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Thursday, 26 August 1920

Mr JOWETT (Grampians) .- I rise to support the amendment in favour of giving increased mail and telephonic facilities in country districts and the granting of greater concessions to mail contractors, who have been placed in a most unfortunate position owing to their contracts having covered a period of severe drought, which could not 'have been anticipated by them when the contracts were made. First of all, I desire to express my regret that' an entirely foreign matter has been imported into the discussion in the shape of an unprovoked and unjustifiable attack upon the State of Victoria and its people. The professed justification for this attack is some statistics which show that there are more applications for telephones which have not been supplied in New South Wales than there are in Victoria. The explanation of this state of affairs given by the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) is, apparently, partly . that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) is a Victorian, and also that practically everything in the 'Central Department of the Post Office is seen solely through Victorian eyes, and that there is no one to take the larger and broader vision which the honorable member for Hia- . warra always has taken, and. no doubt, always will take. Although I have not been a member of the House as long as has the honorable member, I have some recollection of past Postmasters-General, and it will be interesting to refresh the memories of honorable members as to the States from which these Ministers came. Of course, it is obvious that a large number of the telephone applications which have not been met were overdue before the present Postmaster-General assumed office. It will be remembered that up till December last the Postmaster.General, an exceedingly able and efficient Minister, was Mr. Webster, the then member for Gwydir, in New South Wales, and practically the whole of these overdue applications accumulated while he held office. It therefore seems unreasonable to blame the present Victorian Postmaster-General for the present overdue accumulations. And as regard the past, I find from the Tear-Book that the Postmaster-General in the first Federal Administration was the late Lord Forrest, of Western Australia, who was succeeded by the Hon. J. G. Drake, who came from Queensland, and later, Sir Philip Fysh, who was a Tasmanian re- preservative. Therefore, at the commencement of Federation, at any rate, the control of the Postal Department was in the hands of men from the more distant States. They were men of wide vision and mighty capacity, who were able to handle these Australian and almost Imperial problems in a way which the honorable member for Illawarra apparently thinks that no Victorian could do. In Mr. Deakin's first Administration the Postmaster-General was again Sir Philip Fysh. When Mr. Watson formed his first Ministry the Honorable Hugh Mahon, from Western Australia, took control of the Postal Department. He was not one of those narrow-minded and short-visioned Victorians. In the fourth Federal Administration the PostmasterGeneral was the Honorable Sydney Smith, who came from the State of New South Wales. The next Postmaster-General, not least honoured of them all, was the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) - again a representative of the Mother State.

Sir GRANVILLE RYRIE (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member does not infer that we are still suffering from his administration.

Mr JOWETT - No, the Commonwealth has survived. The PostmasterGeneral in the first Fisher Administration was the Honorable Josiah Thomas, yet again a representative of the great State of New South Wales. I regret that that gentleman is no longer a member of this Chamber, but he graces the proceedings in another place. In the next Administration the Postmaster-General was a Victorian, Sir John Quick; I do not know whether it will be alleged that this was the reason why that Ministry was so short-lived.

Mr Livingston - He was a very good Postmaster-General.

Mr JOWETT - He was one of the ablest men who ever graced this Chamber, and was one of the founders of the Constitution.

Mr.Ryan. - To what is the honorable member leading up?

Mr JOWETT - The remarks of the honorable member for Illawarra seem to imply that much of the trouble that befalls the administration of the Post Office and other Departments of the Commonwealth is due to the fact that certain gentlemen representing and residing in Victoria are in office.

Mr Austin Chapman - And he accused the honorable member of having " Canberraitis," and of having thrown stones at Queensland at the dictation of the Age.

Mr JOWETT - If I replied to all the accusations made by some honorable members, who are obsessed absolutely by the word " Canberra," there would be no time left for me between now and 10 o'clock to-night in which to say anything in regard to other matters.

Mr Cunningham - I rise to a point of order. The honorable member's statement that he would not reply to certain interjections from honorable members whose brains had been eaten into by suggestions of Canberra reflects very seriously on certain honorable members who represent New South Wales constituencies, and wish to have a solemn compact honoured. It is an affront for a member of a provincial and parochial State like Victoria to refer in such a manner to those who represent New South Wales constituencies, and are quite within their rights in claiming that a solemn compact should be honoured.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon J M Chanter - That is no point of order.

