have said, “ We do not know how many letters suchandsuch a person gets ; we are simply given letters to deliver to addressees, and that is all we ought to be expected to do.”
– It is not unfair to ask postal officials for information which will help the Department to carry out its duties.
– I - I say again that it is unfair to ask letter-carriers to act as detectives. I do not think that the Department exists for doing that kind of thing. 0
– It exists to carry out the Act. It does not matter whether the Act is right or wrong, the Department has to carry out its provisions.
– If If the Department is backed up by a majority of the Senate, that alters the position.
– I opposed the provision as strongly as I could, but, while it remains in the Act, it ought to be enforced.
– I t I think that, in the interests of fair play, the Department might ask the Deputy Postmaster-General at Hobart to look into the matter, and see whether the complaint I have made on behalf of the letter-carriers is not a fair one. I claim that they are asked to do that which they should not be expected to do, because it is no part of their ordinary duties.
– If an illegal thing is being done in the State, and the Commonwealth is responsible for the carrying out of certain work, surely the Postal Department is entitled to do what it can in that regard?
– The The” Department should devise other ways of finding out what it wants to know, without placing upon its employes a duty which I submit ought not to be put upon them. It really calls upon them to act, not merely as private detectives, but as sneaks.
– As a representative of Tasmania, it is only natural that I should have listened with considerable interest to the remarks made by Senator Ready, and also the remarks made by the Honorary Minister in reference to his suggestion. The Honorary Minister said he thought that what my colleague desired, namely, the establishment of a State-owned service, was a duty or a responsibility which fell upon Tasmania, In that view he may be correct. If Tasmania, said Senator Findley, were to adopt a policy of that kind, he had no doubt that the Government of the Commonwealth would assist the State to the extent of, I think, the present handsome subsidy which is paid to the existing contractors. I think that Senator Ready’s suggestion went very much farther than the establishment of a mere mail service. He pointed out that if the Commonwealth embarked on this enterprise, assuming that it has the power to do> so, there would be not merely the advantages of mail transit, but also commercial advantages, and advantages from the defence point of view. What I think he endeavoured to impress upon the Minister, and with some success, was that these advantages would not be, as was interjected from this side, reaped solely by Tasmania, but would be shared by the other States. I do hope that if any consideration is given to the question of altering the existing condition of things, the Government will be impressed with the importance of the control of the connecting link, not merely from the mail point of view, but also from the defence point of view, and also, incidentally it may be, from the point of view of commercial intercourse. The position then as to what would be the Commonwealth’s contribution in the event of a State-owned service being established would be completely changed, because that State-owned service would give to the Commonwealth advantages which it does not now enjoy. At present, it assumes the responsibility for nothing but the advantage it gets in the transit of mails.
– It cannot do anything else.
– Exactly. If there is any alteration of the position, I hope it will be realized that there are other considerations which apply, and which show advantages to the Commonwealth from the stand-points of defence and commercial intercourse. Senator Clemons has drawn the attention of the Honorary Minister to a very important consideration, and given a concrete illustration. In Launceston, it is not an infrequent thing for the Saturday’s incoming boat to arrive after i o’clock, and one necessarily does not expect the. same advantages in the distribution of the mails then as would be expected on any other day. Saturday afternoon is recognised there as a half-holiday generally. Recently the service was altered so that the boats leave each end during the winter months, with one exception fortnightly, from Launceston on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. One of the results of that arrangement is that at the present time, it may be .said fortnightly at any rate, the chances are very much more than even that there arrives in Launceston interesting mail matter of a perfectly unsaleable character, from the point of view of the bookseller, the stationer, and the news agent. In the event, for instance, of the boat which will leave Melbourne to-day arriving at Launceston, approximately, at about i o’clock. to-morrow, it will be impossible, even with the greatest expedition, for the vendors of the weekly productions from the mainland and the ordinary daily newspapers to get them in time to be distributed to the public on the Saturday, unless, of course, they should open at night. One or two have done so, but the decline in the sale of journalistic literature from the mainland becomes very’ considerable. These papers - weekly papers in many instances - are thrown on the hands of the booksellers and news agents, unless, of course, they have an arrangement with the vendors to .return unsold copies. Then, as Senator Clemons has pointed out, a resident of Launceston, unless he has a private box at the post-office, is not able to receive his letters till Monday. I know of a case in which a communication, which could not be telegraphed, was sent from Melbourne to Launceston a little while ago. A complaint was made to me, and I con.venienced the party by suggesting that if a telegram were forwarded from Melbourne, and a letter were sent to care of my private box, delivery of it could be obtained on Saturday evening; but the bulk of the people and the business men” are not able to receive any letters until Monday morning.
– I got over that difficulty in another way, which is not creditable to the Department. I sent a letter as a ship’s parcel, in order that it might be delivered on Saturday. Had it been sent as a letter, it would not have been delivered until Monday.
– If you send a letter to Adelaide by train to-day, it will not be delivered until Monday morning.
– I take it that, in this case, the Minister will see that, no matter at what speed we get across Bass Strait, all that advantage is nullified if the mails are to remain practically locked up in Launceston for such a long time. That is a consideration which should appeal to him.
