Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 26 August 1920

Mr HECTOR LAMOND (Illawarra) . - I am sorry that the amendment has been moved, because it prevents us from discussing a number of matters affected by the administration of Ministers other than the Postmaster-General.

Mr Mahony - No ; we can have a division now.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - There can be a division1 when the amendment has been discussed, but the discussion of it may not conclude until the small hours of the morning. The action taken is a selfish one, and, if for no other reason, I shall vote against the amendment. The affairs of the Postmaster-General's Department are admittedly in a deplorable state. Some of the defects are due to the war, and, as I and many other members have said, Australia will not enjoy the services that she should have until, the funds at the disposal of the PostmasterGeneral have been enormously increased. Another thing needed is the abolition of the centralized administration of Melbourne. Could I control the actions of the Postmaster-General, I would insist on his spending half his time in States other than Victoria. I have before me some startling figures indicating the advantages that Victoria derives through Melbourne being the temporary- seat of government. These figures were given in another place in reply to a question, and have to do with the applications for the instalment of telephones that are awaiting attention. Let me quote the figures for two States only. This is the state of affairs disclosed -

So that in Victoria the number of applications awaiting attention is less than half the number in New South Wales. Melbourne is not so large, nor so important, a city as Sydney, but the difference in size does not justify the facts to which I have just drawn attention.

Mr Jowett - Nothing can justify the provinciality of your observations.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - The evidence of provinciality is in the figures themselves. The honorable member is one of those who is trying to prevent New South Wales from having the Federal compact carried out, and the Seat of Government removed to .the Federal City, so that this Parliament may not continue to be shackled by Victorian influences. The return from which I have quoted demands the serious attention of all members representing New South Wales constituencies. Excuses founded on the war, the shortage of material, droughts, and the like, do not avail to explain the facts. The figures show that when material is available it is used in Victoria, and that New South Wales applications do not receive the same treatment as applications made in this much-favored State. The position of affairs would be bad enough if the two States contributed equally to the revenue of the Post Office; but between 40 and 50 per cent, of the money that is expended is contributed by New South Wales, and considerably more than 50 per cent, of the available money must be spent in Victoria. A trip through Queensland would open the eyes of the Postmaster-General to the real difficulties of Australia. Victoria is a small State, which one could almost walk across in a couple of days, but the Department has to provide means of communication for States as big as Queensland, where the honorable member for Grampians has his far-flung domains ; andI am surprised that, deriving so much from that State, he should take up the cudgels in defence of the parochial administration which favours Victoria.

Mr Jowett - I have not said a word against any State in Australia.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - In defending administration that discriminates against New South Wales and in favour of Victoria, in the way I have shown, the honorable member is practically condemning the State of Queensland.

Mr Jowett - I am not defending the Postal administration; I condemn r.t.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - The same sort ot thing as I am complaining of happens in the administration of most of the Departments. When the lists of new appointments are published, it is Melbourne nearly every time that benefits. When Commissions are issued, there are two Melbourne Commissioners to every Commissioner from another State. The Government of this country is, in short, conducted from Melbourne, and everything is seen through Melbourne eyes. I should not object to that so much were this capital the head of a big State, in which Australian conditions generally were represented. Were the Postal administration centred in Brisbane, there would be some understanding of the big problems of settlement which confront us; but with the Government in Melbourne, regulations which might be applied to the # conditions of England are being applied to the conditions of Australia, and these regulations are entirely inadequate, so far as the larger States are concerned. I have some sympathy with the PostmasterGeneral, who has not been long in office. Some of the criticism directed against him has not been quite fair. -He has to " look round before he can do much, and we keep him too much chained to Parliament. I hope that he will take an opportunity to visit and live in some of the other States, and to administer his Department there, so that he may learn something of the problems which have to be solved, and the condition of the people, and thus be able 0 take a broader and larger view.

Mr Livingston - He knows what to do, but he requires more money.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - The Treasurer has told deputations, arid has said in this House, that he has not withheld money from the Postmaster-General's Department. I admit that the errors of the past have been such that no PostmasterGeneral, no matter what his gifts or his knowledge might be, could bring the Department to a state of efficiency within a year or two. I am glad to know from correspondence that I have had from the present occupant of the office, that he sees eye to eye with me on one matter : the need for doing the utmost to bring about the use of material which can be manufactured or procured in Australia. I doubt, however, that he is receiving from some of his officials the support in this matter which he is en titled to expect. Much material is used which, it seems to me, could easily be obtained in this country, especially if sufficient inducement were offered. If the Postmaster-General wishes, as I believe he does, to make his administration effective, he must not only say that these things should be done, but see that the officers intrusted with the doing of them do their duty. We ought not to be so much dependent upon foreign countries for a great deal of the material used in the Postal Department, and we would not be if an advanced policy were pursued. The cheapest market is not the best for some of our Departments. ' Even if we had to pay a good deal more for them it would be infinitely better if we could obtain in Australia many of the requirements for the Departments, rather than that 5,000 people in one State should be unable to get telephonic communication and be deprived of those conveniences which, in a modern community, people have a right to expect.

The state of some of the post-offices is appalling. In my own electorate there is a post-office in the centre of 12,000 or 15,000 people where the accommodation for the public will allow only about twelve persons -to be present at the one time. At times the street traffic is blocked by people waiting their turn to enter the post-office. About £400 is required to improve the accommodation, yet year after year goes by without the conditions being altered from what they were when the building was erected twenty-five years' ago. That centre would be called in some States a city, yet the post-office accommodation is only equal to that in some cf the small country towns. When the exPostmasterGeneral (Mr. Webster) visited the place he decided immediately that the accommodation must be extended; two years have gone by and nothing has been done. The excuse at that time was that the Treasurer would not find the money, but to-day that excuse is not valid, because the Treasurer will find the money. Urgent works of this character should be put in hand at the earliest possible moment. The whole administration of the Postal Department calls for a thorough investigation at all centres of administration, and I plead for a policy of giving wider power to the Deputy PostmastersGeneral. This centralizing of every petty detail in Melbourne should give place to a policy by which the people who are nearest to the job, and know most about it, should have the right to decide when a work is necessary in the interests of the Department.

As to the subsidy for telephone services, I think the present Postmaster-General is deserving of thanks for what he has done. I was surprised to hear some of the criticisms of him to-day upon that score, because it must be admitted that one of the first things he did on assuming office was to endeavour to make easier the conditions of people living in the remote districts where the telephone services were unprofitable. When one criticises a Department it is only fair to try to look at it from the point of view of the man in charge. Whilst everybody will indorse the proposition that the people who go into the remoter parts of the country to develop the land and produce those things which are necessary to our financial stability, should be considered, little reflection is needed to convince one that there must be some discrimination as to the extent to which these benefits can be given in the different localities. We cannot say that because one man chooses to go 500 miles away from the bigger country centres the Commonwealth must immediately spend £500 or £1,000 in giving him the same facilities as he would have had had he settled nearer a town. There must be some line of demarcation between the things that can be done and those that ought to be done. But when all this is admitted, the policy introduced into the Department a few years ago of attempting to make the post-office a commercial concern was entirely detrimental to the settlement of the country. If we are to ask people to go into the remoter districts we must provide them with facilities, and the proper course is to charge more for the facilities given in populous centres, and apply the profits therefrom to the extension of telephonic and telegraphic services in the districts further out. That is the policy upon which the Post Office should be operated, and if there still remained a claim upon the general revenue for postal facilities, Parliament should be anxious to see that the Postmaster-General had . sufficient money to enable him to carry the benefits of civilization to the remoter districts.

Suggest corrections