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Thursday, 26 August 1920


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - We shall resign promptly, and let the honorable member come in, as he would like to do. That goes without saying.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are you satisfied with the result of the whip that has taken place?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am quite satisfied, but I do not know what the whip is.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You have been putting it on.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am not anxious to put anything on. All I am anxious to do is to face the situation and get at the facts, and then the House can adopt what attitude it pleases.


Mr Fenton - Now the honorable member is threatening the House.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - There is no threat at all. Nothing we can do in this House will alter the present state of affairs. Let me remind honorable members what the position is. It is not so much lack of money, but it is lack of material. If there had been four times the amount of money available, it could not have been spent to advantage, as the material was simply unobtainable, and much of it is still unobtainable. It now takes twelve months 'to get an order for telephones executed; and in some cases much more than twelve months.


Mr Mahony - That shows a lack of foresight on the part of the Department.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) -It shows the great scarcity there is all over the world of many things that we need. Every day a shortage of something or other is occurring. To-day it is telephones; yesterday it was sugar; the day before it was butter. Every day some trouble arises, all owing to the one fundamental fact that supplies cannot be obtained. That isthe first fact we want to get into our minds.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can you explain how it is that in some country places, where the people have had to provide a part of the material, they have been able to get their part of it, and the Postal Department has not provided its part?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I cannot tell the honorable member about these iso lated cases. I am speaking of the position generally. If some people are getting services and others are not it is not due to any lack of competency or anything else, but to the clear fact, which we have to face, that we cannot install these services under present conditions. There are 10,000 telephones wanted to-day. They cannot be supplied. I am in trouble every day about' telephones, and so is every other honorable member; but what can we do ? The telephones are not here. They are on order, but they cannot be obtained. It is not a matter of foresight, or even a matter of money, but a matter of the impossibility of obtaining supplies.


Mr McWilliams - Is that the reason why you have reduced some of the country services?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am talking of one thing at a time. At present I am speaking of the need for telephones, and for wire and other material with which to install them. That is one of the main troubles so far as telephones are concerned. Now, as regards mail services.


Mr Lavelle - Why are not the men paid an increased subsidy?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - A proposal has already been mentioned to-night to rectif y that trouble in a very large measure.


Mr Lavelle - It is not satisfactory.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am afraid that we can never satisfy the honorable member. I am trying to address myself now to the reasonable members of the House. The honorable member tells me quite plainly beforehand that I cannot satisfy him. Well, I shall not try to do so. There is no lack of funds so far as the Post Office is concerned. The Postmaster- General was told on almost the first day on which I took control of the Treasury that whatever money he wanted he could have in reason, and he has been proceeding ever since to overtake the arrears; but, do what he will, it is impossible to rectify in a short space of time a situation which has been getting steadily worse for four or five years, mainly owing to war conditions. We are after those arrears with the utmost possible expedition, and the sooner they can be overtaken the better the Government will be pleased, and the better I hope honorable members will be satisfied.


Mr Gabb - What about the mail services ?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - As to the mail services, the Government is giving its best to the country at the present moment; but even those services cannot be reorganized in a moment. Conditions of drought have prevailed in the country, and there are all sorts of hindrances even to the establishment and organization of the vast mail routes of the Commonwealth; but re-organization is proceeding even there, and we are doing our very best to overtake the arrears. It is our purpose and intention to give better and more frequent services in the back country districts. I have all my life been an advocate of good treatment for the back country districts. These instrumentalities arethe very essence of decency, and even livelihood, to say nothing of comfort and luxury, out there, and any man who thinks rightly of his country, and sees things in their proper setting and focus, must admit that everything that can be done for the country should be done.


Mr Mahony - Well, do it how. That is a good slogan for you.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am no Merlin. Iam afraid I cannot call these things down in a moment. I cannot "do it now." I can only promise that the PostmasterGeneral will do it as quickly as it can be done. He will do it irrespective of cost and irrespective of anything but a fair and reasonable consideration for the conditions of the people in the interior. That is the attitude of the Government generally. The rest is a matter of organization, spending money, obtaining materials, organizing those materials, and establishing and re-adjusting the whole of the services as far as that may be done. I assure honorable members that, so far as the Treasury is concerned, there will be no stint of funds, and our efforts will be limited only by the reasonableness of the matters with which we have to deal, and by the service which we can obtain from overseas. That is the fundamental trouble which is keeping everything back now. One honorable member is concerned about the mail contractors.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And their drought allowance.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - That position is not free of difficulty. It is of no use to say that there is nothing to be said on the other side, because there is. At the beginning of this year fresh' tenders were called, in every case, I believe, for a short period, owing to the abnormal conditions obtaining. When these contracts were called, drought conditions obtained, and all the difficulties were thoroughly in sight and well understood.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not so.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I will come to the difference in fodder prices between then and now. I shall not burke anything, but the point I wish to put is this : Here are two contractors at the beginning of the year facing this abnormal condition of things. One puts in a tender for £100, and the other, looking at all the conditions surrounding the situation, puts in a tender for £120. He is ruled out, and the man who puts in the lowest tender gets the contract. What is the position to-day ? If we say to the successful tenderer," We will give you another £30 on your £100," will not the other man who was ruled out because he was sane and wise enough to look at all the conditions, and put in what he thought a reasonable price, have a right to complain when he finds the other man being paid £130, after his tender for £120 has been rejected? The first thing to do in that case, as a matter of equity, would be to give the contractor the right to surrender his contract, and for us to go on the market again.