– There is only one way out of the difficulty, so far as I can see, and that is to make the employes in the Launceston post-office, and the lettercarriers, work on Saturday afternoon. Does the honorable senator desire that?
– Not at all. Until a little time ago, the difficulty was to some extent minimized by what was called a window delivery at the post-office. I do not know what the views of the employes are in regard to the matter, but possibly where such a case arose a certain number of the staff could be asked to take part in the delivery of a certain portion of the mail matter, and the time they were so employed could be made up to them in some other way. Looking at the mail services to Launceston, I should think that the quietest day of the week in the post-office there is Friday. There is only one mail from outside the State which arrives at Launceston on Friday, and that is the New Zealand mail, which comes via Hobart. There is no boat leaving this State on Thursday for any port in Tasmania. It might be possible to give employes whose services were required on Saturday afternoon something more than the equivalent of an afternoon on Friday.
– I - If they got Friday afternoon, it would not be of much use to them.
– It is largely a matter of arrangement.
– Is Saturday afternoon in Launceston a half -holiday ?
– Yes, since April last.
– Then the business houses are closed in the afternoon.
– I am speaking with regard to the delivery of letters, not in the afternoon, but before 1 o’clock. A little time before Saturday afternoon became a half-holiday, it was arranged that the last delivery on Saturday should be made at 12 o’clock, instead of at 1 o’clock. It was arranged at the same time that for letters arriving at the postoffice too late to be included in that delivery, there should be a window delivery. The Saturday half-holiday was instituted, and12 o’clock still remained the hour for making the last delivery, but the window delivery was, I think, abandoned.
– It is. You cannot get letters now.
– Sorting is proceeding in the building until 8 o’clock at night, and any person who has a private box can get his letters. The question is whether arrangements could not be made by means of a window delivery or something of that kind, even at the cost of a fee, to enable persons to call and get their letters. However, it is not for me to suggest any particular system, but I invite the attention of the Ministers to a personal and practical experience of the conditions of affairs, so that in the new contract they may endeavour to bring about a rapid transit of mails across the Bass Strait, and as regularly as possible throughout the year, and also a corresponding rapidity in the distribution and delivery of the mails at the other end. Expedition in the despatch of mails between the point of departure and the point of arrival may be entirely nullified by delay in sorting and delivery. The Government should see that, at all events, all unnecessary delay in the sorting and delivery of mails should be avoided.
– I do not propose to traverse the whole of the ground covered by the VicePresident of the Executive Council yesterday when introducing the Budget-papers. The Standing Orders would not permit me to do so, although the honorable senator did trail his coat along the ground and invite people to tread upon it. I may have another opportunity to tread upon the honorable senator’s coat if I care to do so. He referred, amongst other things, to oldage pensions, and challenged any one on this side who charged the Government with extravagant administration to express a desire for a reduction in the expenditure upon old-age pensions. I do not know of any one on either side who is anxiousto reduce that expenditure in any way whatever.
– Some members of the honorable senator’s party have been making awful complaints about it outside.
– I have not heard them. This much is certain, that the principle of old-age pensions has never been a party question, and it was not the Labour party who introduced or carried the legislation to provide for pensions, although that is one of the things for which they claim credit outside.
– Yes, it was. It was upon Mr. Fisher’s motion, in another place, that the legislation was introduced.
– I do not say that honorable senators opposite have not always had the fullest sympathy with the principle, or that they have not worked to secure old-age pensions, but I strongly object to the insinuation continuallybeing made, that honorable senators on this side are anxious to curtail the expenditure upon old-age pensions, and to refuse to aged and indigent citizens the relief afforded them under the Old-age Pensions Act.
– Some members of the honorable senator’s party have openly stated that, if they could do so, they would make alterations in the Act.
– I have heard more than one express a desire for the establishment of a different system. When the matter was being debated in the Senate, I heard references made to old-age pension systems in operation in other countries; comparisons made between those systems and the system proposed to be adopted here; and suggestions for the adoption of some of those systems. That did not represent any opposition to the principle of old-age pensions. It was only a question of whether one scheme was not better than another.
– How did the honorable senator’s party stand on the Surplus Revenue Bill?
– I do not know that the Surplus Revenue Bill had anything to do with this question.
– It had everything to do with it.
– Well, I, for one, have always been in favour of the payment of old-age pensions, and I have no desire to curtail in any way the expenditure under the Act. Still, I say boldly here, that I believe our old-age pensions scheme is being grossly and outrageously abused.
– There is abuse in all things.
– Exactly ; but if there is abuse under our Old-age Pensions Act, we should inquire into it, and see if we cannot rectify it. I know of men possessed of property dividing it amongst their sons, and then claiming old-age pensions.
– W - Was it not the honorable senator’s duty to bring such cases under the notice of the Department.
– The honorable senator was not going to act as a detective.
– It is not my duty to act as a detective, as Senator Keating says ; but I may be able to give the Department information in regard to these matters.
– I - I have done the same thing.
– If Senator O’Keefe has met with similar cases, that goes to prove my statement that the system is abused. I am anxious to see such abuses rectified. I know of another case of a widow whose husband died and left her with barely a roof over her head. Years have gone by, the place is becoming dilapidated, and the woman has not sufficient money to effect the necessary repairs.
