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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I wish to express my surprise at what I cannot describe as anything better than the regrettable outburst of the Minister of Defence. It is a pity that he should have shown such heat in his reply to Sena tor McColl's speech. On the face of it, the motion was submitted in terms which appeared to me to be perfectly innocent and devoid of any improper motives. When a senator brings a motion of this kind before the Senate, if a Minister is to take it up, turn it over, and twist it inside out, for the purpose of finding some ulterior motive behind it, the tone of our debates will be lowered. I understood Senator McColl, at the outset, to say that he himself was ignorant of the state of things that he described until a little while ago, when information was conveyed to him from the Post and Telegraph Department concerning a particular country mail service. On making inquiries, he was told that if the present system were abolished altogether the total loss to the country would be something like ^1,000. If that were the factif the abolition of this practice, which would give greater conveniences-

Senator Pearce - It is not a fact.

Senator VARDON - If it were a fact that these extra conveniences could be given to the outlying parts at a cost of not more than .£1,000 a year, Senator McColl was not making an extraordinary request when he asked that an alteration in the practice of the Department should be made, and the £1,000 charged against the whole community.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It would be money well spent.

Senator VARDON - I think it would be. If, in his reply, the Minister had shown that Senator McColl was altogether mistaken, and that, instead of the loss being £1,000 a year, it would run into many thousands of pounds, he would have put a different complexion upon the whole subject.

Senator Gardiner - The Minister did say that. He said that an alteration of the policy would cost ^40,000 a year.

Senator Pearce - I said that if the Government were to take up every mail service that is asked for without a contribution, the cost would be £[40,000 a year.

Senator VARDON - The motion does not go so far. No one would be so unreasonable as to expect so much. There are limits.

Senator Pearce - At what limit would the honorable senator stop?

Senator VARDON - I am not going into that phase of the matter at the present moment. If the Minister had calmly replied to Senator McColl, without dragging in this party business, and had shown that the drain on the revenue would be so great as to make the demand altogether unjustifiable, we should all have been with him. I do not think that any one here is anxious to make too great a drain on the revenue to supply the wants of a comparatively few individuals.

Senator Pearce - I quoted from the Postmaster-General information which I thought would convince the honorable senator.

Senator VARDON - I listened to what Senator McColl had to say, and he did not appear to me to cast any reflection on the Government. Take the whole history of the Post Office from the commencement, and you will find that it has been - as it ought to be - a story of continuous progress. Every Administration has endeavoured to do something to develop postal facilities. It is .only right that they should have done so. When you are running a Department of this" kind, it is quite right that the policy should be . as liberal and as progressive as it can be made.. I do not blame the GovernmentI give them every credit - if they have gone further than any previous Ministry have done in this respect. More power to them ; but still, the less reason is.there why there should have been such an outburst of temper simply because this motion was introduced.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator mistakes energy for temper. I had a good case, .and, of course, I put it- as well as I could.

Senator VARDON - I do not think that the Minister had a good case. He was not justified in saying, at the outset, that Senator McColl had some ulterior motive in bringing forward this motion.

Senator Pearce - It was made to appear that we were victimizing the country residents.

Senator VARDON - If Senator McColl had done that, it would have called for condemnation. But every Ministry that has been in office in the Commonwealth would have been equally to blame.

Senator Rae - But the other Ministries are dead ; this one is not.

Senator VARDON - Yes, and so will this Ministry be dead and buried in due season,, make no mistake about that. The Post and Telegraph Department is a great commercial institution. In the ordinary sense, you may say that any commercial department run by a Government ought to be made to pay its way. " That is a sound business proposition to put forward. I cannot say, how ever, that the Post Office ought to be made to pay out of its revenue for the erection of new buildings and the construction of new works. In that sense, we cannot expect a commercial undertaking of this kind to pay its way. But any business man knows that sometimes it is good policy to undertake work that does not pay, in the hope that, after a while, it will prove remunerative. To speak colloquially, that policy is " Throwing a sprat to catch a mackerel."

Senator Millen - We do that with our railways.

Senator VARDON - I was about to mention the railways. Our railway authorities sometimes run a line out into some sparsely-populated district, where they know that it cannot pay at once. But they believe that by giving the people facilities for settlement, in due time the revenue will be sufficient to make the line pay. As a rule, I think that they are justified in pursuing that policy. The fact has been established that the more facilities we grant to people to move about, the more do they avail themselves of those facilities, so that what in the initial stages may prove to be an unprofitable undertaking, becomes eventually a profitable one. I recognise that the adoption of penny postage will result in an immediate loss, but in the course of a very fe,v years the volume of business passing through the post will have so increased as to compensate for that loss. In the meantime who gets the benefit of penny postage? Certainly not. the residents of the back-blocks.

Senator Rae - A very large number of them do. The residents of the cities were previously paying only id. postage upon their letters.

Senator VARDON - Only in Victoria.

Senator Rae - And in Sydney.

Senator VARDON - The larger centres of population undoubtedly benefit mostly by the adoption of penny postage. The residents of country districts do not derive much advantage from it, because each of them writes perhaps only one letter per week, and if each had to pay 2d. postage upon that letter they would be quite satisfied so long as they were granted increased mail facilities. Penny postage is of no assistance to people residing in the outlying portions of the country. But if we can extend increased postal facilities to them at an additional cost of £1,000 a year-

Senator Pearce - If a concession be made to one person it must be made to every person who is similarly circumstanced.

Senator VARDON - Every case ought to be considered on its merits. I do not suggest that the Postal Department should grant a mail service to one individual if he chooses to ask for it. That would be reducing the matter to an absurdity. But where there is a settled population-

Senator Pearce - What population?

Senator VARDON - Where there are perhaps twenty houses--

Senator Pearce - We must draw the line- somewhere.

Senator VARDON - If the Minister, in reply to Senator McColl, had said that the adoption of this motion would cast too heavy a burden on the Department I should have hesitated to vote for it.

Senator Pearce - I said that; but Senator McColl did not say where we ought to draw the line.

Senator VARDON - Until a short time ago Senator McColl was not even aware of the existence of this arrangement.

Senator Pearce - Then he could not have had much correspondence with his country electors.

Senator VARDON - I do not know. I have had a good many representations made to me in respect of postal matters, and generally, when I have put them before the authorities, they have received fair consideration. The Postal Department has done its best, I think, but if by this motion it is induced to do a little more than it has hitherto accomplished, no injury will be done to the country. I regret that Senator Rae should have attempted to amend the motion so as to give it a party complexion. I am quite sure that Senator McColl had no ulterior motive when he submitted it for our consideration. If the Minister had said in his reply that the adoption of the proposal would add £[40,000 or £[50,000 to the expenditure of the Department I should have hesitated to support it. But if, for an additional expenditure of £[1,000 a year, we can make the conditions of life better than they are for residents in the outlying portions of this country I believe that we should incur it.

Senator Rae - If the motion merely involves an additional expenditure, of £[1,000 a year it cannot be a very great burden when it is spread over the entire Commonwealth.

Senator VARDON - Exactly. It is a mere flea-bite. But, if the Minister says that the adoption of the proposal will mean an increased expenditure of a great many thousands of pounds a year, I think that we ought to refuse to commit the Department to it. Before voting upon the question I should like to know exactly how matters stand. I do hope that Senator Rae will withdraw his amendment, and not degrade the motion by making it appear that its mover had submitted it in a party spirit and with a desire to reflect upon the Government.

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