Mr Cunningham - I ask that the statement be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - If the honorable member made use of the words attributed to him, I ask him to withdraw them.

Mr JOWETT - I have much pleasure in withdrawing any reference to Canberra if it gives offence to others. If the subject had not been mentioned by way of interjection I would not have raised it.

The next Administration I quote is that of my right honorable peerless, priceless, friend, Sir Joseph Cook. In his Ministry, it is true, the Postmaster-General was the Honorable Agar Wynne, who was a Victorian, but, at any rate, the Prime Minister represented a New South Wales constituency. In the Third Fisher Administration the Postmaster-General was the Honorable William Guthrie Spence, a splendid Minister, whose absence is a great loss to this House. He represented a New South Wales constituency. The next Government was the First Hughes

Administration, and the PostmasterGeneral .in that Ministry was the Honorable William Webster, again a representative of a New South Wales constituency.

Mr Lazzarini - What happened to him? .

Mr JOWETT - To my deep regret and that of an immense number of people of Australia, he is no longer in this House, but he was a great statesman, a great Postmaster-General, and a distinguished member of this House. He was also Postmaster-General in the Second Hughes Administration, and in the Australian National War Government. Of course, the present PostmasterGeneral is a Victorian, as we all know, but I have shown conclusively that there is not the remotest justification for the narrowminded charge, the most absurdly ridiculous and trumped-up implication that the destinies of the Post Office have suffered in the past or are suffering at present by being placed in the hands of PostmastersGeneral representing Victorian constituencies.

Now, having shown that the omissions of the Department are not in the remotest degree due to the fact that its administration has been in the hands of honorable members representing any particular State, I approach the question raised by the honorable member for Hume, that of giving relief - to mail contractors who took up their contracts as from 1st January of this year. It is said in defence of the attitude of the Department that when the contracts were entered upon, the tenderers knew that the drought was in progress, and no doubt took into consideration the cost of feeding their horses. I maintain, however, that it was impossible for any one working stock in the interior of Australia on 1st January last to take a contract based on the existing cost of fodder in the belief that, if the drought continued, he could carry it on profitably, and I doubt very much whether a contractor would make any profit on a contract for five years to cover the losses sustained during the last six mouths. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) knows well that the people living in the interior of Australia are a sanguine, optimistic race, and that they would not have taken on the contracts unless they believed that the drought would break up almost imme diately, or that they would be able to continue to buy fodder at the price ruling in January when their tenders were submitted; but we did not get the summer rains we expected, and the price. of fodder, instead of decreasing, went up bo a figure never previously known in the history of Australia. Lucerne hay fetched as much as. £20 a ton.

Mr Lavelle - Prices doubled.

Mr JOWETT - Yes, they increased to at least double what they were at the beginning of the year.

Mr Bell - That could not have been the case.

Mr JOWETT - It may not have been the case in Tasmania.

Mr Bell - Tasmanian prices are ruled by the Sydney market quotations.

Mr JOWETT - As a general rule, they may be, but it was not the case during this year because of the grave difficulty in regard to shipping.

Mr Lavelle - Mail contractors are paying £20 per ton for chaff in my electorate.

Mr JOWETT - Yes, and they are paying the same price in many other parts. A few months ago I met two farmers returning from South Australia to the Darling Downs district in Queensland. The people there were paying £17 or £18 a ton for lucerne hay, and it was almost unprocurable; but hearing that fodder was cheaper in South Australia, they had sent these two gentlemen to that State to make purchases on their behalf. When the delegation got to Adelaide they found that they could buy chaff at a much lower price than was ruling in Queensland, but they found also that it was absolutely impossible for them to get freight to take it to their State. The position may have been the same in Tasmania. Fodder might have been cheap and abundant in that State, but there was not sufficient freight available to enable it to be shipped to the mainland, where it was so badly needed to keep stock alive.

Some of my honorable friends speak as if I took a provincial view of these matters. I probably know more of every State in the Commonwealth, with the exception of Western Australia, than does any other honorable member.

Mr Prowse - Then the honorable member is deeply lacking experience of a great State.

Mr JOWETT - I may be deeply lacking experience of a great State which will ever be associated with the name of a great statesman, the late Lord Forrest; but I hope to have an- opportunity to acquire that experience. The result of the difficulties in the transit of fodder from one State to another, and the extreme drought in northern New South Wales and Queensland, was that it was absolutely impossible for mail contractors to foresee on 1st January last the price to which hay would soar during the remaining half of 71, a financial year.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Can the honorable member tell us roughly what is the difference in price ?