Yet, merely because she has a roof over her head, she is denied anything in the way of an old-age pension.
– We meet that case in the legislation proposed this session.
– We are amending the Act.
– I am speaking of things as they are; and if, as Senator Needham says, the Government are proposing to amend the Act to deal with such a case as I have referred to, it must be because they realize the injustice of refusing pensions in such cases. If there be abuse of the system on the one hand and injustice possible under it on the other, it will eventually come to this : that every man and woman, on reaching a certain age, must be given a pension.
– Hear, hear ! A universal pension ; that is what we want.
– That is what it is going to come to.
– I know a Federal member who is drawing £600 a year, and is also drawing£500 a year as a pension.
– Why should he not do so, if he has earned the pension under the law.
– If a man has entered into a contract, and has fulfilled his part of it, and, as a result, he is entitled to a pension, I should not interfere with him in any way whatever. A contract is a contract, and its terms should not be departed from by either party to it.
– Does the honorable senator not think that such a contract might be regarded as in restraint of the trade of a politician?
– I am unable to answer the honorable senator’s conundrums. What I desire is a clean administration of the Old-age Pensions Act.
– That is what the honorable senator is getting.
– I am not blaming the Department if they are unaware of abuses of the law. I do not speak of maladministration of the Act ; but I desire that it should be administered with absolute justice. We have made provision for the payment of pensions upon certain conditions, and while they continue to exist those conditions should be enforced. We have just had a reference to an Act of Parliament, and it has been stated that, right or wrong, it is the duty of the Government to administer it. I say exactly the same thing with regard to the Old-age Pensions Act. It provides for the payment of pensions only upon certain conditions, and the Government are bound to see that those conditions are fulfilled. I wish, for the sake of the success of the old-age pensions system itself, to see abuses of it rectified as quickly as possible. When men in comparatively poor circumstances learn that neighbours who are much better off can divide their property amongst their children, and call upon the Commonwealth to pay them oldage pensions, we need not wonder that it is a matter of complaint with them, or that they feel that they are not being fairly treated.
– It is not fair.
– I am glad that the honorable senator admits that. What I am anxious about is that such cases should be closely investigated, and such abuses of the system done away with.
– Would that be the fault of the Act or of the administration ?
– It cannot be the fault of the Act, which lays down certain conditions; and I am not complaining of the administration, but I ask that, if it is known - as it certainly is - that these abuses exist, steps should be taken to rectify them. There are in the community sensitive people, with a certain amount of pride and selfrespect, who are prepared to deny themselves, and do- almost anything, rather than apply for a pension, to which they are fairly entitled, and in the circumstances we ought to see that those who, under the conditions laid down in the Act, are not entitled to old-age pensions shall not sponge upon the fund, and unfairly reap a benefit from it. I dare say that the matters to which I refer are not new to the Government; but we should see that the Old-age Pensions Act is administered in such a way that those who are entitled to it shall reap the benefit of it, and those who are not shall not be permitted to sponge on the fund, as some are doing at the present time.
There is another matter I wish to refer to, and which I regard as of grave importance. The Commonwealth is a large employer of labour. I hold that Governments should be model employers. They should pay full and fair wages for services rendered. It is up to the Government, in my opinion, to set the pace for the private employer. They should be an example to private employers, and they have a right, at the same time, to demand that they shall have a model service, and receive a full return for the wages and salaries they pay to their employes. Serious charges have been made with regard to the service rendered by some people in the employ of the Commonwealth, and in certain cases the relations between the Commonwealth Government and their employes are exceedingly unsatisfactory.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended for luncheon I was referring to the fact that very serious charges have recently been made against the men who are engaged in the work of undergrounding the telephone wires in this city. Only the day before yesterday an article appeared in the Argus which I propose to quote with a view to asking the Minister to institute the most searching investigation into the charges therein set out. I say that any man in the employ of the Government who occupies a position of authority, whether he .be a foreman, a ganger, or an inspector, ought to be able to maintain discipline; and his employer ought to stand behind him to see that discipline is maintained.
– It is a funny thing that the man who works the hardest and gets paid the least is always selected for these attacks.
– I do not look at the matter from that stand-point. I believe that, taken throughout, our Public Service is an honest one. If there are loafers in it, the sooner they are got rid of the better. I quote this article for the sake of the Service.
– N - No honorable senator objects to what the honorable senator has stated; but his speech almost implies that those who sit upon this side of the chamber do not agree with him.
– I have ‘ not suggested anything of the kind. H’ere is a newspaper article which professes to give chapter and verse for everything. If it is capable of being answered, by all means let us have that answer, for the sake of the men in the Service ; but if the charges which it makes be true, the sooner the existing state of things is remedied the better.
– Why does not the honorable senator ask a question upon the matter? He knows the way in which that ought to be done.
– I do not know that I can ask a question which will cover the whole of the ground. In addition, honorable senators opposite will have an opportunity of refuting the statements which are contained in the article.
– The Argus has already been convicted of lying.
– No matter upon which side of the chamber we may sit, we ought to be jealous of the honour of our Public Service, for the sake of the Service itself.
