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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr BLAIN (Northern Territory) . - I rise to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) certain disabilities and anomalies under which the people of the Northern Territory are suffering, and I think that after I have read a letter which I received recently, honorable members will agree that the amenities of life certainly do not, in that part of Australia, precede settlement. The letter, which was sent to me by the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs at Adelaide, Mr. G. L. Dix, is as follows : -

Rumbalara-HermannsbergMailService- Request for Alteration.

With reference to my communication of 17th March, 1939, relative to a petition from residents of the south-western district of the Northern Territory for the Hermannsberg Mail Service to deviate via Erldunda, Lynda Vale, Angas Downs, Andaloo, Tempe Downs and Middleton Downs, &c, I have to advise that the matter has been carefully investigated, but in view of the loss already sustained in maintaining the existing service and the additional expenditure which would be involved by the desired extension, the request cannot be complied with.

It is the old story. I say deliberately and without hesitation that hitherto holders of the office of PostmasterGeneral have allowed themselves to he cyphers in regard to these requests for reasonable facilities for pioneering settlers, and I urge honorable members to declare that no longer will they allow the amenities of life to lag behind settlement. We must be more positive in our outlook and whenever possible provide these much-needed facilities for the people who deserve every consideration at our hands. The Postmaster-General has visited the area referred to in the letter, and I hope that he will take steps to give this much-needed service to the people living there. In the past the PostmasterGeneral's Department has allowed pioneers of remote areas to struggle along without even paltry mail services or telegraph lines. Its policy should be to look ahead and do what it can to encourage settlement. It appears that a change is about to take place in the department controlling the Northern Territory. I hope that the spirit of co-operation, which is one of the basic principles of statecraft, will be more in evidence in the future, and that the Northern Territory will soon enter upon a new era of development, clue to a wise co-ordination of the activities of the Postal Department and the Department of the Interior.

The area of my electorate is one-sixth that of the entire Commonwealth. The distance from north to south is 1,200 miles and from east to west 500 or 600 miles. Having mentioned a matter which affects the southern part of the territory, I direct attention to another grievance. The people of Alice Springs complain of the counter service at the post office. Briefly, their claim is that another clerk should be appointed to handle the increased business following the inauguration of a direct air service to Adelaide for overseas mail. I hope that an extra clerk will soon be appointed to the local post office so that customers may be attended to quickly instead of having to wait half an hour.

At Barrow Creek, about ISO miles north of Alice 'Springs, there is a small post office on the overland telegraph line that serves the Hatches Creek wolfram field. The police station is in charge of a young married man, and his wife attends to postal matters. She is required to issue money orders and deal with old-age pensioners. I ask that a postmaster be appointed to do this work. An hotel is located 200 yards from the post office, and a. postmaster could be accommodated there. Apparently the police officer's wife has been selected for postal duties because she has a home there, but that is a paltry expedient to save expense. The department should not utilize the services of a policeman's wife in such a large area. It is unfair to give her duties which cornpletely tie her down to one locality. Similarly, at Newcastle "Waters, 500 miles south of Darwin, and at Marranboy, 50 miles south of Darwin, the wives of police officers are called upon to attend to postal work, merely in order to save expense to the department. The department should not adopt such paltry methods.

Turning east to the Barkly tablelands, I now direct the attention of the House to a communication forwarded to the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission by Mr. J. W. Spratt, the manager of Avon Downs Station, who entertained the parliamentary party which visited that part of Australia in 1935. This station is situated 50 miles west of Camooweal, and the complaint is that the reception of the Saturday racing broadcasts through the short-wave station VLR is frequently interrupted. The letter begins as follows : -

Once again we must complain of the service rendered by VLR. Here is a typical and not uncommon performance. This happened on Saturday last, 25th instant.

On Saturday last there were men here anxious to hear the description of the Victorian and New South Wales racing. The broadcast was almost obliterated by the powerful dot and dash station, which has interfered for months with I he reception from VLR when the latter station is on the 25 metre band. They consoled themselves by expecting they would get the recordings at the sporting session in the evening.