Mr Fenton - Would it not have been "sane and wise" to accept the £120 tender, and not the lowest tender ? Does not the advertisement say, " The lowest tender not necessarily accepted?"


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - It would have been, if there had been some arbitrary being in control of the Post Office, and if there had been no critics in Parliament to trouble him. In those circumstances, he might very well have taken that course; but as surely as he accepted a tender which was higher than a rejected tender, there would have been a storm.


Mr Fenton - It is done every day in the week by sensible men.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - It is not done. I have been through this trouble many times. I tell the honorable member that the man whose tender had been turned down would make a bee-line for his parliamentary representative, and the matter would be mentioned on the floor of the House that very afternoon.


Mr McWilliams - I think you are correct.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I know I am correct. There is only one thing to do, and that is to accept the lowest tender, other things being equal. It is the only safe course for the Minister, and the only sane and salutary rule for the Department and the House. The position as we find it is that things have not got any cheaper, but have become very much dearer, and I can quite conceive there may be a number of cases of real, genuine hardship which should be looked at.


Mr Fenton - They have apparently been looked at, but cast aside by the Department.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The letters from the Department are most discourteous.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - All I have to say is that if honorable members will allow this matter to go for the time being, I shall look into it with my friend the Postmaster-General, in the light of the circumstances as we see them to-day.


Mr Lavelle - Will you also consider the mail contractors who are not in drought-stricken districts, but who have to pay drought prices?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Precisely ; their cases must be looked at, and that may involve a review of the whole mail services. So far as it is possible to review cases of genuine hardship, I can promise that the Postmaster-General will make earnest and bond fide effort.


Mr Lavelle - In the case I mentioned, the man is now paying £20 for fodder, as against £10 when he tendered.


Mr McGrath - And his tender was put in at the middle of last year.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the case I mentioned, the tender was lodged in August of last year.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Has that man asked to be relieved of his contract?


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No, but he asks for an allowance.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - But what about the man who tendered at a higher amount because of the circumstances?


Mr Mahony - Do you know any tenderer who did that?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am not speaking without knowing.


Mr Mahony - Will you produce the tender ?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - No, I shall not. I believe that most honorable members accept my word, if the honorable member does not. I am speaking of the facts and of the difficulties in dealing equitably as between the various tenderers, and I still say that peculiar circumstances may have developed which call for review, and the singling out of individual cases for specially generous treatment.


Mr Ryan - Do I understand the Treasurer to say that he would be willing to allow contractors to surrender their contracts ?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I should think that ought to be done in every case where, owing to exceptional circumstances, a man finds himself in difficulties because of the drought.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is no good to a man who has already lost money.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The fact is that men desire to get contracts by undercutting other tenderers, and afterwards to receive a sum of money equal to the amount at which other men would have been willing to take up the contract. There must be some sort of fairness in these matters ; we must be fair to the man who did not get the contract, as well as to the man who did.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The man who did not might have been making the same demand.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - He might have been ; but, at the same time, he would not have had the same reason to the extent that his tender was higher than the tender of the other man. The PostmasterGeneral and myself are willing to review cases of hardship, and I can promise a generous review and substantial alleviation where the circumstances justify it.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The PostmasterGeneral did not meet us in that way.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am meeting honorable members in that way, and I am doing so after talking the matter over with the Postmaster-General. We are not here to screw the last ounce out of these men, but to treat them fairly and equitably. I suggest that honorable members bring forward their cases, when we shall review them in the light of the present circumstances.


Mr Ryan - The request in the motion - for it is only a request - seems to be a reasonable one.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) -I am trying to meet the request without having a vote.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why not accept the amendment?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) folds his arms and smiles.


Mr Ryan - Why not have a vote?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I have already said that it will not make any difference whether there be a vote or not - if a vote goes against the Government on this particular matter it can make no difference. The facts are there, and. I appeal to honorable members not to press this proposal to a division. They can always come again to the Government if they wish to.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why not accept the amendment?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Why should we accept the amendment after the statement I am making now.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The PostmasterGeneral does not make the statement.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - It is becoming quite clear that what the honorable member is after is more than some action in regard to these men - it is becoming quite clear to the House that he is trading on them for political purposes.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Now you are attributing motives ; but you will not get me to withdraw the amendment on such grounds.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I do not care whether the honorable member withdraws the amendment or not; is that quite clear? I try to meet the difficulty, and I receive nothing but jeers.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And then you insult me !


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - There is no " insult" ; but the honorable member can put it that way if he likes. I should like to tell honorable members that I spoke privately to the honorable member, and asked him, in view of the statement I proposed to make, and am making now, not to press this matter, but to leave it over in the interests of the men he represents, promising fair and generous consideration for their cases.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You said you would meet me, but you have not done so.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I have.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The PostmasterGeneral has not.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I tell the honorable member that every case that he submits to the Department will be reviewed and reconsidered.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have had the same promise for years past.


Mr Lavelle - You have been considering the matter too long.

SirJOSEPH COOK.- Very well, then, I shall say no more.







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