– The honorable senator is making a charge second-hand.
– I have never advocated underpayment or the employment of men under insanitary conditions, or anything of that sort.
– Suppose that the honorable senator ceased talking, and came for a walk around the city, so that he could see the men at work for himself.
– If the honorable senator has seen them at work, he will be able to tell us exactly what is the position. The article to which 1 have alluded is headed, “ The man on the job.” “ The employe” is master.” “Reports by inspectors.” “Complaints disregarded.” It reads -
Some weeks ago the Argus exposed the scandalous way in which men engaged on day labour in connexion with undergrounding telephone and other wires, under the Federal Government, were skulking at their work. These external evidences pointed strongly to an Administration sapped of all sense of responsibility. Since then the investigation has been pursued, and it has been made abundantly clear that political influences of the worst kind are making themselves felt throughout the Departments. There is a very definite cause assigned for the trouble, and it is the fact that the “man on the job” has recourse to Ministers’ offices, and is welcomed there as ‘‘comrade.” No matter what his grievance, he is sure of a good hearing and payment for time off during his call. Meanwhile the inspectors on the work are helpless. The men are the bosses, and hold officials in contempt.
– Is Packer the writer of that article?
– I do not know its author.
– They are very serious charges, at any rate.
– If the statements contained in this article are libellous there is a remedy open to anybody who is affected by them.
The methods of putting men on the work, in the first place, is most unsatisfactory. There are some men in Melbourne to-day whose names have been for two years on the list for em ployment at the office of the engineer for lines. There are others who call on a given day, and are sent out to be put on a gang next morning, whether there is room or not.
That is a very serious charge. Whether it means preference to unionists or not, I do not know.
The inspectors have no power whatever in recommending men for the work. A note from a Labour member of Parliament is sufficient to place “ the man on the job.” And once in his’ place, he can dictate terms to the inspector, or even ill-use the clerk of works. Each of these little diversions has been indulged in on more than one occasion, but, though the overseers have reported the culprits no notice whatever has been taken.
The inspectors on the work - there are four of them over the 600 men employed - have grown weary of reporting cases of loitering, drunkenness, and general incompetency. They recognise their helplessness in the matter. It might be noted that so far back as in February last the inspectors wrote asking the PostmasterGeneral to receive them as a deputation, in order that they might reply to certain charges formulated against them by a deputation of men. The inspectors are still awaiting a reply, and, meanwhile, the labourer can put on his coat at pleasure, and make his way to the Ministerial office.
As to the complaints made by the public, they are nothing to those made from time to time by inspectors. A few of them make, at any rate, interesting reading. One incident of three months ago will serve to show what “ brief authority “ the officials have over some of the gangs. It happened that a heavy fall of rain in one of the suburbs had ‘scoured out the road alongside the conduit trench. Traffic was quite impossible, and the council officers approached the senior line-repairer in charge of the work, and asked him to have the road made passable for vehicles. This official’s first work was to hunt up his gang. He found the twelve of them - in the nearest hotel. In reply to his request to set the road right, he was told to do the work himself. As a fact, he did it. It was drizzling, and the men put on their coats and went home. The senior lineman did the work in whatever rain was falling. The same twelve men, within a very little time, repeated their diversion at another suburb, refusing to work when requested. The. official, in this case, reported the incident to the engineer for lines, but the report was returned to him without official action being taken.
Among other cases reported upon to the authorities by inspectors are such “ trivialities “ as these : -
No. 1 Complaint. - A navvy five days on four yards of excavation, the remaining eight yards of which piece were taken out by another man in two days.
No. 2. - A bricklayer, average rate of work 100 bricks per day. (The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works men average 500 to 600.)
No. 3. - Two navvies refusing to work in dry conditions underground because men on top had ceased work through rain ; also endeavouring to induce other men to knock off.
No. 4. - Navvy loitering and using obscene language to clerk of works when spoken to.
No. 5. - Bricklayer getting drunk during working hours and striking the clerk of works. (Nothing done officially.)
No. 6. - Navvy refusing to cease smoking on the job when instructed by clerk of works and inspector.
No. 7. - Party of workmen demanding to be allowed to go home at half-past S a.m. because they had done some work in the rain, and leaving works without permission to go into office to lay complaint.
No. 8. - Two navvies excavated half-yard in one day, spending their time drinking in an hotel ; using obscene language to the clerk of works.
These are the rank-and-file instances, so to speak. There are the exceptional ones. Take, for instance, the case of a ‘‘man on the job “ who familiarly, and apparently successfully, wrote to the Prime Minister as “ Dear Comrade,” and signed himself “ Fraternally yours,” &c. This labourer took time off on one occasion to interview the Prime Minister. Mr. Fisher’s secretary referred him to the PostmasterGeneral, but the man, replying that “ the P.M.G. was no use to him,” insisted on seeing the Prime Minister. He saw him. Later on he turned up at the trench, with two other convivial spirits, so drunk that he fell into the trench. This incident was duly reported. But was the man discharged?’ Of course not. He was shifted on to another gang. Thus kindly do Ministerial comrades protect their fellows.
