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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I think that the more this matter is discussed, the more will the feeling which Senator Walker has expressed commend itself to the Senate. I believe that even the Minister of Defence, if he will look carefully into the motion from a disinterested point of view, as he ought to do> will see that no reflection on the administration, or the policy of the Postal Department, was intended; because, had there been the slightest intention on the part of Senator McColl to do so, the motion would have been framed to convey that view. I draw the attention of the Minister to the wording of the motion, and point out to him that, by the phrase, " the policy of the Postal Department " is meant a settled, established administration. I think that the Minister is supersensitive.

Senator Pearce - In my reply, I showed that the policy of the present Administration was better than that of any previous Government.

Senator ST LEDGER - Comparisons are always odious, and the honorable senator, I submit, used his comparison unfairly to the mover of this motion. Surely it was quite sufficient for his purpose to show that, if any contrast were intended, the policy of the present Government was more liberal than the policy of previous Governments.

Senator Pearce - That is what I did.

Senator ST LEDGER - Why did the honorable senator import any heat into the debate? What followed from his introduction of party spirit ? One of his most devoted followers on the back bench submitted an amendment, or, to quote an old proverb, "As the old cock crowed the young one cackled." If any such ulterior purpose as has been suggested had been intended, Senator McColl would no doubt have used these words, " That iri the opinion of the Senate, the present policy of the Postal Department is unfair," accentuating his position by some kind of comment' or reflection on that policy. The omission of the word "present" is more or less significant. Senator McColl made no reference to the Ministry, I understand, in addressing the Senate. Apart from that, what does it matter to us whether the present policy is a bit better than the past policy, if it is unfair . or insufficient? It is only, if I may use. the expression, a sort of hedge behind which to hide while one is "under criticism.

Senator Rae - Can a Department .have a policy apart from the Minister at the head of it?

Senator Millen - Yes, very frequently.

Senator ST LEDGER - Minister after Minister in more than one State, and sometimes Parliament, has been defied by the head of a Department, and it has sometimes been necessary to apply a charge of political dynamite to such officials. Exception has been taken to the wording of the motion, and the Leader of the Opposition, even against one of his supporters, has criticised its wording. Much comment might be made upon the use of the word "unfair." There is a sense in which its use might reasonably be objected to, but there is a sense also in which it might very pro'perly be used as applied to the way m. which the requirements of the people of the country districts have been met. I could quite understand a deputation of country residents appearing before the Postmaster-General, and claiming that, in view of the fact that they contribute to meet the loss on postal facilities afforded to. the residents of cities arid towns, it is unfair that they should be asked to bear this additional burden to secure postal facilities for themselves. I venture to say that a Postmaster-General who, in such circumstances, would exhibit irritation, or impute unworthy political motives to the members of such a deputation, would be unfit for his position by reason of. his petulant irritability. Still, I agree with Senator Millen that the use of the word "unfair " in the motion before the Senate is perhaps injudicious. Senator Gardiner hit the nail on the head in this matter, when he. said that the great difficulty is to make the officials of the Post and Telegraph Department understand the disabilities under which putlying settlers labour. I cordially indorse the honorable senator's view of the matter, and it points to a possible solution of the difficulty. I know of instances in which the Department has been deserving of what Senator Gardiner has said about it, and it has sometimes been found to be more than impossible, if I may be permitted an Hibernianism, to make the departmental officials grasp the means by which the difficulties of back-blocks settlers may be removed. The Department suffers from too much red-tape. It is very difficult indeed to lay down hard-and-fast rules' for providing postal facilities which will apply fairly .to the varying conditions of the .Commonwealth. In the circumstances, it may be said that" the proper carrying out qf the duties of the head of the. Post and Tele graph 'Department calls for a combination of . the highest heroism and patriotism. It is obvious that it is a most difficult Department to administer in such a way as to give satisfaction to the residents of every part of this vast country.

Senator de Largie - And it is generally the junior member of the Cabinet who is appointed to the post.

Senator ST LEDGER - And the duties sometimes almost kill the junior member of the Cabinet.

Senator de Largie - It is a question of "trying it on the dog first."

Senator ST LEDGER - I decline to search my mind in order to determine which particular member of the present Ministry the honorable senator's observation should be applied to. Senator McColl's motion, however worded, should have the effect of inducing the Postmaster-General to consider whether, in certain cases, the regulation with respect to contributions for postal services may not be relaxed. I believe, with the Minister of Defence, that a great deal of discretion will have to be exercised, because there may be some requests which it would be impossible for the Government to accede to. I might mention cases in point, but, as I have presented them through the proper channel in the Department, it is ' unnecessary that I should refer to them here.

Senator Rae - Are there not cases in which people are very glad to contribute to the cost in order to secure the desired accommodation ?

Senator ST LEDGER - There is no doubt that there are. Senator McColl may not be as familiar as are senators representing Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia with the great distances which have to be covered in those States, and while in many cases the PostmasterGeneral may cordially sympathize with settlers, he is entitled to point out the great expense which would be involved in acceding to their requests. There are cases in which the Department has had to decline to provide telephonic and postal facilities, even though the settlers interested have been prepared to meet the whole of the expense. I hope no party feeling will continue to be displayed in connexion with this matter.

Senator Rae - Is the honorable senator sure that it is absent from Senator McColl's mind?

Senator ST LEDGER - I think so, and I think it was hypercritical for the Minister of Defence to read what he did into the motion. I would ask Senator McColl,now that he has listened to the debate, whether it would not be- possible for him to modify the wording of his motion in such a way as to make it acceptable to all parties in the Senate.

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