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Thursday, 26 August 1920

Mr ATKINSON (Wilmot) .- Every session we have a debate of this character; generally it occurs on the Estimates. I have been!- in this House a good many years and session after session we have debated the question of mail, telephonic, and telegraphic facilities in country districts, but very little has ever come of the discussion. Something ought to have been done, but the amendment which is before the House is not required, because the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) has already made an honest attempt to do something in accordance with the requests we have made in the past. I am told that in parts of my own electorate the postal facilities are not as good as they were fifty years ago, and reference to the records proves that statement to be true. I have never been able to understand the policy of carrying mails past the station for which they were intended to the terminus, and then sending them back next day. I was glad to hear the Postmaster-General say to-night that he is already endeavouring to remedy that practice by experimenting with the South Australian system, and he has promised that if these efforts are not a success other steps will be taken, even to the extent of re-establishing the travelling post-office.

The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) has complained of the removal of pillar-boxes and the reduction of other facilities in urban areas. What are those disabilities compared with the curtailment of the facilities in country districts! - the closing of post-offices at inconvenient hours and the reduction of mail services? What disabilities are city people suffering compared with those that have been imposed upon country residents ? In any case, there is no comparison between the country and the cities so far as the solid prosperity of the nation is concerned. Where would all the dwellers in the cities be but for the country industries?' About 75 per cent, of the wealth of Australia is derived from primary production. I appeal to the honorable member for South Sydney to look at this matter as a business man, and if he does so, he will see that we cannot afford to dry up the main sources of our national income. The country interests must be fostered and increased by all possible means.

The telephone service in the back country is a great help to land settlement. People will not live in the backblocks away from all the conveniences of civilization unless they are given rapid means of communication with the nearest town. Isolation is a very serious matter for people in the bush. A saw-mill is often established a long way from any township, and without telephonic communication the people working and living about the mill arc in a serious position. Accidents are frequent in connexion with a saw-mill, and unless there is means of quickly summoning medical aid the results may be fatal. Very often fatalities do occur, which might have been avoided had it been possible to summon medical aid in reasonably quick time. Hitherto when the extension of telephone facilities to the back country has been asked for, a guarantee has been required by the Department. Now no guarantee is asked, and I am glad that the Postmaster-General is making an honest attempt to reform the methods of the Department. We cannot expect everything to be done in a day, especially when so many accumulated arrears have to be wiped off before the Minister can do many of the things he wishes to do. The present PostmasterGeneral is the first, to my knowledge, who has made a really solid effort at reform in. the right direction, and I give him all the credit he deserves. He has wiped out the guarantee, and country districts are receiving the telephones they require without having to submit to what was a very serious handicap in the past.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member knows that that is not true. Services are not being given without a guarantee.

Mr ATKINSON - Services have been granted lately in my electorate, and I am under the impression that the usual guarantee was not insisted upon.

Mr Stewart - Then the honorable member must be doing better than I am.

Mr ATKINSON - At any rate, it is my impression that no guarantee was given. We know that the extension of these facilities in the country is delayed by the lack of material. We cannot expect the Postmaster-General to purchase wire at a fabulous price if, by waiting a little time, he can buy at a reasonable price. People in the country are not unreasonable; they do not expect the earth. But they do feel that they are entitled to some consideration in their task of reclaiming the wilderness. They have gone into the back country and wrestled with the forest primeval. In parts of my own electorate, where forests stood a few years ago, beautiful farms and smiling homesteads are to be seen today. When the settlers first went there they could not see ten yards ahead of them because of the density of the forest. People who have had the pluck to carve homes out of the wilds in this fashion are entitled to decent facilities, and I am glad that at last the Government are realizing that fact.

In regard to allowance and semiofficial post-offices, the people who conduct them confer a great benefit upon the settlers. I know that in many instances, although the volume of business is not very large, the people in charge are tied to the offices all day.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member expects them to live on sympathy.

Mr ATKINSON - An improvement in this matter has been effected recently. We know the record of the PostmasterGeneral in this House, and that, as a private member, he advocated the granting of better postal and telephonic facilities to country districts. Deputations have waited upon him in the hope that he would make the best possible effort to carry out the policy he advocated as a private member of this House. I say that the honorable gentleman has honestly attempted to do that. The proof of that is that he has achieved something, and has taken steps in the right direction, which is more than can be said for any Postmaster-General who preceded him. I agree with the honorable member who moved the amendment, that telephone facilities should be extended in the country districts, and that a drought allowance should be paid to mail contractors. But I point out that the Postmaster-General has taken steps to do those things which he is being blamed to-night for neglecting to do. He gave an assurance some days ago that a drought allowance would be made to mail contractors, and that the money to enable that to be done would shortly be available. When a request is made to the Postmaster-General in this public way to do these things, people outside will not unnaturally come to the conclusion that he has been remiss, whilst, as a matter of fact, he deserves our thanks for what he has achieved in the direction desired.

The Postmaster-General has made an endeavour to better the lot of the people in charge of allowance post-offices.

Mr McGrath - We have had no promise about the allowance post-offices.

Mr ATKINSON - I presume that the honorable member knows that, some days ago, it was stated that something like £67,000 was to be added to the amount to be paid for allowance post-offices.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The Post and Telegraph Department received £487,000 more than the estimate of expenditure last year. That is the best proof of what the Government are trying to do.

Mr ATKINSON - I hope that officers in charge of allowance post-offices will receive better treatment than has so far been accorded to them; but I appreciate whathas been done. I know, from letters I have received from some of them, that they also appreciate what has been done. Whilst I agree that expenditure must be kept within reasonable bounds, I feel sure that the PostmasterGeneral will not regard his Department as primarily a money-making Department, and I trust thatthe people who have charge of allowance post-offices will be remunerated according to the work they perform, rather than upon the basis of the revenue received from the offices they control. If the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) would put his amendment in a different form, which would avoid the suggestion of reproach of the Postmaster-General for not doing enough, or for having done nothing, I should not have so much objection to it.

Mr Ryan - Is the honorable member suggesting some different form of wording for the amendment?

Mr ATKINSON - The way in which it has been discussed to-night would lead to the impression that the PostmasterGeneral is greatly to blame. I say that he is not to blame, because he has brought about a vast improvement upon the conditions that existed before, and, therefore, I am not prepared to support the amendment as it stands.

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