Meanwhile the public are paying a weekly bill on this work of ^,’1,700. There are those among the officials who declare that as much as 30 per cent, of the money is being wasted. A couple of instances are given in support. On one contract in Melbourne, where fyi worth of material was put underground, the cost of burying it was £1,000. On another, in Flinderslane, ^105 worth of material was laid at a cost of ,£1,000. From the inspector’s point of view the position is exceedingly awkward. They can put on 20 men to-morrow, but woe betide the inspector who puts off one of the elect - or even suggests that he be put off. If they send in a report they are reprimanded, either for not having brought the matter under notice before, or for bringing trifling matters under notice. One inspector, while inquiring into an accident at one of the contracts, found three watchmen asleep on duty, in one instance with the tent locked. This was reported - without result.
When the articles and letters appeared in the Argus, reports were called for, and official reports amply confirmed the statements that no proper return was given by numbers of these men to the Government, which employed them. One responsible official stated in a report that it was no encouragement to inspectors or clerks of works that when loafers were asked to do a little work, the men could throw down their tools and go into the office, or to the PostmasterGeneral, and make all sorts of false charges against their inspectors. It was bitterly complained in this report that no notice is taken of the complaints by inspectors of open defiance by the men under them. Even charges of assault were allowed to go unanswered, as though they had never been made. At most, the man complained against was shifted to another gang to have an easier time than before.
This report has elicited no reply, nor produced any redress so far.
The fact is that there is enough evidence in the files of the Department to convict the administration of the wanton use of public funds. Any “waster” with a plaintive tale can, secure a place on a job, and remain there in defiance of inspectors and responsible permanent officers. There is a case on record in the Department in which a gang of men, supposed to be employed within a stone’s-throw of where the Federal Parliament House carries on its important deliberations, actually did nothing for several days. The facts bearing on these cases may be concealed for a time, but sooner or later they must be made public, and the men responsible for them will not escape the obloquy that has always fallen upon those who abuse a public trust.
That is the article.
– Does the honorable senator believe it?
– I do not know whether the statements contained in it are true or not.
– Why quote them, then ?
– It is. stated that reports were called for and furnished to the Department, but that no proper redress was given.
– Why does not the honorable senator move that the papers be produced ?
– The matter is of such grave importance that it ought to be investigated.
– The honorable senator can move the adjournment of ‘ the Senate.
– He can move for the appointment of a Select Committee.
– I have no feeling against anybody in the matter, but I am concerned for the good of the Public Service. I demand, as far as I am concerned, that when the Government employ people, they shall pay them adequate wages, and accord them proper conditions. I thoroughly believe in that; but I as firmly believe, also, that, when men are employed, they should do a fair thing towards the Service. We should have a model Service, as well as a model employer.
– Has the honorable senator any proof that the article is true?
– I have only the’ statement made bete that reports have been furnished.
– That is only an ex forte statement.
– If the matter can be cleared up, and it can be shown that every one of these accusations is absolutely false, no one will be better pleased than myself.
– The onus is on the honorable senator to produce the proof.
– I am not the accuser. Here are statements made in a widely circulated public journal, and they ought either to be proved or disproved.
– It is the honorable senator’s duty to prove them, as he has repeated them.
– No, it is the duty of the persons who make charges to prove them.
– The honorable senator is holding a brief for the Argus now.
– I am not holding a brief for any one. If I held any brief in this matter, it would be for the Service. No one has a keener desire to see the Service placed on a sound footing, and be respected throughout the Commonwealth, than I have. I want to see the Service looked up to and recognised as doing good work for the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. It is in the interests of the Service itself, of the Government, and of Parliament, to see that faithful work is done, that discipline is maintained, and that those placed in authority are backed up, and not harassed in any way whatever. I have not brought this matter forward in any party spirit, but because it seems to me tobe so serious that a reply should be made.
– Why not investigate the charges before bringing them before us?
– I shall be prepared to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the subject if an answer which appears to me to be satisfactory is not forthcoming. I have taken this opportunity of reading the article- :
– Without a single name in it.
– T - The man who wrote that was too cowardly to sign his name. He was only trying- to hit working men.
– It is not usual for such articles to be signed.
– A - A pity it is not. We should then get the truth.
– There is a law of libel.
– The honorable senator knows that there is nothing in the article which could be attacked under the law of libel.
-I am sorry that honorable senators opposite take the matter in this spirit. It is a bad spirit. They ought to be as anxious for the purity of the Service as I am, and as eager for the successful carrying out of any work. Here are specific instances-
– The article is a deliberate insult to the workers of Australia.
– If the article is an insult, I want to see the charges disproved, and shall be glad to listen to any reply that may be forthcoming. If they can be shown to be absolutely unwarranted, I shall be pleased. I hope the subject will be thoroughly investigated. If there are loafers in the Service, let us get rid of them for the sake of the Service itself, because such men are of no use to anybody.
– H - Hear, hear!
– But if the men here alluded to are not loafers, let them be exonerated from the charges made against them in this way.
– I have a few grievances to air before the debate concludes. We were told that the Public Service, was going to be put upon a better footing when the present Government came into office. When honorable senators opposite were in Opposition they were always holding forth to the people about what they would do if they once got into power. Yet I say, without hesitation, that the Service was never more dissatisfied than it is to-day. As evidence of that, I wish to read a paragraph from the Transmitter of the 18th June. This is not taken from a newspaper opposed to the Government.