Mr JOWETT - Not from memory; but for quite a considerable period in northern New South Wales and Queensland, lucerne hay was selling at £20 a ton.

Mr Fleming - As against £13 or £14 per ton at the beginning of the year.

Mr JOWETT - Yes; that was a ruinous rise. No man would have taken up a mail contract had he thought that he would have to feed his horses throughout the year on fodder costing even £14 per ton. When, instead of an anticipated reduction in the price of hay, maize, and oats, they were compelled to pay practially double rates, they were brought face to face with a very real grievance.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I can conceive of fodder being dearer, but in some parts there might be plenty of grass for horses.

Mr JOWETT - My right honorable friend's point is a very good one.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - In the bad old days, many mail contractors never dreamt of buying fodder for their horses. Their horses were all grass-fed.

Mr JOWETT - I do not suppose that there is any district in Australia where the mail contractors did not have to feed their horses during the first six months of the year. It is not practicable to submit horses to the exceedingly heavy work attaching to the carriage of mails without giving them something more than grass.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - In many cases, T think they are fed only on grass.

Mr JOWETT - I have undertaken many long coach journeys in Australia, and cannot recall any great mail road contract under which the horses which were employed had nothing more than grass to eat. I understand that the duration of these contracts varies.

Mr Wise - They generally run three years.

Mr JOWETT - That was my impression.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - But in the case of the three years' contracts, relief would be given. The trouble relates to only the new contracts.

Mr JOWETT - That is so. I remind the Treasurer that if the seasons were good for the next two and a half years, the contractors might be able to recoup some of their losses, but who has ever known of consecutive good seasons over a long period? I have been closely connected with the pastoral industry for something like forty years, and I cannot remember anything of the kind

Mr Bell - Then the contractors must also have known that it was unreasonable to expect good seasons for two and a half years.

Mr JOWETT - But they did not know that there would be such a period of extreme drought.

Mr Maxwell - Would not the proper time to review these contracts be at their termination ?

Mr JOWETT - These men have to pay their way. I do not know whether any honorable member has ever been reminded of the state of his banking account, but I am quite sure that many mail contractors during the last six months have had very serious reminders from their bankers. That being so, if any relief is to be granted, it must be given immediately.

Mr Fleming - Does the honorable member make the considered statement that he has never known of two and a half consecutive good years in Australia ?

Mr JOWETT - I do, and I can take the honorable member month by month over the records from 1876, when I came to Australia, until 1920.

Mr Richard Foster - The honorable member for Grampians is right.

Mr Livingston - He is wrong.

Mr JOWETT - My honorable friend the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) represents a particularly favoured spot in the neighbourhood of Mount Gambier, which is probably freer from drought than is any other part of the Commonwealth. Valuable though his testimony may be, I must, therefore, put it aside.

I wish now to deal with the general question involved in the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney). It covers, I take it, improved telephone and postal facilities for country districts, and also the payment of allowance officers. As I have no wish to weary honorable members, I do not propose to exhaust all the subjects that have been touched on during this debate; but I would impress upon the House the fact that any money expended on granting improved telephone and postal facilities in country districts, must be a very profitable investment. If it is. not profitable, then there is something at fault, and action should be taken to remedy it. Residents of country districts, as well as of our cities, are crying out for better telephone facilities, and are quite prepared to pay for them at remunerative rates. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise), new as he is to office, is ripe in experience of this subject, as has been evidenced by the quotations made this afternoon from his magnificent speeches. I shall simply conclude by inpressing upon the Postmaster-General in the strongest terms that there is every justification for expending, as an investment outlay, very largely increased sums on telephone services for country districts.

Mr Ryan - If the honorable member were to address a few words on the same point to the Treasurer, it might be helpful.

Mr JOWETT - The Treasurer, like Pilate of old, has already washed his hands of " this just man," the PostmasterGeneral.

Mr Laird Smith - The honorable member surely does not suggest that the Postmaster-General is to be crucified ?

Mr JOWETT - I am not quite sure whether the process of nailing his fingers to the political cross has not already commenced this afternoon, and I therefore shall not add to his tribulations. I simply implore him to give the fullest and most sympathetic consideration to the terms of the amendment, which I intend to support.

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