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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr FORDE - He was a good PostmasterGeneral too.

Mr GEORGE LAWSON (BRISBANE, QUEENSLAND) - He was. He at least gave the citizens of Brisbane some encouragement, but, unfortunately, any encouragement given then and since has disappeared as the result of the Government's latest attitude. Again in 1935 the honorable gentleman's predecessor made a definite promise on the floor of this chamber during the consideration of the Estimates that provision would be made on the Estimates of 1935-36 for the start of the first section of the new building before the end of that year. But nothing was done. Then again, the Cabinet met in Brisbane, I believe in August, 1936, when a definite promise was made by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the former PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan') that there would be a new building. They said that they were satisfied, after having viewed the post office, that in the interests of the city of Brisbane the erection of a new building was essential. They added that that building would be started at the earliest possible date. Then in January, 1938, Senator A. J. McLachlan issued a statement to the press to the effect that the Government had decided to proceed with the building. He hoped that it would be started before the end of 1938. During .the consideration of the Estimates last year, I made further requests for this work to be started.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr GEORGE LAWSON (BRISBANE, QUEENSLAND) - The last definite promise made to the people of Brisbane, when the 1938-39 Estimates were under consideration, was given by the Assistant Minister then representing the Postmaster-General in this chamber. It was stated that £50,000 had been placed on the Estimates for the commencement of the building of ' a new general post office, and that a further £10,000 had been made available for the re-housing of the employees who occupied the parcels office, and who would be drafted into a temporary building until that section had been re-built. That information was received by the citizens of Brisbane with delight.

When the succeeding Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Barker (Mr.. Archie Cameron) arrived in Brisbane early this year, and was asked when the Government intended to commence the new building, he indicated, by a wave of his hand, that he knew nothing about the matter. He said that there was no money on the Estimates for the work, and that he could not see any plans lying about. The implication that important plans of that nature might be found lying about the post office was absurd. The people in Brisbane have taken great exception to the remarks of the honorable gentleman. He seemed to imagine that he was discussing the matter with a group of nit-wits, otherwise he would not have made such a childish statement. The press of Brisbane, and the citizens generally, were very upset on reading such remarks by a responsible Minister. He was challenged through the press, and I personally challenged the statement. Later he admitted that he had not understood the position, as £50,000 had been placed on the Estimates for the work, but he added that the expenditure had not been incurred, owing to the heavy commitments for defence. He further said that, if he were a citizen of Brisbane, he would prefer the placing of guns at Caloundra for the defence of Brisbane to the building of a new general post office.

I would inform the ex-Minister, and the members of this House generally, that the people of Brisbane take second place to no others in their advocacy of the proper defence of Queensland. The representatives of that State in this chamber have always asked for adequate defence of that portion of Australia. The point which the citizens of Brisbane desire me to make is that, in their opinion, the Government had no justification whatever for withdrawing the £50,000 voted on the Estimates for the re-building of the Brisbane General Post Office on the score that the money is necessary for defence purposes. Side by side with * last year's Estimates of the- Postmaster-General's Department were those of the Defence Department, and, in budgeting for defence, the Government knew exactly what was required. It was admitted that £50,000 could be made available for the commencement of at least a portion of the new general post office required in Brisbane. Another reason why the Government had no good excuse for the action - and this is admitted by the exPostmasterGeneral - is the fact that a large sum of money was voted, and is being expended, for .the extension of the Sydney General Post Office. Whilst I do not begrudge the people of Sydney improved postal facilities, I contend that Brisbane has been most unfairly treated. Th rebuilding of the Brisbane post office was promised in this Parliament, and outside it, by responsible Ministers long before the negotiations had been completed between the department and the property owners whose buildings had to be purchased to enable the Sydney extension scheme to be carried out. It was then decided that Sydney had prior rights, but nobody who has visited both cities will say that the claims in respect of the two General Post Offices are at all comparable. I contend that the present post office in Brisbane is a disgrace to the Commonwealth Government. It is the most disreputable general post office of any city in Australia, yet the people of Brisbane have no guarantee as to when it will be rebuilt. Some time ago, I communicated with the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) with regard to this matter, and, in the course of his reply to my letter, he stated -

I desire to inform you that, while the condition of the building is fully appreciated, my colleague, the Postmaster-General has informed me that it is possible, for the time being, to conduct departmental business in the available accommodation without serious inconvenience. I sincerely regret that it has been found necessary to postpone the building of the post office, but yon will appreciate that at the present time priority should be given to works of a defence value. You may rest assured that it is the intention of the Government to carry on with the rebuilding as soon as it is practicable to do so.

The statement was made that the ex-Postmaster-General had informed the then Prime Minister that the business could be carried on without serious inconvenience, but about a week after he left Brisbane, and prior to my communication with Mr. Lyons, the wet season set in.

It was impossible for work to be done properly in the post office, because rain waS penetrating the roof in practically every portion of the building. I am given to understand that at times the employees were compelled to hold umbrellas while carrying out their duties, yet the exPostmasterGeneral had the temerity to say that the accommodation was convenient and suitable for the work of the department ! The situation is ridiculous.

I trust that the present PostmasterGeneral will visit Bisbane without delay, and ascertain for himself the true position. The people of Brisbane are so incensed over the apathy of the Government and its failure to carry out its promise that a protest meeting of citizens is being convened by the Lord Mayor. This gathering will be held next week, or not later than the following week. I understand that other honorable members who represent Queensland electorates will follow me in this debate, and support my remarks. I have no doubt that the attendance at the meeting of protest will be large, 'and that the gathering will indicate to the Government how the people of Brisbane view this burning question. I hope that the department will do something definite im the matter during the present financial year. I now make a final appeal to the present PostmasterGeneral to see if something can be done to ensure the commencement of the new building during the next financial year. It may be said that the subject of the Brisbane post office is a hardy annual of mine, but I have no apology to make on that. While I am a member of this chamber I shall continue to take up the time of the House in voicing my own opinion, and that of the people whom I represent, in regard to this matter. 1 thank my fellow members from Queensland for their loyal and wholehearted co-operation. Although the Brisbane post office is in my own electorate, I have always been supported in this request by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), the honorable member for Lilley (Mt. Jolly), the late honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker), and the former member for Lilley (Sir Donald Cameron). We have never made this a party matter. This does not concern my electorate only, but concerns also the business interests of the city, and Brisbane as a whole.

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