– The Transmitter is the anti-Labour paper published in connexion with the Telegraph Branch.
– I always understood that this was a Labour journal.
– It supported candidates put forward by the Fusion party.
– It seems that immediately any one quotes any newspaper containing anything which honorable senators opposite do not like, they denounce it as an anti-Labour paper. I suppose they will say the same about the Worker, because I have heard some strong things said about its staff by Mr. Spence. Apparently, honorable senators opposite are the only persons who know anything.
– Does the honorable senator seriously say that the Transmitter is a Labour journal?
-Yes, I do. I have always understood it to be a sympathizer with the Labour party. The following paragraph is taken from an article signed “ Quiz,” on page 26 : -
What high hopes we had when the Labour Government took office. They stood for fair play and the betterment of the worker. Evidently they do not regard the Postal officials as “ workers.” While outside men are getting shorter hours and better pay, we get even longer hours and no increase of pay.
When the present Government were in Opposition, it was one of their boasts that they were going to do great things for the Post and Telegraph Department. A Royal Commission was appointed, which brought up a report. For good or ill, the recommendations of the Commission have not been adopted in their entirety. I say that to-day there is more dissatisfaction in the Telegraph Branch than there has even been before. Previous Governments used to say that lack of funds prevented them from doing what they would like to do, and I believe there was some foundation for that plea. But that excuse cannot be accepted to-day, because there are ample funds for putting the Department on a proper footing.
– -Is the honorable senator in favour of adopting the recommendations of the Royal Commission?
– I am in favour of adopting a great many more recommendations than have been accepted hitherto. I am in favour of having a Board constituted of men who understand the subject.
– Would the honorable; senator make a Board superior to Parliament?
– No; it would recommend to Parliament. Hitherto Parliament has declined to accept the recommendations of the Royal Commission in certain particulars affecting the Post and Telegraph Department, and touching grievances which the officers consider ought to be rectified. Consequently, the Service is seething with discontent. Outside labour to-day is, in many instances, getting better wages than are paid to men in the Public Service. I know a man who has been a telegraph operator for seven or eight years, and who is not receiving as high a wage as an ordinary labourer. Nearly two years ago 1 brought forward some accusations, which were afterwards verified by the officers of the Postal Department, with reference to the neglected condition of buildings in
North Queensland. The buildings were put up over thirty years ago, and were in such a condition that the departmental horses would not be allowed to be stabled in them if they were in Victoria. Yet people were compelled to live upon these premises, The latest information I have received is that, after a long period, tenders have been called for new buildings. So far, that is satisfactory. I have “ to complain, however, that, because the place in question is so many miles from Melbourne, this subject has been hanging in the stays. If it had been down here, the trouble would not have been allowed to continue so long. Last April I was up there, in company with the Commonwealth Inspector of Works, and viewed the site for a new building. He was quite satisfied with it; but, up to the present, nothing has been done. They cannot tell me whether the plans have even been prepared. Officers in that part of Australia have to put up with a very hot climate, and have often to dwell in habitations that would be condemned as slum buildings if they were in Melbourne. I do not think that an officer ought to be kept for years in the north. Public servants should be shifted about, to give them an opportunity of learning something about the country. Why should not some of the officers who have been down here for years be sent up to the north, in order to afford opportunities for those living there to enjoy life in a part of the country where there is cheaper living, better facilities for the education of their children, and improved conveniences in every respect. But these men have no influence at head-quarters, and no means of promoting their own interests. They are neglected by the authorities. “ Fair play is bonny play,” and it is not fair to keep .men living from youth till old age in a part of the country where life is uncomfortable and living dear. Ministers should, I think, see to it that an alteration is made in this respect. I have a few words to say about old-age pensions. With regard to old-age pensions, I have found that it is very difficult for those who received no education in their younger days to fill in the forms of application. I have also found that it is far more difficult for persons to get an old-age pension under the Commonwealth Government than it was under a State Government. The Commonwealth has appointed State officials for this purpose, but they do not seem to take much trouble. I consider that every man. and every woman, after a certain age has been reached, is entitled to an old-age pension, and that it should be freely granted. In Brisbane I inquired into the case of a man and his wite. He became entitled to a pension of 10s. a week, and it was granted, but immediately his wife applied for a pension, 16s. a week was allotted to the couple. It is said on the other side that in private employment 30s. or 40s. or 50s. a week is not a living wage”. But here is the case of the Commonwealth Government expecting a man and his wife in their old age to live on 16s. a week.
– W - Would not the reduction in the amount be due to some provision in the Act?
– The reduction was made because the man had an insurance policy, the surrender value of which was £80.
– T - To comply with the Act a reduction of the pension had to be made.
– I want the Act altered.
– I - I am with the honorable senator.
