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Thursday, 26 August 1920

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro) . - We are having a field day in the discussion of grievances, grievance day being, I think, a peculiarly Victorian institution. The Government cannot complain of any backwardness on. the part of honorable members in speaking their minds. There are a number of grievances which I wish to have redressed, and I propose to speak frankly regarding them. I do not blame the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) personally, because, having had experience in the office that he holds, I know that he does not lie on a bed of roses. He has special difficulties to face, because the war has made it very hard to obtain supplies; but there is a good deal in the complaints which have come from all sides of the House. I resent the statement of two or three prominent members of the Labour party about a deputation from that side of the House. They forgot to say that that deputation followed a general deputation. I had no invitation from them to attend on their deputation. We all advocate the rights and exclaim against the wrongs of the people in the country, for the reason that we are all interested in them; partly because of their votes. If we had not their support it would make a big difference to us. But we shall not succeed in helping them if we take action in a party spirit. A party proposition cannot be supported by honorable members who do not wish to displace the Government.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why make this a party question?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Then why did you refer to a deputation from that side of the House?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What has that to do with the merits of the amendment?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - It has everything to do with it.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The troubles in connexion with the Post Office are not entirely due to lack of coin or material. Most of the complaints that come from Sydney and its suburbs are due to the fact that the switch-boards will not carry extra lines.

Mr West - Nothing is done to alter that.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member, of course, could alter it!

Mr West - I would alter it very quickly.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I thought it was the Treasurership that the honorable member had arranged to take.

I have read in a Melbourne newspaper which seems to control politics here,and to know more about political matters than Ministers themselves, that another telephone is to be erected between Sydney and Melbourne, at a cost of between £47,000 and £53,000.

Mr Brennan - Is that to serve Canberra?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Some honorable members have Canberra on the brain. They must abuse it lest the Argus and the Age should straighten them out.

Mr Jackson - In the interests of economy.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Now I have a Tasmanian against me. I understand, however, that some persons are proposing to buy Tasmania, and that will relieve us of that trouble. The Tasmanian member who talks about economy forgets the special grant that that State got from the Commonwealth by begging and praying.

I am in accord with what has been said to-night regarding the need for a drought allowance for the mail contractors, and I am glad that the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has promised that it shall be given.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Treasurer has given no assurance that he will pay a drought allowance to the mail contractors.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The right honorable gentleman has promised consideration to every hard case.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) -What I saidwas clear enough, and was heard by the honorable member for Hume.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I have great sympathy with the telephone attendants. The telephone room is a very trying place, and attention to the switchboard severely taxes the patience of the attendants. I looked into this matter last week, because I am interested in these young ladies. . The Deputy Postmaster-General informs me that they are having trouble because so many of the attendants are getting married, and have to be replaced by inexperienced girls.

I have suggested to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise), and do so again, that he should try to ascertain the causes of the trouble that arises in his Department. It is those in control who are to blame. Why not send the Victorian Deputy PostmasterGeneral and a dozen of his principal officers to Sydney, and bring the New South Wales Deputy PostmasterGeneral and his staff to Melbourne, and see what the effect of the change is?

Like other honorable members, I get notices from the Department telling me that, owing to the falling off of revenue, the payments to allowance offices must be reduced. Recently I was informed that the payment to one of these small offices had been reduced by £2. I do not hold the Postmaster-General personally responsible for these reductions, but he is the man to whom we must make our complaints about them. I desire to indorse the suggestion made by some honorable members as to basing the allowance on the revenue received instead of on the work done.

Mr Wise - That is how they are paid - on the work done.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - If the Postmaster-General makes that statement seriously, I beg to differ, because they are paid on the revenue received at the office. Will the Postmaster-General say 'that if he discovers, on inquiry, that they are not paid on the work done, they will in future be remunerated on that basis. In many of the offices where the revenue is comparatively small, a great deal of work has to be done, and sometimes at great inconvenience. In some country centres the persons employed, who are sometimes women, have to get up in the middle of the night to hand out a bag; and such work should not be paid for on the basis of the revenue received. I invite the Postmaster-General to fully inquire into this question. Personally, I am in favour of a Commission being appointed to administer the Postal Department, because I think the work should be taken out of politics altogether, as some, at least, are inclined to make use of the Department for political purposes. The Department should be conducted on business lines, and should be under the control of a Commission.

Mr West - Under such circumstances the country people would be the first to suffer.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I do not think so. I am merely expressing my opinion, and do not pretend to speak for the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West).

I am pleased that this resolution has been moved, and I am glad that the Treasurer has made such agenerous promise.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Treasurer has not made any promise.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I understand he has promised to find the money if he considers that it is required.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why did not the Postmaster-General, who is the responsible Minister, make the promise?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Honorable members opposite do not want these troubles rectified.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - That is not a generous thing to say. I think the Postmaster-General will admit that it is time that those in charge of country offices were paid for the work done. The other day a young person was placed in charge of the all-night telephone exchange at Yass, and when an attempt was made to raise the attendant to secure the services of a doctor, there was no response. The result was that a death occurred; and when I wrote to the Department complaining, I was informed that the officer concerned had been suitably dealt with. Such occurrences should be prevented;and, althoughthe Postmaster-General may consider my criticisms somewhat severe, he must remember that we have to hold him responsible, because we cannot go direct to the officers. I feel sure that the promise made will be kept, because if conditions do not alter in connexion with the administration of the Postal Department, a change will have to be made.

I also desire to know what the Government intend to do concerning oldage pensions. Honorable members have been informed that the Government have not sufficient money to increase the amount; but, at the same time, no effort is being made to bring in an amending Billto allow the pensioners to earn a little money. The Government must admit that, under the present abnormal conditions, old-age pensioners in many instances are experiencing considerable hardship in consequence of the high cost of living.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am having an inquiry made into that matter.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am glad to learn that. I know the Treasurer is sympathetic, and I am able to value his promises more than those of the PostmasterGeneral, because the Treasurer has control of the purse. The PostmasterGeneral cannot do anything without the consent of the Treasurer.

I also desire to refer to the Defence Department.

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