Saturday evening came along and the National News had been given, and Kurt Offenberg had told his doleful tale. The announcer was on his way with Australian news, and suddenly, without any warning he was chopped off, and wo had the Federal Treasurer well on his way with a discourse on national insurance.

This morning the overseas news at 6.45 a.m. was again washed out by the above-mentioned dot and dash station.

According to what I've read and heard, the Australian Broadcast ing Commission pat themselves on the back for being so considerate as to provide a service for the people outback, to whom the ordinary broadcast is useless, for at least, four months of the year. For this 1 suppose, we should be grateful, and are. But the stuff they put over makes one almost weep. . . .

I hope that the Postmaster-General will ascertain whether the difficulties could be overcome by technical adjustments in the studio or by an alteration of the wavelength used by station VLR

The post office at Darwin is not built on lines suitable for a tropical climate. I hope that an early opportunity will be taken by the department to inspect the premises with a view to their improvement. On the front verandah, where telegrams are written, the iron roof has been brought within a few feet of one's head. In view of the increasing population of

Darwin, I urge that the post office be redesigned so that it will be suitable for tropical conditions.

I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior in this chamber to an anomaly in regard to the recreation leave of members of the works and administration staffs at Alice Springs. It is requested that there should be uniformity with regard to the leave that accrues to these staffs every three years. Under an ordinance of the Northern Territory, the sum to be contributed by a single officer towards his railway fare when taking his holidays is £6, but under the Public ' Service regulations a member of the Works Department must contribute £10 towards the railway fare to Adelaide and back, which amounts to about £16 5s. Under the Northern Territory Ordinance, an officer on leave may go as far as either Perth or Albury, but an officer of the Works Department may go only to Adelaide. The period of leave is one calendar month under the Northern Territory Ordinance, and 24 days under the Public Service regulations which apply to officers of the Works Department. Alice Springs is 1,000 miles north of Adelaide, and under the Northern Territory Ordinance the travelling time is calculated to the officer's destination, but under the regulations applying to the Works staff, no travelling time is provided for. Further overtime is worked by the works staff in the yards and the office, but no overtime whatever is allowed. I feel sure that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins), who is an exMinister for the Interior, will give serious consideration to these matters, and endeavour to see that the anomalies arc removed.

Mr James - Are they workmen or officers ?

Mr BLAIN - They are officers. I am coming to the workers now. I remind honorable members that the first question I ever asked in this House related to the workers. The railway workers in Darwin have asked me to endeavour to have them brought into line, as far as working conditions are concerned, with the workers on that section of the railway from Alice Springs to Kalgoorlie. Everybody knows that I worked in conjunction with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) to have the Public Service Arbitrator hear the claims of the pick and shovel men on that section of the line, so that they might be given a fair deal. This right, however, was denied to the railway men on the Darwin section. The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has always fought bitterly any proposal that their claims should be heard by the Public Service Arbitrator. He has used all the means at his disposal to prevent the Arbitrator from going to Darwin, despite the fact that the Attorney-General has stated that there is no reason why the Arbitrator should not deal with the railway workers in Darwin. The Arbitrator told me in Sydney that he was only waiting to be asked before going to Darwin. I asked the previous Minister for the Interior to allow the chairman of the Industrial Board in Canberra, Mr. Hill, to go to Darwin in order to hear the railway men, but nothing came of the proposal. I maintain that what is good for the workers of Canberra and Jervis Bay, or for the railway workers on the Kalgoorlie to Alice Springs section of the line, should be good also for the railway workers of Darwin, and for all other workers in the Territory as well. I believe it would be a good thing for the chairman of the Industrial Board to go to Darwin for this purpose, so that he may deal with the claims, not only of the railway workers, but also of all other classes. of workers. I expect the new Minister for the Interior to accede to this request, so that justice may be done to the underdog, as well as to those who are better off.

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