– This Parliament has been in existence for three years, but no alteration of the Act has been made yet. Suppose that this old man surrendered his life policy for £&o, how long would that amount keep him and his wife? It is a shame and a disgrace that a pension of only 16s. a week should be doled out to this couple. Steps should be taken to alter the Act. Another case which I wish to bring before the Senate is that of an invalid man whom I have known for over thirty years. He had to go to five or six doctors, and to get a lot of reports from the police. I do not suppose that all the furniture he has would realize ,-£5. When his case was referred to Brisbane, nothing could be done there, and it had to be referred to Melbourne, because the applicant was two years over a certain age. Had he been two years younger, the Deputy Commissioner told me that he could have dealt with the matter in Brisbane. I should have thought that the older a man was the more easily the Deputy Commissioner could deal with his application, but under the regulations this case had to be sent to Melbourne. It is cases of this sort which lead ordinary persons to think that obstacles are put in their way when they apply for old-age pensions. The man to whom I have been referring was unable to sign his name, and therefore he had to make a mark. Men who find themselves in that position, and destitute, should be able in every large centre to go to a Government official to have the forms filled up, and should not be put to the trouble of going round to friends to fill up the forms, and perhaps have them filled up wrongly. There are two columns to be filled up, and a man with some experience is needed to do the work in accordance with the requirements of the Department. An applicant is asked to reply to thirty or forty questions. If a friend fills up a form for the applicant, and a mistake is made, the application is referred backwards and forwards, and months elapse before the applicant receives his pension. I recognise that eventually an applicant will get a pension, but is that the way in which it was intended to administer a system on which we spend over ^2,000,000 a year? The persons whom the old-age pension was intended to assist most, were those who were very old and in want of sight. Even if they can write they are not able to fill up the papers. These are the very people in whose way difficulties are put. A younger man, who has perhaps received more education, is in a better position when he becomes an invalid. He possesses eyesight, he is not hampered by old age, and therefore he can get an invalid pension much more easily than can an old man or old woman. I hope that when the Act is altered it will be provided that a man who has a life policy which he wishes, perhaps, to leave so that he and his wife can be buried decently, will not have to part with that policy in order to qualify himself to get an old-age pension. Our system of carrying out the Old-age Pensions Act has induced persons to do things which I do not think it was the intention of Parliament they should do. When I was up north a man told me that he had saved ^300. He was within eighteen months of the time when he would become entitled to an old-age pension. If he invested his savings in a bank, or otherwise, the utmost pension he could receive would be about £10 a year. In all seriousness, he said to me “ What is the good of me keeping that ^300 ? If I retain the money I will not be able to claim the full amount of the old-age pension, because so much will have to be deducted under the Act. I intend to take a trip to New Zealand where I have some friends, and to enjoy myself there for eighteen months, when I shall come back and get £26 a year as an old-age pensioner. . If, however, I retain the . £300, I shall have to fritter the money away before I can get a full pension.” Was that the desire of the Government or the people of Australia when the system of old-age pensions was inaugurated? I understood that a man was to receive10s. a week as an old-age pensionif he liked to apply for it, but we have had so many regulations made that if a man has saved a few pounds, if it be only £50or £60,he is tempted to make away with the money in some way. Either he gives it to a son in trust, or he does something else with it, so that he can say that hehas no means of living.
– They cannot do that.
– They can. I have just quoted the case of a man who drew £300 out of a bank and took a trip to New Zealand, returned at the end of eighteen months and applied for, and received, an old-age pension. Either an oldage pension is a right to which a man is entitled when he reaches a certain age, or it is a charity dole. If an old man is given only 4s. or 5s. a week because he has a little money or property, it is a charity dole.
– A remedy will be provided this session.
– We have had three years in which to remedythis grievance. From day to day we put off dealing with questions which are of vital importance to a great number of the people, and at the end of three years they will be told that a remedy will be provided in the next Parliament. Month after month has been allowed to pass, and still no remedy is provided. At one time it looked as though the excuse would be that the revenue had been diminished by the bad seasons. When we have good seasons and a large revenue is the time for the Government to step in and alter the law. I desire to refer to the subject which has been introduced by Senator Vardon. I have talked to working men who live in my neighbourhood, and heard a lot of discussion about the articles in the
Argus. I have heard some persons agree with the articles, and others disagree with them. Would it not be a very good thing if the Government were to take some step to test their accuracy? I should be only too pleased if they could prove that every letter or article in the Argus was false. I think that the Commonwealth should pay a good wage to goodmen. If there are any men taking advantage of the taxpayers the Government should rout them out. If the articles in the Argus cannot be substantiated, it would be well to appoint a Select Committee and prove up to the hilt that they are wrong. If that were done the Argus people could never lift their heads again. They have practically challenged the Parliament and the people of Australia. They have declared that their statements are true; they have mentioned the localities where the incidents took place ; they have stated the cost of the work in Flinders-lane and other parts of Melbourne, in fact, they seem to have got very good information. It ought to be very easy for the Government to disprove their statements if they are untrue. I hope that they can do so. In the interests of the whole Commonwealth I trust that what has appeared in the newspaper is not true. The charge is not made by a two-penny halfpenny newspaper, but by one of the leading newspapers in Victoria, which is circulated broadcast in Victoria, and is read in other parts of the Commonwealth. I hope that the articles will be disproved up to the hilt.
– Do you not think that you ought to prove them first?
