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Thursday, 26 August 1920

Mr CONSIDINE (Barrier) .- I am glad to hear the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) advocate elective Ministries, with the object of obtaining some ' ' talent ' ' from this side of the House; and the protest made by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) shows the necessity for the adoption of some such suggestion, or, failing that, turning the Labour minority into a majority. The amendment is very appropriate in view of the many protests and applications sent by mail contractorsiu the district I represent to the Postal Department. In a number of cases the Department has recognised the disadvantages under which these mail contractors suffer and has afforded some sort of relief. The telephonic and telegraphic facilities in my electorate are by no means what they should be, or what they were. They have been reduced to such an extent that protests are continuously being made, but, from what I hear, from other honorable members, that is characteristic of the postal service throughout the country.

Mr Gabb - The district of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston), who is a Government supporter, is better off.

Mr CONSIDINE - I do not know why that constituency should happen to be a postal paradise. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) knows that prior to his taking office I several times emphasized the necessity .for the extension of postal and telephonic facilities iu the country; indeed, at various times during the life of the last Parliament, even Government supporters threatened the Government because of their lack of such facilities. The promises of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), when Acting Prime Minister, in this regard have not been carried out, for the curtailment of services still goes on, while there has been a reduction in the remuneration paid to post-office attendants.

Mr Wise - Where the business falls off.

Mr CONSIDINE - Business can easily fall off if, as in my own electorate, between Wentworth and Broken Hill, a stretch of country of about 55 miles, is left with no facilities for the carriage of correspondence. From time to time, members representing country constituencies are informed by the PostmasterGeneral's Department that, unless the residents within a certain area are prepared to subsidize the existing postal facilities, these will be cut off or reduced, because the revenue from them is not sufficient to carry them on. Thus country residents are asked to pay out of their own pockets for conveniences that are part of the ordinary requirements of civilization. There is no sense in thus penalizing those who earn their living in the back-blocks. Such action discourages them from remaining there, and others from going there. As I have pointed out in other speeches, the Department took upon itself to reduce postal services at a time when, above all others, the people were interested in obtaining news speedily, that is, during the war, when most radical alterations were made.

While on my feet, I wish to draw attention to the fact that information respecting weather conditions is not posted on the postal premises at Broken Hill. That city is the centre of a fairly big pastoral district, West Darling, which contains quite a large number of graziers and others engaged in pastoral pursuits. These persons are unable to obtain at the Broken Hill post-office information regarding weather variations, which have a profound effect on their industry, because they govern operations like the shifting of stock. In a letter, a copy of which has been sent to the Department, a correspondent says -

For many years past when rain does fall in this dry area, the fact has been made known to the pastoralists, the stock agents, and the public at the local telegraph" office. The registrations at the telegraph and telephone stations have been freely issued. These records have been of important value and equal interest to all concerned in the pastoral industry in the far west. They have facilitated business, and have helped to assist pastoralists to move stock from place to place to meet the changes of weather. These movings were, and are, not of individual importance only, but concern the whole of the West Darling pastoral industry, a vital factor in not only the State's, but Australia's economic welfare.

Wilcannia and Menindie are enabled to gather and issue these so important rain figures; why not Broken Hill, the centre of tie district ?

The writer points out that the posting of the information to which he refers would not cost much labour, and would greatly benefit those interested in pastoral pursuits. In Sydney and in Melbourne, shipping and other intelligence is posted at the General Post Office. Wharf labourers and others interested in shipping can thus study the movements of vessels. Why should not a similar convenience be given to the pastoralists or West Darling, by providing them with information respecting rainfall and weather changes? It would not cause much expense to do this.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - That information is posted in many places, the service now costing over £50,000 a year.

Mr CONSIDINE - It is posted in Wilcannia and Menindie.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Have they given a reason why it is nob posted at Broken Hill?

Mr CONSIDINE - No; my correspondent asks that the practice may be resumed. I gather that the information was posted, and that the practice of posting it has been discontinued.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - It should be posted at a place like Broken Hill.

Mr CONSIDINE - The Treasurer and the Postmaster-General will readily understand that Broken Hill is a large centre where it is most important that this information should be made public.

I do not know whether other constituencies have suffered as much as mine from the cutting down of mail services and the withholding of telephone facilities. The Postmaster-General is in the best position to know what is taking place, but if other constituencies have suffered as much as the Barrier, the country people of Australia are getting a very rough deal from the Commonwealth Government. It is about time that we ceased to treat the Postal Department as a business concern. I have always claimed that postal and telegraphic facilities are the right of our citizens, and that the granting of them should not be on a revenue-producing basis.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - That is not to say that the Department should not be conducted as a business department, for all that.

Mr CONSIDINE - I do not say that it should not be conducted with business method; but there are businesses and businesses. The Treasurer knows that sometimes businesses are conducted not with a view to making a profit, but to support other businesses which are producing revenue. If you study the good of the community, and desire to keep people in the back country by making life worth living there, the least you will do is to grant the minimum facilities of communication required by a civilized community. In the city, postal, telegraph, and telephone conveniences are always at hand. If revenue must be considered, let the burden of providing it be placed on the shoulders of the townspeople, who are not under the same disabilities as country residents. It is not fair that the people in the country should be penalized as they are being penalized. It should be laid down as a guiding principle for all Postmasters-General that services should not be cut out, or reduced, as they have been in the past, in order to bring the expenditure of the Department within its income; the comfort and wellbeing of the people, especially of those in the country, should be the first consideration of every Administration.

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