– I am not in a position to do that. I simply read whatis spread broadcast amongst the peopleof Victoria every day by an honest and reputable journal. If the members of the Labour party were sitting in opposition, and such charges were made against the Government, they would be the first to demand an inquiry. I have heard the Honorary Minister repeatedly quote extracts from the Age and Argus, and ask the Government to which he was opposed if the statements contained therein were true. In fact, he used to bring charges against the Government simply because articles had appeared in the press. Now that he is an Honorary Ministersurely he will be quite willing to do what he asked other Governments to do. He ought to be the first to bring forward proof, if such proof exists, that the articles published in the Argus are false. The Government have all the officials at their command to prove the truth or untruth of the articles; I am not in that position.
– Do you want us to waste our time in running about and refuting every two-penny half-penny charge which is brought against the Government ?
– This is not a twopenny half-penny charge, seeing that thousands of pounds of the taxpayers’ money are being wasted. I am prepared to say on oath that an inspector told me that he had made certain charges and had been snubbed for doing so. He said, “If I saw thousands of pounds worth of the property of the Commonwealth going to waste, I should look the other way.”
– He should be sacked. Who is he?
– I am not going to tell the honorable senator. I know that if I named him here, he would1 be a victim to-morrow.
– How long is it since this charge was made?
– It is not long ago.
– Why did not the honorable senator bring the matter up before.
– I should not have mentioned it now had it not been for the statements appearing in the newspapers that officials have made similar charges, and the Government have turned them down. The man to whom I have referred said to me, “ I reported the matter to my superiors, and I was not supported. I was hauled over the coals for it, and I was told that I saw too much.” It is easy for the Government to disprove these charges.
– The honorable senator means that it is easy to assert them.
– No; I say that it is easy for the Government to disprove them if they are untrue. The statement has been made in the press that reports are frequently sent in by overseers and inspectors, and are turned down by the Government. The officials of the Departments concerned can easily prove whether that statement is true or not. It is the duty of the Government against whom the charges are made to disprove them. I may say that I believe there is a certain amount of exaggerationin the charges referred to.
– Could not the honorable senator call for a report?
– It is not my place. Honorable senators opposite object to my statements, and I have no doubt that they would like to be able to do here what they try to do outside. They would like to be able to prevent a free expression of opinion in the Senate. Their henchmen outside howl down every one who expresses opinions with which they do not agree, and they are trying the same tactics in this chamber, but they will not be successful.
– The honorable senator is himself the worst offender ; he is always interfering.
– Senator. McDougall has been chipping in ever since I rose to speak. When I read a paragraph’ from a newspaper, there was a howl from honorable senators opposite. If they had their way they would not allow any senator not on their own side to express an opinion. The people of Australia have had about enough of this. When the time comes it will be seen that they are not content to be down-trodden or brow-beaten by a certain class of people. They will insist that members of this Parliament shall be free to express their opinions whether they oppose or support the Government. I bring this matter forward, and I wish the Government, if they are game, to take up the challenge. I hope they will do so, and that for the good name of Australia they will be able to disprove the charges which have been made in the newspapers. There may have been some mistakes made, but it is for the Government to refute the charges preferred against them. They should see that no man is continued in the employment of the Commonwealth who does not give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. I have always believed in giving men a fair day’s pay for their work, but I have always wanted from them a fair day’s work for their wages. All that honorable senators on this side desire is that persons employed by the Government shall give a fair day’s work for the money they receive.
– Every member of the Senate is entitled to give full expression to his opinions on the first reading of a Bill of this description. But I may remind the Senate that a motion was launched yesterday which affords even a better opportunity for the ventilation of grievances. So far as extracts from newspapers are concerned, the Government cannot answer the charges which may be made in them unless they are put in the form of questions by members in this chamber or in another place. If that course is followed, I have not the least hesitation in saying that satisfactory answers will be given to all such questions. With respect to the difficulty which has arisen in connexion with old-age pensions, in respect of the inclusion of a home in the valuation of the property of an applicant, the matter about which ‘.Senators Sayers and Vardon now appear to be so anxious, I may inform honorable senators that in 1909 there was a Bil before the Senate for the amendment of the Old-age Pensions Act. During the consideration of that Bill, Senator Stewart moved an amendment for the very purpose of preventing the home from being taken into consideration in the valuation of the property of an < applicant for an old-age pension.’ A division was taken on the question on 5th August, 1909, and honorable senators will find in that division the names of both Senators Vardon and Sayers on the opposite side to that on which they have been speaking to-day. The Acting Leader of the Opposition exercised his right to make a very reasonable criticism of affairs on the. first reading of this Bill, but there was really nothing in what he said which requires an answer.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time, and passed through its remaining stages, without request.
Senator McGREGOR laid on the table the following paper: -
Public Service Act’ 1902-1911 - Department of Trade and Customs - Promotions of -
G. Hill, as Accountant, 2nd Class, Accounts Branch, New South Wales.
Harvie, as Examining Officer, 3rd Class, New South Wales.
V.’ G. Donald, as Examining Officer, 4th Class, Landing Branch, New South Wales.
Senate adjourned at 3.31 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 August 1912, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1912/19120802_SENATE_4_65/>.